Title: The Spectacular Catastrophe of Your Endless Childhood
Pairing/Characters: Ianto [Ianto/OFCs, Ianto/Lisa]
Authors: rm & kalichan
Rating/Warning: NC-17, het, pre-slash
Summary: The early education and adventures of Ianto Jones.
Wordcount: ~11,000 (posted in 2 parts)
Authors' Note: This is a prequel to our Jack/Ianto series, I Had No Idea I Had Been Traveling. You don't have to read the rest of the series to read this though. However, if you are reading that, you should read this, as it will be useful/relevant later. It takes place pre-series, and ends just before Doctor Who 2x12: Army of Ghosts begins, i.e. right before the Battle of Canary Wharf. Next up, we return to the main story arc for two more stories which will conclude our series, although after it is done, we plan to return to the 'verse to fill in some gaps and pursue some digressions, such as Jack's childhood on the Boeshane Peninsula, Jack's time on the Valiant, and some interstitial Jack/Ianto adventures (sexual & otherwise!) during season 1 and post-season 2.
Authors' Note, part deux: Ianto's travels abroad clearly owe a great deal to our own, and also to those of faris_nallaneen who was generous enough to allow him to share some of the nuts and bolts of her German experience, since neither of us had ever been there.
1. A Strange Fashion of Forsaking | 2. Dear Captain, Last Night I Slept in Mutiny | 3. To Learn This Holding and the Holding Back | 4. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World | 5. I Imagine You Now in That Other City | 6. Many of My Favorite Things Are Broken | 6.5 Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Truth, Beauty: or, A Child's Guide to Modern Physics | 7. In Our Bedroom After the War | 8. And I Cannot Know How Long She Has Dreamed of All of You [Jack/Nine/Rose] |
The first time he stole anything it was sweets pocketed from his grandmother's candy dish and given to the girl who lived two doors down and across the street. Her name was Sara and they were both eight. She didn't like him much, but she liked the sweets and so Ianto was proud anyway.
When he was ten there was a girl with braids. Her name was Beth and she was nice enough to climb trees with. Sometimes he thought about kissing her, but his eyes always slid from her face in the presence of her brother, who was thirteen and liked to brag that his father had taught him to shoot rabbits with arrows.
When he told his mother he wanted Sam for a friend too, she thought he just wanted to go hunting. After that, Ianto learnt to stare more quietly, kissed Beth underneath a tree and got his foot stamped on and a demand of flowers for his trouble. So he stole some, from Mrs. Egan's back garden.
At eleven there was Kate who he nabbed a pastry for once and at twelve there was Ann; he nicked a little crystal unicorn for her, but the horn broke off in his pocket and she had called it surgery when they'd sloppily glued it back on.
At thirteen he had a best friend named Richard and they played footy in the school yard or threw stones to see who could get them the farthest. Ianto bloodied Richard's nose once for teasing him about a younger girl who used to follow him around. His parents weren't best pleased, even if his dad had seemed a little proud as he'd sent his son to bed without supper, but all Ianto could do was shake after that, terrified that everyone would notice that he kept touching his sore knuckles and wanted to kiss Richard too.
At fourteen he had a proper girlfriend, thank God. She was a year younger and all blonde curls. She pretended to be older than she was, and Ianto hated it, telling her that if he wanted to play house he'd do it with children who knew that it was just play. She'd looked hurt and how much he'd enjoyed it had scared him, just like punching his friend had, but then they'd gone on to kissing behind trees and her telling him he was handsome, and he must have preened for a week.
His mother was dismayed.
But that was beginning to be a basic fact of life, and at fifteen, he discovered grunge and punk and grew his hair long, till the masters at school complained vociferously, and his father frowned more and more heavily and cuffed him whenever he talked back, which, frankly, was much of the time. Ianto quite enjoyed it, really, and enjoyed too the rage and the angst and the carefully cultivated glower.
He'd moved on by then from Janet with the blonde curls -- too insipid and normal, she was, and unable to comprehend his feelings about, well, anything -- and had begun to hang about with a girl called Laura, who had ash-brown hair and a delicate, pale, irregular face and didn't at all look like the kind of girl she actually was -- someone who had the filthiest mouth imaginable and a wicked sense of humour.
She wanted to be a ballet dancer, and he loved feeling the smallness of her bones grinding in his hands when he held her too hard, feeling like he could break her and knowing, at the same time, she was actually much stronger than him.
He liked to think (though he wouldn't have admitted it to anyone) that they were like some fabulous fairy tale about a princess and a pirate. For her, he managed a small silver chain, stolen from a curiosity shop in Swansea, where they'd gone one Saturday, and she'd smiled brilliantly and let him fasten it around her narrow neck.
They smoked cigarettes that Ianto would nick for them from the corner shop, and skived off school, standing on street corners pretending to be all tough, before he'd walk her to her dancing lesson. Once she dropped to her knees by the river, under a bridge, and sucked him off. Ianto lasted all of thirty seconds, and knew this was love.
In the fifth form, he'd begun to grow a bit tired of all the hair, and, though he wouldn't have admitted it, all the endless thrashing about, and so when he met Sebastian (real name: Jeremy), a sixth form boy who played the Cure and Marilyn Manson for him and taught him to put on eyeliner, he was quite ready for the change. He'd even got a black leather trenchcoat that he'd managed to unearth at a second-hand shop, and even if it had to be worn over uniform, still it was something.
They'd lie in Sebastian's attic room, and stare up at the ceiling, a little buzzed on ciders Ianto had taken from his mam's cupboard and talk about death and rose-petals and razor blades. He read Anne Rice and Rimbaud and Baudelaire, watched Dario Argento films, and thought about vampires and living forever.
Unluckily, his father saw him with the eyeliner, and that was the last time his father ever thrashed him, which was good, because Ianto wasn't going to sit still for that anymore and also because his mother came into his room after and kissed him on the forehead -- a surprise, since she wasn't by nature demonstrative -- and then he'd heard his parents shouting at each other long into the night, and it terrified him, just a little.
In the sixth form he met a boy named Suresh and his older sister, Malini, who was heavily into the club scene. And then somehow, they were on a long endless drive to a disused rock quarry where he had his first tablet of ecstasy and realized that after all this time he'd found a pattern to existence.
The stars seemed especially bright, and Ianto danced (badly, but he didn't care at all) 'round a bonfire and then later sat with Malini's head in his lap trading a joint back and forth as he ran his fingers through her silky, dark hair. Time, he realised, was all relative, and this moment lasted for several infinities, even if it was only a second.
He said this all out loud to Malini, thinking himself quite profound, and she'd smiled up at him kindly though he could see from her eyes that she didn't really care or understand. It didn't matter though, because for once, he really felt like those around him were real, actual people -- not just automatons in meat-suits, figments of his imagination.
This feeling, the bubble of glowing happiness and connection, dissipated in a few days and Ianto, left alone in a world populated by puppets, was sad. But now, he thought, he knew where to find that feeling that he'd been searching for most of his life, and other than getting Malini in bed -- time and more that he lost his virginity properly -- he thought of little besides doing the whole thing again. Possibly in reverse order.
When this ploy turned out to be successful, he was honestly a bit surprised, but grateful because Malini was patient and kind, and relieved him of his virginity in a practical and practiced fashion.
His father died that year, gruff and taciturn to the last, and Ianto had stood next to his mother at the gravesite, having resurrected his angry glower for the occasion. In a burst of sheer rage and betrayal, he painted his fingernails black for the funeral, in secret with stolen nailpolish, and then cried all alone in his room three days later for a world that no longer seemed safe or familiar or even friendly without his father's presence downstairs, or at the supper table, or in his shop showing Ianto how to measure an inseam, even while he knew his son would never be a tailor, and that he'd never add "& son" above his name on the door.
Ianto's mother sold the business at a profit and told him his father had made sure there'd be enough money for university, and Ianto said thanks, but he was planning on taking a gap year first. She'd nodded, silent and colourless, like she was these days and asked him what he intended to study. When he said he wasn't yet certain, she'd shaken her head and gone off to another sale of work at the church, which was how she had always occupied her spare hours.
By this time, he'd met Gillian, and she was planning on backpacking through the continent, and Ianto thought that sounded like a fine idea, and he was entranced by her red hair anyway. She took him swimming, and they'd fucked on the beach, and she liked to draw little caricatures of him and animate them on her computer. They smoked pot in her bedroom with a towel under the door, and she taught him about computer hacking, and linux and anime. Besides which, she made him laugh.
They only got as far as Barcelona together, and then Ianto was kissing some other girl on a dance floor and Gillian was leaving for France. It was for the best really. He was seventeen, and it didn't make sense to be traveling around with some girl like his whole life had already been decided.
Still, he'd punched his hand into the door of his locker at the youth hostel when she left and won himself an ineffective bandaging and a group of mates to head to Amsterdam with for his trouble. He could see the rest of Europe on his way back, they said, and the promise of whatever he wanted easily enough had seemed better than sticking around the scene of all his petty crimes.
To his surprise, Amsterdam did more than entice him, it wooed him. Sure, he spent way too much time (and money) high both in and out of coffee houses, but he also walked the city, fascinated by its architecture and by the glimpses of life he saw as he couldn't help but peer into people's windows. He thought he'd never been somewhere before where he could steal just by standing still.
The lads he'd traveled there with didn't seem to get it at all. Ianto thought they should smoke more and was glad when they moved on without him. It made it easier for him to stare at so many things in peace.
When they had first gotten there, they'd gone to the red light district straight away, of course, but Ianto had begged off at first, not being entirely sure what he thought of matters of commerce or clear on why he should care when he'd been doing quite well enough at getting it for free.
But it was Amsterdam, and he wasn't a total fool, and he had to think about it at least. If nothing else, it gave a whole new edge to the idea of window shopping, and he thought maybe he'd be able to laugh about that for the rest of his life, even as he had not the faintest idea what that life was going to look like. Maybe he thought, just maybe, he could spend it here. Although, truth be told, he couldn't tell if that was a very good idea or a very bad one.
Particularly with so many men to stare at who always seemed to stare back and not, most times, like they were looking for a fight. It made him feel young and stupid, but not so stupid as Martina did, who Ianto met while taking pictures by the canals and then fucked in the middle of the day on a mattress on the floor of a small bedroom in her shared flat.
It took him a week to figure out that he might well have seen her when he'd finally got up the courage to go "window shopping", and a week after that to figure out why the whole thing made him so uncomfortable. Eventually he figured he should like her either a lot more or a lot less to be fucking her without paying her, but had the good sense not to tell her that, just said that he had to get on with things, had to get to Germany somehow, instead.
Not that he didn't regret that decision for a while, especially after a few lonely, homesick, hungover days in Berlin, and Ianto was as fond of a pint as the next bloke, but really, there were limits. He'd about half decided to meander on towards the Black Forest and go hiking; he didn't really like nature much, or really at all, but thought perhaps it was time to learn, and if he was going to be lonely, well, he might as well be alone.
While he considered the matter, he'd taken to long, solitary walks down the Motzstraße -- this was Germany after all, birthplace of angst, so Ianto felt justified in a little wallowing. Boys his age in eyeliner and too-tight shirts would eye him speculatively, and older fellows would shout things, and Ianto wasn't an idiot and had a pretty good idea of what they were saying, but it was in German so he could ignore it.
Because he'd already come so far from everything he knew, and there was a step to be taken certainly, but if he took it here, he thought he might never be able to go back. And he didn't know if he wanted to go back exactly, but he was pretty sure that he didn't want to close down his options either.
So he walked, hands in his pockets, staring down at the pavement, which was just like the pavement back home really.
Until one day, in the middle of the night, his reverie was interrupted by him running full-tilt into a girl coming from the opposite direction. They both tumbled, and from somewhere underneath her shirt papers were escaping, and she was clutching at them with chagrin while cursing at him in rapid German. He blinked, and then tried to help her, and she batted at his hands with considerable force.
Somewhere in the ensuing scuffle they body-checked again and suddenly, he could feel something sticky and glutinous soaking into his shirt. He sputtered for a second with pure shock; then their eyes met and suddenly they were both laughing uproariously. She said something in German, which he didn't understand.
He shook his head and said, "I don't speak German."
She laughed again and said, "Wheat paste!"
He didn't really get that (he assumed he hadn't heard her properly) so he shrugged, and she shook her head. Still laughing, she'd stuffed the papers that they could catch back under her shirt and held them in place with one hand; with the other, she grasped his and then she was tugging him after her as she ran, round a corner that he hadn't been down before, then up what felt like miles of streets, till they were in her flat, and she was scrubbing at his chest with cold water, while her flatmates stood around, pointing and laughing.
Her name, it turned out, was Nathalie, and she was an ardent member of Jugend gegen Rassismus ins Europa, which as far as Ianto could tell, mostly boiled down to sticking up huge agit-prop anti-Nazi posters up in the middle of the night with homemade wheat paste (as it happened, he had heard her correctly) and getting into street fights with Nazi gangs, and sometimes the coppers.
She was passionately earnest and had blonde hair and blue eyes, and after Ianto got to know her better, and incidentally, learned a little German, he liked to tease her by calling her an Aryan wet-dream. She took him along to antifa meetings and rallies, and Ianto met Greta and Wilhelm and Jens, and took a try at wheat-pasting himself; he turned out to be surprisingly good at evading capture, stealing ingredients for the paste, and finding ingenious ways to secrete both paste and posters on his person.
They were fun, and Ianto loved being part of a group and a cause, even if sometimes the endless wanking in coffee shops about the revolution got a bit on his nerves. He thought that a real revolution would probably require less chat and a slightly larger scale. Still, he quite fancied himself talking about Marx and Trotsky and the buildings falling in New York and U.S. aggression, and he fancied himself even more once he had tumbled Nathalie headlong into bed, which turned out to be just as sticky and fun and unexpectedly sweet as their first encounter.
They got quite lost in one another and would often turn up late to meetings, where Jens would intone dourly, "Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit / Ist des Marxisten Pünctlichkeit," as everyone laughed at them. Ianto quite liked the little rhyme actually and was very fond of Jens, who was tall and dark and stalwart, and he thought if he were ever put in charge of anything, he'd have little rebuking rhymes for his underlings too, and after all, five minutes before the time was certainly when he'd want them to show up, sex or no sex.
But then there was a night when they were all at a dance club, and they were high on ecstasy, and everything was great, until the next day, when he woke up with Greta on one side and Nathalie on the other. And okay, lifelong dream fulfilled, except he'd known right then that this peaceful place of laughter and politics and mischief was doomed. He was right, of course, and after some plate throwing and shrieking and tears, it was definitely time to move on.
He met Jens at a beer garden before his train, and they had sausages and lagers and talked about the World Cup. At the station, Ianto'd tried to take his hand to shake it; Jens pressed a package into it instead and then pressed a quick, rough kiss against his lips. Ianto stared at him in shock as Jens gave him a lopsided smile.
After Ianto had hauled himself into the train and into his third class compartment and bagged a seat by the window, he could still see Jens standing on the platform, hand upraised in salute. He raised his own hand in response and watched his figure grow smaller and smaller as the train pulled away. When he ripped the brown paper wrapping from the parcel, he found inside it an antique silver stop-watch.
Ianto thought about time and missed opportunity and the importance of punctuality all the way to France.
Paris loved him; Ianto recognized that somehow right away. He knew it wasn't a thing he could explain to anyone, not in English and certainly not in his fairly shitty schoolboy French, but he walked taller and felt brighter, like he didn't need people to make the trip worthwhile.
It made him glad he hadn't come here with Gillian, where he would have had to tell her he loved her constantly and where he probably would have believed it until he fucked it up in some way even more spectacular than he actually had. He felt guilty about it, sure, but it could have been so much worse.
Jens had, had no idea what a fuckup he was, or simply, impossibly, hadn't cared. Ianto chuckled when he thought of it, Berlin seeming nearly like another planet, at least until his fingers closed on the stopwatch he always kept with him now, his thumb compulsively starting and stopping time, even as the world flowed around him.
He went to the Louvre by himself three days in a row and then went shopping with the money his mother had sent him, buying a nice shirt and a good tie because it would have made his father proud, and it was the least he could do, considering the way he felt like it was his heart stuttering about in his pocket and not a strange bit of gears, and he thought about going back to Berlin up until the moment he stepped out of the bus at Versailles.
The world went slow there, and he found himself wishing his French were better. On the ride back, after the sun had set he turned to the girl sitting next to him and asked if he could kiss her because he just couldn't leave France without kissing someone.
She had laughed at him, and it wasn't kind, but she had also obliged. That night Ianto wandered until foolishly late and packed his things in the dark at his hostel to catch a dawn train to Rome as he urged himself to run faster and run farther. He kissed his fingers and pressed them to the sides of buildings over and over as he headed to the station, promising them all he'd be back, and maybe even better, soon.
Rome was pigeons and priests and a thousand excuses for the sharpest lemon -- with espresso and in desserts, laid across meals and in the scent of the women that flooded its narrow streets and clung, helmetless as passengers on a million stinking, noisy, horrifying mopeds. Ianto decided he had to have one -- girl and bike both -- because he smiled and laughed every single time such a vision went by.
He'd never felt anything like it before, and he never wanted to stop feeling it either. His face hurt from joy.
And there were a thousand different times all intertwined in every street, clashing and colliding in a dizzying kaleidoscope, more than any other place he'd yet been: the marble monuments and the wide boulevards designed for the tramping of a million fascist boots; the convents and the pubs; the flower market and the trattorias; the Protestant cemetary and its incongruous pyramid; the Circus Maximus, where Ianto bought pot by simply saying fiumo a few times and gesturing politely, and stayed to watch the fire dancers and imagine the chariot race at the end of that ridiculous movie of which his father and mother had been so oddly fond.
Money ran out on him fairly quickly in Rome; it was expensive, even with the exchange, and he didn't want to send for more. So he found work, briefly, at the hostel near the station where he was staying -- they were always looking for a bit of free slave labour. But though Ianto turned out to be unexpectedly gifted at clearing up other people's messes, he thought he could probably do better, even if he didn't yet speak the language.
In his wanderings he'd found the English language bookshop across the bridge in Trastevere; it was disheveled, disorganized, and the books shelved every which way. Ianto's fingers itched to put it to rights every time he went in, if only because the precarious shelves made him feel like the whole place was about to collapse on his head whenever he entered.
Finally, one day, he'd had enough, and without asking the old shopkeeper's permission, he simply began to straighten up the place; the old man didn't bat an eyelash, but pretended to doze as Ianto brought order out of chaos and without managing to trip over what seemed like fourteen different cats or, perhaps, just the one cat who had mastered the art of teleportation.
Ianto came back three days in a row before he was done, and then the old man -- Andrew, his name was; he was English and had settled in Rome forty years ago -- raised an eyebrow and offered him work, although no retroactive pay. Ianto didn't mind; he'd managed to steal something new this time: a job, a mutually agreed upon function, and he thought that would do. Besides, he loved the shop and didn't even mind wrangling with the cat or cats.
Ianto was never quite able to figure out what their deal was, but he did discover that they became easier to deal with when they were dosed with chocolate milk; Andrew informed him that all wild beasts -- including scorned women, small boys and other such monsters -- were tamed by the careful application of chocolate, and Ianto filed this piece of information in the not-likely-to-need-but-you-never-know category.
In his spare time, he'd sit by the Tiber and watch the water flow by, drinking cappuccinos and eating gelato. The coffee was the finest he'd ever tasted, and Ianto fell madly in love with the taste and the smell and everything about it. He didn't make many friends in Rome besides Andrew and the cat(s). The girls he met in clubs came from all over -- Italy, the States, Denmark -- and Ianto would dance with them and sometimes go home with one, but nothing lasted, nothing was permanent. No attachments were his watchwords; he figured he was done with love anyway and had probably outgrown the whole thing. He hoped anyway.
It didn't matter because he had the city itself, and it was a city of objects; its long avenues and quiet spaces; the scent of bougainvillea in the air, dark green cypress trees, a wise little marble elephant that he became inordinately fond of, the pasta and the smell of expensive leather. A few months passed, and seasons changed, and before he knew it, summer was there with its unbelievable heat, and the streets empty of Romans who'd all fled to the beach; the hostel was now unlivable, swampy with sweat and alive with mosquitos, and even with all that, Ianto was surprised to discover that he was grateful that it was time to go home.
His house and the city of Cardiff seemed almost impossibly small when he arrived back. His mother looked him up and down as if registering the changes in him, but she didn't comment on any of them, simply filled him in on the news, and unexcitedly admired the shirt and tie he'd bought in Paris, saying that she thought his father would have approved.
He'd spent some time, those last few months in Rome, trying to figure out what he should study at university. He'd thought seriously about a degree in conservation of objects, but the idea of being stuck in a museum for the rest of his life seemed sexless and dusty; he thought about literature, but decided he'd like to be able to be employed as something other than a school teacher, since he mostly despised anyone either his age or younger and didn't really see that changing anywhere in the near future.
It was in an old cinema house in Rome that he'd suddenly remembered his father taking him to the Sunday afternoon show at the Electro, and the enticing smell of the film canisters. He'd thought about that seriously for some time, and how his father had told him that film was greedy, trying to keep forever a moment in time.
If only it were possible, he'd thought even then, to capture those moments and hold them like pearls on a chain so you could go back and not just look at them but relive them whenever you wanted. It wasn't possible, of course, and he knew that, but he was starting to think maybe film was a good start.
That was it, he figured, the degree in journalism, film and media, and maybe he'd learn Japanese on the side, thinking fondly of Gillian and her computer animation. Only a year ago, and it all seemed so far away, like it had happened to someone else.
And it seemed it had, because back home he wasn't who he'd been before he had left, but he also wasn't the man (and it was strange, still, to think of himself as grown) he had been while traveling. He was lazier back in Cardiff and less lucky, but he was also more ordered, more serious, and so spending time with his old mates, even those who had also managed to travel too, just felt odd, like he had secrets from them, which Ianto supposed he did, even if that condition wasn't anything new, not really.
But he had wanted to tell them about the stopwatch, and didn't because he couldn't. And he'd wanted to tell them about Martina too, but hadn't because they would have been both cruel and congratulatory, and even though Ianto hadn't liked her enough, he'd liked her enough to spare her that. It was hard, and he wondered if his friends, who were so clearly slipping by, had spent a year winning secrets too.
Of course, they had. David had gone and got a girl pregnant, and she'd run off to London and aborted it without telling him and now the big topic was whether he should be relieved or angry or give her any money for it, and when asked, Ianto said he thought things like this weren't the kind you sort out in pubs. Everyone looked at him like he was a traitor, and then someone had muttered that Diane was a slut, and the whole thing was clearly just about to turn into a brawl he couldn't be bothered to care about so he said he needed another pint and snuck away instead.
Uni, when it started, disappointed him -- just another place to be treated like a child and learn things he didn't care about, about things he did care about, which made everything in his head feel even more confused.
He shared student housing with four other blokes, and he supposed he should have been grateful for his own room, even if he could touch his palms flat to the walls across the width of it. Girls stumbled over him -- it was what they did with him, he realised -- as much as ever, but they were always and forever looking for the fellow in the room next to his, or, if they really were the ones he was interested in or had brought home (although really, he was trying to do less of that because there just seemed to be so little point), they always wanted him to be all sorts of things and yet also only one thing at once.
It wasn't something that was going to work at all, not really, he didn't think, and he found himself keeping secrets -- even ones that didn't matter -- from them and from everyone.
The letters he exchanged with Andrew were kept folded in a drawer, and when Celia snatched the stopwatch as she undressed him, clicked its top and said, "Let's see how long it takes you to make me come," he snatched it back and clicked it off.
"Let's not," he'd replied, shoving it onto his desk with a clatter, and, realizing he sounded churlish, added, "let's see how high you can count instead." He had smiled, and she'd laughed, but still he'd known he was being cruel. She hadn't seemed to care, thank fuck, but the memory of it was why he never called her back, even if he knew he was stupid to want his space respected in a place without any.
But it made him indignant, really, all these people who expected him to help them figure him out, like it should somehow be easy for them when it wasn't for him and as if every clever thing they said should be right for some unknown reason. It wasn't that Ianto was unhappy, not really, it was that he wanted more, although the more was amorphous, undefined, and hard to assign category to.
The problem was that he didn't know what more was, and he was almost certainly afraid that it might be very hard work. But beyond that he worried there wasn't more to be had, maybe not anywhere, sure, but certainly not in Cardiff. And that was one reason not to fuck up Uni, not to keep switching his focus and proscrastinating his assignments -- get done and get out and go somewhere.
He liked to think that maybe he could go back to Rome, even though he knew he couldn't really. But he considered that maybe Paris would somehow in her heart wait for him, generous and pure.
What with one thing and another, time passed, and Ianto felt ground down by the weight of it all. But he was good at dissembling, at pretending that he was just like everyone else, and, more importantly, that he liked it that way. No one was particularly interested in the way his mind worked, and Ianto learned it was better to keep one's mouth shut about it, although frankly, he'd never been good at that and still wasn't particularly. It felt like a long and lonely apprenticeship, but to what, he still didn't know, and when it was over, he was conscious of nothing so much as relief.
He was twenty two when he finished university and shifted to London, but work was thin on the ground, and he found himself in a small, one room flat and a bizarre series of temp jobs, none of which seemed to last more than a couple of weeks at best. He was never completely certain if this was because of him or because of the jobs themselves and thought it was probably a combination of both.
On a long weekend home in Cardiff, he found himself walking aimlessly through university grounds. Which was shocking, because he'd have been willing to wager a sizeable sum of money that he wouldn't go back there out of choice. But that was where his feet seemed to lead him, and soon he found himself outside the arts library, where he'd spent so much of his time the past year.
It was there that he ran into the conservation of objects tutor, an old man with salt and pepper hair, who he'd had to dig up on so many different occasions to interrogate about methods of preserving old film. The fellow actually looked pleased to see him, even on a Saturday afternoon, and Ianto felt himself warm slightly at the enthusiastic greeting. It was home still, Cardiff, even if it was small and unsatisfying, and he supposed that was what home was for -- some place to feel welcome, even if you no longer welcomed it.
They walked and talked through the brisk autumn air and then sat and had a coffee, and eventually all of Ianto's anxieties about the future, about being a square peg in a series of round holes, about wanting to do work that mattered, about always living his life in preparation for a moment that never seemed to arrive, seemed to come spilling out.
Finally, Dr. Morgan looked at him with an odd, piercing gaze. "You've never settled down to anything long enough to give it a chance," he said bluntly.
Ianto thought about equivocating but found he couldn't. "No," he admitted.
"What've they got you doing over in London?"
"Not much. Filing, mostly. Some data entry. Did a bit of graphic design, here and there. Tried to get some reporting work, but no luck. Tried advertising, moonlighted in a public relations firm. You know, the usual."
"Not trying to break into Hollywood, then?"
Ianto laughed. "Don't think so. Not like they're precisely banging on my door, but no. Doesn't really seem that interesting."
"You studied Japanese, didn't you? And you've got good sense. Not to mention a knack for computers. Jack of all trades, master of none."
"S'pose so, yeah," Ianto said, not really sure where all these random questions were going.
The old man shook his head. "I don't know if I'm doing the right thing, but..." His voice trailed off.
"What?" Ianto asked.
"You seem unhappy."
"No," Ianto said. He wasn't sure of much, but he was sure of that. "Not unhappy. Just... waiting."
Dr. Morgan reached into his breastpocket and pulled out a card. "Here," he said.
Ianto looked at the card. It had an odd logo on it. Beneath it, in small capital letters read the legend 'Torchwood Institute' and an address: One Canada Square.
Dr. Morgan pulled out a biro, flipped the card over, and, on its blank side, quickly scribbled a name and a phone number. "Call this number when you get back to London," he said gruffly. "Mention my name. They'll see you get an interview." He stood up.
"Who are they?" Ianto asked.
"Might be what you're waiting for," he said.
Ianto stared up at him and then looked back down at the card. "Why so mysterious?" he asked curiously.
"If you ring them up, you'll see for yourself," Dr. Morgan replied. "I've got to get back to work now."
Ianto stood up and shook the man's hand. "Thanks," he said politely.
"Don't thank me," the old man said flatly and then abruptly turned away. As Ianto stared after him, he began to walk away but he hadn't gone very far before he looked back over his shoulder. "Good luck, Ianto," he added and then disappeared down the path back towards the library.
Later, Ianto would wonder just what Dr. Morgan was to Torchwood that he recruited secretaries to it from disillusioned graduates of middling universities. But that would be after he'd gone down to London and returned, triumphant -- for a while, at least -- only in secrets.
For the interview he dressed well but mildly. No desperation and less personality. There were things he had learned in school about public relations and most of them were things he had already known from sweet talking his mother, appeasing his father and stealing things for girls: everyone loved to be admired; no one actually wanted to be surprised; and most people swooned at the sound of their own name.
Ianto didn't know what the job was, but he knew he could get it, even if taking the elevator up 32 stories in just 4.3 seconds had made his stomach bounce uncomfortably as the doors pinged open to white walls and frosted glass and even if the application asked for such an endless array of information about his previous employment and residency he couldn't help but scowl.
But Ianto's mind was made for anger at such things. They wanted detail; they'd get detail. With any luck, he thought, it would cause them to revamp their paperwork to spare the next poor sod who just wanted to be a bit of fancy secretary, but when he finally got taken in to the interview, he considered the possibility that he had made a mistake. Perhaps merely listing the temp agency that hired him out would have looked more responsible.
"Do you keep a file of all this with you, Mr. Jones?" the blander than bland man who was interviewing him asked.
The man waved the four pages of application at him so that the sheets rattled together. "More detail than we usually get. At first."
"It is what you asked for," Ianto said, hoping he had managed to keep the smirk out of his voice, but knowing he had failed when he saw the fellow's lifted eyebrow.
"It is, yes. So do you?"
Ianto shook his head and shrugged. "I remember things."
The man frowned. "Hardly an illustrious career for your cleverness," the man said with, Ianto thought, just a hint of distaste. "And not always wise."
"Would it help if I told you I was bored?" Ianto asked hopefully, but still bland, still cool, still not wanting, because that's how you got things.
The man smiled. "Immeasurably."
There had been other interviews after that, and Ianto wondered if it was intentional, that he had to meet with person after person and two different panels of three without a snack or a coffee break or even the offer of water, or if these people were just very badly organized and not simply putting the screws to him.
"You haven't even asked us what we do here," a woman who hadn't even asked him to sit down noted at what Ianto was really hoping was the end of the day.
"Well, I imagine you'll have to tell me if you hire me," Ianto replied, more cheekily than he thought wise, but he was really and truly tired.
"And why should I?" she asked.
Ianto smiled. This was easy. "I can draw you a map of everywhere I've been in this building, can name every person you've had me meet with and tell you how at least half of them took their coffee, and I can think of at least three ways to simplify your application paperwork, but my guess is you're not really interested in having that done."
The woman frowned. "Very observant, Mr. Jones. Well, I suppose you'll be useful for something or other," she said and seemed to scribble a note on his paperwork before handing it back to him, but when Ianto glanced down in curiosity, he couldn't locate what she had written.
"Take it across the hall. They'll set up your probationary period. Welcome to Torchwood, Mr. Jones. At least for a bit," she said, as if she were telling a bit of a clever joke Ianto wasn't supposed to get at all.
He considered the oddly plausible seeming possibility that she was perhaps not referring to his past employment record.
On his first day at Torchwood, they told him about the aliens. And on the second, he met Lisa.
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