Characters: Ianto, Jack, mentions Owen, Tosh, Gwen.
Spoilers: Set post-Exit Wounds.
Summary: It’s Ianto’s birthday, but recent events have left him feeling too sad, not to mention too exhausted, to be in the mood for celebrating.
Word Count: 1640
Written For: m_findlow’s prompt ‘Any, any, struggling to find the desire to celebrate,’ at fic_promptly.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. They belong to the BBC.
“But it’s August nineteenth, your birthday!” Jack whined, following Ianto out of his office.
Ianto gave a weary sigh. “I know that.” He was painfully aware of the date and all it signified; he’d survived another year with Torchwood, which just meant he was another year closer to the inevitable NOT surviving. His good luck couldn’t last forever, especially since they’d already lost both Owen and Tosh just a few short months ago and Jack had so far made no attempt to replace either of them.
Protecting Cardiff from the things and creatures that fell through the Rift had been hard enough when there’d been five of them handling the workload. Now they were down to three and Ianto was exhausted. Jack wanted to go out and celebrate Ianto’s birthday in style, while all Ianto wanted was to go home, crawl into bed, and hopefully get a few hours’ sleep before being dragged out of bed again to deal with yet another Rift alert.
“Birthdays are for celebrating,” Jack insisted again.
“So go out and celebrate; just don’t expect me to go with you. I’m done in, Jack.” There were times Ianto really resented the fact that Jack could function on so much less sleep than the rest of them. It was alright for him wanting to spend the night painting the town, but the way Ianto was feeling right now, celebrating his birthday might just be the thing that finished him off for good, the proverbial last straw that would break him.
“But I can’t celebrate without you!”
“I’m sure you could if you tried.” Ianto continued on his way towards the underground garage and his car, intent on heading home and grabbing a quick bite to eat before falling into bed.
Jack scurried after him, still trying to change his mind. “I booked a table at your favourite restaurant! I thought we could have a nice meal and then maybe go dancing…”
Ianto ground to a halt and turned around, staring incredulously at his lover. Had Jack even heard a word he’d said? “What part of ‘I’m tired’ don’t you understand? Seriously, Jack, I’ve had maybe six hours’ sleep spread out over the past three days and I’m about dead on my feet! I’m not like you; I can’t live this way. The three of us can’t cope; Gwen and I are exhausted, and exhausted people make mistakes. You have to face facts; we need more people, and the sooner the better.”
Jack’s face fell. “But…”
“I know you miss Tosh and Owen, we all do, but avoiding hiring new people won’t bring them back, it’ll just wind up getting the rest of us killed because we’re too tired to do our jobs safely. You know I’m right.”
An expression of utter defeat crossed Jack’s face. “I know, but it’s just so hard. I don’t want to replace them.”
“It’s hard for Gwen and I too. Tosh was my best friend; don’t you think it hurts me to think of someone else sitting at her desk, working with her computers? Don’t you think I flinch every time I try to imagine someone who isn’t Owen down in the medical bay using Owen’s equipment and doing Owen’s job? But no one is ever going to replace our friends in our hearts; we just need to bring in people to take over the work they’re no longer here to do, because the rest of us don’t have the skills or the time and energy it would take to fill their shoes. Okay?”
Jack nodded reluctantly. “I suppose.” Frowning, he tilted his head to one side. “We seem to have got off topic; weren’t we talking about celebrating your birthday?”
“No. You were talking about that and I was telling you I’m too tired. Anyway, even if I wasn’t, I just don’t feel like celebrating. How can you even expect me to with Tosh and Owen gone? It wouldn’t feel right.”
“I hate it when you’re right,” Jack said with a sad smile. “I think… I just wanted a reason to be happy, even if just for a little while.”
Ianto sagged; Jack was trying so hard to bring some normality and cheer into their lives in the face of their recent tragedies. “You said you booked a table?”
Jack nodded. “For eight-thirty.”
Ianto checked his watch; it was just after eight. “How about a compromise? I have to eat, so I’ll go out to dinner with you provided you take me straight home afterwards so I can get to bed.”
“Restaurant, then bed; I can live with that.”
Just to sleep,” Ianto added quickly, knowing the way Jack’s mind worked. “Not for any kind of sexual marathon.”
“Cross my heart.” Jack suited actions to his words.
“And first thing tomorrow we start looking into potential new recruits. Agreed?”
Shoulders drooping, Jack nodded. “Agreed.”
“Okay, let’s go then; we don’t want to be late for our dinner reservation. We’ll take my car.”
“Whatever you say.” Jack’s smile was back, not as bright as it usually was, but it was clear he was making a conscious effort to be cheerful. Ianto wished he could find the energy to do the same. Taking Ianto’s hand, Jack led him to the garage. “I’ll drive.”
Ianto hesitated, but he knew it was probably unwise for him to be in charge of a moving car; he was too tired and the last thing either of them needed was for him to fall asleep at the wheel and crash. Nevertheless… “Only if you promise to keep within the speed limit and drive carefully. I’d like to reach the restaurant with both myself and my car still in one piece.”
“What d’you take me for?” Jack’s air of injured innocence might have fooled someone who didn’t know him, but it didn’t fool Ianto.
“I know how you drive. The SUV is used to your rough handling; my Audi isn’t, and it’s just been serviced.”
“Okay, I promise. I’ll drive like a little old lady if that’ll make you happy.”
“Deliriously.” Ianto slid into the passenger seat and fastened his seatbelt as Jack got behind the wheel.
Although he generally showed reckless disregard for other road users, not to mention whoever happened to be in the car with him, Jack was perfectly capable of driving safely when he wanted to. It was just that most of the time he was either in a rush to reach the coordinates of a Rift spike before anyone else could find what had come through, or else en route to deal with a rogue Weevil or other dangerous alien. In situations like that, time was usually of the essence. This evening, however, he’d made Ianto a promise, and he kept it, driving almost sedately. They still reached the restaurant in plenty of time, and pulling the Audi into a space in the establishment’s private car park Jack led Ianto inside, where they were directed into the bar area while their table was being cleared from the previous diners.
Less than ten minutes after arriving, they were seated at their table, sipping iced water and perusing the menu. Jack ordered sirloin steak while Ianto went for rump of lamb with all the trimmings.
When Tosh and Owen were still alive, Jack and Ianto used to go out to dinner at least twice a month, knowing one or other of their friends would stay late at the Hub to keep an eye on things while they were off enjoying themselves. Tonight was the first time they’d been out on a date since the events that had resulted in the loss of their friends, and despite the occasion, the excellent food, and a glass of wine, Ianto wasn’t feeling very festive. Part of it was just that he was so tired, but he also felt guilty. What right did he have to be celebrating his birthday when neither Tosh nor Owen would ever again celebrate their own?
Across from him, Jack was smiling happily, enjoying his meal, but if Ianto looked closely, he could see the shadows in his lover’s eyes. He could tell that Jack was having a hard time getting into a celebratory mood too, but he was trying his best, for Ianto’s sake.
Ianto forced a smile of his own, tiredness be damned. He didn’t feel like celebrating, but what if this turned out to be his last birthday? What if, by this time next year, he was gone too and Jack was alone? The least he could do was make sure Jack had this evening to look back on, even if the memory of it ended up being bittersweet. He came to a decision.
“You know, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for me to go straight to bed after such a big meal, but I don’t really have the energy for dancing the night away.”
Jack perked up. “What d’you suggest then?”
“Back to my place and watch a DVD? Just nothing too long.”
“It’s your birthday; you should celebrate it however you want.”
“Now you tell me.” Ianto smiled wryly.
“Ah, but if I’d left it up to you, you wouldn’t have celebrated at all.”
Ianto tilted his head, conceding the point. “There’s that. We’re still looking into potential recruits tomorrow though.”
“We are, but let’s not think about that tonight, let’s just be happy that we’re together.” Jack reached across the table to squeeze Ianto’s hand.
Ianto nodded and squeezed back. Their recent losses were going to hurt for a long time, but for the rest of them, life went on. He and Jack should make the most of whatever time they had together, because there was no way of knowing how long it might last. Starting right now, Ianto made a silent promise to do just that.