This is it. The last chapter. Hope you have all enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster. Thank you to all who've left a review, or favourited, or put this on alert. Your support means the world. I am working on... not a sequel, as such, but a post-Countrycide story that directly references events from Maelstrom. Look for it sometime next week, hopefully. It won't be nearly as long, though. Sorry.
He looked about his bedroom. It was neat, tidy. Clean. Devoid of all womanly touches. A masculine room, for a single man. It hurt. God it hurt, like rats and knives. He missed her so much. She would never again stand in the doorway, Mae West style. Never again lay across their bed, Marilyn Monroe-esque. Never be soft and sweet in his arms, responding to his every move. She was gone. Had been gone for far longer than the one month since all hell broke loose.
Seven months. Seven months of lying to himself. Of hiding a monster. Of deceiving the team. Of deceiving Jack. He'd lied to them and to himself. He'd lied to her. Made her suffer. Made them suffer. No more. It was time to move forward. Start again.
So hard. They would hate him. They did hate him. No contact. None. Not even Owen, beyond the first night. Only Jack. Was it orders? Could be orders. Could just be they didn't want to see him. Didn't want anything to do with him. He'd called Jack a monster. But he was wrong. He was the monster, for nearly killing them all.
But he would make it up to them. He would work hard. Earn their trust. He knew he was needed there. The Hub was a disaster when he first walked in. Nobody cared for the work area. Nobody cared about the residents. Nobody cared about the Archives and the artefacts. Nobody cared. Except Jack.
Jack cared. He cared about the pteranadon. Myfanwy, they called her. He cared about the Weevils. He cared about the team. He cared about Ianto. He knew now that it was caring that made Jack shoot. It was caring that stopped Jack from shooting him. From retconning him. Could be penance. Probably was penance. But also care. He knew that now.
He had so much trust to make up. The lies and deceit. Their relationship. The sex. The words. Christ, the words. Never again. Why did he say that? Why? Lower than low. The worst thing ever to say. Wrong. So wrong. He was wrong. He was right. No, Jack was right. Right to kill her - it. Not Lisa. Not any more. She was gone. He had to remember. Long gone. Time to move forward.
He straightened. Reached into his wardrobe and pulled out a suit. Dark grey, subtle stripe. No waistcoat. White shirt. Sombre tie. He was still in mourning. Couldn't wear black, though. Slap in the face. Their faces. No. Dark, but not black. Mourn, but not hard. Remember. He needed to make a good impression. Make them see he was serious about his return. He needed them. They needed him. He needed Jack - them.
He checked the bathroom. Made sure all was in order for the morning. His alarm. Did he set it? Had to be early. Couldn't be late on his first day back. Needed to make a good impression. Even if they didn't notice him. Didn't deserve to be noticed. Should be ignored. Deserved to be ignored.
One last coffee. No. Tea. Coffee. Tea was Lisa's drink. Coffee. He walked to the kitchen, eyes straying to the photo on the mantel. The only thing left of them both. Sitting on the blanket, under the sun. Bunny ears behind his head. Wine in hand. Big smiles. It hurt to look at it. He needed to look at it. Had to remember. Needed to remember.
Coffee. Water, grounds, cafetiere. Jug. Boil water. Moving without thinking. Good. Automatic. Grounds in cafetiere. Hot water. Sit. Watch. Press. Pour coffee.
He turned and leaned against the counter. He was good. Not good. But better. Better than he thought he would be. He still hurt. Like a son of a bitch. Pain so raw. But better, yeah.
A knock at the door startled him. He looked at his watch. It was late, much later than he thought. Eleven. Who? Right. Jack. Who else? Why? He was coming back. It was known. Agreed. No retcon. No killing. Back to Torchwood. Why was Jack there?
He opened his door. The man himself stood with one hand in his pocket, the other holding a large envelope.
He stared at him. What did he say? Should he be polite? Should he be rude? Not say anything? God. Just thinking about their last moments together - the bastard shot him down. It might have been the right thing to do, but surely… surely he could have found some other way? Kinder? Or could that sort of rejection ever be kind? He could feel rage building again. This wasn't good. He didn't want to be angry. He needed to keep calm, but still. He was so angry. Not about Lisa. Not any more. Angry about them. What could have been. What was. What should have been.
He lashed out and hit him before he could think any further. The blow was solid, harder even than that awful night. Jack staggered back, hitting the far wall hard. He made no move to defend himself, other than to touch his lip with the back of his hand. Hell, one hand was still buried in his coat.
They stared at each other. No words. Words all gone. Just like Lisa. Gone. Shit. Why did he do that? The bastard deserved it. No. Even if that were true, it was no way to start rebuilding trust. God. Jack was going to kill him. It would be only fitting. He braced himself for a blow that never landed.
"You have one hell of a right hook, Ianto." Rueful. Apologetic? Why? What did he have to apologise for? It was Ianto who owed all the sorry's in the world. Sorry wasn't even enough. Never good enough. Loyalty. Trust. Sorry. Anger. Still angry. Shouldn't be angry, yet he was. He felt good about hitting Jack. Liked seeing the pain on his face, the split in his lip, the blood on his chin. Liked to know that it was him. He was the one who did that.
"What do you want? Come to finish the job?" Defiant. Shit, shouldn't be defiant. Couldn't help it.
"No. Can I come in? Please?" Jack was asking. Pleading. Waiting for permission. A whole month and this was the first time. Why?
He stood aside, opening the door wider, scared to open his mouth. Jack moved forward, stopping awkwardly in the kitchen door.
"Back to work tomorrow. You, ah… you looking forward to it?"
"Why are you here, Jack. What do you want?"
A sigh. Jack held out the envelope, holding it still until he took it. He looked at it curiously. No markings. Nothing to indicate the contents.
"What's this? A P45? You going to retcon me after all?" Cynical. Stupid. Why would he ask that? Jack just asked him if he was looking forward to returning. Was he trying to get killed?
"No. Open it. It's something for you. I thought… Just open it, please."
He looked at the envelope again. Thin. Probably only one item. Not what he dreaded, then. What though?
His fingers trembled as he slipped them under the flap. The glue was tight. Fresh. He struggled a bit, finally freeing the opening. He peered inside. As he thought, just one piece of paper. A photo. He tipped it out. His breath caught. His knees buckled. He managed to put the photo down on the counter as he slid to the floor.
"Shit! Ianto, you okay?" Concern. Jack was kneeling down in front of him. He looked worried.
"Lisa… it's Lisa." He tipped his head up, towards the photo on the fridge. He didn't look right at it. Couldn't look right at it. He needed to remember her, but the blood and creases, they marred her perfection. Like the metal marred her skin.
"Yeah. I saw the damage-"
"When? When were you in here?" Anger. Still so much anger.
"I was watching you. I thought you were leaving. I had to check." An answer. Not an answer. Typical Jack. Only say the very minimum. Never enough.
"When?" Adamant. He needed to be firm. Had to know. Didn't Jack see that? Lies and half-truths. They couldn't do that. If Ianto was to trust Jack - if Jack was to trust Ianto - then it needed to be all or nothing. And nothing wouldn't work. Not with Torchwood. Not for them.
"Wednesday. You carried boxes out to your car. A lot of them."
"Oh." The day he gave away Lisa. Lisa's things. Fresh start. Fresh pain.
"Yeah. I was sc… worried. Came in while you were out. Saw that you cleaned out some things. I noticed the photo on my way through the kitchen."
"Huh? It's on the fridge. How else?"
Eye roll. Familiar. Felt weird. Felt good. "No. How did you fix the photo? It's still on the fridge. You didn't take it with you."
"Oh. No. Couldn't. You'd have noticed."
He nodded. That was the truth. Even if he never looked directly at the picture on his fridge, he was acutely aware of its presence. If it disappeared, he would know.
"I scanned it." Jack held up his wrist, indicating the large leather band. Handy. Wonder what other marvels it could manage? He'd always been curious about the bloody thing. Never far from Jack. Never.
"Are you okay? You want to look at the picture now?" Jack stood, hand on the counter where the envelope and photo lay.
He thought. Part of him wanted to hit Jack again. Hard. The rest of him, though, knew he should accept the gesture for what it was; a gift, made in good faith. For all that Jack was letting himself into his flat when he wasn't there. Bastard.
He nodded again. He was ready. He stood slowly. Still dizzy. Lack of decent food, probably. And shock. Definitely shock. He looked down at the counter. At the photo. It was bigger than the original. Brighter. No creases, no blood, no tearstains. It was perfect. She was perfect. It was a picture that deserved to be in a frame. He carefully slipped it back into the envelope. He didn't want to risk it.
"Thank you. It's…" Words failed. He never ran out of words. He may not speak much, but if called on, he always had something to say. Even if it was only 'no'.
"She was beautiful, Ianto. You should remember her like this. Always like this." Soft.
"Yeah." He wanted to reach out. Make a gesture. Didn't think he could. Or should. Shake Jack's hand? No.
"I should go. I'll see you tomorrow?" Still so careful. Were they to be like this always? Tentative. Soft. Cautious. Hesitant. God, he hoped not. It wasn't the Captain, and it wasn't him. He wanted it how it used to be. Probably not the flirting. That was over. Maybe… no, not likely.
"I'll show you out." Formal. Pained. He didn't like it. Didn't know what to do to change it.
They walked to the door. The silence was loud. He felt as if somebody was screaming at full volume, drowning out all sounds. They reached for the handle at the same time, both pulling back as if scalded. Not good. Not natural. He opened the door quickly, desperate for Jack to leave. He couldn't stand the tension.
Jack walked out, then turned to face him from the hallway. He stared. There was a look on his face he'd not seen for at least a month. Desire, hesitant and tentative, as if testing the waters. It was shocking. It was wonderful. Why? Why now? After Jack's last visit, those hateful words, he thought he would never see anything like this again.
"I lied." It was mesmerising, watching the man speak. Even with a split, bloody lip.
"Pardon?" He was confused. What did Jack mean, he lied? Could it be?
"When I was here last. With you. I lied when I said I didn't want you anymore. I do. I will always want you, Ianto. It's not gonna happen tomorrow, or next week. But I think we can get it back. If you want to, that is."
His heart was thumping. Beating fit to burst right out of his chest. He wanted Jack. He knew it now. Knew he couldn't just step back into the same routine as before. But to know he could have it back eventually, when trust was in place. That was good. Better than good.
He couldn't say anything. He could only nod. It was enough.
"Good. See you tomorrow." And he was gone, just like that. A big smile, a flirty wink, then nothing.
He let out a breath. Force of nature, was Jack. But he wouldn't have it any other way.
He stood in the dark hall, nervously straightening his tie and tugging on his jacket. First time. In a month. It was like starting the job all over again. First day nerves. Like a new school. Only one where he knew all the other students. Like he moved away and came back. From prison or some such. The new kid, redeemed, with a terrible reputation to move past. Murder.
The heavy wheeled door rolled open, exposing the Hub proper. As he thought, rubbish and debris littered the place. Looked like somebody attempted to clean. A large black bin bag was just inside the door. He stepped through, intending to pick it up and start tidying. A movement from above caught his eye.
He looked up, towards Jack's office. He was there, with Gwen. It was obvious they were talking about him. They were both looking down. Gwen turned back to Jack, but Jack ignored her. He simply stared back at Ianto. His lip was marred with a dark line. He felt a little bad now. It looked better than it should. Jack should have a fat lip and bruising to his face. But it was just a cut, and looked a week old already. Weird. One more thing to enter into his mental list of Jack's oddities.
Their eyes caught and held. He nodded. It was acknowledgement of everything. The betrayal, the guilt, his care during his suspension, the hits - even the attempt at sex. Jack dipped his head in return. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start. They could do this. Move forward. Rebuild and regain.
And maybe, just maybe, grow close once more.