This story takes place after Meat.
Gwen sat at on the sofa, absently poking at the remains of the lunch she had made for herself and Rhys. Something was bothering her, but aside from the obvious, she couldn't put her finger on it. Yesterday had been a trying day for everyone, most of all Rhys, and yet she suspected he was handling it much better than she was, and not just because Owen had given him all sorts of drugs for his injury. Rhys had finally found out her secret; he had been to her underground base, met her coworkers, and even seen an alien. Gwen should be glad, should be rejoicing that her two separate lives were finally meeting in the middle and freeing her from keeping secrets, but instead she felt off kilter, uncertain, like something was wrong.
Maybe it was because she was usually at the Hub, chasing Weevils, sipping coffee, and flirting with Jack. Maybe she should be there…
No, Rhys needed her. He could have died. He had got himself mixed up in all this—and it was her fault, since he had seen her at the original crime scene with the lorry—and had then got himself injured. Having been shot herself, she knew he would recover, but that didn't stop the feeling of panic from almost overwhelming her when she thought back to the moment in the warehouse when Rhys had been captured… when he had walked toward her, free….only to jump in front of her and crumple to the ground, shot in the shoulder.
Panic, and then anger. Yes, deep down she was still angry. She was angry at Rhys for getting involved, and she was angry at Jack for letting him get involved. And if she admitted it to herself, she was angry at herself for allowing it as well, and for allowing him to get hurt when she should have done something, and for—
A knock at the door interrupted her contemplation, and she set her half-eaten lunch down on the table. Patting Rhys on the leg as he struggled to sit up from where he'd started to doze, she hurried to the door. Maybe it was Owen, checking on Rhys, or Jack, checking on her. Maybe Tosh needed her for a Rift alert. Glancing around for her mobile phone, Gwen wondered why they hadn't called if they needed her.
When she opened the door, she was surprised to find Ianto standing there, alone with a large thermos of coffee in one hand and an envelope in the other. After staring at him for a moment, Gwen shook herself and motioned him inside.
"Ianto!" she exclaimed. "I'm sorry, come in. Is everything all right?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I was going to ask you the same thing. Coffee?"
"Brilliant," she said, taking the thermos and heading toward the small kitchen to pour them three mugs. "You're a lifesaver, you are. I knew something was off this morning."
Ianto smiled, but Gwen thought it seemed somewhat forced. She wondered why Ianto had come to the flat instead of one of the others. He looked a bit stiff, and one of his hands was wrapped up. Had he been injured while she'd been gone?
"So is everything all right at the Hub? Are you really just here to check up on us?"
"Actually, I'm here to check up on Rhys," Ianto said, following her into the living room. "He was the one who was shot, after all."
"Damn right," said Rhys, taking a mug from Gwen and inhaling deeply. He grinned. "I finally understand what Gwen's been raving about for so long. You sure you're not a professional or something?"
Ianto's lips quirked. "Depends on the profession."
Rhys laughed, but Gwen still felt a strange tension from Ianto, as if he was reluctant to be there. She also wondered about the envelope he had set on the table.
"What's that then?" she asked, and Ianto set down his coffee, nodding briefly.
"Right to the chase then," he murmured.
"I can tell something's going on. You're not just here to see how Rhys is doing. Someone could have called for that."
"Oi!" said Rhys. "If he wants to fawn a bit, let him fawn. Go ahead, mate. She's just upset she's not the center of attention."
Ianto looked like he was holding back a smirk at that, though Gwen frowned, feeling unusually sensitive to the light teasing. "How are you feeling?" Ianto asked Rhys.
"I'm fine, thank you very much," said Rhys. "Bit sore, but Owen's got that covered and says I should be up and about in no time."
"Good to hear," Ianto murmured.
"There," said Rhys, returning to his coffee and sitting back. "Now you can talk about aliens all you like."
Gwen rolled her eyes and turned back to Ianto. "So what is it, then? Because if it's anything to do with yesterday, I made myself quite clear that I won't do it."
She noticed Ianto's face tighten, his lips purse, and his eyes narrow. Rhys must have sensed the change as well, for he sat forward and frowned at them both. "Won't do what, love?"
Gwen stared at Ianto, feeling the slow burn of anger return. If Ianto was there to Retcon Rhys, she would fight him. He could throw as many government regulations as he wanted at her, she didn't care. He could have an order from the Queen herself in that damn envelope but she wouldn't do it. Not after all she'd been through, all Rhys had been through. He deserved to know the truth, and she had every right to talk to him about her work now that he did. She needed to talk about it. Keeping it secret for so long had almost destroyed her countless times—in fact had almost destroyed them as a couple.
Rhys touched her knee, and she was so tense that she jumped. Springing away from the sofa, she began to pace in the small living room, all the agitation from the previous day returning in full force. She stopped and stared when Ianto began to pull something from the envelope.
"If you've got Retcon in there," she started, and then stopped mid-sentence, her eyes going wide as a sudden, horrifying thought occurred to her. "No! Rhys! Stop!" She grabbed the coffee from his hand and threw it behind her, uncaring of the shattered mug and dark stain it would leave on the carpet.
"What the hell, Gwen!" said Rhys, staring at his empty hands and then at Ianto. "That was a bloody fantastic cuppa, that was."
"It was drugged," she hissed, whirling on Ianto. "How dare you! How dare you come into my home and take away his memory, when all he was trying to do was protect me!" She was furious, waving her arms and raving at her coworker, while both Rhys and Ianto sat there and stared at her, one with a look of confusion, the other with a look of growing frustration. It was Rhys who spoke first.
"Gwen, love, how could he have drugged the coffee? We all drank it, even Ianto." He looked to Ianto for confirmation; the Welshman nodded, and Gwen shook her head.
"I won't let them do it, Rhys. I won't let them take your memory. You have every right to know what happened yesterday!"
Rhys looked at Ianto. "Can you do that?" he asked. "Take away people's memories like that?"
Ianto nodded, taking another sip of his coffee as if to prove it was clean. "It's standard operating procedure when civilians are involved. It's safe and effective. We simply suggest a more rational explanation in place of the fantastical."
"Rhys is not a civilian!" Gwen exclaimed.
"Of course I am," said Rhys, and she turned toward him, taken aback to hear the faint hint of amusement in his voice. "I'm not one of you lot, that's for sure. I may have this," he waved the sling he was wearing, "but I have no interest in going through all that again."
"But you deserve to remember!" Gwen said. "Ianto, this was settled yesterday. I'm not doing it. If you Retcon Rhys, you'll have to Retcon me as well."
Rhys gasped behind her, but she ignored him, determined to stand her ground once more. She had faced Jack and won, and she would face Ianto as well.
Ianto rose slowly, and she was suddenly aware that in spite of how much he did in the background, or perhaps because of it, Ianto Jones was a dangerous man. He had been practically invisible when she had first started at the Hub, but had revealed himself to be more capable than any of them had imagined. He had done things she could never do, usually without breaking that mask of calm indifference. And over the past year, he had grown into those capabilities with a calculated efficiency that Gwen realized was now focused on her.
Ianto rarely showed true anger toward anyone, let alone someone on the team, but she saw it in his eyes, in the set of his jaw, and in the clench of his hands. And she realized that while she could bully her way with Jack because of his feelings for her, she could never, ever hope to do the same with Ianto. Her bluff with Jack would be called without hesitation by Ianto.
"Yes, Gwen," said Ianto, his voice low and intimidating. She swallowed her anxiety as best as she could, determined to go down fighting. "We are all well aware of your poor choice of words yesterday, some of us more than others."
"What does that mean?" asked Gwen, thrown off by the sudden difference in his mood and the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach. Ianto's eyes flickered toward Rhys, as if indicating his reluctance to speak openly in front of him.
"What did you say?" Rhys asked quietly. And from the tone of his voice, Gwen could tell that he was already disappointed in her; he knew she'd had a confrontation with Jack, but she had not told him the details. She had to make him—both men—understand.
"I said I wouldn't do it, that I wouldn't give you the pill," she said, turning toward him with pleading eyes. "They don't understand, Rhys. They don't understand what it's like, not being able to tell you the truth. Watching you go in there, put yourself in danger like that. They don't know!"
But Rhys wasn't watching her anymore, he was watching Ianto, and when Gwen turned back, she actually stepped away from the fury writ upon the Welshman's face.
"One day, you're going to actually hear yourself and understand just how wrong you are, Gwen," he said softly, and the abrupt change in Ianto's demeanor scared her more than his words. "You think you know us, and you dare to judge us, but the world is not cold and lonely for all of us."
Gwen stared at him, breathing heavily. She could feel Rhys's confusion radiating from the sofa and hugged herself in a vain effort to stay focused. She would not let them talk her into the Retcon. Never.
"Did you say that, Gwen?" Rhys asked softly from the sofa. "Did you really say that to them, to your friends?"
"I was thinking of you!" she cried. "I was thinking of us."
He shook his head and frowned. "God knows I've no love for Jack and the hours he makes you keep, but Gwen—you don't know what it's like for them. You can't put us above them, not like that."
"Yes, I can!" Gwen turned away and began pacing. "You don't know everything, Rhys. Jack wanted me to take your memories of the whole incident—everything you did, everything you risked and sacrificed. But I'd still remember, and I'd have to keep hiding it from you, just like the last year!"
"So let me guess—you bullied him into doing what you wanted and insulted everyone else along the way?" Rhys asked, but he was again looking at Ianto. The Welshman was still standing, still watching Gwen, but the earlier look of fury was replaced by a cold lack of sympathy.
"I didn't mean to offend anyone," she started, but Ianto cut her off.
"Yet you did. I'm sorry, Gwen, this is not really why I came, but now that I'm here, I think I need to make a few things clear." He let out a breath, glancing down as if gathering his thoughts, before piercing her with stormy blue eyes. "You used Jack's feelings for you against him. You accused us all of not understanding anything because we have no one outside. But you are wrong, Gwen—about everything." He stepped closer and tilted his head to stare down at her. "You've been with Torchwood for a year. You've not yet seen what it can really do to a person. You've not suffered and lost everything and even died for it. The rest of us have."
Rhys cut her off. "Gwen, just listen." He was watching them both closely.
"Think of what Tosh has gone through in the last year. Imagine what it was like before that, languishing in a UNIT prison with no future. Did you even know that Owen lost his fiancé to an alien parasite? That's how he was recruited." Ianto paused, took a breath, and continued. "And I don't think I need to remind you what happened at Canary Wharf, or what I lost there. Believe me when I tell you that I know exactly what it's like to be absolutely terrified of losing someone I love. Because I did." His voice broke at the end, and he stopped to look away.
Rhys was hanging his head, his face grim. Gwen felt tears prick her eyes.
"And Jack…Jack has been with Torchwood for over a hundred years." Rhys glanced up, shocked by both the revelation, no doubt, as well as the heated emotion that colored Ianto's voice now. "He has loved and lost more than you'll ever know. He knows exactly what it's like to watch the people he cares about walk into danger because he does it every day, year after year." He took another step toward her, his presence electrifying as he defended their Captain and leader with more passion than Gwen had ever seen. She could only stare, open mouthed. "He feels everything, Gwen, and not only did you tell him that he doesn't—that none of us do—but you threatened to leave after insulting his humanity, the very core of who he is at heart."
"I didn't think—" Gwen started. There was the lightest of snorts from the sofa, but Ianto shook his head with a frustrated roll of his eyes, so much more cutting than his more playful banter.
"You often don't," he replied, and she hated the bitter tone to his normally pleasing baritone. "Of course Jack doesn't want you to leave. He doesn't want to lose you, no matter how many times you question, doubt, belittle, and bully him. He doesn't want to lose any of us, Gwen, because he cares, sometimes too much. Which is why I'm here." He backed away and the strange electricity dissipated slightly. He leaned down to pick up the forgotten envelope. "I have a copy of the Official Secrets Act. If Rhys does not agree to sign it, then I have been authorized by Jack to Retcon you both."
Rhys glanced up in alarm. "Why Gwen?" he demanded. "I'm the one who stumbled into it. What's she done wrong?"
Ianto raised an eyebrow. "Obstructing operations, disobeying lawful commands, contravening standing orders, and misconduct toward a superior officer to start."
"It's not the military!" Gwen exclaimed.
"Torchwood is subject to military law in most instances," said Ianto. "Though ultimate authority rests with the Queen. As you signed a contract with Torchwood, you are therefore subject as well."
"Oh my god," said Gwen. She felt her legs go weak beneath her and reached out for support. Ianto took her hand and sat her down next to Rhys. He was serious. Somehow she knew, deep down, that while Jack wouldn't have done it, Ianto would. But he would do it with Jack's support, and that hurt even more. She blinked away tears.
She had thought she meant more to Jack. She had thought Ianto was her friend, as well as Tosh and Owen. They were all good people, willing to give their lives for one another. They'd been through so much together, she almost considered them family. How could this be happening? How could she have been so wrong about them?
Yet even as she questioned her teammates, she realized she was not questioning herself. What if Ianto was right—about her, about Jack, about Torchwood? Had she really been so ignorant, so cruel? With a gasp that left her sobbing even harder, she realized that everything Ianto had said was true, she had just refused to see it. She had taken advantage of Jack's affections in particular and underestimated both him and Ianto. She had treated all her teammates callously when they had done nothing to deserve such treatment. They had every right to be angry with her after her harsh words the day before.
Ianto was watching her closely. He leaned forward and laid a hand on her knee. "We don't want to lose you," he said, and Gwen was struck with such a formidable impression of the royal 'we' that she giggled and hiccupped nervously. "Torchwood…Jack's Torchwood," he amended, "is built on a foundation of forgiveness. We've all experienced it, some of us more than others." He glanced down, gripping her knee a bit harder. "There is plenty left for you, Gwen, if you know where to look and can accept it."
"I've been an idiot," she whispered, shaking her head. "A complete and utter fool."
Ianto seemed to think about his next words. "You have such a big heart, Gwen. So much love and compassion and understanding." She glanced up in surprise, but then came the hit. "You need to let us into your heart, as well, and show us that same compassion and understanding."
Gwen broke down, taking her hand from Ianto's and covering her face. Rhys tutted and took her in his arms, holding her tight as she sobbed. She was vaguely aware of Ianto moving away as if giving them privacy, and so she let herself cry and babble and beat against Rhys, her heart breaking.
Ianto had just laid bare the core of her faults. He was absolutely right. She had prided herself on her sense of humanity, on the compassion and understanding he had just praised, yet her pride had got the better of her, and too often she flung her perceived superiority in her teammates' faces. She held herself better than them for being less broken, less flawed, when in reality she was just as flawed as anyone because she had failed them. She had not held her friends and coworkers to the same regard as she routinely held the strangers they helped on the street. She knew them and loved them and yet how many times had she treated them so heartlessly, words escaping her mouth without thinking? Tosh, after Mary…Owen, after Diane…Ianto over and over, constantly underestimating his intelligence, his abilities, his feelings.
And Jack. She shamelessly manipulated him every chance she had, simply because she knew she could. She took advantage of his feelings for her, over and over, rarely backing down because she knew she would always win. She was there to question, to challenge, to remind them of the things they forgot, only she had rubbed their noses in it instead, until she had forgotten herself. She wasn't any more human than they were; at that moment, she was less.
Only now did she realize the depth of her faults. And it wasn't her boss, or her former lover, or her fiancé pointing it out to her, it was Ianto Jones. The man who stood back and watched and listened. The man who really did know everything, because he had lost everything, yet he was still there, still fighting, and still ready to forgive her. It occurred to her that Ianto might be the most human of them all.
It was breathtaking and humbling and Gwen started crying all over again, which was when Ianto reappeared with a cup of tea.
Gwen took it with shaking hands, and Rhys unwrapped his arms to lean forward.
"What's the deal with the paperwork then, mate?" he asked Ianto. Gwen stayed silent and listened.
"It's more of a reminder than a binding contract," said Ianto, sliding forward the large packet of papers. "Whether or not you sign it is irrelevant, for you will be expected to maintain the secrecy of Torchwood either way. The document details everything from what remains secret, from whom, how, and most importantly, the penalties for revealing classified information."
Rhys picked it up, flipped through it, and nodded. "And the penalties—they're bad?"
Ianto cocked his head. "There are different penalties depending on the infraction. We won't toss you through the Rift or throw you to the Weevils, but at this level, yes, it's bad."
Rhys stared hard at Ianto before leaning forward and speaking with a strong voice. It was not unlike his confrontation with Jack at the Hub, though Ianto appeared far less affected than Jack.
"I wasn't going to tell anyone anyway, much as I'd love to tell my mates I got shot trying to rescue an alien from being tortured. I'm just glad Gwen doesn't have to hide it anymore. Because while she may said some harsh things to you, this hasn't been easy on her either."
"I understand," Ianto evenly. "I've worked for Torchwood for longer than anyone except Jack. I've kept secrets myself. Not being able to talk about the things we do and see is one of the most difficult aspects of the job."
Rhys nodded, apparently satisfied that Ianto understood him. Gwen stared at her coworker in surprise. "Then how do you handle it?" she asked. "What do you do to keep hold of something that's not dark and alien, something that's normal?"
Ianto shook his head as he glanced away. "My life stopped being normal the day Torchwood London fell. The only thing I can do is make peace with that. Fighting it only makes it worse."
"But don't you want something outside of Torchwood, away from the Hub? Something it hasn't touched, something your own?" Gwen knew she was pushing again, but she couldn't help herself, and she didn't think she was being offensive...was she?
"Gwen, you're doing it again, love," Rhys murmured with a sigh. "Leave him be."
"I just want to understand!" Gwen exclaimed, then turned to Ianto. "I'm sorry."
"I know," said Ianto. "And I will answer your question if you promise to listen. Do I want something or someone outside of Torchwood, away from the Hub? Sometimes. But right now I have exactly what I want. I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to do, with whom I'm meant to be. That's more than most people can say about their lives, isn't it?"
Gwen took a deep breath to stop herself from arguing, because she knew she would if she didn't. She still couldn't help but wonder if Ianto had settled. Was he truly happy, or had he accepted something less? Didn't he want to find love, get married, maybe start a family one day? Torchwood did not really lend itself to children, but he still deserved a partner, someone to be there for him like Rhys was for Gwen. Jack and Tosh and she and Owen didn't count; didn't he want someone untouched by Torchwood?
He was watching her closely, as if waiting for her to continue her argument. And so she stopped, she smiled, and she nodded.
"Yes, it is. And it's none of my business, either, is it?"
"Miracles happen!" Rhys exclaimed. "She's figured out!"
He laughed, and Gwen joined him, and even Ianto smiled. It felt as if they had finally reached the understanding they'd been struggling with since Ianto had walked in the door. It was probably what had troubled her all morning. She had treated her coworkers terribly, and she knew that now. She knew, and she understood, and she would try her hardest to do better by them.
A slightly awkward silence descended, until Rhys asked for a pen and signed the paper with a flourish. Ianto thanked him as he tucked it back in the envelope. "Welcome to the fold."
"Ah well—if you ever need someone to sneak you into an alien abattoir again, I'm your man."
"Rhys!" Gwen exclaimed, the possibility that he might actually do such a thing terrifying.
Her fiancé gave her an innocent look. "What's the use of knowing the big secrets if I can't help out once in a while?"
"Because you're not on the payroll?" Gwen suggested.
"I can fix that," Ianto offered, and as usual, Gwen wasn't sure whether or not he was joking.
"He's not trained," she protested.
"Jack can fix that," replied Ianto.
"Oh god no," said Gwen, pointing her finger in Rhys's face. "You are not going anywhere near Jack's training." She knew she was blushing furiously, especially when Ianto raised an eyebrow and smirked at her.
"And that's my cue to leave," Ianto said as he stood. "I'll leave you two to work out the details."
"What details?" asked Gwen. "Ianto, you're not serious, are you?"
She followed him to the door, until he turned and placed a hand on her shoulder and gave her one of those knowing smiles. "Of course I'm not serious. Just giving you another reminder of what it's like when someone you care about is sent into danger."
"I don't think I'll ever forget yesterday," she murmured. He nodded.
"Don't forget today either," he said.
"I won't," she promised.
"Jack said to take a long weekend. Give us all time to cool down and think about things." He pulled her into an embrace that, though still slightly stiff, was at least absent of the anger he had directed at her earlier. "Call if you need anything," he said softly.
"Thank you, Ianto," she said. "For everything."
"Just doing my job, ma'am," he replied in an overly courteous tone that made her laugh. She placed a hand on his arm and squeezed.
"You're pretty damn good at it, you know that, right?"
He cocked his head. "You're the second person to tell me that. I could get a big head."
"Never!" she laughed again. "Who was the first?"
He actually winked at her before extending his hand to Rhys. "Take it easy, Rhys. We appreciate the help." He gave Gwen a sideways glance. "With everything."
"Stop it, you!" she exclaimed. This time Rhys laughed, and they ushered Ianto out the door. Gwen let her hand rest on the doorknob and took several deep breaths before turning back to Rhys. In spite of the more relaxed end to the conversation, she still expected to see more disappointment in his eyes, but instead he was now standing at the window, peering through the curtains and looking down at something on the street. She tentatively joined him.
As she came to stand beside him, she hoped he would pull her close, reassure her, but he merely glanced sideways, then motioned for her to look down as well. She saw what had drawn his attention.
The black SUV was in parked front of their building, and Jack was standing beside it, leaning against the driver's side door. Ianto was standing before him, gesturing with his hands, pacing back and forth, then stopping to run his fingers through his hair. She thought he was angry again until his shoulders slumped, and he scrubbed his hands over his face, which was when Jack reached out and took his hand, pulling him closer, his unheard words obviously calming as Ianto's body language slowly relaxed.
And then Jack stood up straight and wrapped one arm around Ianto's waist. He brought his free hand to Ianto's face, brushing his fingers across the Welshman's jaw and speaking intensely. His face grew more and more upset, until Ianto raised his hands, framed Jack's face as if to stop him talking, and kissed him soundly. Ianto's fingers continued to trail down Jack's neck and shoulders until Jack wrapped both arms around Ianto and pulled him close for another fiery kiss. Gwen gasped; Rhys raised an eyebrow.
It was a kiss that spoke of understanding and support, and seemed to have the desired effect. Their foreheads leaning together, Jack sighed and nodded, Ianto spoke some more, keeping Jack's eyes on him, and then kissed him once again. When they broke apart, Jack wiped at his eyes, laughing, and Ianto grinned as he stepped back, one hand lingering on Jack's cheek before he turned. Jack watched him go around the car, a soppy look on his face, until he glanced up at the window, jumped in the car, and after a minute or two—and it was easy to guess the reason for the delay—the SUV drove away.
Next to her, Rhys pulled away, moving slowly back to the sofa, where he watched her warily, as if waiting for some sort of reaction.
"I had no idea," Gwen said softly, turning to look at him.
"No wonder he was so angry," said Rhys.
"What do you mean?" asked Gwen, frowning. She knew there was a connection she needed to make, but once again she was failing. How was it that Rhys was the one to see so much more clearly than she?
He shook his head, but there was fond exasperation in his expression. "Come here, love," he said, patting the sofa, and she went to him gratefully, relieved to be accepted in spite of all that had happened.
"You still don't get it, do you?" he said softly, stroking her back with his good arm as she curled up beside him.
Gwen sighed, but he chuckled softly and continued before she could say anything.
"I asked Jack yesterday if he was gay," he said, laughing once more. "I was joking, of course, although I was sort of hoping."
When she turned to ask him about it, he shook his head and stopped her. "I had no idea, and I'm willing to bet you didn't either, did you? That he and Ianto were a couple?"
"A couple?" she asked, looking up at him in surprise. "They're not a couple. They slept together before Jack left, but I didn't think they'd hooked up since Jack came back. And if they are shagging again, that doesn't mean they're a couple, they're just—"
"Gwen, open your eyes." She did—wide in surprise at the tone to his voice. "Think about what you just saw. Think about what you said to them yesterday. I didn't see how angry Jack was, but I did see how upset Ianto was in here. Do you really not understand?"
And just like that, she saw it, and her heart broke within her once more for her hurtful ignorance.
She had Rhys…and Jack and Ianto had each other. She had accused them of not being able to understand because they didn't have anyone. Maybe not on the outside, but yes, they did, on the inside. Ianto had said that Jack cared about them all, that he didn't want to lose any of them. That he sent all of them into danger every day and had to live with it. Rhys had done it once, but it was a fluke, an accident. It was Ianto's job to be by Jack's side taking those risks. It had never occurred to Gwen that it might be even harder for Jack to watch Ianto walk into danger, knowing he could die any day.
"Oh my god," she whispered, as she thought back to the previous day. Ianto and Rhys had both been captured, but Jack had ordered her to stand down. She hadn't, and in the end, that was why Rhys had been shot. Thinking back, she vaguely remembered Jack stepping out, hands raised, to confront the criminals. Had Ianto been threatened? He must have been, she remembered Jack shouting, "No!"
But then Jack had sent Ianto after the men. And while Owen had patched up Rhys at the Hub, Tosh had told her that Ianto had taken out four of the thugs. He'd been captured and tied up, then managed to escape, only to be hit and kicked and almost shot—the gun had misfired—yet he had still got up and gone after them. She remembered Tosh telling her everything, but she had been so fixated on Rhys, she hadn't given it a thought.
She'd never even thought to ask Ianto if he was all right, she had just lashed out at them all. Even when she had noticed his stiffness earlier and seen the bandage on his hand, she hadn't said anything, so wrapped up in her own worries and concerns. How could she have been so thoughtless, so cruel? A small part of her wanted to cling to Jack's anger as a sign that Jack would be devastated if she left Torchwood, because he cared so much about her. But she knew now, deep down, that a good part of his heated response had not been about almost losing her, but about almost losing Ianto as well.
"Ianto almost died," she told Rhys, staring blankly at the window. "Tosh told me he fought with those men at the warehouse, that they shot at him but the gun misfired. He could have died, and all I did was yell at Jack about not understanding what it was like."
"I'd say he understands," Rhys said softly, still stroking her back.
"I had no idea," she said again. "I really didn't. They never said anything, never did anything, but they…they…" She couldn't describe what she had seen. Or maybe she didn't want to.
"They're obviously doing a bit more than shaggin'," said Rhys with a chuckle. "And now you know, you need to be respectful of that. And the others as well," he added at Gwen's look of surprise. "They may not have partners, Gwen, but they have family. Parents, brothers, sisters, even good friends that they care about. You need to remember that."
"I will," she whispered, wiping away tears. This time, however, she laughed at her incredible ignorance. "God, I've been such a fool."
"At least you're my fool," Rhys replied. "And now you can talk to me, when it gets bad."
She turned toward him with a big grin and kissed him soundly. "I can, can't I? Thank you for signing the paper. I know it can't be easy."
He rolled his eyes. "It was a piece of paper, and not signing it never occurred to me. I want to share this with you. Besides, I can keep a secret, so you don't need to threaten me with treason."
She laughed again, and they were silent for a moment. "So Jack's been with Torchwood for over a hundred years, has he?" Rhys asked, trying to sound innocent and failing. She gave him a funny look. "What? I signed the bloody paper, you can tell me now, remember?"
"I know. It's just…it's going to get weird, Rhys. You might not even believe me."
He shook his head. "Not a chance. I saw a bloody space whale yesterday. Is Jack an alien, then? A time traveler? Or is it some secret government technology keeping him young and fit for so long?"
Gwen burst out laughing, the excited look on Rhys's face too much after the seriousness of the last hour. "Actually, you're not that far off. He's not an alien, but he has traveled in time. And he's been around for a while because he can't die."
"No really, he can't. Not permanently. I've seen him come back," said Gwen, then stopped when she realized something. "And so has Ianto. Oh god, so has Ianto." She sat up and faced Rhys, grabbing him by the hand. "Rhys, he has to watch Jack actually die. He comes back, but Ianto still has to watch it happen. He sat with him last time, held him until he revived, and we all thought he was just being overdramatic. Oh my god, I can't imagine how hard it must be when…" She trailed off as the tears threatened to start again, then shook her head to stop them as something akin to a feeling of peace washed over her.
She had seen Jack die several times, and though it was disturbing, it did not upset her, and she never doubted he would come back, even after Abaddon. Yet the thought of Rhys going through that same endless cycle of death and rebirth shook her to her very core. She could barely handle him throwing himself in front of danger and getting shot in the shoulder; there was no way her heart could survive watching him actually die, always wondering if he would come back or if his time was up. Was that how Ianto felt?
And why didn't she feel that way about Jack? She loved him, didn't she? Just as she loved Rhys. But it was not the same; it never had been. She loved Rhys more deeply, she saw that clearly now. She had made her choice, and her heart rejoiced at the unexpected confirmation that she had made the right one.
"You're serious, aren't you?" Rhys asked, interrupting her thoughts, and she nodded. "Wow. Well, I think you know even better why Ianto was so upset, then. You saw me get shot, he—"
"He's seen Jack get his throat ripped out," Gwen murmured. She curled up against him again, clinging to him, needing to be grounded. "I wonder how they do it."
"I'd say they trust and respect each other, for one," said Rhys. "From what I saw, Ianto is a bit like his right hand support man, isn't he? Like Alfred to Batman, maybe, if Alfred was young and sexy and sleeping with Bruce Wayne. Couldn't have one without the other."
Gwen nodded slowly. "Yes, Ianto's always been like that, but for all of us. It's obvious that it's more with Jack, though, now that I think about it. He's always at Jack's side, they're always together, staying late, tossing things around, practically finishing each other's sentences."
"Well, then you lot really are a bit blind," laughed Rhys.
"It's Ianto," said Gwen, letting her eyes slip closed. "And it's Jack. They've always kept their secrets close."
But now the biggest one was out: they were together. And though a part of her mourned the loss of something she'd never even had, another part was happy for them, and she was determined to hold onto that feeling, because she had no right to feel any other way.
"I wonder if the others know?" she murmured, leaning against Rhys.
"You mean Owen and the Japanese girl, what's her name? Tish?"
"Tosh. Yes, I wonder if they've been keeping it to themselves."
"You didn't know, so how could they?" Rhys asked. Gwen shook her head with a self-deprecating laugh.
"Because they're both much more clever than me, for one," she said, and then sighed. "And because I probably didn't want to see it, for another. Co-workers sleeping together and all that." She obviously couldn't confess her real reasons for not wanting to see it, that she'd always thought that she was special to Jack, that if he wasn't always telling her to hold on to her normal life with Rhys, she, not Ianto, would be with Jack instead. No, that was one secret she would keep. It was well past time to bury it, anyway.
"It doesn't matter," Rhys said softly. "What's done is done, love. You didn't know about them, and you were upset about everything that happened in the warehouse. But here on out, things'll be different, yeah?"
"Yes," she said, turning to kiss him softly. "Things will be different. Everything changes."
He kissed her back, running his good hand through her hair. "Everything changes. A year ago, I had no idea you were chasing aliens through rips in space and time. Now I can worry about you properly when you come home late with some bloody gash or another."
Gwen couldn't help but laugh. Rhys saw straight through to the heart of the situation, recognized it for what it was and didn't judge her for it, then tried to make her feel better with his wonderful sense of humour. He really was a treasure; she was lucky.
"And now I can wake you up in the middle of the night to tell you about the latest slimy, green alien with tentacles to come through the Rift and shuffle its way through Cardiff." He grinned.
"I'll look forward to it."
He squeezed her tight with his good arm, and she returned the embrace, content. The strange feeling of discomfort she'd been fighting all morning was starting to dissipate after the confrontation with Ianto, as if her subconscious had recognized how wrong she'd been, but it had taken the Welshman to bring it to the surface with his blunt words. It still stung to think about how badly she'd messed up, and she was surprised that it was Ianto who had stood up to her and made her realize the truth of the matter. She knew she shouldn't be, though, and in a way, she was glad. Tosh could never be so blunt, and she and Owen would probably have been reduced to a never-ending cycle of yelling and cursing. And she had already manipulated Jack once, to terrible consequence. No, Ianto had cleared her conscience, and she was grateful to him, in a strange sort of way.
That Ianto and Jack were involved again only highlighted her ignorance and unkindness and made worse the harsh words she'd flung at them. She would make it up to them, though—to all of them. She would do exactly what Ianto had said, and she would stop and think about her words, and about her coworkers, before she spoke. She would remember that she wasn't any better than them, any more human, that they were friends who deserved the same compassion and respect that she offered strangers on a case.
"So what about Tosh and Owen then?" asked Rhys, breaking into her thoughts. "Anything going on there, or is it just Jack and Ianto having the secret office affair?"
She laughed, then stopped. "I don't know. I don't think so, but I didn't think Jack and Ianto were together either."
"Maybe sometime we can all go to the pub, have a drink after a good alien chase," said Rhys. "Ianto seems like a nice Welsh bloke."
"You just like his coffee," Gwen teased.
"I like a man who can stand up to the likes of you and come out of it in one piece," Rhys laughed. "I want to know his secrets."
"Good luck with that," she said, shaking her head. "He holds his cards close. But yes, I think if they forgive me, they'd really like you, and you'd like them."
He kissed her temple. "They'll forgive you, love. Ianto already has, and it sounds like Jack is a better man than he looks."
Gwen burst out laughing. "Better man than he looks? Rhys, have you seen him?"
"Don't go rubbin' it in," Rhys grumbled. "Sure, he looks like a movie star, but he also swaggers around like a bloody action hero with an ego the size of the London Eye. Now that I think about it, Ianto could probably do better if he's into blokes."
Gwen pecked him on the cheek and curled up against him. "I love you, you know."
"I know," said Rhys, holding her tight. "And I love you too."
In that moment, Gwen was more content than she had been since she'd joined Torchwood. She had joined for the change, for the excitement, the challenge, the danger and drama. And she had joined for Jack, almost instantly willing to follow him anywhere. She still would, but now Rhys would be by her side, her rock and grounding presence, while Ianto did the same for Jack. She saw it now, saw how much sense it made, and wished them only the best, knowing they'd both been through so much already.
She had Rhys, and Ianto and Jack had one another. It wasn't cold and lonely for them. Now if only they could do something for Tosh and Owen. . .