TITLE: Underneath Your Clothes

AUTHOR: Erin Giles



SUMMARY: Post Countrycide. Jack is so heart wrenchingly aware that this act of letting Jack undress him is Ianto baring himself emotionally and physically naked.

Jack stands in the doorway, trying not to intrude on the moment, but he can't help himself as he watches Ianto struggling with the buttons on his shirt, hands shaking so badly now.

He doesn't patronize him, doesn't ask him if he needs a hand, just walks over to him and starts undoing his shirt without a word. It's the same reason he's in the flat now; he just followed Ianto in without a word and Ianto didn't say anything.

As he undoes the last button of Ianto's ruined shirt, Jack catches Ianto's gaze. There is a world of pain mixed with gratitude in those startling baby blue eyes and Jack realises this is probably the most intimate Ianto has been with anyone since Lisa. They've had sex, but a quick wall job in the archives is hardly Jack's idea of intimacy.

Jack moves behind Ianto, pulling the shirt from his shoulders. He finds the black t-shirt beneath clinging to Ianto's surprisingly muscular frame in all the right places. Jack has never known this man. He leads Ianto to the bed, sitting him down before bending down to undo the man's shoes. He is peeling back layers of mask that Ianto spends his days hiding behind. He realises now that the suit is a façade, because Ianto doesn't want anyone to know this vulnerable man who is before Jack, and Jack has to pause in removing his right boot, because Jack is so heart wrenchingly aware that this act of letting Jack undress him is Ianto baring himself emotionally and physically naked. He notes the size of Ianto's boots, some random piece of information to store at the back of his mind for what purpose Jack does not know, but it is something tangible, something more Jack now knows about this man.

He tries to gently pull the once black t-shirt over Ianto's head, now yellow in places from Ianto sweating, mud, grime, blood and the horror of the day imprinted on it. Ianto lets out a sharp hiss, holding his side for a moment. Bruised ribs, so Owen says, they'll heal on their own - and Jack trusts him, he's not a doctor after all. It's more the emotional side Jack is interested in now.

A simple silver cross hangs low on Ianto's chest and Jack finds himself thinking back to Ianto's file, the word Atheist jumping out at him from the page. Ianto catches him watching, fingers the cross.

"It was my Dad's," he says softly, letting it drop back onto his chest.

Jack never thought of Ianto as a jewellery wearing person, and he isn't really. The cross seems to bear heavy on his neck but apparently it is a part of something Ianto wants to cling onto; memories of childhood days going to church with his father maybe, or sitting round the fire drinking cups of tea and listening to stories from The Bible. Jack doesn't know; he wants to, but now is not the time to ask.

His fingers graze the bruises dappling Ianto's right side where someone has quite obviously kicked him and Ianto shudders. Whether it is from the cold of his hands or because it's bringing back memories is just another thing Jack doesn't know.

He's unfastening a thick leather belt from Ianto's jeans that are now ragged in places, maybe already were to begin with, undoing the buttons on his jeans, before pulling them down over Ianto's hips. Ianto wriggles slightly, trying to be of use, but he is so tired now that Jack is almost lifting him out of his jeans like he's a small child. Jack's gaze falls on a scar above Ianto's left ankle, an ugly white mar on the landscape of Ianto's calf. He remembers this part of Ianto's file - in his medical records; he was knocked off his bike by a car when he was eleven and broke his ankle. He was in hospital for a week.

Jack pulls off the socks last leaving Ianto sat on the bed while he crosses to the chest of drawers and pulls a pair of pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt from the depths. He feels Ianto's shaking hands on his shoulders as he helps Ianto step into the pyjamas, pulling them up to his waist. He stops Ianto as he reaches for the t-shirt, nodding towards the bathroom before he finally uses his voice.

"Let's clean you up first." His voice sounds almost deafening in the small room and he takes Ianto's hand, leading him towards the bathroom. He sits him down on the cold toilet seat, causing Ianto to shudder involuntarily. Jack can see Ianto's eyelids drooping and he takes a moment to consider the sight of the Welshman as he opens Ianto's bathroom cabinet.

His shoulders are hunched forward in defeat and pain, bruises littering his skin like some kind of fashion statement, goose bumps forming on his arms and back as he rubs absentmindedly at his wrists, red rings round them where handcuffs have cut in. Jack lifts Ianto's chin with one hand, the other wiping as softly as he can at the bruises on his face with witch hazel. He lets a smile pass his lips as he tends to the bruise on Ianto's forehead, pride welling up in his chest before he realises Ianto is giving him a questioning look.

"Tosh told me what you did," Jack says quietly, moving down to the black eye that is now fully formed, careful to avoid the cuts because he knows from experience how much witch hazel stings. "I didn't think you had it in you," Jack teases.

"Neither did I." Ianto's voice is almost hoarse and Jack stops his administrations to fill the glass beside the sink with water before handing it to Ianto. The glass shudders in Ianto's grip and Jack is grateful he only filled it half full. He notices the scars dappling Ianto's arm but doesn't remember them in Ianto's medical report and has to bite his tongue from asking.

"They're from when I rescued Lisa." Ianto startles Jack with his words and Jack goes back to dousing Ianto in witch hazel, ashamed that Ianto has caught him staring. "Burn marks from when I carried her out of Canary Wharf." His voice is so matter of fact that Jack stops what he is doing and looks into Ianto's eyes.

"I'm sorry," Jack says, trying to sound sincere because he really does mean it. He is sorry that Ianto had to live through the horror of Canary Wharf, and he's sorry that the first girl Ianto ever fell in love with – he assumes because Ianto's never told him otherwise – died despite his, albeit misguided, efforts to save her. He's sorry that Ianto now has no conceivable way out of this life, no normality to cling onto now or any way back from the horrors he's seen, because there isn't one. Jack remembers soldiers in the first and second world wars, he remembers how shell shocked they were and how they could never go back to the old way of life because they didn't know anything other than kill or be killed. It's a horrible way to live life, and it's not a conscious decision, but it's done now. So Jack's sorry, even though it's not his fault.

Ianto's gaze flickers away, looking at the fingerprints all over his stainless steel taps, a toothpaste smear down the side of the porcelain sink, hairs still clinging onto his razor from the last shave he had two days ago. Ianto starts blinking rapidly as Jack screws the cap back on the bottle of witch hazel and when he turns back to Ianto it's to find silent tears trailing down his face. Jack doesn't comment, doesn't want to rob Ianto of any more of his dignity. He's already suffered Jack undressing him and manhandling him like a toddler into the bathroom to clean him up after the day's adventures.

Jack lets Ianto cry as he busies himself rinsing out a washcloth hanging over the side of the bath, wordlessly handing it to Ianto to allow him to wash his own face, even as he tries to reign in the sobs. Jack watches dexterous fingers grabbing at the cloth and scrubbing half-heartedly at his face. Ianto's palm is splayed out over the material so Jack can see scars that have healed over knuckles, his ring finger that doesn't quite sit straight and a cut that's still healing from the previous week when Ianto broke a glass and tried to clear it up while being distracted by his own embarrassment.

Jack tries not to think of having sex with Ianto, but it's hard as he pulls the young man to his feet again, Ianto's body unconsciously leaning towards Jack as he tries to establish a sense of equilibrium in the bathroom again, his eyes closed as his head dips towards Jack's shoulder. Jack can smell it all, the adrenalin just clinging on by its fingernails as weariness takes over, but beneath that the prevailing sense of Ianto that reminds Jack of some long forgotten coffee come bookshop – every book a first edition that has been squirreled away for many years, gathering dust. It excites Jack the way his 51st Century pheromones seem to excite everyone else, but at the same time calms him, dragging him back from that overwhelming urge to kill someone for what they've done to his team.

He doesn't realise Ianto is tugging on his shirt buttons, fumbling one after the other, until shaking fingers are untucking it from Jack's trousers.

"Ianto." Jack says his name like a warning rather than a question as Ianto slips the braces from Jack's shoulders, standing so close Jack can feel Ianto's breath warm on his cheek. It smells off - not minty fresh, but of stale coffee and blood and bile - but Jack can't shake that urge to kiss those cracked lips and erase all memory of a filthy gag pressed between them.

As Ianto pulls Jack's blue dress shirt from his shoulders, Jack realises he had resigned himself to staying the night the minute he had stepped across the threshold of Ianto's flat. Jack needs someone to ground him tonight as much as Ianto needs the company.

They don't fall into bed in the usual tangle of limbs and underwear but at a much more sedate rate, still touching just as fervently, but it is not lust that fuels their actions this evening. It is a need to reaffirm life, an act to prove to themselves that humans were not made for malice and violence all the time. They don't make love, neither Jack nor Ianto are naive enough to believe what they are doing is anything more than sex. But tonight it's more than that; it's comfort.

Yet, as Jack's thoughts all come rushing back to him afterwards and Ianto lies beside him snoring quietly, he realises it's always been about comfort. It's why Ianto was sleeping with him when he was hiding the Cyberman in the basement – Jack refuses to think of her as Lisa, because he knows Lisa was already dead before they got to her, and he can't bear to carry another death on his shoulders. It's why Ianto continued to sleep with him even though the week before he had swore to watch Jack suffer and die – Jack's not got that big an ego that he thinks Ianto was doing it for his own self flagellation. It's why Jack slept with him after he lost Estelle and the team refused to look him in the eye – Ianto had mumbled something about knowing how that felt as they were kicking off their trousers. It's why Jack's lying next to a bruised and battered Ianto now, wishing he'd killed Evan Sherman. It's comfort on some level or other.

Jack spends the remainder of the night staring at Ianto's ceiling, his thoughts awash in a sea of magnolia as the body beside him sleeps like the dead, Ianto's foot hooked over Jack's ankle and his hand splayed on Jack's thigh. And when Jack goes to shower after Ianto in the morning, leaving him to get dressed, he stares at Ianto through the gap in the bathroom door where the wood has become warped away from its frame. He watches as Ianto puts on all his layers, hiding every one except the most prominent of injuries on his face. Jack watches every stratum put back in a methodical way so that no one can see the fissures. It was always at the back of Jack's mind that Ianto was crumbling away beneath those finely tailored suits, but this is the first time that Jack has really looked at him and he finds now that Ianto's not as weak as he first perceived.

Ianto walks with a limp around the office for the rest of the week but it's only several months later, when Jack has returned from his travels with the Doctor and is rediscovering that body under layers of clothes, that Ianto tells him, "It's you". Jack's ego takes credit for a lot of things, but he's never even dreamed that the only reason Ianto is still at Torchwood, is still struggling on from day to day, is because Jack bedded him on a whim all those months ago. That same night, as Ianto's head is practically on Jack's shoulder, as his hand is clutching at Jack's forearm, Jack discovers that it's something more than comfort now. Something much more.