Sequel to: "To Affect: Verb, Effect: Noun"
Rating: T (PG-13)
Disclaimer: they are not mine. I intend no infringement. They belong to the BBC.
Spoilers: Exit Wounds (tiny)
A/N: okay, so I wasn't going to write a sequel. But then my beta inspired me, and I got all these lovely reviews, and that gave me the nerve to actually do this from Ianto's perspective. Here goes nothing. Also, for those of you who are over 18, my NC-17 stories can be read at my website. Check my profile page if you're interested!
It was awkward, keeping his bandaged hand out from under the spray. The bruises and cuts that hadn't required stitches stung, and made showers in general an unpleasant experience. However, he stubbornly resisted baths or washing up at the sink, refusing to let his routine be altered by something trivial.
Except it wasn't really trivial.
He suppressed the thought and continued his morning ritual, carefully scraping the razor over his cheek. The pain caused by the injuries was secondary to what had happened, secondary to the memories. He knew, when he contemplated it, that it wasn't the violence or the aggression that made him wake up trembling some nights. It had been a week now; he shouldn't still be doing that.
It wasn't that he was ignoring it, or underestimating the emotional toll it was taking, or that he wanted to pretend that he was stronger than he actually was. It was that he didn't want to let it get to him like this; his struggle was with the change, how from one moment to the next it had stopped being ordinary, and started being extraordinary. How the aftermath had changed from straightforward to the raised eyebrows on Andy Davidson's face, the hushed words of the nurse, the quiver of Gwen's lip.
He'd survived cannibals and Canary Wharf, and that hadn't defeated him either; he'd experienced trauma often enough in his short life to recognize the symptoms of shock. The first night after it happened, he'd crawled up close against Jack and given up all pretence of strength, allowing himself to take comfort from the familiar safety of Jack's embrace. But he'd known he'd have to stop.
It had been a week, most of his bruises had faded, his stitches were about to come out. He rinsed out the razor in the sink, rinsed out the sink, and dried his face with a towel. He went from the bathroom into his bedroom and put on his tie and suit jacket. The last things he did before leaving the house were to put on his shoes and grab his keys; one last look around to see if nothing was out of place, then he shut the door.
He walked to work because that was his habit, because he didn't feel like contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, because he lived close to work, and because it was handier. Half the time, Jack drove him around in the SUV and he'd end up in one place and his car in another.
And it was like every other day, except of course it wasn't, because the last six mornings hadn't been. It wasn't that he did anything different, apart from taking slightly shorter showers, and trying not to match his tie or shirt colour to the shade his bruises were on that particular day. Well, he made the coffee with his left hand, and left writing labels to Gwen, because his handwriting now came out illegible. Still, it wasn't like he had really changed anything.
Even so, the world looked different.
Cardiff was his hometown, it shouldn't look different to him. The weather was the same, the people in it were the same, but Ianto looked at them differently. It was strange, almost silly, because the two lads -- he'd found out they were 17 and 18 years old, respectively-- were in custody... although not any more, having been released on their own recognizance. But they would be convicted and serve their penance. They were hardly likely to come and find him, and even if they were, things would be different.
This train of thought fundamentally led him to the feeling he least wanted to think about: his own impotence at the situation.
It wasn't that he'd been blindsided by the attack, it wasn't that he had done anything he wouldn't do again. When faced with a deadly instrument such as a knife, the average person would respond in a rather placating manner. Ianto had been on the receiving end of a threat with a knife as well as an assault with a knife before, and he'd stayed calm and composed, tried to follow most instructions, but refused to become a victim. He didn't feel like a victim, he hadn't felt like a victim, not up until the point --
There lay the crux of his problem.
The blow to his leg that had made his knee buckle and brought him down to the ground was the moment when it had flashed through his mind that this could all go wrong. He was fairly sure that up until that moment, he hadn't felt intimidated or very scared. Cautious, yes, on his guard, certainly, adrenaline flowing; but not the mind-numbing fear that came with a potential threat to your life, health, or dignity. And it was stupid, really, to think about it again and again and again; he was fine, proven by the fact that he'd only missed one day of work. So really, it was all very, very silly.
He turned a corner and there they were, four young lads and a football, hooded sweaters pulled up over ball caps. For a moment, his heart raced and his breath quickened. He found himself imprinting their faces and the logos on their sweaters in his memory. The lads were distracted by their football, he doubted they gave him a second glance. Suddenly, abruptly, he wondered if they'd maintain the same distant ignorance if they knew what he and Jack got up to at night.
That thought was ridiculous. He'd said it to Gwen on the day -- he made a mental note to thank her when he didn't feel so... fragile, not a word he wanted to apply to himself, really -- that he doubted the motive for the attack, at least initially, was anything to do with his relationship with Jack. Nonetheless, it was there, the ugly words, the implied denigration and degradation in the way they'd treated him. He knew rationally, academically, that they'd only reached for the first insult they could hurl at him, that their anger was inspired not by what he privately did with Jack, or by how demeaning those acts were to them, but by his resistance to willingly giving up what they wanted from him.
In the end of the day, it had been a fight over the sixty quid in his wallet and the keys to his car.
It didn't stop him from taking a deep breath when he turned the corner and left the four lads and their football behind. He resolved not to think about it, any of it, for the rest of his way to work, and as he unlocked the door to the Mermaid Quay tourist office, he was still resolving not to think about it. He put his keys behind the counter, hung his coat up on the stand, locked the outer door behind him before unlocking the door to the hub, and made his way down. Jack was standing on the walkway, looking up at Myfanwy who was circling the upper strata of the structure, looking pleased with herself, probably just having been fed. Ianto joined him wordlessly, sidestepped Jack's attempts at groping him, and made his way to the coffee machine to start the first pot of the day. Then he turned around and moved in for a morning kiss.
He disengaged himself from Jack at the appropriate time to switch off the coffee machine and get the mugs ready. Jack leaned back against the railing and watched him for a while, then spoke up. "You're thoughtful lately."
Ianto glanced over his shoulder. "I suppose."
"I miss you."
Ianto looked over his shoulder once more to see Jack shuffling his feet and staring at the metal grating, worrying something with the toe of his boot. Jack looked back up. "You haven't stayed over much."
Ianto felt irritated, yet he found himself explaining, "I'm still recovering."
Jack looked faintly guilty at that. "I know."
Ianto poured coffee into the mugs and stirred sugar into Jack's before handing it over. He watched from under his lashes as Jack took his first sip and beamed a smile at him. He waited for either of them to say something, but they both drank their coffee in silence. Abruptly Ianto found himself saying, "I don't want to have to deal with this."
Jack looked up with the mug held halfway to his mouth. "I know you don't," he said, his voice softening.
Ianto shook his head. "No, I mean, it's not fair that I should deal with this. I didn't ask for it, and it wasn't really about that, and I --" He broke off.
"I know," Jack said a second time, reaching out and putting his mug down on top of the coffee machine. He held out his left hand to him, and Ianto found himself taking it, laying his still bandaged fingers in Jack's. Jack tugged him closer, bringing his right hand up to Ianto's face and brushing a few strands of hair out of place. "I know it's not fair," he said softly, his gaze seeming focused on Ianto's left eye. "I know you didn't ask for this, and I know you're thinking you wish it just never happened."
Ianto took half a step back, saying, "Of course I wish it never happened! What are you --"
"Ssh," Jack said, the fingers of his left hand encircling Ianto's wrist, "I didn't mean it like that." With his other hand, he brushed imaginary strands of hair behind Ianto's ear. "You hate that it's going to take time."
Ianto nodded, unable to deny his feelings, even if he didn't want to have them. "I'm not weak, Jack. I don't want to cower away, I don't want this to change me. But it is, because of their reasons -- and I --" He was running out of words, unable to say how it was affecting him, why it was affecting him, and why he wanted to fight that so hard.
Jack's thumb stroked the shell of his ear, Jack's eyes sliding away to look at it. After a few beats, Jack said in a low voice, "I hate that I can't fix this for you."
Ianto shook his head. "You don't have to, I mean, you try and --"
Jack nodded too quickly, eyes skimming back over Ianto's face, settling somewhere around his hairline. "I know, I know."
Ianto wanted to say something, or do something, but, the proximity alarm sounded and Gwen came in. She looked around until she spotted the two of them on the walkway, then looked away for a moment as if she wished she hadn't come in right then. Ianto stepped back from Jack and gave her a smile, trying for sincere and suspecting it came out a bit lopsided. He picked up her mug from the shelf and filled it with coffee, stirring in the appropriate amounts of sugar and cream, then going over to hand it to her.
"Thanks, you're a dear," Gwen said, giving him her familiar gap-toothed smile that shouldn't reassure him so much.
He glanced back at Jack to see him make his way from the coffee machine to his office, and turned back to Gwen. "Ready to get your hands dirty?"
She laughed and it broke the tension. He offered her his arm and escorted her to her workstation.
She took her coffee break in the archives, sitting on the table he reserved for laying out files and artefacts, dangling her legs while she cradled the warm mug in her hands. He had the feeling that she'd sought him out for a chat, or maybe Jack had put her up to it. As it was, her cheer was slightly too bright and her smile a little too full for him not to see right through the attempt. She chatted on aimlessly, a little about Rhys, about an old school friend that had recently got married, something her mother had said. After some five minutes of that, while he chimed in at appropriate moments with an, "oh really" or an, "uh huh," she said, "How are you holding up, sweetheart?"
If she had sounded any less open, honest, caring and sincere, he would have got angry with her. But as things stood, she was his friend, she'd taken care of him when he'd needed her, and he didn't need to look at her brown eyes to know that she was genuine. It made him stop and turn, facing her to answer the question honestly. "I'm okay. I'm still here and holding on."
She nodded, her hair swaying dangerously close to the mug of coffee. "I'm glad you're okay," she said, relieving his hidden anxiety by brushing her hair behind her ear.
"It's not that big a deal, Gwen." He knew it was, even as he said it. "We cope, we all cope, in this job... You know what I mean."
She smiled and made a futile gesture, as if she wanted to reach out to him, but he was too far away. "It doesn't mean... You have to deal with what happened," she said, her face suddenly serious, and he knew intuitively this was something she'd learned in the police, not in Torchwood. "When something so personal happens, you need to give it a place."
"I'm dealing with it," he assured her. He was dealing with it, he was giving it a place. He just wasn't sure he liked the place it was taking up for itself. He knew Jack was right, he had been distancing himself from his lover, not wanting to repeat that first night when he'd relied on Jack's strength to keep him safe.
Gwen was watching him from under her lashes, smiling when he caught her eye. "Just as long as you know you can come talk to me." She put her mug down on the table and hopped off, giving in to her natural impulse to reach out and touch him, laying a hand on his arm. "If you need someone to talk to, or just a place to stay..."
He nodded, his grateful smile was genuine. "Thanks, Gwen." Awkwardly, he leaned in and kissed her cheek.
He knew he wasn't coping at all when he found himself sitting by the roadside in the rain.
The drops soaked his hair and coat unrelentingly, and he knew that everything he'd told Gwen and Jack that day had been a lie. Everything he had told himself that day had been a lie. He didn't know how long he'd walked around, it seemed endless. It was dark, he was tired, and he'd decided to sit down because there was no good reason to keep standing. And there, sat by the kerb, he had to own up to what he'd been denying for the last week.
He was far from all right.
In spite of his best intentions, he had been unable to stay at the hub, to stay with Jack. It had seemed so fucking important to not need anyone. He'd seen the pain in Jack's eyes as he'd announced that he was leaving, known how much he was hurting the older man, and hated himself for it.
He turned his face up to the rain, looking for stars, even though he knew he couldn't see any. He knew they were out there. He also knew what was here in Cardiff. He shuddered. He couldn't face the emptiness of his flat, couldn't face going back to the hub either. It would take too much of his emotional reserves to try and explain past the hurt in Jack's eyes the why and the what and the how.
He pulled out his mobile and looked at the display, willing for it to ring. He needed someone to care, a human touch, something. His fingers were stiff with numbness when he finally dialled a number himself. It rang three times, then Gwen answered, laughter in her voice.
"It's me," Ianto said mutely.
She sobered quickly. "Hi, what's going on?"
"I think..." He squeezed his eyes shut momentarily, opened them to watch raindrops falling in the sodium streetlights. "I need -- Can you come pick me up?"
Her voice was full of concern as she answered, and he loved her for it. "Of course I can. What happened, where are you?"
He looked around for a street sign and read it out to her.
"Stay where you are," she said, the authority in her tone making him want to obey. "I'll be right there, sweetheart."
When they got back to her flat, Rhys took one look at him and started pulling out the sofa bed, while Gwen dug him up clean clothes and a towel, and it was so reminiscent of the events of a week before that he felt tears burning. He squeezed his eyes shut to drive them back, then went into the bathroom and locked the door behind him.
When he stood under the hot spray, some tears leaked out. He thought that it wasn't really crying as long as no one saw it, then berated himself for being silly again. He stayed in the shower for as long as it took him to warm up, then dried off and dressed. He needed to tie the drawstring on the cotton pants tightly; Rhys was a few sizes bigger than he was.
When he came out, the other man was nowhere in sight and Gwen was seated on the sofa, giving him a smile and patting the space next to her. He sat down awkwardly; he'd called her like a damsel in distress, and now he wasn't quite sure what to say. She handed him a mug of cocoa, and beamed a smile at him.
He nodded and took a sip. The sweet drink scalded his mouth, but he gulped down a few mouthfuls anyway. "I'm sorry, Gwen."
She didn't pretend. She put her hand on his knee, the place where Jack always put his hand, and squeezed softly. "Don't be, Ianto. It's perfectly normal, when you've been the victim of a crime like that, it..."
"I hate that word," he spat out. He took a breath and continued with more composure, "I'm fine, it's resolved, I don't need --"
"Ianto..." she said. She pulled her hand back and pulled her legs up under her.
He took another sip from the scalding cocoa and used that to distract himself from her scrutiny.
"Why are you here?" she asked. At his look, she elaborated, "Why did you call me? I don't mind that you're here, I really don't, but I thought you and Jack --"
Her words hurt, because he'd distanced himself from Jack, even when he didn't want to. He tried not to let it show his face. "I don't know."
"You need him," she said. "Let me call him for you, you should be with him. Don't you want to see him?"
He put the mug down on the table and leaned his head back against the sofa. "Okay."
Everything was like it had been a week ago; he was on the sofa, Jack rushed into the room past Gwen and gave him that look full of concern and worry. He didn't get up from the sofa this time, and Jack stood there regarding him for a few beats, before he suddenly fell onto the sofa beside him. Somewhere, Ianto heard a door click shut, and he knew that Gwen had left them alone.
"What's going on with you?"
Ianto shrugged, defeated. "Apparently, I'm a victim."
Jack shook his head. "No, you're not. This happened, but that doesn't make you a victim."
Ianto pulled his legs up and winced at the twinge in his thigh. "So I'm not a victim." He looked at Jack's eyes, at the lines on his forehead where he was frowning, at that spot just under his jaw where he liked Ianto to kiss him during sex. "But I was, and behaving like one. They turned me into a victim, with what they said, I don't know, it's all --" Jumbled up. Confused. Hurting.
"I know," Jack said again, and Ianto felt a stab of anger.
"You know what?" As he said it, he realised his mistake. "Jack, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that, I --" He broke off again. He reached out and ran his fingers over Jack's cheek, the bandage around his index finger dulling sensation.
Jack reached for his hand and tugged it away by the wrist. His fingers absently stroked Ianto's, and he said, "I know you didn't." For a brief moment, his fingers skimmed over the bandage, and Ianto watched. "I know you're hurting."
"I don't want to be," Ianto confessed quietly.
"I know that, too." Jack looked him in the eye. "But denying it is going to make it worse."
Ianto nodded, turning his hand and wrapping his unbandaged fingers around Jack's. Jack squeezed softly and Ianto gave him a short smile. "I don't know how to stop."
"You could start by not shutting me out," Jack said, and those words stung a little.
"I suppose that would be a beginning," Ianto replied.
Jack winced, but gave a slight tug and Ianto shifted closer. "It would be a beginning," Jack confirmed, sliding an arm around Ianto's shoulders, and he settled himself against his lover. "You can't change what happened. You can get mad about it, you can cry about it, but it doesn't change that it happened. I'm sorry it happened," Jack added, kissing his hair. "I really am, but I can't change it, as much as I wish I could."
Ianto nodded against his shoulder, feeling the familiar impulse to crawl away into Jack's embrace and never surface again, and wished he didn't want it so badly.
Jack ran a hand up his arm and stroked his shoulder with his thumb. "Just don't shut me out, please. I don't want to get phone calls like these, I don't want to have to rush out in the middle of the night, because contrary to what you might think, I worry about you."
"I know you do," Ianto said quietly. He sighed. "I'll try." He wanted to stop feeling like this. He really did.
Jack's answer was another kiss in his hair, and for a moment, Ianto allowed himself to savour it. He knew everything couldn't be fixed in one day.