A/N - Here it is, the final part of this tale. Thank you to those who left reviews, short or long, they are always very much appreciated. There may be a pause before I post another story - although there is one I have with Jack and Ianto in Rome.
"Where's Ianto?" Gwen leaned on the door to Jack's office. She had come in late, having asked for time off to get her hair cut and blow dried. It was almost as slick and glossy as it had been a week ago.
"Taken a couple of days off." Jack looked up from a sheaf of papers on his desk. "And before you bitch about it, he deserves them."
"Couldn't agree more. So you're not taking time off as well to be with him?"
"No, Gwen – as you can see I'm here. What is it with you? Why so interested in what Ianto's doing?"
"It's just that he's seemed a bit down the past few days … not his usual self."
Jack scowled at Gwen – he knew exactly what she meant, but he had no intention of discussing his concerns about Ianto with her.
"Well maybe a few days away from this place will do him good."
"He's gone away somewhere then?" Gwen asked nonchalantly.
"I don't know." Jack frowned, he hadn't wanted to admit to not knowing what the hell Ianto was doing with his time off, but Gwen had tricked him into it.
"Sorry, did I hear that right? You don't know where he's gone?" Gwen adopted her police interrogation stance, as if cross examining Jack in a witness box.
"He didn't tell me." Jack held his hands up in surrender. "Just said he needed to take off for a day or two."
"And you don't think that's strange – after everything that happened?"
"Gwen – just get to the point will you." Jack was exasperated with Gwen – he could tell she had an agenda and just wanted her to get it over with so he could go back to pretending to do paperwork.
"It's just that I thought you two were going steady, you know." Gwen shrugged, ignoring the fact that she could feel Jack bristling with suppressed annoyance. She had volunteered to rattle Jack's cage and knew that both Tosh and Owen were listening in on every word. "It's just that couples tell each other know what they're doing, that's all…"
"I really hate that word – couple," Jack grimaced.
Even after living through the whole of the twentieth century Jack refused to acknowledge the archaic traditions regarding relationships and sexuality, he loved freely, even though he seldom allowed himself to fall in love. His feelings for Ianto were beyond doubt as far as he was concerned and he had no need to attach a label just for the benefit of others.
However, Jack couldn't ignore the fact that Ianto had been much quieter than usual and seemed to be acting awkwardly around Gwen in particular. Perhaps there had been something kindled between the two of them when they had been stranded together? Or maybe Ianto was still feeling uncomfortable with her because of what had almost happened between them in the Iron Age.
"Take a seat." Jack took a deep breath and gestured for Gwen to sit down. He tried not to react to the smug expression of victory she broadcast. "There is something I need to talk to you about."
"What is it?" Gwen was delighted that her ploy had worked and that she was actually going to find out something at last. She'd grown very fond of Ianto and was worried about him. His asking for time off when there was so much to be done was so out of character that she knew something was badly amiss.
"Ianto told me what nearly happened between the two of you … in the past... at the solstice." Jack sighed heavily, hoping that Ianto would forgive him for broaching this subject with Gwen. "I really hope that won't make it difficult for you to work together."
"Oh … I see." Gwen gaped, surprised that Ianto had told Jack about that. She'd not said a word to Rhys, after all he'd only just accepted that Ianto wasn't a threat to their marriage.
"I told him not to let it bother him," Jack grinned at Gwen, thinking that she was also fearful of his reaction, no doubt assuming he'd be jealous of them. "It's OK, Gwen, I made it perfectly clear that if I'd been in his shoes I'd've gone for it-"
"You did what?" Gwen leapt from her chair and got to the other side of the desk before Jack could take a breath. "You stupid bastard!"
Jack didn't get to finish what he was going to say as Gwen swung her fist at his face hard enough to almost dislocate his jaw.
"You bloody idiot!" Gwen glared at Jack, her eyes flashing with undisguised fury. "He was in pieces for days, maybe weeks, after that – he felt guilty that he'd almost cheated on you, even though he didn't think he'd ever see you again … and you basically told him that you'd have gone ahead and fucked me? Have you any idea how much that would have devastated him?"
Jack shook his head slowly, although he was beginning to appreciate just how much damage he'd caused as a consequence of his tactless remarks.
Gwen looked on as Jack rubbed the reddened area on his face, his mouth opening and closing as if he really didn't know what to say, which was a novelty. She considered whether or not to let Jack in on something else she'd learnt from Ianto during one of their late night chats in the cold and dark. She knew it would only twist the knife, but Jack needed to hear it.
"You should also know that he thinks the only reason you asked him out on a date was because I'd told you that I'd got engaged to Rhys."
"He doesn't!" Jack's head snapped up as he saw that Gwen was looking deadly serious now.
"Yes, he bloody well does, you idiot. The fact that you never did take him out on that date hardly helps matters."
"How the hell do I undo this?"
"You find him and let him know that you're an idiot and don't deserve him. Then you take him out somewhere nice. The more expensive, the better."
"But I don't know where he is –"
"Tosh is already onto it – she's breaking into his files to see if there are any clues. He spent quite a while online yesterday."
Before Jack could protest at the invasion of Ianto's privacy or the fact that he'd been manipulated, Gwen had slipped out of the office and was calling down to Tosh for information. Jack didn't know whether to be grateful or afraid.
Jack's thoughts as he crossed the Brecon Beacons were unsettled; he'd never been comfortable driving across the bleak landscape since the incident with the cannibals. He relaxed more as the directions Tosh had given him took him to the west of the Beacons and into steep-sided, wooded valleys. The SUV barely fit the narrow lane he'd turned down and he really hoped he didn't meet any traffic coming from the other direction, least of all Ianto's car. That would've been very awkward.
The signpost for Beili Bedw Farmon the left confirmed that he was in the right place. As did the sight of Ianto's car – which was a relief. He'd been worried when he'd been unable to get through to his mobile, thinking Ianto had deliberately switched it off, although out here it was much more likely that there was no signal.
Enquiries at the farmhouse told him exactly where to find Ianto and also informed him what he was doing there. The woman Jack spoke to had trusted him purely on the basis of Ianto's generosity. Apparently he'd bestowed a large sum of money with guarantees of regular donations to their Pony and Horse Trust, on the sole condition that they ensure that the next Welsh mountain pony taken in for adoption be called Myfanwy and that he could come and visit whenever he wanted. Jack also found out that Ianto had set up a trust fund which would take over control of donations in the eventuality that he'd be unable to oversee the transfers personally. He bit back tears as he thought of Ianto considering his own mortality.
Jack smiled fondly as he understood why Ianto was doing this. He recalled Ianto insisting on making arrangements for his beloved pony back in the Iron Age and how Gwen had explained the importance of that to him. Ianto was setting up a legacy in his name, supporting the descendants of the ponies that had provided him with comfort when he was at his loneliest. Jack was also saddened that Ianto still felt the need to seek solace in the company of the horses out here, miles from home. But he knew why. He'd been an insensitive bastard. In trying to reassure Ianto that it wouldn't have mattered to him if he'd had sex with Gwen, he'd told him that he wouldn't have hesitated to do so. He'd also given the impression that he didn't care who Ianto slept with. That must have hurt Ianto more than almost anything else he could have said. He probably couldn't have done more emotional damage if he'd been aiming to do so.
Striding across the stable yard Jack barely noticed the ponies being groomed and the stables being mucked out. He almost walked into a wheelbarrow of horseshit and straw as he was taking the most direct route to where he'd been told he'd find Ianto. Tucking his coat tails behind him he virtually vaulted over the styles in the fences before heading for a hedge of hawthorn trees which bordered the paddock he'd been directed to look for – the one with a wooded area to the north of it.
Ianto could hardly believe his eyes when he caught sight of the figure in the long coat striding purposefully uphill towards him. He could have sworn he'd covered all traces, even setting up a separate bank account to keep his payments hidden from Torchwood. How the hell had Jack found him? He gently rubbed the nose of the Shetland pony that was standing closest to the wooden fencing, trying his best to ignore Jack.
"He's cute." Jack reached over the fence to stroke the little pony's ears.
"His name's Craig – he was found wandering around the aisles of Tesco's in Cardiff would you believe? The girls here say he's adorable, but he does seem to have developed a fixation with my jeans."
"Must have good taste then." Jack watched on in amusement as the scruffy little pony butted its head against Ianto's legs as it tried to nibble at the pockets of his jeans. Ianto eventually gave in and took out the packet of Polo mints to feed one to the pony.
"Jack, do you understand the concept of a day off?" Ianto didn't look at Jack, he focused on the pony, hoping it would keep him from losing his temper. "Or the idea that I might want to get away from work for more than a few hours? What's up? Lost a file? Forgotten where the takeaway menus are kept? Missed ogling my arse?"
"I came to apologise. I guess the first apology should be for tracking you down, but- "
"You drove all the way out here to apologise?" Ianto spared Jack a glare, before returning his attention to the sturdy Shetland pony. "Couldn't that have waited until tomorrow?"
"Yeah – I guess it could have." Jack was beginning to feel jealous of the pony. "But I wanted to see where you'd got to."
"Don't you trust me?"
"More than anyone else I know. It's not that. I was worried about you and then after talking to Gwen I realised how badly I'd screwed up."
"You talked to Gwen?" Ianto was horrified; he could only imagine what Jack would have talked to her about after his admission. Feeling his face flushing red, he abruptly turned away from the fence and walked away from Jack, heading into the woods.
"Ianto? Don't go! Hear me out," Jack yelled, almost having to run to keep up with Ianto. "Please?"
Ianto stopped but didn't turn around. He tried to control his breathing, what needed to be said had to be got out calmly – however much he felt like shouting.
"I suppose you both had a good laugh at my expense? 'Stupid Ianto – looked a gift horse in the mouth and turned down the chance of a guilt-free ride.' I expect Owen has heard as well by now. Great, I can't wait to get back to work now. Thanks, Jack!"
"No – it's not like that. I didn't tell anyone else. If you must know, Gwen punched me when I told her what I'd said to you."
Ianto's lips curled up at the corners in spite of his attempts to maintain a stern expression. He turned to look at Jack.
"In my office – chin." Jack pouted as he pointed at his jaw line. "She has a right hook that could put yours to shame I'll have you know."
Ianto laughed out loud, seeing Jack standing there looking sorry for himself.
"Why did she hit you?"
"Because I'd behaved like a thoughtless bastard and upset you. I hurt you didn't I?"
"Yep. You did. I know you didn't mean to … it's just that…" Ianto had stopped under a large oak tree and was leaning against it, looking up into the canopy of leaves as he tried to explain to Jack how he felt, unable to look him in the eye. "I always knew I was second best – a consolation prize when you couldn't have Gwen …"
Ianto was gazing up at the patterns made by the overlapping leaves and didn't notice Jack approach him stealthily and before he could move, he found himself pinned to the rough tree bark, caged in by Jack's arms.
"Never. I know it seemed that way. You've gotta understand – I was… am attracted to both of you … not just because you're both damn hot to look at, but there's something about you – maybe it's the Welsh blood… Gwen's passion is upfront and hits you like a tidal wave, but yours is more subtle, like a rip tide … an undercurrent so strong that once caught up in it there's no escape, not that I'd ever wanna break free. Yeah, there was a time I wanted Gwen and would have taken her up on her offers, that's if Owen hadn't got there first, but … and don't you ever tell her this, she was easy and you were a challenge – and I've never been able to resist a challenge."
"So – the reason you chose me over Gwen was because you wanted the thrill of the chase?" Ianto's flippant response gave him time to assimilate the declarations just made by Jack.
"No! Yes … can't you just accept that I did choose you and that I've no regrets over that and that anything I said about having sex with her if I'd been stuck in the past, with her, was meant to make you feel better, not worse. It was just hypothetical and-"
Ianto had to put a halt to Jack's babbling, so he leant forward, grabbed hold of the lapels of his coat and pulled him in for a deep kiss. He didn't break away until his lungs were crying out for air and even then didn't relax the grip he had on Jack.
"Does that mean I'm forgiven?" Jack asked cautiously. He looked into Ianto's eyes that seemed to glisten slightly in the dappled sunlight filtering through the branches overhead.
"It means you've said enough to convince me that you regret hurting me … and that you'd best stop talking before you put your foot in it again."
"Oh … that's good. Isn't it?" Jack smiled nervously. "What else can I do? You've gotta know I'd do anything to prove to you how sorry I really am …"
Ianto slid his arms under the heavy fabric of the great coat and wrapped them around Jack's waist. He leaned in close to whisper into his ear. Jack's grin grew broader and his eyes fluttered shut, allowing him to picture the images painted by Ianto's suggestions. He nodded enthusiastically and then obligingly slipped his arms free from his coat and helped Ianto put it on. As soon as Ianto had the coat on he pressed Jack against the broad tree trunk, one hand holding Jack's wrists firmly above his head as he kissed him with all the passion he could muster.
An hour later, the two men returned to the parking area, hand in hand and with contented smiles on their faces. Ianto had dried leaves sticking in the longer strands of hair that curled at the base of his neck. Jack's coat had grass and mud stains on the back of it that hadn't come from walking through fields.
"Dinner?" Jack suggested as he pressed the key fob to unlock the SUV.
"As long as you're paying." Ianto leaned on the roof of his car as he pulled open the driver's door.
"Wear a suit and I'll take you to that new French place." Jack winked at Ianto.
"You can pick me up at eight." Ianto returned the wink and added a raised eyebrow for good measure.
"Ianto…" Jack called out, sounding insecure for a moment. "Are we OK now?"
"Yeah. For now."
A/N 2 - Gareth David-Lloyd was a patron of the Lluest Horse and Pony Trust at the time this was first written - just after COE aired. It was COE that nearly stopped me writing TW fanfic completely, but I decided to undo the damage by re-writing TW from Fragments onwards. There really was a Welsh pony that made its way into a Tesco store in Cardiff.
Posting may have to be put on hold for a while as I am now busy with my work as Principal Examiner for an A level Biology paper.