A/n: Special thanks go to Gemini Willow for her thoughts and suggestions concerning the story. :)
Though Gwen didn't always agree with how some things could be handled in Torchwood, there were three things that she unquestionably admitted as true. One was that Jack could be a major pain in the arse what with all his secrets and half truths that he only revealed when he was cornered. The other was that life in Torchwood was a lot more fun with said pain in the arse around. And, lastly, Ianto rarely got angry.
Indeed, no matter what happened, the youngest member of Torchwood seemed to take everything in a stride. The only two times that Gwen could remember Ianto truly and royally pissed was after Lisa was… terminated… and when he had confronted John Hart. That alone made her forget that, just because Ianto never expressed anger, it didn't mean he was immune to it.
Let it be said at this point that Ianto had given the object of his frustration plenty of chances to somehow salvage the situation before it got out of hand. For Ianto had always convinced himself that he didn't mind, that it wasn't important, that they never needed words between them, that there was no time for trivialities when the world was in the brink of destruction or that… well, the list just went on. Unfortunately, Jack had also made it nigh impossible for Ianto to come up with any more excuses on his behalf and, quite frankly, Ianto's legendary patience had started to wear very, very thin. It was only a matter of time before the young man eventually snapped.
Gwen just wished that Ianto's anger had gone off with a bang.
Though Jack gave the impression that he was monitoring the Rift, he was instead focused on another pressing matter at hand. One that went by the name of Ianto Jones. Lifting his head as discreetly as possible, he tried to get a sneak peek of the other man. Ianto was sitting on the other desk a couple of feet away, and he was examining a case file, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.
"Any interesting Rift activity, Sir?"
Damn it, how did he do that?
"Ah… no," Jack said, trying to sound casual. He returned his gaze to the monitor as if everything was fine, but the truth of the matter was that Jack felt very much like a scolded puppy; confused and uncertain and with a metaphorical tail between his legs.
It was rather pathetic, admittedly. Captain Jack Harkness, dashing hero extraordinaire who laughed in the face of danger and challenged the most fearsome of monsters and aliens, was actually nervous of a simple, mortal man. But he honestly couldn't help it. Not when Ianto could make sure Jack suffered in more ways than just kill him, like most of the former Time-agent's enemies did. A particularly cold bed came instantly to mind…
"Um… Ianto? Could you bring me a cup of coffee, please?" Gwen asked quite hesitantly at that moment. Apparently, Jack wasn't the only one affected by the frosty aura Ianto was currently emanating.
"Yes, of course," Ianto said with the briefest of smiles that he could spare to the woman, standing up. Even so, Jack almost shuddered as he heard the apathetic tone that was interlaced with Ianto's professional statement.
That wasn't the Ianto Jack had come to know. Not by far. And for the life of him, Jack could make neither head nor tail of it. Just what had happened that made the younger man behave like this?
Jack's thoughts were rudely cut off when an anti-stress ball landed on his head. Jack blinked several times in surprise, and then turned to Gwen's direction, frowning.
Gwen's glare spoke volumes. What did you do?
Jack shrugged in a defensive manner. I don't know!
Well, you did something! She nodded in the direction Ianto had left. Go to him.
It didn't take a great mind to guess what she wanted of Jack. The man, however, shook his head emphatically.
Gwen's hard look changed to one of incredulity. Why not?!
Jack just averted his gaze and pretended to stare at the monitors once more, declaring the silent discussion as ended. But Jack should also have known by now that Gwen Cooper wasn't a woman who was deterred that easily. She stood up, planted both hands on his desk and leant close to Jack, narrowing her eyes.
"If there are any Weevil sightings, I'm not chasing after them in these high-heels on my own just because you two had a lovers' squabble," she hissed, showing the man her new pair of boots she was currently wearing. "Now go talk to him!"
Jack opened his mouth to protest, but Gwen held up a warning finger.
"I mean it. Now!" she declared with finality and she sat back on her chair without so much as taking her eyes off Jack, daring him to disobey her.
If there was a time that Jack ever felt that he was caught between a rock and hard place, this was definitely it. He had hoped that if he left Ianto be, the younger man would eventually return to his cheery mood and everything would be fine again. But now, he was risking having to deal with both Ianto and Gwen's ire.
Well, there was no avoiding things anymore. Sighing, he got up and headed towards the coffee machine-corner. He could see Ianto quite clearly; the younger man was holding a cup in his hands and waiting patiently for the machine to produce its miracle liquid. Ianto, however, didn't seem to notice Jack; he had his back to the former Time-agent. So, Jack lifted his hand and got ready to knock on the surface of the table. He didn't want to startle the young man.
"If you wanted coffee, too, Sir, you should have said something before."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, seriously, how do you do that?" he asked.
"I know everything, Sir," Ianto said, sounding pleased with himself. "And I also have a well-polished chrome plaque in front of me."
Jack looked at the coffee-machine, seeing that Ianto was right. The particular silvery patch was almost as good as a mirror.
"I guess that explains how you always manage to slip by me, whenever we're playing our little hide-and-seek game," he said, forcing a chuckle to add to his strategic approach: humour your target. "And then you're wondering why I cheat."
Unfortunately, the tactic was as successful as when he had attempted it back in that office, on the first day of his return.
"I'm hardly wondering, Sir. I know you can't accept defeat," Ianto said, filling the cup with Gwen's coffee and placing it on the tray. "That's why you came here, after all."
Right. This was going really bad. Even so, Jack wasn't willing to give up just yet.
"Actually, I came to tell you that, if the Rift stays quiet, I could send Gwen home early and order some Italian. What do you think?"
Ianto picked up the tray and turned on his heel. "I think it's a good choice and I hope you'll enjoy it."
Okay, that had just gone far enough.
"Ianto, drop the act and tell me what's going on right now!"
"Doing my job is hardly on act," Ianto said coldly, although Jack picked up the fact the younger had dropped the 'sir'. "That's what you expect of me, isn't it?"
"Being pissed at me wasn't in the job description," Jack retorted, swiftly reaching to his boiling point. "So what's got into you?"
"Nothing," Ianto replied. "Nor will it, if you're wondering."
"That's not funny," Jack said, narrowing his eyes dangerously.
"I never claimed it was."
"Damn it, Ianto…!" Jack bit his lower lip before saying something that he would definitely regret and counted up to twenty. Once he felt his temper was back under control, he sighed and tried again. "Fine, I give up. You're angry. I'm willing to apologise. Just tell me where I did wrong."
Ianto pursed his lips momentarily, obviously contemplating matters. "Gwen expects her coffee. I'll go give it to her and then we'll talk."
Jack didn't bother with a verbal answer; he just nodded, running his hand through his hair in a tired manner. That, however, seemed to suffice for Ianto, who continued on his way to Gwen's desk. Jack heard the few words the two of them exchanged and, just as the former Time-agent started growing impatient, Ianto appeared again. Jack watched as the younger man placed the tray in the sink and then rested his back against the bench.
The minutes ticked by painfully slowly. Finally, Ianto spoke, and his voice carried the emotional soft tone that the immortal man had missed.
"You really do things the hard way, Jack. We've been talking and arguing for the last…" Ianto frowned and took out of his pocket the stopwatch, "… Five minutes and twenty seconds, when all it could have taken you to get your answer were three simple words."
Three? Jack wondered. Don't tell me…
His mortification must have been evident, for Ianto shook his head, amused. "Not those three. You prefer to let your actions speak louder than words in that department and I've come to accept that."
Jack relaxed. "That's not the only thing that's loud whenever my actions speak," he said, giving Ianto a very meaningful look.
Ianto wasn't willing to play along this time, though. He gave Jack the sort of look that said, 'I'm being serious here, so you'd better muzzle it.'
Ianto nodded once, accepting the apology, and focused on another matter at hand; the tray and a few glasses were still waiting to be washed. After applying a generous amount of solution on the sponge, he started doing the washing up with experienced, almost professional ease. It was one of the things that always intrigued Jack. The younger man had no problem multitasking, even when the two of them were in the midst of an argument.
"Well, unfortunately for you, Jack, some things need to be said," Ianto said, scrubbing the tray as he cut into Jack's train of thought. "It's the only way you can show somebody what you really mean to them without having them second-guessing and, so far, you've shown that to me just once."
"As opposed to who?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow. If this was Ianto being jealous, there would be a fight for sure.
"God, Jack, it's not a competition!" Ianto said exasperatedly.
"Could have fooled me," Jack replied stonily. "You sure make it sound like one."
Ianto snapped his head around to glare at Jack, about to tell him off… and everything happened so fast that the immortal man barely had enough time to register it. For when Ianto turned, he was still holding a glass in his hand – a glass that smashed against the tap, breaking in two.
Ianto didn't look at Jack. The two large chunks of glass had slashed his palm, making him cry out; he nevertheless had the wits to immediately grab a towel and wrap it around his hand. He cradled his hand protectively to hide it from Jack, but it was too late. Jack had already seen the white fabric changing to red.
"I'll bring the alcohol," he said, springing to action. He hurried past Gwen, who gave him a concerned look; she had obviously heard the commotion. Jack simply waved his hand in a dismissive manner, declaring in this way that he had everything under control, and he climbed down the autopsy bay. Fortunately, it didn't take him long to find what he had been looking for, along with some cotton (Owen had always kept his private domain organised), so he was back at Ianto's side in a couple of minutes. The younger man was sitting at the table now, still keeping the towel wrapped around his hand and seeming more than just a little dismayed.
"Let me see," Jack said, a hint of a commanding tone in his voice.
Ianto complied, removing the towel with a heavy sigh. Blood still stained the pale palm and Jack couldn't help but wince inwardly at the ugly cut that marred the smooth skin. A part of him wanted to tell the younger man that he could just kiss it and make it better, but he was also aware that his humour wouldn't be appreciated at the moment. So, he simply dabbed some alcohol on the cotton, snorting at the strong smell that permeated the air; then brushed the cotton on the cut.
Ianto tensed like a bowstring, hissing loudly.
"Sorry," Jack said sheepishly. "I'm not a medic."
"I can tell," Ianto deadpanned.
Feeling chastised, Jack continued tending to the wound in silence. Several minutes passed without either of the two men speaking, but the atmosphere started growing a bit too heavy for the former Time-agent.
"You know… That's the one thing that I don't miss as an immortal. Never did care for the smell of disinfectant," he said conversationally. "Not to mention the lingering pain for days afterwards and the scarring."
"You still have it worse than us mortals," Ianto said softly.
Jack locked his gaze on Ianto's, confused.
"Gwen told me how your resurrection feels," the younger man explained. "'Like being hauled over broken glass.' Nothing can be compared to that, can it?"
Jack's movements slowed, brushing Ianto's cut almost absentmindedly now. "There was a reason I wanted the Doctor to fix this," he said, wincing. Was he supposed to sound so hoarse, his voice failing him?
"I suspect that's also the reason you never ask me if I'm okay whenever I'm hurt."
Jack snapped his head up at the defeated, bitter tone; for it was then that everything finally fell into place. "Is that was this is all about? Is that why you're so mad at me?" he asked incredulously.
"Shouldn't I be?" Ianto said. "I appreciate it that you don't treat me like a china doll, but, Jack… I'm not you, either. God knows I don't want to remember the Brecon Beacons or getting shot at or taken hostage."
Jack stared as the young man's voice constricted. Ianto was obviously replaying all those incidents in his mind's eye, and Jack opened his mouth to tell him to stop doing this to himself. Nevertheless, Ianto persisted.
"Don't get me wrong. I try to keep up with you. I try to be as strong as you expect me to be. I'm still human, though. And a very selfish one for that matter, I suppose. I want you to ask me, so I know that I have a reason to be strong." The young man looked almost tired now, yet his voice was thick with emotion.
Oh, Ianto… Jack had to admit that he felt quite guilty now. "Come here," he whispered, tugging the younger man forward and embracing him lovingly, resting his head on top of Ianto's. "I don't doubt your strength, Ianto Jones; never did. Canary Wharf was more than enough proof." He paused as he sensed the younger man's shoulders tense slightly. "Just hear me out. Out of the twenty-six survivors, you were the only one who didn't end his life or end up locked behind the doors of a mental hospital. Did you know that?"
Ianto shook his head.
"Well, it's true," Jack said. "I guess I have to thank Lisa for that. She gave you something to fight for."
"She wasn't the only one," Ianto murmured, burying himself further into Jack's embrace.
Jack actually smiled. "Yeah, I like to think I helped a bit too," he declared in a playful tone, only to sober at the next moment. "Because the people I care about are important to me. And you, Ianto Jones, are important to me, more than you know. Even if I don't show it the way you probably want me to." He closed his eyes for a brief moment, his grip on Ianto tightening slightly. "Do you know why I never ask you if you're okay?"
Ianto drew back and looked up with a frown. "You're gonna tell me then?"
Jack nodded and caressed Ianto's cheek. "Because no matter how bad things ever turn out to be, I'll be there to make it better for you."
Ianto's lips tugged to a half-smile. "Like the dashing hero you are?"
"You bet," Jack replied. He planted a gentle kiss on the younger man's forehead, and then took a look at the slashed hand. "The bleeding's stopped. I'd better get some band-aid. Or is that sticking plaster in these parts?" he said in a musing tone.
"I'm not picky on how you want to call it, as long as you actually bring some," Ianto pointed out, amused.
"Right, sorry…" Jack said before giving Ianto's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "I'll be right back."
"Yeah?" the former Time-agent asked, stopping on his tracks to face Ianto.
Ianto looked at Jack almost shyly. "I'll have a Bolognese."
Jack understood what that meant, of course, and his heart felt like it did a happy flutter. "Sure. And maybe… something for dessert afterwards?" he asked quite innocently.
Ianto smirked, his humour slowly returning. "Now you're just going ahead of yourself, Sir."
Jack knew perfectly well that that meant in Iantonese: "I'm just gonna play hard to get a little while longer if that's okay with you."
The image of a cold bed got replaced in a flash with the image of a very warm Welshman sleeping against him; and Jack walked towards the autopsy bay, sporting (as Gwen described it in the days that followed) one of the biggest grins to ever grace the face of the Earth.