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“Taking the Bullet” Pt 1/4
By marzipan77
Jack/Ianto, some Jack/Gwen UST, Team, Rhys
Angst/Drama
Rating: Let’s say R, shall we?
Missing scenes and epilogue to “Meat”, Series 2
Summary: Some wounds are shallow, some deep; Ianto’s grown used to taking the bullets. But when a psychic connection with a tortured creature leaves him empty, Ianto realizes he has nothing to lose.

“You love him – it makes you vulnerable.”

Teeth grinding, Ianto burned, denying the ache, Jack’s words that clenched into fists and broke his skin over and over again. It was all Rhys and Gwen – and Jack, of course. The legendary triangle. All want and need, longing looks and dramatic pining. Sweeping romance that belonged in swashbuckling regency era bodice rippers where the plucky heroine finally turns from her staid, bland, milk-toast boyfriend to save the poor, lonely hero from his life of sin.

It made Ianto ill, reached inside and cored him out like an apple. And the low-grade headache that had plagued him for weeks didn’t help. His skin twitched and prickled every time Gwen or Jack’s ‘long, meaningful’ glances brushed against him.

But he smiled and nodded and took orders, steadied himself in the back of Rhys’ van without meeting any of their eyes. He’d swept through the doors of the warehouse in Owen’s wake, the stench of death almost a welcome relief, an obvious excuse for his roiling stomach and doubled vision. He jerked backwards when the haunting scent of skin, of Jack, spread through the air around him, and a trail of warmth on his side seemed to echo certain elegant fingers.

‘Stop it,’ he warned himself. Jack was not at his side, had not turned his attention towards Ianto in weeks. The kiss they’d shared, the talk of love, just another vapor that had vanished into the past as had Tommy Brockless

Owen’s warning was not much of a surprise. “Everyone – they’re armed.” Of course they were. Men who were capable of tearing apart a living being for meat would be. Hadn’t Jack and the others learned that out in the bloody countryside a year ago? Or was killing and eating humans somehow more disgusting, more horrible, than carving up still-alive aliens and selling their meat to the abattoir? Ianto didn’t see how.

Ianto flew down the steps, feet barely touching. Stun the ‘not hardened criminals’ and set the creature free. Right. It sounded good in the hub, in the clean, calm conference room when the creature’s screams only sounded in the back of Ianto’s mind and didn’t reverberate from every surface all around them. When his teeth were only set on-edge by the smell of Jack’s testosterone-laden posturing for Gwen’s benefit, not when he was facing a crowd of armed gits who wouldn’t think twice about blowing Ianto’s head off.

The door slammed open behind him and he turned. “Hello!” A smile, a wave, a distraction and he’d stunned the man and dragged him away down the hallway. Ianto was excellent at distraction, he smiled to himself. He could – and did - do it in his sleep.

“Ianto, did Rhys get away?”

He wiped his hands on his coat and took a deep breath. Wasn’t Rhys’ fault, he reminded himself. Poor bloke had no idea his fiancée and Captain Jack were all but in bed together. Even while Ianto himself was the warm body the captain happened to be fucking while he thought longingly of long hair and tits.

Ianto touched his communicator. “I’ll check now.” He hurried back through the hallways, awkwardly sidestepping the blood-soaked parcels hanging from the rafters. His legs felt heavy, wooden, the constant headache, nausea, and outright disgust that had plagued him for weeks had stolen Ianto’s sleep, his patience, and any hope of coordination.

Three. Three of them, Rhys held between them and a gun shoved in Ianto’s face. He forced himself to stillness, locking eyes with the nervous man who demanded answers, whose finger was curled around the trigger of the gun too tightly, Rhys’ bruised face and wide eyes in the background. ‘See only me,’ Ianto thought, insisted, demanded. ‘I am the threat, here.’

“How many more of you?”

He rolled his eyes. “Just us.”

“Oh, you thought the two of you could take us out?”

It was supposed to be the two of them – Ianto and Owen. Apparently someone – no names, but he wore a long greatcoat and couldn’t keep it in his pants - thought the two of them could handle the unarmed, ‘non-threatening’ men. His eyebrow flicked in disgust.

He knew the others could hear every word the man spewed at him when Owen’s whisper came over the comms: “They’ve got Rhys and Ianto.” Ianto swore he could hear Gwen’s wail and see Jack restraining her, the scene playing out behind his eyes. The man with the gun surged forward, startling Ianto from the persistent vision and grabbed him around the throat.

“Nice necktie – you the boss, then?” His fingers tightened, pulling Ianto close to his chest, the muzzle of his gun pressed to his temple. “So am I, yeah? We understand each other?”

Ianto narrowed his eyes, lips pressed closed. Apparently, that was answer enough.

The alien was huge, filling the warehouse end to end. Dark shades of mottled brown and grey danced along its ridged torso; the thing, the alien, smelled of sorrow and loneliness and Ianto nearly wept, staring, transfixed, his wrists tied roughly behind his back. The darkness in his own soul was eclipsed by the bright desperation of the lost, wounded creature.

It happened quickly – time and motion stretching, shrinking, Doppler shifts of color outlining each form. Ianto’s heartbeat, staccato and fast, thudded painfully hard in his chest. His eyes darted to stacked crates, his vision doubling to show his team, both hidden and revealed, from two perspectives.

Of course, Gwen showed herself first, her worry bouncing around between the metal walls. She was afraid for Rhys, fraught, reckless to protect him. She’d never let harm come to him if she could help it – not physical harm, anyway. As soon as her gun hit the floor, the butchers holding Rhys pushed him away, into Gwen’s arms, even as one shouted from above and pointed out Tosh and Jack’s position. Pain shot through Ianto’s shoulder as the self-proclaimed boss, Dale, grabbed him, pulling him backwards, the barrel of his gun cold against Ianto’s neck.

Jack was talking. Talking. Demanding that Dale and the others see, that they realize exactly what they’d been doing here. Murdering this being by inches to fill bellies and make a profit. Talking. The captain’s voice rang hollow, tasting of rust and ashes. Not the same – this was not the same man who broke down walls with a tractor and shot men and women full of holes to save him – to save them. Was this a better Jack? A more patient, more compassionate Jack Harkness? More humane? He’d insisted that this alien was worth saving, was worth as much as any other life. Was it because these bastards hadn’t killed it yet that he was wasting words on them instead of buckshot?

Ianto’s fingers cramped, cold and nerveless as he strained hard against the rough twine cutting into his wrists. They’d not tied him well – not as practiced as the previous cannibals who’d strung him up and tenderized him last year. Muscles bunched and cramped as if he’d been restrained for weeks instead of moments, panic rising in his throat, he fought to conceal his movements, to keep them small and subtle when he wanted to rage and scream. No gag kept him quiet this time, no jute sack over his head to easily hide his pain. Ianto squeezed his eyes shut as he fumbled with the bindings, thumb crooked, close to dislocating. The gun barrel shifted, jabbing just below his collarbone.

“It’s just meat, that’s all,” Dale shouted.

Just meat. The words echoed around Ianto’s head. Just meat – no life, no soul, no mercy. He wondered if Gwen would need to understand them this time, to sit down and ask deep questions before putting the butchers away. He felt a snap in his hand just as he managed to tug free the loop in the twine as the man clutching him ranted.

“This is my business.” The gun ground harder against bone with every word. “For the first time in my life I’ve actually got something for myself!”

Dale took a half step backward and Ianto felt the pressure against his chest ease, felt the tiny shift in the man’s stance, his decision made. The gun rose to point towards Gwen and Rhys and he tensed.

“You lied to me.”

Heat exploded next to Ianto’s face. Rhys thrust Gwen out of the way. Jack shouted. And Ianto lunged blindly for the gun, one second too late. He wrestled with Dale, able to grip with just one hand, forcing the barrel away from Jack and Tosh, away from his friends, as Dale pulled the trigger again and again.

The alien screamed jagged shards of glass into Ianto’s mind.

Pain surrounded him, breathed into his lungs, and choked his throat with bile. A fist connected with his kidneys, arching him backwards, Dale’s fingers stabbing into his jaw. He dropped the butcher to the floor, straddling him, one swift backhand knocking the man’s head to the side and sending a shock of pain up through his injured hand. Rage and loss and vengeance swept through Ianto, blurring his eyes, and then the gun slammed into his ribs, thrusting him sideways to curl against the floor, a familiar metal shape in his hand.

When he looked up Dale loomed over him, shaking hands wrapped around the pistol and a feral light in his eyes.

So small. Tiny. Looking down on the scene from far above, he saw himself, motionless against the cement floor, Dale, a stick figure leaning over him.

Pulling the trigger.

Click.

Click.

Nothing. Ianto blinked again and he was himself. And Dale was gone.

“Ianto! Go! After them!”

He struggled to his feet, mind blank, overloaded with images. The alien shrieked and writhed, broadcasting its pain in deafening, crushing waves. Sensations rolled red tides of pain over him - his, the creature’s - he couldn’t separate them, couldn’t breathe. Ianto was drowning.

Jack’s words finally registered and Ianto tore his gaze away from the alien to see the blood on Gwen’s hands, the narrow aisle between the huge thrashing body and his teammates. He spun on his heel and ran.

The first man fell to his stun-gun. “You’ve got to help them – it’s out of control.” He saw the determined light behind Owen’s eyes and left him to it.

Follow orders. He could follow orders. Jack had told him to go after them and he would. He kicked at the second door and took the man down, sending electricity surging through his gut, and turned just as Dale grabbed at another pistol. He heard the bones snap in the butcher’s arm where he kicked him; saw the terror and agony on Dale’s pale face.

Ianto shoved the stun-gun into Dale’s forehead, all of the boiling emotion, the turmoil and confusion, the raging fury tightening his throat. “Pray they survive,” he growled, pulling the trigger.

Stumbling back towards his team, Ianto felt the alien’s pain give way, felt the release as if a giant’s hand that had been clenched crushingly around his body suddenly let go. He fell to his knees, panting, head hanging.

“Ah, no,” he whispered, tears blinding him.

Hands fleetingly caressed his skin. Saying good-bye. Pleading for forgiveness.

It faded, slowly, pain giving way to acceptance, to peace, to emptiness. Ianto felt one last pulse of sadness, of a deep aching longing for home, and then he was alone within his mind, his own pain making itself known. Tremors shook through him, leaving him weak, but he lifted his chin and limped to his feet just as Owen and Gwen shuffled towards him supporting a bloodied Rhys.

“Here – Ianto – give us a hand.”

And, of course, he did.

oOo

Ianto had driven back to the hub in a daze, Rhys between Gwen and Owen in the back propped up with bandages and reassurances, and the world around him having leached back into reality bit by bit. One swift yank had righted his thumb, his own bruises easily forgotten, buried under the memory of the creature’s torture and pain. Arranging for the truck, disposing of the body, piece by piece, working silently alongside Jack, he’d allowed his mind to rest, his body to fall back into mechanical efficiency, his movements lighter, his thoughts clearer than they'd been in far too long. He didn’t want to think about how long he’d been connected to the wounded alien, or how, or why; why he had felt the alien creature's pain. He pulled back into quiet, understated Ianto Jones, invisible tea boy. Hidden. Invulnerable.

At the hub, Ianto stood at the rail, hands braced, his blood-soaked jacket abandoned somewhere between trips from the warehouse to the incinerator and back. Hours later his hands still shook, his muscles still trembled as the adrenaline and the remnants of the psychic connection drained away. Tosh stole glances at him, worried, he knew, about the things he’d let slip while they worked to remove every alien trace from the warehouse and the butchers’ minds. She suspected there was more to Ianto’s flailing emotions, more to the quivering in his voice than he’d said. But he could count on her to wait until he spoke of it himself, until he felt steadied – grounded – enough to lay it out for the team, for Jack. Once the melodrama and intensity had passed, for the moment, into Torchwood normalcy. Whatever that was.

They’d gathered in the medical bay, watching Owen work on Rhys’ shoulder; together, but worlds apart, needing to see life, survival, even love to dispel the horrors. To share in the outer edges of the couple’s happiness.

“Next time let her take the bullet,” he advised Rhys with a wry smile. This man had been hurt enough.

“Never.”

The light of devotion in Rhys’ eyes as he gazed up at Gwen’s face cut into Ianto like knives. Jack would Retcon him; he’d forget his heroism, forget about aliens and murderers and the fragility of life. But he’d never forget his soul-deep love for his woman.

Ianto helped Rhys on with his shirt, helped Owen settle his arm in the sling, escorted the two of them out through the tourist office. He took his place behind the desk, gaze unfocused.

Just what had he expected?

Had he expected Jack’s weeks’ old declaration of love, the passion in his lips, the possessiveness in his hands meant hearts and flowers and picking out dish patterns? Had he actually believed that when the captain spoke of the people he’d loved he’d been thinking of a slim Welshman in his arms and not a gap-toothed woman lying in someone else’s? What kind of a fool did that make him?

It hadn’t been Ianto Jones who’d changed Jack Harkness from a shotgun toting angel of vengeance to a compassionate man armed with a stun-gun who would talk his way out of a problem. He hadn’t demanded Jack live in the world around him instead of just treating it like a waiting room. No, Ianto shook his head, it hadn’t been him. Perhaps the Doctor had done it during those months away, perhaps his long sleep after Abaddon, perhaps it was Gwen’s influence after all. No, Ianto Jones was part of the problem, not the solution. As long as he stayed at Jack’s side, eager for attention, for any scrap of affection thrown out while the captain bided his immortal time and guarded his heart waiting for Gwen to make her choice, Jack would treat him as a stop-gap, as a way to pass the hours. A part-time shag, just as Owen had claimed all those months ago, promises of a real ‘date’ notwithstanding.

Ianto stood, stabbed at the switch, and walked quickly through the hidden door back into the hub. He had a report to make. Questions to ask. And, possibly, truths to air that had yet to see the light of day.

End Pt 1

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