Grey-blue eyes, clouded with a peculiar mix of grief and hope, gazed out at the equally grey-blue waters churning in the Bay. Somehow, in the middle of the night, Mother Nature had conspired to create the perfect morning to reflect the inner chaos of the young man currently leaning against the railing overlooking Cardiff Bay. The swelling and cresting of the grays, deep blues, dark greens and the resulting white foam as the waves crashed into the concrete barrier captivated his attention. Above him, the dark, threatening clouds whirled and swirled into myriads of shapes only to be ripped apart and reshaped by the near gale force winds from the impending storm. Lifting his eyes heavenward, he could not help but reflect on how true a description of life was evident in nature that morning.
Life is just like those clouds. In one form until a great force impacts upon it. Reshaped, remolded, and deviated forever from its original path. Ianto Jones, despite his relative youth, was intimately experienced with great forces crashing upon his life. While somfe had been kind and nurturing, others had been treacherous but all the impacts, both good and cruel, had helped to shape him into the man he was. The forces had remolded and altered him to the point that his life only dimly reflected what he had once imagined it would be. So many events, so many colossal forces. Recruitment by Torchwood London. Meeting Lisa. Torchwood Three. Jack.
His lips lifted in a slight smile. Captain Jack Harkness was certainly an immense force of nature, affecting and shaping all around him. At time benevolent, terribly brutal when circumstances required but always incessantly pounding away. And if the life shattered into a multitude of shards as a result, he stuck around to piece it back together. Picking and choosing only the best parts, arranging the bits into something far more beautiful and considerably stronger than it had been.
The smile gracing his lips faded as his reflections on the significant forces in his life grew darker. The Battle of Canary Wharf. My betrayal. The elimination of the Cyberwoman. It had taken nearly a year but Ianto had finally been able to begin separating his memories of Lisa from the atrocity the Cybermen had caused her to become.
He looked about him, taking in the mounting fury of the elements, momentarily struck by the beauty of it all. Of the battering forces necessary to keep life growing, changing, evolving. Without destruction there can be no construction. He smiled to himself, amused with the whimsy and melancholy of his musings. Who would have thought that I would be at this point? A year and a day ago, I thought my life was over. That I had nothing left to live for. And yet a year ago this very day my life started anew.
Ianto glanced at his watch. He was incredibly late for work. By his usual routine, he should have been there two hours ago. Tosh would already be at the Hub, most likely tweaking parameters on her latest program. In about fifteen minutes, Gwen would be bouncing through the door, calling a cheery 'good morning' to all present. Despite the lateness of the morning, Ianto continued his vigil at the edge of Cardiff Bay. He was determined to stay, if necessary, even if it meant that Owen arrived at work before him.
Yesterday had been the anniversary of the Cyberwoman's elimination. The day had been typically Torchwoodian – full of chaos, dashing frantically about, with one crisis building atop of the previous one. None of the team had even remarked about the importance of the day. More than likely, they hadn't even realized that a full year had passed since that life-altering incident.
Ianto was only slightly bitter, for dedication to Torchwood left little room to dwell on the events of the past. Still it would have been a slight comfort if even one of them had acknowledged the importance of the date in some way. He took comfort in knowing that there was one person who would not forget the significance of this particular day. Which was why, despite the impending rain, the furious wind, the icy temperatures, and the fact he was late for work, Ianto continued to stand there.
He looked again at his watch and felt, for the first time that morning, the stirrings of concern. It wasn't as if they had a standing date to meet at a particular time each week. In fact, given the very nature of their individual lives, they missed each other more than they were able to meet. Nevertheless, Ianto knew, no matter what was going on, his friend would show.
His eyes left scanning the frenzied waters of the Bay and began to search the many walkways and paths leading to the area. Just as the growing concern was about to blossom into outright trepidation, Ianto broke into a huge, encompassing smile. His manner became so relaxed and unreserved that had any of his teammates at Torchwood walked by at that precise moment, they would not have recognized him.
Coming around a bend shuffled a man, his body hunched in on itself to keep the freezing air from stealing all his warmth. Clad in brown polyester pants that had seen better days in the '70s and at least five layers of shirts judging by the many various colored collars about his neck, the coffee au lait skin of his face was weathered and wrinkled prematurely from prolonged exposure to the elements, causing the man to appear far older than his actual age.
As he neared Ianto, the man broke into a wide, toothy grin, reached up to tip the battered, dingy red Fedora that was always present atop his head, and stepped forward to clasp him in a strong hug. Ianto returned the hug with equal strength and they stood there a few moments, hugging and grasping at each other. Then the other man pulled back and placed his hands on either side of Ianto's face. "I thought I'd missed you." His voice held the scant memory of the silky, smooth accent of an American from one of the Southern states.
Ianto's grin only widened. "Not a chance, Tony. There's nothing so important at work that I can't be late just this once. And I wanted to see you, on this of all days."
Tony sobered slightly. "Yeah, it was a year ago today that I first spied you, wasn't it? Sitting over there, if I recall correctly." He lifted a glove-encased thumb to vaguely gesture towards a nearby bench. "Never a more pathetic individual have I ever seen. So lost. So seemingly alone in the world."
Ianto gave a self-depreciating smile. "I guess I was pretty pathetic back then." He reached down to grab a thermos and paper cups from the rucksack near his feet. He poured out a cup of coffee, handing it over before pouring one for himself. With a content grin, he watched Tony clasp the cup in his hands, allowing some of the warmth to seep into his ice-cold fingers before taking a large gulp. Ianto chuckled at the resulting contented sigh before turning to lean his arms against the railing. After another gulp, Tony joined him, their shoulders touching as they watched the thrashing water.
"You were pretty wretched then but look at you now! Confident. Content. At peace with yourself. Happy. You are happy, aren't you?"
His thoughts became introspective before answering. Ianto had too much respect for his friend to answer without analyzing his words first. "Yeah, I am happy. Very happy. Things at work are better. There's still some moments when I feel as if … as if not all is forgiven. But I've come to realize that that is more me than anything my co-workers say or do. I'm still struggling to forgive myself, even though they've obviously not only forgiven, but forgotten it all."
Tony just nodded his understanding. "You are one for taking on the weight of the world, aren't you? Especially when you feel responsible." He paused when Ianto's shoulders lifted in a slight shrug. "One day, soon I suspect, you'll wake up and not have it be your first thought of the day. And then shortly after that you'll be able to go an entire day without thinking of it. Eventually it will only occur to you on rare occasion and it won't hurt near as much."
Ianto didn't say anything. He couldn't. When he had poured out his story to Tony those many months ago, he had had to omit many things, twist the truths into believable lies, couching each and every statement in terms that reflected only vaguely on the true happenings in the Hub that day. He couldn't tell of his responsibility for the death of two innocent people and how, by his folly, he had nearly unleashed a threat onto the human race. Nor could he mention how he was still catching himself unconsciously rubbing at his hands, trying to scrub away blood that no longer stained the skin. Out, damn'd spot! out, I say! Ianto's smile turned into a mockery of a grin. Lady Macbeth could have learned a lesson or two from me.
Instead of confessing his true feelings, Ianto simply said, "I hope so."
Tony reached up, gently squeezing his shoulder. "Trust me, Ianto. I didn't steer you wrong last year that things would get better and I'm not now when I tell you that this will fade in importance until it is but a fleeting memory."
He stared into the liquid black of his coffee before lifting his eyes to look at Tony. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I'm right. I'm always right. Haven't you discovered that yet?" He gave a little chuckle before eyeing Ianto steadily. "Now, are you going to tell me why you're so much happier? It's not just because things are better at work. You found yourself a new girl, haven't you?
"Not exactly." He turned to look back towards the Bay, slightly apprehensive about revealing the truth. While it was true that Tony had been staunchly supportive in all the time they had known each other, he was of a different generation. One that was not nearly so open-minded about such matters. Watching in periphery, he hesitantly continued. "I'm, uh, sort of involved with my, um, boss."
Ianto should have known better than to be concerned. Not once in the year since they met had Tony judged him. He had only listened, asking for clarification when necessary or repeating back statements to be certain he had the right perspective. He had made comments to help Ianto but he had never judged and he certainly wasn't judging now. With eyes alight with glee, he pounded Ianto's back with several hearty pats.
"Jack, right? That's his name, isn't it?" When Ianto nodded, his face broke into a delighted grin. "Well, good on you, Ianto. Just be sure he treats you right cause if he don't Tony here is going to give him what for."
He laughed at the image of short, thin, frail Tony taking on the tall, robust, muscular Jack. He'd offer no odds on the outcome for as ruthless as Jack could be, Tony could be equally spirited in his protection of those he'd taken under his wing. The Captain, without a doubt, would find a worthy opponent in him. With a touch of regret, Ianto looked again at his watch. As much as he would have liked to stay there in the easy companionship with his friend, he knew that he couldn't afford to linger much longer.
Ianto bent down and opened the rucksack propped nearby. "So, I was cleaning out my closet and came upon some things you might could use." He pulled out a thick coat, one specially engineered to withstand extreme conditions. "I was going to toss it out but thought you might be able to use it."
The coat, for all appearances, was old, torn, and in a considerable state of disrepair. The truth, though, was that it had been purchased brand new just a few weeks prior. In his spare time, Ianto had skillfully worked at creating rips and fraying several spots, all without damaging the integrity of the coat. The deception was necessary. Tony, despite his homeless status, was a prideful man. He didn't easily take handouts and he certainly wouldn't accept the coat if it appeared to be in good repair.
With a slight hesitation, Tony took the coat and shook out some of the wrinkles. "Looks expensive. I can't accept this, Ianto."
Carefully schooling his expression, Ianto shrugged. "Well, if you don't want it I'll just toss it out. It's too shabby for me. Bought myself a new coat last week."
Tony squinted suspiciously at Ianto before turning his attention back to the coat. He carefully donned it and ran an appreciative hand over the dark material. "Well, if you're sure, I'll keep it."
Ianto straightened up and handed over the rucksack. "I threw in a couple of woolen socks. Did the best I could patching the holes. I hope they hold up."
Tony, his eyes glistening with gratitude, easily hefted the bag. "This is …" His voice choked with barely contained emotion. "Thank you, Ianto. I've been hoping to come across a coat and here you have one for me." He smiled broadly. "You are a good man to be so kind to this old coot."
"Well, you've been good to this young coot. I'm just returning the favor." Ianto failed miserably in his attempt to copy Tony's Southern drawl.
Tony chuckled as he weighed the bag in his hand. "Feels like there's more than a few socks here."
"Just a bag of oranges. I know you'll give most of them away. Just promise me you'll keep at least one for yourself. You need the Vitamin C."
"I'll even keep two. I've had a yearning for oranges lately. The rest will go to Maggie. She needs something more than the cheese sandwiches we've been able to scrounge for her."
Before he could respond, Ianto's mobile buzzed, indicating a text message had been received. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved the phone and read the brief message. Torchwood.
Tony didn't miss the regret that came into Ianto's eyes. "I'd wanted to get here sooner. Hoped we'd have some time to catch up with each other but the cops wouldn't let me go until I'd given my statement."
All thoughts of Torchwood vanished as Ianto came instantly came alert. "Trouble? Something I can help with?"
"No, nothing like that." Tony's face lost its bright smile. "One of ours killed himself last night. Never knew his name. We just called him 'Sticks'. Poor kid, he was just sixteen. Only been on the streets about a week. Parents had kicked him out when he told them he was gay."
Tony's eyes became haunted as he continued. "We tried to keep an eye on him. To keep him safe. Guess it just all proved to be too much." He sighed deeply. "A life should never be extinguished so young."
"No, it shouldn't." He placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I really wish I could stay but …" Ianto's voice trailed off softly.
"Work calls. I understand. You've spent enough time jabbering with this crazy old man anyway." He ran his hands down the fabric of the coat. "Besides, I have a new coat to show off to my friends."
Ianto gave him a brief hug and started to turn away. He stopped, taking a deep breath because he really didn't know how his friend would react to his proposition. "Tony, the next few days are going to be cold. Deadly cold. Would you let me pay for a hotel room for you? Just until it warms up?"
"Look, I know you mean well but I'm no charity case. I can take care of myself." He dropped the rucksack and began to pull off the coat.
Ianto lightly placed his hands over Tony's, stopping him from removing it. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I … I just worry about you."
Tony, seeing the sincerity in his eyes, gave a brief nod before picking up the discarded rucksack. "I know you do, Ianto, but I can take care of myself. Besides, I've got to watch out for Maggie and the rest of them. Can't do that if I'm living the life of luxury in a hotel."
Ianto pulled a business card from the inner pocket of his jacket. It was a simple card, merely listing his name and the number used for the fake Tourist Information office. He placed the card in Tony's hand, gently curling the man's fingers around it. "Call me should you change your mind or if you or any of the others need anything."
Tony nodded, slipping the card into a side pocket. "I will. Promise. Now you need to get to work and I need to go about and look for a safe place to sleep tonight. So off with you, you young rascal."
They exchanged a final hug before Ianto started to walk briskly away. He had nearly exited the area when Tony's clear voice stopped him. Turning around, he saw the man hadn't moved away from where they had been conversing.
"Never forget, Ianto. Only through the dark of despair can we truly appreciate the light of joy."
He waved in acknowledgement before resuming his trek towards the Hub. His mind fully occupied with the tasks and duties that would have to be dealt with upon his arrival.
Three weeks later, Ianto found himself glancing at his watch. It was barely seven and it had already been a long morning. The team, having finished the previous day at eleven in the evening, had been called back in shortly after two to capture a rogue Weevil. This was quickly followed by a frantic drive across Cardiff to disarm a powerful bomb from fifty years in the future, kindly dumped by the Rift in the middle of a nursing home.
Just as the exhausted team was about to disburse to their individual homes for a few hours of desperately needed sleep, the electric grid throughout Cardiff began to fail and the cascading event threatened to spread throughout all the UK. Of course, it wasn't a simple case of a Power Station employee flipping the wrong switch at the worst possible moment. No, there had been, as Tosh liked to call it, a "Rift hiccup," a spike so miniscule that it barely registered on the monitoring equipment. These events, in Ianto's experience, often were the most devastating. In this particular "hiccup", tiny aliens, resembling centipedes with moth wings, had converged at a crucial Power Station.
It should have been a simple retrieval operation. Go in, grab the pesky aliens, Retcon the appropriate personnel, return to the Hub, place the aliens in a containment box, and go home to fall in bed for an hour of sleep before starting another day anew. Unfortunately, the centipede-like creatures left an oozing trail of slime that ate its way through nearly everything, including the wires, metal casings, computers, and other critical equipment in the Power Station.
It was only after Tosh noticed that the insulated ceiling tiles weren't immediately dissolving from the caustic glop that Torchwood finally gained the upper hand. While the rest of the team concocted a paper mache mush of ceiling tiles and water, Ianto had taken several of the tiles and a copious amount of Duct tape to assemble a containment box. Once the tiny aliens were safely contained and every surface of the
Power Station had been coated with the pulp, the team, dirty and exhausted, had finally been able to return to the Hub.
So after what had been a very long night and what promised to be an equally long day, Ianto was comfortably sprawled on the Hub's scruffy sofa. Owen's angry mutters wafted up to him from the Autopsy Bay as the medic tried to conceive of some way to analyze the alien slime without melting half the equipment. From Jack's office came soft murmurs as Jack and Tosh tried to come up with a feasible cover story for the Power Station incident. Catching key words of the conversation, Ianto pieced together they had decided to blame it on faulty water pipes in the ceiling. Across from him, Gwen was seated at her desk, idly flipping through several files.
Ianto knew he should get up, should begin doing all the mundane tasks that were necessary to keep Torchwood operating like a well-oiled machine. Instead, he glanced once again at his watch. He was sure that no one would begrudge him if he took a half hour of personal time. A brisk walk in the crisp outside air would do wonders to waken his exhausted mind, and if that walk should take him in the direction towards the nearby park where he often met up with Tony, none of them would be any the wiser. It had been three weeks since he'd last seen his friend and Ianto needed the normality Tony would offer.
Decision made, Ianto rose and made his way to the kitchen area. Into a paper bag, he tossed several oranges, a couple of apples, and a banana that was beginning to brown. Bending down to rummage through a cabinet in search of a sweet or two that Tony might enjoy, he heard a phone begin to ring, the distinct sound indicating it was the line dedicated to the fake Tourist office.
Before he could straighten and walk over to answer it, Gwen yelled out, "I'll get it. It's probably just a wrong number."
In the background, Ianto could hear her voice join in with the other usual noises of the Hub, creating an orchestra of sound that was soothing in its normality. He finished packing the bag of food, idly wiping down the surfaces and doing a quick scan to see if anything needed restocking. When he turned around, Gwen was standing before him, her face tight with worry and concern. Beyond her, he vaguely registered that Jack was heading towards them, the bouncing stride indicating the Captain was in search of coffee and possibly more, judging by the wicked gleam in his eyes. Ianto's focus, however, was on Gwen.
"I'm guessing by your face it wasn't a wrong number." It wasn't quite voiced as a question.
Gwen gravely nodded. "No. It was Andy. He …"
"Your old partner?" Jack's voice interrupted as he sidled up behind her.
"Yeah," she answered, with a quick glance over her shoulder at him.
Jack leaned his long body against the nearby wall, artfully arranging his limbs in a way that appeared both seductive and nonchalant. It was a pose that he had spent two decades perfecting. "So what does Cardiff's finest need from Torchwood." He grinned mischievously. "You can tell him that running out of doughnuts and morning pastries is no reason to be calling us in."
Gwen scowled at him before turning her doleful eyes back towards Ianto. "He asked for you." Lifting a sympathetic hand to his shoulder, she continued. "He needs you to meet him at the morgue."