Over and over, Ianto strokes Jack's back with the soapy cloth. Water pounds down on both of them from the showerhead set in the ceiling and Jack stands still, his head tilted forward, hands braced against the tile wall as if for an oncoming blow. Jack's back is as perfect as a boy's, but Ianto wonders if, in the course of Jack's long life, he's been beaten, whipped, scarred. If he has, the evidence is lost now, sunk below the surface of that lovely skin.
They were halfway through the cleanup when Jack broke down again and Ianto pulled him away from Tosh's body where they'd all three lifted her to the exam table. While Gwen put her arms around Jack and the two of them sobbed together, Ianto found a clean white cloth to cover Tosh. Her eyes were still open; he carefully brushed his fingers down over the lids to close them before concealing her face from view.
After that, he'd gone to be sick. His stomach still churns now, but at a lower, more stable pace, something he's both used to and comfortable with. He takes comfort now in Jack's warmth and solidity, in the way the streaks of grime come off him, out of his hair, and swirl into the drain in the center of the shower room. Ianto can't wash away the experience of being buried for two thousand years (give or take), constantly dying and reviving and dying again, but he can provide the comfort of his own body.
Jack lifts his head at last and turns to face Ianto. "I think I'm clean," he says in a raw voice. His eyes are red-rimmed and wet.
"You've been for a while," Ianto says quietly.
Tipping his head back under the hot spray, Jack pushes his hands through his hair and then shakes his head like a dog throwing off water. Ianto takes the hint and shuts off the shower.
He'd laid out towels in the adjacent locker room before pushing Jack into the shower; they return there now, Jack draping one of the plush soft towels around his shoulders while Ianto efficiently rubs himself dry. He doesn't miss that Jack keeps his eyes on the floor so he won't have to see Tosh and Owen's names on the lockers. Still more to clean up and Ianto's prepared to handle none of it.
When he came to Torchwood, he wasn't looking for anything more than a steady paycheck. He'd left school, left Cardiff after an unfortunate shoplifting incident that only cemented what his father had claimed all along: his only son was a layabout, no good, would come to nothing. London was a handy escape, and if that didn't work out, he could try elsewhere. He was always good at looking clean-cut and innocent when he needed to.
Two years of drifting and he had to find something. Torchwood was hiring; they had attractive listings in the papers, and the girl he was seeing (if you could call it that) had told him they'd take anyone, even him. So he borrowed a suit from a mate and went round to fill out an application. They asked him to take a test. Then another. Then a woman from the HR department came into the room to shake his hand and tell him he'd tested higher than anyone else, and would he want a job in the research department? Starting as a junior researcher, of course, but with his intelligence it was clear he wouldn't stay there for long. He'd been too dumbfounded at first to say yes.
The girlfriend didn't last, but Ianto didn't care. He liked the work. For the first time in his life, he could apply himself and see results in what he did. There was so much to learn at Torchwood, so much more in the world than he'd dreamed.
And there was Lisa. Lisa Hallett, who leaned over his low cubicle wall one morning and asked if he had change for a pound so she could get a coffee. He offered to buy it for her, instead, and the next thing he knew she was asking him out on a date.
When it all went to hell, Ianto's vague thought (when he wasn't panicking about how to get Lisa safely out of Torchwood One) was: I should have seen it coming. Nothing good ever lasted in his life; the downfall of Torchwood One was merely another example of the rule.
The only thing that drove him when he returned to Wales, seeking out Cardiff and Torchwood Three, was desperation. Hope was something reserved for the moments when Lisa was lucid. The rest of the time, he lived on a combination of caffeine and fear. Flirting with Jack Harkness excited him as much as it scared him: simply to be noticed as a human being again, even if it was only in the moments when he delivered the coffee, made him feel alive and guilty all at once. And then he'd moved Lisa in, on a quiet night when Jack was up to London to deal with UNIT and the others were out doing whatever it was they did when they weren't at Torchwood (he didn't know, didn't care, not back then) and once she was installed in the basement storeroom, he let himself start to breathe again. Just a little, though. The long-term goal: to see Lisa well again, disconnected from the machines and able to live on her own once more -- that was still far off.
When she murdered Dr Tanizaki, Ianto started to think blearily that this was becoming some sort of pattern in his life. Want something, work for it, and inevitably it was pulled from your grasp.
Jack made him clean up the bloody storeroom, made him dismantle the cyber-conversion unit and toss the pieces into the white-hot incinerator, held Ianto's shoulders to make him stand before the blinding heat and watch it melt away. Then he pushed Ianto's jacket into his hands and ordered him to go home until he was told to come back.
Ianto lost track of the time after the first couple of days. It seemed easier to keep the windowshades down, to lie in bed rather than move. He ordered takeaway until he was sick of pizza and curry. A week and a half after he'd helped to kill the only woman Ianto had ever loved, Jack Harkness turned up at Ianto's flat with a bag of groceries and started cleaning up the stale, empty boxes of takeaway. Ianto stood at the doorway that opened from the back hall into the kitchen and watched Jack tidying up.
"So this is how it works?" he'd asked conversationally. "When I'm at work, I clean up after you, and when I'm at home, you clean up after me?"
"If that's what it takes," Jack said, glancing up at Ianto before chucking another pizza box into the bin bag he held. "I didn't send you home to kill yourself eating this shit."
"I know. You sent me home to contemplate my many and varied sins." Ianto didn't flinch when Jack looked up at him again. The mark on Jack's lip, where Ianto had punched him, stood out livid against the paler skin of Jack's upper lip. Apparently it was taking its time healing.
"I sent you home," Jack said, a muscle twitching in his jaw, "because I knew it wasn't a safe place for you to be for a while. The rest of the team needs to go a bit without seeing you, and you need to figure out if you want to come back to Torchwood."
"As if there's a place for me there now," Ianto muttered. Jack didn't respond, only tied up the bag and set it by the front door. He'd taken off his greatcoat and folded it over a chair; now, he delved into the bag of groceries and started putting them away. Chicken, bread, eggs, cheese, milk: staples. Ianto sighed. "Going to cook for me too?"
That earned him a short laugh. "Trust me, that's something you don't want to happen. I've been known to burn water." While Ianto was still blinking over the improbability of that, Jack finished stowing things in the refrigerator and closed it. "All right. I'll be checking in with you once a week -- and don't worry, I'll call ahead next time. Depending on your progress, I'll decide when to bring you back."
"Back," Ianto repeated dully. "You're not going to just--" He drew an illustrative hand across his throat.
Jack shook his head. His eyes were serious, belying the smile on his lips. "I've done some pretty stupid shit, too. Nearly ended the world for no reason other than petty revenge. At least you did what you did out of love. It'll just take some more time for the others to see that." As Ianto stared at him, Jack headed for the door, grabbing his coat in one arm and taking the bin bag with the other. "See you next week, Ianto," Jack called. In befuddlement, Ianto watched him go.
"We have to finish cleaning up," Jack says when they return to the main floor of the Hub. Cables have been yanked out of Tosh's workstation, splayed now in limp fans over the concrete flooring; high above, Myfanwy screeches, restlessly circling the central tower. She's been up there for a while now, and no coaxing will bring her down.
"Tomorrow," Ianto says. Gwen's waiting for them at the lift, her eyes empty.
"I brought the SUV around," she says. "Go on and take it. I'll lock up here."
Normally Ianto would protest, but he trusts Gwen more than ever these days and he just nods. She squeezes Jack's hand as he steps onto the lift, gives Ianto's shoulder a brisk rub, and then steps back while Jack activates the stone and it starts to move upward. Ianto keeps an arm around Jack, not even pretending that it's out of dislike for the lift like he usually does. He takes the wheel; Jack doesn't protest, and the drive back to Ianto's flat is quiet.
After the high, open space and ringing silence of the Hub, Ianto's flat is comfortably small and noisy, the refrigerator humming, radio playing soft music, an oldies station that's a favourite of Jack's. It is, fortunately, not so small as to trigger Jack's fun new claustrophobia, though the bathroom presents a dicey moment -- Ianto watches Jack flinch at the doorframe, then square his shoulders and go in.
"Need a hand?" he calls, in an attempt to lighten the mood.
Jack's returning chuckle is weak. "I can manage," he shouts back, and his voice echoes in the little room. In the kitchen, Ianto finds himself smiling as he cracks eggs into a pan and stirs them. It seems wrong to be in anything but a black mood, so soon after so much pain and death, but it's not as if he's stopped grieving. He consoles himself with that, already hating the words they'd want you to keep going, as he cooks.
When Jack emerges from the bathroom, looking pale but whole, he surveys the kitchen table with a cocked eyebrow. "Impressive," he says.
"You need to eat," Ianto says. He mostly only keeps breakfast food around, but right now it sounds good, so he'd made scrambled eggs, toast and bacon, brought out a jug of juice and another of milk. Jack looks vaguely nauseated, but he sits, draws himself up to the table, and starts serving himself. Ianto joins him, his eyes more on Jack than on the food.
Neither of them make much of a dent in it, but Ianto doesn't really mind; he didn't expect much, and cooking was more for something to keep himself occupied than anything. Jack pushes up from the table and starts to pick up his plate, but Ianto shakes his head as he stands.
"Leave it," he murmurs.
Jack cocks an eyebrow at him; Ianto finds himself smiling wryly. It's not his normal behaviour, no, but right now he's too battered to care. He takes Jack's hand and they move quietly to the bedroom. Jack strips while Ianto pulls the bedclothes back and turns the lights down, and then Jack comes up behind him and gently tugs his jacket off, undoes his waistcoat and tie and shirt. Ianto's glad of Jack's attentions; he hasn't let himself pay any heed to the exhaustion, but now it rises all at once, and his legs feel heavy when he steps out of his trousers and lets Jack lead him to the bed.
Commaed together in the warm nest of sheets, Ianto settles back into Jack's embrace and closes his eyes. This isn't where he expected to be at this point in his life; he knows he never would have asked for it, but right now he's not sure he can live without it.