Spoilers: Through TW Season 3 but not really.
Summary: One morning, Ianto Jones wakes up and finds himself cursed, doomed to live as a swan during the day for the rest of his life. There’s no chance of breaking the spell—unless Ianto receives a kiss from his one true love under the full moon. It sounds easy enough...if only Jack knew that Ianto was still alive. Will Ianto ever be fully human again, and does anything in Torchwood ever end “happily ever after”?
Author’s Notes: Written for reel_torchwood. Plot adapted from “The Swan Princess” (1994). Beta’ed with great awesomeness by gingerbreadlass. Many thanks for everything, Ginger!
One Year Later
The moon was shining bright in the skies over Cardiff, and all was quiet and peaceful in the forest of Brecon Beacons.
Well, relatively quiet, in any case.
“Last one in’s a rotten egg!”
“Oi, that was entirely uncalled for!”
“I wasn’t talking about you in particular! Sensitive, much?”
“Just wait, I’ll show you who’s rotten!”
Anyone passing through a certain part of the woods where few humans had ever been seen before would have been surprised by the shouting, the playful laughter, and the pounding sounds of running feet as a man and a woman chased each other through the trees. The pair broke through the edge of the tree line and dashed to the lake, running head to head until the man pulled ahead at the last second and dove headfirst into the water with a loud splash. The woman followed suit, and both surfaced several moments later, still laughing as they shook out water from their eyes and hair.
“Well, for once, you weren’t last,” Cat conceded as she and Ianto dragged themselves onto the shore, both of them flopping on the sand on their backs like dead fish. Both were still wearing the same clothes in which they’d been transformed—Ianto’s suit was dark and sopping wet, as were Cat’s T-shirt and jeans. “You’re getting better, duckling,” she teased. “Maybe by next winter you’ll beat me before we get to the lake.”
Ianto waved her off with an airy laugh. “You’re using the wrong term,” he said once he’d caught his breath. “It would be far more accurate to call me a cygnet, you see.”
Cat giggled and whacked Ianto’s shoulder playfully. “And I’m not a kitty, I’m a fearsome predator,” she rejoined, referring to the last time Ianto had dared to say “Here, kitty-kitty” in her presence. “But I meant it, you know, you’re doing better. A lot better.” She raised herself on her elbows and gave Ianto a long look with those piercing green eyes of hers, eyes she kept while in her animal form. “You look—happier, now,” she said slowly after a time of studying him. “Not as brooding as you used to be. You’re adjusting pretty well, actually. Not thinking about how to get out of here as much, are you?”
“Not really.” Ianto crossed his arms behind his head, gazing up at the night sky, speckled with stars and the moon waxing full above him. They still had half the night to go before the sun rose and changed them back into their animal forms. “I mean, yes, I still think about it,” he amended. “But it doesn’t bother me as much anymore, I suppose.”
“That’s good.” Cat settled back against the grass in a similar position to Ianto. “Hope’s never a good thing to have too much of,” she said firmly. “Learned that early and the hard way. It’ll just break you, if you let it get in the way of what goes on in the real world.”
Ianto disagreed with Cat, but he kept his thoughts to himself, letting her study the stars in silence. One of the many things that he’d learned during his year in the forest with Cat was how she had come to be here in the first place. She’d had no family, her parents having abandoned her at birth and leaving her to be raised in an orphanage and foster care. When she was fifteen, she’d been separated from her latest foster family during their camping trip in Brecon Beacons National Park; when night fell and brought the cold with it, Cat had made the mistake of breaking off live branches from the trees around her and burning them to keep herself warm.
That one crime against the forest had doomed her to spend the next ten years of her life in the form of a panther, living mostly alone and friendless until Ianto had come along. So, yes, Ianto could see that she had a point when she warned him (repeatedly) not to get his hopes up.
Unlike Cat, Ianto had been more fortunate. He’d had a family, even if he hadn’t always gotten along with them. He had Torchwood, even if most of his friends were now dead, killed in the line of duty. And (the crowning point of them all) he had Jack, even if the captain hadn’t figured out where Ianto was and hadn’t come to rescue him yet. Ianto was sure that Jack was still looking for him, and would find him and bring him home someday.
Someday, indeed, Ianto thought ruefully. Tonight was exactly one year from the night he’d first arrived on the shore of the lake, guided on accident as he had been by that werewolf he’d shot. And in all that time, Ianto had roamed the forest without finding a single trace that Jack Harkness had been there to look for him, Ianto Jones. If this went on much longer, Ianto was almost afraid that Jack would forget about him—forget about them, about what they used to have, and instead move on, find someone else to love, perhaps leave Ianto to grow old and die in the forest with Cat.
Maybe Cat was right. Maybe it was time to move on already, to accept his destiny and forget about what he once had.
“I can see Jupiter from here, I think, look,” said Cat from his left, and Ianto turned to look as she pointed out the star in question, wondering to himself what Jack was doing at that very moment.
* * * * * * * * * *
At that very moment, Jack was in the lowest level of the Hub, shooting targets in the firing range at an hour when most would want to be asleep.
Jack didn’t sleep much anymore, not since Ianto had gone missing. It wasn’t just that the bed and his back felt cold when he woke in the mornings, now that there was no warm body keeping one half of it occupied, no Ianto spooned up against him with an arm slung over Jack’s waist as he quietly snored in his sleep. But it was also the dreams that kept Jack awake, dreams of Ianto in various stages of death: dead in the forest they’d spent so long searching through, or lying still and pale and seemingly gone in the gymnasium after that deal with the 456 gone wrong. If it hadn’t been for Gwen, Jack might have left Ianto for dead right then and there...
“Jack,” Gwen had said softly, one of her hands frozen on the knob of Ianto’s tie after she’d straightened it for the final time. Jack had closed his eyes at the time, trying to stop the tears from leaking out, but he had quickly wiped them away and looked where Gwen was pointing with a shaking finger.
It had been at Ianto’s throat, right at the bend in his collarbone that Jack liked to kiss when they were lying together in bed at night. And as Jack watched, his eyes widening as realization set in, there was just the faintest of movement as Ianto’s Adam’s apple fluttered once, twice, and then a third time in just as many seconds.
“Ianto—Ianto’s not dead,” Gwen had breathed, sounding shocked. Jack had hardly dared to believe it himself; but there it was: Ianto was still breathing. “He’s in a coma, or something, but—oh God, Jack, Ianto’s alive, they’re all alive—”
Back in the present time, Jack viciously fired off another round of shots at the bull’s-eye thirty feet away, his fingers still pulling on the trigger long after his ammunition was spent, before tossing the empty gun to the side into the ever-growing pile of spent weapons. So what if the virus hadn’t actually turned out to be lethal, and no one from Thames House had ended up dead? So what if Ianto had been the first of the “victims” to awaken from his death-like sleep? None of that seemed to matter anymore. Ianto was gone, dead as far as Jack knew, and there’d been no sign of him in one full year’s time.
So much for miracles, Jack thought as he adjusted his noise-proof headphones. I’m practically made of miracles myself, and I wasn’t even able to save Ianto once.
He turned around to grab another gun, but froze when he saw a figure outlined against the doorway of the firing range. Even if there hadn’t been more than one person other than himself still allowed entry into the Hub, Jack would have recognized the figure immediately due to the—well, enlarged nature of the silhouette.
“Gwen,” he said dully as he removed his headphones. “Shouldn’t you be at home?”
“And you should be asleep,” Gwen countered. She slowly moved closer, rubbing her already-swollen belly with small circles of her hands as she walked. It was her second child with Rhys—they’d already decided to name it Ianto if a boy, Tosh if a girl. Their first son Owen was no doubt at home, sleeping or perhaps wailing his father awake (something Gwen and Rhys had both complained about for a long time). “I couldn’t,” she continued by way of explanation. “I couldn’t sleep. So I came back. I’ve missed working here,” she added, sounding rather wistful.
“You know the rules as well as I do, Gwen.” Jack picked up a Colt and hefted it in his hands, purposely without looking up. “Once you’ve got kids, Torchwood puts you on maternity leave for good, male and female both. Why do you think I kept Alice a secret for so long?”
“But, Jack, you’re Torchwood,” Gwen pressed, ignoring Jack’s excuse, the same one he’d given her when she’d tried to return to work so many months ago. “You’re the only one left, for God’s sake! It’s not like London’s breathing down your neck, you could let me do desk work until the baby comes—you can bend the rules a bit, can’t you?”
“Absolutely not!” Jack had to take a breath to calm himself, to lower his voice back to normal levels. “We’ve lost enough good people already,” he finally said, turning around to face the targets once more. “Don’t need to lose one more—and you know how easy it is to go from the desk to the field, it’s much safer working from home.”
Gwen huffed, and Jack could almost hear her cross her arms over her growing stomach. “It’s about Ianto, isn’t it,” she said with a sigh. “It’s been a year, Jack. He’s gone, you need to let him go already.”
“It’s not just about Ianto,” Jack lied. He raised the Colt to eye-level, squinting as he aimed at the target’s center. Of course it was about Ianto, but he wasn’t about to give Gwen the satisfaction of being right.
“I’m sure it isn’t.” Gwen sighed again. “Jack, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you really ought to hire someone to replace us. It’s not good for you to be working all this by yourself, Jack. Why don’t you get some new blood here, take a break, forget about everything for a while?”
“I’ve tried, Gwen, believe me. I’ve tried to forget as much as I could.” Jack squeezed the trigger, ignoring the recoil in his hands as the bullet lodged two inches off from the bull’s-eye. He whirled around and fixed Gwen with a piercing look. “But Ianto—I won’t forget about him. Not when he’s still out there, somewhere,” he said quietly. “I’ll bring him back if it’s the last thing I do.”
Gwen matched stares with him for a moment longer before giving up. “I hope you do, Jack, I sincerely hope you do,” she said as she turned to go home again. “But I don’t think it’s healthy to be chasing after ghosts,” she added over her shoulder. “Sometimes you just have to—give up and let them go, you know?”
Chasing ghosts, indeed, Jack thought bitterly as he went back to his target practice. But what else can I do, when ghosts are all I have left?
* * * * * * * * * *
Transforming between human and animal forms was not as painful as it looked. As Cat put it, it was rather like a woman’s menstruation cycle—more annoying than agonizing, only these happened every day and night instead of just once a month.
In Ianto’s case, there was a certain amount of discomfort in the whole process, stemming from the fact that Ianto’s animal form was so much smaller than his human body. Just before the change to a swan occurred, Ianto would feel slightly jittery, as if butterflies were fluttering and multiplying in his stomach. And then, a minute or two later, Ianto’s bones would stretch at a mind-boggling rate at the same time his exterior changed to match the shifting body structure—lips hardening to form his beak, fingers melding together as his arms elongated to become his wings, every inch of his skin sprouting white feathers—until, a few seconds after the change had begun, he stood there as a bird. Cat had told him that a white mist rose from his feet and obscured him from view until the transformation was complete; from watching Cat change herself, Ianto supposed she wasn’t lying.
Cat had also said that once the moon was out and reflecting in the waters of the lake, there was no stopping how many times they changed between forms. Ianto gave it a shot one night in the spring of his first year on the lake, with Cat keeping count for him as he transformed repeatedly and with as little pause between changes as possible. He managed a grand total of fifty-six changes, breaking Cat’s record of fifty flat in one night, before he fainted from sheer exhaustion. He hoped he’d never have to transform that many times in one night ever again, but at least he knew now that it was definitely possible.
That day, the one-year anniversary of his arrival at the lake, started out like any other day in the previous year. At the crack of dawn, both Ianto and Cat were awakened from the few hours of sleep they were enjoying and were forcibly transformed into their animal shape. As the sun slowly rose over the surrounding forest, Ianto swam into the middle of the lake to wash himself while Cat stayed on the shore, alternately licking herself clean and lapping up water for a breakfast drink. There were a few fish residing in the lake that Cat would sometimes hunt for her meals, which still made Ianto feel slightly queasy whenever he saw her tearing open the still-twitching fish and devouring its innards raw—not like he had much room to talk, he was a bottom-feeder, after all.
Once there was enough light to see by, Ianto and Cat always left the lake and went exploring. The forest itself seemed to be alive, somehow, its borders shifting and changing with every passing day, so the two of them were never bored and almost always lost. But as long as they stayed true to their innate animal instincts, they eventually found the winding paths that would correctly lead them to and from the lake. It was a gift that accompanied their curse, the power to not only understand direction from the core of their bodies but also tell time by the beat of their hearts, and Ianto appreciated it as much as he hated being stuck in his animal form for all the daylight hours.
By the time the sun was well past noon, the panther and the swan were roaming a patch of forest several miles away from the lake. They hadn’t found much of interest so far (as opposed to the one time a couple of months earlier when Cat had discovered a nearly-full case of lager, abandoned by some campers, no doubt—Ianto had flown the entire thing back to the lake, and the resulting binge led to a night of debauchery that still made Ianto blush when he remembered it. Cat was his first since Lisa died, and it still felt a little like treachery, against both Lisa and Jack as well), and Ianto was just about to suggest heading back to the lake when Cat suddenly pounced on something brown and furry that gave a loud squeak of terror as it tried to unsuccessfully escape the panther’s claws.
Cat! squeaked the creature, surprising Ianto by its use of his and Cat’s mental language. It’s me! Don’t hurt me, please!
James?! Cat immediately retracted her claws, and the squirrel she’d caught quickly danced out of reach. What the bloody hell—I could’ve eaten you! She turned to Ianto. Ianto, meet James Barley, he’s been a squirrel since before I came. And he actually likes staying as an animal...
My wife’s fine and the kids are doing well, thanks for asking, James interrupted dryly before Ianto had a chance to say anything, though he did want to ask what John found attractive in a female squirrel. But that’s not why I came to find you, Cat. You told me to keep a sharp eye out for anything suspicious, and so I have. You know the road passes through only a mile or so away from here, right?
Yeah, guess it does, doesn’t it? Cat raised her nose and sniffed the air delicately. What of it, then?
Well, I’ve been keeping watch on the cars that pass through—I have to, you know, before they run over me or my family. James sniffed. Stupid drivers, they never watch where they’re going these days. Anyway, there’s a large van stopped on the side of the road, it’s been there for a half hour before I came and it’s probably still there if you go now. Some man in a strange coat’s been laying flowers on the roadside, I’m guessing someone he loved must have died there—
Ianto found himself hardly able to breathe. That van… It took him several moments to collect his now-scattered thoughts. That van—does it have the word “Torchwood” written across the side? Black lettering on white?
Yes, that’s it, exactly! James beamed, flashing the largest and whitest pair of incisors Ianto had ever seen. Why, you must’ve seen the thing yourself!
Ianto surprised everyone (including himself) by leaping into the air with a flurry of leaves and feathers before his brain could protest. It took him a moment of pumping his wings to get going, but he eventually got his momentum off the ground and rose higher into the air until he was level with the top of the trees. He heard Cat yell for him to come back, but he ignored her, instead starting off in the direction of the road that James had pointed out, the same road that Ianto had driven from Cardiff one year earlier. If Ianto wasn’t mistaken, the place where he’d pulled over the SUV wasn’t that far away from where they were now...
Oh, for the love of God! Cat swore to herself as she and James watched Ianto fly off into the distance. Listen, James, I’d better get Ianto before he does something stupid. Thanks for the tip, though.
Uh, yeah, sure, James said, sounding and looking completely bewildered by Ianto’s hasty disappearance. Was it something I said?
Why, yes, I think we can safely conclude that it was something you said, Cat agreed dryly before following Ianto on foot, leaping over a fallen log in a single bound and disappearing from sight within seconds, which left James the squirrel all by himself in the clearing.
Something I said, bah, James harrumphed to himself as he resumed his search for freshly-fallen seeds. Those larger animals, always got someplace better to be than talking to a lowly squirrel like me, the arrogant bastards...
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack still didn’t know what possessed him to drive all the way out to Brecon Beacons that afternoon. Owen would have scoffed at him for being sentimental, if Owen were still alive; Gwen, on the other hand, just sighed into the phone when Jack called her for help in finding a decent flower shop in Cardiff. She eventually agreed to come out and help Jack with the choosing of bouquets, and she watched him sympathetically as Jack bought nearly all the white roses and lilies that particular shop had to offer.
No doubt Gwen thought he was crazy, Jack had realized ruefully once he was in the SUV and already halfway through the long drive, inadvertently taking the same route Ianto had one year ago. But he wasn’t trying to restart the search for Ianto’s body or anything—as if there was anything left of Ianto’s body after a year of being missing! No doubt Ianto was lying in some half-hidden glen or cave somewhere, rotting, the perfection of his skin marred by the maggots and other insects that fed on him—
Jack shuddered and briefly closed his eyes without slowing down the SUV, his hands clutching the steering wheel tighter until his knuckles shone bone-white as he tried to block the gory image of Ianto’s corpse that suddenly filled his mind. No, it was better to think of Ianto as being untouched by time and decay, like when Ianto had been presumed dead after the 456 incident and had been placed in one of those red UNIT body bags. Ianto had looked asleep then, which was what he’d turned out to be at the time; but it was a nice image to remember, anyway, rather than consider the actual realities of decomposition that Ianto’s corpse was no doubt undergoing even as Jack made his way to that part of Brecon Beacons where Ianto had gone missing.
The sun was slowly dipping beneath the level of the closest cluster of trees by the time Jack had reached the spot where they had found the SUV abandoned a year earlier. He pulled over to the side and engaged the handbrake, smiling sadly when he spotted a white ribbon tied in a bow around a nearby branch. Gwen had come and visited the place with Rhys months back, shortly after UNIT had called off the search for Ianto’s body, and had given Jack directions on how to find her marker, the only visible sign left of Ianto’s disappearance.
Jack got out of the SUV and, before he went to the boot to fetch the flowers, allowed himself the liberty of reaching up and stroking the white silk bow gently. The knot had been hardened by the elements, but the pair of streamers that waved gently in the pre-evening breeze was still soft, reminding Jack of the last time he’d brushed his fingers over Ianto’s silk tie before going out to hunt that last Weevil one year ago.
No matter how much time passed after Ianto’s disappearance, Jack didn’t think he’d ever forget the sensual little things about his lover. How Ianto’s clothes felt under Jack’s fingers as they undressed each other before bed, the seductive aroma of Ianto’s coffee in the mornings, the way Ianto’s eyebrows would raise just like that and cause Jack to suddenly feel the urge to take Ianto on the worktable in the break room right then and there. He’d made a promise in that warehouse to never forget Ianto no matter what came between them, and just because death hadn’t intervened at that instant didn’t mean the promise didn’t hold now.
Jack sighed as he turned away from the white bow, still thinking of Ianto while he unloaded the dozens of flowers he had brought with him. He began to walk down the road, laying down a blossom or two with every step he took, ignoring the occasional honk of a passing car or truck as he slowly laid out his memorial to Ianto Jones. Let everyone see how much he loved Ianto, with every rose and lily that was now lying scattered on the roadside for a nearly half-mile stretch.
“Ianto.” Jack spoke the name without really meaning to when he let the last flower fall from his hands. He dropped down on one knee as a small evening breeze rose, scattering roses and lilies lightly across and down the road. He caught the closest ones as they skittered across the gravel towards him and set them back on the ground gently.
“Ianto, I’ve missed you so much,” Jack whispered as he stared at the flowers by his feet, his eyes suddenly clouding over with tears. “If only—I wish—” Jack found he couldn’t continue, so he ducked his head to wipe his eyes dry with his hand and finished the sentence in his thoughts.
If only I’d been there that night, with you...I wish I’d told you how much you meant to me sooner, I wish I could’ve saved you somehow...
As Jack pressed his hands over his mouth, struggling to keep himself from sobbing out loud, he heard something rustling in the bushes that were behind him and to his left. He whirled around and caught a glimpse of something white ducking down behind the hedge that lined the roadside. “Hello?” Jack called, feeling a rush of adrenaline awareness surge through him. “Is someone there?”
When no one answered, Jack slowly got to his feet and took a few steps closer to the now-still bushes. His hand dropped to his waist, pushing back his coat lapel until his fingers brushed over the handle of his Webley. “If someone’s there,” he repeated, louder this time, “just say so. I’m not going to hurt you if you talk to me...”
Still no answer. Jack waited for a full count of ten, then drew his gun in one smooth motion and aimed it at the center of the hedge. “Show yourself!” he yelled, cocking the gun loudly, his pulse racing. “Show yourself, or I’ll shoot first and ask questions later!”
* * * * * * * * * *
Ianto fluttered down for a landing several yards from the road, which was barely visible through the dense hedge that separated man from nature. Sure enough, there was the familiar Torchwood SUV, Ianto would recognize the white top and shaded windows even if he couldn’t see the name printed on the side in huge black letters. He crept forward as quietly as possible and slowly raised his long neck so that it stuck over the top of the bushes like a periscope, his breath catching slightly when he saw who was on the other side.
There was Jack, still in that ever-present RAF greatcoat, a good ten feet down the road and kneeling to straighten a pair of roses and a lily that had been scattered by his feet. The whole stretch of road as far as Ianto could see was covered in those flowers; when he realized that Jack must have brought them, for him, for Ianto himself, obviously thinking that Ianto was long dead, Ianto wanted to cry if only his animal form would let him.
Ianto had been right all along. Jack was quite far from forgetting about his missing employee and lover.
Without warning, a black form appeared on Ianto’s left, startling Ianto and causing him to rustle the hedge in front of him with his wings as he flapped frantically to regain his balance. Ianto Jones, don’t ever make me follow you on foot again without at least warning me first, Cat growled, annoyed and in the mood to lecture. Now, come on, we’ve got to get back to the lake before the moon rises, it’s only another twenty minutes—
Shhh! Ianto saw Jack turn around, trying to find the source of the noise, and he quickly ducked down behind the hedge before Jack could see him. Cat, listen to me, Ianto said to Cat urgently. I’m going to meet Jack now, all right? I can’t just leave him like this—
“Hello?” Ianto heard Jack say with a slight hitch in his throat that only Ianto would have noticed. “Is someone there?” Those words were enough to make Ianto begin to raise his head, only to have it batted down (gently, for a panther) by Cat.
Are you officially out of your mind? Cat demanded with a flick of her tail. You can’t even communicate with other humans in that shape, and you want to try and convince someone who thinks you’re dead that you’re not? That’s so idiotic, it’s brilliant!
“If someone’s there,” Ianto heard Jack continue, apparently coming closer from the sound of his voice, “just say so. I’m not going to hurt you if you talk to me...”
Fine, fine, you’re right, Ianto acknowledged, his mind racing. Just—help me out here, please, Cat? Help me bring Jack to the lake. We can explain everything to him, tonight, once he’s seen me transform. Please?
Cat tried to glare down Ianto, but gave up after a few seconds’ of a staring match. Oh, all right, she finally relented. If this doesn’t work, I swear to God, I’m going to have you roasted on a spit, Ianto Jones!
There was a loud click that Ianto recognized as the sound of a gun’s hammer being readied before firing. “Show yourself!” Jack yelled. “Show yourself, or I’ll shoot first and ask questions later!”
You know what, I think we should go before he pulls that trigger, Cat interjected, sounding very worried now. On a count of three, get the hell out of here! One, two—
Ianto didn’t even wait for Cat to finish counting. He leapt straight into the air with a single pump of his large wings, coming eye-to-eye with Jack for a brief moment before soaring high into the pink-tinged sky above them and praying that curiosity would be enough to make Jack follow.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack was already tightening his finger on the trigger when the hedges began to tremble once more. Suddenly, there was an explosion of white as a large bird flew heavenward, its tremendous wings flapping wildly as it swiftly gained altitude. Jack followed its flight with his gun and his eyes, squinting against the sun as he tried to make out the silhouette of this—goose? No, its neck was too delicate, its color too pure to be a common goose. Jack knew little about waterfowl, but he knew enough to recognize a swan when he saw one.
A swan. Jack slowly lowered his gun. What harm was a swan? All right, so maybe it was a little strange to find a swan in the middle of Brecon Beacons with no water in sight, but Jack had seen stranger things in his life before. A swan wasn’t any danger to him, that was for certain.
Just as Jack was about to holster his gun, the words of the dying hiker they’d found during their first search for Ianto rang in his ears. It’s not what it seems...
Jack hesitated for a moment, then quickly re-aimed his Webley at the bird, now fluttering over Jack’s head about ten or twelve feet up. Screw the Queen’s law against swan-hunting; it was better to be safe than sorry, as that unfortunate hiker had seemingly learned the hard way. With a grimace of concentration, Jack pulled the trigger, swearing to himself as the swan suddenly jerked at the sound of the gunshot and changed directions, moving swiftly out of range and in the direction of the setting sun.
Jack ground his teeth and began to follow on foot, plunging through the hedge and ignoring the sounds of tearing cloth as the thorns clawed at his clothing. He wasn’t going to lose that bird, not if it had anything to do with Ianto’s disappearance. Not this time...
* * * * * * * * * *
Ianto swore loudly as one of Jack’s bullets zoomed by his head; had he not ducked out of the way, he would have been shot through the gullet by his own boss! On instinct, Ianto propelled himself forwards and towards the lake, cursing as one hastily-fired bullet after another passed by both of his wings. Jack must have been trying to shoot while he followed Ianto’s trail.
Ianto! Cat screamed from below some minutes later as they fled in the general direction of the lake. Ianto, are you all right?
For now, yes! Ianto called back. Keep Jack on my trail, if you can, and make sure he keeps on missing me! Ianto cursed again as another bullet whizzed past, followed in swift succession by yet another one. Why is he trying to shoot me? It’s not like I was attacking him, Ianto grumbled. Doesn’t he realize that it’s illegal to hunt my species?
Just keep flying! Cat snapped. If this Jack of yours doesn’t finally kill us all, maybe you can ask him that later! Hang on a second, he’s reloading...I’m heading him off now before he goes too far west—oh, SHIT!
Ianto heard a faint gunshot below, but no bullet came in his direction this time. Cat? Ianto called, feeling a sudden pang of fear for his feline friend. Cat, what’s going on?
I’m fine, I’m fine, Cat reassured him a few moments later, sounding breathless and shaken. I came too close and I think he saw me, but he missed again, thank God. How far is the lake?
We’re almost there—I can see the clearing from here! Ianto pressed forward against a crosswind, dropping altitude until he could see the glimmer of the setting sun from the clear waters of the lake where Cat and Ianto resided. At the same time, Ianto caught a glimpse of the moon, waxing full and just visible over the treetops.
I’m going down now—moon’s out, Ianto called down to Cat as he swung hard to his right, beginning his wide and circular descent to the lake. Cover for me!
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack swore under his breath as he dashed through the forest, pacing himself carefully so that he neither outran nor fell behind the flying bird that he was trailing. Every so often, when he was certain that there were no treacherous roots or branches lying in wait to trip him up, he would raise his eyes and his gun to the sky to fire at the swan above him; so far, every shot of his had been unsuccessful, as if some dark magic was protecting the bird from his bullets. At one point, while he was reloading his spent Webley and at the same time continuing his pursuit, Jack had seen a flash of black just in front of him and had fired wildly at whatever creature was now attacking him from the ground; the black thing had disappeared, seemingly uninjured by his shot, and did not show itself again.
Finally, after what seemed like ages of running and after the sun had already disappeared below the trees around him, Jack burst through the last of the trees and into a wide clearing, stumbling to his knees as he gasped to catch his breath. In front of him stretched a wide blue lake, its waters clear and shimmering blood-red in the dying light of the evening. Jack couldn’t help but stare at the lake for several moments, marveling to himself at its size and its seeming incongruity in comparison to the rest of the relatively-dry landscape around him.
And then a dark shadow suddenly appeared, reflecting in the lake and growing in size until it took on the shape of a bird with wings outstretched.
On instinct, Jack shoved himself to his feet, gun poised and ready by the time he spotted the silhouette of the swan hovering above him some twenty feet up. He took a moment to aim before firing at the creature with the very last of his bullets. The bird tried to duck out of the way, but Jack’s shot held true; there was an explosion of red off of one wing before the bird spiraled downward like a dead weight and crashed into the waters of the lake with a loud splash.
No sooner had the shot echoed through the forest than a large dark cat suddenly lunged out of the trees and knocked Jack to the ground, leaving him to stare into a pair of shining emerald green eyes before the black panther leaped over his head without warning and dashed into the lake in two large bounds, yowling wildly as it waded into the water. Jack slowly sat up and got to his feet once more, his eyes widening as a white mist rose from the lake, obscuring both the panther and the fallen swan from view.
Jack raised his gun and aimed into the center of the cloud, his finger tightening on the trigger as the mist swirled round and round, faster and faster in a cyclone of water and air. No telling what might be waiting for him on the other side...
* * * * * * * * * *
Ianto wasn’t exactly paying attention to what was happening on the ground, so he didn’t see Jack suddenly break through the trees that separated the rest of the forest from the enchanted lake, and he definitely didn’t see the gun, only hearing the shot and Cat’s scream of Ianto, MOVE! simultaneously. He tried to twist out of the way, but there was no way that he could move fast enough with so little warning.
The bullet tore through his wing, knocking Ianto off balance and sending him tumbling to the lake below with a sharp yell of pain. His impact with the water was sharp, cold, and extremely painful as the freshwater forcefully seeped into the wound.
Ianto! Ianto, talk to me, please! Ianto dimly registered Cat shouting at him as he floated on his side in the lake just moments after impact. He groaned, not able to form a coherent response at the moment, aware that Cat was now plowing through the water to get to him; her yowls of distaste and the rippling of the surface of the lake against his feathers were enough to paint the picture even if he couldn’t quite focus his eyes yet.
Ianto, oh good God, Ianto... Cat was by his head now, bending down and gently licking his bloody feathers which were staining the water around him a deep crimson. Ianto, can you hear me? I’m so sorry, he moved too fast, I wasn’t watching—are you all right? Does it hurt much? Ianto, come on, darling, talk to me! The ends of Cat’s words ran together, she was practically shrieking with concern, and Ianto could see every muscle in her neck tensed and standing out beneath her sleek black fur.
Yes, yes to all of the above, Ianto grunted, rolling over using his good wing as leverage and flailing a bit in the water before managing to sit upright. There was a familiar queasiness in his stomach that made him glance around for confirmation; sure enough, not ten feet away, the moon’s reflection was shimmering and breaking up with ripples on the lake’s surface. Oh, would you believe it, it’s time already, he said dryly, the words hardly out of his head before the change began.
This particular change was much more painful than others, no doubt because this time there was an injury to deal with that stretched and ripped apart as the rest of the body transformed. Ianto couldn’t stop himself from screaming as white-hot agony tore through what used to be his wing, what now became his arm as he slowly re-formed into his human shape. When the change was finally done, Ianto stumbled forwards a step, always a little unused to the new center of gravity as he pushed his way through the fading mist that had surrounded both Cat and himself during their respective transformations.
On the other side stood the man he’d been waiting for every since that night one year ago, that man now aiming his gun at the level of Ianto’s heart and looking every bit like he wanted to pull the trigger again.
Ianto automatically raised his hand to shield himself, using the wrong arm on accident and barely stopping himself from crying out in pain. Doubling over slightly, he grabbed at his wounded arm with his free hand, wincing as he felt blood soak through his torn suit jacket and onto his fingers, before standing straight again and facing Jack once more. He didn’t need to look into Jack’s eyes to see the shock and complete bewilderment that he knew he’d find there, but Ianto looked anyway.
Ianto looked, looked long and hard, and didn’t flinch when a single tear fell from his eyes, landing with a soft splash into the water below.
“Hullo, Jack,” Ianto said hoarsely. “I suppose rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated by now, haven’t they?”
Part One | Part Two | Part Three