svollga: (janto)
[personal profile] svollga
Title: Second in Line
Authors: Saint-Olga & Eithne
Fandom: Torchwood/Equilibrium
Pairing/characters: Jack/Ianto (primary poly couple), Jack/Preston (secondary poly couple)
Rating: PG-13
Beta-reading: amazing [ profile] tree00faery - thank you very much! - and partly [ profile] smirnoffmule
Wordcount: 11 758
Disclaimer: All recognizable elements belong to their respective owners.
Prompt: 3621. Torchwood, Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones/any other character or OC, understanding of non-monogamous relationship.
Summary: The abstract notion of ‘love’ carried no clear explanation as to how exactly it happened, so it would be just a bit useful to learn something about it not from movies, but from the real life around him. Not to watch, that was really… impolite and sort of disturbing – but to understand. In some way.
Saint-Olga’s Notes: After I started thinking about the prompt I chose for [ profile] lgbtfest, I realized that I am already writing the story that fits it, along with [personal profile] eithne . It’s a story about a new member of Torchwood, who came from another time and place, where people were not allowed to feel. (Those who’ve seen Equilibrium will recognize John Preston; those who haven’t - it’s enough to know that he is played by Christian Bale, looks like this and knows a cool shooting/fighting technique.) So, this fic is a part of a cycle which starts with Ex Machina, but can be read as standalone.
The story is set after the end of Equilibrium, and between Dead Line and Children of Earth for Torchwood.

John Preston
It didn’t take him long to realize the power behind the word Torchwood, the power entrusted to only three people - four, himself included – but still seemingly too little to open every door on both hemispheres or to demand every answer.
In this... organization, so to speak, Jack was nominally a leader. But he almost never behaved like one. Except for when he did. Sometimes the three of the original Torchwood members behaved like they were equal, and sometimes it seemed that Ianto and Gwen listened to Jack only because he was older and more experienced, and were ready to argue his every word. But the next moment, he ordered, and they followed his command. Even if it seemed absurd and suicidal, which wasn’t that rare a case.
Gwen was nothing like the second-in-commands he knew. She was the first to argue with Jack, loudly and openly. Ianto did it more discreetly, mostly in soft comments Preston didn’t quite get - they were called ‘jokes’, or ‘irony’, or ‘sarcasm’. A lot of times, they seemed to Preston like your usual common sense.
Also, Gwen was… feeling. She did it in such an open way that her emotions enveloped those near her, projected through her smile, her shining eyes, her excited voice. She laughed and cried, and shouted at Jack, and crooned to Rhys over the phone, and called Preston ‘sweetheart’ and ‘love’. It made him feel both warm and a bit suffocated.
Preston himself was meant to occupy the lowest step in their hierarchy – on probation, a 'newbie' they called him – and they still let him go outside, and check though the data on their computers and even made him say 'I'm Torchwood' when necessary... the only difference was he hadn't got a regular profile in their database yet.
It was mostly Ianto (who became his sort-of-unofficial instructor) who took him outside to deal with whatever needed dealing with, which sometimes required the use of force, something Preston was sure he at least could do right. They took the car and went to the location, where he locked up the object, inanimate or alive, while Ianto talked to witnesses or local military people. Preston noticed that Ianto could go bossy pretty well, almost as good as Jack.
‘Ianto Jones, John Preston – we’re Torchwood.’
The way each of his colleagues said 'I'm Torchwood,’ sounded like it wasn't duty, but identity.
It probably was.

He asked questions, because the more obvious something was to everybody, the more of a mystery it was to him.
‘Why is it always ‘sir’ while all the others are first-namers?’ He asked Ianto hoping he wouldn’t be insulted, but it was Jack who replied.
‘I guess he just likes to switch.’
And beamed. Of course. Preston could think of nothing better to say except for the simple:
Judging from Jack’s eagerness to answer, the subject highly amused him.
‘He used to be a boss back in Torchwood One, you know. Headed a group of people…’
‘I was a junior researcher!’ Ianto inserted.
‘Yes, you were a junior researcher heading a department.’
‘There was no department; there was just a group of ten of us.’
‘And they were all women! You headed a group of nine women, which is more than I ever headed! Big boss!’
Ianto only rolled his eyes, which he did almost as often as Jack grinned – and usually the two were directly related.
‘And they used to be pretty mad about you, yeah?’ Jack continued jokingly, but whatever memories it brought to Ianto’s mind, he didn’t give them the tiniest hint away.

The time here seemed to be running faster, maybe because his days were bright and chaotic and endless. His first day here was long - moving across time and space, from Libria, torn apart by the revolution, to Cardiff, full of life and extraterrestrial beings - and the others followed suit. Sometimes he had difficulties believing that so little time had passed since he had been brought to this world.
He blended in better now, with the new clothes Ianto got him to buy, jeans and shirts and a ‘military’ jacket, but he still felt like he was too black and white for this colourful life around him. Too many things were foreign, obscure, everchanging. People here lived in the world where nothing was certain - that was how Torchwood did their clean-up, covering weirdness under flimsy disguises of other weirdness. Using the fact that there were too many unsure things in this world for people to care that anything was really different. Though they were quite busy looking for differences among themselves, and dividing themselves into groups and categories. ‘Quiant little labels’, as Jack called it.
They also had thousands of forms of contact and communication that were never used in Libria. They touched each other. Light, casual touches: Gwen's hand on Ianto's elbow when she's walking around him, Jack's palm on Gwen's shoulder when he's leaning to the screen over her head, Jack and Ianto's fingers overlaying on the cup's handle when passing it from one to another. It looked like another language, in addition to the English they usually spoke, and the Welsh Ianto and Gwen used sometimes to tease Jack. This language of touches and gestures was alien and yet natural, and Preston tried to understand it, because when he asked, nobody could answer him.
Actually, when he asked Gwen in what situations it is appropriate to touch any of his colleagues, she looked very uncomfortable, and grasped for words, so he decided to leave those questions for later, when he would have more knowledge to understand them better.

He couldn’t believe he was doing it, but he was actually teaching them the gun kata, after only a week.
‘You hardly managed to take out one of them with several shoots on the first try. How come you only needed one bullet for each of them while performing your kata?’ Jack asked once, before they even talked of regular training.
That was not a kata, Preston thought, but decided to explain all the terms at a more appropriate time.
‘That first try, it failed. I’ve never failed before. It’s impossible to fail for a Cleric. And I did. And at the moment I realized that I was failing, I learned. Noticed all their weak parts and places, figured out what I couldn’t see; learned where to shoot and how to shoot them dead. With one bullet each.’
‘But they were meters away!’
‘So… what?’
‘How could you possibly see it?’
‘It’s my job. It’s the only single goddamned thing I can do well. To shoot. To learn how to shoot. That’s all.’
It finally got him, feeling useless. Working here, he had to do what he couldn’t do well and the only thing he could do well was the one which tore him apart.
And then Jack reminded him he wanted his team to be trained.

It was probably the only thing he could give them in return for their hospitality, for all their kindness and their most sincere wish to help. And the more bitter it was to realize that the only thing he could give them was the art of killing. And the idea that it was Jack who not only asked, but pressed him to train them, was no comfort.
‘The general idea of the gun kata is that the positions of antagonists in any gun battle are statistically predictable. And thus, traditional trajectories of return fire are the same. To put it simply, if you know how to move, you can win any gun battle even with no cover, nevermind the number of opponents – two, ten or fifty.’
‘Now that is impossible!’ Gwen exclaimed. He didn’t even blink looking back at her.
‘I went through fifty-three in the Hall of Mirrors.’
The three of the team, gathered in the shooting gallery, watched Preston intently: Gwen with awe and disbelief, Ianto with attention and respect, and Jack’s gaze, except for the slightest shade of approval, was unreadable.
The training was the only time he could get back to his usual high-authorized self – it felt a bit strange as the people he was ought to train were all higher in rank, but all in all it reminded him of his home; it helped.
At this moment he could easily imagine them in Libria – Gwen as a perfect member of the Underground, maybe not as one of commanders but definitely as one of the most active participants, Ianto would make a brilliant citizen and twice as brilliant secret offender. A bit more physical training – and he would be in the heart of Tetragrammaton, Preston’s closest ally in the rebellion.
Only Jack wouldn’t fit in – too alien he was, too impossible, outside of any standard schemes Preston was used to.
These thoughts rushed through his head almost unconsciously as he continued his introductory lecture.
‘We’ll divide the whole process into several steps: first, moving and evasion; second, taking, holding and changing correct firing position, that’s mostly your arms and upper body; third, getting used to the recoil while holding the position learned and combining all of the above together. And last but not least: forget about your firearms,’ he made a significant instructor’s pause for everyone to fully understand his words. ‘I know all of you are well aware of how to handle a gun, but for the first week we’re not shooting. We’re learning to move,’ he took a breath. ‘For a week at least.’
He started with the demonstration, with his sidearms unloaded – ‘this is how it may look, for example’ – deliberately combining a variety of complicated movements into a complex combination, a random free-fight against ten or so antagonists. Nothing really, more impressive rather than effective, but it could give the right impression of what they were about to achieve.
‘Easy,’ he said, flipping the guns in his palms.
‘That. Was. Sexy.’ Jack pronounced.
‘Dead sexy,’ Gwen agreed.
‘Literally,’ Ianto concluded.
Preston didn’t think the reference was appropriate and felt something like a faint urge to roll his eyes. Though he had to admit that under their intense gazes, he felt… sort of hot. In a temperature kind of way. Not in the way this culture used the word - as ‘sexually arousing’. (He looked it up after Gwen called Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise together hot, and he replied that vampires are dead and therefore, supposed to be room temperature. For some reason, discussion of reality vs fantasy of walking dead stalled, and Gwen was sad for a while afterwards.)
‘Now’, Jack eagerly clasped his hands, ‘should we stop ogling our instructor and get to the training?’
‘Like you would stop ogling during training’, Gwen murmured.
‘No, but I can also get some groping!’
‘John’, Ianto said in a confidential manner, ‘Torchwood charter allows the employees to shoot captain Harkness on site if there if there is unwelcomed groping involved’.
‘It does not!’ Jack cried indignantly.
‘It does, now’, Ianto said with a small smirk.
To stop the chatter, Preston asked Gwen forward, to show her the moves.

Ianto Jones
Ianto tugged the covers up over his shoulders, tired and relaxed and sleepy. Jack fumbled with the phone which had beeped earlier, when they had been too busy to check.
‘Preston is home, safe and sound.’
‘’kay,’ Ianto murmured. ‘Think he he'll be alright?”
‘Sure. He’s one of the strong kind.” Jack brushed Ianto's hair thoughtfully. ‘Fits all the requirements for Torchwood: strong, clever, and cute.’
‘To you, everything alive is cute.’
Jack opened his mouth, and then stopped suddenly. Ianto could easily fill in the joke: ‘Owen isn’t cute’ - ‘Owen isn’t alive’. It would have been crass, to joke about undead, but Torchwood was crass. But now, the joke stopped at ‘Owen isn’t’. Period. And it was salt on their still healing wounds.
‘Jack,’ Ianto said and this time his voice was serious. ‘Don’t you even try.’
‘Try what?’
‘Whatever it is you want to do to Preston. It’s not about me.’ There’s no such thing as jealousy when it comes to you and me, was Ianto’s quick thought. ‘It’s about him. You just cannot seduce a man who doesn’t even know what seduction is.’
‘And what if I can?’
‘I don’t doubt that,’ he smiled with the corners on his lips and Jack pulled him closer, resting the chin on his shoulder. ‘It’s just about… his life. How he sees things. He still has to get got used to how much we smile, let alone touch each other. What do you think his reaction will be if one morning you just go and greet him with a kiss?’
‘One more shirt for you to throw away. Guns in the sleeves, remember?’
'Thank God you don’t wear your coat in the Hub.’
Jack let out a short laugh and pressed a quick kiss against his shoulder, and they slept.

John Preston
Ianto spent most of the nights over at the Hub; it seemed to Preston that Ianto would have stopped coming home completely, if he only trusted anyone to bring him fresh shirts and ironed suits. But he had to take care of it himself, and he also took Preston’s education as his duty, so he spent some evenings with him in his own flat.
The team imagined that the best way to introduce him to all that he couldn’t see, starting with personal relationships, was showing him films. Although Gwen would comment, pointing at some DVD box, ‘this is crap’ or ‘oh this is a total must-see’, he found all films equally entertaining. Ianto had a lot of them at home, but Gwen with her sheer enthusiasm about the whole idea would bring dozens more.
Ianto often turned up when Preston was in the middle of some movie, smiled – always smiled – and shared with him stories and memories about the film, and listening to him was even more enchanting than the film itself.
Though one day, when Ianto came, he wasn’t in the middle of a movie, relaxed and pleased. He felt disturbed and even worried.
And it wasn’t hard for Ianto to figure out that the reason was a news programme on TV.
‘I hardly understand a half of what he says,’ Preston said, not averting his eyes from the screen where Prime Minister Green was talking about foreign politics. ‘I’m to deal with it and I hardly understand half.’
Ianto sat beside him, looking at the screen too.
‘He’s better than the previous one, though. Mister Saxon used to speak in nothing but metaphors. Still, he let it slip once. Said the country needs a Doctor.’
Preston threw a quick look at him, startled. Ianto smirked bitterly.
‘You’re getting it right, yeah. Anyway, it’s way too long for a bedtime story.’
There were a lot of stories in Torchwood that were too long, so nobody told them, ever.

From time to time Preston caught glimpses of something he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know about.
The first time Ianto took him into the field, they followed the signal to something hidden in one of the estate basements. The thing was blinking gently, enchanting and seemingly harmless. (Later, Preston learned that most of the Rift gifts were until you touched them and everything went BOOM.) It looked like a pyramid made of coloured glass, with colours moving and twirling and changing under the surface.
Ianto scanned it with the PDA and then let Preston repeat the check; it seemed like the thing was as harmless as it looked.
'You seem to be taking this all pretty well,' Ianto said while watching him do so. At Preston's inquiring look, he elaborated, 'Time-and-space travel, entirely new world... new job with a high death rate... Jack coming back...' he paused as if the words were hard to say.
'I think I just cope well,' Preston shrugged.
'I think you are on the verge of a breakdown,' Ianto said with a tight smile. He looked Preston straight in the eye. 'Been there, done that.'
It wasn’t the first time Ianto had seemed to be able to read his thoughts. But this thought, Preston wasn’t ready to share. On the other hand…
'How did you make it through? If the question is appropriate.'
'Well, first I had too much on my hands to do it properly, so I internalized... a lot.' Ianto looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. ‘And then, when the circumstances... allowed, I...' He took a deep breath. 'It was ugly. So, my advice: don't wait. Better have it fast and clean.'
'And no feelings attached, am I getting it right?'
Ianto puffed a laugh, short and bitter.
'Oh, it's all about feelings! Only...' he searched for words. 'When you keep them inside for too long, they go sour. Or boil. Or something. And then, one day - boom! Everything goes to hell.'
'I know, it... did,' he remembered the breakdown he had, the first real one, on the steps of Equilibrium, not containable even with people around. Luckily for him they didn't really care, oh that was ridiculous, prozium must have erased even the feeling of civic duty from them. He managed to go on just minutes later, to perform so well it seemed that he managed to confuse everybody. Perhaps all thanks to an explosion he let out. Just once.
'Good,' Ianto nodded, then he seemed to close back into himself, uncomfortable with this too-personal talk. 'It's good to... vent sometimes. And sometimes, it's good to vent... to someone.' He looked aside at Preston. 'Makes things easier. Though not less embarrassing,' he crooked his mouth into a smile.
'You have someone then,' Preston smiled a bit too. 'I dare say I envy you.'
Ianto looked away, as if he was hiding some expression that he couldn't quite control, and reached down to put the thing into the box he had ready. He was wearing rubber gloves, but they didn’t help. Under his touch, one side of the pyramid blinked brighter and turned a gentle shade of pink; from the tip, a holographic beam pierced the semi-darkness of the basement. An image in the beam was clear and detailed; it was Jack, looking tense and almost but not quite in pain, his arms thrown behind his head, his torso naked and covered in drops of sweat. There were hands moving over his skin; then the picture changed, as if the camera moved away and to the side, and Preston caught a glimpse of Jack’s office around him, and a person touching Jack was Ianto, and he leaned down and pressed his lips to Jack’s neck in a gesture that made Preston oddly uncomfortable in several different ways.
Then Ianto dropped the pyramid and stepped away from it, averting his gaze.
‘Bloody hell,’ he muttered.
‘What was it?’ Preston asked feeling an adrenaline rush going through his system. Ianto looked like something was wrong. Preston was ready to shoot the thing to pieces. ‘Are you hurt?’
‘Only my dignity,’ Ianto said. At Preston’s disturbed look, he added, ‘I’m fine.’
‘What did it do?’ Preston crouched in front of the pyramid and scrutinized it closely. It was now back to blinking and swirling colours. Absolutely harmless. And pretty like a thing from a hidden chamber.
‘Projected my unconscious thoughts, I suppose.’ Ianto was a little flushed, but back to his usual collected self. ‘We need to contain it.’ He crouched on the other side, taking the isolated box again.
‘Let me,’ Preston said, and took the pyramid before Ianto could stop him.
It went pink again, and emitted the beam, but there was no definite image inside; only blurred figures, vaguely human, moving in the mist of black and golden and diluted red. Preston watched it for several seconds, feeling that the image was familiar, and it brought up an odd warmth inside of him, an emotion he had felt before, back in Libria, back under the dose even, but he’d never paid attention to it. As if he wanted… something. Needed something, right now, but he didn’t know what.
Then Ianto held up a box for him, and he put the pyramid inside, and the show was over.

‘Traditions of Torchwood are unbreakable!’ Jack laughed when they showed him the pyramid. ‘The first case is always about sex.’
Ianto looked aside.
‘Sex?’ Preston asked. He didn’t see the connection. Sex was a procedure necessary for reproduction. Every month, during several days of ovulation, a husband and a wife choose time in their daily activities to be alone. A woman lies back on the bed. A man stimulates his penis to a state of erection and enters her. Then, it was all easy and a bit humiliating: biological impulses, physiological reactions to friction, heavy breath and uncomfortable moans. Finally, after ejaculation they get up, clean up and continue their usual routine.
Preston always tried not to think about this procedure afterwards. Not because of its awkwardness, but because of ghosts of hurt and hunger in Viviana's eyes, and a feeling of dissatisfaction lurking deep in his soul.
What he saw in the hologram was… actually, when he thought about it, it looked somewhat alike to the sex he knew. But it was so different - so full of feeling…
‘You didn’t get what this thing does?’ Jack reached into the box.
‘We really don’t need to see…’ Ianto started, but when Jack took the pyramid nothing happened.
‘It’s telepathic,’ Jack continued, lovingly smoothing his fingers over the pyramid. ‘I’ve seen things like this before. Basically, it’s a sort of organizer and reminder.’
‘Organizer of what, dare I ask…’ Ianto murmured under his breath.
‘It searches for a certain type of thoughts. See…’ Jack rubbed one of the corners, and the pyramid turned a dark shade of blue. In the beam, Jack was cleaning up his gun; they saw only his hands first, but then the picture moved, as it did in Ianto’s projection, and they saw Jack sitting in his office. ‘I look good, don’t I?’ Jack said smugly.
‘That is not what it showed then,’ Ianto said grudgingly.
‘Of course. its default setting is to show the latest erotic fantasy.’ Jack winked at Ianto. There was an undertone in his voice that Preston knew already; the one that made people roll their eyes. ‘Now, would you tell me what it showed you?’
‘No,’ Ianto said firmly, but the glance he sent at the pyramid was thoughtful.
‘And you?’ Jack asked Preston with a wide grin.
‘It showed me nothing,’ Preston shrugged.
Jack looked taken aback, and then something flashed through his eyes… some shade of feeling Preston couldn’t grasp.

Ianto Jones
'Jack. Don't.'
'Don't what?'
Ianto sighed.
'We both know what I'm talking about. Don't do it to Preston.'
Jack looked at him sharply.
'He's a grown man, Ianto. He can make his own decisions.'
'He cried like a baby at some chick-flick yesterday.'
'He shot that alien gangster's head off without even blinking.'
'Yes, and now he’s shut himself in the shower for half an hour already because he killed someone feeling. I suppose the fact they looked like overgrown puppies didn't help.'
'If he didn't react like this I'd think he was an evil overlord in training with a soft side'.
Ianto grinned.
'He would make a good evil overlord, actually. All prim and proper and charismatic...'
'Give him a list of rules, then,' Jack laughed, and Ianto joined him, but in a moment sobered.
'That's not the point, Jack. Don't try to change the topic.'
'You people and your twenty-first century sensibilities...' Jack groaned.
'It's not about me, Jack.'
'Or is it?' Jack whipped around to look at him. Ianto froze.
'Is it, Ianto?' Jack asked with dangerous gentleness. Ianto tried to look away, but Jack's gaze burned him. He took a deep breath.
'May be it is about me, too', he admitted. 'But that doesn't matter. Preston...'
'I know where I stand with Preston,' Jack interrupted in exasperation. ‘It's not like this is the first time...’
'Yes, that's what worries me.'
'Ianto.' Jack leaned forward, anger forcing his lips into a firm line. 'What are you implying?’
'Nothing, Jack. I'm not implying anything.’ Ianto suddenly felt very, very tired. He was never much of a talker, especially with feelings stuff. 'You know what you’re doing. Go on.' He turned to leave.
Jack caught his hand.
'Listen now,' he said. 'I don't do monogamy. Tried to, failed spectacularly.'
'I know, Jack'.
'And I know that you know, and I thought you were okay with it.'
'What do you want me to say, Jack?'
'The truth.'
Ianto looked at him for a minute in silence. Then he sat down heavily, dropping his face in his hands.
He didn't know what the truth was. He knew what Jack was, and he knew what 'they' were, at least for himself. He never let his hopes rise too much, though he meticulously collected every word, every gesture of this unnamed 'us' thing that consisted of sex and innuendos and having each other's back and offering each other a shoulder to cry on and something else. It was his treasure box - he wasn't sure that Jack ever shared it. He didn't know if Jack wanted to.
Of course he knew that Jack fell in love every now and then, and rarely fell out of it. There was Gwen, obviously, and also his namesake in 1941, and the Doctor - forever the Doctor. There were also all those people Jack lusted over, but they didn't matter in Ianto's book. Lust was easy. Love was harder, but it was Jack's nature, so Ianto was okay with it.
Except for the moments when he wanted Jack all for himself, forever.
Which was ridiculous because nobody could have Jack all to himself, and definitely not Ianto.
A soft touch on his hair startled him from his thoughts. He looked up at Jack.
‘Preston finished his shower’, Jack said nodding at the CCTV screen, where half-naked figure moved slowly around the room. ‘I have to go check on him’.
Ianto nodded and straightened his back, trying to look every bit as professional and calm as he didn’t feel.
‘Then’, Jack continued standing up, stroking his shoulder on his way, ‘I’ll come back to you’. He leaned down to his ear and said, ‘Because that’s what I do, Ianto Jones. I’m coming back to you’.

John Preston
If Ianto was his guide in culture, then Jack was an encyclopaedia of totalitarian regimes and their deposition. He told him that the Father’s regime wasn’t that unique, and the results were almost always similar, so he could learn a lot from the past to make use of in his future. (‘If you ever go back’ left unsaid.) The problem was, Jack knew more about how to establish a regime and how to overthrow it than about what to do next. From his words and mysterious remarks Preston gathered that he had a lot of hands-on experience with the establishing in his first job, and with the overthrowing, in the job he had before Torchwood.
Following Jack’s advice, he read a lot, mostly history and politics; the Internet was the greatest invention of humanity ever, though he had problems with dividing truth and facts from lies and deception and fantasies. Fantasy was another human creation he couldn’t quite grasp. The idea of talking about something non-existent as if it was real, not to lie, but to have fun with it, was… difficult. The very idea of fun was difficult, actually; the word itself had a diverse meaning, from ‘pleasure’ to ‘joking’, all the foreign concepts, all the foreign feelings.
Holding the red ribbon between his fingers, he thought about how in this feeling world, feelings weren’t just a right - they were responsibility. From the movies and Internet he gathered that you had to discern your feelings, and to control them - not by medication, but by your own will. And you had to work with each particular emotion individually: name it, decide to feel it openly or to control it, deal with it. Being a Cleric, or a rogue Cleric, was much easier. When you have to suppress your feelings, you can suppress all of them, and until they blow up the way to freedom, you almost forget about them. When they are free... it's overwhelming.
Or maybe he wanted to understand it better. The things he read about, the things he saw in the movies… they were feelings, but he had yet to learn to discern them from each other, and to understand which name meant which feeling. Was the tightness in his chest he felt thinking about his children ‘longing’? Was the tickling around his eyes before the tears fell ‘sorrow’ or ‘sadness’? Was the quiet warmth and calm he felt around Ianto ‘friendship’? And what was the tingling under his skin he felt when Jack leaned close?
Though there was a simple physiological explanation to the heat in his groin he felt around Jack. It was called ‘arousal’, or less clinically, ‘lust’. He had come a long way since the incident with the pyramid - at least in theory. (Nobody admitted putting the set of DVDs into his ‘to watch’ stack, but Ianto was conveniently absent from home for three days after that. Not to mention the very educational pages opening in his browser all by themselves.) It was easy but at the same time, difficult, because as soon as he stepped away from the clinical explanation to the realm of human interactions, there were other kinds of feelings mixed with it in some situations and absent in others. Like love.
Love was supposed to be something special. He wondered if it was what Viviana felt. If that shade of feeling that he had for her, that Mary stirred, was love, or a ghost of love. The abstract notion of ‘love’ carried no clear explanation as to how exactly it happened, so it would be just a bit useful to learn something about it not from movies, but from the real life around him. Not to watch, that was really… impolite and sort of disturbing – but to understand. In some way.

Exhausted after their usual gun-kata training, Gwen fell on the sofa and slid down with a long 'Ooooh!', fanning herself with a pile of papers which lay nearby (and a moment later recognized by Ianto as his working papers and taken away immediately to Gwen's sheer indignation).
'I looked good, didn't I? Tell me I looked good!' Jack, who had already changed (and the only one who didn't seem tired), said laughingly.
'Of course you did, Captain,' Preston said, trying for serious. 'Gwen moves swiftly and learns fast. Ianto is quick and sharp and can maintain a lot of hard positions one right after the other. But you, you look good indeed, I must give you that!'
Gwen snickered. Jack considered for a moment if it was a compliment or an insult, and decided on a former. His grin could outshine the sun.
‘I told you he’d learn to appreciate me eventually!’ he said to Ianto.
‘I can appreciate your beauty’, Preston said conversationally. Jack blinked. ‘In fact, all three of you are rather attractive’.
Now all three of them were staring at him. He crooked his mouth and did his best (carefully mastered by Ianto Jones’ example) eye-roll.
‘You spent what, three, four weeks teaching me your culture? Didn’t you think I would learn at least something?’
After a second of dumbstruck silence, Jack laughed and clapped him on his back.
‘Now, you are one good student, aren’t you?’
He was close, and it was easy to lean into the hand lingering on his back, to prolong the contact. Jack must have noticed it, because his laughter softened into a quiet little smile. Among all the variety of smiles and grins Jack had a personal smile for every person of the team. The smile for Gwen, which made her look like she’s shining with some inner glow, the smile for Ianto which brought to Preston’s mind a single association – of the word ‘forever’. And the smile for Preston himself – encouraging and energetic and at the same time soft, it made him feel useful, made him feel needed, made him feel almost at home.
At the moments like this he thought that it wouldn’t be that terrible if he was to stay here forever – with Jack around.

Ianto Jones
‘I did a bit of a reading,’ Ianto said evenly.
‘Huh?’ Jack turned to look at him with one eyebrow raised.
‘Actually, I knew a bit about it, even before – in college, there were kids who… you know,’ Ianto waived his hand. ‘It looked mostly like they wanted to shag around, only under a pretty name.’
Jack pressed his lips in a thin line.
‘It’s not like that with you, is it?’
‘Are two-week romances much akin to a lifelong marriage?’ Jack shrugged. ‘Things are different. There are myriads of ways to love, and not one of them is the right one.’
‘And you know them all, of course,’ Ianto said to lighten up the atmosphere. But he failed: Jack went even darker, quieter.
‘I don’t. Some of them… don’t suit me.’ His gaze went far away for a moment. ‘You people don’t get it. Like you are brainwashed into thinking that only one thing is right and true and real.’
Ianto raised an eyebrow.
‘And then you feel different, and think that what you feel is wrong, and break everything you have, or don’t get whatever you want just because it is considered wrong, or…’ Jack trailed off. Ianto wasn’t sure that he was talking to him, and not to someone from his past. Or even from the present.
In a moment, Jack looked at him again.
‘Why are you asking?’ he said, maybe a bit too sharp.
‘As I said, I did a bit of reading,’ Ianto answered nursing his cup. ‘That’s the way you… feel, isn’t it? Several people at a time.’
Jack raised an eyebrow.
‘Where I come from, people who love only one person at a time are a minority,’ he said eventually. Ianto nodded.
‘Thought so.’
Jack waited. Ianto was silent, rearranging his thoughts, looking for the way to phrase the next question.
‘Is this the time when you ask me whether I had someone else while we were…’ Jack asked sharply.
‘No,’ Ianto looked a bit surprised. ‘Why?’
‘That’s how it usually goes. Then I explain that the idea is to be honest about what you do, and we go on our way.’
‘Honesty. Says Jack Harkness.’
‘Says Ianto Jones.’
‘Well, aren’t we a cou…’
‘Nothing. That’s not what I was going to ask, anyway.’
‘What then?’
‘She wasn’t ready.’
‘And I am?’
‘Are you?’
Ianto was silent for a while. Then he shrugged and offered a game of naked hide-and-seek.

John Preston
There was seemingly no place for such a thing as logic at Torchwood. The city had just been through the crisis, but nobody of the team seemed to take it seriously. That was maybe a defence mechanism if you come to think of it, but it still looked more than a little weird.
‘That's what happens when the whole city of Internet addicts is suddenly cut from their oxygen supply,’ Ianto commented while fixing some snacks for Preston and Gwen – they hardly had time to steal a few gulps of coke during the whole day.
‘Should we make it a cover story?’ Gwen said, almost hugging the plate Ianto passed her. ‘Internet-induced hallucinations, that’d be fun.’
‘Well, that would be a good promotion for the city's family committee,’ Jack added, ‘Don't let your children get stuck in a virtual reality!’
‘And for psychiatric facilities as well,’ Ianto said in a low voice.
‘So this was Apocalypse Weekly, thank you for joining us, good night!’ Gwen pronounced, leaving an empty plate on the table and spreading herself lazily of the sofa, taking half of it. ‘Nothing will make me stand up, you hear me, Harkness?’ she said having noticed Jack who opened his mouth to answer. ‘Not even another end of the world!’
‘I suggest we go home then,’ Ianto said evenly; no one would've guessed that he was tired. ‘I'll get you a taxi if you wish.’
But he didn't even make it to the nearest desk, stopped by Gwen's voice which now sounded not nearly as tired as a moment ago:
‘No, Ianto, wait a min’... there was something I wanted to ask you...’
She frowned. Ianto froze, visibly uncomfortable. Jack looked at Gwen in question, then at Ianto, and grinned.
‘What time is it?’ Gwen asked with deep concern written across her face.
‘Two to twelve,’ Preston answered, not quite getting why everybody suddenly became so tense.
‘Almost midnight, then,’ she continued, looking at Ianto.
Ianto shrugged, oh like whatever, which was itself unusual.
Jack was obviously enjoying the show, waiting for Ianto’s line, which was:
‘It is. That's why I would suggest that everyone go home.’
‘You're not getting away with it!’ Gwen, deadly tired a moment before, jumped to her feet, ran to the fridge and right at midnight was back with several beers in her hands. ‘Happy Birthday!’
Jack laughed.
Preston was offered a bottle of beer to join the others. He didn’t like the taste much, but he drank along with the others, eager to become a part of the celebration, and little by little, it made him relaxed, better than hot tea or coffee, and lightheaded and a little dizzy, only the feeling wasn’t uncomfortable now, it was okay, as if something very heavy that was constantly pulling him to the ground had suddenly vanished.
It made him laugh along with the others, almost non-stop, for about an hour.
‘And y'know,’ Gwen continued, waving her half-empty bottle around, ‘it was like... see, we run, he storms into the town hall, all His Mode On, y'know... I hardly manage to catch up with him, the security's trying to stop him but he won't stop and passes by, only saying...’ everybody was eyeing Gwen as she made a small pause to steal another gulp of beer and made a mockingly severe face, ‘Tetragrammaton!’
Jack broke into laughter immediately, banging the table with his palm. Ianto was chuckling too, looking at Preston and smiling a bit apologetically. Preston himself didn't notice when exactly his lips stretched into a smile too.
‘I said I'm sorry,’ he managed, looking at Gwen.
‘Ah, nevermind! They didn't get it anyway, oh guys, you should've seen this PA pal, bursting into the mayor's office shouting ‘it's Tetra... something’ and told ‘Not Tetra, Torchwood you fool!’
Jack was now almost crouching on the floor.
‘Oh, the town hall!’ he said with emotion. ‘Sweet memories! I remember that woman, god she was fast. And eager for a bit of running before…’
‘Jack, do we have to…’
‘Don’t worry, she accepted gladly the handcuffs she was offered in the end. What?’ he asked, looking at the team. ‘It’s a true happy ending story!’
‘I don’t doubt that,’ Ianto muttered.
‘Aaand, speaking of happy endings…’ Gwen pronounced enthusiastically, reaching into her bag. ‘Ta-da! Congratulations!’
That was a DVD box which would’ve looked totally normal if it wasn’t for the cover. Ianto with a machine gun, Jack in the background, some other images and the title Preston couldn’t quite see. It was even more strange than any other movies because who on Earth would’ve wanted to make a film about the Torchwood team?
Ianto looked extremely wary taking the box, but Jack, peering over his shoulder, appeared to be even more excited than a moment before.
‘We're watching it now!’ he exclaimed happily snatching the box out of Ianto’s hands.
‘We're not,’ Ianto replied, snatching it back.
‘I can spoil it for you!’ Gwen giggled and read off the box’ back cover, ‘Dramatic action, breathtaking adventures and a truly romantic story! Includes production materials and extra scenes. Rated R!’
Then Preston asked, to his cost, ‘What’s ‘rated’?’ and got three leering gazes in his direction (though Ianto’s could be described pretty much as ‘politely leering’).
Maybe beer just does it to people.
In the next half an hour he learned probably more than in his whole life and any minute he felt that ‘that is definitely enough for today,’ somebody made a comment and the talk continued, taking an entirely new direction.
‘Sex could kill you,’ Ianto said seriously and at the same time in a way that it made Preston blink and take his bottle (the first and the only) from the table into his hands. ‘Do you know what the human body goes through when you have sex? Pupils dilate, arteries constrict, core temperature rises, heart races, blood pressure skyrockets, respiration becomes rapid and shallow, the brain fires bursts of electrical impulse from nowhere to nowhere, and secretions spit out of every gland. And the muscles tense and spasm like you’re lifting three times your body weight. It’s violent, it’s ugly, and it’s messy. And if God hadn’t made it unbelievably fun, the human race would have died out eons ago.’
Jack and Preston stared at Ianto, one more or less calm, the other with his bottle half lifted to the mouth.
‘House M.D.’ Ianto explained generously, looking at them as if they were schoolchildren who couldn’t tell a fraction from a decimal. Ianto’s words still meant nothing to Preston but he was surprised to see that Jack obviously didn’t get it either.
Ianto shook his head disapprovingly and said, addressing to Jack, ‘It's another mass-media reference you don't get because you are hopelessly stuck in the 40s.’
‘Hey!’ Jack protested. ‘I can do the 70s pretty well! I even have that costume...’
‘Please don't.’ Ianto cut off, to Preston’s regret: fashion history was interesting.
Eager to contribute to the talk (which was strange, as he was never a talker – he should probably blame the alcohol), Preston said aloud one of the guesses he’d made, probably half-expecting Jack to prove him wrong. Jack always did.
‘As far as I understand, sex is something that happens when people confess their deep feelings to each other, and it usually leads to either marriage or death of one of the participants.’
Jack looked at him incredulously.
‘Ianto,’ he remarked sternly, ‘I thought you were going to give him proper education in human's feelings via movies.’
‘Sort of.’
‘So from where is he getting the most stupid ideas based on forced monogamy, sex oppression and patriarchy you label-loving people could invent?’
‘From the movies produced by said people,’ Preston answered before Ianto could. ‘Isn’t that obvious?’ The beer had put him in an unusually talkative mode, he could hardly control it and reminded himself to never consume alcohol if he goes back… when he goes back, Jack said ‘when’. ‘I think that you are a living and rather convincing proof that monogamy isn’t the only way.’
And he took the final gulp, finishing the bottle.
Jack beamed and opened his mouth to say something that probably only Ianto could hear with his expression absolutely serious, but the words that came out were quiet:
‘I think today was a bit too much,’ He said, glancing over Preston’s shoulder.
Looking in the same direction, they saw Gwen curled up at the side of the sofa, still holding an empty bottle squeezed between her hand and knee and obviously asleep for several minutes already.
‘I’ll call Rhys,’ Ianto stood up. ‘Guess that means the party is over; thank you all for coming.’
Jack waived an unintelligible gesture in Ianto’s direction and headed for his office, while Ianto walked in the direction of the water tower, talking on the phone.
‘Must be nice for Gwen,’ Preston said thoughtfully, watching her breathing lightly in her doze, ‘she has someone to come home to.’
He wasn’t sure if he actually said it aloud – must’ve been the beer confusing him – but judging from Ianto’s reaction a minute later, he had.
‘You can come to one of us,’ ha said not looking directly at Preston.
‘I mean, that's obviously what people do. They come to each other.’ After a pause, he added, 'Though don't go to Gwen. She'll smother you with certified Gwen-care afterwards, big eyes and gentle voice and Rhys' baking and all,’ he grinned, lifting a mood a bit. ‘Been there, done that.’
Preston grinned in return; in a moment, he was serious again.
‘Can’t imagine how much closer I could possibly get – working here, being friends with you. Or do you mean something even more intense?’
‘No, I am not allowing you to make coffee in the Hub,’ Ianto said in a way that made Preston wonder if he was serious. ‘But really. It won't go well if we let a guy with guns in his sleeves have a breakdown unattended.’
‘Oh, that, I can control it. Had time to practice. And if everything goes to hell, there's always your alcohol. The beer or whatever Jack gave me. Sort of helps,’ he lowered his voice feeling uncomfortable but still saying aloud what he would usually keep to himself. ‘Or maybe it was alcohol and Jack who gave it. Probably doesn't matter.’
‘Huh.’ Ianto looked at him sideways. ‘Has that effect on people.’
It wasn't clear if he was talking about alcohol or of Jack.
‘I take it that he's unusual even here?’ Preston said after a moment of considering.
Ianto grinned.
‘One of a kind,’ he said.
‘A rather appealing one, though.’
Ianto looked at him incredulously. ‘Really,’ he said nonchalantly.
‘Maybe I just get this kind of impression. Lots of things are still new, but especially this sort of thing. Anyway, speaking of… shall we make it up to Jack’s office so we don’t bother Gwen here? With a couple of coffees maybe, if it's alright with you?’
Ianto eyed him suspiciously.
‘If you wanted coffee, you just have to ask,’ he smiled.
‘Deal.’ It wasn't about coffee; it was about good company.
It was Jack who asked him about ‘any special people you knew back there’ when the three of them were in his office, Ianto and Jack sitting close to each other, he across the desk from them, eyeing them avidly like any time when they crossed some invisible border between them.
There were not many people he could name. He could tell a lot about each of them, though.
‘And even before there was Viviana.’
‘Viviana?’ Jack’s eyebrows raised at the sound of the name Preston hadn’t mentioned before.
‘My wife.’
‘Wait a minute, you have a wife and just forgot to mention it?’
‘I had,’ Preston replied in a way that made Jack pause for a few seconds.
‘Didn’t think people were going for a happy family thing in Libria. How did you meet? I mean, she was what, like appointed?’
‘Strongly recommended. I was… it was hard to find a match for me, even then, like what… ten years ago. I had just become first class by then, and was getting better. And there was Viviana. Highly organized, smart and healthy. Nobody would’ve ever thought.’
‘Thought what?’ Ianto’s question didn’t sound like one. If there was a single person who would already figure out what happened, that would be him.
‘She was an offender. I don’t know for how long. We were together for six years and I never noticed. Some other person did, though. And got her arrested four years ago.’
There was a short beat of silence.
‘I don’t know how they let me stay in Tetragrammaton after this flaw. Had it been anybody less than me, he wouldn’t have made it. But I was under protection. Destined to go far. You know what they did? They put me under the training of the man who arrested her. They made me his partner. By the time it all began, I was a half of what I was thanks to him. The irony was, he didn’t make it either. And this time it was because of me. I didn’t repeat my mistake.’
Preston looked down, his memories suddenly too vivid to ignore.
‘Later that night I remembered her. I could remember almost every moment of our life together, despite the fact that I was mostly on duty and she mostly at home. It was ridiculous, I found that she was like my partner, only at home. And the last thing she did in her life – she kissed me.’
Jack let out a quiet smile.
‘So… how did it feel?’
‘It didn’t. I was on the dose. I didn’t get it. She kisses me and the next moment she’s taken and I just stood there and Didn’t. Bloody. Get it.’ He paused. ‘And then I found out that my children saw it too.’
‘You had two children, you and her! So how did it- ’ Jack cut off suddenly and a second later Ianto rose from his chair with the most innocent smile.
‘More coffee, John?’
‘Yes, thank you.’
When Ianto was back with their cups, Preston continued.
‘I don’t think I understand her even now. I killed people like her. I destroyed everything she wished to protect. And she continued to live with me. Not that she had much choice but still. She could’ve gone back on the dose or disappeared somewhere in the Underground if life with me had been unbearable. But she didn’t. In fact,’ he took a sip, ‘I would’ve gone so far as to say that she actually loved me.’
He felt terribly uncomfortable and somewhat ashamed saying this, as he knew he never deserved it.
‘Because she knew who you really are,’ Jack said. Preston lifted his gaze at him. ‘She knew who you were to become years before it happened. Maybe that’s why she was glad to see you getting the best among all. She knew that one day you would go and change the world,’ he paused significantly as Preston looked at him, startled. ‘Oh, what a beautiful woman.’
Ianto touched Jack’s shoulder to draw his attention to the screen behind his back.
‘Oh, he’s here!’ Jack stood up. ‘Come on, let’s give Rhys his Gwen back lest he blow the whole base up.’
Preston was the last to leave Jack’s office, but before he did, he noticed his old syringe on the desk. Wondering for a moment why wasn't it still catalogued – Ianto wasn’t the man to miss things – he took it automatically, twisted about for a while, flipped it open, looking at an empty dose case, and then closed again, to see the four Ts for Tetragrammaton on the cover. He traced the symbol with his fingers thoughtfully but the sound of Jack’s steps made him put the syringe back on the desk quickly, as if he was taking the other man’s property man property.
‘Think you may need this?’ Jack asked.
‘It’s of no use now, empty. Even if I wished…’
‘Would you?’ Jack interrupted softly. Preston straightened.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Not after…’ he looked round Jack’s office and the Hub area visible out of the window as if trying to indicate the whole outside world, all their work, all the people, starting with the Torchwood team, and the Doctor, who sometimes seemed to be nothing more than a part of the dream of his first night except that it wasn’t a dream, ‘…everything.’
He leaned against the desk as Jack moved round and sat down in his chair – so ordinary, a man who was changing his life.
‘When I went off, I had to hide or destroy the vials. Almost before the rebellion my son found them and – they searched my house – he helped to move them to a safer place. He never destroyed them, not a single one. Even after the rebellion,’ Preston swayed slightly from left to right, shifting from foot to foot. ‘Anybody could afford an emotionally caused breakdown in the country, except for me. He kept them in case there wasn’t another choice for me other than to control my state artificially. But now it would be safe to get rid of them, because you healed me.’
He knew that sounded dramatic but he didn’t really care, because Jack smiled back at him.

Ianto Jones
‘Preston looked sort of distracted today,’ Jack said drawing idle patterns with his fingers on the small of Ianto’s back.
‘Hmm,’ Ianto answered into the pillow.
‘I wonder if it has anything to do with whatever he’s been reading online since this morning.’ The fingers slipped lower.
‘Hmm.’ Ianto was quite happy with finger-drawing. With the talking, not so much; but he had a suspicion it would be inevitable since he had programmed Preston’s browser the night before.
‘He seemed quite fascinated with those pages.’
‘Hmm.’ Ianto shuffled a little, until the fingers got to the place he preferred them most. His next ‘hmm’ was a sound of content. But Jack wasn’t in the mood to let him slip away with the distraction of sex. He stopped his ministrations and leaned over Ianto until he could look into his eyes. In the moments like this, Ianto hated him: the only topic in which the mysterious Jack Harkness couldn’t bear a mystery or even the omission was sex. And he was as stubborn in discussing it as he was in never talking about anything else in his life.
‘I also have a suspicion that whatever was in his browser popped there unexpectedly. And has something to do with the topic we seem to be non-discussing lately with you.’
‘Hmm,’ Ianto made sure to put all his reluctance to discuss the topic into the sound.
Jack was silent for a moment, and then fell back on the pillows. After a while, he said to the ceiling:
‘So, was it a yes?’

John Preston
He woke up to the realization that it was late morning, and his laptop was blinking a screensaver beside him, dangerously hovering over the edge of the bed. He almost let it drop as he sat up abruptly, realizing that he was still at the flat while it was his turn to watch the Hub. He took Sunday duty upon himself to let the others spend some time off, ‘barring apocalypse’, as was the usual Torchwood saying.
Barefoot, in only his pants, he hurriedly headed to the bathroom, still groggy, blinking his eyes open on the way. There was movement in the kitchen. Ianto had probably gone home late in the night, or even in the morning, to get a fresh suit...
‘Stop it,’ Ianto said, soft and clear, with a smile audible in his voice.
Jack's voice.
‘'Because if you go on, you’ll get coals for breakfast.’
‘I don’t mind.’
Some more movement, like pushing and mock-fighting.
‘I do. Sit down and be a good boy, sir.'
The ‘sir’ sounded pretty bossy.
Preston peered into the kitchen. Jack was leaning at the counter, watching Ianto stirring something in the pan, and holding one hand at the small of his back. At Preston's appearance, he grinned widely. Ianto took his wrist with two firm fingers and moved it away.
‘Mornin’,’ he said.
‘I slept in,’ Preston said apologetically. ‘I’ll wash up and go to the Hub.’
‘No need to hurry,’ Jack replied. ‘The Rift is calm, and you looked so cute in your sleep, we decided not to wake you up,’ he smirked. Ianto elbowed him and offered Preston to share their breakfast in a manner that had no room for refusal.
‘If you want to make up for being late, don’t wear a shirt!’ Jack yelled to Preston’s back, and then barked a coughing laugh when Ianto probably elbowed him again.
Preston wore a shirt, but chose a white T-shirt that stretched a bit too tight across his chest. Jack seemed to approve, as much as he approved of Ianto’s blue T-shirt and jeans. He was clearly not just a suits man.
‘You could go for something homey, too,’ Ianto commented on Jack’s compliment to his outfit.
‘I don’t do homey,’ Jack winced. ‘And there’s nothing wrong with my style. Proved by the ages, you know.’
‘There’s one thing I’m totally unable to do,’ Ianto said to Preston confidentially. ‘To explain to Jack that there is such thing as appropriate dress.’
‘Says the man who wears a suit to chase weevils,’ Preston smiled, softening the remark. He was still not quite sure what counted as humour, and what was an insult.
‘It’s absolutely appropriate, because his job description includes ‘being sexually harrassed by the boss,’ Jack inserted.
They had breakfast, slightly charred toast with jam and coffee, crowding around the kitchen table which was too small for even two, and three tall men kept knocking their knees into each other. (Actually, Preston was sure that the knees he knocked into were mostly Jack’s, and he was doing it in purpose.) After that, he made another attempt to go to work.
‘Stay,’ Jack said firmly. ‘There’s nothing to do at the Hub, and we here have a remote Rift monitor, beer, and three new movies.’
It was too appealing to decline.
‘Why do we also have a weird-shit detector up here?’ Ianto asked looking through the DVDs on the coffee table.
‘I forgot that it was in my pocket,’ Jack said taking his place on the sofa beside him and handing him a Lager.
From his place in the chair, Preston had an advantage point of watching both the movie and the men on the chair. They started sitting beside each other, but not touching, Ianto taking an effort to keep a distance. Later, when there was an empty beer bottle under the coffee table, and another one took its place in Ianto’s hands, Jack’s hand sneaked slowly behind Ianto’s neck and down on his shoulders. Preston remembered the warm weight of it from his first night at Torchwood, the gentle pressure of finders drawing circles on his shoulders, the urge to lean down into this offered embrace, and wasn’t surprised when Ianto gave in to the same urge.
Watching from the corner of his eyes how Ianto’s features relaxed into rare expression of reserved content, he felt a distant longing. He was good at discerning feelings now, and analyzing them, and he knew that it broke down into the desire for human touch, the deeply buried sorrow about what he’d lost in Viviana and Mary, and the slight jealousy of wanting to be this content, right now. All feelings demanded to be experienced to their full extent.
Ianto took another gulp from the bottle and let his head fall on Jack’s shoulder. Preston looked at the screen, at the last moment catching the small smile that crooked Jack’s mouth, the smile that had nothing to do with his usual blinding beams – a very private thing not even Jack had been aware of.
The weird-shit detector beeped.
All three of them stared at it.
It winked a light at them tentatively and beeped again.
‘Shit,’ said Ianto.
‘Weird,’ said Jack.
Preston took the device and looked at the screen.
‘It's close,’ Jack said peering over his shoulder. He laid his wide palm down on Preston’s arm, sending welcome warmth across his body. This close, Preston could smell him – spicy and enticing.
‘How close?’ Ianto asked going for Jack’s coat.
‘In the building.’
Preston caught an unusual expression on Ianto’s face and frowned.
‘What’s up?’ he asked.
‘Don’t want to move. Or clean up alien guts from my carpet.’
‘Then cross your fingers,’ Jack smiled cheerfully and got up, leaving Preston to mourn the loss of contact for a second. ‘It’s next door.’
Preston thought that if it was next door then Jack wouldn't need his coat, but decided not to say so. Jack always needed the coat. To look imposing.
The next door was a flimsy excuse for one. Jack was fumbling for his gun, ready to shoot the lock off, when Ianto moved him aside politely and knocked.
‘No dramatic entrances in my house,’ he said sternly.
There were shuffles behind the door, then the clanking of multiple locks and bolts, and an old man peered at them through the narrow crack.
‘Good afternoon, Mr Sangstorn,’ Ianto said cheerfully, with his best smile usually reserved for old ladies and young mommies.
‘You’re that queer from next door, aren’t ya?’ The old man squinted at him, and then at the men behind him. ‘And you two are his shag buddies? Which one of you is the screamer?’
Jack looked sheepish. Ianto flushed slowly. Preston was sure it was time to be embarrassed, but wasn’t sure what about, exactly.
‘I don’t know what you are talking about, sir,’ said Ianto firmly.
‘C’mon, nancy boy, don’t ‘sir’ me!’ Sangston exclaimed opening the door wider. ‘I used to beat your kind into a bloody pulp when I was younger.’ He smiled and then giggled. His beady eyes shone with out-of-place excitement.
Preston wondered if the weird-shit detector detected only alien kind of weird, or human, too. Anyway, he moved forward, carefully forcing the door entirely open.
‘Now, Mr Sangstorn, let’s take this talk inside.’
There was nothing odd in the flat, but the detector went wild over the old man himself. So they had to sedate him and take him to the Hub for examination. A scan showed an alien organism inside of him, the kind that Jack deemed mostly harmless. It also explained Sangstorn’s exaltation: he had an overdose of endorphins in his blood, released by the organism.
‘Lucky bastard,’ Jack sighed. ‘He’s got a permanent dose of happy until his eventual but totally unrelated to this thing death. And we had to work on Sunday.’
Ianto was hacking into the health care system, to put himself as Sangstorn’s emergency contact. Preston hovered over his workplace uncertainly.
‘If you want coffee, wait ten minutes,’ Ianto said not looking at him.
‘It’s not that,’ Preston said. Ianto looked up.
‘This man, he… thought we were lovers?’
‘You, me and Jack? All three of us?’
‘Yup.’ Ianto squinted at him sharply. ‘Why?’
Preston shrugged. He wasn’t sure he knew why it peaked his interest – or, more likely, didn’t want to know quite yet.
‘He’s a homophobic old sack. Quite common at his age,’ Ianto turned back to typing in the on-screen forms. ‘Mostly harmless, just like that hitchhiker of his.’
‘It’s not that,’ Preston murmured.
‘Than what?’ Ianto asked, something odd in his voice. Preston averted his gaze. He shouldn’t have started this conversation, but now, it was better to finish it than to leave things unsaid until the next Rift emergency brushed everything out of their minds.
‘Was wondering if… I’m queer,’ he said eventually.
Ianto leaned back in his chair and stared at him.
‘Queer as in attracted to men, or attracted to one of us?’ he asked after a minute of scrutinizing.
‘The later,’ Preston said, feeling queasy and lightheaded. In movies, the moments like this usually looked awkward, bordering on painful; and so they were. (Though he had yet to see in movies the scene of confession of attraction to the object’s lover.)
‘I hope it’s Jack,’ Ianto said. ‘Not that I don’t find you attractive, but mostly in aesthetic, heterosexual-friendly kind of way. Except for a couple of fantasies I’m totally not sharing.’
Preston blinked.
‘If it’s Jack, fine. Go for it. If it’s me, let’s pretend this talk never happened?’ Ianto looked at him almost pleadingly. The flush in his cheeks betrayed his embarrassment. Preston took a deep breath and tried to calm down, feeling like he was going to step right into the abyss.
‘Let me get this straight. You're inviting me...’ he thought for a suitable expression ‘ share. Am I getting it right? And, most importantly, am I not messing everything up for you?’
‘Would you stop if you were messing something for me?’ Ianto asked softly.
‘Of course!’ Preston answered without thinking. It didn't matter if he was alone, he was used to that. But if Ianto was to suffer in any imaginable way, it was totally unacceptable.
‘I like him and I like you and I like you both and I owe you both too damn much already to ask for more. Don’t want to be a trouble.’
He paused suspiciously and said, struck by the sudden thought:
‘You have talked about this with Jack... all about me, haven't you?’
‘Kind of.’ Ianto tugged at his sleeves unnecessarily. ‘You are an outspoken one, aren't you?’ he remarked with a slight grin. ‘Jack is Jack, so if there’s something he gives to you... it’s yours. Changes nothing for me.’ His grin grew wider. ‘God knows he’s so much larger than life, there’s enough for everyone.’
‘You're lucky to be the first in line then,’ he chuckled a little. Ianto stared at him a bit, and then chuckled, too.
‘For a person from the stiff world you described, who spends his time watching sentimental crap about ‘twu wuv’, you certainly cope well.’
‘I suppose I’ve had good training. And a significantly good example.’
Rolling his eyes, Ianto murmured, ‘I wonder where from.’
‘My current boss' bad influence.’
‘Are you talking about me?’ Jack called out from the hallway.
‘Of course!’ Ianto yelled back.
‘Care to share?’
‘Not at all!’
Jack appeared from his office, put a thin folder onto Ianto’s desk and asked, ‘Can we go home now?”
There was something in the way Ianto’s lips flinched at the phrase that reminded Preston of Jack’s private smile.
‘You and John, take the man and go. I’ll be there later.’
Jack opened his mouth to argue.
‘I have things to do,’ Ianto insisted. ‘Buy me beer and dinner.’
‘O-kay,’ Jack said slowly. ‘C’mon, John, let’s get our sleeping not-quite-beauty to his bed.’
He went to the autopsy room but Preston stayed behind, looking at Ianto expectantly. Ianto nodded firmly.
‘You two go get the man home, and then stay there. I stay here, catch up on some filing and sleep.’
‘That simple?’
Ianto’s eyes lingered in the direction Jack went.
‘I think so.’

With Mr. Sangstorn happily snoring in the backseat, Jack drove fast, cutting at the edges and other cars.
‘You drive like a madman with a suicide wish,’ Preston observed dryly. He could understand the rush of adrenalin, but preferred to get it in more useful ways – like enforcing law and order.
‘I drive like a man used to the speed limit in ultrasound spectre,’ Jack grinned. The window was rolled down, and cold wind rushed through his hair. He turned his face into it. ‘Also, it's fun.’
There was a slight curve in his lips, not quite a smile, just softness. His face looked open – a deceptive impression, Preston knew it for a fact, because he had seen Jack really open and unguarded, a second after his resurrection, in Ianto’s arms. He wondered if Jack happened to be as unguarded in any other time or situation. Now, there was a mask – an appealing, inviting, beautiful mask. Preston studied it, the chiselled jaw line, the planes of cheekbones, the curve of eyelashes and eyebrows. The blue eyes, twinkling with joy of life and ashen with the ages of death.
He was getting poetic. He sucked at poetry (he had tried, back when he discovered it). And those blue eyes were now looking straight at him, catching him staring.
‘See something you like?’ Jack asked without usual innuendo. The question was simple and yet laden with invitation and leeway for choice and possibilities and promises. It felt like an abyss opening in front of him.
‘Yes,’ Preston managed to still himself and hold Jack's gaze. Which was stupid because Jack was still driving. Thankfully, they were close to home.
‘Me too,’ Jack replied after a minute that stretched for eternity and turned his attention back to the road for the last turn.
They disposed of the man in his apartment, finally, and entered Ianto's flat. Preston left his coat in the hallway. He was still wearing a T-shirt from before, and jeans, and Jack's eyes roamed over him, as usual. He was used to it, and even answered in kind, but this time, he let his gaze linger.
Jack slowly took off his coat, and spread his shoulders, and stretched lazily.
‘Now, with the work done, should we call for pizza and beer and Ianto?’ he asked with an easy smile which didn't quite reach his eyes. In his eyes, there was an entirely different question.
‘If you don't mind sharing all three,’ Preston replied automatically, and then bit his tongue: Torchwood banter was contagious, but he didn't actually mean it.
‘Tempting,’ Jack laughed, ‘Should I call Ianto and ask him to bring a big bottle of lube?’
Preston felt like he was diving head first from the top of Equilibrium building. His heart was racing, there was a hard beat of pulse in his temples, and something was blocking his throat, making it hard to breathe. And I'm not even having sex yet, he thought remembering Ianto’s speech. It was easy to let the whole thing go as a joke now, but a couple more phrases, and it will be irretrievable.
‘Actually, I already asked him and he said he's not in the mood for an orgy. So it's only the two of us.’
‘You did, didn't you?’ Jack grinned, but there was tension in his grin, and in the air between them, like myriads of tight thin threads from one to another, tingling, pulling. Preston took a step forward.
‘Yup,’ he nodded stiffly. He remembered how it all went in the movies: the sudden pause, the meaningful look, the kiss. The pause was growing heavy, and they were looking in each other's eyes, and he took another step and licked his lips. Aim and fire. Jack's mouth was his aim, with its firm contours and inviting fullness. One more step, and he would be in Jack's personal space.
‘John,’ Jack said softly, ‘Are you coming on to me?’
The threads broke. The gaze, warm and heavy, stayed.
‘Yes,’ Preston managed.
‘Good. Just wanted to be certain.’ Jack smiled, a real smile, without leer or bitterness, and leaned forward, crossing this last barrier of empty space.


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