Characters: Gwen, Ianto
Rating: Gen, PG for swears, mentions of Jack/Ianto
Word Count: 1,928
Notes: Tag for ‘Adrift’.
Summary: In the aftermath of Flat Holm, Ianto reminds Gwen that it’s the little things that keep us human.
It helped, Gwen thought. Of course it did, talking to Rhys always helped. He was a big caring, sharing, brilliant bear of a man. Except when he wasn’t. So she cried on his shoulder about the poor lost boys of Cardiff, and then she let him talk to her about how brilliant it would be to have a family, just as though they hadn’t had this conversation a hundred times over the years. It wasn’t as though either thing would change anything other than to make them both feel better. But that was part of things too, wasn’t it? Part of real life, what she was meant to be fighting for, what they were both fighting about. Just talking to someone, the most important person in her world, that was meant to be enough.
She didn’t know what was wrong with her, that it wasn’t enough. That it never would be.
She realised she’d been staring at her computer screen long enough that the screensaver had come on. Pictures of her and Rhys looking happy, laughing. Kittens in silly poses. The team huddled for some group shot she couldn’t remember taking. God. Somehow the normality of it made her sick to her stomach.
She rolled back her chair, disgusted she couldn’t even push it back with a satisfying screech. Briefly, she contemplated kicking the bin, but the reminder that that might be something Owen might have done, once upon a time, stopped her. Instead she wondered towards the greenhouse before realising she couldn’t precisely hide out there any more. Well. Not without certain images getting in the way, at least.
She stopped instead, hovering in the middle of the hub like some bloody useless work of art, the very indecision making her even more annoyed.
Until Ianto came up behind her and coughed slightly in his unique manner. She jumped, couldn’t help herself, and then blushed, just a little bit. He didn’t know what she’d been thinking about, but she knew, and that was apparently enough.
“Yes,” said Gwen, “I was just… Umm.”
Fuck. But it wasn’t fair, all the same. How come Ianto could make hovering look so natural – could make his hovering seem like an Olympic Sport, like he was practising it in preparation for the World Hovering Championships or something. It just… Gwen swallowed, and then realised that she was prevaricating again, or, more technically, thinking shite.
Ianto frowned a tiny amount, before looking… well, embarrassed. That was odd. Gwen wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Ianto embarrassed. Not with his hand down Jack’s pants. Not when he’d just rescued her from his murderous girlfriend. Gwen wasn’t sure he even did embarrassment. It was like it had been surgically removed when he’d donned his first suit, as he chewed on his first rusk. It was weird.
“I hope you don’t mind,” said Ianto, as Gwen continued marvelling at the picture of an embarrassed Ianto, “But I have… a project or two of my own. As you know. And I need… Well. I need your help. If you’d be willing.”
And that explained that one, thought Gwen. It wasn’t an embarrassed Ianto at all, everything was still right with the world. It was, in fact, a slightly self-conscious Ianto, and the distinction was important. But still – she wasn’t sure Ianto had ever asked for her help before. That meant something, didn’t it? Something good. Fucking hell, but she needed something good, right about now.
“Yes,” said Gwen, “Of course. How can I help?”
It made her feel better, even saying the words.
Torchwood had a dock.
Well, of course they had a dock, thought Gwen. The hub was right on the harbour, why wouldn’t they have a dock? She just hadn’t thought it through before, which was stupid, and what kind of copper did that make her? But instead of going on about it, instead of saying one single solitary word – and oh, but her tongue was sore from biting it, but this was Ianto, somehow she couldn’t just shout at him, not the way she could have shouted at Jack – instead Gwen just noted the colour of the key Ianto used to get into this part of the tunnels. She stood quietly and bounced on her toes, smelling the curious metal and ozone sea-scent of the dull grey water that beat gently against the pilings, and then watched Ianto climb into the sleek (black, of course it would be black) boat, with ‘Torchwood’ in sunken letters on its side.
“Nice,” said Gwen, as she climbed in, running her hand down the spotless fibreglass shell, “Subtle.”
Ianto gave a quick, sympathetic yet wry grin, and Gwen grinned back. It was nice to share a moment.
She wasn’t that surprised by the quick competent way that Ianto went through warm-up procedures, she already knew this must be how he and Jack had visited Flat Holm. How, in fact, they’d kept those visits secret from the rest of the team. She looked around at the neat deck, the arcane controls, the dark hatchway that led, presumably, to a cabin below. She wondered what else the two of them had got up to here, and then winced as her cheeks warmed again. God, was there anywhere she wasn’t going to have those kinds of thoughts about? Probably not. That was one result of catching your colleagues in flagrante.
Still – it was better thinking of that than anything else to do with Flat Holm and with what they hid there; Jack’s little menagerie. Which she was responsible now for continuing to hide. There was no denying that she was as guilty as any of them. As bad as Jack. God.
As the motor coughed into life, and then as Ianto carefully pushed the boat out into the open choppy water, Gwen hid behind the hair that whipped into her face, hid behind the noise of the engine, the difficulty of knowing what to say. It was a coward’s way of dealing with things, but hadn’t that just been proved to her as the best policy? Things were buried at Torchwood, and apparently it was best all round if they stayed buried. They didn’t have miles and miles of vaults for nothing, after all. She should be grateful that the... returnees weren’t still there, rotting in the cells. She should be grateful for his compassion, hadn’t Jack made that abundantly clear? She should be grateful, and choke down all the dry crumbs of humility she could stomach, until she was sick of it. Or leave Torchwood. He’d made that abundantly clear as well.
Gwen found her hands were clenched tight around the chrome handrail. She wondered what the fuck she was doing here – on this shiny boat, heading out to pity the freaks some more.
And Ianto. What did he have to do with any of this – she’d looked up his record herself, after the incident with the Cyber... Lisa Hallett. He’d only been here a matter of weeks longer than Gwen herself – how the hell did Ianto get to know all the skeletons in the closet when Tosh and Owen, who’d been part of things for years longer than either of them, had no clue at all? Perhaps that was part of the privilege of sleeping with the boss. She shivered. Some privilege.
The boat drew up alongside a stone jetty, and Ianto jumped out with a trailing rope, efficiently tying it to a bollard, before hopping back onboard and disappearing down the little companionway. Gwen watched him, feeling more and more uneasy – just being here on the island was making her jittery, the recent horror, her own humiliation, remembering Jonah’s agony, and Nikki’s face – it was all scurrying around in her head until she wanted to scream herself.
“Getting us a packed lunch, then, are you?” she called, trying to relax, inject some humour, but her eyes widened as Ianto came gingerly back up carrying an enormous stack of boxes. “I was joking, really. Don’t mind me.”
“Give us a hand then,” said Ianto, as things began to slide and Gwen caught the first two, and then took them out of Ianto’s arms altogether. They were surprisingly heavy.
As they walked up the path towards the facility, Gwen concentrated on the feel of the boxes as they dug into her palms, the way she wasn’t allowed to drop them, even when her arms began to ache. Ianto muttered a quiet authorisation into the grill and the door opened, and then Gwen stopped. On the threshold. She was ashamed, but she didn’t think she could make herself move past it. But after that, Ianto was disappearing into the gloom, and the boxes weren’t getting any lighter, and it wasn’t as though there was anywhere else to go, and it was just a door in the end. To unimaginable tragedy, but even so.
Gwen wondered, as she took each careful step within, down the stairs, and through the corridors, whether every horror was made up of such small prosaic steps, until eventually you had Nazi torturers playing with their children just yards away from their ‘work’.
But then Ianto was in front of her, his arms empty now, with his suit still neat, and his small smile that didn’t always reach his eyes. Gwen found herself shivering, for no reason, because Ianto didn’t deserve the comparison, it wasn’t fair – one Cyberised girlfriend to the contrary. And then his smile turned pained, and Gwen wondered what he was seeing on her face – it had always been her biggest weakness as a policewoman, her heart was always on her sleeve, it was a real disadvantage.
But before she could say anything he was taking the boxes, and opening them, and handing her a cloth bundle, and taking one of his own, and Gwen realised she hadn’t understood anything at all.
“What?” she began, “What?”
“My special project, remember?” said Ianto, who was letting the faintest hint of impatience colour his voice, “You said you’d help? Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”
“Of course not,” said Gwen, hurriedly, her eyes huge, “No, never.”
And watched as Ianto huffed a little breath and unrolled his… overall. He got into it, carefully smoothing the grey material over his dark trousers, then removing his suit jacket altogether, before turning to the other box and beginning to unpack paint tins, brushes, roller trays and sandpaper.
“Come on then,” he said, without looking at her, “I’d like to get the whole main corridor done before we break for that packed lunch.”
Gwen leaned forward and the metal edge of the tin bit into her fingers, as she clutched it. ‘Golden Umber’ proclaimed the lid. The one next to it was ‘Liberty Blue’.
She looked around at the peeling walls, at the institutional colours, that probably hadn’t been changed since the War. She looked at Ianto, so incongruous in a paint-spattered overall.
“We can’t do much for them, Gwen, you know that,” said Ianto softly, as he handed her a block of sandpaper, “But we all do what we can. And right here, right now – this is what I can do.”
Something so simple, something so human. She wanted to throw herself on his chest and just bawl like a child. She wanted apologise for ever doubting him. She wanted…
“Yes. Sorry…” she breathed, unutterably charmed, her eyes pricking, “Just so you know though, I’m a dab hand at decorating – just ask my Mam.”
Ianto merely twitched an eyebrow at her, but this time his smile did reach his eyes.
Post Script: This fic was born the first time I watched ‘Adrift’ – I noticed the grotty state of the place instantly and thought that was typical of Jack, and his wartime mentality. It doesn’t have to be that way! I thought Ianto could easily brighten up the place a bit, once he had some time, and Gwen ended up coming along for the ride! :)