Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"The One You Don’t Dare Miss (For Fear Of What It Could Lead To)", Torchwood, Owen/Ianto

Title: The One You Don’t Dare Miss (For Fear Of What It Could Lead To)
Fandom: Torchwood
Pairing: Owen/Ianto [hints at Jack/Ianto, Jack/Gwen and Owen/Tosh]
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 7060
Genre: Slash [het]
Sequel To: Nobody Wins Anymore, We Lied When We Said We’d Aired All Our Grievances, I Don’t Like Where This Is Going, Hold Onto The Negatives, They Could Be Worth Something One Day and Could’ve, Should’ve, Didn’t
Spoilers: 2x10 From Out Of The Rain and 2x11 Adrift.
Summary: He knows damn well that it's for their own good that they have to stay apart.
Author’s Notes: This is the final part of my series. My thanks to everyone who’s read all or part of it; you’re all amazing and lovely. I didn’t have the guts to take it to Exit Wounds – if only ‘cause I thought it might set off teh crying again – but for those of you who know what happens, you also know I can’t give this a completely happy ending. That being said, I wasn’t going to give it a depressing ending, so…



With Gwen happy and far away on her honeymoon, things in the Hub fracture a little. They've lost their 'human connection', after all; and besides, only two members of the team really constitute 'human' nowadays anyway. One of those people is Ianto, and the jury's still out on whether or not he's some kind of entertainingly subservient android.

Jack's brooding is getting beyond 'amusing' and into 'slightly creepy', and Ianto doesn't seem to be letting it bother him.

"I'm telling you, android," Owen tells Tosh brightly, waving his bandaged hand towards where Ianto is tidying up a stack of pizza boxes and deliberately ignoring them. Or maybe that's unfair. He might only be ignoring Owen. "There's no way he can be human."

"You're a zombie," Tosh reminds him, not taking her eyes off her computer screen, "You're hardly in a position to judge, Owen."

He laughs, throwing himself into a chair. "What a team we make," Owen sighs. "The immortal, the zombie, the android, the bleeding heart... so what does that make you?"

Tosh shrugs. "The sane one?" she suggests. "There's usually just one person in every organisation who isn't quite as psychotic as the others, and it seems that that role is, by default, mine."

Owen unravels that in his head, and then nods. "Looks like it," he agrees. "Aren't you the lucky one..."

"That's one way of putting it," Tosh replies, and then giggles.

Ianto has vanished, leaving their sofa area frighteningly tidy. Everything has been straightened and fluffed to within an inch of its life (if anyone knows how that feels, it's Owen), the grime fairly sparkles. It would seem that Ianto is utilising his frustration or potential mental breakdown on damn near sterilising the Hub. It's deeply sad, of course, and Owen tries to remember that a little over a year ago he wouldn't have cared. Now, he cares far too much, and he's not allowed to admit it because they don't know how it'll end. A whole load of rules that sort of got drawn up without them discussing it, because they're not talking to each other at the moment.

Even with Owen's disastrously complicated past that could just about laughably be called a love life, he doesn't think the phrase "I love you" has ever been followed up by such a quick destruction of a relationship. Four days after the wedding, and he and Ianto are somehow right back to the way they were before The Shooting. Ignoring and avoiding each other, with the disturbing possibility of violence if one or other of them says the wrong thing. And at this point in time, the wrong thing is impossible to define; it could come along at any moment.

"Are you all right?" Tosh asks, frowning at him. "Do you need..."

Tosh is here for him, and somehow that makes him feel worse. He doesn't deserve her, sweet smiles and the insistence that he can tell her when it gets bad. She's too nice, and one day someone's going to make her hurt. Owen just hopes it won't be him.

"I'm fine," he tries to assure her, reaching across to squeeze her hand with the one not held together with stitches and a rather lumpy bandage. "The novelty's starting to wear off, is all."

Dead forever. Fucking marvellous.

"Coffee," Ianto provides quietly, almost gliding across the Hub to put a mug down on Tosh's workstation. She picks it up immediately, wrapping her hands around the warmth.

"You're my hero," she informs him brightly, and Ianto gives her one of those really genuine smiles back, the kind that make his eyes crinkle and forces you to wonder how he can smile like that when his life is basically in pieces around him.

"You're welcome," he replies, fingers brushing lightly over her shoulder.

"Where's mine then?" Owen asks. A stupid push, because he is tired of not being acknowledged. He bloody misses Ianto, although he knows damn well that it's for their own good that they have to stay apart because they've definitely got a spark but not enough life between them to keep it going.

"Have you developed a digestive system while I wasn't looking?" Ianto asks dryly. "Because if you haven't, be aware that you're at least going to need to put some newspaper down while you try and regurgitate the latte, because I'm not prepared to clean up after you. I draw the line at projectile brown spew."

Tosh chokes quietly on her coffee, and puts it back down on the desk.

"Thanks for that, guys," she says. "I think I'm going to go and check on something well away from here..."

"It's ok," Ianto replies. "I've got washing up to do anyway. Owen, if you want to stare morosely at a coffee you have no use for, feel free to make one yourself."

He scoops a couple of old coffee mugs off Tosh's workstation and walks away. Owen watches him go, and then, against all his better judgement, gets up to follow.

"I'm not the fucking teaboy, you know," he says as an icebreaker. With second thoughts, it could probably do with some work; a more neutral subject would be more sensible. Then again, they're rapidly running out of neutral topics, so he might as well just smash straight in.

Ianto is piling up mugs and plates into the sink and Owen reflects for a strange moment that he doesn't use cutlery or dishes or anything any more, which is weird. He ought to be used to it by now, but every now and then something random trips him up.

"No," Ianto replies cooly, "You're just our not-quite-dead doctor, who can't even use things like a singularity scalpel in times of crisis to save his teammates, because he broke his own fingers in an attempt to prove a point."

Owen draws in a short breath that he doesn't need through his teeth.

"Mention that again and I'll seriously fucking hurt you," he snaps.

Ianto turns around, taking a step away from the beloved coffee machine as though to protect it in case things get complicated.

"All I'd need to do would be to land one punch," he remarks. His tone is light, but the threat is damn obvious.

Owen really isn't sure how they got from "I love you" to "I'll permanently injure you" but then they never did have the most clear-cut of relationships. Ianto has his back against the counter beside the coffee machine, and Owen stands against the railing, about six feet away. He manages to curl the fingers of his good hand around the metal, realising that if he gets into a fight with Ianto they could do some really, really nasty damage. There are too many emotions floating around at the moment, none of them healthy and all of them easily confused.

"If you don't get away from me in the next minute," he begins a little unsteadily, "I'm going to kiss you. I'm going to back you up against that coffee machine and kiss you until you can't breathe, and I won't be able to stop myself."

Ianto's mouth opens slightly, breaths shivering as though he's really tempted. And then his face crumples, and for a horrible second Owen thinks that he's made him cry. He's made Ianto cry once, and he never wants to do it again. For one thing, it makes him feel bad about himself, and for another thing, he thinks that Ianto cries enough as it is without Owen making it worse.

"Ok," Ianto whispers.

"What?" Owen asks, frowning, feeling the last pieces of his self-restraint slipping away. "Ianto..."

"Ok," Ianto agrees one more time.

Owen does his best to keep his eyes off the curve of Ianto's mouth, because masochism isn't sensible, but Ianto is breathing raggedly under his scrutiny and they're still completely on edge around each other. It's been four days of hell and Owen moves, closing the distance, fisting his right hand in Ianto's starched shirt, pushing him so his back thumps against the machine, and he's leaning up to kiss him when Ianto inclines his head and seals their lips together.

Kissing while being dead is an interesting and new experience, and it's taken Owen a while to get used to it. It's part pure memory - he knows what this ought to feel like - part the remains of sensation - he can't feel heat and can barely feel touch or taste, but the pressure is still there - and part vicarious gratification from Ianto. All in all, it's not as good as it used to be, but it isn't as bad as it could be. His good hand pushes into Ianto's hair, Ianto has fingers skidding down his side judging from the sudden unexpected pressure, and they don't seem to be able to stop. Owen knows that they ought to, that they're just stringing along something's that already fucking dead and they just won't acknowledge it, but nonetheless he can't pull away. Ianto parts their lips for a second, drawing in a gasping breath, and then kisses him again. Owen makes a small sound that means nothing at all, and reflects, once more, that he really sodding misses sex.

"Hello...?" Jack's shout from the Hub below pulls them apart, Ianto flushing a little. "Anyone around?"

"I'm up here," Ianto calls back. "Washing up."

"We've got three Weevils loose in a supermarket carpark," Jack shouts. "Find the Weevil King and let's go get 'em before they cause any damage."

Ianto smirks at 'Weevil King' and turns to Owen with a bemused sort of expression.

"Don't even think about it as my new nickname," Owen warns him.

"Fine." Ianto sighs, and then smiles palely. "That wasn't half bad for a last kiss, Dead Boy."

Owen shrugs; the finality was fairly obvious. "It wasn't, was it?"

There is a moment of awkward, sad silence and then they both decide not to linger on it.

Ianto tries his best to straighten his hair. "I don't see why you don't like 'Weevil King' as a nickname, it's accurate, at least."

"You try that, and I'll do something secretive and evil to your baby," Owen informs him tightly.

Ianto takes a protective step back towards his coffee machine. "You wouldn't dare."

"I don't drink the coffee any more," Owen points out, "There's nothing to stop me doing inappropriate things to the mechanism."

"I'll cry," Ianto warns, laughing a little as they walk towards the stairs.

"Ooh, 'cause that's something out of the ordinary," Owen replies, rolling his eyes. "Anyway," he continues, as Ianto's expression gets murderous, "What's the betting that Jack let the Weevils out just to give himself something to do?"

"It is the sort of thing he would do," Ianto agrees. "Maybe when we've terrified them into submission with your Cool Zombie Powers, we can ask."

"I don't have Cool Zombie Powers," Owen replies, scowling.

"The Weevils run screaming any time you come near them," Ianto points out. "If that's not Cool Zombie Powers, I don't know what is." He claps a hand on Owen's shoulder, grinning.

Owen reflects somewhere in the pit of his stomach that, all things aside, Ianto is probably his best friend as well. Which is sad and tragic and all very thirteen of them, but what the hell.

"Come on then, Weevil King," Ianto orders. Owen swats at him, Ianto shrieks like a fucking girl, and goes running down the corridor to the underground garage, leaving Owen to follow, laughing.

-

Gwen is due back tomorrow. Jack's anticipatory twitchiness is ever-so-slightly worrying but they're getting used to it. Owen plays around with writing a report for a while - we apprehended the Weevils outside Tesco's. I walked up to them and they all started throwing themselves prostrate on the ground in front of me, 'cause now I'm their sodding Messiah and all. Quickest apprehension of aliens ever, how did we ever manage without my Cool Zombie Powers? - and then flicks bits of paper at Tosh until she informs him she'll put staples in his hand, and won't he have all kinds of fun trying to take those out? Owen sighs theatrically and decides to go for a wander around, glaring at all the things that he can't have any more.

Ianto is up in the tourist office, straightening brochures and leaflets.

"Oh Jesus," Owen says as he walks in. "You get steadily more tragic every day, you know?"

Ianto rolls his eyes. "If I'm not up here tidying then I'm down in the Hub where the rest of you are driving each other crazy. Lesser of two evils."

"You may have a point," Owen concedes. "I'm going out for a walk," he adds. "Tell Jack I've gone on some kind of terribly important recon mission or something."

"He's not going to buy that," Ianto informs him. "Then again, he's not going to actually care."

Owen moves to sit up on the desk, sending leaflets and maps crashing to the floor. Ianto makes an amusing little annoyed face, but doesn't say anything.

"How are you feeling about that?" Owen asks carefully. "About the whole Jack thing?"

Ianto looks thoughtful for a minute. "I'm not going to discuss it with you, Owen," he says eventually. "But I thought I might just... be ok with it. This whole thing with Jack, this whole thing with you... I thought I might try growing as a person. Or something."

"That could work," Owen agrees, shrugging. Ianto needs some part of his life to be about him, not about taking care of his dying girlfriend or his enigmatic boss or his zombie friend or his inconsiderate team-mates. "Good for you."

Ianto offers him a smirk, before leaning down to start picking up the glossy papers Owen has scattered. "Don't you have some kind of terribly important recon mission to get on with?"

Owen sighs, sliding off the desk and managing to send another load of brochures crashing onto the floor. He can tell when Ianto wants some time to himself, and who is he to deny it? "Yeah. Well, I'll see you later."

"You're not going out like that, are you?" Ianto asks, straightening up.

Owen plucks at his t-shirt. "Clean on this morning. Even you can't have a problem with that, Mr OCD."

"It's freezing outside," Ianto points out.

"Not my problem," Owen shrugs. "That's what's so nice about having no sensory receptors anywhere in my body. Weather becomes a whole lot less significant."

"If you go walking about in a t-shirt while everyone else is bundled up in coats it's going to look suspicious," Ianto points out. "And what with the fact you're spending a few hours a week frolicking in the Bay-"

"I don't 'frolic'," Owen informs him in a tight voice. "I just like it down there. It's quiet, which is more than can be said for this fucking madhouse."

"Fine," Ianto shrugs, "Who am I to judge other people's coping mechanisms? But the people of Cardiff are paranoid enough as it is, what with aliens appearing all over the place, the last thing we need is someone noticing that there's a guy who apparently can't drown and doesn't feel cold wandering the streets. It's the kind of thing that websites get made about, and a few conspiracy theories could lead right to UNIT, and there's only so long Martha can cover for you. Then they'll be selling the experimentation rights to the highest bidder."

"UNIT wouldn't do that," Owen says. Ianto coughs meaningfully. "Ok, they would. But I think Martha's really the only one who's earned the right to do my dissection, it's the least I can do for her."

There's a momentary silence. "Vivisection," Ianto murmurs at last.

"I'm dead, mate," Owen points out. "It's a dissection."

"You'll be aware of it at the time," Ianto counters, "And probably giving advice. You know, you'll get all bitchy: 'that's not the right way to take out my spleen'. So it's a vivisection."

"Dissection."

"Vivisection."

Owen groans. "Tomayto, tomahto," he shrugs. "It's all the same shit."

Ianto looks at him for a protracted second, without saying anything at all. Owen tries to read something into the bland expression. He thinks there's a trace of all right, I'm trying to be ok with this, but the conversation is starting to unnerve me now, and maybe some I don't actually want you to be cut up, and possibly even if you do get cut up, though, I want to be there. At the very least it'll be entertaining watching you fight with the doctor. Or maybe he's just spent so much time around Ianto that his brain now thinks along the same strange, slightly detached lines that Ianto's does.

"Wait here," Ianto orders.

Owen spends a minute rearranging leaflets on the desk, because the more mess he makes the longer Ianto will be able to hide up here rather than having to go down to the Hub and deal with the emotional minefield that it is at the moment. Then Ianto comes back through the beaded curtain carrying a navy blue scarf. He wraps it around Owen's neck tightly.

"There you go, Dead Boy," he smirks. "Have fun."

"You could come with me," Owen offers. "You'd probably be better at faking up the mission report than I'll be."

Ianto smiles carefully. "I need some distance," he says. The humour has fallen away from his face, leaving him looking vulnerable and tired again. "Soon, we can hang out and annoy each other to our hearts' content, but... right now, I need some space. Ok?"

Owen suspects that on some very low level, he is actually breaking Ianto's heart. And that's a really depressing thing that he doesn't want to have to think about, not ever. He's hurting Tosh and Ianto by preventing them from getting closure; it's hard to get over the death of a friend/lover/whatever if they're still up and wandering around and still entirely unattainable. It's not easy on either side, and while they're getting into the first stages of picking themselves and carrying on in a sensible fashion, they're not quite there yet. It's possible that they won't be there for a good long time.

"I am sorry about all this," he offers with a smile that feels more than a little crooked.

"Me too," Ianto shrugs. And then manages to crack a smirk. "Now bugger off before this gets out of hand."

Owen obeys.

-

With a very careful nod to the fact Owen is still part of the team, Ianto starts bringing him an empty mug when he carries around everyone's hot drinks of choice. The first time, Owen is having a shitty day and accidentally-on-purpose knocks it onto the floor with his elbow. Ianto tidies it up, sending him glares, but brings him another one the next day.

Owen lasts about six minutes before going to interrupt Ianto as he gives Tosh her morning mocha.

"What's the point?" he asks irritably, waving the empty mug at Ianto.

"Go away," Ianto replies calmly. "I'll come and talk to you in a minute."

Owen obeys, if only because he's finding it increasingly difficult to say 'no' to Ianto. But he'll never fucking tell him. He watches Ianto and Tosh talking quietly, before bursting into highly suspect giggles, before Ianto sweeps off to take Jack his coffee. When that's done, he finally walks back to Owen.

"Is this some kind of secret code?" Owen asks, tipping the empty mug upside-down. "Because..."

"It's what I do," Ianto tells him, leaning against the edge of Owen's workstation. "I bring everyone in the Hub coffee. They acknowledge me. Sometime we have a chat, or a laugh, or we have a quick bitch." Owen raises an eyebrow at the last one, but Ianto ignores it. "The point is that deliberately having to miss someone out disconcerts me, and it takes away part of the social interaction I've got used to. So I've put you back in again. I just thought it would be sadistic to bring you actual coffee."

Owen is still tired, he has too much paperwork and he isn't entirely sure how he feels about Ianto pencilling him in to his day. So he scowls, and hands Ianto back the coffee mug.

"You're such a fucking robot," he mutters, and turns back to his computer screen. Behind him, Ianto sighs and walks away.

The next morning, Owen watches out of the corner of his eye as Ianto takes Jack his super strong, would-eat-through-solid-concrete-if-given-the-chance coffee, lingering in the office doorway for a minute or two of what looks like fairly heavy-duty flirting. He then carries Tosh a cappuccino with cinnamon on top, feigning interest in her latest alien artefact before asking her a question that makes her flush and then start laughing. Owen starts typing very sincerely as Ianto walks up, doing his best to work out if rejecting Ianto again will really be for the best.

Ianto very carefully puts the mug to the right of Owen's mousemat. Owen sighs, and picks it up. He peers inside; it's empty of course.

"Is this my favourite double-shot latte?" he asks, with a sharp mocking edge to his tone. "Or have you decided to spike it with that foul vanilla syrup Gwen likes so much? Or is it herbal tea 'cause I look like I've got headache today?"

Ianto shrugs, getting started on his own drink. "It's not an imaginary tea-party, Owen," he replies. "I think that way madness lies. It's just... an opening. A device."

"So you want me to exchange coffee-related innuendo like you do with Jack?" Owen suggests. "Or discuss our latest case like you do with Tosh?"

"Whatever you want," Ianto replies. He's still calm, unflappable, but there's something pleading in his blue eyes. Owen swallows, and leans back in his chair, wrapping his hands automatically around the mug.

"You're so socially inadequate that it isn't funny any more," he says lightly, offering a smug smirk.

"Thank you, Dr 'Why-Would-I-Want-To-Chat-That-Woman-Up-When-I-Can-Just-Chemically-Alter-Her-Brain-With-Alien-Pheromones?'," Ianto responds cheerfully.

"You're never going to let that go, are you?" Owen asks.

"...Probably not," Ianto agrees. "It wasn't your finest hour."

"Neither was getting into the cage with that Weevil."

"Yes, but you got hurt that time, which makes it not funny. The pheromone thing was just you being a twat. No harm, no foul and all that."

"Is there anything in your brain you don't have carefully labelled and categorised?" Owen enquires, not without interest. "I mean, is it all: Incident: Owen Harper tries to get himself eaten by a Weevil. Only acceptable to be brought up when: drunk, really really angry, or trying to make him feel better about his other fuck-ups. Not suitable for casual bickering or light banter?"

Ianto blinks. "It's like you know me," he deadpans.

Owen laughs. "Christ, it bloody is like that, isn't it?" Ianto refuses to reply. "You're quite cute when you pout, you know," Owen adds brightly. "I'd forgotten that."

"That's it, I'm off," Ianto tells him, mouth trying its hardest not to smirk.

"Hey," Owen replies, "I haven't finished my imaginary coffee yet. What if I want a refill?" He holds up the mug.

Ianto snatches the mug away from him and steps back. "You're over-extending the metaphor," he warns.

"I could get used to this," Owen shrugs. "You and me, bickering over non-existent hot drinks. It's just like..."

He trails off. It's too soon for it's just like the old days, it's too soon for nostalgia over something that only really stopped a month ago. Ianto nods, visibly swallowing hard. Mercifully, Jack interrupts the uncomfortable silence by walking out of his office with his arms full of paper.

"Ianto," he calls, "I've got more filing for you."

Ah yes. Jack Harkness has decided to deal with Gwen's apparent abandonment of him by catching up on all his paperwork. From about the last eight years. Ianto spends half his time at the moment trying to find space for all of it.

"Coming, Jack," he shouts back.

"Do you ever miss the days when he used to deal with his problems by just standing about on the roofs of tall buildings?" Owen enquires blithely.

"Shut up," Ianto mumbles. There's a pause. "Yes."

-

When Gwen gets back, everyone exhales a little. Brittle tension is immediately forgotten, people stop walking on eggshells around each other all the time, and Jack goes back to acting like nothing happened. Maybe nothing did. It's like they were all living in a vacuum, just waiting for all the anxiety to drain away.

Owen is bemused as Ianto glides around the Hub delivering people's afternoon drinks. Tosh first, then Jack, then Gwen, and finally him.

"Why am I always last?" he asks, taking the mug off Ianto's tray and putting his feet up on his workstation. Ianto perches himself on the edge, sipping at the final drink left on the tray.

"Yours is the least likely to get cold," Ianto points out.

Logical, always logical. Owen rolls his eyes, turning the mug over and over in his hands. Much as he hates to admit it, he looks forward to the five minutes he catches here and there when Ianto plays his role as teaboy. Mindful of the fact they've both got a little too much to get their heads around, he and Ianto are wary of their distances. They don't avoid each other, not any more; but there's only so much time they can spend around each other before one or both of them goes insane. But this... this is carefully coordinated, has set rules, and is a nice way of working out exactly how to act around each other.

"My coffee doesn't even exist," Owen murmurs, in an attempt to distract himself from over-analysing the situation. "Surely that gives me priority."

"I can start bringing you real coffee, if you want," Ianto offers with a shrug.

"I'll throw it at you if you do," Owen warns lightly.

"No, you won't." Ianto smirks. "You love me, you wouldn't want to scald me."

It's the first time that Owen's accidental wedding-related confession has been brought up between them, and even without senses or bodily functions, Owen feels his stomach twist. Quite an achievement for the poor dead boy.

"Sorry," Ianto mumbles, unable to look at him.

"It's ok," Owen replies, putting the mug carefully back on the desk.

"No, it isn't." Ianto's tormented expression is pretty damn horrible to look at. "I didn't mean-"

"I know," Owen tells him. "I do. And it's fine."

Ianto bites his lower lip. "We have to break out of this," he mumbles.

Owen doesn't know what to say; there's nothing to say, not in this highly annoying game of one-step-forward, three-steps-back that they've managed to orchestrate. Ianto smiles sadly, and walks away. Owen grits his teeth, turning back to his paperwork.

Later that afternoon, Ianto puts down the plastic sack he's filling with miscellaneous crap, and looks around at them all.

"I know this probably sounds ridiculous, but... there's a film on at The Electro cinema Thursday night," he begins hesitantly. "Does anyone want to come with me?"

Owen raises an eyebrow, but Ianto is resolutely not looking at him.

"Why us?" Gwen asks quietly, sounding curious. It's true; they're pretty crap at socialising as a group. They face death together every day; but they don't want to spend time around each other.

"Well." Ianto swallows uncomfortably, and Owen suddenly wants him to say we can't all be you, Gwen, but Ianto has more tact than that. "Yes, well, I don’t know a lot of people outside of you lot, at the moment, see, because most of my friends worked at Torchwood One and got killed." Ianto's tone is careful and light, but there's a serious strand underneath it. "More recently, I was distracted by my robot girlfriend in the basement, which didn’t leave a lot of room for socialising." He shrugs. "And taking care of you lot is a full-time fucking job."

Tosh smiles slightly; an acknowledgement of the truth in Ianto's words. "I can't," she says, tone apologetic. "I've got the full systems diagnostic to run on Thursday night. Sorry, Ianto."

"I'll go," Gwen says brightly, and unexpectedly. "It sounds fun."

Owen sighs. "Count me in."

Gwen turns to grin at him. "You don't sound very enthusiastic, Owen."

"I'm dead," Owen replies, giving her a broad, sarcastic smile. "I don't have to be enthusiastic about anything any more."

He thinks he catches sight of disappointment on Ianto's face, before it's replaced by bland neutrality again.

-

The cinema trip results in circus characters escaping the celluloid and killing eleven people. Not their finest hour, and Ianto is quiet. Sure, their administrative assistant - Owen is trying his hardest not to go with 'tea boy' - isn't exactly given to talking at the best of times, but he's monosyllabic to a fault now, avoiding people's eyes and not smiling as he gives out coffee. It isn't his fault (in fact, if they hadn't been there, things would probably have been even worse), and they discovered some interesting if ultimately useless information about Jack, but none of this seems to be helping. And Owen's feeling horrible, after-effects of someone trying to steal breath that he doesn't have any more. He does feel bloody uncomfortable, there's a strange tightness in his chest that doesn't seem to want to ease, and even though he technically can't feel pain, his mouth definitely feels... odd. He won't mention it though; it's secondary.

"It's not your fault," he offers, coming down into the archives to find Ianto hiding. He seems to be the only person on the team who knows exactly where in the archives Ianto likes to disappear to when it all gets too much. "None of it was your fault."

"So I've been told." Ianto's voice is colourless, and really, he shouldn't work for Torchwood. He takes things too personally.

"Jack did the pep-talk thing too?" Owen asks, walking a little closer.

"He tried." Ianto still doesn't turn around. "I told him to stop."

"Are you going to tell me to stop as well?" Ianto seems upset but not volatile, so Owen takes that as his cue to come close.

"Are you going to say anything different to what Jack wanted to say?" Ianto finally turns around. His eyes are dry, which is a plus, but he looks completely exhausted. He leans back against the cabinet, and gives a wan half-smile.

Owen shrugs, leaning on the filing cabinet beside Ianto's. "I say... I say that the date at the cinema was crap. Let's have another one."

Ianto's expression turns from tired resignation to shock. "... I thought that we were trying to leave each other alone," he stammers.

"Well, I'm not very good at it," Owen shrugs. He turns, putting his hand on Ianto's shoulder, pushing him harder against the filing cabinet. Pressed so close together that he can feel Ianto breathing. "What do you think? You and me and a shitty action film?"

Ianto's hands find their way onto Owen's waist like he needs the contact, fingers splaying over his hips. Owen leans in, their foreheads resting together. Life and death in a state of strangely familiar intimacy.

"I think it's a pretty dreadful idea," Ianto admits softly, face so close to Owen's that their mouths are practically touching already. "I mean, you're not going to have any fun whatsoever. You can't eat the popcorn 'cause you've got no digestive system, and your sense of taste is seventy percent less effective anyway. And we can't really make out in the back row, because you've got hardly any sense of touch either."

"We could do it anyway," Owen murmurs, his voice just a little plaintive. "We could..."

He trails off - it's a futile idea, when you actually pause to ponder the logistics - but Ianto slides a little, one hand pushing up and curling into Owen's hair. As their lips finally meet, and Owen opens his mouth, he feels Ianto exhale. Long, and slow, he breathes into Owen. The last breath that wasn't really his is restored, and his constricted chest eases. He closes his eyes, and doesn't say thank you, pulling back a little. Ianto's fingers fall from Owen's hair, and Owen obediently moves away.

Ianto looks a little better, a little comforted, a trace of light returning to his bruised-looking eyes.

"Come on," Owen says. "You need to hide less down here. The girls are getting worried and I'm sure there are easier ways to develop night vision."

Ianto rolls his eyes, but obediently follows Owen down the corridor.

"Maybe we could go for dinner," Owen suggests brightly. Ianto bumps him gently with his shoulder.

"Maybe," he agrees. "I'm sure that we shouldn't let the fact that you haven't got a functioning digestive system get in the way."

Owen sniggers. "I won't eat, I'll sip a glass of water." Ianto raises his eyebrows. "Hey, maybe I'll show the waiter my bullet wound. Might even get out of paying the bill."

"Your macabre logic is getting quite creepy, you know," Ianto smiles.

"So that's a 'no'?"

"That's a 'no' until we can come up with something sensible," Ianto tells him firmly.

They stay silent until they get back to the main Hub. Owen puts a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"You ok now?"

"Thanks," Ianto nods, smiling. "I've got tidying up to be getting on with..."

"Yeah." Owen squeezes, and lets go. "See you when you bring me my imaginary coffee. Maybe you could even stretch to some imaginary biscuits today."

"Twat," Ianto mutters, but at least he's laughing.

-

A week later, and Ianto is knocking on Owen's door at three a.m. Owen decides that, depressingly, he's utterly whipped, 'cause he doesn't even consider not going to answer. It's not as if he ever sleeps, anyway.

"You really need to work on your timing, mate," he says lightly, stepping aside to let Ianto in.

"Sorry, am I interrupting-" Ianto begins, and then frowns. "What am I interrupting?"

"You're not," Owen shrugs. "But just 'cause you've now got someone to hang with in the early hours of the morning doesn't mean you should. There's this thing called sleep, and it's becoming pretty apparent that you're not getting any."

"I don't need much sleep, I've never needed much sleep," Ianto responds, folding into Owen's sofa. He looks slightly run-over-by-a-bus, and Owen sighs, and offers him a coffee.

Ianto raises an eyebrow. "You still keep the means to make coffee?" he asks a little incredulously.

"Never know when company might drop by," Owen suggests. Ianto continues to look disbelieving. "Fine, since I reckoned you'd always be here at inappropriate times, there wasn't much point in getting rid of it."

"Oh." Ianto flushes a little. "Well, a coffee would be lovely."

He's got a kettle, a cafetiere, and a bag of freeze-dried Guatemalan Elephant (strong and rich with underlying hints of chocolate and honey; it's Ianto's favourite, but shush), and Owen was Torchwood's Honorary Teaboy for about two hours, so he doesn't do a bad job. Ianto thanks him, hands wrapping around the mug, and for a split second their roles are reversed in a disconcerting way. Then he sits down next to Ianto on the sofa, and things slide back into line again.

"Jack's angry with you," he states calmly.

Ianto nearly spills his coffee in his attempt to assure Owen: "that's not why I'm here."

"I know." Owen smirks. "Well, it's part of it, but I can live with that."

Ianto sighs. "It's been a shitty couple of days," he mutters.

"Paperwork," Owen mutters. "And Gwen being very self-righteous, which is fine and all, but does tend to make everyone in the vicinity kind of twitchy."

Ianto stares into his coffee for a moment. "Gwen walked in on me and Jack... you know."

"Oh." Owen thinks about this for a second, and gets the funny side. He starts laughing. "Oh. Oh, Ianto Jones, you filthy whore!"

His tone is unreasonably gleeful; and Ianto's glare tells him he isn't impressed.

"There's no need to be quite so amused," he mutters.

"What can I say? I like getting my vicarious rocks off," Owen shrugs.

"That's really... disturbing," Ianto replies, a reluctant smirk breaking out over his mouth.

"Like you're one to talk," Owen tells him. "So what were you two doing? How big did Little Miss Cooper's eyes go?"

"Now who's the filthy whore?" Ianto asks dryly.

"Not me, mate, I'm celibate forever now," Owen shrugs. "Like a monk or something."

"I think we can safely say that you are in no way like a monk," Ianto tells him. "And it wasn't very exciting. We still had trousers on."

"You disappoint me, sweetheart," Owen informs him.

"We didn't have anything else on," Ianto offers.

Owen considers this. "Slightly better," he admits. "Not much, but slightly. Did Gwen's eyes pop out of her head?"

"Yeah," Ianto mumbles, and snickers into his coffee. But then he sighs, tapping his thumbnail on the ceramic. "And then I kind of told her where Jack's special asylum for the people stolen by the Rift and then returned is."

"We have one of those?" Owen asks, a little stunned by the knowledge.

"You didn't know?" Ianto asks, looking slightly pained.

"No." Owen scowls. "As team medic, you'd think Jack might have mentioned it." He thinks about this. "So the whole time Jack was going: 'no, Gwen, we can't sort out the Rift thing so stay away before I do something painful and preventative', he was actually hiding these people..."

"...Underneath a lighthouse," Ianto finishes for him. "Yep. But it is more complicated than that, and I probably shouldn't have told her, but you know, it's the police instincts in her, she never lets stuff go, and..."

"So what's your excuse for telling me?" Owen interrupts. Ianto's both sweet and unsettling when he babbles; Owen wants to put a stop to it.

"I thought you already knew," Ianto replies. "Please don't mention anything to Jack."

"I take it Jack's fairly angry, then," Owen says.

"In that quiet and kind of scary way, yeah." Ianto grimaces. "I thought it was only a matter of time before he brought up Lisa and the last time I betrayed his trust so I fled. But at least he's not fighting with Gwen any more, so I reckon he'll get over it."

"Fuck 'love triangle'," Owen murmurs, "I swear this is practically a love pentagon or something." Ianto laughs, drinking some more of his coffee. Owen thinks for a moment. "Hang on, why do you know about Jack's Secret Lighthouse?"

"Admin," Ianto replies. "Running a specialised mental asylum requires quite a lot of paperwork, as it turns out, and we all know how good Jack is with paperwork."

Owen frowns at him. "You are probably the world's most boring super-spy ever," he remarks. "You don't look for clues or anything, you just file the documents." He sighs. "Maybe I should kill you too. Then Jack could find another way to resurrect you, and we could become crime-fighting zombies."

"We could," Ianto agrees. "And that would probably make a pretty good TV show or maybe even a comic book, but it's not really how I saw my life panning out."

"You wouldn't have a life," Owen says, tone long-suffering. "That's the point."

"I'll definitely consider it," Ianto promises, before lapsing back into staring into his coffee in a quiet and slightly morose fashion.

"How angry is Jack?" Owen asks carefully.

"He's more annoyed than angry, I think," Ianto replies, "But Gwen's involved which always blows it a little out of proportion."

Owen can't work out a tactful way to ask: but... doesn't that bother you? and so doesn't. Instead, he watches Ianto out of the corner of his eye, taking in the exhaustion and slight guilt in the other man's face.

"As your doctor," he says, making a decision, "I'm ordering you to get some sleep, now."

Ianto nods; it's nearing four, after all. He puts his empty mug down on the table, pushing himself to his feet.

"You can sleep here," Owen offers. "I've got clean sheets. Well... unused ones, anyway."

Ianto smiles. "Thank you," he says.

Owen follows him into the bedroom, and watches as Ianto shrugs off his jeans and t-shirt.

"Tease," he remarks, leant against the doorframe.

"We physically can't-" Ianto begins, flushing. "I mean..." He sighs. "Get over here."

Owen turns off the light, leaving just the slivers through the blinds, and walks over, watching as Ianto climbs under the duvet.

"I don't sleep," he says, "And while I'd jump at the chance to shag you senseless, it's not currently possible."

Ianto says nothing, and holds out a hand. Owen realises that he isn't getting out of this, and takes it, sliding under the blanket beside Ianto. They wind up curled together, Ianto's eyelids fluttering closed.

"What's the point?" Owen asks softly, splaying his fingers over Ianto's ribs. He can't feel them, and it's disheartening to say the least.

"I've decided," Ianto murmurs in the darkness, "To settle for what I've got. Not what I've lost, but what I've still got." He exhales slowly.

He's got a point; Owen wonders when they managed to reach a resolution. "I think I can cope with what I can have," he decides.

It's less than he wants and this feeling might not last; there are more compromises than they were ever willing to agree on, but Owen's dead and Ianto’s alive and either they meet half-way or not at all. Besides, any day, this could all be torn from them.

"We could die today," he murmurs against Ianto's hair. "Or tomorrow. Maybe the next aliens we meet will rip us open like packets of crisps."

"That was... graphic," Ianto replies. "Though I'm sure my final moments will be lightened by the sight of you running around trying to push your internal organs back in again."

"Shut up," Owen responds.

Ianto laughs softly; he sounds very nearly asleep. "You know... not everything about this has to be destructive, and not everything about this has to hurt."

Owen finally smiles. "Yeah, I know."


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