When Ianto Jones was very small, he climbed up to the very top of the tree near his new children's home, so high that he could see all the way over the building into the valley.
Then he tried to step higher, but he was rather short for his age and his red hair was in his eyes and his hand didn't quite reach the branch and he slipped and he fell, like Alice down the rabbit hole, but the ground rushed up to meet him too fast and he landed on his head and he felt his neck snap and his skull smashed open and then everything went dark.
When Ianto Jones woke up, it was nighttime and the forest was dark and haunted around him. He sat up and touched his head carefully, in case his brains fell out, but his head was in one piece and his neck didn't flop around like a noodle and his hearts beat fast in his chest but he felt fine, so Ianto supposed he had fallen through the looking glass like Alice after all.
He stood up from the large pool of liquid he had been lying in, all black and sticky in the faint moonlight, and headed back to the children's home. Everything about him felt weird, from the trousers that were now too tight, to the odd shape of his hands, to the front tooth sitting firmly in place when Ianto knew he'd knocked it clean out of his mouth the day before.
At least his only possession, his real mother's very own pocket watch, was still in his trousers.
When Ianto came into a pool of moonlight, he pulled the watch anxiously from his pocket and opened it. He sighed happily when he saw the hands still ticking away. He wiped a bit of the dark sticky liquid from the glass, closed the watch, and put it away again.
The home was locked up, but Ianto had been in enough of these places to find a silent way in, to hurry down to the laundry room and take off his strange clothes in the dark. He found some clean clothes from the hand-me-down bin, this time with trousers long enough to fit him, and snuck upstairs to the room they'd had said was his.
After placing his watch carefully beneath his pillow, Ianto laid down his head and went to sleep.
The matron woke him (and the whole floor) the next morning by screaming at him for sneaking out and then sneaking in after curfew, and on his very first day there, too, and what on earth had he done to his hair? Then she saw his pillow in the light of day and screamed some more at him for getting red paint all over his sheets and grabbed him by the ear so fast he barely had a chance to grab his watch and she pulled him down the hall, his bare feet slapping on the cold floor and his new black hair flopping in his eyes. The matron tossed him in the showers and then seemed to lose interest in him and Ianto could finish his shower in peace.
He spent a good two minutes staring in the mirror when he was done, looking at the brand new face he wore, with no freckles and blue eyes instead of brown and curly black hair instead of red. He was taller than he had been, with a nose that wrinkled when he grinned and big goofy ears. But he was still himself, and so it didn't really matter.
He got dressed and ran down to get some breakfast, making sure he had his watch with him all the time.
The other kids in this new home weren't so bad. The ones younger than him thought it was funny when he burped up light for days, the older ones ignored him or were too slow to catch him with his new long legs, and it was like any other children's home he'd been in.
Ianto knew this, because he had always been in all sorts of children's homes. He'd been found in the street when he was just a year old, they said, and all he'd had was his watch.
No one knew that Ianto could remember his real mother, with her sweet smile and long lovely reddish-brown hair, and that she had told him stories that he could barely remember, whispered in his dreams to hide and grow and be safe, my son, and that one day she took him to the strange city with its loud noises and odd sights and kissed him goodbye, and left him alone.
Most of all, Ianto remembered how strange it had been to see his mother cry.
But somehow, he knew he would never see her again.
When Ianto Jones was just a little bit older, he realized that he was smarter than everyone else.
Not just the other students at his primary school. That much was a given. But smarter than all the teachers and the people who wrote the school books and everybody.
He heard what they said, knew when people lied and when they bluffed and when they were scared and when they were angry, and he did what any very smart orphaned boy would do in such a situation.
Behind masks, of silence and of quiet mediocre studiousness and just enough jovial childish acting out to avoid getting noticed by the watching adults. He didn't have a lot of friends, but that was fine. Ianto didn't care.
He was used to being alone.
When Ianto Jones was just on nine years old, he and two of the boys from the orphanage were walking home from school when a bright light lit up the Cardiff sky and something crashed into an abandoned building across the street.
Ianto's companions bolted for the distance. Ianto slung his knapsack firmly over his shoulders and ran towards the building as fast as he could. After all, he wasn't afraid. Ever since he had fallen from the tallest tree in Wales and woken up with a new face, Ianto Jones had never been afraid.
There was a smoking hole in the side of the building, blasted through bricks, and Ianto twisted his way through the barred window and up the stairs and to the large warehouse room where the small spaceship flashing mauve had crash-landed into the floor.
Ianto's first thought was elation. A spaceship! With gun ports just like in Star Wars, and blasters and thrusters! Then the top of the ship opened and a real live alien crawled out and it was bleeding and dying and suddenly it wasn't fun anymore, and Ianto couldn't do anything but stand there as the alien dropped to its six hands and shuddered and died, alone, on the floor on an abandoned Cardiff warehouse.
Ianto was still standing there, staring, his pocket watch clenched in his left hand and tears on his face and wondering if his mother died the same way, alone and scared, when men burst into the room with lights and shouts and guns and someone was pulling Ianto away from the spaceship and the dead alien and down the stairs.
They came out onto a bottom floor all abuzz with energy. The man who had hold of Ianto's shoulder steered him to a dusty bench by the wall and sat him down, then knelt down in front of him.
"Hey there," the man said, and when Ianto looked at him, the world spun on its axis and ripped itself into pieces and stitched itself back together again, spinning a little different than before.
The man was wrong in so many ways and Ianto couldn't stop staring.
"What's your name?" the wrong man asked, settling himself back on his heels.
Ianto thought of the dead alien upstairs, of the silently ticking watch in his trousers' pocket, and stared at the strange, wrong man and never wanted to look away.
"Are you okay?" the man asked, his smile starting to slip away.
Ianto made himself nod, the first time he had ever lied in his whole life.
"Good," the man said. "My name is Jack."
Ianto nodded again, because he knew the man was lying and yet he was also telling the truth and Ianto didn't understand.
"What's your name?"
Ianto bent his head, curling in on himself. Around the strangeness of the man in front of him, he remembered the dead alien upstairs and felt his stomach turn over.
But he had to answer, because the wrong man before him was asking him a question.
And so he lied again.
"David Samson," he whispered, stringing together lines of a book he'd read when he was very little.
"Well, David, it's nice to meet you," Jack said. He winced as several loud thuds sounded upstairs. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Why are you here? Why did you go upstairs?"
"I saw something hit the side of the building," Ianto said. He hunched a little, wishing he'd been smart enough to run away when he saw the dying alien. "I wanted to see what it was."
"And what did you see?"
There was something in the man's voice, something in the way the world and the whole universe rotated around him, something that made Ianto slip in his speech. "There was an alien in the spaceship."
The man nodded encouragingly.
"And it crawled out and it died." Ianto clutched at his watch so tight that the metal of the crown sliced into his skin. "I didn't know what to do." To his abject horror, he sniffled.
Jack gripped Ianto's shoulder, just like Ianto was an adult and not just a little boy with a rip in his trousers' knee and a dirty smudge on his chin. "There was nothing you could have done," Jack said. In his voice Ianto heard sadness, and Ianto wondered if Jack was as sad as he was that the alien was dead.
A fat man tromped down the stairs from the crash site, loud steps drawing Ianto's attention away from the man at the centre of the universe. The other man was older, with a big moustache and a sour expression. The sourness of his face grew more pronounced when he spotted Jack. "Captain Harkness!" the man barked. "Now is not the time for recruitment!"
All expression vanished from Jack's face as he slowly removed his hand from Ianto's shoulder. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment, Mr. Samson," Jack said. "Stay right here, okay?"
Ianto nodded. He didn't know what the man had meant, or why Jack reacted the way he did. Looking around the room, Ianto saw more things that puzzled him. The woman who had followed the mustachioed man from upstairs was glaring at the man with undisguised disgust, and the young man guarding the ground floor's main door had squared his shoulders against the man.
Ianto slipped his watch back into his pocket. He knew that he could see further and hear better than any other kid in school, but the mustachioed man was speaking so loudly that Ianto didn't even have to strain to eavesdrop.
"What did the boy see?" he demanded.
Captain Jack stood easily, hands in the pockets of his greatcoat, with the whole universe rotating around him. "He arrived just as the alien left the spaceship."
"He didn't touch the thing, did he?"
"Hardly," the woman interjected. Her long black hair swung in a plait down her back, and she looked so much like one of those actresses on the movies from India that the matron watched in the afternoons that Ianto wondered if she was an actress or a model; he'd never seen someone so pretty. "The dust and debris patterns upstairs are clear; the boy didn't approach the spaceship. The farthest he got in was where Jack found him."
"Captain Harkness is a junior on this case, Miss Baines, not the leader of Torchwood, and you are not to defer to him!"
Before the woman could do anything, a voice called from the first floor and the mustachioed man stormed back up the stairs.
The woman let out a strangled noise.
"Easy, Ashna," Jack said in a low voice.
"He storms in here from London and takes over my command and insults my people!" the woman said. Her voice was equally soft, but in the quiet of the building, with only a few sirens outside, Ianto could hear everything.
"And soon he'll go back to London and Torchwood Three will be all yours again," Jack said. "Promise."
She pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I've had bloody enough of this," she snapped. "Marcus, you're with me. Jack, if you please could ensure that the lad has 'suitable' memories of this event, then come upstairs. I'll send those Torchwood One goons down here to keep an eye on the boy."
The man by the door who must have been Marcus walked swiftly across the room to the woman's side and they vanished upstairs. Jack let out a long breath, almost a sigh, and drifted back across the room to Ianto. He sat on the bench beside Ianto and rested his head against the wall.
Ianto had a million questions, and since the man didn't seem angry at him, he asked the first one that came to mind. "What's Torchwood?"
Jack cracked a wry smile. "I suppose you heard all of that."
"Right." Jack reached into an inner pocket on his coat and pulled out a small sweet tin. "Torchwood works to protect the earth from aliens."
Ianto blinked, looking up at the ceiling. "But that alien was already dead. It didn't do any harm."
Jack frowned. "Do you believe in aliens, David?"
Ianto's hearts sped up at the question. He'd thought for many years that his two hearts had just been a birth defect, like how some people had an extra finger, or a cleft palate. After all, the doctors and school nurses never said anything about it when they did his physicals; only frowned and turned to make a note and then totally lost interest. Then Ianto had started reading science fiction novels with aliens in them, and watching movies like Star Wars and ET, and he began to wonder if the reason he was so different was that he was a Martian or something. But he didn't know who to ask.
And if Jack was part of Torchwood and Torchwood fought against aliens, then Ianto should really, really keep his mouth shut.
"I watch them on the telly sometimes," Ianto said vaguely.
The lines of worry eased off Jack's face, but he still seemed pensive. "Aliens are just like people," he said. "Some are bad and some are good. Torchwood... well, we're like the police. We stop the bad aliens and help the good aliens." He opened the sweet tin. Inside lay dozens of tiny white pills.
"Which kind was the one upstairs?"
Jack tipped one tiny tablet into his hand. "I don't think we'll ever know." He held out the pill to Ianto. "David, I need you to take this. To counteract any potential radiation poisoning."
Ianto knew that was utter rubbish. He had read all about nuclear bombs and how radiation burned, and it wouldn't be stopped by a little pill. A trickle of the adults' conversation came back to him, about how the pretty woman had wanted Jack to make sure that Ianto's memories were 'appropriate'.
His hearts pounded in his chest. They were going to take his memories away!
Still, the man at the centre of the universe couldn't be denied. Ianto took the tiny pill and looked at it. It didn't look dangerous. In fact, it appeared rather like a mint.
Ianto loathed mints.
He didn't know what to do. He didn't want to lose his memories, but what if he didn't take the pill and Jack tried to make him, and they found out he had two hearts? What if they took him away and locked him up and dissected him because he was an alien?
He had no plan, but most of his better ideas had always come under stress. A clatter of boots sounded upstairs, and Ianto raised his hand to his lips and just as someone pounded down the stairs, Jack looked away for a moment and Ianto dropped the pill to his other hand and continued moving his fingers to his lips. When Jack looked back, Ianto was taking his fingers out of his mouth and swallowing hard.
Jack snapped the tin shut and put it away. "It was nice meeting you, David Samson," he said as he stood up. "You stay here for a few minutes, and one of us will see you home, all right?"
Ianto nodded, keeping his fist clenched tight on the pill. "It was good to meet you too, sir." He wanted to ask why Jack was so motionless in a world of movement; a fixed point in time and space around which all else spun.
But that was a thing that Ianto kept for himself.
Jack strode across the room, not sparing a glance at the armed man making his way towards the door. Ianto waited until Jack's footsteps faded up the stairs, then he hopped to his feet and walked to the front door.
"Oi, you, what do you think you're doing?" the man snapped.
Ianto tilted his head back to regard the man. "Captain Harkness said that I could go as soon as I took that little white pill of his," he said. "So I didn't get in anyone's way."
The man snorted, but he moved out of the way. "Well, if the Captain said so."
Ianto squared his shoulders and walked confidently out of the building, around the side, past the police cars, down the road, then he broke into a run, moving as fast as he could away from the building with its dead aliens and wrong men and beautiful women.
When he couldn't run anymore, he staggered to a stop by park bench. He took deep breaths of the clean air sweeping in off the bay. Things were slowly righting themselves. Ianto could feel the earth spinning under his feet, the planet whirling around the sun, gravity pulling harder than the centrifugal force, holding him to earth. Time slipped slowly forward, his hearts beat in their slightly off-set rhythm, and the sun was shining.
He shoved the white pill into his pocket beside his watch, and wiped his palm off on his trousers, then ran all the way back to the children's home.
Things were in more of an uproar than usual when he slipped into the building. Billy and Trevor were still trying to tell everyone about the crash, the younger children were in their usual chaos, and the matron was storming around calling for Ianto.
He almost made it up into his room, but the matron grabbed him by the back of his collar and hauled him into the sitting room, taking a few seconds to wipe a dusty smudge off his cheek. She chastised him for the state of his clothes, and on that day too, which didn't make any sense to Ianto until two adults came into the room with a social worker, and things went into sort of a blur for a little while.
These were people come to adopt him.
He was a tailor and she was a teacher and Ianto thought he recognized her from a big sports jamboree that all the primary schools in Cardiff had held the previous year. They didn't have any children and wanted to adopt a little boy and they'd heard such nice things about Ianto, wouldn't it be nice to have a family? asked the social worker, and then without waiting for an answer, Ianto was swept out the door with all his worldly possessions in his knapsack and settled into the backseat of the couple's auto and watched as the children's home vanished into the distance.
The car was silent. Ianto, for all his intelligence, was still trying to piece together the day. Finally, he had to ask. "Are you with Torchwood?"
The woman, first name Sarah and last name Jones, which wasn't all that surprising as Jones was the most common name in the Cardiff phone book, turned to look at Ianto. "What's Torchwood?" she asked, no hint of evasion or a lie on her face.
Ianto swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. Maybe this was a coincidence. Maybe if he'd just run home instead of going to see the alien, they would have come to adopt him anyway.
Ianto thought about Captain Jack Harkness, and how the world spun around him, and tried to blink away the vertigo of having been so close to the centre of the universe.
It took Ianto three years to trust the Jones. That didn't mean he wasn't polite -- he was too much of a self-preservationist to be rude or unhelpful, as the Jones were really very nice and he could watch programs he wanted on the telly and could ask Sarah for foods he liked to eat. He had his very own room, and a special hidden place in the wall for his possessions: the little tin in which he kept the tiny white Torchwood pill, a coin he found by the river covered non-human writing, and a small notebook with notes about Torchwood and aliens and things in Cardiff that just couldn't be explained. The last was written in a special shorthand he developed so that no one else would know, not even if Torchwood stormed the house and took him away for dissection.
He always kept his pocket watch with him. Always.
Most days after school, he went to William Jones' tailor shop and did his homework while William talked to customers and sewed, and when the shop was empty, William would tell stories about growing up as a young child in the second World War and about his travels around Europe, and after about six months of this, Ianto started to tell his own stories, about school and places he explored in the neighborhood, and about movies he watched and books he read.
Then they would go home, and they'd make dinner for Sarah when she worked late, and then everyone would watch telly or read or do homework, then go to bed.
It was a quiet house, and if it didn't feel like home, no place ever did. It was as close as Ianto would ever get, and so he learned to live with it.
Slowly, Ianto found that he actually liked living with the Jones. Sarah helped him with his homework, which wasn't really necessary since he'd known more than she did since he was six, but she sat with him and talked to him about what the teachers wanted to hear. William took Ianto to see movies on Saturday mornings, and they talked about movies and life and what was most important, William listened to Ianto and didn't mind that Ianto was too smart for his own good.
Sarah and William made Ianto feel wanted and loved, and when they died in a car accident when Ianto was sixteen, he cursed himself for letting himself pretend he wasn't alone, even for a little while.
He missed Sarah and William terribly. He always would.
Ianto Jones was just eighteen years old when he washed up on Oxford's doorstep, a myriad of A-Levels and honours decorating his transcript. Officially, he studied history, but most nights he could be found in the library, reading everything he could on every subject under the sun. For the first time in his life, there was information all around him and there weren't enough hours in the day to take it all in.
Four years later, without him having done anything to deserve it, Torchwood came looking for Ianto Jones.
The faces were different, but the attitude was the same as the mustachioed man from Cardiff. The smug certainty that they were doing right made Ianto's skin crawl, but he listened to their offer over a cup of tea that he did not drink. An entry-level job working in the archives in London. They needed someone who knew how to sort information, and Ianto came highly recommended.
He'd think about it, he said, and went back to his dorm and burned his little alien notebook in the courtyard and was yelled at by the custodian for smoking.
He didn't go back to the dorm that night. He slipped down the dark paths around Oxford, through a convoluted path to confuse any followers, and ended up in a dark grove of trees where he could just sit and think.
It was unlikely that Torchwood had come to find him because they thought he was an alien. He had long since learned that no one seemed to notice his double heartbeat, not even doctors. Anything about him that wasn't normal was soon forgotten or ignored. In recent years, he'd taken to testing that theory through certain experimentation in human interaction, and so far everything had worked in his favour.
But still. Actually working for Torchwood was a whole different beast than having it on with a stranger in a dark alley.
Ianto pulled his watch out of his pocket and popped open the cover, even though it was too dark to see the hands ticking. His mother's watch, all he had left of her. Why had she left him here? Was she trying to protect him? Or was he simply a discarded child, tossed away into the streets of Cardiff?
Ianto closed the watch. If he had been merely abandoned, would his unknown mother have left him her watch? He would never know. And if she was trying to protect him, should he go work for Torchwood, an organization that had no real love for aliens?
Ianto pocketed the watch. It didn't really matter what his mother had done, or why. The past was unchangeable, linear time moving in a progression of certainty. What mattered was what Ianto did, the choices he made. And if he chose to work for Torchwood, he would at least be on the inside to see how they hunted aliens, and he would better know how to hide what he was.
A branch snapped in the distance, and Ianto sighed. Really, he felt rather insulted that they were having him followed by someone so blatantly bad at it. But that probably meant that they only thought him a potential employee, not an alien, and that cheered him a bit.
Ianto Jones took his Oxford education to work in Torchwood, London. The archives were an utter mess and Ianto buried himself in the work, learning all about aliens and what Torchwood London thought of them.
He soon discovered the underlying attitude of Torchwood One pervaded the whole establishment, going back to the very founding of the institute by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, designed to protect the world from an alien called the Doctor. The attitude struck Ianto as childish and very dangerous -- a juvenile xenophobic reaction to finding out that there was something else out there, that humanity wasn't the pinnacle of universal evolution.
And dangerous, for Ianto knew what Torchwood was doing with the alien artifacts they found. So he stayed below ground, hiding from research and development, hiding from the field agents, hiding from everyone, and gathering what knowledge he could.
That plan lasted exactly six months and five days, when Ianto was heading down the hall and literally walked into someone coming in the other direction and his world was ripped to pieces for the second time in his life.
Captain Jack Harkness, looking not one bloody day older than when Ianto had seen him fourteen years before, reached out to steady Ianto, and Ianto felt himself falling towards the centre of the universe. "Hey there," Jack said with an easy smile that suddenly explained a comment made years before. "It's not every day I have handsome men falling at my feet."
Ianto pulled himself back, concentrating very hard on not running away screaming. "My apologies, Captain Harkness," he said.
Jack gave Ianto a look. "Have we met? I'm sure I'd remember."
Ianto made himself look directly at the wrongness of Jack. "Possibly not."
Jack regarded the other man, and Ianto could almost see the memories passing through his mind. "Where have I seen you?"
Ianto shifted his papers in his arms. "You tell me, sir."
With that, he pivoted forty-five degrees to the left and walked around the immovable object in the centre of the hallway. He didn't look back, but it was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
An hour later, when Ianto was called up to Yvonne Hartman's office to present a report on an artifact from 1976, he nearly repeated the morning's collision. Jack Harkness loomed in Ianto's field of vision, his arms crossed over his chest and a glower on his face.
Ianto blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"There is no fucking way!" Jack suddenly grinned. "You're David Samson!"
The rapid way the man had picked that little tidbit out of his memory, an impossible meeting fourteen years before, was downright worrisome. "Not so, I'm afraid."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not." Ianto shifted his papers so his ID badge was visible. "Ianto Jones."
Jack gave him a hard look. "You gave us a false name."
"Yes, I did."
"You were ten years old and you gave us a false name."
"Nine years old. And I'd just seen an alien spaceship crash into a building in Cardiff and in burst strange men with guns. It seemed advisable at the time."
Jack raked his hand through his hair. "How do you remember all that?" he asked, suddenly suspicious.
"I was always told never to take sweets from strangers," Ianto retorted, his voice dry as a desert. "Slight of hand."
"You were nine," Jack said again, incredulous. "After you took off, we spent months looking for you. No school had a record of you--"
"Nor should they, as I made the name up," Ianto reminded Jack.
"--and what kind of kid knows magic tricks like that?"
"One who had a cadre of caregivers who took perverse delight in pressing mints on him."
Jack stopped talking for a long moment. Then a wry smile crossed his lips, and Ianto's left heart skipped a beat. The man was wrong and messed up and Ianto was not attracted to the man, who at the moment was at the very centre of all movement in the universe. "I can see why Yvonne snatched you up," Jack was saying. "If you ever get bored here in London, we've got a job at Torchwood Three."
"A job doing what?" Ianto asked involuntarily. He didn't want to go back to Cardiff, not with its aliens and the memories of a childhood best left in the past. But still. He asked.
Jack raised his eyebrows suggestively. "We'll make sure there's an opening available."
"Please stop harassing my staff," Yvonne called over Jack's shoulder. "Especially the new ones."
Jack winked at Ianto as he swept towards the door. "The new ones are the most fun," he shouted from down the hall.
Yvonne shook her head at Jack's retreating back. "Mr. Jones, I believe you have a report prepared for me?" she said.
Ianto blinked, his mind trying to correct his perception now that Jack had dragged away the universe's centre of gravity with him.
Yvonne rolled her eyes. "Please, Mr. Jones, ignore Captain Harkness," she said as she went back into her office. "He's not half as cute as he thinks he is."
Ianto followed his boss into the room. Two other people where there, an older man who Ianto knew as Dr. Singh, and a young woman. The woman was trying very hard to hide a smile.
"Enough about Captain Harkness, Miss Hallett." said Dr. Singh. "Can we please get back to work now?"
"Of course." Yvonne sat down and looked expectantly at Ianto. "So, Mr. Jones. Show us what you have."
Taking in the younger woman's smile, and seeing from her nametag that her name was Lisa, Ianto set about ridding his mind of all traces of Jack Harkness. He had a job to do, and he always took pride in a job well done.
After all, he had managed to outwit Torchwood Three at the age of nine, and he was now working for Torchwood One, an alien hiding in its ranks.
He could do this.
He just hoped it was a long time before he saw Jack Harkness again.
Ianto Jones was twenty-three years old when he did something very human.
He fell in love.
Lisa Hallett was an amazing woman. She was smart, for a human anyway, she was beautiful, she was sarcastic and witty and well-read and liked kittens and toy frogs and she simply adored the idea that humans weren't alone in the universe.
She loved working for Torchwood, and she loved Ianto back.
They had two years together. At first, Ianto was nervous that she would be able to figure out that he wasn't quite right, with his two hearts and body temperature that sometimes dipped a little too low, but Lisa was just like everybody else, ignoring or forgetting that which wasn't quite right about Ianto.
In time, he let himself be happy about loving Lisa. He let himself stop worrying.
And then the Cybermen and Daleks came to Canary Wharf, and took that all away from him.
Ianto Jones was twenty-five years old when he came to Torchwood Three in Cardiff, desperately taking up Jack Harkness's job offer because he had nowhere else to go. He had Lisa to care for and she was in so much pain all the time. Between trying to settle into a new job and not let nausea overcome him every time he looked at the impossibility of Jack Harkness, let alone trying to figure out how to reverse-engineer a Cyberman conversion unit from twisted scraps of metal, Ianto barely slept for months.
But he did it. He pulled together the conversion unit, relying on bare scraps of knowledge culled from the alien technology in the archives of Torchwood One and on the barest of hints from Torchwood Three's living Mainframe computer. He'd never had to think so hard in his life, to be so creative with next to nothing. Any other time it would have been invigorating; with Lisa's life on the line, it was terrifying.
He never stopped to think if what he was doing was right. He only knew that he couldn't lose Lisa. It wasn't even about Lisa, it was about him; he could save her. He would save her, because he would accept no other outcome.
During the day, Torchwood Three was so different from Torchwood One that Ianto wondered how they could justify using the name. The whole staff was a mishmash of talents, brilliant and quick on their feet and dangerous to Ianto in ways he could never have imagined. The first time Owen gave him a physical, Ianto watched in terror as Owen matter-of-factly took notes of a dual heart rate and his utter lack of human lungs, then closed the file and told Ianto to get out of his medical bay, thank you very much.
The terror came back to Ianto some times, that someone would see the numbers, see how wrong he was.
But no one ever did.
And Ianto could never figure out why.
Time passed and they found the Glove and the killings started and Gwen Cooper appeared at Torchwood and Suzie Costello went and blew her brains out, and Ianto played along with everyone, mostly Jack, being what they expected him to be, all the while wanting to scream at them that everything was wrong. Torchwood was wrong. He was wrong. Jack was wrong.
All these things were truth, but no one understood and the lies were killing Ianto.
Every time he looked at Jack, the world spun the wrong way and Ianto wanted to scream.
But he held it all in.
Then Ianto made his fatal mistake, bringing the Japanese doctor to the Hub and leaving him with Lisa, and Lisa killed the man, and everything Ianto had been working for shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.
Torchwood killed Lisa.
Ianto could have killed Jack.
Jack should have killed Ianto.
But he didn't. And Ianto couldn't understand why not.
There were so many things about Jack that Ianto couldn't understand.
Time dripped along. Without Lisa, Ianto didn't have anything to do but his job. He archived things, wrote in his diary, cleaned up Torchwood's messes, made coffee and let himself slowly orient to a universe that had Jack Harkness at its very centre.
They brought Suzie back and killed her again, and Ianto found himself propositioning Jack over Suzie's twice-dead corpse. Honestly, he didn't know what he was thinking. He had just barely gotten over the vertigo of extended periods in Jack's presence (that and the urge to shoot Jack for Lisa), and then he found himself in Jack's office, on the couch with Jack's hands all over his skin and things finally started to make sense.
He fell into Jack, fell down towards the centre of the universe with Jack's lips on his and Jack's skin under his hands and for the first time, Ianto started to wonder if maybe the wrong in Jack was really in Ianto, and maybe it wasn't so wrong after all. Just different.
Just like Ianto.
Then, the Rift.
Ianto had always known that the Rift through the middle of Cardiff was hiding something beneath it, something lingering on the edges of his consciousness, but he pushed awareness aware until the Rift started to fracture underneath their feet, until Lisa came back to tell him that he had to open the Rift. He knew it wasn't her, but the lingering doubt pushed him forward, pushed all of them forward until it came to a head and Owen shot Jack Harkness dead.
Ianto didn't know what to do and the world shattered around them and suddenly Jack wasn't dead at all, and they were up and moving, and then Abbadon killed Jack and Ianto couldn't stay to look at Jack's body, too still and quiet and no longer the centre of everything.
He left the vigil over the dead to Gwen, and tried to figure out how to live in a world without Jack Harkness as the only fixed point in his existence.
And then Jack came back to life and ripped Ianto's world to pieces again and then he fucking left without a word, not to him, not to anyone.
Ianto knew when he was gone; the world lurched and rippled and Jack was gone and time flowed freely in his wake.
Ianto hated the Himalayas. It was cold and there was no Jack and he felt naked the whole time, like someone was watching him at every turn. He had never been so happy to get home to Cardiff and the blanketing anonymity he felt on the Rift.
Then Jack came back. Again. Ianto decided right then and there that he was going to have to put some sort of bell or intergalactic GPS marker on the man.
With Jack back, the universe felt right again. Jack, who couldn't die; who was different than before, clinging and desperate under his cracking happy facade. Jack, who was the one to ask Ianto, meaning hidden under words, to let him in.
So Ianto did.
Shagging Jack Harkness was one thing. Dating Jack was a very different thing. It finally occurred to Ianto, round about halfway through the black and white movie playing on Ianto's television, the table covered in the remains of the dinner Jack had cooked all by himself, that Jack was a romantic at heart.
For some reason, the thought of a romantic soul in a body that could not die made Ianto's hearts twist painfully in his chest, even as Jack wrapped an arm around Ianto's shoulder and pulled him closer, his breath warm on Ianto's neck and his fingers clutching a little too tight on Ianto's wrist. Ianto was consumed by Jack's desperation, letting it crash over him as Jack pushed him to the cushions, breathing hard on the edge of panic, so hungry for touch that it was all Ianto could do to keep himself from being dashed to pieces on the rocks beneath Jack.
And Jack, who fucking well knew better, couldn't let go and brought Owen back.
Whenever Ianto looked at Owen, the dead man just looked normal. Ianto couldn't figure out what had happened to Jack, to make him so very wrong, a fixed singular point in the universe, when everyone else moved and flowed through time and through life and death.
Owen slotted back into Torchwood as if he hadn't been dead and lifeless for an hour. He was still Owen, just dead, and the world didn't revolve around him, and Ianto knew that one day Owen would just stop, like they would all stop.
Everybody but Jack.
Ianto stayed out of the way while Jack and Owen had some undying bonding moments, wondering if the twisting in his chest was jealousy. He hoped not. That might indicate some Freudian desire to be dead, and he'd had quite enough of that, thank you kindly. The last time he'd come so close to death, he'd walked away with a new face, and he certainly didn't want to have to explain that particular fact about Ianto Jones to Torchwood.
All in all, Ianto's life was moving along just fine.
Then Owen bloody Harper had to go and balls things up.