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

Warning: Spoilers for the Torchwood novel The Undertaker's Gift.


SECRET HANDSHAKE

by Rex Luscus

Gwen looked up, startled, as someone yanked open the curtain.

"How's the ankle, Agent Cooper?"

"Blimey," she said, hand over her heart. "Fine, now that I've had a bit of codeine. Swelled up like a football, though. And these jeans are done for." She gestured sadly at the mutilated cuff where it had been slit up the side.

"An unfortunate casualty," said Jack, inspecting it. "Luckily one of the few. Cardiff has been put back exactly to the way it was. Not a single soul lost."

Gwen's mind boggled. She'd seen time and space turned upside-down and inside-out dozens of times since joining Torchwood, but it never failed to awe her—and make her feel a bit ill, even when the outcome was good. How could something happen and then unhappen?

"They give you crutches yet?"

"Yep. Didn't even need the lesson on how to use them." She hopped off the bed onto one foot and reached for the crutches where they were propped. "How's Ianto?"

"Don't know…was about to see if I could find out. They shooed me out pretty quick and I haven't seen him since."

Jack's face had gone blank the moment she'd mentioned Ianto. His face was, in fact, the very image of Ianto's face whenever Gwen asked him anything vaguely personal about Jack. Apparently the details of their relationship were so top-secret that they couldn't risk the slightest betrayal of emotion to anyone on the outside. What were they like when she wasn't there? It sounded like a theoretical physics problem.

"Let's go." Jack turned with a twitch of his coat and Gwen hobbled after him. They made their way back to reception, where Jack put on his Official Torchwood Business face and demanded to see Ianto Jones. The nurse gave them a room number and off they went.

Jack was stiff and silent, rather more like a man marching to his doom than a man rushing to the bedside of his beloved. Gwen was a little afraid to see Ianto too. Not only was it awkward seeing someone after so recently having your hands inside their body, but she'd also forced Jack's horrible calculation, when he'd put the general good above Ianto's life, all because she'd refused to pull a trigger. Jack's had been a perfectly reasonable calculation, just as hers had been a perfectly reasonable refusal, but if anything, that made it worse. Ianto wouldn't even get the satisfaction of righteous anger. She certainly knew how that felt.

They found Ianto's room and Gwen followed Jack inside. Her stomach dropped when she saw the bed. Somehow she'd thought that a few deep wounds on the chest, while serious, wouldn't require the same mobilization of medical technology as, say, a gunshot wound. But Ianto looked bad. He was quite obviously naked, although a sheet had been bunched in his lap, and the parts of his torso that weren't bandaged up were covered in patches of yellow betadine. A number of tubes and machines were connected to him, and his arms were striped with tape. Ianto himself was unconscious, breathing audibly through his half-open mouth, his skin gray and dull.

Gwen had expected more stoic silence. She was surprised, then, when Jack bent immediately over Ianto and stroked his hair with both hands, then kissed his face ardently, as if he'd forgotten she was watching. He gave Ianto more kisses and anxious caresses while Gwen watched. She'd never seen him do anything like this, at least not to Ianto, and it wasn't like he'd lacked chances. Why now? What was making this possible?

When he finally pulled his hands from Ianto's face and stepped back, Gwen put it together—Ianto was unconscious. The coast was clear, so to speak. And Jack was still thinking of what he'd had to do. He'd made the choice to let Ianto die. The Vortex Dweller hadn't made that unhappen.

"It's okay, Jack," she said. "He's okay. He understands."

"Yeah, well, I don't." Jack sighed and rubbed his eyes. "See, this is why we can't—well. You know."

Gwen made a point to stay out of things between Jack and Ianto. So perhaps it was the codeine that made her suddenly fed up, and uninhibited enough to say, "That's bollocks."

Ianto chose this moment to make a discontented sound and flutter his eyelids a bit.

"Later," said Jack under his breath.

Gwen grabbed his arm and pulled him down. "Tell him you love him," she muttered fiercely in his ear. "You tell him or I will."

Jack reached over, slowly, and detached her hand from his arm.

"Jack?" murmured Ianto, his eyes still not quite open.

Jack sat on the edge of the bed and laid his hand on Ianto's head. "Right here, pal," he said, running his thumb through Ianto's fringe. Not with tenderness, exactly, but with something close.

Gwen crept out of the room as softly as she could on her squeaky crutches. Who knew what really went on between them—but in case it was a bit more than they were willing to let her see, she'd give them every chance. She'd learned by now—that was the best she could do.