This is, somehow, renenet 's fault. Also omphale23 's, I think. And trelkez 's and fan_eunice 's, probably, even though this ... rather turns their brilliant vid on its head.
Many and effusive thanks to my betas, darthfox and iuliamentis , to fairestcat for all her encouragement, and everyone else who listened, audienced, and generally did not defriend me during the last six months. You guys are amazing, and I couldn't do this without you.
(All parts are posted, but the latter ones have been backdated to spare friends lists.)
Jack/Ianto. Less than 19% mpreg by volume.
68,550 words. R-ish.
Spoilers for and references to all of:
Season 2 of Torchwood and Season 4 of Doctor Who.
"When we don't die young and violently, we die weird. Well, or all three, case in point."
Or at my website.
Get Loved, Make More, Try to Stay Alive
Owen's voice sounded perfectly normal over Ianto's comm, with that hint of bored impatience that marked half the things Owen ever said. "Ianto, would you come down to autopsy? I need another pair of hands on this thing."
Ianto had no idea what "this thing" was, but he suspected it was going to turn out to be messy. Still, likely more interesting than door duty. "On my way."
Ianto locked up and headed down into the Hub, glancing over at Jack's office, and then up at the conference room. Jack was nowhere to be seen, nor was Gwen. Tosh was at her workstation, tapping away at something, and Ianto walked on without disturbing her.
Ianto was halfway down the steps into the autopsy room before he realized there was nothing on the gleaming steel table. "Owen? You said you needed--"
"Yeah," Owen said, turning to face him with an ugly-looking hypodermic in his hand. "Not your hands so much as the rest of you. Lie down on the table, please, Ianto."
Ianto backed up a step without taking his eyes off Owen, then froze at the unmistakable sound of Jack's revolver cocking behind him.
"Ianto, do as Owen says."
Ianto slowly raised both hands, fingers spread wide, and just as slowly turned his head to look up at Jack. He was standing at the top of the steps, his gun trained steadily on Ianto. Gwen stood six feet beyond him, her automatic raised in a two-hand grip.
"Jack," Ianto said as evenly as he could, panic starting to speed his heart, sweat breaking out down his back. "What..."
What did I do, what's got into all of you--
"We're not going to hurt you," Jack said, and Ianto had a sudden, complete understanding of why that sentence was never, ever actually reassuring. "Owen just needs to have a look at you. Lie down on the table."
Ianto tried to work out his options. He couldn't resist. He recognized that look on Jack's face, the grim set of Gwen's mouth, the lazy way Owen held that hypodermic. They were all ready to force him to do whatever it was they wanted him to do. If they'd been taken over by something that wanted to take him over, too...
If it had already got Owen, and Gwen, and Jack, then it had already won. Ianto wasn't going to be able to save all three of them from it. He wouldn't even be able to save himself.
"Come on, mate, just have a lie down and let me look at you," Owen said, a good attempt at his ordinary briskness. "You're showing up funny on the scanners, and we need to figure out what's going on before it takes you over or kills you."
Ianto looked up at Jack again, and Jack gave him a small nod. The gun didn't waver.
"And Tosh is monitoring remotely and providing backup in case I manage to overpower all three of you, I suppose," Ianto said. "Well planned, very tidy."
"Ianto," Jack said firmly.
"I'm sorry," Ianto said, turning to look at the table again, taking a slow step toward it. "It's been some time since you pointed a gun at me. I'm finding it a bit distracting."
No one said anything, and Ianto looked around at them all. They watched him steadily, showing nothing. Jack's gun and Gwen's loomed large in his sight, a stark black contrast to the sterile whiteness of autopsy.
"You'll know I'm not armed just now," he said slowly, his hands still raised. "Do you mind if I take my jacket off before I lie down?"
Jack's lips thinned down to a line, angry or impatient or just tightly controlled, Ianto was never entirely sure. "Face me, move slowly, hang it over the chain there."
Ianto nodded and lowered his hands, shrugging out of his suit jacket while keeping his hands away from his pockets. He couldn't take his eyes off Jack, though his face was just a blur beyond the gun. Pointed at Ianto, again.
Some detached part of his mind noted that he was more frightened of it this time--less distracted by other events. Just as certain Jack would pull the trigger if he thought he had to.
For some reason all he could think of was the spate of nightmares he'd had in the weeks after those two days they'd all lost. He'd woken up over and over in the night, sick with guilt and terror, convinced he'd done something horrible but unable to remember what. After a while, when the sleep deprivation began to get to him, he'd been nearly overcome by the paranoid fantasy that he really had done something horrible, that Jack had made all of them--even himself--forget, just to protect Ianto.
But that was ridiculous. Whatever else they were to each other, Jack was Torchwood. He'd never let Ianto get away with hurting anyone, and this only proved it. Not six hours ago they'd been as unprofessional together as one could imagine; now Jack was holding a gun on him, watching with hard eyes as Ianto laid his coat over the chain along the stairs, scowling suspiciously as he reached up to loosen his tie and slip it off.
It was somehow not as comforting as Ianto had imagined it would be, to be sure Jack would stop him (if he was still Jack at all, if this was not the next step in some hostile takeover of Torchwood which had already succeeded while Ianto was upstairs sorting maps).
"All right, lie down," Owen said, beckoning with one hand, still holding the hypodermic with the other. "Just a nice little scan, won't hurt a bit."
Owen wasn't talking to him, Ianto realized as he walked obediently to the table, gun barrels pivoting to follow his stride. Owen was talking to whatever he thought was in Ianto--or else that wasn't Owen talking at all. Ianto sat down on the table and then lay back, trying not to shiver at the coldness of steel through his shirt, and on the bare skin at the back of his neck.
"Sorry about this," Owen murmured, tightening restraints across Ianto's chest, hips, legs, pinning his arms at his sides. Ianto closed his eyes and waited--was it him, was it them, was Owen going to jab him with whatever was in that needle...
Ianto opened his eyes again as footsteps closed in, to see Jack and Gwen both coming down to stand across the table from Owen. They'd put their guns away, but now they were looming over him as he lay bound flat on the table, so it wasn't much comfort.
"Owen," Jack said through gritted teeth.
"Right, got it," Owen said, and pointed a hand-held scanner at Ianto's chest, sweeping it slowly downward.
So they really weren't trying to hurt him, then. It really was him who was wrong.
Jack's hand settled onto Ianto's head like he'd heard that, and Ianto closed his eyes again. He didn't realize his hands were clenched in fists until Gwen's hand closed around one of them, but even then he couldn’t force himself to relax.
"Damn," Owen murmured. "Definitely something alive in there--pretty small, though. Get it with the singularity scalpel, no trouble."
Ianto's eyes flew open, and he looked up at Owen's frown of concentration, then Gwen's suppressed horror, then Jack, looking back at him with every appearance of calm. Jack's hand moved over his hair, petting him, though Ianto wasn't feeling especially like being soothed just now.
"Can you identify the species?" Jack asked. The question was for Owen, but his eyes were on Ianto's, unwavering. "Ianto, can you remember any time you might have picked this up, any recent exposure to an alien?"
Ianto shook his head slowly, carefully not dislodging Jack's hand.
"Nothing's bitten me," he said, with a quick glance at Gwen, who was eyeing Ianto's stomach a little nervously.
"I don't think anything's even got close to me lately but Weev--" Ianto cut himself off, horrified by the very thought. There was something inside him. It could be anything, it could be a Weevil.
Owen looked at him over the scanner, eyebrows rising. "How close have the Weevils got, then?"
Ianto felt his eyes go very wide, the lights seeming suddenly much too bright. "Not that close--do we know how they--"
He could feel his voice pitching upward and cut himself off. Oh, God, Weevils.
Jack's hand dropped to his shoulder, squeezing tight. "We have no reason to think it's anything exotic--they're on a fairly straightforward biological model."
Owen let out a strange noise then, staring at the scanner. Ianto couldn't read the look on his face, but Gwen dropped Ianto's hand and bolted around to the other side of the table to look over his shoulder. When she looked at the readout she clapped a hand over her mouth, a giggle escaping. Nerves. It must be bad.
"Owen," Jack snapped. "Can you identify it?"
"Think so," Owen said, fiddling with the scanner. "Haven't seen one at this stage of development in a long while, but I believe you're going to have to rethink that question about what Ianto's been exposed to."
Owen flipped the readout so that Ianto could see the tiny, hideous thing, at least one internal organ visibly pulsating. Jack bent closer to him, peering at it.
"Homo sap, I reckon."
Ianto blinked at it. "It's human?"
"It's a baby," Gwen said brightly, still behind her hand though her fingers hardly hid her smile.
Jack's hand jerked away from Ianto's shoulder as he straightened up, and he turned abruptly, putting his back to Ianto. "That's impossible."
Owen frowned. "Yeah, because this is the place to make definitive statements about what is and is not possible, Jack."
Jack's shoulders tightened, and in the bright light of the autopsy room Ianto could see the furious flush bloom on the tips of his ears and the back of his neck. "Just take a sample, find out what's going on in there."
Owen's frown descended into a glare, and then he looked down at Ianto with a grimly polite expression. "Ianto, mate, looks like you've somehow got pregnant. May I have your consent to stick a great big needle into your stomach and take a biopsy to check how it's going?"
Ianto looked helplessly from Owen to the back of Jack's head to Gwen, who seemed to be passing through confused and/or crestfallen on her way to angry, all her attention fixed on Jack.
Ianto focused on Owen. "Yes, of course, whatever you--"
"Let me know what you find out," Jack snapped. With that he was gone, up the steps and out the door without ever looking back at Ianto, still lying strapped to the table.
Distantly, Ianto heard Tosh say Jack's name, but he didn't reply, and the sound of his footsteps on the stairs got lost as Owen loosened the restraints, Gwen helping even as she looked to the door. From the expression on her face she'd settled into anger, now. Ianto looked away, not wanting her anger to settle on him.
Her voice was strained but quiet as she spoke. "I should go and--"
"No," Owen said firmly. "Gwen, I need your help on this. Amnio's a delicate procedure."
Ianto pushed up onto his elbows--anything to let Gwen go and be angry somewhere else, at someone else. Owen at least was mercifully blank. "I could--"
"Oh, no you don't," Owen said, setting down the scanner and turning away. "You make a fine coffee, Ianto, but I am not letting you jab needles into your own abdominal cavity. Now open your trousers for me, there's a lad."
Ianto thought, distantly, that he must be in quite a bad way. Owen had dredged up a bit of bedside manner from somewhere, and made him lie under a blanket for fifteen minutes after the procedure. It hadn't taken long and really didn't hurt very much at all, but Owen said he should just keep still and let things settle.
Ianto curled on his side--fetal--and stared at the tiles, listening to Owen moving around behind him. He'd switched on some music, but it was turned down low. Ianto couldn't make out anything but anger and drums. Gwen had disappeared while Owen was giving him his choice of brightly colored plasters for the tiny puncture on his stomach. Ianto couldn't hear any shouting, so he had to guess she hadn't gone after Jack.
They were all leaving it to him to do that, he thought. Because this was between him and Jack--because Ianto had this thing, this human thing, baby, inside him. Everyone knew Ianto and Jack were shagging, and that had to mean this was all between him and Jack.
Ianto squeezed his eyes shut and thought he'd rather be at gunpoint again, rather be strapped down to this table, than have to go and face Jack now. He knew he should get up, go and get it over with. He had to find out why Jack was angry at him, what he'd done to make this his fault--because Jack hadn't blamed him when it was an alien thing, hadn't turned away from him until Gwen called it a baby. Ianto found himself morbidly reviewing everything they'd done together for weeks. Which time, where--what had he asked for that he shouldn't? What had he wanted that had led to this? To say nothing of why, and how...
Gwen's voice came just before the touch on his cheek. Gwen's fingertips felt wet against his skin, and Ianto jerked back a second too late, realizing what that meant. He tried to look anywhere but at her, pushing himself up to sit and getting tangled in the damned blanket.
"Shh, easy, it's all right," Gwen said, in the voice she might use to soothe a civilian or a child or a stray dog. "I just wanted to know if you needed anything."
Ianto made himself sit still, staring at his knees with the blanket half wrapped around him. He had his shoes on, though the tails of his unbuttoned shirt draped over his trousers, still unzipped. He gave in and ran the back of his hand across his cheeks, and then gripped the edge of the table.
"A time machine, maybe. Would you have one handy?" Let him just undo this, go back to before, or else skip past, until it was all over--just one more bloody weird day at work, nothing for anyone to be angry about at all, nothing inside him making his stomach turn every time he thought of it there.
"Ah," Gwen said, and when he glanced up she was smiling a little sadly--but not pityingly, he thought. That was something. "I'm afraid I could just manage a cup of tea or someone to talk to. Anything more complicated would require..."
Ianto glanced through the door, in the direction of Jack's office though he couldn't see it from here. "Yes. Indeed. Is he...?"
Gwen nodded. "Owen says the results of the tests should be ready soon. He'll bring them up."
So Ianto had better be up there, if he wanted to hear them. "Right. Right."
Ianto pushed off the table, set himself to rights and folded the blanket, laying it neatly on the table before he followed Gwen back into the center of the Hub. He stood still for a moment, at a loss--Tosh and Owen were both watching him, silent, not bothering to pretend they were working. Jack wasn't visible through the windows of his office.
Ianto squared his shoulders and went to the coffee machine. Ridiculous to devise a pretext for going to Jack's office now--even more ridiculous to imagine coffee as a suitable propitiation--but he wanted something to do with his hands, and the routine soothed him just a little. Once he'd got Jack's coffee, it was practically automatic to walk to Jack's office and step inside.
Ianto stopped just over the threshold. Jack was standing at his desk with his hands braced on the surface and his head down, his back to the door. Ianto swallowed, trying to make himself speak, say anything, but words wouldn't come.
"You'll have to leave," Jack said without looking at him.
Ianto did not drop the coffee. He was not going to drop the coffee. It was hot; it would make a mess and Ianto would have to clean it up. Jack liked this mug and it would break.
Jack looked over his shoulder at Ianto, expressionless. "There are regulations, right back to Queen Victoria. Torchwood operatives can't have living children. Parents of living children can't be recruited, and operatives who engender children must resign. You'll have to be retconned. You'll have to leave."
Ianto understood, at once and completely. Jack never let anyone leave the team if he could help it, kept them all in drawers when death took them away from him at last. He'd come close to destroying the world to bring Owen back, just because he couldn't bear to let go.
Jack thought this meant losing Ianto. Jack was at least as possessive of Ianto as he was of anyone else on the team, and now Jack thought he'd come up against a rival he couldn’t fight.
Ianto couldn't help it. He laughed, a little hysterically (and wasn't that a precise term, this once), and kept a firm grip on the coffee as Jack finally turned to face him properly. Jack looked baffled, and Ianto wondered, not for the first time, what they taught people in the future, anyway.
"Jack, that isn't happening. I don't have a living child. I have one of those exotic STIs from the future that you swore I couldn't catch from you. Owen will get out the singularity scalpel, and I'll be fine by the end of the day. I'm not going anywhere."
Jack gave him a full three seconds of silent stare, long enough for Ianto's laughter to die away completely. "Ianto, this isn't an alien parasite--"
"No," Ianto said, and Jack fell silent like he couldn't remember the last time Ianto had interrupted him, either. "It's a human parasite, Jack. Just because it's my species doesn't mean it belongs inside my body."
Ianto forced himself to stop there--partly still choking on the idea of this thing inside him, alive and pulsing, when he'd had no idea that it existed, that it possibly could exist, an hour before. Partly he realized, even through the furious frustration, that he didn't need to finish with, Even if that's your standard.
"And this is probably a good time to interrupt," Owen announced from just outside the door--the open door, Ianto realized. So no one had even had to crack into the CCTV in Jack's office to hear that. Brilliant. "Or at least better than after you start throwing crockery."
Jack turned his face away. "What have you got, Owen?"
"I have got test results. Ianto has got a human fetus around thirty-eight days gestation, and the fetus has got DNA which matches fifty percent each to two samples on file. Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness."
Jack actually flinched when Owen said his name, and when he looked up he seemed nothing but baffled all over again.
"That really shouldn't be possible," Jack said, in nearly a normal tone of voice, and he turned almost smoothly to sit on the edge of his desk; only the way he was gripping his biceps betrayed him. He was genuinely shocked, somehow. Like he'd actually believed that someone else had--as if Ianto would have had the free time.
Jack shook his head, staring at the far wall. "Time Agents aren't allowed to have children, not ever--we wreak enough havoc in the timestream anyway, without throwing our descendants all over the place."
Jack rubbed his face. "The procedure was unspeakable--about a third of the potential agents who washed out, it was because they refused the procedure after it had been explained. It's nothing you even notice, afterward, but it hurts, and it's terrifying, and it's permanent."
Ianto turned and handed Owen the coffee and Owen, thankfully, accepted it. Hands empty, Ianto sank down where he stood and sat on the floor.
Jack had honestly believed he could never have children. Jack had been looking at an eternity of life without ever being able to have children. Only now...
"Permanent," Owen said. "Would that be like death is permanent? You've said it yourself, Jack, you're a bit overflowing with life these days."
"Can't give it away," Ianto said, his voice shaking a bit, and Jack finally looked at him again. Ianto couldn't meet his gaze, propping his elbows on his knees and lowering his face into his hands. "But you did."
There was a silence; Ianto could hear his own blood racing in his ears. It was a sign of high blood pressure, he'd read that somewhere. Perhaps he should try to cut down on stress.
"But why Ianto?" Jack asked.
Ianto was relieved to place him by the sound of his voice, still near his desk. Ianto couldn't bear him coming any closer just now. There was this thing inside him--this human thing--this thing that was half Jack, this thing Jack thought he could never have. Owen said it was barely an inch long yet, weighed hardly anything, but Ianto could swear it was crushing him already.
"I mean, I've been like this a hundred and forty years and it's never happened, and Ianto's not actually equipped for it."
"I guess maybe you should start ringing your exes and check," Owen said. "Or maybe you've been lucky. Or maybe you just haven't been shagging people who get exposed to as much Rift radiation and other weird alien shit as any given employee of Torchwood. I haven't seen anything like all the reports, but when we don't die young and violently, we die weird. Well, or all three, case in point."
Ianto looked up at Owen, who gave him an apologetic grimace.
"I don't know, you must have had contact with something that altered you a bit, because you are equipped now, internally at least. Maybe it was just something that reacted with Jack..."
Ianto couldn't help stealing a glance at Jack. He had his hand over his mouth, and he wasn't asking any more questions.
"The trouble is, I can't take it out with the singularity scalpel."
Ianto saw the expression on Jack's face change--not to triumph, but to hope. Ianto looked back to Owen, trying not to think of what that meant. "What--why can't you..."
Owen shook his head. "When I used it on Martha and Gwen, it was to remove a discrete entity that just happened to be located inside their bodies. Your parasite," Ianto winced, and didn't look over at Jack, "is actually growing out of your own body. If I zap it out of you it'll be taking the ends of a lot of blood vessels with it. You'd risk bleeding out into the space it left before I could get you opened up to try to stop it." Owen raised his bandaged hand. "And I'd be a right mess at that anyway."
Ianto opened and closed his mouth a few times. Jack was resoundingly silent.
"It'll have to be surgical, that's all," Owen said. "Look, I'll get in touch with Martha, explain the situation and see when she can spare us a few hours of her time. It's early yet--you haven't been having any symptoms. There's no rush to do anything."
Ianto nodded. There was no rush except that this thing was in him, no rush except that it was grotesque and inescapable. But it most likely wouldn't kill him or make him dangerous, so that was all right then, by Torchwood standards.
Owen made a small--aborted--gesture; Ianto thought Owen would have touched his shoulder, except that it was down so low, and stopped short of patting Ianto on the head.
Jack had, though. Jack's hand had been on his hair while he was lying on the table, when they thought it was some horrible thing in him, something alien and enemy, something they could fight, kill, defeat. Not this.
Owen nodded in Jack's direction and walked out, closing the door behind him, and Ianto finally forced himself to look over. Jack was still perched on the edge of his desk, hands gripping the edge. Ianto could see the fingernails of his near hand going white, muscles standing out in his forearm.
His voice was calm when he spoke. "It's up to you, obviously. Your body, your choice, that's the deal."
He was staring across the room as he said it, not looking anywhere near Ianto still sitting beside the door.
"Your body," Jack repeated flatly. "Your parasite."
Ianto's eyes squeezed shut involuntarily, flinching from the word like a blow.
"Your choice," Jack finished. "Stand down until this is sorted out. I'm sure Owen will let you know when he's heard from Martha."
Ianto pushed himself up to his feet. "Jack, what do you--"
"Don't ask me that," Jack snapped. He still wasn't looking at Ianto. "Don't ask me what I think unless you want to hear it. The weight of this falls on you, and that means it's your right to refuse it. Now go."
Ianto stood there a long time, wanting to go to Jack, wanting to touch him, wanting to ask him what he thought, what to do. More than anything, he wanted to have the courage to ask whether Jack would ever forgive him for this.
But he couldn't ask the question, and couldn’t imagine an answer that wouldn't be more terrible than this silence.
Ianto had been home for six hours and was nearly out of things to clean, sort, or fiddle with when he realized exactly what Jack had said. He blinked at the swathe of half-cleared dust on top of the bookshelf.
"Regulations. Queen Victoria."
His breath stirred up the dust. Ianto pressed his lips together and attacked it again, his dazed brain finally clicking into motion.
Queen Victoria had laid down plenty of regulations--Torchwood One had had stacks of them, and the one about no living children certainly rang true. Ianto hadn't thought to question it. Jack would have been banking on that, on Ianto remembering the old regulations and obeying them without a thought when they were brandished. Like a dog cowering before a raised hand.
But Queen Victoria would have had a few things to say about keeping the walking dead on as Torchwood operatives, too--which was to say nothing of immortals from the 51st century, no matter how good they smelled even before a shower.
Ianto got down off the stepstool and carried the filthy rag to the sink, his teeth grinding together so hard that his temples pounded with pressure as he rinsed the cloth. Jack didn't quote any law higher than himself, not ever--not unless he wanted to shut someone up with his appeal to irrelevant authority. Not unless it suited his own purpose.
Sod Queen Victoria, Jack wanted him out because of this. Jack wanted to send him away, wipe his memory and turn him loose, all because of this--this thing in him, this thing that mattered to Jack more than keeping Ianto on the team did. Jack never let anybody leave the team, not even when they died.
Jack was ready to just hand Ianto over, for this. And he expected Ianto to fall in line. He wanted Ianto to fall in line.
"My choice," Ianto breathed.
Some choice, between the end of his life as he knew it and knowing Jack wanted him gone, knowing Jack would regard him as nothing short of insubordinate if he stayed. He remembered the sound of Jack's revolver behind him--remembered still the feeling of the cold barrel pressed to his skull, Jack ordering him to his knees, ordering him to kill Lisa. Insubordination was betrayal, to Jack. He had chosen to forgive Ianto once, but no one Jack loved had died that night.
Ianto shut the water off. He reached for the kettle, turned it on. Turned it off again. The kettle was not quite what was called for, just now.
Ianto had started out standing in the kitchen, drinking directly from the bottle. This had turned, gradually, to lying on the kitchen floor, and then when he noticed how much the (sparkling bloody clean) lino reminded him both of the table in autopsy and of the floor of Jack's office, he'd migrated to the lounge. He was lying between the settee and the coffee table, a narrow space like a morgue drawer, but warmer, and carpeted.
The glass of the bottle felt nice against his flushed cheek, like a mother's hand for a fevered child. Ianto scowled at his belly. "Is that to be me, now? Your mum? You'd do better with the bottle."
He'd been talking to it, on and off, since sometime after he'd started drinking; he figured if it started talking back he'd know it was time to stop. So far all was quiet. He seemed more in danger of running out of vodka than of conjuring up any really horrifying hallucinations.
On the other hand, the night was young, and he was reasonably certain he'd left an emergency bottle in a cupboard somewhere, for medicinal purposes in extremis. Torchwood One had taught him that much: always be prepared. Always be more prepared than that.
When someone knocked at his door, he emitted a sound very like a growl and hauled himself to his feet. Doors were always his bloody job, stood down or not. That Ianto, he certainly can answer a door. Jack would wipe his memory and pat him on the head and send him off to be a receptionist, an actual receptionist somewhere, where he could rock a cradle and open doors and rot...
Ianto leaned against the door when he'd got there and didn't look through to see who it was. It was more fun to guess.
"I'm utterly pissed," he announced, loudly enough to carry. "So if it's tea and sympathy it's a bit late. And if that's Jack," he added, suddenly inspired by the certain knowledge that there was no possibility of its being Jack, "you can bugger off and take Queen Victoria with you."
There was no more sound from outside, and Ianto twisted, still bracing himself against the door, to see where he'd left the bottle. It might be worth finding the other, while he was standing. If he could remember where he'd left it.
"Beer and curry," Tosh said, and Ianto jumped. He'd forgotten anyone was there.
"Curry," Ianto repeated, and he could almost smell it--maybe he could smell it. Tosh was right outside the door. "Curry, Tosh, come in! You're hired, you can start immediately."
It took another moment of work to get the locks off, and then to get himself off the door enough to open it for Tosh, but she did in fact have lots of curry and quite a respectable quantity of beer. If she made any sort of remark about him eating for two, Ianto decided, he was going to eat hers as well.
But all she said was, "Gwen thought you probably hadn't eaten all day, so I..."
She'd got round the settee, and she set the bag of food on the coffee table and then bent and picked up the open bottle from the floor, setting it down beside the beer. Ianto homed in on it like a beacon, falling onto the settee when he stumbled over it along the way. By the time he'd sorted out his arms and legs--and up and down--Tosh was offering him a container of takeaway. Ianto realized he was starving, like stopping by the chip shop after the pub closed.
He ate quickly, without speaking or even looking up, till he abruptly remembered the part about vomiting in the street in front of the chip shop. He set the rest of his food down carefully and leaned back against the cushions. When he finally looked over, he found Tosh watching him, well into her beer though she'd scarcely touched her curry.
"Ianto," she said hesitantly, "I wanted to talk to you--this is probably not the best time, but I wanted you to know..."
Right. Of course it had been Tosh to come after him. Tea and sympathy indeed. Ianto eyed the beer, wondering if he could move enough to get himself one without regretting it.
"When you were nineteen," Ianto said, and then thought that maybe he should have let her finish that sentence herself. He glanced over at her, but she didn't look altogether shocked. He supposed there was no need to explain having read anyone else's file, when you were the sort of person who wound up working for Torchwood.
Tosh leaned over and picked up a beer, took the top off and passed it to him. He tipped the bottle toward her in a clumsy salute by way of thanks, and took a sip, wondering if she'd any more to say about it than that, or if it was just solidarity on principle.
"I was at university," she said, staring down at her beer bottle. "I thought I had to choose--no. I did have to choose. That child I might have had, or the career I'd been working toward all my life. The life I'd been working toward all my life."
Ianto didn't bother asking if the father had been her boss, had held her life in his hand. He'd had enough girlfriends to have learnt that it was poor form to try to top the story on offer.
Tosh looked up and met his eyes with a smile. "By the time I got to Torchwood, I'd realized that that had been my only chance. There's no later for us."
She took another sip, and Ianto followed suit, years' worth of work on the Torchwood Statistical Survey bubbling up in his brain. Mean and median life-spans of operatives. Cardiff's had always been lowest, but none of them topped thirty years, not even junior researchers in London. He hadn't had time to get drunk over that; he'd had to be up early and back to work.
"But we only get one chance at this, too," Tosh said. "And I wouldn't have missed Torchwood for anything."
Ianto couldn't think of a word to say to that. He wouldn't, either--this grand adventure, the first time he'd ever thought he was contributing to anything but the generic bustle of a city that needed coffees and mobiles and shoes sold to it. And then there was Jack, of course, because Jack and Torchwood Cardiff were practically the same thing--and Tosh, and Owen, and Gwen, and all the wonder of the infinite fucking universe.
He wouldn't trade any of it for anything--not the doing of it, not the remembering of it--not for any other life, and not for anyone else's life either. Only it might not be up to him; he might be on the verge of having it taken away whether he'd choose to or not. If he did stay he might still lose everything that Torchwood had come to mean to him. Jack.
Still, for now he'd got Tosh, and beer and curry, and knowing what he knew. He extended his bottle toward hers again, and murmured, "Cheers."
Tosh clinked and drained the last of her drink. When she came up for air it was with a bright smile firmly in place. "Cheers."
Ianto woke up to the immediate awareness that he must keep very, very still or something terrible would happen. It was not an unfamiliar sensation. He kept his eyes shut tight, and tried to remember where he was, or, failing that, who he'd been with, or, failing that, whether he might have to go to work in the immediate future. He had a vague sense that this job was not one he could just quit due to hangover, though he couldn't quite remember why. Possibly remembering was the terrible thing that would happen if he moved.
"Tosh is sleeping on your couch," Jack said, much too loudly.
Ianto's eyes flew open and then shut again, but he still managed to perceive that Jack was sitting on the edge of his bed, facing away from him. The complete events of the past twenty-four hours came crashing in upon Ianto's consciousness, dragging the headache and the pitiful urge to crawl under the bed and die in their wake. Torchwood was bloody amazing for putting your hangover into perspective, not that perspective helped at all--not when perspective left him still inside his body with this thing, and Jack...
Jack was facing away from him again.
"There's water and painkillers on the table," Jack said, still much too loud. Ianto cracked one cautious eyelid, and there was indeed an uncapped bottle of water within his reach, and, beside it, two suspiciously innocuous-looking white tablets.
"Painkillers, sir?" Ianto croaked. He'd figured--when he tried to think it out at all--that Jack couldn't actually retcon him until after he'd had the child. Then again, he hadn't thought Jack would try to trick him into taking it, either.
"Yes, Jones," Jack said, sounding tired, and Ianto was opening his mouth to ask what Jones was supposed to mean when he realized he'd let out a sir there. "Panadol from the bottle in the bathroom. I just came by to get Tosh. She was late and not answering her mobile. I'll let myself out when I've got her moving."
Ianto was half-tempted to throw the bottle of water at Jack's head, but then he'd have nothing to wash the pills down with, and he wasn't sure he even cared if it was retcon, as long as it made the headache go away. He lifted his head far enough to drink and swallow, and kept swallowing water until his stomach ached. Then he pressed his face back into the pillow, one hand still holding the bottle of water upright beside it. He was nearly asleep when it was tugged free of his slackening grip.
It wasn't until the soft footfalls had reached the door that he realized if he'd turned his head just then, he might have managed to meet Jack's eyes.
Ianto woke up to the desperate need to piss and the wonderful smell of coffee he hadn't had to make himself. Flatmates who made coffee in the morning were brilliant and could be forgiven any number of damp towels, annoying girlfriend dramas, and late rent cheques. Ianto smiled into his pillow, pleased with his good fortune.
The first thing he saw when he lifted his head was the open bottle of water on the table beside his bed, in the peculiar grey light of a rainy afternoon in Cardiff. He didn't have flatmates, and it had been just Panadol. His head felt quite bearable, even as his stomach twisted itself into knots.
No point facing this with a full bladder, anyway. Ianto considered, as he tended to his immediate needs, that it was in some sense a measure of his life: there were precisely four people in the world who might have made coffee in his flat. None of them would have been deterred by the fact that he hadn't given them a key. One of them was undead and couldn't drink coffee, one was at least as hungover as he was and had likely been rousted by their boss, and of the other two he couldn't honestly say which he'd rather it was, though each would be excruciating in their own way.
Jack was standing at the kitchen counter, staring out the window with a coffee mug in one hand. He looked up as Ianto came in, and Ianto realized he'd known it would be Jack. If he'd been expecting Gwen he'd have put on a shirt, as well as trousers. He also realized that Jack was wearing the same clothes he'd had on the day before, and was clutching that coffee mug like a lifeline.
"I sent Tosh home," Jack said, and his voice was soft enough now that Ianto's brain wasn't trying to escape his skull via his eardrums. He probably hadn't been actually shouting, before.
Jack was meeting Ianto's eyes, finally, and looking nowhere else. For all the time he'd spent undressing Ianto with his gaze in the last year and a half, now that Ianto was standing in front of him shirtless and barefoot, he wasn't stealing a glance. Ianto resisted the urge to cover himself anyway.
"I handled yesterday badly," Jack said slowly--formally, or like he'd memorized the words. "I apologize."
Ianto looked away, wondering what to make of that. Finally he pushed off the wall and went to the coffee maker, leaving a few feet of empty space between himself and Jack as he poured his own cup. It would be childish, he supposed, to demand to know whether it had been Gwen or Tosh who coached him on those phrases. Jack was making an effort.
The coffee wasn't actually bad, either.
Ianto went and sat down at the kitchen table. He wrapped his hands around his coffee cup and did not look at Jack, did not speak. He still hadn't worked out what to say. Obviously Jack was here to talk, which rather flew in the face of yesterday's declaration that it was Ianto's choice and he should stay out of Jack's sight until it was done.
Jack came and sat down across from him. When Jack opened his mouth, Ianto spoke first, the words ill-considered but necessary as his next breath.
Jack stayed silent, watching him, leaving more silence for Ianto to fill.
Ianto looked down again, clutching his mug.
"Jack, please, don't ask me to do it." His shoulders hunched protectively, and he wished he had a shirt on; the chair back was cold, making him break out in gooseflesh. "Because I will, if you ask me to. I won't even remember to hate you for it afterward."
A shirt might have been warmer, but the shield of it would have been an illusion. This was as naked as he could possibly be before Jack, admitting aloud what they both knew. Of course he would do as Jack asked, even this, even the end of his life as he knew it, this thing inside him that his whole body wanted to pull away from and could not escape. There might even be some relief in bowing to Jack's wishes, an end to the crushing weight of responsibility for the choice.
"If you ask me to, I will." Ianto repeated. And still some mad piece of him--the fierce, stupid will to live, to hold to his own life as it slipped from his grasp--kept him talking. "But please, Jack, please don't ask."
Ianto had been ready to die for years now, young and violently and weirdly. He wouldn't mind it at all, if he could just take with him the knowledge that Jack Harkness had loved him and relied upon him, once. He hadn't been ready for anything like this, an unthinkable biological accident as senseless as a car crash.
"Ianto," Jack said quietly, but Ianto couldn't look up. He flinched automatically from the motion in his peripheral vision, and watched Jack's hand fall slowly to rest on the table between them.
"I really, really intended not to be lying, when I said we weren't going to hurt you." Jack sounded horribly sorry, not just stiffly and formally apologetic.
Ianto closed his eyes and waited for the blow to fall.
"I'm not going to ask you to do anything, or order you to," Jack continued gently.
Ianto felt as if the floor had opened up under him, dropping him to a whole new depth of impossible choices. Jack wouldn't be angry at him, now. Jack would be hurt by him, and this would always be between them, always this ache, always the fact that Ianto had flinched from Jack's touch. Always the fact that Jack had left it up to Ianto, and whatever Ianto chose would be wrong.
"If you did have a living child," Jack said slowly, startling Ianto into looking up at him.
Was he bargaining, now? But it was Jack's turn to stare into his coffee, and he'd withdrawn his hand from the middle of the table.
"If you could just skip over everything else and there was a child in the world independent of your actual body, a child who was ours, would that be the problem? Is it the fact that it exists at all, or just where and when?"
Just where and when--but perhaps those were disposable problems to an immortal former Time Agent in his second century at Torchwood, with God-knew-what secret resources to call upon. Ianto tried to imagine what heaven and earth Jack was proposing to move to extricate them from this situation--and then there would be a child, and what would either of them do with that?
"I don't understand," Ianto said finally. "Jack, what are you asking me?"
Jack took a deep breath, and looked Ianto straight in the eye as he spoke. "I've got Tosh and Owen looking into a third option."
Ianto pressed both hands flat to the table, heart racing with something like hope. Jack had come up with a third option, and didn't Jack always find some way to save the day?
"It's something we've had in the archive for years. It was shelved because its applications as a weapon are pretty limited--it'll scan the environment around a developing life form, recreate it inside the device, and then teleport the fetus inside, leaving the parent intact. It can finish growing there, or be held in stasis almost indefinitely. The device is alien, but Tosh is trying to get it talking to us in a way we can understand, and Owen is going to test its adaptability for terrestrial mammals."
So there it was: a way out. Get the thing out of him, put it in stasis, put off the question of what to do with it. Ianto could keep on as he had been, and Jack wouldn't blame him for a choice that wasn't really made yet.
But Ianto had been too well trained by his years with Torchwood, and latched on inexorably to the idea Jack had brushed by too fast. Applications as a weapon are pretty limited.
There was only one way you could do use a device like that as a weapon: kidnap an unborn child. Hold it for ransom, threaten its life and safety until its parents gave you whatever you asked for, if only you let it live. Let them stand by, helpless, knowing their child's fate was out of their hands.
Jack had Tosh and Owen working on this, as if it were another alien crisis. Jack himself was here. Negotiating with Ianto.
Ianto stared at him. "Jack, this isn't a hostage situation."
"Spoken like a man who's never had to take a hostage," Jack said easily, and Ianto found that--like most of Jack's idle half-comments on his past--all too easy to picture. Of course, it hadn't yet been twenty-four hours since the last time Jack held him at gunpoint.
"There are plenty of grey areas," Jack assured him, meeting his eyes readily, without a trace of anger or fear. "But I backed you into a corner, and now I'm offering you a way to get out again. I'm just cleaning up after myself."
Ianto looked from Jack to the coffee he hadn't had to make himself.
"Well," Ianto said, numb and bewildered, too shocked even to feel relief, "I suppose it was bound to happen eventually."