The beginnings. Set during Small Worlds.
Disclaimer: I do not own Torchwood. Sigh.
"You shouldn't be here."
Ianto turned, not too quickly, to face his employer, file firmly in hand as a prop - some kind of theatrical proof that he was there for a reason.
A glimpse of a smile flickered past his lips when he replied "neither should you", and hurriedly stepped away from the awkward bubble that had begun to follow the two of them, smothering him if they talked for too long, too deeply.
He sat at the station he had been monitoring, the little meteorological oddities around Cardiff glowing red against a blue map. A strong, tender hand landed upon the back of his shoulder, flexing ever so slightly as Jack sighed above him. Ianto turned quickly, but he had no intention of shrugging Jack away. His flesh had automatically tensed, but apparently the Captain either hadn't felt it, or was ignoring it.
"What've you got?" he asked, not removing that hand. Ianto mirrored his sigh and stood up.
"Funny sort of weather patterns" he said, turning to Jack's troubled middling stare. That hand slid away, lightly brushing the gently flared bottom hem of Ianto's pristine blazer, before tucking back into deep grey slacks.
Jack turned away from him and spun on his heel, stepping down away from both Ianto and the direction of his office, and instead towards the waterfall obelisk - the glorious eyesore that was the centrepoint of their lair.
"Sir" Ianto began, taking one step closer but not daring any more. Jack stopped, and pivoted again, flashing a meaningless 'I'm listening' smile.
"Why… why didn't you just Retcon me?"
Jack sighed and allowed his head to loll heavily on his aching neck. It wasn't as if he hadn't thought of it. To get him out of Torchwood, away from the people he deceived, remove him as a threat to their operation - but mostly, despite himself, to rid the tortured boy of his pain. Broad Welsh shoulders are no match for that level of emotion in one so sensitive and so young.
"You want the honest answer? I don't know. And I hope you realise it's unlike me to take this kind of risk" Jack said sternly, staring Ianto down from beneath a severe brow, strolling slowly back towards him. Ianto nodded sheepishly, like a child being reminded of lesson hard learnt.
"Perhaps I should have. God knows you'd be better off. But you know what? You fought for this job. I don't know if the sole reason you stalked me was to get Lisa fixed, and I don't want to know. The test was whether you'd come back. If you hadn't, I probably would have found you and Retcon'd you, yeah. But you wanted to be here, and you're as messed up as the rest of us; perhaps moreso. You fit right in, at last."
Ianto knew he shouldn't smile, but he did. Just briefly, weakly, but it was there. A sense of belonging, and a renewed affection towards the Captain made him forget, for a while; the mention of his girlfriend's name, of the whole affair… of the way he acted that day. Desperation makes a man do strange things… and he did all of them in the space of a few hours, including nearly shooting his colleagues, his boss, and labelling Jack a monster. He was ashamed, and he was grateful that the whole team knew it.
He consciously straightened himself when Jack stepped up to face him eye to eye, as ever seeming more imposing despite the fact that they were the same height.
"Ianto, I can't apologise for what I- what we did to her. You know that."
"I can't apologise for trying to save her" Ianto replied, his voice a little hoarse, making Jack's chest tighten slightly.
"You shouldn't have to."
So Jack did understand. Ianto matched his stare and he saw loss in the Captain's stormy eyes; many lost loves, battle scars and unhealable wounds. This man was slowly starting to open up to him, in his way. Since the end of his suspension they had talked haltingly; not of Lisa and that day, but of Ianto's life whenever they had a few spare and silent few minutes. The things that couldn't be brought onto the screen in a matter of seconds, feelings that went beyond personal files. It was a sort of subtle therapy, Ianto supposed, passed off originally as a guilt that piqued his own sense of resentment - but not for long. Eventually he realised that Jack… cared.
"Thanks, Jack" he croaked, lowering his gaze to the general vicinity of Jack's top button.
"Hey, loving the informality and all that but I kinda liked the 'Sir' thing, too… maybe keep it for special occasions when I need a pick-me-up?"
Ianto met his eyes once more and the dazzlingly white Harkness grin was back, brightening up the dimly lit hub. He couldn't decide whether the glossy, flirtatious, all-American hero Jack was entirely a façade, carefully placed to mask several lifetimes of pain, or whether that was once the real him, and he fought to reclaim it every minute of the day. The Captain reached out and firmly squeezed Ianto's upper arm, releasing him from his stupor and bring a carefree smile to his lips - which, amazingly, he didn't have to force too hard.
"Of course. Let me know when you're needing an ego-boost."
Jack laughed. "Oooh I can't imagine a time when I'm short on ego!"
"Neither can I actually, that was a truly ridiculous statement" Ianto teased, his smile unconsciously broadening.
"Wow, Welsh kitty has claws! You wound me, Ianto Jones…"
Jack clasped a hand to his chest and pouted, earning a raised eyebrow and a melodic laugh that surprised them both. The Captain smiled affectionately at his young employee, murmuring "it's good to hear that sound, Ianto. A smile really suits you."
"Thank you, Si… Jack."
Jack casually circled him until he was standing with his chest to Ianto's back, a hand back on one arm, resting lightly so as not to spook him. Ianto stood perfectly still, inexplicably feeling the need to take a very deep breath.
"If you ever need to talk, you know where I am" Jack murmured, closer to his ear than Ianto realised he was.
"What about if you need to talk?" came the soft reply, a shy desire to repay the kindness his Captain had every right not to show him. He swivelled his gaze to find Jack staring at him with a distinct curiosity, as if nobody had ever made that kind of offer before.
"Well… I'll be in the same place, won't I?" he said with a little shake of his head and an incredulous smile.
"Good… well… maybe we can talk sometime, then." Ianto shifted a little uncomfortably, Jack's warm hand still wrapped firmly around his arm before it finally loosened, slid upwards and gently patted the back of Ianto's neck.
"You're a good man Ianto Jones, and lord knows we need more of those in this world" Jack said with an air of world-weary sadness, before he stepped deftly to the right and strode back to his office.
"Would you… like some coffee, Jack?" Ianto called after him, watching him sweep through the hub.
"That would be perfection, thank you" the Captain replied without turning or even stopping, disappearing into the gloom of his office and uncharacteristically leaving the door open.
Ianto simply stared for a few moments, able to see through the glass walls Jack fall heavily into his chair and fold his arms behind his head, lost in thought as he so often was. He could hold the deepest, most intellectually challenging conversation with a person and one still knew he was mentally off on different planets.
Ianto knocked on the open door; creature of habit and all that.
"You are a very finely tailored angel" Jack smiled, welcoming the steaming cup with both hands.
"I don't know how you do it Ianto, but you're a coffee wizard."
"I try my best" Ianto replied, with a genial smile.
"Feel free to pull one up" Jack indicated towards a stray chair, one of which Ianto slid towards the desk and sat upon, not feeling quite relaxed enough to recline.
"Is it really better to have loved and lost?"
Jack stared over the rim of his porcelain cup; Ianto's impassive expression suggested he'd just asked something as mundane as what the time was or who won last night's match.
"Now… why ask me?" he enquired, leaning back from the desk a little, as if that gave him more room to build up an extra barrier.
"Because… you must have done so more than once, I assume. And given recent events… I'm not so sure that particular worn-out proverb is always true."
"Nothing is always true" Jack replied, a sip of his powerful brew making his eyelashes flicker with pleasure.
"So, yes, you're right, I have loved and lost. And… I have wondered what the point is. But you can't control it… if you fall in love, you fall in love, and it doesn't matter who with if you're happy. If you're unfortunate enough to lose that person, your focus should be on the good times you shared, and the hope of finding another happiness in the future."
"You truly believe that?"
"I have to. There's no choice for me."
Ianto frowned, but chose not to enquire further on that particular line of thought.
"I find it hard to imagine falling in love again" Ianto murmured, gazing at anything other than Jack's attentive face. "Or even wanting to."
"Ianto, I have to ask… did you actually love Lisa at the end? The way you acted, that day… it was out of desperation, wasn't it? Desperation born of turning her back into the girl you loved, which she wasn't any more. You were clinging to her ghost. She died the moment the original conversion began… I think you know that."
Ianto's teeth were pressed painfully tight together as he fought the urge to spit some unnecessary retort. He forcibly reminded himself that Jack was trying to help… and what's more, he was right.
"I tried to love her… what she had become" he whispered. "I wanted her back."
Jack drained his cup and sighed, wishing Ianto was close enough for him to take both of his hands in his and kiss the palms; anything to soothe him, to show a little affection to a man who thought he had nothing left.
Jack found himself wanting to ask a dangerous question that he just couldn't stop himself from vocalising;
"Do you still want her back?"
Ianto's eyes snapped up at him, glistening with an anger than seemed to wane again almost immediately, and the shame set in once more.
"I don't know what I want. Everything is… hollow. There is no meaning."
Jack leaned across the desk and stared Ianto square in the face, his jaw set firm.
"You have your whole life ahead of you, y'know? Look… all I can offer you is a place in my team. You have acceptance, forgiveness, and friendship here. It probably doesn't seem like it at times, I'm aware of that… but it's true."
Ianto gazed disbelievingly at him, his boyish little mouth turned downwards at the corners. He looked… small, and damaged. Jack got up - to hell with barriers - and tugged Ianto onto his feet to hold him in a fiercely affectionate embrace. Hesitantly, Ianto placed his hands upon Jack's spine, and sagged into the hug, releasing a couple of tons of pressure as he sighed. Being held again felt so bloody good… it had been too long.
Jack squeezed tight and then broke away from him, slowly enough for Ianto to remember he had to hold up his own weight, and he clasped the young man's startled face between his hands.
"Listen to me… I'll do anything I can to help you when you need me. It's my job, and as I said… you're a good man. But you have to promise to help yourself too, do you understand? You have to want to be happy, and it sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but trust me, it doesn't necessarily happen that way - it takes work. So, do we have a deal?" he painted on his most hopeful smile and waited for Ianto's seemingly perpetual frown to melt away.
Ianto blinked a few times before nodding dumbly, not entirely sure what he was agreeing to. It seemed to satisfy Jack at least, who pressed his forehead to Ianto's before planting a single feather-light kiss to his lips, one that caused as much chaos in his own gut as in the Welshman's - so much so that he had to step away and attempt to wipe the startled-deer look from his face.
Ianto's blank expression remained before finally breaking into a truly beautiful smile; one of gratefulness and comfort.
"Now that is harassment" he said, and Jack helplessly laughed.
"I didn't see you fighting me off! Now go home before I do a lot worse to you. You've got me frisky now" he chuckled, shrugging it off as a joke.
Ianto sighed just one more time and plunged his hands into his pockets, offering Jack a smiling nod as he left. Jack's own smile melted away, watching Ianto cross the hub at his own pace, collect a few small things, and leave. He wished he knew a better way of comforting Ianto. He ached for the tortured child, and as Ianto stepped into the chill midnight air and smelt the sea, he ached for his Captain in turn; knowing, at least, that they would talk again soon.