Ianto woke earlier than he had the last couple of days and was confused by a sound he heard until he realised it was the shower going. Smiling at the reassurance afforded by having someone around in the house, he flopped back before levering himself out of bed to pad down to the kitchen and get breakfast and coffee started. He hummed as he worked and turned to smile at Jack as he arrived in the kitchen doorway, "Morning, Jack. Breakfast?"
"Definitely if you're making it." Jack hesitated, wondering if he should say something about his revelation of the night before, which had kept him awake all night, but as Ianto seemed to have forgotten or ignored it he felt it was best if he did the same. As he got plates and cutlery from their homes he joined in with the tune Ianto was humming and soon they were doing a two part harmony rendition of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" Life really didn't get any better or more surreal. As they ate, Jack paused to reflect a moment, "You haven't asked me why I'm still here at this time? Is that significant?"
"I guess, maybe, I don't know. Why, are you off?" He tried to sound casual, but after yesterday the idea scared him.
"Not today, Tosh is in charge and they can hold the fort. But once they've gone, I'd like to go down there with you, if you want."
The young man looked understandably nervous, so Jack was sure he'd made the right decision, "I thought you might like to go back there without them, first. Rather than have to do it for the first time with them all there."
"In case I break down the minute I step in there?"
"I don't expect for a minute that you will, but no one would blame you if you did. That is, assuming you want to come back?"
The captain suddenly looked nervous and uncertain, Ianto hadn't really considered it and he told him so. Jack looked relieved, "So will you come tonight? Or do you want to wait until tomorrow?"
"Tonight. Thanks, Jack." He added genuinely, "I was dreading going back there after… After what I did. Still am if I'm honest. Are you sure you want me back?"
Now it was Ianto's turn to look uncertain as he sought reassurance, "I'm sure, Yan. What happened was all of our faults, yours for not trusting us and ours for not seeing, but we'll get through it together, because that's what we do, we're a team and we help each other. And I'll be there for you tonight if you need me."
"Thank you." Jack just smiled in response, and Ianto finally felt that it would come right eventually.
After another lazy day, this time of Computer Games (Jack had never even heard of the Sims!) and Jack's fabulous cooking, Jack got a text from Tosh to tell him that she, Owen and Gwen were packing up for the night and going to the pub. When he'd read the message through he passed it to Ianto and studied the young man carefully. He was still pale and too thin but his eyes were brighter than they had been and the outward signs had vanished. Inwardly, however, the damage would take a lot longer to heal. His hand shook as the meaning of the message sank in, and his eyes, when they finally met Jack's, were scared and searching. "We don't have to do this now, if you're not ready." Jack offered softly.
"No, I need to do this. Because if I run from it, it won't go away, and you can't be here for me forever."
Jack nodded and went to fetch their coats, helping the younger man to put his on. Younger, hah, that went without saying, didn't it? His heart bled again at how much Ianto had had to suffer in such a short space of time and he respected him all the more for coping as well as he had. Jack couldn't have coped as well.
There was a chill in the air as they stepped outside, so Ianto pulled his coat tighter around himself as he looked around for the SUV. To his surprise, however, the SUV was nowhere to be seen and Jack made his way instead to a classic sports car pulled up outside the house. As Jack went to unlock it and get in, all Ianto could do was stare. "Gorgeous, isn't she?" Jack grinned at him
Ianto wasn't a car person, but he could tell that yes, this was a very nice car. "Bloody hell, Jack."
The captain laughed, "1964 E type Jag, series 1. Bought her new. Of course, back then I got around a lot more. I haven't had a chance to take her out recently. Ask me nicely and I might take you for a spin."
"How nicely would I have to ask?" He wondered aloud as Jack stroked, actually stroked the car.
"Not very," he admitted wryly, "any excuse to have some fun. You coming?" The concern that Ianto had come to recognise over the last few days was back in his eyes.
"Yeah, coming. Although I wouldn't complain if you went the long way round."
"You're telling me there's a short way from here to the Hub?" Jack laughed as the engine started with a gorgeous noise, "Better get out of here before I annoy the neighbours."
Ianto was surprised to discover that he enjoyed the drive to the Hub. Normally Jack's driving put the fear of God in him, but now he knew that Jack drove the SUV like he drove the Jag, which didn't work. It was too big, too unresponsive and, apparently, not fast enough. It was like a roller coaster, in that it was great fun, terrifying and at the same time it felt completely safe.
He found he was laughing as they got out in the car park they always used, where even he had never noticed the Jag sitting quietly in the corner until it was needed, "You're not the Stig by any chance, are you?"
"Nah, they asked me, but I told them I didn't have time."
Ianto was impressed but suspicious, "Really?"
"No, sadly not. But it would be a cool story if it were true."
"Are all your stories like that?" he asked accusingly
Jack put a hand on his heart in mock offence but he was grinning, "Actually they're usually genuine. Maybe a bit embellished, because even my memory's not good enough to recall events of a hundred years ago perfectly, but I've never told an outright lie. Apart form the one about being the Stig."
"Honest!" Jack held up his hands and then did the scout salute, "Scout's honour."
"You were never a scout, Jack."
Jack hid the thrill of delight at the fact that Ianto was still using his first name, even though they were sort of at work, "Says who?"
"You don't know Black Crow Spirit. Every scout knows Black Crow Spirit."
"You got me." He laughed, enjoying the banter, "But I'm still telling the truth."
"Fine, I believe you." Ianto joined in with the laughter, trying to hide his fear at returning to the Hub, but Jack seemed to notice that more than if he'd shown it.
"Come on, you'll be fine, I'll help you."
"Catch me when I fall?" He asked, looking Jack directly in the eye. All the older man did was nod once, but it was enough. Ianto turned towards the door and let Jack lead the way into the building that haunted his nightmares.
Once inside, Jack used his wrist strap to turn on all the lights ahead of them and let Ianto go ahead at his own pace. They had come in through the TI office, and the young man stopped at the hidden door, staring down the stairs lost in thought. When he finally spoke it was so quiet that Jack almost missed it, and he almost wished he had because the words tore him apart inside, "You were right, you should have shot me there and then."
"Oh Ianto." He breathed, shaking his head as he came to stand beside the young man and forced him to meet his eyes, "I could never do that, and no, I was wrong. I was so wrong."
Ianto shook his head, "I was wrong."
"Doesn't mean that I wasn't. Look, how about we were both wrong? And we can build on our mistakes, by which I do not mean make them bigger." Ianto managed a small smile, although he was still fighting tears, "We have to keep fighting Ianto, because there's always a point where it's sink or swim, and at Torchwood it's the moment we first step through the door."
"Did you sink or swim Jack?"
"I sank." He said honestly, "I had no one there to help me."
"I'm glad I do then." Ianto attempted a smile and was grateful when Jack just accepted it, even though he knew he'd seen through it. "God, we've only got to the doorway and already I'm stuck." He was surprised to feel a hand slip into his own, but he squeezed it gently, reassured that his friend was there when he needed him.
He led the way down the stairs slowly and carefully, feeling his heart rate and breathing increase as they got closer to the Hub. When he finally stopped, unable to go any further, Jack's hand was in his again, reassuring him and supporting him. This time he didn't let go either, even when they were standing side by side in the Hub. His eyes sought out the Captain's and he found concern and compassion, which gave him the strength to look around them.
Jack let Ianto go and watched as he went to stand in the middle of the Hub, looking around as if searching for something. He looked back, towards Jack but not at him, instead focusing on the cog door behind him, "I used to stop every time I reached that door to give myself time to become the person you all expected of me, but eventually it didn't matter, because you never noticed me anyway."
Jack wanted to go to him and hold him and tell him that he'd always noticed him, but this was something Ianto needed to work through on his own.
Now Ianto turned to the pool in the base of the Hub, where Jack had revived him with that kiss, "When I woke up, and found you kissing me…" now he looked at Jack, "Why exactly were you kissing me, sir?" The tone was accusatory but the slight smile took the sting out of his words.
"You were unconscious with no pulse and no breathing, it felt like a good idea."
"You saved me, even though you should have shot me?"
"Got a problem with that?" now Jack sounded defensive, but Ianto's smile disarmed him
"Thank you." He replied simply, then turned back to the pool, taking a moment to slip back into the reflective mood he'd been in before the memory of Jack kissing him stole in. It was a hard memory to subdue, "I think I knew that you'd saved me, that I'd be dead without you, but I didn't know yet if it was a good thing or not. I haven't found something to live for yet, something to give me a reason for coming back."
Jack wanted to go to him and kiss him again now and tell him that he would give Ianto something to live for if he needed him, but he knew that he needed to find it on his own.
Ianto now walked to the edge of the autopsy bay and looked down, smiling slightly at the fact that it was the only place in the Hub that Owen would keep properly clean without being pestered. Then he saw the drawer where Gwen and Owen had been trapped, and the place where Owen had stabbed Lisa and he had found her, believed she was dead. Where she'd nearly killed two of his friends.
He heard Jack following him at a distance and descended the stairs to kneel next to the spot where he'd found her. Owen had tried to apologise for killing her, for killing a monster, defending the world and doing his job. Even Ianto had been able to see that, so surely he had? There was now no sign that anything had happened; autopsy floors were designed to clean well, as were the walls, and her blood would have been washed clean in moments. The autopsy room was the best place for anyone to die from Ianto's point of view; it was easy to clean and he wasn't even allowed to do it. He realised he was slipping back into his work persona when he jumped and flinched at Jack's hand on his shoulder, and he was surprised when he found a handkerchief pressed into his hand. Turning to settle against the wall, he stared at the handkerchief as he twined it between his fingers but he saw Jack's feet lift off the floor as he seated himself on the autopsy table in his peripheral vision.
After a while he looked up again and had to blink several times to clear his vision of unshed tears before he could focus on Jack again. For the first time he looked properly into the depths of Jack's eyes and he was scared by what he found in there. The depths of compassion, pain, love, anguish and time itself were reflected in Jack Harkness like they could be in no other human being. Only a Time Lord or other immortal could know that much emotion and not be consumed utterly by it.
Jack was the first to break the connection and looked away, as though embarrassed by what Ianto had seen in him, as though it were some weakness. The young man shook his head and looked down at his hands again, "It puts it into perspective a bit, knowing what you've lived through over the years and years and years. My problems seem insignificant."
Jack didn't move, "One man's story within a tale of many men?" He quoted quietly, a tear escaped Ianto's eye as he nodded, still not looking at the Captain. "That doesn't make it any less important, Ianto." He said gently, "In fact it makes it more important, because what Lisa lost, what you lost the chance to share with her, was the important things in life. Love, stability, a family and a home. And they're things I can never have, because mine is the tale of many men, so I can't do the small picture stuff. It hurts too much."
His voice had sunk, as he was speaking, until the last sentence was barely a whisper, a breath that Ianto barely heard; but he heard it and felt his heart break for the older man's sorrows, "You've still got to fight for it, because even if you can't die, that doesn't mean that you'll live forever There comes a point where living becomes simply existing. Don't ever reach that point Jack."
"Who says I haven't already?"
Ianto finally met Jack's eyes and saw the tears staining his cheeks, "You're still here."
They sat in silence for a long time, looking into each other's eyes in search of reassurance, understanding, comfort, something that couldn't be achieved through words alone or even with them getting in the way. This time it was Ianto who broke the connection first, dropping his eyes to the handkerchief again and resuming twisting it. He wanted to cry, but he didn't know what to cry for. All his tears for Lisa had been shed over the course of the months in the basement, he'd cried for himself for nearly three days in the last week, but then he remembered what he'd seen in Jack's eyes, the anguish and sorrow of a man who was always so strong on the outside, when internally anyone else would be broken. Now the tears came, tears for a man everyone relied on without thinking about it, who went through so much pain to keep this world, a world that wasn't even his own, safe, all for the sake of a chance meeting on a barrage balloon during the second World War.
He looked up at the Captain and found him looking away, giving Ianto the privacy he'd never even thought to ask for, but he was grateful. It gave him the chance to study him with his defences down, the way he hunched his shoulders slightly, locked his feet together and clung to the edge of the autopsy table so tightly that his knuckles were white. This was Jack, not the Captain, the real Jack, who was as defenceless as Ianto had ever been, but who needed defending from himself as well.
Ianto gripped the handkerchief tightly and stood up, moving to sit with his back to Jack on the table. After a while he tipped his head back to gaze unseeingly at the ceiling instead of the floor and he felt the tears trace new tracks down his cheeks, "Thank you, Jack." He whispered, but he knew that his friend had heard him. He promised silently that the moment Jack needed him he would be there. He had no choice.
Realisation slowly dawned on him that there was one place he had to visit on his personal pilgrimage around the Hub and that it lay in the basement. Steeling himself against the fear and uncertainty he set his shoulders and stood up, pausing at the bottom of the steps to note that Jack was once again following him, all trace of the uncertainty gone, just being there again. Yet again he silently thanked the Doctor for creating such a remarkable man.
He hesitated in the middle of the Hub, facing the door to the underground passages that led to the hellhole he'd created. He glanced back at Jack, seeking the reassurance he knew he would find there and turned back to continue on his journey, suddenly, however, and without warning, Myfanwy swept down from her nest, screeching and all but attacking him. In a split second, the memories of the fear and the pain as he saw the Pterodactyl attack Lisa sprang back and overwhelmed him in a crushing blackness.
Jack saw Myfanwy coming and felt powerless to stop her. He ran towards Ianto instinctively to protect him as he sank to his knees, covering his head and crying. Placing himself between the angry Pterodactyl and his young friend he fumbled with the controls on his wrist strap to find the frequency control to send her back to her nest where he could pacify her properly. As she veered away from him and returned to safety he turned his attention to the man behind him who was shaking with fear and anguish. Without a second's thought, Jack pulled him into a tight embrace and pressed kisses to his dark hair, rubbing his back soothingly as he tried to calm him. Gradually, Ianto got his breathing back under control but as he did so he pulled even closer to Jack, searching for shelter and safety. Jack figured he was probably in shock.
He half pulled, half carried the young man to the sofa behind Tosh's desk and held him again as he sobbed. His heart broke for the pain this too young man had to deal with, and for the life that would be denied him whether he stayed here or not. If he stayed he could never have a normal life with a family and a home, but if he left he wouldn't know the wonders of the universe; it was impossible to do both, and nearly as impossible to choose between the two.
As Ianto's breathing calmed and he clung less tightly to Jack, the immortal pulled himself away and went to get him a glass of water. He returned as quickly as he could and found his friend much calmer, but watching Myfanwy sweeping round the Hub, now not attacking him thankfully.
"I have no idea what she was up to." Jack pondered out loud as Ianto accepted the glass gratefully.
The Welshman laughed, "I don't know, maybe she knew it was all my fault."
"Well if she is, she's the only thing in the building who still blames you for it. Although, I'm not sure about Janet either… Maybe we should avoid her for a bit too." He tried to joke and was rewarded by a genuine, albeit slight, smile.
"Do you mean that, Jack? Do you really not blame me?"
"Really genuinely I don't blame you. I'm not going to say that the others have forgiven you, because I can't speak for them, but I have."
Jack smiled, "And to that profundity there is only ever one correct answer, because." He sat beside Ianto again, aware that he was towering over him standing up and watched him carefully again, "Are you alright?" he asked tentatively, relieved when Ianto nodded in response.
"I can't…" he took a deep, steadying breath and let it out again, trying to control the tears that threatened to fall just thinking about that room in the basement, "I can't go down there Jack, not yet. I'm not ready. I…"
"Hey, it's OK," he pulled the young man to him again and stroked his back soothingly, "You don't have to, not yet. But we'll get there, you'll see, I'll help you."
Back at Ianto's house at just after midnight they sat at opposite ends of Ianto's bed again with hot chocolate and marshmallows to keep them warm and amused, in that order, (Jack had an enormous mouth, there was no way to win fluffy bunnies against him, no matter how had Ianto tried or how much he cheated), but both supplies were running low. Sighing into his now empty mug, Jack glanced at the clock on Ianto's bedside table and groaned. He put the mug down on the bed, grabbed a marshmallow and untucked his leg from underneath him, "We should get to bed, well I should get to bed anyway, as you're already there. That's if…" He hesitated, seeming unsure and almost nervous, "Do you want to come back in tomorrow?"
Ianto's smile told him enough, "Wouldn't miss it for the world, sir." He said, laying extra emphasis on the title, but in a way that Jack knew was not dismissive like it had been in the past. The Captain grinned and stood up, collecting both the mugs and leaving his friend the marshmallows as he headed towards the door, but he was stopped by a call from Ianto. He turned and faced the young man, leaning against the door frame gracefully. The young Welshman coloured, but he knew he had to say it, there was no way he could sleep tonight if he didn't. "Jack, will you stay with me tonight, please?"
The older man's heart melted a little, maybe even a lot, "Course I will, I'll just do these and be right back." He indicated the mugs and padded down to the kitchen. When he returned he slid under the quilt with Ianto and they lay on their sides watching each other warily. It was Ianto who broke the silence, grinning mischievously, "What my Mam would say if she knew I was sharing a bed with a man…"
"What would she say, Mr Jones?"
Ianto just shrugged, "She'd probably be a hell of a lot more worried about the fact that you're my boss actually." He flopped onto his back again and reached for the light, feeling Jack do the same on the other side, "And on that note…" the room was plunged into darkness and he swore quietly.
"Whut?" Jack asked
"The marshmallows are still in the middle of the bed." The quilt soared upwards and flopped back down again, presumably Jack had flapped it, and there was the sound of something plastic hitting the floor, "Oh, OK, not anymore they're not."
Thingy: I do not own Torchwood or anything in it (sorry, the word escapes me)
Author's note: There is a prize for anyone who can name me a folk song with that quote in it, "One Man's story within a tale of many men", especially if you name the one I'm thinking of. Even my brother didn't get it. I'll write a personal individual story for anyone who knows it, cos it's that obscure. And I blame everything here on Jack and Ianto, they just do their own thing. Honestly, I turn my back for five minutes and when I come back they're eating marshmallows without me! The cheek of it!
Dedication: Thankyou so much to everyone who's reviewed, especially Hotflower901 and LadyAnalyn who've done every chapter. I hope you've enjoyed it but it is now laid to rest, we have reached the end. We have run out of week. I will be starting on my next one, which hopefully will be a bit more cheerful and more sci-fi, very soon (I'm thinking hours rather than days) and there's a one-shot coming on Sunday for my 18th birthday :D Thankyou so much for reading, especially those who have reviewed, and I hope to see you again shortly.