“I have to warn you -- I’ve never been very good with these things.”
“What, birthdays?” Ianto asks.
He’s standing in front of Jack’s desk, his hands in his pockets. The scene in front of him is familiar, comfortable -- Jack, leaning back against the wooden chair, tilting his head up from the papers in front of him, which Ianto is certain he’ll be ready to abandon in an instant, UNIT deadlines be damned.
“That’s odd, considering how many of them you’ve had. And anyway, you invited me.”
Jack laughs and the full-bodied sound lodges itself dead-center in Ianto’s chest. It stays there as Jack gets up to make his way around the front of the desk.
“I was thinking of celebrations in general,” Jack says. “But that works, too.”
He wraps his arms around Ianto’s waist.
“Happy Birthday, Ianto,” Jack says, his chin resting solidly against Ianto’s shoulder, and Ianto smiles.
“What was it like when you were a kid?” Ianto asks. “Did you celebrate your birthday?”
He watches Jack, leaning back in his chair behind the desk again, and it’s silly, but his heart races a bit at the prospect of being told something, anything, about Jack’s past. He has no idea how the conversation had arrived here; somehow the question had just slipped out.
Jack is quiet for a moment and Ianto just watches him. Jack’s eyes are still and round, like polished stones.
“I don’t remember,” he says finally, getting up from the desk.
After another moment Ianto follows him, and they stand there frozen for a moment, staring down through the glass at the empty hub. Jack’s hand closes around Ianto’s fingers as he hands him the drink he’d left on the desk. The smooth glass under the pads of Ianto’s fingers is cool and slippery with condensation.
“It was a long time ago,” Jack whispers, and then his lips are pressed against Ianto’s; it’s sweet and bitter and desperate and measured all rolled into one, and before he knows what’s happening, stacks of papers are being shoved hastily to the corners of the desk.
Their half-finished drinks are moved a safe distance away and all Ianto can think about as Jack’s fingers dance over the zip of his trousers is how much he wants this. His guilt for asking about the past, his suspicion that Jack is lying like always when he says he doesn’t remember -- all of that has vanished.
It’s his twenty-sixth birthday, and this, right here, is the only thing in the world that he really wants.
“Okay, fine, I’ll bite,” Jack says later, after they’ve moved from the office down to Jack’s bunker. “What do you want to know?”
When Jack shifts, Ianto’s center of gravity shifts right with him on the tiny bed. It’s been ages since they’ve been down here; the room smells a bit musty.
“Anything,” Ianto tells him. “Something about where you’re from, what it was like -- anything.”
He closes his eyes as a rush of red hot warmth rises up from somewhere deep inside of him. His chest aches in the silence, at the thought of Jack calculating, sifting through his secrets, maybe, trying to find something he’s willing to reveal.
“Never mind,” Ianto says. “You don’t--"
“There was sand everywhere,” Jack starts, cutting him off. “It seemed to stretch off in every direction except for one -- where the sea was. You could hear it from our house. It was louder at night, and in the early morning. I used to lie awake listening to it.”
Ianto closes his eyes and ends up with an image of a rainy, pebble-strewn beach in Brittany, and Lisa standing there in a plaid jumper and wellies. It’s not a bad memory, but it’s not exactly a good one anymore, either. He wonders how many of Jack’s memories have ended up like this.
“I was obsessed with what was on the other side of the water. My brother and I…we used to write messages and then send them off in whatever we could find -- bottles, tins, anything. We thought someone might read them.”
Ianto smiles, leaning back against the wall. “What kind of messages did you write?”
Jack shakes his head. “I don’t remember.”
“What was on the other side of the water?”
Jack furrows his brow. “Everything to the south, I guess.”
“And what was it like in the south?”
Jack shakes his head. “I left Boeshane as soon as I was able to, and…”
“And so I never spent that much time exploring.”
“Not even to find out if any of your messages arrived?”
“Not really, no,” Jack says.
“I told you I was no good at this,” Jack says much later, as he places a ghost of a kiss against Ianto’s ear. Ianto shivers.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Ianto says and lets out a breath as Jack continues to press his lips against his neck, his jaw, his collarbone. “I got what I wanted, after all.”
“Mostly,” he adds after a second, because there is one other thing he’d been hoping for. He glances at Jack.
“Maybe I’ll send you a message in a bottle sometime. I could float it out over the bay,” Jack says, his breath dancing over Ianto’s chest, setting his nerves on fire.
Ianto closes his eyes. He maps out the position of Jack’s body next to him on the bed by rote, by the patterns in the air. He raises his hip just a little to meet Jack’s palm.
“Yeah?” Ianto says. His breath hitches a little.
“Yeah,” Jack says. “Want to know what I’d write?”
At this Ianto lets out a small huff of a laugh.
“Happy Birthday, Ianto Jones. Anything you want, it’s yours.”
Jack is watching him expectantly and Ianto raises his eyebrows. It’s his birthday, after all. He supposes he’s allowed to be a little selfish. He watches Jack’s eyes widen in anticipation.
“Stopwatch,” Ianto whispers. “Now.”