AN: This one's for captainally, the psycho who not only has agreed to meet me at Hub 5 in October (!) but is also foolish enough to stick with me even though I spend ninety nine percent of my day insulting her :P Sorry, chook!! Much thanks for the beta!
His voice was too dry. He cleared it and tried again.
Better. He tried to sit up, but something around his wrist obscured the movement. Jack and Gwen watched from across the room, dumbstruck and silent, as the expression of confusion turned to one of shock and annoyance. "What the hell?!" He spluttered, yanking his handcuffed wrist upwards as far as the sofa leg would allow. Jack turned to look at his female companion with raised eyebrows; Gwen shifted, ashamed, under his critical eyes.
"What? He scared the shit out of me. What would you have done?" Gwen hissed. Jack ignored the innocent appeal in her eyes and turned in silence to face the Welshman - whose eyebrows had not lowered.
"What's going on?" Ianto sounded as though it was a struggle to remain as polite and impartial as he usually did. Jack stared at him. Not the hard, direct glare he'd aimed at Gwen just moments ago, but... mixed. Not hot or cold; lukewarm. Not direct - like he was looking at something that wasn't even there and wondering whether or not it was real... The obscured net that Jack cast from his eyes trapped both of the other of the room's occupants. Gwen froze. Ianto sat bolt upright and fought the impulse to turn away. "Sir?" He prompted.
The immortal blinked, and the spell was broken; Gwen shifted, relieved, and Ianto slumped in his chair; regardless of his work persona, the Welshman forced himself to admit that he was more than a little intimidated by his boss. Jack frowned. "What did you call me?"
Now it was Ianto's turn to look confused. Jack followed the creasing of his forehead and did not comment, but his expression... Relief? Sadness? Doubt? "I called you Sir." Ianto repeated himself slowly, watching the others for signs of comprehension or some movement or expression that might explain the question.
"You haven't called me that in years." Jack's voice was faint and his hands clenched. Jack did not respond when Gwen reached out to squeeze his arm, her eyes locked on the interaction between the two and widened impossibly, like a deer caught in deathly bright headlights.
The frown on the other side of the room, if possible, deepened. "What do you mean, Sir? I... I called you that this morning. Five minutes ago." He glanced out of the window to the darkened sky and whistled. He missed the way Jack inhaled rapidly at the unfamiliarly familiar action and the tear that was hastily wiped from Gwen's cheek. "Maybe not... Wow. How long was I out?"
When Jack didn't respond, Gwen took the reigns. She smiled encouragingly. "What's the last thing you remember, Ianto?"
The Welshman looked at her. The lack of recognition in his eyes startled Gwen, as did the annoyance; he was, she reasoned, not used to being treated like… well, wasn't this how she treated everyone who entered Torchwood from the outside? Like… like they were infants, she supposed. But how else would she deal with them? "I'm... sorry, I don't think we've been introduced." He sent a meaningful glance at the ever silent Jack and sighed when it proved fruitless. "Ianto Jones - although I think Jack must have told you that." With a small smile he went to offer his hand but was restrained by the handcuffs. He sighed again. "You are?"
"You..." Gwen's expression was one of disbelief. She snorted. "You don't remember me, Ianto?" Blank. "It's Gwen?" she prompted. Still nothing. A small laugh - anything but gentle, as per the intention - shook dangerously as she glanced at Jack. His face that lacked its usual warmth was frozen and blank. "We worked together!" Ianto frowned at the past tense, and Gwen winced at her mistake. "We work together," she amended.
The Welshman shook his head, expression torn between confusion and an obvious wish to remain professionally unattached. "I don't..."
"What year is it?"
Two pairs of eyes locked on Jack, who focused on just one. Ianto frowned.
"You heard me." The immortal leant forward - Ianto couldn't help but lean away as he noticed the strangely forbidding passion in his eyes. "What. Year. Is. It?"
Ianto turned to look at Gwen - one eyebrow raised; is he crazy? - but her wide eyes, too, demanded answers. The coffee boy raised an arm and sighed his surrender. "It's 2006. Can I have a coffee, please?"
The peaceful routine provided Gwen with ample opportunity to drown out the harshly nostalgic dagger screaming through her mind that was the man sitting in Jack's living room. Instant coffee; located in the top cupboard. Mugs; found in the fridge, for some reason, along with the milk. Sugar; oh. Sugar... sugar...
One look at the immortal who she had not noticed entering the kitchen brought the screaming racing into life. Wincing, she raised an eyebrow with an effort to prove herself effortlessly nonchalant rather than allow the bubbling mass of confusion and painful nostalgia to slip through – that, and guilt at feeling quite so much pain when Jack's must be far superior to her own. Yet again, she looked into the immortal's crumpled soul and wondered if – underneath the banter and the flirting and the handsome and the hero – there was, as he had always preferred she believe, an empty shell? Or perhaps… maybe… although he would never say it – never in a million years – was there… she didn't know how to describe the way he looked when she said his name compared to the way he looked when Ianto called him 'sir'. She didn't want to. She continued with a mind to lighten the atmosphere. "Tumble dryer?" she asked - he shrugged. Not in the mood for banter, the drooped shoulders and the bags beneath his eyes said. Those eyes told many stories that she had never been privy to, yet the story of Ianto's return was painfully evident in his new demeanor; how he had changed from the flirtatious, extravagant man to… this. She shrugged uncomfortably in an effort to move from underneath the heavy silence that fell, but could not bring herself to fill it with mindless chatter while she bent to retrieve the sugar from the tumble dryer. How could she, she asked herself – how was it possible to make light and airy conversation when the man before me is dealing with something so painful I could never, ever comprehend?
The worst thing was that the hope was gone. Not even gone – inside his eyes lay the mangled corpse of wishes and dreams laid out for all to see.
Sugar; tumble dryer. Kettle; on.
Minutes passed, and she couldn't stare at the kettle any more.
"I don't know."
Silence dropped like a sledgehammer on the pair; so sudden and so heavy that it brought tears to Gwen's eyes. She folded into his arms for comfort and found that he gave her no warmth at all when he reciprocated mechanically. Blank. Like he wasn't even Jack any more. This was worse than when he had disappeared with the Doctor for those long months, or when he had run away from her that night underneath the suffocating blanket of such bright stars. This was…
They jumped apart when the kettle announced it was done and Gwen hurried back into the old routine.
Gwen smiled weakly at Ianto as she bent to pass him his coffee. "Thanks." He smiled, and took it. She watched him out of the corner of her eye for that tell-tale response that was just so Ianto. There it was; a wince as he sipped his coffee quietly, hastily covered with a smile. She returned it for the first time in ten years and it felt as though the world was being – agonizingly slowly, but who was she to put a price on progress? - glued back together.
"You can say it," she told him with a gap-toothed grin.
He made a face. "This coffee... is awful." The corner of Jack's mouth twitched – almost inconceivably so, but it was there.
Gwen managed a true smile for the first time that night and reached into her pocket to pull out the keys and throw them to him. "Here. You made it better than I do." Frowning slightly at the past tense, Ianto murmured his thanks and unlocked his restraints. When he stood, massaging his wrists -
Gwen frowned at the object that had rolled onto the floor. "What's that?"
Ianto's forehead creased, too. "I don't - "
It flashed. Once. Twice.
Recognition in Jack's eyes was rapidly replaced with fear as he stared at the small, cupcake-like object. "Get down!" He yelled, and dived across the room to throw Ianto to the ground.