"I don't know what you're whining about," she said with exasperation. "At least yours loves you."
"Oh, yes," he answered dryly, rolling his eyes and refreshing her tea. "The problem is that he loves everyone else in addition, in many ways and in many positions." He raised a brow. "So which is worse? Having no part of the one you love, or simply being one of many for whom he has affection?" He shook his head. "You have a profession, something to call your own. You're useful. I'm just an errand boy."
"You're a lot more than that," she quietly argued. "Anyone can see when he looks at you how much you are valued."
He sighed. "And I pay a price for that. The others see me as less than they, as someone who is permitted entrance only because he allows it, and only as payment for services rendered."
"You're not a whore."
"You saying that doesn't make it true."
She sat down and looked at her hands, now folded in her lap. "I suppose I'm useful to him; I try to be. But I know I'm only here because I was handy, because he was lonely. For her. You think yourself a whore, but what am I? I'm just a replacement for another. A body to fill a physical space that was emptied. Had she not been lost, I wouldn't be here. And part of me hates her for that, while another part is so very grateful."
He sat down next to her and placed his hand on hers. What to say? He couldn't lie. "I'm sorry."
"You're both idiots."
They startled and looked up at the man sitting across them, calmly whittling a piece of wood.
"I beg your pardon?" she asked dangerously.
"And what do you know of it?" he demanded.
The last in their new trio shook his head, a look of gentle bemusement plain on his face, which was neither mocking nor pitying. "I've loved mine since I was fifteen years old. In the last decade, I've been at her side for more apocalypses than you have fingers to count. I've lost friends, teachers, the woman I considered my mother. I stopped my best friend from ending the world, and I killed another before he became that which had killed him." His hands stopped their work and they saw his fingers tremble. "I lost the first girl I ever loved because I made bad choices. I lost the second for the same reason, before war took her from me for good.
"This, the work we do, isn't about us. At our cores, we're fighters; we're soldiers. We signed up because doing nothing wasn't possible for us, and that was a choice we made. It's not about reward or recognition. It's about doing the right thing because ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. It's lonely, it's devastating, and we'll probably die in the course of the duty to which we've consigned ourselves. And you know what? I wouldn't want to go any other way."
He stood and crossed to the railing, beckoning them to follow. They stood in the balcony and looked down at their respective leaders.
"What we do is important," he continued. "In the end, it doesn't matter if we're just the support staff." He gestured with a hand at those below. "What happens to the world if they fall? We'd be dead anyway." He shook his head. "So we do our part. We do what they need. They love us in their way; maybe not in the way we'd like, but love is love. I learned a long time that pinning your hopes and dreams on another is no way to live. It was a painful lesson and it cost me more than I ever realized.
"We stand at their sides every day, between each line of pain and glory, and we love them however they'll let us. We give them what they need and they take it from us. Not because they don't love us, but because they do. They trust us, they depend on us. But we're not them. We're not like them and we never will be." He sighed. "I've seen her die. Twice. And twice I brought her back. But truth? If I had it to do over again, I'd let her go. She's earned her peace.
"We don't know what it is to be them. Are you even sure you'd want to? You've seen what they do, what's required of them, the toll it takes. I'm not downplaying our contributions, but both of you need a little perspective. Their lives are not their own and never have been. We could walk away. We'd be unable to live with ourselves, but we could walk away. They'll never be able to. They watch their families and their friends and their lovers and their allies fall before them, in their name. When they look at us, there's love, but there's also fear. We'll die. It's only a question of when and in what circumstance. And they'll mourn and they'll blame themselves and they'll hide away those parts of their souls which only we have been privileged to see.
"As much as we love them, we can't make this all about them. If we do, we diminish everything they're fighting for.
"For so long, I wanted to be her. I wanted something of my own, something to help her and others and, yeah, myself. I tried to define myself through her. A taste of her power, of her light. So I stood in her shadow, waiting, hoping. You know what she taught me? It's warmer in the sun.
"So love them and know that they love you. Be grateful for what they give you, no matter how little you think it is at the moment, because one day you'll realize it was everything. Heroes aren't born; we're made. They've given you the chance, so take it and make it your own."
They regarded him silently, wet eyes somber and contemplative.
"Who are you?" Martha softly asked.
"What are you?" Ianto whispered.
He frowned, considering the question. He was so many things: the Donut Boy, the Zeppo, the Demon Magnet; the White Knight, the Heart, the One Who Sees; friend of Jenny Calendar, Kendra Young, and Tara Maclay; former victim and now coconspirator of Faith Lehane; best friend of Willow Rosenberg and Jesse McNally; brother to Dawn and Buffy Summers; son by choice of Joyce Summers and Rupert Giles; lover of Cordelia Chase and fiancé of Anya Jenkins.