- Work in Progress
- Abuse - Child
- Dark Themes
- Death - Minor Character
- Discussion - Suicide
- Dubious Consent
- Suicide - Attempted
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Action Adventure
Prologue: Third Time Unlucky
The first time it happened, he was too young to fully grasp what it meant – this certainty that all of a sudden a part of him was simply gone, leaving behind a wound that, with time, would scab over, but never fully heal. All he knew was that She was no more and he was well and truly alone.
He didn’t expect to find another one like Her-who-wasn’t-anymore; never even thought to hope. But it happened anyway.
Connecting to his One had been as simple as breathing, even though he’d later strive and fail to understand how it had been possible without either of them really knowing what they were doing. Inexplicably, miraculously, it had worked, and with Her by his side he began to build a life again around that empty place in his chest where She used to be.
He should have known that it couldn’t last.
When he lost his One, too, he was devastated on so many levels at once that all he could accomplish was to keep his body functioning. Each act of drawing air into his lungs and exhaling it suddenly became a battle between a part of him that desperately clung to existence and that other voice urging him to let go. To just fall into the darkness that had been beckoning him since he’d been so very young. But he kept on breathing, in and out, in and out; a hundred, a thousand, million times, until there was a world again beyond his own anguish.
Opening up to this world, however, nearly succeeded in fully breaking him. Too many memories poisoning the present; dreadful monsters hiding in bright daylight. He fought against the encroaching fog, but didn’t have any strength left to speak of. It nearly ended there and then. But, just as he was sure it would finally devour him, his Guardian Angel pulled him back from the edge. If he had foreseen what it would come to in the end, he would have given up sooner. However, back then he had still had a trace of hope tucked safely away and so he had held on and welcomed the rescue, so grateful for yet another chance to live. Maybe this time he would get it right, keep them safe from blood and carnage.
He really should have known better than that.
It took less than two years to shatter his world for a third and final time. His Guardian Angel was as lost to him now as those precious other two that had come before and he was left open and bleeding, his life force leaving him bit by bit, much slower than it had happened for Her but just as inexorably.
Though the red stains on the concrete floor had been scrubbed away with bitter tears and bleach, in his mind’s eye they were still there, strengthening his resolve with every passing glimpse. It would not happen again.
Three brilliant lights had been snuffed out; three pieces of his very being ripped away. Soon, he would join Them in oblivion, unknowing and uncaring. Soon, but not quite yet.
The heavy hand on his shoulder and the quiet sobbing to his side still connected him to the here and now, binding him to this world of duty. He would hold on a bit longer for them; let time pass and fade away unnoticed. Until there would finally be silence.
Chapter One: You Dream, I Go
Ianto allowed himself a small weary sigh as he collected the used mugs from around the Hub. There was no denying it any longer – with every day it was getting a little bit harder to keep his team mates’ emotions out. He was going to have to work in the archives more often or it would be over too soon. The irony of this situation wasn’t lost on him; not too long ago he had worked equally as hard to let them in, to break with a habit of a lifetime and let down his guard. How quickly some things changed.
He was just glad his workplace was so spacious (the pterodactyl flying over head would certainly agree) or he would have had to admit defeat a while back. Whenever he was in a confined space with Jack and Gwen for longer than a few minutes, he had to focus very strongly on fortifying his defenses. Still, every now and again things slipped through and he had to fight even harder to close off the breach.
Thankfully, he didn’t seem particularly sensitive where their new medic, Delilah Watson, was concerned. Jack had taken her on surprisingly quickly after … After. The quietness in their underground cavern had made it too easy for everyone to get lost in their grief, so an additional voice was the prescribed medicine. Delilah had been working in the University Hospital when she caught the Captain’s eye during their latest string of Weevil attacks five weeks ago. Her quick reactions, calm, no-nonsense personality and open-mindedness had appealed to Jack and he had asked Ianto to hold off on the Redcon for a few hours and check out her background first. Ianto had found only exceeding marks, glowing references and no close family ties, so Jack hadn’t hesitated. She had settled in well; more often than not, hers and Gwen’s chatter could be heard over the humming sounds of the Hub’s machinery, making it that little bit easier to come in to work for all of them. However, all in all, Ianto hadn’t spent much time with her so far and that probably contributed to how little of her emotional state registered with him. Just some surface impressions that never pushed into his safety zone like the two others’ did on a regular basis now.
With Jack, it was especially trying (Naturally, Ianto couldn’t help but add to his internal musings.) He and Jack had gotten used to touching and comforting each other over the course of the last year. Now Ianto could hardly look him in the eyes. Jack seemed to have very strong mental defenses himself and knew how to use them. However, when he had started to confide more and more in his loyal assistant and archivist, he had also – unconsciously, Ianto presumed – lowered his barriers. Or perhaps Ianto had simply gotten ‘tuned into’ him somehow. He had always had a very good understanding of his Captain’s emotional state and this awareness had only grown with time. Ianto used to treasure this closeness to the other man, but after his world had tumbled into chaos yet again and left him so vulnerable, every strong emotional reaction from Jack suddenly threatened to overwhelm him.
He knew Jack was in his quarters right now, probably making another attempt at sleeping, or at least resting. It was only late afternoon but both Gwen and Delilah had been very insistent in him leaving his post for a few hours. Jack had looked rather exhausted these last couple of days. Ianto was sure he hadn’t slept at all since before…since before. So he had slipped a light sedative in with Jack’s last mug of coffee while the two women tried to persuade him to at least have a nap. Ianto knew from personal experience how much it took to convince people with that caliber of nightmares to close their eyes for longer than a few seconds. Ianto’s own nights were haunted by all those who were no more and he would much rather be knocked unconscious than succumb to the demons awaiting him in natural sleep.
Ianto used to be able to offer his lover some comfort on the rare occasion that Jack had fallen asleep in his presence, just to wake up screaming and begging. Now, even the emotions pouring off him during his wakeful brooding could make Ianto’s knees weak from exhaustion. If Ianto had had any strength to spare, he would at least try to console with words or little gestures of understanding like he had restricted himself to in the very beginning of their tenuous relationship. But these days, he was hardly able to pass his teammates coffee without coming dangerously close to a meltdown. Just the other day, Gwen had been staring at a photo of the old team, all five of them laughing and joking after a night out at a karaoke bar when her hand had touched his while she absentmindedly received her full cup from him. Her grief had washed over him, torn through his shields like a flood wave and left him shaking buried deep in the archives for the remainder of the day. He had taken to wearing gloves whenever remotely justifiable after that.
He hadn’t touched Jack since… Then. Not felt his warm lips on his or his strong arms around him. Not that Jack hadn’t attempted to resume the more hands-on part of their relationship. Jack’s own traumatic experiences at the hands of his former lover (Ianto still cringed when he had to draw this connection between the two ex-Time Agents, but it helped towards keeping his distance) and his long-lost brother had made his advances more timid than ever, his vulnerability shining through every aborted sentence and hesitant gesture. But contrary to popular belief, Jack was able to read people’s level of acceptance rather well and knew when to hold back. And Ianto had projected his need for space very clearly with stiff shoulders and polite, meaningless smiles. In very dire moments, when he his desires threatened to overwhelm his rational thought, Ianto even resorted to calling him ‘Sir’ again in a decidedly non-flirtatious tone. He also often managed to leave shortly after Gwen and Delilah, so his usual excuse of “not during work hours” couldn’t be circumvented. In truth, Ianto yearned for Jack’s touch, craved his warmth to fend off the growing numbness in himself. But he knew that he would not be able to keep his hard-fought equilibrium if he let himself be touched like that again.
Wistfully, Ianto let his hand linger on Jack’s desk, automatically straightening pieces of stationary and bits of paper. He caressed the leather of Jack’s chair, its smell bringing back fond memories of him and Jack and closed blinds. The Captain would be sitting behind his desk, lifting his eyebrows suggestively. Or just watching Ianto by the door who was giving a short summary of the day’s agenda while calculating at what point in the evening he would have finished his numerous chores around the Hub and could finally join Jack in his quarters. And then there had been other times, when Jack hadn’t been patient enough for Ianto to actually reach the end of his list and Ianto had always had just been as eager to make full use of the office furniture beyond their usual employment.
To feel Jack’s callused hands slide over his bare back again.
To smell their combined scents, musky and fierce.
To taste Jack’s skin and lips and passion…
With a start, Ianto found himself back in an empty office, his body warm with arousal. Quickly, he forced those sensations down and chided himself for his carelessness. He mustn’t let his emotions get away from him like that. He needed to stay calm and closed off to his surroundings and the memories connected to them or it would be over too soon.
Really, he ought to leave, go where strangers didn’t place as much strain on his defenses as the remaining members of Torchwood Three did. He was reasonably strong still; he would probably hold out for much longer then, if he just… stayed alone. But how could he, when his only reason for holding on in the first place was Team Torchwood – Jack and Gwen and the work they were doing. That was why he stayed. He would endure their grief and pain until it passed back into the shadows with him.
Jack’s longing stare had already turned from confusion to wounded anger and soon he would redirect his attentions elsewhere. Maybe the new doctor would distract him for a while. He himself would be gone soon, Ianto rationalized and hastily stamped out a spark of jealousy, and Jack would need someone to take care of him then.
A last look around Jack’s office assured him that everything that needed it had been straightened. He became aware that his head had started aching again, nothing too serious, just a low pressure that had been bothering him on and off for the last week or so. He assumed it came from too much time spent around his team mates today and he resolved to stay in the archives more often. It didn’t help that in his rare hours of sleep, Jack’s nightmare-induced emotions were particularly strong and hard to keep out. Right now, Jack was probably, begging and crying out in his sleep, his legs tangled up in his sheets, pain twisting his features. If Ianto could only lighten his burden a little, make his dreams less haunted and dark …
Without warning, the uncomfortable pressure turned into a sharp stab, slicing through Ianto’s walls with a scalpel’s deadly precision.
And all there was and ever would be was the suffocating blackness of his own grave.
How long were they gonna go on like this before things would go to hell again, Gwen wondered not for the first time while pretending to sort through the seemingly never-ending backlog of paper-work. How long until Jack’s horrible experiences or Ianto’s detachment or her own barely suppressed doubts concerning her future with Torchwood would cause everything to blow up in their faces? Sooner rather than later, she deduces, when she heard a crashing noise from Jack’s office and leapt up from behind her desk.
At Jack’s door she hesitated for a moment, not wanting to interrupt anything intimate between her two colleagues (yet again), but judging from the way Jack and Ianto had been acting around each other lately, that wasn’t very likely (and Gwen was quite surprised to realize the amount of nostalgic regret overwhelming her at that notion). So she opened the door.
What she found on the other side stilled her movements once again. The floor was littered with shards of what must have been this morning’s empty coffee mugs, little puddles of liquid collecting on the silver tray. What finally spurred her body into action, however, was not the mess on the office floor but the young man standing right in the middle of the shattered porcelain, his skin chalk white and a look of utter terror on his face.
“Ianto!” Gwen was by his side in an instant. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
He still didn’t look at her and she reached for his shoulder, aiming to get his attention and offer comfort and reassurance, but he recoiled violently from her touch, stumbling backwards and colliding hard with the office wall. Other than that, he still hadn’t acknowledged her presence; his eyes stared out in front of him. His whole body was shaking and his breathing was labored and erratic.
“Ianto!” she exclaimed again and frantically tried to identify anything in the room that could be responsible for her friend’s reaction.
For a moment, his gaze flickered in her direction, just to become unfocused again.
“Can’t…. breathe,” he whispered hoarsely, his voice hardly audible. His expression turned even more panicked, his hands started tearing at his collar and tie, scratching his own skin in the process of removing as much cloth as possible from his throat. It didn’t seem to help though, because he fell to his knees, hands coming down heavy on the floor grating, his shoulders and back heaving from the effort of taking in some much needed air.
“Can’t breathe…” he rasped out. “So dark…no air…no light…only death…” His hands were clenched to fists now, his head bowed in agony.
Gwen dared not approach him again. She felt utterly useless and panic gave her voice some extra volume when she hollered, “Jack, get up here! Something’s wrong with Ianto! Delilah,” she added nearly as an afterthought, “I need some help!”
And as little effect as the crashing crockery had had on their Captain, her terrified voice seemed to do the trick, because within seconds she heard the man scramble up the ladder. Her eyes had never left Ianto in the corner and she was relieved to see that he seemed to be breathing easier now.
Jack and Delilah appeared at opposite ends of the office. Jack’s hair was tousled and his braces were hanging by his side. He must have fallen asleep in the end, short as it had lasted. He actually looked worse than before, though Gwen hadn’t deemed that possible. His tired eyes turned alert very quickly, however, as they settled on Ianto.
To her surprise, Ianto was already halfway in an upright position, though heavily supported by the office wall. His features were still strained, his eyes screwed shut and his heavy breathing sounded loudly in the momentary silence.
“Ianto!” Jack moved towards him cautiously. He was more hesitant than she was used to seeing him in situations like this.
At Jack’s exclamation, Ianto stiffened. He had managed to stand fully by now, only his hand on the wall betrayed his former lapse in control. He looked straight ahead, his eyes directed at no one in particular when he spoke:
“I’m quite alright. No need to worry.”
His voice was still hoarse but had a forced lightness to it that made shivers run down Gwen’s spine.
“Gwen, Ianto, what happened?”
At Jack’s question Ianto gestured weakly toward the broken mugs on the floor, still not meeting anyone’s eyes. “I’m very sorry for the mess, Sir. I slipped and let go of my tray. I’ll go and clean everything up immediately.”
“Ianto, no, that’s not …” but Gwen’s protests met only the empty space left behind as Ianto had moved unexpectedly fast and slipped past Delilah still standing in the doorway. He was gone from sight before anybody could stop him.
“Gwen!” Jack’s tone was sharp. “What happened?”
“I … I don’t really know. I came in because I heard the tray crashing and Ianto was having some kind of seizure or … panic attack and seemed to have problems breathing. My shouting for you must have snapped him out of it. Delilah?” She turned towards their new medic.
“Well, it could have been some kind of panic attack. I was too late to see any symptoms myself but from what you’re describing … I mean, you all have been through a lot lately. It’s not exactly my area of expertise …” she shrugged her shoulders apologetically.
“Yeah”, Jack was gazing thoughtfully at where the other man had vanished, “we could all probably do with some professional help in that area…” He trailed off, staring into space a few moments before he pulled up his braces and squared his shoulders. “For now, let’s just watch him closely. I’ll speak to him later, see if he can give me any sort of explanation. Now, we still have a job to do.”
Delilah nodded and turned to leave. Gwen looked at him unbelievingly. “But Jack, if Ianto’s …”
“Leave it, Gwen. I’ll sort this out later. Nothing a bit of the Harkness Charm won’t get out of this stubborn Welshman.” Jack’s fake grin made her heart ache and she was reminded that Ianto might not actually be th most urgent case in wont of some care (or a boatload of therapy).
“Not now, Gwen. Please… “
All of a sudden he sounded tired again. Tired and resigned.
“Just let me do this in my own time. There’s a lot about Ianto that I don’t understand lately…”
She didn’t get the chance to press the matter further, however, because Delilah’s voice called them back to the never-ending tasks of running a secret alien hunting organization.
“Two Weevil sightings in the City centre. I’m afraid they’re bang in the middle of Queen Street.”
Jack looked at his wrist strap.
“Damn, the shops are still open. Why don’t they put an advert in the Cardiff Gazette to announce their presence and then we can add Retcon to the city’s water supply? Now, there’s a thought…”
Jack kept on muttering under his breath while he rushed to grab his coat and armed himself.
“Delilah, Gwen – with me. Ianto?” He fastened the comm unit to his ear, already trying to reach their fourth team member. “Ianto, are you there?”
“Sir?” came the archivist’s even voice through the public channel.
“Weevil sighting. You’re on the comms. Now move, people” and they rushed out.
When they returned battered and exhausted with one dead and one sedated Weevil hours later, they found Jack’s office floor perfectly clean and Ianto was providing hot beverages and general support as efficiently as ever. But before either Jack or Gwen could think of bringing up the events of the afternoon, Ianto had already excused himself and left for the day.
On the drive home to her husband that night, Gwen couldn’t get the image out of her head of Jack standing in his office, starring at his spotless floor, looking confused and worried and so lonely it had made her heart ache. Her instinctual movement towards him had been aborted, however, when Jack had suddenly straightened and walked briskly to his desk, opening his first file before he had even fully sat down. She had known then that the small window of opportunity for him to gain actual comfort from what she could offer had already passed. So she had packed her things, waved a quick goodbye to Delilah and left.
Gwen sighed and switched her radio station to something more upbeat. Rhys didn’t deserve her being all morose and preoccupied tonight (not again, anyway).
Chapter Two: A Life in a Nut Shell
Ianto was lying in the gloom of his own bedroom, a bit of street light filtering in through the curtains. He was fully dressed on top of his duvet, too exhausted to bother with changing when his mobile would probably ring in the middle of the night anyway, calling him straight back to work. The Rift had been active as hell lately, spitting out aliens, alien artifacts or both, and everybody was running on empty. The new doctor had certainly had a hell of a first couple of weeks. Even Rhys had started to pitch in. The first time he had joined them was right after a particularly strenuous mission when none of them could stand upright anymore. With him he had brought an assortment of drinks, as well as a huge casserole of homemade lasagna and Gwen had cried she had been so grateful. From then on, Rhys had come around regularly, bringing in food and lightening the mood with his gruff humour and general sociability. This in turn had given Ianto more opportunities to disappear in the vaults or the archives whenever he wasn’t needed in the field. Several feet of concrete between him and the rest of the world had allowed him to relax a little. Unfortunately, with all that was going on lately, he hardly got a chance to catch his breath these days and it was really starting to grate him down.
Now, not even his own flat was safe anymore, because even near-strangers’ emotions had started to intrude. Right this minute, he was aware of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon from two floors down arguing heatedly, their anger and hurt pulsing through his body. Ms. Costello from above was probably sitting in front of her muted telly again, a half empty bottle of cheap wine next to her, dwelling on older, happier memories. Her loneliness was covering him like a smothering blanket. The young couple from next door was making love. Their shared intimacy was making his heart beat painfully in his chest.
So Ianto lay there, trying and failing to strengthen his walls. Even after everyone in his building had finally gone to sleep, his brain couldn’t let go enough to let his weary body rest. When the first sunlight started to replace the artificial illumination, he sat up on his bed and waited for a few moments until the dizziness receded. Enough, he decided. He would put his belongings in storage and take only his suits and toiletries. He could sleep at Torchwood. There were enough unused rooms on the lower levels where he could stay out of the Captain’s way easily enough. His lease was running out at the end of the month anyway and he hadn’t bothered to renew it. He’d move everything out as soon as he had a few hours off work again. Hell, he could start right now. And the tedious task would maybe even help him center himself a little more.
With that plan established, Ianto dragged himself off the bed and started moving about slowly. His flat was only small; packing his life away wouldn’t take long at all.
If one didn’t sleep on a regular basis, reality became somewhat blurred. Not necessarily from physical or even mental exhaustion, but because the days and nights just blended into each other with no breaks to structure the passing of time. Of course, in his personal situation, it didn’t help that he was working in something resembling a posh hole in the ground without much chance of seeing actual daylight.
Despite this, however, Jack’s hours used to be structured quite nicely – first of all by the regular appearance of delicious, hot coffee. His evenings were marked by Ianto’s single-minded effectiveness in finishing off his tasks and lulling the Hub to sleep, so to speak. And at night he would listen to his lover’s deep breathing, the timeless sound drowning out his own restlessness.
Now the coffee was still delivered to him regularly, but it held no significance for Jack anymore. There were no ‘accidental’ brushes of fingers and hands or secretive little smiles. Ianto hardly looked at him anymore and never lingered.
They all had changed since that fateful day nearly two months ago. Two members of their team, their friends and part of their dysfunctional little family, were gone for good. No more second chances and miraculous resurrections. The new medic on board was just that – a vacancy now filled. Jack was aware that he should probably make more of an effort in getting to know her, but right now he just didn’t have it in him. The few optimistic thoughts he could muster in a day were haphazardly strewn in Gwen’s direction, aiming to glue her to his and Torchwood’s side for this extra bit longer until she would come round to believing in it all again. With time, it would get better, he assured her, and nearly choked on his own hypocrisy.
He still tasted the gritty soil of his penance, felt the pressure of mud and rocks on every inch of his skin and his lungs still constricted in panic every time the lights went out. He had never been particularly fond of the darkness, but now he dreaded it. There were so many more faces waiting there for him now, killed in the bombings, gnawed by Weevils, dissolved in radiation or shot by his very own brother. The latter was what woke him screaming every time – the beautiful features of his little brother, twisted in hate and cruelty and laughing at the deaths of so many people. And somehow Ianto Jones was one of his victims.
With all the frantic work in the aftermath of the attack and the Rift’s latest rocking and bucking, it had taken him much longer than he would have liked to notice the changes in his young archivist: no more snide remarks or playfully returned flirting, not to speak of more physical pastimes. He still got all his work done as satisfactorily as ever, but there was nothing about the way he did it reminiscent of the Ianto of old. He went through the day like he was on autopilot, a ghost of his former self. He spent less and less time in the main part of the Hub and Jack had repeatedly caught himself not wondering where his favourite Welshman was and only noticed that he hadn’t seen him all day when everybody had gone home.
Ianto was shutting himself off, willingly becoming part of the furniture again. Their loyal butler – unnoticed and forgotten. Jack was aware of it and yet he couldn’t think of a way to stop it. Jack didn’t even really understand why Ianto had taken to avoiding them, seemingly not wanting to share any part of himself anymore. Ianto and Toshiko had been friends and his relationship with Owen had somewhat improved since Jack’s ‘sabbatical’ so Ianto would naturally grieve. But this? He always had been a very private person, his Ianto, but after the other man’s gruesome secret had been so spectacularly blown open, Jack had made an effort to peel away some of his layers. Not just for the sake of Torchwood’s security – a bullet to the head would have been the only efficient solution to that problem, but fortunately for Ianto, Jack had never been one to play for safety – but because Ianto had really begun to interest him. And in the process, Jack had let down a few of his own walls, feeling oddly content standing on his roof, knowing Ianto was just off to his right. Quiet and patient and content even if they left the roof without a single word uttered out loud.
The silence between them now was stiff and thick with uncertainty on his part and indifferent politeness on Ianto’s. Actually talking to each other had become painfully impossible. Jack all too vividly remembered last night’s horrid conversation.
After another very long day, Ianto had been on his way down to the archives, as usual not leaving till each and every task was done for the day. He had looked so very tired, though, so Jack had jumped in and offered his assistance.
“Ianto, go home. I can finish off whatever it is you need to do down there. No filing can be so urgent that you topple over from exhaustion and ruin one of your precious suits.” Jack’s tentative leer disappeared when he met Ianto’s cool gaze. “There’s only a bit of sorting to do”, Ianto replied. “It won’t take long. I’ll be gone in no time at all.”
“I could order you to go home.”
Ianto just stared at him expressionlessly and when Jack didn’t react he turned around.
“Ianto,” Jack called out and gripped the other man’s arm. “Ianto,” Jack said again, more softly, “please, don’t do this. Not to me and not to yourself. Don’t shut me out any longer. Let me help you get through this. Let me give you some comfort. We both need it.”
“Comfort is not required,” Ianto grated out without so much as looking at him. “I’m perfectly capable of doing my job and I’m fine, really… Jack.” He seemed to add the name reluctantly, as if he had to make himself use it against his better judgment. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather…”
“Ianto, please turn around. I think we really need to have a proper talk.”
Jack still had hold of his arm and only let go when Ianto finally faced him. Jack noticed that the other man immediately moved out of his reach. His expression gave nothing away but Jack saw little drops of perspiration on his forehead. He looked positively ill. His cheekbones were much more prominent than they used to be, his face gaunt and grey. His eyes betrayed his distress, flickering restlessly over Jack, never quite meeting his gaze.
“Ianto, do you blame me?” Jack’s voice nearly broke as he asked. “That’s it, isn’t it? Gray only attacked because of me, of what I…”
“No Sir, there’s no need to add any more guilt, I’m sure,” Ianto’s venomous voice cut straight through Jack like a knife. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think or move. When the world snapped back into focus, Ianto was facing him like an opponent in combat, waiting for Jack to fall under his blow. “There is nothing you can do in regards to my well-being. I would rather finish up my tasks now so I can fulfill your wish for me to rest. I will see you in the morning.”
And with that, Ianto had left.
His callousness that night had rendered Jack speechless, shock and hurt giving way to anger while he kept staring at where the wool-clad back had vanished, wondering what in the world had happened to turn his passionate and considerate friend into this loveless and lifeless shell of a man.
Chapter Three: Like Father, Like Son
Sometimes Gwen really hated her job. With all the technology they had access to and all their training and knowledge, they still could end up as useless as the next person, made to watch helplessly as lives were taken or destroyed. With tears in her eyes, field agent Cooper Williams was kneeling next to the dead body of a woman, wondering what, if anything, any of them could have done differently to avoid this senseless waste.
The sound of gunshots just around the corner had not registered in the little girl’s mind as she followed the colourful ball rolling away from her and ran directly into the line of fire the three members of Torchwood had tried to disable the Glith’ra warrior with. Jack had immediately shouted for them to stop shooting, when suddenly the woman had also appeared from out of nowhere, calling out for her daughter, her only thought to gather her up and keep her safe. The Glith’ra had chosen this moment to start shooting at the Torchwood agents again, but hadn’t taken the woman’s frantic leap for cover into account. She was hit in the back, the girl securely nestled in her arms when she fell. Jack had cried out in rage and killed the Glith’ra in an instant, firing bullet after bullet into the unmoving body.
When Gwen had checked the woman’s pulse, she had already known that it was too late to save her. All she could do was turn her body over gently, discovering the little blond girl nearly buried underneath. Blue, frightened eyes were staring at Gwen now, cheeks full of tears and smudged with dirt.
“Come here, sweetie,” Gwen cooed as she tried to remove the girl from her mother’s grip.
“No!” the girl shouted and held on even tighter. “Mummy, mummy, wake up, mummy!” she pleaded and pulled on her mother’s hands. She began to cry in earnest then, not understanding why her mother wouldn’t move, wouldn’t speak or comfort her.
“Mummmmmyyy!” she wailed and screamed in fear.
“Please, sweetie, stop this. Come here, it’s alright, it’s all gonna be alright…” Gwen was crying herself now, finally succeeding in dislodging the girl from her dead mother, pressing the hot face to her own neck and just holding on to the tiny shaking form. When she looked around to seek out her Captain for advice and reassurance, she found that Jack’s eyes were not on her and the child but directed at the third member of their current field team.
Ianto remained stock-still, his weapon on the floor and glove-clad hands clenched into fists. She suddenly remembered the vacant look in his eyes from a few days ago when he’d had that panic attack. The tears that were now streaming down his cheeks, however, were new.
“Ianto?” Gwen asked apprehensively while fighting to get in an upright position, the little girl still clinging to her for dear life.
Suddenly, the young Welshman let out a heart-wrenching sob and began to sway dangerously. Jack was just about quick enough to catch him as he toppled down.
Before Gwen could get to his side, Jack’s commanding voice interrupted her movement: “Gwen, I need you to take the girl away from here. Find out where she lives, if she has any family left and think of a cover story.”
Jack got up from his kneeling position. Ianto was lying on his side, curled into a tight ball. He was shaking and there were still tears welling up from under his now-closed eye-lids. Gwen wanted nothing more than come to his aide, find out what was wrong, make him better any way she knew how to. “But what -?” Jack’s stern gaze shut her up very quickly. Now was apparently not the time to ask questions.
“The girl has to be your priority now, Gwen. Give her a small dose of Retcon as soon as you’ve found her family. I’m sorry, but I have to leave this to you. I’ll take Ianto and the bodies back to the Hub. Meet you there.”
He bent down and with a grunt heaved a now seemingly unconscious Ianto over his shoulder. Gwen still hesitated, not wanting to leave her friend in dire straits like this. However, the weight in her arms grew heavier with every moment and she really needed to get the girl away from this place, away from her mother’s corpse. She probably couldn’t be of any particular help right now with whatever had caused Ianto to break down like this. On the other hand, there was still work to do, so with a last anxious glance at the two men and a curt, “Meet you at the Hub, Jack. Take care of him,” she turned around and stepped out of the alley.
Every child had the deep-rooted belief that Mother had the power to make everything better, and he had not been the exception to that rule.
When he fell and hurt himself, Her soothing caress banned the burning on his knees.
When other kids mocked him because he cried so easily, Her embrace comforted his aching heart.
And when his father retreated into the Dark Place, Mother always made sure he was kept busy with a project or other activity, but never made him feel unwanted.
Only when all of this had suddenly ended did he begin to realize how much more beyond the ordinary She had meant to him.
The last time he felt Her gentle touch it was summer, the last day of school and She promised to pick him up after class, even though he could easily make his own way home. He was already eight years old after all and didn’t want the other boys to think he was a baby. But She was determined and he didn’t want to upset Her so he agreed in the end. She never came, however, and when his math teacher approached him with sadness and pity emanating from her in suffocating waves, he already knew that everything had changed.
He hadn’t only lost Mother that day. All these people in dark clothing that passed him with a nod and a few mumbled phrases were wrong. They said they were sorry for his loss but they should have said ‘losses’ instead. Somehow his father had vanished, too. Sure, he was still going to work, cooking him meals and helping him with his homework, but when Ianto looked in his eyes, he wasn’t there at all anymore.
Since the day Mother had been hit by a car and broken her neck on the curb, his father had not hugged him. He had stopped changing out of his work clothes when he got home, no more soft woolen jumpers to cuddle into, no more playing hide and seek in the garden on Sundays. He brought him to bed every night, tucked the covers around him but instead of regaling him with tales of adventure and love like he used to, there was only silence; a stranger in a dark suit staring into the distance for endless minutes until he seemed to come back to himself a little, switched off the lights and left. Only once, after much begging and pleading on his part, did the man take him to see a movie like they used to do on nearly every weekend. But Ianto’s moment of happiness was short-lived when a few minutes into the movie he glanced at this statue in the seat next to him, the man who had his father’s face but not his heart, and he swore never to ask to go to the cinema again.
In the months following Mother’s death, he had to visit his aunt and uncle much more often than he used to. He didn’t like staying in their house. His aunt seemed to watch him all the time and ordered him around impatiently. His cousin, who was a few years older than him, was always in such turmoil and when Ianto tried to calm him with gentle words or awkward hugs, he was pushed away, scorned and ended up crying nearly every time. His aunt usually sent him to his room then without his dinner, an odd mix of pity and revulsion and a muttered “just like his father” chasing him up the stairs. He never knew what he had done wrong but in the end he got better at not crying when others would see.
Whenever he returned to the house where his parents used to live, the man in the suit seemed a little thinner, a little less aware of the little boy anxiously waiting for his final stumble into the Darkness. It took nearly two years in the end.
The last time the man with his father’s face spoke to him, there was so much love in his voice that Ianto could nearly believe him true again. “You’ve got her eyes, little one. My handsome looks, though.” The smile that tugged at his father’s lips was gone as soon as Ianto had recognized it, only there long enough to make the boy yearn for what could never come back. “I’m just glad that’s all you inherited from me. Hopefully, I’m the last of our family forced to live with this curse. I thought it could be alright for me… My Haven, my Love… She made the world so much brighter, took the edge away. But all good things must end, don’t they, little one?” His hands were caressing Ianto’s face absentmindedly, feeling the wetness on his son’s cheeks. “Now, now, don’t cry, cariad. Things will work out for you in the end, I’m sure. You will be staying with your aunt and uncle and they will give you the home I can no longer provide. I’m very sorry that I can’t hold on any longer.”
He drifted away again, his gentle hands still lingering on the boy’s skin. But the touch wasn’t warm any more. The cold was creeping nearer, bringing only emptiness with it. And Ianto couldn’t do a thing to stop it.
“It hurts so much,” Ianto whispered, but the man didn’t hear him.
“Please, don’t hurt so much,” he pleaded, but his father was no longer there.
Chapter Four: Thrice Bitten
It seemed to Jack like half an eternity had passed until the young Welshman stirred again. In reality, it had only been a bit over two hours since the other man had collapsed in that alley; two hours Jack had spent nearly exclusively staring at Ianto’s motionless form.
Delilah had intended to keep him up in the med bay to monitor him properly, but after she had checked him over and announced him reasonably stable, Jack had insisted on letting Ianto rest in the relative comfort and quiet of his personal quarters. In truth, Jack had not wanted any witnesses to the undoubtedly unpleasant conversation that was due to play out as soon as Ianto woke up. At the same time he couldn’t send the medic home in case she was needed later.
So he had left the doctor no other option than to descend the ladder with him as they carefully manhandled the unconscious man down to Jack’s quarters. Delilah hadn’t been with the team long enough yet to oppose him openly, but her disapproval regarding such treatment of her patient had been all too clear. According to her, Ianto was malnourished and more exhausted than was acceptable even by Torchwood’s standards, so she attached a drip to keep him hydrated and help his body recover. Then, with a last displeased look, she had abandoned Jack to his bedside vigil. And Jack had used that time to connect some dots and come up with a very shocking – though somehow not surprising – picture.
He should have known, really. There had been so many signs, both before and after the loss of Owen and Toshiko, but he had been too distracted to notice. He certainly should have been more suspicious when Ianto had broken down in his office with him tangled up in nightmares just a few feet below. He should have pursued the matter and not let Ianto get away with his usual unaffected demeanor. Now it might already be too late. He should have known.
Eventually, Ianto’s breathing indicated he was close to regaining consciousness and Jack pulled himself together. No more time to dwell on past mistakes. The next few minutes were crucial and he would have to put all his effort into convincing Ianto that he could trust him, that he could confide in him and let him take matters into his hands. This was going to end very soon, one way or the other, and Jack very much preferred his way of dealing with this over Ianto’s.
Jack had watched the other man closely, so he perceived the sudden tension in his body, the slight twitch of his eyelids. He waited a couple more minutes, giving the Welshman time to get his bearings. Then he took another calming breath and made sure that he was as well guarded as he would ever be before he broke the silence. “I know you’re awake, Ianto. No need to pretend any longer.”
The young man opened his eyes and blinked a couple of times before he looked around with a confused frown on his face. As his eyes fell on Jack, the frown deepened. “How…” His voice sounded rough and pained. “I can’t … How…”
Jack could tell the exact moment when Ianto came fully back to himself because he immediately clamped his mouth shut and averted his eyes. He struggled to sit up, only now noticing the drip in his hand.
“You had a breakdown and passed out after the Glith’ra was killed. Delilah couldn’t find any plausible causes for this other than that you are not in good shape. I brought you down here so you could rest properly,” Jack said, recapping the last few hours. “How are you feeling?”
Ianto maneuvered himself into a sitting position, his face not showing any signs of what he might be thinking. “I’m feeling quite alright, actually. Really, no need to worry. I’m not gonna take up your space any longer.”
Ianto made to remove the blanket that Jack had draped over him. If it hadn’t been so serious, Jack would have laughed at the Welshman’s poorly disguised haste to get away from him. “Not so fast, Ianto.” The other man froze in mid-movement. “You should have told me. I could have helped. You didn’t have to suffer like that.”
The other man breathed in sharply. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I assure you …”
“Ianto, look at me.” When the other man didn’t react, Jack put more force into his voice.
“Look. At. Me.”
As soon as Ianto’s reluctant gaze met his own, Jack relaxed his shields slightly, letting through just a sliver of his worry and concern. Ianto made a small anguished noise in his throat and averted his eyes quickly. Jack immediately reinforced his barriers, making sure he was as closed off to his surroundings as he was capable of being. “I’m sorry. I had to be sure.”
Jack dared to take a step closer to the younger man but stopped when he saw him tense even further. “You’re an empath.”
Ianto still didn’t meet his eyes, but Jack caught a slight flicker of interest nonetheless.
“You’re a pretty strong one at that, I reckon, and had to be anchored pretty much all your life in order not to go insane or burn out. Lately, however, you acted out of character, avoided all human contact. My guess is that you are no longer anchored and I believe that’s because the person you were anchored to died.”
Ianto was shaking now, his clenched fists nearly white from the strain.
“It was Toshiko, wasn’t it,” Jack said gently, but leaving no room for doubt. “When she was killed you lost your focus, which made you vulnerable to all those emotions around you. No wonder you looked so pale and tired…”
“Sorry to not meet your recruitment criteria any longer, Sir,” Ianto bit out.
“You can stuff your sarcasm, Ianto, this is serious,” Jack snapped. “How long do you think you can go on like this? Until it all gets too much?”
Finally, Ianto met his gaze again, his eyes calmly conveying a message that Jack dreaded to fully comprehend. “As long as it takes.”
“But it doesn’t have to be like this, Ianto,” Jack argued. “I know how empathic abilities work and I believe I could easily be your…”
Ianto’s forceful “No!” interrupted Jack before he could fully voice his offer, the palpable panic in the other man’s voice shutting him up more effectively than the semantic content of the word alone could have. “There will be no further incidents. No need for you to get involved, Sir.”
“I have asked you before, can you please stop with the ‘Sir’! I think we moved beyond that long ago. And there definitely is need for me to get involved. You have broken down twice now, Ianto. The woman’s death…”
“There were … complications,” Ianto hesitantly offered, “memories, whose effects I had not considered. They must have caused my overreaction. I’m aware of the problem now and it won’t happen again.”
“This is bullshit, Ianto, and you know it. What about that time in my office? Gwen said …”
“Ianto,” Jack growled warningly.
During their exchange, Ianto had managed to swing his suit clad legs over the edge of the bed and sit upright. At Jack’s interruption, the young man’s posture stiffened once more, his hands gripping the frame tightly as if trying to control a sudden urge to hit something. “I slipped,” he repeated more firmly. “I let my mind wander, which made me more susceptible. As I said before – I’m now fully aware of these … oddities and I’m taking precautions.” Nearly absentmindedly, Ianto pulled the IV line out of his hand. “I assure you that it’s under control. If you’ll excuse me now, I’d rather get freshened up a bit.” And with that Ianto pushed himself off the bed and took a step towards the ladder.
“Stop right there, Mr. Jones, you are going nowhere before this is settled. I’ll tell you what your so-called precautions are: you’re trying to avoid the sensations that are constantly wearing down your shields by retreating further and further within yourself. But this tactic will fail you in the long run, you must be aware of that by now,” Jack reasoned. “With a strong ability like yours …”
“A curse,” Ianto blurted out. “It’s a family curse, causing only grief and madness.”
Jack snorted disbelievingly. “It’s nothing as dramatic as that but simply evolution, Ianto, the development of humankind. Where I come from, nearly every man or woman has at least some cursory psychic talent, though I myself never quite got beyond shielding myself to others.”
“Ah, that’s why it’s so much weaker now…” Ianto mumbled.
“And this is exactly what I’m talking about!” Jack exclaimed exasperated. “With my shields up you shouldn’t be able to feel anything from me at all, yet you still do, don’t you?” Ianto’s silence told him all he needed to know. “Your ability is going havoc, Ianto. Without a new anchor, it will overwhelm you again sooner rather than later and when that time comes, you will probably not wake up.”
“Then that’s the way it’s going to be,” Ianto calmly replied.
Jack wanted nothing more than to grab this stubborn Welshman and shake him until he came to his senses. “Why are you so against this, Ianto? You let Tosh be your anchor, why can’t I do the same for you?”
“I didn’t exactly ask her to, Jack. She knew much more about what was going on than me and she did it nearly all on her own; she can be very convincing if she wants to be … no, could … wanted…” Ianto trailed off.
Jack looked thoughtfully at the undeviating man before him. It had suddenly occurred to him that things didn’t quite add up yet.
“When did she become your anchor? You only met her three years ago. You must have had another one before her…“ Then it suddenly hit him and he spoke even before the thought had fully formed. “Lisa? It was Lisa?”
Ianto’s agonized face was all the confirmation Jack needed and he was horrified. Not just for the other man’s pain – past and present – but the implications for his own decisions on the day when the last remnants of Lisa Hallet ceased to exist. However, he had to focus on what he could still make right, on what was still missing to complete the picture so he could finally take action. “That still doesn’t account for your whole life, though, does it? I need to know all of it now, Ianto,” the Captain urged. At first he thought Ianto’s willingness to explain anything to him had run out; the Welshman’s gaze became shuttered again, leaving Jack with little indication as to his emotional state. But after a few moments, Ianto’s shoulders slumped forwards and he let out a resigned sigh.
“My mother,” he eventually revealed. “At least, that’s what I believe. There was no one to explain things properly but from what I can gather… She was the centre of my father’s life and when she died… I was only a kid… I didn’t really understand any of it.“ Ianto’s pensive gaze fell on Jack, his brows furrowed. “You think I don’t know the risks, don’t know what will happen if I don’t do what you’re demanding. I know far too well. My father showed me. You are wrong, Jack, I’m fully aware of the consequences of my actions and I have long accepted them.”
“But I haven’t and I never will!” The volume of his exclamation surprised even Jack and made him pause for a moment. He knew he had reached the last shreds of his patience. Unfortunately, that was usually when things started to go horribly wrong. He had to try harder at keeping it together, for Ianto’s sake. “Listen to me, Ianto, listen very carefully. You will let me anchor you to me and we will sort this out. I know how to do it. We can start right here, right now.”
“No, you can’t make me.”
The echo of these words from a confrontation he had believed long overcome caused Jack to grit his teeth in anger. “I’m not holding a gun to your head, but this time you will do as I…” he bellowed but Ianto’s hoarse “No!” interrupted him once more, his eyes were burning with anger and determination. “No, I won’t let you. You can’t anchor me against my consent and I’m not giving it.”
As if that meant the end of the discussion, Ianto turned around, reaching up to climb the ladder. Jack just didn’t understand this downright refusal to accept his help. Didn’t Ianto trust him enough to let him function as his anchor? Was he so contrary to the idea of being bound to him? Then a truly nauseating notion struck him. “Do you want to die, Ianto? Is that it?”
Ianto just looked at him without flinching, emanating a weary acceptance that made Jack want to either hug him tightly and never let go or punch him as hard as possible. How could he think so little of himself and what he meant to the people around him, that he was willing to cease existing rather than ask for help from his friends, his lover? “No, oh no, I will not stand by and let you give up on yourself so easily.”
“Easy?! You think all this has been easy?” Ianto suddenly shouted, his strained voice tilting over in his outrage. “Did you not listen at all to what I just told you?! Three, Jack, I was anchored to three wonderful, strong women and every single one of them died a violent and painful death. I’m not gonna ‘give it another go’, as you might want to phrase it,” Ianto spat out scathingly. Then, from one moment to the next, all of the fight seemed to have left him again. His head dropped in defeat. “This ends now, Jack. I have nothing left to give. ”
At those words, Jack couldn’t hold back any longer. He leapt forwards, seizing Ianto by his shoulders. “I do not accept that. If you don’t want to fight for yourself, I will. You have no choice in the matter.”
Far too late Jack remembered that getting physical with an out-of-control empath was by far the least advisable course of action to take.
As Jack’s hands wrapped around his shoulders, Ianto knew instantly that this was it: the drop that caused the dam to break. The emotional floods, crowned with Jack’s angry desperation, hit his unprotected mind. “Please,” he whimpered, “Jack, please”. But Ianto didn’t ask for Jack to release him.
Just a bit closer. Just a little bit more and it will all be over.
And then Ianto embraced Jack, both inside and out, and simply pushed.
With the last threads of his rational mind, Ianto understood that despite their former intimacy, he had really only ever been allowed glimpses of Jack’s sentiments. He had never had access to his deepest emotions, those connected to the kind of memories the immortal man usually kept locked away in the farthest corners of his being, so he himself would be safe from them. Now the formerly impervious barriers to that hidden part of Jack were suddenly gone and all Ianto could do was tighten his arms around the source of his final liberation. The feelings that raced through him were cutting and clear and despite a small part of him still trying to shrink away from them, a much bigger part welcomed this emotional outpour, gladly taking in all the sorrow and regret and guilt and loneliness and loss he found in Jack, twirling and gliding and sliding without resistance into his own soul, promising to burn and purge and leave nothing behind.
With a shout of outrage and fear, Jack freed himself and stumbled backwards. Ianto’s arms hung uselessly at his side now as he leant heavily against the metal frame of the ladder behind him. “Are you insane?” Jack’s voice was high and sharp with panic. “Why did you …? You broke through my shields. Why…?” His eyes widened in realization. “You used my fucking emotions to … to… to kill yourself!”
Jack was screaming at the top of his lungs but it didn’t bother Ianto anymore. All that mattered was the rapidly approaching numbness. “It’s alright, Jack. Really. It’s what I want. What I wanted for some time now.” It was already difficult to breathe, every exhale taking with it the last scattered remnants of his life. He was so tired. It wouldn’t be long now. Not long at all.
“No, I won’t let you. You listen to me, Ianto Jones, I won’t fucking let you!” Suddenly, Ianto felt that iron grip on his arms again. He struggled to open his eyes, meeting Jack’s furious gaze. “You broke through my shields,” the other man said, steely determination in his voice and a dangerous golden gleam in his eyes, “but the connection works both ways. So watch, Ianto Jones, watch and feel what I’m really made of.”
Without warning, a shock-wave of heat and light tore through Ianto’s near-perfect numbness, quenching all thought and for one terrible eternity halting Time Herself. It was agonizingly beautiful and so completely alien that, for the first time in a long time, Ianto felt fear for himself again. Blindly, he reached out into the brightness suffusing him, suddenly not wanting to take this freefall, now. that he didn’t quite know anymore what to expect. For a split second, he got hold of something – the glimpse of blue wool, the feel of Jack’s strong shoulders beneath his hands and a smile that was both grateful acknowledgement and understanding tenderness – but it slipped away again, leaving him with nothing but the golden fire of Jack’s eyes.
It seeped through every atom of his existence. It brought life; whether he wanted it or not.
And just before blackness claimed him, he knew that there would never be silence for him again.
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