Ianto Jones had stood by and watched as Jack had returned, full of exciting and dangerous stories. He’d stood by as the rest of the team had greeted their boss back with open arms and wide smiles, barely mentioning the worry he’d put them through or the way they’d searched for him in a panic. He’d stood by as everything seemingly went back to normal, leaving him invisible once again, because he was, after all, only the tea boy. He’d stood by and he hadn’t complained.
Because he never did.
Jack had changed during his ‘journey’; he no longer acted as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders, and the lost look in his eye had been replaced with determination and purpose. Ianto was happy for him, of course he was, except it meant that Jack didn’t really need him anymore. He didn’t need comfort which was exactly what Ianto had been.
The day Martha Jones walked through the hub door and grabbed Jack in an excited hug was the day that Ianto knew that he’d been replaced. Martha was bright and quirky and was the only one in Torchwood to have anything in common with their boss. She bonded with Gwen, pleasantly chatted with Tosh, and joked with Owen over medical jargon that went over everyone else’s heads. Jack kept her by his side, as if now that she was here he didn’t plan on letting her go, and Ianto had to grit his teeth and carry on as though nothing had changed. Unfortunately, he knew it had. One Jones was, after all, enough.
He made the tea and tidied the hub and kept on going, pretending that being ignored didn’t hurt. At night he would stay late to make sure everything was spick and span (not hoping that Jack would notice him and quirk his eyebrow in invitation like he used to) and then go home to his one bedroom flat alone.
But Torchwood was all he had, so each day he returned to continue the cycle as though it wasn’t breaking him more with each passed over glance, each forgotten hello. He wasn’t invited to board meetings, he wasn’t asked on field work, and he wasn’t even given barked orders as they all strutted out of the door to the SUV. He wondered if they even noticed he were there at all.
It was a Tuesday, and the whole team had vanished earlier that day, he didn’t know where, and the hub was a chaos of paperwork and empty pizza boxes. With a sigh, Ianto tore off a bin bag and set about clearing up, trying to ignore the bitter voice in his head that told him this was all he was.
“Hullo there.” The voice jolted Ianto out of his daze. Nobody should he in here, nobody should be able to get in here without the code, but there was definitely a man standing in front of him, hands in the pockets of his long brown coat and a grin on his face.
“Hello,” Ianto replied warily, giving the man a once over to see if he could be a threat. He didn’t look much like one with his messy brown hair and square rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose. He was well dressed with the exception of his trainers and Ianto thought he looked kind of familiar but he wasn’t quite sure why. “Can I help you?”
“Is Jack around?”
“I’m afraid he’s not at the moment. Could I be of any assistance?” Polite as always.
“Ah, mind if I wait around? He’d kill me if I didn’t pop in whilst in Cardiff.” The man grinned again and Ianto wondered whether anyone ever said no to him.
“Not a problem. Can I get you a drink? Tea? Coffee?”
“What service! A cup of tea would be brilliant actually. It’s been a long...well, day, I guess.” Ianto wasn’t quite sure what that meant but he smiled and went to put the kettle on. Familiar ground.
The others returned four cups of tea later, all soaking wet and dripping water all over the freshly cleaned floor. They walked right passed him but both Jack and Martha stopped in their tracks when they saw his guest, sitting crossed legged on Tosh’s desk fiddling expertly with something or other.
“Doctor!” The shout came simultaneously as they both flung themselves at the other man, and the next few seconds were full of arms and kisses and introductions and once again Ianto was pushed to the side. At least he now knew why the man seemed so familiar. He shook thoughts of Canary Wharf quickly out of his head.
“How long have you been here?” Jack asked, looking happier than Ianto could ever remember.
“Not too long. I’ve just been drinking tea and chatting with...sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
It took Ianto a moment to realise that the Doctor was speaking to him, and then all he could do was blink. “Oh, um, Ianto... Ianto Jones.”
The Doctor gave him another of his infectious grins before hopping back onto the desk. “Ianto here may possibly make the best cup of tea I’ve ever had. Quite a talent.” He wasn’t mocking him or cracking a joke at his expense, and Ianto found himself chuckling.
Two seconds later and Jack was ushering the Doctor into his office, Martha smiling widely and plying the man with questions whilst the rest of the team followed, all looking as though they were in on some special, private secret.
Ianto shut his eyes and bit his lip until the welling in his throat disappeared. Calm, cool and collect was how he had to appear. It was his best defence. His only defence.
He was sitting at his desk, shuffling papers and trying to look like he was doing something important when the others emerged, Jack and Martha walking the Doctor to the door and looking as though they were forcing themselves to stay where they were. To not run after him and disappear to goodness knows where like they so clearly wanted to, responsibilities and logic be damned.
“Come visit us soon, yeah?” Martha asked, looking at him with a slight overtone of pity. Ianto wasn’t sure why. “There’s no need to be lonely.”
Ianto could almost see the Doctor’s defences go up at that. Defences which were all too familiar to him.
“Sure, I promise that I’ll pop by whenever I’m in the area. Now, you have to save this world and I have to go cause trouble on others. It was great seeing you.” He pulled them both into a hug and then turned to leave, his eyes closing briefly whilst they weren’t looking, only to open them and see Ianto.
“Thanks for the tea, Ianto,” he smiled. It was soft and kind of sad and void of the permanent amusement that had been attached to all his earlier grins and Ianto felt that maybe the Doctor understood more than he ever let on.
“You’re welcome,” Ianto replied, matching his smile.
It was after the door had swung shut behind the Doctor and Jack had put an arm over Martha’s shoulder, leading her back into the hub that something snapped. Without thinking, Ianto grabbed his jacket and ran out the building, scanning the crowds until he saw exactly what he was looking for. “Doctor!”
Surprised, the Doctor spun around, key in the lock of a blue police box and, seeing Ianto, he raised an eyebrow in question.
Ianto took a deep breath. “I don’t suppose you’re looking for company?”
Ianto was tired of being just a tea boy, tired of repeating the same menial tasks day in and day out but most of all he was tired of being alone. He figured the Doctor probably understood that better than most.
One side of the Doctor’s mouth tugged upwards and Ianto felt a rush of anticipation. “Why not?”
The door of the blue police box opened and, as Ianto stepped inside, he couldn’t help but think this was the best decision he’d ever made. Leaving his past in a haze of unaware shoppers and ignorant tourists, he put one foot forward, his first step into his future.
He doubted he’d ever look back.