“Did you need anything, sir?” Ianto asked.
It was after hours. All the others had gone home. Even Tosh had managed to call her family and get to the birthday party only a little late. Jack, however, was still brooding. His aborted affair with the real Captain Jack Harkness was burning and churning in his mind. He’d wanted that man so much. Wanted him more than he’d wanted anyone in ages. He supposed if he wanted to go all psychological someone could say that he’d wanted him because he was him, in a way, but he didn’t want to think that way. The real Captain Jack had been charming and generous and sweet and gentle and brave, and Jack almost didn’t feel worthy of the name anymore. And his heart was aching for leaving him, aching for the death he’d always known was inevitable. He felt painfully lonely. There was no one who loved him, no one to be gentle and sweet and loving, like that anxious hand that nervously gripped his, or the desperate longing in his eyes as they danced together, and that sweet, sweet, heartbreaking kiss....
Jack looked up from where he lay on the couch. Ianto was just standing there. Jack had tuned the hub’s computer monitor to an American comedy talk show, and had settled in to get as drunk as his bizarre biology would allow him to become. Which wasn’t drunk enough, he’d discovered over the years. He couldn’t pass out. He couldn’t overdose. But he could get blurry and dull the pain, and that was exactly what he meant to do. Ianto’s phrase was usually code. After the others had gone, Did you need anything, sir, usually meant Did you want to fuck?
“Not tonight, Ianto,” Jack said, closing his eyes. No angry semi-rape against the wall tonight. He was too heartsick. He didn’t want to think about what hadn’t happened back in 1941, what should have happened, what couldn’t happen. He rubbed his forehead and waited for Ianto to leave.
Jack looked back up at him. “I said not tonight.”
“Understood, sir.” There was a long moment in which Ianto swallowed. Jack could see his adams apple move. Then, with a sudden movement he strode towards Jack and took up the bottle of scotch. As smoothly as trained bartender, he refilled Jack’s glass and set the bottle just out of reach. “Will there be anything else, sir?”
“Just go home, Ianto,” Jack said. “I’m not up to anything tonight.”
“I know.” He paused. “I just....” He stopped again.
Finally he sighed, turned, and flopped himself down on the couch, dragging Jack’s feet into his lap in a gesture more casual, and more intimate, than any of the highly intense sex-play they’d been indulging in behind closeted doors. Jack wasn’t wearing his shoes, and Ianto idly rubbed the soles of his feet as he settled in to watch the comedy show.
Jack was a little too drunk to question the gesture overmuch. He knew it was out of character. Ianto hated him, after all. Their sex-play was more of a constant passion battle than it was anything else. They didn’t have the kind of relationship that watched television or had dinner together. They worked together, and they fucked violently after hours, and that was it. But here Ianto was, holding his feet. Jack couldn’t think about it, so he dismissed it. All he knew was that Ianto was warm, and the hub was always a little dank, and thus a little cold. So long as Ianto didn’t interrupt his drinking, fine. The comedy show made him smile occasionally, and distracted him from thinking too hard, and the scotch made everything liquid and fuzzy. It was better than remembering.
Ianto didn’t leave. Jack never slept anymore — he thought he might have forgotten how — so he switched to another show when that one was over, than another. And Ianto didn’t leave. Jack sobered up a little once or twice, stirring, but Ianto refilled his glass each time he seemed to need it, and he melted back down into furry semi-oblivion. But it couldn’t last forever. Finally he was sick of mindless televison and turned the machine back to its primary job of scientific monitoring.
Jack was sobering up again, but the bottle was out of reach, and he didn’t feel like getting up to get it. Finally he asked the question that had been hovering over their heads ever since Ianto sat down, the question that Ianto had deflected by pouring more and more scotch into Jack’s glass.
“Ianto, why are you here?”
Ianto almost laughed. “Why am I ever here?”
To fuck was usually the answer. To beat out the anger and the grief and the rage. To fill the empty hours of Ianto’s pain-laced life. But that didn’t seem to be the answer tonight. “I don’t know,” Jack said. “But it’s not for me.”
There was a short silence. “Yes, it is. It’s always been for you.”
“Yeah, right,” Jack said, still too drunk to keep his mouth shut. “You hate me.”
“It’s easier to hate you,” Ianto said. He stood up, leaving Jack’s feet feeling cold, and reached for the bottle again, filling Jack’s glass smoothly. He sat on the edge of the coffee table and regarded Jack quizzically. “You going to be all right?”
“Since when do you care?”
“Since I shot a man for you,” Ianto said. “Drink up.”
“You shot Owen to keep me away,” Jack said, and obeyed.
“I shot him to do what you’d want me to do,” Ianto said. “To follow your orders. I knew we’d have time. If Gwen had brought that card back to the hub, we could have figured out a way to reveal what those numbers had been. Blood residue doesn’t vanish, even if the pigment is gone. A little ultra-violet, and it would have glowed at us like neon. But Owen couldn’t wait.” Ianto shook his head. “He always wants to fight.”
“And you don’t?” Jack sputtered, constant battles echoing in his head; the two of them wrestling for control in his bed, beating each other into submission, both their supposed souls damned to eternal hell, if their curses held any weight with the god Jack had never believed in. Their sex had been casual and full of lies at first. Then after Lisa, it had vanished altogether, until Ianto had broken under the pressure and the loneliness, and come back to him. Now it had all the violence of rape, and sometimes the language of rape. Outside of passionate, carnivorous biting, they never kissed. Apart from the occasional post-coital lethargy, Ianto rarely even let him hold him. Ianto was always fighting him.
“No, actually. I don’t.”
Jack took another swallow of his scotch. “Could have fooled me,” he said around the edge of the glass.
“I have fooled you,” Ianto said. “I have loved with a depth, a tenderness, and a warmth you probably couldn’t imagine,” Ianto said. He said it gently, without malice. “It leaves you vulnerable, to love like that. And then it was ripped from me. It’s easier to hate. Easier. But that doesn’t make it better.”
“Ianto if you expect me to make sense of this—”
“I don’t,” Ianto said with a slight smile. “If you weren’t slurring drunk, I probably wouldn’t be saying any of this.” He picked up the bottle and refilled Jack’s glass with it. “Have another.”
“I wasn’t meaning to be funny,” Ianto said. “Tosh told me what happened. You remember? She said it was beautiful.”
“It was cruel,” Jack said.
“You fell in love,” Ianto said. He said it simply and with such compassion that Jack was surprised. He tried to focus his blurry eyes, but it was too hard to read Ianto’s expression through all the scotch. “It can happen in a day. It can happen in an hour. It did with me and Lisa.” He paused. “Yes. Love is cruel.”
Ianto went to his knees and reached forward. And then he kissed Jack. He kissed him sweetly, tenderly, none of the angry, grief-filled passion that had poisoned their lovemaking for the last few months. This was a kiss, not a curse. It was warm and wonderful, and Jack melted under it. “I don’t hate you anymore, Jack,” Ianto said when he was done. He looked down, as if he was contemplating saying something else, but all he said when he looked up was, “Goodnight.”
Jack stared after Ianto as he left, confused. When Captain Jack had asked him, Jack had said there was no one. It was true. There was no one to love Jack. No one he could love. No one he could even admit to, as Ianto still wanted to pretend none of it ever happened. But maybe... maybe there could be... if....
It didn’t matter. For one thing, Ianto was totally closeted — even from himself, Jack knew. Jack didn’t like that. He wouldn’t kiss and tell, but he thought it was silly to keep secrets. For another... well, Ianto wouldn’t... would he? Not Ianto. Ianto’s behavior tonight had been wildly out of character, as far as Jack knew Ianto.
But what, breathed a quiet sigh in Jack’s mind, if Ianto’s easy, sympathetic behavior was actually considerably more in character than the frightened, grieving young man had been able to show up until now? Who was that handsome man whose pain vibrated with Jack’s like fiddle strings, made his heart race and his blood boil, who had betrayed him and held faithful to him, who shared his bed, and called him sir?
And why did he have to confuse things tonight?
The golden memory of Captain Jack Harkness had been tainted by Ianto’s behavior. Damn the boy. Jack drained the glass and pressed a button on the computer’s remote, starting up some music from the 1940's. He tried to relive every moment of his time with Captain Jack. The soldier who had kissed him in desperation the night before his death in at a dance hall in 1941.
But somehow, his mind kept straying back to the gentle kiss from the grieving co-worker whom he’d believed hated him. The tender kiss he’d just received from... no one.