Word count: ~ 1,800
Warnings: Fairies, Jack-angst, Ianto-angst (to a lesser degree), misuse of fairy tales, abuse of poetry, lots of gooey fluff hidden behind the angst.
Summary: The fairies keep watching, keep staring, and Ianto fights his instincts. The tree roots trapping his legs creak as they tighten, a sudden burst of pain flaring in what is probably a shattered ankle, and Ianto can't hold on any longer. His lips part in a sharp gasp, and petals fill his mouth like air.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: For lilyrose225, and another of her awesome prompts—this one being “woods, Ianto, rose petals.” (Um, two-ish out of three ain't bad?) The hardest part was finding a title for the stupid thing. Because I have no imagination, I borrowed a line from Francis Thompson’s poem The Poppy.
(The quoted poem is The Sleeping Beauty, by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
The flower of sleep brings wakening to me (and of oblivion, memory)
He’s about to drown on dry land.
There are petals everywhere, red petals thick and choking around him, clinging to his lashes and gathering on his lips. Ianto wants to take a breath, wants to move and get away, but he can't. There's a fairy, huge and grotesque, on either side of him, and an outcropping of rocks right up against his back.
Beyond the thick fall of petals, the air is absolutely still.
The fairies watch in silence, fathomless dark eyes full of some alien emotion that Ianto can't comprehend, and they're all the more terrifying for it.
(The only sound is the double-time beat of Ianto’s heart, the terror and helpless fury leaping through his veins, and he hopes that they can't hear it; he’s at enough of a disadvantage already.)
There's an ache building in his lungs, an overwhelming urge to take a breath and damn the consequences. But Ianto was the one to deal with the corpses last time, the one to handle the bodies that had had their lungs stuffed full of rose petals, and there's little in the world that he can imagine worse than suffocating on that sweetly cloying smell.
The fairies keep watching, keep staring, and Ianto fights his instincts. The tree roots trapping his legs creak as they tighten, a sudden burst of pain flaring in what is probably a shattered ankle, and Ianto can't hold on any longer. His lips part in a sharp gasp, and petals fill his mouth like air.
But they aren’t rose petals—too bright, too starkly red, shaped wrong.
Red, Ianto thinks through the haze of darkness that's descending over his eyes. What other flowers are red?
The grip on his legs is suddenly gone, and he falls. It takes an age to reach the ground, or maybe a moment, and his head is spinning too hard to even think about getting up. He lies there for a breathless, aching second, trying to get his eyes to focus, but in vain.
Another petal flutters down in front of him, blood red touched with black at the bottom, and the answer comes along with the dropping darkness.
Jack isn’t used to feeling desperate.
Even on the bad days, his Torchwood team is usually capable to looking out for themselves, for the most part. They can handle Weevils, alien mercenaries, displaced dinosaurs, and Torchwood’s copious amounts of paperwork. Jack can send them out on missions without worrying too much, and they'll generally come back in one piece.
But this is different, even though he knows it shouldn't be.
(Ianto is different, regardless of all the warnings Jack has given his heart.)
“Tosh?” he says, biting back the sharp demand for results that's right behind it. “Anything?”
It’s small consolation, but Tosh looks just as worried and frazzled as Jack feels. He’s never seen her fingers move quite that fast on a keyboard before. “Not yet. His phone is on and I can almost track it, but something keeps bouncing the signal all around Cardiff. I can't get a lock on it.”
Before he can snap at her to work faster, Jack spins on his heel and strides away, turning on his comm and demanding, “Gwen, Owen, anything?”
“Do you have any idea how bloody many places the tea boy gets to before he even comes in every morning?” Owen demands, and though the tone is entirely caustic, all sharp and razor edged, Jack can tell he’s concerned, too. “Twelve bloody stores and then a long walk in the park that isn’t covered by cameras. We’re doing it all on foot, Harkness, ease up.”
Gwen cuts in before either of them can say anything more, voice quick and anxious. “It’s not the time for this, stop it, both of you. We’re looking, Jack, but I don't know how much help it will be.”
Tosh's cry of muted triumph makes him whirl around, all but leaping towards her station. “Tosh?”
“Got it!” she exclaims, pointing at a blinking dot on her screen. “There! I used all of the random points to triangulate a central location. The signal’s coming from Roundstone Wood, just inside the eastern edge.”
The name sends a sliver of ice down Jack's spine. He remembers the last time they were there, the feeling of a thousand eyes on them even in an empty wood.
Remembers Estelle, drowned in her garden miles from any body of water, and his heart clenches in fear.
“Tosh, you're with me,” he says, already striding towards the garage. “Owen, Gwen, meet us at the coordinates Tosh sends you. Hurry.”
He doesn't know what he thinks they'll be able to do against the fairies, but Ianto is out there, missing and finally found, in the center of the fairies’ area of greatest influence.
He’ll be damned and on his way to Hell before he stands aside and does nothing.
Jack has been alive for a very long time now, and has seen so many people pass through his life—more than might have otherwise, because Torchwood doesn't exactly add years and happiness (or mental stability) to a person’s life—that it’s sometimes hard to remember all of them. The tragedies tend to stand out the most, like Suzie and Alex, and after a time the good starts to fade away.
Already, it’s hard to remember the exact sound of Estelle’s laugh, or the color of her hair on their wedding day, or the way it felt when he ran his fingers through it. There have been others, too, just as brilliant and beautiful, and they're slowly vanishing from his mind, overwritten by sorrow and agony and far, far too much death.
Jack's come to accept it, for the most part, even if he doesn't like it.
The long and short of it is, Jack's used to losing people, whether he loses them suddenly and traumatically or to the relentless march of time. He never takes it well, not in the least, but for the most part he’s adjusted, and he can live with it.
(He’s got no choice, really.)
But all of that loss, all of that pain, it’s all nothing compared to the sight of Ianto sprawled lifelessly across a bed of red petals, looking as though he’d fallen where he stood.
(Died where he stood, Jack's brain corrects, but he won't—can't—recognize the thought for what it is.)
From high up in the trees, chiming, haunting, otherworldly laughter sounds, merciless and cruel as Jack falls to his knees beside Ianto’s body. His skin is pale, so pale, too pale, tinged with blue in the winter air. One arm is splayed out near his face, fingers curled, and Jack numbly lifts it from the thick carpet of red—not roses, thank god, but they might as well be.
Ianto’s fingers are as cold as ice.
Owen swears sharply, and he’s on the ground with Jack in a heartbeat, searching for a pulse in Ianto’s throat. Jack can see the rush of pure relief when he finds it, can feel the tension bleeding out of the doctor’s shoulders.
“Some sort of coma, I’d guess,” Owen mutters, peeling back an eyelid. “Fuck, I hate fairies.”
Jack echoes the sentiment wholeheartedly. “Is it safe to move him back to the Hub?”
Owen huffs out a breath, sitting back on his heels. “Yeah, probably. I don't bloody know, Jack. Fairies are a bit outside my specialty.”
The laughter comes again, and this time there are words within it, eerie and drifting.
“Year after year unto her feet,
She lying on her couch alone,
Across the purpled coverlet,
The maiden's jet-black hair has grown.”
Jack casts a wary glance up at the trees, even though he knows they won't see the fairies unless they want to be seen. “I think that's a chance we’ll have to take. You and I will carry him. Gwen, Tosh, guns out and stay alert. Don't let anything stop us.”
Jack doesn't know whether to find that heartening or foreboding.
At this point, though, he’s not really sure he cares.
The poem is Sleeping Beauty, and the petals are poppies—the flowers of sleep.
Jack sits beside Ianto in the medical bay, long after the others have gone home, and watches the light shift over his still face.
The fairy tale says true love’s kiss can break the spell, but—
But Jack can hardly tell what love is anymore, let alone judge whether it’s true.
Ianto’s fingers are cold in his, motionless, and Jack grips them just a little too tight as he closes his eyes, bring Ianto’s hand up to his lips.
At this point, trying and failing could very well be worse than not trying at all.
If he never tries, at least he can still hope.
He tries anyway.
Ianto opens his eyes somewhere full of light, somewhere beautiful and home, and smiles at the face hovering over him.
“I'm awake?” he sighs, turning his head just a little and pressing a kiss to a rough, broad palm. His lips tingle, sweet and gentle, as though he’s been kissing Jack while asleep.
Jack smiles down at him, the closest to tears that Ianto’s ever seen him, and kisses him again.
(If he hears a whisper about true love and fairy tales, Ianto can pretend he didn't. Jack only has so much dignity, after all, and Ianto likes to make sure he keeps a little of it.)