Title: Potentiality (Or: How I Learned To Loathe The Quantum Bomb)
Disclaimer: Torchwood is the legal property of the BBC. In case you didn't know.
Summary: Somewhere between "Countrycide" and "Captain Jack Harkness", Ianto Jones went from hardly knowing how to hold a gun to be willing and able to use it. How did he get there, and what did he have to sacrifice in the process?
Notes: I have a pet project: to write a story for each of the main Torchwood characters. "On Being God" was Toshiko's, "Restless" was Gwen's. And this one is Ianto's.
Jack Harkness first got the idea as he stood overlooking the Hub, Gwen Cooper by his side, the pair of them watching as Ianto Jones slowly and self-consciously picked his way around the Hub, cleaning, tidying, desperately pretending that there was something normal about the situation. At the time, Jack's anger was still sitting so close to the surface that the idea was swamped, consumed by the rage and dismissed as stupid and unworkable.
But the thought of it lingered somewhere in the back of his mind, beyond the immediate glare of consciousness, possibilities and potentialities swirling in the nether regions of his consciousness. Perhaps it was what had prompted him to include Ianto Jones in the expedition to the Beacons, some part of him determined to take stock of the young man, and work out whether he still had merit.
Regardless of his reasons behind taking Ianto out of the Hub and his comfort zone, the moment where the Idea blossomed into Jack's head, fully formed, was as the pair of them sat outside Ianto's tiny rented terrace house, the SUV engine off, and neither of them making any move to exit the car.
Jack had already dropped Owen and Gwen off at the hospital, so that she could get some formal medical treatment, and Tosh had been walked to her door by a solicitous Jack, who had noticed the way her eyes were unfocused with exhaustion, and the way she was pale with shock. Ianto had stayed in the car while he took her inside, made her a cup of tea, and then left her to recover in private.
Their relationship, if one could call the shallow flirtatious conversations and the meaningless time-passing sex a 'relationship', had all but died with the discovery of Ianto's betrayal and Lisa's existence. Jack had come to feel rather oddly like he was looking at a stranger every time he saw Ianto. Where there had once been a charming man who had responded to Jack's flirting in kind, there was now only someone whose pain was covered by a thin veneer that Jack only recognised because he'd worn the same himself for so many years.
They'd barely spoken since that day, which made it all the more surreal that Jack found himself turning towards Ianto after he stopped the car, and asked, "Will you be alright?" and Ianto responded,
"Sure." He sounded tired, and so very soulsick. "Not the first time someone's threatened to cut me up after all. Admittedly, though, the fact that they were cannibals was a little bit different."
Jack froze, hands clenched on the steering wheel. He made no move to touch Ianto, knowing it wouldn't be appreciated, and for a second, forgot to breathe. "Canary Wharf?"
He half expected Ianto to not answer, to get out of the car and go into his house without looking back, but after a moment, Ianto sighed, and leaned his head backwards on the headrest, looking towards the felted roof. "Yes," he said, simply.
While Jack was trying to think of how to phrase his next question, Ianto surprised him by continuing to speak.
"They caught a group of us all at the same time. Five of us. Five of us and two guards. The guards were taken out quickly, I remember that. I can remember hearing them screaming. The lighting had failed, and all the light there was came from these emergency glow strips on the floor. The electricity, it lit up the corridor. We tried to run, but more of them came, and blocked off the corridor.
"They were desperate. It was towards the end of the battle, and they needed bodies to replace those the Daleks had been killing. So they didn't kill us, they just gave us all jolts hard enough to temporarily scramble our motor nerves, and dragged us to the conversion units.
"I remember the blood. It was everywhere. The units were just hacking off limbs and replacing them, rather than carefully extracting the brain. They incinerated all the waste flesh at the end of every cycle of the machines, I could smell the burning, but some of the blood came out from under the doors, made it slippery. One of them nearly lost its footing."
Ianto laughed, but it was a hollow laugh, without mirth or humour in it. Jack tried to keep his breathing even, and stared at the side of Ianto's head.
"There were two or three units, the newly built ones out of scavenged Earth tech. I was last in, right after Lisa. I still couldn't move, but they still strapped me down anyway. I could hear Lisa screaming, but couldn't move, could only look upwards. I could see the unit descending, the knives still had blood from previous... upgrades... on it. One of them came close enough to start cutting," Jack realised with a jolt that what Ianto had claimed was a surgery scar really wasn't, "And then it stopped. I still couldn't move. I couldn't see the Cybermen and Daleks being torn away, but I could hear things. I could hear air rushing, and I could hear electronic screams mixed with Human ones, but I couldn't move. I stared up at those knives for what felt like forever, waiting for them to start up again."
Ianto straightened his head, breaking the spell of cold icy tension that had fallen over the SUV. He turned to look at Jack, and smiled thinly. "And then it wore off, and you can probably guess what I did next."
Got up, dragged Lisa out, and watched as Torchwood Three came and salvaged the best toys and never once moved to help. Jack had refused to feel guilty at the time, but he found that he had trouble meeting Ianto's eyes.
Ianto shifted in his seat, making a pained-sounding grunt as he reached for the car door. Jack reached over, and stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Do you need any help? I can get some painkillers or-"
"Jack," Ianto interrupted him, frowning at the hand Jack had on his arm, and then looking up to frown at him directly, "What the fuck would make me think you actually cared about me like that?"
Jack found himself at a brief loss for words. Ianto took his silence for answer enough. Fabric slid away beneath Jack's fingers, and Ianto was out of the car, slamming the door behind him, and walking up to the path to the entrance. He didn't glance back at the SUV as he unlocked the door and let himself in, a light flickering on that just allowed Jack to see through the rippled glass and lace curtain that obscured any direct view. He could see Ianto's silhouette shrug off its coat, and then lean against the wall for a moment, tiredly, Jack imagined, before Ianto straightened, and disappeared from view.
Jack sighed, and reached for the keys still sitting in the ignition. Ianto wouldn't have wanted to hear it, would have taken it as an insult or, at the very least, an extremely backhanded compliment, that Jack thought that he had handled himself as well as could be expected. In many ways, Jack was more impressed with his reaction to the whole terrible situation than Gwen's or Owen's reaction. Gwen was desperate to understand why, Owen just thought they were all sick fucks, and Toshiko was so shaken she'd nearly split her tea all over the kitchen worktop when Jack had taken her inside her flat.
Some part of him had expected that Ianto would have fallen to pieces in the face of nearly been eaten, but after losing your whole world not once but twice, Jack ruefully supposed that it didn't really compare. It had been horrible and terrifying yes, life destroying, no. The engine of the SUV smoothly turned over, and Jack realised that the little sensation he could feel building in his chest was quite possibly pride. It had been unfair of Jack, perhaps, to just hand Ianto a gun and expect him to acquit himself well with no real training or experience. But he hadn't expected anything to happen, only anticipating an easy mission in the countryside that would allow Ianto to feel a little more confident and included.
Imagine what he could become with a little training.
Jack paused, the SUV partway out of the parking space in front of Ianto's house. The indicator lit up the darkened road in periodic flashes of amber, but there were fortunately no other drivers around at this hour to get annoyed at Jack blocking the street. The Idea, having percolated beneath his conscious mind for weeks now, slowly unfurled before him. Jack knew from distant recollections of having read Ianto's personnel file (surreptitiously swiped off the Torchwood London network, along with a complete copy of their database, when Tosh had been in a bad mood after spending an unproductive morning on the phone with someone at London's technical department) that Ianto had been a researcher, not a field agent (try as he might, Jack couldn't quite recall which department he'd been a researcher in) and Jack had initially hired him as something nice to look at around the office, never bothering to give him much in the way of arms training beyond how to put on and take off a safety, and how to load a clip. Ianto had been happy to slide into obscurity, until they all realised exactly what Ianto had been hiding.
Why shouldn't he provide more training, training that would prove useful to Torchwood? There were secrets that Jack knew which he'd never felt able to share with anyone else, and they needed to be shared. Ever since the century had changed, he'd been waiting, knowing that the Doctor could arrive any day, and he would leave and take his secrets, important secrets, with him. Toshiko wasn't strong enough, still looking out of the corner of her eye for UNIT guards coming to take her away, and Owen was so very angry at the world. Gwen was too new, and he hadn't the heart to break her by showing her the metaphorical bloodied corpses shoved in the back of the cupboards. Ianto, though, Jack knew could keep a secret. And he found that he honestly believed that Ianto had no secrets left to hide of his own. He'd said as much to Jack, as the others had withdrawn to their own homes in the aftermath of Lisa's demise, as he knelt in a genuine display of penance on the Captain's office floor, fully expecting to die, and claiming that he had nothing left in his life.
"Nothing," he had said, unable to meet Jack's harsh and unrelenting gaze, "Except this place. Torchwood was all I had left, apart from her. So if you're going to kill me, now would be a very good time to do it."
Jack hadn't killed him, only told him to get up and go home, and to be on time tomorrow, since he had a lot of cleaning up to do. Ianto had looked like he didn't know whether to be thankful or dismayed, but he'd gotten up and walked out without another word.
No, Jack didn't think he was hiding more of his own secrets. And maybe, just maybe, it was time Jack shared one or two of his own.
Jack hadn't expected Gwen to be in the next day, knowing that she was still recovering from her injuries, but had had been surprised when Owen called in sick. Owen usually took a perverse delight in putting two fingers up at all the Universe could throw at them and pretending it didn't affect him, but his reasons became more obvious when, during the phone conversation, Jack caught the sound of a soft female voice in the background, a voice Jack recognised. His own flash of anger at hearing a gentle Welsh accent lying to her boyfriend on the phone nearby was a bit of a shock, and he bit off some response to Owen that he didn't recall, and slammed the receiver down. He couldn't decide if he was angrier at Gwen for ignoring everything he'd told her about letting Torchwood change her, or Owen for taking advantage of someone new and still naïve. He got to his feet, pacing over to his office window, and looked through the lines of stellar diagrams out onto the Hub.
Tosh had come in, bruised and dressed in clothes to hide the extent of her injuries, but with a stubbornness in her expression that Jack was pleased to see. She had a resilient spirit, they all did. After over a century of experience on the matter, Jack had realised that if you managed to get through your first week at Torchwood Three without cracking up, you were liable to keep your sanity enough to function for a good few years (although hadn't Suzie just proved the exception to that rule?). She had called up one of her personal projects on the screen, analysing some linguistic samples, and although there was more pressing things that she needed to do, Jack couldn't begrudge her the opportunity to do something she would rather spend time on instead. He would have insisted she take time off, if he thought she'd take it.
It was the same with Ianto. He'd known the minute that Ianto had arrived, but it was the first time he'd ventured out of the tourist office and into the Hub proper all morning. He clearly knew that neither Owen nor Gwen were in. As Jack watched, he saw Ianto descend from the gantry, carrying a tea tray with just three mugs on it. Jack realised with a start that Ianto had made himself a drink, and that he'd never used to do that. He'd simply made everyone their beverages of choice, and withdrawn to the above-ground office or the archives.
He watched as Ianto placed a mug on Tosh's desk, her favourite purple one with the silly rainbows and bunnies motif, which she swore up and down she was only fond of for the ironic value. He flashed her a brief smile and started to move away, but Tosh halted him with a gentle hand on his arm. Jack was too hard to hear what was being said, but from their expressions, he was willing to bed that she was asking how he was doing, and he was responding that he was fine. Then Tosh said something else, and Ianto chuckled and shook his head. Jack vaguely wished his hearing were good enough to hear through solid walls.
He realised that Ianto was heading to his office with the remaining mugs, and stepped away from the window.
"Coffee, sir?" Ianto asked, as he stepped through the open door.
"Ah!" Jack said, affecting the manner of a man who'd just spotted an oasis after a long trek across the desert, "You're a godsend, Ianto."
Ianto smiled a small polite smile. Lines in his forehead and around his eyes eased though, as he realised that Jack clearly wasn't going to hold the previous night's statement against him. "I try my best, sir," he said, picking up one of the mugs and holding it out. Though he did his best to mask it, he winced with the motion. Jack had watched how stiffly he'd been moving, but knew that if he were to suggest a hot bath would help, it wouldn't be appreciated.
Jack sniffed appreciatively at the coffee as he took it, savouring the first sip that spread that chocolate-rich bitterness across his tongue. He closed his eyes and may have made a small 'mm' of pleasure, before saying, "Thank you, Ianto."
Ianto inclined his head in acknowledgement, and made to leave.
"Oh, Ianto?" Jack called him back just as he reached the doorway. "One quick question."
Ianto turned back, moving his whole body to do so, clearly not having the flexibility right now to move just his neck. "And what might that be, sir?" he said, in his most patient tone.
Jack sipped the coffee again, relishing the taste, as he looked at Ianto speculatively. Just when Ianto was starting to shift uncomfortably, he asked the question that he knew could change a lot of things, not the least of which were Ianto's whole position at Torchwood, and what would happen to the fragments of their relationship, what might have once been called something approximating a friendship. "Tell me, Ianto, because I'm curious. What do you want?"
When Jack posed the question, Ianto Jones could do little more than stare at his boss in a dumbfounded fashion. For a moment, he was intensely aware of the screaming sensation in his muscles every time he moved, of the fact that his back was killing him with the effort of standing upright, and that while he'd taken the prescription painkillers pushed on him by Owen the night before, they hadn't made much of a dent in the actual pain he was experiencing, although they were certainly making his brain processes fuzzy (he'd spent twenty minutes that morning staring at his email without making any effort towards actually reading it). All he could think was: what a stupid question.
Instead of voicing that opinion, though, he affected an expression of polite confusion. "I don't quite understand, sir," he said.
"I would have thought it was a pretty simple question," Jack said, holding his mug near his face, breathing in the scent of the coffee. Ianto would die before admitting it, but he found it rather delightful that he could make simple coffee that could cause an expression of bliss on Jack's face that Ianto had only ever witnessed at one other time (and those times didn't involve coffee, since neither of them got off on second degree burns). "What do you want?"
Ianto felt, disconcertingly, like he'd just turned over two pages in a book at once, and he'd missed some vital point of information. "I…" He shook his head, "Nothing. I'm fine, sir."
Jack gave him a thoughtful look, and then shook his head. He didn't look angry, or disappointed, but it didn't look like the answer he was hoping for. Jack set his mug down and picked up a piece of paper with Jack's distinctly scrawling handwriting littering its surface. He held it out to Ianto. "In the interests of keeping UNIT sweet, I've decided to accede to an information request from them. I want you to collate some info into a report, and have it on my desk by the end of tomorrow."
Ianto took the sheet of paper, looking down at it. There was a summary of the request printed at the top, and Jack had written the file IDs of the information he was willing to release underneath it. Several of them had the same string of suspiciously familiar numbers on the end. Ianto glanced at Jack cautiously, "Are these in…?"
Jack nodded. "The secure archives, yes." He paused, picked up his mug again, turning away slightly as he did so. "The codes are still the same."
Ianto was grateful that Jack was turned away, and couldn't see that Ianto's hand briefly shook in a way that had nothing to do with muscle fatigue. The day after Lisa, a day which had a line drawn over it in Ianto's mind, Jack had unceremoniously informed him that his access to the secure archives and datastores was revoked. Knowing that he'd deserved far worse, Ianto hadn't said a word in objection, though he'd been surprised at how much it had hurt to have the trust which Ianto had earned over a year of quietly and efficiently doing his job suddenly taken away. At that point, he had thought that nothing could add to his pain. The fact that Jack hadn't changed the codes, merely trusting in Ianto's adherence to Jack's instructions, spoke volumes.
A flickering ember of hope caught somewhere in his stomach. Ianto ruthlessly squashed it, and folded the piece of paper one handed, and tucked it in his pocket. "I'll get right on it," he said, and was thankful his voice didn't tremble and reveal his weakness.
Jack nodded and sat down behind his desk. "You do want something, Ianto," he said, surprising him by changing the topic again. "And when you've figured out how to say it, I'll be waiting."
Disconcerted, but with a funny feeling in his stomach that he couldn't account for, Ianto nodded. "Sir," he said, and headed back upstairs.
And that rather set the tone for their encounters for the rest of the day. Every time Ianto emerged from the archives or his office behind reception to make some fresh coffee or tea, Jack would be there, watching him with that thoughtful expression he'd decided to make his own for the day. If Ianto had reason to engage him in conversation then it would conclude with the same question: what do you want?
All Ianto wanted was for Jack to stop asking him the same bloody question over and over. It was a daft question anyway. As the day wore on, Ianto found all that he wanted was to go home to a hot bath, a lot of painkillers, and possibly a Monty Python marathon. It became a physically exhausting effort to make his way back and forth between the archives in the sub-levels below and around the Hub and the tourist office, so he eventually decided to give up on the writing of the report for UNIT and bow to the weaknesses of flesh, and asked to skip out a few hours early. It was well past the rush hour, but by Torchwood standards, the day was nowhere near finishing.
"I'm surprised it took you so long to ask," Jack said, when Ianto made one last trip into the Hub to ask to leave early. "You've been moving around like you're a six hundred and four all day."
"Know a lot of six hundred year old archivists do you?" Ianto asked, tired, but managing a faint smile anyway. It was a tentative bit of banter. It had been their habit since Ianto had joined Torchwood, but it had fallen by the wayside. Jack had been angry, and Ianto ashamed and both of them had realised that it was too much like lying. Jack had feigned interest, and Ianto had feigned honesty.
But now when Ianto looked at Jack, he didn't see the anger that had been there in the days after Lisa. Instead he saw watchfulness. He didn't know which was worse.
"Oddly enough," Jack said, leaning back and absently tapping his fingers on the desk, "That's one section of society I'm not well acquainted with. If you're six hundred years old, you've probably got something better to do with your time than play librarian."
"Come now," Ianto said, chidingly, "Some of us enjoy it."
Jack's looked at him piercingly. "Do you though?" he said, "Enjoy it?"
Ianto hesitated, then sat down in the chair opposite Jack's desk. Outside, Toshiko sat working, earphones firmly tucked into her ears and listening to MP3s. She was completely unaware that an innocent intent to request the evening off had turned into the first conversation that Ianto and Jack had started in… a very long time.
"I'm good at it," Ianto said, slowly, "I worked very hard to be good at it. I had to. So that…" He hesitated, but Jack nodded encouragingly, "So that you'd need me." He resisted the urge to rub his fingertips together in a nervous gesture.
"It's not what you trained for," Jack said.
Ianto shrugged lightly. "I wasn't trained to modify conversion units either." He stopped speaking, abruptly, the topic and words slightly too raw to let pass so easily.
Ianto fully expected to be dismissed, and the conversation over, but Jack looked him in the eye and said, "I think you're a clever enough man, Ianto Jones, to know when you need training and when you don't."
"Now you're just trying to flatter me," he said, but the joke fell a little flat.
"I hardly need to," Jack said, "Like you said, you're good at your job. Receptionist, guard dog, butler, building maintenance, archivist, server administrator, you're good at all of it. But," Jack leaned forward. They were still separated by a desk, but Ianto suddenly felt as if there were hardly any space at all between them. "Do you enjoy it?"
Ianto shifted uncomfortably, uneasy with the serious tone things were taking. Flirting, he could handle. He'd been dealing with that ever since he'd joined, it was how which he'd managed to secure the Captain's interest after all, and gotten this job. Anger, he was prepared for. He'd seen the utter fury on Jack's face, and known he'd caused it, even if a spiteful part of him wondered if Jack had any right to be angry after the dismissive way they'd all acted, after they'd never asked. He'd wondered, sitting at home on a bed that felt too large and too empty, staring at the blood on his hands that he hadn't been given a chance to wash off, what the point of any of it was if Lisa was gone, Jack hated him, and the others had gone from not noticing him to actively resenting his presence. He wondered if he had ever even had that much, if Lisa hadn't been lying to him for a long time.
(Owen had left a copy of the autopsy results on Ianto's desk two days later. At first he thought it simple cruelty, until he saw that Owen had highlighted the section which indicated that parts of the brain had been excised and others modified with cyber-tech, until it was quite clear that whatever passed for Lisa had been dead and the remainder controlled since Canary Wharf. Ianto had spent an hour in the tourist office, trying not to break down into fresh tears, and when he went back down into the Hub, he brought Owen a coffee, unasked. Neither of them ever acknowledged the unspoken gratitude.)
He'd toyed with the idea of suicide, or the equivalent thereof. He'd a bottle of Retcon in the kitchen that he'd palmed one day while Owen was distracted, chatting up Suzie, not knowing why he'd grabbed it at the time. But at the end of the day, he realised he had no desire to die, and to deliberately forget Lisa and everyone else who died at Torchwood One seemed unjust. So he'd closed his eyes in the shower as he rinsed the blood off, and turned up to work the next morning desperately trying to forget the fact that he felt like he was being physically torn apart, cold looks from everyone and nothing being left for him but low level filing that he was barely trusted to do.
Ianto suddenly felt very tired, and a slow burning sort of resentment started in his chest. He reached up, and rubbed his face with his hand. "You asked me what I wanted," he said, and Jack straightened, looking at him expectantly. "How am I supposed to answer that? I want a lot of things. I want the Battle of Canary Wharf to have never happened. I want Lisa to still be alive and healthy and Human. I want a new pair of socks because I always seem to lose one of a set in the wash. I want Gwen to stop looking at me with that weird combination of pity and guilt that she does so well. I want things to be the way they were before Lisa, because, as fucked up as it is, with all the lying and sneaking around I got to do, it was like I actually had something to live for again.
"But really, I want more. Because, you know something? I did enjoy it. I enjoyed being the butler. I enjoyed the fact that you seemed to trust me, and occasionally, when I wasn't clearing up shit or praying that Lisa would somehow make it, it all felt worthwhile. So, what do I want, sir? I want more than what I've got now, because I really don't have that much left."
At some point during his recitation, he'd clenched his hands into fists, nails biting into his palms, and he focussed on that, the pinpricks of pain that it caused, because he realised with a very frightening clarity, exactly what he'd just said to the man who'd threatened to kill him. He stared at his whitening knuckles, and held his breath.
The explosion he was waiting for never materialised, nor did the alternative, Jack's cold voice telling him to pack up and get out. After a long few seconds, the silence became unbearable, and Ianto looked up.
Jack was grinning.
Ianto still couldn't breathe, waiting for the other shoe to drop, when Jack held up a post-it note. It was lurid pink, and had an address written on it. "Bring down the UNIT research you've gotten done so far before you leave," he said, "I'll finish it up. You have a lunch appointment tomorrow." He indicated Ianto should take the note. "Take the train, charge it to Torchwood. You're still in no condition to drive. Oh, and don't forget to check out a weapon and a clip of ammunition from the armoury before you go."
Ianto had been frowning at the address. It was quite far away, and would take an hour or two on the train to reach. At Jack's instructions, he glanced up, surprised. "Weapon?" he echoed. "To a lunch meeting? Am I expecting there to be an issue with splitting the bill?"
"I'd hope not," Jack said, with a distinct smirk, "Especially since I'm letting you take the expense account credit card."
Ianto wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he was certainly willing to play along. "Ah, so you trust me enough not to charge a new TV to it?"
"I don't know," Jack said, that smirk still fixed in place, but his eyes so very serious, "Can I trust you?"
Ianto tried not to appear uncomfortable in the face of Jack's scrutiny. He elected for deliberate misunderstanding. It seemed safer. "With the expense account?" He tucked the post-it into his pocket. "Considering I've been managing it since I got here, I think you can trust me more than you can Owen." He hesitated. "What's this meeting about?"
"Torchwood business," Jack said, "You said you wanted more, now don't disappoint me."
"I think I already did that." The words slipped out before Ianto could stop them, and he found it abruptly hard to look at Jack. When Jack said nothing further, Ianto forced his hands to unclench, stood, and left the office.