Word Count: 7385
Copyright: Deep by Nine Inch Nails (yesyes I know, shush)
Summary: Gleefully AU. “Ianto still believes he’s been in a coma the last couple of years and has been re-recruited to Torchwood One following his awakening.”
Author’s Notes: As with most things O/I that I write, this is sort of fluffy in a brutal way. Well, fluffy by my standards anyway. I came up with the plotbunny in Berlin, but then I watched Torchwood on my ipod on the train to Munich, and got all upset and angry, so I thought I would wait until I got home to actually write it. The plotline is basically personal crack and is therefore kind of silly, but I quite like it anyway.
I have not yet watched CoE as I don’t feel emotionally ready yet. I don’t think it’ll come up, but please bear this in mind in any comments you may choose to leave!
‘Someday’ fades away
Like a memory
Or a place that you’d rather be.
-Nine Inch Nails
It starts – again – as all good things do; with a barefaced lie.
Ianto Jones, in his crisp pinstripe suit, the remains of a black eye still mildew-green on his face, frowns a little at Owen Harper and says: “Have we met before?”
Owen’s a cunt and way out of his depth, and in any case isn’t about to say well, actually, I gave you that black eye the last time I let you come inside me. Instead, he meets Ianto’s gaze square-on, and says: “No”.
On returning to the Hub, Owen goes straight to the autopsy room and stays very quiet for far too long, while Gwen and Tosh exchange nervous looks and don’t go to check on him. Eventually, Owen emerges and makes for the coffee machine, filling the Hub with the screams of steam and the crunching of levers being manhandled in a way they’re entirely unused to.
(Yeah, well, Owen thinks savagely, your daddy’s fucked off, you’d better get used to it.)
“Are you going to talk about it?” Gwen asks, when he finally chucks himself into his workstation chair.
“Nothing to talk about,” Owen shrugs.
“Ianto-” Tosh begins.
“-is perfectly happy,” Owen interrupts. “Ianto still believes he’s been in a coma the last couple of years and has been re-recruited to Torchwood One following his awakening. He’s a dedicated worker and perfectly contented as a receptionist, and his superiors have no reason to believe the retcon stamp is going to wear off. Ianto is fucking fine.” He spits every single word, hurt and anger mangling them, while Tosh looks miserable and Gwen looks impassive.
“Well, that’s good then,” she says, in her far too calm Temporary Leader voice.
“Good for who?” Owen demands. “Good for us? With Jack gone and even the teaboy abandoning ship-” (“Owen!” Tosh says sharply, but there’s no one to take offence any more; and besides, Ianto seemed to take great delight in having Owen facedown against the sheets, growling “call me that again” with a threat and promise in his tone) “-or good for Ianto, pottering about contentedly brain-damaged?”
“Ianto made the choice,” Gwen responds, still determinedly calm, “And we will bloody well support him.”
“Fuck that,” Owen mutters. “Or shall we all edit our memories and wander back to our old lives, and let Cardiff choke on the scum of the universe?”
“Shut up, Owen,” Gwen says, and she doesn’t understand at all. Owen isn’t even sure that he understands, and he’s tangled up somewhere in the middle of the whole thing. He picks up his coffee mug, taking a mouthful, and it’s crap of course, because Ianto was the only one who could make the machine dance to his tune. He considers chucking the cup at the wall, but doesn’t. He knows it won’t make him feel any better.
Jack vanished without trace six months ago; they all dealt with it badly, viciously. People have died who shouldn’t have died and Owen and Ianto started shagging out of a sort of desperately miserable inevitability. They weren’t surprised; Owen was slightly embarrassed and he suspects Ianto was a little disappointed in himself, but, for all that, there was nothing shocking.
The unusual part, the part that Owen didn’t see coming (because who could?) was the part where Torchwood One picked itself up, dusted itself off, and found a new shiny London office block with too much glass to rehouse itself in. It wouldn’t have happened if Jack were still around, Owen is sure of it; but Jack wasn’t around to stop it and Gwen’s protests were entirely ignored. Prophecies of doom and logical advice and pleading with the Prime Minister did nothing at all; Torchwood One settled itself back in and within weeks it was like it had never been gone.
And then, two weeks ago, Ianto walked into their shiny new briefing room, handed out everyone’s coffee, and then instead of sitting down, stood before them all, hands folded neatly behind his back.
“I want to leave,” he said calmly.
Tosh and Gwen both started speaking, words spilling out of their mouths, desperately insistent. Owen just sat silently, glaring at Ianto, angry with himself because of course he had no fucking right at all to feel betrayed.
It’s become Owen’s job to drive up to London whenever Torchwood One clicks its fingers; Gwen says it’s because Jack named him second-in-command and therefore he’s the leader, but Owen knows it’s actually because Gwen is quickly learning all about delegation.
He hates her a lot of the time these days, but he knows that it’s just because he’s got far too much anger building up inside him and it’s got to be released somewhere; he’d hate Tosh too, if he could. But he can’t, so he just snaps at Gwen and ignores most of her orders and gleefully reminds her that they fucked for months every time she tries to bring up her domestic bliss with Rhys.
It’s pissing down with rain and by the time he makes it into Torchwood One’s reception, Owen is soaked to the skin and freezing cold to go with it. Ianto is behind the desk, expression carefully neutral. There’s another receptionist beside him; a woman with a little too much lipstick and her hair scraped back too hard. Ianto takes one look at Owen before abruptly turning and disappearing through a door behind him; Owen’s stomach clenches hard (does Ianto remember?) and he barely registers giving Receptionist Woman his name and appointment time.
“Take a seat,” she says, indicating the immaculate white sofa against the wall. It looks like it should be comfortable, but there’s no give in the cushions at all. Owen’s trainers have left wet marks on the floor and he can feel disapproval radiating off Receptionist Woman.
Ianto reappears; he’s holding a steaming mug in one hand and a towel in the other.
“Here,” he says, holding them both out with something that’s nearly a friendly smile twitching the corners of his mouth. “I didn’t know how you take your coffee, so I just went with my gut instinct.”
If Ianto had done this for him in the Hub, Owen would have thrown it back in his face with a nasty comment or two, but they’re not in the Hub now and besides, Owen’s already had one acquaintance with Ianto where the other man thought he was a psychopath.
“Thanks, Ianto,” he says, and manages a real smile.
Ianto returns to the desk; Owen dries his face and rubs at his hair until it stops dripping down the back of his neck, before taking a sip of his coffee. Ianto’s got it exactly right, of course.
Tosh and Gwen are waiting to grill him the minute he walks back into the Hub.
“It’s three in the morning,” he points out.
“It is,” Gwen agrees. “Does Ianto remember anything?”
“No,” Owen says, tasting the words slipping between his gritted teeth. “Well, he made me a coffee and got it spot on, but then Ianto can do that with people he’s actually never met before, so I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”
“Why did he make you a coffee?” Gwen demands, as though she thinks Owen walked into Torchwood One and started immediately trying to take advantage of their secretary. As if Torchwood One would let him take advantage of anything.
“Because it’s his fucking job, Gwen,” Owen snaps back.
Gwen’s face gets cold and hard and it was never like this with Jack; even when it stretched to the point where it all pinged back and Owen was fired, it never got this bad.
“I’m going home,” he announces; Gwen looks like she’s tempted to pistol-whip him with that gun strapped to her jeans, and if she does that Owen really will hit back, and Tosh will not be enough to stop either of them.
Gwen says nothing; spins on her heel and disappears into Jack’s office. Tosh offers Owen a small smile that says too many things and understands more than he really wants her to have picked up on, and says:
“Goodnight,” he responds, and doesn’t stay and talk to her because he has no idea what he wants to say.
“You look less like a drowned rat today, Dr Harper,” Ianto observes a fortnight later, eyes on his computer screen. He looks like a robot, as per usual – like a moving waxwork Torchwood has commissioned to greet people – but Owen can tell that, underneath the tidy Windsor knot, starched collar and carefully folded handkerchief in his breast pocket, Ianto is bored. It’s there, somehow, blindingly obvious because Owen apparently knows Ianto far better than he realised.
Owen shrugs, not wanting to get into a conversation about the weather. He doesn’t want to get into conversation with Ianto at all; he’s acutely aware that he could say the wrong thing and restore Ianto’s memories to their glorious, blood-filled technicolour. And Owen’s a self-confessed bastard, but he doesn’t want to do that. He’ll never be that cruel.
Ianto’s eyes flicker to Owen once or twice, as though trying to read his facial expressions – maybe wondering why he’s not getting a response – but he says nothing and Ianto’s being very subtle about the whole thing anyway.
“You can go through, Dr Harper,” he says at last, voice a study in frostiness.
(You wouldn’t like me if you knew me, Owen thinks, and then corrects that to: you didn’t like me when you knew me.)
There are six Weevils in the cells, Owen has six stitches in his left forearm – he had to talk a trembling Tosh through it, but she did a surprisingly neat job – and he hasn’t slept more than six hours in the last six days.
And the coffee machine is still fucking pining. Owen kicks it a couple of times, sending loose coffee beans and espresso cups to die horrible deaths on the floor, but it still refuses to give him anything liquid and caffeinated.
“Ianto fucked you over!” he shouts at the machine, shaking it until it makes desperate clunking noises. “Ianto left you! Fucking get over it!”
“Owen,” Gwen says sharply behind him. “Go home.”
“You don’t get to give me orders,” Owen snaps. “You don’t know what you’re doing any more than the rest of us do! You are not Jack, ok? You’re not Jack!”
Gwen goes very white, and Owen doesn’t know when she last slept either.
“You’re a liability, Owen,” she says at last, voice shaking just slightly. “Go and get some rest.”
And then she’s gone. Owen throws three mugs on the floor in quick succession – smash, smash, smash – breath shuddering in his chest, vision blurring. And when he next looks up, Tosh is watching him, tears in her eyes.
“Why can’t you just admit that you miss him?” she asks, sounding desperate.
“Because I don’t miss Jack,” Owen hisses, “I just miss the way the world was kind of normal when he was around.”
Tosh blinks, and one tear slips down her cheek. It rips something deep down in Owen’s chest – he’s managed to make Tosh cry – but he can’t make himself apologise.
“I’m not talking about Jack,” she whispers.
Owen’s stomach actually disappears, and the world is wavering at the edges from anger and painkillers and sleep deprivation.
“I like it this way,” he states, too loud, too stubborn. “I like that Ianto looks through me, that he has no idea what we’ve done or said to each other, I like that he makes me coffee and doesn’t hand it over with a holier-than-thou attitude. I fucking like it, Tosh!”
Another tear escapes down Tosh’s cheek. “I hate you sometimes, Owen,” she says, and then she walks away too.
Torchwood One are all about the power games, so Owen is left sitting in the reception area for over an hour. Ianto is brightly polite to everyone that comes in – the people that have meetings, the conspiracy-seekers who’ve managed to get this far, the lost tourists – and Owen wonders when he learned enough about Ianto to be able to see that Ianto is doing it all on autopilot.
When the woman with the pitiable taste in lipstick comes to take over, Ianto disappears for a while and comes back with a coffee for Owen.
“You look like you need it,” he says, offering a smile, and Owen can’t help but return it.
“Thank you,” he replies, and takes a sip. Ianto has put alcohol in his drink; he looks up in surprise, and Ianto winks at him.
“You’re going to be kept waiting for another hour,” he warns. “Thought you might as well be entertained.”
Owen tries to smile again, but it crumples and fails in the middle and he can’t sustain it. Ianto frowns.
“Are you… all right, Dr Harper?”
Owen shrugs. “My life is in pieces,” he says, offhand. It’s too much and he wants to take it back, but it’s too late now.
“Your leader’s missing, isn’t he?” Ianto says slowly. “I imagine that’s… very hard.”
“It is hard,” Owen agrees, because it’s simplest. Really, hardly anything is about Jack any more, but he tries not to think about that. He sips at his spiked coffee and tries not to look Ianto in the eyes; blue eyes with nothing but concern in them, because they lost all their complicated subtext with three tiny soluble pills.
Owen never thought he’d miss the vicious, ugly complicated subtext, but compared to what he has now…
It’s a relief when Ianto returns to the reception desk.
After a particularly gruelling briefing with Torchwood One officials – three members of the public died, and they’re pretending that they’ve lost the alien tech that caused it so that it won’t be requisitioned and abused – Owen goes for a wander around the carpark before he drives back to Cardiff. He needs the air; his head is pounding.
Tucked against one concrete wall of the building, pressed against a fire escape, Owen spots Ianto, sucking intently on a cigarette. He’s startled for a moment, before he recalls that Ianto gave up smoking shortly after Lisa died; and of course, now, Ianto will no longer recall that he stopped. There’s so much stuff that Ianto doesn’t remember; Owen frowns, wondering how Ianto could ever have willingly taken that retcon.
Ianto spots him and smiles, blowing out a stream of grey smoke.
“Want one?” he offers. “You look like you need it.”
Owen gave up the week Katie first started complaining that her short-term memory was shot; but he’s sick of cold, hard eyes and the repetitive demand: well, why didn’t you take better care of the weapon, why didn’t you send it straight to us?
“Thanks,” he says, moving to stand beside Ianto.
“You need to squash up a bit,” Ianto tells him, pointing up at a black camera fixed to the wall. “We need to stay in the CCTV blind spot.”
Owen obediently shifts until their shoulders are touching, pressed together, and Ianto passes Owen a cigarette. He tucks it between his lips and is about to ask for a lighter when Ianto leans sideways and lights it for him, smile soft and understanding. Owen inhales, feeling Ianto warm by his side, and pretends for a moment that nothing at all has changed.
It goes on like this for about three months.
Owen puts up with it all – being patronised fortnightly by Torchwood One officials while he slumps in a chair and lies through his teeth as prettily as he can manage – mostly because he likes getting to see Ianto. It’s nice, being around a Ianto that isn’t hostile and bitter and pining over Jack; this Ianto still has his brittle sarcastic humour, his smiles, a light in his eyes that Owen doesn’t think he’s ever seen before.
Sometimes, Ianto will slide a soft, cynical comment into his morning greeting, lips twisted, and Owen finds it hard to remember Ianto fucking him hard in Jack’s office chair, thin cold fingers raking through Owen’s hair. It seems like a different life, one that looks stable and full of things compared to the barren wasteland that is his existence now.
The constant fear that the wrong word will slot two years’ worth of horrible memories back into Ianto’s head starts to abate a little; it was really strong retcon, after all, and it would take a lot to break the stranglehold the drugs have over Ianto’s mind. Owen’s more pressing concern is that Ianto will somehow recall that Owen is a total cunt and he hates him; so he scrapes together all the charm he has left, and hopes for the best.
Owen is on his way from yet another dull meeting, desperate to get out of the building with its clinical corridors and robot-like staff. Up ahead of him, he spots Ianto hurrying purposefully towards one of the lifts, and then he spots a scientist carrying a huge pile of cardboard files. He opens his mouth to call a warning – the scientist is clearly not looking where he’s going – but it’s too late; there’s a collision, papers flying everywhere.
Ianto is on his knees in seconds, gathering together spilled files and reports. The scientist makes no move to help him, instead looking down at Ianto with a disdainful expression that Owen suspects he wore often enough in that dimly distant past when he and Ianto were something resembling mortal enemies.
“You stupid fucking idiot,” the guy is snarling at Ianto, “Do you know how long it’s going to take to get all this back in order?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ianto mutters; there’s a mutinous edge to his tone, but Owen thinks he’s the only one who catches it.
“‘Sorry’ isn’t really going to cut it, is it, you fucking cretin!” the guy continues, kicking at spilled papers and making the whole thing worse.
It’s like watching re-runs of the last two years, only Owen would probably have brought Jack up by now.
Ianto says nothing, carrying on piling up folders.
“I’ll have you fired for this, you useless piece of shit,” the scientist spits vindictively, and Owen knows all about the power trip being a Torchwood employee gives you, but he’s the only one with the right to talk to Ianto like that, and he can’t stop himself from tapping the man on the shoulder.
The man turns, and Owen punches him so hard in the face he hears something crack beneath his knuckles. His hand screams with pain, but the bastard is lying on the floor gasping and that’s the important bit.
Ianto watches, expression impassive, eyes wide.
Owen hears a passing woman murmur: “He’s from Torchwood Three. They’re all psychopaths”, like she actually knows anything about them at all.
“You broke my fucking nose,” the scientist burbles, blood sheeting down his face.
“Yep,” Owen agrees, offering Ianto a hand to his feet. Ianto takes it, looking faintly puzzled, but amusement is tugging the corners of his mouth.
“I get off at six,” he says quietly. “I’m buying you a drink.”
“Great,” Owen replies, “After the fallout, I think I’m going to need one.”
He gets shouted at, threatened with retcon and various shades of physical violence, and the words official disciplinary enquiry get tossed around a bit, but in the end they let Owen go without any sort of punishment.
Ianto buys him a pint in a pub just around the corner from Torchwood One’s shiny skyscraper, tugging his striped tie off with one hand.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he says, when they’re sitting at a table.
It occurs to Owen that this is the first time he’s been properly alone with Ianto since that night in his flat.
(The night before Ianto was due to retcon the last two years out of his memory; after some embarrassingly violent sex Owen had punched Ianto in the face, and then rounded off the gloriously humiliating evening by shouting abuse at him until the invectives turned into crying, because he knew in seven hours’ time Ianto wouldn’t remember any of it anyway.)
“He was being a dick,” Owen protests.
“A lot of people at Torchwood One are dicks,” Ianto shrugs, but there’s a grin sliding across his mouth. “Are you going to break all their noses?”
Owen shrugs. “Maybe.”
They talk about Cardiff; Ianto tells him about growing up there, tells him things that Owen never knew about Ianto because they never ever really talked. He tells Ianto about growing up in London, leaving out all the messy bits. It’s a civilised conversation – it’s more than a civilised conversation – and Owen finds himself struggling to remember how they could ever have got themselves to the point where Ianto shot him in the shoulder.
“Is your life still in pieces?” Ianto asks, a few drinks later, as they stand beneath a lamppost waiting for taxis.
Owen thinks about this. “It’s better,” he replies at last. “Mostly, it’s just lonely.”
He regrets the words the moment he’s said them, and he’s so busy silently berating himself that he doesn’t even notice the way Ianto is looking at him until the other man leans in, catching Owen’s cheek with one hand, and kisses him.
Owen tries, he really does, but he’s not nearly a good enough person not to kiss back.
There’s an awkward moment when Ianto uncovers the bullet scar on Owen’s shoulder; it’s still a little shiny and pink, though at least it’s not as new-looking as it used to be. Owen fobs him off with a story about an alien, before pressing his mouth to Ianto’s neck and successfully distracting him.
In the morning, he stands in Ianto’s bathroom splashing water on his face and muttering: Owen Harper, you are a bad person. A bad, bad person.
It doesn’t matter that the sex was new and different; it wasn’t vicious, they weren’t trying to one-up each other or prove a point. It doesn’t matter that he feels calmer than he has in months. It doesn’t matter because this was meant to be Ianto’s new start in life and instead Owen is clawing greedy handfuls of it back.
When he emerges from the bathroom, he’s terrified that Ianto will be waiting for him with a gun, a why couldn’t you leave well enough alone? on his lips, but instead Ianto gives him a smile and a mug of coffee as he heads off to work. Owen sips the coffee and works out what he’s going to tell Gwen and Tosh when he gets back; obviously, the truth is not an option. He decides he’ll just tell them that he met a girl in a bar, the easy lie that covers a multitude of sins.
Owen has worked himself up into a state of tension that’s bordering on insanity by the time he’s next called up to Torchwood One; he knows he’s fucked up and he’s terrified that Ianto will have remembered something. He doesn’t want Ianto to have remembered because for the first time ever Ianto seems to like him and Owen is beginning to suspect that maybe he always…
Ianto glances up when Owen walks in and he thinks he sees something dart through Ianto’s eyes, but he can’t work out what it is because it’s gone in a second.
“Dr Harper,” he says, tone measured, giving nothing away.
“Ianto,” Owen replies, and it comes out a little bit more pleading than he’d like but he can’t do anything about that.
“They’re waiting for you upstairs,” Ianto continues neutrally, and buzzes Owen through without looking at him.
After his meeting, he goes back downstairs to find Ianto is not at the reception desk. Owen could leave now, he really could, but instead he wanders into the warren of corridors that all look exactly the same in search of him. It doesn’t take long to track Ianto down; he’s talking to an officious-looking woman who appears to be giving him a very long coffee order list.
“Sorry, I need to borrow Mr Jones for a minute,” Owen says brightly.
Ianto glares at him, and Owen ignores it. The woman opens her mouth to protest, but he adds: “I’m Owen Harper, by the way. My name might be familiar ‘cause I broke a man’s nose here a couple of weeks ago. Can I speak to Jones, please?”
She steps back, glowering at Owen, but there’s a trace of uncertainty there too, which is all he really wanted.
“Are you mentally ill?” Ianto enquires, but there’s amusement flickering around his mouth and it gives Owen a little hope.
“Do you still finish at six?” Owen asks.
Ianto frowns before he says: “Yes.”
“Good.” Owen smiles. “Can I buy you dinner?”
Ianto actually seems to be lost for words, but then he manages: “Um, yes. All right.”
Owen has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s in too deep now, and all he can really do is try to make sure that it doesn’t turn out like last time.
“I really thought I was the receptionist one-night-stand,” Ianto remarks, over fusilli and wine. “Which was, you know, fine, but then I thought you were going to turn your attention to Heidi or someone.”
Owen frowns. “Who’s Heidi?”
Ianto rolls his eyes. “The woman I work on reception with? She’s been here every time you’ve visited.”
“Oh.” Well, at least he can mentally call her something other than ‘Woman With No Fashion Sense At All’. “I’m dreadful with names.”
“You remembered mine.” Ianto’s tone is carefully neutral, his gaze on his food. Owen can’t work out what he’s really asking; this, at least, is familiar.
“Well, I’m a sucker for a pretty face,” Owen replies, pouring all the syrup he can onto the words.
Ianto arches an eyebrow, smirking. “Do you really think that’s going to work?”
“Worth a try,” Owen shrugs. “Is it working?”
Ianto considers this, sipping at his wine. “Buy me dessert and we’ll see.” When he raises his eyes to Owen’s, there’s a happy amusement in them that’s unfamiliar but a relief nonetheless.
“What, are you saying you’ll put out for tiramisu?”
“Depends on how good the tiramisu is.” Ianto’s eyebrows flex a challenge, and Owen wants to say come back home so bad that it hurts.
“You seem… happier,” Tosh says; it looks like she’s carefully picking her words. She’s not scared of him – God knows Owen’s only too aware that she’s not scared of him – but she doesn’t want to upset him and Owen could love Tosh for that; so few people actually care about him nowadays. “Less like you’re going to spend the day kicking people.”
“Well, I couldn’t be violent and angry forever,” Owen shrugs, avoiding her gaze. They have takeaway coffee – the machine still isn’t working, still won’t play ball for anyone but Ianto – and it’s late. Myfanwy is fluttering happily around in the ceiling, and Gwen has gone home for the night. Everything’s as quiet as it ever is.
“You seemed to be having a good go at it,” Tosh tells him, with a smile that takes the sting from the words.
“Well…” Owen sighs, not sure what to say. “Maybe I’m having a go at maturing.”
Tosh is a wonderful woman and Owen almost loves her for not looking incredulous.
“Things were bad, after Jack disappeared…” Tosh begins, after a moment of uncomfortable silence. “But… you got worse when Ianto left.”
“I think he broke your heart,” Tosh tells him. She can’t meet his gaze, but the words come out steadily enough.
“Don’t be stupid.” Owen hears the horror in his voice. He swallows, unable to look at Tosh.
“I think he did,” she persists, picking her empty paper cup from the table and walking over to the bin. “I’m sorry,” she tosses over her shoulder.
Owen can’t reply; doesn’t know how to reply.
They eat chips out of paper wandering along by the Southbank; lights shiver over the surface of the Thames, and Owen remembers walking down here with Katie years ago. It’s late, and God knows what he’s going to tell Gwen and Tosh, but right now he doesn’t really care.
“I used to come down here with my girlfriend,” Ianto remarks, eyes on the river. “Years ago.”
Owen doesn’t want to, but he asks what he suspects would be the logical question if he didn’t already know Ianto. “What happened to her?”
“She died,” Ianto responds blandly. I know. I killed her, Owen thinks, and then folds that thought up neatly and hides it at the back of his mind. “In the Canary Wharf battle. The one that put me into a coma.”
Ianto has told Owen bits and pieces about his ‘coma’; Owen has listened patiently, fascinated by the illusion Ianto’s damaged mind has constructed for him.
“What’s it like?” he asks. “Missing that much time?”
Ianto considers this, sucking salt off his fingers. Owen watches, thinking that maybe he should look away, but he doesn’t.
“Soothing,” Ianto says at last. “Sad, but… soothing.”
Owen would have thought that it would have driven the Ianto he knew mad, but then the Ianto he knew before was made up of all sorts of emotions that have since been wiped cleanly out of his mind.
“I’m sorry about your girlfriend,” he mumbles finally, not sure what else to say.
“My last memories of her are of screaming,” Ianto murmurs, eyes back on the river. “It was… well, I’m glad that she’s at peace now.”
Owen thinks about Katie, about how it would be not to recall her dead on the operating table with her brain corrupted. There’s something… something appealing about it. He pushes that thought away too, and for a moment wishes that he’d had his memory removed too, that this conversation was happening on an equal level.
He comes out of this bitter reverie to find Ianto is looking at him, eyelashes casting dark shadows down his cheeks. There’s pity and sadness there, and something Owen can’t read because it’s too dark.
“Come here,” Ianto murmurs, pulling Owen into a kiss that momentarily makes him forget all about just how horrible all this really is.
Owen lies to Gwen and Tosh, telling them he’s met a girl in London. It accounts for his late returns from meetings and makes them both smile at him in a way that’s halfway genuine. It sort of makes him feel like a shit, but he can hardly tell them that he’s doing his best to stop Ianto from moving forward with his life. He can see the look Tosh would give him, can hear Gwen’s lecture; the one she’d be completely within her rights to give, the one Owen would deserve.
“I’m glad you’ve found someone,” Gwen murmurs one night, when Tosh is asleep on the sofa and they’re both sitting awake watching CCTV footage.
Owen thinks uncharitably that she’s probably just relieved; she’s probably been wandering around the last few months wondering if Owen was going to try and seduce her again. Of course, that would only be a problem if she thought she was in danger of giving in…
He says none of this aloud, though he’d like to. Instead, Owen takes a sip of his crap instant coffee and tries not to grimace. “Yeah, me too.”
He sighs, offers a tired smile, and wishes that it was all as simple as he’s saying it is.
It’s dark in Ianto’s flat, orange-gold light from the lamps outside striping across his bare skin. They’re quiet, but it isn’t the resentful silence of the first time around; it isn’t tinged with anger and mutual disdain. Owen swallows, and reflects that he really shouldn’t have done this, it really isn’t fair. Just because he seems to have got it right so far doesn’t mean that he had the right to rip his way into Ianto’s freedom. And he can’t even come clean and apologise because that- that would end badly.
“You look thoughtful,” Ianto observes, though Owen wonders how he can see his expression; surely it’s too dark for that.
“Mmmm.” Owen wants to feel less guilty about this; wants to stop feeling like he takes advantage every time he smiles at Ianto.
“Do you want to stop this?” Ianto asks, a barely-noticeable edge to his tone. Owen picks up on it immediately. He is the fucking expert on arguing with Ianto, after all. “Trying to find a way to break it to me gently?”
“No,” Owen says quickly, turning his head to look at Ianto. Ianto is staring at the ceiling, street light caught on his eyelashes. “No, it’s not that. It’s just… weird.” Ianto stays quiet, listening, and doesn’t turn to look at him. “The last… arrangement I had with someone that lasted this long didn’t end well.”
Ianto’s expression doesn’t flicker. “What happened?”
Owen doesn’t want to talk about it, especially not here, not now, not to Ianto. He supposes it’s his own fault for bringing it up in the first place. For a fleeting second, he contemplates talking about Katie, but enough of this is a lie already without him adding to it.
“I let him think that he meant nothing to me,” Owen sighs, voice barely audible. “And then he left.”
“You didn’t ask him to stay?” Ianto asks, curiosity threaded through his voice.
“There was nothing I could have said.” Owen tastes anger, despair; he’s momentarily frustrated because Ianto doesn’t get it, but how could Ianto get it? He doesn’t remember.
Ianto takes a slow breath that shivers slightly. “Owen-” he begins.
Owen can’t hear whatever he wants to say. “Go out with me,” he cuts him off.
“What?” Ianto’s eyes are wide with shock.
“Let’s try and do this properly,” Owen continues, knowing that if he stops he won’t see this through and he’ll regret it. “Go out with me.”
Ianto’s mouth moves soundlessly for a moment, and Owen feels his stomach clench.
“Ok,” Ianto says, after a moment. “Ok, what the hell. Let’s do it.”
(Gwen and Tosh will kill him.)
Torchwood One are fucking him around again; Owen has been sat in the foyer for an hour and a half. Ianto is having a busy morning, though occasionally he glances over at Owen and smiles, warm and genuine. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and it makes Owen want to punch himself, but he can’t make himself stop.
In a break in the flow between visitors, Ianto disappears for a moment and then returns bearing coffee.
“Oh thank God,” Owen breathes, inhaling the warm, strong aroma.
Ianto arches an eyebrow. “Do you have some kind of really weird coffee fetish?” he enquires.
Owen grins. “I live on instant down in Cardiff,” he explains, “It’s nice to get near some decent stuff.”
“You poor, underprivileged man,” Ianto says, all smooth amused sarcasm. “Don’t you have a coffee machine or something?”
“We have one,” Owen shrugs. “But it doesn’t like us. So we just use a kettle.”
“…Right.” Ianto still looks amused.
(Owen very carefully does not say anything like the coffee machine really misses you.)
“Dr Harper, they’re ready to see you now,” Heidi calls over. Her lipstick is still hopelessly wrong for her, but Owen is a gentleman and does not point this out on the way past.
After Owen leaves the usual grilling – full of questions like and why are you letting the Weevils live? and other such pleasantries – he finds Ianto hovering around in the corridor.
“Come with me,” Ianto says quietly, and Owen obediently follows him through the stark white corridors. It’s like walking through a hospital, right down to the clinical smell. “In here.”
He leads Owen into a room with three industrial strength coffee machines in it, and a whole wall full of mugs. They’re all white and generic looking; Owen picks one up and when he turns it over he finds the Torchwood logo stamped on the bottom.
“Um, this is impressive, but… why are we in here?” Owen asks.
“I’m going to teach you how to work a coffee machine,” Ianto replies. He takes the mug out of Owen’s hands and carries it over to one of the machines. He pulls a couple of levers, presses a few buttons, turns something, and then puts the cup underneath a stream of hot coffee. “There, simple,” he says.
It takes a while for Owen to figure out what he’s doing; what needs to be pushed and when. This is partly because he’s distracted by memories of the last time he and Ianto were near a coffee machine; Ianto was banging his head against the side of it so hard that Owen’s nose was bleeding, and he’d already had a good go at giving Ianto concussion against the wall behind them. Things were angrier then, and Owen knows that he can never, never let Ianto’s memories return; there really is too much to lose.
Finally, Owen has managed to produce a half-decent latte, even if he says so himself. He turns around to give it to Ianto, feeling smug pride spreading his grin, and their fingers entwine around the mug. He opens his mouth, but Ianto’s eyes flicker meaningfully to the security camera mounted on the wall. Ah.
“Bloody Torchwood,” Owen mutters.
“Bloody Torchwood,” Ianto agrees.
It’s three-thirty in the morning, and Owen is putting stitches into Tosh’s arm; too many aliens tonight and he’s dreading the paperwork.
“You never talk about your girlfriend,” she remarks.
Owen carefully concentrates on the next suture before he looks at her. Gwen is safely away in Jack’s old office talking to UNIT; and maybe things have gone so far he can’t lie any more.
“That’s because I don’t have a girlfriend,” he says, returning his attention to the task at hand.
“But you said-”
“It’s a boyfriend,” Owen continues. He should turn back, but Tosh’s face is pale with shock and he’s got to distract her from all this somehow.
“Oh, Owen.” There’s something in her tone, like maybe she’s guessing, maybe she’s putting it together. Tosh is a smart one, always has been.
“It’s Ianto,” he adds, putting the final nail in the coffin.
He hears Tosh gasp but she keeps her arm steady; he focuses on sewing the gash back together, unable to look at her.
“Does he remember?” Tosh asks eventually.
“No,” Owen replies. “No. I do, but he doesn’t.” He laughs, though nothing’s funny. “It’s better this time around.”
Tosh remains silent while he finishes neatly, wrapping a bandage around the wound to protect it.
“Are you going to tell me I’m a selfish bastard?” he asks. “Going to tell me that I shouldn’t have done it?”
“You know all that already,” Tosh sighs. “I just…. I just hope it doesn’t end in tears.”
“It probably will,” Owen murmurs, and doesn’t feel any better for having admitted it to someone.
Jack comes home, the returning hero, all smug grin and bright eyes – though there’s a hollowness behind them both – and Owen hates it because of course none of them will ever admit how bad it got, how scared they were.
“Miss me?” Jack asks.
“You were gone?” Owen responds, and hates how betrayed he inadvertently sounds.
Jack’s next question, of course, is: “where is Ianto?”
Owen swallows, and lets Gwen do the explaining. Jack looks grave, all the amusement on his face vanished. Tosh glances over at Owen, and he tries not to see the pity there.
Ah well. Owen supposes that he couldn’t have got away with it forever.
Surprisingly, Jack doesn’t demand that they all immediately go to London and drag Ianto back home where he belongs. Instead, his expression almost becomes compassionate.
“Is he happy?” he asks.
Gwen looks to Owen. Tosh looks at her feet. Jack frowns.
“Yeah,” Owen sighs. “I think he’s happy.”
Owen accompanies Jack on his trip to Torchwood One, and spends half the journey mentally preparing himself for the inevitable. Because, regardless of whether Ianto remembers or not, one look at Jack and Owen will be out of the picture. It’s the way it works. One look at Jack and you’d murder your own soulmate to be with him for the night.
Ianto doesn’t look up when they walk in; he’s typing industriously on his computer terminal. Owen swallows a resigned smile and thinks: well, it was nice while it lasted.
“Hi,” Jack says, and Owen can tell from his tone that Jack’s being as careful as he knows how to be. “We’ve… got an appointment.”
Ianto looks up, and Owen feels his breath catch with nervous anticipation. But there’s no spark of recognition in Ianto’s eyes. There isn’t even the tell-tale dilation of the pupils. He doesn’t blink.
“Right,” he says. “I’ll just see if they’re ready for you.”
He turns away to make a phonecall. Owen breathes out; he feels like he’s had a gun pressed to his forehead and yet he’s still dodged the bullet. He risks a glance at Jack; he looks wistful.
“Are you sure you don’t fancy Jack?” Owen asks, later. Against his better judgement and all that, but he’s feeling helplessly insecure.
“Well,” Ianto says, “He’s certainly very handsome. But he isn’t really my type.”
Jack has gone back to Cardiff; Owen is staying in London on a paper-thin excuse. And he probably should stop unsubtly trying to work out if Ianto remembers Jack at all; the petty jealousy that runs deeper than he’ll ever admit.
“Yeah, but… if he propositioned you, would you say ‘yes’? You know, if it was guaranteed I’d never find out?”
“It’s been nearly an hour,” Ianto remarks, lounging on the other end of the sofa. “How long are you going to keep doing this, Owen?”
Owen should stop. “Yeah, but would you?”
Ianto frowns; Owen sees anger flash momentarily across his features. “Look, Owen,” Ianto begins, and his tone is hard, much too hard, “Once you’ve put yourself in a position to be hurt by Jack Harkness once, you don’t do it again in a hurry, ok?”
For a moment, Owen doesn’t understand. And then he does. Oh God, he does.
“You know,” he breathes. “You bastard. How long-”
“Three days after the first time,” Ianto replies, voice steady though his hands are flexing. “That scar on your shoulder. I woke up and I knew everything.”
Owen can’t say anything. He doesn’t know what to say; anger and despair and confusion are flooding through him.
“I was so angry with you,” Ianto continues, and he’s no longer looking at Owen. “I went through all that to get my mind clear and you undid all of it for a one night stand.” He sighs. “Only… then it wasn’t a one night stand, and you only got more confusing.”
“You should have said something,” Owen mutters.
“It was nice,” Ianto protests. “If I told you I remembered everything we’d have gone back to hurting each other.”
“But you knew what had happened to Lisa, what was going on in the Hub, and you still let me-”
“I’m happier living with a lie than I ever was with the truth,” Ianto shrugs.
“That’s bullshit,” Owen snaps.
“I’m not coming back to Cardiff,” Ianto says, and now his voice is steady. “I’m going to carry on working here and pretending that I’ve been in a coma and that I never saw Lisa killed, that cannibals didn’t try to eat me, that I let Jack fuck me over and leave. And you can carry on working on that assumption with me, or you can leave.”
“It’s that simple, is it?” Owen demands.
“It’s not simple at all,” Ianto responds quietly. “You know that. And I’d rather you went along with it because I think we were really getting somewhere, but if you won’t then you won’t.”
Owen sighs. “And what if something happens and you wipe me out of your memory again?”
Ianto says nothing, just watches him. And Owen was lost weeks ago. Slowly, Ianto reaches out his hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Owen takes it.