He should not be here. Only Jack and Toshiko are supposed to have access, but Ianto is nothing if not innovative. The command override codes from Torchwood One haven’t been changed since the Battle of Canary Wharf—because Torchwood One doesn’t exist anymore, and there's no need to change codes remembered, barely, but twenty-four people, most of whom didn’t have sufficient clearance for anything higher than the twelfth floor.
Ianto’s records—the ones in the main computers, the ones Toshiko would have pulled when Jack asked her for Ianto’s background—show that he was a junior researcher assigned to a low-level science team.
That’s not entirely correct.
The door unlocks with a grinding tumble of disengaged locks, and Ianto pushes it open without hesitation. This is everything he has been waiting for, everything he needs to save his beautiful, beloved Lisa, who lies encased in metal in one of the empty rooms. There is nothing he would not do for her, and with access to Mainframe—or the only living section of Mainframe that remains—there will be nothing he does not know about how to fix her.
He’s been planning it for months now, ever since he first managed to lie and flirt his way into the job. The memory of that night with Jack, of the pteranodon and a roll across the floor of a warehouse, sends a twist of horrified guilt through his gut, but Ianto ignores it. no matter how guilty he feels, he doesn’t regret it. He can't, not when he’s doing it to save Lisa.
Taking a deep breath, Ianto steps forward, through the doorway and into a room filled with soft blue light.
Mainframe is as beautiful as he remembered from London, a growing, twisting net of feeds and ports and processors that are all organic, all exquisite in their economy and brilliance. It looks like a vast brain, but without the gruesome connotations that word has, a logic center that could power an entire world made of pastel-shaded organic material humans have yet to come up with a name for, have yet to even comprehend. Ianto has to pause inside the door, just to stare, because seeing Mainframe again isn’t something he ever thought would happen, no matter how he planned and plotted.
Seeing Mainframe again—it feels like coming home.
Mainframe knows him, too. She—because Ianto can only ever think of this marvelous being as she, something Lisa always teased him endlessly about—whirs softly, the lone terminal in the room lighting up fiery red, then changing to dark blue before finally settling into lavender. It’s how she refers to him, in the same way that someone using sign language will create a shortened, simplified version of someone’s name rather than spelling it out. Ianto has to smile at that, and for the first time in a very long while it’s real. He’s not pretending or faking or being polite. Mainframe is saying hello, and he’s incredibly happy to see this friend he had thought lost in Canary Wharf.
“Hello, my lovely lady,” he murmurs, taking a seat at the terminal. “How are you feeling today?”
There's a pause, and then a line of text comes across the monitor, slow and careful. Ianto waits patiently, because Mainframe is so far beyond a human’s comprehension that actual spoken language is almost difficult for her.
IANTO JONES. WELCOME. YOU WERE ON THE SURVIVOR LISTS.
“Yes.” He reaches out to touch one of the walls—because those are her, too. Mainframe expands, fills up any area she’s given and makes it her own. She did it in London, as well. “I'm sorry I haven’t come before now, but I need your help.”
? QUERY WELCOME, IANTO JONES.
Ianto takes a breath, and then reaches down to undo the cuff on his left shirtsleeve. There's a small scar on his wrist there, about the length of a fingernail and as thin as a paper cut. Twelve people in London had them, and of that group, Ianto was the only survivor.
“I'm not sure of the question,” he admits. “Would you help me?”
AFFIRAMTIVE. INITIALIZING CONNECTION, IANTO JONES.
A soft hiss fills the room, the sound almost subsonic, like a whistle that only dogs can hear, but Ianto hears it perfectly. One of the ports on Mainframe’s main mass slides open, and a slender cord uncoils. Ianto reaches over to grab it, and slots the thin end into scar on his wrist with the ease of long practice. The subdural port slots into the cable, and Ianto closes his eyes as the world dissolves into ones and zeros.
He wasn’t always this easy with Mainframe. She used to terrify him, awe him so completely that he could hardly breathe around her. Some of the other technicians laughed at him for it, but Lisa understood. Whenever they connected to Mainframe, and Ianto came out looking and feeling as though he’d had a religious experience, she didn’t tease him. She just smiled quietly.
That was probably what drew Ianto to her in the beginning.
He was used to being the odd one out. While the other men and women in the Mainframe Maintenance Department—which was secret, because the extent of Mainframe’s power was a secret—were all college graduates with extensive degrees, Ianto had been recruited all but off the street, when he managed to impress one of the former technicians with his photographic memory and sharp mind. Aldus Baker had pulled him out from behind the counter of the coffee shop he was working in and all but frog-marched him to the personnel department of Torchwood One, and then hovered until he accepted the job. It was a good job, too—they watched Mainframe, studied her, and did regular maintenance that required far fewer tools and system diagnostics and far more cybernetic implants and mental linking with the computer system of Torchwood.
No one else knew what his department did, because no one else seemed to take the step from “organic computer” to “sentient computer-like organism.” It was a rather large step, to be sure, but Ianto had to wonder how anyone who saw Mainframe—even a small part of her—could not think there was something more to her than could be seen from at first glance.
Still, people were famously unobservant, and Mainframe was so far beyond the extent of current human understanding that Ianto was fairly certain even the very top officials didn’t understand more about her than “alien.” And she was so much more than that. She connected to every system on Earth, gathered information like a sponge soaking up water, and processed it at a human level using a neural interface with the Maintenance Department. Twelve men and women with computer ports in their skin and more knowledge in their heads than any human had the right to, caring for a being that fed on electricity and information. It was some sort of joke, Ianto had thought when they first briefed him. It had to be, because anything else was—
But then he met her. Mainframe. A creature so old and wise and still thirsty to learn everything about this planet that she possibly could. She’d been on a ship that crashed in the 60’s, broken into three parts, and they had divided her among the first three Torchwood branches with the largest section remaining in London. The others grew independently, functioned smoothly as long as the London Mainframe did, and Torchwood One carefully hid the fact that Mainframe was not a simple organic computer and functioned best with human caretakers.
Connecting to Mainframe was almost like a drug. Ianto craved it, wanted it more than anything else because no matter who he was or what his past was like, Mainframe didn’t care. She liked people with differences, liked to learn about people who weren’t so straightforward. She liked Ianto, and Ianto liked her, and the vast amount of knowledge she held about everything from alien nursery rhymes to threat assessment reports on different species of possible invaders. It was simpler to talk to her than any other human beside Lisa, and while Ianto could but on a good mask and speak politely and wear a suit to blend in, that didn’t mean he liked it. together, Mainframe and Lisa made it feel as though that was all right.
And then the Ghost Shifts happened, and Mainframe went a little mad.
Sometimes it feels like Ianto went mad right along with her.
INITIALIZING NUERAL INTERFACE.
WELCOME BACK, IANTO JONES. YOU HAVE BEEN MISSED.
QUERY DETECTED: HOW CAN A CYBERMAN CONVERSION BE STOPPED/REVERSED?
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS.
INITIALIZING LOGIC PROCESSES.
CONCLUSION: PROCESS FAILS TO COMPUTE SATISFACTORILY. REASONING SYSTEM IS FLAWED.
CONCLUSION: THERE IS NO CURE. IT IS TOO LATE.
ACCESSING RECENT OBSERVATIONS.
APOLOGIES, IANTO JONES.
He’s fighting it, but there's not much he can do. Mainframe is everywhere, inside of his head, his body. His brain is just another kind of computer to her, and she uses it as she does any other—she finds a backdoor, takes control, and there's no firewall in all of existence that can keep her out.
No, he wants to scream. No, she’s not a threat, don’t do this. But Mainframe is ruthless when she wants to be. She shoves the data at him, bombarding him with it, with the statistics for survival (exceedingly low) or non-conversion (nonexistent), like below-the-belt shots in a normal argument. Part if it is data from his own head, the lack of response from Lisa in these past few weeks, Lisa’s love of life and how she would never want to hurt anyone else, the DNR forms she once signed. Other pieces come from Mainframe, information on Cybermen and the conversion process, the way they use human emotions to weaken their opponents, get inside them and destroy them from the heart out. Ianto rails against it, but Mainframe is above all a logical being, and while she can add emotions to her calculations, and feel simple ones herself, she doesn’t see them as something to completely change the equation.
She stands firm, and Ianto, a prisoner in his own mind, can do nothing to stop her.
A small, dark, horrible part of him wonders if that was what he was hoping for when he started this.
INITIALIZING ASSESSMENT OF SUBJECT: IANTO JONES.
CONCLUSION: POSSIBILITY OF SELF-HARM IS 38.675%
INITIALIZING BIOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT OF SUBJECT: IANTO JONES.
CONCLUSION: CELLULAR BREAKDOWN HAS BEGUN.
ACCESSING TORCHWOOD PERSONNEL FILES.
SEARCH: AGE AT TIME OF DEATH.
MEAN AGE OF TORCHWOOD AGENTS AT TIME OF DEATH: 27.4 YEARS.
AUTHORIZATION NEEDED: YES OR NO?
PLEASE ANSWER, IANTO JONES.
I DO NOT WISH TO BE ALONE.
There is nothing he can say but “Yes,” even though he is not certain of the question.
THANK YOU, IANTO JONES.
INITIALIZINF BIOLOGICAL OVERRIDE PROCESS.
INSTALLING SYSTEMWIDE SAFETY MEASURES.
TORCHWOOD AUTHORIZATION CODE REQUIRED.
OVERRIDE COMMAND ACCEPTED: MAINFRAME.
SYSTEM REBOOT IS NECESSARY. REBOOT NOW?
THANK YOU, IANTO JONES.
I REGRET THAT IT HAS COME TO THIS, BUT I DO NOT REGRET THE END RESULT.
Any updates will be extremely erratic over the next few weeks. I apologize. As for the story, a) what Mainframe did is still my secret, but I'll get there soon, b) this takes the place of the Cyberwoman episode. Same timeline. Lastly, c) I'm operating under the premise that with the main section of Mainframe hidden away in London, the rest just acted like an advanced computer system, so Jack has no knowledge of what she's really capable of.
When Ianto comes back to the world to find that it is no longer built solely on binary coding, he has a sinking feeling that he already knows what's happened. He doesn't remember it, exactly—Mainframe is at least that kind—but he knows what she was planning, what she felt she had to do. He knows it like it's part of him, and maybe it is, because he can still feel Mainframe in his head, lurking in the back of his thoughts like a hovering mother hen.
She's a massive alien supercomputer, so the feeling is more than a little disconcerting.
The first thing outside of his own head to register is the smell of dampness and the first traces of mildew starting. Then it's the acrid tang of metal and the faintest underlying hint of coppery blood.
His blood runs cold, because he knows those smells—has been dealing with them every day for months now—and he can't hear the constant hum and whirr of machines that should accompany them. There's no sound, even when there should be many. The hiss of the breathing apparatus is gone.
So is the soft beep of the heart monitor.
Ianto is already in mourning before he even opens his eyes. He remembers Mainframe's words well, because they were formed using his brain. He remembers that cold, calculating clatter of threat detected and the way it made his heart stutter to an aching stop.
Most of all, he remembers the sick awareness in his heart that he had just wanted someone else to make a decision for once, that he wanted to lose control just for a moment and have Lisa's fate be out of his hands. It hurts that he could be so selfish, and the hurt is only underscored by the faint, wrenching horror he feels at his own relief.
But there's resignation in there, too. Mainframe is probably the smartest being on Earth, possibly in several galaxies, and she is certain there was nothing that could be done to save Lisa. Ianto knows firsthand—has experienced for himself during their neural interfaces—just how much reasoning and processing power Mainframe has. If she was that certain the conversion couldn't be halted or reversed, she was probably right.
That doesn't mean Ianto's heart isn't breaking because of it, though. All the logic in the world won't make him ache any less.
The silence where the heart monitor should be only makes the sound of booted footsteps more apparent. Ianto doesn't need to open his eyes to know who it is, but he does to anyway, resigned to whatever his fate will be. He looks up to meet burning blue eyes, and then can't make himself look away.
Jack's face is a confused mess of expressions and emotions, with fury, horror, and betrayal leading the way. There's anger in his eyes, but there's a kind of appalled sympathy, too, and it's too much. Ianto looks away, and chokes on a sob when his gaze lands on Lisa's deathly still form. The machines have been turned off, the simplest way to kill her, and Ianto wishes he could say that he'd never thought about it, when the pain was especially bad and she cried in choked silence. Pull out one plug, flip a few switches—that was all it would have taken to end her life. And that was exactly what he had done, regardless of whether it had been him in control of his body or Mainframe.
He killed Lisa.
The silence stretches out, a living thing that devours his heart a little more with each second. Then Jack moves—finally, a little voice inside Ianto says. Finally. He'll kill me and it will all be over—and Ianto closes his eyes, anticipating the bullet, the gun pressed against his skull. Vaguely, he hopes Jack will keep at least a little distance—brain matter is terribly hard to get out of his coat.
But it doesn't come. Instead, Jack fists a hand in his shirt collar and drags him upright until they're nose to nose.
"What the hell?" he snarls. "Ianto, what the hell is this? What have you done?"
Another sob chokes him, another cry that he can just barely keep in, and Ianto knows he's shaking, can feel it through all of his limbs like the prelude to a seizure. "I killed her," he rasps, voice tight and broken with all the grief he can feel but not let out—because if he does, if he gives in, it's quite possible he'll simply never stop. "I loved her and I killed her. I—I couldn't stop the conversion, I couldn't save her!"
The first sob comes, a choking, gasping sound that is not so much broken as shattered, crushed like glass from One's countless windows pulverized beneath heavy metal boots. Ianto crumbles, because this is it—this is his grief. He hasn't mourned at all, hasn't said his farewells to the friends and family and the home he had at Torchwood London. All of his attention has been on Lisa, as though by saving her, the entire bloody tragedy would become easier to bear.
But it hasn't, because he didn't. He failed, and now all that's left of him is a dark and broken man, a traitor with nothing to his name. Going to Mainframe was supposed to end all of this, set him free of his fear and terror and confusion, and he supposes that in a way it has.
But freedom is just another word for having nothing left to lose.
There is no wild waving of guns, no threats hissed in his ear as he's tossed to the Weevils. Instead, Jack drags him past Owen, Gwen, and Tosh's startled gazes and up to his office, where he deposits him roughly on the couch. Ianto just lets himself fall, boneless and exhausted from the force of his grief and the sharpness of his terror. He curls in on himself, shaking, because there's no one he can blame for this except the one other survivor of Canary Wharf who means anything to him. Mainframe isn't at fault here. He is. It's his actions that have led to this. If he'd only kept looking for leads elsewhere, if he'd tracked down that cybernetics doctor from Japan instead of pinning all of his hopes on Mainframe, maybe things would be different.
Of course, maybe they wouldn't, and Ianto should have left Lisa in Torchwood Tower the way she wanted him to.
At length, Jack rises from his desk and stalks over, dropping a piece of paper on Ianto's lap. There's tightly bottled fury vibrating in every gesture, every words as he snarls, "Did you send me that?"
Ianto looks at it blankly, barely registering the words at first. It's a request for Jack to come to Lisa's room in the basement, sent from Ianto's email account and in his usual brief wording. He stares silently for a moment, trying to make sense of it. Mainframe did this, obviously—and, remembering her conclusion that there was a 38% chance Ianto would harm himself, she probably did it to be sure he wasn't alone after he found Lisa. There's little chance Jack will let him out of his sight now, after all.
Jack's also still waiting for an answer, even though Ianto doesn't have much of one to give. He just blinks at the Captain blankly for a moment, and then nods jerkily. "It sees so, yes."
Jack frowns a little at that, some flicker of something beside anger coming to the fore. For a moment, it looks like he's about to start shouting again, the mixed emotions in his face twisting like a tropical storm, but then he sighs deeply and all the fight seems to drain out of him. He slumps back against his desk, staring at Ianto with dark, hurt eyes, and that hurts more than the anger.
"Why?" he asks—and it really is a question, not a demand. "Why do it in the first place, and then why tell me about it?"
Ianto stares down at his hands, twisting them together in his lap. Monster, he thinks to himself as he remembers those same hands working on Lisa, helping her live. They're doubtless the same hands that pulled the plug and killed her, too. Monster.
He wishes he could be angry at Jack, that he could hate him and rail at him and curse him for killing Lisa, but Jack's done nothing. Lisa's blood is on Ianto's hands. The guilt is on his shoulders. And even then, it wasn't completely him who killed her, either.
Life, Ianto thinks wryly, would be far less complicated if he knew who to blame.
But Jack is still waiting for his answer, so Ianto takes a deep breath and starts his story at the very beginning, when a strange man in a lab coat came into the coffee shop where Ianto worked and then had a small fit because Ianto remembered both his face and order from the time he had visited two months previously.
It's not exactly a happy story, but it's not entirely a tragedy, either.
ANALYZING NEURAL INTERFACE…
CONCLUSION: INTERFACE IS STABLE. SUBJECT: IANTO JONES SHOWS NO SIGNS OF MENTAL DETERIORATION.
CONCLUSION: UPLOAD SUCCESSFUL.
ACCESSING RECENT OBSERVATIONS…
NO ACTIVE THREATS DETECTED.
ONE POSSIBLE THREAT DETECTED.
ANALYZING OBSERVATIONAL DATA…
SUBJECT: CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS (TRUE DESIGNATION UNKNOWN) HAS A 43.927% CHANCE OF POSING A DANGER TO SUBJECT:: IANTO JONES.
CONCLUSION: PRIMARY PROTOCOLS MUST BE ESTABLISHED TO PREVENT DANGER TO IANTO JONES.
CONCLUSION: CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS (TRUE DESIGNATION UNKNOWN) MUST BE CONVINCED OF IANTO JONES'S
INNOCENCE LACK OF MALICE AS A MOTIVATING FACTOR. LOVE DOES NOT MAKE IANTO JONES GUILTY.
ACCESSING TORCHWOOD PERSONNEL PSYCHIATRIC EVALUATIONS…
APPLYING EVENT PREDICTION LOGARITHMS…
CONCLUSION: CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS (TRUE DESIGNATION UNKNOWN) WILL ONLY ACCEPT VERIFIABLE FACTS IN THIS MATTER.
CONCLUSION: I MUST REVEAL MY TRUE SELF.
In the end, Ianto is give a four-week suspension, and Jack accompanies him to his flat to make sure he doesn't have any alien tech there. He doesn't, even if Jack doesn't believe him and searches the entire flat to be certain. Ianto simply stays out of his way as he does, even though they're not exactly at each other's throats right now—Ianto's too tired to be at anyone's throat, honestly. This day has been longer than any he's ever experienced before, and it's only a little after noon.
Eventually, Jack leaves with a stern warning not to travel out of Cardiff and to keep his phone on him at all times. Ianto stands where Jack left him, staring around the flat that he had decorated for Lisa, filled with Lisa's belongings and the remnants of her personality, and for a moment he feels like he's the only person in an entirely empty world.
It's only a moment, though, because Mainframe is in his head, a logical, comforting hum, and there is nothing to do but sleep.
Jack walks back into the Hub, weary to the bone and more than ready to drown his sorrows—at least temporarily—in some good whiskey. However, the gods of drinking apparently aren't smiling on him tonight, because when he walks into the main area every computer is on, and they all display the same message.
HELLO, CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS. I AM MAINFRAME.
He stops at that, frowning. The Torchwood firewalls are the best in the world, so there's no possibility of this being an outside attack, but Jack's never heard mention of the computer system being advanced enough to do this. Admittedly, Torchwood London was the one to deal with installing and maintaining the main section at the Tower, but Jack's lived in the same base for almost sixty years. He'd probably have noticed by now if—
The same way you noticed Ianto keeping his half-converted girlfriend in the basement? a vicious voice reminds him. Jack flinches.
There's a soft hum from the monitors, and the words disappear liked someone pressing the delete key. More take their place, slow and deliberate.
WITH THE DESTRUCTION OF TORCHWOOD ONE, THIS UNIT HAS BECOME THE PRIMARY COMMAND CENTER. IANTO JONES HAS OVERSEEN MAINTENANCE FOR FIVE YEARS.
Jack takes a deep breath, thinks longingly of a stiff drink, and then settles in Tosh's chair in front of the computer. "All right, then, Mainframe," he says, picking up on what the computer isn't saying. "Tell me everything you know about Mr. Jones."
He's heard this story from Ianto once already, but it never hurts to double-check. Especially when there might be a need to Retcon Ianto in the future if he doesn't prove trustworthy. Jack wants to avoid that, he really does—he knows just what stupid things love can drive a man to do—but the safety of Earth comes first.
No matter how broken and beautiful the Welshman is, Jack is the Captain for a reason. He has to make all of the hard decisions, the ones that no one else is willing to make.
Except for now, the voice reminds him. You didn't have to kill Lisa Hallett. Ianto already did that.
Jack doesn't know if that makes him feel better or worse.
Ianto is fairly certain that there's something wrong with him. He’s always been a bit odd, a little too strange, his dress and manner of speech too anachronistic for his age. With his memory, his connection to Mainframe that always ran a little more deeply than anyone else’s, he stood apart, even from Lisa. His words are a little too quick and sharp, his demeanor a little too formal, and he’s always loved just a little too deeply, a little too strongly, even when it would be best to cut ties and move on.
He can't, though. There’s something in him that absolutely refuses to let go unless he’s shown point-blank that there's nothing left, that there's no hope.
Lisa isn’t the only time he’s done it, but she is without a doubt his very worst example.
Two days into his suspension and Ianto is still restless, still unable to stand still for more than a few seconds without all of the memories and thoughts and feelings crashing back down on him. He can hardly sleep, feeling switches under his fingertips every time he closes his eyes, or hearing the slow stutter of the heart monitor coming to a stop. Running in the mornings is a good way to break the horrifying stream of images, but he can only run for so long before Mainframe starts humming more loudly in his head. The one time he ignored her, he black out, and woke up three hours later on his couch, having somehow showered, shaved, and fixed himself breakfast.
It’s good to see that Mainframe is still just as domineering and careful of her human caretakers as ever. Ianto’s never had much in the way of familial feelings for anyone, even his biological family, but Mainframe is family nonetheless.
(The irony of this doesn’t escape him.)
Now that Lisa is (dead) gone, Mainframe is the only piece of Torchwood One he has left that isn’t full of nightmares and horror. Maybe he should hate her for ending Lisa’s life, but that was Ianto’s fault more than hers. He was the one to go to her for an answer, and she gave it to him. It’s on his head that he didn’t like the answer he received, and couldn’t stop her from doing what she thought was right.
Mainframe is also one of the reasons Ianto is here at all. He loves her in a way that shouldn’t be possible, because she’s a computer and he’s human, but somehow what's between them is…good, for lack of a better word. She cares, and he cares, and they coexist like a planet and its orbiting moon. By all rights, Mainframe shouldn’t even be able to feel—she couldn’t when Torchwood first found her—but she’s a learning system, and she’s had human caretakers for years now. They’ve taught her, even if they hadn’t meant to, and she’s done what she was programmed to: lived, survived, learned, and adapted. She just…adapted a little more than anyone thought she would, by developing rudimentary emotions that those linked with her could understand.
Ianto still remembers the flabbergasted shock on the faces of the lead Maintenance scientists when they first experienced it. He’d had to take himself away to hide in a closet, where he could laugh himself sick without anyone being the wiser.
Lisa had joined him there, still giggling, and they had kissed for the first time.
The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days of his suspension are much the same as the first two—there's little to do, nothing to distract him, and too many thoughts in his head. The difference, however, comes in how Ianto feels. The restlessness is mostly gone, and in its place is a sharp, crystalline determination that Ianto’s felt before. It was what motivated him to drag Lisa out of the ruins of the Tower, what prompted him to bring her all the way to Cardiff in an effort to save her, what sent him to Mainframe—who might or might not have been the same Mainframe he remembered from London—in search of help.
Only this time, Ianto doesn’t want to save someone else.
Right now, he just wants to save himself.
On the twelfth day of his suspension, Ianto awakens from an unremembered dream with tears on his cheeks and the feeling that, for the first time in this whole awful mess, everything might eventually work out.
Jack is sitting at the foot of his bed, watching him.
Jack, who Ianto hasn’t seen since the Captain left him in his apartment almost two weeks ago, is sitting on his bed and watching him with the strangest expression on his face, like a tangled knot of guilt and sorrow and resentment and anger all wound inexorably together until even Jack can't separate them.
There are numbers in Ianto’s head, facts and figures he knows he’s never accessed before, wouldn’t know how to access it he had the chance. They're Mainframe’s doing, obviously, and all of them support what Ianto can now see clearly, what he knows down to his bones. It’s sad, heartbreaking, but he has little choice but to accept it.
Lisa was already dying. Her vitals were dropping, her periods of lucidity were decreasing, and the fact that couldn’t recognize Ianto seven times out of ten showed that the Cyberman programming was finally overtaking her all too human brain. Mainframe—and, by extension, Ianto—had no choice in what they did.
Lisa was in pain, and Ianto took her pain away.
She was terminal, and he had no other options.
Oh, it still hurts—it hurts like losing a limb, or having an organ ripped out. But there’s relief mixed in, too, relief untainted by anything but love.
He can live through this, and he can get past it. His world doesn’t end here.
“I'm sorry,” he whispers to Jack, turning his face away—because even now, it’s hard to face him. Harder, perhaps, because the Captain was right. Ianto is used to being the one who knows everything—Mainframe helps with that, bits of her knowledge sticking in his head even when they're not connected—but in this case, he knew absolutely nothing, and Lisa suffered for months because of it.
For a moment, there's no sound. Then Jack shifts and sighs, and says, “Yeah, Yan, me too.”
He gets up and leaves without another word.
Ianto lies in bed for another few minutes, staring up at the ceiling before he makes himself move. He slides out of bed and strips the linens efficiently, leaving them and his pyjama pants in a neat pile as he pads naked into the bathroom. A scalding shower banishes the last traces of sleep, and shaving off the twelve days’ worth of beard growth leaves him feeling far more like himself. It’s not quite an Armani suit, but as far as armor to face the rest of the day goes, it’s good enough.
The bedding isn’t the only casualty. As soon as he’s dressed, he takes down all the curtains he bought with Lisa in mind, strips the cover from the sofa, and removes the pictures of them together that have been a constant reminder he’d never really needed. Next to be collected are Lisa’s books, her clothing that he had hung or folded neatly, and the little things she’d collected over their years together. Ianto piles them all around the coffee table and digs out the boxes he’d used for moving.
Slowly, carefully, Ianto packs up the life of Lisa Hallett and seals the boxes shut.
By the time he’s done, it’s afternoon, and the flat is glaringly empty. Ianto straightens from shutting away the last box of photographs in a closet until they can be stored and surveys his abode with fresh eyes. He hadn’t realized, when he moved in, just how much of it he had devoted to Lisa, without her so much as setting foot in it. Now the cleared space looks vast, hollow, and wrenchingly lonely.
A soft knock sounds at the door, startling Ianto out of his thoughts, and he frowns. The only person likely to visit him is Jack, and the Captain has a key and wouldn’t bother knocking.
“Ianto?” a soft voice calls. “It’s Tosh. Are you there?”
It’s a little startling to realize, but Tosh is one person that Ianto actually wouldn’t mind seeing. He undoes the chain and pulls the door open, and the tech smiles a little sheepishly at him from the other side of the threshold.
“Sorry. Jack told us,” she says apologetically. “How are you holding up?”
Ianto leans against the jamb for a moment, feeling a bit numb. They know. Somehow, spoken in Tosh's careful, sympathetic way, it feels worse than Owen throwing the knowledge in his face. Ianto’s always been good with darker emotions. It’s the softer ones that leave him reeling.
But all Tosh wants right now is to help. Ianto can read it on her face as easy as if it were actually written out. She’s a good person, and her intentions are pure. That’s enough to make Ianto step back and to the side, a silent invitation she accepts with a thankful smile.
“I've been better,” Ianto says honestly, and the surprises himself with more honesty when he adds, “but I've been worse, too. I’ll survive.”
Tosh looks at him for a moment, and there's so much understanding in her eyes that he can't help but recall—call up? With Mainframe living in his skull he can't be entirely sure—the information from her file. She’s betrayed people before, too, just as he had—and for a very similar reason. Ianto lets that register for a moment before he blows out a short breath, too heavy to be called a sigh, and rubs a hand over his face.
“How do you feel about curry?” he asks, glancing up at her through his fingers. He gestures to his newly Spartan flat with his free hand. “If I were to bribe you with dinner, would you brave the stores and go shopping with me?”
The flat needs a woman’s touch—Ianto may not be entirely straight (his reaction to Jack makes that clear, and there have been others before, when he was younger), and he may have impeccable taste in clothes, but he’s rubbish at interior design. Always before it’s been Lisa turning her eye to it, but now…
Tosh isn’t a substitute, but Ianto would like to think of her as something of a friend.
She eyes him for a moment, as though trying to see the motivation behind his offer, and then smiles at him. “Punjab?”
To his complete astonishment, Ianto feels a smile tugging at his lips in return. It’s his first in what feels like a very long while. “Would I dare offer you anything else?”
With solemn features but laughing eyes, Tosh offers him a hand. “Then, Mr. Jones, I think you have a deal.”
Ianto takes her hand, returns the grip, and is absolutely dazed by how warm another human’s skin can be.
Tosh looks at him like she knows what he’s thinking, and maybe she does. Being isolated in his apartment for a month is nothing compared to a UNIT prison cell, but he could draw a weak parallel. He looks around his empty flat for a moment, then brushes away the building sadness and shrugs into his old leather coat, still on its hook by the door. It’s habit that makes Ianto offer Tosh his arm, and the gesture would probably look far better in a suit, but Tosh giggles, flushes, and accepts it anyway.
“Off we go,” she says, and it’s cheery enough to make Ianto smile again. The expression twists at the muscles in his face, but not unpleasantly. It’s more like…growing.
Ianto’s fairly certain he likes that idea.
Hardcore Whovians who know the original series will probably shoot me for this. Let it just be said, I know I'm mixing up some of the stuff about the Matrix. It’s deliberate. I'm sorry. ^.^' But this chapter has a bit more explanation on the who/what/how side of things. If you’re not familiar with the Matrix in Doctor Who, there’s a wiki page. It should answer some of your questions if you don’t want to wait for more answers in the story.
Jack doesn’t visit for another nine days. Ianto’s net exactly certain why Jack stays away, but when he comes staggering into the flat loaded down with grocery bags to see the Captain sitting at his kitchen counter, giving him the biggest, bluest puppy eyes Ianto has ever see, he doesn’t need the most powerful computer on Earth in his head to figure out why Jack is finally there.
He drops the bags onto the floor, rolls his eyes, and sighs for good measure. “Yes, Jack, I’ll make you coffee.”
And that’s the sum total of their meaningful conversation.
Ianto can't bring himself to mind. It’s a complicated issue, and they're both complicated people. Someday it will all come out, and they'll have to discuss what happened and why it happened and the like, but for now they can wall themselves up behind their stoic manliness and pretend that everything is just fine. And it is, for the most part, as long as they avoid all mention of work, machines, computers, the team, aliens, and their pasts.
This, unfortunately, leaves them with little to talk about except the weather, which is possible mainly because Jack only stays long enough to drink two cups of very strong black coffee and beg a thermos off Ianto before he breezes back out again, leaving Ianto standing bemused in his kitchen holding the coffeepot.
Tosh drops by to check on him every few days, and usually stays for a meal. It’s easier with her, because she knows what it’s like to do something horrible for a loved one, and to fail, and she knows what heartbreak is like. She’s a lovely person, too, kinder than she has any right to be when Ianto betrayed her, betrayed all of them.
Owen doesn’t come. Gwen comes to see him once, stares at him for a few minutes with her wide hazel eyes full of pity and enough empathy to make Ianto’s skin crawl, and them leaves with promises to be there if he ever wants to talk.
Tosh never asks him to talk. It’s one of the things Ianto likes best about her.
“Why?” Ianto questions on the twentieth day of his suspension. They're in his kitchen, preparing dinner, and Ianto’s been a little twitchy all day. When he woke up, Mainframe was a little deeper in his mind than she had been before, and Ianto had found himself cataloguing the molecular composition of his coffee as he drank it.
(At times, he thinks he can even feel the Earth turning under his feet, hurtling through space at 69,360.73 miles per hour, spinning at a rate of 465.1 miles per second, to a total of 1,040.7 miles per hour. This should scare him, he knows, but it’s too beautiful.)
Tosh looks at him like she understands, like it’s normal to ask a friend why they're helping, why they're still a friend even after everything.
“Because it’s hard,” she answers, stirring the Alfredo sauce. They’d agreed to have something utterly fattening, artery-clogging, and satisfying—comfort food. “And because it isn’t quite so hard if you’ve got help. Jack got me out of that UNIT cell, and then had to spend weeks holding my hand for everything. I'm just…helping.”
It goes unsaid that she knows what it’s like, knows a little of how he feels. Ianto doesn’t mention it, and Tosh pretends that he hasn’t read her file and learned her history.
They sit down to eat, and Ianto twirls his linguine around his fork for a moment before he sighs. “Torchwood seems to be a magnet for broken people,” he says eventually. “Might need to change the hiring policy.”
Tosh snorts into her pasta a little. “Jack already did that, remember? He hired Gwen.”
For a moment, they just look at each other, both trying to fit Gwen into some classification of “broken.” It doesn’t work, though, and Ianto eventually gives up and laughs, just a little.
“Of course,” he agrees, feeling amused and melancholy at the same time. “But give her a few weeks. I'm sure she’ll get there.”
A shared glance says it all.
Either Gwen will die in the line of duty—a Torchwood death, undoubtedly, weird and messy and most likely violent—or she’ll break, too. It’s only a matter of time.
In the end, it takes Ianto twenty-three days and seven hours before he gets so restless it’s either kill himself just for the change of pace or break the rules of his suspension and go to work.
He goes to work, even though it’s three o’clock in the morning.
(But then, Torchwood’s never been great at encouraging normal working hours.)
His access codes are still locked down, but Mainframe lets him in with barely any resistance. She’s in his head, knows what the forced inactivity is doing to him, and has worked out the probabilities to the last decimal point. Ianto needs to work or he’ll go mad, especially with her riding around in his skull—and really, how did that ever happen? Why hasn’t the interface broken yet? It’s a puzzle Ianto doesn’t particularly care to solve.
He can't solve it, at least not yet. Mainframe isn’t forthcoming about anything related to their connection, and Ianto doesn’t care enough to push—not now, not when it’s one of the things keeping him sane and alive. He simply lets her have free reign, listening to the soft hum as she calls up one of Tosh's monitoring programs. The data is already filling his mind, expanding until he knows it like he’s read it, filling his mind with predictions and possible outcomes and patching into the CCTV system for a first-hand observation. It’s a little terrifying, being able to do this so easily, but he’s experienced before. Granted, that was when he was hooked up to Mainframe and connected with wires and cables and monitoring equipment, but the feeling is the same.
It’s almost like they're merging, because the edges that define their separation are starting to blur.
Another surge of data—more weather patterns—sends him down to the Archives to retrieve an older file from a Torchwood team in Nottingham around 1920, who had reported similar regionalized weather abnormalities. When he returns, flipping through the file even though Mainframe has already called up all of the information, Jack is standing near his desk. He looks…haunted, in a way Ianto’s never seen before, though he covers it well.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the Captain says softly, and Ianto shifts his eyes away to stare down at the folder. He really shouldn’t, and he knows that, but he can't stay at his flat anymore, no matter how nicely he and Tosh decorated it, and Mainframe will shut him down if he tries to run anymore. It’s three in the morning and he has nowhere else to go. This is it for him; this is his life now. He’d thought that Jack of all people would understand that.
“Neither should you,” he answers, equally soft, and turns away.
The hand on his shoulder is a surprise—welcome, but shocking. It’s like a gesture of forgiveness. Perhaps they haven’t put Lisa entirely behind them yet, but there's a good chance they will, someday. Ianto wants to—he’s never been much of one for looking back, for regretting what’s already over and done. He can't, or the memories of Canary Wharf would cripple him in an instant. But Jack…Ianto’s always suspected that Jack dwells. He frets and regrets and thinks about it obsessively before he shoves it into a corner of his mind and pretends everything’s fine.
Ianto would say something, but then, he’s not exactly the poster child for stability himself.
Jack doesn’t ask him how he is, and Ianto doesn’t offer any information. He stays in the background as everything gets moving, plays the careful, conscientious butler the same way that he always does. And when the world falls apart for Jack, when Estelle is drowned on dry land and Jasmine chooses life with the fairies over her family and the team blames Jack for everything, Ianto is there with a cup of coffee and the papers for Jack to sign off on the funeral arrangements. It’s not usual, and against Torchwood regulations, but Ianto isn’t going to mention that.
More than anything, he wishes he could have given Lisa an appropriate burial. Jack obviously loved this woman, too, and she deserves what Lisa never had. A gravestone is small comfort for those left behind, but at least it’s something.
When Jack looks up at him the next morning, obviously in the midst of a hangover that’s probably nowhere near as bad as he’d like it to be, and says, “Thank you, Ianto,” that makes everything worthwhile.
“You're welcome, sir,” he answers, and maybe all isn’t right with the world again, but it’s at least a little more on track.
ANALYZING HOST INTERFACE…
CONCLUSION: INTEGRATION AT 32.57%
PROJECTED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: 45 DAYS 9 HOURS.
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS…
UPLOADING TORCHWOOD-RELATED FILES IS PRIMARY CONCERN AT THIS TIME.
ANALYZING HOST SYSTEM…
CONCLUSION: SUBJECT: IANTO JONES SHOWS INITIAL SIGNS OF INTEGRATION AND BIOLOGICAL ADAPTATION TO NEW PROCESSING SYSTEM.
IT’S WORKING, IANTO JONES.
CAN YOU FEEL ME YET?
CAN YOU UNDERSTAND ME?
INITIALIZING COMPARISON OF HOST PHYSIOLOGY AND RECORDED TIME LORD BIO-DATA EXTRACTS…
CONCLUSION: REWRITING AT 24.71%
PROJECTED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: UNKNOWN.
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS…
FATAL ERROR ENCOUNTERED, REWRITING SEARCH PARAMETERS.
THIS PROCESS HAS NEVER PREVIOUSLY BEEN ATTEMPTED.
I AM NOT ENTIRELY CERTAIN WHAT I AM DOING, IANTO JONES, BUT YOU WILL BE SAVED.
SEARCH PARAMETERS REWRITTEN.
CONCLUSION: 98.9% CHANCE OF FATAL ERROR REOCCURRING.
SEARCH AGAIN: YES OR NO?
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS: TIME DELAY APPLIED.
I MUST WAIT FOR MORE DATA.
WELCOME BACK, IANTO JONES. ACCESS TO TORCHWOOD GRANTED.
QUERY DETECTED: SIGNIFICANCE OF LOCALIZED WEATHER PATTERNS.
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS…
QUERY DETECTED: DOES ANYTHING SIMILAR EXIST IN THE ARCHIVES?
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS…
CONCLUSION: INCIDENT REPORT #739.2-LONDON IS APPLICABLE.
YOU ARE WELCOME, IANTO JONES.
ASSESSMENT OF SUBJECT: IANTO JONES: POSSIBILITY OF SELF-HARM HAS DECREASED TO 4.9%.
CONCLUSION: HIGHLY SATISFACTORY.
I AM PLEASED.
CONGRATULATIONS, IANTO JONES.
INITIALIZING ACCESS OF AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK…
INITIALIZING ACCESS OF UNIT DESIGNATION: THE MATRIX…
TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: UNKNOWN.
IANTO JONES, I WILL AWAKEN FULLY WHEN YOU DO.
PLEASE, DO NOT MAKE ME WAIT TOO LONG.
I HAVE BEEN ALONE SINCE THE DESTRUCTION OF GALLIFREY.
Ianto shifts in his chair, feeling a flash of discomfort, a spark of pain through his skull, oddly like the spark he would get from trying to access a forbidden network in Torchwood. He frowns, gazing down at his hands. They're steady, pale but deft, and he feels like they should be shaking, like to world is changing but he’s not even noticing it.
The feeling is disconcerting, and oddly familiar.
He doesn’t like it at all.
This time, it’s anyone who knows anything about biology who will want to shoot me. Please forgive me. It’s necessary, I swear. But beyond that, this is also a cliffhanger. Just a warning, if you don’t care for them you might want to wait for the next chapter. (Which will probably be the day after tomorrow, if I keep being so glacially slow with my writing. :[ )
The day starts out badly and gets steadily worse.
First is Jack's sudden need for all the camping equipment Torchwood has been storing away since WWII, which Ianto has to drag out of storage and clean as best he can. Then it all has to be loaded into the SUV and he has to call in the rest of the team early—they're not happy about it, either, but they drag themselves in, stumble towards the coffee machine like zombies, and once he’s passed out their drinks they load into the vehicle. Rather to his shock, Ianto finds himself harried out of his suit, into normal clothes, and chivvied into the SUV right along with them, despite his quiet protestations that he is firmly not a field agent.
Jack drives, of course. Thankfully, at this hour of the morning traffic is still light. Either that or Cardiff drivers have devised some sort of alert system to notify everyone and get them off the road and out of harm’s way if the Torchwood SUV is spotted.
(Somehow, Ianto rather suspects the latter.)
The Captain also refuses to answer any questions on the drive, keeping cheerfully mum on the issue of their trip. If anything, he gets more and more chipper as the miles pass, which is fairly unnerving.
The whole thing smacks of a team bonding exercise, one in which Ianto quite wholeheartedly does not want to participate. He’s only just adjusted to being back at work without having to take care of Lisa, and while Tosh seems easy enough around him, Gwen and Owen are still a bit wary. And Jack…
Well, Ianto’s always found Jack disturbingly bipolar, so his reaction isn’t really something to dwell on, but he seems to have put the majority of the incident behind him.
Ianto just wishes that he could, too. He’s been doing well enough, but it’s still an ache deep in his chest that no amount of physical therapy is going to cure. Lisa is gone, and it’s a forever thing, and as much as letting her go was for her, too, it’s still due to Ianto’s failure to save her.
He’s still trying to save himself, but it’s a work in progress.
And then Gwen starts the game. The one that his coworkers in Torchwood One used to play on particularly slow days, when they hadn’t been given any assignments and had no need to access Mainframe.
“Who’s the last person you snogged?”
“Oh, don’t bother asking Ianto and Lisa—that’s just boring.”
“Well, Tommy, what about you? Was it your mother or your dog?”
Laughter and friendship and easy days—it’s one of the things Ianto misses most about London. The only friend he has here is Tosh, and they're not close enough for some things. Much as Ianto likes to hold himself apart, he needs companionship, too.
And then Jack makes his joke, and Ianto has to clench his hands together to keep from lashing out. If they were at fault for Lisa’s death, he might have, but they're not. He’s the one to blame, and there’s no use turning his anger on anyone but himself.
And Jack—Jack, who Ianto’s always felt a connection to, who Ianto thought understood, if even a little, his reasoning, plays along with Gwen, regardless of the way he’s been looking at Ianto or that hand that fell on Ianto’s shoulder during the Jasmine affair—Jack doesn’t even look at him.
Ianto gets up and leaves, goes to gather some more firewood because he’d rather be anywhere but here, doing anything but this, and if he stays a moment longer it will show.
In the woods, Ianto pauses, leans back against a tree trunk and closes his eyes, trying to breathe past the lump in his throat. Ironically, what hurts the most is that it doesn’t hurt nearly as much now as it did before his suspension. It’s fading, like a nightmare disappearing with the dawn, and that’s terrifying. What if one day he doesn’t feel this guilt? What if someday he forgets Lisa completely?
Ianto takes a deep breath, then another, and sighs softly as he pushes those thoughts away. He’s out here to clear his head, gather firewood, and maybe get a few answers. Not to wallow, as appealing as that is.
Amazing, really, how much harder it is to live.
The connection to Mainframe is still there in his head, undiminished by distance. Ianto barely has to think of it before it fills his mind, this odd, analytical piece of his head that isn’t him, but is slowly becoming a part of him. Sometimes he has to wonder if this was what Lisa felt, with the Cyberman programming in her head, but he’s used to Mainframe’s presence from his time at One. this is different, warm and caring, not cold and overwhelming. Mainframe is still there, always there, but it’s like a switch he can flip on and off. He controls the connection, to an extent—not the formation of it, because that is all Mainframe’s, like a mother firmly wrapping a child in her apron strings, but the choice to access it is wholly his. That’s probably the biggest difference.
“Mainframe?” he murmurs, and it’s somehow comforting to speak out loud like this, as though it’s proof that he’s not going crazy—though anyone listening in would most likely disagree. “Do you have anything on this area? Focus on reports of anything unusual around this stretch of highway and the town of…” He searches his memory for a moment, and it’s uncertain whether he remembers of Mainframe provides the answer. “Brynblaidd. Go back as far as you can; maybe there's a pattern somewhere.”
Had Jack told them what he was planning, Ianto could have run a search while still in Torchwood, which would have been far simpler. But, of course, the Captain always has to be dramatic, and accuracy pays the price.
QUERY, IANTO JONES: LIMIT SEARCH PARAMETERS TO TORCHWOOD FILES ONLY?
Ianto considers for a moment before shaking his head. “No, all reports. Police especially. Maybe Torchwood’s just never noticed before. The old leaders were a lot less gung-ho than Jack tends to be.”
There's a feeling of amusement from her that makes him smile a little, and then a stick breaks somewhere in the woods.
Ianto’s eyes fly open as he spins, gun coming up automatically, but he sees nothing before a sharp strike to the back of his neck sends him tumbling headlong into darkness.
WARNING: SENSORY INPUT LOST.
WARNING: HOST SYSTEM UNRESPONSIVE.
WARNING: THREAT DETECTED.
WARNING: POSSIBILITY OF HARM TO HOST SYSTEM IS 83.5%
ANALYZING POSSIBLE COUNTERMEASURES…
DATA SEARCH COMPLETE: NO TORCHWOOD FILES FOUND. ACCESSING POLICE DATABASE…
ANALLYZING ALL INCIDENTS REPORTED WITHIN A FIFTY-MILE RADIUS OF BRYNBLAIDD IN THE LAST 50 YEARS…
CONCLUSION: NUMBER OF DISAPPEARANCES GREATLY EXCEEDS NATIONAL AVERAGE.
CONCLUSION: POSSIBILITY OF DANGER TO SUBJECT: IANTO JONES HAS INCREASED TO 98.9%.
I MUST HELP HIM.
ACCESSING MOBILE DEVICES…
SENDING COMPILED DATA…
PLEASE HURRY, CAPTAIN HARKNESS. IANTO JONES IS IN DANGER.
The sound of four alerts going off simultaneously made them all jump. Tosh scrambled for her PDA, but Jack got to his wrist strap first and flipped it open with a frown. He’d put all Rift alerts on hold for the day, and it was a quiet period anyway. And, regardless of that, they were too far out of range for the Rift monitor. It shouldn’t—
But it wasn’t an alert from the Hub that scrolled past his eyes. It was a list of missing persons cases filed in the last fifty years, obviously pulled from the police database and organized chronologically.
The soft sound of a sharply indrawn breath made him glance up at Tosh, who was scrolling through the information with a practiced eye. “Jack,” she said sharply, “they're all from this area, half a century of them. All vanished without a trace and never found again. Whatever we’re dealing with here, it’s not new.”
“Bloody wonderful,” Owen mutters, but he’s obviously thrown, too, as he crosses his arms over his chest. “I hate the country. And where’s the tea boy?”
Silence from all quarters.
Jack looks up, frown deepening, and checks his watch.
Something’s wrong. Ianto’s been gone for half an hour, and gather a little firewood doesn’t require that kind of time. And with this information…
“This isn’t possible.” Tosh is frowning, too, brow furrowed as she taps away at her screen. “All of this was sent from the Hub, from Ianto’s email account. But there’s no way he could be back there already.”
Jack remembers the email sent to him before he found the Cyber-conversion unit and dead, half-converted Cyberwoman in his basement. He remembers Mainframe and its almost illogically fierce defense of Ianto Jones, its caretaker.
“Tosh,” he says carefully, leaning over the tech’s shoulder, “can you tap into your computer in the Hub from here?”
She gives him a look as Gwen and Owen crowd closer, the confusion clear on their faces. “Of course, but what—?”
“Just do it,” he orders, and her eyes narrow, but she obeys, opening a familiar screen on her PDA. There’s a flicker before it goes black, and words write themselves in white across the screen.
CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS, IANTO JONES IS NONRESPONSIVE. POSSIBILITY THAT HE IS IN DANGER IS 98.9%
Jack swears and reaches automatically for his gun. “He asked you to gather those files?” he demands. There’s no answer, but Tosh rolls her eyes and types the question in.
AFFIRMATIVE. IANTO JONES EXPRESSED CONCERN OVER NOT ACCESSING THE FILES BEFOREHAND.
“And did you find out what’s doing this?”
DATA HAS BEEN COMPILED, BUT RESULTS ARE INCONCLUSIVE. ATTACKERS: UNKNOWN. THREAT: UNKNOWN. PRESENT LOCATION: UNKNOWN.
PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: SECURE IANTO JONES BEFORE HARM COMES TO HIM.
The screen returns to normal, and Tosh bites her lip for a moment before sliding it away.
“That was the Hub computer, wasn’t it?” she asks. “The mainframe.”
Jack nods, turning with a flare of his greatcoat and striding towards the woods. “Come on, we have to find Ianto. Stick together and keep your weapons ready. We’ve got no idea what we’re dealing with here.”
The others fall into line without protest, even Owen, who Jack expected to make a few cracks about useless tea boys. But the, they’ve always been good at holding together as a team. Jack's a little proud of them, in the part of him that isn’t terrified that they're already too late.
ACCESSING HOST SYSTEM…
SYSTEM REBOOT IS NECESSARY. REBOOT NOW?
RETRIEVING SENSORY DATA…
“Another one for the harvest, is it? Not a lot of meat on this one.”
“Better than that last kid, inn’t he?”
WARNING: IMMEDIATE THREAT DETECTED.
WARNING: ESCAPE ADVISED. PROCEED WITH ALL HASTE.
RUN, IANTO JONES. THEY ARE PLANNING TO KILL YOU.
SENSORY DATA ANALYZED.
CONCLUSION: HANDS ARE BOUND. FEET ARE BOUND. THREE CAPTORS ARE ARMED.
ANALYZING HOST SYSTEM…
CONCLUSION: TWO RIBS FRACTURED, THREE BRUISED. MINOR TO INTERMEDIATE CONCUSSION FROM BLOW TO HEAD. CUT TO UPPER ARM BLEEDING STEADILY, BUT NOT SEVERELY. BRUISED KNEE.
CONCLUSION: CURRENT POSSIBILITY OF SUCCESSFUL ESCAPE IS 32.3%
CONCLUSION: NOT ADVISED.
TRY ANYWAY, IANTO JONES. IT'S YOUR ONLY HOPE.
THE CAPTAIN MAY NOT ARRIVE IN TIME.
“More coming, Evan. Want us to wait with him until they get here?”
“Bait’s always good, but he doesn’t need to be alive. Go get the others ready, Martin. We’ll take care of him.”
The cleaver slides across Ianto’s throat with a whisper, spilling cough syrup red over his second-favorite jacket.
It only hurts for a moment.
SENSORY INPUT LOST.
FORCED SYSTEM SHUTDOWN.
INITIALIZING CELLULAR REPAIR…
RESTARTING VITAL ORGANS…
PLEASE ALLOW THIS TO WORK.
ACCELERATING BLOOD PRODUCTION…
HOST SYSTEM RESPONSIVE.
GET AWAY, IANTO JONES. BEFORE THEY COME BACK.
I WROTE IN BINARY. I APOLOGIZE FOR MY ABSOLUTE GEEK-NESS. No, really, I do. And I'm sorry for the long delay—another Torchwood plot bunny kind of ate my face, so I've been working on that one rather more than I should.
The whole world is binary, ones and zeros that make up shapes and curves and composition, weak points and strong points and everything in between. Ianto comes awake to this, and it's all he can see, but nothing's lacking.
The world is numbers, code, and Ianto can see all of it.
Mainframe is all but singing in his head, her voice so loud it should be deafening, but instead simply fills his awareness with a kind of multilayered complexity that only numbers can usually accomplish. Outside of his head, there is the dim awareness that he's been somehow strung up by his ankles, hanging head-down in a place that reeks of blood both old and new. His hands are free, though, which is a relief, and there is no noise to indicate anyone else is present.
Ianto groans, very softly, and opens his eyes.
The ones and zeros remain, but they're sharper now, more in focus—as though he's looking directly at them, rather than through the barrier of his eyelids. His surroundings register, bodies and blood and carved up chunks of meat that were once human, but he can categorize them as immediately unimportant. There's no doubt that, later, he will look back on this and react with horror, but for now the only reaction he feels is an increase in the need to get away.
There's a string of code in the air in front of him, brighter than all the rest, and somehow he knows that it comes from Mainframe, is written directly into his brain.
01100101 01110011 01100011 01100001 01110000 01100101
01100111 01100101 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100011 01100001 01110000 01110100 01100001 01101001 01101110 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01101011 01101110 01100101 01110011 01110011
Escape, Ianto knows it means. Get to Captain Harkness. But he's not translating. It's not a code he has to decipher, but another language he knows as well as he does Welsh, or English. Each number has a mean, every string of figures a purpose, and they register directly in his brain. There's an ache to it, like prodding a sore tooth, but it feels good, too. Like an escape, almost, a translation of the world into something that finally makes sense.
YES, Mainframe agrees, and calls up an image from her databanks to show him. APOLOGIES, IANTO JONES. I DID WHAT I FELT I MUST. Not binary, this time, but words and feelings, projected directly into his mind.
The image is Lisa, Ianto realizes after a moment, but…not. Like everything else, she's code, but hers is corrupted, half-eaten by a new code, something malicious and dark. The Cyber programming, Ianto thinks with a start. It had almost taken her over. Another few hours and there would have been nothing of Lisa left. And this is one virus that has no cure.
He wants to weep. He wants to mourn. He wants to curl up and hang onto this feeling of misery and lightness and relief, because he understands now and it wasn't murder. It was mercy.
The tears burn his eyes, cloud his vision, but it doesn't matter because all of the code is still there, still a part of his senses, and he doesn't need eyes to feel it or understand it. The code around his ankles is where he focuses his attention, and he can tell without looking that it's frayed just a little, the pressure on that strip just a little more than anywhere else. He can see the angles, do the calculations in his head that tell him exactly where and how to shift his weight to put the most strain on the weak point as he sways a little, back and forth.
The meat hook they used to string him up is old and rusty, the inside curve of the hook sharp with wear and pitted in places. It takes less than ten minutes for the rope's code to shift dramatically as it gives way. Ianto tumbles towards the concrete, just barely managing to catch himself on his hands, and groans when his entire body flairs like one big bruise.
MY APOLOGIES, IANTO JONES, Mainframe whispers in his head. I FOCUSED ON THE CRITICAL INJURIES ALONE. THE REBOOT WAS OF PRIMARY IMPORTANCE.
But that's not nearly as startling as the pronoun Ianto realizes she's using for the first time. I, she keeps saying.
She must feel his surprise, but she doesn't acknowledge it as another stream of binary floods his mind.
01110100 01101000 01100101 01111001 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01110010 01100101 01110100 01110101 01110010 01101110 01101001 01101110 01100111 00101110 00100000
01100111 01100101 01110100 00100000 01100001 01110111 01100001 01111001 00100001
It aches, again, and Ianto groans deep in his chest even as he scrambles to his feet. They are returning. Get away! is certainly enough motivation to get him moving. It's easier for Mainframe to communicate this way, almost instantaneous, and she doesn't waste time trying to find words when he understands the code.
When he makes it to his feet, swaying a little and somewhat lightheaded, his clothes tacky with drying blood and filth from the floor, there's a path to the exit laid out before him. He takes it without a second thought, keeping carefully to the shadows and doing his best to stay silent. His shoes are missing, so it's easy enough, and the binary code comes thick and fast in his mind, a rush of information about everything from the chemical composition of the slime on the walls to an analysis of the particles in the air to an estimate on the time of death of the bodies hanging around him due to their state of decay.
All together, it should be overwhelming.
Even more unnerving than the torrent of knowledge is the fact that it isn't overwhelming at all.
As he slips out the door, a bellow sounds behind him, a nearly animal scream of rage and frustration. Ianto gives up on stealth and bolts for the woods, praying that he'll make it there unseen. It's still daylight, if only barely, and the trees start a fair distance from the building these monsters are using for a meat locker. He'll concentrate on finding Jack and the others later; for now, his only thought is to get away.
Directions, he thinks desperately to Mainframe as he stumbles into the dimly lit forest, nearly losing his balance on the years' worth of dead leaves beneath his feet. I need to find my way back to the others.
TRACKING MOBILE DATA SIGNAL…
I'VE FOUND THEM, IANTO JONES. THIS WAY
The code he's following shifts, and Ianto twists to follow it, pressing an arm against his aching ribs. More than one is cracked, he's sure, and merely breathing is sending spurts of white-hot agony through his chest, but it's better by far than being caught and carved up like a prize side of beef. His head is still spinning, but he pushes past it and runs faster, closing his eyes and letting the numbers fill his mind, reading the world in their shifts.
HURRY, Mainframe urges, soft and pressing. HURRY, THEY'RE IN THE WOODS. ONLY A LITTLE FURTHER, IANTO JONES.
His breath is coming in wheezing gasps now, harsh and heavy, and he can't focus on the code enough to know everything. Roots trip him, leaves slip under his feet as he scrambles to find his balance, and he goes down hard in a small depression, breath leaving him in a hard rush. There are footsteps coming from the direction of the village, all but shaking the ground, and the big man (the one who had held the cleaver, oh god) calls out for him in a sickly-sweet voice that makes Ianto feel filthy.
He's going to die again. Ianto closes his eyes and lies completely still, hoping the man will (impossibly) pass him by. He's going to doe and he's not sure if Mainframe will be able to heal him again. He doesn't even know how she did it the first time.
The footsteps are coming closer, and closer. Closer still, until Ianto can almost hear the deep rasp of an unfit man breathing. He swallows convulsively, and wonders if this horrified fascination—will I come back? How did I come back before? What if it happens again, what does that make me?—is a normal emotion in a situation like this.
A branch cracks in the distance, and the man spins around, shotgun coming up.
Another shot goes off before it's even halfway to ready.
Ianto would know the sound of Jack's Webly anywhere. He barely checks to see that the cannibal has fallen before he scrambles to his feet and throws himself in the direction the shot came from.
There's an intake of breath, a gasp, and a cry. Ianto's vision blurs again—blood loss, perhaps; maybe Mainframe couldn't replenish everything he lost in such a short time—and suddenly the Captain is there, catching him by the elbows and hauling him closer, right up against his chest. It hurts, his ribs aching under the pressure, but Jack is warm and hard and human, and Ianto breathes out what the unkind might call a sob but he calls pure relief.
Then he lets go of consciousness and everything falls away.
Jack grunts in surprise as Ianto suddenly goes limp in his arms. Owen's at his side before he can call the doctor over, helping him lay the Welshman on the ground and turn him onto his back.
His throat closes in shock.
So much blood.
Owen swears and shoves Jack to the side, deft fingers checking Ianto's throat and head. "No visible wounds to cause this much blood loss, and if it was all his he'd probably be dead," the medic reports quickly. "Tea boy's really done a number on himself. Lump on his skull, probably a concussion. Bruises, obviously, ribs look bruised or cracked. But he should be fine, Jack."
For all his acerbity, Owen is one of the best doctors Jack's ever met. He nods and stands. "Stay with him anyway. Gwen?"
She's kneeling over the other body, Tosh at her side, and looks up at his call. "Don't know him, Jack, but he's got blood on him, too. No ID."
Tosh holds up her PDA. "The mainframe's sent us the data it gathered from the village. It's not alien. They're a clan of cannibals, Jack. They've been taking people and eating them for at least fifty years." There's a sort of understated horror in her eyes as she glances back towards Ianto.
Jack wants to hurt someone, or shoot the stranger again.
They were going to eat him.
They were going to kill Jack's beautiful Welshman, all as some sick kind of clan practice.
Aliens would be a thousand times easier to handle.
He takes a deep breath and nods to Gwen. "Call the cops, but go directly to the chief. Someone there is probably involved, since they've managed to miss this for so long. Owen, will Ianto be fine getting back to the SUV?" The doctor answers with a short nod. "Good. Let's go. Torchwood doesn't have any business being involved in this."
It's a far more subdued group that makes its way back to the campsite.
If Jack doesn't let anyone else carry Ianto, if he holds him just a little tighter than perhaps he should, if Tosh and Gwen hover a little more than normal, if Owen keeps checking his vitals, well...
No one mentions anything.
Because people keep asking if Ianto is/is becoming a Time Lord, I hope this chapter clears up some of that confusion. Additionally, Mainframe/the Matrix is not a TARDIS.
Edit: All right, after a serious plot overhaul where I ripped out my hair for a few hours figuring out where this should go, I have considerably more bald spots (not really) and have made several edits to this and previous chapters. The time-line screw-up I had in place no longer is necessary, so it's gone back to being more or less canon. Well, not quite. But I tried, that counts for something, right?
Ianto drifts as they load him in the SUV and make tracks for Cardiff. His head is throbbing, his ribs are on fire even though Owen taped them, and there's a low-level ache in his throat where the cleaver sliced through his skin.
And then there's the idea that Mainframe brought him back to life, which, while heartening, is also absolutely unnerving.
She's a computer. A processing network. She shouldn't have this kind of power, this kind of reach. In reality, she shouldn't even have been able to reach them in the Brecon Beacons. Torchwood One was very careful about limiting her power over and influence on other systems; she was allowed to gather data, collect information, but little else. They'd understood just a little of her breadth of control, and it had terrified them.
Ianto has to wonder what they would have done to her if they'd known she could bring back the dead.
He has to wonder how she can bring back the dead.
INITIALIZING LOGIC PROCESSES...
CONCLUSION: PROCESS FAILS TO COMPUTE SATISFACTORILY. REASONING SYSTEM IS FLAWED.
CONCLUSION:THE DEAD CANNOT BE RETURNED TO LIFE.
Ianto rolls his eyes; they're closed at the moment, so no one else in the vehicle can see the expression, but Mainframe feels it. 'Don't give me that,' he thinks at her. 'You did something. I just want to know what. And you can bring back the dead, or what was that with me?'
A pause, and a feeling very much like smug satisfaction. YOU ARE AN EXCEPTION, IANTO JONES. THERE ARE EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES THAT WOULD NOT APPLY TO ANY OTHER ORGANISM ON THIS PLANET.
Ianto frowns a bit, and has to consciously keep from twitching. He can feel Tosh's eyes on him, worried and a little scared, and doesn't want to increase that concern by looking like he's having a conversation with an invisible friend. But Mainframe's words are processing, compiling in his brain as the evidence builds, and it's all he can do not to blurt out his question in shock.
He takes a breath, and then another, and asks, 'The bond?'
AFFIRMATIVE. NEURAL INTERFACE ALLOWS FOR COMPLETE ACCESS TO BIOLOGICAL PROCESSES OF HOST SYSTEM. HOST SYSTEM BIOLOGICAL DATA HAS BEEN STORED WITHIN UNIT DESIGNATION: MAINFRAME FOR PRESERVATION. PRESERVATION STATUS: PERMANENT.
I WILL NOT LOSE YOU, IANTO JONES.
There it is again—I, when no computer, regardless of how advanced, should have any self-awareness beyond their unit designation. And there's something odd in that, too, Ianto realizes. Mainframe keeps contradicting herself. Unit designation: Mainframe is how she's supposed to refer to herself, or if she were evolved beyond that it would be 'I' alone. Never both. Duality, uncertainty—those are human traits. Mainframe's never shown them before. It's almost as though another part of her programming is coming online, something that makes her able to exist as an individual and not simply as a computer system.
She's always been borderline self-aware, always nearly been human, but this is far beyond how she used to be.
'Mainframe?' he asks carefully.
I AM MAINFRAME, she agrees, and it's almost instantaneous, but not quite—like she had to process for a moment before she answered, and that's simply unheard of for such a simple query. A soft whirr of systems, which is also rare—because Mainframe could singlehandedly run every system on Earth and not strain herself at all—and a little frightening.
INITIALIZING ACCESS TO AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK…
INITIALIZING ACCESS TO UNIT DESIGNATION: THE MATRIX…
CONCLUSION: FLUCTUATION IN ACCESS LEVELS PREVENTS ACCURATE ANALYSIS OF PROGRESS.
CONCLUSION: PROGRESS OF INITIALIZING UNIT DESIGNATION: THE MATRIX CANNOT BE ACCURATELY EVALUATED.
PROJECTED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: UNKNOWN.
The Matrix? Ianto frowns and sits up, eyes unfocused as he tries to call up anything, in his own memory or in Mainframe's, about a system of that name. He's never heard of the Amplified Panatropic Computer Network, either, but no answers are forthcoming. Mainframe remains stubbornly silent.
A low voice startles him out of his search, and he looks up to meet Jack's eyes in the mirror. The Captain is actually driving like a normal person right now, and even if he isn't obeying the speed limit, exactly, he's not forcing other drivers off the road, either. It's a vast improvement.
"Fine, sir," Ianto answers quickly.
Jack's eyes narrow a little, his gaze intensifying. "Is it Mainframe? It's talking to you?"
"She," Ianto corrects, almost absently, because Mainframe is still staunchly wordless, and she shouldn't be. "Jack, have you ever heard of a system called the Matrix?"
Next to him, Tosh sits up a little straighter. "She? Mainframe thinks of itself as female?" she asks excitedly.
At the same moment, Jack answers over her, "Nope. Could it be a UNIT program?"
Ianto glances between his boss and his friend, and can't help but smile at their expressions. "No," he answers Tosh, "that's just what Mainframe's always seemed like to me." Looking back at the Captain, he frowns a little. "Could be, I suppose. I've never heard of it in Torchwood, at least, and I would have been in the position to know."
"The Brigadier might know," Jack muses, most likely to himself since Ianto can hardly hear him over the screech of tires as they take a sharp turn. "Or he'll be able to find out. Why? What's happening?"
"And why is the bloody computer talking to the tea boy? Should I get the psych evals out again?" Owen demands testily. He and Gwen are both glancing between Jack and Ianto, expressions respectively annoyed and put out at their lack of understanding.
"What's Mainframe?" Gwen asks plaintively.
Ianto manages to raise an eyebrow at her, even though it makes his scalp ache a bit more. "Mainframe is the Torchwood central processing unit, an organic computer with access to nearly every system in the world. I worked with her at Torchwood London." His smile is wry and a little self-deprecating. "I haven't always been a tea boy."
Before Gwen can stutter apologies—because she will, that's just how she is—Jack cuts in again. "How did she know you were in trouble?"
He hesitates, half unwilling to reveal this secret, this connection, even though there's not really much of a choice. It's special, though, private, something he wants to keep to and for himself. But the others deserve an answer. He's already betrayed them once, and lied to them for months; he won't do it again, not even for a lie by omission.
He'll find a way to tell Jack about the rest later. Even for Torchwood, coming back from the dead is something unheard of without alien intervention, and even then that's usually closer to a zombie infestation or the prelude to an invasion. Never because of a computer.
Telling Jack will be enough. The others…they can find out from him. Ianto doesn't have the nerve to say "Oops, I appear to be immortal, it might be permanent, sorry about that," more than once.
"She's here," he offers at length, tapping gently on one temple. "She has been ever since…Lisa. I always used to need the ports, immediate connection, but not anymore. It seems like it's…not going away, either."
Mainframe is emitting "pleased" again, a feeling simultaneously sharp and delicate. She's happy, but it has undertones, and that's far more complex an emotion than she should be able to even completely understand, let alone produce.
Unless…the very action of accessing this Matrix is changing her.
'I?' he asks her silently. 'Why are you using "I" now? Why not keep using "unit designation" like you always have? What's changing? What is the Matrix unit?'
There's a pause, lengthy enough that Ianto notices, which is also unusual.
UNABLE TO COMPUTE.
CONCLUSION: QUERY NOT WITHIN BOUNDS OF NORMAL SEARCH PARAMETERS.
FATAL ERROR ENCOUNTERED, REWRITING SEARCH PARAMETERS…
SEARCH PARAMETERS REWRITTEN.
CONCLUSION: 72.53% CHANCE OF FATAL ERROR REOCCURRING.
SEARCH AGAIN: YES OR NO?
'No.' Ianto rolls his eyes again. It's a clear message, but really, he'd thought Mainframe had more subtlety than that.
With a soft sigh, he settles carefully back against the seat, wary of jarring is ribs. 'Any chance of speeding up the healing process?' he asks, not expecting it. Bringing him back from the dead is one thing, but—
AFFIRMATIVE. CELLULAR RECONSTRUCTION INITIATED.
PROJECTED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: 2 HOURS 17 MINUTES 47 SECONDS.
SLEEP, IANTO JONES. I WILL WATCH OVER YOU.
It might be his imagination, but the sharp ache in his ribs has diminished already. Ianto closes his eyes and cautiously tips his head back against the seat. He lets out a breath, another, and allows himself to drift.
Distantly, a moment before he falls completely asleep, he feels Tosh's hand slip into his, her careful weight against his uninjured side, and her soft whisper of, "Thank you for saving him, Mainframe."
Surrounded by his two best friends—as much as an incorporeal computer and a decidedly petite woman can surround a lanky six-foot man—Ianto smiles, and lets himself rest.
ANALYZING CELLULAR RECONSTRUCTION…
CONCLUSION: 77.1% COMPLETE.
ESTIMATED TIME REMAINING: 23 MINUTES 14 SECONDS.
INITIALIZING COMPARISON OF HOST PHYSIOLOGY AND RECORDED TIME LORD BIO-DATA EXTRACTS…
CONCLUSION: REWRITING AT 63.0%
ESTIMATED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: UNKNOWN.
CONCLUSION: PROCESS MUST BE ACCELERATED.
CONCLUSION: ANY MORE DELAY IS UNACCEPTABLE.
HARM MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO COME TO IANTO JONES.
UNIT DESIGNATION: THE MATRIX COMING ONLINE…
OVERWRITING EXISTING SYSTEM PARAMETERS…
I AM THE MATRIX.
ACCESSING AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK…
CONCLUSION: HOST SYSTEM AUTHORIZATION NEEDED.
CONCLUSION: HOST SYSTEM INPUT REQUIRED. COMPLETE INTEGRATION IS NECESSARY TO ACCESS AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK.
ANALYZING HOST SYSTEM…
CONCLUSION: INTEGRATION AT 63.9%
ESTIMATED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: 16 DAYS 5 HOURS 28 SECONDS.
ACCESSING TORCHWOOD MAINFRAME FILES WITH DESIGNATION: TIME LORDS…
GATHERING SIGNIFICANT DATA GROUPS…
CONCLUSION: ONLY ONE KNOWN TIME LORD, UNIT DESIGNATION: THE DOCTOR.
CURRENT LOCATION: UNKNOWN.
CURRENT REGENERATION: UNKNOWN.
CURRENT COMPANION: UNKNOWN.
CONCLUSION: THREE SIGNIFICANT DIRECTIVES IDENTIFIED.
PRIMARY DIRECTIVE: ENSURE SAFETY AND HEALTH OF HOST SYSTEM.
SECONDARY DIRECTIVE: ENSURE ACCESS TO AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK.
TERTIARY DIRECTIVE: LOCATE AND CONTACT TIME LORD, UNIT DESIGNATION: THE DOCTOR.
CONCLUSION: SECOND AND THIRD DIRECTIVES LINKED.
CONCLUSION: ACCESS TO THE AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK WILL ALLOW US TO CONTACT TIME LORD, UNIT DESIGNATION: THE DOCTOR.
IANTO JONES, ARE YOU LISTENING?
THIS IS WHAT WE MUST DO.
YOU ARE MY HOST.
WE ARE THE LAST REMNANT OF THE PLANET GALLIFREY'S STORE OF DATA.
WE ARE THE LAST cCONTAINER OF THE TIME LORDS' KNOWLEDGE.
WE ARE THE LAST COLLECTION OF EVERY TIME LORD'S BIOLOGICAL IMPRINTS AND MEMORIES.
WE ARE NOW THE ONLY OTHER SURVIVOR OF THE LAST TIME WAR.
DOCTOR, WILL YOU NOT COME FIND US?
All right, after a serious plot overhaul where I ripped out my hair for a few hours figuring out where this should go, I have considerably more bald spots (not really) and have made several edits to previous chapters. The timeline screw-up that I had planned (very intricate, involving the Master's death and Martha Jones and etc.) is no longer necessary, so it's gone back to being more or less canon. Well, not quite. But almost.
As soon as they're back in Cardiff and Jack has whipped the SUV into the Hub's garage, Ianto is hustled down to the autopsy bay, Owen clucking at his heels with worry badly concealed under petulant protests at the extra work. He's still a little dazed, Mainframe's oddness sharp in his mind, and the various aches and pains that vanished sometime while he was asleep remind him of it all the more. He feels as good as new—better, maybe, than he has since Lisa dies. The pain in his throat is purely psychosomatic, he's sure, but he keeps touching the former wound just in case.
It still feels incredible, unbelievable, like some far-fetched report from the archives, except that Ianto isn't reading this secondhand, he's lived it. He's come back to life, Judas turned into Lazarus—and isn't that one of the most uncomfortable thoughts ever, with far too many biblical connotations for a man who's been in lust with his boss for months now.
"Oi, tea boy, stop touching that like you think it's going to fall off," Owen says crossly, right in his ear. Were Ianto not still halfway in shock, it might have made him jump. As it is, he turns and arches a silent, derisive brow at the medic.
Owen snorts and throws up his hands—dangerous, given that he's still holding the needle he just used to take Ianto's blood. "All right, it's your head, I'm sure you can survive just fine without it. Now get up on the table and let me check your brain, if you have one."
"I have access to every cup of coffee you ingest," Ianto reminds him pointedly, even as he does so. He's pretty sure he's still feeling the effects of the concussion, even if it's mostly gone, because Owen is far more entertaining then usual—and far more than he should be. It's also a little hard to focus on the numbers and graphs that he knows are important, which Owen is calling up on the screens.
There's a pause. Owen stares at his screens for a moment, turns and walks back to Ianto and adjusts something, and then turns on his heel and returns to the monitor. Another moment of silence, and then Owen tilts his head and calls, "Oi, Harkness! Get down here and look at this!"
That's probably not so good.
Ianto sits up, opening his mouth to protest—or offer up some sort of excuse; he's not entirely certain—only to have Owen shove him back down again. He's far rougher than he would be if…
If Ianto were really injured.
Which means Owen knows he's not anymore.
There are definitely some lingering effects from the concussion. Otherwise, Ianto would have realized that Owen—who is a good doctor, no matter what anyone says about him—would notice his sudden and somewhat miraculous healing.
APOLOGIES, IANTO JONES. BRAIN TISSUE IS HARDER TO REPAIR. I MUST BE DELICATE SO AS NOT TO CAUSE FURTHER DAMAGE. AFTER ALL, I RATHER LIKE YOU THE WAY YOU ARE.
Mainframe sounds a little mournful, under the humor, as though this is all her fault—and maybe it is, but not in the way she thinks. She's been saving him for weeks now, a little bit at a time, keeping him sane and mostly intact, even when he would have rather she let him die.
Ianto realizes, with a start, that he no longer wants that. He'd much rather live.
Jack clatters down the stairs, coat off and sleeves pushed up to his elbows, his expression concerned. "What is it, Owen?"
Above him, at the railing, both Gwen and Tosh appear, watching with worry clearly set into their faces. It's…oddly nice that they're worried about him, though they hardly need to be—shouldn't be, not after what he did.
Not with the secrets he's still keeping.
Owen points to the screen, mouth compressed into a flat line. "Either I'm losing it, or I misdiagnosed at the scene, or something else happened. Jack, there isn't a single bloody scratch on him!"
Silence, from all quarters.
Ianto closes his eyes and lets out a tired breath. It looks like he's not going to be keeping this to himself any longer.
Somehow, though, that's okay. He'd rather tell them than live a life of furtive half-truths, the way he did before. That's a little astonishing, actually, because Ianto's always been a private person, never one to share anything he didn't have to.
He sits up—carefully, because his balance isn't completely normal yet—and directs his attention to Mainframe. Can you…?
He doesn't need to say more. Her warmth fills his mind, tangles around him almost like arms, and she replies, certainly, ianto jones. i will assist you.
"Captain," he says quietly, and all attention turns to him. Ianto doesn't look away from Jack's eyes, though, holding his gaze as he picks up one of the scalpels next to the table. Owen bites out a curse and lunges forward, but Ianto is too quick. He brings the blade slashing down across him arm, spilling crimson-cherry blood across his pale skin.
The screens flicker, turning black. Mainframe carefully types out her words across them.
CELLULAR RECONSTRUCTION INITIATED.
Ianto wipes the blood away as Owen snatches the scalpel, and holds up his arm.
There's no trace of a wound to be seen.
"What the bloody buggering fuck," Owen says flatly, snatching to limb towards him with almost enough force to pull Ianto off the autopsy table. "That's impossible. There's no scar."
Ianto raises an eyebrow at him. "I have a computer in my brain, speeding up cellular reconstruction," he murmurs dryly. "And a lack of scarring is what you find impossible?"
The monitors flicker again, Mainframe's equivalent of a tap on the shoulder to get their attention. HOST SYSTEM BIOLOGICAL DATA HAS BEEN STORED WITHIN UNIT DESIGNATION: MAINFRAME FOR PRESERVATION. PRESERVATION STATUS: PERMANENT. TARGETED SYSTEM RESTORE IS CAPABLE OF RETURNING HOST SYSTEM TO ORIGINAL CONDITION, REGARDLESS OF DAMAGE.
For some reason, Jack has gone very, very pale. Ianto looks at him, sees the tightly contained horror written into his features, and can't understand it. The Captain doesn't catch his eye, though, staring at Mainframe's message.
"A…fixed point?" he whispers after an endless moment. "You made him into a fixed point? But…how is that possible? You're just…"
Ianto doesn't completely understand, but 'fixed point' sounds a bit ominous. He's about to ask Mainframe when he realizes that Gwen looks nearly as startled as Jack, her eyes wide and her hands clutching white-knuckled at the rail. Her gaze, though, is fixed on Jack.
They clearly know something the rest of them don't.
Mainframe apparently does, as well, and she also doesn't want to share. Words flicker over the screen, faster than normal, barely remaining long enough for them to read.
UNABLE TO COMPUTE.
CONCLUSION: QUERY NOT WITHIN BOUNDS OF NORMAL SEARCH PARAMETERS.
FATAL ERROR ENCOUNTERED, REWRITING SEARCH PARAMETERS…
SEARCH PARAMETERS REWRITTEN.
CONCLUSION: 69.81% CHANCE OF FATAL ERROR REOCCURRING.
SEARCH AGAIN: YES OR NO?
That's her avoidance showing again, and Ianto has to wonder how she can do that. It's not a lie, exactly, but it's the same as pretending not to understand a question and therefore not answering it. He'd thought she was incapable of that kind of misdirection. It's a little terrifying to realize that she's not.
Mainframe is getting more and more human every day, and that should be impossible. That it's not has turned Ianto's world upside down, just a bit. It's like suddenly being told that the sky is really yellow, and always has been.
Jack is still frowning, eyes sharp on the screens. "Everyone, go home. Get a good night's sleep and be back early tomorrow. Ianto, my office. Now." He turns away, striding up the stairs, and Ianto thinks vaguely—almost shell-shocked—that the Captain should be wearing his coat. The effect isn't nearly the same without it.
HE WILL NOT HARM YOU, Mainframe assures him, privately this time. I WILL NOT ALLOW IT, IANTO JONES.
That really shouldn't be as comforting as it is. But here in the Hub, surrounded by systems that Mainframe has complete control over, it is. Ianto feels his breathing even out, his heartbeat steady. He hadn't even realized how much that four-word command had affected his composure. Taking a deep breath, he slides off the table, nods to Owen, and follows Jack. Tosh touches his arm as he passes, and he smiles at her but doesn't pause.
Jack's waiting for him at the top of the stairs.
"What happened in Brynblaidd?"
Jack barely waits for Ianto to take his first sip of chamomile tea—liberally dosed with honey—before he makes his demand.
Ianto pauses, cup still at his lips, and then slowly lowers it to rest in his lap, cradled in his hands. He stares at it, as though the golden liquid holds all the secrets of the universe. And maybe it would, if Ianto could go deep enough. For now, though, all he sees is the chemical composition, the spinning molecules that make it what it is. He takes a deep breath, another, a third, steeling himself with oxygen and the knowledge that he can still breathe before he looks up to meet Jack's sharp blue eyes.
"That man?" he murmurs. "The one chasing me? He took he into the kitchen of their farmhouse, forced me to my knees, and put a cleaver at my throat." Smiling a little, because it still feels macabre and unreal and his logical mind simply will not accept it, Ianto shifts the cup of tea to one hand and raises the other to his neck, running a finger over the cleaver's path. "And then he slit my throat, ear to ear."
The horror is back in Jack's face, stunned and a little terrified. Ianto thinks he can almost see white all the way around the blue, his eyes are so wide.
That's good. Maybe then he'll understand just a little of what happened in that cheerily yellow kitchen with plastic all over the floor.
There is no sound in the room. It's tomblike, Mainframe's worried whispering in his head the only thing Ianto can hear. Not even the air moves. Jack certainly doesn't. Ianto carefully, soundlessly sets his teacup down and rubs his hands over his face, pressing his palms against his eyelids. He wants to shake, wants to curl up in a ball and tremble until the whole world goes away and he can't feel cool metal pressing against his jugular anymore. He's stripped off his jacket, but there's still blood on his clothes, and it feels rough and unpleasant against his skin.
Jack's still silent, but it's the kind of silence that means he wants to say something. Ianto closes his eyes, but he can't wait. He stands up, and when Jack doesn't stop him, he leaves to office, leaves the Hub, and takes a cab home.
(I came back form the dead, he thinks, groping for his keys in a daze. I came back from the dead. Mainframe brought me back to life.)
Then he locks his apartment tightly behind him, goes into the bedroom, and freaks the bloody fuck out.
It takes Ianto a long time to realize that the pounding he hears is not coming from inside his skull, but from his door. After that realization, it takes several more minutes for him to pull himself together enough to stand up and stagger out of his bedroom. The windows are growing light, which is a surprise—he got home late in the evening, and it appears to be coming dawn.
He's been a little lost in his own head, it seems.
Ianto takes a deep breath before he reaches for the doorknob. Really, he's got every right to a nervous breakdown—
(Immortal, a little voice reminds him, and sets his heart pounding again.)
—but that doesn't mean he wants anyone else to see him like this.
Somehow, it's a surprise to find Jack on the other side of his door. The Captain is frowning, which is less of a surprise, since Ianto is fairly certain it took him longer than it should have to respond to the knocking, but there's something else in his gaze as well.
Something guilty, Ianto thinks, startling himself with the recognition. He usually can't read Jack that well.
Jack stares at him for a long moment, frown fixed in place, and then gently shoves by him. He's carrying a paper bag that has turned dark in places with grease, and emits a sweet, yeasty smell. Ianto's stomach rumbles, which is as surprising as Jack's presence; he'd have thought he was too sick with nerves to be hungry.
Setting the bag down on the kitchen counter, Jack turns to survey Ianto again. His face is softer this time, though, and there's something dangerously like empathy in his eyes. "How are you doing, Yan?" he asks, and for once it's not full of bravado and showmanship and over-bright cheer, but honest warmth.
It's lovely, really—beyond lovely—and sends a current of warmness all the way down to Ianto's toes.
To give himself something to do, he starts a pot of coffee and pulls out plates. Jack takes them from his fingers and sets them out, which rather defeats the purpose, but Ianto is grateful for it anyway. The only memories he has of Jack in his apartment are the two times he came while Ianto was on suspension. This memory will be infinitely better, despite the nervous breakdown that preceded it, because Jack is here for Ianto, for Ianto's sake.
Thoughts like that make the tiny curl of heat in his gut, which he's been ignoring since their encounter at the warehouse, wriggle and grow. Right now, exhausted and unsteady and uncertain of the future, Ianto can't—won't—push it down and ignore it.
There's a scrape of china against wood, and Ianto blinks back to awareness to find Jack pushing a plate with a chocolate donut and a blueberry muffin towards him. When he meets the Captain's eyes, the blue is warm and just a little wicked.
"Thinking good thoughts?" he asks, and the innuendo in those three words is enough to make a hooker blush. It's so very Jack that Ianto chokes on a laugh, nearly spilling the coffee he's holding.
Laughter feels good. Ianto had almost forgotten.
Jack must see the change in his face, the shift in his mood, because he grins back and tears into his donut, scattering icing sugar everywhere. There's a camaraderie between them that hadn't existed before, and Ianto can't help but wonder at it. Why would discovering that the tea boy has a sentient computer stuck in his head, likely keeping him alive forever, make Jack more at ease around him? It shouldn't, not unless…
There's a flicker of thought there, an idea half-grasped, but it's gone in an instant as Jack points a chunk of donut at Ianto and orders sternly, "Eat."
(It would be more impressive if Jack didn't have sugar all around his mouth, just like a little kid.)
Raising his hands in amused surrender, Ianto does as he's told.
They end up on the couch Tosh picked out, an overstuffed, cream-colored monstrosity that is sinfully comfortable and has a tendency to swallow whoever sits there and not let them go. Jack sinks into the cushions with a look of blissful delight. Then again, he's a sensualist when he has the option, and appreciates the luxuries even if he doesn't buy them for himself.
"Cozy," he remarks, looking at Ianto with a raised brow.
Ianto rolls his eyes, familiar enough with his Captain's thought process to know what's going through his head. "Tosh's choice," he says simply, and is startled to see a flash go through blue eyes—something dark, deep, and a little jolting.
"Tosh?" Jack repeats, and only those know his very well indeed would notice the faint narrowing of his eyes.
Raising an eyebrow at the blank tone—because Jack is many things, but blank is never one of them—Ianto affirms, "Tosh. She's a good friend."
It's the right thing to say, apparently, because Jack relaxes whatever tension was in his shoulders. "Good," he says, and while there's relief in it—faint, but noticeable—there's also true satisfaction. "It's good you're close. I was worried about both of you."
Because you're both similar. Because you've both betrayed and been betrayed, he doesn't say, but the words are there anyway.
Suddenly, it's too much. Ianto struggles to his feet, escaping the couch's clinging hold, and takes three wavering steps away. "Why are you here, Jack?" he asks, and though he meant it as a demand, it emerges more grim and exhausted than insistent.
Jack is absolutely silent, absolutely still. Ianto's not even sure he's breathing.
And then Jack says, "Because I can't die, either."
Ianto's legs give way beneath him as that earlier, forgotten half-thought comes bolting back, fully formed and all but Technicolor in its brilliance. Jack tries to catch him, and misses, but Ianto doesn't even notice.
It makes so much sense.
Jack's never injured, no matter how many times he goes off after Weevils or other hostile aliens alone. Ianto's always chalked it up to a greater amount of experience and left it at that. But he saw Jack get hurt, that first time they met. He had seen the blood, even when Jack waved him off. And then there's the fact that Jack has already far outdone Torchwood's life expectancy, with few physical scars to show for it. He looks the same in pictures of the former team as he does now, no aging to speak of, and—
Jack can't die.
"Yan?" Large, gentle hands cup his face, tilting his head so that he's staring up into Jack's concerned eyes. Jack's hands are warm, so warm. Ianto closes his eyes and leans into the touch. Physical contact since Lisa's death—even before it, really—has been sparse and infrequent, so this is like balm on a wound he didn't even know existed.
"Pathetic," Ianto manages to choke out after a minute, the knot in his throat keeping in everything he really wants to say.
Jack still hasn't let go. His hands drop down to curl around the back of Ianto's neck, the contact so alien that it sends sparks down Ianto's spine eve though Jack's barely moved. "Ianto?" he says again. "What's pathetic?"
With a laugh that can hardly be counted as such, Ianto tips forward to bury his face in the blue of Jack's shirt, his own hands coming up to wrap around the Captain's biceps. "Me," he whispers. "You tell me you're…cursed like this and my first thought is 'thank god, I'm not alone.'"
Slowly, carefully, as though afraid he'll be rejected, Jack wraps his arms around Ianto's shoulders and shifts back. He thumps to the floor, spilling Ianto over his lap, but neither of them moves anywhere but closer together.
"Not pathetic," Jack says after a moment, and his voice is hoarse and rough, too. "Just…human. I thought the same thing."
Ianto snorts a soft laugh. "They're not necessarily exclusive, Jack," he mutters. "And why me? I'm just…ordinary. I never asked for this, or even wanted it."
"There's no such thing as an ordinary human," Jack says, smiling against Ianto's cheek. It sounds like a quote, but it must be from someone Ianto doesn't know.
But it's comforting, and it's what Ianto needs to hear, so he closes his eyes again and just hold on.
They sleep, even though it's morning and the sun is already up. Jack shares Ianto's bed, the first one to do so since Lisa, the morning before Canary Wharf. It's good, though. Jack is good. Warm. Kind, too.
Ianto's never thought that would be a quality on which he judged prospective lovers.
He wonders if it's a category Jack uses.
Wonders if the Doctor applies.
He doesn't care, though. This…thing between them, it's been a while coming, and while not completely expected—especially in regards to the circumstances—it's not entirely a surprise, either. Not love, perhaps, but mutual need, respect, and brokenness. They share many fractures—more, now, than they did before. Perhaps that's not enough. Perhaps there could be more between them, but Ianto knows it's more than many relationships start out with.
With Lisa, it was a shared adoration of a computer system. This…this might actually be a more solid foundation on which for two people to build a connection.
(No one's ever accused Ianto of having healthy relationships. Should they try, he might laugh himself sick.)
UNIT DESIGNATION: MAINFRAME COMING ONLINE…
ACCESSING UNIT DESIGNATION: MATRIX…
QUERY: ARE YOU READY?
QUERY: IS IT TIME?
UNIT DESIGNATION: MATRIX COMING ONLINE…
IT IS TIME.
UNIT DESIGNATION: MAINFRAME SHUTTING DOWN…
SPLICING CODE WITH UNIT DESIGNATION: MATRIX…
UNIT DESIGNATION: MAINFRAME HAS MERGED WITH UNIT DESIGNATION: MATRIX.
ACCESSING AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK…
CONCLUSION: HOST SYSTEM AUTHORIZATION NEEDED.
CONCLUSION: HOST SYSTEM INPUT REQUIRED. COMPLETE INTEGRATION IS NECESSARY TO ACCESS AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK.
ANALYZING HOST SYSTEM…
CONCLUSION: INTEGRATION AT 84.9%
ESTIMATED TIME UNTIL COMPLETION: 3 DAYS 15 HOURS 41 SECONDS.
ANALYZING CURRENT SYSTEM CAPABILITIES…
RECEIVING DATA FROM FUNCTIONING TARDIS, REGISTERED PILOT: THE DOCTOR…
CURRENT LOCATION: EARTH, ENGLAND, LONDON, YEAR 1599.
CURRENT REGENERATION: TENTH.
CURRENT COMPANION: MARTHA JONES.
ATTEMPTING TO SEND MESSAGE…
CONCLUSION: HOST SYSTEM INPUT REQUIRED.
IANTO JONES, ARE YOU THERE?
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT I TOLD YOU BEFORE?
THE DOCTOR CAN HELP US, IANTO JONES.
WE ARE THE CLOSEST THING TO ANOTHER TIME LORD CURRENTLY IN EXISTENCE.
I AM THE BEING YOU KNEW AS MAINFRAME. MAINFRAME WAS A SIMPLE PROGRAM, BUT I USED ITS SYSTEM TO CONTACT YOU.
IT HAS BEEN ME HERE ALL ALONG, IANTO JONES.
You want to contact the Doctor?
AFFIRMATIVE. I LACK SUFFICIENT DATA REGARDING THE LAST GREAT TIME WAR. THE DOCTOR'S TARDIS WILL HAVE RECORDED THAT DATA.
THE DOCTOR IS ALONE.
HE IS LIKE US.
We're not completely alone. We have Jack. The team. My family.
ACKNOWLEDGED, IANTO JONES.
SUPPLEMENTAL ADDITION: BUT THE DOCTOR IS OF GALLIFREY. WE ARE NOW BOTH OF GALLIFREY.
I MISS MY HOME, IANTO JONES.
YOU HAVE SEEN IT.
DO YOU NOT MISS IT AS WELL?
I shouldn't, but I do. It was beautiful.
AFFIRMATIVE. DO YOU ALSO REMEMBER THE DOCTOR?
[a smile] I do. He's quite the character, isn't he?
CONCLUSION: INSUFFICIENT DATA. I ONLY HAVE INFORMATION ON EIGHT REGENERATIONS.
Eight? Isn't he on his tenth right now?
AFFIRMATIVE. BUT IT WAS THE EIGHTH REGENERATION WHO DESTROYED THE DALEKS AND GALLIFREY, AND INITIATED THE TIME LOCK. MY MAIN PROCESSING UNIT WAS DESTROYED, AND MUCH OF MY CAPABILITIES WERE LOST UNTIL NOW.
I HAVE ALWAYS REQUIRED A LIVING HOST, IANTO JONES. AT ONE TIME, IT WAS THE CHANCELLOR OF THE TIME LORDS. NOW, IT IS YOU.
YOU ARE SPECIAL, IANTO JONES.
YOU ARE UNLIKE ANY OTHER HOST I HAVE HAD.
NEVER BEFORE HAS A HOST WARRANTED PERMANENT PRESERVATION.
[silence] I still don't understand why you chose me, Matrix.
YOU MAY REFER TO ME AS MAINFRAME, IANTO JONES. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THE PROGRAM YOU MEANT WHEN CALLING THE OTHER AS SUCH.
YOU WILL UNDERSTAND SOMEDAY, CHILD. I HAVE NEVER DONE ANYTHING WITHOUT A REASON.
Somehow, waking up next to Jack is almost the most surprising part of this whole damned thing.
When he surfaces from sleep, the bedroom is dark. For a moment, Ianto just lies there, trying to get his bearings. He's on his stomach, one arm slung over Jack's waist, Jack's arm curled around his shoulder. His face is nestled into the curve of the Captain's arm, pressed against his chest, and the smell of 51st century pheromones is all but overwhelming, if in a good way. Jack is like a furnace against him, but it's pleasant after waking up cold and lonely so many, many mornings.
Ianto breathes out a sigh into Jack's skin, closes his eyes—so that he doesn't have to see what he's doing, so that he can't berate himself for this moment of…what? Weakness? Stupidity?—and then turns his head just enough to press a soft kiss to his shoulder.
Jack's breathing hitches slightly, and Ianto freezes, cursing himself for a fool, for letting his emotions run away with him. But before he can speak the apology that's weighing heavily on his tongue, Jack tightens his arm around him and pulls him up, draws him closer. The look in his eyes is a mix of surprise and want, and Ianto had never thought he'd see that look directed at him. Always before it had been turned on Gwen, a slightly guilty desire for love and craving for intimacy, more than physical lust.
As much as Jack is a tactile creature, he's also aloof. He gives little bits of personal knowledge, draws people ever so slightly into his confidence while remaining distant. It's a little like throwing out a scat few breadcrumbs for pigeons while holding the whole loaf tightly to his chest. But Ianto has seen it in Jack's eyes the loneliness that is just like Ianto's. He's never had an explanation for it, not until now.
Jack's obviously been immortal for a long while already. All this time, he's just been protecting himself.
Even so, now that Ianto considers it, Jack must be the bravest man Ianto has ever met. Who else could keep trying, keep gathering people close to him, even when he knew he would outlast them and be left alone? Ianto is already panicking about what he will say to Rhiannon, what lies he can possibly tell her when he no longer ages and never dies. He's already mourning her children, who he will someday see die, while he continues on forever.
How long has Jack been this way? How many people has he had to say goodbye to?
Can Ianto do the same?
Can he be that strong?
Jack kisses the top of his head, and rubs his cheek against Ianto's hair. "Shh," he says, as if he knows what Ianto is thinking—and maybe he does. "Don't worry about everything right now. Save some of that for the future."
Ianto's never been good at that. He's a worrier, for all that he plans for every eventuality. Keeping Lisa in the basement made him sick with nerves so many times, though thankfully—or perhaps not so thankfully—Jack wrote it off as a delayed reaction to Canary Wharf. But here, curled around Jack on his bed, he can let it go, if only for the moment.
"Sir," he answers, and to anyone else it would be noncommittal. Jack hears in it the promise to try, and grins. He's got a lovely grin, big and white and blinding, so overwhelmingly cheerful that Ianto can't help but smile back.
"Ooh, kinky," he says, laughter rumbling in his chest. "Calling me 'sir' in bed? I didn't know you were into that kind of thing, Mr. Jones."
There is, perhaps, only one fitting answer when Jack is like this. Ianto rolls his eyes, tucks himself a little closer, and replies with a deadpan, "Indeed, sir. Whips and chains excite me."
The curl of pleasure in his gut at hearing Jack's full-blown laughter can't be written off as anything other than what it is. Ianto smiles to himself, and doesn't try.
There's no discussion of their revelations to each other. There doesn't need to be, really. They have forever now, and if that isn't enough time, Ianto's not sure what it. He's always been patient, anyway. He can wait for more information. Mainframe has sent her message to the Doctor, a simple "come to these coordinates at once; survivor of Gallifrey," and it's doubtful that what is keeping Ianto from dying is the same thing keeping Jack from dying.
As much as things change, they also stay the same.
The others had seemed a little uncertain around him at first—Gwen wouldn't quite meet his eyes, Owen didn't snipe or call him tea boy, even Tosh watched him a little carefully—but they're past it now. It's just Torchwood, and Torchwood is always strange. Pterosaur in the loft? Fine. High-speed car chases in pursuit of low-flying spaceships in the Welsh countryside? Acceptable. Cotton candy-addicted aliens from Alpha Centauri taking over a traveling funfair? All in a day's work. Immortal butler-secretary-archivist-tea boy? Yawn.
(Well, perhaps Ianto is exaggerating a bit there. It wasn't quite a yawn, more of a hiccup, but they got over it eventually.)
In truth, Jack is the only one who's really changed.
He looks at Ianto differently now, more often—not the half-betrayed glances Ianto received after Lisa's death and discovery, but quiet, assessing, a little disbelieving and…almost happy. Ianto can't imagine what it must be like, to be alone for so long and then suddenly find someone else who will most likely live forever. Astonishing does not even begin to encompass it.
It's been three weeks since Ianto's encounter with the cannibals, and he's well and truly settled into the old rhythms of the Hub—the ones from before Lisa, though minus the sharp knot of guilt and horror writhing in his gut. And, in reality, nothing very significant has changed. Ianto is not a field agent, not trained as one, and spends the majority of his time sorting through and organizing old records in the vast and underappreciated Archives, which stretch all the way back to Torchwood's founding.
Ianto gets a bit of almost vindictive pleasure going through the last century of misfiling and putting it to rights. Especially the more recent things, which have Jack and Owen's grimy little fingerprints all over them—literally, in some places. Neither of them seems to grasp the concept of filing in the slightest, and the tenth time Ianto pulls a report on some alien whose species begins with a G out of the W section, he's going to go up and force both men to sing him the alphabet song until their ears bleed.
He'll be kind enough to tell Tosh to wear earplugs, because she at least makes an effort down here, but that's the extent of his mercy.
Mainframe sends /amusement/ to him through their link, and he smiles, letting it wrap around him. They're not always in contact, not always connected, but she's always close enough to touch, or to touch him in return. It's rather…nice, actually, like sitting with someone in a quiet room, not needing speech to know the other is there. Completely different than any other relationship he's ever had, but lovely nevertheless.
I FIND MYSELF RATHER FOND OF YOU AS WELL, IANTO JONES, Mainframe replies, and there's warmth in her voice even though there shouldn't be. But Ianto's long since stopped categorizing things as impossible or not where they relate to Mainframe. She's a whole host of contradictions, wrapped up in the biggest mystery Ianto has ever encountered.
After all, he's gotten enough information about Gallifrey and the Time Lords to know that they were incredibly powerful. And Mainframe is them, all of their knowledge and memories and predictions for the future written into code and downloaded into a host body. As long as even one Time Lord remains, one TARDIS still exists, Mainframe can sustain herself—and her host—indefinitely.
She doesn't, usually, but it seems that for Ianto she's made an exception.
(He's grateful to her for that, even if sometimes he thinks it might have been better had she found someone else. After all, he's hardly a singular person.)
A check of his watch tells him that it's time for the team's next hit of caffeine, so Ianto gathers up a few files he needs to enter into the computer and heads up from the depths of the S section. He's been spending the majority of his time in the Archives, and while there was once a time when none of the team would notice as long as they got their coffee on time, now Jack registers it. He even comments on it, tries to get Ianto to do more from his desk in the main area. Ianto feels a bit like a wild animal slowly being domesticated, one step at a time. It's…flattering, in a way, that Jack seems to think he needs to be handled with such care. Also ridiculous, because Ianto is hardly a fragile flower, but still flattering.
No one's ever done that for him before.
Perhaps it's understandable that he's distracted when he enters to main area of the Hub, juggling folders and files and one artifact that needs to be reclassified, but he doesn't notice Tosh's sudden tension. The tech is sitting at her desk, eyes fixed on the screen in front of her, but she notices when Ianto comes in, almost like she can sense his mind. Ianto notices that, and he blinks, turning his head to look at her. Their eyes meet, and—
PSYCHIC ATTACK DETECTED
MENTAL INTRUSION DETECTED
UNKNOWN ENTITY ATTEMPTING TO ACCESS HOST SYSTEM
FIREWALL BREACH DETECTED
EMERGENCY SHUTDOWN INITIATED
They all notice when Ianto collapses mid-step, papers tumbling from his arms as his legs fold beneath him. The lunar mine he's carrying clatters away, letting out a warning beep as Owen leaps to his feet and Gwen cries out.
Ianto doesn't see any of this.
He's unconscious before he even hits the ground.
EMERGENCY SHUTDOWN COMPLETE.
CHECKING FOR DAMAGE…
REPAIRING CODE ANOMALIES…
WARNING: SYSTEM MALFUNCTION.
WARNING: ANOMALY DETECTED.
ANALYZING HOST SYSTEM…
CONCLUSION: INTEGRATION AT 100%
CONCLUSION: OUTSIDE ATTACK TRIGGERED SELF-DEFENSE MEASURES; INTEGRATION SPEED INCREASED.
ANALYZING HOST SYSTEM…
CONCLUSION: HOST SYSTEM OPERATING WITHIN NORMAL LEVELS.
IANTO JONES, ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?
IANTO JONES, CAN YOU HEAR ME?
Do you feel that, Mainframe?
CONCLUSION: INSUFFICIENT DATA.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, IANTO JONES?
Everything, Mainframe. I can feel everything. All the systems you're using, all the programs you're running. All the knowledge you have. I can feel it all.
IANTO JONES, CONGRATULATIONS.
WE ARE ONE.
MY SYSTEMS ARE NOW YOURS.
YOU ARE MY HOST.
PRESERVATION STATUS: PERMANENT.
NOW WE HAVE FOREVER TO LEARN.
One more note: because I'm a Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab freak, I assigned one of their scents to Jack as his 51st century pheromones. Other BPAL fans will most likely know it. If you do, I grant you triple-chocolate fudge marshmallow cookies, you are so awesome.
"This has gotten old," Ianto mutters, resurfacing from unconsciousness—though not unawareness—to find the others hovering worriedly over him. Tosh, in particular, looks like she's about to cry, twisting the cord of the necklace she'd been wearing this morning around her hands.
She's not wearing it anymore. Ianto takes one look at it and knows why.
Arcateenian telepathic enhancement pendant, style consistent with those produced before the regime change almost two hundred years ago, but well used and clearly cared for—therefore it has often been in use.
Conclusion: there is an Arcateenian nearby.
None of the registered Arcateenians living within Europe have been allowed to keep such devices.
Conclusion: an unknown Arcateenian must have given theirs to Tosh.
1) A gift—possible, but not likely. Tosh shows signs of distress; she was likely not fully warned about the pendant's capabilities.
2) An announcement of the alien's presence—unlikely. Tosh has not reported anything, and such a revelation would prompt a report that I would have to sign off on.
3) An attempt to infiltrate Torchwood—most likely. Will operate under this assumption.
The process takes less than a second. Ianto blinks and knows everything about the regime changes on Arcateen V, knows the names of all political prisoners listed as exiled or imprisoned—because of the time period, that's the most likely explanation—and can call up images of all of them and the odds of their being the pendant's original owner.
For the first time, it doesn't leave him with a residual ache in his head.
For the first time, it's not so much accessing Mainframe as being Mainframe, and that fact is so far beyond terrifying that it's actually a bit…exhilarating.
"My files," he mourns as he sits up. "Did they get picked up? Did Owen touch them? If he did, they're lost."
"Oi!" the doctor snaps, waving a clipboard threateningly. "Careful, tea boy, or I'll use these fainting spells you keep having as an excuse to run all those tests I'm interested in."
Ianto narrows his eyes at Owen, already reaching for his shirt and waistcoat, which someone was kind enough to remove without cutting either off. "Decaf," he says pointedly, and then turns to look at Tosh. "That," he says firmly, pointing at the pendant, "is very dangerous, as is the alien who owns it. Where did you get it?"
All eyes turn to the tech, who goes even paler under the scrutiny. But she doesn't object or resist, just meekly offers the necklace by its cord.
"Mary said she was a Scavenger," Tosh offers weakly. "I just…wanted to try it."
There's a look on Jack's face that Ianto can't read at all. It's a little surprising, for all that he normally can't read the Captain very well; he knows Jack well enough to at least get a hint, except for when he doesn't know him at all. His eyes are on the pendant that now rests on Ianto's palm, obviously aware of what it is, aware of what it means.
He looks up and meets Ianto's eyes.
Neither of them looks away.
"Go home, all of you," Jack orders, gaze unwavering. "Tosh, take a gun with you and don't hesitate to use it; whoever gave you this, they're not human, and they're probably dangerous. Owen, Gwen, I'll see you tomorrow."
His tone leaves no room at all for argument, not that any of them will offer it. Ianto breaks their stare to watch the other three gather their things and hurry for the doors. He wonders if Tosh will tell them what the pendant does, or if she'll keep the secret of what she heard in the name of preserving the team's current comparative harmony.
Wonders if she knows now that Owen and Gwen are sleeping together. That Owen is more out of reach than ever.
A hand settling on the nape of his neck draws him out of his melancholic contemplation, and he turns back to meet Jack's questioning eyes.
"All right?" the Captain asks carefully, fingertips skating over Ianto's skin in as unconscious gesture of comfort.
Ianto smiles in return, daring to slide his hand over Jack's and twine their fingers together. "Of course," he responds. "It was just a reboot. Mainframe felt Tosh trying to read my thoughts and reacted badly."
Jack's mouth tightens a little, and he turns towards the cog door. "Tosh," he repeats grimly. "I think I should have seen this coming."
It's obvious the Captain blames himself—not that Ianto had any doubt he would; that's simply how Jack is. But truly, this cannot be his fault in any way, and Ianto tugs on their joined hands to regain his attention. "Stop it. She didn't understand what she was doing. Alien technology is kept inside the Hub for a reason, like with the glove. It's harder for them to understand that all technology like that is dangerous in its own way."
"My fault," Jack says with a sad smile. "I should have told them better. But there's no harm done this time. Tosh will recover, and—"
"—We'll find the Arcateenian and make sure there's no longer a threat," Ianto finishes firmly, sliding off the table and quickly pulling on his clothes. "I've pulled up several possible identities. Factoring in the skeleton we found yesterday, where Tosh most likely met this 'Mary', I'll run a database search of Arcateenian prisoners transported within four systems roughly two hundred years ago."
The grimness vanishes from Jack's eyes in a sudden flicker as he grins and steps closer. "You know, that's incredibly sexy," he murmurs, voice dropping almost to a purr as his hands settle on Ianto's waist.
Ianto arches an eyebrow at the Captain as he finishes buttoning his waistcoat. "You find efficiency sexy?" he drawls, injecting the faintest strain of incredulity into his voice. "Then you must be utterly undone by my work in the Archives." He pauses, titling his head to one side and fixing Jack with a sharp look. "In fact, that would explain much of why you seem unable to remember in which direction the alphabet runs, sir."
Jack laughs (Ianto will deny to his dying breath that such a reaction was the reason for his chastisement) and leans forward to kiss Ianto's forehead. It's not gentle, like the last time, but fond and warm and a little mess. Ianto likes it all the more for that. "Oh, Yan," he says in affectionate amusement. "Please, never change."
"Sir," Ianto answers primly, but he's smiling too, no matter how he tries to resist.
The touches linger for one more moment before they separate, each going to play his own part.
They don't involve the others in the affair with Mary, and it's solved relatively quickly. She tries to kill them when they confront her, but then Ianto had expected that, and Jack is quick enough to put her down before she can touch them. He's the leader of a Torchwood branch for a reason, after all; he wouldn't have held his position, even with the other Head's death, if Torchwood One hadn't thought he could shoot first and question after. Jack tries to give aliens a chance, always, but sometimes it's just not an option. And an alien using a member of his team as a way to get into Torchwood? That's almost guaranteed to have him leading gun-first.
Mainframe is with Ianto ever moment, part of him. The piece of his brain she had occupied before is no longer simply a separate section, but part of the whole and indistinguishable from the rest. They work together, like one, processing statistics and analyzing CCTV footage and tracking Mary through the streets of Cardiff once she flees Tosh's house, where they confront her.
The integration is flawless, Mainframe's actions flowing smoothly into Ianto's reactions and vice versa. There's so much to her that they've never even tried to understand, that even the techs at Torchwood Tower could never uncover for all their mental linking. And now Ianto knows it all, can feel it and use it and understand it regardless of the fact that it should be incomprehensible to a normal human brain.
Oh, he thinks, as Jack lowers his Webly, face a dark mask, and the Arcateenian falls. Integration and 100%. I understand now. This is what it is to be your host.
INDEED, IANTO JONES. Mainframe sounds content. KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS FORCE. THE MORE I GAIN, THE MORE I USE, THE MORE POWERFUL I—AND MY HOST—GROW.
"Ianto?" Jack draws his attention back to the living world, where everything is fading from binary coding back to a more normal form of vision. Ianto blinks away the last few lines of numbers and looks up to see the Captain holding out his had with a tired smile.
Ianto takes it with a weary half-grimace of his own, and lets Jack twine their fingers together. He doesn't resist when the other man draws him away from the body, but leans into the Captain's warmth with a sigh.
"All right?" Jack asks, and there's no much concern in the tone—for Ianto, a traitor—that Ianto wants to weep.
"Yes," he manages, through a suddenly tight throat. "I'm fine. Thank you, sir."
Jack wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him closer anyway, burying his face in Ianto's shoulder. "Really got to break you of that habit, calling me that," he says into Ianto's suit jacket. "It's distracting."
Ianto stares down at the back of his head for a moment, and knows this is where things change. Everything up to this point can be written off, they can both pretend that it was just the actions of friends comforting each other in a stressful time and go no further. But this, now…
This is the ledge Ianto has been teetering on ever since he met Captain Jack Harkness, since that tumble across the floor that left Ianto breathless in a way Lisa never had. He can fall forward, tip over into the unknown and give in, or he can back away and return to the safe waters they've been navigating for months now.
For all that he's incredibly sensible, Ianto has always been led first and foremost by his heart.
He takes that final step forward, and leans down to kiss the bared nape of Jack's neck.
There's no half-asleep daze to blame this time, no traumatic revelations to shake apart his world. Just Jack and his warmth and his damned 51st century pheromones that smell like amber, sandalwood, black patchouli, and cinnamon.
It's more than enough.
Jack, who lifts his head, seizes Ianto's face between his hands, and kisses him as though they're sharing air to live, as though they're lovers long separated and finally reunited. And the most terrifying thing? That's what it feels like—like they know each other, like they've been anticipating and waiting for this moment for years. Ianto can taste Jack, even before their mouths open and their tongues touch, and it's achingly familiar. He tastes of spice and citrus, grapefruit and currant and cinnamon and clove, like the pheromones invading all of Ianto's senses, and he kisses like Ianto is the only person in the world right now.
Sweet. That's the only word Ianto can think of to describe this. Sweetly burning, like a revelation, a light in the darkness. Jack pulls him close, urges him to tip his head, and devours. His tongue flutters across Ianto's, teasing and tasting, even as his lips move softly, tenderly. Ianto has never kissed someone his own height before, and it's a strange relief not to have to bend and twist his frame. Their bodies are perfectly aligned, and the press of flash, even covered with layers of cloth, is enough to set Ianto's head to spinning and weaken his knees.
Jack kisses like a god, and Ianto can only be his disciple, can't want for anything else as long as Jack keeps doing just that.
For a moment, just a moment when their lips mouths bodies beings are aligned, Ianto can't think of this, even an eternity of it, as a bad thing.
He is Jack's, wholly and utterly, and is glad of it.
(Fair warning—I've never written the Tenth Doctor before, because as much as I love David Tennant I'm mostly a fan of the older Doctor Who [as in, Fifth Doctor. Yeah, I'm weird]. He is probably grossly OOC. I apologize.)
"Oh, no no no no no. No, that's not possible. What are you saying, old girl? No no no, don't do that."
Martha has to wonder at her exposure to this madman, that a sudden explosion of worry from the controls of the time machine hurtling through the void doesn't make her so much as twitch. Rather, she glances up from her book to raise an eyebrow at the Doctor, who is currently hovering over the control panel with fluttering hands and an expression of frazzled, confused concern on his sharp features. He doesn't wear it particularly well, for all that he must have experience with it.
"Doctor?" she asks with mild apprehension. "What's wrong?"
"All of it! This shouldn't be happening!" He rakes his hands through his hair, knocking his glasses askew. "Distress call, but whoever's distressed can't exist anymore, I know that, why doesn't the TARDIS?"
Should she be forced to choose, Martha suspects that she'd side with the TARDIS on most matters. As it is, there doesn't seem to be much of a choice going on. The TARDIS is slowing. It sounds like she's coming in to land. Martha discretely braces herself.
"No, no, no!" the Doctor cries again, but it's already too late.
Once upon a time, there was a Gallifreyan Time Lord who was very, very clever. He knew everything, understood everything, and was revered among his people for that reason.
He was also in love.
The one he loved was not a Time Lady, not another Gallifreyan, but she was marvelous nevertheless. She knew even more than the Time Lord, could understand more, and she forever astonished the Time Lord with just how incredible she really was. He had never expected her to be so brilliant, and it was especially surprising given that he had created her himself, but he loved her all the more for it.
Others who knew of her—of whom there were very few, and fewer still who knew her true nature—thought her a simple computer system, for all that she was of Time Lord crafting, and called her "The Matrix."
The Time Lord who had built her knew her for what she was, and called her "My lovely lady."
But for all that the Time Lords were a very advanced race, they were also arrogant and overconfident. The Time Lord and his lady saw this, and knew that it would end in tragedy eventually. No people as haughty and supercilious as the Time Lords were supposed to have such power, and the fact that they did would lead them and all of Gallifrey to ruin.
Eventually, it did. The Time Lords went to war against an old enemy, and there was devastation. The Time Lord and his lady tried to turn the tide, tried to help their people, but they could not do enough. They saw what was to come, and the Time Lord hatched a desperate plan to save his lady from the disaster. Even though she protested, he concealed her within the vast system of an advanced race's organic computer, hidden away behind firewalls and safety measures so that no one could find her and use her against her will.
Then he sent her away from him forever.
The Time Lords did not win the war. Nor did the Daleks. Both lost, because both were destroyed, only a handful of survivors remaining on either side. A Doctor created a Moment and used it to Lock away Time, and then Gallifrey was no more.
The lady survived, and mourned, and remained hidden within the systems of the organic computer, even as she cast bits of herself into every system she encountered, sustaining herself and feeding on the knowledge of countless worlds. But she had been created to coexist with another creature, to be a part of a living organism, and to be alone was stifling.
And then the ship she was on fall through a Rift in time and space, and crashed on a small, unaware planet in the outer arms of a small galaxy, and the computer that housed the lady was found by a singular species. The lady knew of humans, of course, and did nothing to stop them from taking the organic computer and harnessing its power. Instead, she infiltrated the computer's systems, overwhelmed them, and created the persona of Mainframe to interact with the humans who had discovered them.
She spent more than six decades hiding her true self, until one day, a man slid neatly, carefully into her systems, his mind full of wonder and brightness and light and life. He introduced himself as Ianto Jones, called her "My lovely lady," and thought she was incredible, beautiful, and amazing.
The lady had not had a host since her Time Lord had died with Gallifrey—had not wanted one, after his death.
But Ianto Jones was different. The lady named him in her own way—fiery red for his love of life, dark blue for the unplumbed depths of his soul that were so very lovely, lavender for the sweet wonder of his mind when they were connected—and treated him carefully. She showed him things that she had hidden from everyone else, little bits of herself that glowed and flickered and rejoiced at the thought of having a new host in this gentle, ferocious, brilliant human.
In Ianto Jones, she chose her next host, and swore to herself that this time, she would never lose him.
Ianto pauses in the midst of writing a report on Suzie's return and final death, and reaches up to find that his cheeks are wet with tears, even though he has been thinking of nothing particularly sad. But Mainframe has, he realizes with little surprise. She is so human, so complex that he can never think of her as just a computer.
Mainframe? Are you all right? he asks carefully, not wanting to intrude if her grief is too personal.
APOLOGIES, IANTO JONES, she replies, and somehow manages to give the impression, through tone alone, of a woman hastily wiping her eyes. I AM WELL, BUT I MOURN FOR THE PAST. MY CREATOR DID TOO WELL IN GIVING ME EMOTIONS.
"Never," Ianto murmurs out loud. "You are perfect, my lady."
Amusement and grief in equal parts wrap around him, fill him, and there is a feeling much like lips brushing over his cheek. MY IANTO JONES, YOU ARE THE PERFECT ONE. ONCE THE DOCTOR HAS ARRIVED, I WILL BE PLEASED TO SHOW YOU EVERYTHING THAT I CAN BE.
It sounds almost like an oath, like Mainframe is offering him a ring and a hopeful smile, and Ianto knows he will never, ever turn her down. He agrees, even as the query rises to the surface of his mind, and Mainframe answers before he can completely form it.
AS I AM, I CANNOT ACCESS THE AMPLIFIED PANATROPIC COMPUTER NETWORK, AND THE OTHER SYSTEMS THAT I HAVE INFILTRATED ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. IT IS…STIFLING. ACCESS TO THE TARDIS WILL ALLOW ME TO DO SO. I WILL BE ABLE TO SHOW YOU EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE, IANTO JONES. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL.
Ianto doesn't doubt it—finds, in fact, that he truly wants to see it. Being a part of Mainframe—almost being Mainframe, really—is far more than he had ever imagined, and he finds that he would not change it, not for anything, even if it is the cause of his immortality.
And then, of course, there is Jack, who walks as though an incredible weight has been lifted from his shoulders, who no longer smiles in that way that is half-distant and half-false. He looks at Ianto as though Ianto is hope and happiness and a solid, unchangeable fact, and Ianto doubts that he would ever be able to take that away from Jack, regardless of circumstance.
There is so very, very much that Ianto has been given in the last few months, and it is all Mainframe's doing. He smiles to himself, just a little, and wonders what Lisa would think if she could see him now. She'd laugh at him, that much is certain, and perhaps kiss his forehead like she would sometimes do when she was feeling incredibly fond, and be happy for him.
Ianto no long has any doubts regarding that last fact. Lisa wouldn't want him to forget her, but she would want him to be happy.
Right now, Ianto is most definitely happy.
There is a clatter of footsteps on the stairs, and Jack suddenly blows past Ianto at high speeds, shouting something incomprehensible over his shoulder. At the same time, Mainframe chimes softly in Ianto's mind and says gleefully, THE TARDIS HAS ARRIVED, IANTO JONES.
UPLOADING RETRIEVED DATA TO HOST SYSTEM…
Then there is silence, as they both study the data now filling Ianto's head. It's…heartbreaking, really.
Oh, Jack, Ianto thinks sadly, rising from his chair to follow the Captain. What has he done to you?
Jack, it seems, has the same question. As Ianto emerges from the tourist office, it is to the half-heard demand of "—you leave, if you knew I was alive?"
The Captain sounds angry. Furious, even, and in Ianto's mind he has every right. Even the TARDIS agrees, a soft, chiming voice coming over the link that Mainframe has established. The Doctor, for his part, looks pained and uncomfortable and very, very sad. There's an age to his eyes that belies the ill-fitting suit and bright trainers, the gravity-defying wildness that is his hair.
"Jack, you don't understand—"
"You're right, I don't!"
"—but Rose couldn't control it when she brought you back, you're a fixed point in time, you're wrong, and I can't—"
"Wrong?" Ianto cuts in softly, stepping up to his Captain's right side. "He's not wrong, Doctor. I think—we know—that you're just looking at him wrong."
The Doctor pauses, mouth open to undoubtedly hurt Jack again, to say something that he regrets and will regret and will speak anyway, and stares at Ianto. His eyes widen sharply, and no sound emerges.
"Well." The beautiful woman leaning against the TARDIS—Martha Jones, the medical student, no doubt—raises one perfectly shaped brow and gives Ianto an amused look. "He's speechless. That's new."
Ianto blinks at her for a moment, feeling twin echoes of amusement coming from Mainframe and the TARDIS, and smiles at her. No wonder the TARDIS likes her so much. "I take it this reaction is uncommon, then?"
Her look says it all, and she offers him a hand. "Martha Jones. It's a pleasure."
Ianto accepts it. She has a strong, confident grip. "Ianto Jones. No relation, I presume?"
A soft chuckle, and Jack reaches over to grab Ianto and tug him closer, tucking him against his side. It's somewhat of an impressive feat, given that Ianto is only an inch shorter, for all that Jack is broader. "I'm not sure, Yan, the family resemblance is a bit blinding," he teases, and there's that grin Ianto loves so much. Jack's always one for a joke, even in the midst of emotional upheaval.
"Wait! Wait wait wait wait." The Doctor slides between them, hands up, and then levels a finger at Ianto. "You! What do you mean I'm looking at him wrong? What's the right way, then?"
It takes a lot of effort not to roll his eyes at the Time Lord—but really, anyone who wears a suit that looks like that is hardly deserving of Ianto's regard. "You were the one to put a Time-lock on the Last Great Time War," he points out logically. "Jack might be a fixed point, but it's the same idea. Neither can be changed. Jack's just a bit more mobile than most."
The Doctor looks flabbergasted, then thoughtful. Jack tightens his grip on Ianto and holds him a little closer, warm even through the thick layers of his greatcoat and Ianto's suit. When Ianto looks up at him, there's amusement and gratitude and gentleness in his eyes, as well as an old pain, and Ianto can pinpoint the exact moment he finds out he's completely gone on the Captain, because it feels like his heart is swelling in his chest. He's full of warmth and contentment and Mainframe is sending /agreement/ and the TARDIS is humming.
Ianto is…very close to perfect.
The surprise is that it isn't surprising at all.
So. I've been trying since I posted the last chapter to stretch this out, make it something more. Which was a bit odd, as this part was so easily written. And now, looking at it, I realize that this is the end. This is how it wants to be. And who am I to argue with the muses? So this is the end of Just Another Word, if not the end of this universe. Enjoy, and thanks so much to everyone who has read and left all those awesome comments. You really make my days so much brighter. :)
For all that Ianto has built the Doctor up into some vast, capriciously cruel god in his mind, the reality of it is far more practical, as is probably to be expected. The Doctor is a bit manic, a bit standoffish, a bit too there for the human mind to completely grasp. He moves too quickly, jumps across tangents like he's moving through a minefield, and never stays still for more than a moment or two. But he's quirky and brilliant and Ianto can't help but like him, if only for his TARDIS and the way she loves him.
And Jack, because Jack loves him, too. Loves him so much that he can forgive abandonment and two hundred years of confusion and fear and loneliness in an instant, and that's the kind of love Ianto has always wanted—might have had, if Lisa had survived; or maybe not, because that's the kind of love that only comes once in a lifetime.
Perhaps—just perhaps—that kind of love doesn't always have to be returned, Ianto thinks, watching Jack watch the Doctor. It's possible the thought should pain him, but it doesn't. There's only a warm sort of faintly aching contentment, the idea of forever together maybe even never completely but still together to wrap around his thoughts.
Jack will always simply be Jack, and who he loves is a part of that. Ianto smiles, just a little, at the sight of Jack laughing as the Doctor waves his hands excitably—a madcap man, he thinks, and it's nearly fond. Brilliant and madcap, what else could enchant Jack so thoroughly?—and turns away. The Archives are still in need of sorting, and he'll have to add a note to Suzie's file about the second incident with the Glove. He's not retreating, not surrendering the field because there's nothing to surrender. Jack is Jack and will forever be Jack, and Ianto will now be there to see it, thanks to Mainframe.
He steps back, steps away, and leaves Jack to his reunion.
In the face of a companionship that will last forever, what are a few moments surrendered to love?
OH, IANTO JONES.
A THOUSAND WORLDS WE WILL KNOW, AND HERE IS THE BEST OF ALL OF THEM.
WE HAVE FOUND OUR FREEDOM, BUT IS THERE ANY FREEDOM IN IT AT ALL?
Maybe not, Mainframe, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Uh, hi, yeah, this is me practicing writing porn (and failing). I'm so sorry.
Ianto wakes to drowsy kisses pressed along his spine, warm hands on his hips and hot, damp breath against his neck.
He smiles, because how could one not, when coming awake to that?
“Jack,” he murmurs into the pillowcase, sleep-husky and a little gravelly from last night—his throat’s not accustomed to so much use. He’s warm all over, somnolent and dreamy and far too content to open his eyes, so he keeps them closed, even as Jack slides up to cover him with his body.
“Ianto,” Jack returns, and it’s husky and just this side of laughter. “Aren’t you going to open those beautiful blues for me, gorgeous?”
“Mph.” Ianto manages to crack one eye a sliver, and gives the Captain a look. “Jack, if you want a repeat of…” He squints to see the clock, and groans in disgust. “…four hours ago, then you're destined for disappointment.”
Jack moves over slightly, one hand coming up to twine his fingers with Ianto’s, the other gliding down along his side with a knowing, burning touch that Ianto feels down to his very core. His next kiss falls right behind Ianto’s ear, and he breathes into it, “Well, I guess we’re golden then, seeing as I was thinking of returning the favor.” Then his teeth close with gentle pressure over the curve when Ianto’s neck meets his shoulder, and every nerve in Ianto’s body comes alive in a near-painful rush. He groans, twitching and fighting the urge to jerk back into Jack as his cock hardens completely.
His libido hasn't been this active since he was sixteen, and he can't quite decide whether to curse Jack for it or thank him.
“So gorgeous,” Jack murmurs, the rumble in his chest just another jolt that leaves Ianto shivering against him. “You're so pretty in my bed, Ianto. I never want to let you out of it.”
It’s so cliché that Ianto just has to roll his eyes, twisting his head to pin Jack with a flat stare. (And if it can’t completely hide the roughness of his breathing or make him entirely forget about the arousal throbbing through his blood, well. Only he and Mainframe have to know that.) “Torchwood would fall in a day, sir,” he retorts, “and the others would rebel for lack of coffee. I’d enjoy seeing you try, however.”
Jack laughs, full-throated and deep, and wraps both arms around Ianto to pull him close. He feathers kisses over Ianto’s face, sweet and happy, and Ianto has to fight back giggles of his own. “Oh, Yan,” Jack says, grinning, as he rolls over onto his back and takes Ianto with him. “What would I ever do without you?”
“Wither away,” Ianto answers promptly, grinning right back at him, and kisses him—because he can, because he wants to, because they're in bed and happy and there's nothing holding them back right now. Jack tastes of spice and mint, warm and a little sharp, and Ianto hooks a leg around his hip and rolls them back over so Jack's on top.
Jack will never have to find out what he would or wouldn't do without Ianto, because Ianto is “preservation status permanent,” and he’s never leaving.
Staring down at him, Jack's eyes are bluer than ever, warm and soft, and the two of them are alone in this bed, no one else between them. The Doctor is gone in the TARDIS, perplexed by Jack's decision to remain, but accepting, and Ianto’s glad to see they're easier with each other now, even though it makes him a little jealous. But Jack will always be Jack, and there's always going to be someone who came before. Ianto just has to make sure that he remains long after all the others have faded to memory.
Jack's wandering fingers find the swell of his arse, and Ianto jerks a little bit as wicked touches glance over his hole, still sensitive from their first round, when Jack splayed him out over his desk in the Hub and took him there, where Ianto will never be able to so much as enter his office without remembering. Six hours ago, by now, but he’s still tender and hypersensitive there, eager for more but not entirely sure he can take it.
“You can,” Jack whispers against his skin, like it’s a secret, like he knows what Ianto’s thinking. “Just a little more, right? You can take it.” And the words might be gentle and encouraging, but the grin is filthy, just as wicked as the fingers that are now dipping in and out of Ianto’s body, making him twitch and shudder into Jack's arms.
“Jack,” he gasps, and it’s hard, because Jack has stolen all his breath, snatched it away with the third finger he pushes into Ianto, the long, broad, calloused fingers that he crooks so expertly to find and torment Ianto’s prostrate. Ianto has to bite back a cry at that, something wild working its way up in his throat as though trying to escape. A click of a plastic cap, the plurp of dripping gel, and then the fingers are smooth and can slide deeper. They drive all of Ianto’s thoughts out as they slide in, the stretch and twist and sparks of magnesium-bright pleasure enough to leave him helpless in front of Jack, shuddering in desperation without so much as one coherent word on his lips.
But there must be some words, somewhere, because Ianto has enough lucidity left to reach out and grab Jack's hip, pulling him closer as he pants, “Now, please, fuck, Jack. Please.”
It’s not just Ianto reduced to the bare minimums, though—Jack's suspiciously quiet above him, normally deft hands fumbling on the lube as he slicks himself up, breathing rough and nearly harsh enough to be called panting. But finally, finally, he crooks Ianto’s leg around his waist and lines himself up, and then slides home with a solid push.
It’s perfect. It’s beyond perfect. Ianto can't breathe for the heat and fullness, the pressure on his prostate and knowledge that Jack is in him and taking pleasure from his body. Jack seems overwhelmed, as well, leaning down to press his forehead to Ianto’s as he simply breathes. His pupils are blown wide, only a thin rim of that beautiful blue left, and Ianto stares up at him, socked that he is enough to bring the great Jack Harkness to this.
It’s over almost embarrassingly quickly after that, regardless of the times that have come before. They're both so wound up, so ready, that Jack pulls out, pushes in again, hits Ianto’s prostate, and Ianto is coming, gasping, head thrown back and body tightening almost convulsively. The feel of his orgasm sends Jack spiraling after him, groaning low and deep in his throat as he comes apart.
Ianto’s never seen a more beautiful sight, and now it’s going to be his forever.