TITLE: Read Between the Lines
AUTHOR: Erin Giles
DISCLAIMER: Torchwood is property of the BBC.
SUMMARY: The sun will always rise and set. The earth will always turn. Birds will always fly south for the winter. Jack and Ianto will always talk without actually talking.
Jack let himself into Ianto's flat, picking up the mail that was still lying on the mat from the last two mornings. Ianto's shoes had been abandoned in the middle of the hallway so Jack picked them up too, placing them neatly beside the front doormat before he was toeing off his own boots. He shrugged his coat from his shoulders, hanging it on top of Ianto's denim jacket before he trod lightly down the corridor towards the kitchen.
The lights underneath the kitchen units were still on, casting an eerie glow across the tiled floor. There was an abandoned plate with half a slice of toast on it sat next the kettle and a half drunk cup of cold coffee. Ianto's suit jacket was hung over the back of a chair at the kitchen table, his tie that he'd had on that day next to it, the knot not even undone.
Jack didn't bother switching the main lights on as he crossed to the fridge, pulling it open to see if Ianto had anything of any substance left. There was a half empty carton of milk dripping on the bottom shelf, next to it a block of cheese that was growing mould and on the shelf above a loaf of bread and a pat of butter, both of which were past their expiration dates. Jack sighed before shutting the fridge again.
"What are you doing here?" a gruff voice called from the doorway of the kitchen. Jack spun around to take in the sight of Ianto. He was wearing a pair of checked flannel pyjama bottoms, a blue t-shirt with the neck all stretched out of shape on top. He had a five o'clock shadow as well as cabin trunks under his eyes heavy with flu. A hand was running through his dirty hair nervously under Jack's scrutiny.
"I came see how you were," Jack said quietly, watching Ianto carefully as he crossed over to the plate and dirty mug, picking them up. Ianto shrugged.
"I'll be alright," he croaked out as he threw the cold coffee down the sink, throwing the remainder of the toast in the bin before he turned the tap on. Jack sighed, crossing over to Ianto and reaching past him to turn the tap off again.
"Leave it," Jack said calmly, his hand moving from the tap to Ianto's shoulder, squeezing slightly while pulling him back away from the sink. Ianto's glassy and dull eyes gave him an annoyed look which would have been much more intimidating if it hadn't been punctuated by a coughing fit.
Jack's hand didn't leave his shoulder as Ianto continued to cough like he was hacking up a lung, one hand reaching out for the work surface to steady himself. Jack's hand slipped up to his forehead when he was done coughing however and Ianto tried to shy away from it, but the coolness of it compared to his clammy features was too inviting so he closed his eyes instead, swaying unsteadily on his feet.
"You're burning up," Jack muttered before he pulled his hand away.
"Really?" Ianto croaked sarcastically, opening his eyes to look at Jack again. "I just thought the heating was broken."
Jack gave him a withering look in return.
"Go back to bed," Jack encouraged, giving him a gentle shove on the arm.
"What are you going to do?" Ianto asked sceptically, not complying with Jack's orders as he continued to stand by the sink, leaning on the work surface for support as he felt sweat trickling down his back.
"I'm going to go get you some actual food that isn't three weeks out of date or has been ordered from the local greasy spoon," Jack told him. Ianto shook his head, closing his eyes as the world tipped dangerously.
"I'm not hungry," Ianto said dismissively, moving on unsteady feet towards the kitchen table, picking up his tie and starting to unknot it.
"Ianto," Jack started, sighing slightly as he moved towards Ianto, placing a hand on his shoulder. Ianto didn't shrug it off but he did tense so Jack removed the hand himself. There was silence as Ianto continued to unknot his tie, moving the fabric through his fingers after he had finished, head bent towards his task so he didn't have to look at Jack.
Jack sighed heavily at his shoulder, a hand moving as if it was going to reach out to Ianto again, but instead he just ran it through his own hair in frustration.
"Look, if you still feel unwell tomorrow take the day off," Jack offered, moving away from Ianto towards the kitchen door. "Gwen and I will cope."
Ianto looked up at those words, turning round to face Jack before he could leave the kitchen completely.
"Will you?" Ianto asked urgently before Jack could make his escape. Jack stopped in the kitchen doorway, turning back to regard Ianto.
"No," Jack answered quietly, almost ashamedly. "But I'd rather cope without you for a day instead of forever," Jack continued truthfully.
Ianto's hands stilled on his tie as he watched Jack, focusing on his right eye that remained unblinking as Ianto tried to stare him down. Ianto eventually dropped his head to look at his tie in his hands, feeling uncomfortable under Jack's gaze again, his words hanging heavy in the air, fresh with the grief of Tosh and Owen's deaths.
Ianto felt his stomach churning with all kinds of emotions as he moved on shaky legs towards the kitchen sink, knowing he couldn't make it to the bathroom. He barely made it to the sink in time before he was retching onto the remains of the previous day's breakfast. He felt a hand on his back rubbing soothing circles as he started to dry heave, tears of exhaustion and exertion running down his cheeks as he lent over the sink, the cool metal of it feeling heavenly through his thin t-shirt.
He remained lent against the sink as he panted for breath, eyes closed as he tried to regain some equilibrium within his kitchen. He heard the clinking of glasses before the tap was running in front of him. He opened his eyes to find Jack presenting him with a glass of water, which he took gratefully. The first mouthful went down the drain before he sipped hesitantly at the water, feeling it trickling down the back of his burning throat.
"You okay now?" Jack asked, a hand on Ianto's shoulder again.
Jack had to touch everything. He had to know how everything felt beneath his fingers; he had to touch to be reassured that someone was still there. When they slept in the same bed Jack would always fall asleep next to Ianto touching some part of his body, whether it was an arm thrown over his torso, or whether they spooned, or even if it was just a foot pressed up against the back of Ianto's calf. Jack always had to be touching like he was afraid he'd forget what contact with another human felt like. Ironically by the time Ianto shared a bed with Jack for the first time Ianto had almost forgotten what it felt like to have another's skin beneath his own.
"Not really," Ianto replied hoarsely, raising his head slightly so he could look at Jack properly. Jack set the glass of water Ianto handed him back on the kitchen work surface before he looked back at Ianto.
"Me neither," Jack voiced, punctuating his words with a squeeze to Ianto's shoulder that was supposed to reassure but just made Ianto feel that much more lonely when Jack let go.
"I'm going to bed," Ianto said after a moment, moving past Jack and shuffling out the kitchen. He didn't bother to say goodnight, hoping Jack saw it as an invitation rather than a dismissal.
Ianto crawled back into his bed, turning his pillow over so his aching head lay on the cool side before he lay down gratefully, hugging the duvet to his chest rather than curling up underneath it. He could still feel beads of sweat slipping down his back, no doubt soaking his t-shirt.
He listened for a moment, his eyes closed against the streetlights filtering in through the sides of the blinds. He waited for the sound of creaking floorboards outside his bedroom door. He likewise waited for the sound of the front door closing, unsure of which he would rather hear. Neither of those sounds reached his ears before he drifted into a fever-induced sleep.
Ianto squinted into the sunrise leaking through the slats in his blinds. He rolled over away from the light, his body protesting at every slight movement as he peered at the clock on his bedside table. The display flashed the numbers 6.23 back at him with venom in their redness.
He realised he needed two things simultaneously that contradicted each other; a glass of water and the undeniable urge to empty his bladder. It took him far longer than it should to stagger into the bathroom, the fan above the shower buzzing far too nosily for his liking. So much so he washed his hands in the dark, wiping them dry on his pyjama bottoms before stumbling back out into the corridor.
His brain barely registered the presence of Jack's coat by the front door, or the fact his kitchen had been tidied, and his fridge filled with fresh food, and more importantly orange juice. He poured himself a glass, hands shaking uncontrollably so that some of the juice sloshed over the side of the glass onto his hand and the work surface. He left the puddle of juice next to the carton as he gulped down the juice, wincing as it burned.
He abandoned the glass beside the now clean sink before shuffling back out into the hall and through to the living room where he found Jack sat on his sofa, as if he'd always been there. Jack didn't look up from the book he was reading – Atonement, Ianto noted – as Ianto gracelessly plonked himself down on the sofa beside Jack, purposefully not touching him.
"You could have come to bed," Ianto managed to croak out, barely above a whisper.
"You're ill, Ianto," Jack replied, marking his place in the book with a flyer from the local Indian takeaway. He turned to regard Ianto, a smile tugging at his lips that wasn't all joking. Ianto opened his mouth to possibly say something to Jack but instead turned his head into the crook of his elbow and coughed violently.
"Case in point," Jack muttered, earning a half-hearted glare from Ianto. Ianto didn't have the energy to give Jack one of his infamous withering looks though; he didn't have the energy for anything anymore. He lent his head back on the couch, closing his eyes. He felt Jack's cool hand on his forehead again, and he wanted to point out that it wasn't a scientific way to take someone's temperature, but he didn't.
"I think you're hotter than yesterday," Jack voiced, sounding concerned as Ianto stretched his feet out underneath the coffee table, trying to create some friction on the carpet to keep them warm.
"You're not too bad yourself," Ianto replied, because that one was just too hard to pass up. Jack gave a chuckle that reverberated through Ianto's body.
"You can't be that sick then," Jack replied, finally removing his hand from Ianto's forehead. Ianto flinched as the heat came rushing back to his face again, hotter than before. He let out a shaky breath as he opened his eyes to take in the white of his living room ceiling, a patch above the television yellowing slightly where upstairs had accidentally run a bath and forgotten about it the week after he'd first moved in.
"You should stay home today," Jack said as he leant forward to place his book on the coffee table. "Don't want you giving the weevils anything," Jack joked as he pulled himself to his feet, looking down at Ianto still sat on the couch.
"Hmm," Ianto mused. "Maybe."
"Want me to wait for you then?" Jack asked instead of arguing. He knew how stubborn Ianto could be when he set his mind to it, even if he was ill. Ianto pulled his head off the back of the couch to regard Jack, eyes fuzzy with fever.
"No," Ianto replied softly, not shaking his head for fear of his brain dribbling out his ears.
"Right," Jack replied, nodding solemnly. "Right, I better go and check things are okay then," Jack said before moving out of the living room and into the hallway. Ianto listened to the sound of him putting his boots back on before Jack returned to the living room, his coat over his forearm.
"Do you need anything?" Jack asked, sounding almost unsure. Ianto's eyes moved up slowly to meet Jack's hesitant gaze, holding it, struggling to keep his eyes open from the exhaustion that was settling in again.
"Yeah," Ianto managed to croak out, pausing as he tried to think of something. "Couldn't get me some Vicks vapour rub?"
Jack's face broke into an almost relieved smile at that simple request.
"As long as I get to rub it on you," Jack conceded, crossing back over to the couch and dropping a kiss onto Ianto's sweaty forehead. His hand lingered on Ianto's jaw, stroking alone the line of it before his hand dropped briefly onto Ianto's chest. Ianto relaxed underneath Jack's touch, the warmth from his hand lingering even as Jack moved out the front door, promising to be back later.
Ianto heard the thundering of Jack's boots down the corridor before there was the distant thump of the outside door, the revving of the SUV's engine before it disappeared into the distance. Ianto remained where he was on the couch, listening to the sound of his rasping breathing before he lay down, head resting on the warm spot that Jack had left behind. He wanted to move his head to somewhere cooler but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
His hand reached out for the book Jack had left behind, one from Ianto's varied bookshelf. Ianto was sure Jack had read all of them by now; he'd certainly had enough years. He opened the book at the page Jack was reading, almost at the end of the novel now. Jack was a fast reader when it suited him, usually with books instead of reports from UNIT members that needed to be signed off in the next half hour. He read a couple of sentences about coming back from nightmares, but didn't wish to ruin the book for himself so closed it over again, placing it back on the coffee table.
He considered going back to bed, considered switching the television on, considered any number of things that would make him feel marginally better in his pitiful state. Instead he just lay on the couch, eyes closed until he woke up shivering in the afternoon sunshine, a blanket over him now. He could see Jack's socked feet resting on the edge of the coffee table.
"What time is it?" Ianto asked, his voice barely audible.
"Just after twelve," Jack replied, almost as quiet as Ianto. "Lunchtime, if you're interested."
"No thanks," Ianto answered, his stomach giving an unpleasant turn at the thought. Ianto didn't move so he could see Jack, but he could sense he was being watched.
"Why'd you come back?" Ianto asked when he didn't hear the pages of the book turning that Jack was no doubt reading.
"I got lonely," Jack replied, his feet moving off the coffee table, the armchair creaking as he brought himself to his feet. "Gwen took the day off to go to her nephew's christening."
"What if something happens?" Ianto asked, voice sounding vaguely concerned, but he honestly couldn't give a flying fuck if the world tried to end at that moment in time. It could for all he damn well cared, and thankfully take him with it.
"Got my pager," Jack replied as he came into Ianto's line of view, sitting down on the coffee table so he was facing Ianto, shaking his wrist slightly that held his vortex manipulator to prove his point.
"You don't have to babysit me," Ianto blurted out, uncomfortable underneath Jack's scrutiny.
"I would only call it babysitting if you started acting like a baby," Jack retorted, giving Ianto a meaningful look. Ianto looked away, embarrassed as he pushed the blanket off of him, burning up again.
"You need anything?" Jack asked for a second time that day. Ianto looked up at him again, not replying, but then Ianto never asked for much. Jack seemed to understand the puppy dog eyes Ianto was giving him, reaching a hand out towards Ianto's forehead again. He could almost hear the comical sizzle as Ianto's eyes fluttered closed in near bliss.
Ianto could feel Jack's thumb circling his temple as he struggled to stay awake, mumbling the word thanks. He heard Jack's faint reply, like it was coming from another world as he drifted back into a fevered sleep.
"You're always welcome," Jack said, watching as Ianto's eyelids fluttered in REM. He stayed where he was for a long time though as Ianto slept, his hand running continuously through Ianto's hair like he really was a baby, unwilling to let go for now. Scared that he'd never be ready to let go.