Any number of peculiar things can happen on any given day. For example, one day in the latter portion of the year 2006, Mrs. Tethys' cat began to speak idiomatically correct German, three people from the year 2009 appeared ten feet above the ground in Cardiff, and the begonias planted in the royal garden began to develop a taste for human flesh.
Of course, very few people took much notice of this, because this was also the day that a Sycorax ship appeared over the city of London, and a spaceship over the capital, controlled by the leader of a species which apparently has the capability to force one-third of the world's population to stand on the edges of their rooftops is a rather big distraction.
Actually, the Sycorax invasion was the main source of consternation over the next few weeks, save for Mrs. Tethys' German-speaking neighbor, an unfortunate gardener, and the three time-travelers. Or, time-fallers, as the case stood.
"Jack, look at all the people on the rooftops!"
"Yeah, I can see that."
"I remember this! Rhys' mum, she stood on top of our garden shed. This was those skeleton-y aliens from Mars, right?"
"They're called the Sycorax, and they aren't from Mars."
"Where're they from then?"
"I don't know- I just know they aren't from Mars."
"And Torchwood destroyed them."
"They were shot as they were retreating."
Both Jack and Gwen turned to look at him. Ianto absently ran his fingers through his hair as he observed the people swaying precariously close to their gutters. Somewhere in London, there was a version of him trying to coax Lisa off the top of the Tower, he knew, and the thought snapped in his mind. "That's the rub of it. We're three years into our past."
Gwen turned to Jack. "How do we get back?"
Jack thought about it. Couldn't contact himself, or any other member of Torchwood because of the timeline. Couldn't contact the Doctor for the same reason. Votext manipulator was still broken. "I'm not sure we can."
"We can always take the long way home," Ianto pointed out. "Three years isn't so long. Not compared to one hundred and thirty, at least."
"There is that," Gwen admitted, looking unconvinced. "But-"
"Let's get out of the open," Jack ordered. "Before people notice us."
Here's the thing about Gwen: she doesn't give up easily. Even if Jack is willing to give up without a fight, and Ianto is afraid to go looking for people who can help them for fear of being recognized, she'll still try and find a way back to where she belongs- when she belongs. True, sometimes she flags and at other times she's a bit too obvious in her efforts, but it's home. It's Rhys, her husband, and what sort of a person would she be if she just sat back and let fate dictate her priorities to her?
In the end, there's nothing that can be done, but she feels like trying must count for something.
Setting up house is a surprisingly easy affair, seeing as neither of them could use their credit cars, bank accounts or Torchwood clearance to expedite things. Between the three of them, they have enough money for train fare to London, and a sorry if workable motel room. The next day they're off to a pawn shop Ianto says won't ask too many questions, and after they're down a stopwatch, a wedding band, and several antique buttons they have enough money for a deposit on a small one-bedroom flat in the humbler portion of London.
Ianto also manages to find himself a job before the night closes, and by the end of the week he's found places for Gwen and Jack as well.
("How do you know how to do all this?" Gwen asked one night.
"Don't ask," Ianto replied.
Gwen laughed and was about to press further when she saw that he was wearing that world-weary expression that really shouldn't be allowed on anyone younger than her.
"No, really. Don't ask," he repeated, and the matter was dropped.)
In between waiting on tables and trying to find a way back home, Gwen views this as an opportunity to watch how Ianto and Jack manage in a more domestic setting than the Hub, something which she had always been curious about but had never been able to observe first hand. Ianto, she discovered, was far less house-proud about his actual house than he was about the Hub, and drew the line at soiled underwear being left on the bathroom floor, rather than a discarded jacket being tossed on the couch. Jack, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic- and fantastic- cook, with a special flair for pasta dinners.
(One afternoon, when Jack had a late shift and neither of them did, they tried to recreate his lasanga, with variable results. Jack had come home just into time to watch their last attempt spontaneously combust on top of the range. His reaction was, naturally, to smirk and sit back with his arms crossed as she and Ianto forced the ancient fire extinguisher the apartment had come with to work.
"I guess this means I'm banned from pasta as well as coffee?" Gwen asked. And they'd laughed and laughed and laughed…
The next afternoon she should have been working, but she skipped it to follow a lead on a Time Agent with a Vortex manipulator. She had to make up for lost time somehow.)
Over the course of the first few months they settled in. They'd decided on London, because it wasn't so far from Cardiff that they couldn't travel there in a hurry, and it wasn't so close that they would be forever trying to avoid themselves. True, for a time there would be two Iantos in London, but it was for a comparatively short time, and as long as they avoided the area around Canary Warf ("Which we should be doing anyway," Jack pointed out.) that shouldn't pose too much of a problem. Ianto hadn't raised any objections to this plan.
That probably should have been their first clue.
The ghosts (except they weren't ghosts, of course, they were imprints of Cybermen pushing their way through from another universe) were just dissolving from the midnight shift when she found him. She breathed a sigh that was part relief, part exasperation, and fumbled for her cellphone.
"Don't," Ianto begged. "Not yet. Just give me five more minutes."
"Would that be five minutes like when you're watching a rugby game, or five minutes like when I'm in the shower and you want your turn?" Gwen asked lightly.
Ianto didn't answer, didn't even turn around, but after months of passing herself off as his sister she could practically feel his eyes roll.
"What's bothering you?" Gwen questioned.
"You know what's bothering me," Ianto replied, looking across the street at the base of Torchwood Tower. "Three days, and then… almost eight hundred people. And we can't save a single one, not Lisa, not Dean, not Fadir, not that idiot of a guard that kept leering at me and referring to Lisa as my beard…"
Gwen put her hand on his shoulder. He crumbled slightly at the contact, before straightening.
"We shouldn't be here," he said.
"That was the agreement," she said. "Jack's worried."
"About me or about what I might do?"
Gwen started to answer, but Ianto waved her off tiredly. "It doesn't matter- it all boils down to the same thing, doesn't it? Let's go then."
When Canary Warf burned, the three of them had buried themselves so deep in the countryside that they didn't see a single Dalek, Cyberman, or person the rest of the week.
Here's the thing about Ianto: he can be a tad possessive at times. He gets jealous easily, which doesn't bode well in a relationship with Jack, but he's good at tamping down on his instinctive reaction, and besides, Jack would only ever go after someone who actively pursued him first.
He found that out the hard way. Thank God.
When you got right down to it, there were only two other people who pursued Jack as he did. One was a psychopath, and Jack didn't want anything to do with him. And the other was Gwen, who, strangely enough, didn't engender any sort of petty reaction from him at all.
Maybe it was because he knew he owed her a debt of gratitude; after all, he doubted that he and Jack would have ever had the chance to become he and Jack without her being there. But mostly it was because she was his as much as Jack was.
It's a slow, dangerous decent into… well, she's not sure what the word is. But she's sliding into something that she shouldn't be, she knows it.
It's how, when she's presented with her wedding band for Christmas a year after they've landed, she cries more than when Rhys had first proposed.
It's how Jack can watch the picture cut out on the assassination of the President and then remark "You know, we just lived through the end of the world there" and then the words come tumbling out of them like they can't stop and she hadn't been privy to this sort of thing, should be privy to it, since he and Ianto got a proper start, but it's there and ugly and she can't ignore it, can't ignore Jack, can't ignore any of it.
It's how she kisses them both, on the cheek, as a thanks for some domestic chore well-done.
It's how she kisses them both- not on the cheek. Because they're there, and they all share the same burden, and she wants to.
It's how what happened afterwards feels so right, it can't help but curdle in her gut when she thinks about how wrong it actually was.
It's how she pauses for a moment before she follows up on her next lead.
The next Christmas they left the city like pretty much everyone else. It was too cold for camping, but if they tightened their belts a bit they could splurge and stay at a nice hotel.
They didn't mean to, but they completely missed the Titanic nearly missing Buckingham Palace.
"It's not like it won't be on you tube," Ianto pointed out, absently combing his fingers through her hair.
"Oh, let me be irrationally fussy," Gwen groused.
Jack made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a giggle. Gwen hit him with a pillow.
One day, Gwen finds herself reading about the Cardiff bombings, and it suddenly hits her, all of it, that Tosh and Owen are dead, again, and they have only months left to go before they can go home.
She's just not sure what- where- when- who that is anymore.
They'd bought the stopwatch back long ago. Ianto uses it to count down the hours, minutes and seconds until it's safe to make their presence known.
Gwen wears her wedding band once more. Jack's coat has all it's buttons again.
"Well gentlemen," Gwen says, because someone has to say something or they'll all go mad. "It's been a pleasure."
"I'll say," Jack says with a wink and a leer, because he's Jack and it's expected of him. And as though given a cue, Ianto rolls his eyes.
Martha rounds the corner and, catching sight of them, greets them with a shout. Following closely behind are Mickey and Andy and Rhys.
They're right back where they need to be.
Here's the thing about Jack: he's prone to bouts of selfishness. It's a character flaw he's well aware of, but when you get right down to it, saving the world day in and day out for a century into the past and with several centuries in the future to look forward to is his life. He's entitled to grab onto something good when it comes his way.
The problem is, everything else will crumble, sooner or later.
Can he really be blamed for wanting it to be later, though? After all, it's not as though an extra three years, added to two lives, doomed to be cut short by their intensity, is stealing that much from the universe. If anything, it's giving to it.
'Tis the season, and all that jazz. And besides, they needed a vacation.