Give me something that’s real
Give me half of your bitterest pill
Something from under the surface you actually feel.
The Hub is very close to quiet when Owen stumbles drunkenly in at four in the morning. The lights are as dim as they get, computer terminals hum softly to themselves, and Myfanwy has curled herself away in that nook in the roof of hers. He thinks, if he wasn’t quite so pissed, it might be a bit creepy, but as it is he feels like he’s looking at the world through a big upended goldfish bowl only without the water and the fish and the gravel and the weird tacky plastic castle things; seriously, why the fuck do people buy those, what do they think the fish get out of them anyway?
He just about manages to negotiate the stairs down to the autopsy room, palm skidding on the cold metal rail. It’s all looking sterilised and gleaming, though the walls remain their tired grimy white colour because no matter how obsessive Ianto gets he can’t magically make it entirely clean in here. Owen goes hunting for gauze, accidentally knocking trays of scalpels and stuff onto the floor, the contents of cupboards falling haphazardly out. He gazes blearily at the mess, wondering vaguely if he should attempt to do something about it, and then decides that, what the hell, it’ll give Ianto something to do. Ianto likes having stuff to do. Ianto does altogether too much stuff.
He crouches down, searching through one of the lower cupboards. Ianto apparently likes hiding his stuff because he needs a fucking life, sad fucking OCD loser that he is.
“Well, I suppose it’s more charming than ‘teaboy’,” a voice behind him says.
Owen realises that he might actually have been talking out loud.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he mutters, sending something else clattering out of the cupboard; there’s a smashing sound to his left. “Are you stalking me?”
“No,” Ianto sighs. “I’m just a sad loser with no life. As you apparently already know.”
Owen rolls his eyes, searching through the debris around him.
“Though really, I’m almost flattered,” Ianto continues. “You know, you here in the middle of the night, crouched on the floor and muttering crazily about me…”
“Seriously,” Owen mutters, “You need a life.”
“Is that how you’d describe what you’re doing?” Ianto asks sceptically. “Because your sad drunken flailing isn’t exactly what… oh fucking hell.”
Owen has finally managed to twist around and face Ianto, and Ianto’s sneer is replaced with shock.
“You’re not beating up Weevils again, are you?” he asks dully.
Owen shakes his head. “Plain old-fashioned people.” He attempts a sort of lopsided shrug. “Wankers.”
Ianto stares at him for a long moment, and then walks over and offers Owen a hand to his feet.
“Come on then,” he sighs, “Let’s get you patched up.”
“I can do it myself,” Owen spits, but reluctantly takes Ianto’s hand. It’s warm and large and so steady; a stark contrast to Owen’s own cold, shaking fingers.
“Yes.” Ianto has apparently fallen back into sarcasm as a sort of defence mechanism against this whole situation. “I can see that from the way you’ve completely and utterly failed to find plasters or antiseptic in spite of the fact they’re both sitting right there on the side in the place you’ve kept them for at least as long as I’ve been working here.”
Owen attempts to drag himself away from Ianto, stumbles, and grabs onto the autopsy table for support. Ianto sighs loudly but doesn’t say anything insulting, instead grabbing Owen by the shoulders and carefully manoeuvring him until he’s sitting on the table properly, shivering a little. Ianto gets gauze and wipes and antiseptic and things and piles them beside Owen. He gets on with cleaning Owen up with calm, detached precision; the way he tends to do everything, especially the last fortnight. Owen hisses quietly as Ianto dabs at a cut on his cheekbone, touch so very warm against his skin.
Ianto opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, then closes it again. Owen looks at him through bleary eyes.
“Not going to be all… judgy?” he asks. “No recr- recri…”
“Recriminations?” Ianto suggests.
Owen nods, nearly poking himself in the eye with Ianto’s fingers. “That’s the one.”
“Stay still,” Ianto mutters, carefully wiping the blood out from under Owen’s nose. “…It doesn’t seem to be broken.”
Owen tries to flinch away. “It’s not,” he mutters. Ianto continues to wipe at the drying blood, touch so tender that it just makes Owen angry. “Why aren’t you insulting me?” he demands.
Ianto lets out a breath through his teeth, but still doesn’t say anything. He runs an antiseptic wipe across Owen’s split lower lip, eyes narrowed with careful concentration. The antiseptic stings but Owen is so drunk that the feeling is sort of dulled, far away.
“You’re meant to be angry with me,” he mumbles, mouth brushing Ianto’s fingers, voice cracking. “You’re supposed to insult me, tell me I’m an idiot, that I deserve to be dead, that you wish you were a better shot. We’re good at this, don’t go fucking it up.”
“And that’s going to make things better, is it?” Ianto doesn’t look at him, carefully peeling the paper off a plaster and then tilting Owen’s chin up to stick it over the cut on his cheek. “Kicking you when you’re already down will somehow magically fix things?”
“Oh, ‘cause you’re such a bleeding fucking heart,” Owen snarls. He makes to pull away, but Ianto holds him still, fingers curled gently but firmly beneath his chin.
“Don’t,” Ianto says. “Just don’t. We’ve done this for two weeks. For nearly two hundred and fifty hours. Aren’t you tired? ‘Cause I am, Owen. I’m so bloody tired of us trying to rip ourselves to shreds, trying to rip each other to shreds. Jack is gone and the Hub is in pieces and no one knows what to do with themselves and I can’t do this any more. All right?”
Owen could retaliate. Owen could call Ianto every name under the sun, he could burn this bridge before they’ve even built it. But he knows that would be a sensationally crap idea.
“All right,” he murmurs, pulling away from Ianto’s touch, staring down at his torn jeans. A drop of blood stained onto the knee. He is pretty pathetic, when you stop and think about it. He looks up again as Ianto finally takes a step back.
Ianto smiles, a little hesitantly, a little sadly. “You should get some sleep,” he says. “You’re going to have a beautiful pair of black eyes in the morning.”
Owen nods weakly, sliding with a spectacular lack of coordination off the table. Ianto catches him and helps up back up the stairs, depositing him on their long-suffering sofa. Owen lies down, closing his eyes, the tension finally easing out of his body. He doesn’t know if it’s his imagination, Ianto’s fingers ghosting across his hair, but either way he doesn’t try to mention it.
“You need something other than this in your life, Owen,” Ianto murmurs. “Or you’re going to end up seriously injured.”
“Or dead,” Owen mumbles, cheek pressed to the itchy material and the world sliding away from him.
“Or dead,” Ianto agrees quietly.
Owen drifts off to sleep.
“So what do we do with it?” Tosh asks.
It’s three days later, Owen still kind of looks like he’s been jumped on repeatedly by a block of concrete – they’ve had sentient plastic, he doesn’t see why they can’t have sentient concrete one day – and they’re all drinking coffee, huddled around Gwen’s workstation.
“Nice empty room with giant glass walls…” He shrugs, taking a sip of coffee. “Probably just as well Jack isn’t here.”
Ianto’s lips ghost into the beginnings of a smile. “I take it you don’t want some kind of orgy room then, Owen?”
He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I’m just so desperate to shag you, Ianto, that I’ll build a whole room just to coerce you into it.”
“How very romantic,” Ianto says dryly. “Just so you know, I put out for flowers too.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Owen assures him.
Tosh and Gwen exchange glances.
“You two getting on well is kind of disconcerting,” Tosh observes. “Not bad, just… strange.”
“We could go back to trying to verbally castrate each other,” Ianto offers.
Gwen smiles at them, but says: “This isn’t helping us sort out what we want to do with the old briefing room.”
“It’s not absolutely urgent we decide now,” Ianto says. “Maybe it’ll just… come to us. You know?”
Owen nods, rather than point out that they need the Hub back to absolute full working order as soon as possible so that they can stop feeling quite so vulnerable. He knows Ianto already knows this, perhaps better than anyone; he does seem to have a weird symbiotic relationship with their workplace.
The phone goes, and Tosh hurries off to answer it, effectively ending their morning coffee break. They are getting closer as a team, Owen can feel it; desperation smashing down the barriers that sheer overexposure couldn’t. He thinks that, on the whole, it’s better this way.
An hour later, Ianto comes down to the autopsy room with more coffee.
“Oh, I love you,” Owen says, turning away from a failing experiment.
Ianto raises a cynical eyebrow. “And yet only three days ago you were telling me I was a stalker who needed a life.”
Owen rolls his eyes. “You are. You do. But you make bloody good coffee, which makes up for most of it.”
Ianto grants him a smile, handing him the steaming mug.
“What are you doing?” he asks, perching on the edge of one of Owen’s workbenches.
Owen drinks about half the mug of coffee down in one go before replying. “This plant,” he explains. “It fell through the Rift about a month ago; I think it has really good healing properties if you mash it up. But the seedlings are dying on me, so I’m going to have to give up.”
Ianto reaches over him, picking up one of the withering plants in its Müller Light raspberry yoghurt pot.
“Hothouse,” he says thoughtfully.
“Mmm?” Owen turns to look at him.
“What if we turn the old briefing room into a greenhouse of some kind?” Ianto suggests, slowly, clearly thinking out loud. “Get some heating in there, some plant pots or something, see what happens.”
Owen kind of likes the idea; but remains suspicious.
“Is this some kind of plan to save me?” he asks, and it comes out a little more savagely than he means it to. “‘Oh, let’s get Owen to grow some things and then maybe he’ll have some kind of life-affirming epiphany and it’ll all work out fucking ok’?”
Ianto rolls his eyes. “I’m not trying to fix you, Owen,” he snaps. “I think it might be too late for that and even if it isn’t I think that’s going to be up to someone who cares about you a lot more than I do.” There’s the shake of the beginning of real anger in his voice, but he swallows it down and continues: “I just think it might be something we could all be distracted by, that’s all.”
Owen nods, feeling almost ashamed of himself. And then decides that that’s ridiculous; they’re all on edge these days, they bicker with each other several times a day. Even Tosh has got tired and snappy, Gwen shouting at everyone. It’s how they’re coping. Or not coping. You know, whatever you want to call it. And just because he and Ianto have managed to string a sort of temporary truce between them it doesn’t really mean anything.
“You know,” he says slowly, “Maybe you have a point.”
Ianto smiles, like he knows Owen is sort of apologising and is pleased about it.
“Well then,” he says, standing up, “I’d better go and see exactly what kind of adjustments we’re going to need to make.”
It’s strange, standing in the emptied-out briefing room with all the furniture gone, the blinds torn from the glass windows. It looks bigger than it used to be, but then they are going to need to cram a lot of stuff into it. Ianto had fun with some websites and some catalogues and they have everything they need to create their own greenhouse. Tosh even got in on the act, playing with temperature controls until they’ve got a lovely warm and humid atmosphere to grow things in. Owen wipes a hand across his forehead; it’s too hot in here and they haven’t even started moving stuff in yet.
“Do you think this is actually going to work?” he asks Ianto quietly.
The other man is standing with his hands resting on his hips, lips pursed in concentration. Owen is sweating into his t-shirt, but Ianto seems perfectly content in his three-piece suit, which is annoying and in no way disproves Owen’s occasional theory that Ianto is actually a robot.
“I hope so,” Ianto responds calmly. “I suppose we’ve always got the orgy room to fall back on if this fails miserably.”
Owen smirks. “Don’t make me will this into failure,” he says. He has a horrible suspicion that it comes out slightly flirtatious, but Ianto acts like he hasn’t heard so Owen presumes he’s got away with it.
The girls are out chasing a Weevil; Owen offered to help but they’ve all got pretty good at dealing with Weevils these days, even if the spray is losing its effectiveness and no one’s yet found a good way to blunt their teeth. There’s a little bit too much aggravation going spare in the Hub, sometimes the easiest way to work it out is to try and restrain a creature with enough raw strength to rip you to shreds. So far, it’s kind of been paying off, though Owen is dreading the day it doesn’t.
They spend the afternoon hefting pots and tubs and trays for seedlings and tables up to the old briefing room. Ianto sheds his jacket after about half an hour, and not long after that he rolls up his sleeves and pops a couple of buttons on his shirt. As close to unravelled as Ianto ever becomes; the man who wears a suit and tie to hold himself together, restraining the outside to make sure that everything on the inside stays in. He looks strangely naked, even if he is still mostly clothed.
When they’re eventually done, the new hothouse is devoid of plants but full of potential, and Owen can feel a smile of satisfaction stealing across his mouth. Ianto comes up the stairs again, carefully carrying two mugs, and gives one to Owen. Hot sweet tea, and Owen leans back against a table to drink it.
“The girls called,” Ianto says, leaning on another table a few feet away from Owen. A careful distance; not too far, but deliberate nonetheless. It’s necessary; at least until things get easier. “They’ve bagged the Weevil and are on their way back. No injuries.”
Owen nods. “That’s good.” He sips at his tea, thinking. “This means you’re going to have to spend the night cleaning out the SUV, doesn’t it?”
Ianto sighs. “Of course.” His lips curl. “Still, you’ll get to spend the night brainwashing the Weevil into thinking you’re some kind of cross between a Messiah and the Devil, so at least we’ve both got something to do.”
Owen has stopped his Weevil research; he thinks it’s probably for the best. He also thinks Ianto is perfectly aware of this fact, and is just teasing him with that slight hint of real blame Ianto specialises so well in. It stings, whether it’s meant to or not.
“We’re not calling this The Jack Harkness Memorial Garden,” he mutters, a bite to his tone.
Ianto tips his head to one side, considering. “We could call it The Lisa Hallet Memorial Garden,” he suggests, tone steady, eyes betraying nothing.
Owen slams his mug a little too hard down on the table, the sound too loud in the quiet room. “You’re not the only one to have a girlfriend murdered by Torchwood,” he snaps. “Get the fuck over it.”
Ianto doesn’t ask; of course he doesn’t. He keeps placidly sipping his tea, refusing to react, and Owen is sort of relieved because they haven’t had a fight in nearly a week and although the tension is rising so high they’re probably going to have to seriously injure each other to break it, the uneasy truce is sort of… peaceful.
“What do you think we’re going to grow in here?” Owen asks after a moment, voice quiet, giving in just enough to ease the sharpness between the two of them.
“Cannabis?” Ianto suggests.
“Yeah?” Owen scoffs. “Jack’ll be really pleased when he gets back to find we’ve turned the Hub into a drug den.”
He wants to kick himself once he’s said it, because he’s really not in the mood for the do you think Jack’s really coming back?/I really don’t know conversation. But apparently Ianto isn’t in the mood for it either, because he just smiles wanly and says:
“Maybe it’ll be the secret to calming down the Weevils. Feeding them hash brownies.”
Owen can see all sorts of potential badness in having stoned Weevils stumbling around Cardiff, but having any kind of conversation with Ianto that doesn’t involve incipient violence is almost nice, whatever the topic.
“I bet you’d just get more jumpy and paranoid if we got you stoned,” he says. “Does anything relax you?”
Ianto smiles, bitter but broad. “I’ll let you know,” he replies.
The sound of the girls coming back in, accompanied by a furiously growling and notably not stoned Weevil, is sort of a welcome relief.
Over the next couple of weeks Ianto amuses himself by planting herbs and flowers in some of the pots, and apparently they’re going to have tomatoes at some point in the future. Owen isn’t that keen on tomatoes that haven’t been pulped and turned into pizza sauce, but he doesn’t mention it. He’s more interested in growing alien plants from the specimens they’ve got that have fallen through the Rift. He doesn’t know what properties all of them have, and Ianto cheerfully prophecies a Little Shop Of Horrors situation, but Owen reasons that, hell, at least being eaten by a plant is a more interesting way of going than, say, being ripped to bits by a bored Weevil on a wet afternoon. The girls aren’t all that interested in the new project – Tosh is too busy trying to get the Hub’s computer systems back to their previous levels of awesomeness, and Gwen’s got herself entirely wrapped up in red tape now she’s running the team – and after a while Owen realises how much time he and Ianto are spending together now.
They don’t talk much; there’s very little to talk about that doesn’t kind of hurt, but Owen’s beginning to realise that the silence contains something other than disdain and wonders if they’re approaching friendship, or something similar enough to it to get by on. They certainly haven’t tried killing each other recently and Owen’s beginning to realise that he doesn’t want to hurt Ianto. He doesn’t want to make him bleed for the hell of it, and while that might not sound like much, it’s a really important breakthrough.
He’s not sure he’s feeling life-affirmed, but he is feeling better. Not that he’ll ever admit it.
A race of quite nice aliens, by Torchwood’s standards anyway, stop by on Earth to mend their malfunctioning spaceship. As a thank you gift (because Torchwood didn’t incarcerate them and attach electrodes to their important and sensitive organs) they give Owen a plant that supposedly creates migraines – we crush it and slip it into our enemies’ rivers before war – and detailed instructions on how to grow it and then utilise it. It’s pretty once it starts flowering, two days later, large petals the colour of a fresh bruise, and the smell is sickly-sweet.
“It could prove to be useful,” Owen offers, rubbing a leaf thoughtfully between two fingers.
“Yes,” Ianto replies, voice brittle with sarcasm, “We could use it to torture hapless aliens with. Something to do on quiet Rift days.”
“It could be helpful,” Owen protests. “We should at least test it.”
“What are you going to do, feed it to the Weevils?” Ianto demands. “Because I’ll be really unimpressed if you slip it into my coffee.”
Owen gets the feeling that giving a Weevil a migraine would really be more trouble than it’s worth, and so waits before Ianto’s huffed off to dust things before carefully cutting one of the flowers off and taking it down to the autopsy room. He crushes the petals and adds them to a beaker of hot water, brewing it until it kind of looks like Ribena. It doesn’t smell like Ribena, though, and he doesn’t allow himself to think too hard about what he’s doing before he downs it in one.
The liquid has a bitter edge to it but it doesn’t taste nearly as bad as he expected it to, and he sits on his stool and waits patiently for something to happen. But nothing does. Owen scowls, glancing at the remains of the flower lying on a workbench; he should’ve known better than to trust some random borderline megalomaniac aliens.
…And then he falls to the floor as pain rushes abruptly into his head, like someone’s slammed him face-first into his bench. Owen curls up, whimpering, as bright lights flash across his vision and his brain feels like it’s going to explode any minute. He’s never been in this much pain before, and helpless, broken noises escape from his mouth. He’s going to die. There can be no other explanation. Nothing can hurt this much and not end in death.
He feels rather than hears Ianto’s footsteps on the stairs, each one reverberating through his body. Ianto doesn’t ask questions – the tattered remains of the flower on the workbench, with the beaker shattered on the floor where Owen inadvertently brought it with him when he crumpled, Owen himself coiled up moaning; they’re all pretty obvious – but whispers you fucking idiot. And he turns and walks away. Owen spares a corner of his aching brain to call Ianto every single insult he can think of, because the other man can’t seriously be leaving him here to die. The lights are way too bright and he screws up his eyes, trembling with pain all over, mouth quivering around the incoherent noises of agony.
The lights abruptly dim, and Owen tentatively opens his eyes. Zigzag lines are still lancing across his vision, but the light doesn’t hurt so much any more. Some time later, Ianto comes back in. His footsteps hurt less this time, they’re somehow muted, and he crosses over to Owen.
“I’ve sent the girls out,” he says, voice barely above a whisper, soft enough that it hardly hurts. “Come on.”
Owen dimly registers that Ianto has taken his shoes off, leaving him in socks, which is why his footsteps aren’t as loud. The half-dark surrounding him is strangely reassuring, as Ianto carefully tucks his hands under Owen’s arms and pulls him to his feet. He half-drags, half-carries him over to the autopsy table and lies him down, resting Owen’s head on something very soft. Owen makes a weak sound that he hopes denotes thanks.
“Here,” Ianto murmurs, sitting Owen up a little and supporting him. He slips something between Owen’s lips – it feels like a pill – and then holds a glass of cold water to his mouth. Owen obediently swallows, and Ianto lies him back down again.
The pain is still paralysingly bad and he grits his teeth, fingers curling, keening quietly. But darkness gently begins to slide over his vision, and he falls into sleep.
The Hub’s lights are still dim when Owen finally wakes up. His head still stings a little, but the majority of the pain has gone. After a couple of false starts, he manages to push himself upright. Ianto is patiently tidying the cupboards, alphabetising the medicines or arranging them by pill size or something. Owen makes an incoherent sound that tries to be hello, and Ianto turns around.
“You’re awake,” he says, tone slightly flat. “How are you feeling?”
Owen half-smiles. “What did you give me?” he asks.
“One of Jack’s special alien painkillers,” Ianto replies. “He gave me one once when I was hungover.”
“You get hungover?” Owen hears the bemusement in his tone, though his voice is slightly hoarse.
Ianto shrugs minutely. “On occasion.”
Owen shifts, swinging his legs over the side of the table so he’s sitting upright and not half-collapsed. Ianto is watching him, arms folded across his chest.
“Wanna go for a drink sometime?” Owen asks. It comes out before he can stop it but then maybe this is logically where they have to go now; maybe they have to try being real friends. He vaguely recalls Ianto’s gentleness, his consideration, and thinks that maybe they’re already well on the way towards actual friendship.
“…Not yet.” Ianto’s voice is closed and hard, a tone Owen hasn’t heard from him in weeks, not since Jack first left.
Owen frowns, unable to work out why Ianto is rejecting him quite so abruptly. “Why not?” he demands.
Ianto shrugs. “Because I’m angry with you,” he replies steadily.
Owen tips his head to one side, studying him, ignoring the momentary pain like his brain is banging against the inside of his skull. “You don’t look it,” he says. “Your face normally looks more sort of screwed-up when you’re angry.”
Ianto doesn’t smile. “I’m passive-aggressive, Owen, remember?”
Owen knows that he’s just basically pulverised his brain and freaky alien anaesthetics or not, his head still kind of hurts, but he’s not following this at all. “Why are you angry?” he asks blankly.
Ianto scowls, unfolding his arms and moving from where he was leant against the cabinets. “Because if this hothouse is just your way of coming up with new ways to hurt yourself I’d rather you went back to bullying Weevils or convincing drunk blokes to try and punch your nose out through the back of your head.”
“You don’t know me at all, do you?” Owen is almost surprised as he says it; it’s not anger he can hear in his voice, but hurt, which isn’t what he was going for.
“You come in every day and you’re about eight different people and I don’t know which one you want to me to look at any more, Owen.” Ianto sounds tired, and frustrated. His eyes flick across Owen’s face, and Owen wants to reply but doesn’t know how to. Ianto sighs, and turns, walking across to the stairs.
“Where are you going?”
Ianto doesn’t turn around. “I don’t want to shout at you because I know your head is still sensitive. So I’m walking away now.”
He gets about halfway up the stairs before Owen calls after him: “Fuck you, Jones.”
Ianto stops, shaking his head, but still won’t look at him. He laughs, a trace of bitterness in it. “Right, yes, of course. You know, thank you would’ve been just as appropriate.”
Ianto politely but firmly suggests that they get rid of the migraine plant, unless Owen has any more bright ideas of things they could do with it. Owen refuses; he won’t rule out the possibility of using it in an emergency, and anyway the flowers are pretty. Ianto accepts his reply easily enough, giving up the fight instantly, and Owen keeps expecting to come in only to find that Ianto has destroyed the plant in the night by feeding it some kind of weed-killer or something. Then he discovers that Ianto is expressing his anger not through murdering Owen’s plants but by refusing to speak to him. He doesn’t do it in a childish, I’m-ignoring-you way; he replies readily enough when Owen asks him questions. It’s just that he doesn’t start up conversations, he doesn’t initiate anything unless they’re in the middle of attempting to deal with an alien invasion, and although Owen knows he still spends large amounts of time in the hothouse, somehow their paths never cross.
It’s annoying, and he can’t work out whether he deserves it or not.
Jack has been absent for going on a month and a half now, and things are easy enough in the Hub provided no one mentions his name, or specifically mentions events he was involved in, or looks too wistfully in the direction of his office. It’s unspoken, but they don’t go in there. There’s no point. Ianto goes in occasionally to dust things, or to add items to the safe, but other than that they avoid the office at all costs. And it’s funny, because before Jack buggered off to wherever Owen would’ve said the first thing he’d have done in their Captain’s absence would be to go rifle through his belongings and look for clues.
He suspects he’s kind of coming around to not giving a shit about Jack’s Mysterious And Angst-Filled Past, which is probably not a sign that he’s, you know, growing as a person, and is more likely to be an indication that he’s just becoming apathetic to a fault. Which isn’t a comforting thought, and he sort of hates that Ianto’s ignoring him because he’d kind of like to ask the other man what he thinks. Not that he’d come straight out with I think I’m losing the ability to care about things, what the hell do I do now, but he’d possibly get there in a roundabout way in the end.
They get a girl killed. They’re not quick enough and the alien bastards with seriously frightening teeth have already eviscerated her by the time Torchwood arrive on the scene; Gwen and Tosh are instantly merciless in gunning the creatures down and Ianto has no expression at all on his face as he dumps all the bodies in the Bay; alien and human alike. It’s a harsh reminder of just how helpless they are, even though they’re all perfectly aware that Jack wasn’t exactly the Knight In Shining Armour they all wanted him to be.
Owen has been working on taking Better Emotional Care of himself, if only because Ianto sort of had a point and his story is destined to end nowhere good if he carries on with his carousel of self-destruction, but tonight it doesn’t seem worth it. Nothing really seems worth anything, and Owen is aware that it’s a dangerous frame of mind to be in, but he gets his jacket and leaves the Hub without saying a word to anyone. Gwen will spend the evening at work beating herself up while Ianto makes coffee and Tosh quietly drives herself insane over grainy video footage of Jack vanishing, and Owen’s method of dealing with things is probably worse but he can’t sit there tonight and watch them all. He can’t.
It’s a miserable night; pissing it down, and a bitter wind stinging his face and hands. Owen picks the first pub that doesn’t look like it’s going to have some kind of noisy karaoke thing going on (because he’s honestly not in the mood), sits himself down at the bar, and orders a pint to get started. For a moment, he thinks about how Ianto would probably be disappointed in him or something, but Owen isn’t sure exactly what Ianto is expecting from him and anyway he fucking excels at letting people down, so he puts all thoughts of Ianto out of his mind and focuses on the far more important business of getting plastered as quickly as possible.
A couple of hours later, there’s a girl. She’s got dark hair and is apparently not wearing a bra and, tarty dress-sense or not (Owen pictures Ianto flinching at her tiny tiny skirt, just for a second, before he firmly puts the teaboy out of his mind), she’s probably out of his league anyway; but he starts flirting and she flirts willingly back and it’s not exactly sensible because Owen is seriously too drunk for this but who really fucking cares, right? Nothing matters, not today. Maybe not even this week. Maybe nothing’s ever mattered.
Said girl has a boyfriend she’s failed to mention, and he gets all noisy and possessive in a way that has Owen rolling his eyes. He sort of misses the pheromone spray; sure, waking up with a couple of people he’d essentially raped did nothing for his state of mind and he knew Jack was on the point of beating the shit out of him for abusing alien tech in such a cheap and cruel way, but God did it diffuse situations like this wonderfully. Still, getting into fights with people in pubs is practically Owen’s favourite pastime, so he establishes where all his limbs are and reckons he can probably get in a couple of good punches before he crumples into a heap and vomits.
There’s shouting, the trading of predictable insults, Owen is doing this with a kind of mechanical tired edge, and no one has noticed. It’s not even that he wants to get hurt, or that he particularly needs this to happen to get his head working properly again; it’s just that he’s running out of ideas for alternatives. He grins and it feels ugly; he’s got maybe a minute before the first punch and he can see Gwen’s disappointed and judgemental expression tomorrow morning already.
But someone steps between them; someone dressed all in black and speaking in a low, rational voice; smoothing everything over with some well-chosen sentences. And when the person turns around, Owen discovers that it’s Ianto.
“Come on.” Ianto grabs his arm, pulling him after him, shouldering their way through the other people in the pub. Owen stumbles, tired and drunk and superfluous adrenalin sloshing about inside him. Outside, the rain isn’t that heavy any more but it’s still steady, making the world look blurred. Ianto half-carries, half-drags him down the road, not looking at him, not saying anything. He looks tense, Owen notes vaguely; as though any minute he might crack and start shouting. Now, finally, he looks genuinely angry.
They stop under a streetlamp on the corner, and Ianto lets him go. Owen’s legs crumple underneath him, and in spite of his best efforts he ends up in a pathetic heap on the wet pavement. He stares up at Ianto, who doesn’t make a move to help him up. Instead, he leans down, tucking a couple of notes into Owen’s jacket pocket.
“Cab fare,” he says quietly, and walks away.
Owen stares after him, wondering if this is all some kind of joke, because Ianto is seriously not going to just leave him here, sitting on the ground and getting increasingly wet, is he? Even before they found their tentative truce, Ianto dragged him out of bars and got him home almost from the beginning of his employment at Torchwood Three; there’s no reason for him to stop now.
“Ianto!” he yells, but the other man doesn’t turn. He keeps walking until his black coat blends in with the darkness and Owen can’t see him any more.
As he sits there with water soaking through his jeans, currently unable to get to his feet and go home, Owen reflects that this might possibly be rock bottom.
The next morning Owen isn’t entirely sure how he manages to make it into work, except that he does. Gwen looks up as he stumbles through the doors; he must look a complete wreck, but although he’s hungover and has spent a good half-hour vomiting so far this morning, he is mercifully uninjured, and he notes surprise fleeting across Gwen’s face.
“I’m not a fucking masochist like you all seem to think I am,” he spits savagely at her on his way past; Gwen wisely chooses not to reply. Some days, it just isn’t worth it.
Owen amuses himself rearranging things in the autopsy room, mostly because he knows it will annoy Ianto, and also because the man has hidden all the paracetamol somewhere stupid and incomprehensible to anyone unaware that you can cross-reference pills. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, Ianto himself comes down the stairs, carrying a cup of coffee. He puts it carefully down on one of Owen’s benches, and then walks over to a cupboard that Owen swears he has never ever opened, in all the years he’s been down here, and reveals that all the anaesthetics have somehow got in there.
“Would you stop buggering about in here?” Owen demands, snatching the blister pack away from Ianto. “I can never find anything and it’s not your workspace, it’s mine.”
“If I left you to your own devices we’d be knee-deep in crap by now,” Ianto points out calmly. “And while I’d love to let you make a mess in here I won’t risk anyone’s life.”
Owen sighs but doesn’t reply, because his head is thumping and he doesn’t want to get into a screaming row until the medication has kicked in. He dry-swallows two pills, scowling.
“There’s coffee,” Ianto reminds him carefully.
“Right, ‘cause now you want to help me,” Owen snaps, and he didn’t mean to say that but on the other hand he’s angry. He doesn’t want to be, but he’s furious and hurt. And that in itself is surprising, because until recently he’s never felt anything towards Ianto but vague disdain.
“I helped you,” Ianto points out, still frustratingly composed. “I even gave you your cab fare home.”
“Yeah, you’re all fucking heart,” Owen snarls, and although a lot of last night is a blur, he can still remember watching Ianto walk away with a worrying degree of clarity, and even thinking about it is like weirdly poking a bruise.
Ianto sighs, turning towards the stairs. “I’m trying, Owen,” he says quietly. “But I am not letting you drag me down with you.”
Owen doesn’t really register it as he reaches for the mug of cooling coffee. “I don’t need your fucking pity!” he shouts, lobbing the coffee after Ianto. It’s probably just as well that he misses, the cup shattering against the wall a foot behind Ianto, and the other man jumps at the noise. He turns, looking at the drink streaked down the bricks and the ceramic pieces scattered down the stairs.
“I hope it’s worth it,” he murmurs, and walks away.
That afternoon, when Owen goes up to the hothouse, he finds Ianto has torn the migraine plant – still haven’t come up with an intelligent name for it – out of its pot by the roots and has systematically shredded it. It’s lying in many, many pieces on the top of the compost bin, bruise-purple petals scattered messily across the floor. Owen grabs as many pieces as he can and carries them downstairs, trailing mud and bits of plant through the Hub. Ianto is tidying up empty abandoned pizza boxes in the sofa area, but turns when he hears Owen coming.
Owen throws the remains of the migraine plant down on the coffee table, enjoying the way Ianto subtly flinches as dirt gets everywhere.
“There is something seriously wrong with you,” he snaps, and storms off. Ianto, to his credit, doesn’t throw lumps of mud after him; Owen thinks that he probably would have done.
Tosh, sitting at her workstation and typing away industriously, looks disappointed in him. Owen doesn’t know why she bothers trying to believe in him; he doesn’t know why any of them expect anything from him. Hasn’t he already proven on too many occasions that there’s nothing worth fighting for left in him?
“Why can’t you two just…” She trails off, sighing. “Aren’t things difficult enough?”
“Don’t, Tosh,” Owen advises.
She smiles sadly. “Just don’t kill his tomato plants,” she says. “I think the greenhouse is, well, the one decent thing any of us have managed to achieve since Jack left.”
Owen is in the mood right now to break all the glass and stick all the plants in the compost bin, feeling a childish urge to destroy all the evidence that for a fortnight he and Ianto were something almost close to being friends. But only for two weeks, because apparently the two of them are completely incapable of being civil to each other
“You fucked that Weevil up pretty badly last week,” Owen offers cheerfully. “I was impressed.”
Tosh gifts him with a genuine smile, though it fades fast enough. “Is that what we’re going to tell Jack when he gets back? That we injured Weevils and shouted at each other?”
“No,” Owen shrugs. “We’re going to lie through our teeth.”
He doesn’t say if Jack gets back because he’s bored with that now; all of them are.
Almost a week later, Owen is in the hothouse, trying to work out if a particular alien plant is dying or actually flourishing and is meant to be that unattractive yellow colour. He’s spent many patient hours over the last couple of days experimenting with lighting sources and different kinds of compost and the plant remains determinedly pallid and withered-looking. Owen is beginning to suspect that it just doesn’t like the air on Earth, which is not something he can do a lot about without destroying the photosynthesis of most of the other things in here.
The door opens and Ianto walks in; Owen keeps his back to him, because he knows if he turns around they’ll just end up arguing and he really does want to stay in here a little longer to continue investigating what’s gone wrong with this plant. He can hear Ianto casting a careful mist of water over his own plants, a lot of happily thriving seedlings. And a suspicion forms in his mind; it’s stupid, and yet once he’s thought of it he can’t make it go away.
“Are you killing my plants?” he demands, getting up and turning around. “Are you poisoning them?”
Ianto looks blank. “What?”
“Because if you are that’s really fucking petty.”
“I’m not killing your plants!” Ianto protests, looking slightly bemused. “Why would I be killing your plants?”
“You ripped the migraine plant apart,” Owen reminds him.
“You threw a mug of coffee at me,” Ianto points out, and the amusement has slid off his face to be replaced with something approaching anger.
“I missed,” Owen says.
“Only because the paracetamol hadn’t kicked in,” Ianto tells him, and he does have a point although Owen’s never going to admit that. “So yes, I destroyed your plant. But I wouldn’t kill the rest of them, that would be stupid.”
Owen finds himself wondering if Ianto only pulled the migraine plant apart because until Owen chose to experiment with it they were very close to being actual friends, but knows better than to ask.
“Are we really this childish now?” Ianto asks.
Owen shrugs. “We’ve always been childish,” he says. “We’re cruel and undignified and stupid and that’s only really going to change when one of us finally snaps and kills the other one.”
“Is that your unsubtle way of telling me to start wearing Kevlar to work?” Ianto enquires, but the bite of amusement usually present in his tone has faded.
“I don’t know,” Owen replies. “I’ve always thought you’d be psycho enough to snap and murder us all on a whim.”
Ianto’s mouth twists; he looks a mixture of rueful and actually hurt. “I’m not going to be judged on my sanity by a man who dealt with his lover leaving by trying to kill himself with an alien and then ripping a giant hole in space and time.”
“You dealt with your lover” – Owen spits the word, just to really make it sting – “being taken by shooting me. Don’t you dare pretend you’ve got any more sanity or dignity than I do.”
Ianto’s lip curls. “I’m better than you in every way, Owen,” he says icily. “The difference is that I know this and acknowledge it, and you won’t.” Something flashes, sharp, in his eyes. “Or maybe you just can’t.”
That is the final straw; Owen’s managed a week of ignoring Ianto, of making his own coffee, of having to disinfect his own equipment, but he’s got a breaking point and that’s it. He punches Ianto, catching his jaw hard, sending Ianto stumbling back a step.
“See?” Ianto is openly angry now, passive-aggressive tendencies shoved away. “You can’t even have an argument without resorting to violence. You’re pathetic.”
Owen would try and kill anyone else who said that, but even through the fury coursing through him, making him a little light-headed, he knows that this isn’t like Ianto, not really.
“Seriously,” he says, forcing himself not to try and land another punch, “Just tell me: what the hell is your problem?”
Ianto shakes his head. “I thought you’d have figured it out by now,” he murmurs.
“Maybe you’re just a twat,” Owen suggests savagely. “A twat who’s incapable of communicating with people if they’re not robots living in the basement.”
Ianto’s mouth thins, tight, but he doesn’t rise to the bait. “Maybe you really don’t know,” he says, apparently mostly to himself. Owen isn’t in the mood.
“Just tell me your fucking problem and we’ll move on from there,” he says.
Ianto considers him for a moment, and Owen prepares to duck in case Ianto is just going to attack him. But when Ianto does move, it isn’t to hurt him; his hand catches Owen’s cheek and Owen can’t move because Ianto leans in and kisses him, quick and hard and angry.
“That is my problem,” he says quietly, accent thick and voice trembling a little with rage. “And it has been a problem for a while and I cannot watch you falling apart any more because it hurts, all right?”
Owen honestly can’t think of anything to say; no words come to his mouth. He stares at Ianto, lips slightly open, aware that his expression must convey confusion and horror. But Ianto’s face has shut down again, unruffled and impenetrable, and he turns and walks away. Owen kind of wants to call him back, but he doesn’t.
It takes a couple of days to puzzle it out. Ianto has stopped looking him in the eye – which is really not any different to when they were angry with each other – and walks around the Hub in a silent but slightly martyred way, a deep purple bruise rising on his jaw bone. Gwen sighs pointedly whenever she sees it, but knows better than to bring it up; if she tries to sit down and have a talk with Owen, they both know it will only end with words being said that no one will be able to take back, and things will get considerably worse.
A couple of alien corpses turn up in the Bay. It would be strange and creepy to admit that Owen finds it easier to think elbow-deep in intestines, so he never will, but he’s got to keep his mind busy or risk going mad, so he turns The Problem Of Ianto over and over while removing alien organs and weighing them.
Owen isn’t foolhardy enough to think that Ianto is in love with him; he’s reasonably sure that if Ianto is even capable of love – which is by no means a certainty – then all the love he’s got has been shoved in Jack’s direction. And this is fair enough; everyone who works for Torchwood is varying degrees of in love with Jack, though of course Gwen is a little too obvious about the whole thing, and Owen will never admit exactly how deep he’s got himself because it can’t lead anywhere good. He could preen over Ianto fancying him, but Owen knows that between himself and Jack – that damn name again – there’s no competition. He’s not quite mirror-breakingly ugly, but his smile doesn’t make men, women and household pets weak at the knees. He knows. He’s tried.
It finally makes sense somewhere around what Owen thinks is the pancreas: Ianto’s remit in life has always been to look after everyone around him. Lisa’s creepy cyberstate was, in a strange and twisted way, exactly what Ianto needed; she depended on him for everything. While Ianto has possibly learned something from that experience, and almost definitely isn’t going to leap on the next broken half-alien entity that comes along, it’s still what he does.
And Owen has always needed far more looking after than everyone else.
It’s not exactly the most sane of reasons, but Owen is fairly certain that it’s the reason anyway. Ianto has spent a large part of the last year wandering around after Owen tidying up his messes and picking up his pieces and, in an unsympathetic fashion, holding Owen together. This is what Ianto needs in his life, and God knows Jack would never have let Ianto get close enough to see his vulnerabilities, let alone try to fix them.
Owen belatedly realises he may have let Ianto get a little too close.
Or maybe a lot too close. After all, no one else has Ianto carrying them drunkenly home in the early hours of the morning on a basis regular enough to be disconcerting. No one else spends boring afternoons following Ianto about, needling him until they get a satisfying reaction. No one else seems to feel the need to use Ianto as their own personal punching bag the minute their life starts getting too stressful – well, Jack might, but that’s a whole other thing. Owen reflects, gloves soaked in green blood, that he probably spends more time shouting obscenities at Ianto than he does actually speaking to other people.
Hell, by Torchwood standards they are practically married.
Ianto has turned back into a zombie, which is not entirely unexpected. Gwen and Tosh just seem to be relieved that there probably won’t be bloodshed in the Hub for the foreseeable future, and they seem to have some agreement that they won’t try to talk Owen and Ianto into interacting again; things are too fragile.
Instead, they stay in a silence that’s so awkward that it’s practically come out the other side into normality, and grow plants in the greenhouse, and say very little. Occasionally there’s the odd here, I have made you some coffee, or Gwen’s not answering her phone, she has probably been eaten by that alien she went chasing after half an hour ago, or there are intestines all over level minus five, maybe you could do something about that. Generally these things get muttered without them looking at each other, and it’s worse than being angry because Owen really isn’t sure what the fuck is going on here. And he really wishes he did, because they just seem to be on an emotional slope, slipping further and further with no way of clawing their way back up again. And the worst part, the most annoying part, is that the majority of this would still have happened even if Jack hadn’t buggered off to wherever the hell he’s gone.
“These are… pretty,” Ianto says slowly.
It’s the end of a long day, which has involved far too much running about after homicidal aliens for Owen’s comfort, and while nobody died and only one person got eviscerated it’s kind of tragic that’s how they rate success these days. He’s retreated to the hothouse, where it’s quiet and warm and green and therefore kind of soothing; reclining against the plastic-wrapped bags of soil, sipping a mug of coffee and trying to pack it all into his head so he will be able to go home tonight without stopping off at a bar and trying to get someone to hit him.
Owen turns to look; Ianto has his hand cupped under one of the blooms on the vine of alien white roses Owen has been growing up the wall. They look kind of like normal roses, except there are too many petals and if you distil them they seem to work as really effective sleeping drugs, though Owen isn’t testing them on himself and therefore isn’t entirely certain; the rats might just be falling asleep. Rats do that.
“You don’t have to come and check on me, Ianto,” he says, offering the slightest hint of a smile. “I’m all right. I’m going to go home and tuck myself in with fucking Bovril or something, I’m not going to go roaming the streets looking for a fight.”
Ianto offers him a half-smile in return. “Nice to know.” He strokes his finger along a petal, careful, as though expecting it to bite. They do have biting plants in here, but they’re all in a corner where they can’t hurt people or the other vegetation. “But… these really are pretty.”
“Well,” Owen shrugs, “You did once say that you’d put out for flowers.”
Ianto’s expression remains neutral, but his eyes widen. “Owen?” His voice is unguarded, uncertain; it barely sounds like his.
Owen grimaces. “I may have worked out that you make up about seventy-five percent of my life,” he admits. He shifts a little on the floor, not even sure if he’s trying to make room for Ianto or not.
Ianto laughs. “Yeah, the unstable and damaged seventy-five percent,” he says, walking over. He sits down next to Owen, leaving a little space between them, leaning back against the plastic sacks as well. “This is weirdly comfy,” he observes.
Owen sighs, picking at his cuticles until one of them looks like it’s about to start bleeding, and finally mumbles: “I would be dead if it wasn’t for you.”
“Don’t you dare,” Ianto says softly. “I shot you. Don’t start setting me up as some kind of saviour.”
Owen feels the start of a genuine smile curling across his lips. “You’re a weird fucker, Ianto Jones, you know that?”
“I’ve certainly had it pointed out enough times to me by you, for one thing.”
“But, well, I’m clearly a weird fucker too, because you’re still the most stable and normal influence in my life,” Owen points out.
When he risks a glance at Ianto, the other man has a little crooked smile quirking his lips.
“Then I pity you,” he says.
“Oh,” Owen smirks, “Oh don’t, then when we shag I’ll be a pity-fuck and that’s just… depressing.”
Ianto looks a little flustered. “We’re not going to have sex!” he says, words stumbling over themselves.
Owen rolls his eyes. “Yes we are. We are going to have huge amounts of sex. Very possibly in this greenhouse.”
Ianto makes a face. “This won’t make anything better, you know that. In fact, it will probably makes things worse, and then we will actually kill each other, and –”
Owen cuts Ianto off by leaning awkwardly sideways and kissing him until he stops trying to say things. Ianto eventually gives in and kisses him back, fingers threading into Owen’s hair.
“I refuse to be just another part of your breakdown,” Ianto hisses after a while.
“If you’re going to bitch I’ll just go and find someone in a bar who won’t, and they’ll probably have some kind of Significant Other who will then beat me to a pulp,” Owen points out.
“You can’t emotionally blackmail me into sleeping with you,” Ianto mutters resentfully. “I still don’t like you that much.”
“Oh, ‘cause that makes all the difference,” Owen replies. “Anyway, you said I needed other things in my life. I have some plants. I have the possibility of getting laid. It’s all going to be fine.”
“It’s going to get worse,” Ianto prophesises, but his hand is indecently high on Owen’s thigh and his eyes are sparkling. “I am not your fucking saviour, remember?”
“Just shut up and go with it,” Owen orders.
And, amazingly, Ianto does.