For a first day back at work, it hasn't been as bad as it could have been. Particularly when taking into account the reasons why he's been absent from work. Not many people get to write down "my girlfriend tried to take over the Universe" at the top of their disciplinary procedure forms.
Not that he got to write his own disciplinary procedure forms.
The Hub is still the Hub. A bit dustier, a bit more chaotic, a bit less organised, but still the Hub. Ianto is not sure what he was expecting. The place has, after all, survived over a century, it should have been obvious it would still be standing after four weeks without him. Just as it will be standing long after he's gone. Still, first thing he saw when he walked in was the stack of files on Gwen's desk, looking perilously close to collapsing and spilling all over the floor, and the pile of unwashed mugs around the sink in the little kitchen. Maybe he needs to put a sign clearly identifying the dishwasher, for those who still consider washing dishes to be below their dignity.
And let's not even mention the state of the fridge.
Owen still hasn't said a word to him - unless he counts insults and demands for coffee and complaints that his dinner was late, cold, and the wrong dish. All of which were not directed at him, but rather shouted as loudly as possible so everybody would hear. Not that he can tell what exactly is making Owen more annoying and obnoxious than usual. It's probably something hiding behind Owen's so obvious facade of uncaring detachment. The one he knows is there, but hasn't managed to see through yet.
Gwen spent all day being all smiles and pretending nothing ever happened, as if the Torchwood approach of sweeping everything under the metaphorical carpet and praying nobody will notice could work for this as well. And, for a moment there, he had to wonder if she actually has any idea of exactly how bad things can get when Cybermen are around, if she has ever read the reports of the fall of Torchwood One, or considered the impact of a soulless enemy who can only grow in numbers when it attacks. He catches himself shaking his head. Given how easily she smiles...
Tosh, kind and caring Tosh, only makes him feel like he shouldn't be here, like he doesn't deserve to be here after what he did, because how can she be so gentle and considerate to him after...? The last thing he was expecting was a cup of coffee delivered to him in the morning - although it didn't surprise him to see that, in his absence, it was Tosh who provided caffeine for everybody, at least early in the morning. The last thing he was expecting was a smile that spoke of forgiveness and understanding. As if Tosh had been there, and knew what it meant to risk the world for a loved one.
Jack... Well, he has no idea what is going on inside Jack's head. Hell, he has no idea why he is here again, back at his post, being trusted with the Archivist codes and keys again. He should be in a drawer in the morgue, a bullet through his head, or in some far away place, with a new name and a new set of memories and a Torchwood watch-tag under his skin. He has no idea why Captain Harkness, who isn't exactly known for being merciful, seems to have taken pity on him.
Of all the things he has had to face today, however, this is the hardest. As he approaches Myfanwy's nest - and why on Earth the name has stuck, despite his efforts to convince everybody that this is, indeed, a male pteranodon - his hands start shaking again. So badly, he can barely punch his code into the keypad that operates the gates to the nest and effectively locks the dinosaur in one side of it while he access the other one.
One close encounter was more than enough for his liking.
Myfanwy is asleep when he walks in, wings wrapped around the lithe body and head lolling to one side. It is hard to believe this is the same creature that viciously attacked Lisa – the cyberwoman - a few weeks ago. It looks... peaceful, and almost delicate. Even though he knows better than to trust appearances, he finds all the anger that has been bubbling inside him dissipating.
It might be simpler if he could hate Myfanwy. But he can't. It was only doing what it knows how to do. It only attacked because Jack convinced it Lisa – the cyberwoman - was food.
He stops, hands in midair as he is swapping the bowl of water for a clean one. Tries to swallow the knot on his throat but it only tightens. Takes a deep breath - or three - trying to calm his heart, but it doesn't quite work.
It might be simpler if he could hate Jack. But he can't. Jack was only doing what was necessary. What had to be done. However hard and inhuman and cruel it might be. It sill breaks his heart to think that Lisa is dead. But it wasn't Jack who killed her. It was the Cybermen, back when Torchwood One fell.
They owed her, yeah. They should have helped her.
He should have helped her.
Maybe he should have put an end to her misery long before she turned into a monster. Maybe he should never have allowed the cyberman part of her to take over. To turn her into a heartless machine.
He shakes his head, ignoring the tears streaming down his face, trying to push away everything that keeps swirling in his head. He only notices he's left the nest when he is halfway down the stairs, on his way to the lower levels. To what used to be Lisa's room. He forces himself to stop, to remember that there is nothing down there anymore, because every last scrap of metal was burnt and melted and destroyed beyond recognition. He could go home, but he can't face those walls and empty rooms and unpacked boxes anymore. He could hide in the room he used to stay in when Lisa was still Lisa, but it is as haunted by memories as any other place in the Hub.
He wants to scream, to walk away from it all, but at the same time knows he could never do it. It's not just work, it's not just - as Suzie used to say - that Torchwood does not let you go even if you are dead. There is a degree of guilt involved, of knowing everybody in Torchwood could have ended up dead, and it would have been a direct consequence of his actions. Of knowing he risked a lot more than just his job to keep Lisa alive, to try to find a cure for her, and it the end it all turned to ashes. He fucked up, and in some twisted way, staying here and helping and making sure the planet survives intact a few more years and having to work side by side with the execution squad of the woman he loved seems a fitting punishment.
So he just lets gravity take him when his knees give in under him, and slumps to the floor, feeling the cold coming from the concrete and seeping through his clothes.
Questions he thought he had managed to put aside come back to haunt him. How can he think of Lisa as the woman he loved, when he had been sharing Jack's bed? How can he talk about caring for her when his first reaction when she was discovered was relief, as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders?
He's falling apart, and he's not even sure he wants to do something about it, even if he knew what to do.
Maybe life would be easier if he could believe the hint of forgiveness he sees in Jack's eyes is real.
Jack only notices he's biting his lip when the taste of blood explodes in his mouth. It does take some effort before he finally manages to persuade his jaw to relax. He's been keeping an eye on Ianto all day, as much as the unusually slow day at Torchwood allowed. Always from a distance. Across the room, whenever Ianto didn't find an excuse to be somewhere else the moment he appeared. On CCTV, when Ianto vanished to the depths of the Hub leaving behind no trace other than perfectly brewed mugs of coffee, served with milk, sugar or cream to taste.
Something tells him trying to get too close to Ianto right now wouldn't be a good idea.
Yet here he is, making his way towards levels of the Hub he hasn't visited in at least a decade, climbing up back stairs and trying to keep his footsteps silent.
Something in Ianto's eyes as he collapsed to the floor - even on the grainy CCTV on his monitor - spoke of a level of desperation no human being should ever be expected to endure. He swallows, and for a moment the whole world seems to land on his shoulders. He should know. He's been there more times than he cares to remember. If there is one thing he knows about, is loss.
He stops for a second after the last flight of stairs, listening. Further down the corridor, he can hear Ianto breathing heavily, and mumbling half-words that don't quite carry in a tone so loaded with pain it hurts. With a heavy sigh, he takes a few steps towards the figure slumped on the floor a few metres away, boots clattering noisily on the concrete floor. Giving Ianto enough time to vanish.
Ianto doesn't move, doesn't even raise his head or look around. He leans on the wall, across the corridor, and slowly slides down until he is sitting opposite Ianto, forearms resting on his knees. For a very long moment, neither of them says anything. There is a lot he would like to say, to explain, to share. But it's neither the time nor the place. Ianto is grieving, and it's not his place to add to that grief, but to - somehow - alleviate it.
Not that he has the slightest clue how to reach out to Ianto right now.
Not that he ever had, come to think about it, given the way Ianto played him like a fine-tuned violin. It is something to be proud of, to a certain extent. Not many people have grounds to say they conned a conman, and despite the pretences and the Captain Harkness facade, he is still one of the best in the galaxy, deep down.
"The last person I want to see right now is you." Ianto says it like he means it, and it hurts to hear it out loud. There is more than an edge of anger and even a hint of hatred in those words. Not that he can can't blame Ianto for it. He did, after all, kill what was left of Lisa – yet another name in the long list of people whose lives have been destroyed by Torchwood. Even if there was barely a trace of her left, it was his actions that forced Ianto to accept that reality. He did, after all, force Ianto to clear up the room housing the cyberconversion unit, to take every scrap of alien technology to the furnaces and watch it melt into a pile of useless metal.
"The last thing you need right now is to be alone." It comes out sharper than intended. Ianto lets out a sigh and shakes his head, still stubbornly refusing to look at him. If there is something Ianto is a master of - other than coffee making, that is - it's stubborn silences. He stares intently, watching Ianto's lips move without sound for what feels like an eternity, but is probably in the region of a couple of minutes.
"Don't expect conversation." The words explode in the silence of the corridor, and almost sound like a plea, even if he can't figure out what for. A moment of peace and quiet. The pain to fade into a distant memory. Waking up to find the last few weeks never happened. Never waking up again. A good shouting match. All of the above. Probably not even Ianto knows.
"Fine by me." Ianto shuffles around, shifting his weight and leaning back against the wall, eyes lost in the ceiling. It's hard to reconcile the broken man in front of him with the angry, violent person that split his lip and promised to make him suffer and watch him die. Ianto lets out a strangled little snort, and finally looks at him. He can tell Ianto has been crying, though there are no tears in the icy blue eyes that pin him to the wall.
"Is that why you've been coming round all these weeks?" Not really a question, not quite an accusation. He considers the question for a moment. Is it? What is it about Ianto that made him break rules and regulations? What is it about Ianto that made it impossible for him to consider the idea of execution or complete retconning? What is it about Ianto that makes even this awkward moment of unvoiced confessions feel comfortable and real?
"Yeah." The answer comes a surprise, as if his mouth had betrayed his brain and spoken out of turn out of its own volition. He wants to look away, but something in Ianto's eyes hold him in place. He lets out a sigh and watches the emotions playing on Ianto's face. Pain. Betrayal. Confusion. Hope. Despair. The need for something to hold on, which probably explains why Ianto is at work today and didn't walk out halfway through the day despite Owen's lack of tact and Gwen's lack of understanding and Toshiko's ever-present forgiveness. The need for it all to end. All too familiar. All too close for comfort.
"You talk as if you knew how it feels." He has to bite back the bitter laugh struggling to come out at Ianto's words. He's never sure whether Ianto really is as perceptive as this uncanny ability to always ask the right question would suggest, or simply an expert in fishing expeditions that more often than not are on the right track.
"Yeah." What can he say? He can't exactly explain that ever since he met the Doctor he's lost everything and everybody more times than he cares to remember. He can't exactly explain that he doesn't even have a way out when it all gets too much, because he only just ends up back here, as life were one of those stupid video games where the characters are never really killed and simply reappear exactly where they died. He can't exactly explain that what started as a prison job, as the less unsavoury alternative to an eternity of pain and experiments at the hands of Torchwood, has eventually become his life, and he hasn't got the slightest clue how that happened.
"Christ, Jack, will you ever answer a question?" Ianto's voice is full of anger, and somehow that makes him smile. Anger is often a very powerful motivator, and that is often all it takes for people to hold on to life until the pain dulls and everything - as much as possible - returns to normal. Ianto's hands ball into fists, and somehow it wouldn't surprise him if this ended up in a fight. It might do some good, if it happens.
"You don't want to know the answers." And that's the most honest thing he can say right now. Because Ianto really doesn't want to know, no matter what might be going in that head of his. Ianto doesn't want to know that he understands the pain of loss only too well. Ianto doesn't want to know that he isn't proud of what he had to do, and he wouldn't have done it if there had been another way.
Not now, anyway.
There is a very long silence, full of shifting and shuffling, of scuffing of shoes on concrete and blinking away tears and lips that move in half-words he can't make out. He half-expects Ianto to stand up and walk away, maybe even disappear for good and never set foot in Cardiff again. Part of him has been half-expecting it for weeks, despite reassurances - or where they threats? - that Ianto would only leave town after the death of a certain Captain Harkness.
"Do the nightmares ever go away?" He winces. What can he say? He still has nightmares, even after more than a hundred years. Too many things still haunt him. Time dulls the ache and makes them less frequent, easier to handle and push aside and ignore. But no, they never go away.
"They could." Ianto gives him a puzzled look. "You could forget all of this." Ianto lets out a sigh and shakes his head. "No more nightmares." He swallows. "No more pain." He reaches into his shirt pocket and brings out three small pills. "You could wake up in the morning, in the other end of the country, a happy man who never went through this."
"Do you really think I would want to forget her?" Ianto's words cut like a knife, and he finds himself shuffling his feet, preparing to jump up and face the fight that might start any second. "Do you really think I would want to forget what Torchwood did to her?" It sounds like hatred, but the trembling on Ianto's lips speaks of so much more. "What you did to her?"
"Do you?" Ianto shakes his head, and he stashes the pills back where they came from. A heartbeat. Two. Three. It feels like an eternity before Ianto lets out a long, tired breath. There is a muffled thud when Ianto tilts his head back and skull meets Victorian brickwork a bit harder than intended. "Why?" Barely a whisper, because he hasn't got air for more. Because this is one of those things that took him a lifetime or two to learn, and Ianto is having it thrown upon him without ceremony, courtesy of the best-paying and most-demanding employer in the Realm. Ianto's head bounces softly on the wall a few more times, a steady rhythm slowly building.
"I would forget the good days." Ianto seems to relax, if only a fraction. "I would forget how I met her." A sad smile plays on Ianto's lips. "I would forget all the things worth remembering."
When Ianto looks back at him, he doesn't know where to hide. Ianto bows his head, a simple gesture of acknowledgment of too many things left unsaid. Without a word, he stands up and offers Ianto a hand, not entirely sure whether he's expecting Ianto to take it or to kick his feet from under him and watch him fall.
When Ianto takes his hand and struggles back to his feet, part of him can't help thinking it'll all, somehow, get better.
Maybe life would be easier if he could believe the hint of forgiveness in Ianto's eyes is real.