Warnings: Major discussion of depression, grief, post traumatic stress-related emotional issues; possible triggers regarding those topics.
Characters: Gwen+Ianto, Jack/Ianto; Ianto-centric
Summary: You need to learn that we won't disappear if you close your eyes. -pocky_slash, "Separation Anxiety"
Note: So I sat down yesterday in order to finally write the fic I've been meaning to write for pocky_slash. It was supposed to be a small piece set between Club Wales and Club Wales II (Separation Anxiety), in which Jack is annoyingly overprotective of Gwen and Ianto in the aftermath of Exit Wounds. What came out instead was absolutely nothing like that; it isn't about Jack, and it has no ties to the Club Wales-verse -- other than Gwen and Ianto being best friends and Jack enjoying doing laundry while Ianto sleeps. This probably has more in common with cardigan_verse than Club Wales, just in terms of being depressing. It is a strange little thing, which really was not part of my headcanon at all. I'm not sure where it came from. But I hope you enjoy it.
The blinds are open and the shade drawn, and it’s another thing that they don’t talk about. Jack doesn’t like the dark anymore. He did, before. He liked going by touch. He liked being enclosed, being concentrated into one place, brief periods of senselessness in small spaces. Now the blinds and shade need to stay the way they are, with the sodium lamp outside of Ianto’s window casting itself over his bed and against the far wall, orange-tinted and rich, and they don’t discuss it the way they don’t discuss most things.
Ianto sits with his back against the bed, his legs cast out in front of him with the soles resting against the baseboard. He’s watching the light against the wall, one palm down against the cold wood floor, one up and loosely clutching his closed mobile. He moves his fingers, and it shifts in his hand.
Jack is doing laundry. Jack does that, at night. He slips out of bed, never failing to wake Ianto up in the process, and collects the strewn clothing in the room, before disappearing for a few hours. Ianto hates doing laundry, so he doesn’t mind, but – he couldn’t fall back to sleep tonight. There’s too much movement in his head. Too much talking.
He flips the mobile open and lets it sit that way for a few minutes. The blue light from the screen brightens his peripheral vision before dimming again. It’s three in the morning and he’s been on the floor for half an hour. He slipped down there because it seemed comfortable. Because lying down wasn’t working, and he is too tired to pace. Because he still likes small spaces, even though Jack can’t anymore.
He glances down and scrolls through the contacts. G. The selection hovers over Gwen’s name. His thumb hovers over the Call button. It is unusual, to want this. And he doesn’t, really. He knows that when Gwen picks up, he won’t know what to say anymore. He will regret calling, and feel bad for waking her up. Feel selfish. Because it is, really.
He dials anyway.
It only takes her two rings to answer. “Nghhh?”
Her voice sharpens immediately, closer to the phone and suddenly very awake. “Ianto? Are you all right?”
“Fine,” he says. He pauses for a second. Exactly the way he knew they would, the words had deserted him the second he’d put the phone to his ear.
He hears a voice muffled in the background. Gwen answers at a distance, “It’s Ianto, love. All fine. Go to sleep.” Another muffled murmur, and then Gwen, closer. “Ianto?”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s late.”
“No, it’s fine,” she says. “Do you need me to come--”
“No,” he interrupts. “No. I should go to bed.”
“Stay on the line,” she says. “I’m getting up.”
He hears her moving, and feels the immediate weight of guilt in his stomach. This was stupid. Very stupid. But now she’s up, and expectant, and he will fumble through this because it’s what he does, looking for answers and never asking the right questions because it’s far beyond him to understand what he actually wants.
“There,” she says. She sounds comfortable, and awake, and prepared, and he really loves her more than he could possibly say. “Now Rhys can sleep and we can talk.”
He appreciates that she doesn’t ask What’s wrong?, because the answer has been so painfully obvious for the last month and a half. They’re doing better. They are. They must be, because he doesn’t see Tosh-shaped holes everywhere he goes, and he doesn’t expect to hear Owen’s music from the autopsy bay, and Gwen hasn’t cried in a while. Or he hasn’t seen her cry in a while, and he spends a full five-sixths of his time with her.
That is part of the problem.
“Where’s Jack?” she asks.
“Doing laundry,” he tells her. The shadow on the wall wavers very slightly when the wind blows hard against the streetlamp outside. Ianto can hear the whistle of it around the building. “You’re all right?”
“Fine, love. I promise.”
This is how it is, sometimes, in the middle of the night. Just a niggling, terrible feeling in the back of his mind. It starts when the light goes off, and it grows as Jack’s breathing becomes even, and his arm around Ianto slackens. It builds, cresting in waves inside of his chest, until it is absolute terror, and absolute certainty that something horrible has happened to Gwen. Or to Jack, when Ianto is with Gwen. Or to both of them, when he is alone. And he has to run upstairs from the archives and see them working, or check in needlessly with Jack when they are out in the field, or do this. Call Gwen at three in the morning to hear her pick up the phone. And he feels such guilt, because he knows he is crazy and he knows he is bothering her and taking advantage of her patience and her love for him, and he knows that it is going to run out.
“I’m sorry,” he tells her. He closes his eyes. “I really am. This is ridiculous.”
“It isn’t. You can call me whenever you want to, sweetheart. I’m always here.”
He drops his head back against the bed. The ceiling is distant and dark, and he exhales up at it. He doesn’t know why he needs to do this. He is a logical man. He knows that the probability of something happening to Gwen in the five hours since he last set eyes on her is low – or, at least, low by Torchwood standards, which is high when compared to civilians, but he shouldn’t think about that. He knows -- knows -- that she is fine. And he also knows that if she wasn’t, he would know almost immediately, either by a rift alarm or a phone call or loud screaming. But there remains inside of his head the fear, the certainty, that the fail-safes have failed and there is something very, very wrong.
This doesn’t happen when there is actual danger. When he and Gwen and Jack are out in the field, staring down almost-certain death at the hands of some monster of the week, Ianto never feels that paranoia. It’s because he has control, out there; he is part of the situation and can affect it, can do something, can cover Jack as he’s going in closer or pull Gwen out of the way when something huge and angry is hurtling at her. On the clock, in the thick of it, Ianto is unaffected by what seems to be happening to him. It’s only at home in bed, or down in the archives, or when he has a moment to himself, where it starts to rear up. And it’s scaring the hell out of him.
His mother heard voices in the dark and thought the government bugged every room in their house.
Ianto closes his eyes a few times a week and is certain Gwen is dead.
He is able to say none of this at all.
The silence on the other end of the line is unsurprising. Gwen is curled on the couch, her back against the arm and her knees against her chest, one arm wrapped around them and the other holding the phone against her ear. The light over the kitchen sink is on – is always on, because Rhys tends to bang his shin on the coffee table when it isn’t – and everything in the room is cast in a fuzzy, warm glow. This isn’t the first time she has sat in here like this, and she knows it isn’t the last.
Ianto has called four times over the last five weeks, but she knows it happens much more often than that. She can tell by the way he looks up in the morning when she comes into the Hub – the relief on his face, and then the weird shame that follows, when he looks away and busies himself with something. It isn’t every morning, but it is fairly often, and it makes her heart ache in her chest every time she sees it. She knows he hates himself for this. She knows him well enough to be able to see without asking that the neediness involved in calling her this way, in worrying this way, makes him feel helpless and weak. It is so against his nature that it might as well be another person doing it.
“I have ‘Oranges and Lemons’ stuck in my head,” she tells him, leaning her head against the back of the couch and closing her eyes. “‘Oranges and lemons,’ say the bells of St. Clement’s.”
She hears him breathe what might have been a laugh, if it had any humor in it.
She can’t act as though she doesn’t also worry. When he is out of her sight, she feels something in her chest tighten. When he returns, she can relax. They’re still reacting to Tosh and Owen. That’s what this is. It’s so natural. It’s so breathtakingly human. Ianto thinks he’s going crazy; she knows that, she can see it on his face and hear it in his voice, even tonight. But he isn’t. He is twenty-five. He has just lost two of the four people who have become family to him over the last few years. His life in Torchwood has been one of losing people on a near-constant basis, and he is absolutely terrified that he will have to do it again. So it manifests like this.
Ianto lets out a very long breath that crackles in the receiver. “I’m sorry, Gwen.”
He has apologized three times in ten minutes.
“You can talk to me,” she says. “You know you can.”
He can’t, though. Gwen is maybe the person that Ianto trusts most in the world, but she knows that he can’t talk to her, because he can’t talk to anyone at all in this way. He’s never been able to. Gwen thinks she knows why, and it makes her very tired when she thinks about it.
He sighs. “I don’t know what I want.” It’s such an honest little statement. It settles strangely against her. “I don’t know what to ask for. I don’t know why…”
Nothing will come after those words, she knows. “I’m here,” she assures him. “You’re never bothering me. You never could.”
He won’t believe that, but it’s the truth, and it is good to say it. She can feel him winding down. The conversation hasn’t been so much a conversation as a series of words uttered one after the other with no real purpose or destination. It’s characteristic of these calls, that they never really start talking and never really finish talking. It’s mostly apologies, and mostly reassurance. The purpose is always met the second Gwen picks up the phone, and there’s really nowhere to go after that. So they don’t go anywhere.
Gwen knows that Ianto thinks he’s getting worse. But he isn’t. He’s getting better. In the next two weeks, he’s going to stop calling her like this. In the next month, he’s going to stop needing to call her.
Soon, so much sooner than Ianto would ever believe, he is going to go to sleep and wake up and not once wonder whether anyone he loves is dead.
But first he has to go through this.
“I hear Jack coming back,” he says. “I have to hang up. I--” He sounds so frustrated, and deeply embarrassed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Gwen. Please forget I called you.”
“Good night, Ianto,” she says. “Get some sleep, all right?”
“I’ll try,” he says. “Good night.” He breaks the connection.
Gwen shuts her mobile in her fingers and presses it to her chest. She rests her head against her knees, pulling them in tight, and lets out one shaky breath. It’s getting better. Everything will be good again.
She can feel it, somewhere in the future, waiting to happen.
Ianto reaches out and puts his mobile on the bedside table. Jack’s keys are still jangling softly out in the flat. Ianto can hear him moving around, in the sitting room, in the kitchen, back again. He feels bone-deep tired, suddenly. He wants to get up, get off of the floor at least and crawl back into bed, pretend to have been asleep the whole time Jack has been gone. He can’t, though. No matter how embarrassing it will be for Jack to walk in and find him sitting on the floor and staring at the wall like a sixteen-year-old or a mental patient, it feels like an insurmountable task to pull himself up, and he’s tired of trying.
He hears Jack pause in the doorway, and feels the beat where Jack takes in the empty bed.
Ianto raises his hand and waves it slightly, not looking back over his shoulder. He doesn’t want to see what Jack is thinking. It tends to be written all over his face.
His voice comes closer. “You’re on the floor.”
“I noticed,” Ianto murmurs.
Jack appears at the foot of the bed, and Ianto looks at him, then. He looks confused, and worried, and there is the shame Ianto knew he would feel, winding up from his stomach to clench uncomfortably in his chest.
“Any particular reason?” Jack asks.
“Seemed like an all right place.”
Jack steps around the edge of the bed, walks toward Ianto and lowers himself down to the floor with the sound of his shirt slipping against the sheets. He does it slowly, as though he’s an old man and he’ll hurt himself if he goes too fast, and Ianto swallows a hysterical laugh.
“You okay?” Jack asks. His voice is very soft. His leg rests against Ianto’s, his arms hanging uncertain, as though he wants to reach out and pull Ianto closer, but he doesn’t know whether he should. He is maddeningly normal about these things. Ianto is terrified of it.
“I’m fine,” he says. He sighs. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“I woke you up again.”
Ianto shakes his head. “It wasn’t going well, anyway.”
Jack extends his legs out to match Ianto’s, bare feet against the baseboard. “Bad dreams?”
Ianto tocks his feet back and forth. “Something like that.”
Ianto knows that Jack is confused by him. Lately, at any rate. Not usually. Usually, Jack is only intrigued, and waiting, grinning like a madman at the prospect of unwrapping him, fold by fold. Since this – since all of this started, he knows that he is only a source of worry and unease for Jack, and it makes him feel ridiculous, because this is not what Jack is for. Jack is for banter and for amusement in the dark and saving his life and giving him a purpose. Jack is not for sitting on the floor before dawn and trying to understand the place Ianto has found himself in. He isn’t for reaching out this way.
He hasn’t told Jack anything at all. Gwen, he had to say something to, had to explain the bones of it, nothing too incriminating, because if he didn’t he would shatter from the building internal pressure. He can’t stand the idea of Jack seeing the level of his crazy, so he says nothing, but Jack is more sensitive to situations than Ianto gives him credit for, and he knows that there is something deeply wrong. Jack mourned, too, and is still mourning, though not in the same oppressive way they all did for those weeks. Ianto needs to stop, needs to make himself stop, needs to surface over this problem and seek land somewhere.
Jack’s hand settles on Ianto’s leg. It’s warm, and heavy, and Ianto’s stomach clenches inexplicably. Ianto turns his head to see Jack looking at him, eyes soft and worried, words in his mouth held back by some force of will or social contract, but still spelled out loud on his face, and in the gentle way he presses his fingers against Ianto’s thigh. Ianto reaches out without a thought and takes Jack’s face between his hands, holds that expression in his palms, owns the care for a moment because it’s his by rights.
Ianto spent an evening in the cells and he seems to be losing it. Jack spent two thousand years in the ground and he’s fine.
Ianto pulls Jack over to kiss him in the dark. He hooks Jack’s leg with his own and drags, makes it so that Jack is straddling him, kneeling high over him, Jack’s arms braced against the bed so that Ianto is kissing up, his fingers woven through Jack’s hair and pulling very slightly.
Jack lets the kiss come to its natural conclusion and pulls back. He’s watching Ianto with affection, but he doesn’t dart forward again, and Ianto feels strange about that for a moment, because continuing this is what Jack does. He leads Ianto in. But now Jack’s only kneeling above him, smiling a little, his hands sliding down the side of the bed to settle gently against either side of Ianto’s neck, warm palms against his cold skin.
“Come on,” he says. He does come back, then, one more time; a light, chaste kiss, his thumb rubbing back and forth against Ianto’s earlobe. “Sleep. It’s late.”
“Early,” Ianto says, but it mostly comes out as air.
“All the same.” Jack stands, feet on either side of Ianto’s legs, and reaches down a hand for him to catch. Ianto grasps it, and is pulled up, close to Jack’s chest, close enough to feel how all-over warm Jack is, and he can feel himself relaxing even before Jack makes him sit on the edge of the bed.
“You aren’t tucking me in,” he murmurs.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jack says. He puts a hand on Ianto’s shoulder and then moves around to the other side of the bed. He steps out of his trousers and lets them clatter to the floor with the sound of his belt buckle against the hardwood, then slides into the space he’d vacated earlier in the night and pulls the duvet back up.
Ianto watches him the whole time from his seat on the edge of the bed, half-rotated at the hips and looking over his shoulder.
“Lie down,” Jack says, but Ianto sits there for a few more moments. He watches the way Jack stretches in his bed, like it belongs to Jack as much as it does him. He watches the way Jack watches him, with all of that concern and confusion pushed away and replaced with mild amusement and – he doesn’t know. Some strange kind of acceptance. Some acknowledgement.
“You aren’t crazy,” Jack says. “Lie down.”
Jack throws the duvet over him and winds an arm around his chest. Ianto turns into it and tucks his head against Jack’s shoulder, then closes his eyes.
“You might be wrong,” he says.
“I’m not.” Jack pulls him closer. “Go to sleep.”
He does, after a few minutes. When the world is quiet again, he finally sleeps.