He looked good in a suit. That was the first thing Lisa noticed about Ianto Jones. It was the first thing a lot of people noticed about him--she'd seen the eyes that followed him through the office. He never seemed to notice. He was too busy becoming Torchwood: a model researcher, circumspect and unobjectionable.
He still had a few rough edges when they were assigned to work together on a very dull data-gathering project: picking through a hundred-odd years of photos for sightings of the Doctor's latest face. He rolled his eyes at the piles of hardcopy photos that went along with all the partial matches the computers had generated. "Welcome to Torchwood, Doctor," he said, aping Director Hartman's delivery. "We're so pleased that you could join us this century. And now, if you don't mind, we're going to proceed directly to the dissection room. After all, Torchwood takes alien things apart and learns how they work, and since you're alien--you're ours."
Lisa barely managed not to choke on a sip of water. "Do not imitate her in front of just anyone. Especially not well."
He grinned a little. "Ah. I appreciate the advice. But I did make you laugh."
She wanted not to smile, but the corners of her mouth curled up a bit, anyway. "Don't assume everyone here has a sense of humor, Mr. Jones."
"Ianto," he said.
"My name's Ianto. We're going to be working together for a while--please don't call me Mr. Jones. Do you have any idea how many Joneses there are in Wales?"
She laughed a little--she couldn't help it. "All right, Ianto. Then I'm Lisa."
"Pleased to really meet you, Lisa Hallett."
Their task was tedious, but absorbing. He was good--she had to give him that. After a few hours, she'd noticed that his eye for detail was better than hers, even if his organizational skills still needed some help. It actually surprised her to look up and notice they'd reached the end of the work day. She leaned back in her chair, stretching stiff muscles. "Ow. My eyes are killing me and my shoulders ache. That's quite enough of this for today."
He watched her stretch. Lisa managed not to grimace. She wasn't unaware that she was attractive, but she dreaded the inevitable invitation for a drink or offer of a backrub. It wasn't that she had anything against Ianto, she just tried not to get into those kinds of situations with co-workers: too much opportunity for nastiness if it went bad, later. "It's good to have a job with reasonable hours," he admitted. "Not like some of the technical teams or the field agents."
His comment was so far afield from the one she was expecting that it took her a minute to shift gears and answer him. "Yeah," she agreed. "Though it means my mum still counts on having me over for tea a couple times a week." She sighed. "Insists on actual tea, too. She's never quite got that I'd rather have coffee."
"Is she expecting you tonight?" Ianto wondered, getting to his feet.
Here it comes. "No. I've no one to please but myself, tonight. Which means, probably, putting my feet up and watching telly."
He smiled. "Sounds thrilling. Before you join your telly for dinner, would you like to get coffee?"
Not a drink. Not dinner, just coffee. She thinks about it. He'd made her laugh--that Hartman imitation of his was really worth twenty minutes over coffee, all on its own. "All right," she decides, putting markers in her work so she knows where to start tomorrow. "I'd like that."
Ianto always made her laugh--sometimes at the most inappropriate moments possible. Underneath his carefully sedate exterior, a very dry wit lurked. When they started really dating, he spent an evening telling her the most absurd stories about his parents' long-ago courtship. "Somehow," she said, through her laughter, "I don't think you'd care for it if I showed up to a costume party wearing a chicken suit."
"On you," he said, "I'm certain it would be extremely fetching. Though I'd have to be careful not to end up with feathers in unusual places."
She swatted him over the restaurant's intimate little table. "Now you're being ridiculous."
"I'm always ridiculous," he told her with a quiet smile. "I just hide it well. I'm also serious. I don't love you for what you look like," he said. He reached around a glass of chardonnay to catch her hand in one of his. With his eyes on hers, he slowly kissed each knuckle and then her palm.
He was so earnest, she found she believed him.
The master tailor's son had a serious twitch around things being clean and in their proper places. It was noticeable when he'd begun staying over at her flat and shocking the first time she saw his. "Are you sure you're human?" she asked, looking around the tiny space. "Because, seriously--there's something abnormal about not having a dish in the sink or a slipper in middle of the floor.
"Perfectly normal," he said, lounging on his sofa and watching her make her rounds. "It could be that there's not enough room to swing a cat in here. Or it could just be that you're a terrible housekeeper."
It was just as well he was already on the sofa--it saved on bruises when she tackled him. "Spoken like a man who plans on a cold bed for the next few weeks!" she teased, reaching for the ticklish spots around his ribs.
He tried to capture her hands, but not as hard as he could. "Stop that! Unhand me, I say."
"No," she said primly, rejoicing in her victory as he twitched and the corners of his eyes crinkled up with helpless laughter. "I have to be absolutely sure you're really human, and not some alien from the planet Borax or one of those animated shop dummies we had a rash of last year."
"All right, I confess!" he gasped. "I'm an alien! A cleaning alien! Turn me in, dissect me, just stop tickling!"
She tugged his tie loose and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. "Better," she decided, leaning forward to lick a wet trail up his neck and the underside of his chin. Some things were really better messy.
She never was sure when she started seeing the cracks behind the façade--the brittle places behind the laughter. The parts of Ianto that he didn't let other people see. One day, she just knew they were there, and as soon as she thought about it, she realized she'd known for awhile.
He talked about his father and his sister, but never said much about his mum. She knew he'd grown up in Cardiff, in the flat above the tailor's shop, but she wasn't clear on exactly where, or where he'd gone to school. Every time she asked, he'd tell a funny story or get distracted by some interesting project at work, and after awhile, she stopped asking. He was stable and reliable for most people and sunshine and roses for her, but he was brittle, somewhere underneath it all. He'd been broken in the past, her Ianto. She didn't quite know how or why, and at some level, it didn't matter, because she loved him. She just wished she could share that hurt with him, and maybe make it less in the process.
The brittleness left him unable to bend in some places he ought. But that was all right. They fit each other's stiff spots.
He never said "I love you." He talked around it: He didn't love her for her body. He didn't love her for her mother's cooking. He definitely didn't love her for her housekeeping (especially when she was standing in her kitchen and saying so could get her to throw a tea towel at him). She'd say it to him: "I love you, Ianto," and he'd answer, "I don't know how I ever got this lucky."
They were camping the first time he said the words. The quiet declaration in the dark of their tent worried her, though she couldn't put her finger on why, just then. "I love you too," she said, and leaned her head on his shoulder to sleep. But later, she couldn't stop thinking about it.
It was true. He loved her; and after that, he began to say it more often. It warmed her heart, yes, but Ianto didn't do anything by half-measures. He loved her hopelessly, completely, with a desperate passion. It made her afraid sometimes. Their love was the stable foundation of her life--the solid place from which she could go on to deal with anything. But Ianto . . . Ianto's world revolved around her. If something ever happened to her, would he just . . . stop?
"Kids?" she asked one day. She'd stalled him off about a wedding--her parents' marriage had gone so badly, she wasn't entirely sure it was a good idea--but she could start to see them with kids.
"Mmm. Maybe someday. If you want, and when you're ready. But not two, two's a terrible number--always squabbling over who gets the last biscuit."
She smiled at the humor in his voice. "One or three, then," she agreed, and shivered like a ghost walked over her grave. "Someday."
Nothing is forever--everything dies, whether it's now or fifty years from now. Oh, it wasn't like either of them were field agents, with the short life-expectancy that went with that job. But she found herself, in odd moments, dreadfully worried about what he'd do if he had to go on without her. Her poor, lonely Ianto. What about some day when they did have kids? God forbid something should ever happen to him, but she knew she'd keep taking care of their children, no matter how she grieved. When she tried to imagine him in that situation she just . . . couldn't see it.
It was silly and morbid, so she tried to put it out of her mind. But sometimes, late at night, it came back.
The pain was beyond anything she'd experienced, and somewhere under the pain there was a terrible awareness of her body. Those monsters--they'd done things to her, things she couldn't believe and couldn't accept, and she welcomed the pain as a buffer against those things her shocked mind wouldn't quite admit. She was only breathing in fits and starts, and when she could she prayed out loud for the nightmare to end.
Arms went around her, and they were familiar, except for the places the fine wool didn't touch her skin. Her mind skimmed away from that understanding, seeking refuge in pain. She'd welcome unconsciousness--she'd welcome death, but Ianto's voice was in her ear:
"Lisa! Lisa, stay with me! Hold on! Oh God-- You'll be okay! You'll be okay, I'll keep you safe--we'll save you. Just hold on! I don't know what I'll do without you!"
He really didn't. And, somewhere under the pain, she was so terribly afraid for him.
Morphine was the only thing that helped. She slept a lot, or thought she did. Ianto said she was on life-support; that she told him how to build the life-support machines. She didn't remember, but stranger things had happened in Torchwood. She didn't know where they were. She wasn't cold, but it seemed damp here. Hospitals weren't damp. Mostly, she didn't mind, when she knew anything at all past the pain and the drugs.
She didn't remember how she got here. Didn't remember the accident. Didn't know how long it had been. "Don't worry about it," Ianto said, each time she asked. "I'm taking care of everything--don't waste your strength worrying. I'll find the best doctor . . . "
No doctor would ever make her whole again--she knew it, because he wanted so very much to believe it wasn't so. She'd like to walk, though--even just a little. She was so weary of lying abed with nothing but pain to keep her company when Ianto couldn't be there. Sometimes, she couldn't stay awake--couldn't bear the pain--even when he could.
When she was really with him, he wanted to be tender with her. He read her children's stories when they were all her morphine-addled brain could follow. She wanted him to be . . . realistic. She was going to die, and in some ways, it would be a relief--but he wouldn't talk about it.
"He's amazing. His work is absolutely groundbreaking."
The doctor. She had so little time--the lucid moments when the pain was bearable seemed shorter and fewer to her as the endless waiting stretched on. "I'm glad," she managed. She pressed on: "Ianto, if there's any chance I can ever get out of this bed again--I want to take it. No matter what."
He pressed a finger to her lips. She didn't really feel the touch. "Don't talk like that," he said.
He wasn't listening. "No, I need you to listen to me. Ianto--make my mum understand. Any risk. Even if I might die--it's worth it, Ianto. I'm not really alive like this."
She could hear the tears in his voice that he wouldn't allow on that schooled, polished face of his. "Don't say that," he whispered. "Lisa, I'll do anything, whatever it takes to make you better. I'm . . . " He swallowed and reached down to enfold her hand with both of his. "You're all I have."
She'd given up on her own life, but she wanted to save the rest of his. He was clinging to her love like a life jacket, and she couldn't bear for him to drown when it was gone.
The doctor has a kind face. She can't remember his name. She remembers she and Ianto met over a Doctor. Was this the face they searched the pictures for? And why would Ianto bring him here? Ianto's moved mountains, trying to save her. She's seen through the cracks in his façade, sometimes, that he's done things he doesn't want her to know; and she can't seem to hold a thought in her head long enough to press him about them, to insist, because it's not good for him to hold such secrets inside . . .
The doctor is magic. All of a sudden, she can breathe, and the pain lessens--so much so that she wants to walk out of the medical room. She never thought she'd walk again.
She hopes they can go undetected just a little longer. The doctor's been so kind to her--she needs to thank him. And Ianto's been so worried, but he doesn't need to worry any more. And neither does she. After he upgrades, there will be no question of his doing things he ought not to. There will no more secrets. They'll be two parts of a greater whole. Together.