When they found him, only Ianto went in to go get him. Owen and Gwen went off to hunt down anyone remaining in the abandoned building, and they’d left Tosh back at the Hub to coordinate. In Ianto’s earpiece, she was silent. Her job was done, and it was likely she’d already signed off to go work on how to cover up this mess, should it become visible to the public eye.
So, it was just Ianto to find Jack in the basement.
Just Ianto to see him, hanging limply from chains by his arms, stripped bare of all but his trousers, and drenched in blood.
Ianto didn’t know if he was better off on his own, or worse.
“Jack?” he called.
His fingers still gripped his pistol, holding it steady as he surveyed the sepia-toned room. He couldn’t see anyone else here, but there was no way to be sure just yet. But the closer he crept towards Jack, and the more basement was revealed to him, the more certain he became that it was just him and Jack down here.
With a final sweeping glance around the place, he holstered his weapon. When nobody shot him in the heart-racing moments that followed, he figured they were safe, and then rushed the rest of the way towards Jack.
“Jack?” he asked again.
Jack’s head was tipped sideways, resting on an arm. His eyes were open, staring blankly at the floor somewhere just left of Ianto. From this alone, Ianto couldn’t tell if Jack was alive or dead, but the rise and fall of Jack’s chest gave him an answer. That, and the lack of cuts to warrant the slick of blood.
Ianto slid his hand between Jack’s cheek and shoulder.
“Jack,” he said, once more, “are you alright?”
Stupid question. Of course he wasn’t. Of the thirty-six hours it took for the team to realise Jack was missing and the twelve more it took to find him, how many of those was Jack here, being sliced open and bled on repeat?
His other hand went to Jack’s other cheek, and he tipped Jack’s head up. Jack blinked slowly.
Sometimes, Jack was slow and disoriented when he came back from death. Ianto could only imagine how that would be if he was killed over and over and over again without pause. Well, now he didn’t have to imagine it; he supposed it was playing out right before his eyes.
“Ianto,” Jack said after a moment.
“That’s right,” Ianto said. “I’m going to get you out of here. Okay?”
He flashed a smile at Jack, because he felt he should. Jack always smiled, even when things were going horribly. Especially when things were going horribly.
But Jack didn’t react to the smile. His eyes just traced Ianto’s face.
“Okay, I’m going to get you down, now,” Ianto told him. “I don’t have the key, so I’ll have to pick the locks.”
“Alright,” Jack said aimlessly. Ianto wasn’t entirely certain he followed anything Ianto had said.
Ianto smiled at him again, trying to put warmth he didn’t feel behind the action, and then removed his hands from Jack’s cheeks. Jack’s head managed to stay upright on its own, which was a good sign.
Not much good came from Ianto’s youth, but he’d like to think lock-picking was something worthy of note. Well, that skill was born of nothing good, but now it was incredibly useful. He could easily break Jack free. The hard part was actually making sure Jack didn’t dislocate his shoulder when all of his weight shifted onto his right arm. Ianto had to catch him and somehow brace himself against Jack. It was a balancing act to get the other shackle undone, and when that had clicked open, Ianto had to catch Jack before he tumbled to the cement below.
Ianto eased him to the floor, where Jack instantly curled into a loose foetal position. Ianto took a moment to look at himself.
Well, there was another shirt ruined. There was no getting this much blood out of there. The tie was red, and therefore perhaps salvageable, and there was no telling if the stains would come out of his suit jacket and waistcoat until Ianto at least tried to clean it, so he held hopes for those items.
He sighed to himself, and then looked back to Jack, who had returned to listlessly staring at nothing and nowhere.
“Where’s your clothes, Jack?” Ianto asked him gently.
Jack’s eyes rolled up to Ianto, and then away. At first, Ianto thought he was just going back to staring, but he took a glance at the area Jack was looking at. Ah. Clothes.
Ianto stood and went to them, searching through the scattered pile. Boots, socks, a shirt, an undershirt, braces, a waistcoat…
Ianto swore privately to himself, then collected the assortment of clothes. He returned to Jack and dropped them on the floor, crouching back down next to him.
“Would be nice if I had a towel,” Ianto muttered to himself.
He shrugged and picked up Jack’s undershirt, studied it, and then decided it should be good enough. If that got too thoroughly soaked, he’d use the shirt next. But not the waistcoat—Jack liked that waistcoat.
“Can you sit up?” Ianto asked Jack.
Jack frowned minutely.
“I need to clean you off,” Ianto explained. “I suppose you can lay down, if you need, but it’d be easier—”
He cut off as Jack attempted to start sitting up. He dropped from his crouch to a kneeling position, reaching out to help Jack the rest of the way. Jack pulled his knees in to his chest the moment he was upright, which wasn’t helpful.
“I need to clean your chest.”
Jack looked at Ianto, then slowly lowered his legs. Ianto moved closer, watching Jack watch his every move, and began to wipe away the mess from Jack’s chest with the undershirt.
“Why are you doing this?” Jack asked when Ianto moved to his feet.
Ianto glanced up. “I don’t think you want bloody feet in your boots, do you?”
“No…” Jack said slowly. “Why are you doing this?”
Stunned, Ianto stopped cleaning altogether.
“Why wouldn’t I?” he asked.
Jack just frowned.
And perhaps that appalled him just as much as the shackles and the blood, because it meant somewhere along the line, someone had decided that Jack hadn’t deserved any form of basic kindness, and then kept making that decision until the next person made the exact same decision for themselves. It meant that Jack had believed this lie and hadn’t stopped believing it, and possibly would never stop believing it.
That worried Ianto. He didn’t want Jack to think that anymore. In an ideal world, Ianto would just kiss Jack, and then Jack would understand then and there just how highly Ianto thought of him. Just how much Ianto thought he deserved so much more than what he’d received in life.
But this was learnt; Jack had latched onto this lie after years and years, and it would take years and years—and then some—for him to unlearn it.
Ianto picked up the undershirt and went back to wiping the blood from Jack’s feet.
Unlearning had to start somewhere.
“I’ll have to throw out the socks, anyway,” Ianto said. “But I want to save your boots. You like those boots.”
Jack said nothing in return, so Ianto kept working.
He wondered to himself if anyone had ever bothered to show Jack any decency at all. All those stories of “I had a boyfriend once” or tales of Torchwood past… none of them were about kindness. Either sex, crazy aliens, or something mildly horrific that suggested deeper and darker horrors that Jack kept secret. But never once had Ianto heard of anyone being kind to Jack.
“I don’t think I can get any more,” Ianto said when the shirt had soaked through completely. “Your socks will definitely need to go, but I think your boots will survive the experience.”
He then worked at slipping the socks over Jack’s somewhat tacky feet, and then sliding the boots over those socks. He tied the laces loosely, then grabbed Jack’s shirt. He also had to help Jack with that, too, because Jack’s arms were dead tired from holding all of Jack’s weight for… whatever ungodly length of time he’d been strung up.
“Ianto?” someone called into his ear as he began to button up the shirt.
“Jesus,” he said, startling.
Jack frowned at him again.
“We’ve found Jack’s coat,” Gwen said.
“Some bastard wore it,” Owen added. “I shot him.”
“Yeah, and now there’s a bloody hole in it.”
Gwen’s annoyed tone and Owen’s indignant reply of “well, I got the coat back, didn’t I?” suggested that this was part of a current argument Owen and Gwen intended to keep at for at least the rest of the day.
“Where are you?” Ianto asked, cutting in before he had to listen to more quarrelling.
“Near the exit,” Gwen said. “You?”
“Basement,” Ianto replied. “I’ve got Jack.”
“Oh, thank god. Should we come get you?”
“No, I’ve got him,” Ianto said. “We’ll be alright. We’ll come up to you, okay?”
“See you in a bit.”
Ianto finished buttoning up Jack’s shirt. Instead of trying to wrangle the waistcoat and braces onto him, too, Ianto merely folded them up and stuck them under his arm.
“Come on,” Ianto said, then held out his hands to Jack.
Jack took them, and together they got Jack into a standing position. Jack seemed unsteady there, so Ianto pulled Jack’s arm over his shoulders, wrapped his own free arm around Jack’s waist, and propped him up.
“Think you can get up the stairs like this?” Ianto asked.
“Okay,” Ianto said.
And together they made their way out of the basement.