It's a rainy Friday afternoon when your curiosity gets the better of you and no one else is around to ask you where you're off to. Jack leaves, and you put on your hooded jumper and a heavy wool coat over that. You start out after him, and he's easy enough to follow.
In the two years you've worked for Torchwood, even before you started shagging him, you've noticed how Jack slips away for a few hours every once in a while. There's no schedule, no third Monday of the month at seven, or every other Thursday at two, but maybe when he sees a crack in the madness that he can slip through. He always reappears a few hours later, melancholy.
Sometimes, you can rouse him with a drink and a strip show, or simply a smile at the right time, and he kisses you like he means it (maybe he does) and the two of you fall back in line. Other times, he wants nothing to do with you for a few days or until after the next disaster when he needs you again, to remind him that you're still alive and, for all of his life, that he's not dead.
It's always about Jack, and that's okay with you. He needs more than you do.
Jack doesn't blend into a crowd. He stands out. You like that about him, and usually you want to stand out with him, but today, you need to hide. You pull the hood up, as not to attract anymore attention to yourself, though you're not sure if it's working. You aren't sure Jack would react if he knew you were following him. You have enough sense to know that it wouldn't be good.
He leads you to -- Providence Park? The psychiatric hospital?
You're not sure what you had been expecting. Other lovers, a rooftop to brood on, or a visit to his illegitimate children, perhaps. But not this.
Inside, Jack is friendly with the staff. They know him. He takes up all the space, and it's easy for them to not notice you. No one asks what you're doing there. No one even sees you. Not with Jack in the room.
Jack walks into a general room -- a visitors room, you realize -- and gravitates directly to a dark-haired man sitting on an ugly green sofa. He's older than you, but not old. Early thirties, probably. He's wearing blue pinstriped pajamas and a tatty blue terrycloth dressing gown and his face lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees Jack. Jack smiles brilliantly back at him and cups his hands around the back of the man's head and kisses him.
You aren't jealous. You probably should be. The kiss is passionate, the way Jack's fingers curl in the man's hair and how the man clings to Jack, but there's something oddly nonsexual about it. You've been on the receiving end of enough of Jack's kisses to know how he rouses you. But this, despite all the heat, is almost innocent. Like the man is too fragile for lust.
You linger at the room's entrance until a single wing back chair opens up. You take it and still no one asks.
The kiss ends and Jack removes his coat with a flourish, getting another brightly lit grin from the dark-haired man, and sits down next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "How you doing, Ianto?"
Ianto. The name sounds familiar. You've heard it before. You can't place where, but it definitely wasn't from Jack.
"Better. Ready for you to take me home." Ianto rests his head against Jack's shoulder. "I don't want to stay here anymore. The food is shit and you never visit."
"I was here the Wednesday before last," Jack says, brushing a curl off Ianto's forehead. "It's okay that you don't remember."
Jack lifts Ianto's chin with a finger so they're eye-to-eye. "You don't have anything to be sorry for. You're doing everything right."
Ianto smiles slightly. "Am I better enough to come home? I still remember how to make coffee and I can clean the Hub, just like I used to."
Jack looks pained and every instinct in you is to reach out for him, because that's what you do. That's what you are for Jack. You heal the wounds. Even Jack's.
"The Hub's not there anymore," Jack says. "We work out of offices, now."
"You like offices," Ianto replies, and Jack laughs.
"Yeah, I do."
You're missing something. Jack hates the offices. Too clean, too new, he always says. There's never enough room for him. But then again, the Earth is really too small for him.
"When will Gwen visit?" Ianto asks.
You gasp, and only halfway through realize you need to be quiet, not that Jack could hear you from halfway across the room. You tug at your hood, making sure it's up as far as it will go, just in case.
You knew Gwen. She died more than a year ago, and her husband moved out of the country with their daughter. Gwen was so good in many ways, as a person and as an agent, and Jack still isn't over it. Sometimes, you aren't over it, either.
"I don't know," Jack lies. "I'll remind her to come visit."
You realize that's where you've Ianto's name before. From Gwen. She spoke about him to Jack, but never to you. Thinking back on it, you remember that Gwen used to leave early some days, too, and you thought she was going home to her family. Then again, this is Torchwood. Ianto was her family, too.
"I miss her," Ianto says, like she's been on holiday or missed Christmas. "Sometimes I think she's scared of me. Cause I'm not right anymore."
"Stop that. You're perfect."
"Am I? Would you still fuck me?" It's not a hypothetical. Ianto is completely serious.
Jack takes Ianto's chin in his free hand -- his left -- and studies Ianto's face for a moment, running his thumb along Ianto's lower lip. Even from further away, you try to take in the details Jack's seeing, stubbly chin, blue eyes, and dark hair curling at the ends.
He's attractive. Even barefoot in his pajamas, in a psychiatric institution, you can see that.
"Oh yeah," Jack says, kissing him gently.
Your hands ball into fists as the kiss grows. This kiss isn't so innocent and as much as you know and understand Jack, you can't help your own jealousy. When you look away, you wonder if it's because of the kiss or because Jack loves this man. There isn't any doubt in your mind Jack loves him. He loves him in a way you couldn't imagine him loving you.
Ianto slips his hand between Jack's legs and Jack pulls back. He reaches down and places Ianto's hand back in his own lap.
"Not here." Jack eyes the nurse across the room who is watching them. "Next time."
"You always say that."
For everything Ianto may forget or Jack may neglect to tell him, you can believe that he always asks and Jack always says the same thing. One look at Jack and you know it. And you know he doesn't want to say no.
Ianto leans against Jack's shoulder again. "I want to go home."
"I want you to come home, too," Jack says, resting his cheek on top of Ianto's head. "I'll talk to your doctors. How does that sound?"
Jack's lying. You always know when he's lying. He won't talk to the doctors. There might not be anything to say.
Ianto nods. "I don't want to be here anymore, Jack. I feel like I've been here forever. I'm not crazy. Everyone knows about the aliens. Everyone knows about what we do."
"You're not crazy," Jack agrees, hugging Ianto close. "You're not here because you're crazy. You know that, right?"
"Sometimes I wonder if this place is making me crazy, Jack. I think I'd be better at the Hub. I could get better there. I wouldn't get in the way. I could do my job." He rolls his eyes. "I couldn't carry a gun, that'd be liability, but I could make the coffee, and do the paperwork and send out your laundry, and all those things I did before. We could--"
"Hey, hey," Jack says, unwinding his arm from around Ianto's shoulders. He takes both of Ianto's hands in his. "We'll work it out. We always do."
"And you always leave me here," Ianto says. He leans his head forward and buries his face in Jack's chest and sobs.
Jack looks like he's about to cry, too. His hands slip into Ianto's hair and you can see his mouth moving, mumbling soft words you can't hear as he rocks Ianto gently.
The nurse who had been eyeing them earlier comes over. Her hand goes over one of Jack's and she says something to him that you can't quite make out. Jack shakes his head.
"No, please, give me another minute. I'll set it right." Jack looks up and he's helpless. He's desperate and you've never seen him like this before. Something in your mind shifts and Jack is a new person.
"Jack, he's distressed. This isn't good for him," the nurse says, but she obviously has compassion for Jack as much as Ianto. This isn't simple friendliness. She knows him.
You wonder how long Ianto has been here; how long Jack has been coming.
"Can I walk him back to his room?" Jack asks.
The nurse looks skeptical. "It might be best for you both if you let me handle it."
Jack nods and he helps the nurse get Ianto into a standing position. "Ianto, hey, hey. It's okay," he says as Ianto continues to cling to him. "I'll be back next week. I promise."
"Come on, Ianto, let's go back to your room," says the nurse, trying to pry Ianto from around Jack's middle. "He'll be back."
"I'll always come back for you," Jack adds, stroking Ianto's hair. "Go on."
Reluctantly, Ianto lets go of Jack, and you can see his red, puffy face. He sniffs loudly and Jack produces a handkerchief from his pocket. He wipes Ianto's nose like he's always cleaning up someone else's snotty messes. Jack smiles, but it's not his Mister Universe smile. It's a sad smile. It's one he's working very hard to give.
"I'll come back soon and we'll have a nice long visit," Jack says. He reaches out and touches Ianto's cheek.
Ianto's shaking, but he nods. "I'll be better."
"I know." Jack leans in and kisses Ianto's forehead and watches as the nurse leads Ianto out of the room. Once Ianto and the nurse are out of sight, Jack pulls on his coat and turns. There isn't hesitation in his stride as he walks toward you.
Your stomach turns to ice. You weren't as stealthy as you thought you were, and you don't know what's going to happen next.
He rests a hand on your shoulder and jerks his head to the door. "Let's go," he says.
After sitting in the over-warm visitor's room in your wool coat, the cool air against your face feels good. You're tempted to open your coat and give some relief to your sweating underarms, but Jack plops down on one of the black metal benches off the sidewalk before you get the chance. You waver for a moment, but sit down next to him. He's your boss, you're shagging him, and you broke one of the unwritten rules the two of you have put down. There are going to be consequences.
"Don't you want to know what happened to him?" Jack asks after a few minutes of silence.
You're dying to know.
"If you want to tell me," you reply.
"A few years back, the thing with the children, you remember?"
Jack looks down at his hands. "We -- Torchwood -- we did what we could to stop it. We did, but... people died. I tried to save Ianto. I saved his life, but no one had ever survived the virus before, not without the antidote. All Ianto had was me, and I did it wrong. I couldn't save him the right way that time. I saved his life, but he might have been better off..."
You can't guess the extent of Ianto's brain damage without looking at his charts, but even so, you ask, "Does he have to stay here? He seems... lucid. There are a lot of options in home care."
Jack shakes his head. "Today was a good day. He's unpredictable. He's been on me for a couple of years now, wanting to come home. He still thinks we're based at the bay; I can't get him to remember we're not anymore. We've talked to his doctors a dozen times about it. His sister tried home care for a while in the beginning, before we brought him here, but it didn't work out."
"He lashed out at one of her children. No one was hurt, but they had been through enough and Rhiannon couldn't take care of them and Ianto. Maybe when the children are older she'll have the time to care for them all."
"What happened? Lashed out how?" you ask, sounding more eager to know than you would have liked.
"I don't know the details. For all the times he's aware of how he'd be a liability with a gun, and all the things he could do for the team, there are days when he sits in a corner and doesn't speak. Or acts out his flashbacks and thinks the nursing staff are aliens and tries to attack them. Or he tries to drown himself in a sink or the bath. He's never tried to hurt himself in any other way except drowning and I don't know why. Because of that, he can't use the loo without supervision; he can't sleep alone in his room without being restrained. Maybe he could have better days at the office, but I'm not willing to risk his life over it."
You manage a quiet, "Oh," and silence falls between the two of you.
"I wanted to leave. I left Cardiff for a while, but I kept thinking about him wondering where I was, when I'd visit. He's barely here half the time, and he still grounds me," Jack says finally. He looks at you for the first time and smiles a little. His eyes are red from tears. "And if I'd gone, I wouldn't have met you."
You appreciate the throwaway comment, but it isn't really necessary. This has always been about Jack, and that's okay with you. What else would you be doing? Getting married, having children? Unlikely. You need Torchwood, even without Jack.
"What about Gwen?" you ask. "Does he even know she's... gone?"
Jack shakes his head. "More for my benefit than his. It would upset him, and you saw how easily he gets upset. Then he wouldn't remember and I couldn't stand to tell him over and over again. It wouldn't do him any good. Or at least that's what I tell myself."
You reach over and take his hand. "I'm sorry."
He kisses you and you can taste the salty tears on his lips. He pulls back a hair and looks you in the eye. "If you follow me again, it's over. You, me, Torchwood. Understood?"
You stare at him for a moment, then nod.
"Good." Jack hops to his feet, pulling you with him. "You should take me out for some supper."
You smile and you think you might understand Jack a little bit more. "Wherever you want to go."