He hovered in the doorway; hand poised and ready to knock, though there was never any need. Jack always knew when he was there, and was usually ready with his trademark grin to bestow him with an order, proposition or affection. It was like a sixth sense he’d once described as a flow of electricity down his spine whenever Ianto was around. The younger man had taken it in the spirit it had been given, with smile and an of course, sir full of mock exasperation, all the while his insides secretly hummed with pride at the sentiment.
Now the grin was gone, replaced by a distant and almost haunted look that wouldn’t have been out of place on the face of a corpse. Ianto shuddered at the thought.
He had to try twice before he could trust his voice enough to speak. His throat felt as though he’d spent the day gargling with sandpaper. “Everything’s done, sir.”
The only indication that he had been heard was a slight inclination of Jack’s head.
His body was held rigid, like a coiled spring, as though he would fall apart if he allowed himself to relax. Ianto could practically feel the tension in those broad shoulders from across the room and found himself reaching out to try and relieve some of that painful tension.
Flexing his fingers in midair, he sighed. “What did they do Jack?”
Even though he had his head bowed towards the desk, Ianto could see the grimace that passed across the older — so much older now - man’s face.
The pause hung between them; it stretched seconds into minutes, holding the office in situ until a small, breathy sound escaped the captain’s lips.
“You already know.” Those who didn’t know him would have mistaken his tone for one of boredom, and not the bone aching tiredness it really was.
“No, we only got the select highlights,” Ianto said, shifting against the doorframe to find a more comfortable spot for his still painful shoulder. “What really happened?”
Jack raised his head, wearily, but wouldn’t look at the other man’s face. Instead, he found something fascinating to stare at just below Ianto’s left ear. “Nothing I didn’t deserve.”
“Jack, please don’t.” Ianto was well aware that he sounded like the epitome of desperation, and he didn’t care. If Jack kept talking like that then he was going to break, and then he’d be no used to anyone. “After everything, just tell me straight.”
With a sharp bob of his head and a heavy sigh, he conceded. “Ianto, Ianto, Ianto,” he said softly, savouring the way it rolled off his tongue as though he hadn’t said it in a long time. Which, Ianto realised with a jolt, he hadn’t. “They buried me.”
He had gotten as much from John, but hearing it from Jack’s own lips made it worse somehow. He felt bile rise and settle in the back of his throat, and fought to breathe past the lump.
“It was kind of peaceful, in a grotesque way. Nearly nineteen hundred years and nothing but mind numbing cold, darkness and the smell of damp, ancient dirt.” He trailed off and sent a quick glance in the direction of the manhole cover, and Ianto knew it would be a long time before he would be able to set foot down there again. He made a quick mental list of what would need to be moved into the office and to his flat for easier access for Jack. “I never thought the day would come when I’d been happy to see Alice Guppy and her homicidal tendencies. But there she was, pulling me out, right into the sun…Oh, I could have kissed her. Well, almost,” he added with a grimace.
“Being frozen wasn’t so bad. Feels like it only happened yesterday.” A frown creased his brow. “Huh, I guess it was only yesterday for me. But before that, John…He, ah, had me chained…” Jack trailed off, absently rubbing his wrist with enough force to bruise.
Ianto knew about the nightmares that plagued Jack when he was settled enough for sleep. Being bound, left hanging there, helpless. He had been on the receiving end of Jack’s thrashing about in the early hours more times than he could count.
The distant look in Jack’s eyes told him all he needed to know. He left the shelter the doorframe provided and came to stand in front of the desk, wanting to help but not quite sure what to do.
Jack looked up then, sensing movement, and held him in place with impossibly wide blue eyes to stop yet more tears from falling.
“Violence and pain I can deal with. Hey, I’ve had a lot of practice in that department.”
Ianto started to say something but was cut short with a wave of Jack’s hand. He felt physically sick to his stomach that anybody could ever get used to being abused in such a way, let alone this magnificent and broken man sat in front of him, by people who had claimed to have once loved him.
“It’s nothing compared to what was taken from us today. Toshiko…Owen,” he said brokenly. “And what was up here.” He tapped his temple with two fingers, in an almost obscene salute.
The confusion must have shown on Ianto’s face because he carried on his explanation without breaking his stride.
“It’s all just facts and figures up here now. I know the colour of your eyes, they’re blue. I know when your birthday is, August 19th. I know about Lisa and you’re family, and I know that you make the best coffee I’ve ever had, but…” He gestured helplessly with his hands; his voice hoarse with unshed tears. “I don’t remember what it tastes like.”
“I know what soap you use and what aftershave you wear, but I don’t remember what it smells like.”
Ianto felt his paralysis leave him with the heartbroken admission from his lover. He moved around the desk in a few quick steps and pulled the older man to his feet, taking his hands and placing them on his collar.
Jack started at the command, gripping Ianto’s collar a little tighter. “What?”
“There’s no way we can ever make this right, Jack. We can’t bring Tosh and Owen back, and we can’t give back everything they took from you. We just do the best we can. Like you said to Gwen, we grieve, we carry on and we make new memories. So,” he said, gently stroking the insides of Jack’s wrists with long, talented fingers. “Smell me.”
After a moment’s more hesitation, he lowered his head to the crook of Ianto’s neck and inhaled. He drank in that cool, sweet scent like a man in the desert dying of thirst. It surrounded him, filled up his lungs, mouth and nostrils, and for a second the panic set in again. He fought against the inevitable burn of suffocation, and marvelled when it didn’t come. It chased away the last lingering remnants of two thousand year old dirt and replaced it with the unmistakable scent and warmth of Ianto Jones.
He nuzzled his cheek against the bend of Ianto’s jaw, relearning the curve and the softness of the other man’s skin, and let his eyes flutter closed. “Thank you.”