Jack couldn't do it. It wasn't wouldn't, as the Master seemed to believe, it was couldn't. He'd been bracing himself for this moment, for he was not a stupid man, and he knew the Master knew everything about him but no mental preparation was strong enough. Nothing would ever be enough.
Ianto lay, bound and gagged, half curled into the foetal position, on the floor of Jack's cell. He was shirtless, painfully thin and Jack's fists clenched to see the deep blue-purple of heavy bruising on his ribs and back. He looked exhausted, frail and so, so young.
Of course Jack had known this moment was coming. It had been 6 weeks since he had been told by the Master, who didn't attempt to disguise the note of glee in his voice, that Toshiko had been killed in Japan, trying to save her family. It had been a month since Owen had been shot in front of him, captured just a few miles away from Toshiko as he took over what she'd been trying to do. It had taken the end of the world as they knew it to bring those two together.
The Master gave Jack regular reports on everyone important in his life, and from these he knew Gwen and Rhys hadn't yet been caught. But the way the Master spoke, Jack was fairly sure they were under constant surveillance. He only hoped they knew they were, and didn't try anything. And there was never any word of Alice or Steven. Whether this was intentional, to introduce doubts and fears into Jack's mind about their safety, or whether their false identity was strong enough, he didn't know.
But he knew that Ianto would be brought here. And while he didn't know exactly what was going to happen, he had expected something along the lines of this.
The Master had got bored with physically torturing and killing Jack, at least for the moment. This was the next stage.
Jack knew what he should do. His right hand had been untied, though he was still chained from both ankles and his left arm to prevent him from leaving. Held limply in that right hand was a gun.
He could take the gun and shoot Ianto now, before he regained consciousness. He'd die a quick and relatively painless death... at Jack's hands. But by doing this, Jack would be saving him from months of torture and pain – for the Master was an expert in both, and knew exactly what he was doing. Not shooting Ianto was condemning him to a long-winded, drawn out and incredibly painful death at some point in the next months. Shooting him meant he'd die here and now, quickly and painlessly. But his blood would be on Jack's hands. And Jack couldn't live with that. Could he?
With a clang that echoed round the small room, Jack dropped the gun on the floor, and stretched his now empty hand out towards Ianto. He wanted to hold him, comfort him, protect him, protect him from the Master, protect him from everything, protect him from the torture Jack had now imposed on him...
Because Jack was a coward.
How long he sat there, staring at Ianto, he didn't know. But when Ianto began to stir, he knew it was his last chance to save him from some degree of pain. He knew what he should do. And he knew what he was going to do.
He was still staring at Ianto when the Master entered, flanked by several guards, an unknown period of time later.
Jack ignored the Master's jibes, nothing he could say would affect Jack now, because as the Master walked in Ianto finally awoke, and looked up at Jack, before catching sight of the Master. He quickly ducked his head in fear and deference, but not before Jack caught sight of the pure terror in Ianto's eyes.
Ianto, who faced down hostile aliens and argued with UNIT leaders without ever showing the slightest hint of anything other than cool-headed confidence, Ianto who risked his life daily to save the human race, Ianto who Jack loved, loved with all his heart, even if he'd never said it, Ianto who now lay cowering on the floor in complete terror of the man in front of him...
And while the Master's words didn't reach through Jack's befuddlement of guilt and pain, his cold, cruel laugh did, as did his order to have Ianto removed from the room, and how he spoke to Ianto as he was pulled roughly to his feet, explaining what Jack had done (or what he hadn't done). And all these things were bad, but the worst was seeing Ianto's face.
Because Ianto's eyes, his expressive Welsh grey eyes, the eyes Jack loved to look into and lose himself in, his eyes held nothing but understanding, compassion and forgiveness.
Jack didn't deserve to be forgiven.
He watched silently as Ianto was dragged away from him, fighting inside himself to switch off, to shut out the world and ignore everything and turn away from it all.
Ianto's desperate screams of agony echoed down the metal corridor.