Title: Acts of Mercy
Rating: Various; PG-13 for this chapter.
Spoilers: Direct for S1, but everything including some book canon.
Summary: AU telling of 'Captain Jack Harkness' - what if Ianto had been taken to 1941 with Tosh, leaving Jack behind to wait and wonder?
Author's Note: Thanks to exfatalist for the beta, and for listening to my whinging.
Last Part: Chapter 4 - I've Heard That Song Before
I'll Walk Alone
"May 8, 1945." Toshiko carefully circles the date in blue ink with the fountain pen, and looks back over the rudimentary timeline she and Ianto have compiled. It's missing a lot of dates, important ones to be certain, and inevitably they will have to either hide or destroy it, but for now it serves as a comfort simply to have an idea of the things they have to look forward to ... or to dread. "V-E Day."
"Hopefully we won't still be here to see it." Ianto shifts behind her, hesitantly clearing his throat. "Ah ... you can turn around now."
Tosh does, and immediately stops in the midst of capping the pen. A breath hitches involuntarily in her chest, and she releases it in a soft sigh. Ianto is nearly unrecognizable in the uniform of olive drab, though its creases and seams certainly hug him as finely as any of his suits. His hair is combed down neatly in style appropriate to the period, sideburns trimmed short and his five o'clock shadow shaved away. He stands nearly at attention for her inspection, the uniform's cap tucked beneath one arm. He looks nervous, and Tosh can't decide if it's due to the attire, or the entire situation.
Truth be told, she is terribly worried about the idea of Ianto going to war, even if for as short a time as has been proposed. The special consultant Dr. Brennan brought in assured her earlier this same day that Ianto will not encounter actual combat, or be in any more danger than a normal day at Torchwood would present back in their own time, but she hardly trusts the word of strangers against her own gut instinct. Ianto just reminds her, all of a sudden, of Tommy Brockless, the private from the first World War, who is even now frozen in the morgue, intended for some purpose he doesn't know of, and may not even understand.
Tosh realizes she has been silent in her perusal when Ianto shifts his weight self-consciously from one foot to the other. The motion draws her from her reverie, and she puts on her best smile, the brightest one that can still be appropriate for this moment. "You look dashing," she says, and imagines the words imbued with some distinctly wobbling quality she would rather them not.
Silence hangs between them again, and Tosh lets her eyes fall back to her lap. In a bag on the bed beside her, she has a few essentials and the full ration book Greg gave her, and at the bottom, carefully wrapped in a blanket, her scanner. They have only a little while before Ianto leaves and she is to be relocated within Cardiff. Tosh hates to think of the isolation awaiting her once Ianto is gone. Officially, her false identity will be on record as a translator and decoder; it's a role she can comfortably fill. At the same time, though, she wonders why they didn't bother with sending her so far away, as they are doing to Ianto. At the very least, they might have allowed them to go together, she thinks; she desires to be a prisoner alone in this time any more than she had wanted to bear her days in that UNIT prison.
The bed dips as Ianto sits down beside her, and Tosh looks up to the uncertain smile on Ianto's face.
"I'll write, so you'll know I'm okay," he says, covering one of her hands with his. His fingers are soft and slender, unmarked but for a shiny burn on the pad of one from an encounter with the espresso machine just last week. She can't imagine the same hands grimy with dirt or blood, though she knows well what Ianto is capable of.
Tosh swipes the back of her other hand across her eyes. She will not cry, she tells herself; she will stay strong for Ianto, who has carried much of this burden on his own so far. "Me, too."
"I might even be back before the first one gets to you." Ianto squeezes her hand, and his voice is unbearably light. "Keep an eye out on the Rift. If something happens --"
"Don't be silly," Tosh sniffs, clutching his fingers with a sudden fierceness. "Nothing's going to happen."
Ianto opens his mouth, as if he stubbornly wants to say more; but to her relief, he doesn't. Untold minutes pass as they sit, Ianto's thumb stroking absently over Tosh's knuckles. She wonders if he's even aware he's donig it, if he's ever truly conscious of all the things he does to take care of other people. Ianto usually takes the subtle supporting role in Torchwood, though Tosh trusts Jack enough to know the captain couldn't have hired Ianto just to make the coffee and retrieve the dry-cleaning. Ianto is more than that, and Tosh wishes that she had told him more often how she appreciates getting coffee before she knows she's thirsty, or carry-out ordered before anyone realized it was time for lunch. She has seen Ianto assist Owen in carrying alien corpses, observed as he located files for Gwen, watched him help Jack into his greatcoat, and had him help load equipment into the SUV for her.
Except for rare occasion, Ianto is always the one who remains behind, steady and watchful, tending the Hub, making their lives easier for when they return, and without a word of thanks required. Tosh feels unspeakably guilty over the fact that he's going into the fray now, and even guiltier for how traitorous her feelings truly are to Ianto's character. She hasn't forgotten -- will never forget -- how he threw himself at cannibals to give her time to escape, or how she felt that he was the only one prepared to offer her true sympathy over Mary. She wishes now that she knew how to thank him, how to help or comfort or soothe him, other than demanding silence over his brooding thoughts.
"I should go," Ianto says gradually, rising from the bed.
Tosh stands up and grabs him into a hug. She's shorter than he, but he stoops to wrap his arms around her after only the barest hesitation.
"Be careful," she whispers.
"I will. You, too."
"I will," Tosh promises, and she reluctantly pulls away. She carefully smooths down the lapels of his uniform jacket, then steps back entirely, not trusting herself to say anything more.
"I'll see you soon," he says, sounding more confident and resolute than he looks. Ianto then gathers up the rest of his own possessions, and with a last faint smile and murmured goodbye, he lets himself out of the room.
Tosh blinks back a fresh welling of tears and sits back on the bed, silently wishing them both good luck and fair fortune, and a safe journey home, however it may come.
Jack weaves mindlessly through traffic on his way to the dance hall, taking full advantage of the SUV's flashing blue light bars and Torchwood's ability to manipulate the traffic signals. The drive is an innocuous one; Ianto, with his intricate knowledge of Cardiff - the satnav hadn't even been programmed by him the other day - would have never suspected a date with destiny lay at the end of a short trip to Sage Street. And Toshiko would have been too excited about seeing her family again after five years of exile imposed upon her by Jack. He'd carefully worded an e-mail to Tosh's younger brother a day and a half ago, apologizing for work having gotten in the way. The last the Sato family knew of Toshiko, she was working for the government, so it probably hadn't seemed much of a stretch.
Still, Jack feels accountably guilty, both for her and the fact that Ianto seems to have no next of kin to make excuses to. Jack knows from Ianto's personnel file that his father is dead, there are no siblings, and given there had been no contact information for his mother, Jack assumes Mrs. Jones must not be much a part of her son's life. How lonely and how Torchwood; Jack hates the easy out of an employee no one will miss just as much as he dreads having to make up stories and give condolences.
He tightens his grip on the steering wheel and tries to put away his maudlin thoughts. It's much more productive to think about this with the rational what if, rather than the dire. They know that Ianto and Tosh sought the help of Torchwood. The two of them would have figured out to avoid Jack himself in that time period. 1941 -- Tilda was in charge, and Jack had been keeping himself occupied with Torchwood, trying to resist the impulse to run after the Doctor in London. It wasn't as if he hadn't had plenty of distraction. Jack can still remember Greg's pretty eyes and easy smiles, and oh, those cheekbones. Jack had been a different man then, eager to exist in a period he'd always romanticized, to have a little excitement to shake things up while he traveled the slow path.
It was horrible and beautiful, and the real disillusionment of Jack Harkness. Nothing could compare, not being abandoned on the Game Station and having his heart broken for the first time, or even the horror of World War I. Everyone knew the Great War was terrible, even in Earth history lessons learned in the fifty-first century. It was the first conflict where humans had been able to utilize new technology for the destruction of their fellow man. Torchwood had used Jack more to their purposes then, but in World War II, Jack had truly entered the fray. He'd fought and died, and loved and lost just as hard. Greg and Llinos and Estelle, and countless nameless faces and hands had soothed and healed and gotten him by.
Jack can't imagine leaving Tosh and Ianto to the war that finally broke him, that turned his century on Earth from a romantic waiting period into the harsh reality of the long con that now composes his life. He doesn't want to picture that look in their eyes, or to think of them left to the scant mercies of Tilda Brennan. Her solution to the problem of two time displaced people would have been to get rid of them, and quickly. The fact that Jack himself knows he never saw them means one of two things: either they will find their way back soon, or ... well, he refuses to think of that possibility.
Jack stirs from his thoughts and taps his earpiece. "Gwen."
"Yes, Jack?" She sounds either startled or nervous, but he doesn't think too much on it.
"Look at everything filed by Torchwood employee Greg Bishop in January of '41, and see what you can turn up."
"Greg kept meticulous records. If Ianto and Tosh went to Torchwood, and we know they did," Jack explains, "they would have been assigned new identities --"
"And if we can figure out who they were, then maybe we can find some more clues as to what happened to them."
"Exactly." Jack smiles, in spite of himself. "I knew I hired you for a reason, Gwen Cooper. Now put those police skills to work and we'll go over your findings when I get back."
"Will do." Gwen pauses for a moment. "And Jack?"
"We'll get them back ... I just have a feeling."
Jack pauses, swallowing back a lump in his throat. "I hope your feeling is right."
"Anyway," he diverts the subject, drawing a breath, "I'll keep you updated. Let me know if anything happens."
Jack closes the comm link and pulls over to park on the curb outside the Ritz. He lingers in the SUV for a moment after cutting the engine, listening to it tick, then heaves out a sigh and heads off to find Bilis Manger.
Ianto ducks under an overhang and pulls his coat collar higher, the brim of his cap lower. He purposely faces away from the lamppost, further obscuring himself in back-lit shadow. With five minutes left to wait, Ianto watches his breath cloud in the damp, cold night air, and considers the possibility of rain. There isn't much that can make this place more miserable than it already is, but rain would certainly be on the short list. He can imagine that this town was quiet and sleepy once, before conflict came sweeping down: Hitler's Lightning War. This little patio on which he stands used to be the outdoor dining area of a café; a few remnants of rusting wrought iron furniture, neglected to weather and vandalism, still sit there, and the awning over his head bears the sun-faded name the establishment once went by. Ianto builds a picture of it in his mind as the social center of the town, where little old ladies would sit sipping tea and young couples would share one dessert with two spoons. He might be wrong, but he doesn't mind romanticizing it, imagining happier times and people without the bleak and hardened look of war about them.
A loose brick shakes in the mortar, the purposeful announcement of presence as someone steps up to join him. Ianto turns his head and instinctively tilts his chin down to keep his face from being seen, and lays eyes on his contact. Captain Jack Harkness looks more himself now than he had weeks earlier in the Hub, clad as he is in full uniform of a Royal Air Force pilot. Even after several meetings, Ianto hasn't figured out whether Jack's uniform is just as much a front as his own, or if the man has truly earned the rank he wears. Regardless, neither of them are serving much toward the war effort, at least not in the basest sense, contracted out as they are on behalf of Torchwood. This little town is just the latest on a list of places Jack has been sent to scavenge, with Ianto trailing him, serving as deliveryman back and forth with a chain of liaisons.
"Nice evening," Jack tries, as he has tried on each occasion leading up to this. He seems to be eaten by curiosity regarding Ianto: dangerous curiosity, if Ianto is to preserve the timeline and prevent himself from becoming even more tied into Jack's past.
As usual, Ianto answers with a noncommittal hmm, brushing off all attempts at conversation or flirting. They do this every time, and though Ianto knows a less determined man would have given up by now, Jack is stubborn; fortunately, Ianto just so happens to be his equal in that area.
In spite of that, Jack is hardly deterred. "Or, actually, pretty shitty evening. Looks like rain," he persists, putting his hands in his pockets.
"Do you have the package?" Ianto inquires, schooling his voice carefully into a neutral tone. As much as he would love to stand and talk to Jack about the weather -- and that's very much, actually -- he knows better.
Jack voices something that sounds like an indignant huff; in his future self, this might be manifested in the form of a pout. "You know," he says, "I don't think I've ever gotten two words out of you not related to work."
Just doing my job, sir, Ianto begins to shoot back on instinct, but he thinks better of it and says nothing at all instead. He's tried very hard to bury his true personality when interacting with Jack, not wanting anything about himself to be distinguished as a marker in the other man's memory, but the one thing Ianto has difficulty curbing is his sharp tongue.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you didn't like me," Jack continues, voice dropping an octave, sly and charming all at once. "Which is just tragic, because everyone likes me."
Ianto smiles against his will, and finds himself glad for a combination of poor lighting and his upturned collar. If only Jack knew the half of it; but that's the point. "Pilots aren't my type," he responds dryly as he can, swallowing back a laugh. "Too flighty."
Jack groans at the bad joke, just as Ianto meant him to, and yet he still goes on. "I don't even know what you look like."
"That's so --"
"I won't recognize you during the day and blow our cover, I know, I know," Jack grumbles.
This is, of course, something that they have been over before, ever since Ianto conducted their first meeting from behind the flap of a tent. Following that, he has made it a bit of a game with himself, to come up with new and inventive ways of hiding his identity from the other man, from hats and collars pulled close, to conversing around the corners of buildings. Ianto waits to see if Jack will press the issue any further, but a simple rustle of paper breaks the silence as Jack instead extracts a small package from the pocket of his greatcoat and offers it to Ianto. It's the size and shape of a paperback novel, though even in Jack's hand it seems to be heavier.
Ianto reaches out a gloved hand to take the parcel, and gets caught completely off guard when Jack's other hand closes around his wrist and tugs. Ianto gasps in surprise, and turns his face away as Jack pulls him close. Their bodies pressed flush against each other, Ianto can feel the brass of Jack's buttons and the buckle of his belt, and a hardening length against his thigh through the woolen uniform trousers. Ianto's struggles are little more than token protest as Jack backs him against the wall, beneath the shadows of the awning where, at least, his identity is safe and they're not likely to be caught.
"I just have this problem," Jack murmurs, his breath warm on Ianto's neck and hand cold against Ianto's back where it slides beneath his coat. "The bigger the mystery, the more curious it makes me to figure it out."
Ianto dares to raise his chin, knowing Jack can't make out more than a silhouette in the dark, and carefully breathes, willing his body not to betray him. But close enough to share a breath, Ianto is almost overwhelmed by the heady scent of fifty-first century pheromones, the same scent that clings to Jack's greatcoat and to the pillow on the bed while Ianto sleeps after Jack has long vacated it. Something dark, musky, undeniably Jack. Undeniable, just like the man standing in front of him right now, the one insinuating a leg between Ianto's knees, punctuating a point with the sliding friction of a thigh against Ianto's traitorous erection.
Jack sounds almost triumphant, like a man who's staked his claim and is just waiting to be allowed to take it. "I'd say you're a pretty big mystery, Jones."
Straining with the effort of forcing himself to move, Ianto places his hands against Jack's chest and pushes the other man away. Ianto is shivering, not because he is cold or intimidated, or for any of the reasons that Jack might think, but because he only wants to sink into this, to give in, to have Jack again. He feels sick with longing for home and the man whose arms are right here, ready to hold him now, but if he ever wants to get home, then he knows this has to stop.
"Curiosity killed the cat," Ianto bites out, trying for cool and collected, but he sounds scattered and strained to his own ears. He slides past Jack once he has enough space to move, and snatches the package with less grace than he would like, putting it away in his coat pocket with a shaking hand.
Jack sighs and turns after him, and in the advantage of better lighting, Ianto can see the flash of something that might be hurt (but probably isn't) as Jack drops his hands dejectedly back to his sides. "Fine. If you change your mind --"
"-- I may not know where to find you, but you know where to find me."
Ianto maintains stoic silence as Jack gives a last snappy salute and stalks away. Then Ianto sinks against the wall again, fingers trembling and heart pounding in his chest.
"That's just the problem," he dares to whisper, long after Jack's silhouette has faded into the dark.
The Ritz dance hall stands like an empty shell, without even the sound of the ghosts and their music to keep it company. Jack wants to yell out Bilis Manger's name and demand the man's presence, but concluding that such a method is even less likely to yield results, he resorts to an old fashioned search of the rooms. Many lay bare, stripped of anything of value in preparation for the upcoming demolition. There are empty sockets in the wall where light fixtures once were, and silhouettes on the wallpaper where framed art has been removed. The entire place is disconcertingly quiet, only the echo of Jack's footsteps and the creak of door hinges stirring the air.
Jack worries at just how deserted it feels, as if all connection to the past has faded. Maybe the day Ianto and Tosh disappeared, it really was a mere accident of the Rift; maybe Bilis Manger appears in those photographs because he's lost in 1941, too. Jack heaves out a sigh and produces a small torch from his coat and switches it on. The place is gloomy with the lights turned out, and dust motes dance in the beam from the light.
Just when Jack has nearly reached the end of the hall, footsteps sound behind him. There's a rustling of cloth, a quiet breath; and Jack turns, flicking the torchlight in that direction, only to find no one there. A fit of his imagination, perhaps, or wishful thinking. He sighs and lowers the light again. One more door left to go, the most obvious, and therefore the least likely: Bilis Manger's office.
The door stands ajar and swings open easily when Jack pushes it. The room on the other side looks like the only recently occupied one in the entire building, still bathed in the warm glow of the desk lamp. Photographs and other mementos scattered about the room are in the exact places they were the first time Jack was in here. This is not the office of a man who plans to evacuate in a few days, and the sight of it makes any doubts Jack had in his own suspicions quickly dissipate. He walks across the room to the desk and finds a book open, face-down on its surface: an old copy of Goethe's Faust. Jack picks up the volume, frowning at the audacity symbolized in the rounded pages, the fact that its reader is so calm when, for Jack, so many things are in tumult.
"Ah, the tragedy of Faust."
Jack whirls toward the source of the voice and finds none other than the man he seeks standing casually in the doorway. In fact, Bilis Manger looks exactly the same as the last time he and Jack met, neat and unworried in his outdated jacket and cravat.
"He committed one foul deed and a chain of them followed," Bilis continues, nodding to indicate the book as he steps into the room. He pauses, looking sharply at Jack. "All to obtain something he wanted. Or someone?"
Lowering the book, Jack narrows his eyes at the old man. "Tell me what you know," he demands.
Bilis smiles serenely. "If you're looking for your friend, he's already gone."
A muscle twitches as Jack clenches his jaw. "I've seen the pictures. Who are you?"
"I am much like yourself, Captain." Bilis comes to stand at the desk, reaching out to take the book. He turns it over in his hands, looking down at the pages, and abruptly snaps it shut. "But, like all good plays, we won't discover the outcome 'til the second act."
As if Bilis intends the words as a portent, the glass in the grandfather clock against the wall begins to rattle. Jack looks away as the floorboards start to shake beneath his feet, and a blinding white light erupts from somewhere else in the building, reaching to the office's open door; he starts to leave the room, but turns back at the last moment.
The place where Bilis Manger had stood is empty, as if no one had ever been there at all.
Next Part: Chapter Six - Flying Home