Kissing is like drinking salted water. You drink, and your thirst increases.
Jack walked away, knowing that Tosh would start living with what she'd heard. He went up to the corner and watched, making sure she was headed home safely before he headed back to Torchwood and his own bed. Tosh had gotten about twenty meters before she turned around, calling him back.
"Jack! Wait!" She jogged to catch up with him. "I know you said it was just a snapshot, but…" She pushed her hair out of her face, a nervous tick. "I know I'm the one who heard him, but I …I think you should know about this."
Jack glanced around the workspace as the cog door rolled shut behind him. Gwen had gone, presumably back to Rhys, since Owen was still at his computer terminal. There was no sign of Ianto.
"Ianto go home?" Jack asked casually as he took in the distinct lack of half-full coffee cups, pizza boxes and biscuit wrappers, a sign of Ianto's last round-up. He wondered if he should have a talk with his staff about eating the occasional salad.
Owen rolled his eyes without looking away from the screen. "I think he's down in the basement again. However, if I can get this damn scan to complete, I am going to get the hell out of here. It's Friday night for fuck's sake."
Jack clapped him on the back. "Leave it for now. Go out, get a drink; get a girl or… you know, whoever…whatever…"
Owen started to reach out to smack Jack on the shoulder, but refrained when it occurred to him that hitting the man who was letting him leave some long-overdue work for yet another day was probably not going earn him many more of those favors. "I think he's in the basement again," he repeated more calmly, with a grin that Jack returned. The one that told Owen that even without Tosh's pendant, he'd heard the entire dialogue in Owen's head.
Jack nodded, realizing how many times he'd gotten that reply when looking for his AWOL attache lately. He headed up to his office to hang up his coat, keeping an eye on the main work level so he'd know when Owen finally grabbed his jacket and headed out.
Tosh's words – Ianto's thoughts, really – kept running through Jack's head as he descended to the basement. He'd personally made sure that all of the pieces of the conversion unit had been removed and destroyed. He'd seen Ianto turn over the remaining medical equipment and drugs to Owen the day after Lisa's body had been burned. There shouldn't be anything down here for Ianto but empty spaces and bad memories.
Jack made sure his boots were silent as he made his way down the hall to the chamber where Lisa had fallen. Ianto's jacket was hanging from the electrical transformer box and Ianto himself was kneeling on the floor scrubbing at the concrete with a wire brush and a bucket that smelled so strongly of bleach that Jack's eyes watered from across the room.
Jack sighed, staying in the shadows for a moment, trying to decide what to do. He could simply order Ianto home, but he was reasonably sure that he'd just end up scrubbing his own bathtub to death or something. Ianto had some of the strangest ways of dealing with stress, Jack mused. As Ianto shifted to rewet the brush, Jack saw him flinch – pain crossing his face unguarded, as he didn't think he was being watched.
Ianto could also clearly create his own stress.
Jack could see where the bruises still hadn't completely faded from that beating he'd taken in the country. And by the way he was moving, it was clear that the ones on his face weren't the only ones he was still feeling. And yet, here he was, on his hands and knees scrubbing a concrete floor.
He crossed to Ianto, coming around behind him to avoid the puddles that had accumulated in the basement during the rain a few days ago. He knelt down, resting his hand as gently as he could on Ianto's shoulder. "You know, we could hire someone to get th-" he began, but never finished as Ianto jerked out of his reach and scrabbled towards the wall, spilling the bleach bucket as he went.
"Bloody hell, Captain!" he cried out as he leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. "Fuck! What are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?"
Jack righted the bucket and stood again, his hands open and held out a few inches from his sides, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. "I'm sorry."
Ianto sagged against the wall. "I didn't know anyone else was down here is all." He straightened himself and took a step away from the support of the cement wall. "What can I do for you, sir?"
Jack had never actually seen someone so clearly hide behind civility and formality. And he knew that for them to have the conversation that had to be had that night, all of those armorments like manners and politeness would have to go. He looked down at the floor, seeing for the first time, what Ianto had been scrubbing at. "Is that her blood?" Jack asked quietly.
"Yes, sir," Ianto answered quietly.
"Why don't you let me bring someone in to take care of the rest of this… We can… paint or something."
"I can do it, sir," Ianto said stiffly. "Clearing up the messes is why you keep me here, after all. And besides," he added before Jack could say anything, "I made this mess."
Jack flinched as similar words echoed in his mind. Words spoken with far more venom and anger than these, but conveying the same sentiment. Jack stepped forward and gently traced the outline of a bruise on Ianto's cheekbone. "Come upstairs and have a drink with me."
Ianto gestured back to the floor. "I should really finish –"
"Leave it," Jack said quietly, letting his hand slide down to take Ianto's in his. He'd get some kind of industrial cleaning crew in to finish scrubbing away the last vestiges of the battle they'd faced and then retcon them on their way out and not feel the least bit guilty about it. Ianto shouldn't have to do this.
Ianto's eyes fell to the floor, but he didn't try to argue the point any longer.
Jack held his hand all the way up to his office, dropping it only when he needed to lift both the scotch decanter and a glass. He handed the nearly full glass to Ianto and then poured himself about half the amount before gesturing Ianto into a chair. When Ianto finally moved to it, he grabbed the other one and pulled it around, not wanting the desk between them. He didn't want to leave any impression that this discussion was between employer and employee. As he'd told Tosh, he wasn't exactly sure how those roles were supposed to work in this world anyway.
He propped his boots up on the corner of his desk, belatedly remembering that that would simply make Ianto want to get up and polish the wood when they were moved again. "So, how ya' been?" he asked as casually as he could, hoping that Ianto would drop the act and let him in. He knew it was a vain hope, but in his opinion it was hope that made the world go on.
"Fine, sir." Ianto responded automatically, then quickly hid behind his glass as he took several healthy sips.
Jack drummed his fingers against his leg. "I hear otherwise. Well, Tosh heard otherwise."
Ianto managed to swallow without choking, but only barely. He wondered what in all the things he'd been thinking Tosh had heard. How much damage control he'd have to try to do.
"Seriously, Ianto, how are you doing? Don't lie to me this time."
Ianto studied the stain in the knee of his trousers from when he'd been down scrubbing as he pondered how to answer both honestly and with doing the least damage to his career and his pride.
Jack leaned forward, trying to see Ianto's face. "She said you were in pain. That you were hurting. Is it from the beating you took last week?"
"I'm fine," Ianto ground out, not knowing how to answer. Not being able to put into words the fact that, yes, he was still smarting in a rather large number of places from being 'tenderized' with a baseball bat, but that the worst of it came from still not knowing where he stood in Jack's world. He wanted to believe that he'd been forgiven for the whole debacle with Lisa, but he wanted it so badly that he didn't trust that he'd not been reading into things Jack said and did, and Jack had never actually said.
"I asked you not to lie to me," Jack said as softly and gently as he could.
Ianto felt his hands begin to tremble, just a little; the tiniest ripples appearing in his glass. He took a hasty swallow, hoping the movement would cover the shaking and the scotch would eventually still it.
"Are you hurting, Ianto?" Jack pulled his feet down and reached over to gently trace the edge of yet another fading bruise just visible under Ianto's open collar.
Ianto nodded. He could talk about the bruises. Jack knew about the bat and the handcuffs and the coolers full of body parts. Jack didn't need to know how his nightmares of Lisa dying blended in with the memories of finding body parts in plastic bags. Or how those nightmares blended with the ones of Lisa trying to 'convert' him, which blended in with the ones of his own feet, hands and head in a freezer. Jack didn't need to know that absolute worst ones were the ones where he found Jack's head behind the salad bowl and a couple pints of beer in his own fridge. Even Jack, he figured, couldn't survive having his head removed.
He must have disappeared into his own thoughts because when he looked up again, Jack was kneeling right in front of him, taking his glass and setting it on the desk behind him.
"Tell me," Jack whispered with such earnestness that Ianto found himself speaking before he realized he'd even found the words.
"It's a combination of things," he whispered. "The cracked ribs, the headaches from the concussion. Owen says they'll all pass, but not soon enough if you ask me."
Ianto felt a warm hand through the thin cotton of his shirt, resting gently against the ribs Owen had just untaped the day before. "Tell me the other part," Jack whispered.
"I feel so fucking lonely," Ianto finally whispered, fighting back tears. The emotion welled up, causing him to breathe harshly which inflamed his ribs.
Jack nodded in understanding and pulled Ianto gently against his shoulder. "I'm sorry." He rubbed his hand up and down Ianto's spine, slowly, carefully, watching and listening for any signs that he was making things worse, that he was causing more pain. "Listen, do you remember when you woke up during Lisa's attack on Torchwood?"
Ianto nodded against Jack's shoulder, his breath hitching and his arm coming reflexively around his damaged ribs, trapping Jack's hand there.
Jack used his free hand to card his fingers through Ianto's hair. "I brought you back."
Ianto nodded. "I know. As badly as I had betrayed you… you still…" His breath caught again, causing him to wince. Jack stroked his cheek. "I owe you – I'm so sorry…"
"Sh, okay? Just shh. I forgave you a long time ago, Ianto. You know that, don't you?"
Ianto collapsed against Jack, the great relief those words sent through him causing him to go slack. He nodded, since he at least he knew now.
"Maybe I should have said that much sooner," Jack whispered, kissing the top of Ianto's head. Changing the subject, Jack said, "You know, you said something that day that maybe is, just now, really sinking in for me." He pulled back enough to tug Ianto down onto his lap. He felt his own tension drain a little when Ianto curled around him and settled his head on Jack's shoulder once more. Jack leaned back against his desk, making them comfortable for the duration.
"I asked you that day what else you might be hiding from us," Jack continued. When Ianto opened his mouth to say something, Jack lay his finger against Ianto's lips. "Sh, let me talk for a minute, okay? I asked you that and your answer was that I didn't care. That I never asked about your life and that your sole purpose was, and I quote, 'To clean up our shit, no questions asked.' And you were right. We never saw you as part of the team. But you see as much of this shit as we do. You have the same kinds of scars as everyone else at Torchwood. And we never saw you. I never saw you. And now it took Tosh to point out to me that we – that I haven't changed much in that regard. I'm sorry."
Ianto took a careful breath. "It's been better, sir. It really has. Part of it is that it's been easier now that I'm not carrying around this huge terrifying secret. I don't feel like I have to avoid being noticed." After a long pause he finally added, "But I do miss her."
"I know, and I'm still sorry," Jack whispered. After that, they just sat quietly wrapped up in each other on Jack's office floor for a long time.
Ianto finally broke the silence. "You asked me if I remembered waking up after Lisa attacked me. Why did you ask that?"
Jack stroked Ianto's hair back and kissed his forehead. "You were dead. You know that, right? I had to bring you back."
Ianto opened and closed his mouth several times before being able to get out the words. "I don't think I'd realized I'd been dead."
"Yeah, you were. And… now you aren't. One of the more interesting side effects of my not being able to die is that if someone isn't… too dead – and do not ask me to qualify that because, really, it's just a gut call – I know who I can save and who I can't. Anyway, if someone isn't too dead I can bring them back. I can heal them."
"I owe you so much."
"That isn't why I brought it up. You don't owe me anything. I needed you back. I was pissed as hell at you at that point, but I knew Torchwood needed you and even more importantly, I needed you. I brought it up by way of saying that I may be able to help you heal."
Ianto leaned back, searching Jack's face. "I must ask, sir: You're just bringing this up now? They took a baseball bat to me six days ago!" There was humor in his voice, though, no animosity.
"I wasn't sure you'd be so keen on my… delivery method," Jack offered. "Still not sure."
"What… how…?" Ianto studied his face.
Jack tipped Ianto's face up to his and moved in slowly, making it abundantly clear what he was planning to do.
Ianto never tensed, never pulled back. That wasn't to say he wasn't nervous, that he wasn't worried about what this meant, but being held felt so good, that all he could think was that kissing someone – kissing Jack - would have to feel so much better. It had been so long – since the attack on Torchwood One – that anyone had offered him the kind of physical comfort Jack was offering. Ianto desperately wanted it to mean something, something more than the fact that Jack seemed to take up with anything willing and able. But the truth was he had no idea. He didn't know if Jack was capable of sustaining any kind of relationship. Ianto had certainly never seen him in any kind of long-term arrangement. He shook his head, realizing he was getting way the hell ahead of himself.
But the kiss was good. Amazingly so. He found one hand wrapped around the little leather patch over where Jack's braces crossed in the back, the other around Jack's waist. One of Jack's hands went across his back, holding him up, the other was still gently running through his hair. Ianto moaned and shifted just enough that he could kiss back the way he wanted to.
The tingle started deep in the pit of his stomach. At first he thought it was the beginnings of what was surely going to end up being a rather annoying and somewhat inappropriate response to Jack's kiss. Not that having Jack kiss him wasn't a good enough reason for him to get hard, but, he reminded himself, that wasn't why Jack was kissing him. The tingle spread from his abdomen up through his torso, and Ianto could feel the cracks in his ribs heal. He could feel the tears in his muscles and the bruises on his skin disappear.
By the time Ianto could feel the healing move up to encompass his head and down to heal the bruises across his shins, he could barely focus enough to breathe let alone kiss back. Jack didn't seem to mind though as he continued to suck on Ianto's lips and tease his tongue and send energy throughout him.
Ianto was panting and leaning heavily on Jack by the time Jack pulled back and placed a very soft, very chaste kiss against Ianto's forehead.
"How're you feeling now?"
Ianto opened his eyes to find that somewhere along the line Jack had shifted them again and now Ianto was leaning back against Jack's arm, his head cradled in the crook of Jack's elbow. He opened his mouth to speak, but had no idea what to say.
Jack just smiled down at him. "I'll take speechless as good sign."
Ianto wracked his brain searching for appropriate words. How did he say that both the physical and so much of the emotional pain had been relieved from that one kiss? How did he tell someone like Jack that he fervently wished that there was more where that one came from. That maybe Jack could see him the way he saw Jack. How could he possibly explain how much that one kiss had meant to him without looking absolutely pathetic? He wanted to believe he still had more pride in him than that.
Ianto was well aware that if he'd ever told Jack that he was interested that Jack would take him up on it. He just wasn't sure how he'd work with Jack once Jack told him that it'd had been fun but that he'd just been another shag amongst millions. He sighed as Jack tugged him in against his shoulder again, petting his hair and kissing his temple.
"Do you want to sleep downstairs tonight?" Jack asked quietly, having decided Ianto wasn't apparently going to answer his first question.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea, sir," Ianto said hesitantly.
"Just to sleep, Ianto. I don't think you've slept much the last few weeks. I'd say you hadn't slept at all, but you aren't hallucinating yet – are you?" He waited for Ianto to smile and shake his head before continuing, "So you have to have slept some in the last three weeks, but I'm guessing not much. I thought maybe if you weren't alone… Now that it won't hurt to turn over or have someone hold you…"
Ianto's head swam. He needed to know where he stood with Jack, what Jack wanted before he took him up on his invitation. He wanted to, god knew he wanted to go to bed with Jack for anything Jack was willing to offer, but he needed to know. He couldn't handle having his heart broken twice in one month. He wondered when he'd started feeling so much for his boss. He wondered why those feelings hadn't diminished when Jack's actions had led to the death of Lisa. He wondered what Lisa would think of him turning to her killer for comfort. He swiped angrily at his eyes as the tears gathered for what felt like the thousandth time in the last few weeks.
Ianto wondered if Jack really had pocked Tosh's pendant when he asked, "Do you really still think that there was anything of the woman you loved left in that cyber-person I killed? Can you believe the Lisa you knew, the Lisa you loved, would have been grateful to have been put out of that misery, to not have to be a machine that killed and destroyed? I have to believe that of anyone worthy of your love, Ianto. What do you think Lisa would have thought if she'd been responsible for killing you?"
Ianto nodded. He'd actually come to peace with that once the initial blush of grief and anger had passed. "I know. But it still hurts."
Jack nodded now. "But it'll get a little better every day. It's a platitude, but it's true."
"It has been. But…" Ianto shrugged.
Jack trailed his hand up and down Ianto's now-healed side. "I want you to stay tonight. Just to sleep. Just to not be alone. You need to decide where and how Lisa will live in your memories. Once you've done that, we can talk about this being something else. Right now, I just want to be there for you. I've lost a lot of people I've truly loved, Ianto, and I know that the worst losses are the ones you face alone. I've let you face this one alone for too long. Stay tonight. Just to sleep and just for tonight. We'll talk about the rest when you're ready."
Ianto took a careful, deep breath, surprised when it didn't hurt, then remembering how all this had started. Jack offering to heal first his physical wounds and now the emotional ones. He nodded, wrapping himself around Jack and squeezing him tight. "Thank you."
The vid "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall" accompanies this story.