Here's the epilogue to the story. This wasn't planned, but I hope everyone likes it and that it helps to answer any lingering questions. Enjoy! Thanks as always to my amazing beta Prothrombintime.
Ianto breathed out a heavy sigh. With a final tap on the keyboard, he leaned back against his chair and turned to look at Jack, who was sitting beside him, watching anxiously.
He smiled at Jack wearily. "It's done," he said simply.
Jack nodded and smiled back gratefully. "Thank you. I know it wasn't easy..."
Ianto shook his head, cutting him off. "It was my responsibility, Jack." Jack opened his mouth to protest. "Our responsibility," Ianto amended quickly. "Besides, I wanted to do it."
"Is everything ready for me?" Jack asked hesitantly.
He caught a flash of distress passing across Ianto's features. Jack knew that Ianto wasn't happy with what he was about to do, and he fully understood the reason for the younger man's concern. Ianto's greatest fear was that if Jack used the simulations, what had happened with Jason would happen to him too. They had no way of knowing if it was even a possibility, no matter how unlikely it seemed. So they'd agreed that their only option was for Jack to abstain from using the cortical interface technology.
It was a promise that Jack was more than willing to make. After everything he'd been through, the idea of being in any world other than the real one held absolutely no appeal to him. However, he just had one final thing that he needed to do first.
"Yep. I've updated your profile," Ianto replied evenly, a moment later. "You're good to go. Just don't forget what to do when you're finished and ready to come back."
"I won't forget," Jack assured him.
Ianto nodded and stood up. He took a couple of steps away from the desk, arching his back and stretching out his arms. Jack rose to his feet and moved to stand in front of him.
"You're exhausted," Jack said quietly, and resting his hands on Ianto's shoulders, he began to gently massage the tired, tense muscles.
"Yeah, just a bit," Ianto admitted with a soft sigh, closing his eyes and leaning into Jack's touch.
"Go and get some sleep," Jack suggested. "I won't be long, I promise."
Ianto opened his eyes and looked at Jack intently. "You're sure you don't want me to do this?"
"No, it should be me. I need to see him one last time." He squeezed Ianto's shoulders reassuringly. "You understand, don't you?"
"Of course I do," Ianto replied. He gave Jack a small, self-deprecating smile. "I'm just being an idiot."
"No, you're not," Jack admonished. "I'll be as quick as I can, and then that's it, just like we agreed. It's not worth the risk."
Jack gazed into Ianto's soulful, blue eyes as Ianto looked back at him affectionately. He took a moment to lose himself in the warm stirrings of his deeper emotions. The fierce and unwavering intensity of his feelings for the younger man continued to astonish him.
He gave Ianto a gentle, heartfelt smile. "Everything I've ever wanted is right here in front of me. Being here with you... knowing that you're mine... I wouldn't change that for the world. Not for any world."
Ianto's tired features softened, and he reached his hand up to his right shoulder, resting it over Jack's hand and entwining their fingers. Pulling Ianto closer, Jack cradled his face with his other hand and kissed him deeply. They continued to kiss for a long moment before reluctantly breaking apart, both sighing from the loss of contact.
Jack caressed Ianto's cheek. "I want you to show me some more of this amazing new world tomorrow," he murmured. "Although I intend to have you to myself for a few hours first." He grinned suggestively. "Perhaps we can cross off a couple more items on that list of yours."
Ianto grinned back. "Hmm… I like the sound of that. Maybe if you're very lucky, I'll introduce you to my stopwatch."
With a sly wink, Ianto turned away, walked slowly out of the room, and then headed towards the bedroom. Jack chuckled and watched fondly until Ianto disappeared from sight, his mind momentarily spinning with anticipation. While it was going to be difficult to come to terms with his new reality, Jack knew that as long as he had Ianto, everything would be all right.
It had been a long, exhausting day. Ianto had been working non-stop for over twelve hours to get everything done. Jack had been of little help to him for most of that time. He understood the theory, but the technology was fifteen years beyond anything that he was familiar with.
Jack's retinal scan had given them full access to the system, and he'd watched in amazement as Ianto worked with masterful skill and fastidious attention to detail. Even with the incredible technology at their disposal, Ianto had cautioned him that what they were doing was risky, and general speaking, heavily frowned upon. The simulated worlds were not supposed to be tampered with, except under the most extreme circumstances. The results were just far too unpredictable.
However, Ianto had been willing, and he hadn't fought Jack on it, for which Jack was deeply grateful. He'd stayed at Ianto's side, helping as much as he could, keeping a steady supply of coffee flowing, and making sure that Ianto stopped to eat.
Ianto had told him a summarised version of what had occurred in the simulation after Jason had entered. Jack had been horrified as he'd listened to Ianto's chilling narrative. They'd both been incredibly lucky, and learning how close Ianto had come to losing his life had filled Jack with a feeling of deep dread. He was mindful that Ianto had been forced to kill his former husband. The younger man seemed to be holding up well, but Jack was determined to keep a close eye on him, doing whatever he could to help Ianto work through the emotional fallout. They both had a significant amount of trauma to deal with. Jack just hoped that what they were now doing would be a solid first step in putting the recent past firmly behind them.
Taking a deep breath, Jack picked up the headset from its cradle on the desk and made his way to the living room. Lying down on the long, comfortable sofa with a cushion tucked under his head, he put the headset on and tapped the button on the side. A soft warning tone beeped in response, and forcing his body to relax, Jack closed his eyes.
Jack's eyes blinked open, and he waited for the familiar wave of disorientation to pass. He was sprawled out on the sofa in his apartment. It felt strange and unsettling to suddenly be back in his old home. It would be the last time he'd ever see it, he realised, and he felt a stab of nostalgia. He'd liked living there, but he couldn't allow himself to dwell on the past. This was his old life, and he had to keep his mind firmly focused on what he now had, not what he'd lost. Besides, he'd spent many lonely hours in this space, and loneliness was something that he wouldn't have to endure any longer. Looking at it from that perspective, what he'd lost was a small price to pay.
Quickly changing his clothes, swapping the worn jeans and t-shirt his counterpart was wearing for a newer pair of dark jeans, a grey button-down shirt, and his faithful leather jacket, he left the apartment and drove himself to St. David's hospital.
After enquiring at the reception area, it didn't take Jack long to find the correct hospital room. Standing outside the doorway, he took a steadying breath, and pushing aside his trepidation, he made his way inside.
The room was quiet and still. Pulling a chair close to the bed, Jack eased himself down into it. He gazed over the familiar form of the sleeping man, marvelling at how youthful and innocent he looked in his unconscious state. He'd never imagined that he could be so utterly captivated by watching someone sleep as he was with this beautiful man. However, Jack flinched as he noted the various injuries, and he felt a surge of guilt as he looked closer and saw the faint bruising and split lip for which he was responsible.
"Hey there," he said quietly as he rubbed gently on the man's shoulder. "Remember me?"
Dylan's eyes drifted open, and he looked around blearily for a moment before settling his gaze on Jack. He blinked and then a look of recognition spread across his features. "Jack?" he mumbled thickly.
Jack smiled warmly and leaned closer. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay, I guess," Dylan replied and awkwardly pushed himself upright as Jack reached forward to help him adjust the pillows. "I don't understand... what are you doing here? I thought I'd never see you again."
"I can't stay for long. I just wanted to check that you're okay and to tell you something." Jack reached for Dylan's hand and wrapped it carefully in his own. "Do you know what happened?" he asked gently.
Dylan shook his head as he frowned and looked at Jack in confusion. "No, it's all blank. The last thing I remember was getting into my car after being with you and leaving the club. Then I woke up here."
Jack nodded and relaxed, relieved that the erasure of the small section of Dylan's memory had been successful. "You were attacked. Probably just some thugs looking for money. I don't know any of the details though." He gave Dylan's hand a reassuring squeeze. "The only thing that matters is that you're going to be all right."
Dylan looked down at their joined hands and then back at Jack. His brow furrowed slightly. "I've been having these black-outs," he began hesitantly. "The doctor said I've got a mild concussion, but they did a scan, and he says everything's fine. They're keeping me here for observation, but I should be able to go home the day after tomorrow."
"That's great news," Jack said reassuringly. "You don't need to worry either. You're not going to have any more black-outs."
Dylan eyes widened with astonishment. "How can you possibly know that?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't tell you. You're just going to have to trust me," Jack said carefully. "Things will be better now."
"But..." Dylan began.
"Please, Dylan," Jack appealed, keeping his voice low and even, and hoping that he sounded persuasive. "I just need you to listen. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I'm going to ask you to take a leap of faith. It's not going to make sense, but I'm here because I care about you, and I want to help you. I need you to believe that."
"Help me?" Dylan asked warily.
Jack breathed out a sigh. "This is going to sound crazy," he warned. "Things have changed. The man I said I was involved with who you reminded me of?" He paused until Dylan nodded in acknowledgement. "He's gone, and he's not coming back. So if you want this... if you want to be with me... if you think the two of us might be good together... well, you've got a shot. But there's a catch."
Jack paused again and looked intently at Dylan, waiting for him to respond.
Dylan looked back at him suspiciously, and Jack couldn't blame him. "Go on," he eventually said.
"Once you get out of here, you'll have to look for me, and when you find me, I won't remember anything about you." Jack felt frustrated that he had to be so evasive, but there was no other way that this would work. "I won't remember seeing you at the club or anything that happened that night. I won't remember the other man that you reminded me of either. You'll have to start over with me."
"So, you're saying that after you leave here tonight, you're going to forget that you ever met me?" Dylan asked. "You won't even remember coming here?"
Jack nodded. "Yes, exactly."
"That's insane," Dylan said matter-of-factly.
Jack sighed again. "I know. That's why I said it's a leap of faith. If you think I'm crazy, you can ignore everything I've told you and go on with your life. You'll probably never see me again. But if you want to take a chance, I think we could have something amazing together. It's up to you though."
Dylan continued to look at him with a mixture of suspicion and doubt, but Jack thought he could see a glimmer of hope too. "How will I find you?" he asked cautiously.
"I live in an apartment in Cardiff Bay, not far from the Plass," Jack explained. "But you can't just show up on my doorstep. It's going to have to seem like a chance encounter, or I'll be suspicious. I often spend time around the Plass, and I'm particularly fond of the water tower. That's probably your best bet. If you wait long enough, I'm bound to show up."
Jack gave Dylan's hand a final squeeze and gently let go. "Just think about it, okay? If you want a different life for yourself, I think I can give you that." He smiled as he thought about Ianto and the new life they were embarking on together. He just wanted Dylan to have that opportunity too. "I know I'd love to have someone like you in my life."
Dylan nodded slowly. "Okay, I'll think about it."
Jack smiled. "That's all I can ask. My full name is Jack Harkness, by the way. You should know that," he said as he stood up.
He moved the chair back and then returned to stand beside Dylan's bed. He smiled at the younger man again, and leaning down, he pressed a soft kiss against his lips. Dylan eyes widened in surprise as Jack pulled back. He brushed the pad of his thumb lightly over Dylan's lips, mimicking the other man's gesture from their encounter in the alleyway.
"I have to go now," Jack said softly. He smiled affectionately as he looked down at the handsome face that was breathtakingly identical to Ianto's. "Good luck, Dylan," he said sincerely. "Whatever you decide to do, I hope everything works out."
Jack turned and started to walk away. Then he paused and looked back. Dylan was just staring at him with a mixture of wonderment and confusion. He gave Jack a small, tentative smile.
"There's something else," Jack said with a broad grin. "When you get home, check the balance of your bank account. You might find a pleasant surprise."
Two days later, Jack was standing near the water tower on the Plass, looking up at the shimmering monolith framed against the bleak, grey sky. He'd been coming here frequently since John's death. He found the sight and sound of the cascading water soothing, and looking around the vast expanse of the surrounding area with its regular bustle of people was a reminder that life must go on.
John's killer had been found, and they'd attended John's funeral the Saturday morning of the previous week. It was as much closure as they were going to get. His memories of the last week and a half were strangely muddled and confused. Since he'd received the terrible call informing him that John had been murdered, everything was frustratingly hazy. He supposed that it was a side effect of his intense grief, combined with several drinking binges. With John gone and the future of their project in serious jeopardy, Jack could never recall a time when he'd felt more confused, lost, or alone.
He rubbed furiously at his eyes, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. He was just about to walk away when he glanced to his side and noticed a tall, slim young man walking slowly towards him. He was dressed in faded jeans and a dark blue shirt, accompanied by a black denim jacket. He had a slight limp, and his left forearm was wrapped in a cast. Jack idly wondered what had happened to him. He was strikingly handsome, with short, dark brown hair, contrasting pale, smooth skin, and perceptive blue eyes. There was something elusively familiar about the young man, but Jack couldn't remember having ever seen him before.
The man came to a stop a few feet away from him. "Jack?" he asked cautiously in a thick Welsh accent.
Jack just looked at the man in surprise. There was definitely something familiar about this young Welshman, but he was still at a loss. "Um, I'm sorry... have we met before?"
"Yes, once, but you probably don't remember." The man shrugged. "It doesn't matter." He stepped forward and stuck out his right hand. "I'm Dylan… Dylan Evans."
Jack shook the man's hand as he studied his features carefully. "Nice to meet you... you do seem familiar somehow."
Dylan smiled gently. "Even if you don't remember, I've got one of those faces. I get that a lot." He looked at Jack with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Jack said, his voice wavering. "I'm having kind of a rough time at the moment. A close friend of mine died last week."
"I'm so sorry," Dylan said with obvious sincerity. "I know what it's like to lose someone important to you." He paused and looked at Jack uncertainly. "I was just about to go and get a coffee. You could join me? Might help to take your mind off things for a little while."
Jack thought about politely refusing, but the guy seemed nice enough, and he could use the company. He'd been spending too much time alone lately. Maybe he'd even found himself a new friend, he thought.
He tried to produce a grateful smile. "Sure, why not. I know the perfect place."
Dylan smiled in return, and they set off together, walking side-by-side across the Plass.