The Master of his Fate
Jack had told everyone to take the next couple of days off.
"I don't want to see any of you for at least forty-eight hours," he'd said on the drive from the Brecons to Cardiff. "Go sleep, get drunk, catch up on Hollyoaks, I don't care. I'll be at the Hub if you need me. Any time."
And yet barely thirty hours later, Ianto let himself into the Tourist Information Office, not entirely sure he knew what he was doing there. As he emerged into the main Hub, he noticed that all the lights were on, everywhere, right up to the rafters. He thought he saw a dark shape hunched in the far, high corner and a momentary ripple of fear ran down his back. Then wings fluttered and he could make out Myfanwy's long beak and his heart started to beat again.
"What are you doing here?"
The voice made him jump and he gave a startled yelp. Jack was in the doorway of his office, leaning against the frame and watching Ianto. He was wearing a t-shirt and trousers, his hair sticking up in damp spikes as though he'd just washed it. "I could swear it's not been forty-eight hours yet."
"No, sir," Ianto agreed, slowly making his way past the workstations. "But you said you'd be here, if we needed you."
"And here I am. How are you doing?"
"Bloody but unbowed, sir."
"W. E. Henley," Jack said, apparently automatically. A smile tugged the corner of his mouth. "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul," he quoted.
"Invictus," Ianto confirmed, not in the least surprised that Jack knew the poem.
"Good." Jack stirred himself, gesturing for Ianto to follow him into his office. "So what can I do for you, Ianto? Please don't tell me you've come here to clean up, because there's no-one here to make a mess but me. And I promise I washed up all my own coffee cups."
Smiling awkwardly, Ianto took the visitor's seat on the other side of the desk. "No, sir. Although I can make some more coffee if you'd like it."
"Maybe later." Jack picked up a pen, looking down at it as he turned it over and over . "So what are you doing here?"
"Actually, I was going to ask you the same question," Ianto said evenly. "I mean, you sent us all home and yet here you are."
"The rift doesn't go anywhere, Ianto, you know that." The pen was moving faster now, blurring a little as Jack flicked it between his fingers.
"I know, I just thought..." Ianto shrugged. "I thought you might like some company."
The pen stopped moving, just for a moment, a blip in the pattern. Jack looked up without lifting his head.
Nodding, Ianto got to his feet. "I'll make that coffee."
He pottered round the Hub for a while, picking up the things he'd missed on his last clean-up, gathering together artefacts and files that should have been in the archive, and noting down a list of supplies.
"If you're making a shopping list, I need some shower gel." Jack was back in his office doorway, watching again. "But not quite so floral this time? Gwen asked me where I got it."
Ianto frowned. "You asked for shower gel on last week's list."
"I've run out," Jack said lightly, retreating back behind his desk. "And it's the Captain's privilege, to have his bath bubbles put down on expenses. I'm sure I saw that in the founding charter somewhere."
"I just meant," Ianto paused on the office threshold, "you've got through it pretty quickly."
"Talk dirty, smell clean, that's my motto." Jack didn't look up from his paperwork.
Ianto wrote it down, returning to the kitchen to complete his inventory and letting his mind wander. He'd gotten through a fair amount of soap himself, he realised, trying to scrub the smell of the countryside, of the blood, out of his skin. And it had been Jack who'd ushered them all out and stayed with the police to make sure it all got cleaned up. It was what he always did. Ianto made a mental note to double the amount of shower gel he ordered, before returning his attention to the kitchen.
The milk supply seemed fine, but the coffee was running low. How did five people get through so much coffee so quickly? He only hoped Owen wasn't feeding it to the Weevils again. Hyperactive aliens were so hard to clean up after.
He picked up the boxes for the archives and headed down into the lower levels, head full of indexes and feet on automatic pilot, until he realised he'd come to a stop outside a closed door. With a thud, he let the boxes fall to the ground. This had been Lisa's room. He'd never let himself think of it – or her – as anything else.
Reaching out, he turned the handle and pushed, not wanting to step inside yet. Cold air wafted into his face, full of the smell of damp and disinfectant.
"I cleaned it out." Ianto jumped for the second time that evening. Turning, he saw Jack standing behind him, feet braced and hands in his pockets. "I dismantled and vaporised the conversion unit. One day, when the archives are full, we're going to need the space."
"And until then?" Ianto looked back into the room. It looked bigger, without the metal cradle in its centre.
"It'll stay empty."
Ianto nodded. That felt right, somehow. Slowly, he stepped over the archive box, looking round the room. There were marks, holes on the ceiling where the upper part of the conversion unit had been fitted. When he glanced down, he saw similar marks in the floor where the 'bed' had been bolted down. Frowning, he peered more closely at the floor, examining it carefully.
"How did you get it out?" he asked.
"I used the vaporiser," Jack said. "Blood doesn't come out of concrete, no matter how hard you scrub. I just took off the top inch all round."
"So the room doesn't just look bigger," Ianto muttered to himself, wondering why he'd wanted to know something so completely irrelevant.
"I guess." There was the sound of Jack scuffing the floor with the toe of his boot. "I'll be in my office if you need me."
"Wait, please." Ianto's mouth was dry, which was odd, because his palms were slick with sweat.
"What is it, Ianto?" Jack's voice was empty and the face he turned to Ianto was blank and tired.
Ianto swallowed hard, taking a deep breath. He'd said it a thousand times since that night, but here and now, he knew it was important to say it again. "I'm sorry."
"I know." Jack took a last look around the room, shaking his head just a fraction. "Take as long as you need."
As promised, Jack was in his office when Ianto finally emerged from the depths of the Hub. Jack had turned out most of the other lights, and Myfanwy was happily swooping around the ceiling. The place wasn't big enough for her, of course, but she managed somehow.
Ianto knocked before going in, making Jack look up.
"Do you need anything, sir?"
"No, I'm fine. You get off home."
"That wasn't what I meant." Ianto took a seat again, watching as Jack began the familiar fidgeting. First of all he closed the file he was working on, then he leaned back, lacing his fingers together. The final stage was to pick up a pen and start spinning it. This time, he chose the antique fountain pen that he'd told Tosh was a gift from his grandfather.
Unfortunately, he hadn't screwed the lid firmly into place and it came flying off, throwing the pen off-balance and spraying ink across Jack's shirt and the closed file. Jack swore, sitting up and scrabbling in his pockets as Ianto retrieved the lid, handing it to Jack along with his handkerchief.
"Thanks." Jack grinned as he began dabbing first at the file then at himself. "What would we do without you, eh?"
"Actually, that's what I wanted to ask, sir."
Ianto gave him a blank look. "Sorry?"
"If we're going to have this kind of conversation, you're going to have to call me Jack. It's going to get too personal for titles and I refuse to call you 'Mr Jones'. Sounds like a bad cliché." Dropping pen and handkerchief onto the file, Jack pushed out of his seat and crossed to a low table in the corner. "Drink?"
"Yes, thanks." Ianto paused. "Jack."
"Much better." Looking back over his shoulder, Jack smiled grimly as he pulled the stopper out of the decanter. "You're going to ask why you're still here, aren't you?"
"It's on the list."
"Only you would make a list for this. Item one: why am I still employed instead of a) dead or b) retconned? Item two? Well, we'll see when we get there." Jack handed Ianto a glass, gesturing for him to sit down again. "Let's start at the beginning. Why do you think you're still here?"
Ianto took a gulp of his drink, letting it burn its way down his throat as he thought. "If I knew," he said at last, "I wouldn't ask."
"Fair point." Jack tossed back his own drink, rolling the empty glass behind his hands. "Everyone messes up, Ianto. Everyone does something stupid. Not many of us get to endanger the whole human race, but even we deserve a second chance."
"People are dead because of me." Ianto had noted the pronoun, but he kept his eyes on the glass in Jack's hand, watching its slow progress backwards and forwards from wrist to fingertips. "I don't understand."
"Like I said, a second chance. Don't screw this one up."
"What's next on your list?"
Disconcerted, Ianto finished his drink. The swift, brusque explanation hadn't been what he'd been expecting. He'd expected terms, conditions, threats and extraction of promises. Instead, he stared into Jack's eyes and saw something that looked like understanding. And so, rather than the hundred other things he wanted to know, he asked,
"How did you find us?"
Jack frowned, puzzled. "What?"
"When..." Ianto swallowed hard, feeling the press of the cleaver against his throat again. "When they had us in that hut. How did you know where to find us?"
"I asked for directions."
Jack carried on his slow movements, turning the glass so that it caught the light. When he spoke, it was to the glass, not Ianto.
"Did you know that a professional torturer can keep people alive and in agony for days? Weeks, even? There are all kinds of things he can do. He can inflict the worst kind of pain and barely leave a mark. He knows where to cut, where to strike, where to burn so that the vital organs and blood vessels stay intact. He can judge the precise level of suffering needed for each individual, know exactly what's needed to make them break. He can read them without their needing to say a single word." He gave a bitter laugh. "He's a real people person."
"On the other hand," Jack went on as though Ianto hadn't spoken, "sometimes he has to move quickly. Sometimes, he doesn't have the choice to be careful or delicate or subtle. Sometimes, he has to use all that knowledge and experience to get what he needs as quickly as possible. There's no time for finesse or skill, just sheer, raw force, applied as only he knows how." He finally looked up. "Because, however brutal it might be, he's good at what he does and people's lives are at stake."
Ianto shivered at the cold deadness in Jack's eyes. It was simple to pretend, to go along with the game which Jack played so well. The jokes, the flirting, the innuendo; they were too easy to get caught up in, forgetting what lurked underneath. Ianto had seen it when Jack had forced him to his knees, gun to his forehead or when he'd issued the execution order and proved that he was willing to carry it out. He'd seen it again later, when the team had arrived back to the Hub with the world put to rights but a family destroyed, everyone still in sullen silence as Jack refused to apologise for his actions. It was like dealing with two different men.
"Who are you?" Ianto whispered, only realising he'd said it out loud when Jack laughed, for real this time, the warmth returning to his expression.
"If you find out," he said, reaching over to take Ianto's empty glass, "let me know. Another?"
Like quicksilver, the moment had passed and Ianto knew better than to push his luck. So he nodded, returning the grateful smile that Jack was giving him. Because when Jack Harkness smiled at you like that, it was impossible not to smile back.
"Great," Jack said. "You know, the menu for the Chinese is lying around somewhere. I can go find it, order in some food, if you're hungry."
"Ravenous." The smile became the well-known, wolfish grin. "But I'll settle for Chinese for now. Oh and I found this." He plucked a book from the top of a pile of files, throwing it to Ianto. "You're welcome to borrow it, but I want it back."
He disappeared out into the Hub and Ianto heard him calling to Myfanwy. The book in his hands was small and slim, its cover brown and fading. Carefully, he opened it the brittle pages, noting the date of publication and the bold, Victorian typeface. There was a slip of paper halfway through and Ianto turned to it, already knowing what he was going to find. His eyes ran through the first stanza, settling on the second.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
He lifted his head as, over the top of Myfanwy's enthusiastic screeching, Jack began yelling his name.
"Ianto, where the hell did you put the barbecue sauce? I'm losing fingers out here!"
Smiling to himself, Ianto closed the book and put it back on the desk before following the sound of Jack's voice.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From Invictus by W. E. Henley