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The Other Side of Despair

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The alarms resounded throughout the Hub. The cog door rolled open and Owen staggered into the Hub. He headed straight towards the coffee station, where Ianto was already preparing the first pot of the day. Four mugs were lined up before him and it took a moment for Owen to register that it was Jack’s blue and white striped one that was absent. He raised an eyebrow, glancing towards the Captain’s office where the blinds were pointedly drawn.

“What’s Jack done, then?” Owen asked as Ianto started to pour the coffee. Momentarily distracted by the rich aroma that filled the air, Owen barely registered the twitch of Ianto’s hand that threatened to spill the coffee over the edge of his mug. Ianto didn’t answer, instead just pushing a steaming mug into his hands. As Ianto moved to hand Toshiko her coffee, Owen shot another glance in the direction of Jack’s office. If the Hub had been this tense all morning, he was glad he’d slept in.

He made his way across to Gwen’s work station and peered over her shoulder at the feed of information from the Rift monitors.

“Anything interesting?” he asked, before leaning down and continuing in a more conspiratorial tone, “aside from the obvious.”

Gwen looked around and Owen nodded towards Ianto. Her eyes widened as understanding dawned and she shook her head. “No, not really.” She glanced over at Ianto, then murmured, “And I can’t get him to tell me anything ...”

“If you’re gossiping about someone, it’s best to keep it to a whisper when they’re in the room,” Ianto cut in, passing Gwen her coffee.

Gwen blushed. “Ianto, I’m sorry – we’re just worried about you.”

Owen left her to the mercy of Ianto’s unimpressed stare and headed to his workstation to see if there was anything of interest on his own screen. He muttered a greeting to Toshiko as he settled himself into his chair and then, when Ianto moved off, leaned across and said, “Quite the atmosphere in here this morning.”

Before she could reply, they heard the door to Jack’s office open and looked up. Jack stood framed in his office door, his gaze following Ianto across the Hub before swinging around the rest of them and coming to rest on Owen.

“Nice to see you finally made it in,” he sniped, glaring at the medic. Owen didn’t hold his gaze, taking a sip of his coffee and shooting Toshiko a long-suffering smile.

Jack’s attention didn’t linger, returning to Ianto almost immediately. As far as Owen could tell, Ianto still hadn’t acknowledged Jack’s presence and in fact seemed to be ignoring him as far as was possible.

“Ianto,” Jack said, and Owen almost choked on his coffee as he heard the hint of nerves in Jack’s voice. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Jack anxious, and had never thought he would be when talking to one of the team, especially not Ianto. He turned back to his computer, trying to look like he wasn’t listening.

Ianto shot Jack the briefest of glances. “Something you wanted, Sir?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say no to a coffee, but actually I just wanted to see you in my office?” The nervous edge was there again and Owen couldn’t help but wonder what the Captain had done to piss Ianto off so much.

“If you have anything to say, I’m sure you can say it in front of everyone,” Ianto said, not even looking at Jack. He was staring instead at his computer screen, but it was clear that his attention was elsewhere. Owen could feel the tension mounting in the room and a quick glance at Gwen and Toshiko confirmed that they too were aware of it. Their fingers had stilled on their keyboards and although they were pretending that everything was fine, it was obvious that he wasn’t the only one eavesdropping.

“I was hoping to speak to you in private,” Jack paused, and the silence that followed was almost overwhelming. “It’s a personal matter.”

“I have nothing personal to say to you, Sir.” Ianto snapped, pushing his chair back and rising to his feet. “I’ll be in the archives if I’m needed.” He paused, turning to glare at Jack. “For anything work related.”

He strode across the Hub and disappeared down the corridor on the far side. For a moment Jack looked as though he might follow, but seemed to think better of it. He spun around and stormed back into his office, slamming the door behind him.

Owen exchanged a long glance with the two women, then Gwen rose to her feet. “I’m going to go and see if Jack’s OK.”

“Sure that’s a good idea?” Owen muttered, but Gwen was already on her way to the door. She knocked and disappeared inside without waiting for an invitation. Owen raised his eyebrows at Toshiko, but she appeared to have gone back to her work. He sighed and turned back to his screen as well. Apparently, the excitement was over for now.

***

“Jack?” Gwen murmured as she closed the door to his office behind her. “Is everything OK?”

“You were in the Hub just now,” Jack replied. He was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands, and hadn’t looked up when Gwen came in. “What do you think?”

She approached the desk slowly and sank into the chair opposite. As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice the empty Scotch bottle in the bin. She wondered if whatever Jack had done to upset Ianto had happened while he was under the influence. As a police officer, she had seen a lot of crimes committed by people who had drunk too much alcohol and deeply regretted what they had done the morning after. This could be a similar situation.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked gently. She wanted to reach out and touch his arm, but wasn’t sure of his reaction. “It might help.”

Finally, Jack raised his head and met her gaze. He looked tired but not particularly hungover, not that that was any indication. She didn’t even know if Jack could get hangovers.

“I doubt it.” He paused and shook his head. “Listen, Gwen, I know you want to help, but I’ve already been over what happened a hundred times and going over it again with you isn’t going to make anything better.”

“But Jack,” Gwen tried to interrupt but Jack held up a hand and she stopped.

“What would really help me right now is if you go out there and do your job,” he told her firmly. “Keep the city safe.”

Gwen knew from the look in Jack’s eyes that he was not going to be swayed by anything she said. Reluctantly, she got to her feet and went back to the door. There, she paused and looked back. “If there’s anything you need, Jack ...”

“There is one thing,” he replied, running a hand across his face and letting out deep sigh. “Don’t bring this up with Ianto, it’ll only put him in a worse mood and that’s the last thing I need right now.”

It was as though Jack had read her mind. Her first instinct was to go after Ianto and try to find out what had happened from him. If she was right in her assumption that Jack had done something, Ianto might be more likely to discuss it. However, she didn’t want to cause further upset, so she nodded in agreement before opening the door and heading back to her work.

***

Gwen retreated from Jack’s office, her expression revealing her lack of success. Toshiko watched her return to her seat in silence. She wasn’t especially surprised; she didn’t think either man would be all that receptive to Gwen’s forward approach at the moment. She turned her attention back to her work and, for the first time since Jack had left his office, she found herself able to fully focus. A few minutes later, her concentration was broken by the sight of a message box flashing in the corner of her screen.

IJONES: Are you busy?

She was a little surprised by the message. The question implied that whatever Ianto wanted to talk about wasn’t work related and he rarely brought up his personal life, especially not during working hours. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she typed a reply.

TSATO: Not particularly. It’s a slow morning. :)

IJONES: Do you think I was a bit harsh earlier?

The message came back immediately, as if Ianto had been waiting specifically for a reply. Toshiko glanced towards Gwen and Owen, but they seemed oblivious to her conversation. She was suddenly glad that she had turned off the audio alerts that came with the instant messenger. From his reaction to Gwen and Owen’s gossip, she was sure that Ianto wouldn’t want them metaphorically listening in on the conversation. Her fingers hovered over the keys as she considered how best to phrase her next question.

TSATO: It did seem that way, but then, I don’t really know what happened between the two of you...

There was a long silence from Ianto, so long that Toshiko began to wonder if he was going to reply at all. She was about to go back to her work and make a mental note to apologise to Ianto for prying when she saw a new message flash up.

IJONES: We argued last night. I think I broke up with him.

TSATO: You think you broke up with him?

Toshiko leant back in her chair, trying to keep her emotions in check. She couldn’t let Owen and Gwen realise that Ianto had just given her the answers that they were looking for. She bit her lip as she waited for Ianto to reply. He had already forgiven Jack for so much – what could be so bad that he was unable to do so this time? Her shock began to fade, replaced with concern over the future of the team. Would Jack and Ianto still be able to work together? Considering this morning, she wasn’t so sure.

IJONES: I think he’s been cheating on me. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not important to him.

She frowned, surprised that Ianto could think something like that when it was so clear to the rest of them how much he meant to Jack. She was equally shocked by the idea that Jack might be unfaithful. She knew he flirted, but she felt sure that he would never go further. Well, not while he was in a serious relationship. With another furtive glace towards Owen and Gwen, she started typing.

TSATO: I think you’re a lot more important to him than you realise.

IJONES: Then why doesn’t it feel like that?

The reply came back far more quickly than the previous two, suggesting that it was an instinctive answer, one that Ianto had sent without thinking over. Her frown deepened when the next message appeared.

IJONES: Sorry, I can’t do this right now. Thanks.

Before Toshiko could respond, the icon at the top of the message box changed to indicate that Ianto had shut down the messenger and blocked all further messages. She sighed and closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly. She was worried. It wasn’t like Ianto to be so insecure, and immediately her thoughts turned to Jack and what he could have done to make Ianto feel like this.

“Everything all right, Tosh?” Owen asked, and she looked up sharply at the unexpected question. For a moment she froze, then she smiled as brightly as she could.

“Yes. Everything’s fine,” she lied, closing the instant messenger. She would not betray Ianto’s trust by telling the others something he obviously didn’t want them to know. No matter how much she wanted to confide in someone. With a sigh, she turned her attention back to the files she had been looking at before Ianto’s first message. She made a promise to talk to Ianto later, and try to get this sorted out before it went too far.

***

Toshiko didn’t get the chance to speak to Ianto that day. She had been kept busy, first by relaying messages to an orbiting pleasure cruiser and then by a new piece of alien tech that Jack had recovered from a children’s play area. Ianto had also done his best to avoid any conversations, remaining in the archives all day and only emerging to make a fresh batch of coffee for the team minus Jack, who watched Ianto hand out the drinks with a wistful expression.

Each time he had appeared, Ianto had ignored Jack’s presence completely, only responding to him when his questions were Torchwood related, and even then, in clipped tones that made no secret of his displeasure. After their last conversation, Jack had stormed back into his office, slamming his door hard enough to make the glass rattle, and had not surfaced since.

Now that the day’s excitement seemed to have died down, the Hub was unnaturally quiet. Gwen had departed an hour ago to prepare for a date with Rhys, looking relieved to be given the chance to escape the tense atmosphere. She had left a silence in her wake, and from the look of things Toshiko guessed that Owen was as unwilling to break it as she was.

She shifted slightly in her chair, glancing at the clock on her screen. Not long now until she could leave. The thought had barely run through her head when an alarm sounded and the Rift monitor she had running in the background jumped to the front of all the windows she had open, showing a spike in activity. She shared a glance with Owen and the moment she made eye contact she knew that he too was wondering how this was going to go with Ianto and Jack no longer on speaking terms.

A moment later, Jack burst out of his office. “Toshiko – what’ve you got for me?”

Quickly, Toshiko scanned the information appearing on her screen. “Rift spike in Splott.” Her fingers danced across the keyboard as she searched for more information. “I’m tracking it now.”

“What’s going on?” Ianto asked as he jogged out of the corridor that led to the archives.

“We have Rift activity in a block of flats in central Splott,” Toshiko said, relaying the new information to the whole team at the same time as filling Ianto in.

“Do we have CCTV?” Jack asked as Ianto logged into his workstation.

“I’m working on it,” Toshiko told him. Jack was pushing them harder than he usually would, probably thanks to the tension caused by the situation with Ianto. Jack paced restlessly, glancing furtively at Ianto every few seconds.

“The flats are empty,” Ianto said a few seconds later, still typing. “They’re due to be demolished in a couple of weeks.”

“At least we won’t have any civilians to deal with,” Owen murmured, and Toshiko thought she could hear relief in his voice. She couldn’t help feeling relieved herself; clearing up after the Rift was always easier when they didn’t have to deal with the general public.

“I have CCTV,” she announced and immediately Jack was at her shoulder, peering at the grainy footage. She played the past few hours at high speed, just in case, but there was little movement: a few kids playing football on the outside of the perimeter fence, some smoking teenagers half-heartedly trying to break through the chain links. After a few moments, the footage slowed, indicating that it was now live.

“OK,” Jack said straightening up and turning around. “We need to check it out. Ianto –”

“I’ll stay in the Hub and co-ordinate,” Ianto said firmly, meeting Jack’s gaze and setting his jaw. “I’m sure the three of you can handle it without me.”

Jack tried to stare him down, but eventually he gave in and looked away. Toshiko turned her attention back to her screen, feeling guilty that she had been watching their interaction.

Jack cleared his throat loudly. “Toshiko, Owen, you’re with me.”

Toshiko shared another glance with Owen before she got to her feet. Ianto was right, the three of them would be able to handle Rift activity at these levels, but it was unlike Ianto to volunteer to remain in the Hub these days. She grabbed her coat and pulled it on, then shot Ianto a glance. He noticed her looking and gave her a tight-lipped smile.

“Good luck,” he said to her as she walked past. She nodded, then hurried to catch up with Owen and Jack, who were already making their way through the door to the garage. There would be time to talk to him later. For now, she had to focus on her job.