Author's Note: The idea for this began in an on-line conversation with Gmariam and Cerih who suggested I should, as a middle aged gay man, write a smutty locker room story for Jack and Ianto as my first contribution to Torchwood fandom. This is not that story: I couldn't do it! Instead we have this, which I do hope you may enjoy. The idea of a smutty one-shot has turned into something that will have 5 or 6 chapters and will (in a hopefully amusing way) explore the relationships that might have existed between the members of the Torchwood team by the time of the middle half of Season Two. This story takes place after Meat, and perhaps around the time of Adam -an episode which had the best of all endings for it legitimized forgetting that it existed - and before the zombification of Owen. It does take some liberties with canon, and is more an imagined 'what if they'd paid more attention to consistent character development' type story. But its not AU. And it is definitely a romance for Ianto and Jack. (The ordering of that may give you some clue as to my preference in that pairing.)

Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood or the characters - I'm not quite sure who does these days but it isn't me. If it was I'd try for a little more consistency with our beloved characters than what the owners gave us, and I would decidedly allow the proper development of Ianto and Jack as a couple (I'm looking at you RTD). And they would still be in the Hub in Cardiff with a pet pteranodon, and we might even have seen the inside of Ianto's flat. And that makes this fun because I can imagine those things. Certainly there's no money in it.

Gratitude: My thanks to Gmariam for her experienced advice on appropriate punctuation, which was very much needed. Any mistakes on that score are mine and mine alone. And also thanks for her comments on a first draft suggesting she "got the jokes"for they gave me hope I was on the right track.

Enormous Gratitude: My gratitude to Cerih is boundless, for her active encouragement and insightful comments and conversation as my friendly and kind beta finally enabled me to find the courage to publish a story. This would not be here without her, and especially too, because she found some things funny.


Stiff Competition

"Oi, Ianto!" Owen bellowed from the autopsy bay, his voice echoing up through the Hub, "be a good time for some coffee, mate."

It was mid-afternoon on a wet blustery winter's day and with no Rift activity the Torchwood team were secluded in the warmth of the Hub. Their work on a back-log of tasks had been progressing in comfortable silence. With Myfanwy asleep in her nest, only the soft whirring of computers accompanied the team as they worked.

Seated at his desk, Jack was making his way through a pile of files Ianto had indicated were important. Rather than leave his office and relinquish the pleasing rate of progress in the task at hand, he bellowed back:

"You'll have to make it yourself Owen, Ianto is taking the rest of the afternoon off."

"No way am I going near that machine Jack, my life's worth more than a cup of coffee," Owen shouted up at the office.

"Well then, go out and buy some," yelled Jack.

"Are you kidding? Be bloody mad to go out in this weather!" Owen's horror at the thought bounced off the walls of the Hub.

"Geez, Owen, make some damn instant then." Jack's frustration was so evident Myfanwy was heard stirring in her nest.

Sitting at her work station Tosh glanced at Gwen, who shrugged her shoulders in shared understanding.

"I knew it couldn't last," Tosh grumbled with exasperation. "Bloody men, why do they have to shout at each other, why can't they use their comms?"

"You answered your own question Tosh: they're men. That's a species unable to multi-task."

"Now there's a truth that should be universally acknowledged," Tosh responded with resignation before turning back to her computer. After a little she began to giggle, drawing Gwen's attention. She watched with bemused interest as Tosh typed rapidly – her hands flying across the keyboard. Finishing with a dramatic flourish, Tosh turned and gave Gwen the smile of a conspirator.

"And it's a truth that will now be known across time and space."

With wide eyes and a grin indicating she was expecting a naughty pleasure, and knowing Tosh's capacity for mischief, Gwen asked the obvious. "What have you done?"

Tosh dead-panned "You know how UNIT makes those broadcasts of information about planet Earth into deep space?"

Gwen nodded that she knew of them.

"Well, I've simply added to their database on Homo-Sapiens. It is now an official UNIT truth that males of the human species are simple beings, and therefore unable to multi-task. That news will be beamed out to the Universe when they do their next information transmission!"

"Oh, God, you didn't!" Gwen spluttered through her laughter.

"I did, and better yet, I put it in the warnings category." Tosh smirked with pride.

Gwen laughed for a minute, "Oh Tosh you really are a subversive at heart aren't you!"

"Not at all, I consider it my duty in terms of the Torchwood Charter…"

Gwen adopted a posh accent. "Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Toshiko Sato - a true heroine of Torchwood for her commitment to defending the Universe from the simplicity of men."

Making a small bow, a laughing Tosh attempted a deferential reply "Thank you, thank you; I was only doing my duty - as they say, the truth has to be out there. And who knows, maybe one day…"

"Shame the truth's not in here with this lot." Gwen cast her eyes around the Hub. "Excepting Ianto, of course."

"Excepting Ianto," agreed Tosh with warmth. "Now there's a man who can multi-task."

"Indeed. He could multi-task me anytime." Gwen murmured to herself as she turned back to her desk.

She was horrified when she heard Tosh say "You and me both!"

"Oh God, I didn't …I did, didn't I? …I said that out aloud."

"Only loud enough for me to hear, but you're not wrong."

They stared at each other for a moment with mutual regard before Gwen wandered over to join Tosh by her desk. "You too eh, but I thought -?"

"Come on Gwen, we'd have to be blind not to notice. Those eyes, the skin, his hair, those smiles."

"Oh god yes: the suits, the hands, that twinkle he gets when he laughs," giggled Gwen.

"His manners, his intelligence."

"The way he moves."

"The way he treats us with respect," Tosh said seriously.

"He is gorgeous, isn't he?" sighed Gwen. "Just the complete package. And he cleans up after himself!"

"The thinking woman's crumpet, that's our Ianto," offered Tosh.

"Crumpet? More like an all you can eat buffet," giggled Gwen.

Tosh, laughing, shook her head, "What's gotten into us, Gwen? How did we end up swooning like a couple of besotted fan-girls?"

"Oh god we are, aren't we." Gwen dramatically fanned herself as she fell limply into Tosh's arms. They looked at each other before squealing together "OOOOHHH Ianto Jones!" which set off more laughter. Some moments later as Tosh wiped the last of the tears from her eyes, and Gwen physically shook herself in an attempt to restore her professional demeanour, they heard approaching footsteps.

It was Jack, enticed from his office by the sounds of enjoyment coming from the work stations. He observed them in silence for a moment, before speaking with a touch of bewilderment.

'Well, well, well, sounds to me like you two are having too much fun to be working. Oi Owen," he turned and bellowed in the direction of the autopsy bay, "get your bony arse up here, the girls are having a party without us!"

With his back turned while he waited for Owen, he didn't hear Tosh whisper to Gwen "Another fact for Unit's database."

Owen arrived a few moments later grumbling about distractions and displacement activities. Jack threw an arm over his shoulder in an attempt at matey bonhomie. Guiding Owen to his station, Jack pushed him into the chair, and perched himself on the edge of the desk.

'So, ladies, want to tell us what's got you so amused?"

As Gwen fished around for something to say, Tosh looked at both men with considerable innocence and stated simply, "We were just discussing Ianto's multi-tasking attributes."

Jack grinned knowingly. "You don't have to tell me about how capable he is at multi-tasking. In fact, last night he was demonstrating just how he -"

Gwen cut him off before he could go any further, "Yes, thank you for that Jack, no need to go on."

Pointing at his waving hands Tosh added, "And we really don't need the pictures."

"I thought we were supposed to be having fun," Jack mumbled with a slight touch of hurt, "and it was fun. I just wanted to share it."

Sensing Jack's disappointment at having his contribution cut short, Tosh replied sweetly "I'll bet it was lovely Jack, but you know, it's about you and Ianto and it might be nice just to keep that private between you guys." Allowing Jack a moment to consider her words and to bring some amusement back to the conversation she quipped "… and besides, I'm quite able to draw my own pictures."

"Twenty-first century boundaries, huh?" Jack smiled at her.

"Yeah Jack, twenty-first century boundaries."

Still annoyed that he'd been dragged away from an interesting exploration of an obviously deceased but as yet unidentified alien something or other, Owen groused at them.

"What's the big deal? So Teaboy can manage to scratch his arse and pick his nose simultaneously, that doesn't explain why I've been dragged up here."

"Gwen and I were discussing the failure of men to multi-task, and how that fact is universally acknowledged," Tosh responded with a straight face. "It caused us a few laughs while we were talking about it, that's all."

"And how did Ianto specifically come into that conversation? I mean, I'm male and I can multi-task, so what's so special about Teaboy?" Owen grizzled.

Gwen chuckled "Oh don't worry Owen, we talked about you as well."

On seeing a baffled expression wash over Owen's face, Gwen nudged Tosh.

"You're right Tosh, maybe one day it might happen."

"We can only dream there's enough time to allow the male of the species to develop." Tosh mocked a wistful sigh.

"Hey, fifty-first century male here!" Jack exclaimed with indignation.

Looking him up and down in silence, both women took a moment to consider how to respond. On completing her assessment Tosh turned to Gwen and drolly stated "Nope. Apparently still simple. Looks like the men of the human race will need more than another three thousand years."

"Perhaps it'll take 'til the end of the Universe," mused Gwen.

Tosh laughed "It's more likely to be the cause of it!" She adopted the sonorous tones of a newsreader. "A male human has officially been recognised as capable of multi-tasking - experts predict the end of everything within 24 hours."

"Better have sex then," Owen stated firmly.

When the others looked at him questioningly, wondering how he'd arrived on that tangent, he continued

"You said the world's going to end by tomorrow. And I can't think of a better way to go out."

"I'm with him," smirked Jack, recognising how Owen was thinking and wanting to encourage either Tosh or Gwen to take the bait. Seeing their confused expressions he continued "go on and explain it Owen."

"It's in the logic of their argument." He waved his hand in the direction of Gwen and Tosh but spoke directly to Jack. "If their convoluted thinking is as perfect as they think, the world's going to be over within the next 24 hours. Either that or Ianto's not male and human or, third option, by their own faultless logic he can't multi-task."

"Love your reasoning Owen. I know Ianto can multi-task, and I definitely know he's human, and oh god is he ever male so, as Tosh told us, sometime in the next 24 hours it all ends. So let's all go together by coming together," Jack quipped with glee as he flicked fingers under his braces to release them from his shoulders. Unbuttoning his shirt and throwing it on Owen's desk, he continued "c'mon girls, let's get this Torchwood Big Bang underway."

As he finished speaking Owen stood at his side and, grinning madly at each other, the two comrades- in-arms continued to undress.

Laughter from the opposite side of the space stopped Jack's hands at the top of his trousers. Alongside him Owen halted with his t-shirt pulled half way up his pale torso; the fly buttons of his jeans already undone, exposing a smooth abdomen. Either he was wearing very tiny briefs or he was an exponent of going commando. The evidence that he was an exponent of manscaping was irrefutable.

"What now?" Owen barked at having his fun disrupted.

Tosh turned to Gwen and feigning indignation remarked "Men! They never quite hear what we say do they?"

"Nope."

"We heard what you said, you're just miffed because we found the flaw in your argument," retorted Owen, flinging his t-shirt onto his desk, where it was joined soon after by Jack's trousers.

"I said official recognition, Owen. My words were a male human has been 'officially' recognised." She waggled her fingers to provide air quotes around the word officially in emphasis of her point.

"Yeah, so what, we're Torchwood, and that's official," Owen snarled back as he pulled his jeans off and threw them on the pile of clothes now covering his desk. Turning to face them he stood in just the briefest of white briefs, his hands on hips and feet apart, brazenly demanding they get started. "Kit off, ladies, and since the multi-talented Teaboy is not here, you'll have to make do with me." The humour of a few moments earlier had been replaced with a sense of challenge as to who would be the first to call time out.

"Owen has a point, we are Torchwood, so I'm not sure I quite follow your line of argument Tosh," queried Jack as he dumped his t-shirt on top of Owen's jeans.

As she ran her eyes over Owen's body Gwen replied "It's not much of a point. You gave me the speech Jack, remember: Torchwood: outside the Government, beyond the police."

Feeling as though he and Owen were perhaps about to lose their argument to some infallibly logical thinking Jack removed his hands from the waistband of his boxer shorts. He looked at Tosh and waited for her to pick up the argument.

She did not disappoint his faith in her reasoning ability. "As you keep telling us Jack, we're a secret organisation. And a secret organisation doesn't give out press releases of official recognition for news broadcasts, now does is it?"

"You know it doesn't."

"So you haven't issued a bulletin confirming Ianto can multi-task?" Tosh pressed her point.

"Well, no, obviously not."

"Then there's no official recognition. Game, Set and Match to the ladies of Torchwood!" She shared a high five with Gwen in celebration of their victory.

"Well," huffed Owen, whose stance was now much less confident, "I think that's just splitting hairs."

"Could be, if there was a hair to split" Gwen slyly remarked to Tosh as she indicated Owen's manscaping with a flick of her head.

Jack also glanced at Owen and noticed his bravado had deflated with the speed of a balloon pricked with a pin. "OK, I'll concede the point but…"

"There's only one butt here at the moment Jack and it's that one!" Tosh pointed in the direction of Owen, whose arse had not yet disappeared into the jeans he was rapidly pulling on. She went on:

"Let me explain it in terms simple enough for men to comprehend: Because we are a secret organisation you can't release a statement about Ianto's abilities, therefore no official recognition of a multi-tasking male human exists. It follows then that the world is not ending in the next twenty-four hours so there is no rationale for a Torchwood Big Bang. The only conclusion is this: you can both put your clothes back on." She smiled sweetly at him before adding "Owen can take his time in finishing that task if he likes."

"Like what you see do you Tosh?" Owen challenged as he re-buttoned his jeans.

"Oh you know this job Owen, stuck in the Hub or out on missions, we don't get much chance to see what's out there."

"Your point being?"

"A girl has to take her pleasures where she finds them, no matter how small."

"Yeah, very funny, Tosh."

As a bemused Jack and a scowling Owen finished putting their clothes back in order, Gwen whispered to Tosh "Go with me on this." On receiving a slightly puzzled nod of agreement she said, in a much larger stage whisper, "Maybe we should just tell them the truth."

"Do you think that wise?" returned Tosh, a little uncertain where Gwen was taking the conversation.

Gwen pretended to consider the question. "Well, perhaps you're right, maybe its best not to say anything."

Still unsure of the game Gwen was playing Tosh gave an open response "No, I trust your judgement, if you think it best, then you should tell them."

Watching Jack and Owen pretending to be disinterested, and seeing that she really had hooked their curiosity, Gwen reeled them in. Adopting a serious, confessional tone she said "Tosh and I were so entertained before because we realised we both think Ianto is a god."

"You think the Teaboy's a god! You have got to be bloody kidding me! Now I know you've lost your marbles. Talk about being a few planets short of a galaxy. Bloody ridiculous nonsense. No way is he a god. If he's a god then I'm…" Owen's explosive reaction was exactly what Gwen had been hoping to catch.

Clutching her hands together at her heart and opening her eyes wide with adoration she shimmied with mock excitement and breathlessly rubbed salt into the wound. "No Owen, it's a fact. Ianto Jones is a god, and we are his number one fan-girls. We worship him!"

"Well since I worship the same god, I must be his number one fan-boy." Jack cut in, all smiles at the thought of telling Ianto that piece of news. "And since there are three of us we could form a new religion. Imagine the daily worship we could have!"

Tosh turned to Gwen and smirked "I'll add it to UNIT's database."

Ignoring her comment Jack continued to stretch the idea in his mind, picturing with delight the annoyed expression Ianto would wear on discovering he'd been turned into some form of idol. Struck by a crazy thought he ignored Owen grumbling beside him and sought the opinion of the two most likely to participate. "Hey, if Ianto is the god of our religion, don't we need a shrine or something so we can worship him properly? Maybe we could put up lots of pictures of him and light candles."

Keeping her fan-girl persona Gwen jumped in with glee, giggling at the ridiculousness of it. "I love it Jack, we could, like, you know, bring flowers and stuff and lay them by the pictures."

Buying into the spirit of their fun, Tosh clapped excitedly and skipped in the air with joy. "Oh Gwen, that's like so cool! And you know what else would be cool? It would be soooo cool to leave him little notes of appreciation!"

As Jack nodded wildly in encouragement of their madness, Gwen swooned and sighed, "Aww, that's so cute Tosh, we like totally have to do this." After a moment's thought she asked, "Okay ... where shall we put it?"

Resisting the urge to tell them exactly where he would like them to put it, Owen drawled "Hang on, you forgot the statue."

"And why would we have a statue, Owen?" Gwen matched his drawling tone.

"Because, P.C. Cooper, that's what makes a shrine! All shrines have statues." He laughed to himself. "How about one that cries all the time? …yeah …a weeping Ianto."

"Ha-ha Owen, very droll." Gwen flipped him the finger. Resuming her fan-girl voice she turned her attention back to Jack, "Go on, it's your idea, where can we put it?"

Jack's eyes grew wide and his smile huge with amusement at the thought of Ianto's fury when he learned of the suggestion he was about to make.

"Well, it has to be accessible, and not get in the way of our work, and we have to prevent Myfanwy from moving in, so I think the best place for it is in the Tourist Office." He grinned at his team and shared his vision of turning Ianto's space into a candlelit chapel. As he layered on the details, Gwen and Tosh bent double with laughter at the ridiculousness of his imagination. The madness that enveloped them ratcheted up with each additional crazy idea. He concluded, breathless with laughter, "And there you have it. Welcome to the Chapel of Saint Ianto."

The only one not amused by the excess of stupidity was Owen. He sniped "Conversations with god himself arranged by appointment."

Noticing the reactions to his barb he said with mock innocence "What! Oh c'mon people, you're thinking too small, let's go the whole hog and have a stall outside. We could sell t-shirts and little statuettes for his devotees to take home."

Tosh returned fire. "Owen, you really are too brilliant! We could have a range of merchandise. Oh my god," she squeed, "we could have stuffed Myfanwys for the kids."

"And a live Weevil kissing booth for the fan-girls," Owen shot back.

"Oh yeah!" Jack agreed with all the enthusiasm Owen had hoped to stifle. "And the statuettes could be action man Ianto dolls. Then people who visit could take little Ianto home to play with and that would spread the word about how amazing and wonderful he is."

"Little Ianto?" giggled Tosh.

Jack grinned "Well …maybe not so little."

"Hey Jack, you forgot gorgeous." Gwen spoke across them. "He's amazing and wonderful and gorgeous. You can't forget that. He's bloody gorgeous and they should know it!" She smiled, tipping Jack a wink.

"Yeah, everyone should know how gorg…hang on…" he paused and composed himself. Looking quizzically at Gwen he queried her. "You're not joking are you? You seriously think Ianto is gorgeous."

Dropping the false persona she responded in her normal voice "Yeah, of course I do. A red-blooded woman over here who is quite capable of a bit of stud-muffin appreciation." She nudged Tosh in the ribs with her elbow, "And, as my friend here said earlier, you'd have to be blind not to see it."

"What! You too, Tosh?" Jack seemed even more surprised by this revelation.

"I think my exact words were 'the thinking woman's crumpet', which I suppose is the same thing." She matched his question with one of her own. "You seem a bit surprised?"

Jack huffed out a breath "I'm more than a bit surprised. Wow …I mean I know he's gorgeous …and I suppose …probably shouldn't be surprised that others …but …but …wow! I never knew you thought…but you've never…" Finally all his confusions came together and he burst out with "But you don't even flirt with him!"

"No Jack, we don't, well…at least not when you're around," Tosh replied cryptically. She began to laugh but on seeing a slight tightening of Jack's smile and a small drooping of his shoulders she stopped. She realised that underneath his confused statements one of Jack's fears had been laid bare and in their fun they'd inadvertently touched on it. Glancing at Gwen and Owen, who both nodded for her to continue, she spoke gently so that he would understand her sincerity.

"Gwen and I do think he's gorgeous Jack, and we also, all three of us including Owen, agree that you are a lucky man. You might not be aware of it, and sometimes it might not seem like it with our jesting – well, Owen's jesting really - but we all believe there's something really good about you two together. He adores you. And we do know you adore him. If you're worried that because we think he's gorgeous we'd make a move on him you can forget it, you wonderfully silly man. This is Ianto we're talking about, and he's a good friend - a great friend – and I wouldn't risk changing that for anything. Especially not when I see how much he means to you and you to him." Realising that she'd given quite a serious speech and Jack was obviously affected by it, she tried to lighten the mood a little without diminishing the sincerity of her words. "And this is a workplace so he's also a colleague."

"And that would be harassment, Sir" Gwen added in perfect mimicry of Ianto's voice.

Everyone chuckled at the well-used and well-loved line but nobody moved or spoke for some time. There was no need, for the exchanged glances and nods and smiles told the story of their having lifted a veil, revealing an understanding of each other deeper than they would previously have been prepared to acknowledge.

"Okay people, let's get a grip before we end up in a group hug." Owen's words might have been his usual snarky choice but his tone carried only affection. Hoping to move the conversation on he asked "What's Ianto doing with the time off?'

Jack shrugged and replied. "He didn't tell me, just asked me if he could leave early."

Owen roared with laughter. "And I'll wager you actually asked him what he was doing and he didn't tell you."

"Of course I did, I asked him all the who, what, when, why and where questions," Jack wryly admitted, knowing the joke would be on him. He continued "And he got that smile he gets, you know the one - the smile that says he really does know everything and you're about to be reminded of it."

"Yeah, I know it, we all know it. So what did he actually say?" Owen, along with both Gwen and Tosh, was now genuinely curious to know what Ianto had said.

He smiled at them all, "Insecurities, Jack, that's all he said, 'Insecurities, Jack', just those two words."

"Smart man, our Teaboy," Owen mused with a chuckle. It wasn't long before the others were chuckling with him, their gentle laughter soon giving way to a more full-bodied version, as the emotional tension that had accumulated in the preceding minutes dispersed.

As they relaxed into comfortable silence Gwen dropped her bombshell. "As a matter of fact, and to answer Owen's question, I happen to know what Ianto is doing this afternoon," she said with a touch of one-up-man-ship.

There was a chorus of "You do?" as three different voices asked the same question.

"I do." Smiling like a cat that had caught a very special mouse she told them, "Ianto is spending his time off with Rhys."

"Bullshit!" exclaimed Owen.

"Really?" queried Tosh.

"What would he be doing with Rhys?" quizzed Jack.

"I think the best word is bonding" said Gwen without thought. On seeing Jack quirk an eyebrow in preparation for some form of innuendo she hurried on. "Rhys and I were out shopping last weekend. We'd done what we had to do and were debating whether to have a drink at a pub when we ran into Ianto. We got chatting and Rhys invited him to come along for a drink and Ianto accepted. And I have to say I was pleased he did, because it pleased Rhys."

"And I'd suggest it wasn't just because it was someone to have a drink with?" hinted Tosh in the hope that Gwen would explain the real story.

"Why else would he be pleased?" asked Owen, genuinely curious despite the curtness of his question.

"Tosh is right. It's a bit of a long story really. It's been different, of course, since Rhys found out all about what I do. I don't know how to explain it. We have this on-going conversation at the moment where he keeps asking about how he can support me, how he can support us. And it isn't excitement about the alien stuff - sure, he jokes about keeping scrap books of my adventures - but I think what he saw that day put that into perspective for him. Like he's really accepted that part of it, you know. No, the thing is he's asked a lot about all of you. He got all sort of funny and caring when I told him that I was the only one who has…well…you know…that I have someone to go home to. He's started suggesting that I ask you over, that we go out for drinks, as though he has to care for the team because I care for you and he cares for me. I've tried to tell him it's not needed but he keeps bringing it up."

Owen's natural impatience was being tested by Gwen's lengthy explanation. "Yeah, yeah, Gwen, so he's a big mother hen. What's that got to do with his meeting up with Ianto?"

"Well, I'm getting to that. You see I'm not sure if the truth is really quite as simple as what he is saying. I think what he's really asking for is an alternative to me, someone else to talk to about Torchwood. Deep down he's frightened of it, I think, or frightened for me. He saw what we had to do, he saw the risks we took. So the bit I'm not sure he understands yet is how we look after each other, how we protect each other. And I think that's why he wants to meet you, or at least get to know one of you. So he can learn more about that and feel reassured."

"That actually sounds reasonable," acknowledged Owen.

"I think it's great," remarked Tosh, "and it will be nice for you that Rhys has someone to talk to about what we do. It takes the pressure off you having to explain it all. And really, who better than Ianto for that."

"Yeah I think so too, Tosh. I think Ianto will be terrific for Rhys. They're both Welsh, they both enjoy a beer, they're both blokes, and I suppose because Rhys isn't emotionally connected with Ianto he'll be able to talk with him more easily than with me. I always let my emotions get in the way and we end up having some doozy fights. Especially about the dangers. Ianto might help stop him being over-protective. And you know how wonderful Ianto is at making complex things simple."

"Which is probably needed," suggested Owen. As Gwen focused her attention on him, unsure of his real meaning, he finished "for the stuff we deal with, I mean. Some of it is pretty out there, even for us, and if any of it needs explaining to an outsider Ianto's the man."

Jack, who had been listening quietly to the explanation of how Rhys and Ianto came to be spending time together, finally contributed to the discussion . Picking up on Owen's remarks he said "That's certainly true, Ianto is good at that stuff. Though I am curious, Gwen. You could have asked me, I'd be more than happy to chat to Rhys and answer any of his questions at any time. You know that."

"I do Jack. And we all know how well that would go," she replied a touch defensively.

Jack knew exactly what she was implying and understood her reasons to some extent, but was intrigued by how she might explain them. "I'm not sure I get your meaning. Just how would it go?"

"Oh come on Jack, you know quite well what I mean. Might be something about the way you two were the day I brought Rhys in here. He was nervous enough as it was, and there's you going all man about the house on him, as though it was an invasion of your bloody territory. Honestly, you were like two bulls in the same field. And I'm not sure I really want to repeat that experience too often." She cast a warning scowl at Owen just as he was about to say something.

"What?" Owen grinned "I was only going to say you are right…you wouldn't want to be the cow in between those two bulls."

"You couldn't resist, could you?" groaned Jack. Keeping the conversation going in an attempt to distract an insulted Gwen from engaging in open warfare with a smirking Owen, he addressed Tosh. "And besides we're not bulls. According to Ianto we're stags. Stags butting antlers was the phrase he used. It's kind of nice, romantic, aristocratic even. I like being a stag, they have such big antlers," he finished with a waggle of his eyebrows, all the while keeping a weather eye on the simmering storm crackling between Gwen and Owen.

"Ianto's no doe," quipped Tosh. "And besides, I thought you'd like being a bull, they have big horns."

Throwing his hand over his mouth in pretence of horrified amazement Jack remarked delightedly, "Well, well, Toshiko Sato does smutty. Who knew! Lots of male animals have big horns Tosh, but nothing compares with a full sized antler."

Observing that Owen continued his smirking at Gwen, and she was still glaring back, Jack recounted to Tosh the full story of how Ianto had revisited their conversation on stags butting antlers after the day was over. How they had argued over Rhys knowing about Torchwood. He finished his tale by conceding "And yeah, I'll admit, I did feel like my territory was being invaded."

That single comment was enough to draw Owen and Gwen back to the conversation. "Now that comes as a real surprise," muttered Owen.

"At last! Thank You!" said Gwen, exploding some of her seething frustration. "Like a pair of one-man armies, you were. I must admit I was waiting for you or Rhys to blow a fuse. When you suggested to Rhys that it was all a bit homo-erotic I thought we might have a spontaneous combustion. And before that, when he fronted you, I thought you'd explode the bloody Rift open."

"So we were a bit too alpha male for you, were we?" Jack challenged Gwen directly and with equal fervour, "I know I can be, and from what I saw of Rhys I don't imagine he's a wallflower. But hey, what did you expect? You know us both, you know our temperaments, you must have known we'd butt heads, that there'd be some sort of energy created. What did you think would happen?"

"We could have run the Hub on the power of the machismo generated," laughed Tosh in an attempt to turn the volume down. It was a futile attempt, for when Gwen had gathered her thoughts she spoke again with passion.

"I don't know! That's the truth of it! But you could have Jack! You had the time. Did you stop to think, just for one minute while you waited, about how confusing I might have found it, or how strange and terrifying it might have been for Rhys? Did you pause and consider how you might, just might, have made it a little easier for me, or for him? Oh no, not you Captain Jack Harkness, oh no. Right from the off, there you were, pawing at the ground like a bloody great bull!"

"That's a stag, not a bull, got it!" Jack snarked back with some venom. Huffing out a sigh he opened his hands and adopted a slightly more placatory manner. "Alright, yes, you've hit some truth. I accept it. So I was territorial, but you were bringing a stranger in to Torchwood. And you didn't ask, not you Gwen Cooper, because you don't ask. No, you demanded that he be allowed in. You know this place, you know the protocols. This is my home. What else was I supposed to be but territorial?"

"More bloody thoughtful, Jack," Gwen snapped straight back.

Jack finally exploded. "More bloody thoughtful! What, just me? Yes, I was territorial, I'll concede that, and yes, okay, I could have done it better, I'll concede that too. But I am not carrying the whole responsibility Gwen, no way! So I'll ask a different question: what did you do to make it easier? Answer me that."

The question broke Gwen's rage, and she sagged against Tosh, her fight leaving her in one shuddering breath. "Nothing. Nothing at all. I didn't do anything. The truth is Jack I was feeling only the relief of being honest with him, and in the confusions of that I wasn't really thinking about how you two would hit it off."

"So what were you thinking about?" Jack asked more quietly.

Closing her eyes and taking several breaths to calm herself, Gwen responded cautiously. "Being perfectly honest I was thinking about myself, not about you two. I was thrilled to be able to show it all off: you guys, Myfanwy, the Hub, even the Weevils, all of it important to me. God, the relief of not having to pretend it didn't exist. And I wanted you to meet my Rhys. So I didn't think. With hindsight, yeah, you're right, of course you are. I'll take my share of the blame. I could have remembered how territorial you both can be. I could have guessed there'd be a bit of a pissing contest and worked out how to handle it. But I didn't." As she finished she felt Tosh's hand come to rest gently on hers, and glancing up she received a small smile of understanding.

Feeling as though they had reached some mutual recognition of their failings, Jack decided to let it go. "Humph," he laughed without much conviction. "A pissing contest! Were we really all that bad? What do you think Tosh, you were an objective observer?"

"Honestly, because I wasn't so personally involved I found it all a bit comic book. Something from a Hollywood action film, all bluff and bluster, complete with its own dewy- eyed heroine." Jabbing Gwen good naturedly with her elbow she smiled at Jack.

"Jack as Captain America, now there's a cinematic treat for us all!" cackled Owen.

"You think Owen? Nice image of yours Tosh, always fancied a crack at Hollywood. Got the jawline for it." Jack began chuckling, and when it became clear that he wasn't just laughing at her words but also at some private memory, Tosh asked him why. He responded with a grin. "Something I just remembered. The truth is I'm not the only Torchwood male who came over all Hollywood that day." Seeing her curious expression he whispered across the room. "I caught Ianto having his own cinematic macho moment just before we had the stags and antlers conversation."

"You didn't! Are you going to tell us what he was doing?" Tosh's curiosity got the better of her discretion.

"Hmm, not sure. Don't know if I should Tosh, you know, twenty-first century boundaries and all."

"That's fine Jack, I understand." Tosh replied before realising he was teasing her. She laughed along with him.

"Gotcha!" he laughed. "So I suppose you'd all like to hear the story?" he asked as three curious faces turned expectantly toward him. Not for the first time did he think of them as his kids – and just like kids, they were able to shift from temper tantrums to innocent curiosity in an instant.

"Well children," he giggled "this is a story of the famous Captain Jack and his faithful sidekick Jones, Ianto Jones."

"Just get on with it, Jack, save the bloody performance for some other time," Owen grumbled.

Jack turned and with a look that was part serious and part comic suggested "Seriously Owen, time to work on the bedside manner, you're upsetting the young ones." He waved at Tosh and Gwen. "Okay, since Owen doesn't want to be entertained, here are the facts. I went up to the armoury just before we left for the factory, and who should I find but Ianto, getting some kit together. Only he wasn't. He was standing in the middle of the armoury, legs akimbo and with a gun in his hand. His outstretched hand I might add. Just as I arrive I hear this deep voice trying out the old 'Make my day' line, complete with appropriate actions. Ianto trying to be all butch and macho Dirty Harry kind of sounded funny, what with the Welsh vowels and all. 'Make my day'," Jack repeated in an attempt at imitating Ianto imitating Eastwood.

As the laughter that greeted his attempt faded, Jack conceded "Nah, Ianto as Dirty Harry doesn't really work, does it? I haven't told him that so don't you say anything. I think he should stick to the Bond thing, that's Ianto's kind of macho, and he looks much better in a suit too. Maybe I'll get him a tuxedo. Or a pair of those pale blue swimming trunks. Oh yeah, there's a thought."

As Jack chuckled at how Ianto would roll his eyes in exasperation at another one of his fantasies, Gwen and Tosh joined him in his laughter. Owen, unusually, fell silent and seemed to draw in on himself. When he noticed their observation of him, he said quietly "He changed the line. At the factory he didn't say 'Make my day', he said something else. 'Pray they survive', that's what he ended up saying. And there was nothing Hollywood about it, let me tell you."

As a hush fell on the space, Jack said softly "Perhaps you best tell us the story Owen."

Owen looked up at his colleagues and his face wore an expression of awe and admiration, his eyes dark and distracted. "I heard him. 'Pray they survive.' He sounded so angry, angrier even than when…well you know."

He stretched his hands out on his knees and appeared to examine them in detail as he recollected the day. He began again. "It was after Rhys had been shot. I was getting the sedative ready and was held up by one of the idiots. Ianto came in and straight out stunned him. No hesitation, he just zapped him. He wasn't furious, just implored me to help you, and told me the creature was free. I grabbed what I needed and followed him and it was like he changed into some hero as we went down that corridor. Last thing I saw was him kicking a door in, and an immediate zap, no argument no discussion. Just the stun gun sizzle. I kept on running back to you guys, but I heard him. It wasn't loud but it echoed: 'Pray they survive'. It was said with hot fury but it was chilling. I could feel it, not just hear it. Seriously it was like some malevolent vibration, and it chilled me, but I got on and did what I had to do. 'Pray they survive': he meant it I think. And it certainly wasn't a movie fantasy, it was real. I haven't really thought about it again until now, but his anger at the thought that you could all have been hurt changed him in those minutes. He was a different man."

"He's never said," Jack commented quietly.

Tosh lifted her head from where it had come to rest on Gwen's shoulder during Owen's recollections, and said "It's Ianto, he wouldn't. He was like that with the cannibals, when he took them on so I could make a run for it. It was the same, he turned white with contained fury that someone would want to hurt me – or us. He wanted to protect me even if it meant -"

"Yeah, that's how it felt for me too, Tosh, he was an enraged protector," Owen cut across her. He looked at his hands again. His look turned speculative and he glanced at Jack. "Maybe it's why your mate Johnny boy didn't injure him like he did the rest of us. I'll bet he backed down in the face of an unhappy Teaboy!" He laughed wryly at how inappropriate that moniker now sounded, and turned again to look Jack full in the face. "And it was the same too, the day he shot me, he was defending you."

"Maybe he was." Jack put a hand on Owen's shoulder. "I do know that it's why Ianto did what he did for Lisa. So maybe, Owen, it's time to stop calling him Teaboy." Owen nodded in acknowledgement of the suggestion.

"Wow," murmured Gwen "Ianto, all the fury of an angry god."

No one laughed at the comparison this time. Jack looked at Gwen and an understanding passed between them. He said quietly "You've made the right choice for Rhys. Ianto is the perfect choice to be there for him."

She silently mouthed a thank you and grasped for something to say.

"Right then, so, Rhys and Ianto are off to bond this afternoon. Can't wait to get home and find out how it went." She faltered, not knowing what to say next to lift the mood.

Sharing her feeling of wanting to lighten the conversation, Owen came to her aid and rapid fired a series of questions. "But why today, why does it have to be this afternoon? Why not after work? What's so important for Teaboy and the Beef Burger that I have to go without coffee?"

"Teaboy and the Beef Burger?" Tosh shot him a look.

Owen shrugged "Can't expect perfect instant change, Tosh. And well, Rhys is a bit of a doughy white bloke, and he did help us with the meat episode so I suppose…I don't know, it just seems to fit. Teaboy and the Beef Burger does kind of go together, like some weird comedy duo."

Storing away her response for future use, and taking her time to smile at each of them individually, Gwen eventually replied to Owen's question. "Rhys and Ianto are playing rugby this afternoon."

Owen snorted "Ianto plays rugby!"

"God, I hate repeating myself. He is Welsh!" Gwen retorted. Seeing that she was required to offer more of an explanation she explained the circumstances. "While we were having our drink Rhys happened to mention that Harwood's is having their annual staff rugby match. Administration and warehouse plays against the drivers, or some such thing. It's this afternoon. Anyway Rhys is captain of the admin team and he was a bit irritable because he was short a player, someone to play on the wing. He asked Ianto to play, and Ianto said he would."

"So Rhys asked Ianto to play this afternoon?" Owen questioned the obvious.

"And Ianto agreed?" asked Tosh, surprised by this new and somewhat unexpected side to Ianto.

"He did, and he did. Ianto's exact words were, if I remember correctly, that he thought he'd enjoy a bit of banging heads and blood without the possibility of a mortal injury."

"Mmmm," moaned Jack with pleasure, "Gotta love the smell of testosterone in the afternoon."

Owen shook his head and spoke with some exasperation. "This conversation seems to get more and more weird, like it's in some parallel universe. Teaboy and the Beef Burger being together is strange enough. Like that's a pairing anyone would have predicted. But playing rugby together? Not even you would dare imagine that one, Jack."

"Well yeah, I suppose it is a little unexpected," mused Jack "... although now you come to mention it there's quite a lot I could imagine." A devilish grin began to form around his lips, and a glimmer of pleasure twinkled in his eyes, as he pictured a roughed up Ianto on the rugby pitch.

"You think they'd like some help with their bonding?" he asked of no-one in particular. Pretending to be oblivious to Gwen's groaned reaction Jack laced his voice with innuendo and continued "Maybe I could catch up with them in the changing rooms. And they'll have huge appetites once they're done so maybe I could help them…umm… make supper?" The lascivious smile he wore as he finished left no doubt as to the meaning he was giving to the word 'supper'.

"Bloody hell, Harkness," Owen spluttered. "Way to put me off my food."

"What! I'm just offering to help them get to know each other."

"I've got some idea of what that warped mind of yours is cooking up, but I don't want the recipe, thanks."

Jack smirked. "It could have been worse. I could have suggested helping with breakfast. Mmmm, a double serve of hot Welsh sausage." He leered at Owen, and smacked his lips together in a sign of appreciation at the thought of such a tasty meal.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gwen stand up and move back to her desk. She appeared to be foraging for something. Feeling as though he may have pushed the boundaries a little too personally Jack called out an apology "Sorry Gwen, that was probably going too far, even for me."

As she came back her attention was on her phone, the rapid movement of her thumbs suggesting she was sending someone a message. She lifted her head a moment or two later, as though she had just processed Jack's apology.

"What? Oh, sorry. No, no, it's all okay. It's all in your imagination anyway, and I'm kind of used to you now. Just remembered I had to text Rhys about my supper. Thought he might arrange to get a side dish to serve with main course, and since he's with Ianto…" she let her voice trail off to allow the implication of her words to settle.

Jack's mouth fell open in surprise as he attempted to sort his reaction to her response. He was unable to determine if his surprise at Gwen's matching his innuendo was greater than his displeasure at Ianto being considered a side dish for 'supper' with Gwen and Rhys. Before he could form a clear response Owen chimed in. His usual tone of sarcasm had returned.

"I knew it. A beef burger on its own doesn't satisfy."

"Keeps me very satisfyingly nourished," retorted Gwen, staring pointedly at him. "And I've come to appreciate home cooking, it really is so much more substantial than takeaway. I got tired of that very quickly."

Before Owen could respond to the implied challenge, their conversation was interrupted by a loud and very recognisable cough. One designed to grab their attention. They turned to find Ianto standing on the gangway a few yards away. Silence fell as they all wondered just how long he'd been standing there. Coming together in the middle of the workspace they stared at him, they stared long enough for Ianto to roll his eyes at their scrutiny.

"Something wrong or am I'm missing something?"

"Noooo, Ianto, I can honestly say you're not missing anything at all, definitely not," Gwen replied, her eyes roaming with considerable appreciation over the form of the man standing before them.

Suppressing a small cough and swallowing with difficulty, Tosh flushed slightly and added "I have to agree Ianto, there's absolutely nothing wrong at all."

Owen noticed that Jack had not said anything and chancing a sideways glance he saw a pair of eyes agog with amazement, a brow furrowed with confused wonder, and a jaw heading in the direction of the floor. Reaching across to his desk he located an old cleaning rag and shoving it at Jack he caustically remarked:

"Wipe your mouth before the drool stains your shirt."

After doing so in something of a haze, Jack returned his full attention to Ianto and stuttered out "I thought you'd gone."

"I'm going now. Just had a few things to finish up." Ianto smiled at them all. "The Weevil cages are clean and the inhabitants fed. I've restocked the field kits and the armoury is…well…armed. I've recharged all the stun guns, and made sure the latest version of Weevil spray is in all kits. The shooting range has a fresh set of targets and the Tourist Office a fresh set of brochures. I've watered the hot house plants and ensured the SUV has a full tank of petrol. All of yesterday's reports have been filed with cross referencing on the system and last week's Rift tech has been appropriately sorted, catalogued, and shielded. Myfanwy's been fed and Jubilee will be delivering the pizzas I've ordered for your dinner around 6 o'clock. I've also ordered you coleslaw. Stack the boxes on the coffee table when you're done because I've emptied all the bins. Your field clothes from yesterday have been washed and are in the dryers, a separate one for each of you so your stuff doesn't get mixed. I'll fold it all tomorrow morning after I've picked up the dry cleaning on the way in. That's it. Don't think I've forgotten anything. Oh yes," he smiled at them. "I've cleaned the kitchen sink."

Leaning backwards Tosh threw a quiet comment behind the backs of Gwen and Jack to Owen, "Oi, ye of little faith. What do you say now?"

Owen responded in a genuinely awed manner "Consider me a convert."

Jack too was evidently impressed "Wow Ianto, that's quite a list, you're quite the remarkable talent."

Seeing Ianto grin at the implied double-meaning in Jack's compliment, Owen decided to venture across thin ice by tentatively asking "You couldn't spare a few minutes to make a coffee, could you?"

Ianto's smile was broad and knowing and his otherwise deadpan delivery had the faintest trace of enjoyment.

"Sorry. Did I forget to mention that I've made coffee sufficient for the afternoon and evening? How remiss of me. It's stored in the thermal cups I found in the archives so it will stay hot and not become bitter. Teaspoons are in the drawer to the left of the sink. Sugar is in the bowl on the bench and your different preferred milks are all in the fridge. I would of course have added those for you but the cups work best on straight black coffee so I'm afraid you'll have to add it yourselves. And there we are, everything's now covered. I'll be off. See you all tomorrow."

"Not quite yet, Ianto." In an attempt to regain control of the situation Jack folded his arms across his chest in his best 'please explain' manner and attempted to adopt a stern voice. "I think you've left something off your list."

He looked Ianto up and down, leaving no doubt as to the omission.

"Ah yes. Well, as you all seem to have noticed, I also found time to get changed."

And he had. Gone were the impeccably tailored suit, the perfectly starched and ironed red shirt, and the not to be overlooked waistcoat. Gone too were the classically knotted silk tie and the fastidiously buffed shoes. Gone, it seemed, was the stopwatch. Completely gone was the only costume everyone agreed defined Ianto Jones.

In its place: a form defining midnight blue track suit, a tautly stretched v-necked white t-shirt, and unscuffed black sneakers. Blue-black shadows of afternoon stubble, a glimpse of black chest hair above the v-neck collar, and a broad white smile almost completed the look. A pair of twinkling blue eyes and some mussed up black hair finally brought together the new costume. A costume that would, in the future, re-write the definition of Ianto Jones.

"It's quite a big change, Ianto," Jack remarked, as he maintained his stiff demeanour.

"Bit difficult to play rugby in a suit, Sir," Ianto replied.

"True, perhaps you have a point." It was becoming harder for Jack to put his words together.

"A very large point," murmured Gwen. Half turning her body toward Tosh, and leaning in close to her ear she asked, "Have you noticed what's on for lunch?"

Covering her mouth with a fist as she tried not to giggle, Tosh whispered back, "An all you can eat buffet indeed."

"Yep, more like a banquet really," Gwen returned.

"But which dish would you start on?" asked Tosh with a delighted smile. "Hypothetically, of course."

After a moment of consideration of Ianto, Gwen whispered. "Would it matter? I do think we need to add to our list of virtues."

"I'll be adding to the database," Tosh assured her.

Struggling to keep hold of his response to an Ianto equipped for athletic sport, Jack became aware of the nature of the whispering alongside him. He cast what he hoped was a reproving look at Gwen and Tosh and said "It would appear Jones, Ianto Jones, your new look is having quite an impact on your colleagues."

With a quirk of an eyebrow Ianto flashed Tosh and Gwen his knowing smile and bounced the ball right back. "Is it indeed? No need for fifty-first century pheromones then."

Taken aback by the rapidity of the response Jack sought for a way to escape. The look of disbelief on Owen's face as he stared at Ianto was the way out he needed. "I also happen to notice that someone else is unusually quiet. Congratulations Ianto, you've managed to silence Owen."

"I'll tick it off the bucket list then, shall I Sir? That would be Item number twenty three: make Owen speechless."

"Well, what would you like me to say?" a goaded Owen snorted.

"Nothing, Owen, which was precisely my point." Ianto closed the trap with a grin.

Tosh giggled slyly "But Owen, as his doctor you must have some opinion of how your patient looks. Are you sure you don't want to share it with us?"

"I'll pass on that, thanks," Owen replied without looking at her.

Fully aware of what she was doing, Tosh targeted Owen's weak spot. "Come on, humour us. Please give us the benefit of your professional expertise, it would be valued."

"Well, since you put it that way, yeah…as his doctor I can safely say he does look fit and healthy," Owen grudgingly responded. "That's just a professional opinion of course."

Jack gestured in Ianto's direction as though he was displaying a mannequin in a store window, and found it hard not to explode.

"Bugger the healthy bit Owen, why can't you just say he looks fit?"

"What…and swoon like you lot of fan-girls. Not a chance!" Owen retorted.

"Man up Harper, and grow some balls," Gwen shot back "What is it with twenty-first century men that you can't say another man is good looking or handsome?"

"Or HOT!" gushed Jack, finally releasing his pent-up desire to speak the one thought on his mind.

"Okay Owen, you can do this, say it: 'Ianto is gorgeous'…go on…" Tosh challenged.

"All right, all right." Owen threw his hands up as a concession of defeat. "Okay, I agree. Ianto Jones is gorgeous. A true god amongst men. There, I've said it. Happy now?"

"Oh yeah." Jack grinned and, pressing the point to its natural conclusion, he whispered "You want to join us for breakfast?"

"Err, still standing over here…" Ianto's exasperated wave returned their attention to him. He pulled his sleeve up over his wrist and checked the watch he was wearing. "Must go. Being picked up in…ah…just under five minutes."

"I doubt it will take that long," mumbled Gwen without thinking. As she realised the implication of her words she furiously tried to explain "No, I didn't mean it like that. Oh I'm sorry Ianto I wasn't thinking. No, I just meant Rhys will be early, he always comes early." Her eyes widened at the spluttering laughter of her colleagues.

"Best if you don't continue, Gwen," Ianto suggested before reaching down to pick up his kit bag. "Away I go, rugby calls!" He sounded genuinely excited at the prospect.

"Mad bloody fool," Owen mumbled. "What could possibly be enjoyable about squelching through the mud in the pouring rain chasing after men in shorts to grab a ball?"

"You have to ask?" snorted Jack.

"And here I thought Owen would be a natural for it," Ianto innocently reflected.

"And why would that be, Ianto?" Owen grumbled, still irritated by the confession the team had extracted.

The innocence of Ianto's expression proved to be deceptive. "Because a successful rugby player scores by playing well with his team mates."

"Ouch," groaned Owen, though he did smile. "Go on, Ianto, bugger off then."

Giving Tosh and Gwen a quick wink, and Jack a bemused smile, Ianto turned and made his way toward the exit. As if bound together by their responses to this different Ianto, the team moved as one down the gangway to follow him.

"Oh, and Jack," Ianto tossed over his shoulder as he walked to the cog door. "Since I'll be sharing a shower with Rhys I'll get you an answer to that question you asked me the other week."

Snapping out of her admiration of the rear view of the departing Ianto, Gwen's head swiveled in time to catch Jack looking as though he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. She swiveled back just as Ianto stepped through the now open door.

"And exactly what question was that?" she demanded.

Turning to face them all, he gave her a look of amusement before focusing a 'gotcha' grin on Jack.

"In simple terms: which stag do I think has the biggest antler? What some might call a stiff competition."

Ianto's cackling laughter faded behind the door as it rolled closed, leaving the Hub in total silence once more.


Additional Authors Note: Coming up in Chapter Two are naked Rhys and naked Ianto having a long conversation while sitting/lying/sprawling in the sauna at the rugby club.