Title: To All the People That You Became
Pairing/Characters: Gwen, Rhiannon, Rhys; mentions of Jack/Ianto, Rhys/Gwen
Warnings/Spoilers: spoilers through the end of CoE
Word Count: ~2,460
Summary: Gwen and Rhiannon share a chance meeting in a coffee shop, post-CoE.
Notes: Written for jolinarjackson's awesome tw_femficfest prompt on LiveJournal - "Coincidentally, Rhiannon meets Gwen in a coffee shop shortly after CoE. They talk." :)
Gwen fiddles a bit awkwardly with her cup of tea.
Up at the counter, they're making Rhiannon Davies a cappuccino. It's their specialty here, or so Gwen's heard, but she's been trying to cut back on her caffeine lately, so decaf it is. Something about decaf tea sits better with her than decaf coffee, which she's never quite understood the point of.
She fights the urge to text Rhys. They've long since perfected the art of the subtle SOS; she knows he'd come through - a quick phone call, some emergency she needs to run off to, an easy excuse. She knows she could get out of this if she really wanted to, but…She also knows that she shouldn't. That part of her feels like she owes this woman something huge.
She'd argued hard with Jack, after the nightmare of the 456 had ended, before he'd stopped returning her phone calls and had apparently disappeared for good. She thought Ianto's family deserved to know the truth, or at least, part of the truth. She has no idea what happened in the end, but she'd like to think that maybe she'd gotten through to him, that maybe Jack had gone back and told Ianto's family everything he could, but she doubts it. She'd thought of going round to the estate again herself, after some time had passed, but, well… That hadn't happened either. Maybe it was easier this way. Civil servants.
Gwen smiles a big, toothy grin, as Rhiannon returns with her drink.
"You know how it is," Rhiannon says, clearly not quite at ease, but trying, bless her. "Got to splurge every once in a while, right?"
They've already made it through the small talk at this point. They've done the whole weather bit and the pregnancy, too, outside the shop where their paths had first crossed, so it's down to business now, Gwen figures. Rhiannon sits down across from her, depositing a shopping back next to her chair and rummaging in her handbag. Gwen uses the time to take a few calming breaths and to sip her tea. Just the right amount of sweetness. Lovely.
She smiles encouragingly across the table, a bit like she would have before questioning a victim of a weevil attack, back in the day. A bit of 'you can trust me' and 'it'll be better for both of us if you let it out'.
Rhiannon takes a sip of her cappuccino and meets Gwen's gaze. Her eyes are almost identical to Ianto's. Gwen is surprised to notice this detail – it makes her heart speed up a little.
"I think I owe you a bit of an apology," Rhiannon says after a moment. 'What I said that day. I know Ianto enjoyed his job. That he enjoyed working with you."
"Ah," Gwen says, a bit speechless. She hadn't been expecting that right off the bat. "He did," she manages. "I think he did, anyway. And there's no need to apologize," she adds. "Truly."
"To be honest," Rhiannon says, "You probably knew him better than I did. We hadn't talked in ages before..."
"I didn't know him as well as I'd have liked to," Gwen says honestly, after her brain stops filling in the end of Rhiannon's sentence ever-so-helpfully.
With her words comes a familiar pang of guilt. All those times she and Ianto had talked about going round the pub and hadn't. How she'd always wanted to have him over for Rhys' special spag bol and a few beers and maybe a match or two on the telly, but just hadn't found the time.
There's quiet for a moment. Well, at least across the table, between the two of them, there's quiet. Gwen is grateful for the bustle of activity around them, for the man who scuttles around her chair towards the exit as she shuffles it forward for a moment, for the whir and whiz of the espresso machine pumping away behind the counter. She takes a sip of her tea. Wonders for a moment at the song coming through the café speakers that she can't hear a word of, but swears she almost recognizes.
"It all feels like a bit of a dream sometimes," Rhiannon says. She raises her eyes across the table and meets Gwen's gaze. "Like it never happened. What with the local officials saying everything at Thames House was due to a… What was it again?"
"Gas leak," Gwen supplies, her face a familiar, stoic mask. She'd helped sell that line to the press. One of her last official acts as Torchwood. It had been surprisingly easy.
"There've been rumors, sure, but for the most part people have accepted it."
"People accept pretty much anything if the source is official enough," Gwen admits with a tired smile. She doesn't offer anything else, and Rhiannon doesn't ask, doesn't push.
"It's mad," Rhiannon says eventually, shaking her head.
"Utterly mad," Gwen agrees, and for a moment, they share a small smile.
"So what's next," Rhiannon asks. "My brother… All those lives lost that day... Does someone replace him? What happens next?"
Gwen grits her teeth for a moment, her mind already starting to spin a simple lie like always, but about three quarters of the way through, she figures sod it, and throws her hands in the air.
"Honestly? I have no idea," she says. "My boss disappeared - he's been gone for months, and I'm like this," she glances down at her stomach. "I don't know." She laughs. "My husband and I are thinking about buying a house down by Rhossili Bay."
Gwen's expecting a diatribe but it doesn't come. Rhiannon just sits there, gazing past Gwen, outside the large shop windows, and Gwen realizes that the questions she's hearing are her questions – What, so you're just giving up? Who will save the world now? What did my brother die for?
They've always been her questions – no one else is asking them. No one else would dare. Not Rhys, or PC Andy with his quiet disappointment, or anyone else. She fights the urge to laugh again. Who in their right mind would want Gwen Cooper on the front lines protecting the world from alien threats anyway, right? Maybe she should have stayed a PC after all.
"I don't blame you," Rhiannon says after a moment.
"That can't be the truth."
When Gwen finally manages to raise her eyes up from the table, Rhiannon is shaking her head. Like maybe she wants to be angry, but just isn't. Gwen knows the feeling well, believes it.
"That tall bloke, the fit one, him I blame," Rhiannon says with a wink, but Gwen can see the anger flash in her eyes for a moment. "But not you. You got caught up in this just like he did, didn't you? Just like we all did."
"Maybe," Gwen says, and fiddles with her cup. It feels like a lie. Everything feels like a lie right now, and there's not a damn thing to do about it, so she soldiers on. "Sometimes I wonder if it's what I've always been meant to do. I think all of us feel that way at some point with this job."
Rhiannon just watches her, nods.
"Delusions of grandeur," Gwen adds with a small, bitter smile. "Nothing else will ever be enough."
"Is that what my brother thought too?"
"Probably. It's a bit of an occupational hazard."
There's a moment of quiet between them, another stark contrast to the chaos buzzing around the café, as customers weave their way in and out of tables, and answer calls on their mobiles - a brilliant mash-up of sounds and sights that all signify one thing. Life. All the things the old team, Ianto and Tosh and Owen (and Jack, can't forget Jack), had fought so valiantly to protect every day. It's all still buzzing around this café in the center of town, right under the nose of the rift. And it feels amazing.
Gwen feels Rhiannon's eyes on her and she returns the thoughtful gaze with a friendly raise of her eyebrows.
"Boy or a girl?" Rhiannon asks finally, gesturing across the table.
Somehow they'd missed this part of the small talk before, and Gwen feels herself smile despite herself. Her hands fall unconsciously to her stomach. "A girl. Anwen."
Rhiannon smiles. Friendly. Much more at ease than when they'd started out. It feels good. Almost like the start of something, maybe.
"That's a nice name."
"It means 'beautiful'," Gwen says, feeling warmth in her chest. "Shallow, maybe, but Rhys and I…we liked it."
Rhiannon smiles at her, eyes wide and friendly, but there's something sad behind them - Gwen sees Ianto in them again. And suddenly, she can feel the tears coming. These days, she has the emotional control of a thirteen year old at a school dance. It's infuriating, really.
She reaches in her pocket for a tissue and dabs at her eyes quickly.
"Sorry," she says. "Bloody hormones. I was just thinking about how much you and Ianto resemble each other and next thing I know…" She pauses, offers a small smile. "I guess I miss him more than I realized."
Rhiannon just shakes her head. Her eyes look a little watery, too.
"It's nice, to know you got on."
"We did – all of us. I mean, we had our differences here and there, but…" Gwen sighs, takes a deep breath. "We were a really good team."
"Your boss," Rhiannon starts, and Gwen feels her chest tighten up at the mention of Jack. "You think he'll be back?"
"I don't know. At first, I thought maybe, but… Now I'm not so sure. I can't really imagine what he'd come back for, to be honest. He's lost so much. So many people who were close to him."
Rhiannon doesn't say anything, and Gwen watches her head rise to the window as she looks out onto the street. She's not sure if Jack deserves it, but… She finds herself continuing anyway.
"Jack really cared for Ianto," she starts, carefully. "Not that I'm an expert or anything, but I always thought they had a good thing between them." She rolls her shoulders back a little, and lets out a frustrated breath. "I can't say I'd blame him, really, if he never came back."
Gwen's expecting questions, maybe, but Rhiannon just smiles. "He was happy."
"The last few times I saw my brother. He was happy. Even in the middle of all of this madness, I could tell."
Gwen just nods.
"It might have been the happiest I'd ever seen him."
There's a long, weighty pause. Gwen considers this. She wonders if this will be how she goes someday, too, with or without Jack Harkness around to witness it. Happily sacrificing herself, oblivious to the pain her loved ones will feel once she's gone, knowing that Torchwood has won out, again. She shivers.
"I'm sorry," Gwen says, partly to Rhiannon and partly to herself, to Rhys, to Anwen. She knows there's only one way she ever wants to go. And that's fighting for something. Just like Ianto. No matter what.
"And Jack," she adds, because it suddenly feels important. "He can be such a bastard; I know he can, but… He'd have done anything to save Ianto, I'm sure of it. He wouldn't have let it happen if there was any other way."
Rhiannon looks at her. Not sad, really, not angry either. Disappointed, maybe. Yeah that's it, Gwen realizes, deflating.
"It doesn't really matter in the end, does it?" Rhiannon asks, and Gwen knows it's not really a question.
"No," she says quietly. "It doesn't."
There are a few moments of silence between them before she hears Rhiannon clear her throat. The sun is filtering through the windows, casting the shop in a bright orange glow.
"Well, I'd better be off," Rhiannon says, nodding politely.
At first, Gwen's not sure what to say. Part of her is relieved – she can get home to Rhys, can stop feeling so bloody guilty for everything, can stop thinking about Torchwood and lost colleagues and the fact that she's all alone now in this fight and will probably never see Jack again. But another part of her looks across the tiny table, and feels that spark of friendship, and doesn't quite want to let it flicker out just yet. She reaches into her purse for a scrap of paper and scribbles down her mobile number and her email.
She hands it across the table. "In case you ever feel like getting together." She shrugs. "No pressure."
Rhiannon smiles, a little guarded. "Thanks," she says.
She doesn't offer to return the favor, but after all, Gwen has all the information she needs about anyone who'd ever been even remotely connected to Torchwood, thanks to a software suite she'd taken home and appropriated from the Hub ages ago.
"Rhys makes a mean spag bol, if…" she hesitates. "If you ever feel like it."
Gwen lets Rhiannon leave first, and then sinks back into the café chair. To be honest, she's at a bit of a loss for what to do next.
Naturally, she phones Rhys. At the very least, he can give her a rundown of the errands she's supposed to be running – maybe he could stop her from feeling as if she's going to burst into tears at any moment, too. That would be lovely.
"Hiya love," he chirps after one ring, sounding happy to hear from her. She relaxes into the chair, warmth flooding her face. She sniffles a little.
"What is it? Something up?" Rhys asks, all soft concern and understanding. And love. Can't forget that. She smiles a little.
"I met someone at the café," she manages finally, closing her eyes, and listening for Rhys voice like a lifeline.
"Rhiannon Davies. Ianto's sister."
"Oh," Rhys says, and then again, "Oh."
"Yeah," Gwen says, letting out a long sigh. She listens to Rhys' soft breathing as he sits on the other end of the line patiently for a couple of long moments. Gwen watches the window, the people outside it, listens to the din of the café. She clears her throat eventually.
"But it's fine. I'm fine," she says, realizing with a bit of surprise that she is. That everything is. Despite all of it, they're okay, the ones who are left. It's an amazing thing, life is, when you think about it. Resilient, ever-changing, impermanent, but… undeniably powerful.
Inside her belly, she feels the tiniest whisper of movement. A familiar flutter - a reminder of the future, of what's to come.
"I'll be home in a bit," she tells Rhys, a smile spreading across her face. "And then I'll tell you all about it."