21 November 2006
Captain Jack Harkness sat in his private bunker in the Hub, watching the youngest member of his team fitfully sleeping. What a day! A reminder that the greatest evil in the universe lives in the souls of psychopaths: alien interference or influence not required.
Jack still wasn't convinced Owen, that's Doctor Owen Harper, thank you very much, had been right in his decree supporting Ianto's insistence that the Welshman didn't need to be hospitalized. After all, he'd been beaten nearly to death; kicked, and punched and hit with a baseball bat, tortured and terrified by maniacal cannibals for an endlessly long night. But the doctor had argued that the Hub had better imaging capabilities than and equal laboratory facilities to Cardiff A&E, that the injuries he anticipated finding—concussion, deep muscle contusions and fractured ribs—required only rest and supportive care, and that if he found anything unexpected, they would transfer Ianto immediately.
Owen's imaging and blood work had supported his presumptive diagnoses, and Ianto was continuing to adamantly refuse to go to the hospital, so Jack had reluctantly gone along with the plan of having Ianto convalesce in the Hub. Despite appearing all right at the scene, fellow team member Toshiko Sato, on the other hand, had gone to the hospital at Owen's insistence—the risk of sequelae and even delayed death from near-strangulation very real, and enough to require monitoring overnight.
They'd dropped former constable Gwen Cooper, newest member of the team, off with Tosh—thanks to Owen's handiwork, she didn't need to have her shotgun wound treated, but she was going to stay with her colleague for awhile--and Jack had sent Owen home as soon as the doctor'd taped Ianto's ribs and given him a sedative.
"I can stay with him, Jack," the medic had insisted. But Jack had demurred, and sent him on his way. And now he sat and studied the sleeping Welshman.
Two months ago, he would have said he knew Ianto Jones well. Two weeks ago, he would have said he didn't know him at all. After last night he realized he just didn't know which of what he knew was true and what wasn't, but that he desperately WANTED to know the answers.
He'd once too have said that he and Ianto were friends, and maybe more. He'd been attracted to the other man from the moment they'd met four months earlier, and he'd confirmed that the appeal was mutual when he'd ended up first on top of and then underneath Ianto in the midst of trying to capture a pterodactyl.
He hadn't pushed it. Their flirting had been gentle and mutual, but hadn't gone further than innuendo. They met just two weeks after the Battle of Canary Wharf. Jack had been at the site immediately following the massacre. His second-in-command, Suzie Costello, and Owen had returned from the massive job of surveying the inconceivable wreckage to recover any alien hardware lying around, digging through the incredible detritus, only two days before. Ianto had been there during the attack. Everyone's emotions were raw and jagged. And Jack had sensed too that Ianto was struggling with the dawning realization that he was strongly attracted to another man.
It had, of course, never occurred to Jack that Ianto was also maintaining his reportedly dead girl friend, half-converted to a cyber woman, in the basement of Torchwood headquarters, Jack's own home! And then, when he did learn it, he'd had to wonder whether the flirting had all been a cover, a method of distracting him. Certainly Ianto'd done his research before approaching the leader of Torchwood Cardiff, and Jack did have a reputation…
But Jack just couldn't bring himself to believe that was all it was. He'd FELT Ianto's arousal, had also felt him respond to the kiss Jack'd given him, desperately trying to bring him back from the brink of death. But more than that, for four months he'd felt Ianto's eyes on him as he moved around the Hub, shared smiles and silent commentaries with him, tasted the coffee Ianto brought him. Surely his coffee represented real love, didn't it? Apathy or indifference couldn't possibly have created that amazing coffee, could it?
And it wasn't only Ianto's emotions he was struggling to understand. In his two hundred and thirty some years, Jack had loved, and loved well. He'd had flings, one-night stands, brief dalliances, lengthy love affairs and true romances. He'd seduced, lusted and yearned. He'd lost and mourned. But never had he felt his heart clutch the way it had when he'd seen Ianto, beaten, battered and bruised, lying on the ground. Never before had his body bristled with the level of protectiveness he now felt, sitting vigil beside his young colleague. Perhaps he'd been that frightened before, but if so, he couldn't remember when it had been.
He'd barely been able to look at Ianto at the scene; Jack'd simply made sure he was in good hands, being cared for. He wouldn't have been able to function if he'd let his mind dwell on what the young man had gone through. Owen hadn't had any trouble with worrying about the perpetrators' "motivations". He'd summed up his assessment when he called the villagers "sick fuckers," and Jack had to agree. They'd long since lost the naivety to think that evil could be understood or explained. But Gwen's obsession with it had at least kept Jack's mind off of his youngest team member for a while.
He had to admit, he'd taken his eye off the ball, let his relationship with Ianto slide in the month since Gwen had joined the team. Jack couldn't deny that he found the former constable appealing. The life that he lived made "normalcy" feel like the Holy Grail. And Gwen was SO normal. Blue collar family, working class boyfriend, going out for a curry and a pint, watching rugby in a pub with a bunch of mates on Friday night… For God's sake, they even bowled! Heaven!! And Jack wasn't one to hold back when something or someone interested him. But over the weeks he'd increasingly found Gwen to be reactionary rather than thoughtful, and while Jack himself might sometimes appear mercurial, he valued thoughtfulness, stability, consistency, steadiness, and reliability in his companions.
He knew Ianto had been aware of his distraction. He'd felt the Welshman watching, heard his silence, and he'd ignored it. He knew Ianto was watching his weapons training session with Gwen on the CCTV, had to admit there was part of him that had reveled in the knowledge, hoped that it made Ianto jealous, hoped even that it hurt Ianto as the younger man's failure to go beyond their mutual flirting hurt him, hoped that it might push Ianto into making a move. But when Ianto appeared silently just after Gwen's departure, he'd wordlessly stored away the weapons Jack had out, and disappeared again. If only Jack'd had some inkling of everything Ianto had been struggling with, some sense of how deeply conflicted the young man was, how guilty his attraction to Jack made him feel…
Both his hurt over the betrayal of the young man he ached to make his lover, and his guilt over his neglect of the Welshman fired his anger at Ianto's betrayal with Lisa. Not that he wouldn't have been furious in any case. Loyalty was EVERYTHING in Jack's world. Personal loyalty. The team above all else. And they'd all just been buffeted by Suzie's treachery. But he might not have held a gun to someone else's head. And he almost certainly wouldn't have tried to force another team member to kill his or her lover.
Jack's motivation for taking Ianto to the Brecon Beacons the day before had been largely personal. Of course, he wanted to make the youngest staffer feel more like part of the team, expand his role, reaffirm his own confidence in the Welshman in front of their colleagues. Two weeks of silent treatment from the rest of the team was surely enough.
But he also had visions of sitting around a dying campfire, the younger man tucked in front of him, leaning back against a log long after the rest of the team had turned in for the night. He'd even stuck a bag of marshmallows into his personal gear. Oh, what he would have given for that scenario to have played out instead of what actually happened! If only he'd seen the case for the trap it had been instead of as an excuse for a team-building exercise…
On Jack's bed, Ianto moaned, interrupting the older man's musings. His eyes fluttered open, falling blurrily on his captain, seated next to the bed.
"Jack?" he queried.
"Shh, Ianto. Take it easy. You're okay…"
The events of the last twenty-four hours visibly flooded back into the young man's memory and he started to sit up suddenly, stopped acutely by sharp pains from all over his body.
"Hey, I said 'take it easy'!" Jack chided urgently, but not unkindly. "You've got multiple rib fractures, a bruised liver and contused muscles everywhere. If you have to move, move slowly! Do you need more pain medication? Owen left me with some…"
"Tosh?" Ianto inquired.
"Scared to death, but apparently physically fine. Owen told her she had to stay overnight in the hospital because she was throttled, but it's just a precaution. Gwen was staying with her for awhile and then going home. I sent Owen out after he finished patching you up, but it wouldn't surprise me if he ended up at the hospital too. I don't think anyone wanted to be alone tonight." He thought back to Owen's revelation regarding his last kiss, and wondered briefly if Gwen and Owen might find themselves somewhere other than the hospital tonight—not alone. But he also found that he was too tired to care. And it wasn't as if Owen hadn't bedded other colleagues in the past, without it interfering with team cohesiveness. He noted idly that the thought of Gwen in bed with another member of the team didn't bother him in the least either. Now, if it had been Ianto… The man in question interrupted his train of thought.
"And yet, here you are."
"I'm not alone. I'm with you."
Ianto lay back and closed his eyes.
"So, you drew the short stick, Sir?" he asked tiredly. Jack stared at him in amazement.
"Is that what you think?!"
His clear astonishment made Ianto's eyes fly open.
"Well, of course!"
"I had to fight off the rest of the team to stay alone with you, Yan."
"Really. If everyone else hadn't been so beaten up, I don't think I could have convinced them. Not even with a direct order. Maybe not even with a gun."
"They don't trust me. They barely even notice me."
"You saved Tosh's life. Believe me, she noticed. We all did."
"It didn't work. She didn't get away."
"Yan, that's not what matters. You risked your life to give her a chance. NO ONE is going to forget that." He paused, staring intently into Ianto's blue-gray eyes. "Yan, I am so, so sorry." In his apology, he heard an echo of the man who had shown him a different direction for his life. How often since his travels with the Doctor had he said those words? Meaning it with every molecule of this body each and every time, just like his mentor…
The younger man stared at him, not comprehending.
"Sorry for what?"
"For what happened to you. For putting you at risk. For not protecting you."
Ianto continued to stare at Jack.
"Protecting me? What happened wasn't your fault, Jack!"
"You should never have been there, Yan! I took you along because I wanted to cuddle with you in front of a campfire, eating s'mores!"
"Not because you wanted me to be part of the team?" His question was so faint, Jack had to strain to hear him.
"Of course because I wanted you to be part of the team. I didn't think we were going to find anything out there, Ianto. I thought it was a good excuse to go camping with everyone, get away from the Hub, spend some time together away from work."
"But if you had thought it was going to be a real case, you wouldn't have brought me. Because you don't think I can protect myself."
"My wanting to protect you doesn't have anything to do with my assessment of your abilities. It has to do with my feelings for you."
"You don't hesitate to send Gwen out on assignments."
"I don't have the same feelings for Gwen. I don't want to lose her, Yan. I don't want to lose anyone. But when I saw you, when I thought… If you'd been killed…"
"I don't understand."
"Don't you?" And holding Ianto's gaze, Jack leaned in and gently, deeply, reverently kissed the injured younger man. After a moment's hesitation, the Welshman reached out, wrapping a hand around the back of Jack's head and drawing him closer, preventing the captain from pulling away. Both were breathing hard when the kiss finally ended.
"But—Gwen. I've seen you with her. Flirting with her. Talking to her."
Jack nodded, then shrugged. "I flirt with everyone. You know that. But you're right. She's still so—untouched—by our lives. She didn't live through Canary Wharf, didn't see the aftermath. She didn't work with Suzie. She's not had to kill. She hasn't spent years fighting to prevent the end of the world. And I have been using her as a sounding board. More than I should, probably. But I liked her spunk, her determination. I liked that she looked at me like I was a superhero. It was flattering. And she'd seen me come back to life. She liked that we had a secret. I think it made her feel important."
"Why did you keep that such a secret, Jack?"
"Didn't want to weird anyone out. Didn't want you to look at me like a freak."
Ianto laughed, a little desperately.
"Don't you know, Jack, that's hardly the freakiest thing about you?"
Jack shot him a wan grin.
"Honestly. I'm a lot more freaked out by how I feel about you than I am that you come back to life after you die. Fifty-first century pheromones trump immortality every time. And what the hell are 's'mores' anyway?"
"Oh, we are SO going camping."
"I hated it before, Jack. After last night, I'm pretty sure I'm NEVER trying it again." Ianto paused, glancing around the room. "How about that? I made it into your bunker."
"Hey, if I'd know all it would take to get you into my bed was almost get you killed by a psychopath, I'd have done it ages ago."
"Do you think--would you mind—" But then he fell silent. Jack started to ask what it was he wanted, but the naked fear, yearning loneliness and utter fatigue radiating from the younger man's face answered his question and stayed his tongue. Rising from his chair and carefully sliding onto bed beside Ianto, Jack gently took him into his arms.
"Shhhh. Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere, Yan. You go to sleep. I'll watch over you." He felt the Welshman relaxing in his embrace. And within a few minutes the injured man dozed off again.
Jack lay still, feeling Ianto's breathing, his heart beat, reassured by its slow and steady rhythm, grateful for the opportunity to comfort this man who had come to mean so much to him, the man who, despite everything that had happened over the last couple of weeks, had come back to him, had turned to him for comfort, who, despite his own ongoing suffering had, when Jack had needed it most, offered comfort of his own…
A week earlier, Jack had driven back from Old Forest Road in complete quiet. The Range Rover had screamed with the pointed silence of his companions. He'd gotten no answer to his question of "What else could I do?" No one had answered. No one had commented. No one had argued. No one had yelled. No one had spoken. Not in the vehicle. Not during the drive. Not at the car park where they'd scuttled away like sand crabs. He had trudged alone back to the base.
Expecting to have the place to himself, Jack was startled when Ianto handed him a fresh steaming mug of Irish coffee as soon as he entered the Hub.
"What are you still doing here? You should be home. Everyone else has gone home."
"Figured someone should be watching the Rift monitors while you were out." He paused, emboldened a little by their last middle of the night conversation, by the familiar hand Jack had rested on his shoulder. "Figured maybe you could use some company."
"I don't think I'd be very good company just now, Ianto."
"And maybe that means you shouldn't be alone."
"The rest of the team scattered pretty damned fast. Headed straight from the SUV to their own vehicles. Didn't even come in from the car park." Didn't even say 'good night'.
Ianto eyed him steadily.
"Don't mistake their issues for your problem."
"You're the one who said it, Yan. I'm a monster. I traded that little girl for a bit of security."
"Jack, you did the only thing you could possibly have done. With Jas." He paused, struggling to get the next words out. "With—Lisa." Jack looked at him sharply. Ianto continued. "I may not be happy about what happened, I may even hate you for it, but I'm not blind to the position I put you in, to the choices you had to make. 'A bit of security'? You literally saved the world, Jack, twice in a week. Most people would consider that a pretty decent day's work."
"I would have helped you, you know, Ianto, if you'd come to me in the beginning. I don't know if the outcome would have been different, but I would have tried."
The Welshman studied him thoughtfully.
"I know that now. I believe it, I do. But then—there's no way I could have risked it, Jack. You were Torchwood. I'd worked at Torchwood. I saw how they operated, even if I only worked as a junior researcher. Torchwood London is different. They don't capture and confine rogue Weevils, trying to understand their motivation, trying to figure out where they come from and how to get them home. They exterminate them. All aliens, hostile or not. Torchwood London would have shot down sightseeing UFOs, not waved them off. And they would have killed Myfanwy instead of making her into a pet …"
"Yet you asked me to help you with her."
"I was going to do my best to protect her, but I NEEDED to get into Torchwood. I needed the facilities, the archives. And I didn't think much of her life expectancy flying around Cardiff, hunting. I couldn't take care of her in that warehouse, even if she weren't discovered. I couldn't take care of both her and Lisa. There was no way."
"And later? You couldn't have come to me later?"
"How exactly? 'Hey, Jack, I know you never really wanted me here, and I'm pretty much a glorified maid, but I've got to tell you, I've had a half-converted cyberman secreted down in the bowels of your base since I got here, and I need your help to make her human again? Oh, and even though I've been lying to you all this time, and she could put the world in danger, please don't fire me over this, or hurt my girl friend.' That would have worked, would it? I should have been sure enough of you to risk Lisa's life on that?"
Jack sighed heavily, acknowledging Ianto's logic and changing the subject. "You should have seen how Gwen looked at me today."
Ianto snorted. "Gwen. Now that one opens her mouth without engaging her brain. I've never met anyone less able to consider the consequences of things before speaking. Don't worry, whatever she's upset about, it'll have blown over by tomorrow." He eyed Jack, speculatively. "I'm still not clear on what you find so fascinating about her."
Jack waved off the query, not sure he knew the answer himself. "She's just a member of the team, Ianto. And new. Torchwood is a whole new world for her. I've been trying to help her get up to speed."
Ianto rolled his eyes, but didn't challenge the outright lie.
"I told her everything," Jack continued, now more to himself than Ianto. "I told her about the troop train, my men, Estelle. She was there when I found Estelle, she heard the threats from the faeries, and she still didn't understand. She didn't even try." He was silent for a moment, then looked up at his companion, studying the contrasting deep sympathy and understanding he saw there.
"Oh, and Yan?"
"Don't ever think that I don't want you." He paused, before continuing softly, "I don't think I've ever been as relieved as I was when I saw you come back in through the Hub door that next day. After…" He caught and held Ianto's eyes for a long moment, then Ianto reached out and took the hand not occupied by a coffee cup, leading him toward the stairs.
"Come on, Sir. Bring your drink. I figured you probably hadn't eaten in quite awhile, so I ordered up soup and sandwiches for us. They're set up in the conference room. And I got Llanddarog Fair Cakes. I know how you love them."
Jack glanced up at him with a small smile.
"Not Y Gacen Amhosibl?" he asked.
"That would be MY favorite," Ianto told him severely. "Tonight is about you."
Jack sat across the table from the youngest member of his team, not talking much, just eating, drinking, being fussed over. Atypically, Ianto kept up a running monologue, practically chattering, telling funny stories from his childhood, from Torchwood One. Jack watched, and listened, and wondered when the last time had been that someone actually took care of him. The Doctor? Rose? No. Estelle? Had she fussed over him? Probably, but he couldn't actually remember it. Jack was a caretaker, a leader, someone who never was hurt or sick. Not a lot of opportunity to play the caretak-ee.
But Ianto was a caretaker too—he used actions rather than words to show his feelings--and Jack realized that actually the Welshman had already been taking care of him for the past several months. Not as overtly as he was that night, but all day, everyday. How many times had Ianto slipped a sandwich into his hand before he realized that he was starving, or held his freshly brushed coat up for him so that he could slip it on as he was preparing to leave the Hub, brought him a fresh cup of coffee just as the last one cooled past the perfect temperature for drinking, fielded a telephone call from UNIT or NATO or the Prime Minister's office when Jack didn't want to talk to them, or when temperamentally he wasn't in good shape to hold his tongue? And how much of Torchwood Three's paperwork just seemed to melt away since Ianto arrived, always done, always neat, always complete? When was the last time he'd had to worry whether the Weevils had been fed, or the cells cleaned? Or the last time he emerged from his bunker in the morning without finding Ianto already at work, with a cup of coffee ready and waiting? Jack just hadn't paid attention, hadn't really noticed. That night he did, and he let the warmth of that recognition spill over him. That night he had basked in being cherished.
And now, just a week later, lying on his bed, wide awake in the middle of the night, holding the sleeping Welshman, listening to his breathing, remembering, Jack discovered that he liked cherishing just as much.