A/N: Thanks for checking in, enjoy. Although this is a standalone fic it could be said to follow another Malty-fic called The First Time, check it out should you wish.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Torchwood and I make no profit from this.
Summary: Oneshot about how the team are coping, (or not), as a threesome. Slightly AU in that Gwen has never met Martha, (who does not appear - forgive my shocking lack of knowledge regarding her character).
If Jack thought through the series of events that led him here he'd probably have to start with the deaths of two of his team, so he chose to skip ahead by a few weeks to the Torchwood of himself, Gwen and Ianto. The latter's insistence on keeping reports meant he could say with relative clarity that this last week had been mercifully quiet. Tonight Gwen had actually been able to go home before ten.
To say they were struggling through was an understatement. They'd all been running ragged, the only reason one of them hadn't dropped sooner was because there was no time. Necessity was a powerful thing. Now that demand had finally slowed down it stood to reason that something had to break, it was just a shame that something was a someone.
He'd been aimlessly shuffling paperwork when Ianto's voice interrupted, made metallic by the intercom.
'Jack could you come down here for a moment?'
Jack saw him on surveillance, he was in the archives.
'You want to make it worth my while?'
'Just get down here.'
Jack hadn't really expected anything to come of that comment, and snapping between the three of them wasn't unusual these days, so rather than dwelling on it he just headed where he was needed. That was life now, a task presented itself and you got it done. Necessity.
He walked into the archives to find Ianto stood next to the wall in the exact same position he'd seen him on camera. In the middle of the floor sat a dented metal drawer, files spilling in every direction. It had the deliberate set-up of a play.
'Loose drawer.' Ianto offered.
'Right. And you want me to call a removal service?'
Ianto gave a pained smile and Jack noticed he was holding his arm strangely. 'My shoulder. It's dislocated.'
Jack automatically took hold of his arm as Ianto braced himself against the wall and was about to fix the problem when a flashback struck him.
'Wait, didn't we already do this?'
'Just help me– ahhhhhhh!'
Jack had heard performing that move when the patient was distracted made it less painful. Ianto effectively disproved this theory, leaning against the wall and cursing under his breath while Jack held his arm. He'd turned grey.
Jack waited for the scream to stop echoing through the archives before asking after him.
'It's nothing just give me a minute.'
'Ianto. Are you okay?'
Ianto carried on using the wall to stay upright.
'My office. Now.'
Jack caught him wincing as he sat gingerly in the chair next to his desk.
'Still expect me to believe me it's nothing?'
Ianto shrugged tiredly and then winced again. 'I made the mistake of reaching for the K's, the files fell, I was stood underneath them.'
'You've been under a lot of pressure–'
'Jack we all have.'
Jack sighed. He and Ianto didn't really talk about what had happened. The three of them all knew what the others were going through because they were going through it themselves, they didn't need words. At least that was what he'd thought.
Sitting across from him, looking pale and resigned, Ianto wasn't acting the martyr. It was just too much for the three of them to deal with and dislocated shoulders weren't a good enough reason to stop. Or they hadn't been, but Jack chose to take this as a sign. Things never stayed quiet in Torchwood for long, they should take advantage of it while they could.
'Well the K's can wait, you can finish off this paperwork if you absolutely have to scratch that itch,' he gestured to his cluttered desk, 'but you might as well take the night off.'
Ianto frowned slowly as if he actually couldn't decide which option to take. Had they really grown so distant he couldn't see when Jack was giving him an out?
'How do you expect me to work when it's so dark in here?'
Wait, dark? It wasn't..
'–and then he passed out.'
Gwen looked fairly concerned through the yawn. Jack was sitting in his office explaining to her why she'd been pulled in at this ridiculous hour.
She glanced at the surveillance camera and saw it trained on the abandoned drawer. 'Is he okay?'
'It was only for a minute, he's sleeping it off.'
'Jack he should go to a hospital.'
'That's what I said but he insists he's fine.'
For a moment Gwen looked like she was going to push the matter, but for whatever blissful reason she held back.
'It sounds like he never healed properly.'
Jack shrugged. 'No doctor to diagnose it.'
She nodded. 'Yeah you're right it would have taken..' Jack waited hopefully, willing her to justify the situation.
'Eyes,' she finished lamely.
He put down the files he'd been holding. 'We're bad people.'
'Yes. Yes we are.'
Jack crossed his arms on his desk and rested his head on them.
What he hadn't mentioned was just how scared he'd been in the short time Ianto was unconscious. All he could think was how there wasn't a doctor on staff. If it had been serious, if Ianto had needed immediate attention – anything could have happened and if something worse had happened, it was his fault, he was the boss. Anything could have happened.
'So', said Gwen, 'what changes?'
He pulled a file from under his forehead and passed it to her. The label bore Ianto's handwriting. 'Personnel File: Martha Jones.'
Gwen began to read through it. 'Graduated with a First.. Impressive track record..' She frowned. 'A lot of time is unaccounted for.'
'Let's just say she has formidable experience.'
'Well in that case she sounds better qualified than the rest of us put together.'
'Even unconscious he's better organised than us.'
'Mmm..' She threw the file back to him. 'Except this is dated 2 weeks ago.'
Jack looked up. 'Ah that's right, you used to be a cop.'
Gwen stared him down and he looked away reluctantly. He hated it when she went PC Cooper on him, but there was no point asserting your power when there were only three of you. That was one of the reasons they'd gotten to this point. As it stood they were on equal ground, and he knew that was one of the things that needed to change, although he hated to admit it. Their current set-up had diminished the responsibility of leadership that weighed so heavily on him, especially given what had happened. He would be lying to himself if he said he didn't realise that bringing in new people was going to bring that power, and all that came with it back.
This whole night had just hammered home that he was always in charge of this place whether he admitted to it or not, but it had been nice to pretend otherwise for a while.
'Jack, I don't want to bring in new people any more than you do, but no one will ever replace them.'
There was that too.
'No,' he agreed, 'they won't.'
He reached for the phone but Gwen stopped him.
'At this time of night?'
'Her employers don't exactly keep office hours.'
Gwen placed a hand over the phone. 'You should check on him, I'll keep an eye on things.'
For a tangible moment he stared at her levelly, unable to decide whether the reclaiming of authority had to take place with immediate effect, then he let his outstretched hand drop.
If only for one more night, he would take orders.
Ianto wasn't really sleeping it off, because he never really slept any more. His sleep had become the running ground for all the things he didn't dare think through in day light, carrying on each night as though it were real life that were the dream.
This was the only place he could process what had happened in recent weeks. In, 'real', life it took the form of a group reaction, every time the team was together, (which was all the time), was characterised by Their absence. The hub seemed huge without them. He actually missed their mess, the place was too damned neat. Of course he had plenty of new work to keep him occupied, (for some God forsaken reason he'd been tasked with taking over computer duties – the ghost of Tosh forever present in the screens), but in times of grief people seek to cling on to what's familiar, and nothing was. Even Gwen and Jack were strangers now, forming part of that group that left no room for the people they used to be.
Everyone was being systematically stripped away; Suzie, Lisa, Tosh, Owen, now Gwen and Jack. If he were awake he might have laughed - only here could his girlfriend's tragic death become a footnote in the list of Things Which Have Gone Horribly Wrong. Worse, things that were taken in stride.
He knew the flippant side of his nature was domineering more and more these days out of defence against the unworkable situation they were in. He liked to think on some level he was channelling Owen in that respect, a sentiment he couldn't voice lest it sound too much like an individual reaction. There was no room for individual freak-outs when they were all going through the same thing.
The thing was, he didn't really believe they were. They were each handling it differently; you could see it in the way they looked at each other.
Like sometimes Jack would give him this look, like he wanted to protect him. The look you give a child when they lose for the first time. It was always fleeting, at night just before the lights went out, whenever he couldn't catch it long enough to be sure..
Jack looked at him like he was too young to have to deal with all of this. He didn't feel like he was too young, he felt tired. He thought he understood a little better how Jack never mentioned Suzie after what happened. When he woke up each morning, he just felt heavy.
That was why he had to be unconscious to think through any of this. The best way to get through the day was numb. Sometimes he forgot what had happened altogether. Doing anything that induced the mundane fog that came with every day activities brought the vague accompanying feeling that something awful had happened. He usually didn't even try to figure out what, but he was asleep now, no defence, and the narrative flowed as naturally as if it had never been interrupted, dealing with fact in a way his waking mind never could. Tosh and Owen dead? No protest there, no desire to turn away, just acceptance. Nothing could hurt him here, wrapped up in the safety of sleep.
But it wasn't going to stay safe forever.
The real world and all the facts that came with it wouldn't always be theoretical subjects; he couldn't stay on the outside and look at them like creatures in a zoo forever. They were cold, relentless truths and when he was awake he couldn't keep his distance. Thrown to the lions on a daily basis, that was an unsafe thought. It was already too late. By remembering that the things he was thinking existed outside of his closed eyes he invited them in. He was waking up.
Ianto woke up against his will. He was aware of too much energy coursing through him, he had a feeling he'd taken in too much caffeine to allow himself to sleep any longer.
It felt important to stay asleep though, like he'd been having a dream he needed to finish. Something that had seemed clear a few minutes ago, or hours ago, and what the hell was wrong with his arm? It felt like it was on fire.
He made some kind of indeterminate groaning noise and was greeted by a soft laugh. Jack was in the room with him, whatever room it was. Jack's, he assumed.
He knew inherently that something bad had happened, why else would he wake up in pain? But before his mind could fill in that particular blank it ran through recent events up to the deaths of Owen and Tosh, cold, definite facts, and the pain in his arm didn't seem so important any more.
Ianto turned into the pillow as if he could force sleep back into his head.
'You're wishing you'd seen a doctor now.'
'How are you feeling?'
'..Like I want to see a doctor.'
Ianto spoke into the pillow. 'Do I want to know what happened?'
'Let's just say we need new files.'
He sat up slowly.
'We were in your office..'
'You passed out, remember?'
'From a dislocated shoulder? God how pathetic.'
No laugh this time. Ianto turned around just in time to catch the look on Jack's face.
'It's a good job oh– is something wrong?'
'No.' Jack shook his head. 'Yes.'
He sat down on the edge of the bed.
'I'm calling Martha Jones tomorrow. I think we've handled this on our own long enough.'
Ianto didn't seem surprised but he didn't seem relieved either. Jack could guess why. They weren't just admitting new members, they were acknowledging that the old members – that Owen and Tosh – weren't coming back. Knowing they were gone was one thing, but acting on it felt morbidly final.
Ianto gave his own grim smile but didn't say anything.
'What is it?'
'Just now,' he hesitated, 'I was going to say, 'it's a good job Owen's not here.''
Jack nodded sagely. 'Owen would destroy you for this.'
Ianto laughed very quietly, but it was a good sound and Jack smiled genuinely back, feeling some of the burden lift just by committing to lift it. It felt like the impending change had allowed them all to be a little bit more open; none of them had wanted to lay their troubles on the others while they were stuck in that situation but now it was ending they could be themselves again. One of them was always going to buckle eventually. It wasn't that Ianto was weak, it was just chance. If he'd been sorting the J's instead it could have been Gwen who fell from exhaustion, the L's and maybe Jack was injured on a mission. Something had to break before things were going to change.
He saw Ianto look back at him sleepily and even knowing this he wished he'd been a strong enough leader to stop it before it got to this point. He guessed that instinct was what made him a leader.
'Jack it's not your fault.'
'Which disaster would that be?'
'Whichever one you're blaming yourself for.'
Jack kept up the facade for maybe two seconds before it fell, his voice turning low and serious. He needed Ianto to understand.
'People can get hurt in this job every day, if something happens to you I'm responsible.'
'To me?' He sounded faintly amused. 'My arm hurts I've dealt with worse.'
Laced with fear now. 'You know what I mean.'
'You mean you're in charge and you've let us down. Well you're wrong. We didn't need a leader these last few weeks, Jack. We needed you.'
The room suddenly felt very close, and Jack found he had to clear his throat twice before he could speak.
'I should get that paperwork started.'
Ianto shook his head. 'Take the night off. It's almost over.'
Well, he had followed Gwen's orders..
He wondered if Gwen had sent him down here for Ianto's sake or his own. She was right, Owen and Tosh couldn't be replaced, just because they had to carry on didn't mean they couldn't still grieve. But Ianto had cut to the heart of it; he didn't want to let them down. Each member of Torchwood was another responsibility, what if he failed Martha, just like he'd failed Tosh and Owen? What if next time the injury was worse?
Apparently it read in his face because Ianto leaned over and kissed him, showing him he was fine, and without thinking he kissed him back. It felt good not to think.
Within moments he'd pulled Ianto underneath him. The night was almost over. He wasn't going to waste another second.
A/N: So, was the title frustratingly apt? Let me know, and thank you for reading.