Notes: The full oneshot for #99 from 'Snapshots of Smiles'. Requested by Sony Boy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Torchwood and I am not making any profit from this work.
The Last Time
"When was the last time that you ever loved someone?"
It's the third most often asked question in Jack's life. Right up there with 'who are you?' and 'how are you?' And even Jack knows that that is a pretty weird situation.
But he can see why it's asked so much. He doesn't act like a lover. Sure, he's a flirt, and he can make a girl (or guy) feel special, and he knows all the ins and outs of romancing someone...but he doesn't act like he does. He's callous and cavalier and rushes off to do his own thing and doesn't leave room for compromise in his life. Often, he doesn't let other people into his life.
He doesn't share, he doesn't stay, and he often doesn't see the point.
But that doesn't he enjoys being asked questions like that.
"Have you ever loved somebody that much, Jack?"
Once, he would have flown into a rage at being asked that kind of question. Another time, he would have laughed it off, because he'd been very young then, and of course the young don't understand the kind of love that moves entire galaxies to have its way. And for a long time, he would have deflected the question or ignored it entirely, because it was simply too painful to think about.
Because for a long time, he wasn't sure himself of what the answer was.
But that time is gone, for now. He still doesn't tend to answer the questions, but more of a desire to keep his hand hidden than a wish to avoid thinking about it. Because now, he does love. He loves with the same intensity of the fragile people swarming through the city streets; he loves with the same dark power that has created legends and destroyed countries; he loves with the same raw passion that leaves the lungs breathless and the heart panicking in its efforts to keep up.
"I don't think you know what loving is, do you?"
Gwen once asked him if he'd ever loved someone like she loved Rhys, in the Hub, in an exasperated argument they'd been having. Owen had peered up at Jack with interest, though Tosh was ignoring everything like it didn't exist, and Jack felt something strange rising in his chest.
Because Ianto was also watching - but not him. He was watching Gwen, with a small smirk of barely-disguised amusement on his features that Jack knew only too well. And in that cunning gaze, Jack knew not only his own answer, but what Ianto could have filled in for him.
"You have no idea," he'd told Gwen.
That evening, when the others had gone home and Ianto was doing up his jacket ready to leave, Jack had kissed him, deeply and intrusively and passionately, stealing the younger man's breath away and leaving those blue eyes glowing with something strange.
"What was that for?" Ianto had managed a moment later.
"Because I wanted to," Jack had said.
It wasn't what he'd meant to say - not what he'd wanted to say - but Ianto gave him that little smile again, and was gone.
"Have you ever loved?"
"I don't know who you are," Ianto had said once, in the darkness of the sleep space, his head resting somewhere around Jack's sternum and his voice carrying like a ghost in the black. "But I know a lot about you, because I can't go wrong."
"What do you mean?" Jack whispered.
"You're a mess of contradictions. You're childish but you're so responsible and you can make the difficult decisions. You use your logic until you're ruthless, but you cry and drink yourself into a stupor over what you regret and what you can't help. You get frustrated with me and sometimes I think you're going to give up on me, but I also know you never will. And Gwen says you never love, but you do. You love everything. You love all of us, and that's why it's so hard for you. Because you can't be a bastard."
Jack hadn't said anything for a long time, his throat aching with the pressure, and eventually Ianto had shifted and drifted off to sleep again, heavy and uncomfortable on Jack's chest. But Jack kept him there, an arm around his back to anchor him.
"You're different," he breathed eventually, and it still wasn't what he wanted to say, but maybe that didn't matter any more.
"In your entire bloody life, you can never have loved, can you?!"
Behind closed doors, Jack knows that Ianto knows. The man isn't stupid, and he would have to be to miss it. Cuddles on Ianto's sofa in front of a film that neither of them particularly wants to watch. Evenings watching Ianto try to cook lasagna in the microwave so that actually gets hot in the middle. Mornings when he's still there, curled around his younger lover, watching him sleep and watching him wake, and getting to hear that blurred, sleepy voice crack out a greeting.
Jack is a tactile man; Ianto not so much. But Ianto is observant instead; he watches, committing visual clues to memory, and once Jack had figured this out, he had given many of them. Little smiles across the space of the Hub; raised eyebrows and visual commands in the field; mimed signals from the office windows. And sometimes bigger clues, like returning his cup to the kitchen himself so he could give Ianto a kiss with the smile in the kitchenette and not have to wait until later.
Somewhere along the line, Ianto gets the message. Somewhere later along the line, Jack realises that.
"Do you understand what love is, Jack?"
So when Gwen - or anyone else, for that matter, but somehow it's always Gwen - asks him if he understands love, Jack doesn't answer any more than he has been answering that question for the past hundred or more years. He stays silent, or deflects the question, and sometimes she knows she hasn't got a response and sometimes she doesn't.
But Ianto always gives her that smug little smirk of knowing, and Jack understands.
He doesn't need to say a thing. Not where it really matters.
"When was the last time you were in love?"