Characters: Ianto, Adam, Jack, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, Rhiannon
Pairings: Jack/Ianto, with other pairings mentioned
Warnings: mentions of dubious consent, reliance on dubious logic, high woobie factor, creepy!memory!alien, AU (no "Exit Wounds"), very minor spoiler for "Another Life"
Beta: fide_et_spe and bookwormsarah
AN: This fell out of my head and was written in a day. Then my betas tidied it up.
He is four years old, and happy. Rhi is at school but Ianto is home all day long with Mam, helping her with the housework. He helps to fold the clothes and to stir the big pot for dinner, and she lets him watch cartoons. Dad's got extra hours at work and he's hardly ever here. When Rhi comes home from school, the three of them eat their tea together. Mam tells them stories, and gives them their bath, and shushes them to bed before the big door opens.
Part of his head pokes at him, scared of something, but he is warm and safe here, as Mam rocks him to sleep.
In the morning, he wakes up and eats his cereal while Rhi gets ready for school, Mam putting her hair into pigtails like every day. He watches Mam's hands shuffle each lock of dark hair, weaving the plaits. It's like magic.
"Now go play," Mam says, opening the back door for him to play in the garden. "Your best friend is home today."
Ianto frowns. "I want to stay in and help."
"Nonsense. It's beautiful outside." The door is wide open. The cat will get out, he thinks. Do they have a cat? As if called, a small white kitten mews at his feet. Ianto reaches down a small hand. Their cat had dark feet, he thinks, and sure enough, her little paws are dark. He must have missed it at first in the shadows.
"Go on," says Mam, and Ianto reluctantly goes outside to play. He has toys out here but they're never as much fun as other kids' toys. He picks one up, a small orange ball.
"There you are," says a voice. Ianto turns, sees another little boy of his age, with ginger hair and a big grin. "Do you want to play?"
"Suppose so." The child grabs his hand and they run deeper into the yard under the shade of the big trees. The little boy lives next door, Ianto remembers now. They like to make forts and play soldiers, and he is Ianto's very best friend. They settle under the biggest tree, which is their special hiding place.
"I bet I can climb to the top faster than you."
Ianto hesitates. The tree is tall, taller than he ever thought. He could fall.
"You'll be safe," the other boy says. "You're always safe with me. Remember?" He puts a friendly hand on Ianto's arm.
Adam grins and of course, Ianto remembers. He's always safe when Adam is around.
"Owen, any joy?"
"No," said Owen. "And before you ask again in two minutes, still no."
Jack tapped the railing nervously, noticed he was doing it, and put his hands in his pockets. From every angle, this was his fault, and he couldn't do anything about it except worry. He couldn't blame Rhys for mentioning at the wrong time, "Whatever happened to that Adam bloke?" Jack had been the one who had neglected to Retcon him in the first place. He couldn't blame Gwen for calling Jack immediately and explaining the problem. Things would have been far worse if that memory-altering bastard stayed crouching in Gwen's and Rhys's heads and the rest of the team hadn't been warned. Of course Jack hadn't been alone when he'd taken her frantic call.
Adam couldn't live in Owen's head anymore, even after Jack told him, couldn't alter his thoughts, but he could hide inside a memory when what they saw as his physical form was cornered by his former victims. It had just been a matter of who was closest when he leapt.
Ianto didn't look like he was asleep. The monitors Jack could see from here showed brain activity associated with long-term memory, not dreaming. Besides, Ianto only slept well curled on his side, not laid out like a corpse.
Jack moved from the railing. With Adam around, all their thoughts were suspect. If he was still in Jack's head somewhere, Jack didn't intend to give him the satisfaction of listening to the worry.
Her head bobbed up from her workspace. She pushed hair from her face, and for a moment, the worry seeped right back in. When they'd recovered their memories of the lost days, she'd found her own recollections highly upsetting. She was jumpy and ill at ease, and Jack had just shouted at her.
"Sorry," Jack said. "Any luck?"
They'd gone through the archives, cross-referencing anything on mind-control, memory, or dreams. Jack remembered (Ha!) an artefact that they'd found in the late '70s. Now Tosh was trying to get it to work and modify it to help. Her biggest problems were not knowing if it ever had worked properly (Jack recalled some tests but they couldn't track down what the results had been), if it could access the same parts of Ianto's brain that Adam was currently inhabiting (very big if), and if they could then use it to root him out (Jack trusted Tosh's abilities, but they were in the deep grass).
"Okay. You'll … "
"I'll let you know."
Jack nodded. Normally, he'd put a reassuring hand on her shoulder right now, but Adam got into people by touch. He was inside Ianto, and until they knew for sure that he was only inside Ianto, nobody was to come into close contact with anyone else except for their resident zombie.
That led Jack's attention back to the autopsy bay, where Owen was running every damn test he knew on Ianto.
"Don't ask," said Owen, when he noticed Jack watching.
He's eight, and the cast itches. "Don't stick things in there," says Dad, like he knows already about the pencils Ianto has been using to scratch. Mam doesn't say anything. She spends most of her time sitting in the rocking chair, watching the garden intently. Whenever a bird or a squirrel goes past the window, she holds her breath until it's out of sight. She let Ianto sit in her lap right after he broke his leg, but she says he's too big now, when she talks at all.
Rhi doesn't wear the careful plaits anymore. She's big enough to brush her own hair, and she's the one to nag Ianto to comb his, brush his teeth, wash his face, do his homework, go to bed.
"Leave your Mam alone," Dad says, and he goes back to watching the telly, unhappiness and guilt both radiating off him like fever. When he bothers with his children, Dad tells them what not to do. Don't bother Mam. Don't be so loud. Don't play in the house. Don't get dirty. Don't talk back.
Adam is here. He has a hand on Ianto's arm. He likes to hold hands but Dad says only sissy boys hold hands. "Can I sleep at Adam's house tonight?"
Dad makes a big frown. Mam turns from the window. "Of course you can, dear." Dad's frown smoothes out and he nods.
Ianto turns his head. He hobbles over to Mam and takes her hand. "Mam?"
Dad is going to stop him. Dad looks like he wants to say something, but his mouth opens and closes like in the silent movies he likes to watch and he doesn't make a noise.
"Go play with Adam, dear." Her face is calm, her eyes following a bird that swoops into view. The little white cat is meowing. They can let it outside when they go. But Ianto remembers the cat was hit by a car when he was seven; he cried and Dad shouted at him to stop crying.
Adam is beside him again, and the cat quiets. The cat is gone. There is no cat. "Let's go."
"Got it," Tosh said, excitement warming her voice. "It's definitely operational. I believe we can access the proper areas of the brain, but we'll have to run a test first."
Jack plopped himself into the chair beside her. "Test it on me."
"Can't," said Owen, coming up the stairs. "Your brain doesn't work like ours."
"On me, then," Gwen said from her station. "Tosh, you've got to run it. Owen can't go, and anyway he's dead so it probably won't work on him, either."
Jack said, "Are you sure? If we're wrong, it could fry your brain."
Gwen smiled. "Tosh, are you wrong?" Tosh shook her head. "Good enough for me."
Tosh positioned the device over Gwen's head. She asked, "Ready?"
"Ready." Gwen held still as Tosh accessed the controls. A moment later, Gwen let out a little laugh. "I'm four, my Gran is there. My grandfather just told a naughty joke."
"Ooo, which joke?" Jack asked, because it was expected of him.
"I'm typing now," said Tosh. "What do you see?"
"Nothing. Wait. Now Gran wants a sandwich. Goat's cheese."
"Good. I typed in 'goat's cheese.'"
"Why?" asked Owen.
"It seemed random enough to provoke a response. Changing the settings again."
Gwen's face went sad. "It's the day we moved to Swansea. All my friends are staying here." The grief and youth in her voice were raw and unfiltered.
"Now what do you see?"
"It's the same day. Nothing's changed."
"What about now?"
"Now … I don't know. It's like I'm being hugged."
"I typed a hug." Tosh turned the device off and helped Gwen out of it.
"Okay," Jack said. "Round one. It works. Now how do we use it to help Ianto?"
He's too little to know how old he is, but he holds up two fingers when Mam asks. She always smiles when he's right. Rhi doesn't want him to play with the dolls she has carefully arranged around the handkerchief she is using as a picnic blanket. He likes to run his fingers over their soft hair, even the soft hair gnarled in knots, but she slaps his hands and lets him play with her ponies. They smell like plastic and like mould.
There's another little boy in the room, toddling around, picking up toys and looking at them. Rhi doesn't notice him at all.
"Hi," says Ianto.
"Hi. This is boring."
Ianto looks down at the pony. Its tail is one six-inch-long snarl of blue and pink nylon. He likes the pony.
"I want to play with it."
"So play." Rhiannon is making her dolls chatter to each other. "Yes, Mrs Mayweather would love some tea, thank you." Ianto stares, trying to keep up with the train of conversation. There is one boy doll at the table, a shirtless Ken doll, all fake tan and wide smile and bright blue eyes. He is Mr Templeton. "Would you like some tea, Mr Templeton?" Rhi asks in her high-pitched playpretend voice.
"No," Ianto says, making his voice deep and weirdly accented. "I would like some coffee, please."
"You're not playing," Rhi says, pushing him away.
The other little boy grabs Ianto's hand. "Come on. Let's do something fun. We always play together. Remember?"
Ianto does, but he has trouble remembering what they play. He is too little to ride a bicycle, or climb a tree, or camp out in Adam's garden, but he remembers. He settles on a memory of playing at soldiers. He remembers taking the Ken doll from Rhi's room and making him be the general because he is so tall.
No. Mr Templeton should be the captain.
"Come on," says Adam. "Let's play."
"Nothing," said Owen. They could all see the same thing: no changes on the displayed brain scans, no visible changes in Ianto.
"What did you send?"
Tosh said, "I tried words he'd react to."
"Let me try," said Jack, reaching for the keyboard.
"I tried those words, too," said Tosh.
He's fifteen, and if he turns his head just so while he's at the front of the classroom, he can see right up Ashley Morgan's skirt, almost to the white of her cotton knickers. The trick is to look but not look like he's looking, a fast dart of his head but not too fast. School is a waste of time, but it's more trouble for him if he skives off than if he goes, and if he goes he can see girls.
Adam is sitting in the front row, his grin telling Ianto he knows exactly what view Ianto's got while waiting for his turn to talk to the teacher.
Ianto blinks and the class is over. Adam is walking beside him down the long, long corridor of the school, their arms brushing in tight camaraderie. "Ashley Morgan," Adam says, rolling her name slowly in his mouth. "I can't get enough of her, ever since that time when we both had her. Remember?"
Ianto's mouth goes dry, and he nods hard. He remembers Ashley's brown curls on her pillow, and her tight black curls as she spread her legs for him and again for his friend. The memory spikes through him, hot and vibrant, and he falls against a wall, panting.
"Sorry about that," says Adam, helping him stand. "I didn't know it affected you so much." He glances around, concerned.
"Still nothing," said Owen.
"What if we sent someone in?" asked Gwen.
Jack said, "Into his brain?"
"Get a second device. Hook them up." Gwen waved her hand. "It's Torchwood. We've done stranger things."
"We don't have a second device," said Tosh.
"Do we have something similar?" Jack asked, more to himself then the others. They'd already looked through the records, but Jack had been present for hundreds of retrievals. Surely there was something he could remember, if only he could think. The worry crowded his thoughts. If Adam was listening, Jack hoped he was getting a good laugh.
"No," said Tosh.
"Yes," said Owen, and he hurried up the stairs. From above them, they heard mutters and cursing and the beginnings of a mess Jack was only too happy to consider if it meant Ianto sitting up to complain.
Ianto stayed still, strapped as he was to the table in case whatever did get up wasn't him. Adam had been able to make them think things, do things. He'd coerced Toshiko into his bed, destroyed Owen's personality, stolen Gwen's memories of Rhys, and warped Ianto into a killer. He could turn them on one another, turn them on the world if he desired, and they'd never know. Jack would gladly sweep Ianto into his arms, but he couldn't risk anyone else's life until he was positive that danger was past.
Owen returned with a helmet.
"That's your gaming helmet," said Gwen.
Tosh took it, and her lips were moving. Jack could see the plans working their way inside her mind, even if she wasn't speaking to them just now. "Tosh?"
"You'd be flying completely blind," she breathed. "I can't work out a way to make Ianto's memories be the environment, but you'd have an avatar in there with him."
She bolted to her station to get to work.
Jack bent down beside Ianto. He didn't dare touch him. Jack flicked his glance to Gwen, who gave a quick nod and went upstairs after Tosh. Owen returned to his work at the far side of autopsy and pretended not to be listening.
Jack wanted to say all the right things: come back, don't give in, fight him, he's not real. He said in a whisper, "I'm sorry."
He will be twenty-six next month, but he tries not to think about it. Too many Torchwood employees don't live to see thirty. He knows Jack has this balancing act mastered, can keep himself from thinking about things that aren't, or can't be, and by not thinking about them, they happen. Jack is master of many things, and at this moment, he's sublime at making Ianto resent absolutely everything about him.
Jack's clothes are strewn over the small floor in his bunker. Ianto is shrugging back into his trousers.
"You're making too big a deal of this."
A number of replies come to him, but none is biting or witty enough. He settles for silence, stuffing his tie into his pocket and buttoning his shirt. It'll do to get him home. "I'll see you in the morning."
He climbs up the ladder and out, not letting Jack call him back, not wanting to deal with this anymore. He's almost out of the Hub, almost out the door, but Adam's there, and so much for his unseen escape.
"No. Nothing." Ianto knows how he looks. His mouth is sore and his throat is raw. He wiped his face with his hand, but has a bad feeling there's still a trace of semen drying to a crust on his cheek. God. Owen's the only one who calls him the office whore to his face, but he's sure the others must think the same.
"There's nothing shameful about a little lovers' spat," Adam says. He coaxes Ianto onto the sofa, and sits down beside him. "Care to talk about it?"
"I'd rather not." How could he ever explain this, even to Adam? Jack's past, his future, they complicate things, and some nights Ianto just wants to pretend this is a normal relationship, right up until the point Jack says or does something that reminds Ianto it never can be. He is at best a momentary distraction, a number on Jack's long list and a name he won't remember.
Adam seems to understand. "It's not easy being in love with someone like that. His life is so vast, and yours is, well, this." Adam glances around the Hub. It's dark, and shabby, and everyone dies young.
Ianto tries a weak protest. "I'm not in love with him. It's just sex."
"You are," said Adam. "But you can get past him. You know he doesn't feel the same way. That he never will."
"Why would I?" asks Jack, leaning over the railing from the catwalk. Ianto didn't hear him come up, and his voice is strange. "You run away from my bed, and now you're blubbering on the sofa?" There's a sneer on his face, but his voice has a long-suffering note, as if he's saying to Adam, "You see what I put up with?"
"Let's go," Adam said, taking Ianto's arm and pulling him up. "You're not appreciated here. I'm the only one who's always been there for you."
He wraps an arm around Ianto, leading him out to the cogwheel as Jack makes a disgusted noise in his throat.
Ianto did slink home, but Jack followed him, and went inside his flat with him, and they talked. Ianto was hurt, and Jack was afraid that all he would ever bring Ianto was hurt, and then Jack's mobile rang.
"No," says Adam, loudly. They're on the Plass. It's night, and the air is full of stars despite the streetlamps and light pollution. "You and I are going back to your flat, and we'll commiserate like we always do about bad choices we've made in our love lives."
Ianto could see the story unwinding before him: he and his lifelong friend sharing a few beers and tales from a lot of bad relationships, and Adam will lean in and kiss him, and Ianto will resist at first, thinking they'll ruin their friendship, then kiss him back. It's midnight, but by sunrise, they'll finally be making love like they've been meant to their whole lives. The memory of what has yet to happen bursts behind his eyes, so vivid he can feel Adam's strong hands on his hips, Adam's first thick, blunt thrust into his body.
Ianto pulls away. It's still night, he's still outside, he can still taste Jack on his tongue. "I just want to go for a walk," he says. "Clear my head. I'll ring you in the morning."
Adam takes his arm again. "I'll go with you. It's not safe, walking alone this late."
Ianto almost laughs. He has a gun and the training to use it, and he's angry at his lover and the world. He is the most dangerous thing out here tonight, and he knows it.
Even as he draws breath to speak, he sees a rough-looking gang come onto the Plass, heading their way.
"Uh oh," says Adam, sounding anything but surprised. "Let's take them, like in the old days."
But that's not right. They didn't get into fights in the old days. Ianto ended up on the worse end of a couple of scraps, sure, but he stayed out of trouble because he'd catch hell from Dad if he got wind Ianto'd been fighting. He doesn't remember Adam wading in to help.
Adam's face twists. Then he deliberately reaches out and grabs Ianto's arm again. This time, he says nothing. He doesn't need to. Ianto hears the screams of the girls in his mind.