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A Million Dreams (But Only One “I’m Sorry”)

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He told me to call him Jack when we first met, which I'm certain wasn't his real name. There was something about the way he said it, something that flickered in his eyes and was gone before I could even name it.

But then, you never could tell what was true with Jack and what wasn't.

He said he worked for British military intel, which I also doubted. But what could I say to a guy wearing a fighter pilot's greatcoat from the last World War? (It was real. I asked. He said it was his father's, but he could have been lying about that, too.) He was on leave and looking for a little fun in Manhattan, to see the sights and all that jazz, only he didn't know anyone and he thought he'd like to get to know me better if I didn't mind.

I didn't.

He might have also mentioned something about being half-decent in the sack, which I soon learned was absolutely not true. The man wasn't half-decent, he was fucking incredible.

* *

Jack stayed with me for almost a month, and I can honestly say that I've never been with another man like him, before or since.

Of course, the sex was unbelievable (I'm sure the neighbors were turning green every night he was here), but there was more to it than that. There was the way he'd go on about the craziest things, like weevils and dinosaurs and a doctor who could fix just about anything, or the way he'd go all stiff when I offered him coffee or we passed kids playing in the street. And there was that one time I caught him staring at the phone booth on 66th, so lost in his own world that he nearly jumped a mile when I shouted for him.

He didn't sleep much, either: we'd get back from dinner and a show around eleven at night, then have our own show until two in the morning—and yet he'd be up before the sun rose, sitting shirtless at my desk and always scribbling.

"What are you writing?" I asked him from our bed one morning.

He shrugged, putting a final flourish on whatever it was that he'd finished. "Nothing. Just—stuff."

"You'll have enough stuff for a novel pretty soon, if you keep that up." I stifled a yawn with my hand. "Make me coffee?"

There it was, that ghost of something—or someone—flitting across his expression. But he only smiled, kissed me, and went to the kitchen without another word (again, like no other man I've ever known).

I waited until I heard the water running before getting out of bed and going to my desk. There were at least a dozen handwritten sheets of creamy stationery waiting for me, and I started reading the one on top.

Dear Ianto,

Went to the Empire State Building yesterday. When I stood on that observation deck and looked around, it was like seeing Cardiff from the roof of the Millennium Centre all over again. I've been in New York City for weeks, and everything I see here reminds me of everything I've ever wasted. You were so worried I'd forget you—the problem is, I remember, even if I don't want to.

I want to leave, but I'm almost tired of running. There's only so much running I can do on a planet this size, anyway.

Wishing you were here, as always,

Jack.

I flipped through the rest of the pages, but none of them made any more sense than the first. They were all short, just terse descriptions of the things Jack and I had done together over the days, and they were all addressed to a "Ianto" or, on a rare occasion, a "Steven." There were some crumpled letters in the trash as well; those were written for an "Alice" but left unfinished.

None of them were addressed to me.

* *

"I'd like to read your writing, you know," I said to Jack when we went out to dinner that night.

"I'm a shit writer." Jack fiddled with his napkin. "Maybe someday."

"Or you could write me a letter," I continued, despite noticing his knuckles go white around his fork. "Nothing fancy, just say how much you love me—"

"Don't." His tone stopped me cold. "Just, please, don't."

We ate the rest of our meal in silence. Other patrons' conversations and the lilting strains of background jazz filled the awkwardness quite nicely until, finally, Jack spoke. "You don't want me writing you letters," he said, so quietly that I almost didn't hear him. "I'm only good at writing letters to dead people."

Overhead, a new song started playing. There will be many other nights like this...and I'll be standing here with someone new...

Without knowing why, I shivered.

* *

I woke up one morning to find him gone, vanished like he'd never even existed. His letters, his too-large greatcoat, even his damn toothbrush disappeared in the space of one night. All I had left of him was a note he left for me on my writing desk.

I wanted to thank you, he'd penned in a hasty scrawl. Thank you for showing me the beauty of New York City, for being with me when I needed it. I'm sorry for leaving like this, but I hope you'll understand and someday forgive me. Whenever I get to wherever it is I'm going, once I find what I'm looking for, I promise I'll write.

That, it turns out, was the biggest fucking lie of them all.