Author: heddychaa (with thanks to Mara.)
Characters: Ianto/Jack, Ianto/Lisa, Team Torchwood
Genre: Angst, character study
Warnings: Explicit sexuality
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: For Ianto, every conversation with Jack was actually two: the spoken back and forth, the small talk, the how will you be taking your coffee this morning sir,
and then all the thousand questions underneath.
A/N: Written for Remix Redux 9: Love Potion No. 9, based on the absolutely lovely story Hate Can Pardon by Mara. Thank you to Mara for participating in the ficfest, and allowing me to get my sticky fingerprints all over their lovely story, and thanks also to the hosts of the ficfest who made all this madness possible and to azn_jack_fiend and count_to_seven for beta-ing. This story is post-Cyberwoman, with all the lovely tragedy that entails. Enjoy!
(The Words are Futile Devices Mix)
Those whom we can love, we can hate; to others we are indifferent.
- Henry David Thoreau
A lot could happen in four weeks, Ianto decided when his were up.
He’d cleaned out his fridge, for starters. Filled an overstuffed black binbag with half-eaten cartons of takeaway; slimy veg he’d bought, stowed in his crisper drawer, and never looked at again; a jug of milk that was questionably solid-feeling; all topped with three bottles of Lisa’s favourite brand of beer, unopened. He’d replaced it all with staples, milk and eggs and cheese and potatoes and tomato sauce and boxed pasta, and now his fridge was spare and shiny and his cupboards were ordered and he felt, for the first time, like he was living in this place. Because he was. Because there was nowhere else to go.
He’d learnt to cook. Or rather, he’d learnt to follow the recipe cards Gwen had brought over, all written in her boyfriend’s big childish handwriting. He’d set his table and sat at it and ate alone, had taken sips of water and eaten Rhys’s ‘Friday Night Spag Bol’ with a fork in one hand and a book in the other, all the while coaxing himself, this isn’t so bad, really, this isn’t so bad, really, this isn’t so bad, really.
He’d finally unpacked his boxes from London, the ones that had been opened and rooted through and the ones that were still taped shut, still scrawled with his hasty handwriting. And then he’d repacked what was Lisa’s (clothes, romance novels, high heels, postcards from friends abroad Ola from Spain Lisa! Getting sun thinking of you + that grumpy boyfriend! faded receipts and crumpled ticket stubs) and left it outside the front door for Jack to collect and dispose of appropriately. To search.
He’d cried a lot, then stopped crying. He’d contemplated committing suicide six times and then he’d flushed all his Panadol down the toilet in a fit of impossible determination and then been sick just out of the enormity of it, the fact that choosing to live had turned out to be just as scary as choosing to die.
He’d thought about Jack.
He’d gone to the dry cleaners and managed to smile at the girl behind the counter and she’d smiled back, and for that one moment the world was not ending and he was normal and she was normal. And then he’d arranged all those fresh-pressed clothes chromatically in his closet and the order was... ordered. So he alphabetized his bookshelves.
He’d told himself not to think about that day, and then he’d gone and thought about it in detail, turning over every single moment in his mind like a stone, examining every angle, holding it under the light and not knowing, exactly, what he was looking at. Looking for. He’d drafted an individual apology letter to each of his Torchwood colleagues, starting with Gwen, ending with Owen. He’d even written one to Suzie. And then, for a lark, he’d written one to Lisa, and then to Doctor Tanizaki. Finally, he’d written Jack at the top of his last piece of paper, stared at it, and then given up on the whole enterprise, tearing the letters up one by one until they were nothing but scattered shreds of paper, illegible, too small to have a hope of ever being pieced together.
He’d slept, sometimes for what felt like days on end, because sometimes that was all he could stand.
And then it was Sunday, his last Sunday, and all there was left was to get his hair cut and lay out tomorrow’s clothes and hope... well. A lot could happen in four weeks, that was all there was to it, and Ianto, for his part, had taken chaos and ordered it, had gathered up something shattered and sellotaped it together again.
On Monday morning, he straightened his tie and flattened his hair (everything ordered), and then he made the coffee, just like before, and the tray shook in his hands, just like before.
But then Gwen said “Welcome back,” and Ianto thanked her and smiled, just like he’d smiled at the girl at the dry cleaners, and he got away with it this time, too, and he thought maybe he could do this after all, and maybe the sellotape could hold, and that was the guttering candle that lead him through Tosh’s fleeting eye contact and Owen’s cold shoulder and up the stairs to Jack’s office.
“Ianto,” Jack greeted without looking up. Ianto had always prided himself on being soft-footed and discrete, but never could quite manage it with Jack, apparently.
“Sir,” Ianto replied, and set Jack’s mug in its usual place and was stunned by how normal everything seemed, how familiar, Jack’s scratching pen and the light reflecting off Jack’s watchface as his arm moved and the mug on the blotter and the steam and the flickering of Jack’s old televisions in his peripheral vision and the quiet ticking of an unseen clock cutting up their endless immeasurable time.
And Jack, with the same blue shirt partially unbuttoned, the same bunch of fabric under his braces, the same sheen of product in his hair, the same slight hunch of his shoulders over the desk, the same thoughtful purse of his lips, the same spice of cologne (a brand Ianto’d looked for last year as a Christmas present, to no avail), the same Jack as always.
“Will you be needing anything else, then?” he asked, when all he wanted to ask was Why did you kiss me?
And he didn’t know where that thought came from at all.
That night, he loosened his tie and collapsed like a ragdoll onto the sofa back at his flat, staring blankly at the ceiling as if his upstairs neighbours had all the answers.
The reality, he reasoned, was that in the great scheme of things the kiss hadn’t meant much at all, not on a day like that, just some sort of emergency pressure valve when emotions were running high. He’d gotten a hard-on at Canary Wharf, and it wasn’t because he had any particular interest in Cybermen or Daleks or blood or violence or any of it, it was just sometimes with the adrenaline, the fear, the relief at being alive, well it was a completely non-sexual passion, a flood of hormones, and the body just got it all mixed up. And maybe most men would understand the difference and know better than to act on it, but Jack was never most men, and before that day Ianto’d come to accept that about Jack, hadn’t he?
If anything, he should be questioning why a man who’d spat Execute her or I’ll execute you both and bloody meant it had suddenly pulled a reprieve out of his hat like a rabbit. Maybe he didn’t want to know the answer to that one.
But he’d go mad trying to unravel Jack’s mind, Jack’s motivations. Jack was Jack, he told himself. And then he went to reheat last night’s chicken pot pie.
It was worse after the weekends, he realized. During the week there were distractions, coffee to be made, alibis to concoct, bodies to plant, paperwork to be filed, acres of wall and glass and floor to be cleaned and polished. By Friday he would be... not comfortable around Jack, that just wasn’t possible, not after what had gone between them, but maybe... acclimatized to him. Enough so, at least, that he could control the thoughts that popped into his head, control his body language and expression, everything appropriate and ordered and neutral.
On Mondays, not so much. Maybe it was the weekend away that drew everything into sharp focus again, like returning home after a vacation and for one fleeting moment being able to smell your own smell, your own cooking and your own old couch and your own books, particularities that went unnoticed day to day just by virtue of being used to them, that your absence somehow brought to the fore.
And so, first thing Monday, Ianto would do his rounds, leaving Jack for last, and somewhere between setting down Jack’s striped mug and picking up an armload of Jack’s signed papers for filing, he’d catch Jack’s face in profile, or the smell of him soaked into the wood of his desk or the fibres of his paperwork, and Ianto would be overwhelmed, taken over, struck dumb--
Why did you kiss me?
Monday mornings with Jack became something he absolutely dreaded. He’d piss around and procrastinate and make up jobs, anything to keep himself from the quiet seclusion of Jack’s office, the dimmed light of Jack’s desklamps, the sound of Jack breathing, Jack’s enormous presence, swallowing him whole. However, eventually Gwen would say something (“Seen Jack this morning?”) in her roundabout way trying to figure out what was between them, where they stood with one another, or Jack would come in from a long night in the field sopping wet and looking too pitiful to ignore, and Ianto would be at the coffee machine again, listening to the hiss of steam and drip of espresso, and then he’d be at Jack’s office with his mug, and Jack would say “Shut the door would you, Ianto?” and there it would be, the thing between them, lurking where their shadows overlapped: Why did you kiss me?
It was all Ianto could do but to turn or duck his head or make a distraction, to avoid Jack noticing the change in his expression, like the question was written there on his face, maybe, or out of that old paranoid fantasy that Jack could see right through him, read his thoughts. Circumstances had proven Ianto wrong on that one, and yet,
Why did you kiss me?
and Jack would smile as if maybe, just maybe, he could.
“Morning, Ianto,” Jack greeted, barely looking up at the sound of Ianto setting his mug in its usual place, “Good weekend?”
Why did you kiss me?
He bit the inside of his cheek. “Can’t complain, sir,” he replied, bland, but keeping it light: nothing to hide here, oh no, sir.
“Get up to anything good?” Jack wrapped his hands around his mug and smiled. It’d been cold in his office the last few mornings, so Ianto had brewed him something extra hot. When Ianto didn’t answer immediately, Jack rattled on, “Janet and I played a bit of chess, but she kept eating all my pawns.”
Yeah, now that you mention it I did some thinking on the pressing matter of why did you kiss me.
“Not exactly a comforting thought,” he replied instead. “The pawns, I mean.” And then realized that the change in subject had only been in his head.
Jack quirked an eyebrow, returning to his paper without comment. “Did you... get out at all?”
Out where, exactly? Oh, well, I had planned on going on a date but of course-- “Returned some overdue library books, if that counts.”
“Gwen said you haven’t been taking her up on her offers to go out with the team.” Ianto stiffened minutely, but hoped it didn’t show. He knew Gwen likely reported back to Jack with her ‘human’ assessments of the team, an area in which Jack now must know he was sorely lacking, but that didn’t mean Ianto wanted to know the details of their conversations. “You have to try, you know. They -- we -- do want to get to know you better, but you have to be willing to let us in.”
‘Let us in’? Is that what it was then? Team building? One kiss to even out months of invisibility?
“I haven’t been feeling exactly social,” he admitted. “It’s hard. I think they still need some space, some time to figure out where I stand, now.”
I’d like to know where I stand, too. With you.
“Is there something you want to say to me?” Jack said, and it wasn’t a gentle query, it was a challenge, and Ianto’s insides froze.
I’m having obsessive thoughts. I think I might hate you.
“Only... thank you for the second chance, sir.” It was easy enough for Ianto to lie, but having said it, the tension tugging at Jack’s shoulders hadn’t lessened. He’d have to offer up something else, then, some pitiful admission to make Jack think he’d won. “Not sure what I did to deserve it.”
“You’ll figure it out one of these days,” Jack replied, a smile crinkling his eyes, and the hint of their old innuendo in his voice made Ianto want to vomit.
It was getting out of hand. Under their layer of Monday morning small-talk, he’d started concocting responses on Jack’s behalf, some pithy, some apologetic, some filthy, some affirming, some devastating. All delusions.
Jack would smile, and that would be a hesitant admission of Because I thought you were dying. Or Jack would wave him off because he was on the phone with UNIT and that was Puzzle it out on your own time, teaboy. Maybe Jack would say something lewd, leave it hanging in the hopes that the ‘old’ Ianto would make an appearance and respond in kind, and that was Because I knew what I was going to do, what I had to do, and I was sorry.
He began to read into every mannerism, every turn of Jack’s head, every sigh, every half-drunk mug of coffee left to go cold, every flirtatious look at Gwen, every time he raised his voice, every time his eyes followed Ianto as he circled the outside edge of the board room to quietly refill cups and take his seat, every time he ran his hand through his hair in frustration or touched Ianto on the shoulder.
And then it was easy to understand that Jack did know what was on his mind, that Jack did know that that kiss was burying him alive, that Jack did know it was the only thing on Ianto’s tongue every Monday, and every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and even the occasional Saturday night. Jack knew, but hadn’t acted, was waiting for something. For Ianto to confront him? For Ianto to slowly go mad and off himself? It would certainly weigh lighter on Jack’s conscience than a formal execution.
“Did you need duplicates of these reports before I send them to Torchwood Two, Sir?”
Why did you kiss me? What the hell more do you want from me?
“Only if you can coax some toner out of Tosh’s clutches, I think she’s hoarding it for the photocopy apocalypse.”
I want to break you open.
He stumbled breathless into the supply room, slamming his back against the door to close it. His hand flew behind him, searching blindly, desperately, for the deadbolt. No sooner had he locked it than his other hand was fumbling for the fly of his trousers, tearing the zip down, reaching into the Y of his pants. His cock under his hand was hot, urgently hard, pulsing into his palm. He squeezed it in his fist, hard enough to flirt with the edge of hurting, and a wet, pathetic moan dripped out of his mouth. He needed, he needed.
He didn’t know if it was hate or love or adrenaline or loneliness, but he gritted his teeth and pumped his cock just the same, letting his chin drop to his chest. Jack, Jack, Jack.
This wasn’t happening. He panted, trying to shut his eyes, trying to block Jack from his mind, think of anything else, at least until this was over, at least, God, at least until he-- Jack had killed the only woman he’d ever loved, had put a gun to Ianto’s face and told him to kill her himself, was keeping Ianto around now as his plaything, drinking Ianto’s coffee and watching with that infuriating fucking smile of his as Ianto slowly suffered and self-destructed. Jack had kissed him. No explanation forthcoming, maybe Ianto wasn’t owed one, and now here he was, wanking even as he ate himself alive.
Jack had kissed him, and it-- it hadn’t meant anything at all, it was just, it was just, it was-- just--
He came hard, coating his fingers and spattering the cement floor at his feet. Looking at it, the mess, the evidence of his undoing, he felt tears streak wet down his cheeks, felt something like a fist closing around his windpipe. He moaned in disbelief.
He sank to the floor and dropped his head to his knees. The first sob felt like a punch to the chest.
The next few didn’t feel any better.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Jack accused as he emerged out of the dark.
It was true: he had no idea what he was doing here this late, poking through Jack’s files and straining his eyes. Looking for something, he wasn’t sure what.
“Neither should you,” he deflected, catching Jack’s eye and gathering the folder to his chest. TOP SECRET: CANARY WHARF. Jack couldn’t have seen that bit, though, because his face was still gentle, tentative. He looked tired.
Inside the folder Ianto had found a neatly typed list of the missing-presumed-dead at the top of the pile, Lisa Hallett’s name underlined twice in red. From when he’d applied for the job and Jack had done a background search on him or from after they’d discovered her in the basement, Ianto wasn’t sure. Further down the list, another name: Rose Tyler, highlighted in yellow and dotted with a purposeful black splotch that he assumed was meant to be a period, the result of a fountain pen pressed too firmly.
He’d gone looking for Lisa but found Jack.
He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He’d thought he would be satisfied, maybe, to know Jack was capable of love, that he had loved someone and then lost them, suffered like Ianto had, the slow relentless ache that made every day feel like three, that made him feel like he’d swallowed a black hole and it was slowly but surely devouring him from the inside, crushing him to sand. But instead he just felt... compassion, maybe, or pity -- no, not pity -- kinship, a sense of shared pain, a need to comfort and be comforted. He swallowed down the absurd urge to turn, gather Jack up, like Jack had gathered Ianto up, and in place of kissing, say simply You’re not alone, I’m still here.
Trying to shake that thought, he rushed over to one of the work stations, hoping Jack wouldn’t follow but focusing hard on the monitor at the sound of Jack’s footsteps so that the cracks in his facade wouldn’t show. Jack’s hand dropped on his shoulder from behind and Ianto jerked in surprise, taking a nervous look back but quickly returning his gaze to the screen. Jack’s hand was... warm. Solid. Familiar.
“What have you got?” Jack asked.
Ianto sighed, tried half-heartedly to shrug Jack’s hand off his shoulder, break this connection before it grew a weed’s roots. In response, Jack slapped his back awkwardly, like a teacher, like a football coach. Ianto fought to keep his face from twisting in anger, keep himself neutral, presentable.
I hate you.
“Funny sort of weather patterns,” he replied.
After they returned from the field, the tension, the anger was palpable. Tosh and Owen lingered only long enough to gather up coats and purse and then they were off without a word, walking close together, not speaking. Jack disappeared into his office, sparing no time for the customary debriefing or posturing, and slammed the door shut behind him. One by one, the vertical blinds winked shut until he was gone.
Gwen stuck around a while longer, meandering through the boardroom picking up the day’s debris, gathering the case file, shutting down the monitors. Ianto watched her through the glass at a distance, busying himself with collecting coffee mugs and a bit of tidying. He wasn’t sure, exactly, what he was supposed to say. You did your best, that would be Rhiannon’s answer, but he wasn’t Rhiannon, and he wasn’t sure if Torchwood gave out ribbons for participation, anyway.
When she was readying to leave, he raised a tentative hand in goodbye from his place halfway across the Hub and in return she managed to flash him a tight, uneasy smile, almost apologetic. He smiled back at her, feeling normal, and then she left.
Which left Jack.
A few weeks ago he’d have left Jack to his brooding, relieved to have some free time in the Hub unwatched, unbothered. To visit Lisa, once, and then just to be alone for being alone’s sake, no need to smile or nod or look presentable at all, just shift from place to place like a ghost waiting to dissolve.
Now, he stood at the base of the stairs up to Jack’s office and frowned, wondering what the hell he was planning, anyway. Finally, he sighed in resignation, made Jack’s usual coffee, and headed up.
He found Jack uncharacteristically slumped across his desk, cheek to the blotter, miserable and making no attempt to hide it. His papers and effects were strewn across the desk and floor like he’d angrily swept his arm through them. Ianto, surveying all this -- the overturned coral, the lamp hanging off the edge of the desk by its own cord -- just set Jack’s mug carefully down in its usual place.
And then, without realizing he’d done it, perched on the edge of Jack’s desk, the butt of his palm accidentally covering the sprawled fingers at the end of one of Jack’s outstretched arms. At that, Jack’s blue eyes lifted in some lackluster expression of surprise before closing in what was either shame or despair.
Go home, he expected Jack to say, but he just groaned against the surface of the desk and didn’t say anything at all. The silence was nearly unbearable.
“I don’t really hate you,” Ianto admitted, unprompted, to the ceiling. It was weird, to finally say what was on his mind aloud. “And I don’t think you’re a monster.”
“Are you sure?” Jack slurred, and it wasn’t some pithy reply, it was genuine, that was genuine uncertainty in his voice stuck in the thick sound of tears.
A pause. “Yes, I’m sure.”
Jack let out a shaky, relieved sigh and Ianto’s hand fumbled back, closing around Jack’s, interlacing their fingers.
After that it was Tuesday, and there was nothing left to say.