In the meantime, this chapter is... making me nervous. (Yes, yes, I know, every chapter does that. ^^) Ianto is hard for me to write, and I was initially wary of touching on 'afterlife' experiences because I didn't want to seem cliche. Hopefully, the result isn't too confusing. I owe an extra debt to mscatmoon, badly_knitted, and albichorizon-- your comments and insight helped me solidify some ideas, and gave me the courage to tackle this. *crosses fingers*
As always, I thank anyone and everyone for taking the time to read this. If I could bother you a bit more to comment, you know you'll make me a very happy little fic-writer blob. ^_^
ETA: Changed the italics formating to avoid confusion. Thanks to a_silver_story for pointing out this error.
DISCLAIMER: Torchwood is copyright BBC, and Russel T. Davies. I'm making no money off this, and am not affiliated with the above. Why can't we have nice things!? The short film Dumplings was written by Lillian Lee and directed by Fruit Chan. No infringement is intended in either case-- only honest admiration.
Prologue | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten
In Amnion 11/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
(Can you be good for me, Ianto-- my good boy? It'll be just like hide and seek. Don't go wandering, and I'll find you.)
He's caught in a sleep that is deeper than slumber; his dreams run underneath the mortal nightscape, endless subterranean tunnels that have never known light. This is the place where lightning burns the sand to glass; the wild black ocean lit by a burning moon; the thin slice of nothing that separates your shadow from the wall.
(behold, this is the perilous Land of In-Between)
It is strange, but ultimately finite, an escape from the directionless maelstrom of
before. Here, in the calm waters, he is away from the rolling, lumbering things that slithered underneath the more-than-darkness, but he is not safe. The burning moons have a tide, the dry Martian lakebed hides a secret well, and everything, everything is just red-hot shards of coal. Down here, unseen by the living, are totems that defy the waves-- they are worn clean of name and memory, but still incontrovertibly etched with the warning that all things come with a price.
He founders, he fights for grip. The walls of the city are high and narrow, it's always sunset, and the streets have no names. Something is drawing him back, he feels the strength of the cord, each ripple of twisted silk as fine and unflexing as pure steel. It is a red cord, and gold
(because Jack is gold. when he kisses you, when he touches your hands as you pass out coffee, when he smiles at you over the unconscious shape of a Weevil, he is everything brilliant and it almost hurts to look)
and it pulls, inscribed with words
he does not understand.
The dimensions here don't work; the geometry is all wrong and each angle makes him feel like he's slipping, slipping back into the No-Thing, where he'd been still and quiet,
(Jack asked you to)
waiting. And, ever so far away, something to pierce the Void-- a wordless promise, a whisper. It is the space between the light, between the stars, it is what lies Beyond. For every cynic shouting about accidents of chemistry and keeping meat fresh, there is this; the soft song to negate the Nothing, to defy and say, 'No, there is more'.
It is gone from him, now. The binding pulls, and he doesn't resist,
(goddamn him, damn those blue eyes and conspiratory smile, he has you cut down to the quivering muscle and he's always known)
just moves, wordless, half-resentful, unarmed by his own feelings. 'Love' is such a paltry noun-- stupid and small and worn from overuse. The letters can't hold this feeling, the vowels burst from the heat, but he says it because
it's the only thing he has.
(Jones, Ianto Jones.)
the boy sitting in the snow by the back garden wall
the student who absorbs but does not speak; correlating, devouring knowledge
the son cradling his mother's hand in the too-white hospital
the teenager who calmly holds his arms out so the officer can cuff him for shoplifting
the young man who feels the shape and order of his archives like the curves of a secret mistress
the panicked lover in the burning, smoke-lit-red chaos of Canary Wharf.
("Lisa died at Torchwood One," you say, sitting slumped and undignified on your kitchen floor. Jack is some ways away, legs folded, oddly calm. He says nothing-- and better than that, his eyes say nothing-- but the feel of his kiss burns on your mouth like a brand. You want to fight, but you're exhausted. You want to find a chink, just a small one, in the Captain's powerful facade. Anger or resentment, some sort of weakness you can stir and needle until he does Retcon you and every acidic moment of this nightmare dissolves into chemical white. You rally, one last time over the top, and whisper, "I died at Torchwood One." Except that's not exactly true, and Jack knows it.
"Liar," Harkness says, but there's no heat in the word. Only something, hidden behind that handsome face, that aches and aches and cannot stop aching. It's brief, gone as soon as you realize you've seen it, but that look lives in your memory like his touch on your skin.
"I don't sleep through the night," you tell him, hating yourself for speaking but unable to stop. "I keep waking up because it's time for her meds." More than that, it's in your jumbled dreams. A blur, an infection, so that every half-conscious thought is about changing the IV, alternating electrical currents, and whether or not you can convince her to try and keep some sort of real food down. It's with you, this ghastly knowledge of failure, it rapes you with sure fingers every time you close your eyes.
"You'll sleep," Jack says. He's close again. You should never have taken your eyes off him-- you know better-- but here he is, kneeling next to you by the stove. His hand is warm on the back of your neck, wide and sure and strong. Like the flutter of a thoughtless moth, his other hand returns to your pulse, tracing.
"I shouldn't let you touch me," you say, not so much to him as to your own malfunctioning gut. There's that twitch of Jack's lips, not quite a smile-- he leans over and presses those lips to your forehead in a quick, chaste kiss. Half-offended and half-touched, you stare at him as he stands, reaching out a hand to help you up. Logic and order, plan upon careful plan, and it's all come down to Jack standing in your kitchen, the only vibrant thing in your colorless flat. You could slap his hand away now-- the endlessly shifting, calculating portion of your mind encourages this. If you came at him with your not-inconsiderable right hook, you might just make him angry enough, disgusted enough to end this today.
Bite me once, shame on you, or so the saying goes. It's Mam's voice-- it might be rational and it might not-- but the echo is real. Bite me twice...
"Shame on me," you whisper, so softly you know Jack doesn't hear you. And, without any conscious thought behind it, your hand is in his. He pulls you up, holding your fingers with an odd sort of care, and you tell yourself you have just made a choice.
Except you really are a liar; you know there was never any choice at all.)
Ianto sees all this, the perfect sphere of memory amidst the confusion. Like an artfully forged chain, it leads forward and back, the line of his life the same as the grooves in his palm. He struggles a little against this small but vital pivot-- there's more, but the grid of the map is faded and he can't
(doesn't want to)
There's Jack, of course. Jack, working his way under the skin, slowly becoming as much a part of the body as vein or bone. Always smiling, flirting, taking more than Ianto was ever willing to give. The shape of this new loyalty is the curve of Jack's back against his chest, all arrogant charm and jarringly selfish sacrifice. The scars begin to close over, but Ianto wants to keep digging at them, keep them infected because, if he lets them heal, he'll lose his last protection.
(differently for Jack)
relentlessly. It makes quick, thumbnail sketches of precious intimacy; it watches Gwen waver between Torchwood and the outside world; it steals Tosh and kills Owen twice over, as if certain it didn't get it right the first time. No Torchwood employee has ever lived to draw their pension-- Ianto is twenty-six and treading water, hyperaware of every risk and somehow insanely at peace. He (loves) cares for a man who can slip through Death's fingers, but Ianto knows that-- in his case-- when the house lights go down, that's it. Show's over, this is the point of termination, no departures or arrivals forevermore.
The pragmatism and fantastic order of Ianto's soul make this knowledge endurable-- make it rational. He has always been-- and will always be-- at his most relaxed when everything is in its place. But there's a hidden shard of romanticism in him, a vein of precious metal running through the practical earth. It gives him his creativity, his grasp of the abstract, his affection for the sarcastic and the absurd. And, here in the In-Between Lands, it is what saves him. He moves towards that moment etched on his soul, the final line on the monolith and-- though he is afraid-- he is also stubbornly himself.
("There's steel in you," Jack remarked once, after you disobeyed orders and subtly led Gwen to Flat Holm. Not surprised, but admiring. Peeling away your artfully tucked suit, kissing until your lips are bruised and you still climbed over him, forced him down, asking for more. You struggled against one another, half-irritated and half-playful, and he said, "Some metals are stronger than their forge.")
So here it is: and what's to be scared of? He knows its the end, but Jack is with him. Here, huddled together on the wonderland tile of Thames House, Jack holds him and asks him to stay. Ianto's chest hurts
(he can't breathe)
and he has to say it
(don't, Jack says don't)
but he also has to be honest
('A thousand years time, you won't remember my name')
and that's okay.
What is death but the final settling of accounts, the heart weighed against a feather, the River of Lethe that leads to the next world? Provided, of course, that Ianto believes any of these things. If there's fear in him, it stems from this, from knowing the gate will close behind him and there will be no going back.
He is not surprised that Jack is the last thing he sees-- he's bemused and oddly grateful, and he has to close his eyes. Just this room, the tile floor, frozen forever, a blip in time.
There isn't supposed to be an 'and then'.
(This is the Land of In-Between, the City called No-Place, where the clocks have no hands and every direction is the same. Here, it is always sunset and the streets cry out beneath your feet. You can feel the falseness of the image, practically see the stroke of the brush as the mind tries desperately to paint a perception. The colors are wrong and the street signs are grotesque smears of ink, but the alternative is darkness, which is no choice at all.)
Thing is, he knows that this is wrong. He knows it, feels it with the rush-and-pulse of his unexpected awareness, but he cannot make the knowledge stick. It slips through his hands, slithers
(skin that's cold and slightly clammy)
(muscles that tighten, no longer soft; oh, flesh of the newly dead!)
and leaves him lost, like a pilgrim dizzied by a sky full of alien stars.
Ianto doesn't want to look at this, doesn't think he can bear to. Each bleeding shard of memory is a part of him, but that is cold comfort indeed. One carries these things; everyone carries these things. Bright little buttons and dark bits of rock that catch a child's eye, pieces of memory and life, weighing heavy in the pockets of the heart and mind. Who wants to look at them all at once-- the moments of joy mixed in the withering regret, small flecks of pettiness, of stolen comfort, and all those things we hush away behind the door called FORGET? They are here with Ianto, they are timeless and immediate. Here, in the In-Between, every single one of them is happening Now.
He's falling off the swing because Da pushed him too hard; he's running across the Plass, desperate to reach the Hub and find Lisa before anyone else can. He's the toddler held on his mother's hip while she dances, holding his hand and singing 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted'. Mam never could sing with that squeaky voice of hers, but to his infant's heart it is beautiful. He sees now the things about her he'd forgotten-- the curve of her breast for his toothless mouth, that flash of almost-envy on her face as Da and Rhiannon leaned close, Mam insisting he sit there until he finished his supper, thank you very much young man. It's all too much, and it won't stop. Here is the feeling of shame when the upper level boys take his uniform pants during gym. Here is the hard-on he got while shoplifting. Here is the flinch of hatred he felt, awake for days on end, fixing the wiring on Lisa's Conversion Unit while she screamed at him to hurry up. The feel of the trigger beneath his finger, the look on Owen's face as he fell back with the bullet's force. The chill in his gut while Gwen sat there, serene as any marble angel, holding Jack's hand in the morgue. Here, and here, and here, here, here.
(A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.)
Gwen had that printed on a magnet, one she kept stuck to the top drawer of her desk. Only Gwen Cooper would bring a thing like that into Torchwood-- one of those kitschy, well-meaning bits of pseudo-wisdom pinned up like a granny's ancient sampler. And yes, he took that magnet, pocketed it with a practiced twist of the wrist and ended up throwing it into Cardiff Bay. Ianto was living each one of those steps, a week into his release from full suspension and return to 'light' duties. Each agonizing pressure point on ankle and heel, every lurch forward through the buzz of his teammates' resentment and suspicion. Those fake-gold enamel words mocked him with every round of coffee or cleaning-- he stole the magnet like he stole the videogame he was busted for, and the two others no one ever discovered.
The yearning for time overwhelms him-- he longs for his stopwatch so earnestly that he can almost feel its weight in his palm. He needs it, for there must be reason and measurement in this place. Or is this hell, that he must keep looking at these broken reflections, admitting to them, with no hope of reprieve?
And he will admit to them-- he will own them all. 'Confession is good for the soul', as Da always said (usually while tapping the ruler against the table), so let's have at it, and why not?
(Yes, you held onto Jack's RAF coat after Abaddon, clutching it for comfort and the lingering ghost of scent. When you cried, cradling Lisa's warped and wired remains, you knew deep mourning-- but you also, in that final reserve of rationality, knew relief. You lied to Da, limping your way home from school, and so much more terrible than the beating was the fact he readily believed you simply fell. The night-- just the once-- you and Tosh spent cuddled up together on the sofa, both of you lonely and drunk and more than a little afraid. And yes, when you took yourself in hand, even during Jack's vanished months, the first thing that sprung to your hungry mind's eye was the feel of him, pressing into you, holding you, and the shape of his mouth when he smiled and went down.
Da was always pushing you, always telling you to buck up and be a man. You tried. You went for quiet endurance, and Lisa always teased that you were the strong, silent type. You were properly mortified when Jack took your hand in public, despite pool of warmth in your heart, and-- though you gave him your loyalty-- you never, ever expected him to say the words.
If you wanted it, if you wished he would... well, you were good at hiding things, even from yourself.)
It's true, it's real. All of it, whether Ianto likes it or not. He gazes on himself, the sum of time and deed and memory, weighed here in a land where nothing has a name. This is Knowledge, the fruit of the Tree in the Garden, red skin stretched to bursting with strange seeds. That image sticks with him, overwhelms the terrible intimacy of being forced to examine himself. He turns it over, heavy as it is with the echoes of 'thou shalt not'. Hasn't he always though Jack had a face like an archangel, like a rebel who'd bitten into the fruit and cared not? There was the Tree of Knowledge, but there was also...
(the Tree of Eternal Life)
Something ephemeral changes, some firming of texture or brightening of color that leaves Ianto breathless. He is awake and asleep, he is present and not, in some impossible marriage of light and shadow. Opening eyes that are not quite eyes, he sees the tree. It's a stunted, twisted little thing-- white like
marble. Though he sees it, it is far more important to note that it sees him. There are more words
he doesn't understand, before one last merciful crash of red-and-gold pulls him under and bears him away.
Pulled on this swell of affection, of need, he is as one caught by the massive force of a wave. The very definition of the word 'possessed'. Wanted, ardently anticipated, Ianto knows he must answer. He is lifted, he is carried, and the arms that hold him belong to Jack. That's good, that's more than Ianto would have asked for; Jack's voice reaches him from
('I told you I'd come for you, Ianto. I told you I wouldn't forget')
sometimes intelligible, sometimes lost in a beautiful cascade of foreign sounds. The play of that beloved tenor draws him, recalls touch and warmth against his lips and jaw. He drinks of it, deeply, lets it bind his hands with stabs of heady desire. It is Jack, always Jack, the arch of that truism as comforting as it is deeply terrible. Somehow, Jack has reached him, soothed a pain too overwhelming to register until it began to ease. There is touch in this narrow kingdom; the siege is over and the walls have come down, Ianto is found-- not lost, but found!
As he drinks and dreams, Ianto Jones envisions the weight of a beautiful, ripe ruby orb in his hand. The curve of the fruit is sensual, it is lit almost from within by a gold so familiar that it takes his breath away.
He bites into it, and it tastes so sweet.
Daaih louh- lit, Elder brother. Also used as respect for a male aquaintance younger than one's father.
Tsazhou- this one, I made up. From Boeshane, 'Bound One'.
Do you think Daleks come in Easter colors, the way Peeps do? So, we could have a whole conga line of pink daleks, and yellow daleks, and purple daleks... *is disturbed by her own train of thought* Still, feedback is just like peeps, dalek-shaped or no. It's sweet and gooey, and it makes Meredith so happy she explodes, just like when you put a peep in the microwave.
Well, I don't really explode at feedback, but I do get gooey. And y'all know I have no shame. *puppy dog eyes* Please...? ^___^