Even a hint of the word 'paperwork' was usually enough to empty the Hub faster than the most serious alien threat.

Normally it was Ianto who dropped the three syllable bomb in his deep, crisp voice and sent everyone fleeing for cover save Jack, who grumbled and cursed and asked, "By definition, shouldn't a secret outside-the-government organization be exempt from paperwork?" at least three times, but stayed to work nonetheless. After all, he was the boss, and it wasn't like he had anywhere else to go. And him, Ianto, an empty Torchwood, and a tedious workload almost never failed to yield his favorite kind of distractions.

This time however the paperwork caught up with them just as the winter flu-bug did, and Ianto was reduced to a miserably apologetic sniffling, feverish mess. Jack kissed him full on his chapped lips despite the Welshman's protest, made a quip about immortality meaning he wouldn't get sick no matter where he stuck his tongue, and sent Ianto home with the order to get better fast.

Then he turned to the rest of his team, and announced it was time to fill out the paperwork.

"Family thing!" Tosh cried at once, seizing her coat and adding a rapid explanation in Japanese for good measure.

"Dammit!" A second too late, Owen threw out, "Doctor's appointment… someone coming to check my electrical… a funeral…" before heaving a sigh, then grabbing his coat anyway with a hearty, "Ah, fuck it."

Jack watched them go, arms crossed across his chest, rueful smirk on his face, before turning to Gwen.

"Well?" he asked.

She shrugged, looking back at him with wide, slightly bewildered eyes.

"I can stay for paperwork," she said.

Jack almost asked her if Rhys wouldn't miss her that night, but he decided not to push it on the grounds of wanting the companionship and not wanting Gwen to know how much work all the forms were actually going to be. So he ordered pizza instead, and they settled in on the comfortable, sunken couch beneath the boldly emblazoned "TORCHWOOD" that always made Jack feel a little proud.

Two pizzas, three sodas, and five hours later, and Gwen was asleep.

Well, it's not like Jack could really blame her. She had made a valiant effort to help with the paperwork for the first half hour, diligently checking lists and looking up dates and calculating figures. Jack had sat next to her in silence, working steadily on his own stack and biting back a smile until at last Gwen had set down her pen, looked up at him and asked,

"This is all shite, isn't it?"

Jack had thrown his head back and laughed, Gwen had started to giggle, and the night had become a fun time.

But four hours later and Gwen had begun to drag, her stories trailing off without conclusions, her posture sagging, her mouth stretching in increasingly frequent yawns. By the time she was answering Jack's question with words that no longer sounded like a part of any language he'd ever heard, he had made up his mind to order her to go home. Then her head had dropped down on his shoulder, her arm had slipped into his lap, and she was asleep.

Jack's first thought was, I shouldn't have let her work so late. His second thought was, Damn she's gorgeous.

His third thought was vague surprise that, with someone so beautiful practically lying on him with such intimacy, his first two thoughts hadn't been about sex.

But this was Gwen, and things between him and Gwen were very rarely about sex. That was one reason their relationship was so different to him. It wasn't like the borderline-friendship employee-to-boss relationship between him and Owen (god, that was never about sex), or the strong friendship despite being employee-and-boss relationship between him and Tosh (also never about sex unless either of them acquired a taste for the incestuous), or the relationship between him and Ianto (about sex almost because so little of it was actually about sex).

When Gwen had returned to Torchwood after receiving Retcon and regaining her memory, Jack had been secretly thrilled. Not only was he happy to have someone clever and competent come to understand and appreciate Torchwood, but something about her large eyes and girlish smile intrigued him.

Then he accepted her as a part of his team and with every passing day his intrigue increased, and a dozen other emotions began to follow. Gwen made him feel frustrated, shocked, bewildered, inferior, angry, guilty, and respectful. He'd been in the role of leader for so long, he had forgotten what it was like to deal with someone who was utterly unafraid of him.

Gwen disagreed with him, argued with him, shouted at him, and he respected the hell out of her for it. Of course, he was often forced to ignore her protests and deny her wishes, but Gwen never submitted as a subordinate to an authority figure. When she gave in, it was with the acknowledgment that they remained equals, and she expected similar treatment from Jack. Their different approaches to people in particular meant these disagreements were frequent, and Gwen was often furious with him.

He never told her he wished he could be the one to give in.

Gwen saw the good in every person and the possibility in every situation, and Jack wished he could allow her to have her way every time they disagreed. He wished they lived in a world where Gwen's humanitarian approach was always a viable option, where she would never have to use a gun or commit a crime or put a body in a morgue. He wished dealing with all the shit they did in their job only ever turned out for the best. He wished Gwen never had reason to cry.

She shifted then, the hand that was resting palm-up on his thigh twitching while her delicately shaped mouth opened with a little sigh. Jack's own mouth curved in a soft smile as he glanced down at her, a complex mix of feelings spreading through him that were unlike anything he'd felt in this lifetimewhenever he lay this close to someone.

But that was his relationship with Gwen. Complex. He wanted to protect her physically and mentally from all harm, but he taught her how to use a gun and was smugly proud every time he saw her expertly handling weapons, knowing it was because of him that she could. He wanted her to keep a life separate from the job, but he wanted her along on every mission to offer her input and be by his side. He wanted her to stay away from the worse parts of Torchwood and himself, but he needed her to see them. He needed her to see everything, to make it all real by processing it in her large, liquid eyes. He needed her— just to exist as Gwen Cooper somewhere in the life of Captain Jack Harkness.

Of course, he did frequently want to kiss her, and often at totally inappropriate times like when she giggled with Tosh over some joke, or when she cried over a murder victim, or when she was just sitting on the edge of his desk, listening to him talk and absent-mindedly twirling a piece of her hair.

But then he wanted to kiss her at entirely appropriate times as well— when she held his hand in wonder at the sight of something new; when she sank down in defeated exhaustion at the end of a hard day; when she followed his orders with unwavering trust; when she fell asleep curled up to his side in the middle of the night, on their couch doing paperwork.

As if to emphasize this last thought Gwen shifted again, her knee rubbing against his, her dark hair drifting down the length of his arm. Jack thought about the one time when Gwen had kissed him. He hadn't been expecting it, but what had surprised him the most— absolutely floored him in fact— was how unbelievably right it felt. It felt like no kiss he could remember receiving, but it also felt like she'd been kissing him for years. It was as if there was nothing more natural in the world than for their lips to press together, as if they'd been shaped specifically for that purpose.

Jack wasn't sure if Gwen had felt that too. He knew she was attracted to him— and to be honest, why wouldn't she be? Entire sonnets had been composed about his cheekbones alone— but it never seemed quite the right time to try and push the matter. It wasn't her boyfriend that was stopping him, or even his if you could sum up Ianto as just that, and Jack certainly wouldn't though the expression on the Welshman's face might just be worth—

Fiancé, he corrected himself suddenly. Rhys was no longer Gwen's boyfriend, he was her fiancé. And Jack couldn't repress a slight shudder at that thought.

Perhaps sensing the sudden tension in Jack's body, Gwen moved her head, slid her hand further up his thigh, and muttered his name, a little puff of air that he felt against the skin of his neck.

And it was this, this warm feeling of contentment spreading through him that was the real reason Jack had never acted on his desires to grab Gwen and kiss her silly.

The truth of the matter was, Captain Jack Harkness was a coward.

It was far easier for him to have a professional-by-day, hot-sex-by-night relationship like with Ianto, where Jack was the one in control and the rules were clearly established; or a mutually respectful yet acknowledgedly unrequited relationship like with the Doctor, where Jack was the follower who found the rules fun to bend. His relationship with Gwen was anything but easy, because Jack wasn't in control but he wasn't following her lead, and the rules made little sense where they existed at all. With Ianto, he reached out and took what he wanted, knowing he could have it. With the Doctor, he held back, knowing it could never be. With Gwen, he couldn't make a decision either way.

He wanted more, but he didn't want to lose what he had. He didn't want to risk the contentment and happiness and comfort he got from their current relationship, even for the chance of something truly extraordinary. He was terrified of ending up with nothing, Captain Jack Harkness alone again in the world.

Some days were harder than others. Some days when Gwen looked at him a certain way or he found reasons to touch her, it hurt like hell, and he almost broke. But Jack was nothing if not indestructible, and she hadn't shattered him yet.

And there were the times when the ache wasn't so sharp and even a little sweet, like when Gwen shifted next to him again, burrowed her head closer in his chest then slowly opened her eyes. She blinked up at him in a mildly bemused manner, lips curving upward.

"Hello, Jack," she said in a sleep-roughened voice that sent a tingle down his spine. "I seem to have mistaken you for a pillow."

Neither of them moved for a long moment, except Jack allowed himself to meet her gaze with a wide grin.

There were times when he thought maybe it was all worth it.