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It Was Not Death, For I Stood Up

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Suzie was smiling at him that day, her curly black hair windblown around her face, her coat collar turned up like a spy from an old movie. She'd convinced Ianto to come for a walk with her, the Rift being quiet, and now she was sitting on a bench on the quay, eating an ice cream cone and smiling at him. She'd bought him one, as well. She said he looked like an underfed five-year-old in a churchgoing suit.

When he bit into the cone itself, he tasted copper -- his fingers were nicked from installing Lisa, the night before, and tended to open and bleed easily. Bandaging them would have drawn attention.

"Jack says you're here from Torchwood London," she said. "He says you saw Tosh and me scavenging the ruins."

"I'd rather not talk about it," he said uncomfortably.

"He questioned softly why I failed?
"For beauty," I replied.
"And I for truth -- the two are one;
We brethren are," he said."

She had a lovely voice for recitation, but very poor choice for poetry.

"London wasn't truth," he remarked.

"You didn't die," she countered.

Before he could formulate a suitable reply, their comms crackled on.

"Ianto, Suzie, we've got some trouble in Cathays. Butts back here now," Jack said, and Ianto was just as glad to throw his ice-cream cone into the trash and take off running after Suzie.

***

He didn't know why he felt bound to defend her, really, but he did; all it would do was make him more noticeable, but he couldn't help it. He liked Suzie.

He'd gone up to Jack's office late in the afternoon, when Jack was watching Suzie pretending to read her worn copy of the Collected Works as she covertly kept an eye on Owen, stomping around the Hub. Jack never pretended to be doing something else when he was watching someone, and thought Suzie was being gothic and pretentious about Emily Dickinson.

This was the way Torchwood worked: Suzie watched Owen and Jack, Tosh watched Suzie and Owen, Jack watched Tosh and Suzie, and Owen was a narcissist. Nobody watched Ianto at all.

He couldn't have had a more perfect situation if he'd mail-ordered it special, in fact.

"Suzie was much possessed with death, and saw the skull beneath the skin," Jack said amusedly, as Ianto bent to set a cup of coffee on the corner of his desk.

"I think it was Webster who was possessed with death. And I don't think that's why she reads it, sir," he said calmly. "It's not about death, for her."

"Isn't it?" Jack asked, with the surprised look he got whenever Ianto offered a rare unsolicited opinion.

"No. It's because it's complicated." Ianto straightened and tucked the tray under his arm, standing to attention; the perfect domestic. "Suzie likes complicated things."

"Then how do you explain Owen?"

"I try not to," Ianto said.

***

"You should ask Tosh out," Suzie said to him one afternoon, loitering in the tourist office.

"Tosh?" he asked. "Why?"

"Well, she's lonely and pining, you're lonely and grieving, you could be lonely and miserable together," Suzie suggested.

"Sort of defeats the purpose, wouldn't you say?" he asked lightly. "Maybe I enjoy being lonely and miserable."

"Well, you're built for it."

"Pardon?"

She waved a hand at him. "You've the whole...pale-dark-and-angstful thing going on."

He gave her a wry smile. "Thanks."

"I mean it. Girls like that."

"And I am silent, some strange race, wrecked, solitary, here," he said. She squealed delightedly.

"You've been reading Emily!"

"Of course. I like to know those I serve," he said modestly.

He had been, after all. Dickinson was always on Suzie's desk, easy to hand, and Lisa seemed to like it when he read to her.

***

"So the wind is a metaphor for sex," Jack said. Lately, his favourite game when he was bored was Tease Suzie About Poetry. He probably thought it took her out of herself or something.

"No," Suzie replied.

"Okay -- what about the bees?"

"They have been, traditionally -- " Ianto began.

"Not in Dickinson," Suzie retorted.

"Is...is the death a metaphor for sex?" Jack asked. "Because that'd be a little bit creepy."

"No part of Dickinson's poetry is a metaphor for sex, Jack!" Suzie said.

Jack looked thoughtful. "Then how complicated can it possibly be?"

Suzie threw up her hands and walked back to her desk, muttering about men and sex and poetry. Ianto leaned against the rail outside Jack's office, running through the afternoon checklist on his PDA.

"Swinburne's good for sex," he said idly, eyes still on the PDA. Jack's head jerked up. "If you were looking for that sort of thing."

"Swinburne?"

"Mm. Close with her, kiss her, and mix her with me; cling to her, strive with her, hold her fast..."

"So you're a butler and a reference librarian?"

Ianto shrugged. "Some of Dickinson probably is about sex, anyway."

"You know any Dickinson?"

"Just what I pick up from Suzie."

"Well, show it off," Jack said. Ianto tapped the stylus to close the list and looked up.

"Who win, and nations do not see
Who fall, and none observe
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love."

It had been aimed with intent to injure; Jack was untouchable by guilt, it seemed, but a little barb here and there kept the familiarity at bay. Torchwood was only a means to an end, after all, and it wouldn't do to let Jack imagine he could get any closer than arm's length.

Jack just grinned at him. "Back to work, Ianto."

"Yes, sir."

***

"Nah, it's all bollocks, isn't it?" Owen said, elbow-deep in the oversized cranial cavity of something that had fallen, already dead, through the Rift. "Don't hold with poetry."

"Why not?" Tosh asked. She was sitting on the steps, and as she leaned forward she gave Owen what must be a truly spectacular view of her clevage. Ianto sometimes despaired of the human race.

"Because, as I said, it's bollocks." Owen shook a brain-covered finger at her. "Say what you mean or get the fuck out. I can't be wasting my time on cryptograms. Got better things to do."

"Owen has no soul," Suzie remarked, descending the stairs. She had the metal gauntlet in one hand, a clipboard in the other. "Ianto, do you have your stopwatch?"

Ianto took it out of his pocket and waggled it at her.

"Brilliant. I want to try something," she said. "Owen, can I have a sample?"

"Light or dark meat?" Owen asked.

"Delightful," Suzie rolled her eyes.

"Party in the autopsy bay?" Jack asked, coming to stand next to Ianto up top. His eyes shadowed slightly when he saw Suzie holding the glove. "Costume party. Kinky. I'll get my cowboy hat."

"I want to try something new," Suzie said. "Reanimated brain tissue only."

"Do you remember a time in your life where the words 'reanimated brain tissue' would sound really unusual?" Jack asked Ianto, and didn't wait for an answer before turning back to Suzie. "You know I don't like that thing."

"It's just research, Jack," Suzie said, writing on her clipboard.

"Too much power in human hands."

Suzie cocked an eyebrow at him. Ianto saw her make a notation on the clipboard; when she set it down, he leaned slightly to get a better view before she gave the order to start the clock.

Power is only pain
Stranded, through discipline.

***

"So," Suzie said, when Jack arrived back at the Hub after seeing off PC Cooper. "That was fun."

"Ianto?" Jack called.

"Coffee," Ianto replied, carrying it up the steps along with Suzie's tea.

"A little variety's good," Jack said. "Besides, now she's subconsciously satisfied, she can walk away. Tosh and Owen?"

"Gone home," Ianto answered.

"You two sneaking around behind my back?" Jack asked, grinning over his mug.

"I had actual work to do. Ianto's just sad," Suzie said. Ianto gave her a gentle smile. "So, what do we think of Cooper? In general?"

"Soft," Jack replied.

"She's a police officer," Ianto pointed out.

"Doesn't mean she can't be soft. Lots of talk about being human and helping others. Big round doe eyes."

"Stubborn, though," Suzie suggested. Ianto was piling coffee cups and discarded napkins onto the tray.

"True. Something about her..." Jack considered the matter, then dismissed it. "Ianto?"

"Sir?"

"I sent her off angry. She's probably going to try and email someone before the Retcon kicks in. Get on it, would you?"

Ianto nodded and walked into Jack's office, sitting down at the computer. He heard faint echoes of their voices, until Jack finally sent Suzie away for the night. By then he was well certain that PC Cooper was unconscious, and could get on with the last of his evening's work.

He put out the light and went back to collect Suzie's mug and the tray. She'd left a post-it on the mug for him, as she sometimes did. They were the one little thoughtful gesture he got out of anyone, all day long, and he treasured them.

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

He smiled. Appropriate, when confronted with a woman who scorned them for their secrecy even as she unknowingly reaped the benefits of their protection.

***

The morning after Suzie's suicide, Ianto found a post-it note in his coffee beans, one of her favourite places to leave them.

They perished in the seamless grass --
No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
Can summon every face.

He had already helped Jack to move her body, and had scrubbed her blood from the Plass. Owen had been assigned to clear out her desk. By noon, Gwen Cooper would be installed there.

By nightfall, nothing would remain.

Faster than the cleanup in London, to be certain, but no less ruthless. No less thorough.

He set the posthumous chastisement aside and went to ask Gwen how she took her coffee.

***

She was good at hiding things. Good at knowing the secret places.

Ianto found it when he was updating the digital file on the Glove. She could have guessed it would be him, but he rather thought Suzie was sneakier than that, less inclined to leave things to chance. He could dissect it later with Tosh, who would probably confirm his thoughts: the lockdown initiated by Suzie's little voice-activated Trojan Horse had also triggered a small subroutine. When Ianto's user account accessed the Glove file, it inserted a single digital image of a post-it note with Suzie's elegant scrawl across it.

How they will tell the shipwreck
When winter shakes the door,
Till the children ask, "But the forty?
Did they come back no more?"

It slammed into his chest like a fist. She knew he liked that one; it was a vicious stab meant to taunt him if Torchwood failed to stop her, or to shame him if they succeeded.

"Ianto, little help here?" Owen called. He was wheeling Suzie's body through the Hub towards the morgue. Ianto closed out of the database and put a hand on the rail of the gurney to stop it.

"I'll do it," he said quietly.

"Suit yourself," Owen said, his eyes hard and glittering. "Remember, if she moves, stake through the heart and cut off her head."

Ianto ignored the cruelty and took her through to the morgue, sliding her easily onto the slab where her body had been before and reactivating the cryogenics on the chamber, waiting for them to cycle up.

So, for all her poetry, all her love of complexity and her games, this was where she ended. Dead and dishonoured. Too fascinated by the could-have-been to see the reality. He could relate.

He was finishing the paperwork when Jack arrived, grieving and a little childlike, anticipating the day when all of Torchwood's dead would fill up the morgue as if he would be there to see it personally. Ianto watched him, considered Suzie -- who had been a friend, if he'd had a friend at all in his first months here -- and made his decision.

It was easy to fall as Suzie fell, he knew that well enough. Much harder, but more rewarding, to show he could be trustworthy again. Harder to build his own life, to let go of could-have-been, but necessary to his survival or he'd end mad and dead like Suzie in the drawer.

So he looked up at Jack over the clipboard and made a very simple offer.

His reward for his first step into the light was the slight lift of the pain on Jack's face and the purposeful way he walked as he left the morgue. As prizes went, not so bad. He anticipated something better before the night was through.

Quietly, efficiently, as he'd been trained (by Suzie) to do, he filled out the last of the paperwork. Then, in the margin, for as much as an epitaph as she was likely to get, he scrawled a few words of his own.

I meant to tell her how I long
For just this single time;
But Death had told her so the first,
And she had hearkened him.

END