By CS WhiteWolf
Torchwood gradually fell back into a semblance of normality over the next couple of weeks, and though things between Jack and Ianto continued to be tense, (as break-ups between people who have to work together always tend to be) they’d managed to reach an unspoken agreement between themselves and proceeded to be unendingly civil towards one another.
Everyone by now knew that something was going on between Ianto and Michael, though nobody wanted to outright talk about it for fear of adding to an already strained mood.
Michael continued to keep his evening sessions and the work on his tattoo began to reach a conclusion with Ianto surmising that another session or two ought to do it before the entire piece was complete. This knowledge served both to elate and depress the pair of them, for though they both admitted that there was something between them, potentially a something that could have, given time, turned into something more, they both knew it would never happen.
Michael had made it very clear to Ianto that once his tattoo was complete he would be leaving. He wouldn’t say where when pressed and so Ianto took what he could and let himself be content with that. If sometimes he lay awake at night, Michael warm at his side, thinking of Jack and missing Jack, well, he kept that to himself.
It had been a helluva three months, all in all, and Ianto found himself both relieved and distressed to have it come to an end. He dabbed a thin layer of Retcon over the second to last section he’d just finished inking before taking a step back and running his eyes over the entirety of Michael’s upper body, marvelling at his own handiwork in bringing Michael’s design to life upon his skin.
Michael grinned up at him, all but bouncing with a nervous energy at knowing that the only thing standing between him and the completion of his tattoo was one last section on his left shoulder.
“Tomorrow?” Michael asked, eager and Ianto smiled with far less enthusiasm, nodding his head. He knew that if he hadn’t just spent the last few hours on Michael already, that the other man would have asked him to just finish him then and there.
“Thank you,” Michael said, standing and stepping close. He seemed to be thanking him for far more than his agreement however and Ianto felt himself begin to smile more genuinely.
“You’re welcome, Michael,” he returned, touching fleetingly at Michael’s arm before stepping back to put some distance between them. Michael turned then, dressing himself whilst Ianto did a quick tidy up of his workstation before taking Michael through to the front shop to pay.
“I’d like to see you tonight,” Michael said as Ianto handed him his receipt; fingers catching at Ianto’s hand and holding a moment as he met Ianto’s gaze with his intentions clear.
Mindful of anyone lingering around the shop (as had become the norm since his split with Jack) Ianto smiled whilst gently extracting his hand from Michael’s.
“Okay,” he said, and fetched his jacket.
- - -
Michael slipped out of bed fairly early the next morning, dressing swiftly before taking a long, quiet moment to just watch Ianto as he lay, stretched out and sated on the bed they’d shared last night. He felt a nauseous excitement touch his stomach despite the spike of melancholy that washed over him as he looked at Ianto’s sleeping face and realised he’d never see it- never see him- again.
He stepped forward, bending at the waist to press a gentle kiss to Ianto’s brow, a whisper of goodbye touching but not leaving his lips as he slowly straightened- taking care to switch off Ianto’s alarm so as to ensure he would not be woken anytime soon- before he turned away and left the room, left Ianto’s apartment, and left Ianto for good.
Gwen was waiting for him when he arrived at Torchwood, her expression endearingly confused as she let him in and led him through into the back room and her cubicle- a place he’d never ventured before. He was glad that she refrained from asking him any questions, knowing that if he were to start thinking about what he was doing again- if he were to think about what he was leaving- he just might not make it through this session in one piece.
He swallowed the growing lump in his throat, distracting himself from his macabre thoughts by pursuing the walls of photographs and artistic sketches Gwen had pinned up. He smiled, sadly, as his eyes came to rest on an unexpected picture of Ianto. Devoid of his usual suited getup, he instead wore what appeared to be a checked, flannel shirt and uncharacteristically baggy jeans as he sat- quite the thing- upon a motorbike; police-shades and a rugged beard adorning his face.
“It was taken not long after he started here,” Gwen said, stepping up beside him and following his line of sight, “it was so strange seeing him out of his suit and looking so normal, I remember how we all just stared him, not sure what to say. He just grinned smugly at us for it, and somehow that just got us all laughing. It was a good day.” She reminisced, touching fondly at Ianto’s photo before unpinning it from the wall and slipping it into Michael’s hand.
Before Michael could protest, Gwen had turned to her tray of instruments and started the usual spiel on using fresh equipment before ordering him to remove his shirt and hop up onto her bed-chair.
Michael looked down at the picture in his hand a moment before slipping it into his pants pocket as he removed his shirt and slid onto the bed-chair; his heart hammering in his chest at the knowledge that this was it, this was to be the final part to the puzzle that was his tattoo. It was exciting. It was terrifying.
All he could think about, though, was that Ianto should be the one inking it.
- - -
With his head down and his feet dragging along the pavement towards his car, Michael almost didn’t spot Ianto until he was practically standing on top of him. He looked up, surprised, to see the other man leaning- quite the thing- against the hood of his car; his arms folded across his chest as he watched Michael speculatively.
Michael hesitated, biting at his bottom lip in hesitation as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers.
“I thought you’d at least say goodbye,” Ianto said softly. Although his voice was unassuming, Michael inwardly winced, knowing he’d left Ianto asleep in his bed whilst he’d come down here and coerced Gwen into finishing his tattoo for him, all so he wouldn’t have to face this, this moment right here.
“I hate goodbyes,” Michael said, clearing his throat and trying not to look as guilty as he felt. “They’re just so final.” He added.
“They don’t have to be,” Ianto tried, lips pinching together against his hopeful tone. Michael smiled at him, the look a little sad as he stepped closer.
“They have to be,” he said and Ianto nodded, understanding, and dropped his gaze away.
“Hey, at least you’ve still got this lot?” Michael said and Ianto gave him the expected smile.
“Yeah,” he agreed, uncrossing his arms and mirroring Michael by shoving his hands into his pockets instead.
“And Jack,” Michael tried, “you’ve still got him,”
Ianto turned away from Michael, staring unseeingly into the distance as he gave a sound of what was meant to have been agreement but came out more as a snort of disbelief.
Michael took hold of his shoulders, “You have a good thing with him, Ianto,” he pressed.
Ianto shook his head. “Whatever we had, it’s past tense now.”
“No, Ianto,” Michael continued, “I’ve seen the way he looks at you, even with me in the picture. I’m only sorry I came between you two.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Ianto breathed out, still not looking at Michael. “Whatever Jack and I had, it was purely physical.” Ianto shook his head then, as if trying to shake himself out of the mood he felt himself sinking into.
“Never mind,” he muttered and Michael reached out, tilting at Ianto’s chin till the he looked up and into his eyes.
“No, Ianto, you’ve got it all wrong. Jack wants you. Not just your body, but everything that you are.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ianto sighed, making to pull away.
Michael’s grip was stronger and he kept Ianto unmoving, his hand still holding Ianto’s face tipped up enough to look at him. “Maybe it’s none of my business, and maybe I’m not supposed to repeat this, but Gwen told me something this morning, I guess maybe she was warning me off, or at least warning me that if me and you got together you’d be looking for more than a bed buddy-,”
Ianto flushed and made to pull away from Michael again.
“No, just hold on a moment,” Michael said, holding fast, his hands moving to grip at Ianto’s forearms in a bid to keep him in place. “She told me that the whole time you were away in Wales, and even for a few months before that, that Jack was completely faithful. To you. She told me he’d been speaking to her, that he didn’t understand it himself but he didn’t want anyone else but you, that anyone else just felt like a bad substitution and he couldn’t enjoy anyone else knowing they weren’t you. Even when we were at the club… we both got it wrong, Ianto. We both got him wrong. I just… Ianto I’m sorry.”
“You don’t-,” Ianto whispered, his head down, his mind reeling from Michael’s words.
“I do.” Michael disagreed. “I didn’t realise you two were in love with each other.”
Ianto looked up then, mouth open and denial upon his lips. “We’re not-,”
“You are,” Michael said, smiling sombrely, “maybe you don’t realise it, but you are. I think everyone but you two see it.”
Ianto was shaking his head. Michael released him enough to reach up and cup Ianto’s face with his hands. He leant in and pressed a surprisingly chaste kiss to his lips before pulling back.
“I hope you can forget me, Ianto Jones,” he said with a smile.
“I won’t,” Ianto replied in a tone that very much sounded like a promise. He returned the smile though, weak and shaky as it was. Michael leant in, kissing him again, before pulling away completely and moving round to the driver’s side of his car. Ianto pushed away from the hood and stepped back. Michael paused a moment, simply staring into Ianto’s eyes for a heartbeat before slipping into his car and driving away.
Ianto watched until the car disappeared at the next turn before turning and heading into the studio, a black cloud of wretchedness hanging over him as he stepped into the brightly lit reception room. He spied Owen manning the front counter but aside from looking up at his arrival, Owen surprisingly said nothing at all to him as he slipped past him and made his way towards the staff room where he could hear the soft murmurs of conversation between Toshiko and Gwen.
They stopped speaking the moment he entered the room and Ianto knew instantly that the topic of conversation somehow revolved around him. He suppressed a sigh and moved towards the sofa where Toshiko was sitting curled up on one end. Without a word he lay himself down beside her, his head resting on her lap. Toshiko began running a hand through his hair.
“I’ve ruined everything,” he said softly.
“Oh, Sunshine!” Gwen exclaimed moving over towards him. She perched herself on the edge of the sofa and joined Toshiko in petting him. “I’m sure you haven’t,”
“No,” Ianto began, “really I have. Michael’s left and Jack… I didn’t know Jack… didn’t think he’d… God!” He closed his eyes a moment and took a deep breath, “I always just assumed that he’d never change. I never though to just ask him. Always thought I wasn’t… that I’d never be…”
“Good enough?” Toshiko asked quietly and Ianto found himself blinking moisture from his eyes.
“Oh, Ianto,” Gwen said in distress, bending forward to press a kiss to his brow. Ianto just shook his head, his throat too tight with emotion to speak.
“Oi!” Owen’s voice interrupted suddenly, “Why wasn’t I invited to this orgy?” he asked with mock disapproval.
They all looked up towards the doorway. Any scathing comments the girls were about to make however faded away upon spotting Jack as he stood beside the other man.
Ianto pushed himself up into a seated position as Toshiko and Gwen stood, bestowing quick hugs upon him before vacating the room with Owen in tow. Jack stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. Ianto shifted on the couch, trying to compose himself as Jack moved to sit beside him.
“Jack,” Ianto began, shooting Jack a fleeting look before staring down at his hands.
Jack shushed him before he could speak and Ianto looked up at him with trepidation.
“I’m sorry, Ianto,” Jack said instead of the anticipated rebuke. Ianto looked at him with brief disbelief before he found his throat tightening once again and dropped his gaze.
“I’m the one who’s sorry, Jack,” he whispered. “I should have… I shouldn’t have…”
“I never gave you any reason to believe you could,” Jack continued when Ianto stalled for words. “I just assumed…”
Ianto scrubbed a hand across his face, “We should probably talk more,” he muttered; an agreement of sorts.
Unexpectedly, Jack laughed and Ianto looked up in surprise. Jack’s face softened as he reached out to touch lightly at Ianto’s cheek.
“I think it’s safe to say we’ve both been idiots here,” he concurred, his eyes searching Ianto’s face and seeing the traces of his own grief reflected back to him.
“Ah, Ianto,” he breathed out and pulled the other man into his arms. Ianto went willingly, his hold tight and unrelenting as he clung to Jack just as desperately as Jack clung to him.
It would take time before things between them were right, before they could both pick up where they left off and start afresh, redefining everything they thought their relationship together was and finding out what it actually could be. But they would do it, however long it took, they would try their damndest to make it work because, even though they’d never said the words, Ianto knew there was a spark of truth in Michael’s comment, and as he clung to Jack he breathed them into the fabric of his shirt, a silent pledging of love and apology and a promise to do everything he could to make this work between them.
It was what he’d always wanted from Jack. He was only sorry it took another man to make him realise the truth, though he couldn’t find it in himself to be sorry that that other man was Michael.
- - -
Not even a week after Michael’s final session at Torchwood, Ianto would find himself confronted by the man when he’d expected never to see him again; his picture headlining all the local news stations for holding up a bank and discharging a loaded firearm in the process. Jokes would be made (mostly by Owen) about the cost of his tattoo driving him to it but the girls would just smack at Owen for his insensitivity, Ianto would turn away, not quite able to believe the story himself and wondering… just wondering if all the ominous talking Michael had done during their sessions together hadn’t something to do with this. And Jack, Jack would just hug him tightly from behind, kissing his neck softly and Ianto would turn and smile at him, squeezing his hand in thanks as he deliberately pushed all thoughts of Michael from his mind.
- - -
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