holidaybang (holidaybang) wrote in thestopwatch,
holidaybang
holidaybang
thestopwatch

fic: Game, Sutekh and Match (1/2)

Title: Game, Sutekh and Match
Author Name: valderys
Original Prompt Number: 39
Pairing(s): Jack/Ianto, John/Ianto UST
Summary: When Jack is attacked and pieces of him are scattered around the world, he can rely on Ianto to bring him home. But can Ianto rely on John? His vortex manipulator is essential to the mission, but that’s no guarantee...
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me, they are the property of the BBC. I claim fair use of them in this fic.
Warnings: Temporary character death, some angst – mostly it’s a rollicking adventure story, Torchwood-style :)
Word Count: 13,509
Author's Notes: The prompt asked for a treasure hunt through Wales looking for bits of Jack, and I’m afraid I’ve made it the whole world :) There’s lots of UST though, as required! Owes a certain amount to Dr Who’s The Pyramids of Mars.
Beta: S




It begins like this. There’s a flash of light behind him and Ianto drops the lettuce he’s picked up and reaches for a non-existent gun. It’s a habit now, a reflex, and he would wonder when he’s managed to pick it up, except that instead he’s calculating angles and distances, and projections of risk, and wondering how much damage a lettuce would do if thrown hard enough at an alien head (if it has a head). Why do things like this always happen to him? And in the supermarket?

All right, if he’s being fair, it’s not always the supermarket, and it’s not even as though it’s always happening to him either, but really. In Tesco Metro? It’s not fair. It’s not even cool. It will mean lots of paperwork, and retcon, and potentially, at best, an embarrassment factor high enough to preclude his to return for an inconvenient amount of time, and at worst, the refitting of the shop entirely after hefty damages.

He’s irritated even before he turns round.

There are worse things in this universe than Captain John Hart, thinks Ianto, although at this precise moment he’s hard pushed to name them. He scans the vegetable aisle and realises it’s blessedly empty, so the retcon stocks are in less need of being depleted. On the other hand, John is smiling, and Ianto has never been comfortable with that, John smiling has so far presaged adventure and danger. He supposes John could be frowning instead – generally in his experience that’s been a prelude to death and destruction, so perhaps Ianto is getting the sweeter end of the deal. He still contemplates throwing the lettuce anyway. Petty, but it makes him feel better.

He hates that John Hart reminds him now of Tosh and Owen. Of how they aren’t here now because of this man. Or… He knows that’s unfair. But he’s not allowed to think about other kinds of revenge. There’s been no way to… relieve his feelings. To get past it. And John… Dealing with John would be an excellent way to make himself feel better. After all, it’s not as though anyone would even miss him.

Ianto draws himself up, and consciously relaxes his clenched fingers. Fuck, but this job gets to a person. What is he thinking? What does that say about him? Although perhaps it’s all of a piece, like automatically reaching for a gun.

You,” he says at last, not trusting himself to say more.

“Me,” agrees John Hart, and keeps smiling, “I was looking for Jack, but you’ll do, eye candy, you’ll always do. In a pinch. Would you like that?”

“I have nothing to say to you,” Ianto says, simply, and turns back to his trolley, starts pushing it, just to move, just to do something. Although it’s not like he can actually think about the supplies, what they need, the bloody shopping list. It’s not like he can think of anything at all, other then John strolling along behind him. All the innocent people that could be hurt or at least retconned if he starts shouting.

“Pity, really,” says John, from close behind, “Because I really need to talk to you. And that’s not something you’ll hear from me everyday. Call him, eye candy. Jack, that is. Call him and I’ll go away.”

Ianto stops, and stands unmoving for a second, forcing the unreasoning anger down, down, and locking it away. With short, sharp, economical movements, he takes his mobile from his pocket and flips it open. Jack needs to be told John is back in town anyway, so he’s not really obeying John, he’s not really doing what he’s told like a good lap-dog. Not really.

The mobile rings and rings. That’s strange. He’s left Jack at the Hub, and as far as he knows Jack wasn’t planning on leaving. The rift has been quiet, Gwen was going home to Rhys, and Ianto was going to cook when he got back, or at least prepare a proper salad for the two of them, since cooking facilities are primitive, at best, in the Hub.

He flips the phone shut and turns to look at John. Who’s stopped smiling, and Ianto has a horrible feeling about that.

“What have you done?”

John grimaces, just a little, a look of regret on his face. Ianto wonders if it’s real. He wonders if anything at all is real about John.

“Not me. But I wondered. Heard a rumour, that’s all. Something in the wind. Sensed it.”

Ianto glares at his lying face, but John doesn’t flinch. He taps his wrist strap, fingering it, almost nervously. “There was a signal. If I picked it up, Jack will have done too.”

“And?” asks Ianto, sensing something more, something John is holding back. Knowing there’ll be more he isn’t saying.

“Well. It wasn’t just a signal, you see. So much as… A warning. From an automatic beacon, you might say.” He throws his hands wide. He doesn’t catch Ianto’s eye.

And?” insists Ianto.

“Well, it might be that… That Jack’s being hunted down. That I’m not exactly here in this armpit of the galaxy for my health. It might be that…”

John looks at him finally, appeal strong in his pretty blue eyes.

“It might be that I need your help, eye candy.” He kicks the corner of the chill cabinet. “It might be… too late for Jack. If I’m right.”

Ianto opens his mouth, and then closes it again. There’s a terrible sense of cold creeping up on him, which he knows is blood draining due to shock. John might be lying, is his first thought. John’s always lying. Anyway, Jack can take of himself. He’s fucking immortal, for god’s sake. Ianto’s not worried. He isn’t.

But he’s also striding for the exit to the supermarket, not even waiting for John to catch him up.

***


“Damn,” says John, and.

“I don’t believe it,” says Ianto, and.

“Oh, no,” says Gwen and turns and buries her head into Ianto’s shoulder.

Ianto shouldn’t have called Gwen. He doesn’t want her to see this. There’s far too much blood. Far too much. Even knowing Jack can survive any number of deaths, there’s still too much blood. The Hub is awash with it. The pool below the copper fountain is dark with it, like red dye has been poured in, like some kind of prank, like a football match, or a rugby game. The smell is heavy in the air, sweet and metallic, like a butcher’s shop. Like a cottage in the country.

Ianto can feel his gorge rise, and he swallows, and swallows again, with a dry throat, and he hugs Gwen, he clings to her, because they can’t go though this, not again, not so soon after Tosh, after Owen. He had to scrub Tosh’s blood off the steps, on his hands and knees, the cold tiles biting into his legs. He can’t do it again, he can’t.

John is standing very still, which is not like him. Except at the end, the last time they’d seen him, when he’d tried to sympathise with them all. They hadn’t let him, though, had they? They couldn’t, and Jack had been so cruel. Ianto remembers that now, suddenly. In his absence, looking through this ragged hole that Jack has left, clinging to Gwen, stupidly thinking, there’s only the two of them now.

It’s instinctive, Ianto thinks afterwards, instinctive comfort. He reaches out a hand and grabs John’s sleeve, no more than that. Clutches at him gently. He’s lost Jack too, just as surely as they have, and Ianto’s glad that he can find magnanimity in the face of tragedy. That his heart is apparently less full of hate and violence than he’d thought.

John looks at him out of wide and staring eyes. But he doesn’t look surprised. He doesn’t even look particularly distraught, which Ianto finds surprises him in turn. John Hart may have loved Jack enough to kill him (oh yes, and hadn’t Ianto wanted to murder John himself, when Jack had let that little fact slip) but that doesn’t mean Ianto thinks he’d be happy that someone else has managed it. Ianto realises he’s been expecting John to go ballistic, to tear off in some mad bloodbath of revenge, to give in to his violent nature in some spectacular way. He’s ashamed, because he also realises that he’s been looking forward to it. He’s been viscerally wanting John to react – as he himself can’t, of course. Not Ianto Jones. Not Jack’s loyal soldier. But John is letting him down.

“This isn’t right,” says John, suddenly, interfering with their silence. Ianto wants to snarl something cutting, shout an obscenity. He does neither thing, of course.

John slips his sleeve away from Ianto’s clutch, withdrawing literally and figuratively. “This isn’t what I was expecting,” he says. “Not this. This is a mistake. I’ve underestimated things. But it won’t happen again.”

Suddenly, he whirls towards them in a great shining arc, sword and guns and eyes glittering. He throws his arms around the pair of them, as they huddle, like some eccentric but kindly uncle. Gwen lets out a small sob, but Ianto is dry-eyed. John is spare and lean, his arms barely reach around them. Ianto finds he has a faceful of red wool, with a certain spicy scent enveloping him more than the coat itself. He smells like Jack, Ianto realises, and shivers, for reasons nothing to do with the cold.

“Don’t worry, kiddies, I know what to do,” says John, and Ianto opens his mouth, to tell him, no, don’t, when it’s too late. They’re surrounded by the sparkle and tingle of a matter transporter, and suddenly they’re somewhere else.

Ianto pushes John back, pushes him violently away, shoves him so hard Gwen is almost thrown aside with him. John is smiling again, that dangerous smile, the one with the glint of madness or humour, the one that’s impossible to trust. He pokes at his wrist strap, as the vortex manipulator whines and beeps, and then John turns in another circle, slower this time, his arm held out, until the whine becomes a moan and he strides forward with a muffled shout.

Ianto holds on to Gwen’s arm, his only coherent thought being that he can’t have anything happen to her, Jack would kill him. He takes a breath, now John is out of arm’s reach, now he has time to process. He can smell green things now, in the dark – they’re outside. There’s a hint of river mud too, the sound of water lapping. They must be by the Taff. Or some river anyway – it’s jumping to conclusions to assume that it’s the Taff.

“What the bloody fuck is going on?”

Gwen’s voice is gaining strength at last, the shock of Jack’s blood coating the Hub, congealing thick on her hands, is beginning to wear off. Ianto lets go, suddenly realising he’s still holding her, and instead, to cover his discomfort, his sudden awkwardness, he looks towards John who is crouched over something he’s found in the bushes, near the riverbank.

“You know as much as me,” says Ianto, trying for neutral, for professional. Her eyes flash and he has the feeling he’s fooling precisely no-one.

She marches over to John, and Ianto closes his eyes for a brief second, wishing, wishing that he could be that spontaneous, that unrestrained. He wonders if she’s going to punch John, or shoot him. He wonders if he should stop her.

But Gwen stops, a little short of what it is that John’s found and he hears it again, “Oh, no...” And the note of terror in her voice means that he runs over to the pair of them without another second’s thought.

There’s an arm on the ground. And Ianto can’t process that immediately, because it’s not what he’s expecting, it’s alien to his experience, because the arm is human, not some lopped alien appendage. It’s been cut off neatly at the elbow joint, much like a person might carve up a chicken or a turkey; thigh from drumstick, wing from breast. He wants to throw up because, of course, it’s nothing like a carved turkey, not really. And then he is, he’s turning from the scene and he’s vomiting, not carefully at all, retching into the scrubby grass, before he can even think about it, before his mind catches up and he realises. Before he lets himself realise that he recognises that hand, that just this morning it had dragged him back to bed for just five more minutes. It had stroked him to completion while he moaned into his partner’s mouth just last night. There’s a tiny mole halfway along the index finger, a scattering of light brown hairs on the forearm. There’s... Oh Jack. Jack.

He won’t cry. He won’t. There’s been enough crying.

There’s a hand on his back now. Just resting. A solid comfort. Ianto’s turning, he’s going to apologise to Gwen, tell her he’s fine really, and then the words stick in his throat. The comforting hand, the soothing palm, is John, and he’s stopped smiling again. His eyes are bleak, unfathomably sad, with a hinted at anger that makes Ianto shiver, even as it draws him.

“Sorry, eye candy – guess we were too late.”

Ianto wants to laugh, to swear, he shrugs instead, a tiny movement, knowing John will feel it. Gwen is knelt over the... appendage. Ianto is amazed, he’s thought Gwen tough before, but this...

“Ianto,” she says, her voice as clear as a steel bell, “Do you remember Abaddon?”

“Yes, of course. But I don’t...”

“We’re not giving up on him. We’re just not.” She turns to look at him. “Are we?”

Ianto swallows, lets something of the sick feeling inside spill over onto his face. Jack’s a survivor – despite dying in, oh, so many ways. He’s even died in front of Ianto more than once, and Ianto can’t describe how much he hates that. But this... Although he hopes Gwen’s right. If Abaddon couldn’t kill Jack, then... It’s such a slim chance but he can’t not take it. To do that would be damning Jack all over again. Betraying him all over again. Ianto’s guts squeeze. He owes Jack so much.

“You’re right,” he says, his voice firmer than he feels. He’s proud it doesn’t wobble, and he stares into Gwen’s determined eyes and nods, once.

“Well, how sweet. Jack’s loyal followers on the job – go, go Team Torchwood! Should I have a flag to wave?”

John’s interruption is jarring, Ianto is surprised how easily the two of them have forgotten that he’s there. He glances at John, and sees... A flash of pain? It looks like John too has noticed their focus, their exclusion. Ianto wants to say, it’s not like that, not really. He has the stupidest urge to apologise.

“Where are we? John? Are we still in Cardiff.” asks Gwen, flipping her hair back, her eyes shining with a kind of fervour.

John shrugs. “I just followed the energy signature. This was the closest – we’re still in your beloved backwater. Probably. But this is only the first trace. There are others.”

They all look at the limb on the ground.

“So one of us must take the... parts to the Hub, and put them back together,” says Gwen, and Ianto swallows. He takes a step forward, to volunteer, and is stopped by John’s hand on his arm.

“Oh no. I’ll take eye candy. You can have cadaver watch. I want something pretty to look at on this quest, since I assume that I will be included? Since – correct me if I’ve got this wrong – I am the only person who can actually trace Jack in his current... state?”

They look at him. John is smiling again, a smug grin, but for once Ianto doesn’t flinch, doesn’t immediately want to pull a gun on him. Probably because the smugness doesn’t reach his eyes. Instead there’s a directed anger, a contained outrage. And it’s probably not directed at the two of them. Ianto ignores the way his stomach flips, that’s just residual nausea, thinking about Jack, about... everything.

Instead, Ianto begins to think about organisation, about sorting out logistical details. He opens his mouth to suggest a plan, just as he hears a laugh, short and barking, and then he’s enveloped in John’s arms again. They’re surprisingly strong. Safe, in a really bizarre way. John really does smell like Jack, spicy, but sharper somehow, like lemons. A clean scent, fresh and free. Ianto closes his mouth and doesn’t even bother to struggle. It’s not like he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. He tries to convey his apologies to Gwen with his glance, and really, truly hopes John has been telling the truth about their location.

Ianto has the chance this time to appreciate the feel of the matter transmitter function of the wrist strap. It’s not an unwelcome one, it doesn’t cause him to become sick, for example, like ocean travel does, or make him worry that he’ll come out the other side splinched (thank you, J.K. Rowling). It’s funny, really, that he’s bouncing around the universe with this much equanimity. There was a time when this would have been horrifying. But he’s seen real horror now, he’s not bothered by parlour tricks. He can handle John.

He thinks he can. The sparkle of the withdrawing rift energy makes him shiver, and John runs his hands along Ianto’s sides, smoothing his suit, tickling his ribs, with the excuse of setting him safely on his feet. His expression is wry, however. Ianto barely needs to raise an eyebrow, before John is stepping back and away. It’s only then, once John’s proximity has ceased to be so important, that Ianto can perceive the tang of the sea, feel the warmth of the air, realise that it’s nearly dawn, a grey light delicately drawing towards the day.

It also doesn’t take a genius to work out this isn’t Cardiff any more.

***


“Where are we? John?”

Ianto spins, looking at the – palm trees – and the sea, the beautiful silver sand being gently revealed in the light. He half expects John to whip out a blanket and picnic basket, that’s how perfect is the setting. He almost wants to shiver. Finding... a part of Jack in this idyllic place will poison it a little. He wants to get it over with.

“Some island. Long way from your backyard though, eye candy.” He throws his arms wide, pivots on the spot. “Enjoy it, why don’t you? It won’t kill you.”

“Where’s Jack?” asks Ianto, impatient. He doesn’t want to think about beautiful balmy beaches.

John pushes and prods his strap. It beeps. “The reading’s a little fuzzy, I’ll set a scan going. Clear up the static, yeah?” He throws himself to the ground and looks up at Ianto as he stands above him. “What? Not everything’s instantaneous, not even for me. Anyway, it’s not like Jack will notice. Or care.”

Ianto wants to say he cares, but that sounds trite, so he doesn’t. He feels uncomfortable as he towers over John, as though he’s looming deliberately. John wriggles on the sand, getting comfortable. Ianto is pretty sure he won’t be more comfortable sitting on the beach in a suit, but he grudgingly lowers himself to the ground. He’d feel more stupid if he stayed standing. He remains sat up though, hugging his knees.

John’s still staring at him. It’s beginning to feel disconcerting.

“You know, something’s been bugging me, office boy. I don’t get it. And it’s not as though we’re going anywhere for a while.”

He pauses and Ianto is unhappily aware of more scrutiny.

“What the hell does he see in you?”

Ianto turns his head so fast it’s a wonder he doesn’t get whiplash. Since when did this become about him? Since when did it become personal at all.

“That’s none of your business,” says Ianto, sharply, and John laughs.

“You have no idea where you are, or where the rest of Jack is – I’d say it’s just become my business, because I say so. Because I’m interested. But if you’d like to hang around here for the foreseeable future, eating... fish, or cola nuts, or whatever, then I’m not going to stop you.”

Ianto glares at him, hopefully murderously. He’s not sure it works because John’s smiling again and lying back, making himself even more at home.

“I just don’t get it. I really don’t. I just want to understand,” says John, and then he looks away. It’s possible that he’s even, finally, telling the truth. That would be typical of John, leaving out anything real until he absolutely has to. Ianto wishes he didn’t feel the need at all.

“I don’t know either,” Ianto mutters, and hears a disbelieving snort. “I really don’t – Jack is... It’s complicated.”

“Of course, it is,” says John, more quietly and Ianto looks back at him, at his smiling face, now softened a little, around the mouth. “Nothing about Jack is ever simple.”

He leans on one elbow and starts patting his jacket, his pockets. John finds the right one soon enough and brings out a metal hip flask, and shakes it, judiciously. There’s a slopping sound, but it’s not full.

“How about instead we play a little game, you and I? Truth or dare. I’d make it truth, dare or drink, but we don’t have enough booze – unless you’ve got some? No? I’m not surprised. I’d make it truth, dare or murder, but I suspect you’re squeamish. Quite right too – rehab’s a killer.”

John tips his head back and takes a long swallow from the flask. Ianto watches, mesmerised by the sight of that long throat, open and vulnerable, adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. His lips are dry and he licks them.

“Ok,” he says, suddenly, aghast at himself, at the unexpected words, sounding a little hoarse to his own ears, and John laughs again, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He caps the flask, and throws it over, Ianto catches it in one lightning fast grab.

Visions of a slate grey sky, looming granite crags, and the last game of truths he played, before a village of cannibals intervened, only makes him more determined somehow. Not everything can end that badly.

John’s eyes gleam as they watch him unscrew the lid and take his first swig. It burns going down, some kind of cheap bourbon, but he doesn’t cough. He drank a lot worse than this in London, before Torchwood. Before he knew who he was, while he was still finding out. If he isn’t still.

He hopes he isn’t going to regret this.

He stares at John, wondering at himself. “Who’s going to go first?”

“You’ve got the flask, so I’ll ask,” John smiles at him, his head still thrown a little back, looking up at the sky. “Where’s the most romantic place he’s ever taken you?”

Ianto looks at him, considering his answer, slightly surprised. It’s not as bad as he’d feared, although it’s entirely possible that John’s making it easy to begin with. If John’s question had been disgustingly intimate, or unconscionable, then Ianto would have taken the dare and damned the consequences, but this... This he can cope with. He thinks about it, trickling some of the sand between his fingers, considering the choices. Jack and he – what they have isn’t romantic, not really. He has the dates they’ve been on, of course, but a mid-price restaurant in Cardiff Bay? Is that romantic? There’s the weevil hunting, too, and Ianto loves that, the adrenaline, the private time together, but would John see it that way? Suddenly, he’s short of breath, the ridiculousness of the situation he’s agreed to overwhelming him. He puts his forehead down on his knees.

“It’s not like that with Jack, and you know it,” he says, at last, and John makes a noise of agreement, which Ianto wasn’t expecting. John isn’t looking at him either – that’s different. He’s been staring at Ianto in one way or another, since this fiasco started.

The wrist strap beeps suddenly, breaking the almost comfortable silence. John jumps to his feet, abruptly all energy, and swings his arm around until he seems to lock on to something. “There!” he says and strides off without looking back.

Ianto scrambles to follow him, with somewhat less dignity. He’s not going to be left behind, whatever John’s threats. He catches up to him as he is scrabbling in the dirt and sand, wiping his fingers carelessly on his already stained and worn t-shirt. There looks like there might have been marks on the ground, but John’s digging has disturbed them. There’s a child’s sandcastle too, or something similar, in the shape of a crumbling pyramid.

Finally, John lifts up their find, reverently, almost. Ianto swallows down his bile – it’s just a body part, another part of an arm, an upper part, he thinks, although possibly the opposite arm to earlier. John thrusts it into his hands and Ianto clutches it by reflex. It’s cool to the touch, not bloody, smooth and intact. Not hacked about. It’s just an arm.

“Two down,” says John, grinning cheerfully, and Ianto... Ianto grins back. This is some mad macabre game they’re playing, after all, but Ianto’s up for it. Gallows humour, he can do that. Whatever gets them through.

“This,” he says, suddenly, and John cocks his head a little, “This island. This is the most romantic place Jack has ever brought me.”

It’s funny – Ianto would never have taken John for a man who laughs loudly, or so freely, but today’s held a lot of surprises. The fact he joins in, for one.

***


“It’s a bazaar. You’re going to have to buy the foot, if you don’t want me to shoot the shopkeeper.”

“How bizarre. What does he want? Please don’t tell me he wants twenty drachmas for the pretty one.”

“Don’t sell yourself cheap, eye candy. I’d pay more than twenty drachmas. How about it?”

“I’m offering him my watch instead – since it’s time to go.”

“Your loss. And your turn too – truth or dare. Which is it?”

“All right. I want to know about the Time Agency – what is it? How did Jack become involved?

“Tell me – would you answer sensitive questions about your secret organisation? No, I didn’t think so. Dare it is.”

“...Drink that? That’s not a dare. Not to boast but I’ve had scarier looking concoctions with my mother’s milk. Literally.”

“Please let me scrub out my brain now.”

“Well, you did ask. Give it here... Mmm – tingly. How about I fill up the flask too? There must be something resembling whisky around these parts...”


***


It feels like a treasure hunt. A really morbid, sinister treasure hunt. Ianto tries not to think what the prize might be at the end, or who has been setting the puzzle. Because anything that can help him get through this has got to be good, and Ianto used to be really good at treasure hunts when he was little. He thinks about the job he’s fallen into, and it makes him smile – oh, not the chasing down aliens, saving the world part of it, but the cataloguing, sorting, labelling and classifying part of it. Working out what things are, and where they go. Working out how the universe fits together from the junk that falls through the Rift, from the clues. Oh yes – he used to be bloody brilliant at treasure hunts. Still is, he supposes.

The fourth piece of Jack they track down appears to have fallen or been hidden down a well. Somewhere in… southern Africa, Ianto thinks, from the architecture in the dusty village, from the mahogany skin of the natives, all currently hiding. He can’t be more specific than that, and hopes that it won’t matter. His fingers itch for his PC in the Hub, even for good old Google.

He stares at John, at his smirking face, at the Mexican stand-off they’ve achieved. Neither of them wants to go down that well.

It’s funny really, Ianto thinks, because it’s not as if he believes John will cut the rope and leave him stranded. If he just wants Ianto dead there’s already been a dozen opportunities. Ianto supposes… No, he knows… It’s the loss of dignity that he can’t face. The thought of John laughing and tormenting him before hauling him back up covered in mud and humiliation. Ianto tightens his hands into fists even thinking about it.

“Truth or dare,” he says, even though it’s not his turn, and watches. John shrugs and then nods, looking impatient, hunching his shoulders.

“What’s the worst thing you and Jack have ever done?” asks Ianto, slowly, hoping John doesn’t want to answer, but not sure he wants to hear it even if he does.

John licks his teeth, cocks his head, and then suddenly he’s another person, a more terrifying one, hovering on the balls of his feet, flight or fight kicking in, one hand hesitating by his holster. Ianto puts his chin up, wondering why he’s not afraid, only knowing that John’s like a dangerous-looking dog, scary, but all bark and no bite, or not enough to worry about anyway.

“You should be careful, asking a man a question like that.” John hasn’t moved though, Ianto’s cautiously optimistic.

“The worst thing? The very worst thing?” John appears to be thinking about it. “Well, there was the time we blew up the planet Shalufal, two billion people, all gone – poof – in a heart-beat, blown out like a candle’s flame. Was that the worst? Oh, we were ordered to do it, and they’d saved themselves from an extinction event by causing a paradox that was ripping space and time apart, but really, it might be the worst thing. Or… Something more visceral, maybe, that’s far too remote for you, isn’t it, pushing a button on a wrist strap? Nah. There was this family once – men, women and children. And we shot them down in the street, Jack and I, and they thanked us as they died. The children thanked us with blood rupturing from their punctured lungs. That was fun. Is that the kind of thing? Do you want me to go on?”

Ianto stares at John, and wonders if he’s lying. Knowing that he’s not. Knowing this isn’t the kind of thing John will lie about. Ianto wants suddenly to wash his hands. He’s been handling body parts today, but he’s done it before. He’s killed before too, of course, but no-one human, no-one he… He knows nothing, really. Nothing. He’s a fool and an impostor, and what makes him think he knows what he’s doing? It’s colossal arrogance on his part, really. What has he been thinking?

He looks at the well. At the small bucket hanging from the wooden crosspiece, and reluctantly climbs in.

“I’m sorry,” says Ianto, simply, “I ruined the game, didn’t I?”

John begins to wind the rope. He looks down on Ianto as he pulls his shoulders in to get them to fit the narrow shaft.

“Not possible,” says John, “The stakes were never set. And you want to know the worst thing I’ve ever done, the very worst thing?” He pauses, and Ianto looks up. John is a black shadow against the brilliant pale blue of an African sky.

“I fell in love, eye candy. That was the real killer.”

John doesn’t talk after that, which is unusual, but Ianto doesn’t try to make him. There’s a stylised picture of an eye on the wall of the well shaft, and Ianto snaps it with his camera phone, ever the collector. His Jasper Conran suit is ruined, but John doesn’t laugh at him, and Ianto counts that as a win. They recover Jack’s hairy left calf.

***


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much of the world,” says Ianto, as he steps out of the golden sparkle of yet another teleport, into more bright sunshine, and filthy heat. “To be fair though, I’ve always wanted to travel.”

“Well, never say I don’t take you places,” John smirks, looking across, shading his face with his hand.

They’re in a busy street this time, in some primitive-looking city, with adobe walls and high windows. Ianto takes off his suit jacket, because the temperature is high, and he’s already filthy and sweaty. He reminds himself that it’s not exactly suffering, not really, it’s more of an inconvenience. He still feels miserable. The only breath of comfort in this whole business is that Jack’s... parts don’t seem to be decaying, not in the normal way of all flesh. That’s a hopeful thing.

John stares around with narrowed eyes. There are a lot of robes in view, in white, and cream, and beige. It could be a Muslim country, Ianto thinks. He’s just contemplating trying to talk to someone, to work up enough courage, when John strides off and Ianto has to follow. He doesn’t think John would leave him behind on purpose, despite his threats, but leaving him behind by accident? That, John might do. The thought is somewhat terrifying.

Because what he hasn’t asked, and he really should, except he doesn’t really want to know, is whether they are also travelling in time. He loves history – from a distance. But he loves indoor plumbing and penicillin more.

John’s jabbering away in a foreign tongue when he catches up with him, and Ianto’s reluctantly impressed. Unless Time Agents have some weird super-secret translation technology – which he wouldn’t put past them. But then there’s some kind of transaction going on, and suddenly John’s got local currency, in exchange for... Spices? Ianto’s going to go with spices. It looks like a packet of spices. Of course, it does.

Then the wrist strap beeps and John catches Ianto’s eye, his gaze mischievous, and Ianto shivers, despite the heat. But uncertainties always do this to him. John leads the way, down several narrow streets, and through elaborate doors, into a spacious courtyard draped in scarlet blossoms, grey-green trees sculpted in terracotta pots; it’s an oasis in a tumultuous world.

Then there’s more jagged tumbling language, and money exchanges hands. The courtyard is suddenly filled with numbers of chattering, coffee-skinned boys, with very white teeth, all smiling at Ianto. He looks at John, panicked, and sees he’s got his own collection.

“Relax, eye candy,” John calls out, as he’s hurried away. “I bought us some entertainment. While we wait. Truth or dare, remember?”

“But...” says Ianto, yet it’s too late, John’s gone, and Ianto is left alone. Although, nowhere near as alone as he’d like. Mentally, he’s cursing John, he’s remembering all the reasons he has not to trust him, he’s cursing himself, for even beginning to... what? Soften towards him? Enjoy his company? Fuck. Is that what he was doing?

The boys herd him, there’s no other word for it, towards an antechamber. Ianto can’t stop them because they’re plucking at his clothing, undoing buttons, untucking his shirt. His jacket is whisked out of his arms before he can prevent it, he opens his mouth to protest and something sticky and sweet is placed quickly within. It’s hopeless. Ianto tries to break free, but the boys are teenagers, slim and far too young, he can’t hurt them, he can’t...

He’s naked and hyperventilating before he really knows what’s happening. He’s handed a piece of white cotton to tie around his waist, and with quick glances between themselves, all darting humour and unspoken communication, they finally leave, with all his clothes, all but one young man. Ianto stares at the one remaining... attendant. The boy is older than some of them, late teens Ianto reckons, slim and nut brown. He’s wearing a pair of loose sheer pantaloons that barely hang on his hips, and as he takes Ianto’s hand, and turns to lead him out, Ianto can see the shadowy crease of his buttocks, a hint of dark hair at the crotch. He looks up, hurriedly, guilt bringing a frown to his face. He hopes he isn’t blushing.

The boy leads him to what is unmistakably some kind of sauna. Sweat immediately springs to Ianto’s skin, and he can see the practical point of the barely-there harem pants. He takes a breath and nearly coughs in the thick atmosphere. There is a dim half-light from the stained-glass in the small glazed dome above, which is obscured further by the billowing clouds of steam. There are bowls of water with ornate scoops dotted about. There are marble tables that he and his guide come across like islands in a shifting, boiling sea.

The boy mimes for Ianto to lie down upon one such stone platform, and reluctantly, still concerned, Ianto does so. The boy slips on a pair of rough-looking mittens and proceeds to pummel him to within an inch of his life. Ianto expects that he’d call it massage though. He expects to feel wrung out too, and he does, but he also feels great, he feels cleansed, free of all the anxiety and stress, although he also knows in some quiet corner of his mind that it won’t last. He’s soothed enough that the names he’s left calling John are almost civilised.

Ianto is lying quietly on the cool marble, the stone bringing a much needed relief to his overheated skin, when he feels something more than the rough hessian of the massage. He feels fingers, lightly travelling down his spine, another bare hand rubbing at his shoulder, digging into the muscle, now hard, now lightly. The fingers travel lower, skimming his buttocks, never resting, light as birds. It’s nice, it’s...

It’s a scandal, is what it is. Ianto sits up, abruptly realising that even his cotton wrap has slipped. His bath attendant is smiling, is leaning forward, and Ianto can see his brown eyes, huge in the heat, eagerly sliding shut as he moves to kiss him. Ianto is very nearly naked, in some kind of Turkish bathhouse, with a... a catamite, trying to seduce him. And he can’t even hide his, umm, betraying interest in the proceedings. This must be Hell.

He lightly pushes the boy away, and moves to the edge of the marble table, trying to make his relaxed muscles do his bidding more readily. Trying to get away with something, if not dignity. The boy must not understand, Ianto sees an expression of deep unhappiness cross his features, and he could feel sorry for him, if it wasn’t he himself as the reluctant customer. The boy drops to his knees and leans his head against Ianto’s knee. His lashes are very long and black against his cheeks. Ianto can’t help it – he lets out a tiny groan. The boy takes this as permission and begins to nuzzle inwards, mouthing at his inner thigh. Ianto grasps his curly black hair, slick with some kind of oil, but he can’t help it if it’s more a caress than a restraint, can he? He’s only human.

It occurs to Ianto as his eyes slide shut, as the boy moves higher, that Jack would pay good money to see this. That he’d tease him, and discuss techniques, or hand him the oil. That he’d laugh at Ianto, possibly even with Ianto before... joining in.

His eyes snap open, and the sudden realisation, the abrupt understanding, means that he gathers the strength to push the boy away, properly. Ianto shakes his head, firmly, hoping that a shaken head is the universal symbol for refusal. It seems to work, and Ianto watches, mesmerised, as the boy walks away. Sways, rather, and Ianto may be wrong but there’s a hint of a disappointed pout, he’s almost sure. He doesn’t take it as a reflection on his own attractiveness however. He wonders what John paid him.

Ianto looks round then, peering into the steam. If he’s right, he won’t be far… And there’s the twisted smile waiting for him, with a raised glass to boot. John’s eyes are shadowed, half-lidded, as he stalks towards Ianto like a panther that’s too lazy to run. He passes another glass over, and Ianto takes it, wordless. John has filled it with something sparkling, it fizzes quietly, as he sits next to Ianto on the marble slab, one foot hooked up, cotton wrap slipping dangerously.

“So – you took the dare, huh? How disappointing,” says John, finally, his voice deeper than usual, hoarse in his chest.

“What was the question?” asks Ianto.

“What games do you play, the two of you?”

Ianto takes a sip and leans his head back, closing his eyes. “What do you think? The oldest ones.”

Their shoulders brush as they sit, and it’s oddly peaceful, despite the heat, until John tells Ianto that he’s left Jack’s hand sitting in the aqueduct. It’s more noisy after that.

***


“What’s this symbol? It looks like a dog with square ears.”

“Ancient cave paintings, yadda yadda. Appreciate your planet’s art later.”

“It’s not art, it’s new.”

“So young, and yet so cynical.”

“I’ve seen something like it before, now where…”

“Just pick up the leg and let’s go home, there’s a good dog.”

“Bugger Jack’s leg. Not literally.”

“Pick it up! Before it gets washed away. This is a bloody underground stream, in case it had escaped your notice?”

“I’ve got it! It’s the Typhonic beast. Wait. That makes no sense.”

“I’d never have guessed. We’re freezing our bollocks off down here. Makes no more sense that we’re wading up to our arse cracks in icy water. Now move.”


***


Game, Sutekh and Match – part two
Tags: fic, holiday!bang 2008, rating: pg
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