As long as there was hope for her, all of him lived.
When forced, by circumstances beyond his control but not really, to give her up, part of him died.
He couldn't mourn, for her or for himself. No part of this deserved mourning. He had been selfish and stupid to keep her there without telling the others. She needed to be destroyed, it was the only thing to do, and he had risked the lives of his friends because he had been too weak to accept that the woman he loved had died a long time ago. They were angry at him, and they were justified, and he couldn't argue with any of it.
But even as he accepted his punishment, he started to burn a little on the inside, and he didn't know what to do about that.
It threatened his demeanor, and his demeanor was his mask. His armor, really, though its point was not to keep others out. Without it, without coffee and paperwork and a blank expression, he thought he might disintegrate, fly off in a million directions. The singular drive to save Lisa kept him centered on the inside, and that was gone. All he could do now was spend as much energy as possible looking as calm as possible.
Which, he supposed, could drive anyone insane after a while.
So he propositioned Jack while holding a clipboard over the twice-dead body of one of his former bosses.
Business as usual. He refused to allow his demeanor to betray that everything underneath had changed.
He had to move on.
* * * * * * *
This was safe. He knew Jack wouldn't refuse him. He'd never refuse any of them. If Tosh snapped from her loneliness, or Gwen needed to test her boundaries, or Owen... well, Ianto couldn't imagine a plausible scenario that would work for Owen, but he's sure that if it ever surfaced, Jack wouldn't turn him down. He loved them, for all their faults, and he'd gladly express that love physically, if that's what they wanted. It didn't make him vulnerable; in fact, it seemed to make him more alive.
Ianto wasn't like him. Ianto was like Lisa.
It was the only way.
* * * * * * *
He hadn't always been like this, though. As a boy, and then he wasn't for a while.
Lisa had been his first and only lover. They met their last year at Swansea. He had been shy. She caught him staring, and saw things in him no one else had bothered to look for. She took his hand, brought him home, took him to bed, brought him to life. Day, after night, after day, for almost three years.
No one he knew before her or after her would have recognized who he was with her.
There hadn't been anyone else. Since then. Until now.
His ten minutes were up.
* * * * * * *
He approached the office and found Jack half-sitting, half-leaning on the desk, his hands resting on the ledge, his legs crossed out in front of him. He had his head down but raised his eyes as Ianto entered.
Ianto closed the door behind him, then stood at attention. "I forgot the stopwatch," he said, as though he was actually there to report on the presence or absence of a stopwatch. He faltered, for the first time, breaking eye contact, glancing quickly to the wall, then down, before settling his nerves and meeting Jack's gaze again. Jack's eyes sparked with questions, and Ianto pre-emptively steeled himself behind a serene, businesslike smile.
"I'm glad," Jack said. "Upon further consideration, it's not really that much fun to have around the first time." He inhaled and raised his head, shifting his expression to a mix of kindness and curiosity, suffused, of course, with desire. "You haven't done this before, right? With a man?"
"No. Is that a problem?"
"Not at all." Jack smiled now, though his eyes remained serious, searching. "It's just useful information to have before we begin. Would you like a drink?"
No no no, that's not how this works. Ianto moved stridently over to the desk, placed one hand on either side of Jack's neck, and pulled their mouths together.
* * * * * * *
This was their first kiss, but it was not a first kiss. There was no delicate brushing of the lips, no tentative exploration, no gradual increase in pressure. This was hard and full and everything all at once. Jack opened his mouth immediately, unquestioningly following Ianto's insistent lead. Ianto shoved his tongue inside and Jack responded in kind, without hesitation. Ianto angled his head to dive even deeper and Jack offered no resistance. Ianto pushed in, pulled back, pushed in again, over and over. Jack matched him stroke for stroke, met every demand until Ianto, angry and out of breath, tore away from him and stepped back.
Jack's position hadn't changed. He was still leaning against the desk, his hands gripping its edge tightly. But he too was breathing hard, and his eyes were on fire now, not just sparking.
"What is this about, Ianto?" he asked, his voice low and even.
Ianto feigned ignorance, retreating instantly into his armor. "I apologize. I thought you wanted me." He stared straight at Jack and tried to ignore his barely controlled breathing, and the heavy taste in his mouth.
Jack moved his head deliberately from side to side while his eyes remained fixed on Ianto's, daring him to look away. "Don't try to bullshit me, Ianto, because it'll never work. I do want you, I always have, and I'm not going to put a stop to anything if you walk over here again. But you should know that whatever you think fucking me is going to change, it absolutely will not change. Whatever it is you ultimately want, you won't get. Not unless you talk to me first."
* * * * * * *
Talking was not part of the plan. "Talking was not part of the plan." He heard his voice, void of emotion, and he hated himself for it.
"Then by all means, come over here and kiss me again, and we'll go downstairs and spend the night pounding into each other like rabbits, and it will be fantastic and it will take you out of your head and it will leave you utterly exhausted. I can promise you that." Jack pushed himself up from the desk. "And when you wake up, you will feel exactly the same as you do right now. I can promise that too."
Ianto felt his fists clench at his sides, almost involuntarily. He didn't know how he knew Jack was right, but he knew. Anger coursed through him again, but it had no target, no outlet anymore. It was critical now.
Jack walked over to him, reaching up to frame his cheek. The edge dropped out of his voice. "Or, you can trust me, and you can talk to me, and you can tell me what you're doing here. And we can still go do all of that. Only then, when you wake up, things might be different."
Ianto's eyes flickered, perhaps a millimeter, but it was enough. A fissure. He would dissolve now. There was nothing else to do.
Jack leaned in and kissed him then, gently, tenderly, offering affection where earlier there had been only heat.
Ianto couldn't hold on.
Jack's hand moved from Ianto's cheek to the back of his neck, and pulled their foreheads together.
"I've lost people, too," he whispered. "And it isn't okay."
Ianto fell against his shoulder, and wept.
* * * * * * *
When it was over, when he came back, he found himself sitting on the floor of Jack's office, his back against the wall behind the door. He couldn't see. His head throbbed. His body felt limp and heavy, like his bones had been replaced with liquid ballast.
"Hey." He heard Jack's voice first, then felt him, at his side, also against the wall. Everything seemed to be taking too long to register in his mind. It was so dark.
"Ianto." Jack's voice again. Quiet. Were they in danger? Nothing made sense. "Ianto, I'm getting up now, but I'll be right back, okay? Don't try to move yet. I'll be back in just a minute."
Everything was so hazy. A minute passed, maybe two, maybe ten, he had no idea. He felt Jack settle down against him and he sensed the presence of strongly minted tea. "Drink a little of this." Jack reached over and picked up one of his boneless hands, circling it around the hot mug, and finally, Ianto worked out how to bring his other hand up himself. He lifted the mug to his lips and took one pull, then another, feeling the soothing heat travel down his chest and settle in his stomach.
He tried to take a deep breath, but shuddered. He exhaled slowly, took another sip of his tea, and tried to open his eyes, unsuccessfully.
"Okay," Jack said quietly. "I have something cold, for your face. It'll help." He took the mug, gently, and replaced it with a damp, cold cloth.
Ianto brought it to his face and leaned into it, wincing against the icy sensation, breathing in and out.
Slowly, everything came back to him. What he had done, what he had tried to do.
After a bit, he sat up and tested his eyes, which were now able to open. He looked over at Jack, somewhat sheepishly, and traded the cloth for the warmth of his mug of tea.
"Thank you." The words felt strange in his throat, like they had somehow gained physical form.
"You're welcome," Jack replied, watching him carefully.
Ianto took another long sip. "What time is it?" He couldn't think of anything else to say. He didn't know where to start.
"Almost eight. You..." Jack didn't want to say it. You cried for so long. "It was nearly forty minutes before you fell asleep. Then you were out about two hours."
Ianto cast his eyes over at Jack, then quickly back in front of him. "And you... I mean, you stayed here? On the floor? The whole time?"
He felt Jack shrug. "Well, you know... there was nothing good on TV."
Ianto smiled even as tears came to his eyes, which surprised him. He didn't think he'd have any left. They stung.
* * * * * * *
He placed his mug on the floor and leaned back, closing his eyes against the tears that hurt, stemming them for the moment.
Jack smiled kindly. "I imagine you are."
"I mean... of being sad." Ianto's head snapped forward. He was saying it, slowly, finally. "I'm tired of being so fucking sad."
"Yeah." Jack nodded in forceful agreement. "That never really goes away."
Ianto scoffed. "That's very comforting, thanks."
Jack shrugged. "I don't sugarcoat. Not the important stuff." He sat forward and turned to face him. "Ianto, she was a part of you, and she will stay a part of you as long as you live. But so will the pain of losing her. It won't consume you like this forever, but it's never going to disappear completely. That's just how it is."
"Is that how it is for you? You've lost people, and you don't seem miserable." Ianto gave a small smile. "Not all the time, anyway."
"No. You can learn how to be happy again." Jack fell back against the wall, thoughtful. "Maybe not one hundred percent happy, but eighty or ninety, and you'll be okay with that. Tempered happiness is good. It means you've risked something. Dared to live a little. No one who really throws themselves into life ends up in total bliss. Not unless there are drugs involved."
Jack laughed softly at himself, then reached the back of his hand up to Ianto's temple, and the touch brought Ianto's eyes to his. "It's never going away. So you learn to live anyway, with the pain. You learn that it's part of what makes you human, and alive, and capable of emotions so strong they bring you to your knees. You learn," he said, turning his hand to slide his palm along Ianto's freshly dampened cheek, "to be grateful for it. For what it represents."
Ianto's hand came up to grip Jack's wrist as he pressed his face into the palm that held him. His eyes fell closed and he took one last deep breath, as though he could bring the words he had just heard into his body through the air that held them moments ago.
Without opening his eyes, he leaned forward, and kissed him, and believed him, and let go.