Word count: ~ 2,000
Warnings: Kind of spoilers up to Cyberwoman? Angst, blood, magic, and too little world-building.
Summary: Twelve steps to immortality: this is the pinnacle of alchemy, of all alchemists. Ianto has reached final goal, and all he feels is empty.
A/N: This was one of those things that was floating around my head in about fifteen different pieces, and then I reread Louise Bogan’s The Alchemist and it all snapped into place. It’s possible that I’ll write more, I just don't have any solid ideas at the moment.
(The title is from a quote by Robert Morgan, “Alchemy is the art of far and near.”)
The Art of Far and Near
The circle inscribes itself into the concrete beneath Ianto’s feet, a double ring with twelve twisting runes between the lines. He takes a step forward, another, and stands at its center. Blood drips from his fingers, hissing like acid where it touches the stone, until he opens his hand, raises it, and lets the blood pool in his palm.
The drops collect and multiply, shimmering in the dimness, until they fill the cup of his hand and overflow.
In the circle, the lines writhe, twist, as though attempting to escape. Ianto closes his eyes and whispers, “Inmotus,” and they snap into place with a reverberation he can feel in his bones.
The blood is warm.
The stones are cold.
The creature that might once have been Lisa—if only he were better, if only he could have helped her the way he promised—shrieks at him, high and angry. Somewhere in the Hub, glass cracks.
The circle dissipates the noise, though, sends it safely to the side.
The concentric rings shimmer and start to glow.
There is silence. Owen and Gwen cling to the railing by the autopsy bay, battered and frightened. Tosh is on the catwalk, clearly terrified but gripping a fistful of charms that might help.
(Then again, they might do nothing at all. Lisa’s not a normal creature of magic, not anymore.)
Ianto can't look at Jack, so he looks at the creature that might once have been Lisa, but is no longer.
“Do you know why alchemy is called ‘the impossible science,’ even among those who use magic like breathing?” he asks softly, and the words echo strangely through the tomblike silence.
The creature lunges at him, slavering, trying to grasp him with twisted, misshapen limbs. Before it can reach, the circle flares blue-white, and it’s knocked back with a sharp cry.
“Because it is impossible, for the most part.” Ianto answers his own question, never looking away from the thing’s huge, matte-black eyes, more like a ghoul’s than any human’s. “You have to have perfect internal balance. Humility and pride, avarice and altruism, emotion and logic, humanity and separation. Most people never find that.”
The runes dance, glowing gold, brighter and brighter in the dimness.
“Incipere,” Ianto whispers, and another circle burns to life, right beneath the creature’s feet.
(Stop. This isn’t where the story starts.)
“Go back to London, find yourself another life. Keep stalking me, I'll wipe your memory.”
“No, but the thing is—”
“Look, any conversation between us, no matter what the subject, is over. Finished. Done. Forever. I'm getting back behind the wheel of that car. If you're still standing in the road, I'm gonna drive through you.”
“So you're not going to help me catch this dragon, then?”
(Game, set, match—but there are two losers here, not one.)
(That’s not the beginning, either.)
“No, thank you. And you are?”
“Jones. Ianto Jones.”
“Nice to meet you, Jones Ianto Jones.”
(Ah, yes. That's the start.)
“The thing is I just don't understand—”
“No,” Jack cuts Gwen off. “I'll tell you what I don't understand. You're going to rattle on with that ‘How can this be true?’ kind of shtick. What's it going to take for you people? If you want evidence of magic, how about that invasion of medusas in London on Christmas Day, turning everyone to stone? What about the battle of Canary Wharf? A necromancer in every home.”
He can see the uncertainty in her eyes, the instinct—self-preservation or something like it—to stay in her safe little world, to believe what she’s been told. But it’s not so easy, once even the first layer of illusions has been stripped away. Gwen looks up at him, and then away, a shift of the eyes that betrays absolutely everything.
“My boyfriend says it's like a sort of terrorism. Like they put drugs in the water supplies. Psychotropic drugs. Causing mass hallucinations and stuff.”
Jack scoffs. He’ll never cease to be amazed by how thoroughly people manage to fool themselves. “Yeah, well, your boyfriend is stupid.”
“Oh, you've met him?”
Gwen tries to be scathing, tries to save herself in that last moment before the fall.
She doesn't realize that it’s already too late.
(She belongs to Torchwood now.)
“Owen Harper, Gwen Cooper.”
“Doctor Owen Harper, thank you. I might be a Healer, but I didn't suffer through med school for that kind of disrespect.”
“Toshiko Sato, technomancer. Suzie Costello. She's second-in-command and a clairvoyant. And this is Ianto Jones. Ianto cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time.”
“I do my best.”
Jack can't resist—partly because he’s never seen Ianto so much as blink at anything, let alone a little flirting, and partly because it’s true. “And he looks good in a suit.”
“Careful. That’s harassment, sir.” But Ianto is smiling a little even as he parries, blue eyes warm.
(He likes Jack's coat; he’s said so several times, and he cares for it more carefully than even Jack does. That makes him special.)
Gwen looks between the five of them, wide-eyed and still off-guard from being found out so easily. She’ll have to adjust, Jack thinks, turning his gaze from Ianto—who certainly looks edible, and no amount of extra paperwork will keep Jack from saying so—and back to her.
“So…” she says slowly, eyes still flickering back and forth, “you're all magical?”
“All but Ianto,” Owen snorts, spinning back around to his computer. “Tea boy’s a norm. Bit more sensitive than average, but that's all.”
Suzie using necromantic artifacts in an attempt to control death, a succubus, two halves of a fortuneteller’s orb with the power to see the past and predict the future, and the more general, average threats the slip through the Rift from the Everafter into the human world—they're all good distractions, drawing Torchwood’s attention from the necromantic circles drawn by one of their own in the lowest levels. Ianto’s thankful for them, and for the fact that they all think he’s absolutely, boringly average. It lets him slip through the background without drawing attention except on purpose.
(He ignores the ache in his gut with every hour he betrays Jack, Jack who takes him to lunch and worries about him eating enough vegetables, who laughs when they're in bed together and makes Ianto laugh, too. Jack, who’s even more amazing than Lisa, and gods, but Ianto feels sick for thinking that, but he can’t not.)
When the necromancers invaded Torchwood One, they killed as many people as they could find, resurrecting them with terrifying blood rituals that gave them complete control of the victims, right down to their souls. Lisa had been resurrected, but they hadn’t managed to complete the ritual before the Doctor banished them all back to their dark corner of the Everafter.
She was trapped, stuck somewhere in between life and death, necromancer’s doll and revived human.
All Ianto wants is to restore her completely, but it seems that that hope—like his hope of ever having Jack look at him without horror and betrayal—is now lost.
The creature who was once Lisa kills two people and consumes their souls entirely before Ianto finally realizes that whatever made Lisa who she was is gone, consumed by necromancy and dark blood magic.
By that time, Jack and the others are back, and have uncovered the depths of Ianto’s betrayal.
But he can fix it. The kind, sweet Lisa he loved would never have taken a life—she didn't even kill spiders, always stepped carefully around weeds in the sidewalk. This creature, this thing born of the necromancers’ twisted manipulations and Dr. Tanazaki’s careless twisting of their spells, is something he can put down and destroy like the monster it is.
It doesn't even look like Lisa anymore, and for that Ianto is impossibly thankful.
The creature that could have possibly been Lisa once burns away to ash.
(Bodies can be broken down into carbon so very neatly, after all.)
Ianto stands over the now-dull alchemical circle, over the twelve symbols that still burn like embers in a banked fire, and lets out a long, slow breath.
Twelve is the magnum opus, what no alchemist uses without careful planning and utterly controlled circumstances.
Twelve steps from nothingness to lapis philosophorum.
Twelve steps to the creation of a panacea, the heal-all.
Twelve steps to immortality, and few take it when they are as young as Ianto is now, but that doesn't matter anymore.
This is the pinnacle of alchemy, of all alchemists, the greatest goal of those born with power over the elements in their basest forms.
Ianto has reached final goal, and all he feels is empty.
A hand closes on Ianto’s shoulder, careful but still kind, and he looks up into Jack's concerned face.
“Ianto?” the Captain asks softly.
“I used all twelve of the greatest alchemical symbols,” Ianto answers, just as softly. “I didn't need to, I could have used something else, but I didn't. She wasn't Lisa anymore, she was a threat, and this is the first place I've been welcome since Canary Wharf. I couldn't let her destroy that.”
And Jack—beautiful, sweet, gorgeous, generous Jack—pulls Ianto into his arms, wraps him in a careful hug and simply holds him, tucked against his broad body. Ianto sags into the hold, resting his forehead against Jack's shoulder, and lets out a long, shuddering breath.
He doesn't say anything, but somehow, he thinks Jack understands anyway.
(Home, his heart whispers.)
(Jack, his soul whispers.)
(No. This is where it really starts.)