Another End to Summer
"Thank you," Tosh said, glancing up at Ianto as he set the mug and file folders on her desk. Ianto opened his mouth to reply, but Tosh's attention had already diverted back to her computer screen.
Ianto couldn't exactly feel slighted; ever since their return from nearly being eaten by cannibals, Tosh had had a difficult time meeting his eyes. He hadn't quite figured out if she was trying not to let him know how disappointed she was in his lack of competency in the field, or if she merely saw him as a reminder of what had happened.
He knew perfectly well her official record with being held captive, the number of times she'd had to fight for her life during a Torchwood mission, and the number of times she'd reported bruising on her wrists as a result of one thing or another while tracking down whatever alien thing or person had garnered Torchwood's attention. He knew she was used to it, or ought to be. Three days after their return to Cardiff, Tosh was acting like nothing terribly unusual had occurred, so Ianto was leaning towards her difficulty being Ianto rather than cannibals. Of course, it had been only her second time being taken captive by humans, so Ianto was willing to consider the chances it wasn't him.
He moved away from her desk smoothly, however, because it simply didn't matter. Ianto had taken his requisite three days off as well, during which time he'd cleaned his flat and washed his car and done a number of the small errands that tended to pile up when Torchwood emergencies came calling at all hours of the day and night. He ignored the soft voice in the back of his head that, until recently, all his free time had been spent elsewhere than maintaining his flat. A sharp pain hit his stomach and Ianto brushed the look of it away from his face with practised ease.
Another handful of file folders were dropped onto Gwen's desk, and from her he got a brief smile as she met his eyes. Her concern was harder to ignore than Tosh's casual dismissal, but he simply inclined his head slightly, as if to say he appreciated her concern for his well-being. Then he was around her desk and back towards the stairs and Gwen, after all, said nothing to him as he went past her.
It was a nice, long climb up the stairs to the Tourist Office; Ianto let the mild exertion clear his thoughts. His head ached still, though he knew there was nothing to be gained from pestering Owen about it. Painkillers he could get for himself, and he didn't need a doctor's opinion to tell him he had a mild concussion and should be resting -- or looking for a safer line of work.
The Tourist Office had been quiet all morning, allowing Ianto to concentrate on gathering the information Gwen and Tosh had requested. Now he just wanted to sit up here, away from the Hub, and get some of his own work done. He might have preferred losing himself downstairs in the Archives with the sort of mind-numbing filing and categorising that a department of a dozen archivists would be hard pressed to finish up this century. But every time he headed down that hallway, he felt the stares on his back. Co-workers wondering where he was going, distrusting his footsteps despite their being in the opposite direction of where he'd kept her.
The pain hit his stomach again and he frowned at his watch. Too soon for lunch, though he'd want to make sure he found out who would want food brought in and who was leaving the Hub to find their own lunch. If Tosh was staying, she'd want a salad; Jack would eat anything that was set before him, and Owen would complain about whatever he'd ordered not being prepared exactly right. Gwen -- she'd been slipping out at lunch to see her boyfriend, and Ianto found himself hoping she'd do the same today. She always seemed happier when she returned, which seemed to make Tosh and Jack more relaxed as well.
Ianto had found only three things which made Owen relax, and none of them were things Ianto felt like providing him.
He set an alarm on his PDA for half an hour hence, to stop his work and collect their lunch orders. Then he sat in his tiny office and called up a document at random, and began working on the database his fingers had selected.
His predictions for lunch turned out to be accurate. Gwen waved as she hurried past him, crossing over to the car park to go meet Rhys somewhere. Bay's Garden, Ianto surmised, based on a conversation he'd overheard between Gwen and Tosh. Gwen wanted something new, but not expensive, and Tosh had looked up the newspaper's dining guide online to help her decide. Ianto could have told her the so-called Italian cuisine was bland pasta with uninspired sauces, but the lunch menu was basic, cheap, and wouldn't put Rhys off from meeting his girlfriend for lunch so Ianto had kept his mouth shut from offering an opinion.
The others had sent up requests for lunch, and Ianto had just brought them down to the conference room. Tosh had her salad -- not an unusual choice but Ianto noticed, as he surmised the others had, that the salad had no meat. Ianto had got a pizza for the rest of them to share; he caught Jack's look as he slid a slice onto a plate for himself; Ianto had intended to take it upstairs to eat, but Jack was beginning to look at him with that not-subtle-at-all worried expression.
"Aren't you joining us?" Jack asked, and no one who'd ever met Jack would have called it a casual tone.
Tosh and Owen glanced at each other, but neither of them looked over at them. Tosh bent over her salad, breaking open the package of croutons and sprinkling them out carefully. Owen snagged three slices of the pizza, as if daring anyone to call him on taking seconds and thirds before eating his first.
For a long moment Ianto merely looked at Jack, wondering what sort of test this was -- if it wasn't just one more of the same. Make him part of the team. Learn about him. Try to pretend that we aren't partially to blame for what happened, for the secrets Ianto was so able to hide.
"Of course," Ianto said, and he pulled out a chair and sat down. He picked up a napkin, somewhat self-consciously tucking it into his collar. He expected a joke from Owen, and there was a definite snort -- but Owen didn't say anything out loud. Possibly just as well, given that two bites of pizza were already in his mouth.
Ianto focused on his slice of pizza, trying to ignore the look Jack was giving him. He took a bite, taking only as much care as was required to not spill sauce and toppings all over his hand. He'd ordered the pizza as Owen and Jack had requested -- pepperoni and sausage -- and he knew perfectly well why Jack was watching him with a concerned expression.
The day after they'd returned from Brecon Beacons, Ianto had fixed himself a ham sandwich for supper and had promptly thrown it up. He'd gone to bed with only tea in his stomach, and the next day he'd fixed his usual breakfast of toast and bacon, and resolutely refused to allow himself to react to the smell or thought of meat.
He ignored Jack as he ate a second, then third bite, then finally Jack began eating his own pizza, and dove into recounting a story involving drunken clowns and alien dogs, and Ianto couldn't decide if it was a far-away circus he was describing, or a wedding.
He continued to eat, taking a second slice and eating it slowly enough for Jack to snag the last piece away from Owen. He wasn't convinced that his stomach really wanted pizza, but it was food and it wasn't nearly as greasy and disgusting as Dabny's, the pizzeria they'd frequented at university. He'd worked there for nearly three months one term and hadn't been able to ever eat another item of food from there again.
Ianto slowly cleaned his hands with the napkin he pulled loose from his collar, pleased to note the care had been well-taken to protect his shirt from the splatters of sauce. Jack hadn't fared so well, and Ianto made a note to collect the shirt for the week's allotment of laundering.
Soon enough Tosh and Owen headed out of the room, back towards their workstations well before the lunch hour was over. The only time lunch hour actually lasted an entire hour was when they left the Hub and then sometimes the hour lasted for three. Ianto began gathering the trash, clearing up the cans of soda and wadded napkins when Jack cleared his throat.
Ianto looked over, raising one eyebrow in question.
Jack looked like he was going to say...something. Something difficult, or poorly rehearsed, or just very, very complicated. He opened his mouth then said nothing, then it was as if he realised he'd been standing there far too long to say whatever it was he'd wanted to. Jack nodded, once, and said, "Thanks for getting lunch." Then he picked up one of the stacks of trash and carried it to the bin, before exiting the room.
Ianto just returned his attention to cleaning up, dumping the trash and bringing back the spray bottle of disinfectant to wipe the table clean. His stomach was rolling slightly; the pizza hadn't agreed with him but he knew at least he'd keep it down.
It was hot, dismally so for late September. Ianto -- along with the rest of the city's residents -- was ready for autumn to begin proper, with its cooler temperatures. He could do without the 'more rain' part of the season, but he'd lived through twenty-plus years of rain and he didn't think he would start to mind it now. As long as it meant the air wasn't this sticky, salty, horrible heat that lasted even when the sun went down.
Uncommonly hot for the season, and he and Tosh had double-, triple-, and quadruple-checked the Rift monitors to make sure there was no unnatural reason for it. It was making the city dwellers cranky; the police had had their hands full the last three nights, breaking up pub fights and domestic disputes and traffic collisions.
Even now, with the sun beginning to set, Ianto couldn't feel any change in the temperature. He knew it was due in part to the fact he'd spent the last forty five minutes hurrying through the alleys and streets, guided by Tosh's voice over the comm in his ear. A short sprint across a park hadn't helped matters and Ianto thought briefly about a long, cool shower and a beer in front of the telly.
If he could figure out a way to drink the beer in the shower, he'd stay in the shower all night. Owen might have an idea on that -- there was no way he was drinking beer through a straw but Owen might have some trick to it that would maintain a man's dignity and still let him drink beer in the shower.
If they weren't in mid-chase, he might have called to Owen and asked him, but they were looking for two escaped W'ntols. Five feet tall and covered in thick green fur, they almost looked harmless -- until they opened their mouths and showed off two rows of sharp teeth. Add to that the propensity of buying weapons at alien black markets and Torchwood had been unable to determine exactly how they'd be armed. Jack had finally just said 'Be prepared for anything' and they'd driven off, tracking the two aliens down.
The W'ntols had split up, and thus so had Torchwood; Owen and Ianto after one, Jack and Gwen after the other with Tosh in the SUV coordinating both pairs. The W'ntols had a reputation for sneaking onto planets to steal whatever they could lay their paws on; Tosh had picked up their ship's descent and Torchwood had gone out to meet them and dissuade them from staying.
It was Ianto's third mission in the field and so far he hadn't gotten clubbed, kidnapped, or peed on. He was counting this as potentially his first successful field mission. He ran up to the mouth of the alley and stopped, peering around the corner for any signs of the W'ntol.
"Anything?" Owen asked, over the comm. Ianto glanced across the street where Owen was hurrying through the crowd, scanning for any sight of the alien.
"Nothing-- wait. Down at the corner; it just ducked behind that yellow van!" Ianto was already off in a sprint, the glimpse of green followed by a woman's high-pitched scream confirmed they'd found their quarry. He didn't glance over to see if Owen was gaining on it, just pushed himself to run faster before they could lose it again.
He could hear Jack and Gwen over the comm, only half-listening as they cornered their own W'ntol a few blocks away. It seemed they had theirs well in hand, or nearly enough, that Ianto focused his concentration on chasing down the second one.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw two figures stumble, falling to the ground; he turned his head long enough to see Owen sprawled on the pavement. Ianto quickened his steps, glad now he'd chosen jogging as his main form of exercise. He'd never been a sprinter, but at least his lungs weren't quite burning and his legs wouldn't feel like jelly until much later.
The W'ntol was just ahead, veering across a busy street and into a playground. Ianto kept after it, jumping past a parked car and relieved to hear Gwen's voice saying in his ear, "We got him!"
One down, Ianto thought, and he found himself gaining on the second alien. Two more steps and he had to duck past something, whizzing through the air. The W'ntol had thrown something -- there was no sudden explosion, so perhaps it had been a rock and not a grenade. Ianto kept going, throwing himself onto the W'ntol in a full-body tackle as he heard Jack shout in his ear.
"Tosh's been poisoned! It had another gun; Owen! How close are you to the SUV?"
Ianto listened with only half an ear, ducking under what might have been an elbow as the W'ntol spun around. He made a note to look out for something that could deliver poison -- claws, needle, sharp blade. He heard Owen's response that he was a block away, that he'd be right with them. Ianto swung his fist and connected with what he hoped was the alien's jaw. Its head flew back, at least, in a satisfactory manner but then Ianto felt a blow against his ribs, knocking him to the ground. He rolled, scrambling to his feet and threw himself forward again, trying to tackle the W'ntol to the ground.
Another blow to his back, and pain exploded -- red hot fire along his spine and ribs, and Ianto shoved his hand as hard as he could against the alien's head. He drew his hand back again, thrusting the heel of his palm against what Jack had said was the W'ntol's nose -- soft, fragile cartilage and a good spot to hit.
It seemed Jack was right; the W'ntol recoiled from Ianto's blow, hissing and keening in a loud screech. Ianto reached his hand up to strike again when he realised what he was holding in that hand. Right. The stun gun. He felt incredibly stupid for not having used it before now; he shoved himself backwards off the thing and aimed. Fired, and the W'ntol screeched again then fell silent and still.
"Ianto!" Jack's voice shouted in his ear, and Ianto realised he'd heard that shout a few times already.
"Sir?" Ianto panted silently, drawing in air and letting himself fall to his knees.
"We need to get Tosh to hospital. What's the status on the second W'ntol?"
"Subdued, sir," Ianto said. He looked at the alien, sprawled motionless on the grass. Nearby, a swing set stood, two of the swings swaying back and forth. Ianto wondered if they'd struck it during their fight. He couldn't remember.
There was a pause, then Jack's voice returned. "Do you need a hand?" He sounded...vaguely impressed. Or possibly confused, Ianto couldn't be sure.
"It's unconscious," Ianto said. "Is Tosh--?"
"We don't have time to wait for an ambulance; can you get that thing back to the Hub?"
Ianto blinked. "I could Retcon a taxi driver, yes sir." Was he supposed to say this thing was a mate who'd had too much to drink? He bit back his words; of course it was more important that Toshiko get taken care of. He could carry the alien back on his shoulders if he had to. "I'll see you back at the Hub," he said, calmly as he could. "Take care of Tosh."
"Don't stop for the sight-seeing tour," Jack said, but his attempt at levity failed rather miserably. Ianto didn't call him on it, just stayed silent as he heard the tale-tell click of the comm being switched off. He inhaled, trying to breathe deeply and bit back a cry as the pain in his back knifed through his middle. He leaned forward, catching himself on his hands, and stayed as motionless as he could for a moment.
More slowly, he tried to breathe. This time it didn't spark the surge of pain, and, heartened, he tried it again. No more worse than after a game of rugby, he told himself, and found the level where he could draw air into his lungs without wanting to shout.
No broken ribs, at least; he knew what that felt like. He could still hear his mother's scolding, too young to play rugby with the older boys, nattering at his father to make him stop until he was old enough to drive himself to hospital to get patched up. He grinned at the memory of her, hands on her hips and glaring at him like he'd jumped off the roof with a blanket for a cape.
But it made him remember Tosh, and the grin vanished. He glared at the W'ntol and pushed himself to his feet; stumbling, he made his way over to stand beside the body. He aimed the stun gun again; no reason to take chances. The W'ntol didn't even flinch as the bolt hit. Grimly, Ianto nodded, then began the difficult task of getting the thing off the ground.
The cab driver didn't need retconning after all; Ianto held the alien in a fireman's carry, wrapped in Ianto's suit jacket. A story about a costume party and too many pints was all that was needed, though Ianto suspected that as soon as he gave the driver the address, the driver understood. Secret underground base, Ianto thought to himself, and wondered for the hundred and twentieth time why Jack insisted on acting like nobody knew. They might not know exactly what Torchwood was about, but apparently it was enough that green furry unconscious bodies didn't warrant more conversation than "Did you see the match, then?"
Ianto over-tipped the driver, just in case, then wrestled the alien back over his shoulder. His knees shook, and he wished he could just dump the thing in the bay and been done with it. But he got it downstairs and locked away in a cell by the time Jack called over the comm to let him know Tosh was going to be OK.
Jack asked if he needed a hand with the W'ntol and Ianto assured him it was safely locked in the cell. There was another pause, which Ianto didn't bother trying to decipher. He wanted a nice, long soak -- dear God, but he was actually thinking of hot water. Trust aliens to ruin even that part of his day.
It didn't take long for Jack and Gwen to return with the other W'ntol -- Owen had remained behind, apparently not trusting the hospital's staff to keep a proper eye on Tosh. Ianto suspected Jack would have stayed as well if he hadn't needed to help Gwen wrestle their not-unconscious W'ntol down into its cell. There wasn't much clean-up once the aliens were safely locked away and Ianto made an executive decision to let the reports wait until the next day.
He stopped by Jack's office long enough to ask if there was anything else that needed doing, and Jack just waved him along with the directive to go home.
For a second Ianto stood in the doorway, looking at Jack. Sitting at his desk, head down over whatever he was writing. Ianto didn't know why -- what he could possibly want to ask, or say. He stepped away from the door and hurried down the gangway before Jack could realise he'd been hovering there.
By the time he got home, Ianto was seriously considering skipping any sort of wash-up and just falling over onto his bed. He ached everywhere, and that along with the heat that was only starting to dissipate was making him feel even more exhausted that he had a right to. He didn't even consider supper -- a beer might be nice but he needed painkillers first, and he wasn't sure he wanted to drug himself into a stupor on a night like this one.
He settled for a cool shower and a double dose of painkillers to loosen his muscles, and a cup of tea to wash them down with. It was still a bit early for bed, but Ianto laid down eagerly, kicking the covers onto the floor. He laid on his back for long enough to decide he'd never get any sleep that way and gingerly curled onto his side, drawing his knees up and feeling like he looked a great deal more pitiful than he felt.
As he closed his eyes, he felt himself tense slightly at the expectation of a touch. Lisa had always spooned up behind him when he slept on his side, and months of sleeping alone had apparently not cured him of that sense memory. Ianto would have moved to lay on his back again, but the sharp pain that stabbed through him when he moved changed his mind.
Ianto closed his eyes and waited to fall asleep.
The next morning Ianto woke, feeling sore, stiff, and decidedly like he'd been beaten by a maniac wielding a cricket bat. He stayed where he was, debating the need to die peacefully versus crawling out of bed to pee. The debate raged as he laid there, and he got as far as mentally drawing up a list of pros and cons for each. He cracked open one eye to look around, just in case there was a bottle or cup or something which would make the argument moot.
But there was nothing he could use, even if he thought he could get over the idea of his mother's shocked outrage of his doing such a thing.
Finally there was nothing else to do but drag his hands underneath himself and push upwards, tilting his body towards the edge of the bed. He rolled and started to fall, catching himself at the last moment with feet hastily moved to the floor. It was cool, which felt heavenly after the last few days.
Ianto lurched upright and staggered drunkenly towards the bathroom. His head hurt as usual, but now his back hurt and his legs were finally feeling like jelly. The burning of his muscles was overpowered by the pressure in his bladder, however, and he continued on his way to the loo.
He caught himself on the doorway, taking a deep breath and catching himself as the pain fired through the small of his back. Ianto closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the wooden frame of the doorway. God, he just wanted to curl back up in bed and wake up sometime next week. He would, if he could just get the four more steps to the toilet.
Another moment to breathe carefully shallowly, then Ianto got himself moving forward again. It felt worse than the hangover he'd had after David's bachelor party, five years ago. Ianto couldn't even remember what town they'd been drinking in. He was convinced that after that night his IQ had dropped permanently by ten points.
One more step and Ianto was standing in front of the toilet. He sighed in relief, wishing the feeling of release could spread through his entire aching body; then he glanced down and saw red.
A lot of red.
"What the fuck do you want?"
Ianto tried to take a breath -- reminding himself at the last minute not to breathe deeply. He waited for Owen to rant himself out, knowing that the other man had checked the caller ID before answering and knew perfectly well who was calling.
When there was silence, Ianto asked just how concerned he should be.
Four hours later, Ianto was lying in a bed at St. David's Hospital, just three rooms down from Toshiko. He was trying to stare at the ceiling, but the man glaring at him from the foot of his bed was making it difficult.
"Have you ever heard the term 'acute kidney failure'? Or here's another one - fucking bleeding to death."
Ianto waited to see if Owen was really going to let him speak this time. When it appeared he was, Ianto just said, again, "I didn't think it was that serious."
"We don't pay you to think like a doctor!" Owen didn't shout, but it certainly felt like shouting. Ianto tried to stare at the ceiling again; nice, white tiles that weren't furious with him. The Vicodin they'd given him were doing wonderful things for his body, but nothing at all for the scolding he was getting.
"I was--" Ianto tried again.
Owen took a step forward, glaring down at him now from close enough Ianto wondered if Owen were really going to strangle him. "Your job is to say 'hey, Dr. Harper, I've been injured, could you take a fucking look at it with your medical scanner which happens to have a bit of alien tech crammed into it and would tell you straight away that you're bleeding and need some fucking surgery to fix it'!"
Ianto didn't dare open his mouth to remind Owen that he hadn't had surgery. They'd put in stents, the doctor had said something that sounded like medical gibberish involving swelling and peeing properly, and said he'd be fine in a few days as long as he didn't play rugby for awhile and re-damage his kidneys.
Owen took a deep breath. Ianto waited. Owen didn't continue, so Ianto nodded. It seemed safest. "You're right. I should have told you. But I was afraid you'd delay getting help for Tosh--"
"She was poisoned with halabuth powder," Jack said, quietly. He'd been standing on the other side of the room, saying nothing and not moving while Owen had yelled at Ianto.
Ianto started to nod, then frowned. Halabuth-- he knew that term, didn't he? It had been...right. In their briefing for chasing after the W'ntols. Technically a poison, but not lethal. The worst that would happen was the victim would have the most miserable flu-like symptoms for a couple of weeks and their skin would turn bright purple.
"Tosh would have had to stay at the Hub until it cleared her system," Jack continued in that same, calm voice. "Her life was never in danger."
Ianto swallowed. "I didn't know that. You didn't say--"
"We didn't realise at first," Jack admitted, nodding. "But once we knew -- if we'd known you were injured we wouldn't have made you carry an unconscious W'ntol back to the Hub by yourself."
Jack stared at Ianto, and there was censure in that gaze that completely dwarfed Owen's ranting. After a moment, Ianto managed a shaky nod. Jack took another step forward, hands still in his pockets like he was ordering lunch.
"From now on, Ianto, you tell the commander in the field if you are injured. It's their job to determine what the mission priorities are. Not yours."
Ianto nodded again; he hadn't felt so small since the first time his mother had caught him stealing cookies from her kitchen and setting up his sister to take the blame. He looked away from Jack, back to the ceiling tiles. He wondered if the lecture was over, if he could go back to floating on the cloud of painkillers and lose himself. Lose this feeling of shame and failure that was stabbing itself through his stomach, almost along the same path as the pain that had felled him that morning before Owen and Jack could pound down his front door.
There was movement from Jack, and Ianto tensed, but Owen said quietly, "I'm going to check on Toshiko. Let her and Gwen know our tea-boy's going to live. For now." He gave Ianto one last scowl, and left the room. Ianto thought surely they'd have been told when he'd first been moved into Recovery -- but then realised Owen just needed an excuse to leave. Ianto forced himself to continue staring at the ceiling, but then Jack touched his cheek and startled him into looking over.
Jack was bending close, and there was something in his eyes that Ianto had seen before and still didn't understand. He'd seen it the day after Lisa -- Jack at his doorstep, telling him it was a suspension, not a termination. He'd seen it the day he'd returned to the Hub, and the day Jack had told him he was accompanying the team to Brecon Beacons.
But he'd also seen it when he'd been cleaning up the files from Jack's desk, quietly telling him that the staff meeting was in another ten minutes. When he'd been the last to leave the Hub, cleaning up the last of the detritus from a day's work and Jack was just standing there, watching. He'd seen it before, here and there and as far as he'd been able to determine, there was no rhyme or reason to it. It would help, Ianto knew, if he understood what it was.
His confusion must have shown, then -- every time before he was so careful not to let his emotions or thoughts slip onto his face. But aching and beaten down, and lulled by the painkillers, Ianto thought he might be forgiven for letting himself slip out this once. But Jack's expression changed, taking note of the look on Ianto's face and Ianto felt as if, in that moment, Jack was seeing all the way through him. Transparent as the wind, caught in that look that still hadn't left Jack's eyes.
Jack didn't say anything to explain himself, but he leaned further down, and so softly Ianto wondered if he was imagining it, he pressed his lips to Ianto's own.
Ianto closed his eyes, exhausted from everything and needing to gather just a bit of strength before he met Jack's gaze again.
When he opened his eyes it was dark, and in a shadowed corner of his room a figure sat in a chair, sleeping.