Disclaimer: Characters belong to the BBC, not to me.

Notes: This isn't a sequel to "Dead Letters"—it's another version of the same concept, with Owen in place of Gwen. It is, in fact, the same story in many ways, just with a different personality mediating it. Many thanks to lawsontl, kita0610, concertigrossi and schemingreader for their help and input, to jedirita for the idea, and to lizardspots and hab318princess for consulting on the medical stuff.

Warning: Deals with trauma and grief, and contains Owen.


by Rex Luscus

If he hadn't thought Ianto was giving Jack regular head before, Owen was thoroughly convinced of it now. If he had been the one to sneak a Cyberman into Torchwood and then not act sorry, Jack wouldn't have waited for an explanation before blowing his fucking head off. But Jack had actually stood there and listened to Ianto's sniveling, to his pathetic "you don't pay attention to me" excuses—and then Ianto had punched him in the face, and Jack still hadn't shot him. Since there was nothing especially interesting or charming about Ianto as such, that could only mean he was really good at sucking cock.

Now Jack was staring at Ianto, still not shooting him, just looking down with Olympian indifference, as if Ianto was either so far beneath his contempt that Jack could barely see him, or Jack wanted everyone to think he was.

"Right." Jack looked around. "Owen, Gwen, Tosh, clean up what you can, then go home. I'll take care of anything else critical, and we can start dealing with the rest tomorrow. Ianto—" He raised his voice. "Get up."

Ianto had stopped crying; he was just kneeling there not making a sound, swaying a bit. No, actually he was rocking gently, hugging his arms. Owen had seen an article about stereotypy in junkies just last week—the repetitive motion thought to stimulate the release of endogenous opioids—which made sense, since Ianto's brain state right about now resembled heroin withdrawal. That's what people were—just bags of chemicals sloshing around. Give Ianto a big enough shot of morphine, and he wouldn't care about what's-her-name.

Jack obviously wasn't interested in Ianto's endogenous opioids. He grabbed a handful of Ianto's suit jacket and jerked him to his feet. "Get started," he said over his shoulder as he shoved Ianto toward the door. "I want you gone in half an hour."

"Jack, what are you—" Gwen darted forward. "Wait!"

Owen reached out and grabbed her by the arm before she could make it to the door. She spun toward him fiercely. "I wouldn't fuck with him," said Owen.

"But—he might—" She couldn't even get the words out.

"The only surprising thing is that he hasn't already," said Owen. Actually, he suspected Jack wouldn't do a thing, but he didn't say so; he was still too pissed off that Ianto was about to get away with it. Owen didn't even wish Ianto ill, particularly—he just hated it when people got off easy.

In the morning, they learned that instead of marching Ianto off to his execution, Jack had driven him home, stuffed him full of sedatives, and left him there.

"So he's not dead," said Owen flatly.

"No," said Jack, looking a little offended.

"Right. Was he injured?"

"A second ago, you wanted him dead," said Jack.

"But he's not, so now I have to treat him."

Jack shrugged. "There was a lot of blood—hard to tell if any of it was his. He did hit his head pretty hard."

Owen found his bag and checked its contents. "What drugs did you give him?"

"Um…diazepam, I think."

"How much?"

"Not that much."

Owen hefted his bag. "If I'm not back in two hours, assume he's murdered me and send in a team." He stopped on his way to the door. "Oh, Jack—what are we doing? Are we keeping him or Retconning him?"

Jack folded his arms, dropped his chin and sighed. "I haven't decided yet."

"He might ask."

"Then put him off. Tell him I'll come see him later."

Owen shook his head as he walked out the door. Yep, there had definitely been cocksucking going on.

It was a joke around the office that Jack fancied Ianto. Jack's endless remarks and Ianto's cheerful deflections were part of the daily chatter, like Owen teasing Tosh about her unnecessarily technical explanations, or Owen generally being cranky (which was real enough, but he played it up). None of it meant anything; the pranks and the bullshit and the running jokes just kept the gears lubricated and made life a little more bearable. Owen was familiar with the signs of a real office affair: for one thing, when you were banging someone else on the team, you didn't shout it to the hills. Of course that didn't rule out a little nonsense in a supply cabinet, which probably wouldn't even register as a proper affair to Jack. But if it didn't, then it wouldn't have kept him from shooting Ianto, either. And as he reviewed the events of last night, Owen could honestly think of no other reason why Jack would have spared him.

By the time he got to Ianto's flat, this had become a point of consuming curiosity. Jack held their lives in his hand; at times, you could fool yourself into believing you worked in a regular office, but then something would remind you that in Torchwood, Jack was the law, Jack was justice itself, and they all had a stake in the quality of that justice. If Jack gave preferential treatment to people he'd slept with, everyone needed to know. Owen needed to know. God knows he wasn't always on Jack's good side, and he wasn't sure he'd take the special shagging dispensation even if Jack offered it.

He rapped on the door of Ianto's flat. When there was no reply, he tried the knob, and it nearly fell out—Jack had broken it the night before, evidently. Owen shut the door behind him as best he could and ventured into the dark sitting room.

Ianto was there; Owen could hear him breathing. He stepped over to the couch and looked down. "Not so lovely now, are we?" said Owen under his breath.

Ianto's face was dark with stubble and his forehead was white and clammy. His hands and clothes were still covered in blood, although it had turned brown and started flaking. A yellow-purple bruise covered his cheekbone.

Owen set down his bag and perched on the edge of the coffee table. "Sit up," he said.

When Ianto didn't move, Owen prodded him. "The benzos have worn off, I know you can hear me, sit up."

When Ianto still didn't move, Owen grabbed him by the hair and hauled him upright.

He regretted it instantly—what if there was neck damage?—but frustration had taken over, and he'd just reached out and done it. Getting ahold of himself, he took Ianto's pulse and temperature, then checked his reflexes.

After that, he checked for signs of intracranial bleed. "Do you have any pain?" he asked loudly, as if Ianto were a senior citizen.

There was no reply. "I'll take that as a no, then," he shouted. "Suffer in silence for all I care," he muttered. "Ungrateful bastard."

"What am I meant to be thanking you for?" Ianto murmured.

"Oh, I don't know—driving all the way out here to make sure you weren't dead or dying? Caring whether you lived or died when I had no reason to?"

"Isn't that your job?" asked Ianto in a dreamy voice.

"Yeah, well, a little acknowledgement would be nice." Owen frowned as he said it—what the hell did he care?

"Oh." Ianto lifted his head. "Sorry. I'm being rude." He got up—it reminded Owen of those YouTube videos of robots designed to walk like human beings. "Sorry." He shuffled into the kitchen, and the sound of the kettle being put on floated out.

Owen wandered into the doorway. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Um." Ianto frowned at the counter top. "Tea. I've got—" He opened a cabinet, which was empty. "This."

"If you make me a cup of tea with your hands covered in blood, I will punch you in the head, so help me God."

"Oh." Ianto looked down at his hands. A look of agony passed over his face then disappeared. He wriggled his fingers, seamed with dark red grime, and as he stared at them, the look of agony returned.

"All right, then," sighed Owen, taking him by the elbow and leading him out of the kitchen. "You've obviously gone off your chump, so let's avoid boiling water for now, shall we?" He sat Ianto down on the couch and stood over him, arms folded. "What's your name?"

"I don't—who do you mean?" Ianto said. "Your words are too slow." His face crumpled, then went blank again, as if somebody were changing the channels in his head.

"What's the date?" Owen asked.

"The—" Another spasm crossed his face. "The twenty-eighth."

So he thought it was yesterday; could be the concussion. "Do you remember hitting your head?" Owen asked.

"I have to leave for work," said Ianto, and he tried to get up.

"Whoa!" Owen pushed him back down. "No, you really don't, trust me."

"There's—someone—I have to meet someone." Ianto made another attempt at rising. This time, he managed to get around Owen and started off toward the bedroom, absently removing his blood-stained jacket as he went.

Owen remembered the CCTV footage Tosh had found of the Japanese scientist. Was that the "someone"? A perverse amusement stole over him. He followed Ianto into the bedroom. "Who exactly are you meeting, then?"

"Um—just someone I know." Ianto laid the jacket on the bed, went over to the bureau and got out a tie (he was already wearing one), then returned to the bed and put the jacket back on—oblivious to the fact that both he and it were covered in blood.

"Well, couldn't one of us meet them for you?" Owen wanted to see how far this would go. Opening his mobile, he said, "I'll ring Jack, tell him you're expecting somebody—"

"No!" Ianto abandoned his absurd morning-routine pantomime and rushed at Owen. "It's not—don't bother Jack—"

"Oh, I can't take this anymore." Owen grabbed him by both shoulders and shoved him down onto the bed. All of his amusement was gone; now he only wanted to punish. "You can't meet him because he's dead, you deluded twat! Your psycho robot girlfriend killed him, remember? Of course you bloody don't."

Normally Owen didn't condone the abuse of traumatized amnesiacs, but he was all out of self-control where this kid was concerned.

Ianto stared straight ahead, alarm dawning on his face, and Owen thought, great, now I've made him panic. Ianto breathed faster; sweat broke out on his forehead. As Owen watched his shifting face, he wondered what was going on in there; what was it like when the mind slowly sucked itself inside-out? That had to be what was happening: the memory of last night was returning.

Finally Ianto turned to him and looked right through him. "Where am I?"

This wasn't the head injury—he'd seen amnesia following concussion, and this was something else. Nevertheless, he said, "You've hit your head." He knelt down in front of him. "And Jack stupidly gave you drugs. Have you taken anything else? Did Jack leave a bottle of pills here?"

No reply. Owen looked around but found no bottle, no pills. He collected his bag from the other room and got out the Bekaran deep-tissue scanner. Ianto just sat there and let him work, staring into space. Owen scanned his skull and neck, but turned up nothing abnormal—no bleeds, no fractures, just mild concussion. How was that possible?

"You must have a skull of iron, mate," he muttered. "Or a brain of rubber."

He took a swab from Ianto's mouth, pricked Ianto's finger, and tested both spit and blood on the fluid analyzer—nothing. No toxins, no drugs except the metabolites of the sedative. Could that explain it? But he'd taken the drugs too many hours ago, and at too low a dose. There was some dehydration but no electrolyte disturbance. Blood sugar at the low end of normal. No signs of infection. Ianto was fucking fine. There was nothing wrong with his brain—or rather, quite a bit was wrong, but not in a way Owen could do anything about.

He knelt down again. "Ianto?" he said. There was no reply. Owen waved a hand in front of his face; Ianto didn't blink. "Ianto," said Owen, low and urgent, "answer me, or I'll tell Jack what you've got hidden in the basement."

Ianto didn't react.

Owen stood up and stared down at him. What the hell was he supposed to do? He knew fuck-all about psychological trauma, and he couldn't exactly call for a consult. As a doctor with an occasional conscience, he couldn't leave Ianto alone, but babysitting loonies wasn't in his job description either. He had work to do back at the Hub; he didn't have time for this. Suddenly Jack's decision to sedate Ianto the night before made a lot of sense. Could Owen restrain him somehow? Or just get the bugger sectioned? Not before he was Retconned, certainly—who knows what he might say in hospital? Owen took out his mobile again and called Jack.

"Owen, what is it?"

"I'm at Ianto's. Trouble is, Ianto's not at Ianto's."

"What? You mean he's run off?"

"No, Jack, he's bugfuck. Bonkers. Round the bend."

There was a pause filled with traffic sounds. Then Jack said, "Is that a recognized disorder in the ICD-10?"

"Ha ha," said Owen. "He's having some kind of acute stress response—confusion, dissociation, amnesia. I think so, anyway—I'm not a bloody psychiatrist, am I? He's mental, and there's nothing I can inject him with that'll make it go away. If we section him, we need to Retcon him first—or maybe if we Retcon him, that alone will—"

"Wait, wait, wait—we are not sectioning or Retconning Ianto."

"Have you heard a word I've said? I can't take care of him like this, and we can't send him to hospital without Retconning him. Those are our options."

"Look, this sort of thing happens with trauma, doesn't it? It probably won't last long."

"Oh, is that your expert medical opinion?"

"Hey, I'm not the doctor who just described his suffering patient as 'bugfuck.'"

Fair enough. "So what d'you want me to do? Stay here till he comes back to Earth? It could be days. And what if he's suicidal?"

"I—" Jack huffed a staticky sigh. "Look, just stay with him for now. We've got things covered here; we can afford to be without you for a few hours. I'll stop by when I can. If he really is as bad as you say, I have one last resort to consider before we break out the Retcon, but let's see if he snaps out of it first, okay?"

"I better get a fucking bonus for this," Owen muttered and shut his phone.

He sat on the floor and stared up at Ianto. Where had the little fucker gone? Was he in some fantasy world where his bird was still alive? Had he rewound himself back to the days before Canary Wharf? If one was going for amnesia, one might as well go all the way.

"This is awfully convenient for you," said Owen. "The rest of us have got to deal with the mess you caused, but you get to check out and miss the whole unpleasant business, don't you?"

Ianto had no thoughts on this.

"Fuck it." Owen scrambled to his feet. "You know what? You don't deserve it. If I've got to be here, you've got to be here."

He grabbed Ianto's head and forced their eyes to meet. When Ianto's neither moved nor focused, Owen slapped him. This had no discernible effect, and so Owen did it again, harder.

"Come on, you bastard," he muttered. "Wake up."

He drew his arm back and struck Ianto open-handed across the face as hard as he could. Ianto made a grunting sound as the air left his lungs, and he sagged to the side, then slipped off the bed onto the floor.

Owen caught his head before he could whack it on the way down, then knelt at Ianto's side, breathing hard. "Good thing we're not in hospital," Owen confided to him. "The General Medical Council frowns on doctors beating their patients, I'm told."

Jesus, he was talking to himself.

He sat on his arse and crossed his legs. "You know," he said, "I've had the training, I've read the literature—but I can't help thinking you're just putting me on."

If Ianto had an opinion, he didn't reveal it.

"Look, it sucks, okay?" Owen shouted. "Death sucks! Nobody's going to make it better for you—give it some fucking effort!" He sighed loudly. "Right, enough of this." He grabbed his bag. "Where are they?" he muttered as he rummaged, feeling all the way to the bottom for the bottle of smelling salts—but no dice.

He thought for a moment. Smelling salts were basically just ammonia, and Ianto was bound to have some of that around. Owen looked under the kitchen sink. He looked under the sink in the toilet too. Then he opened a small closet by the front door and hit the jackpot.

"Right." He opened the bottle and sat down in front of Ianto, who was gently sagging to the left. "You may not want to wake up, but your mucus membranes won't give you a choice." He thrust the bottle under Ianto's nose.

It took a few seconds, maybe fifteen or twenty, but eventually Ianto gave a loud gasp and began to cough, putting his hands up to his running nose and eyes.

Owen watched him in satisfaction. Even if this didn't snap him out of his stupor, it felt good to cause a bit of pain.

For a moment, Ianto seemed like he might lapse back into vacancy once the coughing and gasping subsided. So Owen was newly pleased when Ianto rubbed his face with his hands and said weakly, "What the fuck."

Owen stood and put the cap back on the bottle. "That's more like it."

Ianto stared at him out of flooded, red-rimmed eyes. Owen stared back. He was ready for a fight; he was dying for Ianto to rip into him so he could rip back. Then Ianto blinked, and Owen realized Ianto wasn't giving him a murderous glare, he was just staring into space. Ianto let his head droop until his temple rested on his knees, and new tears trickled out of the inside corner of his eye, joining the ones from the ammonia.

"Still think you need to get to work to see your girlfriend?" asked Owen.

"She's dead," said Ianto. He looked up at Owen for confirmation, and Owen nodded.

"Yep. She died, after nearly killing all of us and the rest of the planet. And now we're waiting for Jack to come and tell you what will be your penalty for keeping her alive, since he's graciously decided not to shoot or Retcon you."

Ianto didn't look like he'd processed much of this. His eyes were dull and glazed. "She died," he repeated. "So she's not at Torchwood anymore. I can't see her."

"That's right," said Owen with a sigh. "Do you know where you are?"

"My flat," he said. "My bedroom. I'm not crazy."

"No, you're perfectly compos mentis," Owen groaned, slumping down on the bed. "You'll be back to defusing bombs and performing vascular surgery any minute now."

Ianto didn't seem like he was going to move any time soon, so finally Owen got up.

"All right, enough of this." He grabbed Ianto's elbow and tugged on it. "Come on, back to the couch where I can keep an eye on you. I'm not sitting in here."

Ianto got up and followed Owen back into the sitting room, but passed him by for the kitchen instead. Owen found him staring into the cabinet that had contained the phantom tea.

"Nope, wrong again," said Owen, and this time Ianto let Owen conduct him to the couch.

"I wanted tea," said Ianto numbly as he sat down.

"Fine." Owen stalked off and put on the kettle. He found some aged PG Tips in the cabinets (it had, in fact, been to the left of where Ianto had been looking) and tossed a bag in a cup.

When he came back out, Ianto had stretched lengthwise on the couch, on his belly with his face turned out. Owen set the damn tea down loudly and slumped into a chair opposite.

"You should clean yourself up," he said. When Ianto didn't reply, Owen shrugged. He would make a man tea, but he would not bathe anybody, not without extraordinary compensation.

He slouched in his seat and watched Ianto lie there. His psych rotation had been the most useless one; he had no idea how to treat trauma or bereavement, except with his own method: work, sex and alcohol. Which, again, were all way outside the scope of his job description to provide.

After another ten minutes, he asked Ianto the date; to his surprise, Ianto gave him the correct one.

"You remember she's dead now, right?" he asked next.

"Fuck you," said Ianto.

"Right. That's it." He took out his mobile and dialed. "Jack," Owen practically shouted, "he's fine now. Can I go?"

"No, stay where you are. I'm out on a call, but I'll be there soon—don't go anywhere until I get there, understand?"

"He's sane, Jack—I'm completely confident he's not going to stick a fork in a socket or drown himself in the sink!"

"I don't care—you can stand it for another hour. I need to tell him what's going to happen next, and I want you there when I do."

"What is going to happen next?"

"I'm suspending him. Four weeks, then he's back to work. One hour, Owen." The call ended.

"I'm not fucking fine," said Ianto, his words slurred since half his face was pressed into a cushion. "Though you can still leave."

Owen sighed. "Are you having symptoms of some kind? Is there anything medically wrong with you, or are you just fucked up and depressed now?"

"I can't believe you're a doctor," said Ianto.

"Well I wasn't the sort of doctor who gave the bad news gently and comforted people on their deathbeds," he replied.

Funny, though—he had been that sort of doctor at one point, or at least a version of it. There'd actually been a time when he "wanted to help people," as it said on every med school application in history. Nowadays his interest in helping people was more abstract; he didn't want anyone to die needlessly, but otherwise he didn't give much of a shit. And Ianto seemed to bring out his cruel streak like nobody else. He certainly wouldn't be acting this way with Gwen, even if she had done something just as catastrophically stupid. Of course, he tried not to be a complete arsehole to people he wanted to sleep with. Tosh, then. He wouldn't be treating Tosh this way.

"I think it's just you, mate," he concluded. "Normally I'm a sweetheart to my patients. The live ones, anyway."

"I suppose you think you're punishing me," murmured Ianto.

"Really?" Owen laughed. "You think this is punishment?"

"Isn't that what you'd like?"

"I'd like to wring your bloody neck, to be honest. If it was up to me," said Owen, "we'd Retcon you back to the day before you joined Torchwood One, set you down somewhere, and forget we ever saw you."

Ianto didn't meet his eyes, staring at a spot beyond the edge of the couch cushion.

"But it's not up to me, is it? Because you're the captain's little office totty, you get to keep all your memories, all your post-traumatic stress and all your misery, and come back every day to the place your girlfriend died once you're well enough to function, where you can relive the worst moments of your life over and over. So I ask you, between me and Jack, which of us sounds more interested in punishing you?"

They sat in silence. Ianto's eyelids drooped halfway, and his breathing grew audible. Owen watched him, because there was nothing else to look at. He got involved in the pattern of dried blood on Ianto's hand and wrist, which made a sort of lumpy arabesque before bursting into brighter red on his shirt cuff. Ianto sniffed loudly, and his hand curled tighter; there were new tears coating the side of his nose.

Owen gazed at him curiously. The body was such a strange thing—what sorts of fraught, humid motions in Ianto's brain were producing those tears periodically? Was he even aware of them, or could the brain grieve unconsciously? What a weird, fluid-emitting slug a person was. And yet they wore clothes, and had savings accounts, and designed space shuttles. What a waste of time.

Ecce homo, indeed—a drooling office clerk whose only reason for living had been some tart who'd have dumped him sooner or later. People really were just bags of chemicals, running around trying to stick themselves to other bags of chemicals.

"Jesus Christ," said Owen aloud, shaking his head. "I need a drink."

He'd seen Ianto drink at the office, so it was a safe bet there'd be some in the flat. Owen found it in one of the lower cabinets in the kitchen. Just some mid-range blended scotch, not cheap student stuff but not suggesting any real taste either. Owen poured himself a bumper.

"Bottoms up," he said to Ianto as he sank back into his chair. "I'd offer you some, but you're boxed enough for the both of us."

Ianto opened his eyes a little. His lips moved. "I keep thinking you're about to leave," he murmured, very slowly. "But you just stay and stay."

"I'm no happier about it than you are," said Owen, taking a deep sip. "I'm about ready to top myself, looking at you. I've discovered new depths of misanthropic despair just sitting here."

Ianto made a disgusted throat-clearing sound as he flopped over on his other side, his face to the back of the couch. "Can't you just stop talking?"

"Somebody's got to be witty around here," said Owen, "and it won't be you."

Ianto didn't respond. Owen had left it wide open for him, but he didn't say another word. He seemed to have drifted off.

Now Owen had the dubious privilege of staring at Ianto's arse. It was hard to avoid looking at, since Ianto's twisting around had sort of worked his trousers up there and they were tight trousers to begin with, so that everything was on display.

Owen contemplated it for a while. What was it about arses? It was the most idiotic-looking part of the body, to say nothing of its unpleasant function, and yet—enduring fascination. Ianto's was very round. Owen had a small, well-toned arse himself, and he found arses that were so there to be disturbingly extravagant on men—if not exactly feminine, then just excessive.

"God, get me out of here," Owen muttered, and drained his glass.

Ianto sat up after a while with the side of his face covered in couch print and drool, swung his legs to the floor and sat back with his face toward the ceiling. His mouth hung open a little; he was breathing like he was winded.

Owen tried to remember if he'd ever been this way when Katie died. He was pretty sure he hadn't. Of course, he hadn't been recovering from the trauma of surviving an alien massacre when she'd died. Jesus, talk about reliving the event. The science was starting to get very specific about trauma, about PTSD and the precise neural pathways involved, about psychopharmaceutical interventions—too bad he knew nothing about all that. The least he could do was find Ianto a good shrink; that was his duty as Torchwood's medic. He had a few good ones in his Rolodex—doctors who were good, but not so dear to him that he'd mind if they were Retconned a bit. Come to think of it, ongoing care and Retcon didn't really mix. Maybe UNIT had someone good on the payroll.

"I feel like I'm in a video game," said Ianto.

Owen raised an eyebrow. "Must be kind of a shitty one, then."

"It's like you're little video-game enemies—you, Jack, everybody else—and this room is a level, and if I went outside, that'd be another level, and the Hub is another."

Owen twigged. "Hate to break it to you, but that's a symptom. Derealization, they call it."

"Oh." Ianto raised his head, with apparently great effort. "That makes it less interesting."

"That's all anything is," Owen shrugged. "Just your brain reacting to stimuli. Just a lot of complex chemical reactions happening all at once. It's fucking amazing, actually."

"Forgive me if I don't get too excited about it."

Owen rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you're really depressed, I can tell."

"I'm actually lying very still," Ianto went on in the same conversational tone, "because if I move, everything will go very, very wrong."

"Yeah, that's actually another symptom," Owen pointed out. "They call it—"

"Jesus Christ, Owen!" Ianto said it loud enough to make Owen jump. Ianto sat bolt upright, his face red, his eyes full of tears. "What is wrong with you? Just get the fuck out of here!"

"I'd love to!" Owen shouted back. "But I'm bloody stuck with you, ain't I?"

"Then—go in the other room or something—just leave me alone, Jesus fuck." Ianto buried his face in his hands. A second later, the first hoarse sob came out.

Owen winced. Watching a bird cry invariably made him feel guilty, but watching a bloke cry was a special kind of torture. He felt the dignity of humanity at large plummet when he witnessed it.

Ianto sobbed again; the tips of his fingers were digging into his face, making little white spots on the glutinous red skin. Owen's fists clenched. He wanted to lay into Ianto so badly; he was bubbling over with cruel, perfect insults. But Ianto had shown his belly before the fight had even begun.

"Fine," he said, and got up.

He took one last look at Ianto's hunched body protecting the sight of his crying face—God, he hated this kid. Where was it coming from? It exceeded what even Ianto's massive stupidity deserved. There were convicted murderers Owen empathized with more, for Christ's sake—and Ianto, though stunningly careless with the lives of others, was not actually a murderer. Owen fled into the bedroom.

Leaning with his back against the closed door, he listened to the faint sound of Ianto sobbing for a few more minutes. Luckily, the thickness of the door preserved him from the inevitable aftermath of hitching breaths and loud, wet sniffing, which could go on indefinitely.

He got up and paced. Ianto's bedroom was unbelievably boring; he considered going through his things, but he wouldn't find any interesting blackmail material, just itemized receipts or Asda coupons or something else that would make him want to slit his wrists. He jerked up the shade and looked down into the street. Even Ianto's neighborhood was boring.

The sobbing noises had stopped. Owen curled his lip. The thing was, he knew that Ianto felt remorse. He could even relate to the idea that one person in the world might be worth more to him than a bunch of other arseholes who'd never given him the time of day. He didn't hate Ianto for what he'd done—it was this he hated, the grief itself. Which was to say, the one thing Ianto couldn't control.

He dropped onto the bed and folded his arms. Really, when you came down to it, people didn't control much. That was why statistics worked—because people tended to do the same shit over and over. Only the complexity of biological systems produced any behavioral variation at all. And every animal on Earth seemed okay with this except humans. The stories people told themselves were a lot of bollocks. Owen had seen it in Ianto's eyes the night before—he'd been at the center of a little narcissistic drama. But to everyone else, he was just an organism, doing its more or less predictable organic thing.

That Ianto could even mourn his bird at all was just a side effect of the language capacity: to name, to symbolize, and thus to imagine absent things. Out of that, people had made God, heaven, souls. Owen had always known too much about the biology of death to believe there was anything after it, but when Katie had died, he'd looked at her dead face below her sawed-open skull and known without a doubt that she hadn't gone somewhere better. She had just blinked out, like a current in a broken circuit. The incredible need he'd felt to believe meant that it was just a wish—a desire for an object that wasn't there. That's all God and souls were: just the error message for a missing reference.

And then Torchwood had come along and given him plenty of empirical evidence to confirm this. Those people Suzie woke up with the glove weren't off living in some invisible world; the glove just rebooted them like computers, and when the power was cut, they went back to non-existence.

But Ianto had refused the reality of death to the absolute delusional extremity. He had believed that he was exempt, that he alone could escape loss. Owen hadn't had a chance to save Katie, so he couldn't say for sure that he wouldn't have fucked up as badly as Ianto had—but that was just it: he hadn't been given a chance. Now that Ianto had bolloxed his, the least he could do was accept his fate quietly, along with everybody else.

Owen shut his eyes. For a long, humiliating moment, they burned. Then the sensation passed.

You learn to live with it, they said, and he had—but all that really meant was reducing the ratio of time spent thinking about Katie to time spent doing anything else. He'd had it down to a sliver before Ianto's miniature apocalypse.

Strangely, that thought made him hate Ianto a little less.

Rubbing his eyes, he got to his feet. He'd opened the door before remembering that he didn't necessarily have permission to return, but he went into the room anyway. Ianto was curled up at the opposite end of the couch with his jacket off. Nearby, the tea cup was empty. He seemed to be asleep, or at least spaced out with his eyes half-closed; his breathing was fast and shallow. Owen frowned and checked his pulse. It was normal; Ianto stirred a little but didn't seem aware of him. Owen sat down in his chair.

Jack had said an hour, and it had certainly been that long, hadn't it? He'd lost all track of time. In the morning that felt ages away, Owen recalled worrying that Ianto had been given clemency for sucking Jack's cock, which seemed a bit stupid now—who the fuck cared?

Ianto would get a raw deal anyway; there was nothing enviable about getting involved with Jack. Except maybe the sex—but Jack didn't do much for Owen, truth be told. Owen liked tits too much to be bisexual in earnest. Ianto could have him; Ianto bloody deserved him.

Ianto whimpered in his sleep. Jesus, it was better than television. There were more whimpers, and then Ianto sat bolt upright, his hair sticking up on one side. He swallowed loudly.

"Hate that," he said, trembling a little as he rubbed his face. "Like you're awake, but still dreaming."

"Hypnopompic hallucination," Owen supplied.

"Right, thanks," said Ianto.

Owen sighed. His anger was thin and watery. "You need pills to sleep?"

"Um—" Ianto blinked. "If you've got some."

Owen dug in his bag and found a sample blister-pack. "Here. There'll be a scrip at the chemist, to be filled daily. I'm not leaving you alone with a fucking thirty-day supply."

"Ta," said Ianto. Then he slumped sideways again.

Owen had just fixed them both cheese on toast when Jack finally arrived.

He strode in with a heavy step and a tempest of coattails, and surveyed the scene: Ianto, furniture, Owen, toast. "Jesus, Owen," he said, "all this time and you couldn't you have got him cleaned up a little?"

"He's washed his hands," said Owen with a shrug.

Jack rolled his eyes. "This is what happens when you spend your days with corpses, I guess. Okay, lemme talk to Ianto alone for a minute, and then we'll go."

"Do I need to stay?"

"Well, there's a chance I might need...help with him, if things go off the rails."

"Right. I'll chaperone your little date, then."

Jack gave him a sharp look that wasn't at all playful, then herded him into the bedroom.

Exiled again. At first Owen stood with arms folded and his back to the door, waiting for Jack to do what he had to do. But the rise and fall of voices just out of the range of intelligibility made him curious, and he peered through the crack in the door. He could just see Jack and Ianto beyond it, seated side by side on the couch. Ianto was bent forward and hugging his arms, but Jack was angled toward him, speaking sternly in a rapid voice.

Owen remembered doing this as a kid—not understanding the words but only the tone of his parents in the other room as he puzzled out what was going on, and how it would affect him. He'd tried to read meaning in the rises and falls, the sudden sharp emphases that were even scarier for being without content.

He felt a little of the old sadness, and even a weird pity for Ianto's quieter, tearful voice as Jack's more powerful voice cut it off, circumscribing it like the word of God. There was no talking outside of that voice—Owen could relate to that. Of course, he'd almost certainly be on Jack's side if he knew what they were actually saying—but from the child's position, all fathers were enemies, and all tears were undeserved.

Owen leaned closer. Ianto had his head in his hands, weeping hoarsely again—God, this kid could do nothing else, could he? And Jack sat stock still beside him, one big hand hovering. Eventually, Ianto lifted his face and said something soft and blubbery, and Jack's hands settled around the sides of his head, holding his face up, looking into his eyes. Jack said a brief, emphatic phrase, and pressed their foreheads together.

Owen's eyes narrowed with curiosity. It wasn't quite a lover's embrace, but it wasn't exactly paternal either. He watched as Jack stroked the back of Ianto's head, then kissed his forehead, and then stood up while Ianto stayed where he was, half slumped to the side.

"Come on, Owen," Jack said as he pulled open the bedroom door. "Time to go."

It turned out that Jack had needed Owen to stay mostly because he needed a ride back to the Hub; Gwen had dropped him off at Ianto's. In the car, Owen said, "So, you laid down the law for him, did you?"

"I told him to call his family. To get help if he needed it. To do all the things ordinary people do when their lives go to shit." Jack sighed wearily. "And then I told him that if he ever lied to me again, there was no force on Earth that could protect him from me."

"Jesus." Owen swallowed. Lord knows he wasn't the the most sensitive guy around, but even he would have thought twice before threatening a traumatized space-case with something straight out of the Old Testament. "How'd he take that?"

"Surprisingly well. He said he's sorry for what he did."

Owen guessed that was a rather banal rehearsal of what Ianto had actually said. There had been more crying, at the very least.

"Which I accepted," Jack went on, "and said that from now on, he'd be treated as forgiven. Which I expect to go for all of us."

It was funny—for Owen, this was a medical matter, albeit one completely outside his area of expertise. But Jack saw Ianto's condition in towering moral terms—as if what Ianto really needed was a remission of sin. The idea of forgiving Ianto hadn't even occurred to Owen—just as the idea of getting Ianto an actual psychiatrist probably hadn't occurred to Jack. The truth was, he probably needed both.

They drove a little farther in silence. Owen's curiosity from that morning returned, more idle than urgent this time. He'd get nothing without a direct attack, so he said casually, "I reckon he's pretty good in the sack to warrant the mercy he got."

He saw Jack's head swivel around in his peripheral vision, but there was no reply. They finished the trip in uncomfortable silence. As they turned off for the Hub, Jack finally said, "Don't worry—he's not getting special treatment, if that's what you're worried about."

Owen raised an eyebrow. "It was, actually."

"I'd have done the same for any of you. After all, if any of my team are monsters, then you're monsters I created."

"Gee, thanks." Owen pulled the car into his reserved spot. Jack, of course, hadn't actually denied that he'd been fucking Ianto. But with Jack, that didn't mean much. He probably enjoyed the endless speculation about where he put his dick and preferred to keep that rumor floating around. Yep, Jack was a pretty fucked-up boss, all things considered. But it was a fucked-up job full of fucked-up people—now they even had a fucked-up receptionist. All part of the company ethos, he guessed.

He hadn't been installed in his autopsy bay for more than a couple minutes before Gwen and Tosh appeared at the rail.

"How's Ianto?" asked Tosh.

Owen opened his mouth, then paused. Being a doctor at Torchwood was like being a doctor on death row: something of a farce.

"He'll live," he said with a shrug.