Standing outside Gwen’s front door, Ianto decided to wait a couple minutes before pressing the buzzer, hoping to relish a few more moments of calm while he still had the luxury.
As soon as his phone had started rattling on the side of his workstation, he’d known it’d be from Gwen, probably already halfway down the M4. He figured as such because she had been parading her tickets to the Six Nations final - gifted by Rhys’ parents - around the hub for what seemed like forever. Ianto had found it rather sweet how she concocted an epic love story out of their first grand slam together three years ago. Gwen Cooper had seen a giant time demon tear through Cardiff yet still found the idea of an undefeated Wales rugby squad a more rewarding tale. Tosh had equally enjoyed her enthusiasm and remarked that it was a shame the team didn’t do more together in the city.
Owen evidently found it too difficult to take pride in something he wasn’t directly responsible for, so instead made a concerted effort to spout a stream of tired clichés about the beautiful English game whenever she brought it up. Tosh was quick to remind everyone that their in-house medic had shown absolutely no interest in football before and, in fact, had gone on record to say it was the favoured sport of thick-skulled hooligans. Ianto really loved Tosh when she acted like this - she even brought up the hub’s surveillance footage when Owen had the gall to deny it. Ianto ground the good beans that day.
In the end though, it was Jack’s distilled disinterest in the whole affair that had predicted the text.
‘Gone 2 ldn w Jack. B back l8r. Plz tell rhys? Mob engaged xxx’
Ianto shuddered at the abbreviations. It wasn’t the 20th Century anymore, they just weren’t necessary. Torchwood had kitted everyone out with bloody smartphones for a reason! But even he was self-aware enough to realise it was her disregard for Rhys which he found distasteful, not the text-speak. Well, maybe the use of the number eight was inherently awful.
It wasn’t that going to the rugby was important - he’d never understood the country’s obsession with it himself - but it clearly meant something to them as a couple. Why risk what she had with Rhys for an excursion to London? Maybe the desire to please Jack was just too irresistible. Ianto empathised with that, at least.
Still stalking the front door, he entertained the thought that maybe Jack wasn’t guiltless in all this. Their boss knew she had the tickets yet still asked her to join him anyway. Ianto hadn’t expected Jack to ask him, of course. Gwen was inexplicably, yet undoubtedly, second in command. But asking her, at the last minute, knowing she would go no matter what, revealed a complete disrespect for her husband. For all Jack’s going on about Gwen being their link to the outside world - and how special that made her - he didn’t seem to care how the outside world felt. In the end, it was all for the benefit of Torchwood. It made the team function better, run smoother, respond quicker. The outside world be damned.
He opened his eyes, having only just realised they were closed, and pressed hard on the button second from the top. It had ‘Williams and Cooper’ scribbled next to it on a yellowing slip of paper in harsh, thick lettering. Before he could think too hard about why Gwen hadn’t taken Rhys’ surname, the sound of his colleague’s spouse rung through the intercom.
“It’s Ianto. Ianto Jones. I work with Gwen. I was at the wedding?”
“Oh hey,” the response crackled. “Let me buzz you up, mate.”
Ianto heard the hum of the door unlocking and stepped inside, pacing speedily up the stairs in hopes of getting this done as quickly as possible. He liked Rhys - he seemed nice enough - but he wasn’t particularly fond of his macho posturing whenever he thought he was being side-lined. He got enough of that from Jack. And Owen. And Gwen, to be honest.
With the door left ajar, he slipped inside the flat and scanned the room for Rhys. It wasn’t a particularly big living room - though certainly bigger than his - so he assumed he must have popped to the loo. He called out tentatively.
“Just got out the shower, give us a sec.”
Ianto sighed deeply. A shower meant he was getting ready. It felt worse somehow.
For what felt like at least half an hour (i.e. nine minutes), Ianto waited for Rhys to finish up. He paced back and forth, trying to find something new to look at in the family photos that ornamented the shelves by the window. He brushed the magazines on the coffee table to sneak a peek at the covers, wondering which one of them was subscribed to ‘Gardeners World’. It was a flat. They didn’t have a garden.
Finally, Rhys bounced back into the room. “Now, how can I help you?” he asked cheerily, slapping his hands together.
Ianto was forced to smile as he saw Rhys in his official Welsh rugby shirt, the Brains Beer logo emblazoned across his chest. It was snug, Ianto thought, noting how the prickly polyester fabric hugged his belly just a little too tightly. He sympathised - he had managed to pile on a few pounds on a diet of late night takeaways, black coffee and Jack’s occasional bout of cooking, which proudly did not accommodate 21st Century metabolisms.
“Is everything okay?” Rhys prompted, his voice rising just enough for Ianto to realise the man was acutely aware of the danger Gwen put herself in everyday and therefore his ominous silence was, at this point, akin to torture.
“Yes, yes,” he sang back, trying to lighten the mood as much as he could and failing. “I just need to tell you that Gwen and Jack had to go to London today on a, uh, very important mission.”
He repeated that last bit in his head, almost embarrassed he’d said it out loud.
Rhys breathed out slowly, clearly already catching on to where this was going. “Right, and when will she be back?”
“It was all very sudden. I’m not too sure of the details myself,” he answered, trying desperately to make Rhys feel like it wasn’t a big deal. “Don’t know exactly when she’ll be back but I don’t think she’ll be able to make it to the-”
“Oh, you must be joking?” Rhys exclaimed, clawing his hands through his still-damp hair. “Tell me you’re joking!”
Ianto grit his teeth in response.
“She didn’t call or nothing!”
“She said your mobile was engaged?”
“I told her it’s on the brink and the bastards at Orange haven’t sent me a blooming replacement!”
“She called your work?” Ianto replied, though he didn’t actually know if that was the case. He was sort of reliant on Gwen having given Rhys the courtesy. He wasn’t quite sure why he thought she would, given the circumstances.
“On a Saturday?” Rhys hollered back, throwing his hands up.
Ianto mentally pinched himself – working at Torchwood had often made him forget the normal working week.
“Oh for God’s sake - it doesn’t matter if she rang or not,” Rhys growled. “I’ve been shunted for that Jack sodding Harkness again.”
Ianto opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it. What was he meant to say? Rhys was right. He’d been pushed aside, once again, for Torchwood duties. The weight of their job really did make it hard on him, he thought. What leg did Rhys have to stand on? That Gwen shouldn’t have tried to save the world so she could go off on a jolly to the Millennium Stadium? Ianto could tell Rhys was feeling a bit emasculated as he paced about the room, throwing a couple of empty McFlurry cartons in the bin just to look like he had some purpose in being there.
Then he halted. Smack bang in the middle of the room. With just a hint of unease, Ianto watched as Rhys’ body slowly started to turn towards him in one smooth, steady movement, like one of his lorries reversing.
“Where are you from, Ianto Jones?”
He frowned. That wasn’t what he had expected him to say.
“Cardiff. Well, I was born in Newport.”
“So do you support Dragons or Blues?” Rhys asked, a spark twinkling in his eyes.
Ianto daren’t move. It was just like being back at home again with his dad. What was he meant to respond? He never seemed to say the right answer, despite years of attempting every single variant.
“I’d happily support either,” he tried.
“Well today you can!” Rhys exclaimed, stepping forward. “Time for us to put aside our differences, eh? One Wales and all that!”
“Why don’t you come with me to the final?”
No. Jesus Christ no. Ianto honestly couldn’t think of anything worse. The crowds alone made him feel nauseous. That many spectators stacked on top of each other, swimming in sweat and beer, chanting songs in a language only a few of them could understand, swaying their bodies back and forth to no discernible rhythm. It was not his idea of a good time. He didn’t want to have survived Cybermen, Abaddon and Sleepers to be knocked out by a hoard of men with daffodils for heads.
But he couldn’t help but sympathise with Rhys. The lustre in his eyes, pleading for Ianto to make it all seem like a mild inconvenience that his wife had bailed on him to go to London with another man. Imploring him to make it out that, actually, Rhys was the one doing him a favour because it had been Ianto’s dream to go the Six Nations final all along.
“Sure,” he heard himself say, as if his heart had blurted out the words before his brain could check and balance them.
“Ah good on you, Ianto!” Rhys said, punching him on the shoulder. “You know what? I’ll let you wear the sheep hat if you want - I’ll take the leek myself.”
In the kitchen window, Ianto could just about see his reflection and he clocked his cold, dead eyes staring back at him.
It took Rhys and Ianto over an hour to get the Millennium Stadium due to the throngs of people walking in the same direction and the impending storm clouds. He’d offered to drive but Rhys had pointed out that Ianto’s “company car” was bound to attract some unwanted attention and people might key it if they thought they were undercover policemen. Also the parking was an absolute rip-off.
So they walked and talked. Well, Rhys talked. Ianto took the opportunity to calculate how long he would actually have to stay and if it was acceptable for him to leave before the game was called. It definitely wasn’t, he decided, considering the only reason he was going in the first place was Rhys being ditched by Gwen. Thankfully for Ianto, Rhys spent the entire journey recalling the rugby stories he’d already heard in the hub, giving him the chance to occupy his own thoughts, knowing exactly which bits to chime in with the appropriate ‘really?’ or ‘and then what?’
Of all the things he’d got himself caught up in since joining Torchwood, this was somehow the strangest.
They turned the corner to the last stretch of the walk, which was made plaintively obvious by the masses of Welsh rugby shirts surrounding them. Rhys stepped a little closer to Ianto to ensure they didn’t lose each other in the crowd.
“So when did you and Jack start, you know, seeing each other?” he asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Ianto looked away, hoping Rhys wouldn’t catch the roll of his eyes. This was the last conversation he wanted to have and Rhys was substantially far down the list of people he knew he’d eventually have to do it with.
“A few months ago,” he replied dully, hoping to bore him away from prying further.
“You go on a proper date?” Rhys replied quickly.
“In town?” came the response. Again, quickly. A little too quickly, Ianto thought.
“Where’d you go?”
Ianto grimaced as it dawned on him that Rhys wasn’t asking questions about the date because he was interested in his love life. Not in a nasty way - why would Rhys care where he went out for dinner? No, the man was digging because he had a stake in someone else’s romantic modus operandi and that person happened to be wining and dining Ianto on a semi-regular basis. He felt a smile tickle his lips. Maybe Rhys wasn’t the worst person to have this conversation with after all.
“For your first date?” Rhys asked, taken back.
“Wow,” he murmured. “You been to that new Chapel place?”
Ianto gave another nod. “A few weeks ago.”
“Bloody hell! Not too shabby then. Doesn’t surprise me Jack Harkness has a bit of money to spend.”
Ianto had never really considered it. Jack had always snatched the menu off him whenever they ventured ‘out out’, obviously taking great pleasure in listing off the options he thought he’d enjoy most. He wasn’t wrong, usually, though he did wonder what he’d ever said to make Jack think he liked lamb so much. He’d gambled they were quite expensive places - the portions were fancily small - but Jack had never seemed bothered either way. Torchwood’s wealth of suspiciously unsourced funds was paying Ianto well enough, so it only made sense that Jack was probably not doing too badly out of it either.
“They’re nice,” Ianto admitted. “But I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there again.”
“Nothing better than a home cooked meal, eh? Especially when you make it together.”
Rhys’ smile suddenly wilted. “Oh, does Jack cook for you too then?”
Ianto couldn’t lie, not to Rhys, not now. “On occasion. It’s nothing to write home about.”
“I bet he makes it all about him!”
Ianto lifted his hand to his cheek and pretended to scratch at his stubble in an effort to hide his burgeoning smirk. Rhys really did not like Jack. As someone who found it unspeakably hard not to enjoy his boss’ company, it was quite refreshing. Ianto couldn’t blame him either. Gwen’s affection had obviously waned since she’d joined Torchwood and become ever so infatuated with their leader. It was difficult for him, Tosh and Owen to avoid their awkwardly long, yearning stares for each other across the hub anymore. You would’ve had to put real effort in to miss them, but the team were nothing but determined. It did mean they rarely breached the conversation of Gwen and Jack though. When they were forced to bring it up - often after the two of them had let out some sexual frustration over who should chair the meetings - they had unanimously agreed it was Gwen’s problem to overcome. They also concurred she wasn’t doing a very good job of it so far. There were moments when the team wondered whether she only stayed with Rhys to keep Jack in her life. Which was all kinds of fucked up, Owen pointed out.
Tosh once - just once - asked Ianto what he felt about it. She hadn’t said anything specific but Ianto could see in her deep, knowing eyes that she meant in relation to Jack. What did he feel about his lover, his potential partner , spending the sunny half of the day locking eyes with a married woman? Did he begrudge Jack for it? Did he resent Gwen? Was he jealous? Did he care?
Well, he didn’t know. Not then and not now, standing in the queue to get inside the stadium, listening to Rhys repeat his statement for the third time.
“He does a bit,” he replied blandly. “You’ve met him. He does like to be the centre of attention.”
They both went quiet as they approached the turnstiles and scanned their tickets. Ianto thought - prayed - for a second that Rhys might want to drop the conversation but as they waddled through the crowd to find their seats in the lower tier, he jumped right back into it.
“So what else do you...do?”
Ianto’s eyes widened. He wasn’t really asking that, was he?
“I mean, date-wise?”
“Like, I’m a huge rugby fan – as you can tell - so me and Gwen make it our business to get tickets to the Six Nations every year. She’s big on her dancing - she loves shit like Strictly - so I’m always trying to find places we can have a bit of a boogie. We even did salsa classes at the Cowbridge last year. And you know what, it’s not half bad. I mean, I thought it was just for the gays but it’s actually a pretty manly dance.”
Ianto laughed before Rhys could start backpedalling his way out of the last remark. He knew what he meant, he didn’t need to explain it.
“And we’re both alright skiers, believe it or not. We rented a French villa off my uncle three years in a row before she joined Torchwood.”
As they reached their seats, nestled between two families of four, Ianto wondered if Rhys would ever stop talking. He got why he was rambling on though - he wanted Ianto to know he and his wife were good together. He needed someone at Torchwood to see that he and Gwen were a great couple, an amazing couple, and his constant going on about it was justified. Not to mention, Rhys was fervently hoping he could get Ianto to take Jack as far away from Gwen as physically and emotionally as possible. But as he listed their escapades together, Ianto found himself probing his memory for times when he and Jack had done anything similar.
“We don’t really do dates like that,” Ianto said, surprising himself by saying it out loud. “I know you probably hear this a lot but the work we do - it can be very taxing. Not much time in the day to do stuff like that.”
“But you go to all these fancy restaurants.”
And fuck. Ianto prayed he hadn’t said that out loud. As Rhys continued on without even so much as a pause, he decided he probably hadn’t.
“If you’ve got time to munch on some veal, you got time to - well, what is it that you two like doing?”
Ianto turned and took a long, hard look at Rhys. There was no malice in his face. No ulterior motive this time. He was just asking his partner’s colleague a perfectly normal question. Ianto just had no idea what the answer could be.
“What are your hobbies? What are Jack’s interests?”
Ianto’s mouth gaped open, as if he was hoping the answer would spring forth independently.
“Gwen got you some weird looking coffee for Secret Santa, didn’t she?” Rhys offered. “My mate Darren is mental for all that - loves his java! And wasn’t it you that lent me that camping gear for Aled’s stag do? You must be a fanatic if you’ve got an expedition tent hanging about the flat.”
Ianto lit up on the inside - he knew Gwen had gotten him for Secret Santa.
“Yeah, me and my sister used to go camping a lot in the summer holidays,” he answered, realising he’d better say something before Rhys worried extra-terrestrials had stolen his tongue or something.
“There you go! Maybe you and Jack should take a trip to Snowdon? Mam and Dad used to go up to Llyn Gwynant all the time before she buggered the hip.”
Ianto’s face sunk. The idea of taking Jack on a romantic camping trip to North Wales was actually, genuinely insane. It almost threw him how incomprehensible the entire concept sounded in his head. He couldn’t even begin to imagine asking him. Driving up there with a car full of snacks bought from the petrol station, orienteering their way across the mountain with nothing but a map, sleeping side-by-side in a two-man tent.
“I’m not sure Jack would be interested,” he replied.
“Oh right, well, what does the cryptic Jack Harkness like doing then?”
It both surprised him, and didn’t, that he had no real answer to Rhys’ question. Jack was an immortal, probably light-years from home, running a secret agency of alien hunters. If anyone had the right to be a mystery, it was him. But even Ianto could accept that it was curious that he, of all people, still didn’t know who Jack really was. Despite telling him he wouldn’t want to go back to where he came from, Ianto wasn’t anywhere closer to knowing where that was or what that even meant. He had a good grasp on what Jack was like as a lover, whether explicitly in the moment or implicitly at the dinner table afterwards, and he had experienced the utmost extremes of what he was like as a boss. But he knew nothing of Jack. Yeah, there had been dates - where he’d thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him - but no amount of small talk had given him even a glimpse of who the man behind it really was. They’d been to the cinema, once, as per Jack’s original invitation, and it had been a decidedly pleasurable evening but he’d felt like he was sat there with his boss one moment and his lover the next. But never just Jack. Without saying anything to him, Ianto had mentally catalogued the movies as a ‘one time’ thing. It’s why he hadn’t invited him to the opening of the Electro. Or anything else, really.
So, no, he had no idea what Jack liked doing.
Rhys shrugged and fit the leek hat to his head without as much as batting an eye. “And what does it matter if he likes camping anyway? He should want to go because you want to go.”
Ianto was starting to feel very uncomfortable now. He knew he shouldn’t have entered into this conversation. Rhys wasn’t ever going to understand his relationship with Jack. It wasn’t like it was with him and Gwen. Jack might not even be from the same planet or solar system. How could they possibly share the same frame of reference for these kind of things? Not to mention, everything Jack had ever shown any connection with in Ianto’s presence was quickly and comprehensively dismissed - it was always something he wanted to get away from, not indulge in on a date. Having felt what it was like to truly ready yourself for death - whether at the hands of cannibals or your own - Ianto wondered whether his boss felt like the real Jack was even alive in him anymore. Maybe that’s why he struggled with his immortality so much. The person Jack had been - and the future he would’ve had - was long gone, yet every time he rose from his fatal slumber, he woke entombed in that dead man’s body. His continued living was just a painful epitaph to what should’ve been and now can never be.
Ianto winced. How was he meant to go on a camping trip with someone like that? It would feel heartless to bring Jack to the roots of his childhood - it would just be a reminder of the natural passage of time from which he’d cruelly been abandoned. He really needed a distraction from this conversation.
Luckily for Ianto, an international sporting event was just about to take place.
If anything was going to take his mind off Jack, it was his country’s national anthem. Not because he was particularly indebted to the land of song and iron - though he did prefer their country’s hymn to the utter shite England tried to pass off as music - but because, by virtue of the language, the song demanded his entire concentration. His Nana had graciously taught it to him phonetically as a child but today, the syllables were forming oddly in his mouth. He glanced over to Rhys and envied how his fluent lips seemed to envelope the Welsh vowels naturally. The words made sense to him - he knew their purpose, how they fit together, why one must follow the other. Ianto was just pretending to, parroting the sounds in hopes it would produce the same effect.
The crowd’s rendition soon finished and Rhys offered him a broad smile as a tremendous sea of cheers crashed over the stadium.
To his surprise, Ianto appeared to remember most of the rules of rugby union from his school days. He needn’t had bothered though because Rhys was happily providing a running commentary of the entire game. He even got himself entangled in a heated argument with the father of two next to them over whether Lee Byrne was creating enough space for Mark Jones. Ianto had absolutely no idea what they were on about but he had his bets on Rhys being right about it.
Despite not knowing the intricacies of the game, Ianto delighted in the oohs and ahhs rising from the crowd in response to the boisterous play of the French. He knew the sound intimately. It was the same noise his sister and dad were wont to make while watching the TV back in their old maisonette in Newport. His mother had always sat him just far enough away so he could enjoy the spectacle without becoming collateral in any cushion-throwing that might occur.
After a while, he couldn’t gather any further intel from Rhys because he had launched himself into an in-depth analysis of the team’s defence which, as far as Ianto could tell, no one was listening to. Ianto just wished Wales would widen the gap a bit more. He couldn’t bear to sit amidst the bitter mutterings of nationalist angst if they lost.
“Are you not going to put your sheep on?” Rhys remarked as they drew close to the final play of the half, slapping Ianto just a little bit too hard on the arm.
The archivist erred, feeling for the fuzzy novelty hat in his coat pocket. “I, um, do I have to?”
“Course you do!” he shouted back.
“I, uh, well,” he put eloquently, taking it out and observing its bobbly eyes staring back at him. He really didn’t want to have to embarrass himself like this, he thought, warily lifting the mutton menace to his forehead, but he would if he must.
“Don’t be daft!” Rhys shouted, slapping Ianto’s hand down before he fixed it to his head. “Of course you don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to!”
Ianto breathed a sigh of relief, shoving the hat back into his pocket. A grin sneaked up on him as he watched his acquaintance rock back and forth, laughing boyishly in his seat.
“Gwen says you do that,” he exclaimed joyfully, obviously excited to see ‘that’ in action.
“Whatever you’re told,” Rhys answered with a titter.
Ianto grimaced, trying to imagine exactly how Gwen would have conveyed that particular insight to her husband and in what context it was necessary to bring up. He wasn’t going to start arguing with it though. She was partly right, for one thing. He liked there to be an order to things for without it, there would only be chaos. For Ianto, it made perfect sense to follow the people who knew what they were talking about, which, in this scenario, happened to be Rhys. Unlike the kids at school, Ianto always considered it a sign of maturity to accept that people probably had authority over you for a reason. It was why he’d joined Torchwood One. He understood that people like his mother and father didn’t get what was going on ‘out there’ - and didn’t want to - so there should be more qualified people to make the important decisions for them. That was the way it should be. Okay, Torchwood made mistakes. Sometimes. A lot . But it was still better than the alternative. Surely.
Before that idea could fester, his thoughts were drowned out by the sound of the crowd cheering, marking the end of the first half. Rhys escorted them both to the concourse to grab some food and maybe a beer. Ianto opted for just a cider, mostly because he was craving something sweet and he didn’t want to take his chances with the popcorn which looked like it’d been sat out for months. Rhys brought the drinks over, along with a generously sized beef burger for himself. Ianto immediately regretted not getting food. He didn’t care if it was dripping in grease and smothered in gloopy ketchup - it looked fucking delicious.
“So Gwen mentioned that Jack is your first time with a bloke?”
Ianto started choking on the cider going down his throat.
“I mean as a boyfriend!” Rhys clarified.
“Um, well, yes, kind of,” Ianto replied, catching his breath, thinking that his response really did just about sum up how he felt about it.
“We thought Banana Boat might be gay for a bit,” Rhys added casually, finishing the burger off in four impressive bites. “But it’s just his eyelashes, I think.”
Ianto didn’t really know how to respond to that. So he didn’t.
“I don’t envy you lads,” Rhys mused. “Coming out seems like a right ballache. I got a lot of respect for anyone who deals with the shit you guys go-”
“I’m not gay,” Ianto interrupted.
Rhys promptly stopped himself from taking another sip of his pint. “Oh. Sorry.”
Ianto returned the plastic cup filled with warm Strongbow to his lips to hide the curse he muttered under his breath. Probably not the best move to shoot a guy down when all he’s trying to do is be supportive. Rhys didn’t even know him - he could’ve just as easily said nothing. It pained Ianto to realise, deep down, he’d rather Rhys had just ignored the whole thing and let him wonder in ignorance if he was casually as homophobic as most of the men Ianto knew before Torchwood.
“Thanks though,” he said, attempting a smile. “I appreciate the sentiment. It’s just I’m not gay.”
“Oh right,” Rhys replied, an intrigued look lighting up his face. “You do really support both teams then?”
He really didn’t know how to shut up, Ianto thought idly.
“It’s just Jack,” he confirmed, thinking that would be a good enough explanation for the both of them.
Rhys’ face dropped. “Oh right. Jack, is it? He has a habit of that then.”
“Making people fall for him,” Rhys muttered. “When he knows their heart is meant to be elsewhere.”
Ianto looked his companion over. He couldn’t help but admire his honesty. Rhys knew who he was and what he wanted - there was a straight, unwavering line between him and every decision he made. Ianto could barely understand why he’d agreed to go to a rugby match. How was he ever going to discover the reason he came back to Torchwood? In what world was he ever going to comprehend why he’d decided to sleep with his boss? His life was so vivid yet so incomprehensible. Rhys, on the other hand, didn’t seem to struggle with any of that, even when he was thrown into the cesspit of alien meat and Captain Jack Harkness.
“I don’t think that’s it,” Ianto finally decided to say.
“No?” Rhys responded, clearly still overwhelmed with frustration.
“It’s the job,” Ianto replied, trying hard not to say anything he would disagree with later on, when he was safe in the hub and Gwen and Jack were back to staring pensively into each other’s eyes. “It’s a lot to deal with. I know you know that, but Gwen really wants to do what’s right for the team. For Cardiff. The world even. Torchwood is tough, it doesn’t always do things the way you’d like it to. It can change people - it’s ruined people - but Gwen is fighting regardless. She wants to change it instead.”
“Yeah, she’s good like that,” Rhys acknowledged, his eyes swelling with pride.
“But that means a lot of Jack,” Ianto told him, solemnly. “Jack is Torchwood. If she’s going to work out what needs to be done, she’s going to have to go through him.”
Ianto felt he was telling the truth. Gwen was constantly striving to make Torchwood a better place for everyone. She was indubitably the reason he’d been given suspension rather than Retcon when Lisa had been found. But it wasn’t just him. It didn’t matter who it was actually, alien or human, Gwen believed there was something more to life and it wasn’t extra-terrestrials or time travel. She didn’t need Torchwood to know that life was worth protecting. Frustrating as it was to be around sometimes, she was still the first to ask questions when the rest of them were happy to obey orders. Did she sometimes forget that the rest of them weren’t like their boss? Sure, in her desire to get her point across, she failed to recognise that they weren’t just extensions of Jack’s refusal to look outside Torchwood and care for the people they were apparently trying to save. It didn’t bother him though because she was always trying her best and Jack was not one to be moved by appeals to humanity. He was enigmatic and charming and brutal and unyielding. It was hard not to feel compelled to follow him and Gwen was not exempt. But she still knew when he was wrong and Ianto respected that.
“And you’re helping her, right?” Rhys asked, looking him straight in the eye. “You're with her on this?”
Ianto didn’t reply, just lifted the cup to his lips and finished the rest of the cider in hopes of rinsing the guilt off his tongue.
Before Rhys could say anything more, the crowd started to move back into the stadium for the second half. “Let’s get in there,” he said, throwing the rest of his pint in the bin.
Going into the second half, Ianto felt the pressure begin to build. Both teams were brimming with a restless energy that put both he and Rhys on edge. The margins of error were becoming slimmer and their players seemed to be diving all over the place. Yet the score remained fixed.
Ianto stared across the field as the team readied themselves for another scrum. He used to hate that bit at school with a passion. So aggressive, so tense, so violent. He spent most of his P.E. lessons trying to make himself look as small as possible in hopes the teacher would feel pity and excuse him. Watching as the Welsh team prepared themselves for the dip, he felt his stomach turn. He couldn’t bear to imagine the pressure on your shoulders as the weight of eight rugby players sank into you or the aching burn of your leg muscles as your feet dug deep into the soggy grass. He examined all the players’ faces, almost desperate to find one of them who looked as terrified as he thought they ought to be. But they were all clearly high on adrenaline, bounding together in the final moments before they would lock in formation.
Then suddenly his eyes clocked one particular player priming himself by the side of the scrum and a very peculiar - and very familiar - feeling brushed over him.
“Who’s he?” he asked Rhys, throwing his hand out and pointing to the player as best as he could. “The one on our side?”
“That’s Mike Phillips,” Rhys called back over the almost deafening sound of the fans. “All the girls bloody love him, the lucky sod!”
Ianto felt his lips involuntarily curl. “I can see why.”
“Oi oi! So it’s not just Jack then?” Rhys gibed, elbowing him in the ribs.
Ianto laughed. Maybe any man with thighs that size, he wondered, before compartmentalising that thought for serious consideration another, less crowded, day.
With his heart lodged somewhere in his throat, he watched as Shane Williams - who Ianto had gathered was some kind of short demigod - galloped down the field to score a defiant try. It seemed like Wales were winning - properly winning. The thunders of triumph were now overwhelming his senses as Wales’ unmarred victory drew closer and closer. Ianto watched as the poor French players scrambled for the ball in what he could only imagine was a sense of patriotic duty. Even so, Williams seemed intent on not only showing the Welsh a win but one cast in his own personal image. With just minutes to go, he threw himself over the line, christening the ground as he went. Ianto couldn’t help but jump from his seat and join in as they all broke into song - a ballad to the now undisputed champion of the Millennium Stadium. Now they were so far ahead, Ianto felt his body ease up and unconsciously begin to sway with Rhys to the rhythm of the crowd.
With the ball booted into the air and out of reach, the final whistle was called. He heard the baited breath of seventy-five thousand spectators release and erupt into exultant applause. Rhys dragged him into an embrace and they shared in what both of them knew was probably going to be their only real moment together. Neither of them wanted to be there with the other – not really - but for that heartbeat, they were happy all the same.
Amid the cries of Welsh victory, it suddenly dawned on Ianto that he’d spent the last few hours completely ignoring his Torchwood duties. He quickly fished his phone out of his pocket and tapped the screen alight. The signal for fifteen missed calls started blinking at him urgently. All in the past twenty minutes. All from Gwen.
“Ah shit,” Ianto muttered as Rhys took a look at his screen.
“Don’t worry,” he chuckled, still powering through their section and finding more strangers to hug, including one very upset looking Frenchman. “She always does that!”
He quickly pressed the redial button and waited anxiously as the phone murmured next to his ear.
“Ianto?” came the response. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, you called me,” he replied, hesitantly.
“You never got back to me on whether you’d told Rhys?” she asked. He could hear the faint sound of commentators yelling in the background.
“I told him,” he replied, wondering what Gwen could’ve possibly said to Jack to get him to tune the SUV’s state-of-the-art tracking computer to BBC Radio Wales for the ride home. “I ended up going with him.”
“No way! Are you there right now?” her response sang through the receiver. “Thanks so much, Ianto! I can’t believe we did it!”
“Did what?” he asked, wondering what exactly had gone down in London.
“The grand slam, Ianto!”
He laughed, admiring how, after all that, she still only cared for the result. “Yeah, we did.”
“We’re on our way back. We’ve got to celebrate,” she told him, barely containing her excitement. “Ice cream! Meet me at-”
“Ice cream gives me a headache,” he interjected. “Is Jack with you?”
“Yes, but listen here, you are not going to ditch us for Jack. You are a Welshman and you are going to spend this momentous occasion with your fellow countrymen and women!”
He could just about hear the bombastic sound of Jack in the background, obviously breaking the speed limit, brazenly demanding to be invited as an honorary citizen. Ianto smiled, thinking how his boss’ brash American twang sounded so grating against the harmonic roar of the stadium.
“Tell him I’ll meet him later,” he replied. “Rhys and I will find somewhere and give you a ring.”
“You bloody better! I’ll get Jack to drop me off in town,” she told him.
He removed the phone from his ear as the call shut off and replaced it back into his pocket. Within seconds, Rhys had pulled him towards the family of four - the one he hadn’t got into an argument with - and gathered everyone around for a group photo. Ianto couldn’t help but laugh as the flash of the camera crystallised in front of them. He was now going to be forever immortalised in the holiday snapshots of a family from Neath.
Cloaked in what felt like white, green and red robes, Ianto relished a few more moments of calm before he knew he would have to go back to the real world. To Torchwood. To Jack. Apparently intoxicated on the fervour of the crowd, he felt something stir within him at the thought of returning. Something new. Something different.
He didn’t know quite what yet, but he was prepared to find out.