Title: When the Stars Turn Blue
Summary: Jack Harkness leads a small team of brilliant scientists working secretly underground to create a new technology that could have profound and far-reaching consequences for humanity. But when he receives devastating news and a mysterious stranger enters his life, his concept of reality may be changed forever. Jack/Ianto AU story.
Rating: Adult/NC-17 (overall story)
Warnings: Explicit sexual situations, adult themes, coarse language, dark themes, violence, character death, romance, angst.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created and owned by the BBC, and is loosely based on the movie 'The Thirteenth Floor' copyright Columbia Pictures and the novel 'Simulacron-3' by Daniel F. Galouye. No profit is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Special thanks to my talented beta prothrombintime.
The pub was almost deserted, which wasn't particularly surprising as it was scarcely eleven o'clock on a Monday morning. Although Jack wasn't much of a social drinker, it was his favourite of the bars and pubs in the vicinity of the Hub. It had a timeless, understated charm that he'd always appreciated, unlike many of the more contemporary places that seemed to be trying too hard to stand out from the competition.
Sitting in a booth towards the back of the room, he nursed a glass of scotch in his hands as he reflected on his conversation with Owen. Every exchange he'd experienced that morning had seemed to reveal some new horror or astonishing revelation. He didn't think he could handle anything more, and he was somewhat amazed that he'd managed to maintain his composure to the extent that he had over the last few hours.
In many ways, it wasn't a great surprise that John had been downloading into the system. John had always been impulsive, and ultimately, it had been his right. In hindsight, it was only fair that John was the first to experience the culmination of their work, yet Jack couldn't help but feel betrayed. Deep down he knew it wasn't logical to feel that way, but he'd wanted to shoulder the responsibility. It had been the one thing he'd had left to give, the last wish of a dying man, and John had taken that away from him. Although, he had to concede that perhaps he was irrationally angry at John for getting himself killed.
He was tired, his mind was in turmoil, and his heart felt tight and painful in his chest, battling for dominance with the intensifying ache in his skull. Closing his eyes for a moment, he wished that oblivion would just take him. He wanted to drift away into the darkness, casting off all the pain, grief, fear, and confusion. Feeling his eyes begin to burn, he blinked several times, finally using the pad of his thumb to roughly clear them. He raised his glass to his lips and took a generous swig of the dark amber liquid. It was his second glass, but he knew it was going to take more than a few shots of strong liquor to dampen the crushing feeling of despair.
The door of the pub opened and a suited figure crossed the threshold. Ianto moved hesitantly into the room and looked around, scanning the sparsely illuminated interior. After a moment, he spotted Jack and gave him a little wave of greeting. Jack nodded in reply as he watched the other man carefully. Ianto faltered for a moment, and then walked over to the bar. Ordering a drink, he handled over a couple of notes from his wallet, and collecting his glass with a polite smile, he turned towards the rear of the pub where Jack was sitting.
The blonde bartender stared at Ianto appreciatively as he made his way towards Jack, her eyes wandering over the length of his body. Jack suspected that Ianto was one of those people who were completely oblivious of the effect they had on others. In Jack's experience, the obliviousness only served to make the person in question even more appealing. And as Ianto made his way gracefully towards him, Jack couldn't deny that there was definitely something captivating about the enigmatic Welshman.
Jack flashed a disapproving glare at the bartender, and she quickly looked away. Ianto eased himself into the seat opposite Jack and put his glass down neatly on the wooden table, having taken care to place a coaster securely beneath it.
Jack studied the other man closely, still trying to decide what to make of him. He hoped that by meeting with Ianto in a more relaxed setting, he might be able to get some answers.
Ianto met Jack's gaze and looked back at him intently. Jack had to give him credit for appearing to be completely unintimidated. Ianto's youthful, clean-shaven face seemed to be in contrast to the maturity and intelligence that radiated from the depths of his vivid blue eyes. Jack noted that something in the intensity of those blue depths reminded him of John. He could see the same potent mixture of determination, passion, and strength that John had possessed in abundance.
Jack had little doubt that he was looking at a man of great complexity and depth, but with an innately guarded nature. And yet, there was also something comfortable and almost disarming about him. Somehow Jack knew that many of the qualities he'd admired so much in John were also abundantly present in this inscrutable young man.
Ianto seemed to be about to say something, but then settled on giving Jack a small, sad smile. He took a tentative sip of his drink and then settled the glass back down on the table.
Jack knew he was still staring, but he couldn't seem to pull his eyes away. He was once again struck by Ianto's physical appeal. His eyes trailed over Ianto's well-defined cheekbones, attractive button-shaped nose, and slightly downturned pink lips. While Jack wasn't that way inclined, he could appreciate a good-looking man who took care of himself and made an effort to look his best.
"Bit early for me," Ianto said quietly, causing Jack to break away from his musings. "But, given the circumstances…" He shrugged apologetically and looked down at his hands.
"Yeah, me too," Jack agreed, not knowing what else to say. "Thanks for meeting me here, Ianto."
Ianto nodded. "Of course. I'm glad you called."
He gazed at Jack with an expression of concern. Ianto reached across the table and settled his hand gently on top of Jack's. "How are you holding up?"
Jack looked at Ianto in surprise as he felt the soft warmth of the other man's hand settle pleasantly over his skin. It was such a simple gesture, yet it felt strangely familiar and intimate. Jack looked down at the pale hand with its long, elegant fingers. Ianto's hand was beautiful, almost delicate, yet distinctly masculine. It was a hand, Jack decided, that was eminently talented – capable of both great tenderness and, under extreme conditions, uncompromising brutality. Much like its owner, Jack suspected.
Apparently feeling that he might have overstepped their boundaries, Ianto slowly pulled his hand away and wrapped it gently around his glass again. Jack immediately regretted the loss of contact, sadly realising that the brief, comforting touch was probably the most pleasurable thing he'd experienced in quite some time.
Jack breathed out a weary sigh. "Honestly? I feel like I'm losing my mind."
Ianto nodded, and his eyes were compassionate. "That's understandable."
Jack looked at him curiously. "Did John tell you anything? Did he talk about the project?"
"No," Ianto replied, a furrow forming between his neatly groomed eyebrows. "I know about the work you're doing and what you've achieved so far… but we hadn't really talked since I arrived. He was at work all the time." His frown deepened. "Well, I assumed he was. He wasn't at the apartment."
"And last night?" Jack asked.
"I didn't see him. I went over to Newport to have drinks with some old school mates. I didn't get back until late, and he wasn't home when I got in."
"So, you have absolutely no idea what he's been up to for the past few days?" Jack demanded sharply, more anger in his voice than he'd intended.
Ianto took another sip from his glass. He looked genuinely distressed. "I'm sorry, Jack. I can't give you any answers."
Jack nodded, but he couldn't help feeling disappointed. Either Ianto was being evasive and hiding something, or he was as much in the dark as Jack was. Jack scrutinised the other man's features, looking for any hint of duplicity. If Ianto was lying, he was exceptionally good at it.
"It just doesn't make sense," Jack said, feeling agitated.
Ianto gave him a questioning look. "What do you think happened?"
"That's the problem," Jack replied, not managing to keep the frustration out of his voice. "I don't know what to think. Maybe he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the way he was killed… it doesn't seem to fit. And what was he doing there?"
"Perhaps he went for a walk, felt like a drink, and that was the nearest place?" Ianto suggested with a hint of tentativeness.
Jack wasn't convinced, and Ianto didn't seem to be either, but Jack had to concede that it was the mostly likely scenario. "I suppose that's possible," he agreed reluctantly.
"So, what will happen now?"
"With the project?" Jack asked, furrowing his brow as he considered the question. "I don't know. It was his life's work, and there are the others to think about too." He shook his head. "But right now I can't imagine going on without him. Although, it might not be my decision to make."
"Ah. The mysterious benefactor." Ianto's expression turned thoughtful. "Do you know who it is?"
"No," Jack admitted. "Not definitely, but I have an idea who it might be. I suppose whoever it is will make contact in due course."
Ianto looked down at his glass and was silent for a long moment. "You don't trust me, do you?" he said eventually, looking back up at Jack.
"I don't know you," Jack replied evenly. He decided there was no point in being circumspect. "You have to admit it's damned strange that John never once mentioned you."
Ianto shrugged. "We were never close. I wasn't really a part of his life, and I've been away for a long time."
"You grew up in Wales though?"
Ianto nodded. "Yes. In Newport."
Jack lifted his glass to his lips and took a sip as he tried to make sense of it all. Every indication was that John would have been proud of his nephew. "Why did you leave?" he asked.
Ianto looked uncomfortable, and for a moment Jack thought he wasn't going to answer. "I left after my mother died," he eventually replied, a flicker of pain ghosting his features. "Except for John, there was nothing left for me here, and he was always buried in his work. I decided to get away… start a new life. I stayed in London for a bit, and then moved to Cambridge and started following in John's footsteps."
Ianto gave Jack a wry smile. "It must run in the family. After I graduated, I travelled around for a while, and ended up in Paris." He closed his eyes briefly, and his expression became sorrowful. "John always kept in touch, mostly by e-mail… he always made sure I was okay. I think he was disappointed that I left. He was a good man though."
"He was," Jack agreed. "The best I've ever known."
Ianto gave Jack a gentle smile. "You were his best friend, Jack. He thought the world of you. Never forget that."
Jack wanted to believe that was true. He tried to return Ianto's smile, but he didn't trust himself to reply. "Is there anyone else I don't know about?" he asked instead.
"Nope. Just me," Ianto replied sadly. "End of the line."
"Sorry," Jack said and meant it, realising his question had been rather insensitive.
"It's okay," Ianto reassured him quickly. "What about you?"
Jack nodded. "A younger brother, but he lives in the States with his family. We don't really talk to each other."
"You were born in America?" Ianto asked, looking curious.
"No, here in Wales actually," Jack explained. "But I grew up in America. Hence the accent."
"I like it," Ianto said with the hint of a grin. "It's… distinctive. Well, around here anyway."
Jack wasn't sure if Ianto was teasing him, but his expression was sufficiently impassive so he couldn't tell for sure. He decided that Ianto seemed to be sincere. "Thanks."
"Jack…" Ianto began, but hesitated. "Is it all right if I keep staying at the apartment? Just until I get somewhere else sorted."
Jack was startled by the question. He hadn't even thought about the practicalities of dealing with John's estate. He wondered if John had left everything to Ianto, and it seemed a logical assumption. "Yeah, sure. It's probably yours now anyway."
Ianto looked surprised, as if the thought hadn't occurred to him. "Maybe. John might have left it to you."
Jack supposed that was possible. While Ianto seemed to be very self-reliant, he was John's only family, and depending on what happened, Ianto was potentially without a job. It was Jack's responsibility to make sure Ianto was looked after, regardless of any provisions John may have made. As arguably the two most important people in John's life when he died, they were connected.
"If he did, I'll make sure it's yours," Jack said firmly. "I don't have any use for it… it should belong to you."
"Thank you," Ianto replied. He didn't smile but he looked genuinely grateful.
Silence settled between them as they finished their drinks. Jack was on the verge of asking Ianto about organising the funeral arrangements when the pain in his head intensified. He winced as it lanced across the back of his skull.
"Jack, are you all right?" Ianto asked, looking concerned.
Jack winced again, and pushed himself onto his feet. "Yeah, it's just a headache. I get bad ones from time to time," he deflected.
As he stood, the room began to spin wildly. He pressed his eyes closed to block it out. Ianto was immediately on his feet and at Jack's side. "Whoa," he said as he put his arm around Jack to hold him steady. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Jack mumbled as he carefully opened his eyes.
The room was steady again, and he started making his way to the door. Ianto stayed at his side, pushing the door open for him.
"Do you want to go home?" Ianto asked as they made their way outside. "I'll walk back with you."
Jack pulled away, and Ianto stepped back slightly. "You don't need to," Jack replied. "I'll be fine."
Ianto looked at him sceptically but held his ground. "I'll feel better knowing you got there safely. Come on, let's get you home."
To be continued...