Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"Could've, Should've, Didn't", Torchwood, Owen/Ianto

Title: Could’ve, Should’ve, Didn’t
Fandom: Torchwood
Pairing: Owen/Ianto [Jack/Ianto, Jack/Gwen, Gwen/Rhys]
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 4537
Sequel To: Nobody Wins Anymore, We Lied When We Said We’d Aired All Our Grievances, I Don’t Like Where This Is Going and Hold Onto The Negatives, They Could Be Worth Something One Day
Genre: Slash [het]
Spoilers: 2x09 Something Borrowed
Summary: They want to pretend things are normal, but they're not. They're really sodding not.
Author’s Notes: Just as a warning: I do use the dreaded phrase “I love you” in this; I want y’all adequately prepared. I’m going to tentatively label this as not karaokegal safe so she doesn’t hurt me for what I’ve done to Owen! But I haven’t gone entirely fluffy so don’t worry too much. Additional information added from the Something Borrowed extras on the BBC website.



From the BBC Torchwood Website:

Your suit is back from the dry-cleaner’s. Though surely you could’ve splashed out for a new one? You do get paid more than me, after all, and I managed to get something.

Ianto


*

It hasn’t been worn! I bought it last year for a wedding that got called off. It got a mark on it when it was hanging up. And I don’t want to be a knob about it, but you do six years of medical school and maybe you will get paid what I do…

Leave the suit at the desk, I’m off on recon for this shape-shifter in five mins, I’ll pick it up later. Cheers mate, appreciate it

Owen


Could’ve, Should’ve, Didn’t

Lisa screams but her voice sounds more like the grinding of coffee in the machine, and her eyes are irrevocably blue. When she reaches out to touch him, her skin is cold; already dead.

Ianto sighs, and decides his subconscious is attempting – not very subtly – to tell him something.

He’s very nearly grateful when his phone starts ringing, pulling him half-awake and disorientated back into his dark flat. He stumbles across the room to retrieve the phone from the pocket of his suit trousers, hitting the answer button without bothering to see who’s calling.

“It is four in the morning,” he says weakly. He considers turning the light on for a moment, and then doesn’t bother. “So are you Jack, or are you Owen?”

“Uh… Owen,” the sheepish voice on the other end of the line admits. “How did you know?”

“Because the girls are more considerate, and they still need sleep,” Ianto replies. “You and Jack, on the other hand, have forgotten what sleep even is, and so are surprised when you discover that other people don’t run on the same twenty-four hour body clock that you do.”

“Jack doesn’t sleep either?” Owen asks, with interest. “Why not? Do you think it’s a side effect of-”

“If you've rung me up at four in the bloody morning just to chat, I will..." Ianto tries to work out what you can threaten a walking corpse with. "I will... papercut you."

It sounds lame, but he's only had three hours of sleep so no one could expect him to be on top scathing form.

"Bloody terrifying, that's what you are, darling," Owen replies cheerfully.

"Call me darling again and I really will do something to you that will linger," Ianto replies.

"You like it," Owen corrects him cheerfully. "Anyway, I need your help."

Ianto has been Torchwood's unofficial babysitter for as long as he can remember (at one time or another, the whole team have called him up slurring/wailing: Ianto, I'm at a bar, I don't know the name but I'm out of money, please come pick me up...). It's tiring, but he's never tried to get out of it. It's just another one of his duties that he gets no recognition for.

"What have you done now?" he asks with patience. "And after the last time, don't think I'm paying your bail again."

"Oh come on," Owen says, "It was fine in the end. A good time was had by all."

"You were sick all over the backseat of my car," Ianto reminds him frostily.

"Are you going to stop bitching and help me or not?" Owen asks.

Ianto sighs.

"Where are you? And if you've thrown yourself in the Bay again, bear in mind that I have no sympathy at all."

"I do have better things to do with my time," Owen informs him.

Ianto remains sceptically silent.

"Don't give me that," Owen says. "Anyway, I need you to come pick me up."

"I'm not going to get out of this, am I." Ianto sighs.

"I could ring Tosh..." Owen suggests.

Ianto is tired and only half-awake, and he uses this as the reason why he automatically grits his teeth when Owen makes that suggestion. He swallows hard, and decides that he won't let himself be manipulated. He is bloody sick of everyone thinking it's easy to push him into things.

"Fine," he says. "You do that."

"Ianto, mate, come on-"

He ends the call, and sits and watches the dark for a long moment. They want to pretend things are normal, but they're not. They're really sodding not.

Shouldn't have done that, the Lisa in the back of Ianto's head says (Lisa as she was, of course, clear-eyed and laughing and charming). Call him back.

Ianto loved a dead woman for months and months and months, catered for her every need, pieced her back together when she fell apart and held her emotions in his hands. He cannot do that again. No; not quite the truth. He will not do that again. Even if it's Owen. Even if, to all intents and purposes, he's the same as he ever was.

Besides, no matter what they go through, there will always be a battle of wills between them, and Ianto still just about has his pride. If Owen's that bloody desperate, let him be the one to call back.

He counts seven minutes, sitting cross-legged on his bedroom floor, head leant against the chair he folded his clothes over. And then his phone starts ringing again.

"Tosh not answering?" he asks. His tone is too hard, too sharp. He swallows, in an attempt to soften it; after all, it's not really Owen that he's angry with.

There's silence from Owen, just the crackling sound of traffic going past and wind crackling in the background. It's cold outside, and Ianto thinks it might have been raining somewhere around midnight.

He sighs. "Tell me where you are. I'm coming."

A long pause again. Owen's voice sounds muted, almost tired, when he says: "Thank you."

-

It isn't raining any more but the roads are still bright and slick, empty as they are. The sun hasn't risen yet, and his car is cold. Ianto drums his fingers on the steering wheel, yawning, and then puts the radio on as loud as he can manage in an attempt to keep his eyes open. The semi-darkness gets more oppressive as he leaves the city and gets onto the motorway.

"Owen, you're a cock," he murmurs to himself. He won't say it properly, things are too fragile, but he can't stop himself from thinking it. He also tries to ignore the fact that Owen is one of the only people in the world that Ianto would actually do this for, because that train of thought can lead nowhere good. And then he wonders what it would be liked to walk this way alone, in the rain, at midnight. Keeping to the side of the motorway. Owen explained: I just started walking. And then I didn't know how to stop.

Ianto very nearly misses the small, huddled figure sitting on the damp grass by the side of the road. There's no one else it could be, so he pulls over and gets out. Owen gets to his feet and walks over; he's opening his mouth to speak but Ianto holds up a hand.

"I don't want to hear it."

Owen nods. "Want me to drive?" he asks. "That way you can get some sleep on the way back."

"Only one of your hands works," Ianto points out. "Can you drive?"

"I'm not totally bloody useless," Owen replies, voice a little tight. He holds his good hand out. "Keys."

Ianto obediently drops them into Owen's palm, and gets in on the passenger side of his car. They could fight it over for a while, but he's absolutely exhausted. Owen gets in, starts the engine, and changes lanes to begin the ride back to Cardiff.

"I think we were naive," Owen says after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence. "We were so relieved that I wasn't completely dead that we overcompensated."

"We thought nothing would need to change," Ianto agrees, nodding reluctantly. "But it does."

Owen gives him a sheepish smile. "We didn't have enough when I was alive," he says, "I can't even offer some kind of desperate inappropriate sex any more."

"Goalposts have moved," Ianto sighs. Shakes his head slightly. "We'll work it out."

Owen laughs. "No, we won't. We never do."

Ianto laughs too; and sometime after that, falls asleep against the window.

-

It is the day before The Wedding (thank God, Ianto thinks, for altogether too many reasons), and Ianto has become everybody's best friend. Tosh wants advice on pairs of shoes - ok, so he's sleeping with Jack (and kind of Owen, but shush) but that doesn't automatically make him an expert on ladies' footwear, does it? He picks out the silver ones anyway, they're pretty and go nicely with the dress. Tosh thanks him profusely, giggling a little, and she's by far the easiest to deal with.

Gwen enlists his help in contacting the caterers ("Oh, Ianto, you have such a soothing voice, you are so good with people") and before he knows it, he's ringing around half the companies doing things related to the wedding. All of them are maddening and have that slightly hysterical edge of people trying to get too many things sorted in the shortest possible space of time. By the time Gwen has had him double check with the florist - "Rhys says he'll sort it, but I know he won't" - Ianto thinks that he is very probably going mad.

"When I get married, I'm bloody eloping," he sighs, putting down the phone. Jack gives him a fascinating look, and Owen practically cracks his neck turning to stare at him. This is rather becoming a problem. Actually, come to think of it, it's fairly maddening in the Hub, even once you take away the whole but Gwen said she wanted the wedding cake to have four tiers, not three business. "I am going down to the archives," he announces loudly. "I have paperwork. I will not be back for a while. Do not even think of attempting to contact me."

No one ever comes down here, and on level minus four there's a nice little niche area with armchairs and a kettle and, above all, peace and quiet. Ianto suspects that all of Torchwood Three's previous secretaries have used this space to escape their co workers at one time or another. He makes himself a nice cup of Earl Grey, loosens his tie a little, and sits back. It's at this point that his phone starts ringing.

"Hello?" he asks tentatively, since he doesn't recognise the caller's number.

"Is that Ianto? It's Rhys."

"I'm not going to ask how you got this number," Ianto says carefully. What new phase of wedding-related insanity is this? he wonders weakly. "What do you need?"

"I just wondered if you knew what time Banana Boat's flight gets in?" Rhys asks. "Only we've got a last-minute fitting with the tailor..."

"Two fifteen," Ianto tells him. He sighs, slumping a little in the chair. He is too bloody tired for this, but anyway. "Dare I ask why you call him 'Banana Boat'?"

"Oh, we went on holiday, years back," Rhys explains, already chuckling with the memory of a well-worn injoke. "Malaga. And we got a little too tipsy one lunchtime, and we were on the beach and thought-"

On second thoughts, Ianto isn't entirely sure he wants to hear this. "I get the picture."

"Yeah." He can hear Rhys smiling. "Look, Ianto, I never thanked you for getting Banana out of prison for me."

"It wasn't a big deal," Ianto shrugs. "I told them he was radioactive and for some reason they suddenly became quite keen to send him back."

"You know," Rhys says, once they've both stopped laughing, "You're not like the others in Torchwood. You seem more like a real person than they do."

"Don't be fooled by appearances," Ianto replies mildly. "But don't worry about anything, and I'll see you tomorrow Rhys."

He gets another three minutes of quiet before he remembers that a couple of days ago he foolishly agreed to pick up Owen's dry-cleaned suit for him. It is never-ending sometimes. And he also knows that he isn't going to be thanked in any of the toasts, despite the fact he is, to all intents and purposes, Gwen and Rhys' unpaid wedding planner. Same old, same old.

When he makes it up to the main Hub, he discovers that a shape-shifter has been running around the city killing people. This means that Tosh has put aside her shoes and is going through CCTV footage with her fingers dancing on the computer keys, Gwen has stopped harassing the people organising the napkin rings (or whatever) and is trying to find out how to kill the shape-shifter when they find it, and Jack has stopped standing around with that faintly helpless expression on his face and has started handing out orders.

Sometimes, it's really a relief to shut out real life and slip back into the claustrophobic bubble that is Torchwood.

-

It was almost inevitable, Ianto supposes.

Jack is twirling Tosh around the dance floor and both of them are laughing - it's entirely possible that Tosh has drunk just enough to lose the frosty edge she's been playing with today - and Gwen and Rhys are swaying and gazing into each other's eyes somewhere near the speakers. Ianto is drinking champagne - the non-retconned variety, of course - and telling himself that it's perfectly natural for Jack to look at Gwen like that; he does so hate losing people.

"I knew you'd be no bloody fun at parties," Owen says brightly, coming to stand in front of him. "You're the 'sitting in the corner' type. I just knew it. I mean, look, even Tosh is having more fun than you are, and she probably never even gets invited to parties."

Ianto has drunk just enough champagne to have no patience for trying to out-bullshit each other. Something's bloody well got to give.

"What do you want, Owen?" he asks. "In five words or less."

"To dance with you." Owen offers him a sheepish grin.

"You've got to be kidding me."

Owen's smile is crooked and awkward and sweet. "Really, Ianto. Please. Just one dance."

Ianto puts his champagne glass down. "All right."

Owen holds out his right hand and Ianto takes it. The touch of skin is still strange; Owen is dead, after all. Dead and cold and worryingly soft. Ianto felt safe and warm in Jack's arms, swaying around for the slow dance he felt was due to him. Owen is skinnier and a little too short and yet it's ok, as Owen curls his damaged hand over Ianto's hip and the fingers of their right hands intertwine. Jack and Tosh have wandered off the floor; Tosh is sipping a glass of white wine and talking to Banana Boat with a slightly more receptive expression on her face, while Jack flirts shamelessly with one of the bridesmaids, because there are some universal constants. Gwen is clinging onto Rhys' arm, but she's looking over at the two of them with a slightly confused expression. Ianto winks at her, and she turns back to her husband.

If anyone else has noticed the way the Torchwood team are all swapping partners like some kind of random two-step orgy, they’re too polite to mention it.

"Your heart is pounding," Owen mumbles against his neck. "I can feel it. Turns out it's easier to feel other people's when you don't have a heartbeat of your own to worry about."

"Sure you're not a vampire of some kind?" Ianto asks, laughing. He's trying to keep himself distracted so he doesn't have to think about why he can't get his heart to slow down. Dancing with Jack was fun and safe and sort of... romantic. This makes him nervous, tight little knots in his stomach that he can't adequately explain to himself, although he's equally aware that if someone tried to pull Owen away from him he might not be able to let go.

Jack is dancing with Gwen. Again. There's something worrying and intense in their expressions and it shouldn't hurt because Ianto is hardly a paradigm of fidelity here, but it still stings. Owen makes a soft sound of recognition next to his ear.

"Don't," Ianto mumbles. "There's nothing you can say that will make this better."

Owen is silent for a long moment, while the song switches and they change the rhythm of their swaying a little.

"I love you," he says.

Ianto stops moving, and stares at him in amazement. His mouth feels numb when he finally manages to stammer: "What?" Part of him wonders if this is some really terrifying joke on Owen's side, but one glance at the other man's face tells him it isn't. "Why bring that up now?"

Owen's smile twists. "'Cause Jack's being an idiot," he replies. He pulls Ianto against him again, and speaks into his ear as they start dancing again. "I think, after everything you've done, someone ought to say that to you today."

"But-" Ianto begins, with no idea where he's going with this, what he could possibly say in reply to that.

"No." Owen sounds firm, for once, and Ianto obediently shuts up. "When you start talking, it confuses things. We start having to quantify stuff, we start having to second-guess ourselves. So be quiet for once, and just listen to me." His fingers tighten just a fraction. "I adore you, Ianto Jones; you rock my fucking world and I wish I’d figured that out when it still mattered."

Weddings have this effect on people; they get tired of being alone. Tired of lying to themselves and to those around them, and worrying pieces of truth start spilling out.

"It still matters," Ianto replies, and is horrified to find that his voice is shaking just a little. He refuses to get choked up over something so bloody futile.

Owen seems to be thinking along the same lines; he laughs gently. "That's sweet, but we know that this has to end." He leans his cheek against Ianto's shoulder. "I’m a corpse who can’t stay still, and I’m not letting you shut me in the basement to make matters better."

Ianto exhales shakily in lieu of an answer. He thinks he's supposed to call Owen a bastard somewhere around here, he's supposed to tell Owen that it wasn't like that with Lisa, he's supposed to say this is an entirely different kind of game altogether. But it isn't. It really isn't.

"I know," he mumbles. His throat is closing up and he's squeezing Owen's hand so hard he's worried he'll leave (permanent) bruising. "I fucking know."

This is the point at which he's supposed to start crying like a sodding child, he knows this part. And it would be very easy to collapse against Owen and start weeping, because he suspects that he's finally acknowledging a loss that happened a week or more ago. Owen is right; they can't keep letting this happen, not any more. Not now things have changed so much.

Owen watches the one tear escape down Ianto's cheek in the fascinated way he watches Ianto breathe now. Like remnants of life confuse and enthral him because he doesn't have them any more.

"God," he murmurs, "I bloody miss tears. You don’t think you’ll miss crying, ‘cause it’s fucking awful, but… I miss it."

Ianto's breath shudders when he inhales, pulling it all back together again. Packing all the emotions back into the shell he's done his best to create since leaving Torchwood One; the shell where he keeps Lisa and Jack and Suzie and the Cybermen and the cannibals and now, it would seem, Owen.

He offers Owen a weak smile. Owen smiles back, and squeezes his arm.

"That's my boy."

"Shut up," Ianto murmurs, pulling the other man a little closer, and pressing his cheek against Owen's hair. "So, when exactly did we go from 'Ianto, you bloody confuse me' to 'Ianto, I think I love you'?"

"You're a glutton for punishment," Owen tells him. "You're embarrassingly masochistic."

"Does that mean you're not going to tell me?"

"I was watching you sleep yesterday, when I was driving back to Cardiff," Owen explains. "Quite a lot of things went 'click' pretty loudly."

Ianto sighs. "This is bloody stupid," he says. "This is really bloody stupid."

Owen laughs. "At least we finally agree on something," he remarks.

Dancing brings out the wrong things in people, it wakes things up and for some reason they can't resist blurting these things out. It's as much made up of the moments between the steps and the spaces between the words as anything. And maybe Ianto's a little too emotional and maybe he's drunk a little bit too much champagne.

"I could kiss you," he whispers shakily. "I could kiss you right here, right now, right on this dance floor."

Owen takes a long moment to reply. "You shouldn't."

Jack is glancing over Gwen's shoulder at them, a slightly bemused expression on his face. The wedding guests are slowly beginning to succumb to the retcon-spiked champagne, and it's getting quieter. Finally, today is slipping towards an end.

"So," he sighs, "This is you breaking up with me."

Owen shrugs. "More or less," he says. "It's for the best."

"People always say that," Ianto replies. "But at least you sound like you mean it."

"Yeah." Owen is thoughtful for a moment and Ianto takes the time to reflect that he really doesn't like music designated as 'slow dance' music. And also that 'just one dance' has turned into about four and it probably looks a little suspicious.

"Do me a favour, yeah?" Owen interrupts his thoughts. "Use your magic powers to find Tosh a boyfriend." He thinks about this for a moment. "Actually, while you’re at it, find yourself one. Someone who’ll be nice to you."

Ianto finally smiles. "I don’t think I’d know what to do with myself if I had a boyfriend who was nice to me," he says, and before he knows it he's started laughing.

"Told you," Owen tells him, starting to laugh as well. "Glutton for punishment."

"I'll see what I can do," Ianto says, finally letting go. He feels warmer now he's let go of Owen, the cool dissipating. "Well, um... thanks."

"One tip, sweetheart," Owen says, a wonky grin spreading across his face, "When someone says 'I love you' to you, you're really not supposed to reply with 'thank you'. It's pretty damning."

"I don't know what to say," Ianto admits. He sighs, his legs feel trembly and he hasn't eaten or really slept in too long and even the fact that there will be hardly any witnesses once the retcon kicks in doesn't make him feel better. He sighs. "I don't..."

Ianto turns and walks away, desperate for some distance, a decent drink, and a moment of quiet. Very deliberately, he doesn't turn around to see Owen watching him go. He can't.

-

The clean-up job takes most of the night. Getting the guests back to their respective homes in their respective cars from the middle of nowhere is pretty damn exhausting, and, Ianto discovers, pretty damn boring as well. Owen and Tosh are working together, since Tosh isn't strong enough to carry/drag an unconscious guest to their car and load them safely into the backseat and, it turns out, no one trusts Owen behind a steering wheel. Watching Owen negotiate a landrover out of the car park, Ianto suddenly realises how close he came to dying the other morning; it's almost amusing how he didn't notice.

"Don't know about you, Ianto, but I don't feel much like a fairy," Jack remarks cheerfully, slinging one of the bridesmaids over his shoulder.

"I think I was referring to the bigger picture," Ianto replies. "They'll all wake up in the morning in their own beds, and it's just like magic."

"A lot of magic is just back-breaking work behind the scenes," Jack tells him.

"So I've learned," Ianto smiles.

Jack watches him for a long moment.

"Are you ok, Ianto?" he asks quietly.

Ianto doesn't ask how much he knows and what exactly it is that he knows; Jack always figures out enough. He wouldn't be able to give his bloody good impression of omniscience if he didn't.

"I will be," he replies, smile just a shade too bright. He bends down beside another woman, limp in a pale blue dress, and begins searching through her handbag for her car keys. Seriously, some days, this job.

"Hang in there," Jack tells him.

Ianto swallows. "I just don't understand this game," he admits. "I really don't."

"Finish the clean-up," Jack says, "Have a lie-in, don't come in till tomorrow afternoon. This will all get clearer with a decent night's sleep."

The last time Ianto managed to sleep all the way through the night, undisturbed by nightmares or his inconsiderate co-workers, was a few days ago in Owen's unmade bed. He tries hard not to read too much into that. He nods numbly, picking up the unconscious woman. Get the job done, get some rest. That much, he can manage.

-

Jack gives him a ride back to the Hub when they've finally finished tucking everyone into bed.

"I'm not staying tonight," Ianto says quietly.

"I wouldn't ask you to," Jack replies with a hint of a smile.

Ianto misses Owen, Jack misses Gwen; right now, there are too many people in this relationship and it's getting crowded. From the outside looking in, it might look sort of amusing. From the inside, it's merely terrifying.

Tosh and Owen drive up in Owen's car. Tosh gets out looking a little shaken.

"He can't hold the gearstick properly," she says in a hollow voice. "I thought we were going to die."

"You're far too cautious a driver," Owen tells her, getting out too. "We'd have been there all bloody night if I'd let you drive."

Tosh rolls her eyes. "I'm going home," she informs them all.

"Be late in tomorrow," Jack says, "You've earned it."

Giving her a hug goodnight, Ianto slips her Banana Boat's number. Ok, the man might be a little cocky and has a ridiculous nickname, but it's a definite start. Tosh looks momentarily surprised, and then smiles.

"You're good," she says. "Or possibly creepy."

"I like to think the former," Ianto tells her.

Once she's gone, Jack excuses himself and wanders towards the tourist office, presumably to spend the night brooding.

"Want a lift?" Owen asks, gesturing at his car.

Ianto smiles. "No," he says carefully.

"Oh, yeah." Owen laughs awkwardly. "Fuck."

"Goodnight!" Ianto calls after him, as Owen walks back to his car. He isn't surprised when Owen doesn't reply. There are far too many new boundaries, created out of some kind of desperate sincerity. So he parks the SUV properly, reaches into a box in the back, and finds the bottle of champagne he rescued from the tidy-up.

Ianto drives home with it sat on the passenger seat beside him, trying to weigh the benefits of remembering with not remembering.

By three a.m, he's popping the cork and sitting on his sofa staring at the bottle. Retcon-spiked champagne. Good idea? Bad idea?

His phone rings. "Go to fucking bed, Owen," Ianto says.

"I don't sleep."

"Then take a book with you."

"Have you drunk the retcon champagne yet?" Owen asks.

Ianto sighs. "No."

There's an uncomfortable pause; there's something close to anger between them, now resigned tragedy has passed by.

"Are you going to take it?" Owen murmurs eventually.

It's too late for this, and Ianto is so very, very bloody tired.

"I don't think you should call me any more," he says, making a decision, and turns his phone off.

Ten minutes later, he pours the champagne down the sink.

Tags: character: gwen cooper, character: ianto jones, character: jack harkness, character: owen harper, character: rhys williams, character: toshiko sato, pairing: gwen/rhys, pairing: jack harkness/gwen cooper, pairing: jack harkness/ianto jones, pairing: owen harper/ianto jones, tv show: torchwood, type: slash
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