"Jack! What, no line about a nightingale this evening?"
"We need your help, Martha."
"It's Ianto. It's hard to explain. I need someone with medical knowledge. Can you come?"
"Tomorrow. I'll be there tomorrow. All right?"
"That's fine. Thank you."
"Is he okay? Ianto. He's not hurt?"
"He'll be fine."
- - -
Jack stood outside of Ianto's cell. He was still in the corner. Still with his knees in his chest. Jack leaned against the wall opposite, his hands in his pockets, looking at the ground. "We found out what the stone was." Ianto didn't look up. He continued anyway. "It was a message. Transmitting emotion. It brought up bad memories to try and relate to the person it was transmitting to." He paused. "It unburied yours."
"They are mine, then," Ianto said, muffled by the fabric of his jeans.
"No." Jack looked at him. "You got them somewhere. This just means that the stone didn't give them to you."
Ianto was silent. Jack could feel him slipping away, into himself. He came forward to lean against the glass.
"We'll figure it out tomorrow. We'll find out where your memories came from."
Jack paused. He looked at the floor. "The mind probe."
Ianto's eyes widened briefly, then returned to their lidded, swollen appearance. He had no other reaction.
"Martha's coming," Jack said. "She'll make sure that you're safe."
Jack looked at him through the thick glass. The light in the cell washed his pale face out further. "Please come and sleep with me."
Ianto looked at him, eyebrows lowered, mouth open in horror.
"Just to sleep," Jack said, putting a hand against the cool glass. "I don't want you spending the night in here. You aren't a prisoner."
Ianto shook his head and buried it in his arms. "No. I'm dangerous, Jack."
"Well, you can't kill me," Jack said, with a smile he didn't feel, that didn't reach his eyes.
"I could escape."
"I'll handcuff you."
Ianto said in a thick whisper, "No."
Jack's brow creased. He looked hard at Ianto, curled so tightly in on himself. "Why?"
Ianto said nothing. He didn't look up.
Jack stared. Then it hit him. "You're punishing yourself."
"If you won't." There were tears on the edge of his voice.
"You didn't do it, Ianto. You couldn't have. This isn't you."
"I did it. I remember." Slow tears began to move down his cheeks. "Even if I didn't, I can still feel it. I can feel how good it was. So much power. So much control." He clenched and unclenched his fists. He was shaking. "I can feel my hands on their throats, in the rain, in the dark."
"No!" Ianto leapt to his feet and approached the door. "What if this is really who I am, Jack? What if you're wrong? What will you do if I really did kill them?"
"You didn't." Jack hit the glass with a fist; it made a dull sound. "I won't have to do anything because you didn't kill anyone!"
They stared at each other, both breathing hard, both with their eyes wide, matching determined looks on their faces, separated by inches of glass.
Ianto broke first. He took a step back and put a hand over his eyes. He fell back onto the bench. "I'm sorry," he said dully. "You're trying to help. I'm sorry."
Jack shook his head.
They were silent for a moment.
Then Jack asked, "So will you come out?"
Ianto looked at him. For a long time.
Jack's teeth snapped together in anger. He turned on his heel and stormed out of the vaults. Ianto watched him go.
He came back minutes later with a pillow under one arm and a blanket under the other. Ianto's mouth dropped open. "You're not-"
"These are for you," Jack said. He pushed the button to open the door and threw them inside, then pushed it closed again. "And yes, I am." He sat down in the corner created by the cell door and the stone wall. "I'm not leaving you down here alone with Janet."
Ianto reached forward to pick up the blanket. And smiled. The smallest smile possible on the human face, but still there. Still real.
Jack smiled, too.
- - -
He woke up to Gwen shaking his shoulder lightly. He started, and she put a finger to her lips, then pointed to Ianto, fitfully sleeping inside of the cell, spread out on the bench with his pillow and blanket. She helped Jack to his feet and they left the vault.
"Did you stay in there with him all night?" she asked when they were in the hallway.
"And my back hates me for it."
Gwen grinned. "Old man, you are. I'm surprised he let you."
"It took some arguing."
Gwen smiled fondly.
He raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"You're like a proper couple. Fights, compromises-"
"Aliens, false memories, pterodactyls."
Gwen laughed. "Works for me and Rhys."
Jack held a door open for her, and as she went by, he smiled.
- - -
Martha arrived at half past ten, wringing wet from the rain.
"Sorry I'm late," she said as Gwen helped her off with her coat. "Dead things. London traffic." She brushed herself off and looked at Jack. "All right. What's wrong?"
Jack led her over to a table where the containment box lay. He took off the lid and let her look inside. "Ianto heard this singing in the archives two days ago. It made him remember things that happened to him when he was younger. Then it pulled him back to the hub in his sleep and made him remember something that didn't actually happen."
Martha looked at him. "What did he remember?"
Jack glanced at Gwen, then looked back at Martha. "Killing three women."
Martha took a step back from the box. Jack put the lid back on. "It wasn't the stone that gave him the memories, though. They just unburied them. We need to find out how he got them in the first place. And how they were lost."
Martha nodded. "What do you need me to do, then?"
Jack looked at Gwen and nodded. She left. Jack turned back to Martha. "We're going to use a piece of alien technology that will burrow down into Ianto's consciousness to find anything hidden. It should tell us how he got the memories." He sat on the edge of the table. "The problem is, we've only ever used it on aliens. One's skin hardened to an impenetrable shield the second it came under pressure. The other – it ended badly. So we need you to tell us when we're doing any damage. To stop us if we're going to kill him."
Martha nodded, slowly, hesitantly. "What happened to the other alien?"
Gwen interrupted whatever answer Jack would have given by wheeling the equipment into view. He stood up. "Help Gwen get set up. I'll go and get Ianto.
- - -
Ianto was still asleep when Jack opened the door to the cell. He ran a hand through Ianto's hair.
Ianto jumped awake at the touch in a flail of limbs, making Jack step away in surprise.
Ianto caught himself, eyes focusing finally on Jack, breathing hard.
"Sorry," he said, sitting upright. "Bad dreams."
He'd been asleep for hours but he still looked exhausted. Jack held out his hand. "It's time. Martha's here."
Ianto took the hand and let Jack help him up. "Let's get it over with, then."
At the workstations, Martha and Gwen were just finishing the setup. Jack steered Ianto into the wheelchair, remembering with bitter irony the last time he sat there, pretending to be electrocuted. Ianto seemed to be remembering, too. He paled further.
Martha stepped forward, almost pushing Jack out of the way and dropping to be on eye level with Ianto. "Oh, Ianto you look awful." She shined a small torch in one eye, then the other.
"Good to see you too, Martha."
Martha smiled. "Least you've got your humor." But it wasn't true. Ianto looked, sounded, like he was only partly conscious. He could hardly hold himself up. Martha looked back at Jack with a question in her eyes.
He could only shrug in reply. He didn't know what was making him that way.
Only that it was probably guilt.
Martha stepped away and started tapping at a computer terminal. Ianto's vital signs and a detailed analysis of his health drew up onto the screen.
She looked to Jack. "All right. Ready."
Gwen strapped Ianto's arms down and Jack stepped forward. "Are you okay with this?"
"No." Ianto looked up at him. "But you have to do it anyway. So do it."
Jack frowned. "I'm right here, all right?"
Ianto just nodded, too nervous to speak.
He saw Jack nod to Gwen, and she started the machine.
Instantly he felt the most intense pressure he had ever experienced. It was like all of the blood and air in his body was suddenly desperately trying to escape through his skin. And then a deep pain at the very center of his brain, somewhere nonphysical and untouchable but somehow still able to hurt, still able to burn, and he knew he was screaming but he couldn't help it, could feel his arms straining against the straps that held him down, could feel his body twisting in the chair but only vaguely, because that pain, oh God, that pain and pressure was drilling deeper and deeper and growing, expanding, and he couldn't draw breath or think coherently or stop himself from thrashing.
He heard Martha and Gwen shouting, but Jack thundering over them, thundering over his own cries, "Who gave you the memories?"
He couldn't find it – he was looking, but it wasn't anywhere, the answer, there was just
(rain battering metal battering his coat hard to see hard to breath but so close to her his cheek on her cheek his hand on her throat)
He screamed, "I don't know!"
He heard Jack say "deeper" and the pain came hotter, brighter, the pressure threatening to tear him apart, his body feeling so far away but the pain like thought was pain like consciousness was pain –
"Where did you dump the bodies?"
Again, he looked, tried to find it, scrambled for it but couldn't reach it, it was too far down, too much rain, too dark to see it
(slamming her to the ground kneeling next to her looking into her face was that pain was that light what was she thinking as she was dying)
Screaming, "I can't remember!"
Martha's protests, Gwen's, so far away but it came, another wave and he could feel it in his chest but not in his chest somewhere far away from him but right THERE and the screaming but Jack shouting over everything,
"Who gave you the memories?"
And he reached. And caught something.
- - -
Jack, Gwen and Martha watched as Ianto sat suddenly upright in his seat, his face still horrified but no longer twisted in pain. He was breathing in whistling gasps.
He said quietly, "Leave well alone."
Jack blinked. "Where did you dump the bodies?"
"Leave well alone."
"What does that mean?" Gwen asked, staring.
"Leave well alone, leave well alone, LEAVE WELL ALONE LEAVE WELL ALONE LEAVE WELL ALONE-" He kept screaming it, over and over again, those nonsense words, without pause for breath, without blinking.
Jack yelled at Gwen, "Turn it off!"
She switched the power off and Ianto slumped back in the seat. Jack heard Martha take off running, her heels loud on the stone floor. He stood there, staring, as Gwen quickly unstrapped Ianto from the chair and caught him as he fell forward, unconscious. She turned her fierce eyes to Jack.
He looked back at her, then went after Martha.
- - -
He found her in his office, leaning over his trash bin, losing whatever breakfast she'd managed to bolt before arriving.
"You know, we do have a bathroom."
She turned on him, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Her eyes were more angry than he had ever seen them. A very familiar type of anger.
She picked up a lot from the Doctor.
She stepped toward him. "You tortured him."
He shook his head. "The pain is a side-effect of the machine, it isn't meant for human consciousness-"
"Then why would you use it? Why risk it, Jack?"
"It wasn't a risk. We had you here to make sure-"
"To make sure his head didn't explode? Make sure his heart didn't stop? You could have given him an aneurysm, Jack! If he'd started to hemorrhage, I wouldn't have been able to help him here! He might have died on the way to the hospital! There are a thousand medical things that could have gone wrong with that amount of pressure, and I wouldn't have been able to fix any of them! Not to mention the psychological effects something like that could have."
Jack just looked at her, expressionless.
"Why? Why would you do it? If the memories aren't his, why can't you just retcon him? Why can't you just make him forget that he ever remembered?" She looked at him desperately, searching for any kind of good answer, any answer that made it worth the risk.
He didn't have one for her.
"It's my job."
She stood still, stunned.
"It's my job. I can't just retcon him. No matter how much I want to, I can't. Because those memories came from somewhere. From something. And whatever it is, it could be a threat. So I need to find it. I need to find out what did it, and I need to stop it from doing it to anyone else. And if I can't do that – then at least – I have to at least-" He couldn't finish. He looked away.
Martha said quietly, "You have to at least make sure that Ianto didn't really do it."
He nodded. "I know that he didn't. But he needs to know that. He needs to separate the real from the unreal. And if it was his hand that killed them, but under some kind of alien control, then he needs to know that, too. So he can stop hating himself for it. And so I can find the thing that did it."
Martha was quiet for a moment, just looking at him, standing there looking defeated.
"Sometimes I don't know whether to hate you or love you."
"Join the club. There's jackets."
She sighed and sat on the edge of his desk. "So what does he mean by 'leave well alone'?"
Jack went around the desk and started tapping at the computer terminal. "Last year, we lost two days. We all had traces of retcon in our systems, and the CCTV footage and computer work for those days had been deleted with my digital signature. There was nothing left, except for something that came up whenever I tried to think about it." He looked at her. "'Leave well alone.'" He spun the monitor around so that she could see it. On the screen was a note written by Ianto, and a corrupted file fragment, looking like a Torchwood personnel file. "I told Ianto about it, and he left this note on the system, telling the others to leave it alone. He must have installed the same mental trap, maybe unintentionally." Jack straightened up and sighed. "The lost days don't correspond to the dates that Ianto is supposed to have murdered those women. So that isn't what's hidden. But it definitely has something to do with it. If asking about the murders triggers that mental block, then whatever happened to us in those two days gave Ianto the memories."
"Is there a way to figure out what happened on the lost days?"
Jack shook his head. "No. And even if there were, I wouldn't want to. They're lost for a reason. I'm the only person that could have deleted those files. I trust my judgment."
"So you aren't going to look for what did this to him?"
She flared. "Then you just put him through all of that for no reason?"
Jack looked at her, brow creased in mild anger. "It's not like I knew that when I strapped him in, Martha."
She sighed. "Right. Sorry." She swung her legs back and forth, thinking. "What are you going to do now? Couldn't you just retcon him, since you aren't going to find out what did it anyway?"
"I can't," Jack said, and he sounded weaker than Martha had ever heard him sound. She looked up at him. "If I do that, he'll just remember again, one day. And we'll have to do this all over again." He sighed. "And he wouldn't want me to. It would be the worst kind of lying to him."
"He has to figure it out for himself."
Martha stood up and put a comforting hand on his arm. "He can do it, Jack. He's strong. He'll work it out."
Jack put his hand over Martha's, giving her a small smile, then went back out into the hub. Martha followed.
- - -
They found Gwen and Ianto in much the way Jack had left them: Gwen sitting on the floor in front of the wheelchair, Ianto's head in her lap, petting his hair in her mothering way. As Jack approached, she looked up and gripped Ianto a little tighter, frowning.
"It's all right," Jack said quietly, stooping down to take Ianto's arm and put it over his shoulder. "I'm just taking him back to the cells."
"What-" Gwen started, but Jack shook his head. His face said clearly, Later.
He slipped one arm under Ianto's shoulders and the other under his knees and lifted him up slowly. His head dropped against Jack's neck, but otherwise he didn't stir. Jack cradled him closer and turned. Martha and Gwen watched silently as he carried Ianto away.
- - -
Ianto woke up as Jack was setting him carefully down onto the cell bench. He mumbled with his eyes still closed, "Did you just carry me in here like a newlywed?"
Jack smiled and put a hand on his forehead. "You were a little too unconscious for this to be a honeymoon."
Ianto snorted tired laughter, his eyes still closed. "Knowing you."
Jack ran his hand through Ianto's hair, much in the same way that Gwen had, but somehow entirely different. "We didn't find anything."
"It's up to you now. You have to figure out what's real and what isn't."
Ianto's eyes opened and he caught Jack's hand in his own. He looked up into his face. "How?"
"You've been running away from the memories ever since you got them back. You've been trying not to relive them." Jack squeezed Ianto's hand. "You need to start. You need to relive everything. Both sets of memories. You have to find something that makes one set real and one set fake. A glitch. There has to be one. Implanted memories are never perfect. Memory is too delicate."
"What if I can't find anything?"
"You'll find something."
Ianto looked up at Jack's face, his lips trembling very slightly.
"All right," he said, finally. "I'll try."
Jack stood up. Ianto released his hand.
"You'll be fine,' Jack said with certainty. "And if you need me, I'll come running."
Ianto nodded. He watched Jack leave, watched the cell door close.
Then he closed his eyes and remembered.
- - -
The rain. Walking through the rain, his hands in gloves, gun in his pocket just in case. Her heels clicking on the stone of the alley. Shadowing, in the dark, silent, hardly even breathing, eyes taking in everything, ears taking in everything, every movement, every sound, he knew all of it. And then his hand slipping over her mouth – her hands clawing at the gloves, dropping her purse and struggling against him while he laughed softly in her ear, enjoying it, enjoying it –
No, it was too hard. The other set of memories, Jack, Jack was easier, but fainter, so much fainter, washed out and sepia-toned like an old photograph.
But there. Jack. Clothes a stupid, Puritan barrier, done away with easily enough – lips against his, a laugh, hands on his skin – not in your office, not again –
But faded too quickly, intercut like a film with the darker things. Old alleyways, next to dumpsters, behind silent, closed-down businesses he took lives with pressure, such a gorgeous kind of pressure, his hands fitting perfectly around feminine throats –
Jack. Jack Jack Jack. Try harder, reach, find something there, something real – breath on his neck, sheets, hands gripping anything –
Back out in the rain, the rain in his eyes, the rain in his hair. Crying, screaming out there in the rain, the horror of what he had done finally catching up, but why horror, why when it had felt so good, felt so good to be squeezing the life out of someone –
Movement in the dark, warm breath across his skin, hands, lips.
It wasn't raining that night.
Real, in color, surround sound, tactile:
(a catch of breath a hand in his hair a whisper against his skin "Ianto")
And the other memories shattered.
The rain was like someone holding a hose over a camera. Like kids playing in the garden, making it rain just on them. His hands on throats like touching wet cardboard, paper-thin, flimsy, collapsing under the slightest pressure, faded to black and white, to the tinny sound of old-time movies.
While Jack, being with Jack, came into bright focus. Real. Finally real.
Ianto threw himself upright in the cell and stumbled against the wall.
Then he fell.
- - -
When they heard him call, Jack, Gwen and Martha dropped what they were doing – which admittedly wasn't much more than worrying – and ran for the vaults. Jack was there first, and he punched the button to open the door and went in, dropping to his knees and lifting Ianto up into his lap. Ianto grabbed the lapel of his coat and gave him an exhausted smile.
"I was with you," he said. "It wasn't raining. I was with you."
Jack's terrified concern melted into a huge smile. "You figured it out."
Ianto nodded against Jack's arm, then pulled himself up and kissed him.
Martha and Gwen exchanged a glance and relieved smiles in the doorway.
Then Ianto fell back, unconscious, and Martha hurried in to help.
- - -
Ianto woke up in a kind of half-dark, a pillow below his head and a blanket pulled to his chin. Someone's hand in his.
"If you carried me in here again," he murmured against the pillow, "the girls are going to think I'm one of them."
"Sorry," Jack said, and Ianto could hear, if not see, his smile.
He turned over. Jack sat in a chair by the bed. There was a book on the nightstand, opened to the middle. "Either you read very fast or I've been out a while."
"A little of both." Jack leaned over and closed it. "Martha left a few hours ago. Said you'd be fine, with a little rest, now that you aren't fighting against two sets of memories."
Ianto nodded. He looked up at the ceiling of Jack's room.
"Thanks," he said.
He looked at him. "For believing that I wasn't a monster. Even I was willing to think it, for a while. But you never did."
Jack shook his head. "It's fine."
"We still don't know where they came from. Those memories."
"I think it's better that we don't," Jack said. "Whatever it was, you broke through it. And that's enough."
"Is it really?"
Jack leaned over and kissed him.
"For now, yes."
Author's Note: Thanks for reading! I loved writing this one. If the stream-of-consciousness is a bit too confusing, I'll go back through it and make it more clear, but I think it does its job pretty well. It's a shame I chose this day to totally torture poor Ianto. Happy birthday, Ianto; hope the coffee's good in heaven, or the void, or wherever.
There might be a sequel for this one. Lots of room for one, right? If I can think of something great, then I will definitely write it.
Hope you liked it! For those who reviewed, thanks for that, you are delightful human beings.