Summary: Ianto has to deal with homophobia on a night out with Jack
Pairing: Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Season 1
Original story: On a Clear Night, You Can See Forever by smirnoffmule
Notes: Author notes and beta thanks in the Confession post on this fic on my LJ.
Clouds on a Clear Night
Footsteps echo hollow in the caverns of the Torchwood archives; Ianto likes that about the place - no one can sneak up on him.
There's precious little else to like about the archives. They're cold, damp, musty, shuddering thick with ghosts and eerie with secrets. And the filing system is hopelessly out of date.
Ianto sits uncomfortable in his suit on the gray stone floor surrounded by files on non-verbal alien communication. Apparently few alien races converse with colour and so far none of the records match up orange with anger or annoyance - or insulted since that's how the bioluminescent hovering entity had supposedly interpreted Jack's offer of directions away from their planet.
It's highly possible the scavenged extraterrestrial translation device Gwen had been fumbling with during their encounter is just as fallible as the rest of Torchwood's resources on non-verbal alien discourse. 'Pair bonded males' it had said, clearly referring to Jack and he, even though Gwen stood between them. 'Pair bonded males' probably wasn't meant as a derogatory statement per se, but Ianto's face had flushed hot at Gwen reading the translation aloud and he'd felt that same sick sinking in his stomach as the first time Jack had taken hold of his hand in public and a trio of bruisers across the street had shot him a threatening glare.
"You're still at it?"
Jack always looks the same and it's oddly comforting in a way: white t-shirt under button up shirt, trousers and braces, that damned ever present wristband and a cocky grin.
Ianto gestures to the array of folders surrounding him in a semi-circle.
"I'm afraid I've not found a match on orange yet and there's absolutely nothing on the colour puce."
"Hmm..." Jack leans up against the wall, eying Ianto more than the collected research. "Perhaps I was wrong about it being puce. Did you try mauve?"
"I tried everything from claret to vermilion to sienna in the red-purple-brown range. Red appears to be fairly universal - and in this case I think that term can be considered literal - however it seems there are too many hues in the purple family; it appears to be eschewed as too easy to misinterpret."
"Understandable." Jack nods thoughtfully before cocking his head as if he's had a new thought. "Maybe the lighting was affecting the colour. Think it could have been more taupe?"
Ianto's shoulders slump as he surveys the scattered mosaic of manila folders on grey slate. "I didn't catalog for greys. I'd have to look all over again."
"Don't bother." Jack steps forward and holds out his hand to help Ianto rise and as usual Ianto takes it more as an order to get up than a suggestion. The hand keeps hold of his, tugging him clear of the folders until he and Jack are standing together a few feet away from them. "You've been working too long. How about we go get something to eat?"
Ianto glances back at the folders. If he leaves them on the floor too long the dampness might seep in over time and stick the yellowing pages together, well, more than they already are. "I really should tidy up..."
He's brought back to attention by Jack tugging on his tie - first to draw him back then to untie it, slipping it off Ianto's neck as he speaks.
"You need to get out. How about something other than pizza and Chinese takeout for a change? Why don't you show me some local Welsh cuisine?
"Welsh cuisine?" Ianto starts to laugh but chokes it back only because Jack's moved in close - fingers at his neck unbuttoning the top two buttons of his shirt. "Now there's two words one doesn't often hear paired together." As soon as the words are out of his mouth he regrets it. 'Pair bonded males': that phrase just won't leave him alone.
"Fine," Jack concedes, folding Ianto's tie neatly before stuffing it in Ianto's jacket pocket. "We'll pass on the Clark's pies. Sushi, Indian, Thai... Whatever. Let's go for a walk..." He turns to go and before Ianto can follow - as he always does, it feels like he's always following Jack - Jack turns back to look at the folders on the floor. "Remind me to put a couch down here for you... And a nice coffee table while we're at it."
It's a lovely night out, balmy with a hint of a breeze off the bay, stars shining in a clear sky...
It's just Ianto who has clouds hanging over him.
They walk side by side and not for the first time he wonders if they fall effortlessly in step or if Jack's secretly matching his stride and making it look easy, like he does with most things.
There's no reason really to be in such a foul mood and he half wants Jack to cheer him up and half wants him to ask what's wrong so they can have a good row over it and he can get it out of his system. Instead they walk mostly in silence close enough to brush sleeves at times - closer than mates might walk, but not hand in hand - not that Ianto would want that, especially not tonight.
The noise levels ratchet up as they pass each pub - shifting sideways to slip through the smokers clogging the sidewalk with their bodies and bad habit. It's been years since he had a smoke, but tonight he wants one so he holds his breath through the first two pubs then gives up and inhales during the rest of them - the taste of cheap cigarettes on his tongue little more than a tease without the nicotine.
Slices of life catch his eye as they pass, a split second's action framed in a window: hands lifting glasses in a toast, faces red with helpless laughter, a man and a woman stealing a kiss.
He used to go out with Lisa, back in London. They'd work so late and eat takeout at their desks that by the time they left they were too wired to just go home. They'd go out for a pint, to unwind, to be together for a while: to laugh, to talk, to kiss...
Only Ianto can't imagine being that relaxed in a pub with Jack, could never just kiss him in public in front of everyone. The world doesn't work like that - not this one anyway. 'Pair bonded males.' Perhaps the world where the alien is from does work that way.
"What are you thinking?"
"Pardon?" Ianto shakes himself as the noise from the pub they've just passed recedes into the night.
"You look pensive."
"Nothing really." Ianto gives him a shrug, digging his hands into his pockets even deeper and stepping up his pace a little. Jack keeps up as if he's just been pulled along naturally at the new pace. When he gives Ianto a questioning look, Ianto caves, if only to get him to stop. "I was just wondering if it was unusual where that multi-coloured alien was from, you know, pair bonded males."
"As far as I've seen - and I've seen plenty, but there's much more I haven't - it's not what percentage of an alien race is gay, it's how they address it as a society that matters. You can have one percent and have it be welcomed or you can have thirty percent and make it punishable by death."
Ianto can't help but shudder at that. "Bloody barbaric," he mutters, not fully under his breath.
"It's not that long ago that Earth felt that way," Jack offers gently. "Thankfully they're coming along, slowly but surely."
"You are rather fond of saying this is the century when it all changes." Ianto wants to take a glimmer of hope from that, but a century's a long time - to him anyway, perhaps not so much to Jack. "I'd rather it not happen quite so slowly though."
Jack walks by his side for a moment, letting the brief quiet of the night settle around them before speaking again.
"They're just words, Ianto." As always, Jack seems to have an unerring ability to zero in on whatever's bothering him even if he doesn't say it aloud. "Or in this case colours, but they don't mean anything. The names we call things don't change what they are."
It's an opening, and the question on his lips as to what is Jack's real name is quelled by nerves and a couple coming their way on the sidewalk. Ianto presses himself into the wall and Jack steps to the curb to allow them room to walk between them and remain arm in arm. The woman flashes him a grateful smile over her shoulder as they pass and Ianto manages a polite nod in return.
They return to their path, still a ways away from the restaurant Jack picked out of the ones Ianto suggested. He wonders if Jack picked the furthest one from the Hub just to have a nice long walk. Jack likes walking and if asked, Ianto would have to admit that walking with Jack on a rare night with perfect weather is rather enjoyable.
"It's not about the words," he blurts out, seemingly out of nowhere at this point since the topic has kind of been dropped by now. "It's the attitude behind them, the actions." Ianto's shoulders hunch into his suit coat. "I know I'm supposed to be able to relate to those words by now - gay or bi or whatever - but mostly it just feels like that's someone else. I just go about my life without any labels or words until someone makes a fuss and even though it's all nonsense, it bothers me."
"It should." Jack's voice is softer now, but Ianto doesn't want the 'I'm so much more experienced and older' patronizing tone right now. He's growing more petulant rather than reassured and he knows it. "Hate and prejudice should bother everyone. It's just unfortunate that it doesn't. If that was the case there would be no hate and no prejudice."
"Sounds like a lovely world. Is where you're from anything like that?"
Questions like that are always met with silence, but Ianto's being challenging tonight, despite how aggravating Jack's patience with him might be.
"Every society has its ills," he says cryptically, then falls silent again.
For reasons unknown, perhaps the aura of sadness that tends to creep in whenever Jack's faced with his ghosts, Ianto's ire deflates. Jack's not the problem; he's just the visible proof that Ianto's no longer one of the so called 'normal' people.
As if anyone who works for Torchwood - homosexual, heterosexual or whatever Jack is - could ever be truly normal.
They come to a halt just shy of the restaurant and Ianto looks at Jack to follow his lead. He looks oddly young and at the same time weary old in the glare of the streetlight.
And then he smiles and all is forgotten; Jack's good at putting the darkness away in a heartbeat. Ianto wishes he could do that too.
"How about some curry?" he asks, brightening as he heads over to the restaurant. "I'm in the mood for something spicy."
Ianto doesn't mind that Jack holds the door open for him. He rather likes it.
"Sounds good to me."
It's a bit cooler when they head back, but they're both stuffed with excellent Indian food and Ianto's mood has lightened considerably with the help of a good meal, a fine beer and Jack's infectious laughter.
Every eye in the restaurant turned to him at one point or another, mostly in longing or jealousy. Jack seems to inspire two kinds of attention when they go out: people who want him and people who want to be him. Sometimes it takes a night like this for Ianto to stop and marvel at the fact that out of everyone in Cardiff, Wales or even the planet Earth, Jack chooses to be with him. It's heady, that idea, and Ianto can only take it in small doses - preferably mixed with alcohol - especially since it leads to the inevitable wondering as to who Jack's been with before and how it will all have to end someday.
The walk back is a brisk stroll, but the pace is comfortable, easy. It feels right to walk side by side with Jack, natural. It's like he can feel him there without even looking and when some barrier causes one of them to step aside it's like some magnetic force brings them back together again, snapping back into place like that's where they both belong. All the bollocks about names and labels and prejudice aside, Ianto belongs here because Jack's made a place for him to belong, by his side. It was a surprise to discover that, but the best kind of surprise - one that keeps quietly delighting him.
There are fewer people out on the street, but still enough crowding the narrow sidewalks to make their walk a bit of an obstacle course. They slow a little as they approach the bay. Cardiff shines - bright lights reflected in the dark waters - and it's so much more attractive at night that they can't help but want to enjoy it, and the fresh air, a little longer before they head underground.
“Do you ladies mind?” The voice behind them is caustic, snide and rips Ianto out of his post-dinner contentedness. He reacts to it automatically, like a schoolboy to a bully, moving in front of Jack to step to the curb to get out of the way. At least his instincts now put him on the edge of the street, not with his back up against the wall - a most vulnerable position: nowhere to run when the fists start to come. It's a painful flashback, but he shakes it off in favor of staying cautiously aware as the man passes.
He catches his eye - by mistake really - and he's about his age, although beefer, harder around the edges, more working class. The man's eyes narrow, his face a spiteful grimace, not even bothering to conceal his disgust.
That sick feeling slices through his gut along with a jolt of panic; they're not armed and even though there are two of them he looks strong enough to do some damage if he chooses.
Even though the man's passed now, his eyes are still locked with Ianto's - defiant, looking for a fight. Part of Ianto wants one, after the day he's had with that alien, but the rest of him just wants to be left alone to enjoy a nice stroll by the water with the person he chooses to spend his time with and not have to be faced with ugliness and violence just because that person happens to be his fellow man. The man looks about ready to turn, hands already balling into fists.
Then Ianto feels Jack move close behind him, solid, comforting, reassuring. Jack lays a hand on his shoulder and whether it's meant to show solidarity or confirm the man's suspicion's Ianto's not sure, but he doesn't shrug it off. He does his best to stand tall because it makes no difference what this wanker thinks, but Jack's opinion matters more than anything.
Their combined front must be enough to give the man pause because he folds under their joint scrutiny, turning away to shuffle off into the night, spitting out a final epithet loud enough for them to hear.
It isn't until the man gets swallowed up by the darkness between streetlights that Ianto realizes he's taut as a drum and Jack's hand on his shoulder is gently trying to rub the tension out of him.
Jack's breath is warm on his neck as he speaks into his ear, his voice the same light teasing tone he always uses. "He so does not know what a fairy is. Imagine how horrified he'd be if he'd actually met real ones."
Ianto enjoys a moment's visualization of the man choking, flower petals stuck in his craw, then succumbs to Jack's ministrations when he adds a second hand massaging his rigid shoulders.
"Wish I could order up a couple," Ianto mutters. "Where's a bloody weevil when you need one." His words are without humor, but they help - a little.
Based on some unspoken agreement they don't follow in the man's path down the sidewalk, but cut across the empty street, heading diagonally back to the water tower. A bit of a wind picks up, grabbing a chill off the bay and delivering it to the late evening strollers who linger beside the water. Two young women giggle at the sudden chill, pulling coats around each other as they laugh. It isn't until they get closer that Ianto realizes their touches are more familiar than friendship. They steal a kiss just before they decide to give up for a warmer locale and Ianto and Jack catch their attention as they turn towards them.
Jack is gregarious as always.
"Evening!" they both say in unison, smiling the same smile on two different faces.
"Lovely night, isn't it?"
Ianto manages a smile and a nod for them as well, though cat's got his tongue it seems.
There was a time, back in London, when he'd have reacted differently seeing two women on the street. He'd have reacted very differently seeing two men. It was easy to be dismissive back then, especially while he had Lisa, but underneath the disdain society had instilled in him had been... Something. He knew it now to be a flicker of interest, but he'd never allowed for that possibility. Not until he met Jack anyway. And as much as he might have blamed his initial attraction on whatever kind of crazy pheromones Jack puts out, he knows now this is who he is every bit as much as being with Lisa was a part of him as well.
They stop just short of the tourist office and Ianto pauses to take a look around, take in Cardiff one last time before they go under.
"These people," he muses. "They have no idea what we save them from every day, but some days it feels like what they most need saving from is themselves."
"That's too big a job for me," Jack says with a chuckle. "I'll stick with colour shifting aliens, thanks."
"Still, between humankind and weevils?" Ianto's almost surprised at the tease in his voice, but he feels that lightness coming back. It's weird how the Hub just feels like home now, a safe haven where it's him and Jack and nothing can touch them. "Rather a close match, eh?"
Jack lets out one of his easy laughs, head thrown back like he hasn't a care in the world - this world or any other.
"Come on," he says. "Let's see if Gwen's got any ice cream we can steal from the freezer."
His hand curls around Ianto's and although they're still outside, Ianto gives it an affectionate squeeze and doesn't let go.
"Or we could walk to the corner market and pick up our own."
Jack beams. "Always with the good ideas. What would I do without you, Ianto?"
"I suppose you'd have to make your own coffee for a change," Ianto quips.
They're sheltered a bit from the wind here by the office, so it's not breezy cool yet, yet when Jack tugs him in for a languid kiss Ianto feels a little chill that's quickly replaced by an effusive warmth rushing through him, pooling and curling up where their bodies almost meet.
"I'll just have to keep you then." Jack's voice rumbles low and it's filled more with affection than hints of what he might have in mind for later, but that's what Ianto wants right now; Jack's always good at knowing what Ianto wants. "So... Mint chip ice cream? Hazelnut gelato? What sounds good?"
They head off to the late night convenience store down the block, walking close as they always do, only this time Jack's hand in his doesn't make him look about for who might see, it makes him lace their fingers together and try, for once, to match his stride to Jack's.