It was dark, and Jack stumbled against a wall. The side of his head flared in pain, and he raised a tentative hand to touch his cheek and jaw. He winced; there would definitely be a bruise. He didn't know whether to be angry or impressed.
Angry felt better.
He heard a giggle. Low voices, somewhere. He looked around. He was in another hallway; at the end, soft light flickered onto the floor and wall. He moved towards it, and the voices came a little clearer.
"You're like a university student."
A low laugh. Ianto. "I'm not allowed to have a hot plate?"
"You own a stove."
"Yes. And it becomes useless when the power is out. Thus, battery-operated hotplate."
"Couldn't we just get take-away?"
"I promised I'd cook for you!"
Jack peeked around the hall corner. Every horizontal surface was choked with candles; windowsills, counters, the top of the refrigerator. Three uneven tapers stood at the center of the kitchen table, and threw their light onto a very familiar face.
She laughed, watching Ianto as he moved around the kitchen, taking things from cabinets and setting them on the counter. "I think that a power-out is a good enough excuse."
Ianto looked over his shoulder and grinned. "All right, then I want to cook for you."
She put her chin in her hand, her eyes following Ianto's every movement. Jack came closer and let his own eyes do the same, taking in the easy way he maneuvered through this familiar-unfamiliar place; his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, his suit jacket and tie tossed over the back of a chair, the top button of his shirt undone. He looked – simple. Happy. He smiled to himself as he worked.
Jack looked back to Lisa, and saw there in her face a feeling identical to his.
She smiled – slow, taking a few seconds to reach from one side of her mouth to the other. She sat up a little, taking her chin from her hand. She took a light breath.
"Ianto," she said. "I love you."
Ianto stopped. He looked over his shoulder at her, his expression surprised. Then, it slowly melted into a soft sort of delight – radiant in his eyes, in his smile. He walked over to her, took her face gently between his hands, and kissed her. She put her arms around his neck, leaning into him, kissing back. After a few moments, she pulled away very slightly and murmured, "Hotplate."
Ianto grinned. "Take-away." Then he kissed her again.
Jack watched as they slowly dissolved, the candlelight brightening and then fading away.
- - -
Ianto was on his knees, clearing up the mess made by the explosion. Or attempting to. It looked like a huge undertaking; he had at first taken a few moments just to look at it and wonder how the hell he was going to make it look any better. He was still angry; every movement he made was forceful, aggressive, a scowl carved into his face as if permanent.
Jack appeared five feet to his right.
He looked over and opened his mouth to start shouting (I hope that fucking hurt) when he stopped, and his anger slipped away.
Jack was visibly shaken. He was holding back tears.
Ianto stood quickly, coming toward him, "Jack, I'm-"
"I'm sorry," Jack said. And Ianto knew it wasn't that he was sorry for refusing to explain; he wasn't sorry for what he'd said, or for anything so incredibly light. He was sorry for something – God, something huge, some unbearable weight suddenly upon him. He looked completely shattered, holding himself together only just barely, only enough to apologize again. "I'm so sorry."
Ianto stared at him, his breath lost somewhere inside of him, words failing him. What did you see, Jack?
Jack moved past him, and Ianto watched him go. Watched him disappear into his office. And all he could do was stare. He couldn't follow, couldn't comfort, couldn't ask. Because whatever it was – was his fault. Grief and guilt welled up in his chest, and he bit down against them. He looked away from Jack's office.
- - -
Gwen came in a few hours later. She stopped at the top of the stairs and her jaw dropped. "What the hell happened here?"
Ianto looked up at her from where he was on the ground – bucket beside him and brush in his hand, hardly making a dent. "The Thing exploded."
She hurried over. "Are you all right?"
"No, I'm mortally wounded, but so dedicated to the job that I'm still scrubbing the black off the floor."
She ignored the dry jab and looked around. "Is Jack all right?"
"Fine," Ianto said, gesturing toward his office. Then he stopped. He looked away. "Not so fine, actually."
Gwen looked down at him, caught sight of his face, then grabbed his arm and hefted him to his feet. "Come on," she said, extricating the brush from Ianto's grip and tossing it in the bucket. "Let's have a break."
- - -
Ianto set their coffees on the conference table. (Gwen, though sweet, was not allowed to touch the coffee machine, attempting to be supportive or no.) She smiled at him as he sat down across from her.
"All right," she said. "What happened?"
Ianto stared into his cup, his hands wrapped around the outside. He sighed. "Jack touched me so that I wouldn't be hurt by the explosion. I went back to – something he definitely didn't want me to know about." He looked at her, and she shut her mouth against the obvious question. He nodded. "It isn't worth explaining. You won't understand it any better than I do. I came back and asked him about it, and he wouldn't tell me anything. Obviously. So," he paused, smirking very slightly. "I punched him."
Gwen stared. "You didn't!"
Ianto shrugged. "He wasn't expecting it. Although, he wouldn't have been able to block it even if he was, if he wanted me kept out of his past. So he went back somewhere in mine."
"I don't know." He looked at her. "He came back – in a bad way. And I really have no idea what he saw. He went into his office. He hasn't come out since."
"And you haven't asked where he went?"
He took a sip of his coffee. "I can't. How can I ask that? 'Hey, Jack, I know you've just seen something that almost broke you, and it's all my fault, but would you care to share?'"
Gwen grinned, taking her mug up into her hands. "That might not be the best way to phrase it."
Ianto shook his head.
Gwen frowned, reaching across the table to put her hand on his. "It isn't your fault, Ianto. Whatever he saw. And it sounded like he needed a good smack, anyway."
Ianto smiled a little bit, looking in the direction of Jack's office, unseen from the conference room. "Jack's memories make me angry, mine make him miserable. We're perfect for each other."
Gwen smiled sadly and sat back. She drummed her fingers on the table, giving him a searching look. "Ianto," she said, looking slightly uncomfortable but unable to help herself, "What did Jack see last night? When he tried to catch you on the stairs."
Ianto paused. He looked her up and down. Well, I'm not Jack.
He sighed. "When I was eight, my mother had a psychotic break. Schizophrenia." He tried to keep his eyes on her shocked face. "She refused to take her medication. It had kept her stable up until that point. She tried to kill my father, so they took her away. Providence Park Psychiatric Hospital."
He finally looked away, Gwen's wide-eyed surprise was a bit too much.
"I'm sorry," she managed.
He shook his head. "It's long over, now. She died when I was fourteen. It doesn't matter." He took a sip of his coffee. He could feel her regretting that she had asked. But she had. And he'd answered. Go, team.
"I'm almost glad," he surprised himself by saying. "That you cared to ask."
Gwen looked confused. "How do you mean?"
"Jack didn't." Ianto looked down at the shining surface of the conference table. "He told me that I didn't have to explain. He didn't ask."
Her face cleared. She reached back over to touch his hand. "Ianto," she said slowly, looking into his face. "It isn't that he doesn't care."
He looked at her, raising an eyebrow.
She smiled softly. "He said that for you. For your benefit. He wants to know – if I know anything about Jack, I know that he's a prying bastard. But he didn't want you to have to explain yourself if you didn't want to. If you wanted to keep it. He didn't want to force it out of you."
Ianto's eyebrows shot up. This was probably true, and it hadn't occurred to him – and he couldn't think why.
She grinned and answered for him. "You'd rather think he doesn't care. It's easier. Caring makes it complicated."
He stared at her, stunned speechless. She sipped her coffee, eyeing him over the rim of the cup, smug and smiling.
He grinned. "Considering the man you married, you are surprisingly insightful."
This made her laugh, and she almost knocked her coffee over in surprise. She looked back at him and smiled, friendly, in confidence. He smiled back.
She shooed him. "Go. Talk to him. Work it out. Maybe this whole, horrible thing will turn out to be a blessing of honesty, or whatever."
Ianto laughed and stood. "Knowing Jack, probably not. But I can try." He nodded at her. She gave a little salute. He left the room, grinning back over his shoulder as the door swung closed.
- - -
Ianto opened the door to Jack's office without knocking. He slipped inside as Jack looked up, and closed the door behind him. Jack looked surprised to see him – or just perhaps surprised to see him composed, carrying Jack's mug, and not angrily preparing to punch him again.
Ianto stepped forward. "I'm sorry," he said. "For hitting you. I shouldn't have. For a lot of reasons."
Jack shook his head. "I deserved it, I guess." Jack still looked a bit bleary; his eyes were red-rimmed, his face slightly pink.
"You didn't," Ianto said. "I was just – frustrated."
"I understand." Jack looked at his desk, for some reason suddenly unable to look at him.
Ianto set Jack's mug down. "Gwen's here." Jack just nodded, saying nothing. Ianto swallowed. "Jack, what did you see?"
Jack looked up at him. He looked miserable. Ianto could see the guilt churning in him, and the grief, and whatever else there was that was eating him from the inside. And Ianto did what he automatically felt the need to do, seeing such pain in someone he loved. He reached out and touched him.
Ianto stared at his empty chair.
- - -
This time, Jack kept his eyes closed and held his hands over his ears.
It didn't help. The sound of wherever he was still poured through, as though projected directly into his head. Goddamn sadistic aliens. Although, truth be told, the sounds were harmless at the moment; the breathing of machines, the computer hum, a swing of a door and then-
His own voice.
"Oh, yeah. Loving that officey feel. I always get excited in these places – to me, they're exotic. Office romances. Photocopying your butt – well, maybe not your butt, but as we're here why don't we photo-"
Jack stared at the scene before him, listening to himself talk, watching himself, and Ianto, looking uncomfortable, interrupting him:
"The rift was active at these coordinates approximately two hundred feet above ground. That means this floor, or the roof."
Ianto's awkward, stilted walk around the desks. Jack remembered this. He smiled. He remembered this vividly.
Past Jack took up the uncomfortable air. "How are you, Ianto?"
"All the better for having you back, sir." He turned around, walked away, shuffled through the litter on another desk.
"Can we maybe drop the sir now? I mean, while I was away, I was thinking – maybe we could – you know, when this is all done – dinner, movie." Present Jack almost laughed, watching himself. So nervous. He looked like an idiot.
He turned to look at Ianto, who had his hands on his hips, his eyebrows raised – similarly nervous. A way Jack hadn't seen him look in a long time. "Are – you asking me out on a date?"
Ianto scoffed, sort of – tried to, anyway, but Jack, unbiased now, could see the weird relief on his face, past the desperately sarcastic mask. "Well, as long as it's not in an office. Some fetishes should be kept to yourself."
"Looks like we're gonna have to go through every drawer, bin and plant pot." Past Jack gave a nervous laugh. Present Jack wondered if he ever still sounded like that, and if he did he hoped that someone would put him out of his misery.
"Right, okay. I'll do this floor. Don't want you getting overexcited." Mocking, but not too badly. Past Jack looked surprised. "You take the roof. You're good on roofs."
Past Jack made to leave, but Ianto stopped him. "Jack!" He turned. "Why are we – helping him?"
Jack remembered this, too. It came back to him in that way Past Jack dropped the awkwardness – the way he turned back to look at Ianto with purpose. "He's a reminder of my past. I want him gone." He'd been relieved, then. He remembered. Relieved, because Ianto still cared – enough to be jealous, at any rate, and at that point it was good enough for him.
Present Jack smiled, knowing what came next.
"By the way – was that a yes?"
"Yes," Ianto answered, before the word was even out. "Yes."
Past Jack grinned and left.
Present Jack moved to get a better look at Ianto as he knelt to look through a desk drawer. And he saw it – what he hoped to see. That little smile. That little pause. Ianto, relieved, happy.
Jack smiled, too, as the room faded away.
- - -
Ianto jumped when Jack reappeared sitting in his chair. He leapt up, leaning over the desk, feeling like an idiot. "I'm sorry! I didn't think – God, you'd think I'd be used to it by now – whatever you saw, just, don't worry about it, it doesn't matter, it's all in the pas-" Jack was looking at him with nothing but amusement. Ianto stopped rambling. He quirked a brow. "What?"
Jack closed his eyes. He took a very deep breath. He let it out. He reached across and touched Ianto's hand.
- - -
Ianto stumbled in surprise, then looked quickly around. It was night; it was raining. The water fell around him rather than onto him, running down the protective field that the device implanted in his arm threw. There was a single working streetlight, and it poured its orangeish light onto-
Ianto stepped closer. His heart did something complicated and wonderful in his chest.
Beneath a narrow awning hung over the door of a closed shop, away from the rain, highlighted by the streetlight, in perfect, vivid detail, Ianto saw himself. Himself, with Jack's arms around him. Jack's lips against his. They were soaking – they'd run from the sudden downpour, walking back from the movie. Their first date. Proper date. Ianto felt something – he didn't know; love, joy, something – well up inside of him, in his chest, in his head.
This was their first kiss after Jack had come back. Hesitant, at first, but as he watched, Ianto saw – all of their apprehension, all of their distance, melted away, and they came closer – Ianto's hands in Jack's hair, Jack's face entirely, beautifully happy.
They broke apart, breathed.
And the scene faded away.
- - -
Ianto reappeared in front of Jack's desk, his surprise evident on his face. Jack looked up at him, smiling. "Where'd you go?"
Ianto breathed, "First date. In the rain."
Jack looked delighted. "It worked. If I concentrate hard enough, I can decide where you go."
"You did that – without knowing?"
Jack shrugged, still smiling. "I figured it might work. If it didn't-" He put up his hands. If it didn't work, it didn't work.
Ianto stared at him. "That's – that's one of your most important memories?"
Jack's smile diminished; his eyes became more serious. He met Ianto's gaze, paused, then nodded.
Ianto felt a few seconds spool away, letting himself process this information. "And – we can control where we go?"
Again, that serious nod.
They were silent for a few moments, looking at each other.
Then they were both moving, reaching out over the desk at the same time with the same incredible intensity of purpose, colliding lips, fingers through hair, breathless and determined, concentrating.
Jack saw: The first time he saw Ianto after Lisa died; him alive after Abbaddon, pulling Ianto into a hug and then kissing him; the moment of breathy silence in the warehouse where they caught Myfanwy; dancing at Gwen's wedding-
Ianto saw: His cheeky comment about the stopwatch; "So you're not going to help me catch this pterodactyl, then?"; kissing Jack the day before Tommy was sent back; being pulled out of the rubble of John Hart's trap by Jack and Gwen; meeting Jack with coffee outside of the hub, looking to be hired; Naked Hide and Seek-
They saw these things rapidly, like images on a screen, too quickly replaced by new memories to be entirely relived, but the feelings still there: relief, happiness, sadness, peace, love. They went on, there and not there, in and out of the office, flickering like static but still able to feel the other, hands on faces, lips-
And then, it stopped. Ianto felt a pain in his arm, then heard something fall to the surface of the desk.
Jack, still holding Ianto's face close to his, looked down at the desk between them and let out a breathless laugh. "We broke it."
Ianto looked down, too. "You're kidding me."
From out in the hub, they heard Gwen call out, "Is there a reason this wedding thing just started sparking?"
They looked into each other's faces, inches away, and began to laugh.
They untangled themselves as Gwen came in, giving them a raised eyebrow at their ruffled appearance. "Interrupting something?"
"Nope," Jack said, grinning. He held out his arm for her to see. The black marks were no longer there; instead, eight glassy black beads lay scattered on his desk, four from Ianto and four from him. "We just figured out how to fix our problem."
Gwen smirked. "It seems to have involved snogging."
"Something like that, yes." Ianto straightened his tie, casting a grin in her direction.
Jack picked up one of the beads. "We must have overloaded the device. It wasn't meant for people who already share memories."
"I wish that snogging was the answer to all of our problems." Gwen sighed and left the room.
Ianto looked at Jack, a small smile on his face. "That was – interesting."
Jack nodded, copying his expression. "It was."
"Naked Hide and Seek? Really?"
Jack grinned. "Hey, if you're going to relive something, might as well be something fun."
Ianto sighed in faux-annoyance, then shifted slightly, looking at Jack sideways. "Thank you."
"Just – thank you."
Jack stepped around his desk and stood in front of Ianto, putting his hands on Ianto's hips. He smiled. "You're welcome."
And he kissed him, properly, finally.
Author's Note: Hi! Sorry for the late addition of this end note; I was hurrying to get this up for a friend here, and I forgot to add one! Thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed this. I really enjoyed writing it, and it's thanks to you guys that I kept my energy up to keep going.
Thank you again to everyone who's stuck with me through a lot of what I've written; you're all excellent, and hold a special place in my heart. I hope that you keep reading, even as my updating becomes sadly sporadic. I've grown to really love this community, no matter how reticent I was at first about the whole fanfiction thing. It's great fun, and a lovely thing to be involved in.
Thank you, thank you, thank you and I'll see you weekly (or more) throughout the year.