Just like on his first night out, Ianto found it hard to keep his attention on his owner. Just because Jack hadn’t minded him staring at the sky while they were driving, didn’t mean he had permission to lose focus when he was on foot.
Thankfully, it was night, so there weren’t as many distractions as daylight would throw in his way. Still, the bright lights hidden in darkness called his name, drawing his gaze away from where it meant to be. At least there was no threat of losing Jack like the first time he'd been dragged from the hub; he'd been terrified of being left behind. Now, the captain still held a loose but grounding grip on his hand. If he did become distracted — don’t, just don’t — he’d have a lifeline to where he belonged.
Lights, smells and sounds he hadn’t experienced in weeks toyed with his brain, as the texture of his outfit swayed with him. He’d semi-failed the test in the tourist office, so Ianto vowed he wouldn’t take a single step out of line while he was out.
He knew the chances to redeem himself weren’t infinite, and he was acutely aware of what would happen to him when they ran out. He had to work harder at becoming exactly what Jack needed him to be. The perfect slave; a tool for Torchwood to use at will.
The only problem with that, was that Jack wasn’t telling him what he needed. How would he ever figure it out without help? He knew he wasn’t smart enough to do anything major without proper guidance. He’d needed harsh retraining in the most basic of skills.
Even without looking at landmarks, Ianto knew where they were. He didn't know where they were headed — didn't need to know, all he had to do was follow his master — but he'd be able to accurately pinpoint their location on a map at any given moment.
They moved away from the plass, cutting through side streets, and the pet was grateful for the lack of traffic. The cold night also meant that most of the Cardiff residents were indoors; it made it easier to act like this was a normal situation. Not a master leading his worthless slave out and around.
He had no idea how he would have to act if they met people.
With every step, Ianto reminded himself of his status. Slave, nothing but a slave. Torchwood property. He had to pretend to be human in order to function as Jack wished it. This was almost the same as when Jack had first given him clothes. They had no function towards him, and only existed to let Tosh feel more at ease around him. It would have been easier if his owner had given him a reminder to carry with him like he'd been permitted before, but if this was a mission it would be dangerous to have him plugged. He hadn't forgotten the pain as his insides had rubbed open while he ran. He hadn't forgotten the lesson he'd learnt afterwards either.
Obey, and while it might hurt, Jack would be there to help heal him afterwards. As long as he served, it would all be all right.
They kept walking at a slow pace. If he'd been human, he might have called it a stroll. Now he was just glad to be allowed to enjoy the slower speed after the rush of work and then sex. It was Jack's benevolence that let him breathe sweet air and walk upright instead of crawling down into his cell.
The slave tried his best to keep a tight hold on his stomach, because it wanted to growl. The decadent scent of fast food and take away was wafting around the streets, and the hunger he'd felt before was rising up to paw at the door.
He couldn't quite stifle the groan when they turned into Caroline Street. The Mecca of take away in central Cardiff. Even at this hour it was still attracting commerce, people walking away with white carrier bags, steam trailing behind them. He hoped Jack hadn't heard the unprompted sound.
Was this another test?
To see if he'd crack and beg for food. Cause he wouldn’t. Even if his stomach was threatening to call out for attention, he wouldn't turn to his master and ask to be fed. Jack was the one who decided when and if he got to eat. It was far beyond him to make even the smallest decisions.
Ianto lowered his head. It wasn't as low as he'd prefer — his chin really should be almost touching his chest — but it was just enough of a show of deference while remaining unnoticed in public by those who weren't looking for it. He was sure Jack would be checking how he acted.
He couldn't lie.
Jack glanced at the closest shop windows. Two places obviously sold nothing but hamburgers, and the Indian place stood out as well with large oriental styled letters scrawled across the shop front. Jack's gaze caught on the blue framed window with a remarkably happy fish sitting amongst a pile of chips.
He knew how this would end. Jack would order food, and then the older man would have his meal. All the while, his slave would obediently watch as he ate. It would be hard to bear after the more readily available meals, but he'd do it. He couldn’t expect to sit at his owner's feet and be fed bitesize pieces of food from Jack's fingers in a public setting.
No, he had to act normal, show Jack that he was capable of pretending to be human when it was required, while still remembering his place. He was nothing but Torchwood property.
"Anything you really don't like?"
The pet rearranged his thoughts, but answered at once.
"Mushy peas, sir."
Not that he hated peas in general, it was just the texture of the vibrant green paste that had always disgusted him. Not that he wouldn't bend over backwards to get to lick a tiny portion of it off the floor right now. His slop was worse in both taste and texture than the peas. He deserved nothing better than his slop, he was grateful for any feed.
"Come on. I've been craving chips for a while now."
Jack let go of his hand, and shouldered the door to the nearest chippy open. The pet was stranded for a moment, no longer aided by his lifeline. Panic quickly rising, he caught the door before it swung shut entirely, and followed his owner into the small but empty shop.
He was glad that Jack was allowing him entry instead of making him wait out in the night like last time, forced to watch him through the large greasy window like a kicked dog. The smells nearly made him regret walking in, but the door shut behind him with a metallic clank and he couldn't go anywhere else but to Jack's side. He was meant to follow him anyway. He'd been ordered to follow.
Quietly, he stayed a step behind the other man as he studied the menu. Doing his best to act natural, the pet didn't keep his head down. He still avoided looking at both the menu and the cook though — he wasn’t worthy of looking them in the eye, and it had to be avoided if possible, and reading about food he wasn’t allowed to have was a torture he wasn’t about to inflict on himself - appraising the state of the shop instead.
The floor was clean, as were the tables, but he'd have preferred to stand than ruin his suit on the chairs. Not that he wore a suite anymore. Any clothes were a blessing, the clean lines and high thread cotton lost to him. Hell, he’d clean the seat with his tongue if Jack even hinted at it.
In the background, Jack was talking with the counter girl, and the slave forced his mind back to the present. He was meant to be paying attention! What if this was more than just a quick bite to eat? What if he’d be quizzed on the evening afterwards?
“Then I’ll go for that. It sounds delicious.”
Fuck. Ianto swore internally, he’d missed whatever the girl had said. He had to be more careful, zoning out like that was bad behaviour. He straightened his spine when Jack turned to look at him. For a moment it seemed like he was going to ask him a question, but changed his mind at the last second. When the older man turned back to the cashier, Ianto forced the tremor in his right hand to cease.
“He’ll have a small portion of chips and fish fingers.”
“Six, eight, or twelve?”
“All right." She poked knowingly at the laminated screen, "Anything to drink?”
Ianto tried his very best to hide his confusion, but he wasn’t sure how effective it was. The girl was looking at him funny, and he turned away to try and save face. He was so going to get flogged for this when they got back.
“Coke and a sparkling water, please.”
“Sure. That’ll be twelve pounds fifty.”
The pet followed the interaction, but the last bit of comprehension had left his mind. What was even happening? Money changed hands, Jack flashing his best smiles at the girl and the chef alike, and acted nothing but his usual confident self. The girl wasn’t unaffected, dropping the change back into the till twice before finally handing it over. Ianto could relate to how she felt. Jack’s presence and total attention were amazing things to feel.
“You can get the cans already if you want.”
She pointed to the fridge set in the corner near them, and smiled shyly. Another blinding grin had her scurrying around the counter to pick out the drinks herself.
“Or I can get them for you. Not like I have anything else to do, right?”
The captain accepted the cans graciously, watching as she flounced around, eventually ending up behind the counter again. They made pleasant conversation, even with the girl batting her lashes and forgetting her words.
It was nice, and completely natural to be forgotten again. Ianto was more than happy to fade into the background. If Jack was stealing the show it left less chances for him to fuck up. The last thing he wanted was to truly mess up. Not a single hair on his head wanted to find out what happened when he crossed the lines Jack had drawn out for this trip.
Jack wouldn’t do anything so openly cruel as to punish him out in the real world, but being frogmarched back to the hub the second this interaction was over to drive home the consequences of his actions with the force whip was as daunting a repercussion he dared to imagine.
He didn't try to follow the conversation on any real level, but recorded the words carefully. It didn't seem like this was Torchwood business, but it wasn't his place to think about such things. Even so, this outing might very well just be a test run. A simple walk out on the town to see if he was capable of serving in new ways. He was a living breathing note pad already, why not add dictaphone on to the list of possible uses? Any work was good work.
"Here you go. Enjoy."
With a final flourish, the girl set a steaming bag on the counter. Before the pet could even start to reach for it — he was the slave, he was the carrier, the cleaner, the worker — Jack lifted the bag off the counter. Ianto stared.
"Could we have an extra one for the cans? Don't want them to cool down the food."
The girl — really no older than the pizza delivery girl he'd murdered, Ianto realised - laughed and handed over another crisp white bag without a problem. This time, Jack did motion for him to take it; just a small nod in his direction and then towards the counter. The pet acted quickly, reaching for the bag and the cans. Stiffly arranging them so they wouldn’t fall and roll around too much as they walked. Letting a can explode sugary soda all over his master would never cause positive results.
He couldn’t begin to imagine the punishment for that. Expect perhaps being forced to wash them by hand while Jack striped his back as he knelt in place … perhaps even on the rulers. He hadn’t had to kneel on the rulers for a while now. He didn’t like the rulers.
"Doesn't talk much, does he?"
Ianto glanced up and then looked down again quickly. He hoped it would look like he was just shy. Prayed for it, actually.
"Nah. Strong silent type."
Jack clapped him on the back, the leather making a muffled sound. It was a bit like the sound the stiff paddle made on his arse ... he'd probably get to feel and hear it again later this evening. Ianto was confident in his prediction when Jack’s hand sealed itself to his lower back and propelled him towards the exit. He’d failed in acting perfectly natural; calling attention to himself when he didn’t deserve it, or had been ordered to attract it.
The pet was sure Jack answered the girl’s cheerful call, but to his own chagrin he didn't quite hear it; already ushered out the door in front of the captain. Fuck.
"Come on, let’s find a place to eat."
Again, Ianto tried to reach for the bag in his master's hand. It was his job to carry things like this, his job to serve. But Jack slipped his own into the offered hand, and pulled him back the way they'd come.
It was hard to keep his breathing level. Hard to act like he was used to walking at another man's side instead of crawling behind him. Hard to remain pliable, when he wanted to bolt for every dark hole he saw. Hard to keep his eyes on the captain, their positions made it awkward and unnatural; too much like a young couple so star struck they couldn't watch where they were going.
The hope that they'd go back to the hub and eat in was crushed when Jack took a right where they'd come from the left. They were now headed for the park. Perhaps he'd be allowed to kneel next to a park bench? The thought made him feel happy, like the dog he was becoming.
But what if Jack wanted more? It would be a tough call between mindless obedience and acting like a normal human. What if Jack left him tied to a tree; an unwanted pet waiting for a kind RSPCA working to find? Except he'd be found by police officers _ and then what?
The daydream kept him busy till Jack veered off the path, and plopped himself down on a bench. Ianto stayed standing, bag clutched tightly in a sweating hand that had thankfully not started trembling again. Instinct told him to kneel — you don't stand taller than your betters — but he hadn't been given permission, and it would be breaking character.
He watched the other man unpack the food on the seat next to him. Again, the smell of chips made his stomach clench and nearly gurgle. The pet prepared himself to watch his master eat. God he was hungry. Not that he preferred days of near starvation to this, but after a while he'd grown used to the lack of food. These days, he'd pretty much accustomed to being somewhat fed. The hunger crept up on him instead of accompanying him from day to day.
This would be a good reminder of his status. He couldn't forget. He could never forget.
When Jack snuck his first chip, and licked the greasy salt from his fingers, Ianto remembered the drinks. Cursing himself fluently yet silently again, he held the second bag out.
He meant for his master to choose the can wanted, but Jack just took the bag from him entirely and pointed to the third of bench still unoccupied.
He hadn't sat like a free man in months. Stiffly, Ianto lowered himself onto the bench. In truth, he was just waiting for Jack to kick him off and yell at him for daring to take a forbidden position. But the older man just ate chips. This wasn’t the same as being on a bed or a couch to be fucked, and though lying on it to be fed or petted came closer, it still wasn’t assuming any human pose.
Ianto couldn't help but stare at the food. It was so close. Of course he knew better than to try and sneak a chip. The collar would drop him before he'd be able to get them to his mouth. The pain was in no way worth trying to get a taste of food. Hands on his knees, he waited.
"I thought you were hungry?"
The pet closed his eyes. So it would be games tonight.
"I am, sir."
He kept his voice light, not wanting to goad his owner into taking this further.
"Do you want a chip?"
Eyes still closed, Ianto answered in the same bland tone. He couldn't lie, but knew the truth would mean pain and degradation. He readied himself to slip off of the bench and to his knees. Perhaps Jack would let him beg like a dog to just taste the crispy potato; please just a lick. Please, just let me grovel like I’m meant to; I’m not good at this. I’m not human anymore. I’m just a slave. I don’t know how to be like this without you training me.
"Then eat." Jack paused, as the pet opened his eyes in confusion. "That's an order."
And orders were there to be obeyed. The pet reached for the small cardboard box set nearest to him. It was overflowing with crisp, yellow chips; flaky sea-salt melted into the fat.
Would he get to actually taste the food before it was knocked from his hand? Or would he just get to hold it?
Shaking fingertips closed around a single chip, and tugged it free from the pile. He took his time getting it to his watering mouth, the heat warming his chilled fingers. Still as slowly as he could manage — it was so close, so close and delicious, and God the smell — he opened his mouth and let it slip inside.
And suddenly he was chewing. Moaning around the small mouthful, he chewed and chewed and chewed, till he couldn’t justify chewing any longer. Swallowing it was almost depressing. But feeling the food slide down his throat with the flavour still occupying his mouth and mind was nice too.
God he’d missed this. Greasy take away on a colder, cloudless night.
The same ecstasy he felt at the taste of any true food swallowed him whole. From the very first time Jack had let him lick pizza grease off of his fingers, he'd been pretty much programmed to desire it. He'd never decline his slop, or let Jack's scraps go to waste when they were offered to him, but this_ real fucking food _ he couldn't pretend he didn't prefer this.
Licking the salt and vinegar off of his lips, he tried to savour the taste. Jack had asked him if he’d wanted a chip, and he’d been permitted just that. A single chip. It was a mercy he’d spend days thanking his master for. And there was no time like the present to tart grovelling, even if he was pretending to be human. He'd just need to tone it down.
“Thank you, sir.”
He let his hands fall onto his knees again, tongue running across his mouth and lips for any leftover morsel of food. Jack stopped the systematic shovelling of food into his beautiful, beautiful mouth to stare at him. When his owner dropped the piece of battered fish back onto the paper, and swallowed his current mouthful, Ianto knew he’d screwed up.
God why couldn’t he just be good?
“You’re allowed to eat more than just one, Ianto. The fish fingers are for you too. You do like them, don’t you?”
He wasn’t supposed to hide his emotions, not from his master, but he wanted to hide the complete lack of comprehension from the other man. It made him feel stupider than he knew he already was; useless and so unwanted. Still, he just blinked owlishly at his owner, large eyes flashing to the food and then back up again.
“Don't you like fish fingers?”
A question. He was meant to answer those. The pet found his words, some of them at least.
“Yes, sir I like them? Or yes, sir I don't like them?”
“Yes, sir. I like them, sir.”
Ianto parroted back what applied. Truth. He could say nothing but the truth. All he had to do was obey, and it would all be all right. Obey, and it won’t get worse.
“And you’re hungry?”
“I’m hungry, sir.”
He really should be able to do more than just take the words offered to him and change the intonation, but most of his higher brain functions were occupied, trying to make sense of the situation.
“You want to eat the food I bought for you?”
“I_” Here, he hesitated. This was some sort of line he wasn’t meant to cross. He was sure of it. But he was stupid, Jack had told him so very, very often. What if what he thought he knew was suddenly wrong? “I would be very happy to eat the food, sir.”
Pain. He was meant to be in pain right now. He’d learnt to expect it.
“Then eat. Again. That’s an order.”
Orders. He wasn’t to disobey orders. That at least, he was sure of. That he knew to be true.
The pet picked up another chip.
“I can’t eat all this on my own anyway. It takes work to stay this good looking you know.”
His master grinned at him, and the pet found himself returning the facial expression, if at a lower intensity. It suddenly made sense. Why would a pair of men, obviously together, order for only one of them? It was more natural to provide food for the both of them. And though Jack could put away massive amounts of food, chips were not a healthy choice of food. Even with his superior genetics and high energy routines, this much food would make someone sick. Once again within the lines he recognised, the pet put the chip in his mouth. Throwing the food away would be unnatural, and a complete waste of what was a very good meal.
Before he knew it, Ianto had eaten half of the small portion of chips, and daintily nibbled four fish fingers out of existence. It was pure heaven to sit here and enjoy the food. It was near sinful how much he delighted in the flavour and texture of the pretty low quality meal. Not that it wasn’t great fish and chips _ it just didn’t somehow transform into a healthy if decadent meal because he hadn’t had it in months.
Through the meal, he had to constantly restrain himself from falling to his knees and licking the dirt from Jack’s shoes in gratitude. He was so, so unworthy of this. Yet somehow, by the grace of his master, he was sitting on a park bench eating fish and chips.
Fish fingers and chips, to be exact. He wouldn’t have minded to be handed actual haddock, but any food was a novelty. The crunch and flake of the protein was heavenly is contrast with his slop. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t been fed his slop in a while. Groaning inwardly, he focussed on the flavours in his mouth. God, he’d remember these when he was once again on the floor licking gloop from a bowl. This was a treat. A moment in time he was thankful for. So, so thankful.
“Thank you, sir.”
It was the eighth time he’d paused his dinner to address the other man, and like all six before this one, Jack just nodded once and kept eating. It was normal. He was used to being ignored, so the nod was actually a step up from that.
When all but one of his fish fingers were gone, Ianto felt his stomach starting to protest. He was full. He hadn’t been this full in a long, long time. Since before the collar, at least. And even then, he’d been too stressed out to truly eat enough. Plotting to destroy humanity wasn’t conducive to one’s appetite.
He ate another piece of fish, slowing down his rate of chewing; savouring rather than just eating. He was grateful for the small portion, especially compared to Jacks. The captain had ordered a large container filled to the brim with chips, and two fillets of battered spiced haddock. He wouldn’t be able to put away a quantity like that, and he didn’t ever want to be punished for not finishing his food. It would look beyond ungrateful, and he would never be unhappy about the prospect of food.
The last chips were a sheer delight. It had been ages since he’d been full beyond capacity. He poked at the remnant salt left in the cardboard box, and licked it from the tips of his fingers. Delicious. And probably the only meal he’d get for a while.
During his meal, the pet had never lost focus on his owner — he knew better now — so the question didn’t startle him.
“Yes, sir. Thank you. I’m very, very grateful.”
He’d been willing to spend days thanking Jack for the single chip he’d initially thought he’d be getting. He would remember this kindness till the day he died. Jack nodded, and started to clear up the papers. Ianto hastened to start cleaning up too.
“Please, sir. Let me.”
Jack looked at him for a second, and Ianto’s heart clenched at the thought that he’d done something wrong again. But then Jack sat back up, and let his slave do what he was meant to do.
Ianto quickly crumpled up the paper and cardboard boxes and stuffed them and the used napkins into the empty bag. There was a bin just a couple of steps away, but he needed permission to move. Permission Jack granted with another nod.
It felt good to be on his feet again; off of the bench. He wasn’t meant to sit. Slave’s don’t sit; they kneel and crawl. He remained standing again, when it was done, reaching for the bag of cans when Jack got up. He was the servant here, he carried and fetched, and served.
To have a meal bought especially for him, no matter how much it fit their cover, was odd. Ever since he'd been forced to switch to slop and his bowl, he'd known the only real food he'd get were scraps he begged for. Weeks — no months — he'd spend months trying to thank the captain for this mercy. Perfect, he'd have to be perfect. Anything less than that would be an insult!
Walking home was pretty much uneventful. Because that was what the hub was for him now, the pet realised; his home.
He belonged in the hub, bound to it through more than the collar. He'd never get to leave it, not truly. He wasn't exactly sure how this outing fit into the greater scheme of things, but he wasn't supposed to think about that. With a minute shake of his head, the pet returned to his latest revelation.
Home. He had a home.
It was a nice feeling, Ianto decided. He'd felt lost for a long time, locked in his cell, trying his best to do as commanded. Every waking moment spent trying to stay in the graces of the one man willing to let him serve, never truly certain if he’d succeeded in earning himself a place in their lives.
At least he understood now; he belonged somewhere. The hub wasn’t just a place for him to be stored. Torchwood had a use for him, needed him. Jack was the only one who wanted him, took him out of the dark.
He looked at the hand holding his own, and smiled again. He hadn't smiled a lot, but he couldn't help it now.
He belonged somewhere.
And as long as he did as Jack told him, obeyed the rules set for him, he’d be set to work in his home.
Lax and satisfied, with a belly full of food, Ianto looked down at their joined hands and smiled just a bit. It was nice to try out the expression.
Home. He had a home.