The words were whispered so quietly Ianto had to strain his ears to hear. Jack’s head was bowed as he sat in the oversized bathtub at the St. David’s hotel. Ianto had chivvied him into it as soon as they’d reached the room, keenly aware that Jack was in pain despite his efforts to hide it. He’d always been able to tell, even when no one else seemed to notice, and he knew Jack appreciated the way he gave what assistance he could without making a big deal of it.
Not that Jack had been in any condition to refuse when Ianto had filled the bath and insisted on helping him to undress and get in; he’d winced with every movement, and Ianto had winced too when he’d seen the bruises, fading to greens and yellows but still clearly visible. Hopefully the hot water would soak away the residual aches and muscle spasms from the broken back Jack had suffered when John Hart had thrown him off the roof of the office building.
“Sorry?” Ianto dragged his thoughts back to the present. “Why? It’s not like this is the first time I’ve had to take care of you post-resurrection. You know, I could get you some painkillers if you want. There’s a chemist’s downstairs.”
“No, I’ll be okay, the heat’s helping. Anyway, I wasn’t talking about this. I meant I’m sorry for what I did. I’m not sorry I left, but I am sorry for the way I left.” Jack looked up then, his face tired and drawn, his normally bright blue eyes still shadowed with pain, and tried to smile, but it weas a weak effort. “I’m not explaining myself very well, am I?”
“No, but at least you’re trying, which makes a change. You don’t usually bother explaining yourself at all.” Ianto perched on the side of the bath, so they could talk more or less face-to-face. Whatever Jack was trying to tell him, Ianto wanted to be able to look him in the eye. He was still angry with his captain, but he was willing to listen; he owed Jack that much. “So, let me see if I’ve got this straight; you’re sorry but you’re not? Isn’t that kind of a contradiction?”
Jack shook his head, staring past Ianto at the bathroom wall. “It’s complicated. I had to leave when I did; I needed answers, needed to know what happened to me and why I can’t stay dead.” His eyes met Ianto’s. “You have to understand, I’d been waiting for over a century, and when I heard the TARDIS… I was ready, I’d been ready since the start of the millennium. I didn’t have to pack; all I needed was the clothes I was wearing, and the hand in its jar. I couldn’t wait around and explain, there wasn’t time. I didn’t know how long the Doctor would stop for, refuelling the TARDIS doesn’t take long, and I couldn’t miss my chance, so the moment I heard the sound of it materialising, I ran.”
“Without so much as leaving a note to tell us you were going,” Ianto pointed out. “You just abandoned us without a second thought.”
“I know.” Leaning back carefully, Jack gazed sightlessly up at the ceiling. “Like I said, I’m sorry.”
“You’d been ready and waiting for years, but you didn’t have a note prepared, or an email waiting to be sent? I find that hard to believe.” He might have been sympathetic to Jack’s suffering, that didn’t mean Ianto was going to let him off the hook so easily.
“I did, but…” Jack trailed off, sighing heavily and closing his eyes. “I took it with me. I forgave you, all of you, but you betrayed me and that hurt; it wasn’t something I could just shrug off and forget about. It was petty and selfish, I know, but I guess I wanted to retaliate, just in a small way. Make you feel a bit of what I felt when you all turned against me.”
“A small way?” Ianto raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “You abandoned us for over three months without a word! We had no idea whether you’d left of your own free will or been abducted. Worse, we didn’t know if you’d ever come back! All those months we were struggling to keep Torchwood running and do our jobs, at the same time trying our best to keep anyone from finding out you’d gone missing, and you did it just to punish us?”
“No!” Jack protested, sitting up straight and staring into Ianto’s eyes as if willing him to understand. “It wasn’t like that!”
“But you just said…”
Jack cut him off. “I had a note written, and I’d meant to leave it on my desk where you’d see it, but I changed my mind. After everything… I figured you all deserved to worry, to wonder if I’d left you for good. But I never intended to be gone so long! The TARDIS isn’t just a spaceship, it’s a time machine; I thought I could go with the Doctor, get my answers, maybe travel with him for a bit, take some time to put everything that happened behind me, and have him drop me back in Cardiff a day or two after I left. Just enough time for the rest of you to get worried, but not long enough to cause any serious problems. Like I said, I was being petty, and I’m not proud of it.”
“Okay.” It certainly sounded like the sort of thing Jack might consider suitable payback. “So why didn’t you do that?”
“I couldn’t! I meant to, but then everything went wrong.” There was a haunted look in Jack’s eyes before he turned away to stare at the wall again. “I can’t talk about it.”
“Typical,” Ianto huffed, annoyed. “You never can; it’s always the same tired excuse. Well, speaking for the team, we’ve heard it before, and we’re sick of it. Anything important, anything we need to know, you just clam up and say you can’t talk about it. Can’t you just be honest for once?”
“I’m sorry.” Jack’s shoulders slumped. “I do want to tell you; not the others, just you, but it’s too soon. I can’t.” His face paled and he shivered despite the steam enveloping him. “I don’t even want to think… For you, it was three months, but for me it was… a lot longer.”
Ianto reached for Jack’s shoulder, only to have him flinch away; withdrawing his hand, he rested it on his own knee instead. “So you weren’t off having fun then.” It wasn’t a question.
“Not fun, no. Just, please don’t ask me to explain. Not yet, not when everything’s still so fresh in my mind.”
What could Ianto say to that? Jack was never one to beg, not like this. Sighing, he raked one hand through his hair. “Okay, I won’t ask, but I can’t make promises for the rest of the team.”
“I don’t expect you to.” Jack’s eyes skittered to Ianto’s face then away again. “I really am sorry though. I swear I would have come back sooner if I could have. I don’t expect you to forgive me, I just wanted you to know. You deserve to know. I never meant to leave you alone for so long.”
“I believe you.”
“Thank you.” Jack dredged up a weak but grateful smile.
“The others though… I don’t think they’ll forgive you quite as easily as you forgave us.”
“Probably not. It wasn’t your fault though, opening the Rift. Not really. Bilis Manger manipulated all of you, playing on your wants and fears. You thought you were doing the right thing. Forgiving you was the easy part. None of us knew what would be unleashed.”
“Doesn’t make it any better, does it? We almost destroyed the world.”
Jack gave a humourless chuckle. “Call it a rite of passage. Been there, done that; not something to be proud of but people make mistakes. It’s part of being human. Besides, almost doesn’t count. World’s still here.”
“Thanks to you.” Ianto bowed his head and rubbed the back of his neck; the events of the day, night, whatever, were catching up to him. He caught Jack’s eyes and smiled wryly. “Apology noted. You forgave us our mistakes, Jack. We’ll forgive yours. Eventually.”