Pairing: Owen/Ianto [Jack/Ianto, Jack/Gwen]
Word Count: 3,950
Sequel To: Nobody Wins Anymore
Spoilers: Season 2 up to and including 2x04 Meat.
Summary: "You know what, I think I might pack in this empathy lark. It's really not paying off."
Author’s Notes: The sheer amount of Owen/Ianto eyefucking in the latest episode was amazing! You may not have noticed it, but it was so there. Continuation of the Tentative New Dynamic I’m developing for the boys in season 2, from stalker!Jack’s POV ‘cause I thought it might be interesting. Like my other Torchwood season 2 fics, it’s been written in notepad instead of MS Word… not actually sure where I’m going with this, but what the hell. It may become an epic!
Jack is familiar with all the different methods of stalking, and he is also fully aware of things like 'employee rights'. He read them once, anyway, back in the seventies when the booklet was a lot thinner and a lot more easy to understand.
He follows Gwen and Rhys all the way home with the CCTV cameras anyway, fingers clicking accusingly loudly on the keyboards. Tosh is far better at this sort of thing, and Ianto's not bad either, but Jack does know enough about twenty-first century Earth conventions to know it's pretty bad taste to ask the guy who is, to all intents and purposes, your boyfriend, to help you follow a female co-worker home on the security camera network.
It's tacky. It lacks dignity. Jack is pretty certain that he should be ashamed of himself. Gwen looks so happy and in any case he was the one who instigated the whole "let's date" thing to Ianto in the first place. Jack is seriously starting to consider leaving again, and then coming back and not making things quite so complicated this time around. While admittedly complications are the spice of life, there's a certain level of complicated Jack doesn't want to get tangled up in.
Jack buries himself in paperwork for the remainder of the afternoon, and is both pleased and ashamed to find that Ianto doesn't come near him except to bring him cups of coffee and neutral smiles. Sure, so he could use some work on his subtlety (that was never really one of his strong points, it has to be said), but this is getting to a new level of seriously awkward.
Is he really so obvious?
If the way Ianto is looking utterly calm but can't actually meet his eyes is anything to go by, then: yes. He really is.
Tosh begs off in the early evening, awkward for reasons Jack is pretty certain are nothing to do with him. He lets her go because he doesn't want to keep her here. The Hub has a nasty atmosphere today, sour, like grief and guilt mixed up and dumped on them all. Jack hasn't seen Owen for at least an hour, and he presumes Ianto is hiding in the archives somewhere. Avoiding him or just being unbearably professional; it's a toss-up. Ianto has never been easy to read; it's what made it so easy for him to hide Lisa in their basement.
Scrolling through the Hub's security network, Jack finds Owen hiding in the empty cells on level minus four. Their doctor is sat on the floor, head in his hands. Jack turns the sound up. Owen isn't crying; he's just breathing. Unsteady, angry, shallow. Owen is falling apart more and more, and Jack hasn't managed to figure out how to reconnect. Not that they were ever friends, but his team grew up in the months he was gone, and he's still trying to pin down exactly how they've changed. Owen always was more complicated than he pretended to be, and for some reason Jack isn't entirely sure of, he's acting more and more like a human being at the moment.
It makes something indefinable in Jack feel guilty, watching Owen having a quiet but nonetheless fervent breakdown, and actually he's on the brink of actually going down there and trying to have a conversation or something with the guy. Not that he knows what to say to make Owen feel better, but at least he won't be alone any more.
And then Ianto walks in.
"Leave me alone," Owen murmurs, not even raising his head.
"And you called me 'emo'," Ianto replies lightly, closing the heavy metal door behind him with a jarring clang that reverberates right through the speakers. "Think this might be a case of 'pot' and 'kettle'?"
"I'm really, really not in the mood," Owen practically growls. Jack can understand this, because although Ianto and Owen don't openly snap and snarl at each other any more, the last time he checked there was still some kind of uneasy vitriol between them. Ianto won't be able to help this situation any more than Jack could; that's why they need Gwen to be their human connection. No one else can manage empathy in any way, shape or form.
Ianto ignores Owen's badly-concealed warning and walks over. He stands in front of Owen for a moment, sighs, and sits down on the concrete beside their doctor.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Don't you have somewhere better to be?" Owen snaps. "Like on your knees under Harkness' desk?"
Ianto takes a breath, and his expression doesn't flicker.
The two men are pressed shoulder to shoulder, though Owen refuses to look up, and Ianto is carefully not looking at him.
Although there's tension in both their bodies, it's not as pronounced as it should be.
"Sorry," Owen mumbles after a moment. "I know you've got more dignity than that."
Ianto smiles a little ruefully.
"Really? I don't know what gave you that impression. Undignified and Easy, they're practically my middle names."
Owen laughs shortly, and it turns into a choke that's horribly close to a sob.
"Fuck, Ianto," he almost groans, "It was in so much pain, and I couldn't... I just couldn't..."
"I know," Ianto says softly, voice low and smooth. "You put it out of its misery, Owen. You did a good thing today."
"Yeah." Owen finally raises his head, and his mouth is twisting. "You know what, I think I might pack in this empathy lark. It's really not paying off."
"It's ok to feel sad," Ianto tells him, still staring straight ahead, anywhere but at their doctor. "It's what normal people do when bad things happen."
"Yeah, 'cause we're all so fucking normal." Owen takes another breath that shudders too much, and there's exhaustion in his face when he shuts his eyes.
"Speak for yourself," Ianto replies. "I like to think I'm perfectly normal."
"I'm only eighty percent certain that you're not some form of super advanced robot that runs on coffee and bleach fumes," Owen tells him. "Not sure you're going to pass the 'I qualify as an ordinary person, really' exam."
"Charming," Ianto murmurs, with a little smirk. "For what it's worth, I don't think-"
"This isn't working," Owen interrupts. "I know we're trying to have a nice little pointless conversation so we can pretend that what happened today didn't, but it isn't working."
"All right." Ianto doesn't move, and his voice is still so calm, so even. "Do you want a hug?"
Ianto shrugs. "But do you?"
"You don't have to be as touchy feely as Jack is, you know." Owen sighs, he's still staring at his knees, and from this angle his eyelashes cast long dark shadows down his cheeks.
"Is that you-speak for 'yes'?"
"You really don't know me as well as you think you do."
"Yeah, I really do."
Owen turns his head, pressing his face into Ianto's shoulder. He laughs shortly, a sharp sound that looks painful.
"I really fucking hate you sometimes."
Jack watches carefully, but he can't tell how Ianto manages to get an arm around Owen's shoulders. All he can see is that Owen sort of falls, and Ianto is there to catch him, arms wrapped around Owen's skinny frame.
"You have to stop doing things like this," Owen mumbles, and Jack has to turn the sound up because the doctor's voice is muffled against Ianto's neck. "It's not fair."
"Shush," Ianto replies against Owen's hair. "We'll sort that out later. Just..."
Owen falls silent, and then makes ragged noises that aren't quite tears but are nowhere close to stable, and Ianto shuts his eyes and makes very soft, comforting sounds low in his throat. There's nothing awkward about it; Jack finds himself frowning, because Ianto seems perfectly comfortable holding Owen. There's the ease between them of people used to touching each other, who've done it before. It's not that fact that bothers Jack; it's the fact that he didn't even notice. He thought he understood everything about his team, but they've proven over and over again that it's impossible to sort them into little categories and force them to stay there. A few months ago, when Owen and Ianto were permanently at each others' throats and shooting each other, Jack would never have seen this.
"It's ok," Ianto mumbles.
"No, it's bloody not," Owen replies, voice shaking a little but sounding a lot better. "Suzie was right, all human beings are arseholes. We should be slaughtered for the good of the universe or something."
"Forgive me if I don't readily agree with you that killing us all is the way forward," Ianto replies. "But then I was never as trigger-happy as you."
"Says the man who shot me."
"Are you ever going to let that go?"
"I doubt it." Owen sighs, but he's moving, lifting his head a little. Still pressed close to Ianto, and it makes Jack's stomach twist, because they really do look like lovers. Like they do this all the time. For all he knows, they do. Owen makes a little sound that's similar to a laugh, one hand cupping Ianto's cheek, they're near enough to kiss and it's clear Owen's more than willing to close that minor distance.
"I can't," Ianto whispers, pulling back quickly just as Owen leans forward. "I told you, I can't."
Owen really laughs now, and it's so, so bitter.
"Harkness doesn't give a shit about you, or do you just enjoy being embarrassingly delusional?"
Jack draws in a sharp breath through his teeth, but Ianto still doesn't react. Sometimes, Jack wonders if he had some kind of really weird emotional conditioning at Torchwood One, or if Ianto has just found out, via some kind of trial and error, that it's easier to look impassive than wear his heart pinned to his shirtsleeve.
"I told you this wasn't going to happen," Ianto replies, speaking softly but firmly. "I thought we'd agreed that-"
"You agreed, you mean." Owen pulls away, getting to his feet.
"I explained to you that-"
"If you're really serious about wanting to stay the hell away from me, then you need to stop doing things like this." Owen has his back to the camera and Jack can't see his expression, though the sweeping hand gesture he makes is pretty obvious. It manages to encompass 'coming to find me when everyone else has gone and giving me way too much physical contact in the name of comforting' fairly adequately. "Because it really, really doesn't help."
"So I was supposed to leave you down here on your own, was I?" Ianto demands. "'Cause we all know what great ideas you come up with when you're unhappy and no one steps in to help."
"You're not my friend," Owen snaps. "And you're sure as fuck not my boyfriend, so how come I'm your responsibility?"
Ianto is looking white, though it could be the shitty CCTV quality. Jack knows that he should stop watching whatever the hell this actually is, but there's no power on Earth that could make him turn the monitor off now.
"If I don't look after you, who will?" Ianto asks softly.
"This isn't 'looking after', this is just another kind of torture," Owen replies sharply, "And you fucking know it, Ianto. You have to stop."
"This isn't my fault!" Ianto hisses, something that's almost approaching anger finally breaking across his face. "Stop acting like it is!"
"You just make it worse and worse," Owen replies, "And you don't give a damn about how I feel as long as you get what you want!"
"That's ridiculous," Ianto snaps.
"Is it? I don't know if you've taken retcon, but I definitely remember you fucking me 'cause you weren't sure how the hell you felt about Jack coming back. And now, you want to feel better about yourself 'cause Harkness is more interested in Gwen than he is in you, so you come down here and pretend that you're helping me out. But it's all about you, and none of it is about me. So don't you dare try to tell me that what you're doing isn't entirely selfish."
"You don't understand," Ianto tells him firmly, but Owen shakes his head, turning away. There are ugly blotches of colour on his cheeks, Jack hasn't seen him this angry in a long time.
"I understand perfectly, you just wish that I didn't."
"We should talk about this."
"There's fuck all to talk about, Ianto."
"Owen!" Ianto is looking urgent now, reaching out to catch Owen's arm.
"Go to hell."
Ianto obediently falls back, guilt written right over his face. Owen slams out of the cells, and Jack has the presence of mind to get the CCTV footage off his computer and be standing well away from any sort of monitor when Owen walks back out into the main Hub. Owen doesn't even spare him a glance, just grabs his leather jacket off his chair and heads for the stairs, head down, pure anger emanating from him.
Jack doesn't say anything. He's fairly certain there's nothing to say.
Ianto stays, and files, and says nothing at all for the next two hours. Jack can't work out if it's because Ianto doesn't want to talk to him, or if it's because he's replaying the argument with Owen in his head. Ianto is so frustratingly hard to read, which Jack used to sort of like about him, but now it's just annoying.
"Are you ok?" Jack asks, just a little conversation starter. A trap Ianto is too smart to fall into, but you never know, it might work. Jack has to keep trying.
"I'm fine, sir," Ianto responds, arms full of paperwork. "How are you? Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm ok." It's ridiculous how awkward this is, Jack is really bad at awkward, and Ianto's neutral expression is more worrying than anything else.
"Good." Ianto picks up yet another pile of expense forms, most of them covered in Owen's casual scrawl. "Just let me know if there's anything I can do."
Jack takes a breath.
"Owen stormed out of here looking pretty pissed earlier," he begins, trying to sound as innocent as he can. Ianto doesn't buy it for a second, Jack can see. Smart boy, that one.
"Yes, well, Owen's a cocky little bastard with a God complex," Ianto responds in a neutral tone, "And he doesn't like it when he can't save something. He can't be as arrogant as he wants to be when we all know he's as fallible as the next man."
"You and I both know that's not true," Jack replies.
Ianto gives him an eerie little smile that doesn't get anywhere near his eyes.
Tonight, Jack is not in the mood to push it. One of these days, he's going to have to do something about Ianto and his mannequin-like way of dealing with people. Glassy smiles and steady hands; it's getting worse, not better. But not tonight. No one's in any fit state for that sort of conversation tonight.
"If that's all..." Ianto begins.
"Yeah." Jack forces a smile that's easily as fake as Ianto's, Jesus, when did they become this uneasy around each other?
... Oh, right.
"If you'll excuse me, then, sir."
Ianto goes back to his filing, and Jack goes back to pretending that he's not watching Ianto working with a perturbed sort of expression. It was like this in the days after Lisa's death, but at least then there was a damn good reason for it.
Exactly twenty minutes later, Ianto carefully puts a stack of papers down on a table, checks his watch, and sighs.
He doesn't even say goodnight to Jack on his way past; just grabs his car keys from the tourist office upstairs, and leaves. Jack considers just giving this up as another shade of Ianto's already well in progress breakdown, and actually getting on with something productive. But he's curious as to how this will all end, and he's never pretended he wasn't actively voyeuristic. Besides, he's spent enough of today watching Gwen; he can at least afford Ianto that same honour.
Torchwood has access to pretty much every CCTV camera in the city and the surrounding area, and Tosh is always improving the standard of their privacy-invasion. Right now, Jack is extremely grateful for that. Ianto parks his car outside a bar, and heads inside. It's not a place Jack normally goes for drinks, because it is sort of dark and dingy and full of wrist-slittingly depressing people. Ianto weaves easily through the people inside, heading towards a hunched figure at the bar, a row of empty shotglasses in front of him. Owen. Of course. There's a blonde woman beside him, they seem to be talking or flirting or arranging whose place they're about to go back to, but Ianto interrupts in a way that is not exactly rude but is very definite, before taking Owen by the arm and all but dragging him outside.
A century ago, Jack learned to lip-read. He suspects he's going to need it now, as Owen breaks free from Ianto, gets about three steps, and sits down heavily on the curb as his knees give out. Ianto remains standing, arms folded in an entirely unrepentant gesture.
"I'm taking you home," Ianto says.
Owen twists his head and calls Ianto something that Jack can't see; it makes Ianto close his eyes for a moment, as though steeling himself, drawing strength from that seemingly inexhaustible well of determination he has within him.
"You'd only regret it in the morning," Ianto tells Owen, and his face is still so very, very calm. "You'll thank me for this tomorrow."
Jack thinks Owen says no I bloody won't, but it's too hard to tell.
Ianto rolls his eyes, walking over to where Owen is practically huddled in the gutter, and offers him a hand to his feet. Owen looks at it, lip curling with disdain, and pushes himself upright without Ianto's help. Ianto scowls, unlocking his car and practically wrenching the door open. Owen drops in the other side, and as far as Jack can see, after a minute of Owen's helpless fumbling with the seatbelt, Ianto leans over and does it for him, before slamming the doors closed.
Jack is in no way proud of the fact he has all his employees' cars bugged; Suzie figured it out and used to play obnoxiously loud rock music any time she drove anywhere, but no one else knows yet, and it's necessary. It's surprising how often aliens steal Torchwood's cars in an attempt to escape.
"See," Owen is saying when Jack turns the sound on, "This exactly what I was talking about. You can't do this."
Ianto sighs. "I'm saving you from yourself. You could at least pretend to be a little bit grateful."
"Yeah, but when you do things like this, it just encourages me." Owen is drunk, but not that drunk; his voice is still steady enough. "And you should stop encouraging me, because we both know you've chosen Harkness."
"So I should treat you the way you treat Tosh, should I?" Ianto asks with an acidic bite in his voice. "Because clearly that's helping matters."
"I thought you were supposed to be helping me feel better," Owen mumbles.
"I no longer give a damn about your emotional welfare," Ianto responds in a neutral tone. "I'm taking you home, and if you want to go straight back out again then you can. There's only so much time I can spend this evening being abused before I give up entirely."
Owen laughs; it's not a nice sound.
"Of course, this is all my fault. Silly of me for not realising earlier."
There's a sound that implies Ianto has smacked the steering wheel in irritation.
"I'm sorry that I'm not in love with you, Owen," he says in a voice that is barely steady at all, "Or whatever it is that you actually want. But I do care about you, whether I should or not, and I'm fucking sick of having it thrown back at me because it's not enough for you."
Owen makes an annoyed sound but doesn't reply.
"This is one of those arguments that neither of us is going to win," Ianto says after about five minutes, and the sudden cutting of the engine implies that they've arrived at Owen's. "But if you're serious about wanting me to leave you alone, I could try and work at it."
There's a swishing sound implying that Owen's undone his seatbelt.
"I don't know," Owen says at last. The awkward atmosphere is transmitting itself perfectly through the speakers on Jack's desk; he finds himself unconsciously suppressing the urge to bite his fingernails. It's amazing how good his team are at tying themselves into uncomfortable little knots. "I don't know what the hell I want, Ianto. Ok?"
The nerve-wracking silence continues, and Jack finds himself wishing that he'd video bugged the goddamn car, instead of just putting in audio. Anything to find out what Owen and Ianto are doing. There's nothing, though, just this quiet, and really, if he video bugged the car, he'd have to lock himself up for his own safety. He's really not that sociopathic; at least, not yet. Ask him again in another hundred years.
And then there's a shifting sound, like someone moving in their seat. More silence, and then that unmistakable little sound that tells Jack that one of the men in the car has initiated a kiss, though it's impossible to tell which. Jack thinks he really ought to turn the sound off, because he may sort of be stalking his co-workers, and, ok, he was watching Gwen and Rhys earlier this afternoon, but somehow this is different.
"Why do you let me do this?" Owen asks. He sounds breathless, his voice a little muffled.
"I don't know either." Ianto laughs, a helpless sound. "Jesus. Owen, get out the car. Please."
"You need to stop letting me think I've got a chance," Owen informs him, but the shifting sound implies he's sat back again. "Because, you know, some days you're no better than Jack."
Jack expects Ianto to take offence at that - were their positions reversed, he thinks he would - but instead, Ianto just sighs.
"Yeah. I should probably work on that, shouldn't I?"
"It would help," Owen agrees.
The silence is back; it's maddening. Jack wonders if this is what Ianto and Owen's relationship is mostly based on; awkward silences and even more awkward contact.
"Get out of the car," Ianto repeats. "If you want to do something destructive with your evening now, then go ahead. But you need to go now."
From the noisy shifting sort of sounds, and then the door slamming, Owen has presumably obeyed. Ianto lets out a very, very long sigh, but doesn't start the engine again. Instead, he puts the radio on very, very loudly, so that all Jack can hear is Rhianna explaining that although it's raining a lot, he can share her umbrella, if he likes.
This is Jack's first sign that maybe Ianto knows he can hear what's going on, after all.
Making a decision, he reaches over and turns the live feed off. He already knows that he and Ianto will never discuss this, and anyway, he's got some thinking to do. Some things to figure out.
One of them is, basically: what the hell just happened? Though, from what Jack's overheard, it seems that no one actually knows.