A month-long suspension from work was a better outcome than Ianto would have expected, if his mind hadn’t been too numb to consider his situation and the alternatives. By his own blind stupidity, he might well have caused the entire population of the planet to be either converted into metal monsters, or deleted, killed, slaughtered… The whole of humanity might have been obliterated, and it would have been his fault; it was too much to get his head around.
Only the decisive actions of Jack and the rest of the team had prevented the Cyberman that had once been Lisa from escaping the Hub and dooming them all. Ianto should have seen the truth, that Lisa was gone, but he’d been too consumed by his need to save her to see what was right in front of him, and two people had paid for his blindness with their lives. That was two too many, and yet it could have been so much worse. The guilt was overwhelming.
He’d lied, deceived, and betrayed the people he’d been working with for the last few months; he’d brought a monster into their home and tended to it, helping it grow strong, and when it had got loose and tried to kill them all, he’d still tried to keep them from killing it. They had every right to hate him, and no reason at all to welcome him back among them, trust him again, and yet here he was, back at work because Jack said it was time he got on with his life and started making amends. He wasn’t sure he could face them, but at the same time he didn’t feel he had a choice, so when the Cogwheel door opened, he stepped inside, remembering the last thing Jack had said to him the night before.
“They’re angry right now, but they’ll forgive you; it’ll just take time.”
Time. That seemed to be all Ianto had left anyway: time and Torchwood. So he entered the Hub and got to work, fetched and carried for the rest of the team, catered to their every need without argument or complaint, tried to make up for what he’d done and what Lisa had done, and time passed. A day, a week, a month…
Tosh was the first to make a gesture of forgiveness, two weeks into his reinstatement, bringing him a coffee one morning, but his shame was still so great that he couldn’t bring himself to drink it. He felt like he didn’t deserve it, it was much too soon. Gwen was the next, bringing in cupcakes for all of them, including Ianto. How did she even know his favourite? He thanked her and ate it, because to not do so would have been rude, but it tasted of guilt.
Owen was more straightforward; he wasn’t the gift-giving type. A week after the cannibal incident, as he was checking that Ianto’s injuries were healing, he suddenly broke the silence between them, speaking quietly so only Ianto would hear.
“I lost my fiancée to an alien. If I’d thought I might be able to save her, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done. If there’d been even the smallest chance…” He fell silent for a moment, then added, “Just sayin’, I get why you did it. It was stupid and dangerous, but in your shoes I’d probably have done the same thing.” He didn’t seem to expect a reply, so Ianto kept quiet, and neither of them said another word until the examination was complete. Finally Owen removed his gloves and told Ianto, “You’ll live. Now get outta here, I’ve got other patients to see.”
Ianto left without a word.
As for Jack… Ianto vaguely remembered his boss visiting him several times while he was on suspension, but the memories were hazy and unclear. He’d been too sunk in grief to really take in what was going on around him, but he thought he recalled Jack bringing him food and making sure he ate, sitting beside him, offering comfort in his grief. Did he really hear Jack say “I forgive you” or did he imagine that part? He wasn’t sure, and he certainly wasn’t about to ask. It would be too much to bear if it turned out not to be true. He didn’t deserve forgiveness, but that didn’t keep him from wanting it.
More time passed, and Ianto was working late yet again. It was better than going home to his empty flat to either lie awake unable to sleep, or sink into nightmares filled with blood and fire and pain and terror, clanking footsteps, and those chilling, emotionless metallic voices. Keeping busy helped to make the time pass more quickly, and the passage of time made the memories start to blur. Time heals all wounds, or so it was said. He could only hope that was true.
“You know they’ve forgiven you.” Jack’s voice behind him made Ianto jump; it probably shouldn’t have since he knew Torchwood’s leader was somewhere about, but he’d been so deep in his own thoughts…
Ianto didn’t turn around. “Have they? I almost got them all killed. Or converted. Two people died because of me.”
“Two people died because the Cyberman killed them,” Jack corrected him.
“But I brought her… it here, and Tanizaki came because I sent for him…”
“Yes. You made a mistake, a lot of mistakes, but that’s in the past now. The others have forgiven you, and so have I. Now it’s time you forgave yourself.”
Ianto put down the files he was holding and shook his head. “I can’t, I don’t know how. I just keep going over and over everything in my head, what I did, what I should’ve done. Why didn’t I see that thing wasn’t Lisa anymore? I should’ve seen. I should’ve killed it instead of helping it, but I couldn’t, it still looked so much like her.” His voice caught in a sob as fresh grief flooded through him.
“You didn’t see because it didn’t want you to. Ianto, the moment the conversion was started, Lisa was gone, but the cyber mind still had access to all of her memories. It tricked and manipulated you, used Lisa’s voice to coerce you into helping it survive, because it needed you. When you pulled Lisa’s body out of the machine, the conversion hadn’t gone far enough for the Cyberman to function independently of it, so it used you to get what it needed, to protect it, and to transport it to a place of safety. If you’d known about Cybermen it would have been different, but what information Torchwood One had on them was incomplete and way above a junior researcher’s security clearance. You didn’t know, and now you have to stop blaming yourself, put the past behind you and move on.”
Ianto turned to face Jack at last, looking at him beseechingly. “How, Jack? How do I do that? I wouldn’t even know where to begin!” He wiped away tears of mingled frustration and grief. Before he could move he found himself enfolded in the warmth of Jack’s embrace, the other man’s voice speaking softly in his ear.
“You have to say ‘I am forgiven’ again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, it won’t be, but if you say it often enough, and with enough conviction, eventually it’ll become the truth. I know; I’ve been where you are now. You can get through this.” Jack pulled back to look Ianto in the eye. “None of us is perfect, Ianto. We’re only human; we all make mistakes and we all have to pay the price for them, but in the end we all have to learn from our mistakes, forgive ourselves, and try to do better. You’re not the first person to screw up, and you won’t be the last. What matters isn’t what you did before, but what you’ll do from now on. Understand? The past can’t be changed, but the future’s an open book, and you can make a difference if you try.”
Ianto nodded. “Okay. I’ll try.”
“Good. That’s all anyone can ask. Now go home, get some rest; tomorrow’s going to be a busy day. The filing can wait a few hours.”
“I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight, Ianto.”
“Goodnight, Sir.” Ianto started towards the door, then paused, looking back over his shoulder. “Jack?”
Jack smiled. “Any time.”
The cog door closed behind him and Ianto rode the lift to the surface deep in thought. Passing through the Tourist Office, he took a deep breath as he stepped out into the cool night air. “I am forgiven,” he told himself quietly. “I am forgiven.” Three simple little words that meant so much. Striding towards the ramp up to the Plas, he kept repeating them over and over in his head. He wondered how long it would take before he believed them.