Notes: The full oneshot for #96 from 'Snapshots of Smiles'. Requested by Paraxenos. I apologise for any errors. I'm remarkably hung-over this evening.

Disclaimer: I do not own Torchwood and I am not making any profit from this work. I also do not own the quote in italics further down; that is taken from T. S. Eliot's 'The Hollow Men'.

Flicker

The gun sat in the bottom of his locker, almost innocent looking behind the neat folds of the back-up suit and the plastic bag contains the remains of the one he'd actually worn to work this morning. Ianto had lost count of the number of suits that had been ruined since he came to Torchwood Three. He'd not ruined a single suit at Torchwood One, not until the Cybermen had come.

But then, the two bases were entirely different experiments. One little more than a big hole in the floor: damp, smelling faintly of mould, crawling with cockroaches in the bowels of the cells and archival basements. The other: a world of white and gleaming metal and plastic, a modern world, an alien world. The epitome of humanity branching out from its muddy roots.

And that's all people were, Ianto mused. Mud. Mud with a skeletal base.

Then, what was he? Invisible mud? Ianto snorted as he did up his tie and reached for his suit jacket, snapping it open with practised ease, loosening the faint crease of folding. Yeah, he was the invisible mud.

Invisible was what Ianto did best. He always had done. He'd been invisible as a kid: lonely, but not bullied; loved, but not cherished; good, but not special. Ianto was so plain and ordinary, as a child, that he had faded into the background like a shadow, eclipsed even by passing strangers into the lives of his family.

He'd been invisible all of his adult life, too. University hadn't attracted him many friends, and those he had moved on quickly from him. London had made him, if possible, more invisible than ever, melting into the suited crowd of the Research and Development department at Torchwood One, before vanishing into the dusty depths of the Archives, as if he'd never been there at all.

Nobody had seen him until Lisa, who'd flashed him her beautiful smile and asked why he didn't come up to the staff canteen anymore. Gorgeous, talented, very visible Lisa, whose job was nothing to do with Ianto's at all, and who later confessed that she'd missed eyeing him up in the canteen every lunchtime.

For a brief moment, Ianto had been visible.

Not to other people, but they didn't matter anymore. Lisa saw him, and that was all that mattered to Ianto.

But then that, too, had flickered out. When Lisa died, Ianto's existence seemed to sputter and die, and soon he was lost in the shadows again, like the ghost he felt like becoming.

And after having that brief period of time of being visible, it was torture to return to an existence that nobody but Ianto knew about.

Sometimes, Ianto thought he was dreaming. Sometimes, he fought to wake up, and he would lie in bed and scream and rant at the ceiling, yelling at whoever fed him these hallucinogenic drugs to put him out of his misery, to let him wake up and find a world where he wasn't so meaningless, so expendable.

Sometimes, when he was alone, like now, he felt as though his soul was inside his body, but not attached to anything, as if it could just fly away to greener pastures whenever it felt like it. And would anybody notice, really, if his mind vanished and nothing was left but a robot?

Ianto's nights had been filled with blood and violence and strange fluxes in time and space that he couldn't understand, and it had been that way for so long that he didn't remember what it was like to have ordinary dreams about failing English or crashing your Dad's car or turning up for school in nothing but your boxers.

Sometimes, Ianto prayed for those ordinary fears, as he chugged back the sleeping pills and tried to remember Lisa's voice.

As he smoothed down the suit jacket, he reached for the gun and closed his fingers over the cool, cold metal. Guns were always cold, no matter how long they had been held or where they had been. Ianto suspected that you could leave a gun - especially a handgun - out in the full sun of the Sahara for days, and it would still be cold when picked up.

Cold bringers of death.

Cold bringers of invisible oblivion.

And wasn't that really what Ianto already had?

The gun was heavy in his hand as he lifted it, bending his wrist until he forced it up again, examining the barrel with clinical precision. What would it feel like, a bullet tearing through brain and skull and hair? Blood and grey matter and bone fragments exploding into the air like a macabre firework?

Would he feel anything at all?

A slow, dragged out squeeze of the trigger; a gentle pressure, so teasing and luxurious, like a lover's touch. But cool and detached, until the bullet was rejected with an explosive noise that would set his eardrums ringing for a flash of a second, which would be terminated hastily behind his forehead.

And he would follow the brain to the floor and the gun would clatter over the tiles, and even the new girl would know what he had done.

And that was why Ianto knew he would never shoot himself. Shooting yourself was a visible, tangible act. Shooting yourself was something thick and noticeable - loud and explosive and undeniable. It was an exit carved in a glorious tombstone.

What was that quote? 'This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang, but a whimper.'

Ianto's world would end silently. He would not even whimper. He would end as invisibly as he had lived, if that was even a word. He would flicker out of existence like a snuffed candle.

"Ah, Ianto, I - hey, don't stare down the barrel like that!" a voice barked, and a heavy hand slapped the gun aside. Ianto looked at Jack as though moving through treacle, before collecting himself and straightening his posture a little.

"It's not loaded," he said.

"Better not be," Jack warned. "Anyway, we've got an alert and it's a big alien. 'Big bugger' is what Owen said. Going to need all three of us with our muscles to shift it. You ready to go?"

"Yes, sir," Ianto said, tucking the gun into the inside of his jacket. "I'll have to get some bullets from..."

"There's ammo in the car," Jack interrupted, waving Ianto's words aside. "Come on, now if not sooner!"

He practically bounced out of the locker room again as Ianto closed his locker and checked his appearance briefly in the mirror.

He would flicker out eventually, very invisible and very forgotten. His name would descend down the list of Torchwood employees until he would only ever be found by accident, and he would disappear as though he had never existed. He may as well not have done: for an invisible man, he really knew how to destroy lives.

There were always the sleeping pills.

Ianto would end not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a silent flicker of light dying in an endless black room, with nobody to see the candle die.