It's been a long day.
Weddings, in Jack's experience, are always draining, but he supposes weddings that are interrupted by an alien shapeshifter trying to kill the bride are more so than normal ones. Still, all's well that ends well. Gwen and Rhys are married, the guests have been properly Retconned, and everyone's gotten home safely. Everything's dealt with, and so Jack can spend the rest of the night staring at his old wedding picture and brooding.
And then the cog door opens, and Jack supposes that maybe he can't after all.
Ianto steps into the Hub, a bag over his shoulder. Jack watches from his office as he goes to the autopsy bay, opening the bag and taking out the Singularity Scalpel. He puts it away in the proper drawer, which means Owen inevitably won't be able to find it in the morning. Then he ducks off into the Archives, out of Jack's sight.
Jack sighs and buries his head in his hands. When Tosh went to keep an eye on Gwen, she took one of the Torchwood cars to do it. Ianto volunteered to drive her home and then take the car back to the Hub. Jack was pretty sure the offer had less to do with helping Tosh and more to do with avoiding him. He can't even blame Ianto for it. He knows he's been acting strange all day. But weddings do that to him. When he danced with Gwen, for a second - just a second - he thought he was back at his own wedding day, dancing with his bride.
And then Ianto cut in and Jack just held him without saying a word.
Ianto wanted reassurance, Jack knows. He wanted more than companionable silence. And yet Jack couldn't give him anything else. He was too caught up in his own thoughts to consider anyone else's.
Jack looks down at the picture on his desk. Ianto deserves an explanation. And suddenly, Jack feels the burning need to give it. He normally doesn't talk about his past, but this… He has to tell someone or he'll explode.
"Sir?" Ianto is in the doorway of Jack's office, a tentative expression on his face. The fact that he's calling Jack "sir" is sign enough that something's wrong. "Is there anything-"
"I was married once," Jack blurts out.
To Ianto's credit, he just blinks and takes it in stride. "I'd come to ask if there was anything you needed before I left."
"I need to tell you this," Jack replies. "Please, I… I need to tell you."
"Alright." Ianto takes a step into the office. "Is there anything else you need first, or-"
"Please, Yan." Jack holds out his hand.
Ianto slowly walks over to him and perches on Jack's desk. He takes Jack's hand in his own for a moment and squeezes it, then he lets go and folds both his hands in his lap. Jack won't be forgiven that easily, it seems. It's alright. It's no more than he deserves. He was an ass at the wedding, and he knows it, but maybe Ianto will understand if he tells his story.
"You said you wanted to tell me something?" Ianto prompts when Jack doesn't speak.
"Yeah," Jack agrees. He takes a deep breath. The words are all jumbled in his head. He doesn't know how to start. But Ianto is watching him silently and Jack knows he has to share.
"I was married once," he says for the second time. "It was after the Great War. Her name was Margaret, but I called her Maggie. She was… God, she was so beautiful." Jack fumbles for the photo and hands it to Ianto. "We were so happy that day," he says quietly as Ianto looks down at the picture.
"You look happy," Ianto says quietly.
"We got married in 1926," Jack sighs. "We only had four years together. It wasn't long enough."
"What happened, Jack?" Ianto asks when Jack doesn't continue.
"It was a mugging." Jack sighs deeply and rakes a hand through his hair. "It was the Depression. We were walking home and this man came out of nowhere. He had a gun. He was desperate. He asked for our money, and I guess we weren't fast enough."
"Did he shoot her?" Ianto asks.
Jack lets out a ragged laugh. "No. He shot me."
Ianto's confusion is clear on his face, but he doesn't say anything. Jack takes a deep, somewhat shaky breath. "It was a head shot. I died immediately. Maybe it was an accident, or maybe the man just panicked when I fell. He ran. When I woke up, he was gone."
Jack begins to fidget with a pen. Ianto silently takes Jack's hands in his own. Jack takes another deep breath, this one marginally steadier than the first. "Maggie was… She was Irish, and she was very Catholic. When I came back from the dead, she thought…" Jack shakes his head. "She thought I was a demon. She screamed." The memory is horrible. Maggie's screams are echoing in Jack's ears.
"Jack." Ianto's voice brings him back abruptly. There's concern in Ianto's eyes. "Jack, you don't have to tell me-"
"She was hysterical," Jack interrupts. He has to get this out. "She passed out and I brought her to the Hub. It was different then, of course, but I knew I could get in and I knew it would be empty. I worked as a freelance agent, and the others were all in Beijing. Long story," he adds in response to Ianto's look.
"I know what it was," Ianto replies. "Beijing, 1930, minor alien invasion. I've read the files."
"Have you read every file we have?" Jack demands.
Ianto smiles faintly. "Only most of them."
Jack could go with the diversion and end the story there. He has the feeling Ianto won't ask him to continue. But he hasn't finished the story, and he has to get it out.
"When Maggie woke up, she was still hysterical," Jack says, and Ianto abruptly sobers. "She couldn't live with the knowledge of what I was. She needed to forget. We didn't have Retcon yet, but we did have an alien device that we'd scavenged from the Rift. It would erase the past twenty-four hours from someone's memory. Not mask it like Retcon does, but literally erase it. The memory was removed from the brain permanently."
"So you took the memory of you coming back to life," Ianto says quietly.
"I timed it perfectly." Jack's hands are still in Ianto's, and it's the only thing keeping him grounded. "She remembered me getting shot, she remembered the man running and seeing me die, and then it went black. I snuck her into our house while she was unconscious from the device. I guess she assumed that she forget what happened in her shock. She thought I was dead."
"The human brain can be really fragile, did you know that?" Jack adds. "In some ways, it's so strong, and in other ways, it's so easy to break. The reason why Retcon only masks memories is because we found out that outright removing them could do irreparable damage to the brain. Maggie died of a brain tumor a year later."
"It wasn't your fault," Ianto says, immediately knowing what Jack's thinking. "You couldn't have known, Jack. You were trying to help her."
"Yeah, well…" Jack shrugs. "Weddings always make me act a little weird after that. My own marriage wasn't exactly picture perfect, and I always think of it when anyone else gets married."
Ianto blinks. "So this was all some sort of explanation for why you were acting oddly today?" he asks incredulously. "Jack, you didn't owe me anything."
"I thought-" Jack stares at Ianto. "But I was acting strangely, and I thought it hurt you and that you were avoiding me-"
"You're not the only one who gets a little maudlin at weddings, Jack," Ianto replies, a sad smile on his face. "It's hard, being surrounded by all that love and ceremony and knowing it's not in your future."
"Why not?" Jack replies.
Ianto ducks his head. "I was going to propose to Lisa," he admits. "Before Canary Wharf. Have I told you this before?"
"No." Jack and Ianto have talked about Lisa, but Ianto's never admitted this.
"I wanted to live the rest of my life with her," Ianto adds. "And then it didn't happen, and…" Ianto shrugs. "I suppose it's out of the cards now."
"Same sex marriage will be legal in six years," Jack counters. "Well, six years and twenty-four days."
"March 29, 2014?" Ianto asks. "Why do you remember the exact date?"
"I was in London," Jack replies with a shrug. "There was a big party. Four guys proposed to me, would you believe it?"
"Only four?" Ianto asks, false sympathy in his eyes. "Was it an off day for you?"
"You can be a bit of a pest, did you know that?" Jack asks. Ianto smirks. Jack itches to kiss the expression off his face, but he resolutely forbids himself from being distracted. He wants to know where Ianto's assumption comes from. "No, but why is marriage out of the cards?"
Ianto blinks. "I doubt I'm going to live long enough, and even if I do, you're not exactly the marrying type, Jack."
"So you won't marry anyone unless it's me?" Jack teases, preening.
Ianto rolls his eyes. "Don't go getting a big head now. Well, bigger than usual."
"I like to think everything about me is pretty big," Jack replies, and he laughs as Ianto lets out an exaggerated groan and lets his head drop into his hands. "And Yan, I've just told you the story of the time I got married, and you say I'm not the marrying type?"
"I was under the impression that this was the story of why you don't like weddings, and thus marriage," Ianto replies. "Was that the wrong conclusion?"
"It's the story of why I was acting strange today," Jack corrects. "But just because my marriage to Maggie didn't last doesn't mean that I'm never gonna marry again. I mean, I'm probably going to live forever. Forever is a long time."
Ianto looks down. "I won't."
"Eh, assuming I can't do anything to change that," Jack replies. Ianto looks at him with wide eyes. "I'm kidding," Jack adds quickly. "I wouldn't condemn you to that."
"And if I offered?" Ianto asks. He immediately closes off after saying it. Jack can practically see the mask fall back into place. "I'm sorry, sir. It's late. I should go. Is there anything else you-"
"No," Jack says firmly. Ianto jumps. "No, you are not shutting yourself off like that. Talk to me, Ianto."
"Sir- Jack-" There's a hint of panic in Ianto's eyes. "It's nothing, really."
"Ianto." Jack takes Ianto's hand in a gentle grip, tight enough to be comforting but loose enough that Ianto can pull out of it without trouble. "Please talk to me."
"I don't want to ruin everything," Ianto admits in a very small voice.
"You won't," Jack assures him gently, as if he's trying not to scare a very timid animal.
Ianto shakes his head. "No, because… You joke about things, Jack, and nothing's serious, but sometimes I want serious and I want that with you and- Shit."
"You think we're not serious?" Jack asks, unable to keep a note of hurt from his voice.
Ianto blinks. "Don't you?"
"Ianto Jones." Jack takes both of Ianto's hands in his own and squeezes them. "There are a lot of things I'm not serious about, but you've never been one of them."
Ianto, rather than look reassured, shakes his head. "But Jack, we weren't serious. Before you left, we weren't serious at all."
"We were serious enough that I came back for you," Jack replies honestly. "I wasn't kidding when I said that. The Doctor would have let me keep traveling with him, but I said no. I wanted to come back."
"For the team," Ianto says quietly.
"For you," Jack corrects. "I mean, I didn't want to leave the team stranded either, but it was you that I thought about. It was you that I missed the most. It was you that I decided I didn't want to live without."
"You won't always have a choice on that one," Ianto says softly.
"I do now," Jack replies, a hint of ferocity in his voice. Yes, someday he'll have to say goodbye to Ianto, but that doesn't mean he has to like thinking about it. "And I choose you. I will always choose you."
"Jack," Ianto whispers brokenly. He's got tears in his eyes. For a second, Jack worries that he's done something horribly wrong, then Ianto grabs Jack by the shirt and pulls him in for a desperate kiss.
"I've got you," Jack whispers to Ianto as he wraps his arms around him. He can feel Ianto trembling, but he just settles himself into Jack's lap, nestling his face into Jack's neck.
Ianto breathes something onto Jack's skin, and although Jack has an idea of what it might have been, Ianto doesn't repeat it, and Jack doesn't press. They'll say the words when they're ready.
Anyway, there are lots of ways to say "I love you," and as Jack holds Ianto like he's never going to let him go, he thinks they might have stumbled upon a few already.