A Wounded Symmetry
Set sometime after The Last Time Lord

1. In the Company of the Dark

He returned home if not exactly expecting a hero's welcome then at least a welcome of sorts. He found the Hub in near darkness lit only by some solitary desk lamps and a few pieces of equipment Toshiko had not yet switched off. A stray thought wondered what magnitude of carbon footprint he was responsible for. Save the human race and damn the planet…

Memory had stamped the idea of space, warmth and comfort onto his reflections of working here. Like wearing someone else's clothes the place didn't quite fit his recollections. The vastness of the central area had shrunk down to a smaller usable area bounded by sluices, concrete staircases, blocks of technical equipment he should have been able to name but never quite got around to learning their functions. It was colder too than he expected; his breath steamed slightly in the air, small perfect motes of moisture dispersing over the inhuman angles of the machinery. How many times had he stood in this very spot commanding his team into uncertain territory? To unknown dangers?

"Ohayou gozai masu, Jack-san." A small figure detached itself from the gloom and walked over to a pool of light cast by a distant lamp. It was wearing a white lab coat that had seen better days; a spider's web of stains marred the lower part of the cloth. The occupant, however, looked acceptably clean. The whites of its eyes shone disconcertingly in the crepuscular atmosphere.

He grinned and bowed from the waist in an exaggerated movement. "Oai-deki-te ureshii-desu?" In response to the air currents caused by his overcoat a thin wisp curled up from the ground, turning in on itself before silently falling back like a djinn returning to its bottle, every unspoken wish spent.

Toshiko gave a small, tentative smile before returning her concentration to the screen. "Good trip?"

A sigh full of wonder: "I've sang songs at the end of the universe, gone beyond the boundaries of time. I've seen events no human eye has witnessed before." His eyes glittered in the twilight. "Oh Tosh. I've been chased by creatures that looked like men and talked with creatures more human than humans." He grabbed her hands and pulled her towards him. "Dance with me." He shuffled his feet creating worm trails in the dust.

She made a few faltering steps then shook her head. A thin strand of hair fell free to be pushed back into place with a strong hand. "Still the same old Jack Harkness I see."

"I never change." Apart from a few grey hairs.

"No," Toshiko whispered half to herself. "You never do." She pulled away from his grasp firmly but insistently. "You've been gone a long time Jack."

He glanced around and noticed for the first time the dust. What little footsteps broke the surface were small enough to belong to Toshiko alone. "How long?" Almost too afraid to ask.

"Seven hundred and thirty one days." She backed away as if he was suddenly contagious.

Over two years. Suddenly his throat was dry. "I guess the Tardis overshot the platform." The attempt at a joke raised little response. "Where—?"

"We just drifted apart." She started typing on her console. "No particular reason. We just didn't have a good enough excuse to stay together."

He pulled up a nearby chair letting the legs drag, creating dust trails like snakes over his earlier footprints. "You stayed."

Toshiko stared at him as if he'd accused her of a crime. "Poor Tosh. No social life, eh?"

"I didn't mean it that way."

"No. You never do. That's half the problem." She looked up at the empty rafters as if for inspiration or courage. "Someone had to tidy up the loose ends." Someone reliable. Someone sensible.

"Myfanwy?" Jack asked, mistaking her focus for something else.

"In cryo. There was no one left to feed her. And we couldn't bring ourselves to put her down." They stood there not looking at each other for a long time, Jack with his hands still on the back of the chair and Tosh hovering over the computer as if it were a lectern and she a minister about to preach to the congregation. "Gwen went back to the Police, of course."

Of course. Jack shrugged. "I hope she's happy there." He didn’t know what else to say.

"No Jack. She's not happy." She had never once called him Captain since his return. Were both now equals? "Owen chased after her and had a confrontation with Rhys." Understating the facts again. "She walked out on them both. But she's been lonely and miserable ever since. Too stubborn to bend with the wind."


"BUPA. Somewhere north of Manchester." A touch of disapproval came into the voice. "Last I heard he was being investigated for professional misconduct with a patient."

"And Ianto?" Dear Ianto. His hands reflexively tightened on the back of the chair, knuckles whitening his tanned skin.

She reached out and switched off the terminal. The whir of the fan slowly subsided into silence. A pair of brown eyes looked so sadly at him that his heart leapt into his mouth. "He tried very hard to be positive at first. So very hard. But in the end he had no strength to wait any longer." She touched him on the shoulder as she headed towards the stairs. "I'm sorry Jack," she said without looking back. It was the last thing he ever heard her say.

Later he gathered his courage and climbed up the stairs to his office. Beneath a thin layer of dust there was a letter addressed with a simple 'J' in blue ink. He brushed the surface clean with a gentle sweep of his hands. At some stage it had been hurriedly opened. The contents didn't add anything extra to what Toshiko had already said. Don't be angry with me, Ianto had written, I'm not as strong as you.

"You couldn't wait," Jack said to himself, hands trembling on the paper. "You couldn't wait." The finality of the words shook something within him, broke the dam that held back tears. Perhaps Gwen would tell him where he could place flowers.


2. All roads…

Listless. Restless. Feverish. A dull ache like distant thunder permeates his dreams. Truth elongates into phantasy; places become foreign, geographies and architectures meld and fracture into a landscape of the strange-familiar. Clockwork thoughts chase rationality away. Tick. Tock. Tick Tock. It is time, they say through the hammer blows, it is time. Red tides come and wash away the future. The dreamscape changes to black, to grey, then the world of sleep and torment brightens brightens brightens…

The probing beam from a torch seared momentarily into his eyes bringing him out of his half-sleep. An apology came from the direction of the tent flap, then sotto voce: "You'll want to see this!"

Groggily Ianto wiped the sleep from his eyes and inched out of the sleeping bag. For decency he pulled on a pair of long shorts and a large maroon sweatshirt that had seen better days. Extra large. He liked it that way. It stopped people mentioning how thin he had become. From outside the male voice urged him to hurry.

It was dusk. The silhouettes of his companions played out their drama on the canvas side, not yet thrown into full resolution by the fire. Something important seemed about to happen. Martha called to him but the words were lost beneath a deep braying laugh, muffled through the tent wall. As his head emerged into the open air the sun shrank towards the horizon like a burst children's balloon.

Flatlined. Limned in electric blue. An eyeliner of a sundown escaping emergent night. With a slow blink the darkness is absolute. Retinas fail to match its speed leaving ghosts burned-in, flitting with focus from campfire to the swallowing dark. The light from the flames flickers wanly on the nearby trees but elsewhere the forest is an invisible presence, towering in unseen over them.

No stars.

Fast as a fourth of July plume an oily moon bursts from the distance, rising over the tree canopy in a viscous rainbow of pinks and blues. In a few seconds it has achieved what appears to be a stable orbit and hangs in the sky, vibrant and challenging.

"That's impossible," Ianto said, trying to work out the relative orbits of the planetary bodies. "It's just… Impossible." He shook his head as if that would dispel the mirage.

The Doctor chuckled. "Stop trying to think in terms of Newtonian physics." As Ianto scrambled to join the others he added. "Now watch this."

A pointillist symphony of Morse begins, glissando, building to a crescendo of Luciferase in the depthless azure of the night: swift pulsars of brightness adrift in lazy orbits above the camp fire. The air is suddenly alive with the scent of summer pine and the soft buzzing of curious fireflies. The clearest canopy of stars gazes down on the shaggy forest skyline. Beneath their feet the ground throbs with a company of core diggers swarming in their subterranean nests.

"Nice one, doc," Donna exclaimed, her impromptu clapping causing the fireflies to dart to the opposite end of the camp. Ianto felt for the poor creatures.

"We saved you some cocoa," Martha said quietly, handing over a battered tin mug. He could hear the professional sympathy in her voice, the tone of the medic. "It should still be warm."

He sipped the sweet liquid without comment, watching the aerial dance going on around them. Just when he thought he could discern a pattern, an overarching intelligence, it changed into something else. One of the insects buzzed closer to him and landed on his knee tickling the hairs. "Doctor?"

"They don't bite."

He watched it closely as it alternatively raised and lowered its six legs as if tap dancing. A pair of compound eyes stared back at him in curiosity. On its back a greenish light pulsed faintly. If he concentrated hard enough he could almost hear it buzzing. A second creature landed beside it. Then a third.

"Are you sure about that, doc?" Donna. The buzzing had increased, Ianto realised; pulsing like a heartbeat almost below the threshold of normal hearing. He wondered if anyone else could make it out. Donna made a coarse comment about the mating habits of mosquitoes. He ignored her. He'd been doing a lot of that lately.

Eyes bright as pennies the swarm coalesces in the cooler parts of the thermals above the fire. Red flickers into amber streams into phosphor. It solidifies into ectoplasm, swimming in the currents of the air, all motion fluid. The colours diversify. Uniform green becomes emerald, Verdi Gris, viridian. The colony splits apart, flying away from each other at high speed then turning on a knife-edge to reform in a particular pattern.

Martha gasped. "Ianto, that's—"

"Me," he said in wonder. The Doctor was beaming from ear to ear.

"Fuckin' 'ell". Donna again. The giant face wavered for a moment then the individual points became once more simple fireflies weaving in easy arcs. The show was over.

Realisation came to him easily. He'd wandered so far from home the past few decades that his mind was open to every new possibility. "This planet. These creatures. They're machines aren't they?"

"Aww. You guessed too soon." The Doctor sounded genuinely put out. "I was hoping the magic would last a little longer."

"Knowledge doesn't necessarily blunt wonder." The Doctor of all people ought to have known that, Ianto thought. "The magic doesn't just disappear."

"Of course they're not strictly speaking mechanical machines. They're still flesh and blood, albeit artificially created." The pride of the father. "Gravity, weather too. Everything is controlled by a central program operating at a molecular level." The Doctor threw his arms wide. "We made this. My people. And a million other worlds like it. As a teaching exercise." A fleeting frown. "Or a game."

A sudden fist-clenching pain left Ianto momentarily breathless. Self-consciously he split open the foil wrapping around a new packet of medicine and took one of the black pills. Without water it was difficult to swallow. He felt it starting to work almost immediately, unknotting the cramp in his stomach and chest. Exercise however made it more effective. "I'm going for a walk. I— maybe some time." He waved Martha's arm away as she moved to help him stand. Pity he could live without. As he stumbled off towards the edge of the forest he heard her murmur to the Doctor "Jack should be here."

Summer rain, light and fleeting as a mother kissing a sleeping child. Fireflies dart to the safety of broad leaves, glimmering from underneath the sheltering foliage; Sylvan eyes blink from all heights as they pair off in some pre-programmed ritual. Green stares back where he stares alone. Below the cyclopean gaze of the hanging moon the scrub glistens wetly. It is the perfect path for him to follow.

Jack was with him always, he needed the others to know that. If not physically close then it was in memory reawakened by the faint aroma of a familiar eau-de-cologne in deserted rooms, the pitch and timbre of a voice heard through closed doors. He neither felt abandoned nor used.  Over the decades that their strange relationship had persisted he'd accepted his place in it: subservient to Jack's momentary whims, but as the Roman generals of history perceived after every conquest all roads led back to Rome. First among equals, he thought wryly.

Martha refused to understand his largess. For all her talk of unrequited love she kept missing the thrust of his argument: it had never been unrequited between them. The bond ran through skin and heart, lust and love. There was nothing to forgive because there had been no betrayal. No false promises of fidelity to break. No relationship is a unified whole. He'd buried his initial disappointments in the certain understanding Jack looked for nothing more than the missing pieces elsewhere. That belief had never been shattered. It remained a mantra he carried with him, through the bad days and the remissions, through the dark places between the stars and the wonders held between.

He had no regrets. Yet he was under no illusions the scales were equally balanced. He'd been the one initially who held back unable to commit save fully. But he had finally pushed through that barrier, made that connexion, willing to give everything for single moments of equanimity. The times they spent together burned gloriously in his memory, brief candles spluttering incandescently in the winds of chance.

If there was anything he missed in this tranquil alien world it was Jack's smile. The fireflies, picking up on his thoughts with their limited telepathic field, charged in front of him brightening as they passed. "Nice try," he said, amused at their attempt, "but it's not a patch on the real thing."


"It's the other side of the scale," the Doctor said. "The same Artron energy that keeps Jack's cellular structure in a state of permanent renewal also keeps Ianto's in a state of decay." The two sides of regeneration: destruction of the old, birth of the new. Another unique accident in the history of the universe. Ingested nanites repaired the damage but their effect was only temporary. The force which tore his cells apart ravaged the tiny machines soon after entering his body. They gave him at best a temporary reprieve.

Martha had taken the explanation without a visible response.

Donna's face was blanched in the light of the fire, taut with conflicting emotions. The Doctor's eyes were sad; she'd noticed early on in their travels that his eyes were often sad. She glanced in the direction Ianto had taken into the forest as if fighting the urge to run after him. "He shouldn't be alone."

"He's not." The Doctor's voice was firm. "We're here." He stretched out on the earth, hands locked behind his head. "Now. Anyone know the lyrics to Kumbaya?"


"You alright love?"

Ianto paused to let the figure crashing through the undergrowth catch up with him. "I'm fine," he snapped, annoyed at having his solitude interrupted.

"Liar." Donna was panting. "Christ I need a smoke after that. You can't half move fast when you want to." She clung to his arm until she summoned up enough energy to stand straight. Part of her blouse had torn on a branch. "Don't suppose His Highness would drop me off at Harvey Nic's for a bit?"

"Was there something you wanted?"

"Oh. Yes," she said. She slapped him hard on his face. "That's for being nasty to Martha."

"What the f—" It stung. "I haven't said anything to Martha."

"That's it exactly. She's been nothing but nice to you and all you do is look right through her as if she's not there." Her eyes were puffy as if she'd been crying. "You've been terrified she'd try and talk you out of it."

He started to protest that he didn't know what she was talking about when she slapped him for a second time. "Enough, Ianto." There was a mossy tree stump next to her and Donna decided after her chase she didn't have enough energy left for a third slap. She slumped down on the makeshift seat with her head in her hands. "Ianto, I know what you're planning. You're talking to the woman who had to practically sit on a man to get him to consent to marriage." A stone was violently kicked aside. "When you've spent too long fighting tooth and claw for something you finally get to the point you have no fight left." She looked up at him. "I've been watching you, Ianto. You're acting like a man who's given up the struggle."

He said nothing.

Donna shook her head. "The Doctor knows too. It's quite a send-off he's organised. Your own son-et-lumière. A jolly little camping trip with friends and you get to be Oates wandering off in the South Pole at the end. 'I'm just going outside. I may be some time.'"

"Is there a point to all this?"

Suddenly she launched herself off the trunk and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "Be true to yourself Ianto Jones." Donna released her grip and stepped back. "We're worlds apart, you and I, but it's been an honour to meet you."

Ianto looked rather nonplussed. "No lecture? No 'Jack will be angry with you'?"

"None of my business." She ignored the credulous look he gave to the statement. "I've figured out the hard way that no matter what I do the universe continues on uncaring."

He took her hand and pressed it gently.


"Shall we go?" the Doctor asked Donna as she emerged slowly from the darkness into the pool of light cast by the Tardis. He'd let the fire go out she noticed. Martha was looking confused.

She nodded, trying to fight back tears. "He asked me to tell Jack not to be angry."

"No!" Martha exclaimed, pulling away from them. "We can't leave without him." She looked at the Doctor for reassurance.

"Donna understands."

And she did. "He didn't want Jack to be with him out of pity."

Martha stared back at her aghast.


He left her behind to walk the virgin trail deeper into the forest, letting the branches tug at his arms as he passed into the humid interior. An empty foil carton dropped from nerveless fingers.

No regrets. No hesitations.