Challenge/Prompt: fanfic100, 079. When?
Word Count: 12,380
Summary: Ianto is sent to rescue Owen from 19th Century London, but he’s less than impressed by what Owen has been doing to survive.
Author’s Notes: Also known as The Inadvisable Owen/Ianto Crack!Fic Of Potential Mental Instability. How’s this for slightly psychotic? I didn’t want to write an historical AU, but after seeing Burn as Bill Sikes in Oliver! (twice) I couldn’t get over the idea of Owen/Ianto in a Victorian setting. Which is where this utterly insane idea came from. I honestly wasn’t going to write it, but then… I did. *is broken* Obviously I’ve barely researched this; but that really wasn’t the object of the exercise. Oh, and I can’t remember when Queen Victoria established Torchwood, so let’s just say it exists, yeah?
Playing the part of a real trouble-maker
But I didn’t care.
- The Passions
On the third day, Jack finally breaks down and admits that he’s had tracking chips installed in all of them.
Ianto is the only one unsurprised by this, though he thinks he might view Jack slightly differently to the way Tosh and Gwen do. There are enough facets to Jack that they’re probably all right, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ianto believes Jack capable of anything, and Tosh and Gwen seem to think he’ll one day find a line and stop at it.
(He won’t. He can’t.)
While Tosh’s fingers leap over computer keys in her search for Owen’s signal throughout time – the Rift has taken him somewhere but no one has any idea where or even when – Gwen explains to Jack in great detail all the reasons why having tracking chips inside his employees is unethical.
“This is Torchwood,” Ianto reminds her. “There’s no such thing as ‘unethical’.”
Gwen’s mouth thins.
“It’s in the contract, you know,” Jack suggests brightly.
“It isn’t, sir,” Ianto tells him.
Jack gives him a calculating look. “Yeah,” he sighs, “You probably have read the entire Torchwood employee contract, haven’t you, Ianto?”
Ianto inclines his head.
“You could have mentioned this earlier,” Tosh mumbles, blue characters leaping across the screen. There’s alien tech of some kind wired up to the computer, though none of them – with the exception of Jack, of course, who is always the exception – know exactly what it’s actually doing.
“I thought we might find Owen by other means,” Jack tells her.
Jack isn’t fond of letting any of his secrets slip; that has always been painfully clear. Owen has been missing for three days and it’s only now that Jack finally deigns to admit his actions. Of course, Ianto wasn’t expecting any different, but he still has a bitter taste in his mouth. And he hates it, but he’s worried about Owen. Six months ago, he wouldn’t have been; but that was six months ago. A lot can happen in six months.
Too much can happen in six months.
“Time’s a tricky thing,” Jack muses, when Gwen finally runs out of things to yell at him. Invasion of privacy and all that. Ianto decides not to tell her that her flat is bugged; he gets the feeling it wouldn’t be welcome information.
“You are not helping,” Gwen grits.
The computers start bleeping urgently, and Tosh quickly brings up a screen, a curious mixture of anxiety and hope painted clear on her face.
“Well?” Gwen demands, knuckles white on the back of Tosh’s chair.
“…The eighteen-sixties,” Tosh says, sounding blank. “He’s in the eighteen-sixties.” She looks to Jack. “Is he even still alive?”
Jack nods. “The chip would tell you if he was dead,” he says. “It logs heartbeat, that sort of thing.”
“Creepy,” Ianto notes lightly. “Well, can we get him back?”
A frown has crept onto Jack’s face. “First, we need to work out how long he’s been there,” he says.
“Three days,” Tosh tells him. Jack shakes his head.
“The link between the past and the present is… a little odd,” he says. “Three days have passed for us, but for Owen… it could be minutes, it could be decades.”
Gwen’s eyes widen. “Bloody hell,” she murmurs.
Jack leans over Tosh and he types a string of numbers into the computer; Ianto thinks that Jack really knows a lot more about everything than he ever lets on, but knows this isn’t the time to bring it up. They stay silent, watching the computer perform its calculations, and Ianto hopes it hasn’t been decades because Owen can be a dick at times but he doesn’t deserve that. No one deserves that.
“…Ok”, Jack murmurs, tapping the enter key, and after a moment a few more numbers appear. Jack frowns at them, and then announces: “He’s been there three months.”
“Then it’s about time we got him back,” Gwen says. “When do we go?”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Jack replies steadily. “We have to send someone back in time to find him, but while I can get them to within a hundred miles of Owen I can’t find Owen for you.”
“Since you’ve had these incredibly invasive tracking chips installed inside us already,” Ianto says, “Couldn’t you have made them a little more helpful?”
Jack ignores him. “Whoever I send back is going to have to stay there until they find Owen,” he says. “Tosh, you can’t go, we need you here to help get the Rift open to bring Owen back.” He looks at Gwen. “It won’t be safe for you,” he says. “I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.”
Gwen opens her mouth, then seems to recall eighteen-sixties and shuts it again.
“You’re there, aren’t you?” Ianto says to Jack.
The corner of Jack’s mouth pulls into an approximation of a grimace. “Very possibly,” he replies.
Ianto sighs heavily. “If I contract typhoid I am going to be deeply unimpressed,” he mutters.
“There’s enough money in here for me to single-handedly cause an inflation of the economy,” Ianto tells Jack, staring down into his suitcase at the flimsy, strange-looking bank notes.
He feels a little like a pincushion; they’ve vaccinated him against everything they could think of. He has a suitcase full of money and medication, as much alien tech as Jack can weigh him down with, and some weaponry. It doesn’t feel like enough.
Jack is ignoring Ianto’s mild complaints, in the habit he has of ignoring everything that doesn’t quite fit into his world view.
“I’m giving you three days,” he tells Ianto. “Three days to find him.”
Ianto is fairly certain that he doesn’t want to spend three months in Victorian England, and then remembers that Owen has been there for that long already without the precautions Ianto is getting. He steels himself, and wishes he had no better nature for Jack to appeal to. Wishes he still hated Owen enough to want to leave him to his fate.
“And then what?” he asks.
“And then we’re pulling you out,” Jack replies calmly. His expression is resolute. “With or without Owen, we’re bringing you home.”
Ianto forces himself not to ask Jack to promise, because for one thing he knows Jack won’t, and for another it’s showing just a little too much vulnerability.
“I’m not trained for this,” he says quietly.
“No,” Jack agrees, equally softly, “No you’re not.”
He presses a kiss to Ianto’s forehead, sweet and resigned, and Ianto grits his teeth because he doesn’t want Jack to be saying goodbye.
Ianto sighs, thinking fuck this.
“We’re ready,” Tosh calls, the slightest crack in her voice.
Jack lets go of him and Ianto carries his suitcase – his lifeline – with him. Gwen and Tosh are looking at him as though they’re not expecting to see him again; Ianto accepts that they may actually have a point.
“You can do this,” Jack says with more conviction than he’s had in his voice for a long time.
Ianto bows his head, and then, before they can say anything more, reaches for the pulsing device and watches his world dissolve into coloured light.
It all works better than it should. Ianto rents a house in a ridiculously upper class area of London, manages to get hold of servants, and somehow no one questions his presence. He dresses in the latest fashions and finds himself thinking that the past is really not that bad a place after all.
It is 1867, and the queen is still tumbled into the deepest mourning for her dead husband. Ianto barely recognises London, and wastes a few days exploring the city, wandering the streets that he will one day walk with Lisa. Sometimes, it feels so familiar it hurts his chest, and at other times it seems another world, let alone another time period. People are different in a way that’s almost indefinable, but he’s learning to blend in.
One of the devices Jack has given Ianto lets him know that Owen is in London somewhere, but it’s a big city with too many cracks to fall between. Ianto hires men to look into what happened to Owen; a man arriving in unfamiliar clothes and a strange way of looking at the world must have been noticed by someone. Owen isn’t dead; someone must have helped him to survive, someone must know where he is.
Days pass in a strange, dizzying way; Ianto makes his own enquiries and pays money to his investigators, who continue to come back empty-handed. Owen has disappeared, but Ianto can’t give up hope. It’s not even that he can’t face what Jack will do if he returns without their doctor; it’s more the fact that somehow, impossibly, Owen is his friend, and Ianto cannot leave him here. He has seen enough of this world to know that to fall into it without money or connections is to drown.
It’s possible that the Victorian version of Torchwood has scooped Owen up and swallowed him whole, though Ianto has worked in the archives for years, and he’s never found any records of someone matching Owen. Still, it’s possible, and if Torchwood have him Ianto knows there’s very little chance of getting him back. There will be very little left of him to get back.
Nearly a fortnight later, Ianto is stopped as he leaves his house in the evening. A little boy, grubby and bright-eyed and nursing a truly horrible-sounding cough, catches his coat. Ianto’s hand flies straight to his pocket, and the boy gives him an incredulous look, an as if I’d be so obvious if I’d just nicked your wallet look. He’s young, but his eyes are too old.
“Heard you’re looking for someone,” the boy says, mangling the words in a thick cockney accent. Ianto tries – and fails – not to mentally label him Artful Dodger.
“I am,” he says carefully, warily.
“I’m good at finding people, me,” Artful Dodger adds.
Ianto is about to shove a shilling at him and tell him to be on his way when he reflects that it can’t hurt, can it? His other avenues are drying up, the men he’s employing starting to look worn and sheepish. Owen has apparently vanished without trace, and maybe Ianto needs someone a little closer to the street.
“All right,” he says. “I am looking for someone. If you can find them for me, you’ll be rewarded handsomely.”
The boy nods, a grin breaking across his dirty face. He’s missing three teeth.
“What’s his name, Mister?”
“Owen Harper,” Ianto responds.
He watches the smile fall from the boy’s mouth, notes him turning just a little pale under the grime.
“Owen Harper?” he repeats, the slightest quaver in his voice.
“Yes,” Ianto confirms. “I need to find him.”
“You don’t want to go finding Owen Harper,” Artful Dodger tells him firmly. “Mister, you seem nice enough for a toff and all, don’t you go getting yourself mixed up with the likes of him.”
Ianto honestly doesn’t know what to do with the warnings but he knows he has to disregard them, and deal with whatever Owen’s done later, when he’s got him.
“I must find Owen Harper,” he states. “Can you help me find him or not?”
Artful Dodger frowns for moment, then seems to reach a decision. “I can,” he says. “Have you got any other clothes, Mister? Ones that are less fancy?”
“I do,” Ianto replies. “Would you… like to come inside the house while I change?”
The boy scoffs. “And have your servants watching me, waiting for me to pinch the silver? Not likely.”
“I won’t be long,” Ianto assures him, and hurries back into the house.
He changes his clothes to plainer ones he acquired shortly after arriving on the off-chance something like this would happen, and, after a moment’s thought, slides his gun under his coat. Ianto’s not going to take any chances.
“Will this do?” he asks Artful Dodger; the boy casts an appraising eye over him.
“Should do,” he says. “Come on then.”
Artful Dodger lives up to his – admittedly imaginary – name; Ianto has to work to keep up with him. They quickly leave the streets Ianto knows, falling into the more disreputable parts of the city, the slums, where the houses are crowded together and the streets are filthy. Ianto tries to keep track of his surroundings, but even with his photographic memory, the streets all look the same, winding together. He supposes this could be a trap, but he thinks he can get out of it if it is, and he tries just to focus on Owen.
They come to an abrupt halt outside what seems to be a pub of some kind. There’s noise coming from inside, cheers and yells and banging, and the sign outside is so grubby and dilapidated Ianto can’t even get a name for it.
“He’s in there,” Artful Dodger informs him, jerking his head towards the door.
Ianto reminds himself that walking into the pub is not nearly as terrifying as dragging Doctor Tanizaki’s corpse down a corridor with the memory of Lisa’s dead eyes on every sob, and pulls himself together.
He drops two guineas into the boy’s upturned palm. “Thanks, Mister.”
Artful Dodger is halfway down a sidestreet before he turns and comes back to Ianto.
“Look, Mister, you seem decent enough, if you want my advice, you should go. Don’t look for Owen Harper.”
“I didn’t ask for your advice,” Ianto tells him, a little icily.
Artful Dodger shrugs. “Don’t mean you shouldn’t take it.”
He nods to Ianto and then streaks away, though Ianto can hear his hacking cough echoing off the walls of the alley.
A particularly loud roar from inside the pub draws his attention to the matter at hand. He takes a deep breath, and reaches for the door.
Two young men are fighting in a roped off area. The fight is brutal, visceral; their knuckles are bloody and their faces are bruised, noses running red. Neither of the men is Owen, though, so Ianto carefully shuffles around the screaming crowd, eyes flickering over the patrons.
A worn-looking prostitute drifts over to him, trailing her fingers down his arm in a way that Ianto thinks is meant to be seductive but it actually feels more desperate. He smiles and gently dissuades her, and she flounces off, trailing a mouthful of obscenities, only half of which he understands.
Artful Dodger said Owen would be here, and Ianto strains his eyes against the gloomy lighting, trying to see him. It’s too hot in here, too hot and close and crowded. People barely spare Ianto a glance, mainly focused on their own pleasures, on their own desperate attempts to escape the world they’re trapped in.
One of the fighting men is knocked out; the thud his body makes on the floorboards reverberates through the small building. Ianto turns to look, watching the spectators either crowing over their winnings or yelling abuse. Then, past the edge of the crowd, he spots movement, two men going outside. It should be nothing, but Ianto can’t stop himself from following, certain though he would never be able to say why. He shoulders through the people, not bothering to mumble apologies because they won’t be heard, wondering if he’s just chasing air. Maybe Artful Dodger lied, maybe Owen isn’t here, maybe he’s…
Stepping out of the heat into the cold night, Ianto’s musing are cut short.
One man has the other on the ground, and is systematically beating him to a pulp.
“Thought you could fucking cheat me, did you?” A kick to the ribcage that has the man curling over, spewing blood from his mouth. “Thought you could pull the fucking wool over my eyes, did you?”
It’s the same savage tone of voice that once spat: you’re just a teaboy at Ianto, but he doesn’t want to believe it. He takes a step closer.
“You go home and you tell that whore of a wife of yours that when I pay for goods I expect only the fucking best, understand?”
The man whimpers as his head is slammed into the cobblestones. Ianto flinches, and the attacker must catch the movement, because he looks up.
His face is shadowed by a battered black top hat and is smudged with dirt, but under the bright silver moonlight Ianto can see clearly.
“Owen?” he says softly.
Owen’s dark eyes are cold and hard and unforgiving, but Ianto detects a trace of play along in them, and in spite of himself he does. He doesn’t step in and try to stop Owen, though he wants to; he doesn’t move.
Owen directs a savage kick at the man’s arm, and Ianto hears the bone snap.
“You won’t try and fuck over Owen Harper again, will you?”
“N-no,” his victim slurs.
Owen steps over his body, his boot crushing the man’s hand and bringing one last scream of pain from him. His eyes catch Ianto’s for a moment, and then he turns and walks away.
Ianto follows at a reasonable distance, and isn’t surprised when his mind, seeking reassurance, throws up: I have a gun.
They walk through more twisting streets, until finally Owen stops at a house that looks no different from the dozens of others Ianto has passed today, and pushes open the door. Ianto walks in behind him, follows Owen up a flight of narrow stairs barely lit by guttering candles, before Owen unlocks another door, this one covered with peeling paint. Ianto walks inside, uncertain what to do or say.
Owen shuts the door behind them, walks across to pull curtains across the grimy windows, and lights enough candles to illuminate the room. It’s small, but Ianto doesn’t get to see much of it because Owen throws off his hat and his huge black coat, and stares at Ianto in the dim lighting.
“I thought…” he begins, and his voice is no longer the guttural rasp of earlier, but more like the real Owen, “I thought…”
He comes at Ianto like he’s going to hit him, then just clenches hands in his jacket. Owen is hyperventilating, and though Ianto wants answers he knows now isn’t the time to ask for them. Owen has been here nearly four months with no sign that the team were coming for him. Ianto curls his hands around Owen’s waist to help keep him upright, as Owen buries his face in Ianto’s shoulder and breathes raggedly. He doesn’t cry, but there’s shock and fear and relief there, so much that it’s nearly overwhelming.
Ianto is pinned against the door, and does his best to keep Owen standing, the wave of emotion crashing over him.
“You bastards,” Owen groans at last, “Oh, you bastards.”
“I’m sorry,” Ianto mutters against Owen’s dirty hair, “I’m so sorry.”
“I thought you weren’t coming,” Owen says weakly, “I thought it was too late.”
He pulls abruptly away from Ianto, swaying on his feet. He seems to want to say more, but all Owen manages to spit out is: “You bastards.”
Ianto decides he should wait until the shock is past before he says did I really just see you beat a man half to death? What the fuck, Owen?
“You’ve only been gone three days,” he says instead.
Owen frowns. “No,” he replies. “No, I haven’t.”
“Three days our time,” he says. “Not here.”
“Right.” Owen nods, and Ianto hopes he understands that they didn’t deliberately abandon him here for so long. “Are you taking me home now?”
“In two days’ time,” Ianto responds, and then realises how heavily significant his voice is.
“Oh,” Owen murmurs. “So… another two months, then?”
There’s the first sign of hope in Owen’s dark eyes, and Ianto hates to be the one to crush it. But he has to.
“Another two months,” he confirms.
Owen nods. “You should go,” he says. “We shouldn’t… we shouldn’t have this conversation tonight.”
Ianto understands what he means, and anyway he needs time to collect his thoughts. He needs time to process what he saw Owen doing so he can ask him about it in a way that’s nearly rational.
“I don’t know how to get out of here,” he admits.
Owen’s smile is rueful but nearly genuine. His hair has got longer, he’s lost too much weight, he’s smeared with grime. Ianto wonders exactly how much Owen has changed in the last three months.
“Lefts,” he says. “Just take every left and it gets you back to the… respectable parts of London.” His lips twitch a little more. “I couldn’t find my way around here to begin with either.”
Ianto nods. “Good idea,” he says, for lack of anything else.
“Come back here tomorrow,” Owen tells him. “Seven o’clock, I’ll be here.”
“All right,” Ianto agrees. “Seven o’clock.”
He walks out into the icy cold darkness, and tries to stay calm.
It’s a bad night. Ianto can barely sleep, his mind replaying what he’s seen over and over again. The relief at finding Owen alive and some degree of well has passed; now, he’s more interested in analysing what he’s seen, what he’s heard. When he shuts his eyes, he can see Owen breaking a man’s arm with a sharp kick, can see the savage twist of Owen’s mouth. There was a look on his face, a look Ianto hasn’t seen in a long time. All of them have wells of darkness and anger within them; they don’t let you into Torchwood without that internal bleakness. It looks like Owen has torn up every last ramification he had against his inner emptiness, and is drowning in it.
Ianto is restless all day, trying to reconcile the shaking wreck of relief that Owen made in his arms with the man in the bent top hat who attacked a man until he choked blood. Three months is a long time; Owen could be anyone by now.
The streets twist and coil around him as Ianto makes his way to Owen’s home. His gun bumps his hip with every step that he takes, and it doesn’t make him feel any safer. He doesn’t know what to say to Owen; Owen who has been changed so brutally by this other time. Ianto can’t blame him but he’s not sure he can forgive him either.
Owen is waiting for him outside his house, wearing a glower that Ianto doesn’t recognise because it’s crueller and scarier than anything Owen ever wore in the Hub. Ianto doesn’t miss the way people walking past edge around him, eyes downcast, flinching if they accidentally catch Owen’s gaze. They’re afraid of him, pure and simple, and that makes Ianto more than a little uneasy.
“Ianto,” Owen says, and his voice is the rough croak again. Keeping up appearances, maintaining the façade, and Ianto feels something like anger uncurl through him. Owen jerks his head and Ianto follows him inside, noting that a woman hurrying past throws him a look that’s easily as anxious as the one she bestows on Owen. Fear through association, and it makes his stomach churn.
The first thing that comes out of Ianto’s mouth, when they’re safely hidden in Owen’s room, is:
“What the hell have you done, Owen?”
Owen removes his battered top hat and runs a hand back through his flattened hair.
“I’ve survived,” he says grimly. In his tone, Ianto can read a myriad of ugly things, and knows that he’s meant to.
“Jesus Christ,” he says quietly, sinking into a chair.
Owen looks tired, but not repentant. “It’s sink or swim here, Ianto. I wasn’t exactly drowning in options.”
“So you built yourself an empire of fear?” Ianto demands.
“Yes,” Owen snarls, “Yes I did, because I wanted to live. I wanted to live in the hope that maybe one day you guys would deign to find me.” He sneers, mouth curling. “Nice to see I don’t even matter enough to have someone qualified as my rescuer.”
It stings, but Ianto has enough sense to know that Owen’s lashing out because Ianto has hurt him, and doesn’t rise to the bait. He stays silent, and counts in his head until Owen visibly calms down. It takes longer than it normally does, which isn’t a good sign.
“So you drew the short straw,” he says, a rueful, awkward smirk tugging his lips.
“Process of elimination,” Ianto replies, and watches Owen work through the thought process, nodding as he realises Ianto really was the only one who could come here.
“How’s the field work going for you?” he asks dryly.
Ianto shrugs. “I can think of things I’d rather be doing,” he replies.
“How long have you been here?”
“A month,” Ianto replies. “You’ve really slid under the radar.”
“Not where it matters,” Owen tells him, tone so deadpan that it sends a stripe of cold down Ianto’s spine.
“People are terrified of you,” Ianto says.
Owen nods. “Yep,” he agrees. He seems to register Ianto’s facial expression, because he sighs. “Better have them scared of me than trying to kill me, yeah? Don’t judge me, Ianto. You’d have done the same thing.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Ianto replies firmly.
Owen laughs, but he doesn’t sound amused. “No,” he says, “No, you wouldn’t have done, and you’d be bleeding in a gutter now with rats eating your eyeballs. I took the lesser of two evils.”
“And just what did you have to do to get everyone to fear you?” Ianto demands.
“You don’t want to know,” Owen tells him. When Ianto opens his mouth to argue, he cuts him off: “No, you really don’t want to know, believe me.”
“Fucking hell, Owen.”
“Jack didn’t send me here with a kiss and a gun and some money,” Owen replies savagely, “I was dumped here and I did what I had to.”
“That’s not an excuse,” Ianto responds, unable to stop himself from being judgemental.
“No,” Owen agrees, “But it’s all I’ve got.” His mouth twists. “I’ve got this room and this hat and other people’s money and the paper-thin excuse that I did it because I had to. You can come along and promise that we’ll get home, but this is more concrete than anything you can give me.”
Ianto sighs, standing up and taking a card from his coat. “My address,” he says, putting it on Owen’s table when the other man doesn’t move to take it. “If you need anything.”
“I don’t need anything from you,” Owen snaps.
“No,” Ianto agrees, making his way to the door. “Anything you want, you can take. You can demand it and people will trip over themselves to get it to you.”
It’s enough for one night. It’s too much for one night.
Ianto is keeping servants mostly through throwing money at them and letting them think he’s a very rich but eccentric young man, so that they sigh and shake doubtful heads but don’t pay too much attention to his comings and goings. He doesn’t have a lot to say for himself and never throws dinner parties or has guests, and he knows he’s irritating a lot of his servants because of his inherent tidiness. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t have servants at all, but he doesn’t think he could keep a whole Victorian house running without them. At least, not without access to some industrial strength modern cleaning products.
He leaves it a couple of days before going to find Owen again; he thinks they both need breathing space, time to come to terms. Ianto reads books and takes walks in St James’ park and misses being able to do things like filing and disinfecting to distract himself. There’s something very zen about filing; it doesn’t really require much thinking, so you can get the job done while letting your mind wander. But there’s no filing to be done, and Ianto drives himself mad trying to work out what to say to Owen.
Artful Dodger passes him in the street one morning.
“Did you find him?” he asks.
“I did,” Ianto replies.
The boy’s eyebrows lift. “You’re still alive,” he observes. “He must like you. I didn’t think Owen Harper liked anyone.”
“I’m not sure he likes me,” Ianto sighs, but it’s not a conversation he’s about to have. The kid really doesn’t need to know about any of the complicated stupid things Owen and Ianto have done to each other since Ianto begged his way into a job at Torchwood. But there is one thing he can ask Artful Dodger. “Why is everyone so afraid of him?” he enquires.
Artful Dodger laughs. “He’s mad,” he responds simply. “Oh, I could tell you stories about Owen Harper that’d turn your hair white, Mister.”
“Go on,” Ianto says.
The boy shakes his head. “You like him,” he says, “I can see it in your eyes. If you don’t know the truth, I ain’t going to tell you.”
Ianto could push it, but decides not to. He finds a sixpence in his pocket, and flicks it to Artful Dodger, who catches it expertly.
“What’s this for?” he asks.
Ianto shrugs. “Lunch is on me,” he replies.
Artful Dodger gives him a suspicious look, and then a gap-toothed smile.
“You’re all right, Mister,” he decides. “You really ought to stay away from Owen Harper.”
Then he’s off, dodging his way through the crowd.
“I know,” Ianto sighs to no one in particular.
He watches Artful Dodger disappear and reflects that he really should learn the kid’s actual name at some point.
It’s getting easier to navigate the tangled streets, Ianto finds, the cool night air stinging his face and hands. He notes a few people giving him distrusting looks; maybe they’ve seen him with Owen and are already working under the assumption he’s a psychopath. Ianto thinks about the things he’s done in his time at Torchwood, and reflects that maybe he is.
He thinks he should probably be more scared than he is; after all, armed or not, these streets are dangerous. There’s a level of brutality here that is rarely seen in his own time, and it’s enough to make his stomach churn.
Round the back of the pub whose name he’s apparently never going to learn Ianto finds Owen, screaming a thick mouthful of expletives and slamming a man’s head repeatedly into the ground. In the shitty lighting, Ianto can see red smearing across the stone, and the man is gasping and whimpering thickly, incomprehensible pleas spilling out.
“Get off him!” Ianto shouts, because he cannot watch Owen do this again. He will not stand idly by and let Owen beat someone to death in front of him.
Owen raises his head, a pure feral anger on his face that Ianto hasn’t seen for a long time, something he thought Owen had laid to rest.
“Turn around, Ianto,” he snarls. “Walk away.”
“No,” Ianto replies, sharp and hard, “Get the fuck off him.”
They glare at each other for a moment in the moonlight, and then Owen cracks his victim’s head against the ground once more and stands up. Ianto is on his knees beside the man a moment later, feeling for a pulse; he’s relieved when he finds it.
“I haven’t killed him, Ianto,” Owen tells him, sounding tired, “He won’t serve as an example if he’s dead.”
“Fucking Christ!” Ianto breathes. “Owen, are you listening to yourself?”
Owen scowls. “Piss off, Ianto,” he mutters.
Ianto has walked away from this too many times. “No,” he responds. “We’re doing this Owen.”
Owen’s face crumples into a weird combination of a sneer and a scowl, and jerks his head.
“We’re not doing this here,” he tells him.
“Right,” Ianto mutters, following him anyway, “‘Cause we wouldn’t want to damage your reputation as a psychopath or anything, would we?”
“That reputation is the only thing keeping me alive,” Owen snarls.
Ianto knows this, though he wishes he didn’t, so he keeps quiet until they’ve walked up the narrow splintery stairs and back into Owen’s room. Owen ditches his coat and hat and turns around, spreading his arms.
“Let me have it,” he says. “Go on, Ianto, do what you do best. Judge the fuck out of me.”
“Well, you do make it so damn easy,” Ianto snaps back, before he can stop himself, and realises that Owen is doing this deliberately. He’s trying to take it down to a petty, trivial level so that they can’t talk about the actual problem here, and Ianto is not going to let him. “God, Owen, I want to say I’m surprised at what you’re doing, but I’m not.”
Owen frowns. “It wasn’t easy waking up one morning to discover that becoming a psychopath isn’t all that hard, if that’s what you mean.”
Ianto arches an eyebrow. “Is that what you’re telling yourself?”
Now, Owen looks hurt. “Oh come on Ianto, you can’t seriously believe I would willingly-”
“I’ve just watched you bash a man’s teeth out on a cobblestone, Owen,” Ianto interrupts. “I don’t know what to think about you any more, I really don’t.”
“Fine,” Owen sighs. He looks exhausted. “Well, I suppose we’re done here then, aren’t we?”
“Do you even know what you’ve done?” Ianto demands. “Or do you just sweep it all under a rug and label it I Had To?”
Owen takes three steps closer; he’s shorter than Ianto but that doesn’t make him any less intimidating.
“I know what I’ve done,” he snarls, soft, voice trembling. “I just can’t think about it ‘cause Freud is about ten years old and no one’s invented therapy yet.” There’s something almost pleading in his tone; as though he wants Ianto to let this all go and forgive him. Ianto can’t; Ianto won’t.
“You’re worse than the Weevils,” he says.
Owen swiftly covers any emotional wounds with a sharp scowl. “How’d you make that out?” he asks.
“The Weevils don’t know what they’re doing,” Ianto responds.
Owen’s mouth curls into a truly nasty smile. “You’re forgetting who spent all that time researching Weevils. Don’t fool yourself Ianto; the Weevils know exactly what they’re doing.”
Ianto doesn’t let his expression flicker, and takes a breath. “You’re right,” he says.
Owen looks slightly disconcerted. “I am?”
“Yeah,” Ianto nods. “I think we’re done here. I’ll come and find you when it’s time to go.”
“Don’t bother,” Owen mutters.
Ianto is not in the mood for Owen’s self-destructive shit. “Maybe I won’t,” he snaps.
He doesn’t miss the shock that passes over Owen’s face before he turns and walks away; he doesn’t look back.
Victorian London is boring, Ianto discovers. He’s lost interest in exploring the city, and is in no mood to socialise with people he’ll only know for another few weeks, and who died long before he was ever born. He spends most of his time trying not to think about Owen, and subsequently gives way too much thought to the other man. It makes him angry and restless, and he spends hours rearranging the bookcases with an increasingly complicated cross-referencing system until the servants start giving him anxious looks and muttering to each other.
Ianto is very probably insane, and he knows this, but not in the way that they think. He’s hopelessly homesick; missing pottering around the Hub with Jack’s casual propositions at inappropriate times, Tosh’s quiet sweetness, Gwen’s determined sense of justice, and even the Owen they used to have, who was vile to Ianto over cups of coffee but patched him up whenever he was hurt anyway. He misses his flat and his ipod and Dettol and decent coffee and post-it notes and food with actual vitamins in it and television and the internet and clothes that don’t take half an hour to put on.
Besides, he has the horrible suspicion that the others have already broken the coffee machine, because it is his baby and responds to no one but him, and he’s going to get home to it making betrayed clanky noises.
Three months is a long time, he reflects; a hell of a long time, and certainly enough time to go insane in. There are no excuses for Owen, because the man has killed people and tortured people and destroyed people’s livelihoods, and Ianto isn’t sure whether he can forgive him or not, but it makes sense. Owen thought he was stuck here and maybe he is stuck here (Ianto tells himself to trust Jack because if he doesn’t then he’ll succumb to cloying despair) and madness is the next logical step.
He can’t save Owen, though he wishes he could, and he can’t apologise because he has nothing to say. He doesn’t regret a word, and that’s perhaps the worst part.
Ianto sleeps badly at night, and dreams in Weevils and Lisa and thick trails of blood in narrow corridors. Torchwood fucks you up if you’ll let it – actually, it fucks you up even if you don’t – and it puts you into the darkest, most horrific of situations. Being stuck in Victorian London is not the end of the world and is by no means the worst thing that’s ever happened to Ianto, but he’s getting worn out and tired and impatient, and his faith is thinning.
It’s been almost three weeks since Ianto has seen Owen, and he has to repeatedly tell himself that he doesn’t want to seek out the other man because he knows what he’ll find. He won’t find Owen terrified and lost and lonely, he’ll find him angry and vicious and his hands smudged with someone’s blood.
Ianto’s butler comes in when he’s having afternoon tea – admittedly, they do do good tea in this time period; it’s one of the only saving graces – looking particularly disdainful.
“There’s a boy at the door, sir,” he says. “I told him to go but he was most insistent that he see you. Would you like me to call the police?”
Ianto puts down his teacup so hard that hot liquid splashes over the sides. “No,” he replies, “No, I’ll deal with him.”
His butler looks even more disdainful at this, but inclines his head. “As you wish, sir,” he says.
Ianto hurries down the stairs and outside to find Artful Dodger waiting for him, hands shoved in his pockets.
“What is it?” Ianto asks.
“It’s Owen Harper,” the boy replies. “I know you’re his friend.”
Ianto sighs. “That’s one way of putting it,” he mutters.
“Well, it don’t matter,” the boy says, “Either way, he’s dying. I thought you should know.”
And then he’s gone, racing off before Ianto can ask for any details
“Oh,” Ianto says, the breath rushing out of him, “Oh bloody hell, Owen.”