A deafening silence hung over the Torchwood Hub. The only two who had not gone home were Jack and Ianto. Of course, Jack didn't have a different home to go to, and Ianto stayed most nights anyway, so this was not unusual. But the tension in the silence was.
Ianto slipped away to the archives, hoping Jack would not come to confront him about what he had done earlier that day, but he knew the hope was in vain. He stole away to the darkest corner of the archives, practically hiding behind the stacks of alien artifacts.
A short while later, Jack's footsteps could be heard approaching the archives. Ianto felt like a child, hiding there, but did not make himself visible. "Ianto. We need to talk," called Jack.
Ianto reluctantly emerged. Jack stood at the bottom of the stairs, a mix of emotions in his eyes. Ianto couldn't really understand what those old eyes were saying. "Yes?" he said. "What is it?"
"You know what it is."
"I'm not going to justify what I did." Ianto was surprised at the bitterness of his own voice. "I'm not."
"I don't need you to justify yourself, I need you to promise that you'll never do it again." Jack met Ianto's eyes steadily, with a gaze so intense that Ianto struggled not to glance away. "I need you to promise."
Jack's calm exterior burst. "Ianto Jones! You need to realize how pointless and stupid that was!" He gestured wildly up the stairs. "You almost died!"
"Gwen almost died! I was the only one close enough to shield her!" Ianto answered back.
"You aren't supposed to sacrifice yourself for them. That isn't your job! "
"No, it's yours, I suppose!"
"That's so bloody pretentious!" shouted Ianto.
"I can't die! You can!" Jack spat angrily.
Ianto flung his hands up, frustrated. "You think I don't KNOW that?"
"You were certainly acting like you don't!"
"Well, I DO!"
"Then ACT LIKE IT!"
"NO, YOU AREN'T!"
"Stop shouting at me!" Ianto demanded.
"Jack Harkness, you listen to me!" Ianto's voice was low, angry, and authoritative. "You are not the only member of this team willing to give their life for the others. You are not the only one who can make sacrifices. And you do not get to tell me that my job is not to protect this team at all costs. I am not a very important member of the team and you know it, and if giving my life is what is necessary to keep the rest of us alive, I will do it."
"Who the hell says that you are less important than Gwen, or Owen, or Tosh?" Jack interjected.
"I do. When Torchwood is what is keeping the world from falling to ruins, the life of a teaboy means nothing."
"It doesn't mean nothing to me!"
Ianto flinched. "Our...relationship is not more important than the safety of the world," he said, keeping his voice level.
"Well, that doesn't sound like the man who put the entire world in danger by hiding a Cyberman in Torchwood's basement for months because he thought it was still the woman he loved!" Jack shut his mouth quickly after he realized what he had said, but it was too late. It had been said.
Ianto looked as if he had been physically injured by Jack's words, as if they had knocked the breath out of his lungs. Jack had never brought up Lisa in an argument before, not like that. It was an unspoken agreement; that topic was forbidden. "Yes, well, perhaps you should realize that it doesn't matter to you whether I die today or sixty years from now, infinity minus any number is still infinity," he responded, dangerously calm.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
For the first time since he and Jack had become lovers, Ianto felt himself searching for the combination of words that would hurt Jack the most. "You're still going to spend eternity without us all. You'll still end up alone, so it doesn't matter when we die...sir." The way he spoke that last word was possibly what stung Jack the most. It was cold, impersonal, and conveyed utter contempt.
Jack actually backed away a step. "Ianto…"
"Goodnight, sir." Ianto strode past Jack and up the stairs without looking back.
Jack stood in stunned silence. He heard from a distance the door to the Hub rolling open and back shut again. "Come back," he whispered, knowing that Ianto couldn't hear him, regretting every word he had said.
Ianto drove to his flat, the words he had spoken spiraling through his mind. Each one was painful, and he knew he could never take them back. "You'll still end up alone...sir." Why, why, why, why was I so stupid, how could I have said that, I wish, I wish, I wish...Never before had one of their arguments escalated like that. "Oh, God, what have I done?" he muttered aloud.
Back at the Hub, Jack had sunk down to the floor of the archives. All of his strength seemed to have left him. "What have I done?" he whispered. He clutched his greatcoat around him, but there was no warmth or comfort to be gained from it. He scrambled upright and fled to his office, immersing himself in paperwork and field reports until his phone rang.
"Hello?" he answered.
A kindly-sounding young woman responded. "Hello, is this Jack Harkness?"
"Yes...who is this?" Jack asked warily.
"I'm from St. Helen's Hospital. Are you a friend or colleague of a Mr. Ianto Jones?"
Jack felt his heart skip a beat. "Something like that. What's happened?"
"You were listed as one of his emergency contacts, and his sister Rhiannon is unreachable. Mr. Jones has been in a mild roadway accident. He is currently unconscious and receiving treatment for a probable concussion and a few other injuries." The young woman paused, waiting for some response. When none came, she added, "Mr. Harkness?"
"Yeah. Sorry. Is he alright?"
"I'm told that his injuries are not life-threatening. Perhaps it would be better if you come to St. Helen's. What exactly is your relationship with Ianto Jones?"
Jack's mind basically went blank at that question. "Um...I, uh, know him through work," was the only answer he could think of that was completely true.
The young woman didn't question him further on that subject. "Will you be coming?"
"Yes," Jack answered immediately.
"That's good. Goodbye, Mr. Harkness."
"'Bye." Jack shoved his phone back into his pocket. "Damn it, Ianto," he muttered as he swept out of the Hub.
An hour and a bit later, Jack was sitting in an uncomfortable chair next to a hospital bed where Ianto lay unconscious. He did, indeed, have a concussion, two possibly fractured and definitely bruised ribs, and several small cuts on his face and upper body where the windshield had smashed and shot broken glass at him. The nurses had informed Jack that they had given him some pain medication which could make him a bit "loopy" (as they said) when he woke up. Then they asked if there was anyone else they should try to contact for Ianto, but Jack had told them he would take care of it, so he pulled out his mobile. He tried to call Gwen, first, but she didn't answer. It was one in the morning, she was probably asleep, so he called Tosh next.
"Hi, Jack, it's...um, it's really late, has something happened?" Tosh asked sleepily.
"Don't get worried-he's fine-but Ianto's been hurt. He'll be okay," Jack hastened to reassure her when he heard a concerned gasp on the other side of the phone.
"He was in a car accident."
"Why...Jack, what was he doing in his car this late at night? I would've thought that he would've, er, been staying at the Hub." Jack could almost hear Tosh blushing.
Jack hesitated, wondering how much he should tell her. "Doesn't matter."
"But if we're not in the Hub tomorrow morning, that's why. I'm not going to call Owen, he'd just snap at me for calling him at one in the morning, so if you could tell him in the morning, and Gwen, too-she didn't pick up."
"Of course. I'm going back to bed now, Jack, goodnight."
"Goodnight, Toshiko, I'll talk to you tomorrow, and I'll be in at work sometime during the day even if I'm not there first thing."
"M-kay, bye, Jack." Tosh started to yawn, and hung up.
Jack wondered what he was going to say when Ianto woke up. They couldn't very well just pretend nothing had happened. But Jack wasn't actually angry at Ianto anymore, only at himself.
The first thing Ianto became aware of was how much his head hurt. The second was that he wasn't exactly sure why his head hurt so much, only that he could barely think straight. The third was that he was lying in some unfamiliar, not particularly comfortable bed, and the fourth was that he really, really wanted all of the last few things he remembered to have been a dream.
He opened his eyes. Seeing Jack sitting next to him, the captain's eyes closed, his head tilted slightly to one side, all of Ianto's guilt came rushing back full-force. He hesitated, debating whether or not to say something. He didn't have to.
Jack gave a slight start, as if unaware that he had been drifting off and just now realizing it and forcing himself awake again. His eyes met Ianto's. Ianto glanced away, unable to even meet Jack's gaze. The look that the captain had given him was one of pure relief and of love, and Ianto knew that he didn't deserve it.
Jack reached over and stroked the back of his hand down Ianto's face. "Hey."
"How're you doing?"
"Relatively awful, and wholeheartedly deserving it." Ianto winced as Jack brushed against a cut on his cheek.
"Sorry," Jack apologized. "And...I'm sorry."
"Bet I'm sorrier."
Jack cracked a tiny smile. "Oh, yeah? Because you decided it would be a good idea to drive while so angry you couldn't see straight and ended up in hospital?"
Ianto turned his face away, noticing as he did so how white everything was in this room. It was all too bright and it hurt his eyes.
"Ianto, I'm not even angry anymore. And I don't think you are either," Jack told him.
"That's not the point," muttered Ianto.
"Can it be?" pleaded Jack. "Can we please just settle that neither of us are mad anymore and that we both messed up and we're both sorry?"
"I wish that we could," Ianto replied honestly.
"Why can't we?" Jack persisted.
Ianto paused. "I don't have a good answer for that," he answered finally.
"Okay. Can we at least change the subject slightly?"
Without missing a beat, Jack said, "How's your head? The doctors said that you'd probably be hurting when you woke up."
"Yeah, it basically feels like someone is pounding on my temples with a hammer, and the light isn't helping at all," Ianto said dryly.
Jack immediately reached over to the light switch and flicked the overhead lights off. There was also a small lamp in the corner, so they weren't in complete darkness, but it helped a lot. "Better?" Jack checked.
"Much." There was a pause. "Jack?"
"I'm not going to stop being willing to give my life for Torchwood."
Jack reached out impulsively and took Ianto's hand. "I know you're not. I won't ask you to. Just...be careful? Okay?"
Ianto smiled. "Wouldn't want to leave you all on your own, would I?"
He did not anticipate Jack's reaction to that question. The captain leaned over, stretching his right hand over so it rested on the far side of the bed, and pressed his lips against Ianto's, kissing him as though he might never get another chance. Ianto reached up to put his hand on Jack's back and pulled himself up slightly. Jack's arms went around Ianto's waist and he gently tugged the younger man so he was sitting up.
Ianto winced-his ribs really hurt for some reason, maybe he should really figure out exactly how badly he had been injured-but he didn't care at that moment. Jack was holding him up carefully but as if he would never let go, and Ianto knew that he could not be the first to pull away. However, when they broke apart to breathe, he whispered, "Jack, can we go home?"
"Home, like-" Jack interrupted himself by kissing Ianto again.
"Like my flat, for tonight, or whatever time it is?"
"Absolutely. I'll just go make sure the hospital staff think it's okay for you to leave." But Jack seemed in no hurry to move.
"Okay." Jack kissed him one more time, then let him sink back down onto the bed. "I'll be right back." He stood up.
"Be right here," Ianto called after him. He laughed a little at how normal they sounded under the circumstances.
Jack stopped and turned around. "What's funny?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"Not much, right now. Which is sort of the point, if you think about it hard enough." Ianto laughed again.
Jack smiled, going back over to Ianto and cupping his hand around his cheek, bending over to kiss his nose. "Don't fall asleep," he cautioned.
"Why's that?" Ianto replied, in all seriousness.
"Because you have a concussion. Also the nurses put you on pain medication, so I'm surprised we managed to have a full conversation before you stopped making much sense," answered Jack.
"I'm making sense, I'm making lots of sense, you just aren't following my thoughts. There they go."
"Mm-kay," Jack said, highly amused. "Well, I'm going to go and make sure that it's safe to take you home with your actual brain injury."
Ianto frowned. "Why do we take it with us, we could just leave it here."
Jack looked confused for a second, then snorted. "Of course we could." He shook his head. "I'm hoping that you're talking like this because of the medicine and not because of the concussion. Be right back."
"I'm sorry, but Mr. Jones needs to stay for at least another eighteen hours for observation," the nurse told Jack patiently.
"Is there any way we could get around that?" Jack hinted.
The nurse looked at him kindly. "I don't think so."
"Are you sure?" pressed the captain.
"It really is for his own safety. Besides, only family can check a person out of this hospital, and even though you're listed as Mr. Jones' emergency contact, you don't have a blood relation to him. You know him through work, you said?"
"I don't know how long it's been since he's even spoken to his sister, I'm the closest thing to family he has. And he asked me if I could take him home." Jack pleaded with the nurse with his eyes, making them wide and desperate. He could see her softening, but then she shook her head.
"We've already done as you asked and stopped his pain medication, against our better judgement-although you're right, he does seem to be reacting negatively to its mental effects. I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to wait," the nurse apologized.
Jack sighed. "Fine," he conceded. "Twelve hours?"
"Maybe," the nurse agreed. "We'll see. You can go and keep sitting with him, if you want, though."
"Thanks." Jack smiled at her and walked away. Ianto's not going to be happy, but I did my best, he thought. "Hey, Ianto," he said as he sat down again in the chair he had vacated a few minutes ago. "They said that we could go home soon, but not right now."
Ianto squinted suspiciously. "How soon?"
Jack hesitated. "Like, twelve hours."
Ianto's face fell. "Oh."
"But you don't have to deal with the medications anymore, I asked if they could change that," Jack hastened to add.
"That's good. My head...it's stuffed with cotton balls and they're being like clouds in my brain and clouding my mind. Do people actually have clouds in their minds, Jack?" rambled Ianto. "Are our minds the sky?"
"I sincerely doubt it," Jack stated. "Ianto, the nurse said you could sleep now. You should probably rest."
"Okay," Ianto replied, surprisingly compliant. He reached for Jack's hand, his eyes wide and pleading. "But don't leave."
"Don't want to leave you all on your own," Ianto repeated his words from earlier, closing his eyes. Jack could feel a lump growing in his throat as he stroked the back of Ianto's hand with his thumb. "Alone isn't good. Not for very long, at least."
"You're not alone. Shh, go to sleep." Jack smoothed the sheets over Ianto's shoulders with one hand. Ianto wouldn't let go of the other. Soon the young man was asleep again. The same nurse who had spoken with him earlier walked in. Jack saw her and immediately pulled away from Ianto's grasp, trying to hide their contact.
He didn't fool her. "More than just work friends, then?" she asked.
"I…" For once, Jack couldn't think of what to say.
She shook her head. "Don't look so flustered. You're fine. How's he doing?"
Cautiously, Jack put his hand back on top of Ianto's. "He's asleep. He sort of made sense when he was talking to me a couple minutes ago, but not completely. Are you sure he's going to be alright?" Jack checked.
Jack realized he didn't even know her name, and squinted to read her name tag. "Samantha?" he asked.
"Yep, that's me." She smiled. "Most people don't bother to figure out a nurse's name. They only care about the doctors."
Jack laughed. "Yeah. I get it." Then he sighed, looking down at Ianto. "It's my fault," he said, surprising both of them at the abruptness. "Sorry," he added immediately. "I didn't mean to say that out loud."
"Why do you think that?" Samantha inquired. "Because, you know, I've been here for a while and every time someone comes in hurt, their loved ones always blame themselves. And it's rarely actually their faults. Most of the time, an accident is an accident, and people have a hard time accepting that."
"No, this really was my fault. We had an argument and it...escalated. I said some things I shouldn't have. Don't get me wrong, he said some, too. But he left, and was driving home angry. I just let him go, I shouldn't have…"
Samantha nodded. "I've seen that, too. But you're lucky; he is going to be alright and he seems to have already forgiven you."
"He shouldn't have," Jack said bitterly. "Anyway, I'm sorry, I really shouldn't be telling you all this. I'm sure you have other things you need to be doing."
Sensing that Jack really needed to be alone just then, Samantha said goodbye and walked out. A wave of fatigue swept over Jack, and he slipped down off the chair and onto the floor. Leaning his head against the side of the bed, he was soon asleep.
A small, polite cough called him awake again. "Mr. Harkness?" It was Samantha. Jack blinked up at her. "It's nearly morning."
"Is it?" Jack was surprised. He thought he had only drifted off. "Well then. Am I supposed to leave?"
"Technically, yes, but I'll make an exception. Actually, Mr. Jones' condition has improved so much over the night, unusually so, that the doctors think he can go home whenever he wants now. We'll send him with some pain medicine, just in case, and a warning to come straight back if he starts having symptoms of confusion or severe headache, but…" Samantha shrugged. "It's strange. His body seems used to recovering from injuries like this, and even worse."
Jack stood up. "It's a job hazard," he explained.
"What do you do? I'm sorry, you don't have to answer that, it's none of my business," she apologized.
"No, it isn't," Jack said shortly. Then his voice softened. "I'd tell you if I could, but I really can't. It's...well, top-secret." He shot her a grin. "Not joking."
She frowned. "Well. Take care of yourself. Both of you. I don't want to see you back here with worse injuries than a concussion and some bruised ribs."
You think that's bad, you should see some of the things I've recovered from, Jack thought. "We try," he said out loud. "We do try." He sighed, wishing that they did a better job of trying.
The sound of people talking brought Ianto out of sleep. "Jack…?" he whispered.
Jack turned around quickly. "Hey, you," he murmured when he saw Ianto opening his eyes. "How're you doing?"
"Alright." Ianto sat up slowly.
"Want to go home?" offered Jack. Seeing Ianto's eyes light up made him smile. "I'll take that as a yes."
Jack tried to argue that Ianto should just stay at his flat, but Ianto would have none of it. "I'm going in to work, Jack. Besides, you wouldn't want me to be alone all day, what if I got worse?" he reasoned.
Of course, Jack gave in and drove them both back to the Hub. They were greeting with relief, and Ianto got more hugs from Gwen and Tosh than was probably necessary or good for his sore sides. Owen gave him a little nod and offered to bring the coffee around after Ianto made it so he didn't have to walk as much, which was probably the most thoughtful thing Owen had ever done for him. Neither Ianto nor Jack ever brought up their fight again. There was a silent agreement between them-it had become one of the topics that was forbidden, and this time, they wouldn't forget it.
This story was published a while ago on Tumblr. Sorry for my absence here, I know I promised I'd be getting better at posting, but obviously that hasn't happened. I have a lot that I've written, and I'll try to be more consistent and not disappear again. I hope you liked this story! If you want to, follow me on Tumblr. My urls are clarehope128 (my main blog) and demisexual-ianto-jones (my Janto side blog). Thanks for reading!