Pairing: Owen/Ianto (plus loads of others; mainly Owen/Suzie, Jack/everyone, Jack/John, Gwen/Rhys, Ianto/Lisa, Adam/Tosh)
Challenge/Prompt: au_bingo - Band
Word Count: 17,050 (WHAT THE FUCK)
Copyright: Title is from Alpha Dog by Fall Out Boy.
Warnings: Canon minor character suicide. Casual drug and alcohol abuse references. IDK. Just, you know, this isn’t the cheeriest story.
Summary: In which Torchwood have just about made it though as it turns out that doesn’t fix anything, Owen would much rather punch Ianto than shag him (honestly), and absolutely everyone seems to be Jack’s ex boyfriend.
Author’s Notes: I’ve been wanting to write a band AU for Torchwood since that throwaway line in Meat, although this wasn’t the way I pictured this story turning out, frankly. I do like it though even if it’s really quite weird; I don’t know if everyone’s actually in character or not, but I hopefully captured the bleak and destructive atmosphere of most of my Torchwood fic if nothing else ;) I’m not even sure if it even hangs together as a story or not; it might be all TL;DR. Blah. Anyway, I rewatched copious amounts of Cobracam as research
Ok, basically, while I was writing this story I wanted song lyrics to break up the sections, lyrics about writing songs and being in a band and being famous and so on and so forth. So I decided that I might as well add the original songs that I got the lyrics from to the story. Well, they’re youtube links, anyway, because I can’t be arsed to make a zip file and upload it. This is not in any way a representation of what I think Torchwood as a band would sound like (although actually, yeah, they probably would be this emo) and I’m not sure they even reflect the spirit of some of the sections, but anyway: this comes with a youtube soundtrack that you can listen to or ignore at will (apart from the final track The Wrong Band by Tori Amos, because I can’t find that online anywhere). Right, on with the story.
tell rock n’ roll i’m alone again
Suzie’s eyes tell of her customary blend of sleepless nights and cigarettes, smudged with cheap ultra-black mascara. Her fingers beat a rhythm on the sticky tabletop, jumbled but still somehow coherent, asking for a baseline to be woven through, something hot and tight. She was a good drummer, back in the day; maybe she still is.
Owen sips his beer. “Do you ever regret leaving?
She considers him. Her mouth is flat but her eyes are laughing, and as always with Suzie, Owen can’t work out if he should know what the joke is or not.
“What,” she begins, “so I can be as happy as you are now? No fucking thanks.”
Owen wants to argue that this is unfair and that he’s perfectly happy, actually, why wouldn’t he be, but this is Suzie and she’s known him for too long for him to try and lie. He shrugs instead, drinking more beer to buy time.
“Torchwood is Jack’s dream,” Suzie tells him, “and we’re all just along for the ride. One day, I just got tired of being taken for a ride by Jack Harkness. You will too, in the end.” She grins, teeth suddenly very white, and drains her whisky on the rocks in one. “Or maybe you already have.”
“It’s too late to turn back now,” Owen points out, tone far more defeatist and far less sharp than he intended.
“Yes it is,” Suzie agrees, softly cruel, and gets to her feet. “I’ll see you, Owen,” she adds.
She walks away without looking back and, after a moment, Owen realises that she’s stuck him with the bill. He smirks, rueful, and reflects it’s the least he can do.
Ianto is reading that fucking NME article, the this is Torchwood’s difficult second album, will they bugger it up? one, only no one uses the phrase ‘bugger it up’ at any point. It makes Owen feel low-level nauseous every time he looks at it and he hasn’t actually read it yet.
“Hey, look, you’re in here,” Ianto says, turning the article towards Lisa. Owen has no idea why Ianto’s girlfriend is even here, she’s not in the band and Rhys doesn’t feel the need to be at all band meetings ever, and he’s fucking marrying Gwen. Well, probably; there’s trouble in paradise, given that Gwen’s slept with most of their band and at least three people from the record company, but no one’s telling and whatever Rhys has worked out for himself, he’s not said anything.
Lisa coos over the photo of herself and Ianto, taken at the Brits last month; she looked ridiculously pretty in sparkling silver, their fingers looped together in easy intimacy. Owen grits his teeth and stares at the newspaper he’s barely reading as though his life depends on it. Gwen and Tosh are playing cards with cups of tea, boredom etched across their faces. Jack is late because Jack is always late, and no one ever bothers commenting on it anymore.
“There’s a good photo of you here,” Ianto says, and it takes Owen a moment to realise he’s talking to him. “Makes you look like less of a grumpy bastard.”
Owen rolls his eyes, letting a half-smirk be his only reply, and doesn’t bother looking to see which picture caught Ianto’s attention.
Towards the end of recording, they all have dinner over at Rhys and Gwen’s. They’ve got a pretty nice house in London – moved up from Cardiff when their first album went platinum – and the evening goes as well as can be expected when every single person in the room has slept with Gwen but isn’t telling her fiancé about it. Well, actually, to be fair, Owen’s reasonably sure that Lisa hasn’t slept with Gwen, though it’s probably only a matter of time. But Rhys is a good cook and they’ve all drunk a lot of wine and they’ve scraped through ok.
Owen and Jack are out in the back garden; it’s nearly two in the morning and they’re eating their way through all the icecream they could find hanging around in the freezer. Gwen and Rhys are arguing upstairs and occasionally sharp words fall clearly through the windows, other times it’s just background noise. Owen doesn’t know what Ianto, Lisa and Tosh are doing in the living room and doesn’t really care either; he lights another cigarette and Jack wordlessly passes him a Solero.
“How long before they call the wedding off, d’you think?” Owen asks after a while, when a door is slammed and then wrenched back open upstairs.
Jack laughs, soft and hollow. “Never,” he replies. “Rhys will marry her, whatever he does or doesn’t know. He’ll marry her because he loves her.” He looks tired in the moonlight, face a patchwork of shadows.
“But...” Owen takes a drag of his cigarette, trying to put words together. “But she’s fucked up so badly.”
Jack shrugs. “If you love someone enough, sometimes it doesn’t screw everything up. Sometimes you can forgive them their fuck-ups, sometimes it’s more than just chipping pieces off each other.”
Owen sighs and bites into his Solero, the ice cream too sweet and citrusy on his tongue. He’s pretty sure those are lyrics on their new album, or similar enough anyway.
“Are you still in touch with Suzie?” Jack asks abruptly.
Trying to piece all this together makes his head hurt, so Owen just shrugs. “Yeah, sometimes. When she wants to talk to me, which isn’t often.”
Jack’s mouth twists; it’s impossible to tell if it’s a smile or not.
“When did you two break up, anyway?”
Owen is about to reply when he realises that he and Suzie didn’t have that conversation.
“I don’t think we ever did,” he mumbles, stubbing the cigarette out on the stones of the shitty little patio.
Jack laughs, a twisted sound. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Owen sighs, “oh.”
On the penultimate day of recording, it transpires that Tosh is in whatever passes for a relationship these days with one of the sound technicians.
“He’s creepy,” Owen decides, watching the two of them laughing behind glass.
“Adam’s pretty cool,” Jack replies, smile just a little too wide.
“You’re only saying that because he’s your drug dealer,” Owen mutters.
“Ex drug dealer,” Jack snaps, getting up and leaving him to go and bother Tosh and Adam. Owen shrugs, unapologetic, because it’s hard to tell what’s Jack some days and what’s illegal substances and anyway he can never keep track of what wagons Jack’s on or falling off of on any given week.
“Ex boyfriend too, I’ll wager,” Ianto murmurs from behind Owen, and Owen ducks his head to hide the beginnings of a smile.
“Isn’t everyone?” he asks, and Ianto just shrugs. “So what do you think of Adam?”
Ianto looks thoughtful for a while before he says: “he’s made Tosh stop looking at you in a desperate fashion that kind of makes me want to punch you, so that’s a nice change.”
Owen is sharply reminded of all the reasons he hates Ianto, really fucking hates him, and he turns away. “You’re a real bastard, you know?”
“So I’m told,” Ianto replies, tone flat and almost amused.
“What’s this?” Suzie asks, arching an eyebrow. She’s stoned, pupils blown, but she’s holding it together well. She always did.
Owen shrugs uncomfortably, but says: “it’s a CD.”
“I can see that, weirdly enough,” Suzie tells him, the corners of her mouth lifting. She looks tired, really fucking tired, and Owen wants to reach across the table and hold her and have it mean something.
They’re in the bar of a hotel that’s far too expensive and tasteful for them, but what the hell, maybe they can branch out.
“It’s From Out Of The Rain,” Owen tells her, then classifies: “it’s the second album.”
“Oh.” Suzie frowns down at the innocuous-looking disk in its thin plastic envelope, one of the advance copies that Owen nicked because he wanted Suzie to have it. He’s not sure why.
“Just take it,” Owen says. “Break it, sell it to the press, upload it to the internet, I don’t care, just please take it.”
Suzie’s smile twists, hair falling over her face. “Ok, Jesus, ok.”
Owen is about to say more when two giggly and drunk girls come up to them, breathing you’re Owen Harper like it’s actually something significant, an achievement, holding out napkins for autographs and gushing about how much they love the first album, they can’t wait for the second. When they’re gone, Suzie bursts out laughing.
“Shut up,” Owen mutters, draining his glass and gesturing for another.
“I don’t know why you ever wanted to get famous,” Suzie murmurs, “you hate people.” She smirks, broad and fierce. “A little bird called the internet told me you guys are touring in America, as of next month.”
“Yeah, America like us,” Owen shrugs, “God knows why.”
Suzie’s smile softens and she leans sideways to kiss him, mouth soft and cold and she pulls away too fast. “You’re all going to kill each other,” she says.
“Yeah,” Owen agrees, “yeah, we probably are.”
Suzie slides off her barstool, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Good luck out there in the world,” she says, fingers curling over the CD.
“You too,” Owen replies, and watches her leave.
Right now, Owen would kind of like to either be so famous that they can travel by private jet everywhere, or not be famous at all so he doesn’t have to make this bloody trip. Either would do. It’s too early in the morning and everyone is bleary-eyed; his bass has just gone into the hold and Owen is not entirely certain that it won’t get broken by crazy baggage-handlers somewhere between here and America. Ianto and Lisa are all over each other in a way that’s hugely inappropriate given that they’re somewhere well-lit and public, and Owen doesn’t look because well, it’s none of his fucking business and also Lisa is wearing far too much silver. Owen knows all about signature colours by now thanks to Gwen and Tosh but still, she could give it a rest from time to time.
“You look cheerful,” Tosh remarks. She looks much too put-together for a four a.m flight, she has make-up on and everything. Owen kind of hates her for it.
“No Adam?” he asks, deflecting.
She shrugs, eyes sweeping over Gwen and Rhys and the deeply intent conversation they appear to be having. “We’re casual,” she says.
“Ok,” Owen shrugs, and looks down at his trainers. He looks up a moment later as Jack slings an arm around his shoulders, burning brighter than anybody has any right to burn. He’s also wearing what are probably the world’s hugest sunglasses. “Why?” he asks.
Jack seems to understand immediately; his smile has a million kinds of teeth in it. “I asked the woman in the shop to help me find the pair that made me look most like an asshole,” he explains. “Aren’t they awesome?”
There are several more months of this. “Oh dear God,” Owen mumbles, and Jack laughs.
Owen falls face-first onto his hotel room bed and is unconscious fairly quickly after that; he gets to be semi-famous and jetlagged for the next few days and their album has been number one in the UK for the last three weeks. Suzie laughed a lot about it when she rang him up to say goodbye; once again amused by a joke that no one else gets.
When he wakes up the shower’s going and Ianto’s bed is slept-in but empty now. Owen blinks exhaustion out of his eyes and wonders for the millionth time why Jack always gets his own room – other than the fact he’s going to fuck everyone they come across on this tour so probably needs his own space to do that in – and he always ends up with Ianto. He and Ianto have never liked each other and probably never will; close proximity makes them civil to one another but the jagged edges of interaction have never worn smooth.
Sighing, Owen rolls off his bed and finds his cigarettes, opening the window from habit and curling himself up on the sill, breathing smoke out over the street of an unfamiliar city, half-listening to Ianto softly singing in the shower. It sounds a lot like Everything Changes, that first single that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere but did, but Ianto isn’t singing his own lines; he’s singing Jack’s.
Owen wishes he could say he was surprised but he isn’t.
“You’re awake then,” Ianto says when he comes out.
Owen pictures him, dripping and almost entirely bare, wet hair a ragged mess, and doesn’t turn around. It’s too early in the tour for that, he’s not used to it yet. It’s ok; he will be.
“Yeah,” he agrees quietly, and they don’t push for conversation.
Gwen is fiddling with her engagement ring, turning it around and around and around on her finger. It’s pretty, subtle, and the magazines love that she’s going to marry the man she met at university, that they’re together and happy.
Owen has stories he won’t ever tell about long evenings just after Gwen joined the band, too much alcohol and too much confusion and her legs wrapped around his hips, her fingers curled into his skin. It felt good and it helped, it helped with the ache that came from Suzie just walking away one day and leaving them with no drummer and no fucking idea what they should be doing with themselves. They stopped quickly enough, a spattering of shags over a handful of weeks and they don’t even think about it anymore, honestly, but Suzie seemed to know anyway and Owen doesn’t think she ever really forgave him for it.
It’s possible that they’re actually dating, even if they haven’t had sex in over a year and they don’t see each other more often than once a month. Things are complicated with Suzie; they always are.
They get their tour bus tomorrow, the claustrophobic space that’s going to take them across the country and that’s never fun, the five of them stacked on top of each other with their own private insanities that quickly become ever more public because they can’t get away from each other. They toured the UK last summer, did a few festivals across Europe; Gwen and Tosh ended up having sex at least four times and Owen gave Ianto a black eye while they were in Germany and Jack fell off the wagon twice and did one show so high they had to take him to hospital afterwards.
“I do miss him, you know,” Gwen says quietly, lower lip caught between her teeth, fingers on the ring Rhys gave her.
This is not a conversation Owen wants to have over pancakes and coffee while jetlagged, so he merely shrugs and says: “good for you,” with as much brutality as he can get into his tone.
Something like a rueful smile tugs at Gwen’s lips and she reaches for the syrup.
Tosh and Gwen have managed to snag bunks together and you don’t want to sleep above or below Jack; he usually has company and it’s bad enough listening to it without trying to sleep with the whole bed structure shaking, so Owen huffs a sigh and resigns himself to having a bunk above Ianto’s, like usual. The tourbus is just like the other buses they’ve had; carefully compact, with curtained bunks to sleep in with a semblance of privacy, a sleeping area with a small kitchenette type thing, and a bathroom about the size of a cupboard. There’s no space to avoid anyone, but at least they can be certain that the bus will stay tidy; Ianto is neat to the point of mental illness, relieves the stress of touring by clearing up their shit. They leave him to it nowadays; everyone has their ways of keeping themselves sane, or at least towards the quiet, socially accepted forms of insanity.
“Are you ready for this?” Jack asks, when they’re all sprawled on sofas, bags lugged onboard and everything packed up for departure.
Ianto laughs. “Fuck no,” he says, and they all echo the sentiment, amusement threaded through their voices. It’s been a couple of years now, a successful first album and a second one, now, that’s selling so fast it’s almost scary, and yet they all feel as though it’s come from nowhere, like someone’s going to turn up one day and take it all away.
Owen doesn’t know if he’d feel relieved if that happened or not and tries not to think about it too much.
“We deserve this, you know,” Jack says, uncharacteristically serious, “we deserve this. Remember that.”
Owen thinks about arguing about this and then remembers the hours they spent bickering with each other, Gwen throwing drumsticks and Tosh disappearing for hours, crumpled sheets of music and lyrics, disjointed sets of words scribbled on napkins and the edges of old newspapers, scraps of consciousness shoved together and moulded until the album came ripping out of it all, beautiful and almost perfect and, best of all, sounding effortless. They’re going to go out on the stage and sing the words they fought over for hours until everyone’s feelings were stinging and the floor was swimming in discarded efforts, and they’re going to look like the end result was what they meant all along.
“Yeah,” he says softly, “we really bloody do.”
The others look almost startled but he ignores them, holding out his hand. The others pile theirs on top and they exchange embarrassed looks before shouting Torchwood! and pulling apart.
Well, Owen thinks beneath his smile, here we go...
(you can’t just up and leave me; i’m the singer in a band)
The first time Owen met Jack he was still struggling with the medical degree he would later give up on, invited to a party by his friend-stroke-ex who he never learned to say no to.
(Dianne, who was beautiful and presumably still is; Owen wrote Out Of Time on their first album for her. They haven’t spoken in over a year and he’s still not sure whose fault that is. Probably his; he knows he holds her responsible for him joining Torchwood and all the shit that’s happened since, even the shit that no one could have predicted. They leave Out Of Time off most of their setlists now, though the internet claims it’s a fan favourite. Dianne’s a pilot now; Owen thinks Tosh is still in touch with her.)
“Owen Harper,” an American voice said, a heavy arm landing around his shoulders. “About damn time we met.”
Owen looked up and saw Jack’s blinding grin for the first time, the grin that’s sold a million records since. It was bright and shiny and a little lopsided at the edges – Jack was clearly drunk – and it was bordering on breathtaking. He can acknowledge that now, though he couldn’t for a long time.
“Um,” he said, because he wasn’t drunk yet and Jack’s grip was really tight, “who are you?”
Jack seemed surprised that he didn’t know – he was kind of infamous, though Owen wouldn’t find that out for another week – but laughed anyway; that rich, rolling laugh that has talked Owen into far too many things since.
“I’m Jack Harkness,” he explained, sweeping a hand back through his hair in a way that should’ve been cheesy and yet somehow worked. Jack gets away with a lot of shit that way, actually. “Dianne’s told me all about you.”
Owen glanced around, managed to find Dianne and glared furiously at her. She was laughing in a corner with a woman who would later turn out to be Tosh. Dianne winked and turned away, leaving Owen to Jack’s questionable mercy.
“So, Owen,” Jack drawled, arm tightening around him, “I hear that you play bass...”
Tosh was a lot more stammery back then, hiding her face behind oversized glasses and her body underneath oversized sweaters, haircut just the right side of bad and her lips caught too often between her teeth. What she did have going for her, though, were her fingers or, more specifically, what those fingers could do on a keyboard. She’d been trained in classical piano when she was younger, but bastardised that when she got to university, and Owen forgot that she was geeky and shy and hadn’t spoken more than about three words to him without blushing, mumbling, and pulling the cuffs of her jumper over her palms the first time he heard her play. He watched Tosh’s fingers leaping over the keys and jumped when Suzie kicked in on the drums, grinning when he looked her way, and a moment later Jack was layering his voice over the two of them, that voice that would get them heard on the internet and the radio and remembered a little over a year later.
“You in?” Jack asked when they’d finished, breathless and grinning, hair a wicked dark mess and eyes alight.
Owen looked at Tosh, who’d gone back to flushing at her keyboard and avoiding everyone’s eyes, and then at Suzie, who was tapping her drumsticks against her knee with one hand and winding a lock of hair around her fingers with the other. She was wearing far too much mascara and her dress was slipping off one shoulder; she looked simultaneously fragile and sexy, and her eyes promised him something though he wasn’t sure what it was.
He looked back to Jack, Jack who had so much charisma that it bled off him in palpable waves, and thought about all the things he wasn’t doing at university.
“Yeah,” he said, “ok. I’m in.”
Ianto worked in the Starbucks nearest to campus, apparently, though Owen was never served coffee by him so possibly that was a story Jack made up because it was more interesting than the alternative. Owen preferred bass guitar so they were still looking for a lead guitarist, searching out friends of friends and having Jack accost them at parties. Jack was always good at accosting people randomly at parties – Tosh has sworn that’s how Jack got her, too – but they hadn’t yet found anyone willing to say yes, even when faced with Suzie’s bedroom eyes and Jack’s screamingly epic charisma.
(Owen sometimes reflects that he might have given in a little too easily.)
“I could learn guitar, I suppose,” Dianne mumbled, head in Owen’s lap one afternoon.
“Didn’t we break up?” Owen asked, fingers carding idly through her hair.
“Eighteen months ago,” Dianne agreed cheerfully.
“Just checking,” Owen said.
She laughed, bright and brilliant, and dug in her pocket for a cigarette – when Owen inevitably gets lung cancer in a few years’ time, he’s blaming her – fluttering her eyelashes at him.
“I don’t want to join your band anyway,” she said.
Owen was formulating a reply when the door opened and Jack and Suzie came trailing in, accompanied by a tall guy with ridiculously long hair and a sheepish little smile.
“This is Ianto,” Suzie explained brightly, “and yes, that is more of a sneeze than a name, but he’s our guitarist.” Her hands were quaking and she was speaking just a little too fast, pupils blown wide.
“You play guitar?” Owen asked, which was a stupid question but there was something about the shape of Ianto’s smile that made his stomach clench and that irritated him.
Ianto’s smile slipped into something like a smirk. “And I make a mean latte,” he added.
“He does,” Suzie agreed swiftly, and Owen wondered if whatever it was that she was on was ok to be mixed with caffeine.
Jack spread his arms, wide, like he was picturing something magnificent that the rest of them couldn’t – he did that a lot, in those early days – and said: “we’ve got ourselves a band.”
The first year of being in Torchwood was kind of weird and kind of ok; they played gigs their friends got them in pubs and bars, they wrote songs that they then dismissed as being too pretentious, they added I’m in a band to their pick-up line résumés, they cut and recut their hair, they all fell into bed with Jack at least once, and there was this one time when Owen and Ianto got so drunk on cheap tequila at a party that they ended up making out for half an hour in the back of a car that didn’t belong to either of them.
(Owen thinks Ianto doesn’t remember. Ianto actually does.)
The first time Owen had sex with Suzie was also the day after she quit. Dianne had sent a demo tape to a handful of record labels in what turned out to be utter seriousness, though the rest of them assumed it was a joke, and they’d got some unexpected interest. Suzie had promptly quit the band after hearing this, saying she never wanted to take it anywhere, had never wanted this anyway.
Jack had thrown a lamp at her head; Tosh took Suzie outside while Owen and Ianto talked Jack down. There was something pure and unnaturally angry about Jack, angrier than the situation really demanded, but they exchanged looks and elected not to ask him. Jack had hundreds of stories and not all of them were pretty or funny or repeatable.
Suzie didn’t talk about it when Owen went over to her flat the next day to speak to her, to try and get some answers.
“I don’t want it,” she explained, and she was too sober, dark eyes bright and shivering for a whole other reason. “I joined this band for something that doesn’t exist anymore, that maybe didn’t exist to begin with, and I can’t do this anymore, I can’t drag this farce into public. I can’t and fuck it, Owen, I won’t. I won’t.”
“Ok,” Owen replied, soft, “ok, it’s ok, Suze. It’s ok.”
She laughed, hollow, and fell into his arms, burying her face in his neck and still laughing.
“How long have you been in love with Jack?” Owen asked her quietly, and she sat back fast, as though she’d been burned.
“Shut up,” she snapped, cold and sharp, and when she kissed him a moment later he could still taste the words on her lips, over and over as her hair tangled through his fingers. Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up.
“Don’t come back until you’ve got me a drummer,” Jack said. He’d been drunk for a week and was now hungover and damnably sober, blue eyes wide and just a little mad. He wasn’t talking about Suzie (he hasn’t spoken about her since, not until that night in Gwen’s garden, hidden in the darkness) and something was broken, betrayed, in his eyes and his smile.
He slammed the door in their faces and they stared at each other for a long moment; Tosh looked tired and Ianto’s expression was unreadable.
“Any ideas?” Tosh asked at last.
I’m sleeping with Suzie, Owen wanted to say, but didn’t. He didn’t think it would help.
“There’s a girl in my seminar,” Ianto offered, “she can play the drums. We talked about it a few weeks ago, she saw a couple of our gigs.”
“And what are we going to say to her?” Owen demanded, voice harsher than he’d meant it to be. “‘Come join our band, we’ve got a crazy lead singer who might have a meltdown if you don’t’?”
Ianto glared at him. “No,” he said at last, “somehow I think I’ll phrase it somewhat differently.”
A day later, she materialised into Gwen Cooper, a nervous but charming smile on her lips and Jack’s eyes lit up like something holy had been salvaged. Two weeks after Gwen joined Torchwood, Suzie left university and moved out of London. Three days after that, Gwen seemed to forget that she had a boyfriend and Owen fucked her on the sofa after half a bottle of vodka.
He’s got to get better coping mechanisms.
A teenage girl who may or may not be legal – what the fuck are the age consent laws in the states, anyway? – asks Owen to sign her breasts after a show and he does, bemused, because he can’t think of a good reason to say no. Tosh laughs, dark hair still streaked through with golden stage glitter; it catches the lights, bright and vivid, while their fans scream.
“Why do teenage girls want me to sign their breasts?” he asks later, ears still ringing; Jack and Gwen got the first after-show showers, and so he, Tosh and Ianto are still waiting, sweating eyeliner down their cheekbones, muscles stiff and skin singing with adrenaline. He turns to Ianto. “Shouldn’t they be going after Jack? Or you?”
Tosh is giggling like she knows something he doesn’t, and Ianto’s smirk is nothing short of evil.
“Weirdly enough, some of our fans do find you attractive, Owen,” he replies. “According to the last forum I was on, it’s your cheekbones. And your brooding.”
“I don’t brood!” Owen protests.
“We know you’re a grumpy sod,” Tosh explains, “but the fans don’t. They mistake your hatred for people in general as inner turmoil.”
“The eyeliner helps,” Ianto adds, grin still a little cruel. “They think you’re tortured. Like that vampire guy in Twilight.”
“I will punch you in the face,” Owen assures him.
Ianto shrugs. “What, again?”
“Maybe we should start making ‘Team Owen’ t-shirts,” Tosh suggests mildly. “They could sparkle.”
There’s a no smoking sign on the opposite wall, but Owen pulls a cigarette out of his jeans anyway.
It’s weird, the first few shows, working their new material in. They know their old stuff so well they could play it backwards – and did, once, for a load of stoned festival-goers in Spain last summer who screamed so loud Owen could feel it reverberating through his teeth for days afterwards – so that’s easy enough, but the new stuff is still, well, new; Ianto and Jack still dancing around each other’s vocals without the ease that usually comes from that, Owen concentrating harder than usual on Gwen’s beat so he can tie his own notes into it.
They’re still number one in the UK. From Out Of The Rain is selling ridiculously well despite the fact Owen hates the ridiculous pretentious circus characters etched creepily on the cover, while their first single from the album, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, is hanging around the top twenty. It’s a good album, Owen thinks one night, listening to Tosh’s voice twine with Ianto’s on To The Last Man – what passes for an angsty break-up ballad with them, despite the fact no one’s broken up with anyone and the whole thing’s so heavily layered with metaphors that it scarcely makes sense anymore – while Jack twirls the microphone stand for a screaming crowd, and wonders why he didn’t notice this before.
He leans into his own microphone to lend backing vocals, sweaty fingers skimming down the frets, and hears a handful of women in the crowd scream his name.
It’s at times like this that it’s pretty damn hard to remember that he’s fucking unhappy.
Owen doesn’t bother asking why Ianto is descaling their kettle at three in the morning. They’re not stopping tonight, the bus driving inexorably along, and when he looks out the window he can only see blackness and the occasional flash of orange light from the highway outside.
“Can’t sleep?” Ianto asks, tone neutral.
“Nah.” Owen drops onto the sofa but doesn’t bother trying to find a cigarette anywhere; no smoking on the bus is basically rule number one and while arguing with Ianto is one way to resolve his tension, he’s not in the mood tonight. It takes a while to get used to sleeping in the same room as the others, to sleeping in a bunk on a bus instead of on a proper bed. It’ll become second nature soon enough; he just has to wait. “What about you?”
Ianto peers into the kettle, expression thoughtful. He looks completely different to the way he looks onstage, all confident smile and artfully smudged eyeliner, effortlessly stealing the spotlight from Jack only to throw it back again, brighter than ever before; right now his hair is a mess, he hasn’t shaved, and the black t-shirt and boxers he sleeps in are crumpled.
“Just got off the phone with Lisa,” he says.
“Right,” Owen says, in a tone that doesn’t invite conversation. He sighs, and remembers that there are times not to be a dick, and three a.m. is one of them. “She ok?”
“Yeah.” Ianto offers him a brief smile, unreadable and fleeting. “England’s a long way away, you know? Or it seems it anyway. Some nights.”
Owen can’t help thinking that this would all be much easier if he could just like Lisa; she’s nice, she’s pretty, she clearly makes Ianto happy. All of which are problems, actually, but whatever.
“Yeah,” he agrees quietly, because that’s what the early hours of the morning are for. For feeling like this. “At least our kettle will be obnoxiously clean.”
Ianto’s mouth flickers. “Attempting to comfort me, Owen?” he asks; his tone is teasing but there’s a real question somewhere in there too. “Should I check the bus for mind-altering substances?”
“I assume all the mind-altering substances are going to be in Jack’s suitcase,” Owen replies.
He can tell from the look on Ianto’s face that he knows that Owen’s avoiding the first question and avoiding it badly, but he doesn’t mention it.
There’s an afterparty and it’s pretty good; Gwen is flirting shamelessly with one of their roadies but Owen lets it happen because, well, if that’s what she needs to be happy then fuck it, why not? Jack is the centre of the party because he’s the centre of all parties and Owen’s doing such a good job of not looking at all at Ianto that he’s lost track of him completely. He mingles obediently for a while, meeting people in bands that he’s heard of and bands that he hasn’t, smiles way more than he really wants to, and then heads for the bar.
Tosh joins him after a while – she’s much more fun to hang out with now she’s apparently got over her debilitating crush on him, though Owen has just enough tact not to say this aloud – and they’re just debating the merits of tracking down a pool table from somewhere when Tosh sucks in a breath through her teeth.
“This is not going to end well,” she says quietly.
Owen twists around to see just what Tosh is looking at and can’t help but agree. “Fuck,” he says softly.
The Time Agents, despite having the world’s most fucking stupid name, are Torchwood’s biggest rivals; there are five of them, they have a girl drummer too, and they also have a possibly insane but definitely charismatic frontman. Namely, John Hart.
“He’s better looking in person,” Tosh says, sounding dumbstruck.
“And I thought I had good cheekbones,” Owen mumbles.
Half the party is staring, wary, clearly waiting for someone to attack. Jack is still drinking nothing but mineral water so at least he isn’t drunk, but God knows what John Hart is on – stories of his exploits in rehab basically keep the tabloids in print – and the air is tense. Gwen has stopped trying to snog the face off Random Roadie Guy, and Ianto materialises out of nowhere over Tosh’s left shoulder.
“How bad is this going to be, scale of one to ten?” he asks quietly.
Owen shrugs; who the fuck knows. Jack’s wildly unpredictable, which is great if you’re an adoring fan but not so great if you’re his bandmate.
No one says anything for a long moment and then John Hart punches Jack in the face.
“I hate our lives,” Owen remarks to no one in particular.
Jack gives back as good as he gets and they go crashing through a table – Ianto buries his face in his hands – while Owen sighs and orders them all vodka shots.
Somewhere around the time Owen is wondering just what a broken nose is going to do to Jack’s singing voice, Jack and John stop punching each other and start kissing instead. The few people who weren’t filming the fight on their phones whip their cameras out.
“Well, this is going to look good on youtube,” Tosh remarks.
“Admit it, you fucker,” John gasps out, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was written about me.”
Ianto sighs loudly. “Why is everyone always Jack’s ex boyfriend?”
It’s not a good sound check. There are a thousand and one technical difficulties, Jack has about ten lovebites and is looking irritatingly pleased with himself, and everyone winds up snapping and shouting at each other as they try to get everything working smoothly.
In the end, Owen can’t handle it anymore and he walks out, claiming he needs a fag though when he gets outside he doesn’t want one anymore, so he just sits down on the pavement with his back against the wall. About ten minutes later, Ianto joins him.
“Are Tosh and Gwen having a bitchfight?” Owen asks. “Because I’m pretty sure I left instructions to come and get me if that happened.”
“You are a misogynistic arsehole,” Ianto replies mildly. “No, I just wanted some air. We’ve all got to calm down sometime.”
“Really?” Owen asks. “What do you expect, Ianto, we’re a band who’ve all fucked each other, of course we’re going to be shit at being civil.”
Ianto’s lips quirk. “Speak for yourself.”
Owen raises an eyebrow. “Who haven’t you slept with?”
“Tosh,” Ianto says simply. He turns to look at Owen, expression unreadable. “We haven’t slept together either, by the way.”
Sometimes, Owen genuinely forgets that. The way he feels about Ianto is frequently so complicated that he kind of assumes that they must have shagged at some point. But they really haven’t.
“Jesus,” he says quietly, and Ianto just sits beside him, not quite close enough to touch, and laughs.
(he took it all too far; but boy could he play guitar)
The first couple of times Owen put eyeliner on he nearly blinded himself and ended up looking like a panda on cocaine, which wasn’t really in any way attractive.
Now, of course, he’s so good at it that he’s done long before the others have finished their own stage make-up. Tosh and Gwen are both in gold, matching golden glitter streaked through their hair and across their eyes, while Jack is playing with his hair and laughing at himself in the mirror. Ianto’s hair is growing too long, long enough to curl around his ears, and Owen doesn’t find that at all tempting so he isn’t looking at Ianto, carefully leaning into the mirror in a pair of sinfully tight pinstriped trousers.
Ianto’s sense of style when in public is ridiculously fucked-up; all carefully tailored tight suits, shirts and waistcoats. He looks stupid. The fans love it.
“John said he was coming tonight,” Jack says, drawing Owen’s attention. He sounds gleefully smug.
“What’s the story with you and John, anyway?” Gwen asks, because somehow she can get away with asking things like this when the rest of them can’t.
Jack shrugs. “I was in his band years ago.”
They all turn to look at him. “You were a Time Agent?” Ianto demands.
“Yeah,” Jack says, and grins around at all of them. Owen is tempted to tell him he’s a fucking liar, but the problem is you genuinely can’t tell when Jack is lying and when he isn’t. It’s a nightmare.
“So what happened?” Gwen again, managing to sound sympathetic rather than morbidly curious like the rest of them.
“Come on,” Jack says, grinning, “you’ve met me. I’m no one’s backing singer.”
Owen’s mum is still waiting for him to get a proper job, which is grating. They’ve never seen eye to eye about anything, ever, so it’s not like he’s expecting her to be thrilled that he’s in a band, regardless of the fact said band is kind of successful and paid for her to get a damn conservatory last summer. She calls him up one afternoon, handling the time difference impressively, and by the end of the conversation Owen has slammed his knuckles three times into the wall and one of them is bleeding.
The crew always have booze lying around, which is helpful of them.
“You’re drunk, aren’t you?” Tosh sighs.
“Fuck, Owen,” Gwen says. “Get drunk during a show; yes. Get drunk after a show; well, that’s practically compulsory. But you do not get drunk before a show, that’s just bloody irresponsible.”
“Can you stop screaming at me?” Owen says with all the patience he can muster, leant against the wall. “Go away and get dressed like a slut for all those people who aren’t your fiancé.”
Gwen slaps him, but she does leave.
“That was uncalled for,” Tosh says, but she looks like she’d quite like to smile.
“You can go too, Tosh,” Owen tells her. “I’m sure you could be more glittery than you are.”
Tosh considers him for a long moment. “Just how much did you drink, Owen?”
“Don’t make me have to think up something insulting to make you leave too,” Owen says earnestly.
Tosh sighs. “All right.”
The minute he’s left alone in the corridor Owen bends his knees until he slides down the wall and ends up sitting on the floor, more or less. He sighs, knowing he’s being stupid and not caring right now. He can hold it together; he’s performed in worse states than this. Admittedly, that was a few years ago now, but he can still do it.
“Well done.” Ianto’s voice is sharp and dry and Owen has no idea when he got here or why he’s even bothering.
“Oh, fuck off, Ianto,” Owen tells him. “I have thousands and thousands of friends on facebook and you know, none of them are you.”
A minute later, and Ianto’s gone too.
Mostly to spite the rest of the band, Owen concentrates and is absolutely perfect all the way through their set. His mum might think he’s useless and heading for failure, but she’s his mum, she’s allowed to think that, she’s always thought that, whatever, but the others don’t get to think that about him. They don’t have to like him, they don’t have to respect him, they don’t even have to want to sleep with him the way he definitely doesn’t want to sleep with them, but they don’t get to think they could do better without him. They don’t.
Owen might have talked their crew into letting him have beer onstage instead of water, but it’s not like the others can say anything to him. Gwen’s eyes are narrow and she beats the drums like she’s seeing his face beneath the sticks, while Tosh keeps shooting concerned glances his way, but Jack’s on fire tonight so all eyes are on him. Owen doesn’t miss the way Ianto doesn’t even glance at him at any point, not even accidentally, but fuck Ianto, seriously, just fuck him.
“Thank you, Owen, you’re such a charmer,” Ianto says later, when they’re offstage and he’s manhandling Owen back to their dressing room. “Are you going to be sick on me?”
“No,” Owen snaps, “though that waistcoat deserves it, seriously, who even wears waistcoats anymore?”
“Oh look,” Ianto mutters, “you turn into Gok Wan when you’re hammered. Always nice to know.” He pushes Owen into a chair, movements brisk and sharp.
Owen folds himself over a table, pressing his head to its cold surface. “You’re the one who’s in love with Jack,” he mumbles, and doesn’t hear Ianto’s reply.
“Just get him out of here,” Jack is saying, low and hard.
Owen doesn’t remember the journey to the hotel – at least they’re not sleeping on the bus tonight – but they make it there eventually, Ianto’s mouth a thin hard line. He’s not talking and that’s fine because Owen has nothing at all to say to Ianto Sodding Jones. Nothing at all.
Ianto gets a keycard and shoves him into the lift, not bothering to be gentle and Owen suspects that there’ll be bruises tomorrow. Ianto likes to think he’s all saintly with his cleaning products and his fucking holier-than-thou attitude, but he’s a cunt at heart.
“Could you just stop talking,” Ianto says tightly. “Or could you at least not call me a cunt publicly, this is going to look bad enough on Oh No They Didn’t as it is.”
Owen obediently stays quiet until Ianto has dragged him into a room, slamming the door and not bothering to put a light on.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Ianto demands, hushed but hard, voice literally trembling with anger.
“What the hell do you care?” Owen demands, trying to pull himself out of Ianto’s grip and nearly stumbling over.
“You cannot do this, Owen,” Ianto hisses. “You can’t.”
“Right,” Owen says, “because Jack can fuck people across buffet tables if he wants to but I can’t possibly ever get drunk, of course.”
“That’s not what this is and you know it,” Ianto tells him.
“Oh, fuck you, Ianto,” Owen snarls. “You don’t get it, ok? You don’t get it because you’re the perfect one, the charming one, the nice one, the pretty one, the one who doesn’t ever fuck up or step out of line or get told he’s a useless fucking twat who’ll never make anything of himself. I bet you’ve never done anything wrong in your life, you were always there as a goody-fucking-two-shoes, you’ve never, ever ever fucked anything up-”
Ianto shuts him up by pressing their mouths together. It’s awful and furious, their chapped lips sliding against each other, Owen fisting his hands in Ianto’s stupid shirt just to keep himself upright, teeth clashing, Ianto’s fingers digging too hard into his arms. Abruptly, Ianto pulls away and pushes Owen onto the bed so hard Owen bounces and his head spins.
“Get some sleep, Owen,” Ianto snaps, and slams the door behind him.
None of them ever talk about that night again. It’s probably for the best.
There’s a certain point when you kind of become convinced that you’ve been touring for forever and the rest of your life is just a hallucination, and you’re just going to stay touring for ever and ever and ever until you die.
They all get restless around this point, staying silent on the bus rather than trying to start conversations that will only end in shouting. It’s like living in a shoebox, Owen feels, being let out periodically to scream at the world in heat and noise before they’re packed back up again and the lid is closed tight.
He spends half a sound check watching the line of Ianto’s back and telling himself that he isn’t, because fuck knows what’s going on there but he should stop thinking about it because really, punching Ianto would just be so satisfying, and the other half bickering with Gwen over a rhythm change in Sleeper.
“You’re a dick, Owen,” Tosh tells him later, sounding actually cross with him, arms folded.
“Are you going somewhere with this?” Owen asks. “Because I’ve heard that before.”
Tosh huffs. “I’m so glad I’m not in love with you anymore,” she says.
“I’m pretty sure you still are,” Owen replies, because pushing buttons is a specialty of his. “Somewhere deep down.”
She looks sad and annoyed, and sighs heavily. “I really hate you sometimes,” she murmurs, “and I wish I didn’t because I don’t think you deserve to be hated, not really, though when you’re there acting like it’s a huge deal that I’m the only person in the band you haven’t slept with-”
“I haven’t shagged Ianto either,” Owen interrupts.
Tosh looks startled, and all the anger seems to melt away instantly. “You haven’t?” He shakes his head. She comes to sit beside him, putting an arm around his shoulders. “Oh, you poor, poor sod.”
Owen doesn’t ask for clarification. He’s not even sure he needs it.
He doesn’t know how long they sit there, but eventually Jack comes in, looking pale and solemn and completely unlike himself.
“Are you ok?” Tosh asks.
Jack tries to speak, can’t, and tries again. “It’s Suzie,” he says, voice cracking, and Owen feels absolutely frozen.
They cancel the show, of course, because when your ex-band member kills themselves it’s pretty tasteless to go on, and anyway Owen’s hands are trembling so hard he’s not even sure that he could play right now.
Owen wishes he could say that it was a surprise. It’s a shock, yes, and he feels so paralysed it’s a wonder that he’s still breathing, but it’s not a surprise. Part of him feels like he’s been waiting for this ever since he met her, that smile that wasn’t quite steady or whole shivering on her face.
He can’t believe that this is really his life now; he was going to be a doctor, he was going to do something that mattered, and now he’s stranded in America with stale eyeliner caked around his eyes because it’s got to the point where it just won’t come off anymore, fingertips blistered from a bass guitar and a probable-ex-girlfriend dead back in London. He can’t even cry, though he wants to, desperately.
Tosh can cry, and does, face buried in Gwen’s shoulder. Gwen looks quietly stunned but it isn’t her loss and she knows it; she never really knew Suzie and it was probably just as well. Jack disappeared a little after breaking the news and his phone is switched off; Ianto is gone too, and Owen idly entertains the idea that maybe he’s breaking into the houses of total strangers, just to give him something to tidy.
“Why would she do something like this?” Tosh demands, helpless and tired, and Owen wonders if Suzie and Tosh still spoke; he kind of hopes they did, Suzie was ultimately responsible for giving Tosh every shred of the confidence she has now so she can stride onto that stage like a queen and sing to crowds of hundreds, thousands, without blushing and retreating to her jumpers again.
Owen thinks about Suzie for long moment, though it hurts to bring up any memories with her in them, and his head is thumping. “Why wouldn’t she?” he asks at last.
Tosh doesn’t reply, so he thinks he might have a point.
Jack hasn’t so much fallen off the wagon as pushed the wagon over, jumped up and down on it until the planks gave way, wrenched off the wheels and lit the whole fucking thing on fire.
He looks a mess, sprawled damnably alone on the couch in the bus. Tosh and Gwen have gone somewhere else and Ianto still isn’t back, so it’s just them now. Jack with his eyes too sharp and too blue, and Owen wants to leave and can’t.
“She was mine first, you know,” Jack says.
Owen doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t.
“She was my first girlfriend when I moved to the UK,” Jack continues and Owen wants to get up and leave but he can’t and he doesn’t. “I was all alone in London and I was a grad student so I felt too old for all of it but Suzie... God, she was beautiful.”
Owen lets his head drop onto the table, pressing his forehead against his folded arms. “Stop. Talking.”
Jack ignores him. “We were... I don’t know what we were. We were together for a year and then we weren’t together together for a year, and then we met you guys and we were in a band.” His smile twists, cruel and dark, and Owen wishes he could say that none of this is really about him but he knows Jack by now, really knows him, and this is all about him. “And then she was screwing you and she wouldn’t talk to me anymore.”
“This isn’t my fault,” Owen tells the table. The words feel heavy in his mouth.
“I know,” Jack replies easily. Owen sits up, looking warily at him. Jack smiles a little wider. “I’m just telling you that I got to her first.”
Owen gets up and leaves, slamming the door behind him.
Ianto finds him somewhere around two in the morning, sitting against one of the wheels and staring into space.
“I put Jack to bed,” he says, sounding tired.
“And you didn’t stay there with him?” Owen asks, words like broken glass in his mouth. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone, he doesn’t want to look at anything, he doesn’t want to think.
“Wasted and self-loathing isn’t my type,” Ianto says. Owen raises his head and gives Ianto a significant look until he looks away, biting his lip. “I don’t take advantage of people at their weakest point, Owen,” Ianto tells him, and it sounds like a rebuke.
“All right,” Owen says, because he doesn’t have the energy for an argument.
After a moment, Ianto sits down beside him. Owen forces himself not to push him away. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know what you’re going to do with yourself right now, Owen, and neither do you,” Ianto points out quietly. “So I don’t think leaving’s a good idea.”
“I don’t want to talk about my feelings,” Owen spits.
“Ok,” Ianto says.
“I don’t even like you.”
Owen sighs. “I think I was in love with Suzie and I didn’t know until now but I think she did.”
“Ok,” Ianto says, and, after a moment: “and Suzie?”
“It was always about Jack,” Owen replies, “even when it wasn’t.”
Ianto is silent for a while and then, finally, he offers: “isn’t everything?”
Somewhere around 2 a.m, Ianto says: “I know you guys all think that Jack held me down and fucked me until I agreed to join the band, but that isn’t actually what happened.”
“We don’t think that,” Owen says quickly, even though it’s a lie.
“Yeah you do,” Ianto replies. “Tosh told me once when she was really drunk.”
Something like a smile but that isn’t quirks Owen’s lips. He doesn’t think he’s physically capable of smiling at the moment, but it’s ok.
“Tosh says a lot of things when she’s drunk,” he says.
“I know,” Ianto replies, and he sounds heavily significant. Owen rolls his head to look at him but Ianto smiles, soft and real, and shakes his head. “Not tonight,” he says.
“All right,” Owen agrees. He tries to remember what they were talking about. “You were saying something about Jack not fucking you.”
Ianto swallows a laugh. “I just wanted to say, I met Jack about fifteen minutes before I met you for the first time. It was Suzie who I became friends with, Suzie who talked me into joining. That’s all.”
Owen knows why Ianto is saying this, but his chest is still stinging. “Did you really work in Starbucks?” he asks.
Ianto frowns. “That was ever in doubt?”
“Jack says a lot of shit,” Owen points out.
Ianto grimaces slightly. “You don’t believe a word anyone says to you, do you, Owen?”
Owen sighs, and doesn’t reply.
Ianto falls asleep sometime just after three, head drooping towards his chest, and after a while he shifts and his head winds up on Owen’s shoulder. Owen contemplates pushing him off but ends up moving, cold and stiff, to wrap an arm around Ianto. He turns his face into Ianto’s hair, breathing in hard and ragged. Ianto smells like shampoo and sweat and cigarette smoke and coffee, and Owen threads his fingers into Ianto’s hair, curling them in the just-too-long locks, not quite hard enough to wake him but gripping tight anyway. He breathes in and out, thick and shaky, unable to cry but wishing he could.
Owen feels like he could break apart in this moment, fall into a hundred shivering pieces, and the only thing stopping him right now is Ianto, warm and silent at his side with his hair carded soft through Owen’s fingers. He closes his eyes and when he eventually opens them again his eyelashes feel wet, though his cheeks are perfectly dry.
Suzie asked after Tosh, after Gwen, after Jack. She talked about the band in general and casually brought up Dianne even after Owen lost contact. But she never, ever, not once mentioned Ianto after she left, and for the first time Owen realises that that was significant.
This is such a fucking mess, he thinks, but doesn’t say it aloud because if he wakes Ianto up then he’ll have to let go.