Lorem Ipsum

Ianto was going to go home. Ianto was going to take an evening and think about this rationally.

He was supposed to be good at that, supposed to be good at stepping back and taking stock and reacting to things in a way that did not make him look like he'd lost his mind. A pillar of calm, that was Ianto. But the city was still in shambles and his friends were still dead and his mind was so heavy with the weight of it and the exhaustion that maybe he wasn't able to think rationally, maybe he didn't want to have to think rationally.

So when Jack had called him into his office to ask Do you know what this is?, Ianto had replied, "It's Lorem Ipsum."

And Jack had raised an uncomprehending eyebrow, and Ianto had explained: "It's placeholder text. They use it on websites to see if the format works. It's based on Latin but isn't supposed to make any sense." He waved his hand at Jack's computer monitor – he was researching a new pharmaceutical company in Cardiff. You could never be too careful in this city. "The website isn't finished. They haven't put in the proper text yet."

And Jack's face had cleared, and he had laughed. "Oh," he'd said, leaning back in his chair and smiling up at Ianto. "I thought this thing was broken." And he tapped his wriststrap.

"Is that all you needed?"Ianto had asked, because he'd had mountains of paperwork from the cleanup efforts to sort out and his mind was still among the piles of documents, the lists and lists of the dead and missing and disintegrated.

And Jack had nodded, and Ianto had started to walk away, but he stopped about a foot from the door, his whole body going still and tight with the tiny little implosion in his head caused by the faint back-of-mind whisper that had echoed Jack's last words.

And Jack had looked up, concerned, and asked, "What's up?"

And Ianto had said Nothing and hurried away.

So now Ianto was standing out in the cold car park staring at his keychain and wondering where his car key could have possibly got to.

"You've been avoiding me."

He looked up. Jack was leaning against the driver door of his car, one hand tucked into his coat pocket, the other twirling Ianto's car key around his finger. The wind picked up, wrapping Jack's coat around his legs and lifting Ianto's out behind him like a cape. With nervous, freezing fingers Ianto started to do up the buttons. "I haven't."

He had. Because obviously the correct response had been to hide all day and leave coffee at Jack's desk when Jack was in the loo or bothering Gwen or mysteriously missing from his office.

"You have." Jack was still lounging against the side of Ianto's car, sardonic expression visible from where Ianto stood fifteen, twenty yards away, his arms wrapped around himself as if that would help him feel less cold or less embarrassed or less found out.

"I honestly don't know what you're talking about, Jack." He lifted his arm to look at his watch but didn't actually see the time. "Please give me back my key. We hardly ever get a night off and I'm exhausted."

Jack smiled, spreading his arms, key still dangling from his right index finger. "Stay with me."

Ianto frowned. He paused. His eyes stayed focused on the key shining in the streetlamps. "I'm going home."

Jack lowered his arms slowly, and Ianto had the distinct feeling that there had been a test somewhere in Jack's suggestion, and Ianto had just failed it with flying colors.

"Okay," Jack said. He tucked Ianto's key into his pocket. "What's going on?"

Ianto sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets and wished that Jack would not instigate these conversations in weather that was hovering just below zero degrees Kelvin. Or at all. That would work nicely. "Nothing, Jack. I'm tired and ridiculous and when I wake up tomorrow it won't have mattered."

"What won't?"

"Exactly. Give me the key."

Jack laughed, and behind the sound there was the tenseness of worry. Ianto's stomach bottomed out, because this was only going to get worse, and he was only going to look more ridiculous, and he honestly didn't know if he could take it standing in the cold and surrounded by the damaged city skyline, a reminder of the fact that he was so, so tired of standing up and moving and looking like he knew what he was doing.

He was not going to do this here. He was not going to do this anywhere. He was going to go home and fall into bed and sleep until his mobile rang and spend the drive to work arranging his face and his mind to make himself look like he wasn't staying together with loose stitches and sellotape.

Ianto was not going to fall apart in the middle of a car park because Jack asked him what Lorem Ipsum was.

But the struggle was written all over his face, and Jack was walking toward him now with the determination to touchtouchtouch because that was how Jack dealt with things like this, things he didn't fully understand yet but knew were going to be difficult. He needed to wrap them up in his arms and his coat and smother them enough to make them comprehensible, squeeze them until they became finite and compact and easier to examine.

Ianto stepped back and held up a hand. "Wait."

Jack stopped. He held his hands at his sides. He stared Ianto in the face.

"You called me into your office today," Ianto said. God, Jack's eyes were blue and deep and old and hard to meet. Why did this matter? Why was it so important? He was just tired. He was just exhausted and something had surprised him and now he just needed to not talk about it because he was going to look like an eight year old and he already felt four feet tall. "You asked me about something on the computer."

"Lorem Ipsum," Jack said, nodding. "Fake Latin."

Ianto grabbed Jack's wrist. "Listen to me." Ianto's fingers were indenting the leather wriststrap, gripping hard enough to leave marks on the skin beneath. He held Jack's eyes with his own, feeling his heart pound in his chest, almost certain that Jack could feel it, too, beating through his fingers, imprinting his fingerprints on the vortex manipulator. He took a breath. "Take off the strap."

Jack's eyebrows lowered, his expression quizzical and maybe a little nervous, maybe, but he reached out his other hand and pulled the buckles apart, letting the strap slip free in Ianto's hand. Ianto stowed it carefully in the pocket of his jacket, not moving his eyes from Jack's. Jack looked guarded as he stared back, his eyes only flicking for a split second to where the manipulator had gone.

Ianto took a breath. "What's my name?"

Jack frowned. "Ianto Jones."

"Where do we work?"

"Torchwood. Cardiff."

Ianto continued staring at him, face serious, severe, but still slightly frightened.

"Ianto," Jack said, slowly. "What's this about?"

Ianto cut his eyes away. He could feel something inside of him trembling, contracting, ready to explode or implode or do something awful and dramatic and not-him, not him the way Jack knew him, not steady or standoffish. "It's a translator," he said, his hand slipping slowly into his pocket, withdrawing with the manipulator held loose in his palm. "You never take it off."

Ianto hated the need in his voice when he said it. Ianto hated to need at all.

Jack blinked at him, lips parted slightly in thought, gears in his brain working with the rolling sound of a rollercoaster climbing the first hill. It caught, swayed, then plunged, and Jack took the manipulator and stuffed it back in Ianto's pocket. "I know English," he said, buttoning the pocket and withdrawing his hand, his voice and movement gentle. "I had to learn it when that thing broke. I haven't used it to translate English since I was first stranded here."

Ianto watched him with his mouth a thin pale line across his face. He could feel himself turning red. Shame, embarrassment, and the sheer effort required not to be running away right now did battle in his brain and stood out on his face. "I thought--" he said, but stopped, because he was never going to say anything ever again.

I thought that this was just one more thing that made you different from me, that kept me apart from you, all of these thin little layers of difference that move between us when we stand next to each other so that we aren't really standing next to each other at all. The idea that all this time you've been experiencing me through a filter, translating everything I say in my voice into your own language through your wrist strap like an accessorized babelfish made me want to run screaming into the night because I've been getting too comfortable and it's becoming too easy to pretend that any of this is important.

Jack reached out and pulled him in, the coat wrapping around him with the wind and Jack's arms wrapping around him to hold him there against Jack's chest, and Jack pressed his lips against Ianto's temple, and Jack cared about what Ianto had thought, and it was making so much harder to remember that none of it mattered.

"Ianto," Jack said. His voice was muffled by Ianto's skin and by his hair, and Ianto could almost read his lips by their movement against his forehead. "I know you're tired."

And Ianto lost it.

He sagged against Jack, his hands fisted in the fabric of Jack's shirt beneath his coat, his face pressed against Jack's chest and his eyes squeezed to tightly shut that it was painful. He was not going to cry in the cold in the car park into Jack's freshly laundered collar. But dry sobs wracked his body, spasming his shoulders, and Jack's hand closed over the back of his neck to keep him where he was, his other arm wrapping around Ianto's back.

"I'm sorry," Jack said. He was so quiet and still and this was a complete change of places, wasn't it? "I know. I know how hard this is. We're all feeling it. We're all--" We're all meant three people, now, not five, and this idea seemed to catch Jack in the middle of his thought, and he lost the sentence. He let out a breath. "I'm tired, too."

"It isn't an excuse," Ianto said. He was settling, his voice hitching slightly, but only enough to be noticeable. "I can't be like this, I can't act like this, I have to--"

"You don't have to do anything. You don't have to be anything." Jack held him a little tighter, and it might have been for force or it might have been for comfort, but Ianto couldn't tell the difference. "You're allowed to be tired. We're allowed."

Ianto pulled back, gently breaking Jack's hold on him. "I have to go home."

Jack nodded. He took the key out of his pocket and held it up. "Do you want me to drive you?"

Ianto shook his head. "Thank you, no." He reached out took the key, then moved around Jack and started toward his car.

"Ianto," Jack called, and Ianto stopped. He turned, and saw Jack looking at him, his hands in his pockets, his face uncertain, maybe a little anxious, his shoulders hunched slightly. He hesitated. "You're allowed--" he said, and stopped. He shook his head.

"Don't," Ianto said. His breath was quick, his hands shaking, and he didn't want to talk about this right now. He never wanted to talk about this.

Jack was frowning, an epic downward curve, and it was obvious that he didn't either, but he needed to. They needed to. "I don't want you to think like this."

Ianto put a hand over his eyes, just focusing on breathing, in, out. "Like what?" One of us has to say it.

Jack sighed. "I don't want you to think that what we have doesn't matter to me. That it can't matter to you."

It hurt less than Ianto thought it would, to hear the words actually out in the air. Like tearing off a sticking plaster. But there was still more that needed to be said, now, before he could drive away from the conversation.

"Self preservation, Jack," he said quietly.

"You don't need it." Jack was walking toward him, and Ianto turned toward his car rather than look at whatever expression could possibly be on Jack's face. A hand fell on Ianto's arm. "I need this to matter to you."

Ianto closed his eyes. He counted to five, lost count, and turned around. "I didn't ask for this."

"You don't have to ask."

"You don't need another thing that is going to end up hurting you."

"Neither do you."

Ianto surprised himself by laughing. The sound seemed to shake a little of the weight off of his chest. He put a hand on Jack's coat. "I suppose this means we're stuck like this, then. Everything eventual."

Jack set his forehead against Ianto's. "I'm willing to forget about eventualities. I've gotten really good at it."

Another shaky laugh. Ianto shook his head. "Come home with me," he said.

Jack smiled. "I thought you'd never ask."