Lilac (meatball42) wrote,
Lilac
meatball42

A Matter of Choice, Part 5


Prologue
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


Part 5

Jack didn’t call him for several days straight. Ianto checked the news for odd things, as he’d been learning to, and discovered a medical contractor that’d been shut down by ‘the government’ and a rash of strange deaths at St. Helen’s Hospital and bided his time, hoping Jack and his colleagues were alright. He wondered if this was how the spouses of police officers felt, and thought how strange it was to be in this position.

Finally, Jack called, five days after they’d last spoken. He apologized for not calling and said he was fine, just tired. He did sound tired, very tired, but he asked to see Ianto the next night.

At seven, the usual time, Ianto showed up at Jack’s building and waved to Keith, the security guard Jack had introduced him to after he’d been thrown out. Keith had taken the whole thing with remarkable aplomb, merely asking Jack to warn people the next time he started feeling sick. Ianto was used to saying hello on his way to Jack’s flat, but today Keith waved him over to the security booth instead.

“I haven’t been blacklisted again, have I?” he asked, mostly joking.

Keith chuckled. “Not yet. But I haven’t seen your man around lately. He’s not been hurt or anythin’, has he?”

Ianto frowned. “He was fine when I spoke to him last night. He hasn’t been home?”

Keith waved at the log on his computer. “Not for five days.”

“Is he here now?”

“No, like I said, five days.”

Ianto thought. “Could I go check? I wouldn’t put it past him to try and sneak by you.”

“Aye, he’d probably do it for a laugh,” Keith agreed. “Alright, go on up. But do call him if he’s not their, eh? Rob an’ I’ve been gettin’ worried.”

“Sure.”

Ianto hurried up to Jack’s flat and let himself in with the key Jack had given him. He walked through the rooms, and when it quickly became clear that Jack wasn’t there, Ianto whipped out his mobile and hit speed dial three.

No answer.

And again.

And again.

He dialed Tosh’s number, which he’d got that night at the pub. He’d called before, but she always said she was too busy with work to do anything with him. This time, she didn’t even answer.

He nearly threw the useless phone down the hallway. Why hadn’t he thought to get Lisa’s number again, or one of the others? Now he had no way of contacting his missing boyfriend, no way of seeing if he was alright.

He descended to the ground floor again, filled with an icy panic. Keith gave him a concerned look. “You find him?”

“No, you were right, he’s not home.”

“Should I call the police?”

“No,” Ianto decided, knowing Jack wouldn’t want anyone looking for him if he was at work. “No, I, uh. I’m going to call his work, some friends. See if I can get a hold of them.” He tried to sound more confident than he really was, and, luckily, it seemed like Keith accepted it.

“Alright then, but if something comes up, me or Rob’ll give you a hand, alright?”

“Thanks,” Ianto said a little numbly.

“‘S what we’re here for.”

Three hours later Mike glared at him in annoyance while Ianto paced the flat, silently having a heart attack.

“For God’s sake, will you quit that, you’re givin’ me a migraine,” Mike shot at him after increasingly frustrated glares.

“Sorry,” Ianto said, sitting down on the couch. “I’m just worried. He said he would be there, it‘s not like him to just miss things like this.”

“If by ‘not like him’ you mean it happens every other week!”

Ianto shot him a look. “If you’ve not got anything constructive to say-”

“Constructive?” Mike shouted. “The bugger stood you up! Again! There’s nothin’ to be done about it but find yourself another boyfriend. Or a girlfriend,” he said quickly.

“For the last time, I’m with Jack!” Ianto said angrily. “I’m not going to leave him just because you keep saying I should!”

“All I’m sayin’ is, you should be with someone reliable. Someone who doesn’t scare your arse off every week wonderin’ whether he’s alive or dead!”

“That’s not his fault!”

“I’m not sayin’ it is!” Mike retorted loudly. He threw up his hands “Christ, it’s like living with a girlfriend again, just without any of the benefits.”

Ianto stood up, face dark. “How many times do I have to tell you-”

“No, that wasn’t a dig, I swear.” Mike made a frustrated noise. “I just mean- you’re not happy! You’re stressed, you’re afraid. And you won’t even bloody tell me what’s going on!”

Ianto fell back on the couch and punched the cushion.

[*]

Ianto’s phone rang on the way to work the next morning. Mike, whose turn it was to drive, glanced over and muttered something when he figured out who it was. Ianto ignored him and answered.

“Jack?”

“Sorry, no, this is Gwen.”

“Where’s Jack?” Ianto demanded.

“He’s fine, he wants to say sorry for missing you last night. We got rather bogged down.”

“Why can’t he tell me himself?” he asked through gritted teeth.

Gwen hesitated. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’re really busy around here, and I know-”

“You know what, save it,” Ianto cut her off. “Tell him to try and find a spot in his diary to tell me he’s not dead.”

He snapped the mobile shut and this time, he chucked in into the leg-room of the passenger side, swearing when it bounced and hit his shin.

Mike had good survival instincts: he didn’t laugh. “You alright?”

“I’m fine.”

Wisely, Mike didn’t answer. Instead he switched on the radio and they didn’t speak the rest of the way to the shop.

[*]

By noontime, Ianto was barely managing to keep up a polite face to the customers. It didn’t help that his sister had called and was less than appreciative of his continued excuses for why he couldn’t come visit her and the kids. Every time she called him Hilary Ianto wanted to scream, and having to modulate his voice to make it sound less masculine made his throat ache. He’d almost decided to sod it all and just tell her, but… he did love her, and he didn’t want to lose her, shaky as their relationship may be.

When a broad, clean-shaven man with light brown hair and warm hazel eyes introduced himself as Gwen Cooper’s fiancé, it was just the latest in what was already looking to be a terrible day.

“Why don’t you come to the break room?” he suggested, smiling in a friendly way.

Rhys smiled back. “Thanks mate. And could I get a coffee while you’re at it? Large regular with cream and sugar?”

Ianto’s smile became strained. “Sure.”

He brought back a coffee for himself and the other man. “Did Gwen send you?” he opened.

“Yeah,” Rhys answered, sipping his coffee. “First time I’ve- wow, this is fantastic!” He lifted up his mug like staring at it would make it give up its secrets. “Really, I’ve never had anything this-”

“Thank you,” Ianto said tersely, though he smiled when Rhys looked at him curiously. “What were you saying about Gwen?”

“Oh, yeah, uh,” the man tried to reclaim his train of thought, “yeah! I was sayin’, her tellin’ me to come see you here was the first time I’ve heard from her in days.”

“Really,” Ianto said blandly. He wasn’t sure Rhys was lying, but he wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t either.

“Yeah. Plus, she didn’t say what this was about. Just that I should talk about what we’ve got in common. You, uh,” he dithered for a moment, “you wouldn’t happen to know what that is?”

Ianto waited several moments until he could control his anger. Jack couldn’t find the time- or was it the courage- to call him, so he sent Gwen’s fiancé instead? “I’m Jack’s boyfriend.”

Rhys’ eyes boggled for a long moment and his mouth hung open. Ianto wondered for a moment if Rhys had ever met Jack, and then considered that the problem might be that he had met Jack. Ianto was well aware that Jack could be very flirtatious, even when he was out and about with Ianto.

“That arsehole!” Rhys finally spluttered. “I asked if he was gay, he might have said something!”

“He’s not,” Ianto snapped. “He’s bisexual.”

“Oh,” Rhys said disappointedly, and the guileless and rather funny expression cooled off a little of Ianto’s anger. “But-” the other man bucked up, “he is with you, right? He’s off the market?”

“Yes,” Ianto answered confidently. They hadn’t discussed it in such terms, but Ianto had implied that he wasn’t comfortable with anyone in a couple seeing other people, and Jack had managed to convey he was okay with that. They were blokes. They didn’t need to talk about it.

“Thank God.” Rhys grinned, sat back in his chair and took a long swig of coffee. “There’s a load off my mind. You’ve met my Gwen, right?” Ianto nodded. “I don’t know if you can tell, but she’s quite a catch.”

Ianto rolled his eyes when Rhys took another gulp of coffee.

“So she probably wants us to talk about bein’ Torchwood widowers, then.”

“Being- what?”

“I came up with the name,” Rhys told him, looking proud. “Before Gwen started workin’ for Torchwood, she was a PC. At her level, most of ‘em were single, but some of the higher-ups had wives, and I found out they got called ‘the mistresses.’ Cause their husbands’ work was important, see. So they got shunted to second-best.”

Ianto nodded, trying to pretend he didn’t understand what Rhys was saying. Because he did, all too well.

“Gwen and I work hard on our relationship,” Rhys said seriously. “We’re gonna get married pretty soon. People say marriage is hard work, but I think we’ll be better prepared than most couples. Because we already know about staying together through the tough times and the good times and all that. I love her,” he said, leaning in like it was confidential, “and that’s why I stick around.”

Ianto nodded absently, staring into his own nearly full coffee. “We’ve only been going out for a few months,” he said after a minute.

Rhys nodded and shifted in his chair. “Okay. Then consider this a friendly warning.” He waited until Ianto was looking at him. “This job is tough. I’m not talkin’ about theirs, I’m talkin’ about ours. Gwen’s come home to me with gunshot wounds, traumatized. She’s been poisoned. Last month she forgot who I was.”

Ianto started.

“Other times she can’t stop cryin’. Sometimes I’ll be speakin’ to her and it’s like she’s not there. But it’s my job to be there for her anyway and make sure she’s got everything she needs, because she’s got her head in the stars and I’ve got to keep my feet on the ground. And it’s worth it, because I know she loves me, and she comes home to me every night- well, most nights.” He smiled, “Even with that smiling bastard there, she comes back to me.”

“Why are you doing this?” Ianto whispered.

“Because bein’ with someone in Torchwood is a million times tougher than bein’ with anyone else. And you’ve got to know what you’re in for and be willing to do what you’ve got to, or else you should get out before you hurt the both of you.”

Ianto took a deep breath. With an uncertain hand, he sipped his lukewarm coffee.

Rhys watched him. “I didn’t meant to scare you.”

Ianto shrugged. Rhys shifted uncomfortably.

“Okay, I’m sorry, it’s not usually like I’m makin’ it sound. To be honest, I wouldn’t worry all that much. Captain Jack’s got some kind of supernatural luck or somethin’, I’ve never seen him with so much as a paper cut. Gwen said he never gets hurt. And if you’ve lasted this long, especially with some of the shit that’s been happenin’ lately, I reckon you’ve got a good shot of it.”

Ianto smiled weakly. “Thanks for that.”

“Anyone that could put up with Jack for a few months is more than up to a few aliens, I bet.”

“A few what?”

Rhys’ eyes widened. Suddenly, he looked alarmed- and guilty. “Don’t tell Gwen I said that. Or Jack, oh bloody- just forget I said that!”

Ianto nodded, giving Rhys a very strange look. “Sure.”

Rhys looked relieved. “Okay, well,” he checked is watch, “my lunch break’s nearly over. Just cause I’m the boss doesn’t mean I can skive off more than twice a week!” He grinned.

“What do you do?”

“I’m the manager at Harwood’s Haulage!” Rhys said proudly. When Ianto shook his head blankly, Rhys hummed a little tune. “You won’t be sorry with a Harwood’s lorry!”

“Oh, yeah,” Ianto remembered. “Catchy.”

“Wrote it myself.”

[*]

Around four in the afternoon Jack texted that he was sorry for missing him the last few days and that he wanted to make it up to him. He asked Ianto to pick up a movie- whatever he wanted- and bring it to Jack’s flat.

Haunted by Rhys’ story, Ianto got a movie he knew Jack liked, Casablanca. He waved off Mike at the end of their shift and walked to Jack’s building. He didn’t know what time Jack was going to get there, so he picked up take-away on the walk.

Rob was on duty, and said that he’d pass the message on that Jack was alright if he saw Keith before Ianto did. Ianto settled himself on Jack’s couch with one of the biographies from his study.

Seven rolled around, and then eight, and nine, and Ianto finished the book. He put in back on the shelf and dallied over choosing another, eventually returning to the couch empty-handed and watching dusk play out through the windows. He thought about what Mike had said, about how he was always anxious nowadays and he deserved someone who didn’t make him worry. He thought about Rhys, who complained about his life and then said being with Gwen balanced it out. He thought about Jack, who thought he was gorgeous and shared his home and sometimes told Ianto things with the most startling look of vulnerability, like he wasn’t sure how Ianto would respond. And he thought about the look on Jack’s face when he forgave him, and Jack looked so relieved and grateful, and- three months was far too soon to say loving, right?

He must have drifted off at some point, the anxiety of the last few days catching up with him, because he woke up to the sound of someone moving quietly around him. The sky was dark outside the windows and Ianto sat up slowly. “Jack?”

“Hey.” One of the small lamps beside the couch flicked on, and the familiar shape of Ianto’s boyfriend settled next to him on the couch, only nudging him over and pulling him back when he tried to sit up.

“What time is it?” he mumbled.

“Nearly midnight.”

Ianto started scrabbling in his pocket. “Damn, I have to call Mike, he always worries if I’m late-”

“I called him,” Jack soothed, catching Ianto’s wrist just before he elbowed Jack in the gut. “I said you were staying over here tonight, I didn’t want to wake you up.”

Ianto blinked at Jack in the dim light of the lamp. “And how did that work out for you?”

“My ears are ringing a bit,” the captain admitted. “But it was worth it, if I get to keep you all night.”

It’s worth it, because I know she loves me, and she comes home to me every night- well, most nights.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said roughly into his ear. The rest of the apartment felt like a tomb, a peaceful place of rest made from unmovable stone. “I should have called, it’s just- it’s been so-” his voice hitched, and Ianto tugged him closer so Jack was laying half on top of him. If was nearly uncomfortable, except for the thickness and give of the sofa cushions.

“What happened?” he murmured.

“Owen- Owen was shot. He- he nearly died. At this research facility where they were conducting these- these horrible experiments, you wouldn’t believe it. And then the hospital… a dozen people died, and we couldn’t save them.”

Ianto got his arms free and wrapped them around Jack. The part of his mind that was undoubtedly playing defense sarcastically commented that they probably weren’t going to be watching Casablanca tonight, or doing anything else fun. He inhaled Jack’s scent, always so fresh, even though he hadn’t been home in days.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, suddenly feeling useless. “I’m sorry.”

Jack shook. His face was buried in Ianto’s neck, and the younger man could feel his collar and skin getting wet. He kept holding him, stroking his back and his hair, whispering whatever condolences came into his head.

After a while, Jack relaxed, sniffing. Ianto shifted so they were lying more side-by-side and inconspicuously shook out the parts of him that had fallen asleep.

“I got Chinese,” he said quietly. “And that red wine you like. You want something?”

Jack nodded. “Thanks.”

Ianto poured the wine while the food was reheating. When he got back to the living room Jack had tugged off his boots and his blue over shirt, leaning him looking almost defenseless in pure white socks and vest. He ate his food quickly and Ianto handed over his own plate as well, reassuring Jack he’d eaten earlier. By the time they got to the wine, Jack was looking a good deal calmer.

“I’m sorry about that,” he indicated the way they had been lying on the couch. “I guess- I can’t let it out at work. They all still see me as a big hero, there’s no one who sees past that. Not even Martha, who’s got the most reason to.”

“Martha?” Ianto inquired. It seemed that was the right idea, because Jack smiled nostalgically.

“Martha Jones, actually. Good friend. She saved me, when I was on my vacation from Cardiff. Saved all of us, actually.”

“I should thank her.”

Jack grinned at him. “Oh, I’d love you two to meet. I bet you’d get along, probably gang up on me. But she left,” he mused, rubbing his lips absently.

Then he looked at Ianto. “Uh…”

“What sort of old friend did you say she was?” Ianto asked, tone frosty.

“Just a friend,” Jack said quickly.

“But?”

“She kissed me goodbye.”

“A friendly peck?”

“More like a snog, actually,” Jack told him, wearing a sheepish expression. “I think she just wanted to know what all the fuss was about,” he joked. “But she’s just a friend, Ianto, I promise.”

Ianto remembered Rhys’ worries about Jack and how he’d believed his girlfriend was coming home to him, even though she worked next to Jack Harkness every day. “Okay,” Ianto accepted. Martha wasn’t even in Cardiff anymore. He could handle a snog between friends. Really, he could.

Jack looked surprised, and Ianto winked and fetched the wine bottle. He poured them both another glass. “How did you meet?”

Jack frowned. “I can’t tell you the details,” he said apologetically. “We met through my old friend, the one I left to travel with. It’s not a nice story, anyway,” he said, a touch morbidly.

Ianto sighed. “That’s okay,” he said, watching Jack carefully. “That’s life as a Torchwood widower.”

Jack froze. Then he stared at Ianto intensely. “She introduced you to Rhys?!”

Ianto cracked up. “Oh God, your face!” Jack scowled. “What do the two of you have against each other, anyway?”

“I don’t have anything against him, he has something against me,” Jack muttered.

“He thought you were having an affair with Gwen,” Ianto informed him.

“I wasn’t!” Jack objected.

“I know, that’s obvious.” The sexual tension between the two of them was definitely not resolved. “But you can see why Rhys might think that?”

Jack rolled his eyes and Ianto laughed again.

“So what else did he tell you?” Jack asked.

Ianto thought he saw a hint of suspicion, but it was quickly hidden. “He said you don’t get hurt as much as Gwen.”

Jack chuckled. “He’s right,” he said ironically. Ianto wanted to ask why, but Jack didn’t give him a chance. “So… You don’t need to worry,” Jack told him seriously.

Ianto looked at him curiously. “Of course I’m going to worry. But,” he shifted over to lean against Jack, who was supported in the corner of the couch, “I’m alright with that.”

[*]

A long time after the food was gone and they'd drained the wine bottle, Ianto was curled up in Jack's arms on the couch. (Jack always had to be the big spoon. Ianto would've fought it on principle, but he had to admit, Jack was a wonderful cuddler.) He was drowsy from the wine and wondering if Jack wanted to go to bed soon.

He squirmed around so he was facing Jack, but then he noticed Jack's thousand-mile stare at the black television screen. He studied the barely-there squint that meant Jack was thinking deeply, not just drifting, and the way his rich lips had settled with a slight smile, and decided it would be safe to ask. “What are you thinking about?”
Jack blinked, then looked down at him, and the slight smile grew. “You.”

Ianto did not blush. He'd been working on it. “I'm flattered. Anything in particular?”

Jack gave him the appraising, wary look that Ianto had come to recognize as the 'am-I-about-to-cross-a-line?' look. He'd seen it a lot less often with Jack than with some people he’d known, but it was nearly as familiar to him as his own face in the mirror. “You can tell me. I almost promise I won't get mad.”

Jack huffed, then nodded. “Why did you change your name?”

Ianto tensed. After everything he'd come through, the therapy and the support groups and sorting out his head on all sorts of things, Jack always managed to get his back up. Paying the bill, getting him flowers, those were clichéd 'woman's' things. Ianto always managed to be patient when Mike did things like that, but when it was Jack, he got angry. Part of it was a somewhat irrational belief that Jack should know better. But some of the anger came from the fact that these silly traditions, things men did for women, felt alright when it was Jack. Just like when Jack bought him rugby tickets or sat through fantasy movies, he knew Jack was doing them to make him happy. Jack had brought him flowers with a shy smile, and Ianto hadn't realized what a wonderful thing that was until after he'd said something snide and ruined it.

He didn't want to do that again. They'd had a nice evening, after a fashion, and they were both loose from the wine. And it really wasn't Jack's fault that Ianto had never gotten around to talking about his name in therapy.

Since he’d tensed, Jack tensed, like he was about to unwrap his arms from Ianto. Ianto sighed and grabbed his arm, entreating him to stay. “It's fine.”

Jack nodded unsurely. “Hilary...” he said, like he was tasting the name, and Ianto nearly tensed again- actually he nearly started shouting, just like he did whenever Mike called him that- before Jack continued, “can be a man's name, too.”

Ianto forced himself to calm down. “Yes. But it's not my name.” He kissed Jack's jaw a moment later for saying that more harshly than he should've.

Jack smiled: forgiven. “I can understand that,” he said wryly, and Ianto smiled.

“What, is Captain Jack Harkness an alias?” His laughter slowed and he stared at Jack. “Is it?” he said incredulously.

Jack sighed, watching the television screen again. His arm twitch around Ianto. “No, it's not,” he said at last, decisively.

Ianto stared for another moment, processing, then laid his head back on Jack's chest. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

“It's a long story.”

“I am a bit tired,” Ianto said agreeably. “It’s getting late, I should...”

“No,” Jack said quickly. “I... There are a lot of things in my past that... I don't want you to think badly of me,” he finally admitted.

Ianto looked back up at him, eyebrows knitting together. “Hey...” He got Jack's attention and then spoke softly. “After I left for London, I was kind of a mess. I didn't know anyone, I didn't know anything about the city, I still wasn't sure who I really was or how I could be that person. I did some things-” he frowned and bit his lip, because he hated talking about this and wasn't sure how much he even wanted to hint at, “-some things that I don't want anyone who knows me to think about when they look at me. But I've changed a lot since then, so I understand skeletons in the closet, Jack. I don't want you to tell me anything you don't want to tell me.”

Jack looked at him like his face held the mysteries of the universe. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “You don't know how much that means to me.”

“I put up with enough mystery from you,” he nodded at the unopened DVD case on the coffee table. “I can handle some more.”

“Do you want to go to bed?” Jack asked, leaning forward so their chests were flush together.

Ianto smiled. “I thought you'd never ask.”

[*]

When Tosh and Owen began shutting down their stations around noontime, Jack was expecting another ‘talk’ with Gwen. It was pretty obvious, considering Owen didn’t actually need to go out to lunch anymore. He hoped he wouldn’t be chewed out too badly for going against Gwen’s orders, especially with what his actions had done to Owen.

To his surprise, it wasn’t Gwen who knocked on his door after the cog wheel door closed, but Lisa. “What’s up?” She sat down in the chair opposite his desk, looking somewhat hesitant. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes, everything’s fine, Jack, it’s just…” she looked down at her hands. “This is hard.”

Jack nodded patiently. “Okay. Whatever you need.”

She smiled at him, nostalgic and grateful and Jack started to get a bad feeling about it, but he didn’t say anything. “First, I have some good news,” she told him, and he sat up attentively. “We, collectively, feel that it’s time you became our leader again.”

For a minute, Jack had to stare at her. He didn’t like having to take a backseat to Gwen, but he’d gotten used to it. He didn’t like knowing that his team felt they couldn’t rely on him, but having to prove that he was responsible had made him get his act together and actually work hard for the first time in years, instead of ignoring his paperwork and letting the others handle the boring stuff. When he wasn’t leader was when he’d finally started to feel like part of the team. And now that was over, and he felt- well, happy, and grateful, and excited, yes, but also like he was losing something.

“Thank you,” he said honestly. “This means a lot to me.”

Lisa looked like she understood. “Exactly. And I hope you won’t forget that.”

Jack nodded. “I won’t, I promise.”

“Good. Because the second thing is that I won’t be around to remind you.”

Jack gaped. “What?”

“Torchwood London is reopening, as you know,” she reminded him, “and I’ve been offered a job there.”

Jack shook his head, but huffed a laugh. “I always knew you were a big city girl. But it’s going to be hard to replace you.”

“Not that hard,” she corrected, raising her eyebrows. “I’ve got someone in mind.”

“Oh yeah? Who?” Jack asked, grinning.

“Ianto.”

“No,” Jack said instinctively, actually jerking back in his chair. “Why would you suggest him?”

“He’s a perfect fit,” Lisa explained quickly, knowing Jack’s reflex would be to say no. “He’s actually got a good resume to work as a Torchwood archivist, between his jobs and Uni. He’s already met the team and made friends. He knows the demands of the job, so he won’t wash out in the first week, and he’s a barista. We practically live on coffee here,” she insisted when Jack made a ‘what?’ gesture. “The only question is whether he has the temperament, and if he hasn’t changed too much from when I knew him, he’d be able to handle it.”

Jack was shaking his head. “No way. I’m not asking my boyfriend to work with me!”

“Don’t pretend you wouldn’t love it,” Lisa chastised. “Getting to see him all day, every day?”

“It’s not fun and games.”

“No, I know. Sometimes working with your boyfriend can be tough,” she admitted. “But it’s different at Torchwood. At London, we were practically encouraged to fraternize, because having someone that close to you who understood the things that scared you makes you stronger.”

“You know what scares me?” Jack asked darkly. He stood up and turned to stare out over the Hub. “It’s worrying about the people I care about. Worrying that any day now, one of you could hit the wrong button on a piece of tech or get mauled by a weevil, or have an accident with a toaster! And you’ll die. So after all that,” he turned back to Lisa, “Why would I ask Ianto to work for an organization that I know would kill him eventually?”

“To make him happy,” she answered. At his questioning expression, she stood up. “Let me show you something.”

[*]

“So… you catch aliens?”

“Yep.”

Ianto looked at the ceiling of Jack’s flat and wondered if this was one of those scenes where he’d get shot if he tried to run. “What… kind of aliens?”

“All kinds. Body-snatchers, sleeper cells. Cybermen and Daleks, those are the ones that really destroyed Torchwood London.” Ianto looked at him with surprise. “Yeah, not a bombing. Those are the malicious ones. But we get friendly aliens, too. Space whales, aliens who end up on Earth by accident and just want somewhere to live in peace. Humans, too, from the past, the present and the future.”

“Now there’s time travel?” Ianto said incredulously.

Jack leaned closer. Ianto unconsciously leaned away and his back hit the arm of the couch. “You remember when I told you about where I come from?”

“Were you lying?” Ianto asked quietly. He didn’t know what to think anymore, except that his boyfriend had been lying about everything else, and was also maybe delusional.

“No,” Jack said, and he sounded honest. “I just didn’t tell you the whole story. I’m from the future.”

Ianto barely stopped himself from choking on his own tongue. “This is- I- I can’t believe this.”

Jack stood up and held out his hand. “Then let me show you.”

[*]

“I just wish you’d told us this was your plan,” Gwen told Lisa unhappily as they all sat clustered on the platform.

“He’s not bad for Jack, but don’t we get a say in whether he gets hired?” Owen complained.

Tosh agreed. “Do we know he’ll be able to do a job?” she asked. “I mean, I like him, but we don’t know that he’s qualified.”

“He’s qualified as a boy toy, that’s about it.” Owen snorted. “Jack just wants him more readily available.”

“Actually,” Lisa glared at the doctor, “Jack didn’t want him to be in danger. I had to convince him that Ianto would be a good fit.”

“Are you sure you’re not biased?” Gwen suggested carefully. “I mean, you used to go out with him.”

“He worked in a library when I met him,” Lisa remembered. “The librarians loved him, they always asked him for help since he had such a good memory. He was efficient and polite, even with the sort who don’t understand the concept of an inside voice.”

“And this qualifies him for Torchwood how, again?” Owen said spitefully.

“The tourist office is about to get shut down because it’s open about one day a week on average,” Lisa pointed out. “And when any of us goes up there, we’re bored and can’t answer the tourists’ questions anyway. Ianto grew up just outside Cardiff, he knows his way around. I know he’d be able to pick up the archiving system fast, he could do all the archiving from the tourist office.”

“Doesn’t he work at the place Jack’s been buying all our coffee from recently?” Tosh asked mischievously.

Lisa grinned. “That’s right. Wouldn’t you like the source of that coffee working ten feet from your desk?”

“I think that’s the best argument so far,” Owen decided.

“It seems like you’ve thought this through,” Gwen acknowledged. Lisa nodded. “Well, Jack’s the boss. And this is going to be more personal for him than for us.”

“So you’ll give him a chance?” Lisa asked them.

A creaking sound made them all look up as the invisible lift opened. A blue-coated figure and one in a black suit began to descend.

“I guess we will.” Gwen led them down the stairs.

[*]

The pavement stone they were standing on lurched and began to drop. Ianto couldn't hold back a gasp and he grabbed the arm Jack had stuck out, like he knew it was coming. Ianto glared and the captain laughed. “Prepare to have your mind blown, Ianto Jones.” He winked.

Ianto blushed.

As soon as their heads descended past the ground, some sort of cover folded out and covered up the hole in... in the ceiling! Ianto looked down and nearly gasped again at the wide open cavern that stretched far below and so wide around. He had a sudden thought.

“Are you sure the Plass is structurally sound?” he asked Jack. “I mean, with this place below it, isn't it liable to collapse?”

Jack sighed heavily. “I forgive you, you're Welsh,” he told Ianto in a very put-upon tone.

Ianto would have said something back, but he was too busy gaping as a pteranodon flew by their heads, screeching.

“That's Bill,” Jack said casually. “Gave us a lot of trouble catching him.”

“That's impossible,” Ianto breathed. “This- how can this be here?”

They were nearing the floor and Ianto gazed out at the several levels of platforms and rickety walkways hanging above a pool of water at the foot of the water tower. Jack's colleagues- Gwen, Tosh, Owen and Lisa- were walking down so they were standing near the place where the platform was coming to rest.

The moment it stopped, Jack jumped off and offered his hand to help Ianto down. This earned him a withering glare, and the hand was quickly withdrawn.

“Welcome to Torchwood, Ianto.” Gwen waved and smiled invitingly.

Ianto stepped off the lift, trying to pretend that his knees weren’t shaking. He couldn't stop looking around him in awe, though he did try to stop when he saw the smug looks on the faces of Jack's team. “This is...” He couldn't finish that sentence. “Why under the Plass?”

“Convenience,” Jack answered. “This is the dead center of the Rift.”

“The- the rift in time and space,” Ianto said vaguely, reaching out for Jack's arm again.

Jack held him steady. “Why don't I show you around?”

Twenty minutes later, Ianto was feeling physically more steady, but mentally he felt like the world and turned inside out without him noticing. And that wasn't too far from the truth!

“And lastly, we have the scariest part of Torchwood,” Jack said loudly, winking conspiratorially at Ianto. The younger man managed to summon up a weak smile- they'd just left the Weevil's cell.

“Very funny, Jack,” Lisa said dryly as she emerged from a room up ahead. “I hope you like it; the archives end up being your second home.”

“What?” Ianto said intelligently.

“You haven't told him?” Lisa tilted her head dangerously at the captain.

Jack put his hands in front of him in defense. “Down girl.” He motioned for Ianto to go ahead of him and followed close behind. When Ianto stopped just inside the doors, Jack bumped into him. “Overcome with awe?” he teased.

Ianto nodded silently. Before him was a veritable warehouse of aisles stacked twenty feet high with all sorts of unusual and incredible things. Along the far wall, some two hundred feet away, filing cabinets stretched from floor to ceiling. “What is this place?”

“This is the Torchwood Archives,” Lisa said kindly, pointing him to a long poster on the wall that explained how the archives were organized. The Torchwood symbol of a T made of hexagons graced the top of the board.

“We don’t just get aliens through the Rift,” Jack explained. “Most of the time, we get stuff. A lot of it’s useless, some of it’s deadly, and some of it’s amazing, but it’s all cataloged here.”

Ianto stepped closer to one of the rows, examining a gold metallic artifact that appeared to curl in on itself continuously and wouldn’t come into focus when he blinked.

Jack stepped up close behind him and put his hands on Ianto’s shoulders, speaking intimately in his ear. “Over a hundred years of flotsam and jetsam, all stored here.”

“It’s amazing,” Ianto said quietly.

“How would you like to be in charge of it?”

Ianto spun around. “What are you talking about?”

“Overseeing the Archives is my job,” Lisa told him. She was leaning back against a desk he hadn’t noticed, just to the left of the entrance. “I’m moving back to London, though. So Torchwood’s looking for a new Archivist, and we think you’re the man for the job.” She winked.

Ianto looked between her and Jack, trying to convince himself he wasn’t dreaming or being pranked. “Yes,” he said, feeling slightly faint. “I’d love to work here.”

A smile burst onto Jack’s face and he gave Ianto a huge hug. Jack’s laughter was always contagious, and Ianto and Lisa found themselves talking excitedly as they walked upstairs to tell the others that Ianto had accepted the job.

[*]

A week into Ianto’s service at Torchwood Three, Jack called him into his office after the others had left. Ianto brought them both coffee and sat down opposite Jack.

“So, how are you liking Torchwood?” Jack began.

“I’ve gotten over my shock a bit, though I don‘t know how I‘ll get used to Owen being dead. I think I’m going to enjoy it here,” he answered honestly. “The archives are absolutely incredible, and Lisa’s organizational system only needs to be tweaked slightly.”

“So you’re staying?” Jack said quickly.

Ianto nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“Are you sure?” Jack’s narrowed eyes inspected him shrewdly.

Ianto blinked at the expression. “Yes, I’m certain that I’ll not be going back to being a barista.” The corners of his lips curled in preparation for Jack’s remark about coffee still being part of his job description.

Instead, Jack only nodded and looked away. “Good, that’s good.” The captain took another sip of coffee.

When the gap in the conversation had become unwieldy, Ianto spoke up. “Is that all you called me here for?”

Jack set the coffee cup on his desk with a decisive clink. “Ianto, do you remember when I told you about the place where I grew up?”

“Of course.”

“I want to explain some of the things I mentioned. Things about future technology,” he prompted.

Ianto remembered. “That girl, who went to the hospital and came back a boy, in the same day?”

“I knew people who did that,” Jack confirmed. “Became female, male, third gender. Fourth gender, although that wasn’t really meant for humans, but some people have got to be trendsetters,” he shrugged. Jack realized that Ianto was looking a bit dazed, and smiled wickedly, enjoying that his boyfriend and newest employee wasn’t too used to Torchwood yet that he couldn’t be unsettled . “I even knew some folk who switched back and forth. After a few repetitions the transition’s not as stable, though. Human bodies don’t like to be messed with too much.”

“Get to the point?” Ianto asked weakly.

Jack reached to the ground behind his desk and carefully set on its surface a shiny metal shape. To Ianto’s eyes, it looked like one of those self-massage tools for the back, with a ribbed ball on one end and a long handle to reach over the shoulder. “What is it?”

Jack looked him in the eye. “It’s a medical instrument used to stabilize a sex-change.”

“What, so, you press a button, flick a switch and, just like that, you’ve switched your sex?” Ianto asked rhetorically.

“It’s not that simple,” Jack said, slightly peeved. “This is technology from the ninth millennium, way after my time. We’re lucky it’s so easy to use, plus hand-held body mods got insanely pricey once the First Great and Bountiful Human Empire stopped funding the production for political reasons. I remember-”

“Jack!” Ianto said loudly, hands flat on the desk. “Will it work, or not?”

“I checked it myself. Fully operational.”

“And- what does it do, exactly?” Ianto pressed. “How much of a change can it imprint?”

“It goes right down to the DNA, this baby. The obvious secondary sexual characteristics, yeah, but it also does musculature, body fat orientation, facial construction, fully functioning reproductive organs,” he smiled, eyes alight. “Everything exactly as it would be if you were born a man.”

Ianto could only gape. “I can’t believe this. Thank you,” he said fervently, mind racing.

“Thank Lisa,” Jack suggested. “She found this,” he indicated the silver tech, “among forty years of uncategorized artifacts. I would never have known about it if she hadn’t located it and brought it to my attention. Not to mention that she was the one who initially recommended you for the job.”

Ianto shook his head, sure it was too good to be true. “What’s the catch?”

“The catch,” Jack said seriously, “is that only Torchwood operatives are permitted to operate time-displaced technology. If you quit or get fired, and we need to retcon you, we’ll have to revert your body back to the way it was before you joined Torchwood.”

Ianto sat back in the chair, thinking heavily.

Jack gave him a few minutes, working on some of the paperwork that was always requiring his attention. He looked up when Ianto breathed in like he was going to speak.

“This wouldn’t- change anything, would it?” he asked, an odd, nervous expression on his face.

Jack considered. “Well, you’d probably need to get a new suit fitted before Gwen’s wedding.”

“No, I mean- I meant-” He hesitated.

Jack smiled gently. “I know. And no, Ianto. Whatever you chose will make no difference to me.”

“I sort of hope it will,” Ianto said quietly, blushing as he smiled and looked at Jack through his lashes.

Jack couldn’t help but grin widely, but then he sobered and looked Ianto dead in the eye. “So. What’ll it be?”

[*]

The next morning, Ianto woke up with his boyfriend at Jack’s flat. They arrived at work late, and when Lisa saw him, she gave him a long hug and whispered something in his ear.

Gwen, Toshiko and Owen gossiped about the behavior in the conference room while Jack and Ianto took a long lunch and Lisa smugly refused to answer questions. However, none of them but Lisa had noticed the extra inch or two of height Ianto had gained, the way he managed to fill out his suit more than the days previous, or how his face seemed to have lost its soft, rounded edges and gained a denser sort of strength. They did notice that he seemed as though the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders, although Tosh and Gwen agreed with Owen when he said it was probably down to being very well shagged.

To be fair, they were partially right.

[*]


If you loved this fic (or even if you just liked it, you will love it after hearing this) please check outsubluxate's totally rad fanmix, 'living at large to suffer hardships'.

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