Title: beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing
Characters: Gwen, Jack, Lisa, Ianto, Mickey
Pairings: many, past and present
Spoilers: up through CoE
Summary: If your best friend is ruining someone else's marriage, what do you do?
Beta: human_tales and fide_et_spe took a look, but the remaining mistakes are all mine
Author Note: Part of the Rabbit Hole AU, though as introductions to that series go, this is a good stepping-in point.
Gwen set Edward back in his cot, wiping a trace of milk from the corner of his mouth. His pretty eyes were already drifting back to sleep, and she allowed herself a moment of quiet: no aliens, no paperwork, no co-workers, just Gwen and her son. She knew this wouldn't last. Soon, he'd be active during the day, all day. He'd need a playpen, and toys, and time spent interacting with him. She couldn't count on naps all day, and if he did nap, she'd be awake half the night with him. And when he was awake during the day, she ought to be near him.
She'd returned to work two days ago. That morning was the first time she'd ever honestly considered quitting Torchwood, staying home with her baby. It wasn't the last.
Gwen heard a noise from the next office over and smiled. It could be done. Gwen had the largest office in the new Hub because they'd known she would be keeping the baby close. When their newest hires came aboard with an infant in tow, Jack had kindly offered a corner of his own office for Isabelle's cot, and let Lisa have the room when the time came for a feeding.
It was thoughtful, and unlike him. Gwen smiled again.
Jack had changed since they'd first met, and she was glad. He'd brought her on to be a good influence on him, but she had come to suspect the influence had gone the other way instead, and Gwen had fought to put herself aright again, hoping Jack would see and follow. It seemed that, after enough effort, this had been the case. He was kinder than she remembered, spent more time with the team. He'd always been tactile, but warm hands were constantly in play now, a comforting touch on Toshiko's shoulder, a friendly pat on Ianto's arm. Sometimes when things were quiet, she could hear Jack singing in a low voice to the baby while he worked, and her heart melted. He was a new man since Isabelle had moved into his office, and the world still got saved every day.
If Jack could make room in his life for a child, especially one that wasn't his, so could Gwen.
"Sleep tight, love," she said to Edward, and closed the door to her office while he slept. Mickey glanced over from his station, and Gwen said, "Naptime."
Mickey nodded in understanding. "Best time of the day." He'd been an unexpected fount of childcare information, stemming from his time back in the other universe where he'd helped raise Rose's little brother.
Gwen tapped lightly on Jack's door, but got no answer. She tried the knob and opened it to darkness, where Isabelle was babbling in her sleep. She shut it again.
"Mickey, have you seen Jack?"
"Think he went to the lab. Tosh n' Lisa are working on something."
"Thanks." Tosh and Lisa spent their downtime working on any number of projects. They'd been reverse-engineering more of the alien tech that had been scavenged from the ruins of the old Archive. Gwen was getting used to sounds of small, popping explosions and the occasional power outage that took out the neighbouring streets, always accompanied by shouts of "We're fine!" and "I think I know what went wrong there!"
Expecting a contained mess of equipment and wiring, with or without someone holding a blowtorch, Gwen made her way carefully to the back lab. She made a point of not announcing herself in case she startled someone into losing an eyebrow or worse. The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges.
Jack was indeed in the lab. He had Lisa pressed up against a work bench, her slim, charcoal skirt hiked up to her thighs and almost hiding his undone belt and flies. Gwen stood still in shock, watching as Jack's mouth devoured Lisa's neck at her open blouse, her face drawn up in pain and pleasure mingled. There was no noise but for the whisper of clothing and the bump of their bodies against the bench and one sweet, soft gasp from Lisa as Jack twisted his hips.
Gwen turned away, her face flaming.
Instead of going back to the main Hub, she went down the corridor and into an empty room. "Oh God," she said out loud to the air.
Like it was yesterday, she could feel Jack's hands on her own body. She'd been new to Torchwood, to this life, and frightened by the horrors around them. Then they'd almost been eaten alive by allegedly human beings, and she'd fallen into Jack's bed as the only safe place in her world, had clung to him as she did to her own sanity. The sex had been amazing. But for all that her body enjoyed his touch, her heart hadn't been in it, and she didn't regret going back to Rhys.
Now Lisa was in the same rocky situation. Gwen had hoped better of her. Gwen had only cheated on her boyfriend. Lisa had a husband and children to consider, and dammit, Jack should have thought about that as well. But no, something new and shiny had caught his attention, and Jack was back to his old ways.
It felt like a personal failure.
When Gwen had caught her breath and composed herself, she went back out and back to the main office. Mickey said, "Find him?"
"No. I answered my own question."
She checked on Edward, and then made herself sit down at a station to work, putting the image out of her mind. This wasn't helped when Jack reappeared a few minutes later, also put together and composed. Gwen knew what to look for, though, and saw the ghost of a satisfied smirk on his face. He waved and went into his own office, where Lisa's little girl was sleeping, all unaware that Jack was destroying her family. Gwen's stomach boiled. She loved him, she knew she did, but sometimes, Jack was very difficult to like.
"You all right?" Mickey asked.
"I'm fine. Fine. Going to the café for some coffee. Want any?"
"I think there's a pot going in the outer office," he said. "But if you're going, I'd love some tea."
She put on a smile she didn't feel and hurried out. She passed Lois in the outer office. Sure enough, there was a fresh pot of Ianto's special blend waiting, but Gwen wanted to clear her head. "Anything from the café?"
"No, thank you," Lois said, and Gwen fled.
When she returned with tea for Mickey and no easier thoughts for herself, she found Ianto in the main office. He spared her a quick smile, and her heart broke a little.
"Hi, Ianto," she said, giving him her kindest grin. She'd liked him instantly when they'd met. He'd brought the children every day to see their mum, and he was devoted to them in a way she was hoping Rhys would be. "How're you doing, sweetheart?"
"I think I've managed to get everything under the As and Bs organised. I'd really like to have a word with whoever decided to name half the artefacts 'Alien Something.'"
"That'd be Jack," she said, and then regretted it.
Mickey said, "I thought he said everything was a sex toy?"
Ianto said, "That would explain the labelling on the other half of the artefacts."
Gwen laughed, even as she wanted to take his arm and lead him aside and tell him as gently as she could what she'd seen. He needed a friend. As she opened her mouth, Lisa came out of the corridor, and Ianto's face lit up at the sight of her. Gwen's heart broke again.
They met with a quick kiss. Ianto said, "I came up to see if you wanted lunch."
Lisa glanced at the clock. "It's almost time to feed the baby."
"Then we'll make it a quick lunch."
"All right. Let me tell Jack in case Isabelle wakes up." She went to Jack's office, knocked once, and let herself inside. Gwen's stomach bothered her again as the door shut. A minute later, Lisa came back out with her handbag. "He's on the phone, but he'll keep an eye on her. He'd like a sandwich."
She took Ianto's hand, as he said, "Of course he would. Anyone else?"
"Thanks, no," Gwen said.
Mickey looked down the corridor. "Me and Tosh are going later. Thanks, though."
Gwen watched the pair head out, and she sighed again.
Lunch was cut short by an alarm. Lois coordinated back at the Hub while they hunted down the armed aliens that had appeared on Hope Street. Three civilians were injured, and Johnson's leg was hit by stray fire before Jack took two of the aliens down. They brought the rest into custody. Afterward, they went into clean-up mode, interviewing and erasing the memories of the closest witnesses, planting stories of a gang turf war for everyone else.
When they made it back to the Hub, Gwen's breasts ached from milk and the let-down to nurse Edward hurt even as it loosened the pressure. That particular relief was short-lived as she heard yells coming from the outer office. She managed to catch the tail end of a shouting match between Jack and his daughter.
" … and Kate wouldn't have got hurt if you hadn't … "
His shout overlapped hers: " … knows exactly what the job is here, and so do you!"
Jack's face was frozen in a scowl when Alice left with Johnson, and everyone tiptoed around him for the rest of the miserable day. Tosh and Lisa shut themselves up in the lab, Ianto hid in the Archives, Lois stayed in the outer office, and Mickey and Andy decided it was a very good time to get Andy some extra training somewhere else.
Gwen herself spent most of her time in her office, trying to work on reports while cuddling Edward, her thoughts a mess. She could have been the one wounded, or even killed. It was always like this. And with Jack making things worse by not keeping his zip closed, someone might get injured for other reasons. Torchwood was never the most positive work environment. Did she really want to stay in the middle of this mess?
Gwen left without answers, and slept badly.
The next morning, she arrived as early as she could, hoping to catch Lisa on her way in, but the coffee was already brewing when Gwen opened the door, and even Jack was in his office getting ready for the day.
"Good morning," he said when she passed by.
"Morning," Gwen said, and went to her office to settle Edward into his cot. Jack came to the doorway. Gwen took a breath. "Is Lisa in?"
"She's in the lab." Too sure of a statement. Had he already been with her? Anger spiked inside Gwen again, and with an effort, she quelled it.
He stopped her as she went to walk out. "Are you okay? You've been acting weird."
There was a time when she would have told him how disappointed she was in him. There was a time when she would have shouted at him, and he back at her.
She pulled her arm away. "It's nothing."
"I want to talk to Lisa. Girl talk."
"Suit yourself." He made a hole, but not a large one, forcing her to push past him. Same old Jack.
Lisa was indeed in the lab, examining a silvery box. Her professional attire, a near match for the suits her husband favoured, looked strange with the thick rubber gloves and apron she wore, not to mention the magnifying glasses.
"Hm?" Lisa looked up, her eyes huge behind the glasses.
"Do you have a minute?"
"Sure." She set down the device and peeled off her gloves. As an afterthought, the glasses came off as well, which made Gwen happier. She didn't like speaking to someone who resembled a giant bug.
Gwen shut the door behind her and took a seat. "I was just wondering how you're doing?"
"We're still not quite sure what this does. Tosh thinks it's a communication device."
"I didn't mean with the work, exactly. How are you doing back at Torchwood?"
Lisa looked thoughtful. "Fine. We weren't out long, and you don't forget much about this job."
"No, I guess you don't." She smiled kindly. "It's just that this place can get overwhelming. We see things other people don't, do things they can't. It's all a bit much."
"I suppose." She looked doubtful, which Gwen supposed wasn't unexpected. Lisa had been working for Torchwood in various capacities for almost seven years.
"If you ever want to talk about it, my door is open."
"Thanks. I'm fine, really, Gwen. And I have my weekly appointment with Peter just like everyone else."
Their poor staff psychiatrist. "Do you tell him everything?"
She glanced away. "Mostly. He's got clearance, right?"
"Right." Gwen bit her lip. "Lisa, I need to tell you something."
Lisa's face went still, and then she adopted a pose that almost made Gwen laugh out loud, because it was the same open body language "I'm listening" pose Gwen had learned back when she'd been taught interrogation techniques.
"When I started here," Gwen said, "everything was new and wonderful and upsetting and awful. And Jack made the worst of it seem to make a little more sense. He's like that. He can talk you into things that aren't necessarily good ideas. Do you know what I mean?"
Lisa shrugged. "He's our leader. He's supposed to convince us to do what he says."
"Well, yes. But there are things he's not supposed to order us to do. And he doesn't. But he might convince you into thinking something's your idea, what you need, when it's really just all about him. I don't want to say he's manipulative, and he's been so much better lately, I thought." She pressed a hand against Lisa's. "I don't want to see you get hurt. I've been there, with Jack, and it almost ruined the best thing that ever happened to me. I like you, and I like Ianto, and I think the two of you are very good together. Don't throw that away, please."
Lisa let out a breath. "What is this about, exactly?"
"I saw the two of you together in the lab yesterday."
Her face went still.
"You've got to break things off with Jack now. The longer you wait, the worse it'll be. Ianto loves you. He won't stop because of this. And Jack will take no for an answer. He doesn't like it, but he's not going to hold it against you, professionally or otherwise." She remembered her own difficult time after breaking up with him, how she expected every minute to have her memories torn away. But while he'd been distant, after, Jack hadn't changed how she was treated on the job.
Lisa's face had changed as Gwen spoke, from listening openly, to concerned, to frowning. "Gwen … "
"Please, Lisa. You have to believe me. He won't stay with you. He never does. You've got such a good life. Don't ruin it for this."
Lisa touched her ear. "Ianto, can you please come back here? Bring Jack."
"I don't think you want to tell him in front of Jack," Gwen said, but Lisa said nothing, her eyes carefully watching Gwen's face until Gwen squirmed. Then the door was opening and the two men waited there.
"Ah, girl talk," Jack said. "Are we gonna be quizzed on the male perspective about shoes? Because I have to say, Gwen, you are working those heels."
Lisa said, "Gwen saw us in the lab yesterday."
"Oh," Jack said. He looked at Gwen. "Why didn't you say something?"
Gwen didn't reply. Her eyes were on Ianto's face. This had to be the worst way to find out. Sure enough, he'd covered his mouth with his hand, and his eyes were hurt, and she felt awful. "Ianto?"
Lisa said, "I think Tosh knows."
Jack said, "She does. I asked her not to tell anyone else."
Gwen kept her focus on Ianto. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean … " To what? She hadn't meant to walk in, certainly hadn't wanted to be the one to tell him his boss was cuckolding him.
"I knew this would happen," Ianto said. Her heart went out to him.
Lisa said, "We all did."
"Well, yes," Gwen said. "When Jack's around, it's easy to get caught up."
Jack folded his arms. "This isn't my fault."
Lisa said, "This is entirely your fault. You were supposed to lock the door."
Gwen waited for the explosion. Jack and Ianto were still standing next to each other. Rhys had punched Jack when he'd found out. (The second time. Gwen had made him forget the first confession, and she'd told him again later: another regret, not that she had told him, but that she hadn't trusted him the first time.) She tensed, waiting for Ianto to fly into a rage or even to burst into tears. When neither seemed forthcoming, she stood. "Look, I'm sorry. The three of you clearly need to talk. This isn't the end of the world. It's practically a tradition here to sleep with Jack when you start." The joke was stupid even before it left her mouth.
Ianto looked at Jack. "Is it?"
Jack put his hands up, and said, "Where I come from, no. I told you."
Lisa said, "You told us a lot of things."
Gwen felt like hell. "I'll just go."
"Not yet," said Jack, and he was still blocking the doorway. "What are you going to say?"
"The team is coming in. I don't mind being everybody's favourite topic, but Ianto and Lisa don't like gossip."
"I'd never … I'm not going to say anything to the others." She looked at Lisa again. "If you want to talk later, come by my office. But I meant what I said."
"What did you say?" Ianto asked.
Gwen looked at him. "I told her you love her, that what the two of you have is stronger than this. Rhys forgave me. It's hard to think around Jack sometimes. You shouldn't hold it against her, not if they end it right now."
She went to leave, but Ianto's hand was up now, barring her. "Gwen, what do you think is going on?" he asked her slowly, like he would a witness.
She didn't want to say the words. "I know what I saw," she said instead.
Jack said, "You saw Lisa and I together."
Ianto's eyes sparkled. "Do you think Jack and Lisa are having an affair?"
For a moment, she thought she might have misread the situation. Lisa had been choking, and Jack was rescuing her. With his trousers undone and her skirt at her waist. "They were having sex in the lab."
Jack said, "Isabelle was asleep in the office. We didn't want to wake her." No denial. Her heart fell even further.
Ianto scowled. Here it comes. "The rule is, sex is in your office. With the door locked. How hard is that?"
Lisa said, "She's not napping well anymore."
"Then you wait until after work."
Gwen's brain started to catch up. "You knew?"
"That Jack's an idiot who thinks with his dick? Yes, I knew." He continued to glare at Jack. "I blame you. Lisa's more sensible."
"Ha," said Lisa happily as Jack matched the glare.
Gwen was still lost. "But you don't mind?"
"He likes to watch," Lisa said, her eyes suddenly full of understanding. "Gwen, Jack is sleeping with us both."
Gwen took a step back. With Jack, that made perfect sense. He'd shag anything alive, and a few things that weren't. But she hadn't expected it of Lisa or Ianto. "Really?"
"Yesterday, we invited him to join us."
"I was busy," Ianto said, still annoyed. "Some of us do like to get work done during work hours."
"It was down time," Jack said. "And the rule used to be 'No sex at work,' until someone who isn't nearly as sensible as he's claiming decided a week in that locking my door meant 'we're not really at work' because he wanted a quickie."
"It's all right," Lisa said, even as the boys began bickering about who was more sensible. "We've been keeping it quiet because we don't know where this is going exactly. Jack is over every night. The children adore him."
" … exhibit the common sense of an enebriated spaniel."
"Says the man who was humping my leg the last time you got pissed."
"We just didn't want it out at work yet until we knew what to say." Lisa glanced over at them. "Pipe down, you two. Honestly."
Two abashed faces looked over at them, and muttered their "sorry"s.
"You said Tosh knows?" asked Gwen.
"Yeah," said Jack. "She figured things out." He looked at Ianto again. "Everything."
"Good to know." Another part of the conversation she was missing.
Gwen said, "I won't tell anyone. I promise."
"Thank you," Lisa said with a smile.
Despite the start to the day, the morning meeting went as usual: Ianto brought everyone's addiction in liquid form; Lois handed out agendas, and her regular less than gentle reminders about keeping the dry cleaning costs down; Tosh presented a quick update on the project she and Lisa were working on; Mickey let them know Andy's training was going as well as could be expected; Johnson glowered but claimed to be recovered from yesterday; Jack joked with everyone and gave them instructions in case of a slow day, Rift-wise.
Today, though, Gwen paid attention to the body language he used. Ianto was to Jack's left in a seat that had become his as thoroughly as the chair across the table from Jack was hers. Jack's hand regularly moved across to touch Ianto's arm, or to brush against him, and Gwen realised she had always before chalked the gestures up to Jack's normal effusiveness and complete lack of respect for personal space. Now every movement, every touch, had meaning. When Jack nodded to Tosh, Gwen could practically read the shared secret in the glance. When he looked at Lisa, it was with a deep fondness that she returned, a familiar warmth Gwen had seen before, with Emma, with Eugene, with herself. But when he looked at Ianto, in an unguarded moment …
Jack had met him a bit over two months ago, but his face held the same thousand-year stare Gwen had only ever seen him direct at a particular blue police box when it came calling.
As the meeting ended, she said, "Jack? Can I have a minute? I want to go over that thing with the Andarites again."
"Sure." The others filed out, and again, as Ianto left, she caught that same momentary flash in Jack's eyes before he shuttered them again. "I thought it was pretty self-explanatory."
"I didn't want to discuss the Andarites."
He sighed. "Are you going to try to talk me out of this?"
"They have children."
"I noticed." Something about the way he said it, with an undercurrent of pride that didn't belong, confused and worried her. "I spend most of the day with Isabelle. Callie calls me Superman. Kyle keeps trying to use my coat as his security blanket. They like me. I like them."
"And what happens when you get bored and drift out of their lives again?"
"You always do. You don't mean to, but you come into people's lives like this giant wave, sweeping them up. And then when you're done, you go back out to sea and you leave so much wreckage behind you on the beach."
Gwen twitched her shoulders. "The metaphor got away from me."
"I'm not going anywhere, Gwen. Trust me, I have every intention of staying right here. No sweeping out."
"Moving on to your next conquest is the same thing."
"This is different."
Her first impulse was to retort that he always said it was different, but she stopped herself in time. Something clicked in her head. This situation wasn't different. But Jack was.
He'd been her closest friend once, but they drifted apart in recent months, after he visited with the Doctor, after he was Retconned and his memories changed. (That was still the oddest thing, that he'd asked them to stop looking into it, as though he didn't want to know why he misremembered the last three years.) At first, she'd been too busy and too relieved that he did still remember Torchwood to notice, and then she'd had Edward and been home. Jack had come to visit, had been kind and sweet and not at all like himself, but she'd blamed the changes on being around the baby.
It was like he'd become a different person. The Jack she'd known was the kind of man she could love but not necessarily like, someone whose hard edges cut indiscriminately when they scraped against everyone else. A bastard, really, one she'd never quite managed to fix. She'd let herself believe that was who he needed to be to do the job.
This Jack sang lullabies and changed nappies and still didn't flinch at anything the Rift threw at them. She didn't know this man at all. But she wanted to.
"Jack, are you happy?"
He sat back in his chair, the leather making a comfortable squeak. Then he did the strangest thing, looking around the room, and at the door as if he could see the office outside, their friends gathered there. A smile spread across his face, and she was taken aback.
Gwen knew Jack's smiles, and this one wasn't for her benefit, wasn't there to con someone, reassure them or seduce them, wasn't even the distant smile he reserved for remembering his past loves, but was for Jack alone.
His happiness wasn't all that mattered. Two other people were involved, five if Gwen counted the children. She'd have to keep a close eye on him, make sure this wasn't just a brief fling destined to hurt them all, wait to see if Jack and the others could make this odd relationship work. She could think of a dozen reasons why it shouldn't, the first and foremost centred on her lack of faith in Jack's ability to stay with something or someone for long. She'd watched him hurt people, never intending to, watched him walk away, and part of why she'd left him when she did was to keep him from leaving first. She'd even shot him once when he slept with poor Emma, so strong was her distrust in him and his scams.
It was earth-shaking to be here now, watching his secret smile. For the first time since she'd met him, Gwen believed.
From outside, the Rift alarm went off, sparking cries from both infants, and Gwen jumped to her feet. Less than a second later, so did Jack, and they rushed from the conference room together.
"Back to work," she said, and knew she was staying.
A/N: As always, my three favorite words are "I liked this."