Notes: And this is it. Thanks to everyone who reviewed, commented, criticised, favourited, alerted, messaged me, rec'd the story, whatever. The feedback was much appreciated, and I really enjoyed writing this out for you all.
London was too loud, too noisy, too hurried for Jack now. Something inside him had shifted, and he no longer liked its impersonal rush. Something was gone.
Hell, not even something.
He'd been back in London for three weeks, and was still having difficulty selecting where he would like to go next. He still wanted to do unexplored histories, but without Ianto's dry wit and small smiles, it didn't have the appeal. Something inside him cried to go back to Cardiff.
"You'll have to get moving, you know," Sarah-Jane told him, "if you want to further this academic career."
"I know," Jack had said, and bypassed the topic.
He had the money to spare, and in theory the time, but he felt run down and unenthusiastic. Very much as though he'd been dumped for someone better.
Maybe he had been.
Gwen wasn't helping. She called after he had moved back to London for a chat, and Jack had steered the conversation over to her brother.
"Ianto? Oh, he's fine," she said. "Well, as much as he ever tells me. He seems fine. He's got a concert in London coming up, actually; shall I get you tickets?"
"...Could you?" Jack asked hesitantly.
"Sure. You and a friend?"
"...No. Just me."
Jack wasn't sure why he wanted to torture himself at a concert, watching someone who didn't seem to be reacting to their separation at all adversely. If anything, Ianto had moved on, and Jack was stuck.
And he was so much in love that he couldn't even dislike or hate Ianto for it.
Setting the phone down that night, Jack decided to go to the concert, to see him one last time, and then let go. Clearly, things had not been the same for Ianto as they had been for him.
This was, for Jack, the final blow of the axe. He had hoped, sickly, that when Ianto had refused to leave Cardiff with him, he would return to London to find that it was, after all, merely an infatuation. A fling, as Ianto had suggested. That, alone in Wales with nobody else to really turn to, he had formed a temporary attachment and it wasn't as meaningful to him without that slightly lonely situation.
But the empty nights, the waking in a single bed, the time he turned to tell Ianto something and didn't find him there...
It was almost as if the younger man had died.
Worse, Ianto didn't call. A couple of emails, cursory and polite - nothing more - found their way into Jack's inbox, but there was no phone call. Jack phoned, nearly every evening, but Ianto sounded harried and a little upset.
And Jack ached that he couldn't push that upset away.
"I miss you," he told Ianto, three weeks to the day after leaving Cardiff.
"Really?" Ianto had said. "Oh."
"I love you."
So Jack would go to this concert, for one last glance, and hope that he could leave it all behind.
The name, Jack assumed, meant something to music aficionados, but nothing to him. He didn't even listen to the music, engrossed instead in the pianist himself, with the cruel knowledge of what else those dextrous fingers could do and had chosen not to do. Cliché as it was, Ianto could play Jack like an instrument, but now, it seemed, he had put down one instrument in favour of returning to his beloved piano.
And there he was, under a spotlight on an empty stage, playing music Jack didn't hear to an audience that Ianto didn't know. And just like before, on that Welsh evening, Ianto remained blissfully oblivious to his observers, and as stiff-backed as the masters of old.
And how Jack loved the man beneath the gleaming suit and behind the excellent poker face.
The voice on the other end of the phone made Jack's heart swell and burst. The concert was over, and he was heading home, bereft and lost, and then that familiar ringtone he'd assigned to Ianto's number had finally, finally trilled.
"Yeah, Yan, hey," Jack murmured. "Hey. Um. Great performance tonight."
"I was at the concert."
"Yeah. Gwen got me a ticket."
Ianto paused, then: "Interfering..."
"...little sisters," Jack finished, and chuckled. "You on your way back now?"
"...No. I'm...not going back yet," Ianto said slowly.
"Come out with me, then?" Jack bargained hurriedly. "Please? Where are you staying?"
"Just a bed and breakfast place," Ianto said. "I'm...I'm still at the concert hall."
Jack abruptly turned on his heel, "Where, specifically?"
"Stay there, I'll come to you. I'm not far off. You want to go and get dinner, maybe? I really have missed you."
Jack was well aware that he looked and sounded desperate: he was near-running, retracing his route hurriedly in the darkening streets, and somehow afraid to let Ianto off the phone.
"That's..." Ianto began, but he didn't seem to know the words, and fell silent.
Jack turned the corner back onto the street and ran the last fifty yards, hanging up and turning into the alley where the stage entrance was in the same fluid movement.
And God, after only three weeks, he shouldn't have felt fluttery at seeing him again. And why had he expected Ianto's looks to have changed? God, he hadn't changed: he was exactly the same man that Jack had left behind. A suit and tie, neat shoes, and that battered backpack that Jack was so, so used to.
"Hello, you," he said.
"Hi," Ianto said, and returned a small smile.
Jack slid his arms around Ianto's waist, loving the familiar contours, and beamed.
"How long do I have you for?" he asked. "Do you need to leave early, or...?"
"Depends," Ianto said.
"On whether your door's still open."
Jack blinked. Ianto's face was locked in that tiny, patient smile, and his gaze was clear and steady and sure. Something that Jack wasn't totally accustomed to seeing on the young man's face.
"It's...always open," he said after a long moment.
"Then I guess you have me for a fair while," Ianto said evenly.
"How long?" Jack insisted.
"Long as you want," Ianto suddenly flushed and ducked his head. "I sold off my stuff. Just me and my backpack now."
"That's okay," Jack said, his voice quavering. "I have stuff."
There wasn't really a passionate kiss, and it wasn't raining like dramatic films, and there hadn't been any declarations of love, but crushing Ianto to him in a fierce embrace, Jack was pretty sure that there should at least be some cheesy background music or something. And Ianto's arms around him were equally tight, equally certain, and Jack's heart was buckling under the strain of it all.
"I love you," he said again.
"Me too," Ianto said.
So it wasn't romantic. So it wasn't what Jack had imagined. But hell, it was perfect anyway, and he knew his grin, when he eventually pulled back, was ridiculously wide.
"So," he said, "next trip. France or Germany?"
"I don't speak German," Ianto said flatly. "And I was actually thinking in the more immediate future. Like, pub?"
"Pub first. Then France."
Their hands slotted together like pieces of a jigsaw, and something intangible was mended.