It wasn't that he objected to having to clean up every single mess Jack left, Ianto thought, walking down a virtually deserted street in the Cardiff suburbs, but there were occasions when he wished someone else could pitch in and do their fair share. Since Ianto did pretty much everything else: source the bases for Owen's new drugs, Ianto. Feed the pterodactyl, Ianto. Fix the entire computer network in the Hub, Ianto. Order the pizza, Ianto. Make the tea. Disinfect the whole postcode. Go and make sure Gwen's Retconned her boyfriend, Ianto.
"Just do it."
Alright, so Owen couldn't do it. Owen ought to have been the person they used for stuff like this – he was a doctor, he could use the appropriate medical jargon, and people trusted doctors, didn't they?
Except Owen, unlike Ianto, didn't exactly have a trustworthy face. In Ianto's opinion – voiced more often these days – he might have had a little more success in convincing people he was actually a doctor and therefore worthy of their trust if he didn't insist on dressing like a superannuated sixth-former. No real surprise that people thought Owen was a drug dealer (this had happened more than once), even when he got out his M.D. certificate.
Which meant Owen couldn't be expected to go out and tell some awkward sod they were being given medication to stop their traumatic flashbacks.
Ianto wasn't quite sure why Jack couldn't have done it himself; Rhys apparently had no problem with Jack, and it'd give their Fearless Leader a chance to feel pleased with himself in some obscure and petty way.
But no, of course the task of follow-up always fell on Ianto.
He rang the front doorbell. If Rhys didn't recognise him the job was done, he could claim – Ianto looked at his suit – to be from the Christian League of Temperance – and Rhys would send him away without another thought, and probably not even think to mention it to Gwen. And then Gwen wouldn't try to kill him with the power of her mind.
Rhys answered the door, arm in sling, and gave Ianto a wide and friendly smile. "'Ello, Ianto! Gwen's not here at the minute – thought she was off with you lot, in fact – "
"Actually," Ianto said, "it's you I'm here to see. Making sure you're okay after all … all that."
Rhys looked a little surprised. "Well, my chest still hurts like a right bitch," he said, glancing at the sling, "but there's not a lot you can do for that, I expect – "
"Actually," Ianto said, reaching into his breast pocket, "there is." He produced a foil strip with a Retcon embedded in it. The packaging was his idea – tell people you're giving them something that will help them or make them feel better and there's no need to resort to spiking their drink à la Jack. Ianto suspected that some part of Jack – the part that looked disturbingly eager whenever it handled a gun and it thought no one was looking – enjoyed the deception, the sleight-of-hand. Ianto didn't. "Typical lack of organisation," Ianto said with feeling, "this was meant to be yours two days ago."
Rhys took it with a curious expression, the kind that involved pulling his eyebrows up and his upper lip down. "Oh yeah?"
"It's a painkiller linked to the healing process," Ianto said, pulling the words out of the air. It was not easy for him – making things up on the spot was really more Jack's forte. On the street behind him a child on a pink bike went past singing something that sounded rude. "It carries on working until you're well enough not to need it anymore."
"Yeah?" Rhys regarded it with renewed interest. "How's that work, then?"
Ianto shrugged and gave Rhys a blank look. "I don't know, I'm not a doctor," he said, as Rhys pocketed the foil strip. "I'm just the dogsbody."
"Oh – er – " Rhys looked suddenly embarrassed. "Here I am, making you stand about on the doorstep in this wind. Nippy, int it? You fancy a cup of tea?" He stood back from the doorway and gestured down the hall.
A cup of tea made for him was such a radical novelty that Ianto felt compelled to accept. Gwen's house was very, very normal. Ianto wasn't wholly surprised, but he was wrong-footed all the same; his own flat, which he only seemed to see about one day in every four, was teeming with bits - all tidy and labelled, of course, but still teeming – and tools and possibly more computers than were at the Hub, most of them dead or in stages of repair. Gwen had a framed photo of herself and Rhys, grinning, and a goldfish, which looked like a relatively new addition to the household if the letters poking out from under its bowl were any indication.
"Have a sit," Rhys instructed. "How do you take yours?"
"Black, no sugar," Ianto continued look about the flat. It was awful in the nicest possible way. From where he was sitting he could see five different pieces of Ikea furniture and none of them were very attractive.
"That tea or coffee?" Rhys asked in apparent surprise.
"Don't go in for frills much, do you?" Rhys said cheerfully, still opening cupboards and doing various tea-making things that Ianto recognised all too well.
Ianto thought about his flat and the utter absence of photos, pictures, and posters on the walls. All his photos of Lisa had been shoved into a footlocker at the hub and labelled "toxic material, do not open", which meant that with any luck no one would look, not even him. "No."
"So this pill," Rhys went on, filling the kettle awkwardly, one-handed, "it don't have any side effects, does it?"
Of course. All medicines had enormous lists of side-effects, and it was sensible to ask about them. It was just the first time anyone had thought to ask about Retcon when he'd given it to them. Ianto made himself smile as convincingly and ingratiatingly as he could and said, "It might make you a little randy for a bit but that's nothing to complain of, is it?"
Rhys laughed. "No, I suppose it's not." He turned the kettle on. "So … how long have you been working for Torchwood, then?"
Longer than anyone else," Ianto said, trying not to sound rueful or avoidant.
"S'pose you must have seen a lot," Rhys said, and he was off, burbling happily about aliens and time travel and other worlds as though it was all very exciting and an adventure instead of a mess, a nuisance, and a constant threat to everyone's lives.
"… this Jack, this boss of yours," Rhys said, jerking Ianto out of his reverie.
"Boyfriend," Ianto corrected without thinking or knowing why he said it. He'd never said it aloud before and it sounded strange. Ianto hadn't even considered the situation before, not in the sense that involved telling anyone, and the word didn't seem to connect with him.
"Oh – " Rhys said, and then with a relieved grin, "oh. Oh right. Phew. That's good. That's good. I mean."
Ianto felt unpleasantly like he'd just lied by telling him the truth. Here was Rhys – as decent a man and normal a bloke as you could wish to meet, handling the sudden discovery of a thousand new worlds with considerable aplomb – thinking that "boyfriend" meant Jack was no threat at all to his happy relationship. That Jack was as decent a bloke a Rhys.
The kettle boiled, and Rhys scrambled off to deal with it while Ianto stared at hanging dust motes and thought, I won't tell him. I won't tell him that whatever Jack is to me, I'm not even a tenth of it to Jack. I won't tell him to be careful.
"I'll just let it brew a minute," Rhys informed him.
"Gwen's very lucky to have you," Ianto said awkwardly, and wished he hadn't.
"Oh I don't know about that," Rhys said, sounding pleased in spite of himself. "It's more the other way 'round, int it?"
Ianto didn't tell him that Gwen was lucky because she said Rhys and didn't have to be miserable and desperate like the rest of them – well, the rest of them barring Jack, and who knew what went on in Jack's head? Ianto didn't.
"You'd be surprised," Ianto said, and Rhys handed him a mug of black tea – PG-Tips, by the strong, tannin-y smell of cheapness arising from it.
"Gwen tells me you're quite the whiz with computers," Rhys said after a while, almost shyly.
Ianto raised an eyebrow. "Yours needs fixing, does it?"
Rhys looked at his own mug in embarrassment, "I'd do it myself, only – "
He grinned. It was heartening, as grins went. Ianto didn't see much of them at work: Tosh tended to manage only weak, preoccupied smiles, Owen usually grimaced and gurned, and Jack's grins – though abundant – were not to be trusted. He'd learnt that long ago, and relearning it now was a little painful.
"Only I don't know the first thing about them!" Rhys admitted.
Over two more cups of tea and some unremarkable conversation about the Champions League – which was remarkable in its normality, at least for Ianto – he managed to get Rhys and Gwen's PC running at a special slightly better than "sluggish" and told Rhys to stop visiting porn sites, in the manner of someone's amused dad.
"Oh, I forgot to ask," Rhys said, snapping his fingers, "this – this – " he patted his pocket. "Do I need to take it with food or anything? Only when I did my knee in last year – "
The trouble with lying to people, Tosh had confided once (everyone seemed to confide in him, and he confided in no one), was the more you did it the easier it got, until you found yourself fibbing to the people in the chip shop for no reason other than habit, or because you could. Ianto hadn't seen why that was a problem at the time – he'd been lying about his job to his family, about his relationships to everyone, and about his mental state to his colleagues, for years – but as he glibly said, "Take it with a meal and don't have any alcohol for the first day," as though he meant it he felt a twinge of guilt. Rhys was brave, loyal, and caring, and he deserved better than this.
Ianto offered to make the next cup of tea – "So you can give your collarbone a rest" – and Rhys settled gratefully on the sofa.
"It's one of them amnesia pills, isn't it?" Rhys said suddenly, and Ianto froze over the kettle.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Gwen told me – " Rhys said, and in his head Ianto called Gwen a rude word, " – no more secrets now, see? She said you'd try and feed me something to make me forget everything that's happened."
Ianto left the kettle alone and said in a low voice, "I understand that you don't like the idea, but it's necessary for your own safety."
"For my own safety?" Rhys shouted. "What, like Gwen lyin' to me and that? My own safety? How's me forgetting going to stop there being aliens in Cardiff, huh?"
"Your safety and ours," Ianto amended, "Gwen's. The less people who know the easier it is to keep Torchwood secret." He was beginning to see the appeal of spiking drinks now. Much less shouting and strife involved.
"Me not knowing what my Gwen is doing doesn't help keep her safe! It means I can't help her – "
"You don't need to," Ianto said, "She – "
"Can rely on Jack, is that it?" Rhys all but spat.
"I was going to say 'can take care of herself'," Ianto said, but not as frostily as he'd intended to.
Rhys deflated a little. "Oh. I'm sorry – " he said, though he still sounded angry, "- I forgot he was your – I didn't mean – "
Ianto sighed and put his hand inside his suit. "Two things, Rhys."
"Firstly … you're right," Ianto said, feeling the colour drain from his face, "about Jack. About Gwen. You're right. Trust me you don't want to remember knowing that." He pulled the stun gun out of his suit and added, "Secondly, I was told to make sure you took the Retcon, no matter what happened. That includes knocking you out and forcing it down your throat."
Rhys stared. "… you …"
"I don't want to knock you out," Ianto said, and his voice was not as firm as he would have liked, or as matter-of-fact. "I like you. Just … take the pill. Forget I was here, forget what I said, and be happy with the woman you love."
Rhys took the foil strip out of his pocket and looked from it to Ianto. "You sound kust like him," he said. "Like Jack. You know that?"
"Please take the pill."
Rhys opened the foil wrapper and took out the Retcon. He put it on his tongue and closed his mouth.
"Show me your tongue," Ianto gestured with the stun gun.
Rhys stuck his tongue out. It did not look even a little like a playful move; his tongue was pinkly and wetly empty, the pill gone. "How soon will I – "
"By this evening you won't remember any of it," Ianto said, returning his stun gun to its special pocket inside his suit lining.
"You ever think of taking one yourself?" Rhys asked, catching his eye.
Ianto paused in the doorway to the hall. "All the bloody time."
He pulled the front door open just as Gwen, on the other side, was about to put her key in the lock. Her eyes widened as they faced each other, and before he could say anything she grabbed him by the lapels and hauled him out onto the doorstep.
"You BASTARD." She looked a lot like she wanted to hit him. "You were just in there giving him one of those bloody pills, weren't you?"
"Yes," Ianto said, straightening his suit, "because you didn't when you were meant to."
"Did it ever occur to you that it might not be right – " she snapped.
"There are rules, Gwen," Ianto said patiently. "Even for you. Even for him. He wouldn't have been safe."
"You sound just like Jack," Gwen hissed. She looked like a gorgon. A very pretty gorgon, but a gorgon all the same.
Ianto hadn't meant for it to come out of his mouth and was barely sure if it had touched his brain at all before it did, but it came out all the same: "No, if I was just like Jack I'd be trying to fuck you all the time, wouldn't I?"
That was when she hit him.
It was an open-handed slap that came round the full swing of her arm, and stung, and left a huge red hand-shaped mark on his cheek.
Ianto returned to the Hub without saying another word to her. By the time he got there the sting had faded, but his face was still red down one side.
"Done?" Jack asked, looking up from more paperwork. It didn't seem to matter how much paperwork Jack did, there was always a small mountain left for Ianto to do, and he was beginning to suspect that Jack merely shuffled pages for effect and didn't actually process anything.
"Done," Ianto echoed, taking off his overcoat. I don't know if I like the person you've turned me into, he thought, but Jack had turned back to his papers with a look of determination that Ianto didn't want to interrupt.
It was maybe twenty-five minutes at most after then that Gwen stormed into the Hub looking out of breath and slammed several doors and started shouting at Jack without a preamble or an explanation.
There was almost a blur as Tosh decided she wanted to be somewhere that screaming wasn't, and Jack began yelling back with equal vigour. Owen sidled up to Ianto and nudged him in the ribs. "I hate it when Mum and Dad fight," he muttered.
"I'm not in the mood," Ianto said, and moved away. He heard his own name mentioned several times in quick succession, and decided that wherever it was Tosh had gone was obviously the place that needed cleaning next, and that cleaning was very important right now.
Rhys bent over the bathroom sink, retched, and brought up a small white pill and, a little after it, some stomach bile. He screwed up his face and poked the pill with his pinky – it seemed to be mostly intact, but he could be sure that it hadn't already had some effect.
He rant through recent events in his head:
Meat. Giant space whale thing. Gun fights. Gwen. Shot in the chest – oh yes, he remembered that. Jack's quite little boyfriend person Ianto pointing an apologetic stun gun at him. It was all still there.
Including the bit he didn't want to think about.
"If we could just talk about this reasonably," Jack said from one side of the table.
"About fucking time," Owen said under his breath.
"There was no way Rhys could be allowed to carry on remembering any of the last few days," Jack said, and as Gwen opened her mouth he held up his finger for silence. "Wait your turn. Think about this rationally, Gwen, no matter how much you trust him – and I'm not saying your trust in him is unfounded either – the more people who know about Torchwood's location and work the less safe it is for us to do it. The less safe it is for you and the less safe it is for him - you know someone with no scruples might well decide to torture one of us for information – "
Next to Owen, Tosh went pale and shuddered.
"- what if it was him? You said yourself, he didn't sign up for this. It's not fair on him to expose him to that kind of danger."
"Anyway, think what else he might have learnt – " Owen added, attempting to reassure her. But Gwen rounded on him with a scowl.
"What did you tell him?"
"Nothing! I didn't tell him anything!"
"Then who would have, Owen, I – " she stopped in mid-flow and looked around the room. "Where's Ianto?"
"Gone home," Tosh said, somewhat envious.
Jack peered at his pocketwatch, and put it away again. "It's not even five yet. Why's he gone so early?"
"I think," Tosh said rather sourly, "he got tired of all the shouting."
Ianto was not even half-way home when someone from ahead called his name and he stopped in his tracks. He could see the sling over the figure's t-shirt and sighed as he caught up with him.
"You didn't take the pill," Ianto said as Rhys looked him up and down but, thankfully, displayed no sign of wanting to punch him just yet. "Bollocks," he added under his breath, annoyed with himself.
"No, but Gwen thinks I did – "
"I know. She's been screaming her lungs out at Jack for the last forty minutes," Ianto raised his eyebrows. "Your cunning plan is all backwards."
"You're meant to make me think you took it and admit to Gwen that you didn't." The wind was cold but it didn't seem to be bothering Rhys, who stood there with bare arms and no sign of shivering.
"No, look, listen, mate," Rhys said hurriedly. "I need to talk to you about what you said, right?"
Ianto sighed. "Forget about it."
"If you'd taken the sodding pill like you were meant to you already would have," Ianto pointed out.
"This is … this is about you too," Rhys said. "He's your – your boyfriend."
"I think that may be a matter of perspective," Ianto muttered, but all he said aloud was, "alright."
Rhys jerked his thumb at a pub a little way off. It was not a nice pub, and it looked like it had been made of the leftovers of a mental institute, but at this time on a weekday it was at least almost deserted.
"I suppose I'm buying," Ianto said with a wan smile, and Rhys shrugged.
"Oh, I think we're going to be here long enough that it doesn't matter who starts."
As Rhys shouldered the door open (the windows had reinforced glass in them and a sign on the door warned against baseball caps and football colours) Ianto thought how very unlike Jack the man seemed; Rhys wore his heart on his sleeve and his loyalty on his face. At the moment Ianto thought those were the two greatest qualities in the world.
To Jack's relief he managed to get the Hub clear of the remaining Torchwood members by about midnight. In the absence of Ianto he had to feed Myfanwy himself, which turned out to be less fun than he remembered it being, and he was quite literally up to his elbows in work (dissecting a dead Weevil) when his radio link chirped softly.
Jack looked down at the mess of ichors and innards coating his hands and realised he was going to have to get it on his face. He swore quietly, wiped his finger as best he could on a nearby hand towel covered in acid stains, and pressed it to his ear.
"Rhys isn't home," Gwen said almost immediately. Her voice was shrill.
"Calm down, I'll get – "
"Calm down? Jack, it's one in the fucking morning and my injured and drugged fiancé is missing, how calm do you think I can be?"
"Calmer than this," Jack said, cleaning his hands quickly. "You get Tosh, I'll get Owen and Ianto, we'll start looking for him, okay?"
"Okay." There was a pause. "Jack?"
About ten minutes later a groggy Owen was informing Jack via radio link that no, he hadn't seen Ianto, no, he didn't know why Ianto wasn't answering his radio link or his phone, and did Jack have any idea how little sleep Owen had had recently?
Half an hour after that Tosh was standing in the Hub beside him, poking at a screen with a confused expression and her hair not-quite-combed. "According to the tracer – "
"Tracer?" Gwen asked, aghast.
"Standard procedure to track the recently Retconned," Jack said, his arms folded. "It's to make sure we can get to them quickly if there are any … complications."
"Complications? And standard procedure since when?" Gwen baulked.
"You remember when we found out Suzy had been slipping Retcon to her support group?" Owen said. He was sitting on a step with his head almost between his knees and he sounded very sleepy, "And they went on a murderous rampage and we got trapped in the base?"
"…yes?" said Gwen, who was unlikely to forget that in a hurry. She'd nearly died.
"Since then." Owen yawned into his legs. "For reasons that may or may not be clear."
"So where is he?" Gwen asked, somewhat frantic.
"That's what I was trying to say," Tosh said patiently, pointing at the screen where a single orange dot blinked in a very detailed, blue, three-dimensional rendering of Cardiff and its utilities. "This says he – or the tracer – is in an outflow pipe about four inches in diameter."
Jack looked thoughtful. "Then he didn't take the Retcon?"
"That's the only possible explanation," Tosh said, although it was clearly not, and the alternatives were somewhat more gruesome.
"So Ianto lied to me," Jack said, frowning.
"Not necessarily – " Tosh began, but he ignored her.
"Where is he?" Gwen murmured. "Ianto … Rhys …"
"Sadly I don't keep tracers on my staff," Jack said dryly, although he was clearly still occupied with another thought, "Although I may start after this."
"This may be a stupid idea," Owen said wearily, lifting his head from his knees and squinting at them, "but has anyone considered going to Ianto's flat and seeing if Ianto's there?"
"…good point," Jack said in some surprise.
"He's probably ASLEEP," Owen growled. "I know I want to be."
The night was as dark and silent as Cardiff nights ever got by the time the SUV rolled up to Ianto's building. Owen was snoring and drooling on the back seat by then and needed several gentle shakes from Tosh and a sharp prod from Jack to get him moving again. He complained all the way up to the front entrance.
"Evenin' Ernie," Jack said, nodding to the security guard, who pulled the door open for them. Owen raised an eyebrow and Jack raised his hand in preparation for a slap to the back of his head.
"Alright, Mr. Harkness," Ernie said, closing the door behind them. "Bit of a party goin' on, is there? Mind you keep it down."
"Nothing like that. Have you seen Mr. Jones come in?"
"Not me, but I only come on duty midnight Thursdays," Ernie shrugged. "Lift on the end's broken, by the way."
"Shut up," Jack said to Owen as they got into the lift.
"I didn't say anything! I'm hardly fucking awake!" Owen slumped against the brushed steel walls.
Ianto's flat was at the end of the corridor furthest from the lifts and Gwen was already jittery. "This isn't helping us find Rhys," she lamented. "What if he's hurt? What if someone's got him – "
"I'm sure he's okay," Tosh said nervously.
"If Ianto isn't here," Owen announced in a grumpy, sleep-smeared voice," I'm getting into his bed and going to sleep anyway."
Jack produced a keyring from his pocket and rifled through the various keys. Gwen, even in the depths of her worry about Rhys, was horrified. "You have a key? Why do you – "
"He gave it to me," Jack said impatiently, still looking, "I do not take copies of all your keys, before you start – "
"And you don't need to because you'd just shoot the lock off," Owen yawned.
Jack finally found the right key and turned it in the lock. He motioned for the others to stand back as he turned the handle and stepped in cautiously, saying, "Ianto?"
"Is he – " Gwen began.
"Oh," Jack said in a tone of surprise, relief, and something else entirely, "Oh. Well. That clears that up."
Jack held up his finger for her to wait and peered into the gloom again. "Don't start making a lot of noise," he said, "but I think your … alright, your fiancé and my … and Ianto … appear to be passed out naked together."