Jack stood behind the bead curtain watching Ianto talk to the two teenaged girls in reception. He looked exceptionally smart today in a black suit with a bluish-silver shirt that made his eyes stand out.
He shook his head as he realized what Ianto never would. Those two sixteen year olds, who if Jack was any judge of accents were from London, were incredibly hot for Ianto. The redhead kept trying to repeat back the directions Ianto was giving them and Jack swore she was getting them wrong on purpose just to keep Ianto talking. He couldn't blame her. He was hot for Ianto's accent as well.
When the fourth or fifth dippy mistake failed to impress upon Ianto how much this girl really wasn't interested in finding Cardiff Castle, Jack made his way out and not-so-casually wrapped his arms around Ianto's waist. "You going to eat lunch sometime soon or what?" He planted a noisy kiss on Ianto's cheek.
Ianto straightened and cleared his throat, disentangling Jack's hands. "I'll be there directly. As soon as I help these young ladies find Cardiff Castle."
The brown haired girl with the glasses grabbed the map out from under Ianto's hand. "I think we can find it now. Thanks." They both bolted for the door snickering behind their hands.
"Jack!" Ianto scolded as the reception door shut behind the girls. "I'm not sure we need to traumatize the honest-to-goodness tourists."
"Traumatize hell," Jack said rolling his eyes. "You were the only one in the room who didn't notice how hot those girls were for you." Jack spun him back around and kissed him again, this time on the mouth. This time Ianto responded.
"I'm still theoretically working up here. I don't think we need to be giving young girls any ideas that –"
Jack kissed him again. "If they're sixteen or seventeen or whatever those girls were and they don't already have ideas… well, then I think it is our duty to give them something to think about."
Ianto laughed and pulled back. "So Tosh has brought lunch back, has she?"
"Yeah, sandwiches, come on." Jack grabbed Ianto's hand and leaned over to hit the Very Secret Button to let them back into the hub, but before he could hit it, the door to reception opened again. Jack was relieved to see that it was just the letter carrier.
"Today's post," the older man said cheerfully as he handed over half a dozen envelopes and a small box to Ianto.
"Thank you, Evan," Ianto said politely before going over and flipping over the sign and locking the door to the little shack.
As he crossed back, he flipped through the mail. Jack could see that something about the second envelope seemed to have caught his attention. "Ianto?"
Ianto set the rest of the stack on the counter and held up the one thin envelope he'd been staring at. "Go ahead to lunch, Jack. I'll be down momentarily." His voice was hollow, as if he already knew what was in the envelope and dreaded it.
"You okay?" Jack asked, not liking the sudden way the mood had changed in the little tourist hut.
Ianto nodded. "I just need to see to this. I'll be down directly."
Jack took the hint. He was being sent away so Ianto could read his letter in private. "Holler if you need anything," he said as he hit the button and headed back downstairs to eat.
"You've been looking at your watch like it might not be there if you don't keep checking on it," Tosh chided as she reached over to help herself to the crisps on Jack's sandwich wrapper.
"It's been over fifteen minutes," he muttered, standing up and tossing the rest of his turkey club onto the table. He left to a mix of shouts and questions from his confused team.
He pushed the door open slowly, looking around to be sure Ianto was still there. He wasn't in the main area or behind the counter. Jack stepped through and looked through the beads. Ianto was at his secondary computer terminal talking on his mobile.
"Marc checked in with Elizabeth… was she the one who – Oh, I see. Yes. No, I have the new list, damn it's getting short –" Ianto looked up as he saw Jack back up in reception. "Forward me the details, yeah? Next week? Yes, well, it'll have to be here or Glasgow. No, I'm okay; he can come here. Yes, I suppose. I guess we can decide then. Yes. Yes, you too. Good-bye."
Jack waited until he heard the beep of the mobile disconnecting. "Everything okay?"
Ianto sighed and scrubbed his hands across his face. "Nothing I can't handle," he said predictably.
"Anything I can help with?" Jack asked, leaning on the doorframe.
"No. Thank you, but no." Ianto stood up and squeezed past Jack, clearly trying to escape the concern and the questions.
Jack grabbed his arm as he went past. "Ianto?"
"Later, alright? After the others are gone. I just need to get through the day. Please."
Jack wasn't sure he'd ever seen Ianto admit to being less than perfectly okay. Not after Lisa, not after the cannibals, not even after Jack had disappeared and returned seven weeks later (from Ianto's perspective) without even saying good-bye.
Jack loosened his grip, letting his hand rub gently up and down Ianto's arm. "Alright, if that's what you need. If you change your mind, I'll be in my office most of the afternoon."
Ianto smiled tightly. "I'm going to leave reception closed for the afternoon if you don't mind, sir."
Jack nodded. "That's fine."
Ianto nodded in return and then fled down the corridors, where Jack knew, he'd bury himself in the archives until he felt like being seen again. Jack wrote off any possibility of getting anything else done. Despite knowing that it was futile, Jack knew he'd spend the afternoon trying to deduce what the hell had put that haunted look back in Ianto's eyes. The one he hadn't seen since after Lisa.
Jack had subtly shooed everyone else home at a little after half four in hopes of getting Ianto to come up and talk that much earlier, but since Ianto had been about eight levels below the main work floor categorizing the section on alien texts and scrolls and leaflets, it wasn't the most successful tactic. At nearing six, Jack decided to go after him. No point in them both being miserable.
He scuffed his shoes as he finally found him, trying not to startle him. "Everyone's gone home. Want to come upstairs for a while?" He'd seen Ianto do this before – he'd work until midnight or later when he was upset so that by the time he got home he'd be too exhausted to do anything other than fall over and sleep.
Ianto nodded without turning to actually look at Jack. He reached up to the top shelf of the unit he was currently rearranging and took down the letter that had started all this. When he turned to follow Jack, Jack held out a hand, not sure if Ianto was still annoyed with the earlier public display of affection, but hoping Ianto would accept the offered comfort. He let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding when Ianto wove his own fingers through his.
When they got upstairs, Jack led him over to the couch across from Tosh's station instead of into his office. Less formal, less crowded. A lot easier to sit thigh-to-thigh and shoulder-to-shoulder. There was a bottle of peppermint schnapps and two glasses on the table in front of the sofa – Jack had gotten the bottle after another one of Gwen's silly games where she got everyone to go around and spout out personal information. She'd been annoyed one night that all Jack had for her to get drunk on after a spectacularly bad night of Weevil chasing was whiskey. She wasn't fond of whiskey or it's hangover. So she'd had everyone name their preferred poison in that silly round-robin style of hers. Jack had laughed off her silly game like he always did, but then he'd bought a bottle of everything they'd named the next day and hidden them down in the dresser in his quarters for occasions like this.
Jack poured what would have been three shots easily into Ianto's glass and just over a shot into his own. He watched as Ianto took a healthy swallow and waited to see if he'd start talking on his own. Ianto still had the envelope in his hand. Jack tapped it gently. "Want to tell me what happened?"
Ianto took another swallow of his drink. "As of Tuesday there are exactly eleven survivors of Canary Wharf left."
Jack let out a sigh and pulled Ianto against him. "There were twenty-seven, right?"
Ianto nodded and then leaned down to set his glass on the floor and tuck his letter into his inside jacket pocket. "There were eight hundred and twenty-three of us. Twenty-seven of us were still breathing after the attack. Bethany died of lung cancer last March. The doctors thought she inhaled something toxic in the fire. Derrick went to UNIT after…" there was a pause as he leaned down to grab his glass again and took a swallow of his drink. "After. He died in an incident in Northern Africa. There have been a total, now, of nine successful suicides. And four of us died before we were let out of quarantine."
"Quarantine?" Jack asked. His head spun with trying to grasp nine suicides and sixteen total deaths and a quarantine period. It seemed easiest to start with the quarantine. Somehow he'd never stopped to think about what would have happened to the survivors immediately after the battle.
"They didn't call it that, but…" Ianto picked up his glass again. "No one walked away from that battle without some kind of injuries." Ianto turned his right hand over and stared at his palm. Jack had long ago noticed the very faint lines of scars across his fingers and palm, but he'd never asked. "The building was on fire." Ianto squeezed his eyes shut before continuing. "I remember thinking that this must be where the expression 'hell on Earth' came from. It was so hot and so hard to breathe. I found Lisa, she was half encased with metal and the metal was holding heat." He showed Jack his hand. "My hand fused to a couple of the hottest places. The paramedics had to basically cut us apart."
Jack's eyes went wide. He wasn't sure why he'd assumed that Ianto's scars from London were all on the inside. Probably because all he knew of what had happened to him in the immediate aftermath had to do with taking care of Lisa, and he'd assumed he couldn't have done that while injured. He took Ianto's hand in his, gently stroking the uneven marks. "How'd you take care of her?"
"We were all in hospital for a while. Smoke inhalation, burns…other assorted injuries. Not to mention we were all pretty shaken up. Just over three percent of Torchwood London had survived. We were all…" He quickly took a drink of his schnapps instead of finishing his sentence. "God why is this all coming up tonight?" Another drink drained the glass. Jack took it from him and refilled it.
"Probably because for the first time since you left London, someone's asked," Jack said softly turning so he could lean Ianto against his chest and rub his back. "Have you had a chance to talk to anyone about any of this?"
"You mean besides the shrink the government oversight committee sent down after it all happened?" Ianto's voice was bitter, obviously he didn't have much respect for whomever had been sent to counsel the survivors. "We talk to each other. I think maybe people would be surprised how much we still talk to each other. Sometimes someone will … pull back a bit, stop coming to our little 'social gatherings', but we always check in. But so far even when people try to put it behind them, they still end up coming back." He took a long swig of schnapps. "I did." He put his hand back into his jacket pulling out the letter again. "We always let everyone know where to send the Letters."
Jack was full of questions now. He wondered if asking them would help Ianto organize what had to be a complete whirlwind of chaotic thoughts or if it would just come off as pushy and prying. He wanted to keep him talking, even if his own comprehension of the events ended up being sacrificed. He decided the best thing to do was ask if he should ask. "You've never talked about this to someone who wasn't there, then?" he asked quietly, dropping a soft kiss into Ianto's hair.
Ianto shook his head.
"Do you want me to ask questions now or should I wait until you're not feeling quite so raw?" He combed his fingers through Ianto's hair.
Ianto sat up and pulled away. "I'm not making any sense, am I? Dammit!"
"Whoa, whoa, come back here." Jack pulled him in and shushed him with his voice and hands. Jack thought was an odd reaction and by the look on Ianto's face he wasn't quite sure why he'd had it himself. Jack hugged him tight. "It's not that you aren't making sense – you are, but there are… I still have questions. Like, 'what are the letters for?'"
Ianto realized how far back he'd have to go to explain the letters. And he realized how painful it was to talk about what a debacle it'd all been. "It's a very long story, Jack." He took another drink, wondering when he'd start feeling numb. Feeling numb would be good now.
Jack kissed him softly again. "I'm not trying to pry. I'm really not. I just want you to know you can talk to me."
"I know," Ianto said quickly. "It's not that – it's just… damn it's a long story." A sudden realization hit him. "But I think I do want to talk about it." For the first time in his life he realized that he wanted someone else to understand what had happened after the Cybermen had been destroyed. How Torchwood had pretty universally failed those few who had survived.