Keeping Time: Part 1
Ianto knocked on the door. He stood back, cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and yanked the hem of his suit jacket down. On the other side of the door, a familiar voice, cheerier than Ianto had ever heard it, called out. "Did you lose your keys again, lover?"
The door opened. Ianto smelt beef cooking and his empty stomach rumbled. Rhys's broad grin faltered when he saw Ianto and not Gwen. He peered behind Ianto's shoulder, looking for her, as a piece of Ianto's heart shattered and died.
"Rhys… I…" His voice cracked. 'Dammit! Hold it together. Be professional.'
Rhys knew. He looked into Ianto's face and knew. He stumbled backwards a few steps and dropped the tea towel that he'd been holding. "No - no. Don't you dare…"
"Rhys, it was quick. She didn't suffer," Ianto repeated the words that he had practised in the SUV on the drive over and stepped into the flat, a picture of Gwen and Rhys from their wedding caught his eye and the reserve he had put on vanished. Misery overwhelmed him. He swallowed back the agony. "There was nothing we could do."
Rhys lunged at Ianto, grabbing his lapels and shoving him against the wall. "Don't! Don't say it! Don't tell me… oh God, please don't! Fucking Torchwood…"
Rhys pulled back his arm, and though Ianto could've easily managed to stop him, he didn't, and he allowed Rhys's fist to collide with his face, the knuckles splitting open his bottom lip.
"I won't…" Ianto paused when he felt fresh warm blood trickle down his chin. He didn't wipe it away. "I won't. If you don't want me to – I won't."
They stared at each other for a long time, Rhys's breath hitting Ianto's face in hard spurts. Finally, Rhys's face contorted in pain and he sunk to his knees at Ianto's feet. Ianto bent down next to him, balancing himself on one knee. He placed a gentle hand on Rhys's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Rhys."
"How? Please tell me how?"
"She… we thought there were children trapped in a building. She ran in to save them. Jack ran in after her. It was a trap. There were bombs…"
Rhys looked up at Ianto. "And Jack survived. Or should I say, he died and came back. That's how it works?"
"Fucking Torchwood!" Rhys stood up quickly, making Ianto press his palms flat on the floor behind him to keep from falling. "Where is he? Where the fuck is he now? Why didn't he tell me himself, the fucking coward?"
"He wanted to… but Gwen, well, she asked me once if I'd be the one to tell you - not Jack. She thought it'd be easier."
"For him or for me?"
"For you," Ianto lied. He knew it was for both of them.
Rhys slumped down in the sofa, his face expressionless. Ianto joined him, folding his hands in his lap. He waited silently, wondering if there was more that he could do, wondering if he should use the retcon pills that Jack had given him. It was so tempting to use them. To take away Rhys's pain. But it would leave no memory of Gwen. Not a trace. And that, Ianto knew for certain, would be worse than the grief.
Rhys looked at the door. "She's not coming home?"
Ianto knew that it wasn't really a question; so, he didn't answer it.
"Who did this? Are they… did you…?"
"They've been dealt with," Ianto said, contempt and anger apparent in his tone.
"It's not fair," Rhys whimpered. "I warned her. I should've forced her to quit. I should've…" Rhys put his face in his hands and let his grief flow out of him in quiet sobs that shook his entire body. Ianto got up and picked up the tea towel from the floor and sat back down, waiting until the sobs slowed. He handed Rhys the towel. Rhys wiped his face and blew his nose with it.
"When can I get her?" Rhys asked.
Jack had been insistent.
'She stays here!'
'Jack, be reasonable. She has Rhys. She has a family. We can't keep her here in the morgue.'
'She knew the rules.'
'We can break them when we want.'
'She stays here!'
"There are rules. We can't – "
"Fucking Torchwood rules, right?"
"Bullshite! Jack is Torchwood. Jack can bend the fucking rules." Rhys stood, grabbed Ianto's arm and forced him to stand as well. "You tell your boss," Rhys shoved Ianto forward towards the door, "that I'm picking up my wife first thing in the morning and he'd better let me or I'll…"
"I know," Ianto said softly. "I know it's right. I'll… I'll talk to Jack. He's not thinking straight." Ianto reached out to comfort Rhys with his hand, proper and distant enough for male comforting, but Rhys released him from his grip and moved further away.
Ianto delivered the message that Gwen had given him right after they had lost Toshiko and Owen. "Gwen said to tell you to look in the box in your bedroom closet. Top shelf. The one with the hideous pink flowers on it." He turned and left.
"You're next you know!" Rhys shouted down the hall at Ianto's back. "You're bloody well next! Harkness will destroy all of you!"
Ianto put his coat over his arm and took a deep breath as the cog door opened. Everyone in the room turned to watch him walk through.
Kate, the newest member of their team, their technical genius, though Ianto never thought she was as good as Toshiko, wiped her nose with a tissue, which seemed to spark more crying. Joseph, their doctor, the one who had pronounced Gwen dead and received a black-eye for it from Jack, put his arm around Kate, pulling her to his chest. Mickey, who had fit right in from the start, who understood better than all the new recruits what each of them risked, stepped forward.
"I don't want to talk about it," Ianto said, immediately regretting the snappish tone. He sighed. "Sorry. It's…"
"Don't worry about it, mate," Mickey said. He pointed at his lip. "Put ice on that."
Ianto had forgotten about it. He touched it and winced. "Where's Jack?"
"I don't know," Mickey said. "He put on his coat, told us to wait for you, and left."
Ianto looked at the other two. They stared back at him through puffy, red-rimmed eyes, helpless and confused, looking to him for direction.
"Go home," he said, trying to sound authoritative and sympathetic, but it came out sounding angry. "Sorry. I didn't mean to… just go home. Take care of yourselves."
No one moved. Ianto looked at each one of them individually, silent truths being exchanged. They only had each other. There was no one else. Gwen had been the only one with someone waiting at home for her. Now, Rhys was alone and, at least, they still had each other.
Ianto dropped his coat on the closest chair. "Anyone hungry?"
They looked away, wearing guilty faces. Ianto knew what they were thinking… what they were feeling. Gwen was dead and they ached for her, and they thought being hungry was trivial compared to that.
"It's okay to eat," Ianto said. "It's a basic human need." Ianto sat down on the Hub's poor excuse for a sofa and took Kate's hand. "We're alive. Gwen knew the risks. We lived through losing Tosh and Owen. If she was here, she'd be hand feeding all of you to be sure that you didn't get sick." This earned tiny smiles from them all. "We need to eat and sleep. We still have this place to run. That is… if any of you have changed your mind because of this, you need to tell…" He paused, ready to say Jack, but Jack wasn't here. "You need to tell me now. There's no shame in that. This life isn't for everyone."
Joseph shook his head first. Mickey seemed offended that Ianto had even looked at him. Lastly, Kate shook her head and whispered, "No."
"That's settled then. We're still a team… and we need to eat. Chinese, pizza, or curry? Never mind. You lot can never decide. I'll decide for you."
The Chinese take-away arrived at the tourist office an hour later. Ianto brought it down to the main Hub and stored a container of fried sweet and sour king prawn balls for Jack in the small refrigerator in his office. This team had never been as quiet before while they ate. Normally, Jack or Mickey told outrageous stories about their travels, some true and some not, wide-eyed Kate believing all of them. Joseph and his humourless scientific personality played straight man and tried to point out the gaping holes of logic in the tales. Mickey, and especially Jack, took it as a challenge and the stories just grew wilder with each meal.
When they were finished, Ianto demanded that they all go home, and he retreated to Jack's office. He thought he'd feel safer there, protected from the coldness inside of him he felt from just knowing that Gwen's body laid out in the autopsy room.
He punched up her file on the computer and entered in the details of her death, breaking only when he couldn't see any longer through tears.
"Rhys just left."
Ianto looked up from Jack's desk at Mickey standing in the doorway. "Thanks, Mickey."
"He went with the body to the funeral home. He said he'll contact us about the funeral. But he said that he didn't want –"
"Ianto, it was the right thing to do, giving her back to her husband."
"Don't let Jack come down too hard on you when he gets back."
"I'm not worried about Jack."
"Welcome back," Ianto said without looking up from his task.
"No, Jack. I'm not angry."
"Then look at me."
Ianto looked up and saw exactly what he had expected, Jack standing there in his greatcoat, looking perfect, charming, and sad, but not sorry enough for what he had done.
"I saw you there… lurking," Ianto said.
"I know. I figured Rhys didn't want me anywhere near him."
Jack took off his coat and placed it on the back of the empty chair in front of the desk. He paused for a second before sitting down, having no other choice, since Ianto didn't offer to relinquish Jack's seat behind the desk. Ianto went back to the paperwork he was filling out that would defer the costs of the burial to Torchwood.
"You disobeyed my orders."
"You weren't here to give any."
"I told you that I wanted –"
"Jack, this may surprise you, but I don't give a fuck what you wanted. What Rhys needed, what the team needed was more important. Gwen deserved a proper burial and I made sure that she got one."
Jack nodded. "I was being an ass."
"You were," Ianto agreed. It was the best apology Jack had ever given Ianto. "Where'd you go?"
"To visit with Martha."
"Martha? She didn't mention it."
"I asked her not to. Don't hate me, Ianto. Please. I couldn't stand it if you hate me."
"Hate you? Jack, listen. You were wrong, but you've done worse things. I know, if you were here, you would've eventually… oh…" Ianto felt a sudden punch of panic to his gut. Martha had come to the funeral. Jack knew Martha would come here. So, why… there was only one thing that Martha could help Jack with that Jack wouldn't want his team to know about. But why? Why would he…?
"That's not what you were talking about."
Jack shook his head slowly. "No."
"What did you do?"
"It's not what I did. It's what I'm going to do." He stood and begun pacing. "I'm leaving."
"For how long?"
Ianto's worse fear – no, Ianto's worse fear was Jack leaving without telling him. Ianto's second worse fear had come true – Jack was leaving with the Doctor.
Ianto shook his head. "No. Jack, think about this. You're grieving. You're not thinking straight."
"I am thinking straight. I can't do... I can't be here anymore."
"Right. It's about you. What about us? Torchwood needs you."
Jack stared at him for a moment. Very softly he said, "Torchwood. Torchwood needs me."
"Yes. Torchwood needs you!"
"Not anymore. I'm too close, Ianto. I care too much. Fuck!" He banged his hand against a cabinet. "Before her… Gwen. Before Gwen I didn't care. You were all just soldiers in a bloody fucking war! Now I care too fucking much."
The confession hurt much worse than Ianto had counted on. Gwen was who had mattered in Jack's life. Losing her had finally broken Jack. Ianto couldn't look at Jack any longer. He couldn't stand to see the reality of his place in Jack's heart.
"Ianto…" Jack sat on the edge of the desk, grabbed Ianto's jaw, and forced him to look to meet his eyes. "Gwen forced me to feel again. She made me feel for her and, it's because of her, I was able to open up and feel for you, too."
"You don't have to leave."
"I do. I feel too much now. Watching Gwen die… the thought of watching you die… I just can't shut it off now. It could influence everything that I do. Every decision that I make. I can't trust my instincts anymore. It'll be the team – the world – the universe at risk. I feel safe here. It feels as close to home as I've been in a long – such a long damn time that I've forgotten what I have to do. What I'm here for."
"Why do you have to be the one to do it?"
Jack shrugged solemnly. "I don't know. I'm… I don't know what I am. But I have to be here for a reason. This abnormal existence that I'm trapped in has to be for a reason and I just know that the reason is to protect the universe, to keep it moving forward to its future. If it's not, if I stopped believing that…"
There was a part of Ianto that knew Jack was right. He was the leader, the one to make the most difficult, severe decisions. Ianto had also known that Jack would let him die or kill Ianto himself, if it meant saving the masses. Ianto had accepted that, even felt comfort by it. Jack wasn't just his hero – he was a hero shielding the innocent from the worst that the universe had to offer, and now Jack was telling him that there was a possibility he'd risk that to save him. He had to accept that and ignore the part of him that wanted to plead with Jack to stay with him. Not Torchwood - him.
As Ianto internally struggled with the selfish part of him, Jack stood and slid a cabinet over. He dug his fingers into the creases between a red brick and wiggled it until it was loose enough to dislodge. He reached his arm into the wall up to his elbow and pulled out a black leather book. He placed it on the desk in front of Ianto and wiped his dusty hands on his trousers.
"This is something for the eyes of the leaders of Torchwood only," Jack said, putting a hand on Ianto's neck. He squeezed gently. "You thought you knew everything." He tapped the Torchwood emblem on the dusty cover. "This is the rest of everything."
Realisation on what Jack meant struck Ianto, his jaw dropped, and he swung around, gaping at Jack. "Me? You want me to take over Torchwood?"
"Who else? The rest of the team already looks up to you."
"Jack, for christ's sake, I'm only twenty-six!"
"What does that have to do with it? Martha saved the entire universe when she was younger than that. The team looks up to you. Age doesn't have anything to do with being a leader."
"I…" He stopped himself from saying 'can't' because he could and there was no arguing about it with Jack. "So… you're going with him. To travel with him."
"Yes. No. He's taking me somewhere, but I'm not staying with him."
"I don't know yet."
Desperation drove Ianto to jump out of his seat and pace the floor, running his hands through his hair. Jack was so intertwined with Ianto's existence that the thought of him not being there was almost too much for Ianto to bear.
Jack grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arms around Ianto's chest and resting his chin on Ianto's shoulder. "I am hurting too, Ianto. I wish it didn't have to be like this. I want you to…" Jack sighed. "You need to stay here and keep things in order. You need to be the leader to this team. Torchwood is as much a part of you as it is me. If it lost both of us, it would crumble."
"What about Mickey? Mickey knows –"
"Mickey's a wanderer. I recognise the look in his eyes. He's seen too much and eventually he'll feel the need to go somewhere else. You – you, Ianto, are not. You're loyal and you know this is where you're needed…" Jack kissed Ianto's ear. His voice cracked as he whispered, "Until the end."
Ianto heard the anguish in Jack's voice. "I'll miss you. I…"
Jack pulled him in tighter. "I know."
"Let me say it, Jack."
"You never wanted to before."
Jack was right. Ianto had never verbally exposed his feelings to Jack, mostly because Ianto was afraid that once he did he would be abandoned.
Nothing to lose now, he thought.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
Mickey's angry shouts echoed through the Hub.
Ianto stood there; his back straight, his shoulders back, and his face impassive. "He's gone."
"And what are we supposed to?"
Ianto looked at Kate and Joseph, who hadn't spoken a word since Ianto revealed Jack's departure. He gave them a reassuring smile, like a father wordlessly telling their child, 'Let daddy handle this.'
"Business as usual," Ianto said firmly. "Jack left me in charge. Anyone have any problems with that?"
No one spoke.
"Right. Then let's get started." Ianto sat down in Jack's – no, his chair – at the head of the table. "Kate's predicted that we can expect a spike in… Mickey, are you going to sit down? Because if you're not, while you're up, will you get us some coffee?" Mickey made an annoyed sound, but sat down.
The rest of the day and night went better than Ianto had expected. There were even times when Mickey seemed to have forgotten his anger at Jack and behaved normally, telling dodgy jokes and poking fun at Joseph. There were even times when Ianto seemed to have forgotten his anger at Jack too. Work was always the best distraction, and, honestly, he was itching for all of them to leave so he could settle down with Torchwood's secret book and absorb all the fascinating information it held.
Kate stood in the doorway, wringing her hands.
"We'll be all right without Jack, right?"
"We'll be fine. Though… we'll have to adjust our strategies for those tricky situations where we could send him in and not worry about him dying permanently."
Kate's eyes widen, looking horrified at the thought of what new strategy Ianto would come up with.
"It's all right, Kate," Ianto said evenly, hiding the humour that he felt.
"Go home and get sleep. If your prediction is correct, we can expect a rough few days starting tomorrow at…"
"Good job," Ianto said, swirled in his chair, and turned on his monitor, signalling that she should listen and leave.
She did, but Mickey came in a less than a minute later. "We need to talk about this."
"We don't. We really, really don't. Jack's gone. That's that."
"You let him leave!"
Ianto laughed. "You think that I could've stopped him. And even if I could, he was right. He had to go."
"You think he was right? You wanted him to go? I don't believe that for a moment, mate."
"I didn't say that I wanted him to go. I said that he was right. If Jack believed that he couldn't serve as our leader anymore, then he couldn't. We can't have anyone on the team who isn't fully prepared to accept the consequences that go along with this line of work. Speaking of that…" Ianto stood up and made sure that Kate wasn't still in the Hub. "Kate's out."
"She's struggling. She's –"
"She's brilliant! She's doing just fine."
"Fine isn't good enough. And, yes, she is brilliant, but she doesn't have what it takes. It's not in her gut. Gwen felt sorry for her. She had faith that Kate would grow into the job. I felt differently and Jack gave in to Gwen. I was hoping Kate would prove me wrong, but now she's become afraid of her own shadow. She'll just get herself or one of us killed. You know that I'm right."
Mickey looked reluctant to admit it, but he nodded.
"We'll need her tomorrow. If everything goes well, I'll retcon her on Thursday. I need you to set-up the post-retcon monitoring procedures. I want to be sure she's okay."
"What post-retcon monitoring procedures?"
"There on your computer in your private folder. I moved them there this morning."
Mickey sighed. "I hate this job some days."
Ianto nodded. "It's still better than not having feelings towards it at all."
Mickey left, the Hub fell quiet, and Ianto dropped the mask of leader that he had been wearing all day and easily slipped into the one of a mourning lover. He picked up the gold button that he had stolen from Jack's coat and twirled it between his fingers, thinking of last night.
Ianto buttoned his shirt and watched Jack slip his bracers over his shoulders. It was one of a hundred little things that made Captain Jack Harkness who he was, and Ianto was going to miss every one of them. It was all so different from Lisa. With her, he hadn't known when the last time would be. He really couldn't decide which was worse.
Jack reached for his coat, but Ianto grabbed it out from under his hand. He held it open. Jack froze, the muscles on his face twisted, and, for a moment, Ianto thought that he was going to cry. But he didn't. He readjusted his face into a smile, turned around, and stretched his arms out behind him, allowing Ianto to slip it on for one last time.
When Jack turned to face him, Ianto put his palm flat on Jack's chest, over his heart, using it as leverage, so the other hand could rip a button off the coat. He held it up, between his two fingers. "Something to remember you by."
Jack grinned, the cheeky grin that suited his flawless face perfectly. "As if you could ever forget something as perfect," he waved his hand in front of his face, "as this."
The pit of Ianto's stomach burned, but he forced a smile. "I want to remember your face like that –charming and arrogant. So just go. Now."
And without a word, or a change in his expression, Jack spun on his heels, his coat sweeping out around him, and left.
Had it only been a day?
Ianto slipped the button into his pocket just as the Rift monitor alarms went off. He groaned. So much for Kate's prediction.