Ianto stormed out of the Hub with no real idea of where he was heading, he just needed to get away before he did something that… he probably wouldn’t regret actually, but killing Owen would be murder and the police tended to frown on that, even when it was fully justified. Too bad. Owen was a bastard at the best of times, but with Jack gone he’d somehow managed to find a previously unknown level of bastardry.
It was bad enough that Gwen and Owen were constantly arguing about who was in charge while Ianto carried out all of Jack’s Hub-based duties, including paperwork, did his own job as general support, and assisted in the field. But then to break the coffee machine while trying to make himself a drink because Ianto was too swamped with cleaning the autopsy bay to do it… That was the final straw!
The damage wasn’t fatal, Ianto knew he could fix his precious machine, but that wasn’t the point. He was doing double the work of everyone else and all he got was complaints about the things he hadn’t had time to do yet. He was working eighteen-hour days while Gwen and Owen kept as close to regular working hours as they could manage, considering the nature of the job; he was tired and cranky, and he’d had enough. Let them fend for themselves for the rest of the day; Ianto was taking some much-needed personal time. If he didn’t, he’d probably explode.
He didn’t bother with his car, just hopped on the first bus that came along and flashed his travel pass. It didn’t matter where the bus was headed as long as it was away from the Hub.
As luck would have it, the bus stopped at one of the entrances to Bute Park, and Ianto scrambled to disembark before it could move off again. He might not have had plans before, but now he knew exactly where he wanted to be.
It was early spring and still chilly, but the buds on the trees were bursting, and some trees already had a decent covering of new leaves, a delicate haze of fresh green, like a mist against the grey Cardiff sky. Ianto made his way through the almost deserted park; it was mid-week, so the only people about were a few pensioners and a handful of mothers with pre-school age children. No one paid him any attention as he strolled across the grass, head bowed and hands shoved deep in the pockets of his coat. He didn’t even need to think about where he was going, he knew the route like the back of his hand, he’d walked it so many times over the years.
The tree was a Champion, the biggest of its species in the British Isles, and Ianto’s favourite of all the trees in the park, not least because of its sheer size. The old oak stood taller than any of the trees around it, branches outstretched like welcoming arms. Ianto had seen it in all seasons and all weathers. Bare branched in winter, it stood like a stark skeleton, peppered with snow and dripping with icicles. Spring brought swelling buds, like jewels festooning every twig, bursting into delicate, tender leaves at odds with its weathered, pitted trunk, its gnarled and twisted boughs. The warm sun and gentle rains of summer bathed a canopy of deep green leaves, rustling in the breeze as if it were whispering secrets to the insects and birds that made their home in its branches. Then as the days grew shorter, green leaves would turn to gold and russet and yellow, drifting down like snowflakes, just a few at first, then a veritable blizzard whenever the autumn winds blew.
The tree had as many moods as Ianto himself. He’d spent countless hours high in its branches, hidden from view by the dense foliage, pretending that he was on a ship in the middle of a restless, tossing sea. Nowhere else felt as soothing and calming to him when his nerves had been shredded and his patience stretched to its limit.
He remembered lounging with Jack in its cool shade the previous summer, eating ice cream and watching the shadow the tree cast across the grass gradually lengthen as the rare, lazy afternoon meandered towards evening. At the time, he’d wished that day could last forever; it seemed so long ago now.
With Jack gone, the team was breaking down. If their leader didn’t return soon, it might become broken beyond all hope of repair. Owen wasn’t the only bastard in Ianto’s life; if, when, Jack finally returned, Ianto was going to have some choice words for him about responsibility and common decency, among other things.
Scrambling up into the familiar branches, Ianto settled astride a broad limb with his back against the rough bark of the trunk and closed his eyes, letting the tension and stress of the last few weeks slowly melt away. He was angry at Owen and Gwen, angry at Jack, but none of it mattered. He had no choice but to do his job and try to hold Torchwood together until Jack returned. And he had to believe that Jack would return. In the meantime, he had this tree, his sanctuary when work and people pushed him to breaking point. Here he could relax, unwind, and fit the puzzle pieces of his life back together. It was enough.