Genre: Five Things, Multi-Tonal
Disclaimer: Torchwood's characters, concepts, and events belong to their respective owners, including but not limited to Russell T Davies and the BBC. This is a work of fan-appreciation and no profit is being made.
Summary: Five ways Ianto Jones and Jack Harkness could have crossed paths outside of the years 2007-2009.
A/N: Title from Joyce Sutphen's poem "On the Way to the Farm I Think of My Sister". Beta-d by azn_jack_fiend.
His mate Daryn said that if it’s your first offense sometimes they rough you up in the station to try and scare you straight before it reaches the courts. Ianto twists his wrists in the cuffs experimentally, feeling the little jagged edges of the metal nip at his skin, and wonders if it’s working.
He’s been sitting here going on two hours now. Cussed out the lady behind the desk after she told him that the one phone call thing was something they only did on the telly, and got himself barked at by some fat-headed excuse for a pig for flashing the two-fingered salute. He jiggles his leg, his heel thumping against the laminate flooring, until the lady at the desk hisses out “Will you stop that fidgeting?” The prostitute he’s sharing the bench with laughs.
Then he counts ceiling tiles until his neck gets stiff.
“Captain Harkness, what a pleasure,” the lady at the desk says, only it’s obvious it’s not a pleasure at all, and Ianto goes on counting ceiling tiles, paying her no mind. Now that he’s thinking of it, he’s probably counted twenty-seven at least three or four times.
It’s the prostitute. He keeps catching sight of her out of the corner of his eye. He’s never seen one up close before and he kind of wants to talk to her. Not chat her up, mind, but just ask her name, just to be able to say to Daryn that he, Ianto Jones, made friends with a prozzie while he was sitting in jail.
“Dropping off or picking up?” the lady at the desk asks, and Ianto looks to see her talking to a man in a big coat who is leaning flirtatiously toward her. He’s drumming his fingers on the desk and she isn’t asking him to stop that fidgeting.
“Picking up,” the man replies, a Yank with a wink in his voice. The lady at the desk titters under the force of his entendre and Ianto groans aloud, shaking the chain of his cuffs in protest. It incites a chorus of foot stomping and swearing among his fellow accused that has to be silenced by a PC’s baton to the bars and a shouted threat.
The PC unlocks the gate for Harkness and a roughed-up looking man rises to greet him. “Finally!” the man complains. “Kept me waiting long enough, didn’t you?”
“I’m worth it though, aren’t I?” Harkness jokes with a lecherous grin. Ianto and the prostitute exchange eye rolls.
And just like that Harkness and the man walk out of the cell together and are on their way out of the station. No paperwork, no bail, nothing. Ianto jumps to his feet and suddenly all the frustration of these two hours of being told to sit still and not talk and not complain and not flirt with the prostitute and just wait while we decide how to punish you, you awful little boy is bursting out of him like a baking soda and vinegar volcano.
“Where’s he fucking going then?” he shouts. The prostitute laughs and the drunks stomp their feet. “How come that Yank just gets to pull him free while the rest of us wait? How come he’s above the law? Captain what? What the fuck’s he a Captain of?”
The drunks call out suggestions (Ianto hears "Captain of your Granny's Cunt") while the man he’d freed walks on, but Harkness turns, giving Ianto an appraising look. “Special privileges,” he replies with a shrug. “Face like mine opens a lot of doors.” He laughs at his own joke, insufferably fucking smug, and walks on out.
The PC bangs his baton more and Ianto collapses back onto the bench, wishing he could cross his arms because he would except for these fucking cuffs. The prostitute, not wearing cuffs and with her arms crossed under her chest and her head resting back against the wall, turns to look at him.
“Special privileges!” she scoffs. “What I wouldn’t give for those some days.” She laughs humourlessly to herself, as though she’s recalling an old joke that she never found funny in the first place, and when she tires of it, she asks him pleasantly, “You got a fag, sweetheart?”
“I do,” Ianto says, but then holds his arms out, palms up, showing her the cuffs in an expression of defeat. “But they’re in my fucking pocket.”
The prostitute’s mouth twitches in a coy little smile and Ianto feels her hand glide down the front pocket of his jeans, fumbling around for the pack of Benson & Hedges squished down inside. The back of his skull thumps against the wall and he decides Captain Harkness can keep his “special privileges”, actually.
He’s only a junior researcher but even he knows when Yvonne Hartman is in a bad mood. She doesn’t stomp around, or yell at her employees when they don’t deserve it; she’s too English for that. However, she does walk all the way down to the archives to ask his supervisor a meaningless question that could have been answered with two and a half minutes on the comms, or by sending one of her fifteen personal assistants that Ianto seems to make contact with ten times a day. Ianto likes to imagine it’s her way to get out of her office while still satisfying her workaholic tendencies.
He and Lisa make eye contact over the monitors on their workstations. Meaningful eye contact, though Ianto’s not sure if it’s meaningful in the meet-me-in-that-disused-filing-room-and-I’l
So he turns on the webcam on his PC and aims it over his shoulder at the filing room door so he can watch it without having to be obvious. Three, four, seven, ten minutes pass, and quite suddenly Yvonne Hartman stumbles out, straightening the lapels of her blazer and fixing her hair. Ianto quickly minimizes the webcam window before she has a chance to catch him spying. He looks over at Lisa, tilting his head in question. Was the Director of Torchwood One just locked up in a filing room crying?
Lisa mouths a word at him: “Wait.”
He reopens the webcam window, and four or five minutes after that, the door opens again. This time, a man in a large coat steps out, smirking to himself. Ianto is about to minimize the window again when the man looks right into Ianto’s webcam and tilts him a wink.
Face red and shoulders shrugged up somewhere near his ears in a shamed turtle-position, Ianto closes the window. He waits for the all-clear before sending off an instant message.
I.JONES: What the hell was that?
L.HALLETT: *That* was Jack Harkness, Torchwood Cardiff’s Director/Leader/Whatever
I.JONES: Doesn’t she hate him?
I.JONES: In fact, aren’t we supposed to hate all of Torchwood 3? I thought that was part of the contract when they hired us.
L.HALLETT: Haven’t you ever read romance novels?
I.JONES: Despite your ongoing campaign to emasculate me, no.
L.HALLETT: Ouch! And to think I was about to suggest we follow our fearless leader’s example
I.JONES: You may have a chance, but I don’t think I’m Harkness’ type.
On his way out of the building the first time he’d somehow had the presence of mind to grab a keycard off of the chest of someone he knew had a higher security clearance than he did. Korean bloke, used to drink three cups of tea on a single break, all in quick succession. He doesn’t remember his name. Dead now. He doesn’t need it anymore.
He came back that night for Lisa, using the Korean’s card. Could look at it to find out his name, but discovers he didn’t much care, not right then, not while Lisa was lying half hidden under meticulously stacked rubble and debris. She’d been wailing in pain and he’d put a hand over her mouth and hissed “Be quiet!” Maybe that was completely lacking in compassion, but if they’d found her, they’d have killed her. How many executions did you watch, Ianto Jones, without protesting?
Now it’s the second day and the Korean’s card is getting swiped again, hopefully for the last time. Lisa is back in their flat tucked onto the bed, still wailing. If they hear her, they’ll call the police. Domestic disturbance, they’ll call it, but Torchwood will come all the same, and they’ll take him, too. They’ll think they’re doing the right thing.
He has to find parts for the conversion unit that’s acting as her life support. He has to cobble it together somehow, following the terse instructions she grits out through her teeth in drugged half-consciousness. It’s hard for her to breathe without support, she tells him. She’s not sure how long she has until she stops entirely, she tells him. She needs the conversion unit reassembled.
So he’s here. Scavenging. He has vague descriptions of the parts he needs and very little time to find them. A lot of debris to sift through. Yesterday he’d found five pieces, but only one had been correct.
His arms, his shoulders, his back, his legs hurt. It hurts to climb, to lift, to sift, to shove, to push, to roll, to bend, to pick, to dig. He does it all with his bare hands. He nicks his skin on exposed metal. That’s when he hears them, voices. Sees their torches passing over the debris.
“Anything alien, anything close to intact, you salvage. If it looks broken, take it and we’ll see what we can do. Leave the bodies where they are -- this isn’t a recovery mission.” He barks out orders and his voice is close, so close. It’s an American accent. Wasn’t Torchwood Three’s leader American? He can’t remember for sure. That clinical disregard for human life, though, that’s Torchwood through and through.
“You see any Cybermen, even partially converted ones, make sure they’re disabled. And then make sure again.”
He presses his back against a wall, wills himself to become a shadow. They’re coming closer; he can hear them cracking jokes, complaining about the work, making snide comments to each other, acting as though they aren’t walking through a graveyard. He can hear their footsteps crunching over broken glass, kicking aside debris.
His eyes search for exits and escapes and there’s nothing. He kneels on the floor, makes to put his hands behind his head as if awaiting his execution. He almost welcomes the thought of the American leader of Torchwood Cardiff putting the gun to him. It’s not just the pain in his body, or the cold reality he is facing now with Lisa that he’s not sure how he’s going to navigate. It’s the way he’s been steeped in Torchwood, himself: the way he’d taken that swipe card and not cared from whom. He could kill Lisa, too. If he was on that side of this divide instead of this one. Holding the gun instead of looking down the barrel.
But he’s not, and he won’t.
But not because he’s a better man.
So he’ll have to survive a little longer, then. He lays face down in the dust, feels a detached table leg or some other strip of scrap metal stab his ribs. Shattered glass scratches at his nose and forehead, but he studiously sprawls his limbs and takes a slow, long breath. Holds it as the light of a torch passes over him.
“Anything?” calls the American from a distance.
“Just another body,” whoever’s at the door replies, a man with London thick in his voice. He sounds bored. “You want me to take a closer look?”
There’s a pause where all he can hear is his own heart throbbing. His body is starting to burn for lack of oxygen. His hands twitch as he tries to keep them from curling themselves into defiant fists.
“Is it . . . is it a woman?” the American asks, although it’s clear he doesn’t want to hear the answer.
“No,” the Londoner replies. There’s another sweep of light across the floor of the room.
“Leave it then,” the American replies, and the Londoner does as he’s told.
When they’ve gone he gulps in air by searing wheezes. Clasping the scavenged conversion unit part to his chest, he rolls onto his back and waits in the dark. His heartbeat reverberates against the metal as though he and it share a pulse.
Ianto has read about this, anomalies even beyond the reach of the rift. He knows the theory, knows a bit of the math that the rift manipulator has spat out when it has happened in Cardiff in the past, has even read a few eyewitness accounts of it happening before. But like it always seems to be with him, there is a very tall fence standing between what he understands theoretically in the safety of the archives and what he comes face-to-face with in the field.
Weevils, for instance. Most operatives don’t know this, but there is actually a pamphlet detailing the proper administration of anti-Weevil spray, printed sometime in the mid 1950s and illustrated with that quaint duck-and-cover art. But when you’re in the dark, in that creepy echo of an underground carpark with teethclawsarmseyesteeth, it’s very hard to remember “Always shield your eyes with your forearm and direct the spray away from your person. Depress the plunger and move the canister in a smooth left-to-right diagonal, keeping the motion confident and quick.”
Cannibals, for another. Ianto knows from a college paper he wrote that cannibalism is often a ritual practice tied to warfare, and its practice by certain tribal groups was used as an excuse to justify colonialism. But you try keeping up your anthropologist’s practiced sense of moral relativism in the face of that shit in the Brecon Beacons. Four weeks later and he still retches privately at the sight of uncooked meat, pork tenderloin in particular.
All this to say that copious mental preparation has done absolutely nothing to prepare him for the very visceral sensation of turning a knob, walking through a doorway, and coming out on the other side in a different era. One moment he’s following Jack through the reception room of an office building in downtown London, reminding him (in a somewhat curt tone) of the day’s schedule and no they do not have the luxury of taking fifteen minutes after the luncheon to “unwind” in the rental car, Sir. The next, he’s in what appears to be a WWII-era war room complete with uniformed soldiers and air-raid siren, bug-eyed and trying to shrink his body as small as humanly possible, every nerve prickling with either terror at his surroundings, or the leftover energy clinging to him from the shift.
He’s about to turn and walk out the door again, hoping nobody’s seen him in his modern-cut suit and with Bluetooth headset stuck in one ear (never mind the fact that he’s an unknown person in what is likely a top secret area), when he’s grabbed roughly by one arm and dragged out into the hall again. Slammed bodily against the wall.
“And what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Jack! Thank God you’re here,” he blusters, trying to squirm free from the grip of the hands pinning his shoulders back. “I think we’ve accidentally walked through some sort of anomaly—”
“Wait, no,” Jack says, and puts a finger to Ianto’s lips. His talk of space-time shifts dies in his mouth. “How do you know my name? Did the Agency send you? And before you answer, I want you to think long and hard about lying to me. ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ has a lot of friends in that room, and what do you have, a gun and an anachronistic outfit?”
He’s smiling an ironic smile, baring his teeth like a dog and leaning in close, his thumbs brushing along the fabric of Ianto’s jacket. “Jack I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ianto says. “It’s me. Ianto Jones. Torchwood, remember?”
But there’s no flicker of recognition on Jack’s face, and the longer Ianto looks at him, the more he has to accept that the Jack standing in front of him isn’t the one he followed through the door in the first place. He’s younger. Darker-haired. Firmer-bodied. Dressed just slightly differently, the ubiquitous greatcoat more costume-y than the well-worn antique Ianto is familiar with. The hands on Ianto’s shoulders press firmer, grinding his shoulder blades up against the wall at his back. Jack’s fingertips dig down into his flesh.
He’s different, alright. Ianto just has to figure out how. Before this version of Jack kills him.
“Can’t say I do, Ianto Jones,” Jack says, gritting the words through his teeth a little too much for his tone to be called ‘conversational’. Torchwood. Right. Ianto’d asked him if he remembered Torchwood. “But that’s the funny thing about taking a man’s memories. He tends to forget things.” As he’s talking, he immobilizes Ianto with a forearm pressed across his neck and collarbone, using his free hand to pat down Ianto’s sides and legs. Ianto’s breath is coming in short little huffs and he has to remind himself, This isn’t your Jack and this isn’t foreplay.
“So tell me,” Jack says, nimble hand skirting the insides of Ianto’s thighs. Ianto swallows back a groan, but there’s not much to be done about the flush across his cheeks which he hopes Jack misreads as indignance. “What three compelling reasons can you give me for not bringing you through that door and giving you up as a spy?”
Reason 1: I bring you life-saving coffee every morning when otherwise you would have to resort to something you have to order in “coffeehouse Italian” and pay altogether too much for.
Reason 2: On more than one occasion I have saved you from facial scarring when out Weevil hunting. I have also saved you from mortal wounding, but something tells me you probably rate being saved from facial scarring as the higher favour.
Reason 3: Occasionally we fuck. I don’t generally play overly hard to get about it, although I’m within my rights to.
But if he’s right, and he’s somehow stumbled upon a younger version of Jack, (although why in World War Two of all places he hasn’t the foggiest), he can’t say any of this. Just revealing his name was dangerous enough. Paradoxes and . . . things.
“Want to do this the hard way, do you?” Jack threatens, applying pressure to the forearm crushed across Ianto’s chest. “Well, that’s fine. I imagine you’ve been told not to talk and I appreciate your respect for orders. But I should warn you. These people are primitive. Barbaric. Not going to take kindly to a spy in their midst.”
Why is Jack talking about the best generation English like they’re some Heart of Darkness-esque tribe of poorly understood natives?
“Captain Harkness!” Another voice, this one English. “What’s all this then?”
“Oh, Algy,” Jack greets, smoothing out his voice to the casual, friendly tone Ianto is used to. “I found this one snooping around the door of the strategy room. Doesn’t seem to want to tell me what he was doing there.”
Ianto looks to the third man, Algy, helplessly. “A spy, is it?” Algy says, his voice playful although there’s a wariness behind his eyes. “Best bring him in, if he’s so determined to get through that door.”
“Right!” Jack says, and releases Ianto from where he’s pinned to the wall, grabbing him instead around the upper arm. “I warned you,” he hisses into Ianto’s ear, too low for Algy to hear. He jostles them both through the waiting door.
Where Ianto emerges alone, stumbling into the twenty-first century again. Jack, his Jack, is watching him over his shoulder, one eyebrow quirked up in an expression that suggests he’s trying desperately to swallow back laughter. Ianto stands pin straight, brushing the creases from the sleeves of his suit.
“What, couldn’t figure out the doorknob?” Jack jokes. “I told you we needed a few minutes of R&R today.” He smiles and talks like nothing’s happened, but he must know. He must remember. Ianto, trying to school his features into their usual stoic mask, searches Jack’s expression, comes back with nothing more than maybe a hint of a lie in his smirk, a hint of tension in his eyebrows, but who knows if he only sees those things because he’s so desperate to.
Captain Jack Harkness’ personnel file states he was born in 1975 and recruited to Torchwood in his early twenties, promoted to leader in 1999. But once again, Ianto Jones learns there’s a big difference between theory and reality at Torchwood. He takes the seat next to Jack at the boardroom table; feels Jack’s hand clasp his thigh in what he assumes is meant to be a comforting way. If only he knew what that difference was.
“The rift, I think. I was just fiddling with the manipulator and I felt this tingling like sticking a battery on my tongue and then there you were.”
“Oh. Oh. Ianto, you’re--”
“No. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“Can I just? --Listen, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what’s going to happen. What I’m going to say. I didn’t mean it. I’m not going to mean it.”
“Buckled under the pressure, did you? Stage fright?”
“Denial. It felt too much like ‘goodbye’, I guess.”
“You’d think you’d be used to it by now. Better at it.”
“Would you believe it never gets easier?”
“How long has it been?”
“I don’t really keep count, but ten thousand, eleven thousand years maybe?”
“Jesus. The universe really is unfair, isn’t it? So what . . . what do we do now?”
“Nothing. Time’s almost up. You were only gone two and half minutes.”
“Don’t. I told you, I haven’t gotten any better at goodbyes. Just tell me one thing. When you get back, you’re not going to tell anyone where you’ve gone. Why?”
“Suppose . . . suppose I don’t want you waiting around for me.”
“Did it ever occur to you that waiting might have given me time to prepare for this? I could have told you what you wanted – no, deserved – to hear.”
“Oh, Jack. Do you really think--”