Title: The War at Home
Author: nancybrown
Characters: Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys
Summary: Jack and Ianto are having a spat. Gwen is going to kill them both.
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Up through "Exit Wounds"
Disclaimer: All characters belong to the BBC.
Author's Note: Written for amand_r in the twsecretsanta fic exchange.

Looking back, Gwen realised it had been two days since she'd last heard them speak to each other in any capacity not strictly related to work. Their days stayed the same: Jack barking orders, she and Ianto running interference with the police and the far too nosy gawkers, fielding questions, dosing out Retcon, and wondering when they were going to get a space in which they could breathe, sleep, and hire more people. Say what she might about their current spat to Rhys (and if she couldn't tell Rhys and let him get a chuckle at someone else's romantic crisis from time to time, who could she tell?) neither one was letting it affect their jobs.

That had to be why she'd taken so long to notice. What with work being every minute of their lives the past several weeks, there simply hadn't been time to spend joking or chatting or anything.

But now it was long past suppertime, and she'd taken her turn getting sandwiches while Ianto hosed down Janet's otherwise-ignored cell. Gwen put the food in the boardroom where they could sit down and spread out a bit.

"Thanks for getting these," Jack said, tucking into one while he sat down. She did a mental countdown for him to start spewing crumbs from an overfull mouth as he talked to them, but nothing came.

"Perfect." Ianto dried his hands on a towel and sat on the other side of her with his own sandwich, arranging his napkin over his tie. Considering that he wound up with alien viscera or worse all over him most days, she wondered why he bothered, or for that matter, why he hadn't eschewed the suits entirely for something that laundered easier.

She said, "I ran those numbers you wanted. We're definitely seeing a pattern on the east side of the Taff."

"That'll be our nest," Jack said. "If the Rift doesn't spit anything at us tonight, we'll make that tomorrow's project."

Usually, at that point Ianto would make a comment, possibly about the preparations they'd need to make, but instead he continued eating. Poor lamb, she thought. Just as knackered as she was, and probably getting far less rest thanks to Mr. "In The Future, Sleep Is Optional So Let's Shag."

Gwen nudged his arm. "Is there any kit we need to get together tonight?"

"I want to put in some of those new spray canisters we've been testing, and plenty of nets," Ianto said, sounding more alert than she'd thought. "If we go to replace the SUV, we should think about getting a van. More space to haul the bodies."

Gwen laughed at the mental picture. Something in her memory tickled. "Jack, didn't they have a van before the SUV?"

"Yeah, and then a Jeep. Hideous thing. Alex requisitioned the SUV. Said it had more style."

Again, she waited for Ianto to make a remark, but nothing came. She filled in the silence. "Is that Alex of 'Alex Hopkins who killed his team' fame?"

"He was only crazy at the end. Nice guy, normally."

It was like a gap had opened in the conversation. The other two kept eating, while Gwen started to shoot each one glances. She chatted a little more, and now it was more obvious that neither one was directly answering the other.

Jack wiped the crumbs off his hands. "It's looking like a slowdown tonight. I'll keep watch on things here. You two go home, get some sleep. That's an order. We'll start bright and early on the nest tomorrow."

"Sounds lovely," Gwen said. "I'll see you both in the morning." She swept up the last of her own mess into the bin.

"I'll walk you out," Ianto said with a pleasant smile, and grabbed his suitcoat, abandoned in the day's heat, as she gathered her purse at her desk. Jack walked out of the boardroom with them, hands in his pockets and an expression she couldn't name on her face as they left.

Ianto walked her to her car, and to her surprise, then unlocked his own.



"Are you … all right?"

"Fine," he said, with that same absent smile. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Right, then. Good night."

"Good night." He shut his car door, and waited for her to do the same before he pulled out. He was always polite about that sort of thing, even when he didn't need to be: tuck in his napkin, speak the normal pleasantries, walk the heavily-armed woman to her car after dark. Except he normally didn't go home afterwards these days, or if he did, he didn't go alone.

"It was the oddest thing. Like when my parents would fight, and we'd have one of those dinners where Dad would say, 'Now Gwennie, tell your Mam I said … ' and she'd do the same thing." She took a sip of her wine.

"I remember those fights," said Rhys. "Did yours always end with your dad apologisin'?"

"Mostly Dad. Your parents, too?"

"I learned 'I'm wrong and I'm sorry' at my dad's knee. So, which one's the Mam and which one's the Dad?"

"Hard to tell sometimes," she said, settling against him.

"I can see why. Ianto's a good bloke, but he's a bit poncy, yeah? And that Jack's a great big drama queen."

She laughed. "I'll tell him you said so."

"Do. So, right, they're both obsessed with how they look, and they fuss about every bloody little thing, and they're broody as hens. They're both the woman." He chuckled. It took him about twenty seconds to realise she wasn't chuckling with him. "What I mean to say," he said hurriedly as she pulled away from him, set her glass down and stood, "is that … "

She let him flail for words.

"I'm sleepin' on the couch tonight, aren't I."

"Get your pillow."

"I'm wrong and I'm sorry?"

"So not working for you, Williams."

Rhys sighed.

They cleaned out the nest of half-sized aliens without much trouble. The H'rorta were nocturnal, and didn't know what hit them until they were all rounded up, blinking in the harsh morning light, and getting a stern lecture from Jack in their own tongue about getting their arses back where they belonged.

It almost proved to be a pleasant late morning after that, and then two Weevils were reported at the Stadium, fortunately well before anyone but the groundskeepers were on site. Before that was sorted, Andy called with news of something bizarre at a crime scene, which Jack and Gwen went to investigate while Ianto hauled the Weevils down to the Hub for processing by himself.

The "something bizarre" was actually a Persian cat that had been shaved in a perhaps inhumane fashion into a miniature lion, but there was another call as Jack railed at Andy for wasting their time. And another call. And another.

It was grim and grinding, and worse than that, monotonous on top of everything else. Nothing the Rift threw at them lately was overpoweringly evil, bent on world domination, or even an out of the ordinary version of deadly, but it kept on coming until late that night.

At midnight, Jack could see the other two were wavering on their feet. There was still paperwork to finish up, and it would be a larger pile tomorrow, but if they didn't sleep, they'd collapse.

He wiped his face with his hand. "Go home. We'll deal with this tomorrow."

"Five more minutes," Gwen said. "I'm almost done."

Ianto said nothing, of course he said nothing, but he sat at his console and continued typing up the thing he was working on, an initial evaluation of the artefacts that came through at eight PM just off St Mary Street. Nothing that couldn't wait.

"I could have sworn I said to stop."

"No," said Gwen, as she saved her file for the last time. "You said go home." She yawned and stood. "So I'm going. Ianto?"

"Still finishing," he said, typing faster. "Unless you'd like me to walk you out. It is a bit late."

She gave him an indulgent smile. "Pet, after the day we've had, I'd like to see a human try something with me. See you in the morning."

"Good night," he said.

"'Night, Gwen," said Jack.

Gwen went out the cog door, and Jack stood there a moment. Ianto continued working, completely ignoring him. The first couple of days had been annoying but also, Jack had to admit, kinda fun in that "we're going to be having so much make-up sex" fashion he enjoyed. Hell, back when he'd been with John, or whatever he was calling himself this week, half their mutual sulks had been designed with the make-up sex firmly in mind, and it had always been worth every pout. Had they gone this long without speaking directly to each other, they'd have stayed in bed afterwards for a week.

Except this sulk wasn't about pretending to be mad for the sake of getting laid later. This sulk was about … Anyway, Jack had been right, and if Ianto wanted to be angry with him because of it, "Fine."

Ianto glanced up at him, still not saying anything, and Jack knew he'd said the word out loud. Oops. "Work you've done there," he said, attempting to cover. "Now go home."

An eyebrow came up. Ianto kept typing.

"I could unplug your computer."

Ianto typed one-handed for a moment. His other was busy making a gesture.

"That's technically insubordination."

The gesture was flashed again, and matched by a harder clicking of the keys.

Jack leaned on the frame holding the monitor and then bent into Ianto's line of sight for the screen.

Ianto sighed. "You're in my way." Win!

"Funny," Jack said, moving away now that he'd gotten Ianto to talk. "When I say that, you get all pissy."

"That's not what you said." Ianto saved his file and closed it. "If there's nothing else, sir, I'll be leaving."

"Go." As Ianto stalked to the cog wheel, Jack said, "I know what I said. And I'm right."

"You don't listen to half of what comes out of your own mouth. And you're wrong." The cog wheel turned, letting him get the last word in and leaving Jack alone in the Hub with his own thoughts.

He was right. He told himself so, as he went over his own stacks of reports. Sleep was optional, and this way he could get on top of the pile for a few hours, so he plowed through droningly boring UNIT files on artefacts similar to their own looking for cross-references. "I was right," he said out loud around three AM, setting down the last autopsy report and yawning. Jack was passable at xenobiology, had acted as a doctor in times past when his squad's medic was shot, could take on Owen's roles if he tried hard and ignored fatigue and pretended everything was going to be all okay as long as they just kept moving.

He treated himself to a shower around four and fell into bed for an hour's catnap. The hour must have stretched, because he awoke to the smell of coffee in his office above him.

Bleary, he crawled up the ladder, and there was his mug, hot and full and fixed just right. The past three days he'd had to get his own from the coffeepot, another silent rebuke. So the storm had passed, had it? He took a long drink, feeling himself warm up. Make-up sex was on the horizon. After all, he'd been right.

He glanced down into the Hub to see if he could spot Ianto. A movement caught his eye over in the greenhouse, and he grinned. Excellent. He took one more sip and set the mug down. Ianto emerged from the greenhouse then, spraybottle in hand. Fully dressed, Jack was sad to see. Jack offered a wide smile and a come-on waggle of eyebrows across the way. He expected the full body sigh and shrug of shoulders. He hadn't expected the return of the two-finger salute as Ianto glowered and went downstairs.

Jack glanced into his coffee. Probably not drugged, poisoned or spat in, he figured. He finished it anyway.

"I was right!" he said to the coral on his desk, which did not respond.

As he dressed, two things happened. First, the alarm sounded, announcing Gwen's arrival. Second, his mobile rang. It was Gwen's home number.

"This had better be good," he said, rather than "Hello."

"Thought this was you," said Rhys. "Got the number out of her mobile."

"What do you want?" It was just past seven, and he was already working on a killer headache. Maybe Ianto had poisoned him.

"Me? Frankly, I'd like to get laid at some point."

Jack's eyebrows rose. "Rhys, let me assure you I don't have time to pencil you into my schedule just now … "

"In your dreams, Harkness." Actually, that was a true statement. They'd been very strange dreams, and Jack had sworn off onions on his pizza for a month afterwards, which seemed to help. "Your domestic quarrel is now my domestic quarrel. So fix it. Make it up to him somehow. Buy 'im flowers, take 'im someplace fancy for dinner, I don't care."

"Romantic advice from Rhys Williams. My morning just keeps getting better." He paused. "Why is this your problem?"

"It's not," he said too fast. "I already manned up and said I was sorry. But she's mad at you both for not doing the same thing."

"And you're getting the fallout." Hm. On the one hand, he was getting to mess with Rhys. It wasn't a full-time hobby, but Jack saw the joys in it. On the other, now Gwen was mad at him, too, and if none of them were speaking to one another, someone would wind up dead.

"You know how this goes," said Rhys. "One of you has to give. Make a peace offering." Jack looked at the mug on his desk. "You've done this before, right?"

He had. He just hadn't expected to do it in this situation. This was supposed to be sex. This was supposed to be simple and easy and without strings. Except it hadn't been for a long time, and that was part of the problem.

"Don't make me call him next."

"I'll handle it," Jack said, and closed the phone.

He was right. Of course he was right. But he could admit that he shouldn't have said it out loud.

They were going to have to close the tourist office. Tosh had once told him they'd kept it locked all the time before Jack brought him onto the team. Ianto could see the neglect, written in the severely-dated décor, and in the yellowing pamphlets he'd found. It had been a disguise, barely used, and only manned when someone was being punished. He'd ordered new pamphlets first thing, then dusted and mopped so the spiders were evicted. He enjoyed the shabby chic of the place, though, and kept the lighting dim and the awful bead curtain hanging, and he used it as his sanctuary when the atmosphere below became too much.

Now there was rarely time to linger up here with a disarming smile for the poor sods who wandered in and a real smile for the delivery people who did. The "Sorry, Closed" sign was up more often than not, and the dust was again gathering on the shelves. Today was easier than the past several had been, and he made a point of going upstairs with his cloths and broom to give the place a polish. He might as well leave it clean for the next person whose job it was to guard the door.

Caught as he was in the mind-numbing business of sweeping for cobwebs, it took him ten minutes before he noticed the parcel on the desk behind the counter.

Ianto dropped the broom, and went into a crouch. He took all the deliveries, which meant this hadn't come through the post. A bomb? An artefact? Something left by an enemy with a grudge?

He moved closer, hand reaching up to his ear to warn the others in case this was his last thirty seconds here on Earth.

The yellow Post-It note stuck to the top made him re-evaluate the danger. Rarely did dangerous alien devices arrive on his desk with Post-Its attached, although he supposed there was a first time for everything. His hand dropped from his headset, and with another glance, he saw Jack's distinctive scrawl.

"Something you might like. - J."

He wasn't ruling out "dangerous" yet, but life-threatening was rapidly leaving the picture. The parcel was wrapped with brown paper. Plain brown paper. This wasn't going to end well, he knew, and yet he pulled out a letter opener to cut the paper open, expecting a sex toy or an embarrassing garment to wear, or …

It was a book, quite old. He opened it carefully. First edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He wasn't a huge Christie fan, but he enjoyed mysteries when he wasn't devouring spy novels. This was unexpected. No sex content. No making fun of his taste in other reading material, or film, or music. Just something old and valuable that he would enjoy.

Ah. There was the mixed message he'd been waiting for.

He glanced up at the camera, certain that Jack was not going to miss an opportunity to watch him. Then he gave the book an affectionate pat and went back to cleaning.

Later in the day, after he and Gwen went after a Hoix annoying and frightening people at the shopping mall, Ianto returned to his workstation and found a Wispa bar.

"What the hell?" he said out loud, but Gwen didn't hear him, and he slipped the bar into his pocket before she saw and asked. He didn't want to explain the concept of crap chocolate as comfort food. He'd brought it up once, when he and Jack had been talking, oh, it had to be over a year ago. Yes, because he'd been telling Jack about all the candy that girl Emma had bought, the one who came through the Rift with Owen's Diane and that older man, John. Apparently, Jack had remembered. And for Jack, it had been a lot longer than just a year.

Ianto frowned. He had the right to be angry with Jack. A couple of thoughtful gifts weren't going to change that. He'd left the coffee this morning as a simple gesture: I don't hate you. Jack had apparently interpreted it otherwise.

The day dragged on into the night, and he left work at the same late hour Gwen did to avoid talking to Jack. Back home, he dug into the closet where he'd hidden the gift. Jack had heard of personal space and boundaries and didn't want anything to do with them, so Ianto always had to be careful with how he stored anything he wanted to keep a surprise. He'd intended this to be for Jack's birthday, which of course was nowhere on record so he was going to plan a day when things were slow, buy a cake, and declare it Jack's honourary birthday. Jack would have opened this and been suitably surprised, and now instead he was using it to leave Jack a message.

First thing in the morning, while Jack was still in the shower in his quarters, he left it in a bag on Jack's desk, and turned to his daily tasks.

Ianto still wasn't speaking to him more than necessary. Jack had left a few things where he knew Ianto would find them yesterday, although a quick glance into the SUV late last night told him that gift hadn't yet been discovered.

As he climbed up the ladder to start his day, he found his coffee waiting beside a familiar-looking book and candy bar. There was also a bag. He reached in, expecting pastries. Instead, his fingers found something hard, and he pulled it out.

It was a music box, clearly old, expertly restored. He opened the filigreed lid, and Strauss floated out in a tinny tinkle.


They'd been looking into a report of suspicious items showing up at an antique dealer's shop downtown. The dealer had been clean, but one of the buyers she purchased from was using her shop, and as it turned out shops in Sussex, Cornwall and other places, to fence alien goods disguised as antiques. They'd shut down the supplier, and rounded up all the alien tech they could find. Toshiko had been like a kid in a sweets shop, surrounded by extraterrestrial phonographs, cameras and lamps.

At the antique store, while they'd interviewed the owner, Jack had found his hands wandering over some of the pieces on display, and this one had caught his attention. The design was lovely, and he liked the song, but mostly it swept him up in a sudden memory of another time and place, and a gorgeous woman dancing in his arms. The shop owner wanted nearly five hundred pounds for the music box, and Jack wasn't in the habit of buying things, preferring to spend his money on experiences. He'd put the box down again without more than a lingering wistful thought about times past.

Apparently the shop owner hadn't been the only one watching him.

He set the music box on his desk beside the returned gifts, and he stared at it a while in thought while he drank his coffee. So much for buying his way back into Ianto's good graces. He'd been outdone on rare, expensive and thoughtful all in one go, and he was still in trouble on top of it.

Maybe that was for the best.

It is VE Day, and like every year on this day, he is dressed a bit smarter and walks a bit more somberly, lost in thoughts of friends lost a long time ago. Gwen smiles at him and kisses him on the cheek when she gets in, silent understanding in her eyes. Ianto is there with his normal quiet presence and calm hands as they work. Over lunch, they indulge him by letting him tell yarn after yarn about the men he served with, old war stories.

He laughs, because it's good to laugh. "Everybody who was left," this was from a squad he served with near the end of the war, "got together for the fiftieth anniversary. I was never so happy to be in a room with a bunch of bald old men."

"Didn't they ask about you?" Gwen gestures at his admittedly still-gorgeous face.

"I told them I was my own son. People swallow that one all the time, especially when I tell them dear old Dad raved about them and told me all his stories." He sips his water and says to Ianto, "Wish I'd have known you then. You would have loved these guys, and I think they would have liked you, too." His hand drapes companionably on Ianto's leg.

"Probably not," Ianto says, and takes another crisp. "May 1995, I was eleven." He pops the crisp into his mouth and chews happily.

Jack pauses over his water for a second before taking a deliberately long drink and shifting his posture so it seems natural to move his hand rather than dart away. He's long ago made peace with the fact that he's older than every person he knows, that he was easily old enough to be the grandfather of every old man at his reunion. But every so often, someone who knows his secret will comment or crack a joke and Jack will feel, just for a moment or two, like a child molester.

He breaks his own tension with a grin, but the words stay with him for days.

The new tie he found in the back seat of the SUV was tasteful, and therefore again confusing. Five hours after he left the music box on Jack's desk, he found a doll sitting in his own chair. It wore a little tie that matched the new one but thank God bore no other resemblance to him. The tiny lorry left on his desk an hour later was more annoying.

Have some toys. Children like toys.

He glowered.

Jack was in his office for hours, and stepped out only to take a pee, but sure enough when he returned, there was something waiting for him. A stethoscope.

Jack glared at it.

The fact that work was not being affected was the only thing stopping Gwen from shooting them both. They'd apparently started a wordless war with a code she couldn't decipher. Two gorgeous white roses showed up on Jack's seat in the boardroom, and not an hour later, two dried and decaying lilies appeared in the kitchenette atop the coffee machine. Last thing at night, she caught Ianto staring with a confused expression at a pair of handcuffs, closed and locked, that had appeared beside his work station, and she wondered to Rhys later if that was just another sex thing. Rhys reminded her of the fun they'd got up to in handcuffs before, and she was so glad she'd forgiven him already. But in the morning, she saw Jack through the window of his office, and he was holding what looked like the same pair of cuffs, only they were open.

The Rift alarm sounded, and they were all busy and very nearly professional.

Gwen was sure she missed things, but through the blur of hours into days, she saw a hand puppet made from a paper sack, a kitschy sand castle that read "Southerndown Beach" on the base, a broken alarm clock, a glittery pink t-shirt that proclaimed "Princess!" on the front (left in the Tourist Centre), and a cheap paperback of poems by Andrew Marvell. She still wasn't sure about the cause of this particular war, but the local shops on the Quay were doing a brisk business from the sidelines.

Jack was in his office when she and Ianto went to write up the last reports of the day, and it was only because she'd looked for it that she caught Ianto's expression: blanching, a tightening of his mouth. She turned away, back to her own work, and heard something hit the bottom of the bin beside Ianto's station.

Curiosity was going to kill her one of these days. She waited until he went to the men's room to peek. Today's newspaper, open to the personal ads. Just in case the hint hadn't been broad enough, both "Women Seeking Men" and "Men Seeking Men" had been circled with the distinctive fountain pen Jack used for signing off on things.

Gwen heard footsteps and scurried back to her own station. She was sure the flush on her face was going to give her away, so she excused herself as soon as she could. Part of her wanted to march up to Jack's office and ask him what in the hell he thought he was doing, and a much bigger part knew that getting involved would only make things worse.

Alone in the ladies' room, she splashed water on her face, recalling her time in charge of the team, back when Jack had left. Owen had taken out his own fears and frustrations on the easiest targets he could find.

On a particularly vicious day, Tosh had cornered Gwen. "Why aren't you putting a stop to this?"

"Because if I do it today, I'll always have to do it, only he'll add 'Running to Mother' to his taunts. You're all adults. If you want Owen to lay off, tell him yourself."

After a couple of tense days following, Owen had suddenly stopped bullying everyone. Gradually, Tosh stopped looking forever on the verge of tears and Ianto stopped looking hunted, and Gwen started to find the three of them chatting and gossiping together like chums.

Gwen wasn't in charge now, but the principle was the same. Her friends had to work their issues out on their own.

She just hoped they'd do it soon.

The last straw for Jack came the next evening. In the time it took him to run down to his bunk for something he'd forgotten and come back up to his office, another gift was left on his desk.

His very first thought was that the delicate design was made of some kind of crystal, shimmering in the light of the desklamp. Only as he neared the object did the waves of cold hit his arms, welcome in the unseasonable heat they'd been experiencing the last several days. Ice. A finely-crafted, lacey sculpture the size of his fist was melting on his desk. As he watched, a thin line of ice across a gap narrowed, then pulled into droplets and fell away.

Jack grabbed a napkin left from his lunch to pick up the frozen sculpture, careful to minimise the body heat coming near it. He swiftly carried the thing to the kitchenette, where he shoved napkin and all into the freezer before he managed to completely destroy the beautiful item.

Subtlety. Some people needed to learn it.

He checked his watch then leaned his head out. "Gwen?"

"What?" She was poring over Rift data.

"Is there anything else about to come at our heads?"

"It doesn't look like it."

"Good. Go home, Gwen." He pulled his head back in, and waited he heard the cog wheel close behind her. There was a chance Ianto had gone with her without saying goodbye. There was also a chance he was waiting around the corner with an ax. Time to find out which.

Jack poked his head out again. The Hub was empty.

He opened the freezer door again to look at the ice. The thinnest, most intricate bits had melted away before he'd reached the kitchen, but it still looked nice. Hoarfrost collected on the inner walls of the freezer as he kept the door open, and he knew the air would creep in and destroy it anyway if he just kept standing there.

Which proved he'd been right all along.

Another long day has stretched into night, and they're the last pair the restaurant lets in before closing the front door. The waiter brings them their usual drinks before they even have a chance to place their orders. Ianto is learning to be comfortable here in public with Jack, learning to be comfortable with people seeing them together, and little things like the waiter's intuitive service help.

Jack has a faraway expression on his face tonight, one he's been wearing for days. He's had that same look in his eyes through fighting and fucking and fuming over the phone, and Ianto is tired of it, tired of chatting idly about work when there's obviously something troubling the man who is, amongst many other things, his closest friend.

"What's wrong?" he asks over the salad.

"Nothing." Jack's eyes are on a couple a few tables over, youngish and clearly in the giddy stage of their romance where everything is about touching each other as much as possible. "Which of those two would you shag?"

"This isn't another attempt to have a threesome, is it?"

"No." His attention is still on the couple. "Now, she's gorgeous," Jack says, gesturing with his fork like he's teaching a class. "She's got curves and she's clearly okay with her own body. But he's good-looking too and I'm willing to bet he'd put out faster."

"You're being loud." And crude, but it wouldn't be Jack without the crudity.

Jack chews thoughtfully. "I can definitely see him as one of those guys who claims to be straight but wanks every night to thoughts of Colin Farrell. You could score with him easy."

Ianto stares at Jack, because they've been over this: no third until they can find someone whom they both like and trust and who doesn't have an objecting significant other. The lovely vision of a Martha or Gwen sandwich is always going to be vanquished by the follow-up image of their respective sweethearts on a killing spree. He's already threatened his own killing spree if Jack suggests John again, and their other friends are gone.

Jack says, "I just think you might want to date someone your own age."

For a second, Ianto goes very still. He rewinds the last sentence and parses it out carefully. He's been given the "I think we should date other people" speech before from girlfriends past, just as he's heard several incarnations of the "it's not you it's me" speech. Jack didn't say either one.

Ianto takes a drink. "The corollary to that would be suggesting you date someone your own age, and the last I checked, no such person exists."

"I get by. And I mean it. You ought to find someone young, reasonably good-looking, make a go at it. Gwen has a life outside of work, someone to come home to at night. You could do that."

He doesn't know how to respond, but in the end, there's only one question he needs to know the answer to: "Are you breaking up with me?"

"I didn't say that." Jack's face goes inert, and then finally, he comes out of the funk he's been in, is completely present now. "You wanna grow old together. You want a life and a family and a mortgage, and you know what? I want you to have that, too. So as someone who's looking out for your best interests, I think you should find some guy or girl who can give them to you." Jack turns back to his salad, but the waiter is there with food Ianto has no interest in eating.

He closes his eyes, tries to process this. "I never said I wanted those things. I don't want those things."


"What is this about, Jack?"

"You should be with somebody who's got more in common with you, somebody who's going to be there for you. You deserve a normal life, and there's no time like the present to look for one. You know I'm right."

Jack starts on his food while Ianto sits back, his plate untouched. "Do you think I'm that much of a child?"

"Compared to me, your grandparents are children."

He rolls his eyes. "And we're back to 'I'm older and wiser than you and know what's best for you.'"

"I am. I do."

"You are so full of shit. I'm not a kid, and I can make my own decisions about my life, including decisions that involve dating self-absorbed old men." He stands, making sure he has all his things together because a dramatic sweep out will only be ruined by having to come back for his car keys. He drops his voice. "If you want to end our arrangement, do me the courtesy of saying so instead of acting like a prick so I'll do it for you. And if you don't and this is just some skewed game you're playing, then quit it."

Before Jack can respond, he leaves. To be honest, he hurries because he doesn't want to know if it's the first scenario after all.

The door to the base slid open and Jack emerged into the Tourist Office. Ianto didn't look up from the desk behind the counter, continued to pretend to be entranced by a new brochure about the Barry Island Railway.

"I thought you went home."

"You sent Gwen home. You didn't send me."

"So literal. If I told you that a cow jumped over the moon … "

" … I'd assume it was a space cow, and pack the type two stun rifles in the SUV."

"There's no such thing as space cows."

"Then the space cowboys are going to be very lonely." Finally, Ianto glanced up at him. Jack was trying not to laugh, and failing. "Was there anything you needed, sir?"

"Ice sculpture, on my desk. Delicate work there. Nicely done."

"It was a mould. The freezer did the hard part."

"Mm. Good clarity."

Ianto didn't tell him that ice clarity could be achieved by vibrating the water as it froze, to eliminate the air pockets. Jack would ask what he'd used to vibrate it, and that wasn't going to lead anywhere constructive just now.

Jack said, "So, ice sculpture. Pretty to look at, has to be hidden away in the fridge not to destroy it by accident. Let anyone near it, it's ruined. I don't want to say it was too obvious, but … " He spread his hands.

"No one gets both, Jack. Either you get to appreciate the thing while it lasts, or you shut it away, so frightened of losing what you've got that you never really enjoy it in the first place."

"Like I said, too obvious."

"Says the king of the single entendre."

Jack grabbed a chair and straddled it. "This is the best it's ever gonna be for us. Monsters and Rift crap for the rest of your life, and as long as you're with me, no chance of anything approaching normal. I am betraying you every single time I kiss you because I can't give you normal."

"I didn't ask you to! Stop telling me what you think I want. I want this. I want monsters and Rift crap and bad takeaway and no pension and risking my neck every single day."

"You don't deserve … "

"I didn't say I deserved them. I said I wanted them. That's what I pay to be with you."

The hit struck its mark. "It's not a fair price."

"Tosh and Owen are dead. That's not fair, either. We don't get fair," Ianto said looking down at the desk, tracing a pattern on the wood.

"I just want to do what's best for you."

"Bollocks. This isn't about me and never was. It's about you. You're scared. Everyone you care about dies, and you think that forcing yourself to stop caring will make it easier. And you're wrong."

He took a breath. "I can forgive you for almost anything, including treating me like some thirteen year old girl with spots and a crush. But you need to forgive me for the fact that I am going to be gone someday. Pushing me away now isn't going to change that, and being petty about it is beneath you." He paused, giving Jack an opening if he wanted to take it, but nothing came, and he stood. "I'll see you in the morning."

As he went towards the door, Jack said, "Ianto, wait."

The Hub was dark when Gwen arrived. She hadn't been called, so it was unlikely the other two were out on an early mission. She cautiously approached Jack's office, not wanting to intrude if there was anything going on, but wanting to see where they were. Jack's door was open, and the office was empty, although the cover to his bunker was still closed.

She didn't see anything out of the ordinary left on his desk except, and this was odd, a puddle of water slowly drying in the warm air. Beside it was a damp white napkin, wrinkled and abandoned like a flag of surrender.

The End

AN: The next story in this series is "Ten Rules for Successful Dating."