Pairings/Characters: Ianto, Jack, Gwen
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers for Exit Wounds
Summary: Jack has barely spoken to Gwen, barely looked at him. Now they’re being left behind by all the spectres of the Hub, and all the things that are too close to mention.
Author's Note: Written for my "forgotten" square of angst_bingo. I thought of the last scene first, and remembered I'd been wanting to do a Jack post-Exit Wounds fic for a while now. So this happened. Thanks to writinstuff for betaing!
It’s barely been a day since Owen and Tosh were taken from them so quickly. It’s only been a day since the three of them were left behind. Ianto went home before John left; he couldn’t stand the stifling grief of being in the Hub any longer, and he knew Jack could take care of himself. But Jack didn’t come to his flat that night like he’d been doing for the past few months. Ianto brushed it off, assuming the Captain was grieving on a rooftop somewhere, and didn’t go searching for him, still too wrapped up in his own mourning to look toward the broken skyline.
It’s still dark outside, but it’s blazing light inside the Hub. Ianto wonders if every single light is turned on, and how much their electricity bill is going to be this time. He looks around him, realizing suddenly that he’s never seen the Hub look this stark or empty before. The shadows that gave it depth and made it feel as if there were whispers of life lurking in the corners and cracks in the walls are gone. It’s just a big cave of unfeeling stone.
Ianto closes his eyes as he passes the medbay, rushing past the room to his coffee machine. The plastic sheeting over the opening arch of the medbay looks like the wavering grey remnant of a ghost.
As he grinds the coffee beans, Ianto looks to Jack’s office. The light is on, and he can see a shape hunched over the desk. The coffee he makes is dark and thick. He sighs and adds a good dose of whiskey to it before bringing it up. He’ll make his own coffee once he sees how Jack is.
Jack’s back is curved over the old book he’s reading. His face is hidden like some sort of monster in a fairy tale. He doesn’t respond to Ianto’s knock on the doorframe.
“Jack, coffee. Jack?”
Ianto puts the coffee down on the edge of the desk and touches Jack’s shoulder. The Captain jumps and spins around, eyes ablaze. His expression is dark and strange. His eyes are dark holes in the ground.
“Go away! Leave me alone!”
Ianto instinctually jerks back from the vicious look. “Jack, please!”
Jack’s face pulls back into a feral snarl. “Go!”
Ianto goes, his head feeling stuffed with darkness, his eyes heavy. Jack’s furious strange growl echoes in his head and he has no idea how to react. He can feel Jack not even looking at him, can feel his distance all around him. He has no idea what just happened in there, and something inside him sags at Jack’s angry rejection of his care. He looks back tentatively, only to be met by the hostile curve of Jack’s solid back.
Ianto vanishes himself to the archives. He tries to file the pile of recent reports on his desk, but Owen’s sarcastic accounts of their cases and Tosh’s gently looping handwriting stun him with their power to bring back the grief afresh. Pushing the recent pile to the wall, he grabs a stack from the 70’s and starts in.
Twos. He seems to have grabbed the worst possible pile. Nearly every file has a note at the bottom—Victims Deceased: Two. Things don’t happen in threes here. They happen in twos. Two deaths, two twisted manipulative strangers, two ends of the world, twice betrayed, twice buried, two mortals left, two of Ianto’s years filled to the brim with his life in this place.
Coming out of the automatic stupor of mindless filing, Ianto looks over his work, startled to find that everything is out of place. He’s filed everything completely wrong, used the wrong forms, the wrong codes. Everything is wrong, skewed, falling apart. He tugs roughly on the hair at his temples and squeezes his eyes shut. He has to start all over again now. He rips up all the incorrect forms and tosses them on the floor behind him. He just wants to sleep forever, to forget everything, to erase the past week. He can’t fix it this time, and he can’t keep going like this. He can’t. He wants to stop living in a fog of mourning, but then Tosh’s curling cursive sings to him from the corner of his desk and pulls him in again.
Jack doesn’t speak to him for the rest of the day, and the Rift is strangely quiet, as if honouring their mourning. Ianto’s bed is cold again, and it feels like everything has turned spectral and grey.
“I don’t want anything.” Jack states tonelessly when Ianto knocks on his office door. Ianto can only see his back, shoulders curved by an invisible relentless force. Ianto wants to go to him, but his entire body screams Stay Away, so he does as he’s told. He pours Jack’s coffee down the sink and washes out the mug. His own coffee is bland. His tongue is numb; he doesn’t notice when it burns.
Gwen manages to corner Ianto in the archives. “What’s wrong with Jack?” she whispers to him even though she’s inches away, as if the sound of her voice might wake the sleeping memories of the dead down here in the dust and the history. “He’s been distant for days. He’s not talking to me. Is he talking to you?”
“No,” Ianto shakes his head. “He’s not. He’s grieving, Gwen. Let him alone to mourn.”
Gwen sighs. “I know. It just hurts that we can’t all comfort each other. We loved them just as much as he did.”
“Give him time. Everyone grieves differently. He needs his space.”
Ianto nods and turns back to his work. Gwen seems to take the hint and leaves him to it. He quite gratefully throws himself into his work and loses track of time. When he comes out of the dim cave of the archives, it’s eight at night and Gwen has gone home. A note on her desk tells him that they’re out of biscuits.
Jack is nowhere to be seen. Ianto checks his office, and the little manhole that leads to his bunker, but he’s not there. No note, and CCTV tells Ianto that he’s not on top of the Millennium Centre. Ianto sighs. A pattern is emerging, but he has no idea how to stop this slow slide into the pit. He feeds the Weevils and the pterodactyl, moving slowly as he feels the heaviness in his gut grow, the ache ever widening. The grief grows roots and begins to thrive at the bottom of his chest, just below his solar plexus. The branches of sorrow reach up against his shoulders, making it hard to bend. He shuts the base down, and wonders why it’s never felt so empty before.
In the morning, Jack still isn’t back, and there’s no note. Gwen and Ianto take a call by themselves, bringing down a pack of Chaedrones that have been terrorizing Splott and attempting to eat people. They’re wet and dirty and tired when they get back, and Jack still hasn’t come back. They sit on the sofa, drinking Ianto’s coffee, pretending that they can taste it.
“This is getting out of hand.”
“It’s been a week.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. He won’t talk to me. He doesn’t even want me near him.”
“I’m sorry, Ianto.”
Ianto shrugs. “I don’t know how to help him. I don’t even know where he is.”
“Track him.” Gwen suggests, half-serious.
Inspired, Ianto jumps up and goes to Tosh’s computer. His hands hesitate over the keys for a moment. He’s been avoiding this place, and the medbay, too. The presences of their dead friends linger far too strongly there. He can feel Tosh around him; he can swear he smells her lavender perfume. It brings tears to his eyes, and he pushes them away along with the ache. His fingers fly over the keyboard, though, he notes, not as fast as Tosh’s would’ve done. The ache settles deeper.
The dot on the screen makes Ianto frown. It’s red and blinking and reminds him of mortality.
“He’s just driving around,” Ianto states after watching the small point that their captain has been reduced to. “Just driving around the city aimlessly. Like he’s lost.”
“Maybe he’s clearing his mind. Or surveying the damage John’s bombs made.”
Ianto stares at the screen. Jack’s dot is flashing in and out of existence. “Maybe.”
The phantom scent of Tosh is getting to be too much, and Ianto escapes down into the archives. He makes Gwen and himself some coffee first, and has to physically stop himself from pulling down two extra mugs. Sometimes, he doesn’t think about it, and he gets halfway through the Hub before realizing. He stands in the centre of the Hub, staring at the five mugs of coffee on his tray, and tries to breathe. On those days he goes home early and sleeps for as long as he can, just to avoid the emptiness of everything.
Now he sits in the archives and tries to sort out years of filing without thinking the horrible morbid thoughts that have been swimming in his mind for days now. But when you’re in Torchwood, you’re surrounded by grief and death and terror, even in the filing. And if he goes outside now, he’ll only have to face the sights of destruction that have ruined his city and taken his friends.
Jack is gone for two days. Ianto doesn’t know what to do; his tracker shows him driving around the city like a wanderer, barely pausing as he circles and weaves through the streets. When the tracker stops for an hour beside a cluster of office buildings, Ianto pulls up the CCTV of the area. Jack’s shoulders are hunched as he stares out over the city, not up at the sky like Ianto is used to. The three-quarter view of his face is a mask of confusion and grief, and for a moment it freezes in aching torment before Jack drops his head into his hands, his shoulders shaking. He steps back off the ledge of the roof and drops to his knees on the floor, his head leaning against sharp cement corner of the ledge. He punches the ground by his feet. Then he does it again, and again, until his entire hand is broken and bloody, his fingers mangled and torn, splayed on the ground like twisted roots from the tree of his wrist. Then his entire body sags and he sits there, breathing.
Ianto feels like he’s been punched in the gut. Jack is out there grieving, hurting, and there’s nothing he can do. He’s watching Jack break from the inside out and he has no idea how to fix it. He’s rooted to the spot by his own misery, blocked out by Jack’s distance. The hot tears staining his face are far too common an occurrence now to be of any consequence. Ianto is lost in his fog, falling apart, and Jack is so far away, just as wrecked and twisted up as his broken hands. There are oceans between them, and Jack is an island too far out for Ianto to reach on a stormy sea of exhausted sorrow. They’re both lost, and neither of them knows what to look for to get back on course.
Jack comes back the next day, his entry into the Hub startling Ianto out of his kip on the sofa. He rubs the sleep grit out of his eyes and watches his captain walk past him without looking his way and slam the door to his office with a grim finality.
“So that’s it, then.” Ianto mutters to himself, and goes down to the archives to hide. He doesn’t even bother making coffee. He can’t taste it anymore, and he knows that Jack won’t want anything from him. His computer beeps when Gwen comes in, but she doesn’t come down and she doesn’t try to find him and he’s glad for it.
The words of the reports he’s trying to read seem to slide right off the page and tumble onto the floor in a black mass of scribbles. He kicks his foot into the writhing black and leaves the archives.
“I just miss him. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but it’s not anything that I can fix, I know that for sure. And even if I could, he wouldn’t let me. You know what he’s like when someone pushes him. He just pushes right back and locks everyone out. And if the past few weeks are anything to go by, I’m already locked out. I don’t know how to help him. I keep expecting to see his smile, or to hear another stupid story, or to feel him come behind me and try to scare me and kiss me instead. But he’s just silent, withdrawn. He won’t talk to me, or to Gwen. I just don’t know what to do.” Ianto sighs, and pats the drawer beside his head. “I’m sorry Tosh. I don’t mean to burden you with my problems. I’ll go now.”
Ianto feels as listless as Jack seems. He doesn’t know what to do in the Hub anymore. Archiving is a painful chore. The autopsy room no longer needs cleaning; Owen’s no longer there to make any sort of mess other than the emotional chaos that the Hub has been thrown into. Tosh’s desk is neat as ever, but she’s no longer there to talk to. Ianto’s only reason to go to her station is to clear the dust from her memory. He wanders the Hub like just one more ghost. Jack doesn’t seem to notice him; Gwen leaves him alone to battle her own grief.
“I’m going to London.” Jack states from the door of his office. “To visit someone.”
“Okay.” Ianto sits up a little, surprised at Jack’s willing connection. “Do you need anything? A ride?”
“I…” Jack seems to debate something in his own head, his eyes flicking from Ianto to the interior of the Hub and back again. “No, I don’t think so. I’ll see you in a couple days.”
“All right, Jack.”
Only after Jack has slipped out of the Hub like just another phantom image does Ianto realize where the captain has gone, that he’s with someone else, someone better than himself and Gwen. Someone without attachments to this place, to the friends they’ve lost.
The hurt is like frostbite, too cold for him to notice until after the captain has already left. Too sharp to properly address without destroying something even more fragile. Jack has barely spoken to Gwen, barely looked at him. And he’s going to London for someone else. Someone better and more important than the team he saved, the team he picked. Someone better than the ones left behind. Now they’re being left behind by all the spectres of the Hub, and all the things that are too close to mention.
Two days pass like forgotten moments. Ianto’s sense of the passage of time is skewed, and he has no idea where those hours went. His life is foggy and dim. Jack does look at him when he comes back, though. Stares for a long moment, his eyes burning with some strange emotion, then he turns on his heel and goes back to his office. Ianto is left to sit at his desk, pressing the heels of his palms to his stinging eyes.
When Gwen leaves, Ianto comes out of the dim corridors of the archives. Jack is pacing the area in front of the autopsy bay, trying his hardest not to look in its direction. His lips are moving in an imitation of speech, but no sound comes. Ianto watches him from the doorway for a moment.
“Jack? Are you okay?”
Jack glances at him, then goes back to pacing. “I don’t need anything.”
Something twists in Ianto’s gut, his worry and fear and anger and grief roiling and growing until it presses against the back of his throat and he has to let it out. He steps into Jack’s space, interrupting his circumvention of the area. Jack stops short and looks at him, bewildered.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Jack?” Ianto finally bursts out. He can feel tears of worry pressing against the backs of his eyes and he forces them away. “You act like you don’t care about us. Suddenly you’re distant and cold and it’s like we don’t even exist for you any more. We’ve all lost so much, but that doesn’t give you the right to treat us like shit. You disappear and leave us to work alone. You don’t even lead us any more. You don’t want coffee, you don’t come back to my flat, you just wander around the city like a lost man. It’s like you’ve faded away. What’s happened to you?”
Jack stares at him, unblinking. He seems frozen, and in that moment he looks older and more worn that Ianto has ever seen him.
“You…” Jack starts vaguely. Then he shakes himself and blinks and shakes his head slowly. “Never mind, Ianto. It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does, Jack.” Ianto wishes he could win this stare-down, but he knows he’ll never be able to hold on to Jack the way Jack holds on to himself.
“No. It doesn’t.” Jack walks away, and Ianto watches his hunched shoulders for the second time in as many days. He sinks down on the sofa and stares at his hands. Everything’s jumbled and he doesn’t know what to do. The lifeline on his palm is short and dark, stained with ink from filing. Ianto falls into a trance as he contemplates the meaninglessness of his own palms.
He jerks to awareness when he realizes a caffeine headache is starting at the corner of his eye. He makes a cup, if only to stall the migraine that withdrawal would give him, and leans against the counter to drink it. He shoves away the phantoms of Tosh and Owen sniffing out the scent of fuel and plying him for it with compliments or threats. They hang over him in the heavy silence.
“Ianto?” The weary, apprehensive voice coming from Jack’s office is nothing like the defensive one from a few hours ago. “Can you come here?”
Ianto puts his mug in the sink and goes to the office. Jack is sitting in his chair at his desk, his head in his hands, a forlorn expression on his face. He suddenly looks very small and lost, and Ianto wonders what he’s been missing these past two weeks.
“Jack?” Ianto walks behind the desk to stand beside the chair. Jack looks up at him, his face dark.
“I’m sorry, Ianto. I’m so sorry.”
“Jack, what—” But Jack seizes his hand and stares urgently up into his face as if trying to recall or memorize something far away.
“I-I’m sorry for treating you the way I’ve been the last few weeks. I lost everything.”
“I know, Jack. We all did.”
“No,” Jack waves that statement away. His expression twists as if struggling with the words. “I mean I lost everything. I couldn’t hold on to who I was. When I came back I…I couldn’t remember who you were.” Jack grips him tighter and says his name like he’s clinging to it, like it’s the only thing that can pull him from the sucking pit that holds his mind and memories. “Ianto.”
The bottom drops out of Ianto’s stomach, and he’s sure his face looks just as shocked. His ears ring with despair for Jack and weary sadness for himself.
“I remember John because he was the last person I saw before I was buried. And Gray, because he was the first thing I remembered every time I revived under the ground.”
“Jack, you don’t—”
“Do you know how many times I died under there, Ianto?”
“Nearly one hundred million times. Every time I died I lost something. When I came back, I couldn’t remember you, or Gwen, or where I was. I didn’t know why the Hub looked different. I couldn’t remember how to speak English properly. Parts of my past were missing. I could barely even remember the Doctor. I didn’t know which generation of Torchwood this was. I couldn’t even remember that this was Torchwood. I didn’t know what any of you were to me. I only remembered Tosh because of the immediate danger and her death—it hurt me and it made me remember.”
Jack’s breathing is ragged. Ianto puts a hand on his neck and he leans into it with a quiet groan, his head dropping to his chest. “Please, Jack,” Ianto whispers. “You can stop now. It’s okay.”
“I couldn’t stand my bunker. It felt like I was buried again. Too dark, too small. I couldn’t remember the city. I couldn’t remember my life. There was nothing.”
“Jack.” Ianto feels like he’s going to collapse from the weight of Jack’s pain. He can hardly imagine how Jack feels.
“After the initial jolt of Tosh and Gray, I could barely remember anything. There was only immediate memory. Just—” Jack breaks off and rubs a hand over his mouth as if stifling something.
“Roots. They grew down into the dirt. Into my body. Into my mouth.” He grimaces and swallows stiffly, as if he can still taste them, as if the sensation of wood and stale dirt is heavy in his mouth.
“Oh god, Jack, I—”
Jack winces and puts a hand to his throat. Ianto tries to imagine it: rough black roots creeping down through the darkness, pushing through dirt, through half-decayed skin, suffocating pressure like long fingers in his mouth, the inability to move or protect himself from their insistent descent, the twisted tendrils gripping his throat and twining themselves around his spine.
Ianto steps into Jack’s space and takes his face in his hands. He leans in and kisses him, slowly. Jack sighs and kisses him back, yielding to his exploring tongue. Ianto thinks that maybe, if he kisses Jack deep enough, he can get rid of the taste of roots.