Efterklang: Danish, Swedish; a reverberation, echo.
Sometimes, late at night, Ianto can hear the whir-and-clang of machinery, the mechanical vibrato of an old familiar voice, the heavy fall of feet that once stepped lightly. It happens in the early hours of morning, when the black of the trees melts into the black of the sky and even the lights outside of the city are useless.
It happens when he is alone.
Those nights, when the world is still and quiet, his heart beats to the same industrial tempo, with a pneumatic push-and-pull. He’s come to terms with it.
Ianto’s heart is metal. He’s sure of it, certain that he must have blacked out in the chaos of fire and smoke, of falling debris, of endless screams that turned into one low hum. They must have caught him and opened his chest, tore out the beating muscle and replaced it with something that ticks and clunks behind his ribcage.
He wonders if it is something beautiful, if it might be an intricate piece of clockwork that keeps him going. It could be made of warm, polished brass, old and well-loved, tarnished dark in the unreachable places – not marred, but given depth, character. It’d be fitted with elaborate gears and delicate dials. That would be a blessing; infallible efficiency and strength, instead of the ugly red-brown thing, the weak thing.
Ianto is practical. Deep inside, he knows it is nothing more than a heavy, cold grey lump: a useless bit of iron or steel that weighs him down and makes it difficult to breathe.
His heart is made of metal, his brain is made of fiberglass, and he is a wooden man.
Autumn is tonally warm, even though the air is crisp and the sky is ice blue.
Ianto’s lungs are still his own, so he takes up smoking again. He hopes to turn them into carbon, then diamond, so that something inside of him, just one thing, would be valuable. They taste like London, cigarettes. They taste like burning buildings and the ashes that have been in his mouth for months now. The smoke of them makes his eyes water until they are liquid bright and bloodshot.
The smoke is blue and undulating, like ripples in silk, until it fans out and becomes a mess of horizons.
“I’m not sorry,” Jack says in September, one naked leg hanging off the bed and the rest of his naked self on display – as though this were a museum of Ianto’s Poor Choices.
He could charge admission, but he’d need a much bigger space. There’s a warehouse somewhere that’d do just nicely.
Ianto says, “No,” and presses his face into the pillow.
It hurts to talk; his tongue is made of lead.
He remembers her sometimes, his fiberglass mind bringing up soft pictures that leave small, painful punctures in what little human flesh he has left. Her death hurts; her conversion tortures. Life is a sad thing to lose, but a heart, a soul? That is the greatest tragedy.
Ianto knows this well.
He eats, although he isn’t sure why. He has wondered, at times, whether he might try drinking oil to keep his heart running smoothly, but the smell of it burns his nose.
He cracks an egg against the side of a sizzling pan. The shell shatters strangely, and the yolk tears against the jagged edges as it slides out. It runs, one bright yellow mess, and marbles through the whites. He stares at it for a moment.
Eggs, a still-life.
(Except they aren’t still at all; the liquid folds and billows as it heats into something solid. There are bubbles of hot butter around the sides that hiss and pop. There is movement.)
Jack kisses him, sometimes, moans against Ianto’s rubber lips as though they are warm and soft and enticing. Jack murmurs things, soft whispers, that make no sense.
“Your heart is beating so fast,” and “your skin is so warm,” and “please, Ianto, please.”
In October, Jack finds his books on mechanical engineering and frowns as he shuffles through them.
‘No,’ he wants to say, ‘no, they aren’t for her. They’re for me.’ But he keeps silent, watches from the kitchen entryway with his hand braced on the wall, completely still.
Jack re-shelves them, alphabetically by title, and doesn’t mention them again.
He remembers the knife to his throat, the bruises to his ribs, the pounding of his head. He remembers the fear, the sudden lightness of his heart.
“It’s fine,” Jack had said that night as Ianto tried to control his shaking. “I was afraid, too. It just means you’re human.”
Ianto had wanted to laugh, or cry, but wooden men don’t have that privilege no matter how vulnerable they might be to knives and bats, fists and feet.
December comes, as cold and hollow as Ianto feels. They try to brighten it up with garland and fairy lights, to give it meaning with stories and companionship. He can relate, and he commiserates with winter.
It grows heavier, his heart, and it is so cold that his blood seems to freeze around it until it is sluggish. There are ice crystals in his veins.
He smokes outside in the bitter air until his fingers are numb. His lungs are still his own.
At night, Jack places his hand on Ianto’s chest, over the place where the weak muscle once resided. He doesn’t speak, just looks and presses hard as though trying to warm it. His eyes, Ianto notices, are sad. He wonders if Jack knows.
“I am sorry,” he says after a moment, “about your car.”
And then he leaves.
And then he leaves again, for good.
He hadn’t expected to cry, hadn’t anticipated something warm and wet and salty on his cheeks. He hadn’t anticipated the feeling to fade so quickly, either, to be replaced by a sense of euphoria he’d long since forgotten he had once been capable of feeling.
And then he leaves again. For good.
In March, he praises his iron heart, his fiberglass mind, his wooden body for seeing him through. It is the first time he had been so glad of it all.
He remembers Jack, the way he would waltz in and out of Ianto’s flat as though he owned it, the way he would fall on the bed as though, somehow, he belonged there. It doesn’t make him feel sad; it doesn’t make him feel anything. He is numb. He is numb. He is numb.
The sky turns a deeper blue, the sunlight grows warmer by degrees, and his cold metal heart ticks and clunks behind his ribcage.
He stubs out his cigarette in a tuft of resilient green grass. His lungs ache, but they are not carbon yet.
Jack says, “I had to,” and buries his head between Ianto’s neck and shoulder. “I had to go.”
It’s an apology, of sorts, Ianto supposes. He also supposes that Jack needs it more than he does, so he places a hand on Jack’s shoulder and squeezes.
“I know,” Ianto says.
Gwen has a heart, enough for the both of them, and he is grateful for her. He would love her, even, were he capable. Owen and Toshiko are human-hearted, too, their eyes always bright with that kind of warmth. He envies them. He pities them.
Jack, of course, has a heart like theirs, but it is old and it is leather-tough and it is heavy with grief. Ianto thinks that it might be why they fit as well as they do, with the hard lumps in their chests that work better than gravity at keeping them grounded low.
Summer comes and goes.
Owen’s heart has a hole and his life leaks from it, sticky and wet and human. And then, even dead, it burns. Toshiko’s heart slows, exhausted, and stops. Gwen’s heart breaks in sorrow.
Still, he envies them.
He remembers what it was like before Jack moved in, when there was silence in the night, when the black of the trees had melted into the black of the sky and even the lights outside of the city had been useless. He remembers what it was like to feel empty, to feel alone and cold and numb.
A week ago, they’d been tucked up in bed as the city moved around them, and the light was soft and warm and promising.
“I’m sorry,” Jack had said. “I’m so sorry.”
Ianto had said, “For what?” and then smiled. “There’s nothing left to be sorry for.”
He remembers what a fool he’d been to think that his heart was made of metal, that his brain was made of fiberglass, that he was a wooden man.
“I love you,” Ianto says.
His lungs ache. And then his heart, his very human heart, explodes.