Rating: M (NC-17). Strong mentions of sex, suicide, and other angst in a similar vein.
Characters/Pairings: Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, Martha, Rhiannon, others may crop up as well.
Spoilers: Set after Exit Wounds
Summary: After 2,000 years buried beneath Cardiff, Jack's mind is crumbling. Ianto will do anything to avoid losing him again – but how do you fix a broken man?
Disclaimer: If I owned Torchwood, the long-lasting repurcussions of actions and events would be properly explored. Obviously, I do not own Torchwood. Hence...FanFiction.
"You called me strong, you called me weak."
The lights to Hub switched on one at a time, a ripple of brightness inching its way throughout the large empty space. The slight trickle of water that came from the tower in the middle sang in chorus with the gentle humming of the machinery that lay inside it, giving the impression that there was an internal rhythm within. Ianto had always felt that all the different components of the base played against each other, each one feeding the others and giving the place a synchronicity that was all its own.
Stepping away from the entrance and taking in the sight before him, he realised how surprised he was. He had expected there to be some sort of discernible difference between the Hub he had left behind him and the Hub he was presented with now. The world felt as if it had shifted on its axis, and the concept that anything could be left standing in the wake of such a change was unthinkable; it only seemed right that things would be toppled, destroyed, or at the very least a little bit dented. It didn't feel as though the world could possibly be unscathed.
But, of course, it was.
Ianto waited for Jack to follow him before moving further into the Hub, hoping that the vast cavern, familiar to Jack for over one hundred years, would spark some kind of memory within the older man. This had been his home, after all, a place that Ianto had come dangerously close to calling his own as well; in the weeks before Tosh and Owen's deaths, he had spent a good deal more time in this place, especially at night, than he had at his own flat. For Ianto, as for Jack, this was home.
Turning around to catch Jack's eye cautiously, he tried for a reassuring smile; he promptly decided that it was too forced, to unreal, and that even broken Jack would be able to see through it. The eyes of Captain were squinted, taking in the sights before him, processing each and every thing he could see. Ianto could see him filing it away, storing it in his memory, using it to try and grasp helplessly at something, somewhere, that could unlock some hidden memory in his brain. Growing worried, Ianto shuffled forward slightly, moving himself as close to Jack as he dared without infringing on his personal space.
"Do you know where you are, Jack?"
Jack's gaze darted towards him, a fire raging behind those eyes. Ianto took a step backwards.
"Of course I do," he snarled, his fists clenching at his sides. "Why wouldn't I know?"
Pushing Ianto aside, so that the younger man collided painfully with the corner of a workstation, Jack strode forwards, heading for the familiarity of his office. Undecided as to whether or not he should follow him, Ianto gripped the edge of the desk, feeling a cold sweat break out on his forehead.
He followed Jack's retreating back closely with his gaze, willing the man to turn around, to look him in the eyes, to do something other than walk away; but he didn't. He entered his office, and shut the door firmly behind him. Just like normal. Except, this time, the door slammed shut with more force than Ianto had ever heard; Jack had been in rages before, but he had never put quite so much hate into the action.
It was almost as if he were imagining the door to be made of something other than wood; as if he were imagining it to be a person. And, following that brief encounter, Ianto had a pretty good idea who that person might be.
Determined to hang onto his resolve, Ianto inched his way around the desk so that he could slide into Tosh's chair without putting too much weight on his legs. Jack was angry. Of course he was; his mind was a mess, his brain razed to the ground by a lifetime of burning death and isolation. And, worst of all, he knew what was happening. Jack was well aware that there was something wrong with him, and perhaps it would have been less painful had he been blissfully unaware.
Burying his head in his hands briefly, Ianto turned his attention to the computer in front of him, preparing to fire up the systems and do what needed to be do. There had to be a clear up. They would have to come up with a cover story for the explosions; they would have to come up with an alternative explanation for the deaths of their fallen colleagues. It was crude, and it was cold, and it was calculating, but it was an inescapable reality.
He let himself be absorbed in the work, filtering everything else from his brain but the task at hand. To him, it was the best form of therapy; focus on something else, something practical, something that required logic and diligence rather than coherent thought. He barely noticed when Gwen arrived at the time they'd arranged, seemingly unsurprised to find Ianto already there. He looked up long enough to flash her a quick smile, acknowledging the concern in her eyes, before turning back to the computer in front of him. He could feel Gwen hovering behind him, obviously disputing whether or not she should see Jack; he turned around in response, the swift movement catching in the corner of her eye and causing her eyes to switch abruptly to him.
"I wouldn't," he said quietly. She nodded again, laying a soft hand briefly on his shoulder as she made her way past him to her own workstation. In that moment, Ianto decided that, with the only the three of then left, he and Gwen would have to get to know each other more closely; he remembered how comforting her normalising presence in his flat had been the day before, how willing she had been to leave when he needed her to. She had changed so much in the past few months, from the wide-eyed girl who didn't know when to say "no", to a much wiser woman. A flawed woman, it had to be said, but a wiser one, and she had so much love to give. He admired her strength and her courage, and she seemed to trust him emphatically.
They worked in silence for a good while, both knowing instinctively that words would make it harder. Occasionally, Ianto would cast a quick glance in Jack's direction, taking in the sight of the tense man, hunched at his desk and reading assorted files. He lost count of the number of times he had to fight with himself, restraining himself from rushing to his side. He could see Gwen going through the same emotions, but he caught her eye, reassuring her that he didn't think that was a good idea. Not that he had any real idea what was best; he was trusting his gut, not that that didn't have a track record of failing.
Finally, they managed to complete a consistent cover story, blaming the explosions on terrorist attacks and providing fake death certificates for Tosh and Owen. Tosh had been killed by a gunshot wound, which they explained as taking place during the looting that had occurred in some areas of Cardiff following the initial panic. They did not omit the fact that she had saved Cardiff, instead relaying a story in which she was killed trying to prevent a violent robbery. Owen's had been easier, as his story had definite plausibility without having to expound the full truth. They were both depicted as heroes, and that was the only thing that mattered.
As they ran through the results of their hard work, Ianto noticed Gwen wiping away a tear from the corner of her eye, and he bit into his cheek. It didn't work - for the first time he was faced with the grim reality, and he couldn't hold back the few tears that managed to squeeze themselves out. He could feel them trickling down his cheeks, but he couldn't bear to wipe them away; he owed Tosh and Owen at least a few of his tears, as much as he owed them his strength in carrying on.
Suddenly, they heard a shuffling sound from the direction of Jack's office, and they turned abruptly. Jack was leaning on the door of his office, his shoulders slumped uncomfortably, a distraught expression on his face. Ianto stood up immediately, followed by Gwen, the tears now leaking more freely from her eyes. The young Welshman tried to rub the tears from his cheeks frantically, uncomfortable and guilty at showing Jack his weakness.
Jack looked completely lost. Confused, scared, terrified almost. His mouth was opening and closing frantically, as if he was scrabbling to gather enough oxygen into his lungs. The image was completely different to the angry, dissonant Jack of a few hours before. Ianto's hand strayed absent-mindedly to the bruise on his thigh, feeling the pain shooting through his nerves, reminding him of how dangerous Jack could be. Jack's sudden anger had been manifest only in a shove this time, but he'd seen what sane-Jack was capable of, and the way he'd slammed that door had slapped of pure hatred; he didn't know, if Jack's personality switched again, just how angry he could become.
Memories of Jack's gun pressed firmly into his temple swamped him, forcing more unwilling tears from his eyes; he could still feel the edges of the barrel digging into his skin, in the back of his thoughts, every time he closed his eyes. He feared that happening again.
But this Jack - this Jack was so lost, so...childlike, almost.
After Gwen had left his flat the day before, he had finished washing the blood from Jack's body, staying with him in the bath until the water temperature had left them shivering. He'd struggled to fill the rest of the day, uncertain what to do with Jack now that he was alone and vulnerable in his flat. Setting aside the situation he found himself in with Jack, it was so...couple-y. Eventually, he'd settled on forcing Jack to eat, ordering his favourite take-aways, softening him with his favourite coffee and switching the TV to the Classics channel, in the vain hope of reminding Jack of at least some part of his long life. Holding Jack in bed that night, feeling the older man fall asleep on his chest like a child clinging to him, Ianto had felt another part of his world shatter around him.
He'd lost one person he loved in a horrific way; if he lost another, he didn't know long he'd be able to hold on.
"Jack..." he stepped forward, reaching out his hand uncomfortably towards the older man, who looked so unbelievably lost and frightened. The need to touch, to reassure, had completely overtaken any uncertainty about what would actually be best for Jack. He needed to touch Jack - he was only human.
Jack flinched away as Ianto neared, curling his arms around himself protectively. The younger man felt a shiver of trepidation flow through him, and he jerked back hurriedly. Those blue orbs rose slightly, meeting Ianto's with a distrustful glare; they followed the curves of his body up and down a few times, processing every inch of Ianto in his brain, then repeating the action with Gwen. Finally, after what seemed as an eternity to both Gwen and Ianto, he raised his gaze, a glimmer of recognition shining in his eyes. Upon seeing the softening in Jack's features, they both moved forward, anticipating the stumbling motion that followed.
Ianto caught one of his arms, one hand resting on his chest to keep him upright, and Gwen gripped the crook of the other, catching Jack's hand between her own small fingers. Jack melted into their touch, letting himself flop forward ever so slightly to relax his entire body; had their been only one of them, it would have been nearly impossible to hold him up, but with the two of them it was something they could deal with. Maybe, Ianto thought, that was something he should take into account for the future.
Jack made a small noise, resting the side of his head against Ianto's shoulder so that he could look at him searchingly. Ianto smiled, not happily, but at least grateful that Jack had not managed to quite forget them.
"What is it, Jack?" he asked softly, his finger clutching softly at the material of Jack's shirt, if only to reassure himself that Jack was still there. Jack met his eye, with a look so trusting and hopeful that it almost broke Ianto's heart.
Oh dear, another cliffhanger. I apologise profusely, and offer you cookies as consolation.
Again, thank you to everyone who has been reading this story, especially to those have been kind enough to leave reviews. This chapter has taken a tiny bit longer, as it has gone through a major re-write process; I had some idea of a plot-point I wanted to employ, but I forced it in too early, resulting in me having to re-write this chapter. I've decided to let this story go where it wants to do, and allow the plot-points to slip in naturally, rather than shoe-horning them in where they don't fit (unlike certain professional writers *coughbitterfangirlcough*)
Thank you for reading, and please point out any discrepencies you find.