Spoilers: Spoilers for all three seasons.
Summary: The first time Ianto feels it -- a creeping sense of not-quite déjà vu, making his nape prickle -- is when Jack asks him out on a date.
Notes: For the Season 3 Challenge on Flashfic-hub. Thanks to hope for the beta of awesomeness.
Podfic: Now available as a podfic, read by the awesome diane_mckay. Download here.
- to recover, as from ill health or discouragement.
Shortly after Owen's death, Tosh comes and finds Ianto in the Archives.
"Timewyrms," she says, her face pale in the dimly lighted space between shelves Br-Bu.
Ianto nods. He found that entry too. It's cross-referenced to the Doctor, as so many entries on time anomalies are -- Timewyrm: a parasite of the time vortex, damaging the established timeline as it feeds. See The Doctor: circa 1951; also Companion: Chris Cwej.
Ianto understands why Tosh wants to play this game; some days, it's hard not to want to open the Rift and play God. It helps to be reminded of the dangers. "Paradox Machine," he offers back.
"Good one," Tosh says with a glint of black humour. "Time Agent."
"Time Lord," Ianto says, and doesn't even try to stop the avalanche of bitterness that rolls off his tongue.
Tosh concedes the game with a rueful smile; she's smart enough not to attempt consolation or sympathy. "Do you ever wonder..."
"If we have free will?"
"No. I mean, yes, that too. But I meant..." She fiddles with the edge of a cardboard box that holds a seven-pronged breast pump. When she speaks again her voice is barely audible, and there are tears on her face. "Do you ever wonder if this is the right timeline?"
Returning the favour of Tosh's earlier tact, Ianto pretends not to notice her grief -- it's not the first time she's cried like this for Owen. He looks away to give her the illusion of privacy and sees himself at the far end of the aisle, shirt dark with dirt and blood, sleeves rolled up. He's armed with one of the big guns.
"Don't worry," the other Ianto says into his headset. "I'll trigger the Hub's self-destruct before I let Saxon access the Archives."
Ianto turns back to Tosh, who's wiping her face with her sleeve. "Did you hear that?" he asks, even though he's almost certain...
He offers her his handkerchief. "The siren call of a hundred coffee beans needing to be brewed."
"Oh, yes," Tosh says, taking the handkerchief gratefully and blowing her nose. "I always hear that. It's a constant across all possible timelines. In fact, I think I hear the siren call of Hobnobs too."
"It's the chocolate on the bottom," Ianto agrees, and offers her his arm.
- [idiom: on the rebound] starting a relationship after being rejected by another.
The first time Ianto feels it -- a creeping sense of not-quite déjà vu, making his nape prickle -- is when Jack asks him out on a date.
It's too much like his dreams and it doesn't feel quite real. Like time has rewound itself and he's living a pale reflection of the real thing. Jack shouldn't be here, it whispers. And you shouldn't be here either.
It doesn't occur to him that it might be real; not then. His psi sense isn't that strong and he never was fully trained. He shrugs it off as one of those rare moments of self-doubt. Jack has a way of making him question things he took for granted with Lisa. Ianto mostly thinks that ends up in a net win; he's a smarter, more adaptable person as a result, all good things for Torchwood. But there are occasional bleak days when all he can see are the negatives: how little experience he has of the universe, how mortal and ephemeral he is, how little he has to offer Jack.
So when Jack asks for more -- awkward and strangely sincere, and not at all like the Jack who left -- Ianto feels his skin creep. Wrong his blood sings. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
He says, "Yes," anyway. It's Jack. Ianto wants this, has wanted it for what feels like forever. That said, he's not entirely willing to take this changed Jack at face value; but he's not going to let his own self-doubt get in the way, either. He'll give Jack a chance to prove himself. And if a little part of him is homesick for the old Jack, who would have tumbled him into bed already, probably without bothering to ask... Well. That's neither here nor there.
Later, after John Hart has vanished back into the Rift, and Ianto and Jack are cautiously circling each other in the cramped loungeroom of Ianto's flat, like two dogs wanting to sniff but unsure of the other's teeth, Ianto takes his beer and stands at the window, needing a moment of calm before he opens negotiations about where they will sleep. He twitches the curtain aside and looks down at the night-lit street, eyes automatically scanning the shadows. A flash of movement catches his attention: a man is running down the street, chased by three hovering metal balls.
The creeping sense of wrong strikes again, like a spike of ice down his neck; but this time he knows about the timeloop, knows the Rift is wonky. He opens his mouth to call Jack, but they're already gone, the man, the chase, fading away like a mirage. Rift ghost, he thinks, a little uneasily, because even without seeing the man's face, he'd recognise that suit anywhere. There's one just like it hung up in his wardrobe right now, clean and pressed and ready for the new day.
Jack's hand lands on his shoulder, warm and real, chasing the chill away. "I missed you," he says, lips brushing Ianto's skin. "I'm so glad to be home."
"Me too," Ianto says, and leans back, resting against Jack's warmth.
- to bound or spring back from force of impact.
Tosh's smile lights up the room, she's so excited by the possibilities of her current pitch. "It's just a matter of basic temporal mechanics, really. Done right, it wouldn't even take that much energy."
"No," Jack says, expression grim. "This is a wrong turn. Scrap it. Start again."
The smile dims a little, but she isn't ready to give up. "But if we could just create a bubble, freeze time inside the Hub, it could..."
"I said no!" Jack slams his hand down on the table and the sound booms through the room, shocking as a gunshot. His body is rigid with anger, and there's not a hint of his normal indulgence for Tosh's outlandish ideas. "You can't play with time that way. You'd be risking a paradox, or worse, an endless timeloop; and believe me, even in the best case scenario there's always a price for meddling with the timeline, and it's always too fucking high. Get rid of it, Tosh. Every last line. I mean it."
Tosh blinks hard, twice, then sits abruptly and looks down at her lap.
Jack's expression gentles. "We can't risk it, Tosh. If time is stretched far enough, when it finally snaps the recoil will change things, rarely for the better. And if you're really unlucky you'll get parasites coming to feed off the energy."
"Get your story straight," Owen snaps, his expression vicious. "That's not what you reckoned when that twat Hart created a timeloop. You said time was self-healing."
"A little split like Hart made isn't a problem." Jack's eyes are bright and hard, but not, Ianto suddenly realises, with anger. "But if you make an open wound in time like Tosh is proposing, there's going to be consequences." Jack crosses his arms, tucking his hands away.
It's only because Ianto knows what to look for that he can see them shaking.
"Like what?" Owen says, all belligerence. "Like a Time Agent making changes to suit himself? Or maybe someone from the fifty-first century inventing Retcon in the nineteenth? Something like that, you mean?"
Tosh is looking at Owen like he's her hero.
"No," Jack says. "I mean like the end of everything you love." He doesn't say anything else, just gets up and walks out.
There's a beat of silence, in which they all stare after Jack's retreating back.
Then Owen snorts. "Load of bollocks. We're sitting on a Rift in time and space. There's a fucking great opening spewing stuff out all the time."
"Like Abaddon, you mean?" Ianto says, and gets up. He doesn't know why Owen can't feel Jack's terror, but he can, and he needs to move, get out of the room, go somewhere quiet and still.
Down in the Archives, he picks up where he left off, re-organising the collection of weevil-related artifacts. It's tedious but soothing, and after a few hours he's calmed down enough to consider taking a coffee break. He stands up and stretches out the kink in his back, breathing in slowly; when he breathes out again it's in a white puff, the room suddenly ice-cold.
"It's the recoil that's the killer," a voice whispers near his ear, and he spins, fists clenched, ready to ream Owen a new one...
...but there's no-one there.
- [idiom: hit on the rebound] to strike a ball after it bounces off the ground, a wall, etc.
"I've already breathed it in," Ianto says. He can feel the 456 watching him, can see his own reflection in the cloudy glass.
It's happening so fast. He's getting dizzy already, and his reflection splinters as he watches. Now there's two of him. Except the other him is wearing his suit jacket and a gas mask and carrying something small and metallic in his hand.
A bomb, Ianto thinks, and then, Good.
"No," Jack says.
The word stretches like toffee, as though Jack's said that one word a hundred times. A thousand.
Ianto staggers, falls; he's so dizzy, and the moment is fragmenting faster than he can track...
...Jack is hanging from two chains, surrounded by machinery, face filthy with grime, screaming at Prime Minister Saxon -- "No." -- and Ianto is on his knees, a gag in his mouth, looking up at Jack as a man in a UNIT cap fires his gun at Ianto's head...
...Ianto's lying on the dank floor of the vaults, a dead weevil nearby. Ianto's blood is pooling around Jack's shoes, and Jack's face is creased with despair as he falls to his knees, reaching for Ianto, saying, "No..."
...Ianto's on another world, an indigo sky overhead, three daleks screaming, "Exterminate!" as his body fries, and Jack... Jack is sobbing, trying to escape the hands holding him back, trying to come to Ianto. "No, no, no..."
...They're in the Hub, the risen mitten crumpling as the bomb planted inside Jack's belly goes off. Ianto crumples at the same time the glove does, a puppet with his strings cut. The flash of light limning Jack's face is the last thing he sees, Jack's voice echoing in his ears: "No, Ianto..."
...Jack is kneeling on the floor before the 456, face creased with despair, cradling Ianto in his arms. "No," he says. "No, no, no, no. Not this one. Not him."
It doesn't feel real. But then, it never does.
"I love you," Ianto says.
- [origin: 1300-50; ME] re- + bondir, to re-bind.
Ianto says, "Yes, oh God, yes."
Of course he does. It's Jack. He's finally home, safely back from wherever he went with the Doctor, and he's offering what Ianto's been craving all these lonely weeks.
And maybe a little part of Ianto is heartsick, wishing for more than being tumbled into bed the moment Jack's back -- so confident of Ianto, he barely even pauses to ask.
But that's neither here nor there.
This is now, and this is what Ianto has. He's a realist and he knows the score.
It's not as though Jack will ever bind himself to just one person. Jack's made it clear: he doesn't have time for love.