Characters: Ianto, Ianto/Lisa, Ianto/Jack
Spoilers: through 1x07
Notes: ~1800 words. PG. Thanks to wicked_socks for reading it at shocking times of night, and putting up with obstinancy, babbling and all those adjectives. w00t, I finally managed to do one in time. ETA: There we go, fixed the backwards thing. That's what happens when I try to post in the dead of night.
The couple that wanders into the 'tourist office' is young, perhaps younger than Ianto had been when he had started at Torchwood. They're laughing together as they come through the door, leaning into one another as if it's the most natural thing in the world, unburdened by need or weakness or the possibility that either one of them might stumble and fall if the other was not there for support. As if it's a choice.
Ianto doesn't expect to see them there, and at first he is wary, thinking that they must be spies, that they must know something. Though he spends much of the day upstairs in the little lobby-cum-tourist office, no one ever wanders in. It's too far in the shadows, too obscured, too unwelcoming. But the soft, unlined faces are guileless though a bit tentative, the bright eyes clear, constantly darting back from posters and pamphlets to rest on each other, fond, loving. Happy.
They untangle their bodies long enough to wander about and examine the walls. He watches them quietly from behind the counter, still as the stone at his back, allowing them to explore the entire office before clearing his throat softly to attract their attention. It is clear from the way they both startle, in tandem like marionettes on one set of strings, that they had not realized anyone was about. "Can I help you?" he asks lightly.
Almost magically, they have come together again, protective, and Ianto finds himself struck by the ludicrous mental image of the magnets they used to play with in primary school. The girl nudges her boyfriend in the armpit with her shoulder; she is quite a bit shorter than he. "Uh, yeah," he says, and Ianto is surprised by his American accent. "We, uh, we were wondering what kind of vacation packages you had. We're hoping to go up north, climb Mount Snowdon, something like that?"
"We'd like to camp there," the girl adds. Ianto is surprised how much something so innocuous can still hurt. Camping was one of the last things Ianto and Lisa had done together outside of work before the Battle of Canary Wharf, one of the last things Lisa had talked about before Ianto had finally let her go.
"Snowdonia National Park has many recognised campsites," he says automatically, extracting relevant guides from the rack beside him. "Some quite basic, others with complete amenities. Beer gardens, free hot showers, that sort of thing. Either way, you'll want to make a reservation. When will you be wanting to go?"
"Next month. We--haven't a lot of money," the girl explains. "We've both just finished university, and this is our first holiday together, but we can't afford very much." She smiles self-effacingly. "That's why we thought camping would be nice."
Lisa had loved camping. She'd loved everything like that. Camping, picnics, plunging into the Serpentine in the bleak mid-winter. Ianto had humoured her in all of it, and loved it all for love of her, including that damned dog that had pissed on their tent, piss that steamed in the cold morning air and mingled with the dew. But he'd been comfortable and warm in their doubled sleeping bag, and Lisa had laughed at the dog, and Ianto hadn't minded it because he was lying in the arms of a woman who could take delight in the sheer ridiculousness of...animals urinating on her property. Her joy, like her laugh, was infectious, and chances to make her laugh like that had been what he had lived for.
"Congratulations on your graduation," Ianto hears himself saying. "Camping is a wonderful way to spend a holiday."
Camping with Torchwood Cardiff had been something different entirely. What actually happened had been terrifying, but in a way, Ianto was glad they had never had the chance to spend the night out camping, packed in together in that military-surplus tent, the five of them on top of one another, suffocating in their little cruelties, intentional and not.
"...went camping all the time in America, but I've never been," the girl was saying. "And he's only been in Wales a few months, but me? Born in Swansea, and I've never been north of the valleys, So it seems a good way to remedy both deficiencies." The two of them--Ianto can't help thinking of them as students--grin at each other, and Ianto ducks his head down to the computer screen to pull up a list of campsite availabilities and travel rates.
He almost thought he'd misheard Gwen when she started her callous little game. Who's the last person you snogged? But he could think of half a dozen reasons she'd have wanted to play--curiosity, discontent, a desire to put the idea into everyone's heads, especially Owen's--and as many for why she wouldn't have given a second thought to asking. So they'd all answered her stupid question, and Ianto had had little choice but to remind them, to remind himself.
He rather hates camping, now.
"Will you be taking the train, or do you have a car?" He doesn't look up from the screen, typing more than is strictly necessary, pretending to be hard at work, something he's become very good at in Torchwood Three.
They speak at the same time, the boy lighting up at the very idea of a train, the girl blurting out a quick 'we'll drive'. Ianto has the impression they've disagreed about this before, and yet a moment later the girl acquiesces, indulgently, and they turn their beaming, cheerful expressions to encompass him, to include him in their happiness.
He wants none of it. Who are these children to come into his domain, ingenuous and carefree, and presume to inflict their gladness upon him, like some gracious, generous act? He's good--he's brilliant--at this, but Ianto hates that he has to hide himself, from these strangers, from the people he works with, from himself. He's tired of lies, and yet he can't stop. He can't quit because his memory of Lisa is the only thing left of her, and he can't let his grief show because the others want to forget.
"Anglesey is also quite lovely this time of year," he suggests, pulling out more promotional literature. "And not busy enough to be expensive. You might find yourself in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And it's only a half-hour's journey from Snowdonia."
He had planned to take Lisa there one day. When they were less busy with work. When he found someone with a cure. When Jack let Ianto have her ashes.
Long after the spectacular rescue, when Jack had finally got round to it, he'd asked Ianto whether he was all right. Ianto had replied that yes, he was fine. That, of course, was the greatest lie of all. Greater than any other he had ever had to tell. The thing with lies, though...the longer you tell them, the more like truth they become. It isn't the only lie that seems like truth by now. It isn't the only one he tells Jack.
The girl--who is apparently in charge--is demurring on the side-trip, unconvinced about the extra cost. He rushes to create a vacation package they can afford, fingers flying over the keyboard, discreetly moving funds to cover what they cannot. Ianto is trapped in Torchwood, but someone, someone should go to Anglesey. To the beaches and the cliffs.
It's only half a lie when Ianto smiles at Jack, or when he goes out of his way to bring Jack a cup of coffee, just the way he likes it. It isn't a lie at all when he makes sure he is always ready with whatever Jack needs, even before he needs it. When he swears to himself that, this time, he'll be there; this time, Ianto won't let him down. He'll make up for it, for letting her down.
He finally sells his holiday package, Snowdonia and Anglesey. It's gratifying to know that someone will actually be going on one of these carefully-planned vacations; no empty rooms this time, no unoccupied train compartments. Every week, Ianto books tickets and makes reservations that no one uses, to keep up the pretense that Torchwood is a tourist's agency. Now and then, he'll send the tickets to someone in the police department, the weather service, anyone who interacts with Torchwood. It serves the dual purpose of confirming the legitimacy of the bogus travel office and greasing the wheels with the people who keep their secrets.
This is different, though. It feels right, helping a young couple go on holiday together. He finishes up their paperwork, confirms their itinerary, hands it all over. The smiles aren't about condescending to involve him anymore. It's not the happy person's pity for the merely surviving: he sees acknowledgment; he sees gratitude.
It feels good.
"Enjoy your trip," he says. They thank him, and he sends them on their way. Just like that, they're gone, never having suspected the hallway behind the stone wall or the cavernous base far below ground. Once again, Ianto is alone.
He turns to the remaining paperwork, the photocopies that need to be filed, the forms to put away. He reaches to slip the brochures back into the metal display, and it is then he sees Jack emerge from the shadows. In the moment before Jack crosses the threshold into this bright, mundane world, his eyes alone are visible in the dark. What Ianto sees in that fleeting glitter, he isn't sure, but it's something he recognizes. Something familiar and unnamed.
Jack has been watching him. Ianto swallows the smile that rises where bile once did. "Something you need, sir?" he asks flippantly. "Something from the Archives? Cup of coffee? Romantic getaway?"
Jack laughs, but it's edgy, almost brittle, the way he so often sounds when he's meant to be enjoying himself. There's always a bit too much or too little, a caricature of a laugh. "Maybe next time you and I could go somewhere," he jokes. "We could go camping on that beach in Anglesey."
The world, for a few minutes bearable, even livable, shuts down. "I don't think so," Ianto says. His voice and gaze are level, carefully empty of meaning. Jack--is he disappointed, hurt, apathetic? Ianto doesn't know--falls back into the darkness. The hidden door rumbles shut behind him.
Ianto taps his papers against the desk, lines up each stack carefully so that the titles are exactly displayed, edges straight and perfect.