Notes: The full oneshot for #5 out of 'Snapshots of Smiles'. Requested by Englishpudding.

Disclaimer: I do not own Torchwood and I am not making any profit from this work.

Hands

A person's life is mapped out in their hands.

Not in lines to read your palms by, or magical zones that don't exist and have no bearing on a life in any way, but in the physical stories.

Tosh's hands, for example. Smooth and soft and sleek - perfect, thin-fingered hands used to her reliable science, not the wild, insane world out beyond the stars, or the earthy, dirty world under her feet. Hands that slotted into the white and silver technological patterns of her own world, and although they were strong, they were untouched - and in their way, untouchable.

Owen's hands were rough like that. Rough from medical instruments and pens, from years of study that wore callouses into his middle fingers, and bar fights after Katie's death that blunted his knuckles and made his wrists heavy and unwieldy. Owen's hands are man's hands - tough, reliable, and solid. Hands that can cope with anything, because they've had to do it all before. Hands to be trusted, if not liked.

It was an art that Jack's world had lost, and that he loved about the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Hands in the future were artificial and smooth, mirror-images of each other, kept in perfect flawless by surgeries and creams and laser-healing techniques that didn't allow scars or pocks or even freckles.

Hands told him nothing, at home, but here, they speak of lives.

And that is why Jack is so fascinated by Ianto.

Because, really, he doesn't know who Ianto is.

He only ever knew who Lisa was because they found her. He strongly suspects that had Lisa died in their basement quietly and unobtrusively, they would never have found her, and 'girlfriend: deceased' would have gained no deeper meaning that the vague, clinical knowledge that Ianto had lost somebody at some point. Because his file hadn't even told Jack that 'girlfriend' was in Torchwood, when she had died, or why.

He still didn't know, despite their relationship, anything about Ianto's life in London. He didn't know if Lisa had lived there, if they'd met elsewhere, if Ianto had moved there to work for Torchwood or for another reason. He didn't know about Ianto's friends and colleagues, if he'd visited his family frequently or lost touch, if he had a family to visit any more.

The files told him that Ianto's father had died. It said nothing about his mother, nothing about siblings, nothing about anything. It told him nothing more than he already knew, and offered no contextual understanding of what he already knew.

But Ianto's hands were an autobiography.

The tendons in his fingers were tough from days upon days of steady typing and cup-gripping. But the pads of his fingers were tougher than usual, blunted and roughened by years of work that Jack suspected had been outdoors. Had Ianto been raised in the country? Had he gone biking in the woods with his father on weekends, or swung from trees like other little boys? Had he liked the countryside, before the village of cannibals, and kept it up after Lisa died?

There were calloused lumps on his middle fingers, like on Owen's, that suggested a lifetime of writing avidly. Jack had seen the journal, seen Ianto bent over it writing occasionally, seen him shake the cramps out of his hand after filling out paperwork on the latest hair-raising that nearly killed them all and half of Cardiff. Had he always done it? Had he done essay subjects at school and university? Had he been a creative sort of kid, drawing doodles and writing things on the back of his notes when the teacher wasn't looking?

When Jack held his hand, Ianto's fingers curled into his in a familiar motion that told Jack that somebody had certainly made a habit of hand-holding before. Had it been Lisa, or a previous girlfriend, or even a boyfriend? Had Ianto had siblings who'd led him around by the hand as a child, or whom he himself had led? Had his father tugged him around by the hand, or his mother, or both between them when he was very small? Had he had a grandparent or a babysitter who was the type to insist on holding hands to cross the road, even if there were no cars in sight?

There are tiny pocks in the cup of Ianto's palms, where his nails dig in as he clenches his fists, but they are old and if Jack examines them very closely, he can almost see Ianto's nails and hands growing as he ages. Did he throw tantrums when he was a toddler, did he get into fights on the school playground at a kid? Did he punch his best friend in secondary school for stealing his girlfriend, or his locker door when things got frustrating? Had he been one of those babies that scratch themselves and have to wear little mittens for weeks after the birth?

Ianto's knuckles are bumpy and bubbly under Jack's thumbs, and he cracks them a lot when he's bored. Whether that's genetics or badly broken hands as a kid, Jack doesn't know, but he knows that arthritis will follow when those hands curl up into aged curves and the pocked skin becomes like parchment.

But most of all, when Jack takes Ianto's hands, there is a funny buzzing running under the surface of Ianto's skin. A back-and-forth rush of something powerful, that radiates heat out to Jack's own hands and absorbs his own warmth in a fair exchange. A thrumming energy that, if he places his thumbs just right, jars them up to the joint, and makes him smile.

A pulse.

Strong and steady and ongoing.

And if he can keep that, Ianto's hands don't need to tell him anything at all.