Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood, and never will. I just enjoy playing with Jack and Ianto.
A conversation is replaying itself, over and over in Ianto Jones' head.
"Make sure you don't let him do it," Jack says, looking at Ianto.
Ianto answers "No." and turns away. The memory burns, and each time he replays it it's as if his eyes get a little bit colder, and turning his back on Jack is just that much more damning.
"No," Ianto sobs, breaking down into Jack's coat, drowning in tears and the smell of him. A good quarter of the population of Cardiff is dead from Abaddon, and another fraction of the plague. Torchwood has been getting entirely more attention than is appropriate lately, and it's part of Ianto's job to see to that. He does what he can, doing anything, really, for a distraction, but wears black suits, shirts and ties to work. It's the least he can do. It's a proper way of showing respect for the dead.
For all he thinks he should care about the destruction ravaged by opening the rift, he doesn't have the capacity for guilt. His mind is filled with Jack.
Flirty IM conversations, casual and flattering remarks about his physique. That strong, powerful body meeting his own. Tenderness, he remembers. Jack is cruel – has done horrible things, Ianto is sure. But underneath all of it there was an edge of competence, compassion, and tenderness. It is only now, with Jack stretched out, ice-cold and bloodless, that Ianto realizes just how amazing it was to be woken and comforted from nightmares, soothed back to rest. Just how gentle, and kind Jack was capable of being.
Three days ago he had that. Three days ago there was a living, breathing human being who wore a greatcoat and smelled vaguely of pine trees and musk and knew too much, and gave himself to Ianto. Not just in body, for Jack had trusted Ianto. Expected him to take his side when Owen wanted to open the rift. And Ianto can forgive Tosh, Owen and Gwen for doing what they did, because it wasn't them that Jack looked to and said "Make sure you don't let him do it,"; it wasn't them who'd turned away and said "No."
Ianto can forgive his teammates, because he knows they miss Jack too, and he needs to hold on to someone else who knew Jack Harkness – someone else who feels that pain. No, the person Ianto can't forgive is himself.
He can't forgive the fact that he turned away, nor the fact that when Owen had said "You're not even a real person," it had struck a chord with him. Jack was mysterious and older than anyone he'd ever met, kept too many secrets. He didn't know his real name, or his beginnings, his history. And Jack's capacity for unflinching decisions had always stunned him – the way he'd given the child to the Faeries, or the way he'd held a gun to Ianto's head, threatening. Or the way he'd burst into the room of cannibals, guns blazing and careless of the damage he did to those he saw as damned. Jack had had a way of seeming both more than human and less, at the same time.
And then he'd seen Jack silent and wide-eyed on the floor of the hub, and a horrible sickness had engulfed him. And Jack had awoken so that Ianto barely had time to take it in, only his voice was weak and vulnerable, "What have you done?", and he'd had only a moment to think that he'd seen Jack's underbelly, before he was lifting under his shoulder and supporting him with Gwen, rushing out of the hub.
Memories rush into sensation.
Jack, hanging onto him in that bloody greatcoat as Abaddon ravaged Cardiff, weak, and just as stunned as everyone else at the monster they'd unleashed. Jack, his hands heavy on Ianto's shoulders, his waist firm but heavy under Ianto's hands, which took so much of his bodyweight. But when Gwen had turned to him, he'd known what to do, and Gwen had wisked him away, the places where he'd been leaning into Ianto staying warm for moments after that, and gradually fading.
And then…they had followed the path of the SUV after Abaddon had fallen, and he'd seen Jack, still and pale and exposed under that cloudy grey-blue sky, Gwen sobbing over him, whispering consolations and comforts that went unheard by the man they meant to console.
And then – nothing.
Ianto Jones just sobs into a coat that smells like his second dead lover, and the chest pains are telling him that it wasn't just about sex. And he's thinking of all the horrible things he said and did, and all of the carnage that was between them. And he realizes that he had something, a few days ago, that could have been love but that Torchwood, helped by Ianto Jones, had nipped it in the bud.