Author note: I watched the Torchwood episode Meat and was talking with my wonderful friend of friends Galadriel1010 about Jack and Ianto, and how Jack behaved etcera... this is sort of a more in-depth follow on from the second chapter of my story collection, Hell of a Job.
What does exclusive even mean to someone who's lived that long?
Ianto knows Jack could never be exclusive.
Ianto knows Jack will never be fully his.
He can live with that, in a way. Well, not live. More like... survive. He can bear it, he thinks.
Ianto looked up from the desk, flashing Jack a brief, polite smile. "Good evening, sir."
Slowly, as if aware of everything Ianto wasn't saying, Jack said, "Ianto."
Jack jutted out his chin. It was a tiny action, hardly noticeable... unless you're looking for it. And Ianto was.
"No, really," he insisted, shuffling papers again to avoid Jack's sudden inquisitive glare. "I'm fine."
"You don't seem it."
"And how could you tell if I weren't quite myself, Jack? How would you know the difference?"
Jack took a seat on the other end of the office. It should have be enough of a distance for Ianto to feel alone, but it wasn't. Jack's presence was like an itch under his skin that he couldn't scratch, couldn't be fulfilled until he had that goddamned man in his arms, begging for his sweet, merciful touch...
Shuffle papers. Shuffle papers. He had to shuffle papers.
"Partly because you seem to go overtly OCD when something's on your mind," Jack told him, leaning on his elbow. "But mostly 'cause you're never this insistent about being okay."
"I hate it when you're observant," Ianto muttered.
"I said, did you see that giant mutant ant?" Ianto put down the papers and braced his palms to lean against the desk. He forced himself to look at Jack and say, "It's crawling right behind your head, sir. You ought to be more careful."
"Ianto," Jack all but growled.
Ianto raised his eyebrows, the picture of polite confusion. "Sir?"
"Stop being evasive."
"What if I said that was an order?"
"What if I told you where to stuff it?"
Jack blinked. Ianto's hands trembled and suddenly he pushed himself back upright, turning away from Jack. Raising a hand to his face, Ianto breathed through his fingers, willing the calm to return. He took a deep breath and turned back to face the office, and Jack. No emotion showed on Ianto's face, he wouldn't let it.
Jack blinked again. He knew this routine. "Ianto."
"Yes, I am aware of your name, sir."
Jack's turn to breathe through fingers and will for that elusive calm. "Yan, tell me what's wrong before I end up throttling you, okay?"
Ianto let a wry smile pass over his face. "It doesn't matter," he said. "There would be nothing you could do to change it, anyway." He walked across the office to where Jack sat and laid a light peck on the older man's forehead. "See you tomorrow, Jack."
Then he left.
Five seconds later, Jack was on his feet, Ianto's words having finally sunk in. "You're not staying?"
Ianto paused at the cogwheel and said, without looking around, "Not tonight." He tried to ignore the sound of Jack's heel twisting against the metal grate of the steps as he came up behind Ianto. "Not tonight, Jack," Ianto murmured almost sadly as the older man's arms wove around him, pulling him back against Jack's chest.
"Why not?" Jack said into the back of Ianto's head. "Tell me why."
Ianto trailed his fingers along Jack's sleeves, tracing the familiar bulge of the wrist strap. "Because," he began. "Because..."
"Because what?" prompted Jack.
Ianto gripped Jack's arms, squeezing the two of them together and feeling every last inch of Jack against him. So warm, so welcoming.
So bittersweet. The cruellest of embraces; wanting more and yet none at all.
"Because you can have all of me, Jack," Ianto said, bowing his head. "But I can't have all of you. No one can. And I know it can't be changed, because you're you... but it still hurts."
It took Jack a long moment to make his throat work again. "Ianto, I—"
"It's okay." Ianto released his death grip on Jack's wrists, turning slowly so that they stood with hands clasped between them. "Really, I get it."
Disbelief flared. "You get it?"
Still staring with those mournful eyes, Ianto nodded.
Jack wanted to kick himself.
However, since kicking was not an option, he settled for pulling Ianto toward him in a quick, rough motion, startling the young man before laying a desperate kiss across his lips.
"If you value my sanity," he almost snarled into the kiss, "do not say you get it!"
Ianto tried to pull back. "But you—"
Jack wouldn't let go. He backed them into the bars around the cogwheel, trapping Ianto within the cage of his arms. For what felt like the millionth time, Jack said, "Ianto." He needed him to look at Jack, he needed Ianto to see! "Ianto."
Finally, blue eyes pin-wheeled onto his. Their breath mixed as they panted, sharing each other's heady scents. "Jack," said Ianto, voice near to cracking.
"Who do I come back to?" Jack asked, leaning in to nuzzle Ianto's neck.
Ianto gasped out, "What?"
"Every day," said Jack. He nipped at Ianto's jaw line, feeling the younger man tremble. "Who is it that I come back to?"
"I don't understand what you— ah!"
Jack withdrew his tongue from Ianto's ear. "I think you understand perfectly," he whispered into the quivering lobe. "I think you might even 'get it', Yan."
"Goddamnit, I'm trying to be mad at you!" Ianto protested.
"Oh really?" Jack said playfully, following Ianto's jaw around to claim his other ear. "How's that working out?"
That was when Ianto pushed him away.
"Jack, please. I need to think, and I can't think while you're..." he trailed off. Jack raised an eyebrow, trying to hide his hurt at being rebuffed. "I'm tired, Jack. It's been a long day and I'm aching all over—"
Ianto snorted. "Not everyone heals straight off, you know."
"Heals?" Jack stepped back, looking at Ianto now with a critical eye, noting the slump with which the man held himself, the way his hand curled around most-likely-sore fingers. "Did you see Owen?"
That earned another snort. "Yes. He tossed me an ibuprofen and told me, and I quote, 'not to shag too hard later on'."
"Well if those are the doctor's orders..."
"Jack," Ianto said, a warning.
"Yeah, I know." Jack took Ianto's hand, holding it with as much delicacy as he could muster. "I know." He made up his mind. "Come on, you're not going home now. We are going to get some cream on those bruises and then we are going to chat."
"Just chat?" Ianto was uneasy, it made Jack feel rotten.
"Just chat," he assured.
"Not your fault, blame the overambitious space-whale hoarders," Ianto returned dryly, wincing again.
"Good a name as any."
Jack laughed. "Suppose so." He wiped the excess cream off his hand. "Turn around."
Ianto did as he was told, shuffling on the stretcher and avoiding Jack's eyes. "Somehow I sense this was all a covert ruse to get my shirt off, sir."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Jack, his fingers ghosting over Ianto's chest.
Ianto breathed out heavily, feeling the tension he had strived to maintain begin to dissolve. So much for staying angry.
"Was that a good or bad sigh?" Jack asked. He smeared some more soothing cream into the bruised skin on Ianto's shoulder, hating the blue-purple patch for the pain it was causing the younger man.
"It was an 'I'm thinking about it' sigh." Ianto closed his eyes, leaning his palms more on the table, surrendering to Jack's gentle touch.
"And are you?"
"And am I what?"
"Thinking about it?"
Jack laughed again.
"Oh, shush," said Ianto. "Leave the grumpy, injured people alone."
"Are you grumpy?"
"I might be."
Jack sat down next to him on the stretcher and said, "Is there anything I can do about that?"
Ianto gave him a sad smile. "I told you, no."
"But I want to," said Jack. He raised a hand and traced Ianto's un-bruised shoulder. "Can't you see?"
Ianto put his hand on Jack's to stop him. He couldn't concentrate if Jack was doing that. "I can see, Jack," he said, "I just don't know what there is that you can do without changing who you are." Ianto ignored Jack's sigh. "Can you see that, Jack?"
Jack dropped his hands. He twisted them in his lap, staring at the entwined fingers. "Yeah, I can. Kind of sucks, don't it?"
"Kind of, yes."
They sat in silence till Jack had had enough. He tilted Ianto's chin to face him. "Stay?" said Jack, pleading with his eyes.
"Stay?" Jack furrowed his brows, pouting to the max. "Please."
"I hate it when you do that," said Ianto.
"Because you know I'll give in."
Jack cracked a grin. It made him seem so much younger. Ianto smiled back tentatively, enjoying the sight.
Later on, cradled in Jack's slumberous arms, Ianto stared at the opposite wall. They'd talked, sure, but had anything actually been resolved?
Exclusivity will never mean much to Jack, Ianto knows this. He knows he will never have all of Jack.
But maybe he has enough, for now.
Ianto looked up into Jack's sleep dazed face. "Hey there."
Softly, Jack said, "You alright?"
And he means it, this time.