There was silence in the room, marred only by the whir of technology. Jack squeezed Ianto's hand again, tight, but said nothing. Ianto stood up.
"Right. Well. I'll go brew a fresh batch of coffee then, shall I?"
He ran his hand through his hair quickly and began to collect their mugs from the table. Gwen rose when he came to her and put a hand on his shoulder, her mouth open to speak. He covered her hand with his own and cut her off with a smile.
"I'm fine," he murmured; it wouldn't have been heard if it wasn't for the blanketing quiet. He felt Jack's eyes on him. "Just need some more caffeine. We've all been working hard on this." He glanced around. "Thank you."
They let him leave without a fuss and he was grateful. It wasn't news, of course, that he would die long before Jack did, but to have so stark a reminder staring him in the face wasn't something he needed right now. Not when things were nicely muddled enough between them as it was. He rinsed the mugs and dried them out with a clean cloth before proceeding to wipe down the coffee machine.
"I think it's clean," Jack whispered in his ear, and a sudden, solid warmth appeared at Ianto's back. "You can stop now. I'm getting jealous."
Ianto took a deep breath and threw the cloth onto the counter. "Can I help you with anything, sir?"
He immediately regretted his words when Jack stepped away, hands in the air. He looked affronted, hurt, and Ianto wanted to reach out to smooth the lines in his forehead, but it was probably too late for that. Too late, always too late. And it wasn't dying that upset him, not really. But the fact that Jack would, in the future, have to face a reminder of his past, which was currently the present, was as heartbreaking as it was confusing.
Sighing, he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Jack. He stiffened at first and then relaxed, which was a good sign, Ianto thought.
"Sorry," he murmured into Jack's shirt.
"You're impossible to get a handle on, you know that?"
Ianto snorted a laugh that was also a sob.
"Are you sure about that?" Ianto mumbled. The stiff cotton of Jack's collar smelled crisp and clean. Like laundry, and dryer sheets, and order, and all the things Ianto loved about his job, about taking care of Jack. He breathed deeply, allowed his lungs to expand and his arms to tighten against Jack's back.
"Positive," Jack whispered, loosening his grip a little. "Come on."
Jack smiled. "Well, that's what we came down here for, right?"
Ianto laughed a little and then nodded. Jack met his eyes for a moment.
"It's going to be fine," Jack said and Ianto realized he had no idea if he was referring to the case, or the team in general, or maybe everything, all at once. He agreed, though. Because when Jack told him something would be okay, honestly, it usually was.
"I'll be back up with some fresh coffee in a few minutes," he told Jack, flipping the switch on the coffee machine.
Back in the conference room, Tosh and Owen were in what seemed to be a rather animated discussion on some aspect or another of Tosh's findings, but were happy to be interrupted with warm drinks.
Ianto was about to apologize to Tosh for leaving so abruptly when Jack cleared his throat.
"Okay, now that we're all freshly caffeinated, I know I for one would love to hear more about what you found out. "
Jack beamed at the group and Ianto slipped into the chair next to him, a bit relieved. Tosh met his eyes for a second and he offered her an encouraging smile.
"Right, so…" Tosh began, "as I was just telling Owen – it's a bit like carbon dating. I was able to tell when the night travelers had been here before by reading the signs in the water and the readings from the rift – sort of like how scientists estimate the age of wood or other carbon-bearing materials with radio metric dating and radioisotopes." She paused for a moment and her eyes lit up. "It's fascinating."
Ianto cleared his throat. "And the time frame, the twenty eight years….You're sure?"
"I'm as sure as I can be, yes," Tosh said, nodding. She pulled up a graph on the display. "We should still keep an eye on the areas with the highest silicon concentrations – I've initiated a program that will alert us once it reaches above a certain level in a number of local water sources. But the rift spikes I showed you before were very unique. I believe that the twenty eight year time frame is fairly accurate."
"Okay," Gwen said, leaning back in her seat, her mug of coffee between her hands. "What do we do, then? We need a way to get rid of them for good, right?"
Jack nodded and smiled at her. "Right. But all we have right now is speculation. They're silicon-based, sure, but it also seems that they're tied to the rift and who knows what else. We don't have anything else to go off of except an idea of when they'll show up again."
Gwen frowned and looked between Ianto and Jack. Ianto took a sip of his own coffee and watched her. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tosh typing furiously on her keyboard, her mouth turned down in frustration. He tried to think of something other than failure; maybe, somehow, he'd still be alive in twenty eight years. He'd only be, what, just over fifty? Well, no matter. They could prepare now. They'd be ready.
Gwen's palm hit the table. "So, what? We just give up?"
"Yeah, like I said. Case closed." Owen tossed his pen up in the air and caught it. "I mean, maybe I'll still be around, undead and all. I'll punch one of them in the face if it makes you all feel better."
Ianto closed his eyes and sighed. He felt Jack move to stand behind him, a hand resting on his shoulder. Maybe tonight they'd go back home, grab some food on the way, and forget about all of this. And maybe they couldgo somewhere, just for the weekend.
"We don't give up; we prepare as best we can," Jack was saying. "We know more now than we ever have before. We know when they should show up next and we know part of their composition. We know they're affected by the rift. We know what they're after, and we can guess why. But we have no way to destroy them right now. So we wait."
No, Ianto wanted to say. You wait. We move on. He kept his mouth shut. After work, he'd look into reservations for those cabins Jack had talked about, in Snowdonia, by the estuary. It'd be nice to get away.
Later that evening, after Gwen had gone home to Rhys, and Owen and Tosh had gone their separate ways, Ianto found himself alone in the tourist office. Outside, he could hear muffled voices on the boardwalk; teenagers, or maybe college kids, out enjoying themselves in the heart of the city. It was Friday night, Ianto realized. He wondered how on earth the entire week had passed without him noticing they were almost at the weekend.
He wondered if this was what it was like for Jack. Only for Jack, it would be decades, centuries, that would pass in the blink of an eye. He hated that he had no idea how to understand what that must be like. It felt like grasping at air sometimes. This case, Jack, all of it. Like trying to clutch something invisible between his fingers, over and over again, even though he knew he'd come up empty every single time.
Idly, Ianto ran his hands over the stacks of brochures on the rack next to the door, straightening their edges. The first two fliers advertising group rates on tours at Cardiff Castle were creased at the corners and Ianto slid them round to the back.
After giving the rack one last once-over, he picked up Jack's Snowdonia pamphlet and turned it over in his hand. Cabins offered year round. And the rates weren't bad at all, especially on the off-season. He pulled out his PDA.
He was just getting the calendar open when the door leading back to the Hub swung out. Ianto had known it wouldn't take Jack long to find him after the others had left. He smiled as Jack approached the desk.
"Aren't we closed?" Jack asked, eyeing the door curiously.
"Yep," Ianto told him, sliding the brochure under a pile of mail and out of sight. "Just switched over the sign."
"You're finished here?" Jack asked.
"Just about. You?"
"I've got a few things I should finish up, but…."
"But why would you do that when you can ask me to do it in the morning?" Ianto supplied.
"Ianto Jones, you've read my mind." Jack grinned, but something about his voice sounded tentative, cautious.
Jack stepped closer, with a casual stride that seemed to cover some misplaced nervousness, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. It was interesting to watch, if a bit disconcerting. Jack would've made a good tightrope walker; it would've been less painful than shooting himself in the head, probably.
Outside, it was getting dark. The clouds that'd hung low the past few days had dissipated, leaving only clear indigo sky, tinged with black at the edges, and pale gold on the horizon. Ianto's hand toyed with the edge of the brochure that poked out beneath the envelopes, tracing the corner with the tip of his index finger.
When he was close, Jack settled his hands on the counter. "Of course," he said thoughtfully, "I could do it in the morning, too. Either way." He shrugged and when he lowered his hands, they came to rest just above Ianto's hips.
Ianto hummed and closed his eyes. They still stood a good distance away with only one established point of contact. Jack shuffled closer, a quick, quiet movement and Ianto opened his eyes. He smiled and for a moment, Jack's eyes widened like a lost child's, like he was terrified. The look faded and was replaced with something gentler.
The change in mood was strange. Down in the conference room, Jack had been…well, he'd been Jack. Strong and in charge and brilliant. But now, he was so subdued, a doused flame. Ianto wished he was able to read Jack's mind; it would probably make life a lot easier. As it was, it looked as though Jack half-expected Ianto to disappear completely, right there, just fade into nothing like a dream. Oh. Oh.
Slowly, Ianto brought his face closer until he was practically nuzzling Jack's cheek. "It…I mean, I'm sorry if –"
"No," Jack shook his head slightly. "I don't want to talk about it. Not right now." He buried his face in Ianto's neck and breathed deeply, his hands wrapping tightly around Ianto's waist. The warmth of his breath felt nice, almost solid.
Ianto nodded. "Right."
"Finish up here and join me upstairs for a drink?"
"Of course," Ianto said and pulled away to look at Jack directly. "Of course I will."
It was the simplest thing in the world, really, to just follow. He wondered when Jack started asking, rather than demanding. Maybe that's what made it seem so easy.
Ianto wondered, as he slid the deadbolt into place with a firm click, if in Jack's long life, there had been friends, lovers, colleagues who had been willing to make the promises he knew he would never make – guarantees not to fade away, not to disappear. It would be easy enough for someone to say the words, after all. Harder to make them mean something, though, and that was the problem.
Ianto sighed and crossed over to the desk. He dropped the junk mail into the recycling bin at his feet, made sure that the spare set of keys to the SUV were deposited safely away, and then locked the desk with a flick of his wrist.
He slid the Snowdonia brochure into his left breast pocket.
Then he turned off the lights and the room plunged into darkness.
Jack had a drink ready for him when he reached his office and Ianto accepted it graciously. In the dim light, Jack's face seemed framed in shadows along with the rest of the room, a dark blur around the edges that made him just a touch uneasy.
Ianto brought the glass to his lips and glanced at Jack, hoping that he didn't look as helpless as he felt.
He wasn't sure which one of them moved first, or how they'd managed to find safe places for their drinks so quickly, but before Ianto knew it his cheek was pressed into the hollow space between Jack's neck and his collarbone. He drew in a deep breath against the smooth skin there, as Jack's hands grasped against the back of his jacket tightly. Jack's chin was tucked tight against his shoulder. Other than the slight shuffle of their feet as they found their footing, and Jack's sharp, ragged breath against his ear, the room was silent. Unconsciously, Ianto ticked away the seconds in his mind as they shifted closer - Jack's fingers against the back of his head, Ianto's cheek against Jack's ear, and his hands snaking up and under Jack's braces. The brochure crinkled in his pocket as Jack pressed his palms tight against the small of Ianto's back.
"I…" he started after Jack had released his grip for a moment. He fumbled in his pocket for the brochure, and set it on Jack's desk. They both stared down at it and the mountains in the photo stared back at them, framed by rolling green hills and clear streams.
"I was going to call," Ianto said. "But…." Ianto cleared his throat – his voice sounded rough, strange. Jack was watching him expectantly. "But it's late," he finished. "I—I thought they might…."
"What happened to me not knowing how to relax?" Jack asked softly.
Ianto shrugged as well as he could with Jack's arms still wrapped, now loosely, around him. "I suspect you can learn."
"Are you sure?"
"I'll call tomorrow," Ianto said and smiled. "In the morning, while you're in the – I mean, if you're…"
The room felt slightly claustrophobic and yet simultaneously huge; if he let go, he could fall forever. But then, falling wasn't so bad, really. It was the landing that killed. Jack was pretending not to look at him expectantly, the forced casualness of his movements so glaringly unlike his normal grace.
Ianto sighed and slid his hands up Jack's chest. "Are you coming ov – are you coming home tonight?" He held his breath.
Watching a smile slowly break out over Jack's face, natural and warm and genuine, was pretty remarkable. And he looked shy, and scared, and far more attractive than should be allowed. Jack nodded slowly, his head tilted at a slight angle.
That out of the way, Ianto deflated. "Twenty eight years. I'll be –"
"Going grey at the temples, I suspect," Jack stated fiercely and his grip tightened. "I have a sneaking suspicion you'll age well. Dignified."
Ianto's mouth opened to protest, but then he snapped it shut. It wasn't worth it. For now, in this room late at night, tucked beneath the earth, they could ignore practicality. They could afford to pretend just this once.
"Still," he said, instead. "It's a long way off. I want to update the archives tomorrow."
Jack gave a reluctant nod, as though keeping their files up-to-date was a symbol of death. Then again, maybe it was.
"And we should try to get more information," Ianto continued. "Where they come from, how to get rid of them, when they –"
"Let it go," Jack said quietly, his eyes downcast. "Just for tonight, let it go."
Ianto stared at Jack for a moment, at the soft lines around his eyes, the round curve of his chin.
He could do this – the thought slipped into a corner of his mind, and stuck there, like it belonged. He could do this. With Jack, he could do this. He'd already proven to be fairly good at letting go where Jack was concerned, after all. This, so far as he could figure, was a natural progression.
He slid his arms down around Jack's waist and tugged himself close enough to feel the warmth radiating from Jack's chest. He tilted his head up to catch Jack's lips in a soft, affirming kiss.
"You're very persuasive when you want to be. You know that, right?" Ianto told him, smiling at the light that had filtered back into Jack's eyes.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Jack said. His face was so close, their noses almost touching, and Ianto could barely make out anything else – even the lights in the room seemed engulfed by Jack's presence.
Ianto swallowed and tilted his head back for a moment.
"Look," he started. "I want you to know that I'll let this go if that's what you want. I'll avoid it, never bring it up again. I just want –"
"Ianto," Jack interrupted, but then shook his head quickly. "No, go on." He squeezed Ianto's arm encouragingly. "Please."
Ianto closed his eyes for a moment. "I know how hard it must be for you, when things like this come up. I want to make it easier. If that means avoiding it, I can do that. I want you to trust me."
"I do," Jack told him. "I do trust you. So much."
"It's getting late," Ianto murmured, his gaze flicking to the tumbler of whisky, amber and refractive. Jack never took his with ice, but Ianto preferred it that way. He'd have to get some in the kitchenette if he wanted it, though. It wasn't really worth it.
Jack shifted until he was directly behind him and wrapped his arms around Ianto's waist. His chin rested lightly on Ianto's shoulder. "Finish your drink," he said softly. "It's hard for everyone, isn't it? When I was younger, I was convinced that my parents were indestructible, that they'd live forever."
Ianto smiled. He let his head fall a little to the left. "I suppose everyone thinks that at some point."
"But," Jack continued, "I never really had to consider…you know…dying and having to deal with someone outliving me. Not in the same way." He sighed. "It'd be easier if you hated me."
"This is Torchwood," Ianto breathed and closed his eyes tightly. "We don't do easy. It's in the charter. And don't think I haven't tried."
Ianto could feel Jack's chin dig into his shoulder as he nodded. "It'd be easier, but I'm really glad you don't."
"I –" Ianto cleared his throat. "I can't get my drink if you're going to insist on clinging to me all night."
"Fine, fine." Jack backed away, his arms slipping away from Ianto's waist with heavy reluctance. "You're right, it islate." He walked around the desk and sat in his chair, leaning back as Ianto settled into the seat across from him. "You did good work, by the way."
Ianto put the glass to his mouth and smiled over the rim. It was fascinating, the way Jack slipped from lover to boss in the blink of an eye, and yet never really managed to completely turn off either. It was more like a sliding scale than a switch, really. A dimmer.
"I wish I could've done more," Ianto said and swallowed some of the whisky.
"You will do more," Jack murmured, his voice low, curiously fervent.
"But not with this," Ianto observed, eyeing the tumbler, still wishing for ice, as if it's presence would somehow fix everything that needed fixing, or cast things in a different light.
Or, quite possibly, it was just getting late and they both needed sleep.
"No," Jack said after a moment and took a long sip from his glass. "Not with this. This, you'll have to entrust to me."
Then he smiled and Ianto couldn't figure out the source of the warmth flooding his veins, couldn't tell if it was due to the drink in his hand, or the equally intoxicating brightness of that smile.
He tipped the glass back and closed his eyes, just let it all burn down his throat in one go.
Jack was still grinning at him from the other side of the desk. "I know I said it was getting late, but it's not a race, you know."
"It's always a race, Jack," Ianto quipped. Jack raised his glass in apparent agreement and then downed it just as quickly.
"You know," Ianto said, and his eyes fell to focus on his empty glass, at the slight residue of moisture collecting at its base. He shifted a sheet of paper underneath it without thinking and then raised his eyes to meet Jack's. "I was going to ask them about you. The night travelers. They were going to tell me all your secrets."
"You're assuming I still have secrets."
"Well, one can always hope." He smiled at Jack.
He felt a familiar note of affection spark in his chest as he watched Jack. Jack was eyeing him curiously, hopefully, as if he was still seeking something after all this time. Forgiveness, maybe, or approval. Ianto could never tell.
"You don't need them," Jack said and Ianto found himself nodding, even though he wasn't exactly sure he agreed.
Then Jack stood up, and told him they were going home, and Ianto just followed him to the other end of the room. Before he knew it his fingers were grasping at Jack's coat, pulling it off the hook, and holding it there, motionless, as Jack slid his arms inside.
"I mean it," Jack said, leaning close. Ianto could feel warm breath on his cheek, could smell the strong scent of alcohol, could feel the warmth of Jack's skin, as he brought their lips together. Jack's hands framed his jaw, as if he needed to hold him in place.
"I know," Ianto said, finally, breaking the spell with a sigh. "Don't think you don't have to prove it to me, though."
"It might take a while."
Ianto shrugged. "I've got time."
Everything was quiet for a moment and then Jack brought his hand to rest on the door frame.
"I promise I'll fix this," Jack said. He sounded exhausted, weary. "The night travelers. I'll fix it."
Ianto just stared at his back, frozen to the spot.
"After you're gone, I'll fix it," Jack said. "I'll fix everything."
Ianto blinked. Then he swallowed, and blinked again, and Jack still hadn't moved. He placed his hand on Jack's shoulder, and felt Jack give a brief shudder, a brief release of tension.
"I know you will," Ianto told him, feeling Jack's hand, warm and familiar, covering his own. It was probably all the proof he'd ever needed, right there. "But tonight you're taking me home."
"Yes," Jack whispered and turned to face him. "Yes, I am."
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