The manipulator was a strange, naked thing with all its leather burned away. Its ovoid face shone with a dull slickness, like colourless brass, and its edges were jagged.
Naked and broken. Gwen touched the face with her forefinger, then swirled a spiral and tapped the center. Nothing happened, of course.
She leaned back into the nest of pillows on her bed and drifted into a pleasant fantasy. They’d fixed it for Jack, sewed it into fine leather, and there he was, larger than life, smiling as he took it from her hand and strapped it onto his wrist, taking Torchwood back in that moment, taking Gwen back as his right hand.
There was something warm sliding down her face and she realized she was crying. I can’t afford this, she thought. This self-pity. She had to be strong, for Rhys, for the baby, for everyone. They all lived in a world where the absolute worst-case scenario you could bloody well imagine was one step away from front-page news.
She had to be prepared. Maybe the rescued vortex manipulator would lie naked and broken and jagged in her bedside dresser until the end of her days, when a grandchild would take it for some sort of faux Art Deco paperweight, and throw it in the rubbish heap, because Jack would never come back to claim anything from Cardiff.
She pressed the backs of her fingers against her eyelids and took a long, deep, even breath. When she opened her eyes again, coloured spots whirled away into the corners of her bedroom, into the shadows, then sank away as her vision resolved.
Under her fingernails, a thin line of ash from the ruins still clung. She’d had to scrape away a blackened layer of — best not to think what it was. The vortex manipulator was clean, at least.
She lowered herself off the bed and went to the bathroom, which was all white tile and blue glass bottles and no room for shadows at all, and scrubbed her fingernails with soap and an old toothbrush until the last stubborn traces of ash were gone. She dried her hands, checked her eyes for signs of redness (no use in worrying Rhys), and touched her stomach, a habit she’d grown into last month. Waiting for the first kick.
She went back to bed and flicked the lamp off and told herself to sleep. The manipulator lay on the table less than six inches away from her, completely safe.
Maybe it guarded images, videos, holographs or whatever they used in the future: digitised mementos of Jack’s lives. That would be lovely, to give that back to him. Otherwise, he’d have nothing left. His tin of photos must have been destroyed.
She turned onto her side and reached out into the dark until the tentative edge of her hand brushed against the manipulator, just to make sure it was there, and then hugged herself under the sheets.
She remembered the last time she’d seen Jack add a photo to his tin. It must have been the last time ever. A week later, everything was ashes.
That memory — the memory of a memory, really — was a comfort to her. They’d gone through an all-nighter that left them giddy with exhaustion, eaten breakfast together (Ianto had performed a brief mimicry of an alien autopsy on his fried egg, something that would have been baffling out of context, but timed as it was, sent Gwen into hiccups of laughter) then ducked into a photo booth on the way back to Hub, ending up with a strip of pictures in which they touched head to head, sharing the same loopy, morning-dazed smile.
She’d given the strip to Jack later that day, dropped it off on his desk before she left for home, and he’d flashed a bright, uncomplicated grin and told her that he’d save it in his tin.
She and Ianto hadn’t always had an easy time of it. In the beginning, she’d thought of him as more of a heartbreaking, occasionally infuriating puzzle than a real human being. The unpredictable way he reacted (or didn’t react) to trauma. The weirdly posh mannerisms that seemed to mock her. But then he’d been a rock when Jack ran away that first time. Tosh had had that stunned look on her face like a deer caught in the headlights, wondering which way to run, and there was simply no word for Owen other than “hysterical”. It was Ianto who’d kept up a daily routine, giving her space to deal with the outside authorities, helping her keep Tosh and Owen on the rails so they were something like a functional team.
It was a rare thing to trust someone as much as she trusted Ianto, and to know the trust was returned. Everything they’d been through since then, horrors like the tunnel in Geneva, reminded her just how rare and precious.
So when she saw Jack touch him, look at him with a certain light in his eyes (although she mostly felt nothing — it was just the way their world was, Jack and Ianto together in all ways) and the jealousy happened to rise up in random ambush, well, that was another reason to beat it right back down again.
Gwen and Ianto didn’t talk about their private lives all that much, maybe because they didn’t have much private life left, after years of Torchwood. Ianto had even less than she did, and guarded it more fiercely. They talked, above all, about strategy. How to get things done. How to leave no trace of their work and move like ghosts. How to work with Jack’s strengths and compensate for his often terrifyingly random weaknesses.
And in that last task she'd set herself, she’d failed, and failed badly... too exhausted to challenge Jack where she should have challenged him. She should have pulled herself together and outlined another plan. Something other than that last desperate attempt.
And if that didn’t work, she should have been at his side in Thames House, not Ianto.
Survivor’s guilt, she told herself, staring at the dark plain of the ceiling, attempt at sleep abandoned. One of the basic concepts covered in police psychology seminars, reinforced over years of taking tea with those left behind.
She curled herself into a loose ball under the sheets and squeezed her eyes shut. Don’t cry, don’t cry. Her skin felt too tight. God, she was fucking miserable. There had to be some way out of this state.
She called up the fantasy again: Jack putting the wrist strap back on, except this time, Ianto was standing to his left, with that charming, enigmatic smile on his lips, the perfect counterpoint to Jack’s broad grin. Her mind drew their angles with an elegant economy and filled in the outlines with concentrated dreamstuff and by the end they were coloured more alive than alive. Jack was gone who knows where, and Ianto was right where he'd always be; but this, this she could have, could touch.
She knew where this was going, oh yes. But why not? She smoothed down a twinge of guilt, because it was harmless and had nothing to do with Rhys. She'd never been a hypocrite in that respect: Rhys had a small DVD collection, and Gwen didn't mind in the slightest as long as he didn't put them up on the mantelpiece, and had told him as much the day they'd moved in together.
Her mind's eye snapped back from the boring mantelpiece and toward that no-place (the image too intense for a background) where Jack and Ianto stood smiling at her.
She uncurled beneath the sheets.
Her body was the theatre and she arched her back to make herself perfect for the scene, thighs tensing, shoulderblades digging into the soft mattress, anchoring her. Then she slid her forefinger between her legs, very slowly, teasing, as if her hand was someone else's, denying her quick release. Her breaths were coming faster, now.
The finger pressed down and the image shattered. Just as dry friction turned into warm wetness — oh God, it was magic — everything came back in full motion, full sensation, she was lying on her back and Ianto was fucking her hard. No build-up, no stops and starts, because this was much too good to wait for: Ianto holding himself above her, his weight pressing her hips down into the mattress, every inch of his hard cock filling her cunt, sliding out, slamming in again, almost hurting and making her feel such pride that she could take all of him and still beg for more.
And the best part was knowing that she wasn't in control, and neither was Ianto. Jack was lying alongside them, breathing into Gwen's ear, hand on the small of Ianto's back. Setting the pace.
She added more details. Her nipples were licked wet and a little sore. Ianto's eyes were half-lidded, teeth clenched. She couldn’t decide if she was pregnant in the dream, stomach slightly rounded or flat, but it didn’t matter, because she was herself and theirs and that was what mattered. Jack's voice was low, charged, words drawn out. He was the only man she'd ever willingly let say "good girl" to her, and he was saying that now, and every time she imagined those words breathed in her ear she had to slow down her finger because she didn't want to come just yet. She had to wait... to be good... to wait—
"Now," breathed Jack, and he shifted up, Ianto twisting a little towards him, wanting to know how to please him, of course. A kiss was what Jack demanded, claimed, but Ianto broke off the kiss, head falling away, to moan, desperate, like he was letting something precious go, and he suddenly stopped, shoved full into her. Jack must have moved that hand from the small of his back, must be using his fingers, working them inside Ianto, so clever, yes, and she felt Ianto's hips shiver into her hips, his body responding to Jack's touch like a perfectly tuned instrument. She reached up, trailed her fingers along Ianto’s face, his mouth still wet from Jack's kiss, knowing Ianto’s cock was pulsing with come now, filling her with it.
Now. Moving so fast her wrist felt the strain, sliding so perfectly, perfect like Ianto's agonized-ecstatic face, frozen right there, perfect, yes... and then she stopped because she was there, the entire lower half of her body seeming to go numb and explode at the same time, fantasy and reality falling into each other.
Jack leaning on his elbow, stroking her hair with his other hand. The smell of clean new leather, wrapped around his wrist. Ianto sighing with satisfaction above her, rocking back, the wet sound and the feel of him trickling out of her, messy, maddening. Both of them turning to Jack, for his regard, to hear him say, “So good, both of you, I can’t decide who’s next...”
Imagining those words was enough to send her there again, willing herself past the nagging ache in her wrist, faster this time, chasing that first explosive high. Catching it. Falling. And this time she cried a little, a single sob escaping through clenched teeth, her face not nearly as wet as her thighs.
Jack could choose her, maybe, and Ianto would hold—
—oh God, oh God, fuck. She almost wanted to try again, but Rhys would be home soon, and she was a right mess. She jumped out of the bed and stumbled to the bathroom, cleaned herself with a tissue and washed her hands again.
Then she stared at herself in the mirror, tightening her lips and blinking her eyes until her sex-dazed look finally resolved into something resembling composure. There are many different reactions to sudden loss. You’re not wrong for feeling this way, she’d told all the ragers, shakers, laughers, zombie-stumbling bereaveds. Here’s a card.
Though as far as she remembered, intense masturbation wasn’t one of the five stages of grief.
No point in spending all night arguing with herself. Either watch something mind-numbing on the telly until she fell asleep, or stay worked up and ambush Rhys when he came home. Just make a decision. It wasn’t that hard.
She walked back and sat on the edge of the bed, and turned off the lamp to let the darkness close around her and comfort her. The warmth inside her, between her legs, wasn’t fading at all. She traced the jagged edges of the broken thing on the bedside table.
Somewhere, they were still waiting for her.
On another night like this, or the end of her days.