Notes: The full oneshot for #107 of 'Snapshots of Smiles.'
Holding on to Ghosts
It was one of those ironic things that you miss even when you shouldn't, but it wasn't until a good two months after the cyberwoman that Jack realised what Ianto's supreme talent was.
And you would think, as it had been that skill at being invisible that had kept them from finding out about Lisa so long, that Jack would have realised that sooner, but he hadn't. And when it did, he was surprised at how upsetting it was.
Two months, and he was still angry, but the first blossoms of regret were beginning to pool in his chest by then, and when he realised how often Ianto simply wasn't there, he was caught somewhere between thinking 'just as well' and 'that's not right.'
It took another two months before 'that's not right' won the battle.
And once he noticed, Jack paid attention, and even then it was difficult to pin Ianto down. All it would take was Jack's attention to waver from him for just a moment, and he'd be gone. And in Torchwood, Jack simply couldn't keep his attention on one person all the time.
At first, he told himself that keeping an eye on Ianto was just to make sure he had no other tricks up his sleeve. And then to make sure he didn't have to fill out another suicide form - they were much longer than normal death forms in this organisation, due to the fact that it was never entirely certain whether the suicide had been due to alien interference or not, and they had to keep uncertainties on file.
And then, roughly four months after Lisa's death, he finally admitted that he cared.
It wasn't like they didn't know where Ianto was, just that they never seemed to notice when he left, or when he came and went. Everybody knew that he pretty much lived up in the tourist office by now - Tosh still persisted in trying to connect to him again, but it seemed like he had shut down. Seemed like...seemed like his first day, when he hadn't known anybody and how to speak to them yet.
Now, it seemed, he had no inclination to try.
Nor did anyone else, and Jack couldn't blame them for that. Tosh was the only one - feeling, he thought - desperately sorry for Ianto. Jack also thought that there was a hint of self-preservation in it - Tosh and Ianto had clicked, right from the off. If Ianto had a genuine friend in Torchwood, it was Tosh, and vice versa, and Jack thought that Tosh didn't want to lose a friend, even when it seemed like she already had. Once, when Owen had asked why she kept trying, she got an awful look on her face and had said:
"Because if I don't, nobody will, and I'm scared I'll come in one day and Ianto won't be here."
And that would be the ultimate act. Ianto was like a resident ghost, in some ways - always present. Always on location, to the team, because he was the first to arrive and the last to leave, even now, when there was no longer any point. Jack had to admit to himself that Tosh was right: if Ianto simply didn't turn up one morning, nobody would win a prize for guessing why.
Eventually, Jack had joined Tosh in her little campaign to keep Ianto grounded. To keep him with them, but it was like holding on to a ghost. When Ianto brought in the takeout, Jack would request - acting casual, though he knew he failed - that Ianto joined them at the table. And nine times out of ten, somebody would start a conversation, and Jack would get going, and the next time he looked, Ianto would be gone.
Or when they came back from missions, and Ianto would be firmly up in the tourist office, out of the way, and wouldn't come down unless specifically ordered. He listened over the communication channels - Jack had ordered him to do that, in case they had serious injuries or would need help on return - but he never came down unless called.
And then there were the evenings, after the others had gone home, and Ianto became truly invisible. Jack would sometimes go to the tourist office, to find Ianto gone, return to the Hub to find the place cleaned and his things taken in the interim. He would disappear like a phantom and reappear in the morning, his presence heralded by the coffee cup that magically appeared on Jack's desk every morning and the hum of the generator supplying power to the computer and lights in the tourist office. He wouldn't be seen.
And Jack had little choice but to let it continue. He found this out one morning, perched outside the kitchen, waiting for the ghost to appear, and when he did, catching his arm.
"You're a part of this team too," he'd said, and Ianto had frowned. It was a tiny frown of puzzlement, the kind directed at a child asking a particularly stupid or peculiar question, and then:
"I wasn't then and I'm not now. We both know that."
It was stated so matter-of-factly that Jack seized him by the upper arms and shook him, once, sharply.
"I refuse to remember ghosts," he barked, and a quirk of a smile tugged at the corner of Ianto's lip.
"We can't always have what we want."
And with that, the ghost was gone, and for the first time since his appearance an age ago, the smell of coffee was absent.