Author's Note: Rhys and Ianto together is an idea that has interested me for some time: what would they say, how would they be with each other? Putting them together, naked, in a rugby club changing room seemed like a good idea – lots of opportunities for smutty innuendo. Then I began to write and things went in a different direction (and no, not THAT direction.) So what we have is something more serious, less overtly bantering than Chapter 1. It's also longer. Sorry! But it is Rhys the Rant and protective Ianto together so perhaps that's not surprising. I've also assumed, from Gwen's comment at her wedding reception about 'no secrets in this marriage', that she and Rhys talked frankly about Torchwood and Jack in the aftermath of Meat. Anyway, enough justification. I hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood or the characters – and so I make no money from this. BBC/Starz do, and it seems they've disclaimed ownership too. Which is probably wise given what they did to Torchwood in Miracle Day – Jack's blood makes Rex immortal? Really? Pay attention to your own canon RTD.
Gratitude: To those who added this story to their Favorites or Follows : you made it worthwhile and I sincerely thank you; that you did so gives me real delight and pleasure and an incentive to continue. For those who took the time to review: many special thanks, the response was beyond anything I could have hoped for and I'm delighted and thrilled. Thank you.
Enormous Gratitude: I struggled with this chapter for a long time, kept hitting brick walls and road blocks. And through it all my beta, Cerih, sat quietly on my shoulder: reassuring me, challenging me and most of all calming my insecurities. Without that support there would not be this. Thank you Cerih, this is for you.
"Oi, Ianto!" Rhys Williams bellowed across the rain sodden rugby pitch as he untied protective padding from around the goal posts. "Couldn't give us a hand collecting up the field gear, could you, mate?"
The annual staff rugby match of Harwood's Haulage, which pitched administration and warehouse staff against the haulage drivers, had concluded five minutes previously. All that remained to do was collect assorted equipment and rubbish from around the ground. Most of the players had already sought refuge from the rain by retreating to the changing rooms in search of a hot shower.
"Not a problem, Rhys," Ianto yelled back through the rain before changing course and, instead of continuing toward the changing rooms, he made his way to the opposite end of the pitch.
Returning with the padding and boundary ropes from his end of the field he encountered Rhys in the storage room, and said, "There's still the first aid kit, the water bottles and some rubbish to collect."
"Bloody typical, that lot are happy to play the game, but they're never around when the work needs doing," Rhys grumbled, "and I'll bet they use all the hot water. Bloody great that'll be, do the work and get a cold shower as a reward."
Ianto slapped him on the back and replied with a laugh, "Come on, Rhys, what's a little rain to us locals, get it done and we can get under a hot shower." He dashed back out into the rain, with Rhys tagging behind and together they collected the last of the equipment and cleared the remaining rubbish.
The match had been played in what Ianto considered to be perfect conditions for rugby: squally and wet and muddy. It had been a hard physical game and Ianto had reveled in the sense of adrenalin and energy it had created. He'd realised that he was feeling exhilarated from the opportunity it had provided to indulge in rough physical competition without an accompanying mortal threat. For a few hours he'd had the opportunity to forget Torchwood and its dangers, and to enjoy being a man playing a sport he loved, despite the accompanying battering and bruising. He said as much to Rhys as they finished stowing all the gear and made their way to the changing rooms.
Apart from a few stragglers in the final stages of dressing, the rooms were almost empty. One of those remaining called out to them, "Sorry, Rhys, these buggers used all the hot water. Looks like it's a cold shower for you two."
"What did I bloody say, a freezing shower, that's all I need," Rhys moaned.
Ianto was about to respond when a gruff voice behind them called out, "It should be okay in a while, Rhys, if you've got some time." They turned to see the clubhouse caretaker coming toward them. As he reached them he continued, "Plus the sauna's been on for a while. I put it on thinking you folk might appreciate the warmth but everybody just seems to want to get home. Seems a pity to waste it."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," replied Rhys. He turned to Ianto. "Gwen's working late so I don't have to rush off. We could do that instead of going to the pub for that drink, what do you think?"
"If it means you lose the grumpiness, I'm all for it," joked Ianto in agreement.
"Good lads, you'll have to rinse the mud off first, though," the caretaker laughed, "so you'll still have to have a bit of a cold shower. And I'll leave you my key, Rhys. Lock up when you're done and drop the key in the usual spot."
"Will do, and thanks, Sid, you've been a great help today." With a nod, the caretaker left them. Looking around they noticed that the last straggler was about to follow him out the door. Shedding their mud covered gear quickly they dashed under the showers, and braced themselves for the freezing water. Neither of them was tempted to linger, and they stayed just long enough to get rid of the mud.
"This is too bloody cold for me, so come on then, bender boy, let's go thaw out," joked Rhys as he cleared the last of the mud away, in an attempt at showing he was no longer grumpy and his blokey good spirits had returned.
Starting a little at the choice of phrasing Ianto followed Rhys to the sauna, saying as he walked, and with an edge to his voice, "Not bender, Rhys, just … it's Jack, just Jack, okay?"
"Not men in general, then?" Rhys seemed genuinely puzzled as he pulled the door open.
Realising that Rhys's confusion was honest and his comment not malicious, Ianto replied more peaceably as they entered the warmth, "It hasn't been, no. Jack's the one and only, to date."
"Well I won't deny that's a relief," Rhys mumbled, as he removed his towel and sprawled face down on an upper level bench nearest the door, his head coming to rest on his folded arms.
Ianto took a moment to quizzically raise an eyebrow at him. Unhitching his towel from his waist and laying it on the bench on the opposite side of the sauna, he replied with a trace of challenge in his voice, "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."
Rhys waved his hand at him and then around the sauna. "You know: you, me, sauna, naked, might be a bit uncomfortable if you were completely bender."
"Why? Might you be tempted to dabble in something new?" Ianto began to chuckle as he settled face up on his towel, "Well, I presume it would be new, that is!" His chuckle broke into a full laugh on noticing a small scowl pass across Rhys's face. "I'm not serious, mate. It's a funny thing about being around Jack and Torchwood, your boundaries get expanded. Kind of get used to all sorts of possibilities."
"Maybe in your world, but it's not like that in my world," Rhys replied with sincerity, "just an ordinary average bloke, I mean I know Cardiff has its share of alternative relationships and people live differently to me, but it's a different world to the one I live in. Or it was, before Gwen met you guys."
Ianto shrugged and replied, "You're making it sound a bit like aliens really. You know they're probably out there but as long as they're not on your planet you can pretend they don't exist. Bit weird when you discover they're here in Cardiff living amongst you."
"Whoa, easy on, mate. I wasn't meaning it like that. Just I've had no cause to stretch my boundaries until now, I suppose."
"Yeah, good old twentieth century boundaries, we grew up with them and they tend to stick. And still with us in the twenty-first century." Ianto grew serious and sitting up he said, "Look, Rhys, if this is seriously making you uncomfortable, this - what did you call it: you, me, sauna, naked - we can risk a cold shower, get dressed and go find a beer or something."
Rhys acknowledged the genuine nature of Ianto's suggestion by sitting up and slumping back against the wall. He took a long breath and let it out slowly before he began to speak, "Shit no, Ianto. I'm sorry, I'm screwing this up. Typical me, trying too hard to cover the fact I really am bloody nervous."
Noticing the brief flicker of Ianto's brow he hurried on, "Not about you, or you and Jack. It really doesn't bother me. This doesn't bother me." He waved a hand around the small space. "Nah, it's just …it's Torchwood …there's too much I want to say, and so much to ask."
He looked away and ran his hands through his hair in frustration at himself. "And I don't know how to start or where, or if you're even interested in listening. And besides, the heat is good."
"It is that," Ianto replied and waited for Rhys to continue. When he didn't respond Ianto added, "and I'm happy to listen - who knows, I may even say something."
Recognising the encouragement, Rhys asked, "I suppose you suspected I had more than rugby on the agenda?"
Ianto grinned and winked. "Yep, made my heart flutter in anticipation."
"Oi, I hope that's all that's fluttering," Rhys shot back with slight exasperation.
Ianto laughed. "It is. Sorry to disappoint but no rush of blood, not happening."
"Geez, Ianto, I'm trying to be serious here," Rhys voiced a trace of frustration at Ianto's continuing teasing, "and I want to get to know you because I think you can help me understand this life Gwen's dragged me into."
"Okay, sorry, maybe it's my way of covering my own nervousness," Ianto admitted, "and this is unprecedented; a Torchwood staff member talking about Torchwood with the partner of a colleague."
"So you're worried about pillow talk revelations, that you'll say something that will get back to Gwen?"
"Partly that, yeah." He thought for a minute. "So given where we are, why don't we say rugby club rules apply?"
"What's said in the clubrooms stays in the clubrooms? Sounds good to me," agreed Rhys as he held out his hand to seal the agreement. "Let the first meeting of the Torchwood Husbands' Naked Bonding Club begin."
"Use that term around Jack and it'll be the last meeting," Ianto replied with a grin, taking the offered hand, "and the floor is yours, Mr Chairman. Why don't you begin with what you already know?"
Releasing their hands they sat back, and Rhys began, "Gwen has told me quite a bit, we've had days of it in fact. That trip to Paris we had the other weekend, it was supposed to be a romantic getaway but it didn't quite turn out like that."
"No? I'm surprised because Gwen said she had a great time."
With a small sigh Rhys described the weekend, "Don't get me wrong it was great, but it became a debrief on her real life with Torchwood in the last year and a bit. So no museums, no Eiffel Tower, just lots of walking and talking, discussions over coffee, and sitting around in the room with her filling me in, and me asking lots of questions."
"But you must have felt better, relieved perhaps, after all that? I imagine there were some surprises in there," suggested Ianto, trying to gauge how Rhys felt now about Torchwood.
"You mean like her boss is a time-travelling man from the fifty-first century?" Rhys quipped before laughing at the look of astonishment on Ianto's face. "I did say there was lots of talking! And the truth is: it was worth giving up all the sightseeing to be able to get to a point at the end of it where I could say to myself I still want to spend the rest of my life with this woman."
At seeing a questioning flash pass across Ianto's face, Rhys acknowledged his new reality. "Yeah, mate, I know. But we don't know it for certain, and we're getting married - we're going to have kids, buy a house, grow old together, grand-kids, trips abroad. The whole boundaried box and dice. I get that it's changed but I want all that with her, and honestly, sometimes I don't know what to do with my anger at her for choosing to join you lot."
"Perhaps play more rugby," proposed Ianto lightly as he stretched and lay face down on his towel. The quirk of his eyebrow suggested he understood and there was little he could say to allay any of that particular anger.
The remark brought the intended result, as Rhys slumped back against the wall and laughed softly. "Yeah, maybe I should, a bit more banging heads and hard tackles could work wonders."
As Ianto began to chuckle he managed to say around his laughter, "Don't mention hard tackles to Jack or you'll be in a stiff competition before you know it."
With an overly dramatic sigh Rhys fell back into a horizontal position on his towel and groaned, "That is a visual I do not need! No way would my tackle be hard anywhere near Jack Harkness."
"And here I hoped to answer the big question."
"And exactly what question was that?"
"That's exactly what Gwen asked," Ianto noted, before relating his view of the first meeting between Jack and Rhys, and of its likeness to stags butting antlers. As he listened with amusement Rhys began to chuckle, and by the story's end he was guffawing with mirth.
"Did it really look like that?" Rolling over onto his side and propping his head on his hand, Rhys asked the question with genuine curiosity.
"I was looking for a tape measure, Tosh wanted to sell popcorn, and I believe Owen was humming Macho Man," Ianto replied, "so stags butting antlers about sums it up."
"Fair call then," Rhys acknowledged with a laugh, "and there is something about Jack Harkness that makes me want to lock horns."
"Leaving that alone and moving on," remarked Ianto with dryness, "maybe that's why it's me, rather than Jack, having this conversation with you."
"Oh yeah, imagine how well that would go!" exclaimed Rhys, "I can tell you one thing: it wouldn't be happening in here."
"Probably just as well, too small a space, I doubt it could contain the testosterone," Ianto mused.
"Is he always like that? I mean you didn't exactly refute the suggestion that he can show off."
"He wasn't alone in that, Mr Rhys the Rant," Ianto retorted and it was his turn to laugh at the astonishment created by a quick comment. "You're not the only one who's listened to Gwen!"
"Another fair call," conceded an abashed Rhys, "Gwen gets bit annoyed with me sometimes, especially if we're out in public."
"I'm sort of with her, although it can be really funny too. Jack does play it up for some people and it's always interesting to see their reactions." He laughed at a particular memory, "We were out on a date -" Rhys cut across him:
"A date…woo hoo…lucky you," he wryly muttered, "I wish I could have one of those."
"I'm presuming not with Jack," came the droll response.
Rhys laughed warmly. "Not even if it was the end of the universe. I meant a date with Gwen, she's either busy with you lot or tired out and just wants a night in. These days it's bloody difficult to plan, and if we do get out sure enough the blasted phone goes off and she's gone, leaving me with a half-finished meal and the bill. Makes me envious of how much time you get to spend with Jack."
Ianto laughed a full laugh. "Yeah, the perfect romantic date, wrestling a sewage covered Weevil into the back of the SUV, or searching through rubbish bins in an office for a bomb, real romantic that is! It'd be nice to have the full dinner and movie thing again without interruption."
"Couldn't agree more!" Rhys concurred before suggesting, "so, if you're doing romantic dating, you must be getting serious about Jack, obviously more than a part-time shag."
Ianto gave him a look that was part humour and part warning. "Owen called it that once. I shot him." Rolling over onto his back he stretched his arms over his head and reached backwards toward the wall behind him. Extending his legs in the opposite direction and flexing his toes, he enjoyed the relaxing effects of a full body stretch while he waited for Rhys to respond.
"You shot him!"
"Yep." Ianto brought his right arm over his head and reached for his right leg. Bending it at the knee he brought his thigh to rest on his chest, feeling a soothing stretch in his hamstring muscle.
"But you could have killed him!"
"Yep." Lowering his leg back to rest on the bench, Ianto performed the same stretch for his left thigh, again feeling the release of tension in his muscles.
"Obviously you didn't."
"Nope, shot him in the shoulder instead," came the casual reply as Ianto lowered his left leg, before bringing both thighs toward his chest, gently releasing the soreness that had accumulated in his lower back during the match.
Noticing Rhys's wide eyed expression Ianto turned his head to look fully at him and said, "I could have killed him, my aim's certainly true enough, but I didn't want to; far too much paperwork and we'd need to find a new doctor."
"Now I know you're not serious," relaxing back, Rhys began to chuckle.
Ianto fixed him in place with a raise of his eyebrows, and his chuckling stopped.
"You are bloody serious. About shooting him, I mean."
"Serious about the paperwork too, you wouldn't believe the bother a death can create," Ianto dryly replied as he lowered his legs and arms back into a fully stretched position.
"I can't work out if you're serious or not," responded Rhys, now genuinely confused.
"I am serious, I did shoot him and I do hate the paperwork," replied Ianto with a roll of his eyes.
"Okay, but shooting him for calling it a part-time shag? Bit excessive, don't you think?"
"He was also about to do something I knew Jack wouldn't want him to do." Ianto brought his arms down and folding them he let his head rest on them.
"So when you don't like what someone's doing you shoot them! Geez, remind me not to underestimate you," commented Rhys with some astonishment.
"People often do, Rhys, and sometimes I have to remind them why they shouldn't."
"I'd best tread carefully then," Rhys replied, before chuckling, "fortunately for me, you've got no pockets at the moment!"
"Lucky you indeed," Ianto agreed and then returned the conversation to its main purpose. "So what else are you curious about?"
Rhys took a moment to think, "There was an odd thing Gwen said about Jack, she said he has these really strong pheromones. Is that true?" There was an element of hopefulness in the way Rhys asked the question.
"Ah yes." Ianto shook his head and laughed. "The famous fifty-first century pheromones."
Puzzled by the response Rhys tried to explain his curiosity, "She said he jokes about them as though they're some sort of attraction magnet and she kind of wondered if your getting involved with Jack was a reaction to the pheromones."
"Nope, not the pheromones, just Jack," replied a bemused Ianto.
"But maybe it is the special pheromones you can't resist! I mean it is the first time you've been involved with a man. So it has to be something," Rhys continued with persistence.
Ianto turned his head and smiled. "It isn't the pheromones, Rhys: it's just him, it's simply the man himself."
"So you can't blame the pheromones?"
"Why would I want to blame something, there's no reason to be blaming anyone or anything. It happened, I was attracted to him and it turns out it was mutual, there's nothing to blame anyone for in that."
"Sorry," apologised Rhys, "wrong choice of word, but do you think it was the pheromones?"
As if wiping away the residue of such an influence Ianto ran his hands down his legs and flicked away the sheen of sweat that had accumulated. He performed the same clearing action on his arms. He swung his body into a sitting position and brought his hands to rest on the bench on either side of his legs. Leaning forward slightly he finally responded, "No, I don't, nor would I want to make it be just that. If I did I'd be pretending the attraction isn't real, and it most definitely is real. So it's not as simple as 'oh it's just the chemicals', we're both too complex and human for that."
"Not the pheromones, okay," observed Rhys somewhat ruefully.
"Ahh," said Ianto after a little as he began to understand what might lie beneath Rhys's persistence in focusing on his particular line of questioning. "You wouldn't be worried about the impact of those pheromones on Gwen perhaps?"
"A bit, yeah…okay, yes of course," Rhys conceded. "The man's got Hollywood looks and fifty-first century genetics."
"Not helped by the jawline." Ianto laughed as he once more lay back.
"Yeah, he is handsome, that can't be denied by anyone with a working pair of eyes," agreed Rhys , matching Ianto's laugh, "but, bloody hell, Ianto, how am I supposed to compete with that, being I'm just you're average twenty-first century Welshman?"
Chuckling at his blatant stirring of Rhys's insecurities Ianto dramatically ran his eyes over Rhys's body before remarking slyly, "You're not too bad, and from what I can see, the important bits are certainly above average."
"Geez, thanks for that, but not enough above average to give you the rush. Should be bloody offended, I should," Rhys returned in kind.
"And there's the old rock and a hard place conundrum," muttered Ianto.
Rhys turned his head and looked at Ianto quizzically for a few moments before his expression altered, reflecting his understanding of Ianto's meaning, and he laughed, "Ahh yeah, I see. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. I'm nervous if you do get a blood rush and I'm offended that you don't, so you're in a no win position."
"That's about the size of it, no pun intended, and probably best we don't discuss positions," quipped Ianto in response and their good humoured chuckling found further cause for continuing.
After a little, as their laughter settled, Rhys waggled his eyebrows and asked, "So, who do you think would win a stiff competition?"
Playing a straight bat Ianto drove the ball straight back. "Dunno Rhys …probably needs harder tackling to decide." They both groaned at the thought before Rhys remarked, "I left myself wide open for that one."
"A wide open Rhys in a stiff competition, now that's an image sure to get the blood rushing," came the dry reply.
"Bugger off, mate, you're too bloody quick for me. And my brain already needs scouring from the image of Harkness's hard tackle so no need to make it worse."
"Point taken, but you needn't worry - Jack may be a fifty- first century man, but you and I, well we're Welsh, we have our own genetic advantage."
"National symbol: the leek!" guffawed Rhys, and they laughed together with the shared camaraderie of men proud of their nationality, before he added, "thank god for that eh, wouldn't want to be some under-slung Englishman."
"Indeed not," Ianto cautiously replied.
As the last of the exchange hung in the air with unspoken implication, Rhys raised himself and swung his legs off the bench. Stepping down on to the floor, he stretched his arms wide, and shook himself like a wet dog before walking to the heating element. Scooping a ladle of water from the wooden bucket he tipped it onto the hot stones, releasing a sizzle of steam. He repeated the action, and then stood still, feeling the immediate effect of the increase in heat.
Ianto waited in silence for Rhys to pick up and continue the conversation, wondering in which direction he would take it.
After a minute's thought, Rhys turned to face Ianto, saying as he did, "I know about Owen."
"Thought you might have, given the comment," Ianto said and then allowed the silence to provide the prompt for Rhys to continue. Taking the hint Rhys went on, "It wasn't a total surprise, although she probably could have picked a better place to tell me than a bistro in Paris."
"I imagine that killed the romantic dinner idea," mused Ianto.
"It did for a bit, but at the time and after everything else she'd told me it seemed, I dunno, maybe insignificant. It was a while ago, and it had stopped. Doesn't mean it didn't upset me because it did, but I listened and I could kind of understand the why, if not the who. And it wasn't the worst of the secrets she'd been keeping."
"That honour going to…?"
"The whole bloody thing really, Torchwood, the job, aliens, the fact she wasn't working for Special Ops like she'd said. The fact she wasn't just doing paperwork and filing, but she was armed, and dealing with dangerous situations. All of it I suppose. So saying she'd had an affair with someone at work, well that was just another bit of madness in the whole mad thing."
"It is mad," Ianto acknowledged with a laugh.
Wearing a sheepish grin as he sat back on his towel, Rhys made an admission, "Funny thing is, Ianto, when she told me who it was with I was genuinely surprised."
"Because it was Owen? Yeah, it's reason enough for surprise," Ianto snarked.
Rhys laughed a little and then spoke with some trepidation, "Honestly, I was surprised because I presumed it had been with Jack."
"I guessed you might, given your interest in the pheromones, and they do have a weird kind of relationship," Ianto acknowledged the reason for Rhys's nervousness.
"You've noticed it?"
"Hard not to," Ianto sardonically replied.
"I guess so. It worried me, you know, her admiration of him. Every time she mentioned him: 'Jack does this' …'Jack says that' …the wide-eyed look, the smiles she got when she talked about him, it did get me worried. And there was a lot of it. Took me a while to realise that maybe it wasn't that kind of attraction, it was like she had a crush on him – like a schoolgirl might have," Rhys concluded his explanation, "So I realised in the end she thinks he's a bit of a hero, a bit of a god."
"I'll build a shrine." Ianto laughed genuinely at the idea, imagining how it would delight Jack.
Rhys scrutinised him for a moment, as if appraising his humour, before inhaling deeply. On his exhale he said quietly:
"Kind of appropriate in the circumstances, don't you think? Maybe you should create a new religion. 'Worship the Resurrection Man: comes back from the dead after three days.' There is a precedent for it." The laugh Rhys gave was devoid of humour.
Ianto took a moment to absorb the implications of what Rhys had acknowledged, before saying simply, "Gwen told you."
"I'm not sure she intended to, it sort of came out as an aside at first – she was telling me about how she got involved with Torchwood, and something she said had me ask what she meant. It went from there," Rhys offered by way of explanation, hoping to convince Ianto that the revelation had not been intentional.
"I imagine that was a bit of a surprise for you, and tough for her."
"Of everything she told me, it was the closest I saw Gwen come to falling apart." Rhys closed his eyes as if to retrieve the exact memory of the moment. When he opened them again he began to speak in a voice full of emotion. "Telling me that was awful for her. I can't forget her words, 'Jack can't die, Rhys, he can't die. You can kill him, but he gets back up again. Kill him again and he'll get back up again - again and again and again.'"
"So I said to her 'he's immortal then' and she lost it. In a bloody Paris park. She was punching me she was, both fists, and shouting at me: 'No, that's the bloody point, Rhys, he does die. An immortal can't die, but he can. He does. He dies over and over. And every time, he comes back and lives again.' She was shaking and crying and somehow shattered."
He paused for a moment and then quietly said, "And I got it. Not only does he die repeatedly, but he comes back to life repeatedly. He could go on doing that forever. And how do you do that? We have to make the most of one life, there's an incentive to do it well, but what incentive does someone like Jack have?"
A small shifting of position and a slight tensing of limbs suggested Ianto found the subject a sensitive one. "I haven't really thought about it like that before. I suppose it's easy to say he's got Torchwood and the purpose that provides. Who knows? I imagine he'll do what you've suggested the rest of us do -make the most of life."
Caught up in his speculations, Rhys failed to notice Ianto closing his eyes and folding his arms on his chest, and went on, "But he'll have to do it over and over. Not just the ordinary daily things but he could fall in love again and again, watch people grow and then age, he could find and lose love over and over."
"Yes, that he could." Ianto brought an arm up to cover his eyes in the hope it would more clearly signal his discomfort at the direction of the conversation.
"Yeah, and how brave will he have to be to do that? Me, I don't contemplate knowing that I'll love Gwen then lose her. We expect something to happen, when we're old. But then it's kind of natural. You expect that, so you get involved because it seems such a long way away. We have to believe she's going to be around to enjoy it, otherwise why do it? We – I – have to believe she'll survive Torchwood. I have to believe that I could die an old man in her arms. Just as you might, in Jack's arms."
Ianto removed the arm that had been resting across his eyes and sat up, leaning back against the wall as if seeking support. Only when he had settled into his new position did he lift his head and look fully at Rhys.
"That presumes he'll be there when I die. No guarantees of that, not with what we do." A look of resignation passed over Rhys's face as Ianto continued, "You do have to understand that, Rhys. In this work, there are no guarantees of a long life, no guarantees of dying in the arms of even a team member, let alone a loved one. And it could be any of us. Including Gwen."
Shaking his head, Rhys reached for the corner of his towel and wiped away the beads of sweat that had accumulated on his brow. Dropping the towel back to the bench he faced Ianto and conceded, "Every time she goes out the door I think of it. I don't want to, but bloody hell, of course I do. I love her." He considered how to respond before saying with some hesitation, "I suppose it's something for Jack to have the team around, it must bring him some comfort to have you there."
Ianto's response gave Rhys another lesson in the certainties of Torchwood. "We're not always there when he dies. Nor are we always there when he comes back. It's a reality of what we do."
"Poor bastard," Rhys pondered, "to die alone would be bad enough, but to come back alone, that's got to be tough."
When Ianto didn't respond Rhys let the silence hang for several minutes, before allowing himself to ask the question he'd been turning over in his mind, "I wonder which is harder: dying over and over, or loving and losing over and over."
Ianto's response was sharp, "God, how to be blunt! That's a conversation Jack and I haven't had, and one that we won't have."
"So who do you talk about it with?"
"No one, Rhys." The glare was unmistakeable. "And you misunderstand me. When I say it's a conversation we won't have, I mean you and me. You and I won't be having that conversation."
Ianto shifted himself off the bench and into a standing position. He walked to the door, tension evident in his movements. "Back in a moment, just going to get some water. I'll bring you some," he said curtly before disappearing.
Dropping back against the wall Rhys let out a long breath, rubbed a hand through his hair, and reprimanded himself, "Good one, Williams, another fine effort at barging in without thinking." He closed his eyes and considered how his words could have sparked such a defensive response.
As Ianto came back in he tossed Rhys a bottle of water. Reflexively reaching out, he caught it with a single hand, and said without apology, "I reckon Gwen can be pretty clever. Maybe she thinks this bonding thing is a two-way thing. And I think maybe you could do with a mate to talk about it with as well. Didn't we agree rugby club rules apply?"
"Maybe you're right," Ianto allowed, "but some of it, honestly … I'm not good at talking about Jack like that, especially with others."
"And I'll guess there are some things you don't talk about with him?"
Settling back onto his towel, and propping himself against the wall Ianto brought his feet up to rest on the upper bench and dangled his arms over his knees. He clenched his water bottle with both hands. "All a little bit too early yet for some stuff, it's only been a few months of really getting to know each other in the way that allows that."
"Okay, I get that, it can take a while for some of the heavier stuff to emerge. Look at me and Gwen – ages together and we're still learning, and trying to work each other out," Rhys agreed before asking, "so you're not yet at the fully fledged 'we're a couple' stage?"
"Nope, not there yet."
Trying to lighten the atmosphere Rhys quipped, "Jack and Ianto: Beyond a shag, not yet a couple."
"That about sums it up," was Ianto's honest reply.
"Well, that's a pity," suggested Rhys with a grin.
Ianto looked puzzled. "And why would you think that?"
"Because, if you were a couple, having to say 'Jack and Ianto' might be a bit of a mouthful, so -"
"Don't go there, Rhys," Ianto replied with some exasperation.
Ignoring Ianto's warning Rhys carried on, "I'd have to give you a nickname, like one of those Hollywood couples."
"Don't you dare!" This time the warning sounded like a command.
Rhys began slapping his fists on the wood of the bench in imitation of a drum roll. "Yep, I've got it! I'm going to call you 'Janto'!" As Ianto simply stared at him Rhys roared at the ridiculousness of his own suggestion. "Oh that is priceless, I can't wait to tell Gwen. She'll go all gooey and say it's adorable – 'Janto', ah, god that's good."
When Ianto said nothing, Rhys quirked an eyebrow and sought a reaction. Although Ianto wasn't laughing, he had begun to grin and the look on his face suggested he was about to deliver some payback. He intoned in a flat voice, "It's very clever, Rhys, but such a pity you'll never be able to use it outside of here."
"Huh? Oh no, you wouldn't."
Ianto's grin was triumphant. "Yep, I would, I'm invoking rugby club rules."
"Aw, come on, Ianto, surely you won't make them apply to stuff like this."
"Sorry, Rhys, but we did agree, what's said in the club stays in the club. We shook on it, can't have you breaking your bond, can we? One violation and who knows where it would end."
Raising his water bottle in a toast Rhys conceded the point. "You're a hard man, Ianto Jones."
"Should have kept your mouth shut, Rhys, that's all." Ianto returned the toast.
"Maybe I should have. And while we are on the subject, you didn't answer my question. If you're not talking about it with Jack – you know, Torchwood and you and Jack and all that goes with it – just who do you talk about it with? There must be someone, surely?"
"No one. Truth is, I suppose, absolutely no one other than Jack and the team, and I don't say much to them," Ianto answered with a great deal of reservation evident in his voice. "It's like Tosh always says: 'who, outside of Torchwood, would understand?', and she's got a point."
"I suppose she has, and that must be tough for you. It's one of the reasons I could understand about Gwen's affair, the pressure of those secrets. Now of course she has an outlet. Perhaps you do need that?"
Ianto considered the gently prodding question. "Look, it's not as if Jack and I don't talk, because we really do, it's just that there's some things we haven't got to yet. Some of the big issue stuff. And it's not as if we're two ordinary men with regular lives." Ianto smiled with fondness. "And a lot of the time I don't need to talk, it's enough that he's there, we're there together. I really like those quiet times, the times when it's just us two in the Hub. We're good like that, being there, just in the moment. And if stuff happens that gets to me he's good, he understands, and he helps. I like to think I do the same for him."
Rhys replied quietly and with some admiration, "Sounds to me like you'll reach the couple stage sooner than you think, despite all you have to deal with. It also sounds like there are good reasons for hanging in there."
Ianto noticed the admiration and took his time to respond, considering whether to say what was on his mind. When he did reply he spoke so softly his words were absorbed in the heat.
"Sometimes I think it would be better to walk away. Take the amnesia pill, create a new identity and simply leave before the inevitable happens, or before Jack gets too enmeshed with me. Perhaps for both of us the loss could be easier to carry. I wouldn't remember and while he would, it would be a few short months in such a long life he'd forget soon enough. It might be kinder to him that way."
"You wouldn't do it, though?"
"There are some days I really do think about it. The reality of the world I live in; I'd be mad not to think about it."
"But you don't?"
Ianto gave a laugh devoid of feeling. "I almost did it, one day when Jack was gone and the team were falling apart. I even set up a new identity, had an escape to London all planned out."
"But you stayed, even though he was gone?"
"Something happened, something big that took us by surprise and we had to pull together. We acted like our own team; with or without Jack we were a team. " Ianto shrugged his shoulders at the reality that was Torchwood. "I felt like they'd run adrift if I wasn't there to anchor them."
Rhys laughed. "'Torchwood –Adrift in the Rift' … could be your new slogan. I like it."
"Consider me surprised," muttered Ianto.
"Oh yeah, and why is that?"
Ianto began to sing, "'You won't be sorry with a Harwood's Lorry'…one of yours I believe."
"Careful, mate, I was proud of that."
"You could release a single," Ianto returned.
Rhys chuckled, and took a swig from his water bottle. "Again you're too smart for me." He looked at Ianto with curiosity and suggested, "Jack's return makes it harder to leave."
"Yes, of course. And now that we're more involved it's almost impossible, but that doesn't stop the thought. Mainly when I've had a crap day - because the truth is I really couldn't do it." Ianto considered Rhys for a moment then asked, "Since we're talking about walking away, what about you? None of it made you think 'this is more than I can cope with'?"
"No, like I said, Paris was good for us in that sense. I will admit there was one time, one moment where I was so livid I could have just left Gwen there, I was so fucking furious." The slap Rhys gave to the bench with an open hand, and the toughening of his tone suggested his anger had not yet been completely resolved.
"I presume you're going to tell me why."
"That bloody drug you have, the amnesia pill."
"Retcon?" Ianto waited, wondering just how much Gwen had told Rhys about her use of the drug. His feeling that she might not have told the full story was confirmed when Rhys replied with some bitterness:
"Yeah that. Who cares what it's called, it's still an amnesia pill and she actually thought she could give it to me after I'd taken a bullet for her." He considered what he'd said. "Christ knows how she thought she'd explain a bullet hole."
Ianto avoided the omitted event and stated matter of factly, "We would have managed that for her, it would have been an easy cover story to create, but in the end we didn't need to, because you weren't given the Retcon."
"Oh, that's bloody great – 'an easy cover story', you'd do that?"
When Ianto shrugged and said nothing, Rhys scowled and went on, "That just makes it worse. But the thing that still makes me angry is she thought about giving it to me."
"She had to, and if Torchwood protocol had been followed we wouldn't be here having this conversation. So you could consider yourself lucky."
"And how exactly do you figure that?" Rhys replied with rising irritation.
"Easy, because Jack gave the Retcon to Gwen to give to you. He gave her the responsibility and therefore the choice. If he was absolutely determined you were to be retconned, he would have given it to me or to Owen to administer, and either of us would have done the job. But he didn't."
Waving a hand about as if to dismiss the comment Rhys replied in a voice laden with sarcasm, "Yeah, and isn't that easy. Pass the job to someone else to do, get the grunts to do the dirty work. Really brave that is."
Ianto's reaction was swift and his face blazed with fury, "Don't you fucking dare!"
Rhys balled his fists, and angrily fired back, "Tell me why not? What do I really know about good old Captain Jack? Her life's in his hands so tell me what he's really like when the chips are down …go on, tell me!
Still furious at the earlier remark, Ianto replied with some disdain, "You know what Gwen's told you, and she knows him, so maybe you should trust that."
Rhys reacted as though explaining the obvious, "Yeah, of course I know what Gwen's told me but we've already established she's a bit bloody besotted with him. So what does that tell me then, huh? Stuff all, is the truth."
Ianto glared at him. "I'll tell you this truth: He'd rather die for us than see us get hurt, and you can believe that!"
"Well he can, can't he? Not exactly a great sacrifice is it for the man who can't die? More like the great heroic cliché."
Ianto's eyes went wide with disbelief at the comment, and his face screwed with rage as he responded, "Don't be a prick, and listen to yourself! A minute ago you're saying 'poor Jack, it must be hard to die over and over', and now you're saying it means nothing. Which one is it, because it certainly can't be both?"
"I don't know! I don't fucking know if I can trust Harkness, alright! And what I saw on alien meat day didn't exactly fill me with confidence."
"You need to explain that."
Rhys sagged, some of his anger gone with the admission of his doubts, "Okay, here's what I saw. You lot disappear, no real plan for when you're in there. I've got no idea what's happening and next thing I'm being dragged into the warehouse by a bunch of goons. I'm thinking you guys are the experts, so you'll get me out of this. And what do I find instead? You're a captive of those idiots, with a pistol aimed at you head ready to blow your brains out, Owen's nowhere to be seen, and old Jackie boy is hiding down the back with the girls. No wonder it all went to shit and I got this." He pointed fiercely at the scar on his chest.
"Stuff happens unexpectedly, Rhys, as it did then." Seeing a look of disbelief on Rhys's face, Ianto hammered home his point, "And if Jack's instructions had been followed it might not have gone to shit and you might not have that scar."
"So why weren't they followed?"
"That's down to Gwen! She ignored him."
"So you want to blame her," Rhys sneered.
"Not blame, no, but assign some of the responsibility, yes. Jack instructed her not to step out and she disobeyed him." Ianto's voice had risen and he was again restraining his anger.
"Oh, you know that for certain do you, or are you just taking Jack's word?"
His anger rising further at the doubt cast on his integrity, Ianto barked, "I do, it's a fact, part C of Tosh's report."
"So she acted out of instinct," Rhys shouted back, his own defensive instincts ratcheting up, "hardly surprising in the circumstances!"
The look Ianto gave him was withering as he unleashed more of his anger, "That's the sort of instinct we can't afford. Because she didn't stop to think, she just barged out there. Doing exactly what she told you not to. Endangering us all because she didn't stop to think, she didn't listen."
"For god's sake, Ianto, she was only trying to help me."
Ianto jabbed the objection away. "She let her personal feelings get in the way of thinking."
"I was in danger! What else was she supposed to do?" Rhys demanded.
"And so was I!" Ianto roared back. "She was supposed to wait and let Jack lead, and then follow his orders. But she didn't, and it all went to shit."
Frustrated and angry at having had one argument cut down Rhys latched on to something Ianto had said earlier, "So that's what you do, is it? Just follow Jack's orders and it will all be okay! No matter what? Giving me that pill would have been okay with you because Jack ordered it?"
Taking a breath to calm himself, Ianto lowered his voice, "Actually no, Rhys, I wasn't okay with it. After what you did and who you are, no, I wasn't. And believe me, Jack and I had a pretty strong discussion about it later." Ianto looked away as he recalled the vehemence he and Jack had each brought to that discussion. "If you must know, we had a heated argument about you and that whole day."
Sensing that Rhys was about to throw an argument back at him, Ianto brought his focus back and stared him down. He continued with quiet force, "That's only an answer to your first question, so hang on a moment would you? You want the answer to the second question, here it is: yes, I would have given you the Retcon if I'd been ordered to, whatever my misgivings."
Ianto's words inflamed Rhys's already stoked aggression and he sneered, "Jack commands and so you obey. Yeah, good response, Ianto, classic soldier boy response! I was only doing my duty! If you had those sorts of misgivings why would you simply follow an order like that?"
"Because I trust Jack Harkness to make the right decisions with hard choices, and I've learned not to pick and choose." The retort shot across the gap between them with the full force of Ianto's furious conviction and it slapped Rhys hard. He slumped, chastised and breathing heavily, against the sauna wall.
As the aftershocks of his outburst subsided the rise and fall of his chest became less pronounced, but he was still visibly shaking when he muttered, "Give us a minute will you, I'm just going to get some more water- you need some?"
"Sure," Ianto replied, tossing his empty water bottle across the space between them. He watched as Rhys slid off the bench and walked wearily to the door. As it closed behind him Ianto stepped down from his bench and stretched. Clasping his hands behind him and pulling them backwards he released the tension in his shoulders with a loud exhale. "Phew," he said quietly as he unclasped his hands and shook his limbs, "that was intense." He took a couple of strides to the water bucket and threw some water on the stones, before settling on the corner of the lower bench and facing the heater. Shaking his head before closing his eyes, he brought his breathing back to a more regular pace, and consciously focused on slowing his heart rate.
After a little he rested his elbows on his knees, and let his head drop forward. He was still occupied with massaging his scalp with both hands when a cold blast of air indicated that Rhys had returned. Conscious that only a single step had been taken, Ianto lifted his head slightly and saw an outstretched hand. Taking from it the refilled water bottle it held he said quietly:
"Rhys, you'll need to shut the door,you're letting in the cold air."
"I wasn't sure whether…" came the hesitant response.
Stepping back, Rhys pulled the door closed and then sat on the end of the opposite bench. As Ianto had done he too angled himself toward the heater, commenting in a subdued manner, "Looks a bit like we're having a fireside chat."
Rather than respond immediately Ianto merely nodded and drank a deep draught of water. Once he'd finished he placed the bottle on the floor between his feet, and remarked quietly, "no flames."
"But nice heat though," a still wary Rhys responded, before taking a deep breath and saying, "Sorry about the flare up."
"Yeah, me too, but it wasn't unprecedented, I have seen you do the alpha male thing before," Ianto returned with a touch of humour.
Rhys sheepishly laughed, "True enough …though you were quite a bit alpha yourself. Surprised me, that did."
Quirking an eyebrow, and with a measured tone of seriousness, Ianto indicated what he thought of Rhys's surprise. "I thought we covered the underestimating thing a while back. Besides, you were being a prick."
"Yeah, I suppose I was."
On hearing the concession, Ianto relaxed a little more and began to chuckle quietly.
Rhys asked, "What's funny?"
Ianto shrugged a wry grin and answered, "Tosh would have made a fortune selling popcorn, and Jack, well we know what Jack would have thought!"
"Let me guess, he would have found it all a bit homo-erotic," Rhys replied, "and would have offered to help us with our bonding."
"You're learning," offered Ianto before they fell into a reflective silence.
Each took another swig of his water before Rhys marshaled his courage and expressed his regret, "I really do apologise, Ianto, some of the things I said …I guess I just don't know enough." Holding his hand up to prevent Ianto from responding he went on, "But I have to ask this because I do need to know: how does Jack merit that much trust?"
"He merits it because he's earned it," was Ianto's simple reply.
"Can't you give me a bit more than that, please?" Rhys quietly implored. "I really do want to understand."
"Short answer is we have had several hard lessons in why we should. Lessons where we didn't listen, where we disobeyed him and there were huge costs as a result."
"Can you give me an example or two? They'd help."
Ianto thought about the request for a moment and then, shaking his head, replied, "It's the one area I think you should ask Gwen about. If she hasn't talked about it in detail it's not my place to tell you. Some of it is about all of us, some of it about me. Tell her she has my permission to tell you the stuff that involves me." He noticed that again Rhys was not satisfied with his reply so he tried another approach.
"Hear me out, Rhys, and think about it because it might help you understand. Start with this: you know who Jack is, you know what he is, that he's a time traveling man born in the fifty-first century, a man who dies and comes back repeatedly. You know that. Now think what that means for how much Jack has seen, how much he has experienced."
"When you put it like that, yeah, I suppose…" Rhys replied. His brow furrowed with some puzzlement as he thought further about Ianto's statement, "Actually it's a bit more than I can comprehend."
Rather than being side-tracked Ianto maintained his purpose, "And he's seen it all in more time than either you or I can understand, that's important too. Jack's been with Torchwood for nearly as many years as the rest of the team have been alive put together. He's seen so much, he knows almost too much. So he understands consequences and ramifications in ways we can never hope to. It's why we can't afford to second guess him, because all of that is what qualifies him to make the decisions he has to make."
Pondering this perspective Rhys arrived at a conclusion, "All of which makes him the right choice to lead Torchwood, and, by extension that means giving the orders."
"That's about it. You can't have him protecting Gwen and, at the same time, have us questioning his orders. It's not possible to have both. And his decisions and his orders are all based on who he is and what his experience has been. And that's why I trust him." When Rhys nodded his understanding, Ianto sat back and stretched his arms wide along the edge of the upper bench, pleased they'd reached some form of acceptable resolution.
After drinking the rest of the water in his bottle, Rhys reached down and scooped a ladle of water from the bucket. He poured it over his head, and rubbed it over his face before relaxing back into a position that mirrored Ianto. "There is one other thing in all of this that I am curious about. Gwen said all of you were angry with her at her decision– so why were you angry with her when you didn't agree with giving me the Retcon?"
"You want the truth?"
"Gwen said some stuff about the rest of us that was unfair and a bit dismissive of us. And she was gloating. Those comments more than anything made me, and I suspect the others, angrier than we might have been if it had all been handled with less emotion."
"Ahh, Gwen gave a bloody classic performance I suppose. Has a go at me for not thinking before I open my mouth, and from the sounds of it she did the same thing."
"Well, I can't say I'm surprised, she can be a bit fiery. We have some knock down struggles, but that isn't an excuse is it?" Noticing that his question was met with a non-committal tilt of Ianto's head, Rhys sighed, "The complete truth, Ianto, is that I know that she can be bloody impulsive and reactive without thinking. She always knows best and she can forget other people. It scares the hell out of me that she'll get hurt, or cause someone else to be hurt because of it. It's why I wonder so much about how you look out for each other, it's why I needed to know how capable Jack is, and it's the main reason I wanted to have this sort of conversation."
"Wow, that is honest."
Rhys shrugged. "I know all that about her, and I know what it is that she's chosen, and I still want to marry her - I want that long life with her, and I don't want her to lose it because she gets carried away."
They sat in silence for a short while as Ianto formed a response that would convey his respect for both the honesty and the concerns. "Everyone on the team is different - we've all got our stuff and our strengths. We need Gwen as much as we need anyone else, which is how, in the end, you got to keep your memories." He considered what to say next. "Believe me, we know how Gwen can be, just as we know how Jack can be or Tosh, or Owen, and they all know how I can be. We work as a team, and our priority is the safety of the team. We really have come to trust each other."
Throughout Ianto's speech Rhys had been still, intent on listening not just to the words but to the conviction with which they were conveyed. At its conclusion, he nodded gently and said simply, "Thanks, I guess that's what I was hoping to hear."
"Glad to help. Torchwood's not easy, but a little trust in us might go a long way in making it easier for you."
"I reckon you may be right, I'll just have to practise," responded Rhys with another nod. Looking fully at Ianto and ensuring he had his attention he continued, "You're a good man, Ianto Jones, there's no question in my mind about trusting you. You're a protective bugger, something not to be underestimated in what you do."
Deflecting the compliment Ianto replied with a laugh, "Says the alpha male - you weren't exactly docile when it came to defending your own corner."
"True enough." They sat in companionable silence for a while before Ianto, wiping away more accumulated sweat, suggested "I suppose we ought to think about showering and getting out of here."
"You're probably right," Rhys responded, without moving. He appeared to be thinking so Ianto remained seated and waited.
Eventually Rhys spoke, "It really niggles though, what you can do with that drug, I still don't think that its right, taking away people's memories like that."
"I assume you know we gave the meat guys Retcon, so what about them?" Ianto asked quietly.
"Yeah I know you did, Gwen told me. That's how I knew she could have given it to me. I suppose it's different, they deserved to be punished for what they did and losing their memories seems kind of appropriate for them. Although I don't know who they could have told, most people would think them mad if they tried to tell their story -part of the lunatic fringe like UFO spotters."
"I won't take that personally," Ianto muttered.
"But for ordinary people, I don't know what to think. What keeps us living for the moments to come are our memories, we stay because of the memories we've already got, we make choices based on our memories."
Now recognising the signs of a Rhys rant, Ianto became serious again. "What if those memories are too terrifying, Rhys, what if they're so strong and powerful they're beyond what you could deal with? What if you're better off not having them?"
"But these are peoples' minds: aren't you playing god by changing their memories? What gives you the right to choose for them what they can deal with? To me it seems like an invasion of who they are." No longer confident of the rightness of his position Rhys waited for Ianto's response.
When it came it was delivered with quiet certainty. "It may well be what you say, an invasion of their minds. But there are all sorts of those. And some of them are so big the world would go mad." Ianto stared at the heater, as though he was looking at flames. "Remember what happened at Canary Wharf?"
Uncertain why Ianto would ask, Rhys responded with curiosity, "Yeah, the terrorist attack, what of it?"
"Do you remember which terrorist group was responsible?"
"No one knew or if they did they never said. You know that as well as I do."
Ianto brought his attention back to Rhys and waited quietly for him to understand.
A shift in his body language indicated that he did. He lent forward and pointed a finger at Ianto. "Are you telling me that was a cover-up?" Ianto stayed silent, merely quirking an eyebrow to encourage Rhys to continue thinking. An additional moment brought the desired result. "Oh what, not bloody aliens?"
"A battle between two alien races, fought in London – one lot wanted to convert us into robots, the others wanted simply to exterminate us. Neither of them with any form of emotion we'd recognise as human and both of them intent on destroying the other. No free thoughts, Rhys, no right to be human, just smoke and fire and destruction and slaughter. It was terrifying."
Shock passed quickly over Rhys's face, and he trembled with horror as his imagination conjured up the events described. "You were there?"
"I was. The worst day you can imagine. And the worst bit of it all was that we let them in. Torchwood let them in."
"Torchwood! Bloody hell, Ianto, they did that and you and Gwen are still happy to work for them?"
Ianto stopped him. "It was a different branch, different leadership. They no longer exist. I can guess what you're thinking and I know this with absolute certainty. Jack wouldn't have allowed it, like I said he knows so much. He knows what we ordinary people can do and it frightens him."
"But we let them in?"
"Yep, we humans, with our ego and our ambition and our belief in our ability to control and master anything, we did that, we brought an alien war to our planet. Spaceships over London and steel robots in the street and flying robots in the skies. Indiscriminate killing of ordinary people. Is that something you think everyone has the right to remember?"
"No, of course not. But why don't they, Ianto, if that happened why doesn't the world remember it? And how do you remember when the world doesn't?"
"That's a long story, one that requires a bit of time and a lot of beers. But the point is this: what would it do to us as a civilization, as a planet, if everyone did remember?"
"That's impossible to imagine."
"And that's the cost of knowing: you want people to have all their memories, you defend their right to know, but it doesn't come free." Reaching across the space Ianto placed a hand on Rhys's shoulder and said, "My turn for a really hard question. How do you plan to live with all of what you now know?"
Deflecting the question, Rhys asked one of his own, "How old are you, Ianto?"
Surprised a little by the tangent Ianto sat back and responded with curiosity, "Twenty five."
"You've seen a lot then for someone your age. It's one of the things Gwen said: 'he's had to deal with so much, and he's so young.' And after what you've just told me I can't disagree with her. All of that and you're still with Torchwood?"
"Yeah, I am. It's different now it's Jack's Torchwood. I'm proud to be there." He stopped, as if surprised by his own admission. Having reflected for a moment he went on, "Perhaps I have experienced a bit, but relatively speaking it's not all that much - did Gwen mention Tommy from World War One to you?"
"Tommy?" Rhys thought for a minute "Oh yeah, the one day of the year frozen soldier guy. Yeah she did, talked about him quite a bit actually, what of him?"
"He was about my age and he fought in the trenches in France in all that mud and squalor and death. Millions of men our age did that, and had to go on living. Every time I think what we do is harsh or uncivilized I remind myself of Tommy, and all those other soldiers. Remembering him, and them, helps me keep it all in its proper perspective. It's not just aliens we need protecting from."
"So is that how do you do it, every day, when something happens, you just try and keep it in proportion?" Rhys appeared to be reaching some greater level of understanding.
"Yep. Keep calm and carry on cleaning, that's my motto," Ianto lightly replied, before adding more seriously, "and remembering that despite the risk involved it is worth it."
Rhys shrugged his shoulders. "Then, in answer to your question of how I'm going to live with it, I could try the same - maybe I should use you as my role model for how to live with Torchwood. You seem to have a good handle on how to do it."
With a nod of his head Ianto accepted the sincerity of the words, and standing up he said, "And speaking of carrying on cleaning, it really is time to hit the showers, there should be enough hot water by now." He grabbed his towel and water bottle and moved to the door. Looking back he remarked, "It's all you can do, Rhys - keep it in its right perspective and trust. We do deserve your trust, all of us, including Jack."
As he pushed open the door he added with a grin, "And if I'm your role model, think about what that could do to your boundaries!"
"Smart-arse," bellowed Rhys at the closing door. He collected his towel and water bottle and followed Ianto out into the chilly atmosphere of the changing rooms. Stopping at his kit bag to drop his water bottle and collect his toiletries, he checked his phone for messages. There were a couple, one of which caused a puzzling of his brow.
As he headed across the room toward the showers he called out to Ianto, who was already enjoying the spray of hot water, "I got a message from Gwen, she says they're all taking the night off and are heading out for a drink. She suggests we join them."
"Sounds good to me," replied Ianto as he lathered his scalp. "And I could do with something to eat, I'm starved."
Giving Ianto a warning he was about to turn on the taps for his shower, Rhys added, "Gwen also said to tell you that she unsettled Jack earlier by suggesting you should join me and her for supper. Not quite sure what she meant because the word 'supper' had quotation marks around it."
"I think what it means is Gwen might have scored a rare victory over Jack in the innuendo wars!"
"Innuendo wars?" Rhys mused as he stepped under his shower. "What? You guys try to out-do Jack? Bit of a challenge I'd imagine." He was grinning as he finished, "Hey, Ianto, you want to have some fun?"
"Not sure what you're suggesting, but I presume it doesn't involve dropping the soap!" Ianto teased.
"Well, it sort of does." Seeing he'd confused Ianto, Rhys hurried on to clarify his remark, "I mean making innuendo about that type of thing when we meet them. Stir them up a bit."
"And why would we do that?" asked a curious Ianto as he rinsed away the shampoo lather.
"Perhaps it's time for a bit of payback fun for all the flirty stuff and the hero worship," a smirking Rhys suggested.
Ianto rolled his eyes, but said nothing as he soaped away the sweat from the sauna.
Rhys continued to make his argument, "Gwen did think us 'bonding' would be good, maybe we could suggest just how well we bonded." Believing he was beginning to convince Ianto he added, "And we are the naked Torchwood husbands."
"Please, that comment is definitely not to be made to Jack," Ianto groaned, before turning his face into the spray of water and muttering, "And here comes round two of stags butting antlers."
"You think? Come on, Ianto, where's your spirit of adventure?"
"Alright, Rhys," Ianto's face relaxed into a sly grin as he added, with perfect imitation of Jack, "Oh yeah, I suppose we could have some fun with it."
Rhys let his excitement bubble. "Especially since we know lots of rugby terms and they don't!"
Ianto's own excitement grew as he imagined the possibilities, "There's a hooker on every team, in a scrum you get tight head and loose head, and if you want to join a hard tackle you have to 'bind from behind' - yep, I reckon we might win this round." He smirked wickedly. "We could even call ourselves the Harwood's BSDs."
"Not sure I know that one," Rhys commented.
"Yeah sorry, not a rugby term," Ianto laughed as he explained, "comes from the finance markets, BSD, Big Swinging …you can guess the last word, it's a term used for alpha males. And just think how that'll answer the stiff competition question. I can just see the looks on their faces."
Unable to control his laughter at the thought, Rhys waved an arm at Ianto, imploring him to stop. In so doing he accidentally dropped his soap and it fell to the floor where it landed with a gentle thud half way between them.
Ianto stared at it pointedly, before laughing and saying, "Well come on then, Big Boy, let's go have some fun." He gave himself a final rinse under the shower before turning off the taps and, grabbing his towel from its peg, he returned to the changing area.
He was joined a minute later by Rhys and for the next few minutes as they dried and dressed themselves they shared the joshing camaraderie of teammates. When they were both ready they made their way to the door and, as he flipped off the lights, Rhys looked at Ianto and commented:
"Not sure I should let Gwen near you in that track-suit, she thinks you're gorgeous enough as it is. And I can't say she's mistaken!"
Ianto smirked at him, "Too late, mate, she's already seen me in it. Think she liked it. And besides, she'll have eyes only for you." He winked. "And with good reason. You're looking pretty good yourself."
As he pulled the door to and locked it, Rhys retorted, "Cut it out, I thought you had eyes only for Jack."
"Just because my attraction's for Jack doesn't mean my boundaries haven't expanded to window shopping other fine male forms!" Ianto suggested with a provocative wink, as he took in the wet conditions.
Preparing to make a run through the rain to the car, Rhys paused as Ianto's words struck him. "Did you just say I have a fine form?"
"Yep, but then I might only be practising the behaviour you've spent the last ten minutes encouraging me to participate in." Ianto laughed as he dashed toward the only vehicle still left in the car park.
"You bugger," Rhys chortled, as he too set off into the blustery conditions, "I still can't work out when you're serious."
They arrived at the car in high spirits, and as the lights flashed to indicate Rhys had unlocked it he looked across its roof to Ianto and said sincerely, "Thanks, mate, for the talk. You put up with a lot and I really am grateful. Maybe we could do it again?"
As he tossed his kit bag on the back seat and opened the front door Ianto replied with equal sincerity, "Not a problem at all, Rhys, it's been good both ways. Who knew a bit of bonding at rugby would turn into a sweaty confessional?"
Rhys laughed softly. "Good choice of phrase that, Gwen may worship Jack but after tonight I reckon she's misguided. You, Ianto Jones, are the one true god of Torchwood. They should be building the shrine to you."
They climbed into the car and closed the doors on Ianto's amused response. As the car pulled out and drove away, its headlights were the only thing that intruded on the darkness of the rain lashed rugby pitch.
Additional Author's Note 1: If the proposition that Ianto could take an amnesia pill and leave Torchwood arouses your curiosity please read 'Love Worth Remembering' by Cerih on this site. It's a mature and well written examination of that possibility.
Additional Author's Note 2: Coming up in Chapter 3, Ianto and Rhys meet the rest of the team for that drink, and put into play their payback. Innuendo galore and surprises for some ensue.