Pairing: Jack/Ianto (UST)
Copyright: “Short Stacks” by The Ditty Bops.
Summary: Jack and Ianto have to deal with death in all sorts of ways.
Author’s Notes: Not much. Just that some of this was written after I finished sobbing my eyes out after Cyberwoman (oh yeah, spoilers) and so it might be a little… I don’t know. *shrugs* Also, it was meant to be angsty, but I wrote it in notepad, so my writing style went a little…
People That I Wasn't.
... before you answer my call.
Ianto has The Black Folder out, which makes Jack feel a lot worse than he did five minutes ago. He shifts awkwardly, calm demeanour slipping, because conversations that begin with The Black Folder present don't end well at all.
"Do we have to do this tonight?" Jack asks hopelessly.
"Yes, sir," Ianto replies, calm but firm, fingers clenched tight around The Black Folder. Jack sighs.
"It was worth a try."
Ianto offers him a smile but he doesn't back down, sitting down on a free chair in Jack's office. Jack sits down too, cracking his knuckles. Anything to put off the inevitable. And Ianto, for his part, lets Jack procrastinate, sitting patiently.
"Ok," Jack says finally, "Hand it over."
Ianto opens the slim folder and pulls out two pieces of white paper, stapled together. At the top, in bold black print, are the words: Susie Costello- Funeral Choices.
Of all the pieces of Ianto's job that must be pretty shitty, all things considered, Jack thinks that this one is probably the worst. Getting coffee and driving cars and feeding pterodactyls and making sure the computer systems work ok and don't crash are tame and calm but this bit isn't.
Susie is lying calm and dead in a drawer, along with more bodies than Jack cares to think about, but she's thought ahead. They all know that they could die at any moment and so it's best to leave notes as to what they want to happen to them after they're killed.
Ianto is chewing his lower lip but remains quiet as Jack reads down the print-outs, finding out that Suzie wants to be cremated, finding out where she wants her ashes scattered, finding out what she wants played at the memorial service, the words said. She may have gone crazy and endangered them all, but they owe her this.
"I'll sort this out Ianto," he says quietly, laying the papers down on his already overcrowded desk. "Go home, sleep."
Ianto looks like he'd like to say something, but simply nods.
Five minutes later, there's nothing but Jack and the quiet. He sighs, and begins to search the phone book for relevant phone numbers, to call first thing in the morning.
... with tied mouth somehow telling all.
"Gwen... if I could have a moment of your time?"
One day Gwen is going to ask Ianto just where he learnt to walk around like a ghost, and why he makes no sound. Tosh and Owen, who were laughing at something a moment ago, stop as their smiles slide off their faces. And Ianto is still waiting quietly. Gwen looks from her suddenly silent co-workers to the black folder in Ianto's hand, which they're all staring at.
"Of course," she says uncertainly, following him into the little room that serves as his filing room and so on. "What..."
"I'm sorry to do this," Ianto says quietly, "But it's necessary. I need to know what kind of arrangements you want, should you die."
Ianto opens the folder and shows her several documents. On the top she can see Captain Jack Harkness- Funeral Arrangements. (Ah, she thinks, he's still pretending he can die then.) Ianto shows her the rest- Owen, Toshiko's and his own preferences.
"I'm sorry to have to ask this of you," he says again, "But you must realise that you are risking your life, and it's important that we have a back-up plan."
"Right," Gwen nods vaguely, suddenly feeling sorry for the man in the sober black suit sitting with his hands poised over the keyboard of his computer, preparing to write down what she wants to happen to her remains. She doesn't want to do this, but on the other hand, she above all knows how necessary this is.
So she tells Ianto her colour and flower preferences, that she'd like to buried (if there's enough left of her goes unsaid), what she wants on her headstone, where she'd like to buried, and on and on, and he types it all up neatly with no expression on his face at all.
[A few weeks later, Gwen finds the other folder- the navy blue one. She's not supposed to open it, but she does, and she finds the funeral arrangements of many other people. But the difference between these ones and the ones Ianto has in his locked-away file are that these ones have sections highlighted, and she realises with a kind of sick horror that these are the arrangements that have had to be followed.]
... before it breaks, before you've listened.
In his first week of working for Torchwood, Ianto finds The Hand in the jar, and for some strange reason, that disturbs him more than the pterodactyl in the ceiling, than the snarling aliens they're keeping in the basement, than the whole hush-hush secrecy thing Torchwood has surrounding it. Curious, the fourth time he passes it on a Tuesday morning, bringing coffee and papers to Jack and Susie and Robert (the doctor before Owen), he runs his finger down the clear glass panel on the front of the case.
The hand twitches.
Ianto steps back too fast, knocking into the table behind him, suddenly breathless. The fingers continue to wriggle, subtly, but enough to tell Ianto that the severed hand in the jar is alive.
Jack is behind him, voice deceptively calm, but there's a shake of emotion under the surface.
"It's..." Ianto begins, with no idea what he's going to say.
"Yes," Jack cuts him off. There's a pause. "Don't ever touch that again."
"Yes sir," Ianto murmurs. But before he can stop himself: "What is it, sir?"
"It's all I have left," Jack replies shortly.
"Of what?" Ianto asks.
But Jack has already gone, and the hand is still faintly trembling in its glass prison.
... lips are dry; maybe you're guessing why.
The inside of Jack's mouth tastes like iron, and copper, and several other kinds of metal, like he's been eating paperclips ("...And what do you do in your free time?" "I eat stationary!"). Resisting the urge to spit and maybe see if he can bring up a bullet or something, Jack opens his eyes, blinking repeatedly to get the room in focus. He's about to call out for Ianto to bring him a coffee (wait, no coffee, coffee has this metallic edge thing going for it anyway... maybe some orange juice), when he notices two things. Firstly, it's that it is about three a.m and Ianto won't be around, and secondly, that his shirt is torn open and bloodstained, and he looks a sight.
"Oops," Jack mutters, and almost chokes on the metallic taste in his mouth, and then adds an "ow" for good measure. The whole metal-and-blood-and-amnesia thing means that he's just resurrected himself again, Lazarus in a better coat again, extremities retaining cadaver-coolness for a few more tingly minutes. He wonders how long he's been out. Sometimes it's instantaneous; dead one second, upright and walking about the next. Sometimes there are a few minutes between being dead and alive, and once there was a highly awkward three hours. Jack had felt bad about having to drop the memory pill into Suzie's coffee, but there was no other way to go about it. Tell your colleagues that you're immortal and they'll only want to abuse it.
But it's now, lying on the floor waiting for the feeling of breathlessness to pass, that he gets the idea. He's got a Hub entirely full of alien... stuff. One piece of it should be enough to call a Time Agent down to investigate. Someone who knows enough to be able to get him his memory back, to help him regain those two lost years. To know what he did. Or what he didn't.
Jack gets to his feet, slow and aching, and shivering violently. Evidently he's been unconscious long enough for his body to get cold, and as blood pumps around his previously empty veins, the trembling is almost uncontrollable. He makes a few [manly] groaning noises, because there's no one else around, and continues on his way to the safe in the corner of his office, locked tight and full of the most dangerous of alien artefacts. Something will work.
But he can't get the code to work. At first, the combination lock slides between his fingers, because he can't grip properly, but even when the awkwardness has passed, he can't get it open. Torn off swearwords split between his teeth, because he needs something, anything, dammit.
Ianto finds him two and half hours later, looking like a madman as he tries to break into his own safe.
"I need to get this open," he insists at his employee. Ianto fixes him with a sympathetic but firm stare.
"I don't think that that's such a good idea, sir."
Jack slumps against the door, tired and aching. It's probably true. And he won't let himself go crazy. Not yet, anyway.
He feels slightly bad about the memory pill he drops into Ianto's morning coffee, but he really has no choice in the matter.
... don't mean to make you sick; it just works out that way.
At least once a month, Jack tries to commit suicide, and it's almost worrying how calmly Ianto deals with this (although he can't stop himself from occasionally saying "but what happens if it sticks this time? Where will you be then, sir?")
The first time Ianto told himself that he was hallucinating through too much exhaustion and that he couldn’t possibly have seen what he just saw (even though he'd never hallucinated through tiredness before, and he didn't think that he was going to start now).
[Walking away from the hub, he looks back to see Jack standing on top of the Millennium Centre, coat billowing behind him into the wind. And then he steps off the edge, plummeting down towards the concrete. There's a crunch, a moment, and then Jack is up and walking away into the dusk.]
The sixth time, Ianto began to worry for his sanity. And for Jack's.
[But he dismisses it as a trick of the light- maybe the electricity in the mains isn't as strong as he thinks it is, or maybe he's dreaming (but it is and he isn't). Jack's hair is still faintly smoking as Ianto brings him a late night coffee.]
The eighth time, Jack left a suicide note, which Ianto calmly destroyed in their industrial shredder the next morning, as Jack stood looking faintly sheepish, pale blue shirt stained with blood, but otherwise completely unharmed.
"You've got to stop this," Ianto said conversationally, when he walked in on the tenth time. "Torchwood will be sunk without you, sir."
Jack was choking on his own vomit on the floor with most of a bottle of prescription medication in him, but five minutes later he was sipping a shot of brandy while Ianto disposed of the evidence and pretended his hands weren't shaking.
[And he watches Jack pretend he isn't there as he takes a very long list out of his desk, and crosses through #26: overdose of medication. And swallows hard as Jack underlines #27- garotting- mentally preparing himself for one hell of a clean-up job.]
... we know it's what I say.
He can taste hot metal like there’s a storm in the air, which is highly unlikely as in space there are no storms and even if there were he’s indoors as it is.
There’s silence like nothing Jack has ever heard before, ringing in his ears so loud it sounds like a million bells screaming, and maybe he’d wonder where such a vivid image came from but he’s missing two years and all sorts of snapshots come into his brain from anywhere and anyone. Who he was then is missing and he’s so lost- but somehow it’s all right, he’ll get the memories back somewhere.
He has no idea where he is; he’s cold and tired and every nerve ending in his body is howling right along with the burning in his lungs and the screaming nothingness in his ears, and he’s somewhere so beyond pain that none of it matters any more. Left to sob in shards and pieces and horror.
But there’s urgency inside the unbelievable horror and the thought going irreversibly around in his head-I was dead, wasn’t I?- and within a moment he’s up and running again, air tearing at lungs that don’t really remember how to breathe but are willing to give it a go anyway, and his footsteps echo too loud around him in the empty metal silence, if only Jack could remember how to hear it.
There are shrieks from the screaming engines of the TARDIS and Jack quickens his pace, but it’s too late. The ship is leaving, leaving him stranded, and there’s nothing in him but scraped raw, helpless devastation.
For a few moments he just stands there, beyond shocked and stunned and into some other territory entirely, so frozen and terrifying that he can’t breathe, and there are no words to convey it, not even screaming no or maybe please or even you bastards. There’s nothing at all but a feeling of loss and desperation, like he’s doomed to be on this godforsaken, timelordforsaken falling-apart-at-the-seams-and-air-ducts satellite until he dies. But isn’t he dead already? Wasn’t he dead?
Jack wakes up with a scream on his lips that he almost chokes on when he swallows it, and pretends as hard as he can for the rest of the day he can’t see Ianto watching him.
... it's best to say little.
Ianto walks into a brittle silence, sharp and charged and he wonders just what the hell is going on. Jack is sitting at his computer, and he looks dead. Drained and terrified and broken. Ianto opens his mouth but no sound comes out. Without a sound and without any sort of grief there's more raw devastation in here than Ianto is ready for.
"I think," Jack says, without looking up, barely moving his lips, "I think I'm going to go and get some air."
Ianto lets him get up to the surface before he logs into the system to find out what Jack was looking at. It means nothing to him, but he feels he ought to know anyway. As it turns out, Jack was looking at a list of the dead and missing from the Cyberman invasion of Torchwood One (he mentally winces, biting his mouth together, remembering flames and pain and-). Three files on the list in particular: Rose Tyler, Jacqueline Tyler, and Mickey Smith. None of those three names rings any bells for Ianto, but after four months working for Torchwood, Ianto is used to the fact Jack is, essentially, an enigma. He quickly logs out, and is busy looking innocent by the time Jack returns, wiping at his mouth like he's just been sick, trembling and pale.
"Get out," he hisses, any pretence at niceties gone, "Just get the hell out!"
And Ianto obeys, because he has no idea how to fix this, and has no defences against Jack's wordless grief and unshed tears.
... the less you put out the less that's gone.
Ianto’s tears are silent. There are enough of them to sink a thousand ships or whatever that stupid saying is (Jack has never been one for learning 21st century idioms) but he doesn’t make a single sound, except for the occasional sharp intake of breath. It’s almost beautiful, in a voyeuristic and sadistic kind of way (and Jack is nothing if not voyeuristic and sadistic).
Fingers spread on the sideboard beside the sink, head bowed, shoulders shaking but not a single sound escapes him. Hands scrubbed irreversibly clean, Lady Macbeth in Armani, and maybe he can still feel Lisa’s blood still on his skin. Jack doesn’t care. Perhaps in a week or two he’ll sympathise a little more, but right now, he’s nothing but angry. Furious.
“You’d have torn the world apart for her.” Statement, simple and cold. Ianto’s shoulders stop trembling and Jack listens to him take a breath.
“And would you have killed her? If we hadn’t-”
“Of course I would have done!” Ianto turns around, face blotched and wet but voice steady, steady calm, suit still neat and impeccable.
There’s a longer pause, as Jack once again reshapes his impressions of the quiet Welshman. He’s reeling a little, and lost, because he never guessed; Jack is the one who is supposed to know everything, but he never suspected what Ianto was hiding, what lengths he would go to. His mouth aches from the force of Ianto’s fist, and he remembers the taste of Ianto’s desperation in his mouth, that terrifying moment when he thought the world really might end, his lips on the man who’d doomed them all.
“I’ll never forgive you for this.” It comes out too fast, too cold, but Ianto doesn’t flinch.
“We could have died.”
Ianto fixes him with that half-mad blue-eyed stare that he’s come to know all too well over the last couple of days.
And then Ianto’s eyes look away, less out of anxiety, and more out of penitence. Perhaps. Jack realises that Ianto is not expecting any form of forgiveness, and is almost surprised at this. Maybe Ianto does see him as just a monster, maybe he doesn’t realise that Jack will eventually get over this.
“I would have killed you,” Jack says. Ianto almost smiles.
“Yes,” he whispers, “You would have done, wouldn’t you?”
And he turns his back on Jack and returns to his work, cheeks still wet, but head held high, and for a moment Jack just stands there, disconcerted and reeling.
... my love for you is not like friendship.
"You can't die," Ianto says slowly, watching Jack tapping his fingers on the desk and pretend that he isn't listening. "You do all sorts of things but you don't and you can't die. But you want to. And you have a hand in a jar that seems somewhat sentient, and you'll sleep with anything that moves."
"Is there a point to this?" Jack asks between his teeth. Ianto shrugs. A couple of months ago he wouldn’t have dared do this, but times have changed a little and perhaps he’s not the traitor so much any more.
"Just thought you might like to know how irritating it is knowing nothing about you, sir."
Jack rolls his eyes. Maybe he's annoyed. Maybe he isn't. There are an unbelievable number of sides to Jack Harkness, all of which are smothered with razor blades and none of which make any sense without the others, which Ianto doesn't have any knowledge of either. Basically, Jack is every metaphor in the book and it's getting more than a little tiring.
"You want the truth?" Jack asks suddenly. Ianto bites his lip.
"Not if you're going to follow that truth with promptly wiping it from my memory, sir."
Part of him wants to add does it get lonely, removing everyone's memory at the drop of a hat? or maybe just how many of those pills do you have?, but most conversations with Jack entail walking on eggshells and after a couple of years Ianto is still trying to find the right balance.
Jack doesn't look at him, which Ianto takes to mean that he's angry about the memory pill comment. It's nothing new. Jack is angry about everything these days. Except maybe Gwen.
"And," Jack begins slowly, with a very deliberate look on his face, "What would you think if I told you that the hand is the only piece of a person that I- that is the reason I'm immortal?"
Ianto is trembling.
"I'd ask whether you'd be kind enough to slip my memory pill into a cup of tea tonight, sir, I don't really feel like a coffee."
It's a lie but he doesn't know what to say because everything he wants to say is highly inappropriate, and he wishes that he could read Jack better.
Not a question, not a statement, it's drawled out in Jack's lazy accent but it's anything but calm.
He wonders if the momentary look on Jack's face is disappointment. Then he decides that that's wishful thinking, because Jack does anger and devastation, but he doesn't do disappointment. There's silence and for a moment Ianto believes that it honestly could go either way.
"Good night, sir," Ianto says, getting to his feet, words spilling from his mouth, tasting like regret and relief. Jack looks at him with a do you really want to do this kind of look on his face, but he nods anyway.
Ianto shivers as he passes the hand in its jar on his way out. Even with the thin sliver of truth he's got stuck like a splinter under his skin, it's still creepy.