Summary: There's nowt as queer as folk. Or squid. Written for the lgbtfest prompt: "Torchwood, Ianto Jones/Jack Harkness, Ianto and Jack have to deal with overt homophobia on one of their dates:
A/N: Huge thanks to verasteine for the world's fastest beta (twice!) and for holding my hand while I foamed at the mouth.
“You don’t expect homophobia from aliens,” Ianto remarks. It is a warm night, and Jack likes to walk when they’re not really going anywhere. They stroll through the streets of Cardiff, never touching, but keeping in stride, and carrying themselves just a little bit closer than friends might.
“Don’t you?” Jack says. Ianto supposes really there’s nothing he ought not to expect from aliens, but whenever he thinks of off-world sex, he just imagines Jack, consorting across the galaxy. Or smog. Asexual alien smog.
He’s been on the clock for fourteen hours today, and when he goes too long without blinking he can still see gaudy colours dancing behind his eyes. The alien’s skin had rippled like light on water, flickering, snatching then discarding all the colours in the spectrum. It was squid-like, and bobbed, suspended unconcernedly, about three feet off the ground, as though earth gravity were merely a cultural nicety it didn't feel obliged to observe.
“I think that shade of puce is kind of come-hither,” Jack had said. “I'd say he was making eyes, if I knew which part was the eyes.”
If he's right, he's in luck, Ianto had thought, as the alien went from puce to pucer. He looked at Jack, and arched an eyebrow. Jack beamed back at him blamelessly. He was in one of those moods where everything seemed to skim right off his surface.
“Your coat is probably just the right shade to be hinting at a quickie,” Ianto told him. If he'd known they'd be meeting aliens who communicated with colour, he would have worn a different tie. Between them, Gwen was starting to turn pink, which probably meant something too.
“I'm getting something,” she had said, squinting at the little box-like device in her hands; supposedly a translator, though it had achieved nothing so far beyond making them all feel a little bit Star Trek.
“Are you lost?” Jack tried, to no avail. His smile grew a little fixed, like the host of a dinner party that's descending into chaos. “Can we give you directions?”
The squid slammed into orange and stayed there, brightening fiercingly. Ianto half expected to feel heat coming off it.
“Ooh, I am getting something!” Gwen said. “Except... it doesn't make sense. Generous proportions. Jack, he's saying we have generous proportions.”
“Have we met?” Jack asked seriously, rocking forward on his heels.
“And that you're pair-bonded males... I think? Oh dear.”
Gwen bit her lip, caught for a moment between amusement and dismay.
“I am sorry, boys,” she said. “But I think he's calling you a pair of fat poofs.”
There was a moment's pause before Jack barked with laughter, as though it took him a split-second to get the joke. Ianto felt like words were fleeing away from him. He grasped at the only one he knew how to respond to.
“Fat?!” he exploded, aghast.
He spent most of the evening post-squid buried in the archives, trying to find any hints on colour coordination for future encounters. Fashion tips were not forthcoming, but he did managed to find the source of their misunderstanding. Apparently, in some corners of the galaxy, offering directions to visiting squid was about the equivalent of advising them not to let the door hit their arses on the way out. Since they didn’t actually seem to have arses, Ianto supposed they had to take their offence where they could find it. He was starting to glaze over by that point; Jack's intervention, and insistence he be taken out for pizza, was a mercy killing.
Now, he can’t stop his mind ticking as they wander on. The pubs are loud, with pockets of smokers gathered outside.
“People see what they can see from where they're standing,” Jack tells him. “Just because someone comes from outer space, doesn't mean they have wide horizons.”
Ianto looks up to the sky, but from where he's standing, Cardiff burns brighter than the stars.
“Especially when they won't even take directions,” he says. “Poor guy probably only meant to pop up the road for fags, and he wound up here.”
He looks through a few windows, to the lights, to the other lives being played out there. Snapshots of heads being thrown back in laugher; couples touching, pints being raised.
“Funny really,” Ianto says.
“Oh yes,” Jack agrees. He seems miles way. Then, after a pause; “Just in general, or anything in particular?”
“I mean the squid. Funny how words work. We could pin a label on them, if we wanted, but we could never call them by their name.”
“Which isn't squid.”
Ianto remembers belatedly that Jack may well not be Jack's real name, and is silent for a moment. They part to allow a couple to pass through on the narrow pavement. The woman smiles sideways at him in thanks, and he watches her walk away.
“I can't make any of those words mean me,” he tells Jack. “Poof, or whatever psychedelic equivalent.”
“Should you be able to?”
“Well. Gay, or whatever. Bi, I suppose. You'd think, when you figure out, the word would start to resonate. Mean something. But it doesn't.”
“A pair bonded male,” Jack says. “They're just words, Ianto.” He says it like it's the simplest thing in the world.
“Do you even have a name for it? Where you come from?”
“There are names,” he says. His tone is light, but he glances away; where you come from usually prompts such a response, and Ianto doesn't pursue him.
“We have lots,” he says instead, thinking of words thrown about the playground, and up and down his road. Words he's thrown about himself before.
“So I've heard.”
It feels righter than he can name to be walking with Jack; when they step apart, Ianto can find him again without looking, but there's times when that rightness jars at him. He doesn't even know what to call what he's traded normality for.
Jack, bright eyed, suggests Ianto practises eyeing up other men.
“Check out that guy,” he says, the jerk of his head almost entirely unsubtle. The guy in question is caught by the movement; Ianto smiles at him thinly as they pass.
“I don't know,” he says. “Objectively, I can see he's fit. Actually, though... Maybe I'd have to get to know him.”
“You're so layered,” Jack teases. “What about that guy?”
“That guy looks like Alan Sugar.”
Jack looks a little dreamy.
“Even for you, that's wrong,” Ianto tells him. Jack's laughter turns heads, but it's infectious.
“C'mon, play the game,” he urges. “Would you rather look at women? That works too.”
“I sense you're trying to make a point.”
“Hey, if the label fits, wear it.”
Their stride has trailed to a halt. Ianto just looks at Jack, both old and young at once in the streetlights.
“Do you ladies mind?” a voice cuts in. They are taking up the pavement again. Ianto turns to meet the eye of a guy about his age; parts to let him through before his brain even registers what he's said. Suddenly the street noise around him is louder than Jack's presence. No one is looking at them, but every eye feels like it's pointedly turned away.
Jack reaches out his hand to Ianto, but reading it as defiance, not affection, Ianto ignores it. Not that he doesn't feel defiant. He's just not sure where to point it. Jack lays his proffered hand on Ianto's shoulder instead. His touch is firm, and only then does Ianto find that his eyes are still locked with the other man's, that he's practically squaring up to him. The man, craning back over his shoulder, is clearly thinking of starting to turn.
Jack's fingers tighten, and Ianto feels him move closer behind him. Under both their gazes, the man seems to think twice. He looks away, shuffles his hands into his pockets, and heads off down the road, muttering not quite under his breath, “Fairies.”
Ianto watches him walk away, not wanting to turn back to Jack until he's marshalled his facial expressions. The worst part is not knowing what to do – he could pick a fight, or make a joke, or even walk away, but none of them feel like a victory.
In his ear, Jack says, “That guy really does not know what a fairy is.”
“Amongst other things he doesn't know. Like how to keep his gob shut.” Belatedly, the anger hits him like a slow-swelling wave. Needing to act, he starts walking again, his hands jammed in his pockets. He doesn't mean to stalk off, but Jack has to lengthen his stride to catch him.
Ianto doesn't slow down, or look round until they are out of the crowd, and the feel of eyes on his back has faded. He thinks of leaving home, and of seeing men kiss on the streets of London; how he used to let his eyes just slide away. How easy it would have been to mistake that tickle of intrigue in his belly for aggression.
He stops, and Jack saunters into a halt beside him. His pose is relaxed, but his eyes are searching, and Ianto has to look away from his intensity.
“We spent the better part of our evening being insulted by alien squid, just to save people like that the trouble of being confronted with stuff which might make them uncomfortable.” Ianto tries to bite back of the edge of bitterness and make this just a statement of fact.
“Hey, if touchy cephalopods were the worst thing out there, I'd leave them to it,” Jack says. “But human nature is kind of a package deal. We can't pick and choose which parts are worth protecting.”
Ianto indulges himself by imagining sticking two fingers up to the human race one day and letting the earth just boil away in an angry fireball. It's therapeutic, for a few seconds at least.
“I don't want to have to argue with people,” Ianto says. “Just to be myself.” It feels unfair and unending, like having to run as fast as you can just to stay in one spot.
Jack shrugs, and spreads his hands.
“I don't have an answer,” he says. Ianto hates him sometimes for the moments when he chooses to be honest. His hands are still jammed in his pocket, so Jack takes him by the wrist instead, and steps closer to him. He can't help throwing a glance up and down the street to see who's watching, and comes back to Jack to find him frowning minutely. Jack works his hand into Ianto's pocket and finds his fingers.
“C'mon,” he says, with a squeeze. “Pizza.”
Later, having mutually understood they are done with crowds, Jack suggests they take their pizza somewhere quiet, which in his language means the roof, where the night sky is loud, but at least the city is muted. Ianto aches idly for a cigarette, though he's been years without now. The roof is gritty when he lays back; the night air is soft, and the stars are spinning. Jack rests his head on Ianto's chest, and his weight is an anchor.