Characters: Ianto/Lisa, Rhiannon, Jack
Genre: Angst, character study
Warnings: Character death
Disclaimer: Doctor Who and Torchwood's characters, concepts, and events belong to their respective owners, including but not limited to Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat, and the BBC.
Summary: Ianto Jones never really did understand how one formative experience in life informed another, couldn’t see those cause-to-effect relationships working like a perpetual motion machine inside his own psyche. But just because you couldn’t see or understand something, yourself, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
A/N: Post-Cyberwoman fic. I figured I ought to write one, after all this time. And so, my offering to this well-tread territory: a story about mourning and grief and denial and realization, in three parts. azn_jack_fiend and count_to_seven beta-d it. Thanks for the help!
When he was nine he’d had a mouse named Bruno, fat and long-tailed, named after the character in The Witches. Rhiannon had suggested the name, having been the one to read the book at Ianto’s side in bed while Ianto pretended to listen but mostly looked out the window, hearing only the rising and falling cadence of her voice as white noise, like waves on the beach.
The week before Bruno died, Ianto stood at his cage and knew. Something about how lethargic he was in Ianto’s hands, slumping between his palms instead of scrabbling curiously between his fingers and across his wrists like he’d done when he was new. Something about how his body was just that little bit cold, still a living warmth, nothing like meat from the refrigerator, but not quite right, either. The way Bruno’s heart felt a little bit slow, like Ianto could almost feel the individual beats inside the hum under Bruno’s ribcage.
And holding him like that, assaulted by all those feelings of wrongness, of certainty and eventuality, words Ianto didn’t even know yet but could feel inside him, in his gut and palms and heart, it was all Ianto could do to drop his head (exhaustion, remorse, two more words he didn’t know) and cry.
Because what else was there, really? All that overwhelming feeling, that powerlessness, that crippling fear of mortality the first time you perceive it. After all that, what else was there but to cry?
And he must have gotten it out of his system that day, because when it finally happened, when he finally found Bruno stiff on his side underneath his wheel, it was like Ianto’d already spent all his resources on the build-up. Blown his wad too early, was the way he’d later callously characterize it, the way he just looked down on the cage and saw the life extinguished and felt absolutely nothing.
They took Bruno to the park to be buried, having no proper garden themselves, and Ianto found a place for him cradled by two jutting roots of a tree. His father dug the plot, perfunctory, jaw set, Rhiannon said a prayer, and then they told Ianto to drop the first handful of dirt on him, a boy imitating his father, like Ianto caught with his feet in Da’s shoes or running Da’s razor over his bare white face and drawing blood.
His father patted the ground into place with the spade, three taps, and then they just stood together, looking at the grave without speaking, and Ianto didn’t cry.
He felt a hand resting on his shoulder and looked up to see his father looking down: “That’s my brave boy,” his father said.
They all knew the story, half-whispered, of that bloke Hamish Fraser down in reverse-engineering section 4 who dumped his girlfriend the day after she was diagnosed with leukemia. After that, he became something of a pariah, walking the halls of One Canada Place dogged by words like “traitor” and “heartless” and “coward” and “monster”. And maybe he was just as bad as they all said, some callous creature of a man who had no use for a girl with no hair, or maybe he was just a victim, too, terrified of facing what was ahead, terrified of not being strong enough for her, not being the man she needed. Or maybe he was just an ordinary bloke with absolutely terrible timing, and he’d discovered her cheating and been planning to break up with her for weeks, building up his courage, and then she’d been diagnosed and he’d had to say something then, because he wasn’t going to be the sort of man who lives a lie just because he pities a girl.
Of course, like most people, Ianto Jones never really did understand how one formative experience in life informed another, couldn’t see those cause-to-effect relationships working like a perpetual motion machine inside his own psyche. But just because you couldn’t see or understand something, yourself, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
During the month before Canary Wharf, he and Lisa were barely speaking. It wasn’t like they were angry at each other and giving the silent treatment, nothing like that, and there hadn’t been any fights beyond Ianto leaving the light on in the loo or Lisa always leaving half a mouthful of orange juice in the carton, like bloody fucking clockwork.
It was more that sort of silence where they seemingly had nothing to say to one another, and if they did have something to say, the other wasn’t particularly interested in hearing it. Sometimes they would just watch telly until Lisa said she was going to bed, and sometimes Ianto would hesitantly trail after her, and other times he would watch her go over his shoulder, listen for the click of the bedroom door, and then have a wank to the news. Sometimes when they were folding laundry together, Ianto would say, “Did you hear what happened to Lucy Ching in PR?” and Lisa would say,
“I did, yeah.” And that would be the end of it.
And sometimes at the chipper Lisa would say, “I was thinking of going back to my parents’ at Christmas.” And Ianto would reply,
“Oh?” and Lisa would say,
Sometimes they would get dressed up to go on a date, Lisa in a skirt and heels and those big hoop earrings that made her neck look so long and lovely, and Ianto would style his hair, and then they’d just sit at the table, barely making eye contact, poking at their pasta and taking compulsive sips of wine.
Were they just in a ‘rut’, as Rhiannon would console him over the phone? Was that what being in a long-term relationship was just... like? No passion, no curiousity, just routines piled on routines? And then Lisa would walk into the living room wearing one of his white buttoned shirts over her dark naked body, or wearing a new red lacy bra and thong, and he’d bury his face in between her tits and groan for her and grab big fistfuls of her thighs, and she’d suck him off right in the living room, and he’d think okay, okay, we can do this, and then it would be the next morning and she’d be standing there in some old t-shirt, barefoot and complaining about him using his peanut butter knife in the jam jar.
Maybe he was considering breaking up with her, and maybe he wasn’t. Maybe they’d go to couple’s therapy, Torchwood offered that sort of thing, or maybe they’d have a threesome with some bird they picked up at the bar, or maybe something interesting would happen to them, for once, (and isn’t it funny that they craved excitement, working for an organization that had an honest-to-God ghost-bloody-shift?) and they’d have something to talk about again, something to care about, again, something to make their blood pound and their hearts beat together and their gazes linger.
He doesn’t remember that. All he remembers is finding her covered in blood and all the rest of it, the jam and the peanut butter and the red lacy bra and the mouthful of orange juice left in the carton not fucking mattering.
Maybe Hamish Fraser was the better man, or maybe Ianto Jones was, but Ianto never did have quite enough time or the self-awareness to think about it.
“Take the legs,” Jack says.
Take the legs, and Ianto swallows a quick mouthful of bile. He realizes there is nothing in his stomach but this morning’s hasty coffee, black. He can feel it sloshing around.
“Come on,” Jack says. “It’s only a body. Take the legs.”
He wraps his hands around Lisa’s ankles, his palms remembering foot-rubs while watching telly, rolling her stockings up or down while she toyed with her garters.
His hands flinch open and her legs crash to the ground again. Funny how the phrase ‘dead weight’ is just a saying until you see a body flopping around like it’s stuffed with sand.
“I can’t,” he says, horrified at the hysteria overtaking his voice. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” He sniffs a sticky trail of snot back into his nose and rubs his eyelids with blood-sticky palms.
“Yes, you can,” Jack says. “You can, and you will. You have to.” He catches Ianto’s eyes, then, and his face is calm, determined. Jaw set. Nothing in there but focus on the task.
Jack hoists her around the armpits and her head slumps back on her neck, exposing the underside of her jaw.
“It’s not only a body,” Ianto protests, unaware he’s even speaking at first. “It’s Lisa’s—it’s Lisa.”
Jack grunts. “Oh yeah?” he challenges back. Ianto half expects him to spout that old shit about the body being a mere vessel for the soul, an imperfect and frail form that temporarily houses some immortal essence.
But Jack, rather uncharacteristically, doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, Ianto follows the direction of his gaze to where it lands on Annie the pizza girl, riddled with bullets and sprawled out on her back in her own blood a few feet away.
“You’d made cheese toasties and moaned I hadn’t descaled my kettle.” Recited like so much data.
Ianto takes the legs.
“Lisa died a long time ago,” Jack says, adjusting his grip. Lisa’s head, face covered in blood, lolls on her shoulders, like a marble in a tread. “What we killed... it wasn’t Lisa. You understand that, right?”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Ianto admits. The body, even with its weight shared between them, is impossibly heavy. All that metal drilled into her, he supposes, it’s got to have added more than a few pounds. Or maybe Ianto is just too exhausted, now, all the hate and fear and denial and adrenaline washed out of him, leaving him limp and stunned.
But if Lisa isn’t this body between them, sagging at the hips and ass dragging on the ground, if Lisa wasn’t just the recitation of her memories, some hollow imitation of her consciousness, then what? Was the writhing, moaning thing, trapped in her own body and barely aware of her surroundings, that he doped with so many pain killers she wasn’t even lucid... was that Lisa? Lisa who always left a mouthful of orange juice in the carton and got on her knees in the living room to suck his cock and got mad when he used her towel? Did he even want that to be Lisa?
Jack is gritting his teeth. “How the hell did you get her down here in the first place,” he complains, rhetorically Ianto assumes, because he imagines it’ll be asked for real when they get around to the interrogation proper. “That’s what I want to know.”
The truth is, he’d been so desperate and so determined, at the time, that the weight of her hadn’t even registered until the deed was done and he’d had a moment to feel the pain stretching through his arms and shoulders and back. The following day, Jack had had him carrying boxes in and out of the archives for hours, and Ianto’d done it with a wink and a bland smile. With Lisa there was just no choice, no alternative, but to will that the impossible happen.
He’d willed himself to get up in the morning, to shower, to dress, to look appealing and available and emotionally blank. He’d willed himself to function well and perform tasks admirably, to make himself useful and essential. He’d willed himself to be unremarkable, to come and go without attracting notice or curiosity. When it came to it, he’d willed himself to seduce Jack Harkness, compartmentalizing all his conflicting feelings even as Jack stripped him bare. He’d even willed himself to hide an innocent man’s body.
He’d have done anything to delay the inevitable (and it was inevitable: too bad Ianto never was much good at making sense of the patterns in the narrative of his own life).
The sum of it all was that, by pure stubbornness, by pure denial, by pure selfishness, he’d willed Lisa to life.
He is beginning to realize that that was the worst part.
When they reach the incinerator, Jack drops his half of the body in order to open the door and Ianto stands with Lisa’s ankles awkwardly clutched in his hands, legs lifted and spread in some disgusting mimicry of sex.
“This is it,” Jack says, “Care to say a few words?”
Ianto can’t tell if he’s making a genuine offer or a cruel joke. The smell of ash fills his nostrils and makes his eyes water.
“I didn’t go to her funeral,” he says, lamely. “Her first one.”
“Her real one,” Jack corrects, archly. So he’s sticking to that lie, then. Dehumanizing her so that there’s no guilt attached to what they’ve done here, like so much Torchwood collateral. He reaches down to resume his hold on Lisa’s shoulders, and through gritted teeth says, “Ready? One, two, three!”
They swing the body together, but not high enough. Metal on metal rings out in a horrible clang as her body collides with the side of the incinerator. It leaves a shiny dent. No time to be horrified, they just swing her back and forward again, back and forward, gaining momentum. Finally, she hits the doorway ass-first and, folded on herself, slips into the opening.
Jack closes and locks the door before Ianto can protest. He hits the automatic cycle, like a big macabre dishwasher, and the incinerator rumbles to life, waves of heat hitting Ianto’s face. Ianto tucks his hands in his pockets, too stunned to move.
“Her mother..,” he starts, and nearly stops, except for now Jack is watching him, waiting, expectant, and Ianto knows his days of privacy, secrecy, are quite over. “Her mother was so mad at me. Called the day after the funeral, before I thought to ditch my old mobile. Said I needed to face reality, something about closure, something about honouring Lisa’s memory. She didn’t know she wasn’t even dead for me, that I was trying to save her and why would I need to say goodbye when she was still here? And now...” He looks to the door of the incinerator, sees his blurry reflection in the metal. He can’t make out his own features, but he can see enough splotchy colour there to know he has Lisa’s blood all over his face.
“And now?” Jack prompts. There is an edge in his voice, a threat, daring Ianto to say the wrong thing.
Ianto’s face crumples. “And now... I know she was right,” he chokes out, gagging on the words like they’re something he’s regurgitated. “All that pain, she was suffering and-- I just... I dragged it out, Jack, that’s all I ever did.”
“Yes,” Jack agrees, coldly. “You did.”
And that’s it, really. A solitary hiccup turns into a sob, and he holds his bloody hands to his eyes and he can barely stand upright for the weakness and the shaking and right now right now Lisa’s body is being seared by molten steel, burned to ash, bubbling fat and singing hair and-- he starts to laugh, hard enough that it hurts his bruised ribs and scrapes his throat.
“You’re not going to execute me, are you, Jack?” he gasps out, and it’s less a question than a statement of fact. He runs his hand through his hair compulsively.
“No,” Jack says, simply, no apology in his tone, no hint that an explanation is forthcoming. He stands there, watching Ianto doubling over, watching the tears stream down Ianto’s cheeks, and tucks his hands into his pockets. There’s no trace of discomfort or awkwardness or even concern in his expression, watching Ianto fall apart like this.
“And you’re not going to ret-con me either, are you?”
“Nope,” Jack says. He casts a glance over his shoulder at the incinerator as it rumbles and hisses away, disintegrating Lisa’s body to ashes and bone. “Now, if you’re quite finished here, maybe you could wipe your nose and we can get on with things. Got a long night ahead of us.”
Two more bodies, he means.
The guilt swallows up the grief.