Summary: Jack started smiling, reaching out to touch Ianto’s chest, breathing, “This is crazy.”
Warnings: Post Children of Earth
A/N: For jantolution challenge #23, prompts Five Ways, Taken
Tieren is cleaning his gun, again. He’s sitting in the courtyard, on one of the empty bench-and-tables, with the pieces of his gun on a pocket of black cloth beside him and a tune – or maybe just a rhythm – idling along in the back of his mind. He’s not thinking. He doesn’t have to be alert all the time here. There’s enough guards to do that for him, and it’s a relief, sometimes, to just sit and stop and focus on nothing beyond a simple little task like this one. It’s hypnotising.
He doesn’t look up at a commotion over by one of the compound’s entrances. He’s heard the tone of the guards’ voices, and it’s one of annoyance, nothing more. An irregularity, not an invading force.
Like it would matter to him anyway.
The guards and their new arrivals – one, two, three new voices – head over towards the commander’s cabin, and Tieren sights along his gun, smoothing the cloth over the barrel. It’s an ancient, almost unbelievably outmoded thing, but it’s beautiful, and primitive, and that brings its own advantages. It’s saved his people’s lives on many occasions, these past fourteen months, and he’s fond of it. It’s one of the few things he can call his own.
One of the new voices – male, young, confused – calls out, “Jack?”
Tieren slots the pieces of his gun back together like a puzzle, fits the last bit into place and snaps the revolver shut, then realises voice number three has come closer, saying again, “Jack?”
Tieren turns. The young man stops, stares at him, barely blinking. He’s wearing an expression of fragile hope, something so tentative he can hardly bear to risk believing in it.
“It is you,” he says quietly, and Tieren can’t tell if it’s joy or relief making the man hold his breath. He sympathises.
He puts the gun down and looks back up at the man, struggling to stay calm.
“Jack,” the man says, with a smile creeping onto his lips. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
Tieren bites his tongue, then takes a breath and says, “You know me. Who are you?”
And he watches the man’s hope die.
“I should have guessed,” he says quietly, looking away from Tieren. “How old are you now?”
Tieren slides off the table to his feet. “I don’t know,” he tells the man. “I don’t know anything. As far as I can remember my life started a little over a year ago. There’s nothing before that.”
“Do you remember the Doctor? Or Gwen?” the man asks, looking over as one of the other two new arrivals comes their way. The woman, talking to the guards, stays where she is.
“I don’t remember anything,” Tieren repeats. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to insult you, or upset you, or whatever, but I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I am. If you do, though, can you help me?”
The man nods without hesitation.
“Ianto,” says the other man, catching this last exchange. “This isn’t going to help us find Rhys. Don’t forget what you owe Gwen, even if I don’t approve of those gloves. Leave well alone, now, come on.”
“We can help Jack at the same time,” Ianto tells him, in a tone that brooks no argument. When the other man draws breath to argue regardless, Ianto says sharply, “I’m not leaving him like this.”
The other man shoves his hands into his pockets and looks at Tieren like he’s done something obscene. Tieren drops his gaze and occupies himself adjusting his holster. The shame burns through him all the stronger for not knowing what he’s done, not being able to defend himself. Somehow, however he can, he has to remember.
Ianto holds out his hand. “Jack,” he says, and Tieren looks up. Something in Ianto’s eyes makes him catch his breath.
“Come with me.”
Jack takes his hand.
Jack drew his gun and advanced down the corridor, checking each turn as he came to it. The school felt empty, which put him more on his guard than ever. And then gunfire broke out, echoing all around him. He picked a corridor and ran.
There were screams and snarls in amongst the crackle of gunfire, punctuated by occasional bursts of a strange whine.
He pelted down the corridor, gun at the ready, though he’d seen no aliens yet. If their weapons made a noise like that, they were more dangerous than he’d thought. It sounded far too much like a pulse gun for his liking. He’d feel a lot better with that thing out of the picture – and whoever had sent the SOS would probably agree.
He ducked down two turns, getting closer and closer to the sound of guns. And then another man came running around the next corner. They both stopped dead and stared at each other, and then Ianto flicked a glance up the corridor behind Jack and lunged forward.
Jack hit the wall, and Ianto dropped the alien with one shot as it rounded the far corner and spotted them. The whine of the pulse gun faded as Jack stared at him.
“There’s still at least a dozen of them left,” Ianto said idly, looking back at him. Absent-mindedly, he flicked his wrist in a practised gesture, sending the barrel of the pulse gun whirling in a quick circle past the back of his hand, then clicking back into place, recharged.
Jack straightened up and snapped, “What the hell is going on here?”
Ianto grinned – and that alone wrong-footed Jack, because it wasn’t an expression he was used to seeing on Ianto’s face – and pulled him into a kiss.
When they parted, Ianto ran his thumb along Jack’s jaw, and told him, “I’ll explain everything properly when we have time. In a nutshell, I’m from a parallel universe. I’m guessing you came back because you picked up the subspace transmission?”
“You had something to do with that?” Jack said wryly.
Ianto grinned again. “Yup. That was us. I’ll explain that later, too. For now, we really need to clear out the rest of the Daraka. They had a nest in the boiler room.”
He stepped back before Jack could say anything, agreement or not, and pulled a PDA from his back pocket.
“Plenty more this way,” he said cheerfully, and started back the way Jack had come. Pausing, he turned back and said, “We’ll have to let Tosh know she can turn the transmitter off now, too. Don’t let me forget.”
He laughed as Jack opened his mouth and couldn’t quite work out what to say, and then took off down the corridor at a run.
Jack stood there for a second, then smiled to himself and ran after him.
Jack breathes lightly as he walks the poisonous corridors. The little oxygen unit he’s using has at least another half an hour left, but he’d prefer to have plenty in reserve in case things get violent. Dying in the middle of a fight is never helpful.
He’s already transmitted the footage of the cloning rooms, and he knows the Qreqsh government will be shutting this place down and dealing out justice to the individuals running the show. Particularly with his fledgling intergalactic police force watching their every move.
He keeps an eye on his wriststrap as he goes, noting rooms off to each side, atmosphere still poisonous, every door a hefty airlock. That’s not something he expected to see in this area. The clones are kept in another part of the building, and very well sealed away. There’s no chance their oxygen could get this far.
He shakes his head and keeps going. The Qreq he’s after is still ahead of him, overseeing human production in the heart of the factory. Jack wonders if it will recognise him. For himself, he knows the little differences that identify different Qreqa now, and he’s learned this one’s pattern by rote. Dragging the thing to a brutal punishment is going to be the highlight of his day.
He tells every recruit to his force that they must never let a case get personal. But this one’s been personal for a very long time.
Blinking, he stops and checks his wriststrap again, bringing it closer to his face to see through the thick smog. And then he takes three steps back and finds the door on his right. Apparently there’s oxygen behind here.
He opens it up, and steps into the airlock. As the air around him is sucked out and replaced with a breathable atmosphere, he takes his oxygen unit out and pockets it, frowning. More clones?
He takes a firm grip on his gun and opens the inner door.
“Door!” someone shouts inside, and there’s a scramble of movement that comes to an abrupt halt as Jack steps in.
The crowd of men and women stare at him. He stares back.
And then he raises his gun, wide-eyed, as Ianto pushes to the front of the group.
“You...” Jack gasps. “You can’t...”
Ianto steps forward, eyes on Jack’s, until he’s close enough to push the gun aside. He lifts his hand to Jack’s cheek, fingertips brushing his skin, and stops there, staring.
“You’re real,” he says, and swallows. “You’re really here. I thought you’d never come.”
Abruptly, he steps forward and kisses Jack, then buries his face in Jack’s neck. Jack clenches his free hand on the back of the ragged shirt Ianto’s wearing, and presses him closer.
“We need to move fast,” Ianto says roughly, pushing away again. “The pregnant women are in another room, across the hall.”
“What?” Jack manages.
“They keep the pregnant women separate,” Ianto tells him. “We don’t see them again until after the children are born. We think it’s meant to stop us from forming lasting bonds. That way they get more children out of us.”
“Wait, what?” Jack demands. “Are you telling me they’re breeding you?”
“Apparently natural children taste better than test tube grown,” Ianto says flatly.
One of the other men steps forward. “You can get us out, right?” he asks. “That’s why you’re here?”
“I’ll try,” Jack says. “How many of you are there?”
“It’s hard to keep track,” Ianto says quietly. “Almost a hundred, I’d guess.”
Jack winces, and mutters for Ianto’s ears alone, “My ship was never meant to take that many. I might be able to fit everybody in, but there’s no telling if I’ll be able to take off.”
“What other choice do we have?” Ianto sighs.
“Alright,” Jack says, nodding. “I can override the atmospheric controls and oxygenate the corridors on the way back to my ship, but there’s something else I have to do before we can leave. Come on. I’ll show you the way.”
He leads them out, hurrying back the way he came and clearing the corridors for them until he reaches the docking tunnel for his ship. With the front runners on board and settling the others as they catch up, he turns and heads back into the factory.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jack asks him, dodging past people who’ve stopped to release the other women and help them along.
“With you,” says Ianto.
Jack shakes his head and keeps moving. “No way. You go back to the ship, right now. Take the copilot’s chair. You’ll be safe there until I get back.”
“Liar,” Ianto says. “I’m safer with you than anywhere else, especially when the 456 notice we’re gone.”
Jack slows, and turns to look at him. “They’re called Qreqa,” he says quietly. “I’m going after the one in charge. He can’t be allowed to get away. He’s the one who organised all this. He’s the one who came to Earth. The one who...”
Ianto holds his gaze when he falls silent, then suggests, “Kidnapped us? He beamed us out of Thames House, right? We were all there. We all blacked out, and then we woke up here. It’s their planet, isn’t it?”
Jack nods, looking away from him. He can’t stop thinking of the image of rows and rows of clones growing in pods, on just the other side of the building.
“And they left you behind,” Ianto says softly. “I suppose they were afraid of you after all.”
Jack clears his throat. “We really don’t have time for this,” he points out. “Want to help me catch the bad guy?”
Ianto smiles. “Just you try and stop me.”
Jack put his feet up on the table and his cup back on the saucer, and leant back in his chair. One of the serving droids padded silently over and poured him a fresh cup from the jug on the table.
Jack watched him for a moment, admiring the craftsmanship on display. But for the indelible serial number on the back of his neck, and the inhuman grace and precision, he could almost have been a real person. He supposed that using the latest models to serve potential customers was a neat marketing trick, and supplying him with a droid designed to look like his own species was probably meant to put him at ease, but he’d far rather find out what he’d been brought here for than sit around watching a serving droid do its work. However pretty he was.
He sipped his drink again, and smiled at the droid. The droid smiled back.
“No offence,” Jack said, settling back in his chair, “but I’d kinda like to get on with this. Shouldn’t you leave the room or something so I can talk to your owners?”
The droid bowed slightly in acknowledgement, then told him, “I am programmed not to interrupt negotiations, and my memory of the event will be erased on your departure. It is my function to ensure you are comfortable throughout all discussions.”
Jack inclined his head, but said nothing. Even knowing that the things only had AI and were programmed to be happy with their lot in life, he still couldn’t quite get comfortable with the concept of erasing their memories for the sake of convenience. It reminded him too much of too many things. Especially when he knew that his own memories were all he had left of the people and places he’d loved.
He toyed with the cup for a few minutes, trying to think of something else.
The serving droid placed a small hemisphere on the table and stepped back. The hemisphere lit up and glowed a gentle pearly white.
Jack sat up straighter and looked at the little dome. “Finally. You going to tell me what this job is all about?”
“We have analysed your memories,” the disembodied voice began, and Jack hauled his feet off the table, leaning forward with a sudden burst of anger.
“You’ve what? How the hell did you even –” He paused for a few seconds, then sat back slightly, still glaring at the dome. “Seline. That whole neural nostalgia trip thing. You know all your advertising swears you don’t hang onto people’s memories. Does the word confidential mean nothing to you people?”
“Your memories were indeed harvested by the droid you refer to as Seline,” the voice confirmed calmly.
“Catch me screwing a droid again,” Jack muttered.
“Our analysis proves you are suitable for the task.”
“What task?” Jack demanded, losing patience. He was feeling a strong urge to hit someone, and with only a droid in the room that would just end up with him hurting his hand. If it came right down to it he could always demonstrate his displeasure by blowing the thing’s head off, but in effect that was much the same as smashing the jug. Although possibly more easily repaired.
The dome suddenly flickered to blue light and projected three small holograms into the air. Three members of the planet’s original dominant species. The upper class. The movers and shakers and android makers.
“We desire their removal.”
Jack barked a laugh. “You want me to kill your competition?”
Mentally, he gave his unseen clients points for responding with a simple, “Yes.”
Stretching, Jack tucked his hands behind his head and put his feet back on the table. “Well, now we’re getting somewhere. But I left that business a while back. You’ve analysed everything from my head. You should know I make a point of not killing anyone who’s done nothing to deserve it, these days.”
“We will pay you well.”
Jack shrugged. “You’ve got nothing I want. I’m managing just fine all by myself, thanks.”
The door to his left opened.
Jack was on his feet before he’d consciously registered what he was seeing.
“He is true to your memories in every way,” he was told. “He is fully functioning and will respond to all of your commands. He is designed to look, sound and act –”
“Shut up,” Jack told them sharply, as Ianto – naked and smiling serenely – approached him.
“It’s good to see you again, Jack.”
Jack bit his lip hard, blinked harder, and shook his head.
Ianto didn’t seem fazed. “I understand this must be difficult for you,” he said gently. “But you shouldn’t worry. I know everything you knew about me, and I’ve been supplied with a full background based on other people’s memories and records from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. You won’t notice the difference. I was designed –”
“Stop it,” Jack snapped. “Stop talking like that!”
Ianto stopped a foot away from him, and frowned slightly. “I don’t understand the order.”
“That!” Jack shouted. “Stop being a goddammed robot! Forget it! You were human! Be human.”
Ianto blinked, then frowned deeper. “Jack?” he said, with a sudden lack of assurance, and looked around. “What... Where is this? What’s – Jack, why am I naked?”
“Ianto?” Jack said quietly, as Ianto covered himself with both hands, colour rising in his cheeks as he noticed the other droid in the room.
“What’s going on?”
Jack stared at him. Ianto looked around again, and then looked back at him, desperation in his eyes.
“Please, Jack, what’s going on? The last thing I remember is... is dying. What’s happening?”
“Sit down,” Jack said hoarsely.
Ianto didn’t move, pleading, “Just tell me.”
Jack started smiling, reaching out to touch Ianto’s chest, breathing, “This is crazy.”
Ianto started to move towards him, opening his mouth to speak, and froze.
“Ianto?” Jack asked, resting his palm on Ianto’s chest. “Ianto. Ianto.”
Ianto didn’t blink, didn’t move, didn’t breathe.
“He has been temporarily deactivated.”
Jack whirled around to stare at the hemisphere on the table, then turned back to Ianto, half afraid that Ianto would vanish while he wasn’t looking. He clenched his fists.
“Let him go.”
“If we could return to business –”
“I said let him go,”Jack snarled. “If you think you’re going to get anything out of me while he’s stuck like that, you can think again.”
“You would prefer him to be more human,” the voice said, with just the faintest hint of mockery.
Ianto’s eyes closed and he crumpled like a puppet with his strings cut. Jack caught him halfway down, and went to his knees, barely aware of his own gasps of, “No. Not again, no. I can’t do it again. Please.”
“He will be reprogrammed to your specifications while you are undertaking your task,” his clients told him, while he was clutching at Ianto, trying vainly to wake him. “Once your targets have been eliminated, you may return here to claim him.”
Jack pulled Ianto more firmly into his lap, one arm wrapped around his shoulders, the other hand cradling his cheek, thumb hovering over Ianto’s lips, where he could feel Ianto breathing – faint, but there.
“If you still have no wish to help us, he will be destroyed.”
Jack twisted to stare at the dome on the table.
“He was designed and built specifically for your needs,” they told him. “We may be able to reuse certain components, but the outer shell will be incinerated. You may observe.”
Jack looked down at the body he was holding, shaking his head. He tried to think in terms of components and programming and AI, but he couldn’t. This was Ianto. It looked and felt and smelled like Ianto, and there was no way he could let him go. Not again.
He pressed a kiss to Ianto’s forehead, and breathed in deeply.
“I’ll save you,” he whispered. “This time, I’ll save you.”
Straightening up, he looked over his shoulder at the little glowing dome, and nodded.
“I’ll do it.”
Jack's in a bar, in the 94th Century, in the Tarlanay Galaxy when it happens. It's just a cough behind him, but it's familiar. Too familiar. And beyond wrong.
He turns, and stares at two men he really thought he'd never see again.
"You're not real," he says quietly. "I don't care what you think you are or how you worked this little trick of yours, but -"
"Jack," Ianto says, quieter, and reaches out to touch Jack's chest with just the tips of his fingers.
Jack stops. He tries to move, or speak, or breathe, but all he can manage is a shudder, a gasp like he's coming back to life.
"We've been looking for you," Ianto tells him, holding his gaze with a fearful intensity. His accent's faded a bit, as far as Jack can tell, but there's still just enough of that lilt to stir his memories. Just enough to make him hear I'm not leaving you and In a thousand years' time...
He pulls back from Ianto's fingers, hits the bar, knocks his drink over. The bartender - and the guy next to him - swears and tells him to be more careful, but he's hardly listening.
"You don't... believe me, do you?" Ianto asks, but Jack can hear that he wants to say believe in me.
"I watched you die," Jack whispers. "I held you. You died. And here you are, looking years older, in some galaxy you've never even heard of, over seven thousand years out of your time, with... him. What do you expect me to think? I'm having the worst fucking hallucination –"
"Charming," John says, and turns towards Ianto, putting a hand on his arm. "See? He doesn't want to know. Are we done now?"
"No," Ianto says simply.
Jack can't take his eyes from that hand. John's fingers, crumpling the material of Ianto's shirt, curled around the muscle of his arm. John was always one for grabbing, regardless of ownership or personal space, but this is different and wrong, and Ianto's just letting him touch him, like it happens all the time. Like he doesn't mind. Like he expects it.
"John saved me," Ianto tells him. "He brought me back. I still don't know what he did to save my life, he won't tell me. All I know is he dug me up and took me away from Earth, and I can't go back because everybody there thinks I'm dead. So we've been looking for you."
"It's not you," Jack croaks. "You're not... you. You can't be."
Ianto closes his eyes for a second, then sighs, "Jack, shut up," and kisses him.
Jack finds himself pressed up against the bar, with Ianto's lips on his, Ianto's body against him, every inch of him matched, touching, and pressure and warmth and Ianto's hands at the back of his neck and Ianto's tongue in his mouth, and he can't remember where or when he thought he was, but he's home.