To say that things went back to normal would be an overstatement of a criminal sort. Everyone went out of their way to treat him civilly, which made Ianto feel about as cozy as swallowing battery acid. He could deal with Gwen’s inquiries — mostly by ignoring them. What? Did she actually think he would say that, yes, he was quite all right? His girlfriend had just died violently, but that’s ok. That sort of thing happened all the time, to all sorts of people. No. He may have been a better actor than any of them had suspected, but never that good. He could even deal with Toshiko getting him coffee; all jokes aside, coffee was the secret to the remaining shreds of his capacity to function as a human being. Even if she did put more sugar than coffee into the cup. When Owen stopped in the middle of telling him to fetch a sandwich from the local deli, though, with a “Never mind, I’ll get it. Hey, do you want anything?” - that’s when Ianto started thinking of himself as a dead man.
He didn’t even flinch when Jack tapped him on the shoulder, sometime late in the afternoon. “Ianto. Just the man I was looking for. I’m going to need your help on a project. You game?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” If Ianto cared enough, he would have told Jack that he was doing a piss-poor job of trying to sound cheerful. “Meet me out by the van in fifteen minutes.” Jack turned to go, then changed his mind. “Oh, and could you grab a shovel on your way out? We’re gonna need more than one, and I’ve only got so many hands.”
Whatever else that shovel was for — and Ianto could think of a few less-than-wonderful possibilities — it gave him something to grip, so that no one could see his hands shaking.
He straightened up his workstation before leaving. Just in case.
By the time he got outside, the van was already loaded and Jack was out waiting for him.
“Sorry I took so long, Sir.” The words slipped out on their own; a force of habit and not at all what he really wanted to say.
Jack gave him a half-hearted smile. “Make it up to me by letting me drive?”
Ianto nodded, taking the passenger’s seat. The seatbelt was too tight, cutting into his neck and shoulder, but he didn’t bother trying to fix it. If he were lucky, they wouldn’t be in the car for too long.
As it turned out, he wasn’t lucky, which really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, all things considered. They drove past the Cardiff city limits and kept driving. Ianto counted the miles and road signs until it started to get dark. Eventually, he thought to try and turn the stereo on, to drown out the oppressive silence hanging over them, only to find it broken, dented as though someone had punched it in a blind fury. He could take two guesses as to who.
“You should look into getting that replaced,” Ianto said.
Jack had the decency to look guilty. “Yeah, I know, I know. It’s coming out of my paycheck. But hell, it’s not like I can’t afford it.”
The van was freezing cold. Or maybe that was just Ianto’s sense of certain doom acting up. Either or. “I guess you should probably look into getting me replaced as well. Someone’s gotta clean up after you lot, or you’ll just drown in your own rubbish and get arrested for good measure.”
Finally, that got a reaction out of Jack. “Get you replaced? Why? You thinking of quitting?”
Ianto squared his jaw. “Not on my own free will, no. But, well, you’re taking me out in the middle of nowhere. You told me to bring a bloody shovel, for fuck’s sake. I can read the signs, Jack. If you’re going to kill me, at least have the decency to say so, instead of playing these stupid games, yeah?” Being brave was easy, when you had nothing left to lose.
Jack didn’t even stop driving. “If I was going to kill you, I wouldn’t waste your time, my time, or the van’s gasoline. And I wouldn’t need a shovel when we’ve got a perfectly good morgue on the premises.”
And that, in so many words, was why Ianto believed Jack’s American accent was genuine, despite the man’s lack of background. If he were from anywhere else in the world, he would have learned tact at some point in his life. And yet. Pathetic as it sounded, he felt reassured. Not safe — nothing like safe - but reassured nonetheless. That was another thing about Jack. He could make you believe what he was saying, no matter what it was he actually said, or how he said it. This alone made him more dangerous than almost anyone else Ianto had met.
“So if you’re not going to kill me —“ Ianto left off the ‘yet’. “If you’re not going to kill me, then would you mind telling me what we’re about to do? I’m generally much more useful when I know what I’m doing.”
“In a moment. Hold on…” Jack made a turn off the highway, and that was when Ianto realized he knew where they were.
“Llandrindod. But that’s…” That’s where Lisa’s family was from, and Jack had no right to be here; had no right to bring him here. He gripped his seatbelt until his knuckles turned white.
“Don’t worry,” Jack said. “We won’t be making any house calls tonight.” He took one hand off the steering wheel to dig a map out of the glove compartment. “Now, I think we’re supposed to go left here?”
“Left’s the cemetery.” Ianto’s eyes narrowed.
“Is it?” Jack turned left and stopped the car.
It was fully dark now, and the grounds appeared abandoned. Ianto didn’t ask how Jack knew about Lisa being supposedly buried here. It must have been in the personnel records — she did belong to Torchwood, once. The grave held no body, of course, but after Torchwood had informed Mr. and Mrs. Hallett that their daughter was dead, giving them some closure was the least Ianto could do. They hadn’t questioned the closed coffin.
They hadn’t questioned his having survived, either. One of twenty-seven, compared to the hundreds — thousands, if you looked beyond Torchwood — who had lost their lives. He’d expected them to hate him, and when they didn’t, it only made bringing Lisa back that much more urgent.
Maybe he’d hurried too much; been too hasty. Maybe if he’d taken more care, Lisa would still be alive, still be safe back at Torchwood. And maybe he was an idiot. No, he was definitely an idiot, no maybes about that. But even a fool could have succeeded, if he’d simply taken more care.
The van’s back doors creaked as they were opened. Ianto’s first thought was to note that they needed oiling and he would have to do it, if no one else would. His second thought was to look inside. The van’s storage compartment held the refrigeration unit. The same one they normally used when there was a corpse to collect or transport.
He gave Jack a puzzled look.
“Well, it’s not like we can use her body as a replacement for anyone else, modified as it is. The technology is decades ahead of our time, to say nothing of the mass hysteria that would ensue. And if some university wants a Cyberman to study,” Jack shrugged, “that’s their problem, not mine.”
And so, everything fell into place. “Jack,” Ianto said through grit teeth, “please, shut up.”
He expected Jack to… He didn’t know what he expected Jack to do. Certainly not to say “understood,” with a military nod, and pull his own shovel out of storage.
All those months ago, they’d held a funeral for Lisa Hallett, while the woman herself still fought for her life. Tonight, she would be laid to rest for real and for good.
Wordlessly, Ianto led the way to the Hallett family plot. The grave may have been a decoy, but he knew its location all too well. It drew him; served as a reminder of what he had to do. And now? Now, it would serve as final testament to his failure.
Her monument was a small one; more of a placing stone, half-buried in the off-color grass. The dates on it were all wrong, but the engraved words spoke of a woman who was loving and loved, and well. He could live with that.
If they worked carefully, they could leave the stone where it was planted. One look from Jack, and he knew they would work carefully.
There was nothing easy or pleasant about this job. It was only November, but the ground had already begun to harden and freeze, till it felt like their shovels were striking rock. Jack was the one to methodically remove the topsoil, placing it aside. They would need it again. As the hours wore on, Ianto found himself covered with upended dirt, like he was the one who’d been buried there and had just spent the night clawing his way out of the grave. There was dirt on his suit, dirt in his shoes, dirt streaking his face like camouflage paint. If he’d looked to the side, he could have seen Jack sharing his fate, only worse.
By the time they were done, it was eleven minutes to midnight, something he wouldn’t have known if not for his digital watch. Jack stopped to wipe his hands on his shirt, then pulled out an anti-grav lifter. Handy gadget, that. One of the few to survive the decimation of Torchwood One, only to be made useful by Torchwood Three. Ianto could relate.
He watched as Jack stood over the grave, fiddling with the device’s magnetic switches, until a dry hum filled the air, and the coffin they’d uncovered began to rise. It clamped on to the anti-grav, and Jack moved it deftly off to the side.
And Ianto? Ianto couldn’t move. Found it rather difficult to breathe, actually. His throat closed up and he’d lost all stability in his knees, and any second now, he’d have to turn and walk away or risk another public breakdown.
If Jack said something now, be it comforting or brusque, Ianto would not be responsible for his actions.
But when he turned to look, Jack was gone, leaving him alone by the side of an empty grave and an unearthed coffin. There was something funny about it. Or possibly morbid. At the moment, Ianto would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
He didn’t know how long he waited until the snap of a twig underfoot signaled Jack’s return. Even in the dark, Ianto could see that Jack had not come back empty handed. In his arms, he carried the body of Lisa Hallett, wrapped in a mortician’s green bag.
Very gently, he handed her over to Ianto. “You do it.”
Ianto nodded, accepting the apology for what it was.
He laid the body down on the grass and unzipped the bag. The stiffness of death had already set in, but Lisa’s eyes were closed. Someone had washed the blood from her face and pulled a hospital gown over the mockery of the Cyberman armor. For this, Ianto was grateful above all else. “I’m sorry,” he told her, because what else was there left to say? “I love you, but I guess you already know that. I hope you know it, anyway. Because I do. I love you, Lisa.” His shoulders were shaking, and when tears began to streak their way through the dirt on his face, he didn’t do anything to keep them back. Not this time.
Then, he put her inside the coffin and closed the lid.
It took much less time for the grave to be refilled. A few alterations to the municipal files, and no one would question the dishabille they left at the site. When the work was done, they stood there, side by side, and for the first time, Ianto found it bearable to look Jack in the eye.
“No need. Like I said…”
“Like you already said, so there’s really no need to say it again.”
So Jack didn’t.
“I feel like someone should be saying a prayer or something,” Ianto said after a long, full silence.
Jack looked up at the sky. “It’d have to be you. I’m not exactly a believer in much of anything.”
“Me neither,” Ianto admitted quietly. “It’s kind of hard, what with our jobs and all.” His fists clenched at his sides. “What kind of God would…”
“No kind,” was Jack’s reply.
Another silence, then: “Jack?”
“What happened while I was out? After Lisa threw me.”
Jack shook his head. “Beats me. I was out for most of it, too. Nasty business, electricity.”
A corner of Ianto’s mouth quirked up. “So you were unconscious when I woke up to you snogging me, then?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “You can file a sexual harassment complaint, when we get back to the office.”
“In other words, you gave me mouth-to-mouth?”
“Sort of, yeah.”
“Jack? Exactly how dead was I?” He’d meant it in a ‘if you hadn’t gotten there’ sense, but the way Jack didn’t respond made him wonder.
“You can hate me for it later.” Jack turned and started walking back toward the van.
The fucked up part of it was, Ianto did hate him for it, a little.
“Why me?” he asked Jack’s retreating back.
“Why which? ‘Why does shit keep happening to me?’ Because it does that. ‘Why did you save me?’ Because I wanted to. Or maybe it’s ‘why did I survive Canary Wharf?’ Is that it? Is that what you’re really asking?”
He turned on his heel, closing the distance between them again and taking Ianto’s face in his hands. “There’s no rhyme to it, Ianto. No reason why we survive, while others around us die. It’s like asking why some of your scrambled eggs stick to the frying pan, no matter how hard you try to scrape them out.”
Ianto was shaking. “You said ‘we’.”
He didn’t think he would get Jack to admit to anything, but he did file the information away for later. Even at Torchwood, there were no files on Captain Jack Harkness. He was the one man the team knew even less about than Ianto himself. Well, maybe it was appropriate, that Ianto would be one of the first to learn.
“Let’s go home,” Jack said. “We both have work in the morning.”
“Actually, Sir, it’s morning already.”
“Fine. Work later in the morning, with a fair option of calling in sick.”
Ianto rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You know I won’t do that.”
“Your call.” Ianto could barely make out Jack’s face by the torchlight. “Now, let’s go home.”