"How are you feeling, sir?"
"Moderately exsanguinated." Harkness rolled his neck, cracking a few vertebrae in a passable imitation of an exhausted executive. Ianto knew better; Harkness was inexhaustible. "Seriously, those guys are vamps." He hooked two fingers to indicate a pair of fangs. "Fucking Board of Directors. More like the walking undead."
"Indeed." Ianto placed the cup of coffee an exact two inches away from the table's edge. "Your coffee, sir."
"Mm." Harkness leaned his head against the couch's arm and blinked up at him. "You're not wearing it."
"Don't 'sir?' me. The purple shirt, with the stripes. That I got you for your birthday."
"It was not purple, sir, but lilac."
"Men do not wear lilac."
"You wear pink."
"Only under duress."
"Lilac's worse than pink?"
"Your coffee," said Ianto. "Sir." And turned to leave.
"Hey! Aren't you supposed to say something? Like, I dunno, was there something else, sir?"
"Was there something else, sir?"
"Yes, there was. Is. You're wearing the shirt tomorrow. And the grey waistcoat. You know the one."
Ianto did know the one. He only wished he didn't; it drew the most unseemly reactions from his employer. "The terms of my contract do not specify a dress code."
"Maybe they should."
Ianto did not shudder. "Sir..."
"I love it when you beg."
"I was not begging."
"It was in the tone. It was all in the tone. And your eyes. Your beautiful Bambi eyes."
"I would appreciate it if you refrained from comparing me to animated woodland creatures."
"As opposed to seductive, sloe-eyed creatures of Celtic myth?"
"Sirens?" Harkness hazarded.
"Those are Greek, not Celtic. Do your research."
"That's what I have you for."
"Precisely. If you'll allow me to leave, sir, I have research to conduct into Repco Pharmaceuticals' newest product range."
"Or you could research my product range."
"No, thank you, sir."
"It's quite an impressive range. Or so I'm told. Seven-and-half inches."
"Unconvincing exaggerations are best saved for advertisements," said Ianto.
"Ouch." Harkness winced. And grinned. It was a wonder how he managed to do both at the same time. American faces were remarkably malleable.
"If you'll excuse me." Ianto was losing his patience, or rather, was losing the very last reserves of his patience - the ones he kept stashed in the bomb shelter of his conscience, under the trenches from which he fought off Harkness's advances. The systematic fraying of his nerves probably showed, because Harkness only tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
"So difficult," he murmured, "but so delicious." His hand - hanging artlessly off the edge of the couch - brushed Ianto's behind as he passed.
Ianto ignored it. "Good coffee is indeed most difficult to brew."
"Tell me about it." A private smile flickered across Harkness's face - a Jack smile - and Ianto looked away from it.
"Good night, sir." He gathered the files on his boss's desk, cleared away the old coffee mug, and made his way towards the door.
"Good night," came Ja - Harkness's voice behind him, wistful and strangely indulgent, as if he were humoring Ianto by letting him leave. And then, just when Ianto thought he was safe: "You're wearing the shirt tomorrow. Or I'll accept that lunch invitation from Senator Tunstall. You know, the guy with the fifteen-year-old daughter? Who thinks Welsh accents are, like, so hot?"
Tunstall's daughter wasn't just a fifteen-year-old girl; she was a fifteen-year-old dominatrix. She also seemed to take most of her pointers from Jack, or from whatever Bible of Ianto-torture Jack consulted before work each day.
"Well?" Jack still hadn't opened his eyes - but his smile was, slowly, transforming into a smirk.
"And the grey waistcoat, sir," said Ianto, in his best not-a-traumatized-woodland-creature voice, and got the hell out of there.
It wasn't until he was two steps down the corridor that he realized he'd forgotten to compartmentalize. Again.
"Harkness," he whispered to himself, fiercely. "Harkness." Not Jack.
There must be something in the genetic profiles of personal assistants that rendered them incapable of enduring press conferences without hyperventilating. Ianto liked to think of it as a professional allergy. He was on the brink of having an aneurysm, but on the plus side, it might finally net him some much-deserved leave.
Ianto stood under a massive T-shaped logo of interlocking hexagons. 'Torchwood' was the new name for Harkness Industries, now that it was no longer developing armaments and weapons technologies - well, not for the use of anyone other than Harkness, anyway. Harkness had called it 'brand remodeling', but Ianto thought that 'Torchwood' still promoted a certain aesthetic of violent conflagration that rather undermined its CEO's supposed onset of pacifism.
The fact that Jack Harkness had only recently been outed as Iron Man - wearer of the world's most dangerous exoskeletal armor - didn't help matters.
And this was only Harkness's second press conference since that most memorable self-outing. Ianto was fairly sure he had suffered an aneurysm, that time.
"Hi! You're the PA, right?"
Ianto glanced at the woman - dark hair, bright eyes, a police uniform. Must be part of the state-sponsored security detail. "Officer...?"
"Cooper," she said. "Gwen. You've got a great accent, there. Reminds me of home."
Ianto's eyebrows shot up, despite himself. "Oh?"
"Welsh ancestry. Grandparents migrated here in the thirties." She shrugged. "You sound like 'em. It's kind of nostalgic."
Wonders never ceased. Ianto reminded gorgeous young women of their grandfathers. Maybe he really ought to hang himself; it'd save him the aneurysm. "Thank you." I think.
"Nah, I mean, you know. What's it like?"
"Being Iron Man's PA."
"Rather like being an anesthetist - mind-numblingly boring and terrifying by turns."
Cooper grinned at him. "You're cute. I can see why he's always macking on you."
Ianto stiffened. "I - "
"Oh, don't worry. I'm pretty sure nobody else noticed. Or took it seriously."
"Joy," said Ianto, dryly.
"Uh. Sorry? It's just... I think almost everyone's still fooled by his womanizing."
"He does actually fancy women," Ianto felt obliged to point out.
"Yeah. And you."
"And me," he agreed. Denying the obvious would be perfectly useless.
They stood there for a moment, behind the bobbing heads and cameras, watching the stage being set up for the press conference. Harkness was mucking around with the mic - flirting with the entire first row of reporters, most likely. Officer Perry, head of the security detail, seemed to be in the midst of an aneurysm - very possibly the one Ianto had narrowly avoided.
As if sensing Ianto's gaze upon him, Harkness looked up, met his eyes, and winked.
"There's my gorgeous secretary!"
Ianto didn't wince. That only egged the bastard on. Ianto only looked back, every inch the bland taskmaster, and tapped his watch.
"Aaaand it's time for me to stop being an asshole and start the actual press conference. I get it, babe." The crowd laughed. "So! Torchwood. New name, new modus operandi. Any questions?"
There was a flurry in the ranks of the reporters - eager voices, raised hands.
"Let's start from the left - the lady with the fabulous legs. What's your name, sweetheart?"
"Tara Winfield from American Voice."
"Tara? I love that name. Belongs to luscious hippies and lesbian teenagers. Which one are you?"
"A reporter," replied Ms. Winfield, her face just as bland as Ianto's had been. Ianto decided he liked her.
"Leggy reporter. Whole new category under 'Tara, name of the hot'. You filing this, Ianto?"
Ianto did not dignify that with a response.
"My gorgeous secretary's jealous, although he shouldn't be. What was your question, Tara?"
"You have said that your company will no longer develop or sell weapons. But what is it that you are developing? There is some speculation that Torchwood is researching cold fusion."
"Cold fusion," Harkness whistled, like someone had just said 'bikini briefs'. "That's mighty ambitious of us, if we're doing that. Considering that it is, you know, impossible."
"Is anything impossible for the genius behind the arc reactor? Did you not bring us the future?"
"Honey, I'm sure you've heard some pretty amazing bedroom stories, but no matter what super powers those other girls say I have, time travel ain't one of them."
Ianto pinched the bridge of his nose. Sometimes, his boss pushed the playboy angle so hard it was a miracle every feminist collective in the world hadn't pinned him for a misogynist and vandalized his luxury cars. Cars that were, by Harkness's own admittance, phallic symbols on wheels.
"And now my gorgeous secretary's looking pained. Next question. Go, go, rabbit-boy!"
A twitchy-nosed, resentful-looking reporter popped up from the third row, like a gerbil in the midst of a cabbage patch. "William Brumby from Ethical Business."
"Is there such a thing?"
"Pardon?" The reporter blinked.
"Ethical business. Well, whatever. Your question?"
"It has recently been revealed that Ianto Jones, or your 'gorgeous secretary', as you call him, was the erstwhile lover of Lisa Hallett, also known as Cyberwoman, the super-villain who terrorized the Eastern seaboard two years ago, after appropriating your nanotechnology and adapting it to suit her own armor."
The hall fell absolutely, utterly silent. Ianto was aware that his heart was thudding. He felt sick.
"Oh," said Cooper, quietly, from next to him.
Ianto didn't look at her. What was the point? Everyone was looking at him.
"Who," said Jack, even more quietly, infinitely more dangerously, "revealed that?"
Brumby-from-the-third-row had the wisdom to look frightened. Whatever wisdom he'd gained faded quickly, though. "A thoroughly vetted source," he said. "Why? Is Harkness Industries still in the habit of silencing the press?"
"Torchwood," Jack said, "is in the business of doing whatever the fuck it pleases, so long as it also pleases the law, the constitution and all twenty-seven of its venerated amendments, including but not limited to the First. Why, is Ethical Business looking to get sued? Because, see, I recall this court case in which a stupid publication went after my family and got their asses handed to them for harassment."
"So you are silencing the press - "
"I'm not silencing you," Jack said. "I'm just fantasizing about kicking you so hard your nuts end up in your throat."
Somewhere in the ashes of Ianto's composure, there stirred the ghost of a responsible PA, mid-aneurysm. Jack was ruining this conference. His reputation. His -
"Sir," he heard himself saying, as if from the end of a very long tunnel, "perhaps I should answer Mr. Brumby's questions, since they appear to be about me."
Jack's eyes flashed at him - dark, ferociously protective, worried - but Ianto couldn't feel warmed by them. Couldn't feel anything at all. "Ianto..."
"Please, sir. Let me do this."
It wasn't until he was halfway to the stage that he noticed Officer Cooper was following him.
"Hey," she whispered. "Might as well give you some security. In case rabbit-man goes nuts."
"Thanks," he said, and got up on the platform. Jack was looking at him like he'd jumped into a pit of fire.
"Ianto," he murmured. "You don't have to - "
"I do," Ianto answered, and took the mic. His fingers grazed Jack's, which felt shockingly hot, until he realized that he himself was doused in a cold sweat. His hands were shaking. "What did you wish to clarify, Mr. Brumby?"
Brumby-from-the-third-row seemed flummoxed by this unexpected turn of events. What, had he been expecting to lambaste Iron Man without interruptions? But no, it wasn't Iron Man he was after; it was Torchwood, and the competitive risk it posed to the whichever 'ethical businesses' were behind the funding of Brumby's publication. The knowledge was almost a comfort. "I - we want to know why the associate of a super-villain is employed at Harkness Industries."
"There is no such employee at Torchwood."
"But Harkness Indust - "
"Torchwood has no such employees. I was not the associate of a super-villain. I was the associate of Lisa Hallett, a loving, gifted and graceful woman, and an accomplished FBI agent that was made the subject of a much-publicized experiment that went horribly wrong. This is common knowledge, as it was promoted to the press and to the American public as the beginning of the Iron Army - an army that Iron Man was openly opposed to, if you recall, on the grounds that it might lead to just such a disaster. However, the government at the time persisted, against Mr. Harkness's best efforts, and their responsibility for the disaster was, in turn, responsible for their being voted out of power in the last election."
"The experiment - "
"The experiment was a failure. The nanotechnology intended to assist Miss Hallett in her mastery of one of the government's own exoskeletons instead assimilated her brain and replaced her with Cyberwoman."
"So you did know Cyberwoman."
Was Brumby an idiot, or did he just have selective hearing? "I knew Lisa Hallett," Ianto said. "I did not know Cyberwoman. I... I only thought I did, until her transformation was complete, and we all realized the horror that had befallen us. The government's scientists included."
"Are we to believe the words of Cyberwoman's lover?"
Ianto did a quick mental estimate of how much Brumby must be getting paid, to so dedicatedly raise this particular variety of hell. "No, since there is no such person. But you can trust the military's own reports. Ask Major Tyler, our military liaison, and she will confirm my account, as will the White House, I expect."
Brumby floundered. The tension in the hall had broken, as had the unsettling silence from the reporters; they'd started a low, frantic hubbub, clearly chuffed at having more press conferences from official channels in the near future. "Rose Tyler is not present."
"Neither is the White House," said Ianto, managing to inject a sense of bemused wryness into his words. He didn't feel wry; he felt hollow, like an old bone. "If you have any further concerns, kindly direct them to those eminently qualified to dismiss them. Thank you."
He handed the mic over to Jack, who was staring at him, and walked off the stage, past Officer Cooper and out of the hall.
It was only when he got to their office that he realized he'd forgotten to compartmentalize. Again.
Somehow, it didn't matter. It was easier, anyhow, and there was hardly anything in Ianto's life that was easy, anymore.
He entered the office. Torchwood's T-shaped logo moved sideways on the computer's screen, changed colors, and then moved diagonally. A bloody Windows-style screensaver. The mind boggled.
Ianto was sitting on the springy carpet, knees drawn up and back to the wall, when Jack came in. He knew it was Jack, even though the lights were off; that shape in the darkness was Jack's, the shape of Iron Man's shoulders without the armor, and Jack closed the door with a sigh.
"Budge over," he said, and sat down beside Ianto. Of course, that wasn't enough for him - he was Jack - so he nudged Ianto again, until Ianto was sitting between Jack's legs, leaning back against his chest. Ianto could feel the coolness of the arc reactor.
"What are you doing?"
"Spooning," Jack said. His arms came up to wrap around Ianto.
"It's not spooning if you're sitting down."
"Is so. You're convex, I'm concave. We fit together. Like spoons."
"Or contact lenses."
"In saline fluid."
"You should hire Gwen Cooper."
"What, that sweet little cop?"
Ah. So he'd checked up on her. "I knew she was your type."
"No, you are. You're practically the Platonic Form of my type."
"And everyone else is a lesser imitation?"
"Very good imitations, generally. I wouldn't say lesser. But yes."
"So they are your type."
"Oh, Ianto. My funny Valentine."
"If you start singing, I will 'nuke' you."
"I could totally hear those apostrophes. You and whose arsenal?"
"Iron Man's. Don't forget that I have all his access codes."
"All his access codes? Even the ones to his vintage sex toys?"
"Well, then. You must be his boyfriend."
"Just his personal assistant."
"I repeat. His boyfriend. His incredibly hot, super-competent, suit-wearing boyfriend. With a stopwatch."
"That really is a convenient stopwatch."
"Wanna know how to make it even more convenient?"
"Because then, you will begin to explain why stopwatches are the only sex toys without access codes."
"They aren't vintage," Jack pointed out.
"They are to some."
"Ouch. I'm not that much older."
"You're doddering, sir."
"Aw, 'sir' again? It makes me feel like Mister Burns."
"And I'm Smithers?"
"Hell, yes. 'Wiry, fast, firm, proud buttocks.'"
Ianto huffed out a laugh. "I can't believe you've memorized the dialogue. Sir."
"So have you. Smithers."
"I have no choice. You make me watch the reruns."
"You let me make you."
"That, sir, is the very definition of date-rape."
"People can't rape other people with cartoons."
"They can. You do. And I thought I asked you to refrain from comparing me to animated characters."
"Woodland creatures," Jack corrected, sliding a palm down Ianto's waist. For once, there was nothing sexual in the touch. Well, nothing much. "That's a specific subset."
"Allow me to widen the category, then. To the entire set."
"You, Ianto Jones, are out to ruin my fun."
"At first, you merely suspected, but now you know. Congratulations."
"Call me Jack." The order was sudden. And it was an order, for all that it wasn't, because this was Jack, begging, and that was as good as an order. Better than.
Ianto knew he was going to cave. But still. "No."
"Come on. I know you're thinking it."
"Did the armor give you telepathy?"
"Nope, but four years with you did."
"Sir - "
"I'm going to start singing."
"Don't." Ianto was not smiling. He was not.
"I'll sell that bomber jacket from WWII."
"You made me hunt the globe for that! For three months! And then you put it on the expense account!"
"You're exclamation-marking. I love it when you exclamation-mark."
"I thought you loved it when I begged."
"I'm begging. And you love it even more."
"Jack," said Ianto, because he did.
Jack breathed out, harshly, like he'd been stabbed. "Oh," he said, eventually. His voice was all wobbly and strange. Really, it was rather embarrassing, a grown man sounding like that.
"Didn't think I'd say it at all, did you?"
"No," Jack said. "I..." He shuddered, and Ianto could feel it, all along his back. "I hate that I put you through all this. These - these press conferences, and the craziness, and psychopathic reporters and evil masterminds and military tribunals and everything except freaking witchcraft, and - " He buried his face in Ianto's neck. "I hate that I - if I wasn't what I was - "
"If you weren't Jack Harkness, you wouldn't have a secretary."
"I could've been a normal CEO, or a - "
"If you weren't Jack Harkness," Ianto elaborated, "you wouldn't have this secretary."
Jack smiled against Ianto's nape. "This one? Ianto Jones, he of the perfection?"
"Yes," Ianto said.
"Yeah," Jack said, after a while. His arms got tighter around Ianto, instead of looser, and then the two of them just sat there, in the dark office, watching the computer's fake Windows screensaver flicker from blue to green to red.