Ianto took a few minutes to catch his breath and allow himself to enjoy the warm feeling of release and relaxation still coursing through his body. Once he had, he reached for his undershirt from where it was lying on the floor and wiped himself clean, determined to shower later back at his own place. And then he moved away from Jack, who was lying still and making no effort to move, eyes closed with a smile on his face. He looked so young, so peaceful…so different.
Shaking himself of any more thoughts like that, Ianto pulled on his trousers and dress shirt, stuffing the dirty undershirt into his pocket before looking for his suit coat and remembering that it was still upstairs, carelessly tossed somewhere in the vicinity of Jack's desk. He ran a hand through his hair just to be sure it was in some semblance of order, then reluctantly sat down on the edge of the bed to pull on his shoes. Which was when Jack stirred from his own post-coital glow.
"Where are you going?" he asked, propping himself up on one elbow and running a hand up and down Ianto's back.
"Home," answered Ianto, ignoring the hand and refusing to turn around. He knew he'd see tousled hair and swollen lips and blue eyes boring into him with a look he still couldn't quite read.
"Home," Jack repeated, a questioning lilt to his voice.
"Usually a place to eat, sleep, clean up," offered Ianto. "Could be a flat, a house, a castle—"
"I get it," laughed Jack, and then he stopped. Ianto could feel him watching curiously.
"Do you want to stay here?" asked Jack, obviously trying to sound nonchalant. "It's late, after all."
Ianto rolled his eyes. "As if I've never stumbled home after dark, usually completely pissed."
"You can eat, sleep, and clean up here, you know," Jack offered.
"Wouldn't want to bother you, sir," Ianto replied, standing and putting some distance between them. He held back a sigh as he gave in just a little and placed one last kiss to Jack's lips to soften the blow. "You'll be fine on your own," he teased.
Jack made a face as he reached for his hand and tried to pull him down, but Ianto evaded him easily, used to it by now. It had been almost a month since they had started their…what, affair?…and Jack had been asking him to stay for over a week now. Yet every time, Ianto had slipped away, either quietly into the night with little to say, or with flimsier and flimsier excuses. He was having trouble believing himself at times and couldn't help but wonder what Jack must think, or if he even thought about it at all.
"What if I don't want to be on my own?" asked Jack, flopping back down to the bed and grinning up at him. "It's cold down here."
"Find a blanket."
"I want you. You could be my blanket and keep me warm."
"I'm your general administrator, not your blanket. And I'm going home. Good night, Jack."
There was nothing but a sigh from the bed behind him. Ianto let himself out of the bunk, the office, and the Hub. He would not stay, no matter how hard Jack tried to convince him.
"Are you all right?" asked Jack, gazing down at Ianto with concern and brushing a hand along his temple. "Maybe you should stay here tonight."
Ianto snorted. Yes, he was a bit sore from that Weevil chase—getting tossed into a wall tended to do that to a man—but he wasn't concussed and really, he'd prefer to rest and recover in his own bed rather than in Jack's small room with his boss staring at him all night to make sure he was still breathing.
So he rolled out of the bed and began getting dressed.
"I have to feed the cat."
"You don't have a cat."
"What's your neighbor's name?"
"And the cat?"
Jack burst out laughing. "No one names their cat after a dragon."
"He's a mean ginger with yellow eyes, it fits." Ianto turned to Jack and smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow. I'm taking the morning off, so you'll have to run around the corner for coffee."
Jack sat up and frowned. "What do you have to do in the morning?"
"All the things I didn't get done on what was supposed to be my night off," Ianto replied with a roll of his eyes. "Including a nice lie-in and a possible visit to my chiropractor. I'll bring lunch."
"Why don't you just stay?"
"Too much to do tomorrow, sir."
Jack sighed. "I hate it when you call me sir."
"You do not, and you know it." Ianto waited patiently for one of Jack's typically impudent replies.
"I don't like it when you use it against me like that," said Jack softly.
Ianto looked away; he didn't like leaving this way, but it was necessary. Office affairs didn't stay the night. They kept it casual. Ianto didn't usually do casual, but after everything that had happened in the last six months, he was determined not to cross that line with Jack Harkness of all people.
"I don't mean to use it against you," he said with a forced lightness. "I just use it to get your attention, and it always works. I'll see you tomorrow, Jack."
He left. Staying with Jack was out of the question.
"Sometimes I think I might have to tie you up to get you to stay the night," Jack suggested, a touch of both teasing and sincerity in his voice. Ianto turned from pulling on his trousers to find Jack standing and getting dressed as well.
"You could try," said Ianto, eyeing him curiously. "But it wouldn't work." He paused and watched him get dressed. "Why are you getting up? It's past midnight."
"Maybe I'm going to follow you home." Jack raised an eyebrow in challenge. "And spend the night at yours since you won't stay here with me."
Ianto snorted. "Right."
"I do know where you live, even if you've never actually invited me over."
"Why would I, when we've got all this right here under your office?" Ianto thought maybe he went a bit far with the sarcasm, but it slipped out before he could stop it.
Jack folded his arms over his chest in defense, the look on his face slightly hurt. "Hey, I like my room, even if it is a bit crowded for two people. That's not why you won't stay, though, is it?"
Ianto took three steps forward and gave Jack a long, deep kiss, letting his tongue coax the other man into forgetting what they had been talking about. He pulled away with a grin and turned to leave, thinking it had worked until:
"Ianto Jones, you will stay someday."
"Good night, sir," he emphasized, and he heard Jack grumble behind him as he climbed out of the bunker.
Jack could tie him up—that might be interesting—but he still wouldn't stay. It was casual, and that's how casual worked in his book.
Ianto woke with a start and threw a frantic look at the clock. It was four in the morning and he was still at the Hub, still in Jack's room, still in Jack's bed.
Taking a deep breath, he slowly eased himself out of Jack's tangle of arms and legs. How the hell had that happened? He remembered an especially vigorous round of sex after breaking up the Weevil combat club, but they'd never fallen asleep together afterwards. In bed. For most of the night.
Ianto almost kicked the wall, he was so frustrated with himself. He had told himself it wouldn't happen, that he would never stay the night. What they had was casual, and waking up with Jack the next morning would cross that line. It would make things far more intimate, somehow, and Ianto was not ready to go there with Jack, ever.
Or at least, not yet.
He swore under his breath as his resolve began to crack. Not yet. That meant somewhere in the back of his mind he was actually entertaining the thought. But not that night. Slipping quietly out of bed, he grabbed his things and bolted for the bathroom before Jack could stop him. He washed up as best as he could, got dressed, and stared at himself in the mirror for a long time. What the hell was he doing? It had been almost two months now. Did office affairs begun in the midst of loneliness and mutual attraction usually last that long?
He let himself out of the bathroom as quietly as he could, and had almost made it to the ladder leading up into Jack's office when he heard a cough from the bed. Jack flicked on the bedside lamp, and Ianto saw that he was sitting up, arms crossed over his chest.
"And he flees, like a shadow, into the night; away from his lover and back toward the light."
"It's almost morning, actually," said Ianto, slowly turning around. "And is that Tennyson?"
"No, just me." Jack shrugged. "It's true, though. You're fleeing. Again."
"I'm not fleeing," Ianto protested, even though he clearly was. "I'm going home for a few hours to clean up and sleep before I come back in."
"Clean up and sleep here tonight?" asked Jack, and he stood and walked over to Ianto, wrapping strong arms around his waist. "Come on, just this once. If it's so close to morning then you may as well stay."
Ianto was tempted, may have even opened his mouth to accept, but something completely differently slipped out instead.
"I might as well go home and get some fresh clothing and breakfast," he replied. Jack pursed his lips.
"You've got spare clothing in your locker, and I'll make you breakfast in bed if you stay."
Ianto kissed him quickly and began to climb up the ladder. "I can't stay, Jack. I'll see you at eight."
"Can't stay, or won't stay?" Jack called up to him.
Both, Ianto thought to himself as he hurried away. He had come close that time; he'd have to be more careful, or he would end up ruining their casual arrangement in ways he didn't even want to think about.
"You're not going to stay, are you?" asked Jack, lazily running a hand up and down Ianto's side as if daring him to move away from the soft touch. Ianto tried not to tense; something about Jack's tone was different, though Ianto couldn't quite place it. Maybe it was the offhand acceptance of their sleeping arrangements.
"I wasn't planning on it, no."
"That's fine," said Jack, his voice distant, though his fingers were still moving. "Don't stay. I think I get it now."
Ianto frowned as he turned over Jack's words, then rolled toward him and propped up on his elbow. "What do you mean? Get what?"
"Why you never spend the night," Jack said. He sounded very matter-of-fact, and Ianto didn't like what that might mean.
He sighed. It was happening again: Jack trying to convince him to stay some way or another. He slipped out of the bed and started to dress before it got out of hand.
"Why's that then?" he finally asked.
Ianto turned and stared at him, his mouth hanging open in what was probably a good imitation of a fish out of water gasping for air. "What?"
Jack shifted slightly. "Well, maybe not married, but involved at the very least. Probably a bit too soon for you to be married. But there's someone else, isn't there?"
"What?" Ianto said again, trying to make sure he'd heard Jack correctly. Jack thought he was going home to someone? A wife, mistress, girlfriend, boyfriend?
"You're seeing someone, right? You don't want to stay with me because then you'd be cheating on them." Jack shrugged and got up. He did not come to Ianto, but walked past him to the bathroom. Ianto stood there in shocked silence until Jack came back out, half dressed now, and started looking for a new shirt from his wardrobe.
"It's all right, you know," said Jack, turning back toward him with a crooked smile while pulling the shirt on. "We never said it was exclusive. We never said it was anything, really."
"No, we didn't," Ianto murmured, still stunned by Jack's words.
"It is whatever it is," Jack said with another shrug. "Casual. Undefined."
Ianto continued to stare at him, not sure what to do, what to say.
"I should go," he finally managed, and Jack just nodded, buttoning his shirt. Ianto met his eyes, but they were blank; there was nothing there, no hurt, no anger, no understanding, nothing. And that was worse.
"You really don't have to stay," Jack said, smiling somewhat ruefully when Ianto didn't leave right away. "And I won't ask again, since obviously—"
Ianto slammed into him, pressing him against the wall and kissing him fiercely, silencing him with lips and tongue and teeth and hands running up and down Jack's body. He was confused, so confused, but he knew one thing: he did not want to leave like this. He began to unbutton Jack's shirt, teasing kisses along Jack's neck as he did.
"You're an idiot," he murmured into Jack's ear. "Because you couldn't be more wrong. There is no one else." He punctuated it by taking Jack's earlobe into his mouth and nipping at it in just the way Jack liked. "I don't go home to my secret wife, or mistress, or boyfriend. I don't even have a cat, I just—"
"You just look after your neighbor," Jack gasped, hips unconsciously snapping toward Ianto's.
"That's right," Ianto replied, reaching down to undo Jack's trousers now that his shirt was open. At least he hadn't looped his belt and added his braces yet; that always made it more difficult.
"So don't think I leave to be with someone else, Jack. Don't ever think that, because I'm not that kind of person."
"How 21st century," Jack replied, slightly breathless. Ianto sucked hard at his lower lip and turned him around, pushing him toward the bed and letting them fall.
"And you like it that way," he murmured. He straddled Jack and began to run his hands up and down the other man's chest, then leaned down for a long, breathless kiss.
"I like you," said Jack when Ianto pulled away. He flipped them over almost effortlessly and began to divest Ianto of the clothes he'd just put back on. "And I'd like it even better if you'd just bloody stay the night for once."
Ianto felt his blood boil; any coherent response was lost to a rough tangle of arms and legs, sharp kisses and hot breath across skin as both of them wrestled for control, looking for that something undefined, or perhaps something neither of them would admit to.
In the end it was unsatisfying. Because once more, Ianto did not stay.
The other man did not look up from his endless gaze, didn't even move.
"Jack, are you all right?"
Jack whirled around in his desk chair and offered a small smile. "What are you still doing here?" he asked. "I thought you left with Tosh?"
"I walked her out," said Ianto, letting himself into the room slowly. "She told me a bit more about what happened."
Jack nodded. "And did you apologize to her for shooting Owen?" he asked in that slightly patronizing yet teasing tone he had.
"Should I?" asked Ianto, raising an eyebrow. Jack shrugged, another small smile tugging at his lips. "Tomorrow then. I should probably apologize to Owen as well. Eventually."
"Eventually." Jack just watched him closely, tilting his head curiously. "Why did you do it?"
Ianto stopped where he was and leaned against the glass window of Jack's office, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at his hands. He took a deep breath.
"I wasn't trying to kill him," he said softly, shaking his head. "I wasn't even trying to hurt him."
"I know," said Jack, still watching him but now with an unreadable look on his face. "You were trying to stop him."
Ianto felt the air leave him in a rush. "Shit. I'm sorry, Jack, I really am." He looked up to meet Jack's eyes. "I didn't want to leave you there, trapped in 1941, but he didn't know what he was doing. We didn't have all the numbers we needed. And the one thing you've taught us more than anything is to never open the Rift."
Jack sighed. "I know. And you tried, you tried to follow that order. I know you did." He stood and poured them two tumblers of whisky. Ianto knew Jack had already had one with Tosh, so he took the second in grateful surprise because he could certainly use it. Jack stood before him, holding it in his hands but not drinking; Ianto felt like draining his in one desperate, burning gulp.
"Are you going to write it up?" he asked, sipping at it instead and letting the warm liquid run down his throat slowly.
Jack turned and shrugged. "Probably. Weapons discharge in the Hub, one agent firing on another. Can't really ignore it."
"No, you really can't." He paused and took a longer sip. "I'd offer to do it for you, but that would seem a bit inappropriate, writing a disciplinary letter for my own file."
Jack chuckled. "Who said I wasn't going to write you a commendation?" he asked. He sat down and watched Ianto again. Ianto walked over to the desk and sat across from him.
"You could be stuck in 1941," he said softly. "That doesn't deserve a commendation."
"It wasn't such a bad time," Jack murmured.
"That's what Tosh said," Ianto replied. They were playing at words, neither likely to say what they really wanted to say, but then again, what would Ianto say? He had been in a no-win situation with Owen and would have regretted either decision. This one, however, felt far worse. Jack seemed…disappointed in him, somehow.
"I met my namesake," Jack said abruptly. "Captain Jack Harkness."
Ianto nodded. "We saw your picture in the paper—you and Tosh with him and Bilis Manger. It was a bit surreal."
"Try being there," Jack laughed, and finally took a sip of his drink. "Did Tosh tell you anything else?"
"Just that you got on well with him," Ianto replied, which was exactly what she had said, before she had encouraged him to check on Jack and make sure he was all right. Ianto could read between the lines, he knew exactly what Tosh meant. He just wasn't sure if it bothered him, if it even should. They were casual, weren't they? Jack had said it himself last week, before he had given up asking Ianto to spend the night with him. Ianto found that Jack not asking anymore hurt.
Which was probably why Owen's remark about being a part-time shag hurt even more; maybe it was true now.
Jack seemed broken somehow, and Ianto hated to think that he might be the cause of that. Regardless of what had happened between Jack and his namesake, Ianto sensed a deep hurt from Jack that was directed at him, and he didn't know how to respond to it, even if the reasons for it were tickling at the edges of his mind.
Finishing his drink, he got up with a sigh and set the empty glass back down by the decanter of whisky. As much as he could do with another, he didn't feel it would be welcome. Jack wasn't talking, and Ianto felt too much guilt to do much talking himself. So he walked over to Jack, placed a hand on his shoulder, and kissed the top of his head, wondering if it might be the last time, yet hoping it wasn't.
"I'm sorry," he whispered once more and turned to leave. Jack's hand shot out and grabbed hold of his fingers, entwining them tight and rooting Ianto in place.
"You did everything you could to try to save Lisa," Jack murmured. "But you would have left us in 1941."
Ianto thought his legs would crumple beneath him as his breath stopped in his throat. He turned toward Jack, shaking his head, unable to believe what he had just heard.
"Jack, it's not the same, and you know it."
Jack looked up at him with such sad eyes that Ianto felt his heart break. In that moment it wasn't casual anymore; just like that, casual had ended, and something else was in danger of falling apart before it even started.
"How is it different?" Jack asked. He let go of Ianto's hand, which let Ianto begin to pace as he nervously ran a hand through his hair, trying to pull the words together.
"I didn't know anything back then, Jack. I didn't think for one second that I couldn't save her—I refused to believe it. And it never occurred to me that she was a danger. She was my girlfriend, not a threat to the planet." He shook his head at his naiveté before turning away, unable to look at Jack as he continued.
"But we didn't have all the equations for the manipulator, Jack. And I know that the Rift is dangerous. I didn't think that it would work, or if it did, I knew it could endanger the entire planet." He faced Jack, but closed his eyes. "With Lisa, I took a risk I didn't even realize I was taking. I couldn't take that risk today because I knew exactly what it involved."
Jack was silent.
"I'm sorry," Ianto whispered again. "I didn't want to lose you, either of you. In a way, I'm glad Owen did it anyway. He got you back. You should be writing him a commendation. I might regret it, but I'm still terrified of the consequences, and I wish I wasn't." He wasn't just talking about the consequences of the Rift.
Ianto turned to leave; there was nothing else to say. Just as he got to the door, however, he heard Jack sigh behind him.
"You were right," he said softly. Ianto stopped but did not turn around. "And I would have done the same."
And that was when he understood.
Jack's admission stabbed him in the heart: had Ianto been stuck in 1941, Jack would not have opened the Rift to save him either. It hurt more than he ever would have thought, and with a silent bitter laugh, he knew exactly what Jack was feeling, what Jack was trying to say with that simple admission.
It wasn't casual. Somewhere along the way it had become more, to the point that the idea of one of them not risking everything for the other was suddenly the most painful thing they could imagine. He wanted Jack to say he would have opened the Rift for Ianto; instead, he had agreed with Ianto's actions, and Ianto felt the deep hurt he knew Jack was feeling right then as well.
Slowly he turned, swallowing hard against the emotions choking his throat. "So what do we do now?" he asked.
Jack shook his head, his eyes shadowed as he seemed to search Ianto's face for an answer. "I don't know," he whispered. "It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it?"
"No, it wasn't," agreed Ianto.
"It's why you never stayed," Jack said, and Ianto glanced at him in surprise.
"I understand now."
"Doesn't matter," said Ianto with a shrug. "It didn't work."
"No, it didn't." They stared at each other for a long moment, completely at a loss for words until Jack stood and took a step forward, hands in his pockets.
"Maybe we should talk some more." He glanced toward the ceiling with a small yet teasing grin. "Among other things."
Ianto felt a smile tugging at his lips. "It could take a while."
"That's all right," said Jack, moving closer. "I have time."
"It could take all night," suggested Ianto, waiting to see Jack's reaction. His eyes softened and he smiled, for real this time, and reached out for Ianto's hand to pull him close.
"That almost sounds like you're thinking about staying the night," he murmured, and Ianto nodded.
"Could be that I am."
Jack traced finger down his cheek. "I'd like it if you did."
Ianto squeezed his other hand. "I would too."
"That's big step forward, Ianto Jones."
"Probably about time for it, though."
Yes, it was. The one thing Ianto had hoped to avoid had happened anyway, so it clearly wasn't casual anymore. Maybe waking up beside Jack was exactly what they both needed to really figure things out.
Jack leaned forward and captured his lips, softly and gently. There was still a touch of sadness there, but perhaps if Ianto stayed, they could put that to rest for both of them.
"I'll make it worth your while," Jack whispered across his ear.
"I never doubted it," Ianto returned, letting his cheek rest against Jack's and simply holding them there, in that moment, before they went downstairs, and he couldn't take any of it back even if he wanted to.
"No more running," Jack murmured, and Ianto nodded, ready at last. He led Jack toward the ladder and joined him downstairs before finally answering.
"No more running."
That night he would stay.
A big thank you to Tamaar, my lovely beta, for looking this over and fixing the minutiae with her mad punctuation skills, as well as for her insightful and amusing comments. And to Darcy58 and Cerih for the discussion that sparked this in the first place, which seems to be happening more and more, and which I always enjoy. Someday we shall flip every trope that we bemoan! It's nothing like what we talked about, and nothing like what I'd hoped for or intended, but it is what it is: another tale from the vast Realm of Possibility that is the relationship between Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones. Who knows when the world will tire of exploring that Realm; until then, I hope you enjoy this. Thank you for reading!