Part Eight: Epilogue
The perpetual cool and damp air of the Hub which, as always, smelt faintly of mildew, wafted over Ianto's face as the main security door rolled aside, alarms blaring in the manner he'd become so used to ignoring. It was late at night, and the Hub was in low power mode, the majority of the illumination coming from monitors and scattered optical cables and bits of equipment. There was none of the restless chatter and hum of activity that had pervaded the UNIT base, and Ianto found he was quite glad of it.
The phone system had come back up the moment that Ianto had disabled the bomb, but it had been a few hours until Ianto had heard from Torchwood. By then, he'd been back at the UNIT base, steadfastly refusing to listen to Louise's entreaties for discussion, simply re-donning his suit and thanking her for the opportunity to help out.
Gwen had been the one to call. Jack, she had said, with an uneasy note in her voice, was unavailable. Yes, he was fine, but he was knocked out with enough sedative in his bloodstream to take out an elephant. She wouldn't elaborate, saying only that she would explain when he got back.
In the meantime, knowing that it was better in the long run to cooperate with UNIT, he agreed to take part in their extensive, and exhaustive, 'debriefing' process, which wound up lasting for three days. Several officers from outside UNIT bases came via helicopter, and while Ianto was able to skirt a lot of details by pleading the security of Crown protection, he was still forced to relive events over and over again, until his thoughts became numb and the effort of speaking was automatic, mindless.
No, he said, again and again, of course he had no intention of destroying the world. He'd simply had no plans to let UNIT, or Torchwood for that matter, get their hands on a weapon of such devastating potential. That meant it had to be destroyed.
By blowing it up? He was asked. Wasn't that a bit risky?
He had shrugged. Probably. But he'd been very careful to set the blast radius at no more than a foot away from the central core, which was more than enough to protect everyone. Sean Bartram may have been a madman, but he built very good bombs.
UNIT would have dearly liked to hold him, that much was clear, but Ianto got the impression that Torchwood was putting pressure on them to release him, and so, finally, grumbling, they let him go.
Louise put him in a taxi back to Cardiff, the charges going to UNIT.
"See you around, yeah?" she'd said.
"Yeah," he'd echoed, refusing to look at her. He had the impression that he'd hurt her feelings, but couldn't bring himself to care. He'd just wanted to go home.
Strange, how when he thought of home, he thought of the Hub. And so, he directed the driver to drop him off on the Plass, rather than his house. It had been dark, and he'd expected the place to be abandoned, half anticipating that even Jack would take the opportunity for a breath of fresh air and would go scale a building or something.
He heard a call from the ceiling, the half-screech that the pterodactyl liked to occasionally utter whenever she saw someone new, and watched for a moment as she dipped in and out of the shadows, gliding on the odd air currents that swirled around the highest part of the Hub due to an oddity of the ventilation systems.
"Hello, sweetheart," he said, softly, "Miss me?"
"She was inconsolable. Wouldn't let anyone feed her, and damned near bit Owen's hand off when he tried."
Ianto turned to see Jack leaning on the doorframe that led to his office. He had his arms folded and a lopsided smile on his face, but he looked, to Ianto's eyes, utterly exhausted. He didn't have the brightness about him that Ianto was used to. Ianto climbed the stairs and headed towards him, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets as he walked.
"I didn't think you'd be here," he admitted.
Jack tilted his head slightly. "I could say the same to you. I'm pretty sure even I'm not a heartless enough boss to make you come in at one in the morning."
Ianto stopped in front of him, out of arms reach, and frowned slightly. "You look terrible."
Jack made a show of looking insulted. "Gee, thanks."
"I mean it. You look tired."
Jack straightened, though the effort seemed a lot for him. "I spent the better part of the last few days heavily sedated on Owen's table. Drugs still haven't quite cleared out of the system yet."
Ianto's frown deepened and he rocked back on his heels. "Sedated? What happened?"
"It was the strangest thing," Jack said, staring into the middle distance somewhere over Ianto's shoulder. "It was like the whole world was changing, like it was more than one thing at the same time. I could look at someone, and I was seeing them staring back at me, but I was also seeing a corpse. It was like space was tearing itself apart over and over again."
He shrugged, slightly embarrassed. "Apparently I went a little crazy, but, I'll be honest, it really hurt. Like I was standing still, but the world kept moving. They wound up sedating me and restraining me in the autopsy bay. Not as fun or kinky as it might sound." He shook his head sharply and refocused his eyes on Ianto. "And what have you been up to?"
Ianto started to shrug, to give some flippant answer about keeping busy, or seducing UNIT captains, but when he opened his mouth, he found himself saying, "I shot a man four times. Three times in the chest, once in the face. He used to be my friend, and I killed him, because he was a danger. I didn't even hesitate. I just shot him, and then got his blood on my shoes."
He realised that he was shaking, and that he was feeling light-headed, as if the world was just one step removed. Jack was looking concerned.
"And you know something?" He continued, hysteria bubbling up from somewhere in his chest, "I'd do it again, because I had to do it, and there wasn't a choice. I never thought… I mean, I just… I deal with bodies, all the times, those bodies… Lisa, the others… those were my fault, but I looked at him and… I… I did that and I…"
Jack stepped forward, reaching out, as if to pull Ianto into an embrace, but Ianto stepped back sharply. He wasn't sure it was because he didn't think that Jack had the right to offer comfort like that, or whether he felt he didn't deserve it. All the others seemed perfectly able to cope with the idea of shooting people in cold blood like the monstrous little psychopaths they all were, so why was he finding it so hard?
Jack dropped his arms, and after a moment's thoughtful stare, walked around Ianto, and away from him.
Ianto heaved a shaky breath and stumbled slightly as he made his way to the sofa, collapsing down on it and resting his head in his hands, covering his face, his elbows resting on his knees. He thought it was rather rich of Jack to be disgusted at Ianto's actions, given all that Jack himself had perpetrated over the years. Ianto wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at the thought that he'd managed to alienate even Jack Harkness.
He felt the sofa dip beside him, and then nearly leapt out of his skin as something cold landed on the back of his neck. He took his hands down from his face, and lifted his head slightly, and realised that Jack had retrieved some paper towels from the kitchen area and soaked them in cold water, before putting them on the back of his neck, resting a heavy hand to keep them there.
After a moment, Ianto decided not to be incensed, and gave himself over to the cool and soothing sensation.
"You must think I'm weak," he mumbled, staring at the floor.
Jack was silent for a long moment. Unusually for him, he seemed to be weighing his words. "Humans," he finally said, "Are a social species. It's wired into our brains that we don't go around killing each other. When something goes wrong and Humans kill other Humans, we call people criminals, murderers. But when we train that instinct out of someone, and put them in a situation where they'll have to kill people, we call them soldiers. It's not fair to call you weak for being willing to do something so dreadful, and so horribly necessary."
Ianto shifted uncomfortably, a trickle of cold water making its way down the back of his neck, between his shoulder blades. "So I'm a murderer."
"So am I. So's Gwen, and Tosh and Owen. We've all had to kill someone Human. It deadens some part of you." Jack took a deep breath, and took the paper towels off Ianto's neck, folding them up and setting them aside. Ianto straightened, wanting to look Jack in the eye.
"You're Torchwood," Jack said, slightly harshly, "And us? We're all that's left of Torchwood. Half a dozen screwed up people who have enough personality problems for a good sized psych text. In London you could be the researcher who worked on artefacts and weapons and never have to come anywhere near the brutal reality that sometimes, to protect Humanity, you have to be willing to destroy. When I sent you to get some training from UNIT, I was hoping to give you the tools that you might need in the future. I never thought you would have to use them so quickly. I was hoping to give you time to adjust."
Jack reached out and gripped Ianto's hand. He gripped slightly too hard, and it hurt, but Ianto said nothing in protest.
"Because I'm sorry, but you will have to kill someone again. It might not be someone you know, it'll be a stranger, it'll be an innocent, and then you'll do it again, because you have to. And you'll feel a little bit less for it. But, if it's any tiny consolation, if it didn't hurt, if it didn't make you feel sick, and if it didn't make you feel like you wanted to scream, then you wouldn't be… Human."
They were words that Ianto didn't want to hear, didn't want to sit there and endure, but he knew, painfully, that they were truth. He looked down at Jack's hand, and saw the way his fingers were turning white. Jack seemed to realise the strength of his grip too, and relaxed, though he didn't let Ianto go completely.
"If you want," he said slowly, "I have Retcon. Two white pills and a good night's sleep and you forget it all. We put memory loss down to reality getting twisted six ways from Tuesday, and I'll fry UNIT's records, so they don't have any debriefing notes. I'll never ask you to go out in the field. You can stay in the Hub, you can feed the pterodactyl and make us all coffee. And you'll never have to kill anyone." He reached out with his free hand, and put his fingers under Ianto's chin, forcing him to look at Jack.
"What do you want?" he asked, simply.
Ianto sighed, and closed his eyes. "I wasn't lying when I said that Torchwood means everything to me," he said. "I want this."
Jack's hand dropped away, and though Ianto couldn't see his expression, he knew that Jack was pleased.
"I'm the only one who knows all of Torchwood's secrets these days," Jack said, and Ianto opened his eyes to watch Jack shift so that he was leaning back on the sofa. He tugged Ianto's hand until he followed suit. "Although I'm pretty sure you know a thing or two about London I don't. By the time I'm finished, you'll know everything. All the lies, all the treasures, all the dirty little laundry that's spent the best part of a hundred years shoved in the back of the closet. Everything."
Ianto was staring. His father had always taught him it was rude, and it was probably especially so when you were less than a foot away from the object of your scrutiny. "But… why?"
"Because you can keep a secret," Jack said, turning his head towards Ianto. There was still a fair gap between them, but somehow it felt like there was less distance between them than there had been between he and Louise in that stationary cupboard. "And you're strong. Strong enough to survive Canary Wharf and cannibals and still do what needs to be done. Torchwood needs you more than you realise. I need you."
Ianto didn't know quite what to say. "Why me?" he asked, "Why not one of the others?"
Jack gave him an 'are you kidding?' look. "Which one should I tell? The angry doctor, the social conscience, or the technician who can't bring herself to ask someone out on a date?"
"Well, when you put it like that…"
Jack's mouth thinned as he sighed. "And because, Ianto, I'm not going to be here forever. I'm going to be gone one day. You know that."
Ianto blinked slowly, nodding his understanding. "You're waiting. You've been searching for the Doctor for a long time."
Jack looked fondly exasperated. "You're really going to have to tell me where you found copies of my file."
"Torchwood is supposed to stop him," Ianto said. "He's dangerous."
Jack looked at him, a slight twinkle of amusement in his eye. "Don't tell me you're jealous."
"Yes," Ianto responded, and his heart leapt into his throat as he realised that he really wasn't joking.
Jack, thankfully, didn't seem to pick up on that, only laughing as he heard it as the joke that Ianto had originally intended it to be when he'd said it. "I'm sure Owen would flirt with you in my stead if you asked nicely."
"But you want me to know everything," Ianto said, trying to return their conversation to the original topic as quickly as possible, "So that when you leave…?"
"Things will change," Jack said, "I don't know how, or when, but they will. If I'm gone, someone else needs to know how things work around here, to carry on getting ready." Abruptly, Jack stood, dragging Ianto with him. "Are you tired?" he abruptly asked.
Sleep was the last thing on Ianto's mind. He was fairly certain he'd be seeing Sean Bartram's face in his dreams for a while. "No," he said.
"Good, come with me." Jack started to lead him out of the main Hub area, towards the corridor leading towards the Vaults.
"I don't want to do any filing at one in the morning," Ianto complained, though he couldn't deny the little frisson of anticipation. Once upon a time, Jack had hauled him down to the Vaults for entirely nefarious but quite enjoyable purposes.
"This isn't filing," Jack said, rolling his eyes. "I'm going to share one of my secrets with you, but one of the good ones. You look like you could use it."
Ianto resisted the urge to make some smart mouthed response about Jack, dark rooms, and 'secrets', but wasn't willing to chance a poor reception of his wit, so he just kept silent, and let Jack lead him down towards the Vaults. They seemed to be heading in the direction of the cells, but a few corridors away, Jack stopped by a door labelled simply 'Restricted Access' and tapped in a eight digit code into a keypad next to it.
Jack looked at him. "Omoikane," he said, and when Ianto frowned, gestured to the keypad. "The code."
The word scrabbled at Ianto's thoughts, a niggling memory that he couldn't quite pin down. He nodded, though, in response to Jack, filing away the code, repeating it to himself to make sure he had it. The door was heavy, and Jack clearly had to strain to move it once the lock had released, holding it open for Ianto to step through and then releasing it, leaving it to swing shut with a clang.
Inside was dark, so utterly pervasive was the black that Ianto at first thought there was no illumination whatsoever. For a brief terrifying moment, he wondered if Jack was going to leave him locked up in the bowels of the Hub forever (because, surely, that was a possibility if one wanted to get rid of troublesome employees – Ianto was reasonably sure there were parts of the Hub that made Floor Fourteen of Torchwood Tower look like a cheap carnival trick). Then he felt Jack's fingers touch his wrist, and realised that he could hear the other man breathing next to him.
"Just wait for your eyes to adapt," Jack said, softly, and Ianto willed himself to calm, blinking rapidly in an attempt to get his eyes to function properly.
It took a while, but ever so slowly, Ianto became aware of shapes in the darkness. He briefly entertained the notion that he was hallucinating, before he realised that the soft purple light was threaded through the walls, leaving Jack visible in silhouette, and rendering the tunnels into an ethereal, alien version of themselves.
Jack tugged his wrist. "Come on," he said, and started leading Ianto deeper.
As they moved through dimly lit corridors, the glow from the walls started to slowly increasing, and with it came an increase in temperature. The air was slowly becoming warmer, thicker and more humid, and, bizarrely, left the scent and taste of nutmeg lingering when he breathed in. There was definitely some sort of ventilation, he could feel the air currents shifting against his skin, but he couldn't hear the fans, but he could hear…
What was that he could hear?
He slowed, straining to hear, and it brought Jack to a near halt as well. Jack turned, and now the light was strong enough that he could make out the smile that graced Jack's lips.
"You can hear it better this way," he said, and Ianto needed no encouragement to follow him now.
He realised, as they passed through corridors that were no doubt originally designed in exactly the same manner as the featureless concrete tunnels throughout the underground complex that was simply called the 'Hub', that the threading of purple light wasn't through the walls, it was on top of them, tenaciously gripping the concrete like creeping ivy. He reached out and ran his fingers across one of the lines of light as they walked, and was startled to find it wasn't a line, but a tendril of some kind. It had a rubbery texture, and was faintly moist. He sniffed the thin residue on his fingers, and smelt nutmeg. The presence of the tendrils grew denser as they moved, and the light grew ever brighter.
Eventually, they stopped, Jack pulling them down a side corridor. They didn't seem to be heading for where the light was brightest, Jack stopping some way clear of that. He was briefly tempted to ask why they weren't continuing, but then he saw the rapt look on Jack's face as the other man whispered, "Listen" and he understood.
At first Ianto thought he was listening to some piece of metal creaking in fatigue, but then he realised that the sound was too clean for that. But he really had no other basis for comparison. It sounded like nothing Ianto had ever heard.
Ianto, while he had still lived and worked in London, had once been travelling via the Tube, and one of the buskers that day had been an opera singer. Usually you heard the music of the buskers on the main thoroughfare, but her voice had resonated down through the tunnels in a way he had never heard before and he had, somewhat embarrassedly, found himself entranced by the ethereal sound that had echoed, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. It was the closest comparison he could think of for the notes that slowly rang through the dimly lit tunnels.
And then, after a moment, other notes, harmonies and discordances, introduced themselves slowly into the mix, combining and clashing and somehow, even though the cadence was utterly alien, and some of the notes didn't sound right, and some of them sounded like words, Ianto realised it for what it was: music.
"You can hear it best from here," Jack said.
"What is it?" Ianto asked.
Jack smiled, and his expression was one of quiet awe. "Omoikane," he said, simply.
Ianto frowned, opening his mouth to ask, when he remembered where he had seen that word before. It had been in an encyclopaedia, and he had been looking for another entry when it had caught his eye. Omoikane, the Shinto god of knowledge.
His breath caught. "The computer," he said, "This is the computer? I thought…"
Jack nodded slowly. "Installed by Torchwood Cardiff's Miss Lovelace at the turn of the 20th century, from a cutting from the London nodes," he said. "It's infiltrated several sublevels, but never extended beyond that. No one's ever needed to come down here before. I stumbled down here and realised…" He laughed, and there was a carefree note to the laughter that Ianto wasn't used to hearing, "I don't think it's intelligent, the way we think of intelligence. But it's more than a dumb calculator. It's sentient, but in a way our brains don't understand. But it sings to itself. I don't think London ever realised. They kept their computer under much tighter reign, while this one has had a hundred years to grow as it liked. No one knows that it lives here, this alien lifeform under the Hub. It's happy, I think, it likes being used. But I don't think anyone except me ever knew it sang."
He glanced at Ianto. "And, of course, now you know as well."
Ianto, the alien song ringing in his ears, stared at Jack, as the Captain reached out and ran his fingers across a bundle of tendrils that draped down from the ceiling and spread across the wall. They seemed to tremble slightly with the touch, and Jack laughed, delighted. In an instant, Ianto realised that Jack loved this alien thing, loved the strangeness of the Universe beyond this small world, and knew, in his heart of hearts, that Jack would never see the beauty that surrounded him here, on this planet.
For a moment, Ianto honestly, truly, hated Jack Harkness.
He wanted to grab Jack, and shake him, and point out all the things that made life on this planet worth living. Perhaps he wasn't best qualified to make such observations, or perhaps he was the only one who could make them. He'd lived his life, and died twice over, his whole world come crashing down on him, and he'd made his decision, his conscious choice, to come back to the world, to come back to Torchwood, because there was a part of him that knew there was something worthwhile in it all. Because if he hadn't thought that there was some little part of the world that was good, he would have let the Quantum Bomb explode, and had done with it.
Jack looked up at him, a curiously unguarded expression on his face. The moment passed, and Ianto smiled.
"You wanted to share your secrets," he said, and leaned forward. "So share. I want to know everything."
- Fin -