Footfalls echo in the memory, Down the passage which we did not take, Towards the door we never opened, Into the rose-garden.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
There is scaffolding around the old church, placed in an obvious attempt to restore and renovate, to keep history alive, and God, too. It has nothing to do with history or religion, though. Not really. It’s all about keeping the city’s coffers full by increasing tourism. Ianto should know; he had received the memo in the TI office just a week or so ago.
Dusk is giving way to night and the way the light from his torch oscillates and dances with the shadows makes the silent churchyard seem even eerier than it would be in daylight.
Jack is kneeling by a pile of rubble, broken chips of brick and stone and mortar. They’d already retrieved the cylindrical piece of junk that had fallen through the rift (a piece of beat up carburetor from what Jack had insisted was a 2762 Mustang, though Ianto didn’t believe him – it was an indistinguishable bit of dented metal, as far as he was concerned), but Jack had wanted to be sure nothing else had slipped through. Still, Ianto can’t complain. It’s better than spelunking in the sewers of Cardiff, chasing after a hoard of rabid Weevils. That was how they had spent last night. Jack clearly needs to brush up on his dating etiquette.
Ianto can hear a delicate trickling of water to his left and, slightly curious, follows a path toward the church’s small rose garden. Not that anything is in bloom in the final fury of winter, and so he suspects the rose garden looks more like a slapdash conglomeration of dried leaves and brittle, brown stems. The thorns most likely remain. They always do.
The path is as old as the church, he suspects. Centuries ago, stonemasons or laborers paved these very walkways with bricks of granite. They took great care to arrange each piece as expertly as possible, creating perfectly-spaced, even rows. Then time progressed and eroded those very bricks until they looked more ovular than rectangular. They pulled away from each other, too, as the earth shifted and weeds grew up between the spaces and cracked the granite. What was once a smooth, pleasant walking surface has become rugged terrain.
Ianto thinks Jack’s heart must be a lot like this. Once it had been like bare earth, untouched, natural and beautiful. Civilization then made its mark and for the sake of development and survival, stone had been applied. But like all things, time wore down the work and the earth was once more defenseless.
His heels clack hollowly, softly, against the harsh surface. He likes to think that, perhaps, this is like Jack’s heart, too. That his footsteps resound, echo, and leave some sort of quantifiable mark even if, as sound often does, it quickly fades away.
He comes upon a small stream that runs across the path. It is narrow, just one long stride, or a hearty leap, required for passage. There was talk in that memo he had received about adding a pretty footbridge in the Renaissance style, but Ianto prefers the simple stretch of his legs as he crosses. Even from this distance, even with the low stone wall absorbing some of the sound, he can hear the shifting and scraping of Jack working through his pile.
The garden is up ahead, little more than a few feet away, and Ianto approaches it cautiously. Strange things hide in rose gardens. Actually, in Cardiff, strange things hide everywhere. It pays to be diligent. A thorough sweep of his torch indicates that the only thing hiding is a squat stone bench that is covered in the debris of untended flora. He wipes a hand across the roughened surface, turns off his torch, and then sits.
He’d been up before Jack this morning. Well, more accurately, he had been awake before Jack had crawled back into bed for his customary hour and a half of sleep. The predawn morning bore no light into his room, but he could still see the outline of Jack’s pout as Ianto had squirmed out of bed.
“Sleep,” he whispered, leaning over to press his lips against an expanse of skin somewhere between Jack’s forehead and temple. “I won’t be far.”
Jack had been using him as a security blanket ever since they had lost Tosh and Owen and a little bit more of their sanity. Come to think of it, Jack had been using him as a security blanket since he came back from his…temporary leave of absence. Sabbatical. Hiatus. Momentary retirement. Whatever. In any case, Jack had grown more steadily dependent as the days increased and not just for things like sex or coffee or ad-hoc coat repair.
Ianto couldn’t even hide in the archives for more than two hours before either Gwen or Jack found a way to check on him. Gwen was slightly more circumspect, true, using her comm. to beg Ianto to make a coffee. Jack, in usual fashion, would either barrel in and press him up against a filing cabinet or creep into the shadows to watch him work.
No matter. Ianto wasn’t stupid. He knew what was happening. Hell, when Gwen had taken more than three hours at the station on a retrieval, he had sent her thinly-veiled text (something cheeky about Andy finally managing to sweep her off her feet) to verify that she was…well, still alive. Turns out it was just sweet, simple bureaucracy, of course. He found out later that Jack had called her to ask her to pick up Chinese on the way back, which wouldn’t have been so suspicious if he hadn’t watched Ianto order pizza just twenty minutes earlier.
But Jack had slept while Ianto had showered, changed, and made copious amounts of coffee. By the time Ianto had returned to the bedroom, Jack had managed to sprawl completely across the bed.
Ianto’s thoughts having sufficiently digressed in a whorl of remembrances and philosophical musings, he doesn’t hear Jack’s approaching footsteps. Granted, the man can be stealth when he tries, but Ianto is usually attuned to such things. This time, not so much. So when a hand comes to rest upon his shoulder, Ianto starts with a jolt.
“Easy there,” Jack chuckles. “Didn’t take you for the ‘stop and smell the roses’ type.”
Ianto snorts as Jack sits next to him. “What roses?”
Ianto’s heart rate is gradually slowing. Jack bumps his shoulder with his own and turns to face him.
“You didn’t have to come tonight, you know, if you didn’t want to. I could’ve handled it.”
This is a repeat of last night’s conversation. And the one had the night before that. And three nights ago, as well. Ianto has studied his lines and knows them well.
“I know,” he whispers. “But I did. I do.”
Because Ianto understands that there is something to this “not letting you out of my sight” game that they’re all playing. And while he can leave Gwen be (mostly) for hours at a time, he’s constantly checking up on Jack. It’s never quite as physical as Jack’s constant need to see, to touch, but Ianto has been utilizing the unlimited text messages in his mobile plan rather well these past few months. In fact, he and Jack have probably spoken more in texting shorthand in the past week then they had verbally communicated in the first full year of Ianto’s employment.
And these night missions have required Ianto’s accompaniment. Usually, they’re small things. Retrievals like this that they would never dare interrupt Gwen’s time with Rhys over, or a quick Weevil hunt, or a Hoix loose in the food court of the nearby shopping plaza. They’re things that Jack could really handle on his own, too, but Ianto’s had enough of watching Jack shoulder the burden alone. He’s already shouldered all of Cardiff for nearly two millennia.
Even on missions like this where his presence is so very clearly unneeded (though, perhaps, still wanted), even when he’s been awake for what feels like a week straight, Ianto can’t bear the thought of staying home.
Jack leans against him. “What’re you thinking?”
“Things,” Ianto mutters and shrugs.
“Your eloquence never ceases to astound me.”
Jack grins at him and rests a hand on his thigh. He absentmindedly rubs a soft crease of Ianto’s trousers between his thumb and forefinger. Although they’re facing the direction of the stream, they can neither see nor hear it.
“I try my best, sir.”
Jack lets out a small, breathless laugh. Or perhaps it’s a sigh. He raises his other hand to cradle Ianto’s cheek and grazes his thumb over the sharp line of Ianto’s cheekbone. Ianto feels his head go heavy, slack, in a complete demonstration of trust in Jack to keep it upright. Strange how such a thing has become a learned response after such a short passage of time.
Jack uses the leverage he has to pull Ianto’s head closer, their lips just barely ghosting together. Jack’s eyes flick from Ianto’s eyes to his mouth and back again. It’s as if he’s trying to make a point.
“I know,” he whispers. “I know.”
They’re kissing, suddenly and, despite their very recent proximity, unexpectedly. Ianto isn’t sure which of them leaned forward that final quarter of a centimeter, or if it even matters in the grand scheme of things. Because now Jack’s lips are pressed so softly to his own in the most undemanding, painfully sweet way he’d ever experienced. There is no heated passion, no slow simmer, just a soothing sense of relief. It feels like he’s being smoothed inside and out, blurred and faded.
Both of Jack’s hands now frame his face and Ianto’s fingers are wrapped around Jack’s wrists. It’s a sort of symbiotic steadying, grounding, and for the first time in a long while, Ianto feels balanced. In fact, he hadn’t even realized that he had even felt so off-kilter until this moment.
There is a sharp trill that cuts through the silence of the night and they both jump away from each other like errant teenagers caught in the backseat of a car.
“It’s me, sorry,” Ianto apologizes as he fumbles in his pocket for his mobile.
He pulls it out and glances at the screen before laughing. The sound is robust, deep, and it echoes just enough to leave a lasting impression. Jack quirks an eyebrow at him and leans over his shoulder in an attempt to see the tiny bit of text. Ianto pushes him away slightly, but there is no malice in the gesture. Only affection.
“Gwen wants to make sure we’ve not been mauled by Weevils. She and Rhys have stopped by at the Hub with food, it seems.”
Jack laughs then, too, and rises. He offers his hand and Ianto can only stare at it for a moment.
“C’mon,” Jack says, reaching his arm out even further. “Best not keep her waiting.”
Nodding, Ianto finally accepts the assistance and rises from the bench. They follow the worn path back to the SUV and, if they stumble a bit along the way and grin at each other like idiots, who’s to know?