Word Count: 4500
Sequel To: Nobody Wins Anymore, We Lied When We Said That We’d Aired All Our Grievances and I Don’t Like Where This Is Going
Spoilers: 2x07 Dead Man Walking, but, more specifically 2x08 A Day In The Death.
Summary: It's a new kind of awkwardness, one they haven't played with before.
Author’s Notes: Oh, man, The Coffee Machine Scene. *swoons* O/I goodness in its purest form. And any episode that references Tintin has my heart – he was one of my first loves, even if I saw him for the first time while watching the cartoon in French while in Luxembourg when I was about eight and didn’t actually understand a word of it. I think I still have a postcard of him in pyjamas on my bedroom wall… I digress. Anyway: love Tintin. And writing the dialogue for this fic made me all shades of happy, it was so fun.
There are broken espresso mugs all over the floor and Ianto feels a little like something sacred has been violated. Besides, it's easier to concentrate on tidying up than on thinking about the unthinkable. He cannot think about Owen being shot down and dying, about the autopsy that didn't happen, the new Glove reanimating a body that by rights was over and done with. He cannot think about the fact that Owen had several 'final moments' and yet he couldn't think of something to say. Nothing meaningful. Tosh was sobbing "I love you" repeatedly, Jack had all the right words, Gwen managed hugs and Martha handled the medical side but Ianto couldn't summon up anything at all. Today, he has been worse than useless, completely fumbling and fucking up the conversation with Owen where he was meant to be easing the transition from Medical Officer to Zombie Teaboy. Owen threw Jack at him again, the ultimate conversation-stopper because it makes Ianto's replies crumble, and Ianto's weak attempt at a pep talk tasted sour and useless on his tongue.
He's failed, pure and simple.
A piece of ceramic slips in Ianto's hand and slices his thumb. He swears loudly in Welsh and is sorely tempted to burst into tears, and he has to stay crouched on the floor swallowing for a few seconds. He will not fall apart.
"Do I want to know what you're doing down there?" an amused voice asks. Ianto looks up to see Owen smiling brightly at him. Not trusting himself to speak, he holds up his bleeding thumb.
"Jesus, I can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?" Owen laughs, and something about him has changed. He's not angry any more; he's calm, and cheerful, and more like the Owen he was three days ago. "Come on, let's go and get you a plaster."
Ianto pushes himself to his feet, steps carefully over the pile of shattered ceramic he's made, and obediently follows Owen down to the autopsy room. He sits down on the table while Owen starts rummaging through the drawers and complaining that Martha's fucked up his complex filing system. Since Ianto knows that Owen's 'complex filing system' is merely code for 'a bloody mess', he decides not to sympathise.
"You seem happier," he offers tentatively, aware that Owen could easily turn around and start shouting at him and breaking things again. 'Volatile' doesn’t even begin to cover it.
"I am," Owen responds. "I mean, I thought about it, and then I decided that sitting about here and bitching was kind of pointless, and it was going to get boring pretty fucking quickly, so I got over it."
"You got over dying," Ianto repeats. "Well, that's good."
"Also, I saved a woman's life." Owen gives him a smug smile as he walks over with the plaster. "I might be dead, but I'm still bloody awesome."
Ianto looks at the bandage holding Owen's left hand together and frowns slightly. Owen pretends not to notice, instead handing Ianto the plaster. Ianto peels the paper off and carefully sticks it on.
"Thanks," he says. It's a new kind of awkwardness, one they haven't played with before, and he wants out of here. "I suppose I'd better finish tidying up."
"Hang on a minute," Owen says, hopping onto the table beside him. "Um... I wanted to... apologise. About earlier."
Owen was under huge amounts of stress and Ianto was screwing up because he doesn't know how to approach him now, and yet Owen's the one apologising to him. Ianto hasn't felt this guilty in months.
"I'm not the one you have to apologise to," he says, with an attempt at a genuine smile.
"Well I’m not apologising to the fucking coffee machine," Owen responds, deliberately misunderstanding him as always.
Ianto smiles weakly. "It's fine," he says. "Really."
"I shouldn't have snapped like that," Owen shrugs. "So: I'm sorry I was a dick, Ianto."
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry about even trying to go along with Jack's plan to make you the new coffee boy," Ianto says quietly.
Owen laughs. "Wasn't one of his brightest ideas, was it?" He offers Ianto a grin. "So, feel sufficiently girly now we've got all the apologies out of the way?"
"My balls are shrinking," Ianto responds dryly. "I'll probably turn up to work tomorrow in a pencil skirt."
"Damn," Owen replies, blinking. "Now that's a mental image."
Something has occurred to Ianto. He elbows Owen - carefully, he doesn't think Owen can afford any more permanent physical injuries - and says: "Hey, apologise to me about Tintin. That's my childhood you trampled all over."
"Tintin was a Nazi, you know," Owen replies.
"Tintin was not a Nazi!"
"Hey, it's not my fault you were wanking over a dog-shagging Nazi," Owen responds, sniggering in that irritating way he has.
"If you weren't already dead, I would seriously fucking hurt you," Ianto informs him. "And I think you're more screwed up than I am, I mean, other people have nightmares about things that are actually scary, not cartoon reporters with sticky-up hair."
"You're the one who fancied him," Owen replies; apparently they've become seven-year-olds when they weren't looking. "He didn't even have eyelids." He shudders.
"You have many unresolved issues," Ianto says. "I pity you."
"Tintin is scary," Owen says in a case-closed sort of voice. "Ask anyone. I bet Tosh and Gwen would agree."
"Well, obviously Tosh would agree, she's in love with you," Ianto replies.
Owen looks so crushed and uncomfortable that Ianto wishes he hadn't said it. "You know what, Ianto, you don't bring up the Tosh thing and I won't mention the fact that you didn't say a damn word when we all thought I was actually going to die permanently. Yeah?"
Ianto swallows. "Ok."
"I'm supposed to be your best friend," Owen says, "Whatever the hell that means, I mean, could you have been more unhelpfully vague? Anyway, I'm meant to matter to you and you fucking avoided me."
"I'm sorry," Ianto says, and then: "You were eavesdropping?"
"Yep." Owen laughs. "Anyway, I don't want to talk about the last few days, it's not going to achieve anything."
"So what do you want to do?" Ianto asks.
Owen gives him a long, thoughtful look before he says: "Have you still got that stopwatch?"
Ianto frowns incredulously; Owen responds with a manic grin.
"...Yes?" he ventures tentatively.
"Brilliant. Oh, and I think you might have to drive."
"This isn't going to be some kind of suicide pact thing, is it?" Ianto asks, looking doubtfully at the water slapping the boards underneath his feet. It's late, and the little waves look almost black in the poor lighting. "I mean, I'm sad that you're dead and everything, but I refuse to follow you into the afterlife. I've got dry cleaning to pick up, for one thing."
"It's just as well I know how good you are in the sack," Owen responds dryly, unzipping his leather jacket and dropping it into a careless heap on the ground. "Because you really can be irritating at times, Ianto."
"It's a skill," Ianto informs him. "It's taken a lot of diligent practise to get this far."
"And we're all very grateful," Owen mutters, pushing a torch into Ianto's hands. "I want to do an experiment," he adds, as Ianto clicks it on.
"An experiment that involves us and the Bay and a stopwatch at midnight," Ianto says, feeling distinctly bemused.
"I'm sure Jack has dragged you into far weirder things," Owen shrugs. "Look, I just want to see if there's a limit to what my body can take."
"Is this going to involve you trying to drown yourself again?" Ianto asks. "Because if you want to spend half an hour in the Bay again then you could at least have told me to bring a book."
"Are you going to help me or not?" Owen demands.
Ianto sighs. "Of course I'll help you," he says. When you get right down to it, he can't deny Owen anything, but he won't admit it, and with any luck Owen hasn’t and will never work it out. He holds up the stopwatch. "Ready, Dead Boy?"
Owen doesn't look impressed. "'Dead Boy'?" he repeats. "Is that some kind of-"
"For God's sake," Ianto sighs, and shoves Owen into the water. As the splash fades away, he clicks the button on the top and watches as the hand begins ticking away industriously.
As time passes, he forces himself to remember that Owen doesn't breathe any more, doesn't anything any more, and therefore won't require rescuing. He still can't shake the feeling that there's someone drowning down there in the dark, impenetrable water. Ianto sits down on the jetty, watching as the occasional air bubble from Owen's clothes breaks on the surface. He tells himself, repeatedly, that he isn't worrying. It's a crisply cold night, the water must be ice cold, and it's pretty damn chilly up here on the surface. Ianto shivers, pulling his coat a little tighter around him, and watches as time ticks by.
At around the half hour mark, he decides that he's bored with this now, and shines the torch on the water, shaking it around. Owen surfaces a moment later, hair plastered flat to his head.
"You wouldn't believe how quiet it is down there," he says, and he doesn't even sound breathless. "And so dark."
"That's great," Ianto replies, aware his voice is starting to shake with cold, "But would you mind getting out now? We can repeat this experiment on a warmer day."
Owen nods, reaching one arm onto the jetty. He slowly drags himself out of the water, but slips at the last minute and nearly falls back in. Ianto grabs him, pulling hard, and they both fall, Owen landing heavily on top of Ianto. Only one of them gets winded by this, which seems kind of unfair. Owen seems to have brought about half the Bay with him, splashing it over the wooden boards and all over Ianto. He’s cold to the touch, and makes strange little squishy sounds whenever he moves. Owen braces his hands on either side of Ianto's head, pushing himself up a little. The only light comes from the torch, lying abandoned a foot away and giving an eerie white edge to the strings of water pouring down Owen's face and falling onto Ianto's.
Ianto contemplates saying: you look like a fucking drowned rat or: get off me, you're bloody heavy or possibly the plaintive: you're getting me wet, Owen, but the words don't come. Owen has drops of water caught on his eyelashes and in the shadow light they glitter. Ianto opens his mouth, unable to drag up any sort of speech. He takes a breath in, and Owen watches in fascination. It's amazing what you don't miss until it's gone.
When Owen tilts his head it sends another cascade of water pattering down onto Ianto's face, and there's a constant sort of dripping sound; he's definitely been in more romantic situations. But nonetheless there's something inevitable about this, as he leans up a little and Owen leans down. There's curiosity, and desperation, and something that might even call itself need (though they'll never admit to it; and later, they can blame this on the whole death thing). And Ianto can't say that he's never wondered what it would be like to kiss a dead man.
Owen's mouth is cold, and he tastes like the Bay. He doesn't taste like Owen any more, and it seems to take a moment, like Owen can't quite remember how this all works. Ianto is about to write this off as a lost cause, and work out how to deal with that, when something seems to snap and Owen's tongue sweeps across his and the sensation is different but not necessarily bad, and Owen lets out a little noise that seems to be a cross between surprise and want.
It appears that, in spite of everything, they still have some weird kind of spark.
It's distinctly maddening.
A certain numbness is creeping through Ianto, he’s freezing cold and drenched now, but Owen is pushing him down hard against the wooden planks. When Ianto opens his eyes, all he can see is a sheen of white torchlight glistening off Owen’s soaking hair, and he didn’t think he’d ever do this again. Not when Owen was eyes wide open on the ground with blood on his chin and his shirt stained crimson. And yes, ok, he had regrets, though they fade quickly enough with Owen’s teeth bumping against his lower lip.
Ianto shoves at Owen's chest, forcing him back.
"What?" Owen whispers.
"Unlike you, I still need to breathe," Ianto informs him, gasping a little. "So, all right, suffocating to death with a kiss would certainly be interesting, but it might be kind of humiliating on the paperwork, if you know what I mean."
Owen laughs, but the sound doesn't vibrate through him like it used to. He looks down at Ianto in the meagre light and it's impossible to see his expression, which is just as well. His face is made up of streaks of white light and shadow, drops of the Bay dripping steadily off his chin. It’s almost beautiful, in a tragic and sort of pathetic way.
"We should move," Owen says finally, tone heavy.
Ianto grabs a sodden handful of shirt. "Why? I'm fine, we don't have to-"
"You're shivering," Owen informs him in his I'm-a-doctor-so-don't-even-fucking-think-about-arguing-back voice. "It's freezing out here, you're soaked to the skin, and currently being crushed by several stone of wet, dead guy. It's a stupid reason to get ill, Ianto."
He pushes himself to his feet, and offers Ianto a hand upright. Ianto takes it, swaying a little on his feet as Owen bends down to retrieve the torch and his jacket.
"My place is closer," he says, not looking at Ianto. "Hot shower, some dry clothes. I've pissed Jack off enough lately, without giving you flu into the bargain."
They stand in the dark for a long moment.
"Did dying give you clarity?" Ianto asks.
"You mean, did I figure out exactly how I feel about you," Owen responds, tone flat, and it's lucky it's dark because Ianto doesn't want to look at him.
"That was part of it," Ianto reluctantly agrees, "But not the whole of it. Did dying make it all clear?"
Owen laughs sharply. "No. God no. I still don't know what I want from you, and I still haven't worked out the mess of my existence." He sighs. "What about you? You're the one who watched me bleed out and die. How do you feel now?"
Ianto swallows. "I'm still in shock," he admits.
"You and me both," Owen murmurs. He takes Ianto by the arm and starts pulling him towards where they've parked the car. "Well, at least you're as inscrutable as ever. Some things never change."
Ianto is cold and shaking, and he doesn't know what to say in reply to that. "Your boots are squelching," he offers.
There's something fundamentally different about Owen's flat, though Ianto isn't quite sure what it is until he opens the bathroom cabinet door in search of some shower gel while he waits for the water to heat up, and finds the whole thing empty. He checks under the sink and finds nothing but a neat heap of gauze and plasters. Not so much as a toothbrush.
He walks back into Owen's living room-cum-kitchen and realises that the kitchen area is entirely neat and tidy. Normally, Owen has fruit and bread in various stages of decay scattered haphazardly along the sideboard, but they're all gone. He pulls the fridge door open and that's empty too, the shelves stripped bare.
"Nosy," Owen remarks, walking out of the bedroom in dry clothes. "I thought I told you to get in the shower, not wander around the flat in your underwear. What will my neighbours think?"
"I was hoping you might have some shower gel," Ianto says.
"Oh." Owen gets this complicated expression. "Right. Well, I don't."
Ianto sits on the sideboard.
"What happened?" he asks softly.
Owen offers him an emotionless half-smile. "I binned my life," he explains.
There is a long silence. Ianto is dispassionately aware that he is shivering; it's cold, the window is open, and most of his clothes are in a soggy heap on the bathroom floor. But he can't make himself move.
"I'm sorry," he says quietly.
"Your coping mechanism seems to be to tidy things," Owen explains. "So I thought I'd give it a try. I got rid of all the things that I don't need any more."
Ianto nods. It would be hypocritical of him to see what Owen did as a meltdown, since it's how he deals with things. He can let the others deal with Owen's unstable mental state.
"...Do you still have towels?" he asks tentatively.
"Yes," Owen says. "Go, get in the shower, and I'll stick your clothes in the washing machine."
"You're keeping it?" Ianto asks, sliding off the sideboard.
"What kind of zombie do you take me for?" Owen asks, with a hint at a real smirk. "Just because I'm dead, there's no reason for me to get squalid."
Ianto laughs softly, chucking the heap of clothes at Owen before closing the bathroom door. There's little point in keeping any kind of modesty, but he does anyway. He kicks off his boxers before stepping under the now-warm shower spray, tilting his head back and, for a moment, trying to think of nothing but the feel of the heat on his skin.
It's been a long day, and it isn't over yet.
"So," Ianto begins, walking out of Owen's bedroom, towelling his hair, "How much time have you spent in the Bay so far?"
Owen is standing in his kitchen with his kettle, a mug, and a few teabags that managed to escape his giant clear-out. He has no milk or sugar, but Ianto's drunk far worse in his time.
"It's not like it matters, I'm already dead, remember?" Owen replies.
Ianto is wearing a bedsheet in a way that feels mildly slutty, but Owen's too skinny for him to borrow his clothes, and since he put the heating on the flat's warmed up nicely. Besides, it really isn't anything Owen hasn't seen before.
"It's not that," Ianto replies, sitting down on the sofa. "You're a corpse, doesn't that mean you can get waterlogged?" He twists around to look at Owen. "You know you won't like it if you get all bloated and sloshy."
Owen pours hot water into the mug and drops in the teabag.
"'Sloshy'?" he repeats incredulously.
Ianto shrugs. "Sloshy."
"Oh, thank you," Owen mutters edgily. It probably hasn't occurred to him, Ianto realises; Owen is pretty crap at self-preservation, as his left hand can testify. "I'm not going to get waterlogged."
"Fine!" Ianto holds his hands up as a peace gesture. "You're not going to get waterlogged. It was just a suggestion."
Owen nods firmly, rummaging in his kitchen drawers for a teaspoon.
In the silence, Ianto voices something that he knows he shouldn't. "What do you think would happen if you got decapitated?"
Owen gives him an angry look that very nearly scorches. "Want to give it a go?" he asks acidly.
"You started it," Ianto replies defensively.
The strained silence remains while Owen carries the tea over and bangs it ungraciously down on the coffee table in front of Ianto. He then sits down on the sofa beside Ianto, folding his arms and making it clear that he's still slightly pissed off.
"There we go," he says, "Don't let it be said I wouldn't be a fucking amazing tea boy."
"Stop insulting my thankless and demeaning job," Ianto responds. "It's not as bad as you made it out to be."
"Yes, Ianto, it is," Owen tells him, sighing. "So I don't want you to be you. That's ok. You don't want to be you. That's why you leapt at the option of field work the minute Jack left and Gwen was willing to let you out."
"Why would I want to leave the Hub and its nice security systems in favour of the big, wide world with its large range of people and creatures who all seem to want to devour me?" Ianto asks dryly.
"Don't give me that," Owen replies, "You're just as much of a damaged adrenalin-junkie as the rest of us, you're just tidier about it."
"My job description involves making hot beverages, filing papers, ordering stationary and making telephone calls," Ianto says. "Hardly thrill-seeking, Owen."
"Which is the exact reason I didn't want to become the office boy," Owen shrugs. He seems to deflate slightly. "What am I supposed to do now?" he asks.
"Take up a musical instrument?" Ianto suggests. "Maybe the piano."
Owen gives him a withering look and holds up his bandaged and immobile hand.
"That is in no way my problem," Ianto replies calmly, leaning over to pick up his tea and taking a sip. It's not half bad, actually. "I suppose I should be grateful that when you got angry you just broke espresso cups in front of me, and not your own fingers."
"Dick," Owen mutters.
"It had to be said," Ianto tells him. "I promise not to bring it up again."
He drinks his tea in the quiet, and begins to feel less cold and shaky and strange. The last couple of days have been fucking weird, even by Torchwood standards, and he thinks he might secretly be somewhere in the middle of this new complicated set-up.
"There were no fucking protocols for this," Owen mutters at last. Ianto is surprised to hear this; some days, he feels like the only one in the whole damn organisation who still knows the Torchwood Rule and Protocol books inside-out (and then he remembers that he is).
"Torchwood has all kinds of protocols-" he begins.
"For how you guys are supposed to cope, not me," Owen responds bitterly. "Because no one cares about how the dead guy feels, as long as the living are ok." He shifts to look directly at Ianto. "Whatever happens to me, promise me you won't let Jack do this to anyone else."
"He won't be able to," Ianto replies, concerned at the serious expression on Owen's face. "The Gloves come in pairs, and they're both destroyed."
Owen shakes his head vehemently. "That wasn't a pair," he says. "They were nothing like each other. They couldn't have been a pair."
"What are you saying?"
"The Gloves do come in pairs, but who's to say how many pairs there actually are?" Owen presses.
Ianto's tea becomes sour in his mouth, and he has to swallow hard. "So you're saying that there could be more psychotic death Gloves out there?"
"Oh." Ianto puts his mug back down on the coffee table. "I shall look forward to it." He sighs. "You've got incredibly morbid, you know."
"I am dead," Owen points out. "If I can't be macabre, what have I got?"
Ianto thinks for a long moment. "A bloody great hole in your chest?" he offers. "Actually, is the bullet still in there?"
Owen shrugs. "I think so."
"Ouch." Ianto grimaces. "Better not try to get on a plane, the metal detectors could be a problem."
"Your practicality frightens me," Owen informs him lightly.
"Sometimes, it's the only way to keep from going mad," Ianto replies. "Like, if an alien explodes all over you and it's traumatic, it is far easier to concentrate on how you're going to get the navy blue intestines out of your suit without telling the dry cleaner's the truth than actually think about what just happened."
"You need therapy," Owen says after a moment.
"So do you, Dead Boy."
"Is this revenge for the 'tea boy' thing?" Owen asks. "'Cause I think I could get offended at being referred to as 'Dead Boy'."
"You're going to get used to it," Ianto tells him, making it clear that there's no space for argument. "I could call you worse things. They could involve the word 'zombie', for example."
"I wouldn't try it, unless you want me to start calling you 'office slut' in front of Jack," Owen replies cheerfully.
"I don't think it'll bother him," Ianto shrugs, and ignores the fact that that stings a little when he says it. "And you're more the office bicycle than I am, if you want to get technical."
Owen screws his face up. "I miss sex," he says.
"It's been about three days!"
"And how would you feel if someone walked up to you one day and said 'sorry Mr Jones, but you can't ever shag anyone ever again'? I doubt you'd go 'oh, ok then' and take up knitting!"
Ianto looks at Owen's bandaged hand.
"You can't take up knitting," he says. "You'll have to find a hobby that only involves one hand."
Owen gives him a filthy look, the kind that uses his whole face and even manages to get his eyebrows involved.
"There is a flaw in that plan," Ianto points out.
Owen groans miserably, and leans into Ianto. Ianto, without meaning to, pulls away, exclaiming: "Jesus, you're cold!"
"I prefer Lazarus, actually," Owen tells him, and doesn't move.
"Sick fucker," Ianto says, not without affection. "You really are cold, though."
It stands to reason that Owen would be cold, though he may eventually become room temperature, which might not necessarily be better. Ianto looks down at the top of Owen's head for a moment, and wonders exactly what's going to happen now. Maybe he can postpone thinking about that for a while.
"However angry you are," he murmurs, "I'm glad you're not permanently dead."
"Well, it's a start," Owen replies. "And you should go and get some sleep, or you're going to look like shit in the morning."
"It is the morning," Ianto reminds him. "Three-thirty, to be exact."
"I really am going to have to find something to do with my time, aren't I?" Owen remarks hopelessly.
"You could write bad science-fiction novels," Ianto offers. He smiles when Owen makes a groaning sound at that suggestion, clearly not liking it. "Ok, I'll go to bed and you can try and think of some way to pass the time."
"You've already anally organised all my belongings," Owen reminds him.
"Not my problem," Ianto says, getting up. He leans down, and kisses Owen on the forehead. "Goodnight, Dead Boy."
"This is worryingly domestic," Owen murmurs.
Ianto says nothing, and shuts the bedroom door behind him. The bed is warm and soft and comfortable and smells overwhelmingly of Owen; and for the first time in several days Ianto manages to drift off into a deep and dreamless sleep.
But for the obvious, it's very nearly nice.