Disclaimer: These characters belong to the BBC, not to me.
Notes: For pocky_slash. Could be a sequel to "Dead Letters" if you like.
THE ART OF GIVING
by Rex Luscus
"I'm sorry, this was a terrible idea," Gwen muttered into Ianto's ear.
"It isn't so bad," Ianto replied, in his good-little-soldier voice. "Now I know what a £10 martini tastes like."
"How does it taste?" She reached across him and took a sip. "I can't taste the extra few quid, can you?"
"Nope. You'd think they could've given me extra olives." He drank the rest. "Never liked martinis."
"Then why'd you order one?"
"It's what you do in posh places. Also, James Bond."
Gwen looked around at their little group. Of them all, she'd assumed Ianto was the posh one. Ceri and Ellen and Taffy certainly weren't; they were about as posh as Gwen. But she only felt like she knew what Ianto was about. Everything he did was calculated to say, "It's just me; nothing complicated here; I'm exactly as I seem." She'd fallen for it once; maybe she had fallen for it again.
"What are you two whispering about?" asked Ceri. All eyes at the table had turned to them; everyone's smiles had dimmed a little, from pleasure to curiosity.
"Just seeing if we can taste the fancy gin," said Gwen.
"Thought you'd be the expert," said Ellen to Ianto. "Man who wears a suit like that?"
Jack or Owen would have detected flirting and returned fire. Ianto just looked cornered and confused. "I don't drink much," he said, and clammed up.
Ellen stared for a moment, then turned back to Taffy.
In the toilet, Ceri and Gwen fixed their makeup side by side. "Your mate's a bit of all right," said Ceri into the mirror. "But he doesn't talk much, does he?"
"He's just not good in groups," Gwen insisted, grimacing as she redid her mascara.
"You mean he's not good with women," Ceri replied.
Gwen frowned. "What d'you mean?"
Ceri made a duckface in the mirror, contemplated it, and blotted her lips. "Well, he's gay, isn't he?"
"No, no, he's both!" Gwen almost said, but she already felt too much like a pimp and she doubted Ianto would thank her. This really had been a terrible idea. "He just looks after himself," she said. "Believe it or not, there are still a few who do."
"If he isn't gay, then he must think he's a bit too smart for us."
"He's just shy," Gwen pleaded. "He'll be better on his own."
"Well, if he calls me, I'll think about it." Ceri snapped her compact shut. "Only because he's lush. Actually, sometimes it's better if they don't talk."
Gwen's heart sank. Her plan hadn't been to get Ianto laid, it had been to get him a girlfriend (or a boyfriend) so he'd stop being so sad all the time. And she knew he was sad about Jack, even if he said he wasn't.
At the table, the tension had increased. "Some place I never heard of, eh?" Taffy was saying to Ianto. "C'mon, try me."
For the tenth time that night, Gwen regretted inviting Taffy along. She hadn't wanted Ianto to be hemmed in on all sides by women, but Taffy was not serving his purpose as affable decoy. "What's all this?" she asked, squeezing Ianto's shoulder as she sat down.
"Just asking where he went to uni," said Taffy. "Can't get a straight answer out of him."
"You're pissed, Taff," said Ellen, putting her arm around him. "Now shut it." Gwen was unspeakably grateful; but Ellen wasn't really defending Ianto, just trying to get on with ignoring him.
"So," said Taffy, knocking back the rest of his drink, "who's up for dancing? Ianto? Think you can show these ladies a good time?"
"I, um," said Ianto.
"We've got to work early," said Gwen, rising. "We should leave you to it."
Taffy slung both arms around Ellen and Ceri. "Fine then. How 'bout it, ladies?"
As they walked back to the car, Gwen linked her arm with Ianto's. "I'm sorry about them," she said. "They used to be a laugh when we were in uni together. Dunno what happened."
"It's not them," said Ianto. "I'm hopeless with new people. Once you've spent too much time at Torchwood, your social skills atrophy, I guess."
"Did you really go to some weird uni nobody's ever heard of?" asked Gwen.
"I didn't go to uni at all," Ianto sighed.
"Oh." Gwen's heart sank again. It was hard trying to be friends with someone who kept himself so resolutely closed off. She wondered if Jack knew any of Ianto's secrets; she hoped somebody did. Maybe Ianto knew a few of Jack's.
Of course, Ianto had told her a secret, just now. The worst thing she could do was say the wrong thing—"Uni's not such a big deal, anyway," or "You seem like you went!" or some other insulting backpedal. The only halfway neutral thing she could think to say was, "How'd you end up at Torchwood?"
"Lisa," said Ianto.
So much for that.
Maybe Ianto sensed her despondency, because he turned to her and said, "It was a nice thought. Trying to find me a girlfriend."
Gwen winced. She hadn't actually announced her intent, but there was no point in denying it. "Maybe I'll try a boy next," she said, then winced again. But Ianto only laughed.
"I think I'm off both for now."
The conversation died. For a moment, awkwardness threatened. This was probably the time to say goodnight, put Ianto in a cab, and go home. But in a desperate final attempt to make something of their evening together, Gwen asked, "So, what would you like to do next?"
Ianto's steps slowed. "Really, truly?"
Gwen glanced up at him gravely. "Yes, really-truly."
He stopped. "What I'd most like to do is find a place that still has Space Invaders, and play it until I get kicked out."
This was not what Gwen had been expecting. She wasn't even completely sure what Space Invaders was; she had a dim picture in her head of an incredibly primitive arcade game. "Is that the one with the rows of little guys—and you shoot at them—"
"Well, that could be anything, but yes. I'll bet you only find it in museums now."
Gwen gazed out into the headlight-streaked night. She was completely indifferent to video games, and if there was one place they weren't going to find Ianto a date, that was it—but at this moment, she longed to give him anything he wanted. Ianto was a genius at finding obscure and precious things for others, but he rarely did himself the same favor. She took out her handheld.
"What are you doing?" asked Ianto.
"Connecting to Mainframe. If anyone knows where we can find Space Invaders, it'll be her, right?"
Ianto grinned. For the moment, he looked twelve. "I'm making you play, too," he said.
"Well, if I must." She took his arm.