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 amazing beta prothrombintime.
Jack walked slowly across the Plass, making his way towards his favourite coffee shop on Mermaid Quay. He'd been more than a little surprised when Ianto had phoned earlier that morning and suggested they meet for a cup of coffee. He'd also surprised himself by agreeing to the invitation so readily.
Ianto had further astonished him by suggesting that they meet at this particular coffee shop. It was the only one in the vicinity that Jack considered worthy of his ongoing patronage. He'd sampled every coffee place in the surrounding area at one time or another, and in his opinion, this particular shop made by far the best coffee. Jack wasn't a particularly fussy person in most ways, and while he wasn't a coffee connoisseur, he knew what he liked, and he appreciated a good cup of coffee.
It had barely been twenty-four hours since Ianto had escorted him home from the pub. They'd stood at the entrance to Jack's building, and Jack had been taken aback by the degree of concern Ianto had shown for his wellbeing, despite having only met him hours earlier. Ianto had seemed genuinely worried about him, and while Jack could easily imagine that Ianto was a deeply compassionate man, his worry had seemed disproportionate for someone who was, for all intents, a total stranger.
Jack hoped that Ianto didn't feel obligated to look after him because of his friendship with John. He didn't want sympathy from anyone, especially not from a man who had apparently meant so little to John that he hadn't even warranted a passing mention. Yet John's heritage lived on in Ianto, and no matter how distant or even estranged they might have been, Jack felt certain that John would have wanted the two of them to get to know one another. Assuming that Ianto had told him the truth, John had apparently intended for them to meet and begin working together.
The coffee shop came into view as Jack continued along the wide thoroughfare of the Quay. The shop was relatively small and not at all ostentatious. It was nothing like the flashy franchises with their sub-standard coffee and over-inflated prices. Jack appreciated the sincerity of a business that prided itself on providing excellent service and a quality product, rather than shiny signage and fixtures.
He spotted the object of his thoughts sitting at one of the tiny outside tables. Feeble rays of sunlight were managing to push through the dense clouds overhead, and the air was relatively mild and calm, providing fairly favourable conditions for sitting outdoors. Ianto's gaze found Jack, and he stood up as Jack approached the table.
"Morning, Jack," Ianto offered in greeting, a cautious smile ghosting his features.
Jack attempted to return a wan smile. "Hey."
Jack took a moment to take in Ianto's appearance. He was again dressed in a well-cut and expensive suit. This one was a shade or two darker than yesterday's, but still accented by a subtle pin-stripe, and accompanied by a deep burgundy shirt with a coordinating red and black striped tie. The overall effect was striking, and Jack couldn't help but allow his gaze to linger over the long lines of Ianto's slim but well-proportioned body.
"How are you feeling?" Ianto asked, looking at him worriedly.
Jack mentally shook himself and met Ianto's eyes. "Better, thanks," he managed to reply.
Ianto's expression cleared to a degree, but he didn't look entirely convinced. "I'll just go and fetch our coffees, shall I? What would you like?"
"Um… I'll have a cappuccino. Thanks."
Ianto nodded. "Back in a minute."
As Jack sat down, he watched Ianto move purposefully towards the shop's door and easily navigate through the surrounding tables and customers. Jack looked out across the bay and breathed in deeply, hoping the fresh air would help to ease his troubled mind.
He'd had another blackout the day before. After saying farewell to Ianto, he'd made his way up to his apartment and downed several painkillers, unwisely following them with a couple of shots of scotch. He remembered collapsing onto his sofa and flicking on the television to quell the silence. The tears had started soon after that, quickly becoming uncontrollable howls of raging despair. However, the remainder of the day and night were a blank. The next thing he'd known, he'd woken up sprawled across his bed, naked, disoriented, and with a pounding headache again. He'd only been conscious for a couple of minutes when his phone had begun to ring, and he'd been greeted by Ianto's dulcet tones.
He really was losing his mind, he thought, and as his condition deteriorated, he knew that it was only going to get progressively worse. The cocktail of medications he was currently taking – bevacizumab, steroids, and ibuprofen – could only do so much to keep his symptoms at bay.
Ianto returned a moment later. He gently placed a plate, fork, and napkin in front of Jack before sitting down and settling his own plate on the metal table. Jack looked down at his plate, surprised to see a familiar, decadent-looking chocolate muffin.
"They'll bring out our coffees when they're ready," Ianto said as Jack looked up at him. Ianto gestured at the Jack's plate. "Thought you might be hungry."
Jack was silent as a vague sense of uneasiness drifted over him. He realised that Ianto had noticed the confused look that must have been on his face. "Is something wrong?" Ianto asked him.
Their coffees arrived at that moment, interrupting their conversation. Ianto smiled at the barista and thanked her as she placed their drinks on the table and quickly moved away. "Jack?" Ianto repeated.
"It's my favourite," Jack eventually replied. "The muffin. This is my favourite place for coffee, and sometimes when I come here, I treat myself to one of these." He looked at Ianto pointedly. "How did you know?"
Ianto shrugged slightly, but he hesitated before replying. "John told me this was the best place around here. I'm a bit particular about my coffee. The muffin was just a lucky guess. Chocolate's usually a safe bet."
Jack watched as Ianto began to carefully dissect his own muffin – blueberry and banana – into uniformly equal bite-sized pieces. Jack picked up his cup and took a small sip, closing his eyes and savouring the rich, aromatic flavour.
He looked back at Ianto and watched him curiously. "And coffee's the only thing you're particular about?" he teased, not quite able to prevent his mouth from twitching with amusement.
"Well, yes…" Ianto began, glancing down at his plate and then looking up at Jack sheepishly. "No, I suppose not."
Jack surprised himself by letting out a gentle chuckle. "A fastidious nature and an eye for detail aren't exactly bad qualities to have. And I've always admired a man with discerning tastes."
Ianto lifted an eyebrow. "Are you flirting with me, Jack?"
Jack realised with complete astonishment that it was exactly what he'd just done. He felt an immediate stab of guilt, but couldn't deny that it had been nice not to think about anything else for just a moment. "Sorry," he said quickly. "That was… inappropriate."
"It's okay," Ianto assured him, taking a sip of coffee. "I don't mind."
Jack nodded, but didn't say anything further. He just sipped at his own coffee, and then tore off a chunk of his muffin before pushing it into his mouth.
Ianto sat there calmly, nibbling at his muffin and watching Jack surreptitiously.
Feeling awkward, Jack raised his hand up and rubbed at his face distractedly, grimacing as his day-old stubble prickled roughly over his fingers. He hadn't shaved since yesterday morning, he suddenly realised. He'd forgone that step of his morning routine in his haste to escape from the confines of his apartment. That was practically unheard of for him. He hated not being cleanly shaven. It always made him feel shabby and unkempt. He'd never thought it was a good look for him, and he felt it was indicative of someone who simply couldn't be bothered to make an effort. Unlike a lot of men, he didn't think that a day or two of facial hair did anything to accentuate his attractiveness.
His clothes had similarly been thrown on with little thought – a pair of faded jeans, dark blue t-shirt, and an old worn leather jacket. Jack was sure that his bleary eyes and the dark circles under them weren't doing much to improve his appearance either. Meanwhile, Ianto was sitting opposite him, face closely shaven, suited, and groomed to perfection.
"I know I look like crap," Jack blurted out suddenly. "You've only just met me, but I don't usually look this bad."
"You look fine, Jack," Ianto said with a hint of amusement playing in his eyes. "You're very handsome."
Jack snorted. "Has anyone ever told you you're an incredibly good liar?"
Ianto grinned impishly. "Probably."
Silence settled between them again. Ianto chewed on a piece of muffin, his expression thoughtful. He gestured at Jack's hand. "You're not married?"
Jack shook his head. "No."
Jack shook his head again. "No. There's no-one."
"Sorry," Ianto said, lowering his gaze.
"It's okay." Jack shrugged. "It's for the best. I've never been good at relationships."
Jack thought back briefly over the string of failed relationships in his life. He'd usually managed to move on before things became too complicated. The reality was that he'd just never found anyone he'd cared enough about to want to hang around and try to make a proper go of it. And since deciding to work with John, he'd pretty much stopped trying. Instead, he'd preferred to find the occasional willing companion for some casual, uncomplicated sex. But eventually, even that had lost its appeal.
"How about you?" Jack asked, taking advantage of the opening to find out more about the other man.
Ianto looked pained. "There was someone," he replied slowly. "I thought I'd found the person I'd spend the rest of my life with. We were happy… but he…" A look of anguish passed over Ianto's features, and he shook his head. "He changed. He became cold… distant… cruel. I didn't recognise him anymore."
Jack couldn't hold back his surprise when Ianto's casual use of the masculine pronoun registered in his thoughts. "You're gay?"
Ianto pulled a face and shifted uncomfortably. "No. I've… er, I've only been with one man. Before him, I'd had a few girlfriends. But then I met him, and it was… well, it was only him. It was weird at first, but…" He trailed off and shrugged. "I suppose most people would say I'm bisexual, but I don't like to label myself like that. You can't help who you fall in love with, and their gender shouldn't matter." Ianto sighed. "It took me a long time to accept that."
Jack nodded. "It's a pity more people don't think that way."
"It doesn't bother you?" Ianto asked cautiously.
"No, not at all," Jack replied.
Ianto looked relieved. "So, you're… um, you've only been with women?"
Jack didn't reply immediately. He wondered if a couple of drunken fumbles during his early university days counted. He doubted they did by Ianto's definition, given that he'd apparently been in a serious and presumably long-term relationship with another man. Jack had only ever dated women, but he'd always considered himself to be fairly open to new possibilities. While he'd never been particularly attracted to other men, he'd also never been entirely opposed to the idea of having some fun with a man. He didn't find the idea distasteful, although if asked, he would have declared himself as heterosexual. Perhaps it was simply that the right person had never come along for him to consider broadening his outlook.
"Yeah," he answered eventually.
He winced inwardly at his hesitation and realised that Ianto had probably decided that Jack was a bit confused about his sexuality. Not that it mattered, he thought. Given the fact that his days were severely numbered, it was a bit late to decide that he wanted to start shagging men. He wondered for a moment if he'd been missing out and if he might have actually enjoyed it. But it was just one more thing in a long list that he'd never have the chance to experience.
Ianto didn't press further, for which Jack was grateful. He gave Jack a gentle smile.
"Are you going to stay in Cardiff?" Jack asked, changing the subject.
"Yes," Ianto confirmed. "I've got nothing to go back to. I think this is where I'm meant to be now."
"That's good. That you're staying, I mean," Jack stated, surprising himself by realising that he meant it.
Ianto shrugged. "This is the closest thing I have to a home."
Jack could wholeheartedly relate to that. While he'd spent over two thirds of his life living either abroad or elsewhere in the UK, Cardiff was the only place he thought of as his home.
"Jack, I was wondering… did John ever find anyone else?" Ianto asked hesitantly. "After Rose? He never mentioned anyone."
Jack shook his head sadly. "No. After Rose left, he threw himself into his work. He never talked about her again, but I don't think he ever stopped loving her. As far as I know, there was never anyone else."
Ianto looked saddened. "I'd hoped he might find someone."
"Me too," Jack agreed. "I know he got lonely."
They stared at each other for a long moment before Jack turned away and looked out towards the water. It was obvious that Ianto had realised Jack wasn't only talking about John.
Ianto broke the silence a minute or so later. "I spoke to the coroner this morning," he began quietly, his voice tentative. "They expect to release John's body tomorrow. I was planning to go to the funeral place later to sort out the arrangements, but I wasn't sure if you…" He broke off uncertainly.
Jack took a deep breath and looked back at Ianto. "I'll come with you. If that's all right?"
"Of course," Ianto agreed quickly.
Despite the unpleasant reality of dealing with the funeral arrangements, Jack felt a measure of relief. He hadn't been looking forward to doing it, and at least he wouldn't have to go alone.
They finished their drinks and food in relative silence, and then made their way back towards their respective apartments, walking side by side. Jack agreed to meet Ianto once he'd confirmed a time with the funeral home. He offered to drive since Ianto had said that he didn't have a car of his own and wasn't keen on using John's SUV.
In spite of himself, Jack found that he was enjoying Ianto's companionship and quiet, undemanding presence. Ianto didn't seem to expect anything from him, and Jack found that some of the weight pressing relentlessly down upon him had eased for just a little while.
He was beginning to consider the possibility that they could become friends. As he recalled the way that Ianto had smiled at him earlier with warmth and genuine concern, he discovered that the notion was strangely comforting.
To be continued...