They had all been trying to hold it together and it was hardly their fault that they weren't and they were screwing everything up.
Ianto was in the kitchen making coffee and trying to work out how many hours it had been since he'd last slept. He rubbed his eyes, tiredly, and tried to count. He'd been quiet ever since Jack disappeared, reverting back to how things used to be when he'd been desperate not to draw attention to himself and all he could think about all day long was Lisa and how she was dying in front of him.
But everyone's been quiet, since-.
Since Jack disappeared.
Ianto had kissed Jack in front of everyone (or rather, Jack had kissed Ianto, but regardless of the particulars, it had happened) and then all of a sudden it wasn't anyone's suspicion any more, it was cold hard fact that no one could dispute. Ianto had felt like he was betraying Lisa all over again.
Owen had shot Jack, and Owen had cried, and Owen had fucked himself and his ethical code and he couldn't forgive himself. He'd been echoingly, disturbing quiet ever since and had barely said a word.
Gwen wasn't speaking to Owen. The guilt was etched all over her face, all day every day and she'd barely come into the Hub at all since. She spent all her time with Rhys, driving him slowly mad because she wouldn't leave him alone and making excuses for why she wasn't in work. When she did bother coming in she looked exhausted, like she'd barely slept. One morning, when Ianto had taken her into the kitchen, she'd sat down on the kitchen floor leaning up against the cupboards, and she'd told Ianto in a flat voice that she couldn't sleep in case something happened to him, in case he left her again.
Tosh was even more withdrawn then she had been, somehow sidelined in the events leading up to Jack's surprise departure. She sat at her desk and worked through complicated theorems and asked Ianto who would miss her if she went. She drank too much coffee and stayed up too late and looked at Owen too much.
They had all been trying to hold it together and it was hardly their fault that they weren't and they were screwing everything up. Somewhere underneath the layer of numb resignation Ianto had cloaked himself in, he wished that Jack were just dead. At least that way—if he'd stayed dead the way other people did—then at least they could have blamed him and let it be real and tried to move on. As it was, he had just left them, gone somewhere where they couldn't find him, gone somewhere and left them to deal with all of it—dying and living and trying to make the best of things. They didn't know if he was coming back and that was somehow worse than knowing he was dead. Sometimes it was all Ianto could do not to throw things at the wall and watch them shatter and break in front of him.
He tried it one Tuesday, half heartedly throwing a glass. It was one of Jack's, the kind he used to swill whisky in and stare down into and need disturbing from. It made a firecracker snap as it hit the wall, falling heavily to the floor in just two pieces. He bent down to pick it up and he found the glass fractured inside. It was beautiful, fragmented and crystallised and he'd stared at it for a long time before he'd felt like he could do something with it. Even when he'd wrapped it in a paper towel, he hadn't wanted to get rid of it. Instead, he'd dragged out the tiny step ladder and climbed up to the empty boxes on top of the cupboards and left the glass there, waiting.
It was only when he'd put the step ladder away and looked down that he realised he'd cut his thumb open on the glass, leaving bloody finger prints on the ladder and on the counter and blood meandering across his palm in red rivulets.
He stood at the door to the kitchen area and wrapped a tea towel around the cut, pressing hard. He generally knew what to do with injuries, but he wasn't sure what to do with the hurt.
Owen came over after a minute, pushing him back into the kitchen and down onto a chair. He unwrapped the tea towel and didn't say a word, not even meeting Ianto's eye. Instead. He wiped away the blood with an antiseptic wipe and checked the cut for glass fragments and ferreted around in the First Aid box for a dressing and some tape. Ianto was allergic to plasters, and it looked like Owen had remembered. Ianto watched as Owen got on with it, taping up his thumb with careful, measured movements.
It was only afterwards, when Owen leaned back on his haunches, that Ianto realised Owen's hands were shaking. Owen didn't look at him, just said, "Don't-" and his voice shook slightly, a hitch in the undertone. "Be more careful, okay?"
Ianto watched him for a moment. He took Owen's hand in his and held it until Owen stopped shaking. Owen watched the floor.
Then Owen pulled away and closed the First Aid box and went back to his desk, where he stared at the screen and made notes on a pad of paper and didn't say anything when Ianto brought him a coffee a bit later on.
Ianto wanted to say who looks after you? but he didn't, because Owen hadn't ever needed looking after before, and he was staring so fixedly at his screen that Ianto could see a muscle pulsing in his cheek. Instead, he sighed and made a space for the coffee cup in between Owen's clutter and went over to see Tosh, who was busy and involved in some complicated biorhythm project. Ianto put her mug down on her coaster (Ianto had brought it down from the Tourist Office for her once, a Welsh slate circle emblazoned with the red dragon and Cymru written underneath in red writing) and dropped a hand onto her shoulder, squeezing gently. She froze for a moment before covering his hand with her own. She didn't look at him, just said thanks, quietly, and went back to tapping away at her keyboard.
Gwen wasn't in, hadn't come in. He left a message on her answerphone - light-hearted in case Rhys caught it by accident - asking her to check in. It was what Jack would have done.
When Ianto got back to his own coffee, it was cold. He tipped it away and didn't make another.
Ianto used to spend a lot of time up in the Tourist Office, organising things from the back room. He'd spent a lot less time up there recently, since Lisa. But things had changed, things had gone back to the way things were and Ianto was back up there selling tourists the odd map and directing them to his wall of leaflets of local attractions. Considering everything that had happened over the past few months, Ianto was aware how strange it was that things had reverted backwards. Learning curves were all supposed to be about moving forward, but after it all, after everything, after Suzie and Lisa and Jack and Suzie and Jack and Jack and Jack, he was back where he had started. Things were worse than ever because he knew what things could be like.
Ianto tried not to think about Jack, who held everything—and everyone, it appeared, although that was something he'd only understood since—together. Jack offered him touch when he had needed to feel and Jack had reminded him to breathe. Jack hadn't been a long term option, because Jack couldn't offer anyone long term even if he'd wanted to. Ianto knew that much about Jack, which might have been more than Jack himself knew. Ianto didn't think Jack knew he was just waiting. Jack could offer now and he offered it on his terms only. Ianto sort of loved him a bit, loved him for being there and sort of understanding and sort of needing Ianto as much as Ianto needed Jack.
There was a tiny scar above Ianto's knuckle on his thumb, a remnant of his cut from the broken glass. Ianto didn't scar easily and there was nothing to remind him of his run-in with countryside cannibals or Torchwood One or Lisa or any of the other missions he'd been involved in over the months. Just a tiny white scar on his thumb when all he was trying to do was forget.
Gwen had been at work more, recently. She called Rhys at all hours of the day and night and still wouldn't talk to Owen. Owen didn't seem to care, just getting on with whatever he was doing. Tosh watched him. Ianto thought she probably didn't realise he knew; she would watch him whilst she was eating a sandwich or picking at a salad or eating takeaway noodles straight from the foil container.
Gwen ate without looking at anyone, although she didn't know what to do or how to do it with Jack around to tell her. She might as well not have been there. Except the rift had been uncharacteristically quiet,since. No one needed her to do anything other than show up.
There wasn't anything for any of them to do, and they probably wondered haphazardly if Jack had had anything to do with that.
Except Ianto was the only one of them to realise that Jack wasn't really anything special. Just some guy. Some guy who sort of loved each of them.
Even though he didn't love them enough to stay.
Owen came up to see him in the Tourist Office, leaning against the door jamb with his hands in his pockets. Ianto was cooking the books, putting them in some semblance of order in case some over enthusiastic tax man got to see them before Torchwood could employ all it's governmental power and delete their names from the records. Torchwood might have been outside the government, outside the United Nations, outside everybody (God, Ianto was sick of being on the outside, he was sick of being out in the cold) but it didn't mean they didn't have carefully fused links and networks.
Ianto didn't look up.
"I'm going out to get some food," Owen said, eventually. "Do you want to come?"
Tosh and Gwen had both gone home already, leaving just him and Owen. Ianto watched him for a minute. Owen was wearing trainers, toeing the worn carpet behind the information desk.
Ianto swallowed and wondered how long they could all keep this up. "Ok," he said, after a moment. He capped his pen and slid open his top drawer, putting away the notes he had across his desk and carefully locking them away. He saved the document on the computer and shut it down. Everything he did nowadays was slow; he couldn't remember what it felt like to have energy.
Owen didn't hurry him, just watched from the doorway.
They ended up in a Japanese place down by the docks, wandering there in relative silence. Owen stuffed his hands deep in his pockets and didn't look at him. Ianto thought about what Jack was doing now, and hated him just a little more than he loved him, just for a moment.
Owen ordered the hottest, spiciest thing on the menu whilst Ianto had his usual, chicken noodle broth. They had ginseng beers and Ianto asked for green tea as well.
Whilst they waited for their food, Ianto stared out of the window and Owen looked at his hands, slowly shredding a napkin to pieces.
"Do you think he's coming back?" Owen asked, finally.
"Of course," Ianto said, automatically. It was the same answer he gave Tosh whenever she asked. Gwen didn't ask, she just rang Rhys to see if he was ok and if there was anything special he wanted for tea and didn't make eye contact with Ianto.
Owen laughed. It didn't reach his eyes and he took a gulp from his beer bottle. "You don't mean that," he told Ianto.
Ianto's fingers tapped out a rhythm on the back of the drinks menu. "Jack's coming back," Ianto said, slowly.
"Yeah, course he is." Owen shook his head. "That's why he left us like that, no notice, no word, no nothing. Just left us to fall apart, and you're telling me he cares enough to come back?"
"He cares," Ianto said, quietly.
Owen shook his head. "You say that just because he was shagging you behind everyone's back? It wasn't enough to make him stay, Ianto."
"It wasn't like that," Ianto said, carefully. It had been- different. More. Less?
"Yeah, well." Owen downed the rest of his beer and called for another one.
Ianto peeled the label off his beer bottle and didn't say anything.
Half way through the food, Owen leaned over and touched Ianto's wrist with the tips of his fingers. "Do you really think he's coming back?" he asked, quietly.
"Of course," Ianto said, his voice brittle.
Owen watched him for a long moment before taking another mouthful.
They had coffee and walked back along the quay, quiet and awkward.
Outside the door to the tourist office, Owen pushed Ianto back against the damp wall and kissed him, fingers in his hair. His breath tasted like coffee.
Ianto didn't respond for a moment, hands down by his side. He thought, Jack, oh, and then his mouth opened under the insistent pressure of Owen's and he kissed back, hard. His hand cupped Owen's cheek as he kissed him, pushing against Owen's body and tasting mints and coffee and the faint reminder of their shared meal.
Owen pulled away, breathing tight. He wiped his mouth and stared at Ianto. "Still think Jack's coming back for you, Ianto?" he asked, shaking his head.
Ianto closed his eyes. "Go home, Owen."
When he opened them, Owen had gone.
This thing had come through the rift and ended up eating a girl's leg; Owen had taken the SUV and Tosh had called it in from the base. Gwen refused to go anywhere where it would just be her and Owen, so Ianto had ended up shutting up shop and going along with the two of them, sat in the back seat and watching them ignore each other. It reminded him of growing up with his parents and he sort of wanted to bang their heads together because they were behaving like children. He wanted to say Jack's gone, we just have to make the best of it, but that would mean admitting to himself that Jack might not come back and Ianto wasn't quite there yet.
Instead, he looked out of the window at the passing Cardiff scenery and thought about what Lisa would have made of him now. Lisa, who'd been fun. They'd lived together, for a bit, and he knew he was lucky that he could think back and remember it in a haze of eating out and having friends round and watching TV on a Sunday morning with his feet in Lisa's lap reading the Sunday supplements. He was thankful it never got to that point where they hated each other and hated everything about each other and tore each other apart with silences and reproach. She'd been such a affectionate kisser too; measured and kind and warm. She'd tasted like honey and sugar and all those sweet things people dreamed of. Jack had told him more than once that Ianto was slowly changing their history into something rose tinted, and that no one else would ever be able to live up to this image Ianto had in his head of how things should be. He'd shouted at Ianto, that night, told him he had to let her go. Remember some arguments or how she used up all the hot water or always forgot he didn't like green peppers and or watching James Bond films.
Ianto had shaken his head and just said, no, you didn't know her. She was perfect.
He had to remember the good things or he couldn't sleep for the hot stench of skin fused with metal.
Jack had said, no one's perfect, Ianto. No one. and his voice had been so sad that Ianto had buried his head in Jack's shoulder and breathed him in, warm and spicy and alive.
After they brought the thing down—a shooting match, unsurprisingly, because Owen was in charge and that was how he did things—and Gwen was sat on a bench, covered in the guts of a hungry The'ddraudan, Ianto watched Owen kick the creature in what passed for its stomach. "Bastard," he shouted, and he kicked even harder.
"Owen-" Ianto said, glancing sideways to Gwen for help. She didn't look up.
Owen kicked the back of the SUV, he punched over a bin and kicked again at the dead The'ddraudan. "Bastard," he shouted, and Ianto shook his head and grabbed Owen's arms, holding him back, fingers pressed into his wrists. "He's a bastard," Owen said eventually, quieting, softly, his breathing harsh and fast.
"I know," Ianto said, equally softly, and his thumb rubbed the inside of Owen's palm. "I know."
Gwen stood up and asked to be dropped outside her and Rhys's flat.
"But your clothes-" Ianto said, eyeing her up and down. "I was going to take them to the dry cleaners."
"They'll go through the washing machine," Gwen said resolutely. "Let's bag him up and get out of here."
Owen closed his eyes. "Ok," he said, and Ianto let go of him. "I'm ok. Let's do it."
Back at the Hub, Tosh was waiting for them with fresh clothes and binliners for their dirty ones. "Hot water's on," she told them, indicating the showers. "I've ordered pizza."
Ianto nodded and watched as Owen stalked off to the showers. "Are you ok?" he asked Tosh, because there were dark circles under her eyes.
"Of course," she said, not looking him in the eye. "Just hungry."
They ate pizza with damp hair, sat around the desk in Jack's office. No one spoke, and Tosh only managed two slices before she had to leave. "I can't-" she said, abruptly. "I've forgotten I've got something on tonight."
Ianto held her hand briefly before she left. She squeezed it without looking at him, slipping into her jacket and away home.
Owen and Ianto finished the pizza and then started on Jack's whisky, swirling it around the bottom of heavy cut-glass sat on the floor and staring at the ceiling.
"Are you ok?" Ianto asked eventually, breaking the silence. He poured them both another shot.
Owen sat back on his elbows. "What do you think?"
Ianto shrugged. "I think you're barely holding it together. Like the rest of us. I think you're starting to hate Jack."
"I could never hate Jack," he said, sharply.
"I can," Ianto told him. Quietly. "Sometimes I hate him more than I love him."
Owen closed his eyes. "What was it like," he asked, "with Jack?"
Ianto huffed a laugh. "It was-" He didn't have words, not really. Jack had sort of saved him from himself, and that hadn't been about the sex. Jack just held him together when Ianto couldn't do it anymore, and then when Ianto didn't need holding together anymore it had just been their secret, this thing that they did and that they'd sort of come to rely on to get them through the working week. "It was just Jack," he said eventually, because Jack could no more be explained than a black hole or theoretical physics. "He was just, there."
Owen knocked back the remains of his whisky and held the glass out for more. "And me?" he said, softly. "Am I just here?" His fingers curved around Ianto's upper arm, thumb brushing his inner elbow.
Ianto watched for a moment, his heart beating faster as Owen's fingers continued to stroke their circular pattern down his arm until they reached his wrist. "You're-" he said, and then stopped.
"Yeah?" Owen said, and his voice caught. "God, I hate him sometimes."
Ianto leaned over and let his fingers touch Owen's jaw. "It's ok," he said quietly. "It's ok to hate him."
"I don't want to, though," Owen said, through clenched teeth, "I just want him to be here, to do his job so I don't have to do it, to make Gwen look at me again and Tosh not look at me the way that she does, and for you not to think the worst of me, and I just want Jack back." His voice broke and a sob caught in his throat and Ianto cleared the distance and pressed his mouth to Owen's, stopping him.
Owen tasted like fear and desperation, and Ianto wondered if this is what he'd tasted like, when Jack had tried to hold him together the only way he knew how. Owen kissed back, his hands coming up to feel Ianto's face, touching his hair and beneath his ears and in the hollow at the base of his neck. Ianto's breath hitched as Owen's thumb brushed his collar bone and he tugged at Owen's t-shirt, pulling it up so he could touch Owen's stomach with the tips of his fingers.
Ianto hadn't always been a little bit gay. He hadn't been gay at all, not really, not until after Lisa-. He just. Being here was different, like there were different rules and it was acceptable for the lines to blur and fade away. His fingers stroked Owen's stomach, hesitant underneath it all, and Owen kissed him harder, pulling at Ianto's spare trousers so he could get inside. Ianto wasn't hard, and it took Owen's insistent fingers curling around his cock for him to harden. Ianto gasped against Owen's mouth and his fingers scrabbled at Owen's fly. His hand fisted around Owen's erection and Owen moaned softly.
Ianto's fingers twisted and he jerked at Owen's cock, breath hitching and catching as Owen awkwardly did the same to him. The angle was difficult and they should have moved the whisky bottle, so Ianto pulled away and knelt over Owen, pulling Owen (breath hurried) up onto his knees. Owen leaned up to kiss him again, bringing him off with long, hard, desperate strokes that had Ianto fixing a staccato rhythm around Owen's own erection. He could feel it pooling in his belly, the tightening. His hips jerked and all he could think about was Jack, Jack kissing him and fucking him and making him blush as he fingered him.
"Oh-" Owen said, words loud in the still room, and Ianto opened his eyes and met Owen's gaze, dark and wide and dangerous.
"Owen," Ianto breathed, clutching Owen's shoulder. He came, hot pulses against Owen's chest and cock. His rhythm on Owen's erection faltered, and Owen's hand closed around his—wet and hot—to finish the deal. It didn't take very long, and Owen buried his head in Ianto's chest for a moment after he came.
Ianto wondered if it had been Jack's name on Owen's breath as he'd come.
Moments later, they pulled away and tried not to look at each other. "I should go," Owen said, not meeting Ianto's eye.
Ianto swallowed, and stood up. "Ok," he said, and he sighed. He pressed a tired kiss to the corner of Owen's mouth and said, "It's ok, you know. Jack will come back."
Owen watched him for a moment. "Yeah," he said. "I'll see you in the morning."
Once he was alone, Ianto opened the cupboard door and buried his head in Jack's coat, desperate to find some trace of him still there.
There wasn't any, and Ianto closed the door and locked the office and went to take another shower before going home.