There are days and there are Days.
This is a night, but it's definitely looking like it's going to be one of Those Days.
It's eleven-fifteen pm for the second time this evening, and the second round doesn't look any brighter to Ianto than the first one did. There might be a metaphoric silver lining hiding somewhere behind the symbolic thunderclouds, but right now it's looking rather like rain. Figuratively speaking. Although, judging from the smell on the air, perhaps literally. The news speaker on the SUV's radio says it's going to pour. It's going to be a hell of a night. Again.
Night version 1.0 already had been a Roller Coaster Ride Through Hell, and deserving of every single capital letter. The return of a master, a homicidal sociopath ex-boyfriend, a blowfish in a sportscar; it smells a bit of Star Wars, the newer episodes. And not in a good way. Ianto supposes they might get real big in reality TV if they tried; they could renovate the Hub with all the money they'd make from the merchandise. They could have little action figures of themselves. It's a giddy thought that repeats in his knackered brain like a particularly nauseating jingle. There's only so much you can take before you start to crack. What Ianto wants to do right now is to go home and take a hot shower and then go to bed. After all the impossible things they have managed to put right tonight, this one shouldn't be too hard. Only it is, because Ianto said five very careless words the consequences of which he hadn't at all thought through properly.
“You could stay at my place,” Ianto says.
“Fair enough,” says Jack.
Night version 2.0 begins with the promise of rain and a rooftop. Gwen wants to get home to Rhys as fast as possible, which is understandable. Her knuckles are a bit swollen, but she looks inordinately pleased about that. Very smug. Tosh wants to go home, too, because an extra night means she can get in extra hours of work. Owen wants to get home because the sky is about to pee in his new sleek, red cabriolet which probably compensates for something, or symbolizes a deep-seated issue with women. Or something.
Which leaves Jack, who can't go home because Home currently is inhabited by Team 1.0 plus Homicidal Sociopath Ex-Boyfriend version one-too-many. Also, it would cause a temporal conundrum and they have enough of that already with Jack merely existing.
It also leaves Ianto, who just offered Jack to stay the night in his flat. Which was the logical option, obviously, although it may have been not the most sensible one.
Actually, the closer the SUV pulls up to the familiar apartment complex, the more Ianto thinks the idea may have been in fact incredibly stupid. He tells himself he doesn't have any issues with Jack. Jack and him are bobbing along very nicely. Really. The two of them may have had issues in the past, in the course of which Ianto hit Jack twice, in very different circumstances and with slightly different intentions, which puts the count of Times That Ianto Hit Somebody Ever at two, but they're really alright now, they've worked it out. Honestly. And Ianto has no reason too feel put out because Jack left them without so much as saying a word. Ianto isn't Jack Harkness' goddamn mother; Ianto is not even Jack Harkness' boyfriend; Ianto is Jack Harkness' fuck-buddy, or
workplace affair, or open relationship partner, or some other 21th century concept with a gruesome name that demands you to be cool about it, nonchalant, laid back. A no-strings-attached highway to immediate satisfaction. The ultimate convenience. Only, Ianto doesn't feel very laid back about it. Or nonchalant. And with his gangling legs, cool is out of the question anyway. Instead, Ianto feels confused and a bit worried, a knot of some unnamed emotion tight in his belly; in fact, he feels very much like he felt just before the last time he hit Jack, square on the nose, which resulted in the one and only time the two of them totally lost it and fought like wild dogs, with the intention to kill, and ended in rather fabulous and a bit desperate sex against a wall.
“La, la, living la vida loca,” Jack is singing along the radio, in what is not so much off-key as maybe a different song. Or a different musical system. From a very far-off planet. Ianto rests his knuckles against the bridge of his nose. There's definitely a headache coming on.
Ianto's flat is clean and tiny. It is even more tiny in combination with Jack who can fill empty spaces like a pro; maybe it's the coat; maybe it's the ego. Anyhow, the rooms feel suddenly very much more cramped, which doesn't help with Ianto's intention to Be Laid Back and Not Get Concerned.
“So this is your crib,” Jack says, and appreciatively sniffs a bookshelf.
“I, uh, need to make tea,” Ianto says, and flees into the kitchen.
It's all a bit much. Jack is an unexpected and strange presence in Ianto's flat. They've hunted the scum of the universe together, they've had some amazing sex, they've done a lot of stupid shit, but Jack's just never been in Ianto's flat before. It doesn't exactly feel wrong, but it comes at an unfortunate time. It comes at a time when Ianto feels very much like the last time he hit Jack for some strange reason that even he himself never could fathom. Ianto doesn't usually hit people; Ianto believes in finding common ground and talking it out sensibly. In the age-old game of hitting and getting hit, Ianto usually gets hit.
Ianto's fingers are nervously browsing through the contents of the tea drawer. It's a distraction tactic, of course it is. Something to distract his mind, something to occupy his hands, which are shaking, with fear or with fury, he isn't sure. In the end, he settles for Oolong, and puts the kettle to the boil.
Only then he has to wait till the water is ready and he tells himself he can't hide the whole time in his own kitchen, that's ridiculous, and therefore Ianto dawdles into the living room, where Jack is looking out of a window, enjoying the view, or maybe scanning the sky for stray spaceships.
“Erm,” Ianto clears his throat, uncertainly. And this is another one of Jack's aggravating talents. For all that Ianto knows, this is his flat. It certainly looks like his flat. This is the couch, and the rickety coffee table and the tall bookshelf that Ianto inherited from his Gran. But Jack takes over space so quickly and with such comfortable ease, it makes Ianto feel like he's the stranger who is intruding upon a private scene. It's infuriating, it is. Jack has taken off his coat and it's hanging across the back of an armchair. It looks very much at home. Very irritating.
“I made tea,” Ianto says, uncomfortably standing in the door frame. His own door frame! “Oolong. I know you like it, because there's always a stash somewhere in the Hub. Mine's better though.” And where did that come from? My tea is better than yours? What is this suddenly about? Subliminal marking of territory? Perhaps this is the civilized version of pissing up a tree, only with tea. Very British. And thankfully without having to pee on expensive furniture. It's rather disconcerting, though. Ianto is not used to such things.
“You like Jazz,” Jack says suddenly, drawing lazy fingers through his hair. It's oddly boyish hair for a man his age, whatever his age is after all, and it's an oddly teenage gesture. Somehow, Jack must have soaked up all the laid-back-ness and nonchalance and coolness that Ianto has been looking for the whole evening. Jack can be threatened, and killed, and watch the whole world almost blow up around him, and still come out of it looking nothing else but calm and in control. It's another one of his infuriating talents.
“Um,” Ianto says. He's going to have to stop thinking of himself as the articulate one.
“I didn't know that,” Jack clarifies, although it doesn't really explain anything. “I was looking. There's records in that shelf. You even have a Victrola.”
“It's – the sound. Modern CDs, they just can't hold that spectrum of sound. It's - I just like it.” It's weird, talking like that. With Jack, of all people. It seems casual, but it isn't, really. That's the thing about home, about your own space. It tells too much, it reveals all those tiny things that you didn't even know you wanted to keep secret. Jack probably can look at his record collection and know things about him; like, Ianto has a lot of Thelonious Monk, and this is secret code for Ianto likes spaghetti Bologna; or, Ianto has Ella swings for lovers twice, which probably tells Jack that he sorts all his ties by color or that there's a teddy bear called Mr. Toodles hidden in the bottom drawer of his wardrobe; it's all those little details that tell Jack everything about him, but give nothing back to Ianto. It's a one-way communication, and a particularly unfair one at that.
“You were born out of your time,” Jack tells him, and there's something soft in his eyes, like chocolate melting. “It's the same with the suits. You're old-fashioned. That's nice.”
“Look, this is really – I just color-code my ties so I can find them easier, you know. It doesn't signify anything.” Hell, now Ianto knows why he and Jack always did more of the fucking thing than of the talking thing. Something here really is not working properly.
Jack gives him a Look; Ianto stares back like a deer caught in the headlights. Ianto really wants to go home. Only, he is home already, which means he has nowhere else to go and hide until the urge to hit himself with a wall has lessened a few degrees.
“Are you sure, you're all right?” Jack asks, “because I have not the slightest idea what you're talking about. Although, to be honest, I always did suspect that tie thing.”
There is a silence, of the sort that everyone wants to fill with as much noise as possible, as fast as possible.
“So,” Jack says after a few seconds, after it's become obvious that Ianto still is busy channeling deer, “are you going to do it, or not?”
“Am I going to – what?”
“Put on a record. We were talking about records. Remember?”
“I thought we were talking about how I was old-fashioned,” Ianto says giddily. His mouth is rambling without direct involvement of the brain. Somehow, somewhere, a synapse must have snapped. It would explain a lot of things.
“About that too,” Jack says softly. “It was a compliment. Take it.”
Ianto swallows, but at least his body has decided to let him move again. The first record he can get his hands on is the Benny Goodman Orchestra. In the Mood. It'll have to do.
Ianto carefully fits the record to the Victrola and lowers the needle. There is always the slightest moment when all sound seems to stop, holding its breath, just before the music erupts like a gift from the gods, perfect and precious, flooding the room with its warmth. It is a strange thought, but when Ianto looks up, the music seems to flow around Jack, complementing him, fitting him as neatly as that old army coat.
“I've always had a thing for the 1940s,” Jack says, and his eyes look suddenly very old.
“I have to go,” Ianto says. “Kitchen. Tea. You know.”
Back in the cool-tiled sanctuary of his kitchen, Ianto rest his forehead against the refrigerator door. The kettle is working itself up into a nice, solid boil. In the living room the Benny Goodman Orchestra is ooodle-doodle-oodling it's way through the music. Ianto feels tired, and caged, and something else that is strange and terrifying. At least the refrigerator is stable and solid. It's familiar and reliable. It's not going to start making assumptions based on Ianto's record collection. It's not going to run away for a month and then ask him out on a date as if nothing happened. A date, for crying out loud. This isn't high school; they're not teenagers. In the course of the last month, Ianto was mauled by Weevils three times, because he wasn't used to that sort of thing; he had to deal with freak phone calls from humorless UNIT-representatives who got angrier and more demanding each time he told them Jack wasn't available; he had to see the hope in Gwen's eyes every time the gate rolled open and realize that he himself didn't believe Jack would return ever. Ianto really had believed that Jack had abandoned them for good. He didn't expect him to come back. He certainly didn't expect Jack to barge in on them like a 51st century Santa Clause, expecting to be greeted by a flurry of expectant arms and cheerful little faces.
Ianto tells himself it's probably absolutely ridiculous that he's more angry at Jack for coming back than for leaving in the first place. But he is. He could have lived with the knowledge that Jack had better things to do than Torchwood Cardiff; he could have lived with the knowledge that Jack didn't care. He could have stored it away and not thought about it anymore, the way Ianto doesn't think about a lot of things that have happened in the past two years. But the rest of them could have moved on without Jack, stumblingly at first, but they would have managed. Gwen is a terrific leader, she's got badass in her blood, that girl, and Ianto knows a thing or two about the Hub's logistics and administrative needs. Between the two of them, it would have worked out all right.
But Jack is back now, and Jack is sitting in Ianto's living room, and Jack is friendly and warm, and Jack asked him out on a date, and there is the possibility that Jack does care, about them, about Ianto, and that he left anyway. There's the possibility that now he's back, Jack is planning on settling in all the old places, insinuating himself back in Ianto's life, moving back into spaces where he should never have been in the first place and then leave again for no apparent reason at all, because he's Jack.
The kettle starts moaning like an exuberant donkey and Ianto realizes he's had his hands balled into fists the whole time. There are little crescent-moon shapes furrowed deep into his palms. He must be so furious, he didn't even realize how furious he is. It's not at all like an epiphany, there are no meaningful spotlights or spontaneous musical numbers, but Ianto realizes something in that moment, gazing at the angry-red patterns on his pale hands. First, he is really angry, angry like he hasn't been for a long time. And second, he doesn't want to loose Jack again. Even though Jack is often aloof, and difficult, and keeps all these things up the sleeves of his coat, never giving anything away. Ianto doesn't want to loose him again. Ianto has lost so much already and he's only twenty-six. It has to stop somewhere. Somewhere it has to stop. Somewhere there has to be a line.
He's going to draw that line.
Ianto races to the door, and then stops and goes back to put the kettle from the stove. After all, deep down he is still Ianto, even though he doesn't recognize himself right now.
The second time, however, nothing can stop him. Blood is roaring in his ears, raging against the staccato beat of his heart, and on the way from kitchen to living room he only gathers speed.
“Ianto,” is all Jack can say, brows a little furrowed because Ianto obviously looks like a prime case for exorcism, and then Ianto slams him into the bookshelf, which groans unenthusiastically. It's not that Ianto has any plan; it's not that Ianto is running on anything else right now but on pure adrenaline; it's only that Jack's body, on autopilot, thinks that Ianto has a plan, the sort of plan that involves Jack getting hit on the nose again, and it reacts accordingly.
Jack's fist hits Ianto in the stomach, which prompts Ianto's right knee to shoot up and hit Jack between the legs, and down they go in a flurry of mixed signals.
“Shit, Ianto – what the fuck,” Jack gasps from the floor. He's probably gasping because Ianto landed on his stomach. Or because Ianto's right knee just destroyed all future generations of infuriating, time-traveling, freakishly large-handed Harknesses. Ianto actually is sorry for that one; Ianto has no problems with Jack's penis; it's more the rest of Jack that he has all the problems with: the mind which gives nothing away, the feet which run off like that, the fists which hit Ianto in the stomach. Well, so perhaps he is not one hundred percent sorry. Maybe ninety-five percent sorry has to be enough.
“I wasn't,” Ianto says, “about to hit you. I wasn't about to hit you. Why did you come back?”
“Shit,” Jack says again, with feeling, “have you any idea, have you any idea what shit I've been through?”
“Are you actually going to tell me?”
Jack stares at him for a moment. “No,” he says. “But you can't just throw me about like you're off your fucking rocker, that's absolutely –“
“You can't just run off like that for a whole month, and then come back and expect us all to be the same.”
“It wasn't a month.”
“It wasn't a month,” Jack says, eyes someplace else, “in my timeline. It was a year.”
“Oh,” Ianto says, his own voice sounding unattractively peevish to his ears, “is that your way of telling me I've got no right to be angry because the time wasn't that long here? You were the one that ran away.”
“That's not what I meant. Shit, Ianto, you punched me so hard, right now I think you have no right whatsoever to be angry at me in any way,” Jack says, but there is something in his voice, almost like amusement. “You know, you hide behind those suits, and all that professionalism and that itty-bitty sarcasm, but when it comes down to it, you're an absolute nutter. Nutty as a fruitcake, that's you. Shit, I think you broke something important.”
“I'm not Gwen, you know,” Ianto says, “I don't need to know everything. I don't need to know where you've been, or who with, or whatever. But you can't just go in and out of my life like it's a revolving door. I mean, you died, and then you disappeared. I'm sorry, I don't usually hit people.”
“Yeah,” Jack says, “I know you make an exception for me in that regard. I bring out the animal in you, is that it?”
Ianto doesn't smile.
“Alright,” Jack says, “alright. I've been waiting for the Doctor. Since 1896. That's why I came to Cardiff in the first place. He uses the Rift energy to charge up his ship, but he could do it at any point in time he likes, do you get that? He could choose anything, 27 B.C. or the year 5 billion. And I've waited in this place for over a century, and then I get my one chance for perhaps the next 100 000 years. It was only minutes. What did you expect me to do? Write a letter?”
“Was it that important?”
“Okay.” Ianto feels something inside him loose pressure, like a rubber boat with a hole. Maybe it's his nerves, finally eaten away by all that adrenaline. He feels better, anyway. At least more calm. The 10 000 volts that have been racing through his body are vaguely sizzling away now that reality slowly fades back in. It makes him realize a few things that didn't really register before. Like, his stomach really hurts, because Jack throws a mean left hook. And, he's still sitting on Jack who's still lying on the floor. “Are you going to tell me anything else?”
“I don't think there's anything that directly pertains to the situation.” Jack almost looks exhausted and tired for once. The things a knee in the groin can do to a man. “Look, I wanted to come back. I could have gone anywhere, any time, the whole universe, and I came back right here, with only a month's difference. I chose you over, well, sort of everything.”
“The whole universe's your oyster, sort of thing? That's charming.” But the world does look brighter now. In the last half-hour, Ianto Jones has gone from furious to insane, then paused a bit at angry, but right now he's skipping happily into giddy light-headedness. Maybe it's exhaustion. His head feels like it should go up, up, like a balloon.
“You know, I always thought that was a strange proverb,” Jack is looking more relaxed now that Ianto is looking less likely to hit any precious parts of him, “the Svorvlians have a better one. It goes like sucking life off like --”
“Stop,” Ianto suggests, “please stop.”
“I'm about to kiss you now,” Jack tells him.
“Fine with me,” says Ianto, voice a little too high. He really ought to practice that nonchalance thing.
Jack obviously isn't interested in nonchalance so much as in a little enthusiasm. He takes Ianto's face between his hands and draws him down, groaning a bit for show as Ianto shifts on his stomach.
Then he kisses him.
It is weird, really, but they kiss like they talk, which is often more like a very subtle arm-wrestling match than anything else. There's teeth scraping, and a bit of biting and a whole lot of general pushiness. Ianto reckons that it's maybe a boys' thing; no one knows who should push and who should yield, so no one yields. It's not like he is complaining. It's just very different from kissing a girl, that's all.
Beneath him, Jack is grinding against his legs, making a couple of soft and thrilling sounds. Ianto's brain feels like its shutting down rapidly, beginning with his language center which hasn't managed to produce anything beyond slightly squeaky monosyllables during the past few minutes. Still, he can't help wondering how stupid this is. They've had so much sex in the Hub which really isn't made for that sort of thing, on desks, or against walls, or on that age-old couch with that one nagging spring, or, the one time Ianto doesn't really want to remember, on the autopsy table, and now, in Ianto's flat, where there's a bed, for God's sake, they're about to fuck on the floor. It's a niggling sort of thought, and it's got glue on it.
“Alright, what is it,” Jack says, after Ianto has snorted three incredibly girly giggles right into his mouth. It's not a feeling anywhere near erotic. It's more like being kissed by a horse with a hiccup.
“I have a bed, you know,” Ianto says, still snorting slightly. “With sheets, and pillows, and stuff. And a mattress. Oh God, a mattress. It's not like we've ever done it in an actual bed. With a mattress. We really should move.”
“You're so old-fashioned,” Jack tells him, “that's really cute.”
Then Jack does something interesting with his right hand, and suddenly Bed is not so important a concept anymore as remembering how to breathe.
Hell, Ianto thinks, just before his mind turns into pudding. It's nice pudding, though. And it's Jack-flavored.
Across town, in a large bureau complex smelling of air freshener and impersonality, Ianto Jones is squatting on the floor and going through the contents of a drawer with a vengeance. The professional part of Ianto's brain is chanting concentrate, concentrate, concentrate, somewhere on the backseat of his mind. Which is slightly disconcerting, because usually the professional part of Ianto's brain is the one who's driving. Who's got all the car keys. And the map. And decides when it's time for a pee. Radiation cluster bombs! it roars at the fringe of his perception, danger, danger, Mr. Jones!
Right, radiation cluster bombs. A date! What was Jack thinking? No, no, wrong direction, this is going to end in bad metaphors about bananas. What was he thinking? He wasn't thinking anything, that's the point. The problem. The prerequisite to pandemonium. Ianto Jones the Thinker has left the building. Although, of course, all this doesn't concern him at all, because he has to find the radiation cluster bomb before it blows up half the city, and he is going to think about everything else later. When he's calmer. Like he should be right now. Because of the radiation cluster bomb.
Ianto is very actively not thinking about Jack, or about Jack, or about some space monkey in a circus suit, when suddenly the elevator ding-dongs open.
It's going to be a hell of a night.