It was months and month later that Jack decided. He'd sworn he wouldn’t, so long ago, the day after, the week after, when rebuilding the world after the 456 had seemed like it would distract him enough. When he'd finally left Earth, it was in the hope that he wouldn’t succumb to temptation. When he'd seen Gwen and Rhys, together and closer than ever, it had just reinforced the belief that this was the way it had to be, no matter how much he ached, how his stomach felt like it was full of rats that scratched at the very core of him.
Jack was weak. He couldn’t stand the pain, not even for the sake of a promise. He gave in.
Months later, there he was in some ritzy bar on some well-off trading colony, the atmosphere and the music far too happy for his melancholy state. After all that time, as much as he tried to forget, the memories of Ianto still appeared before him relentlessly.
That first night, in the woods. Love the coat, he’d said. He really did, too.
Bitter, hateful expression when Jack brought him home the night after Lisa’s final death. Jack had sat outside his flat for hours, grateful for every second that he didn’t hear a gunshot.
His face relaxed for the first time in months as he slept in Jack’s bed. Peaceful.
The nanosecond of horror in his eyes, his open mouth, before Jack died from Owen’s bullet.
Those eyes, the longing veiled with suspicion as he let Jack into his hotel room against his better nature.
Hiding eyes again, this time it was betrayal after the space whale case. Jack hadn’t apologized, couldn’t. He hoped being there was enough.
For once, Jack was the one to approach after the circus people who came from out of the rain. Ianto didn’t speak, just curled up close to Jack on the sofa and watched rain fall outside the window.
They barely spoke for days after Tosh and Owen. Eventually, Ianto forced him to go to bed, kissed his forehead gently. Somehow, after that, everything seemed just a few shades lighter.
One of those times that never happened, but did happen. I love you, he said. I don’t, Jack didn’t say, not really.
No, that wasn't what he said. Jack tipped back another Nova cocktail and hissed. He hadn't meant it like that. He just hadn’t been ready. So much of their relationship had been about pain, and Jack was slow to recognize a good thing when it was right before his eyes. He hadn’t been able to see how much he needed Ianto until…
He was gone. Jack was holding off admitting it, holding onto hope, to faith in the Doctor, to the promise he'd never really made. That timeline had never happened, but he could still remember.
After he couldn’t say it, Ianto had tried again. Begged for proof. A thousand years, he’d asked for, and how could Jack say no?
In a completely normal bar on a completely normal trade station, Jack decided. He couldn’t do it. There was no way he could wait a thousand years, holding onto the hope that the Doctor would bring Ianto back to him. He couldn’t remember for that long, always with one ear to the wind for the ring of destiny. Couldn’t hold onto the seeds of love in the back of his mind, sown in the fertile ground of loss, waiting for the impossible day they could sprout at last, when Ianto returned.
It was time to give up.
The bartender put a folded piece of paper on the counter before him. “From the man over there,” he gestured.
Jack almost didn’t look. There were only two men he wanted to see.
It was the Doctor. Jack sat up straight, and the Doctor nodded toward the paper. Jack opened it.
She’s in dock 88F
He looked up questioningly, and the Doctor looked to his left. Jack turned.
Ianto stood there, dressed in the same suit he wore six months before, holding up a ring of keys. “He said not to go back to Earth for a few decades.”
Jack looked back to the Doctor and exchanged salutes. He knew they were even.
Ianto was smiling, looking more at peace than Jack could ever remember. He stepped closer. “I didn’t say it back,” he told Jack a bit awkwardly. “But… I love you too.”
Warmth sprouted inside of Jack and spread inexorably through his being like a deep, deep gong being struck, like the progression of time and life that could never be stopped.
He slid off the bar stool and took Ianto’s hand, the one with the keys. “Looks like we’ve got some exploring to do.” He stood in front of Ianto, so that his voice travelled no distance at all to reach him. “Goin’ my way?”
“Always,” Ianto replied, and Jack led the way to the stars.
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