Author's Note 1: After so long an absence the appearance of this may surprise. In simple terms a chronic and debilitating illness gave me my own year and more that never was. I post this to move toward something that needs a completion.
Author's Note 2: I don't do fluff and yet in this I think there are moments I come close. It also took a road I didn't expect so there are a couple of original characters. Unlike previous chapters I'll leave it to a slow reveal rather than tell you what aspects of Janto and the TW characterisations I'm reflecting on.
Disclaimer: BBC/Starz still own. And they keep hinting at more. I say please don't. Leave it to us.
Gratitude: If you've picked this up after so long a break thank you for your patience in waiting for this chapter. If you've only just found it thank you, in advance, for reading.
Enormous Gratitude: My beta Cerih, who was so supportive of this in its early days. She said I could, so I have finally done.
"Oh! Ianto," Tosh exclaimed in a whisper, as she and Owen stepped off the lift and made their way to the Plass, "who knew you could dance like that?"
Amidst the flowing colour and finery of the gowns and jewels that highlighted most of the whirling scene, Jack and Ianto made a striking statement: their black tailored suits a monotone note of elegance amidst the glittering crowd. Their graceful bearing and assured rhythm drew the eyes of those not dancing, and the admiration of those who were.
Owen held out his hand, drawing Tosh's attention back to their purpose. "Shall we," he asked, holding out his arms in a dancing posture. As Tosh stepped in and placed one hand on his shoulder and the other in his hand, she said simply, "Lets!" They were about to begin when a spinning couple in black waltzed rapidly toward them, causing them to delay their dancing.
"Hi kids!" Jack called out with a grin, as he and Ianto whirled past them. Quickly losing sight of Tosh and Owen behind other spinning couples, it was a puzzled Jack who asked, "Any idea why those two are up here and dressed for a party?"
Ianto shook his head, as puzzled as Jack. "I have no idea, maybe Tosh's curiosity got the better of her, and she went looking for info on the gala and found out about this part. Though I can't recall seeing anything about dancing on the Plass, but then, it was you who booked the tickets."
"I did, must admit I didn't pay too much attention to the details. And your explanation doesn't really answer the real question – why are they here?" Jack wasn't bothered by their presence; he trusted them and so knew they wouldn't have left the Hub without making the required arrangements for alerts and communication. His curiosity was of a more personal nature.
As they circled through several quick rotations Ianto considered the question. When the music slowed a little he responded. "Perhaps because we had such a good day and they wanted to have their share of celebration. Gwen went home for supper with Rhys; we went to the opera, so perhaps they wanted some fun too."
"All fair points, though you have to wonder," Jack's eyes widened as large as his grin, "who asked who? Did Owen finally have an epiphany or did Tosh get sick of her own hesitancy?"
"While I admire your perspicacity any comment I make would be pure speculation so best not to say anything," replied Ianto, the sparkling of his eyes softening any hint of rebuke.
"Aw, come on Ianto, let's have some fun, and I'm sure they speculate about us often enough. I'll bet it was Tosh, I can't see Owen as quite there yet."
"You think?" asked Ianto in a perfect imitation of Jack's manner. "We worked out earlier he probably organised tonight's send-off so he might well be the one to bet on."
"You make another fair point, maybe he did." Considering the idea through a couple of turns Jack eventually said, with some amusement, "Oh I wish I'd been there to see it, Owen all tongue tied and not making sense, and Tosh working it out and waiting. That would have been quite something to see."
Ianto actually laughed, and for a moment Jack thought he was imagining the scene until he remarked, "So says the man who hid behind a pillar, and couldn't string a sentence together. Now look at us, dinner suited and dancing on the Plass."
Jack smile acknowledged the accuracy of Ianto's memory and the distance they'd come. His reply was warm, "And so we make more progress." His hand held Ianto's shoulder a little tighter. He felt Ianto respond with a subtle firming of his hold. Then Jack began to giggle to himself. That he was able to speak and dance at the same time was evidence to present to Gwen and Tosh that he could, in fact, multi-task. It prompted another thought and he gave voice to it:
"You're a superb dancer, Ianto, which kind of seems, I don't know, a little out of time for someone of your generation – to know how to waltz this well."
"My granny taught me when I was quite young; she said it would come in useful one day. Then Lisa and I, we took lessons." A look of fond memory passed over his face, and he went on, "I danced her around her living room one wet Sunday afternoon. It was fun, though she had two left feet. After that she suggested that we learn together; she didn't want to be any less good at it than me. So we did. It was one of the things we did together. We went a couple of times a week." He stopped speaking as the pace of the dance increased.
As the music again slowed and quietened they adjusted their steps to suit. The adjustments were subtle but Jack knew the arm on his back had drawn him a little closer, that his hand was held a little more softly, and their breathing had eased into a matching rhythm. Their focus of attention on each other did not waiver as they resumed their conversation. It was Jack who picked it up.
"The lessons certainly weren't wasted, you lead superbly."
"And this is a surprise?"
Bending backwards slightly from the waist so Ianto could see his expression, Jack replied sincerely "Not at all, I'd be surprised if you didn't. You're quite adept at effortlessly guiding me wherever you want me to go."
"And you follow so gracefully, which makes us a perfect pairing." The knowing smile appeared as Ianto fully met Jack's gaze.
"I wasn't speaking about dancing" Jack said softly, his attention still locked on Ianto's face.
"Neither was I."
The tempo once more began to quicken, and they matched its rhythm seamlessly, elegantly turning to avoid other couples whose dancing was not so effortless. As the waltz hurried toward its ultimate crescendo their heads tipped back with exhilaration, and neither man missed a step.
The final flourish of the music swelled and Ianto moved Jack rapidly through several swirling turns before coming to a graceful standstill. The look they held amidst the chatter of happy couples on the Plass was one of complete and joyful satisfaction. Jack murmured, "A perfect pairing." In return Ianto brought his lips close to Jack's ear and whispered "You make it easy for me."
Before Jack could respond they spotted Tosh and Owen who were both flushed and beaming.
"Keep those dancing shoes on lads, because it's not over yet," Owen announced as they came to join them. He was grinning with delight as music once again began to fill the Plass. Many of the crowd resumed their dancing, chattering as they did. Others stood and watched; and some, feeling the chill of the night air, clapped with pleasure before wandering away. As the new tune gathered pace the lights illuminating the sparkling space once again matched the rhythm. Owen commented on the new tune, "Thankfully, most of it isn't quite as energetic as the first piece."
"For which I'm grateful," muttered Tosh, "I had no idea what I was doing in that dance."
"What do you mean you've got more lined up?" Jack asked with evident surprise, looking at each of them in turn. "Are you saying you're responsible for this?"
"It's Owen that's responsible, it was his idea," Tosh answered quickly. "I just played a bit with the lights."
"Owen!" Both Ianto and Jack exclaimed. Ianto continued, "I don't know what to say."
Owen laughed with genuine delight, and boasted, "And so I go one up in the speechless stakes."
"For the moment," Ianto responded with equal delight and a glint of challenge.
A still grinning Owen shrugged his shoulders, "Yeah, yeah Teaboy, I'm sure you'll be back in the lead soon enough."
Jack cut across them both, "Its brilliant, Owen, but why?"
Owen shrugged again, and made an unconcerned gesture with his hand. "Maybe I'll explain it later, but you're wasting good dancing music. And I want to convince Ms Sato she can dance, she doesn't believe she can, and the last one seemed to reinforce that belief."
"You're right, we are wasting the music," Ianto said, and holding out his hand he turned to Jack, "Shall we, Sir?"
Taking Ianto's proffered hand Jack, with a wink for Tosh, said, "I know Ms Sato can dance, I saw her dance like an angel at the Ritz in 1941."
"Oh yes, that's right, you did," retorted Tosh, mocking a glare at him. "Before my partner punched you out!"
Pretending to be puzzled Jack mused, "Yeah, that was strange. I only suggested he dance with me, it's not like I was rude or anything."
Tosh replied with good humoured exasperation, "It was 1941, Jack!"
"So it was," Jack agreed, with some wistfulness.
Turning to Owen, a bemused Ianto asked, "Ever hear that part of the story?"
"Nope," replied Owen with interest, "Got lost somewhere I think, we may have been otherwise occupied for a while shortly afterwards."
"A gunshot wound, a dead boss, Abaddon and the end of days – yep, we were," Ianto drolly remarked.
"Something else for later then – come on, Tosh, let's do this." Owen replied, attempting to steer her away.
But they were delayed again, this time by the arrival of Gwen and Rhys. Gwen's delight at the experience was immediately apparent as she gushed over the scene, Tosh's dress and Owen's suit. As they greeted each other Rhys spotted the linked hands of Ianto and Jack. With a provocative grin he pointed at them and stage whispered to Gwen, "Janto look very happy tonight."
Realising what he'd called them her face broke into a delighted smile. "Janto, my god, that's so perfect. You're a clever man, Rhys Williams." She exchanged a knowing look with Tosh, whose eyes had gone wide with equal delight.
Jack looked at Rhys with astonishment on hearing the nickname, and Owen began to chuckle at its possibilities. Ianto laughed loudly and, winking at Gwen, he issued a challenge to Rhys. "That's a Rules violation Big Boy, you owe me a dance for that!"
"Only if I get to lead," Rhys retorted.
"Done deal, then," Ianto replied smoothly. "A very public boundary expansion."
"Which means I'll have to dance with you, Jack," Gwen commented, as Rhys nodded his acceptance of the challenge with amusement.
Jack jokingly teased Gwen with mock disappointment. "Well, you don't 'have' to if you'd rather not, we can always sit it out."
"You know I didn't mean it like that," she laughingly huffed at him. Her gaze turned to the dancing crowd and she noticed that it was no longer composed only of people in evening clothes. Passers-by, most wrapped up in coats and scarves, had joined those in evening finery to dance. Others stopped and watched for a while before moving on with larger smiles and lighter steps. Gwen sighed with pleasure at the scene, and giggled before observing, "All rather Disney, really."
"It is indeed, but we are wasting the music," Owen snarked mildly, though he was pleased with the comment. He took Tosh by the hand and waltzed her away smoothly. "This time, we're back out there."
"C'mon love, I think we'll be able to manage this one, it's slower," Rhys said with a chuckle, then added with a quirked eyebrow for Ianto, "See you for the next one, Bender Boy." He was rewarded with a slap on the shoulder and a disapproving "Rhys!" from Gwen as he led her away.
As Ianto took him into an embrace for slower dancing, Jack commented with curiosity, "You didn't react to Rhys's choice of phrase."
Ianto tilted his head, not quite understanding the reason for the remark. "Nor did I the other night, either, and you didn't say anything then."
"You're right, perhaps because it was a different sort of night. I mean, that was all kind of post-rugby joking, it's expected insulting nicknames will be used. But this," Jack glanced about at the scene around him, "this is different, dancing in black tie on the Plass, not the same thing at all."
"I suppose that rugby joking is the basis for how we'll communicate," Ianto began, before swiftly turning Jack to avoid another couple. Once back in their rhythm, he picked up the conversation, "I think he's using it as a term of respect actually, I don't think there's any maliciousness in it."
"I'd agree with that, "Jack responded, "I'm just a bit surprised at your acceptance of it."
"Well, I call him Big Boy," joked Ianto, before adding seriously, "The first time he used it, it was out of nerves and I did challenge him. But a lot was said after that, and – "
"Ah, the famous sauna session," Jack teasingly interrupted.
"Yep, the sweaty confessional," came the dry reply.
Leaning into Ianto, Jack whispered in his ear, "And what penance would you impose on me for my sins, should I seek to confess?"
"I doubt god himself has a sufficient list," Ianto laughed.
"And you are the god of Torchwood," Jack continued to whisper.
"That's why I know the list isn't long enough." His voice sultry, Ianto returned fire. As he swept Jack into a low dip to emphasise his point, he said, "I may have to invent some new penance just for you."
Holding the pose for a beat longer than suggested by the music, Jack's voice became husky, "Then I shall keep on sinning."
Returning them to an upright position and picking up the music Ianto leant away so he could see Jack's face. He smiled softly. "You better build a permanent confessional."
"I could manage to erec –"
Ianto stopped him from finishing by bringing their linked hands up to cover his mouth. He said, "As Tosh suggested the other night, perhaps too much."
'"Ah yes," replied Jack, with some glee at the possibly of having the last word, "but in this case we're making much of something not so little."
"And there endeth the lesson," Ianto drolly remarked as he spun Jack through several faster rotations. As they slowed again his attention was drawn to an elderly couple standing on the edge of the Plass, their attire indicating they had attended the opera. Their white hair shimmered in the dancing light and their shared smiles, gestures and conversation suggested a long standing affection. Ianto silently mouthed, "Thank you," as one of them smiled at him and applauded. Ianto whispered in Jack's ear, "We have some fans."
Swinging Jack around to see what had caused his comment Ianto added, "I'll dance us closer."
Taking in an elderly pair obviously enchanted by the scene Jack noticed that, although their toes were tapping, they seemed hesitant to join in. He smiled widely and suggested, "Let's go and say hello, maybe we could get them to dance."
Maintaining their rhythm, they danced across the short distance and came to a halt in front of a couple whose expressions were now a mixture of surprise and curiosity. Jack immediately took the initiative in the hope he had caught them off guard.
"Hello chaps," he said, "this fine fellow is Ianto and my name is Jack, and we were hoping we could impose upon you to dance with us."
"Well, aren't you a handsome one, and so bold," the shorter of the two men replied, his accent suggesting he was not originally from Wales. Dark brown eyes full of merriment were warm in the middle of a sharp featured face. Above them a thick wave of white hair was breaking gently onto the rippled skin of his forehead. The ripples puckered at the corners of his eyes, and from them a tracery of folds and wrinkles coursed down his face, around his chin and into the thin column of his neck. His slim figure and long bony hands added to the impression of an aged sprite disguised in an immaculate dinner suit.
Seeing that both Ianto and Jack had widened their smiles at his teasing response, he spoke again, "I'm George – or Georgie when I let you get to know me – and my beau this evening is Arthur. I'm sure we'd be charmed to take a turn-about with you."
Alongside George, Arthur stood a head taller – his cloudy blue eyes able to levelly return Jack's gaze. A receding hairline, and a skin sprinkled with age spots and the red of broken veins could not hide that he was a handsome man. Square jawed and strong necked, his wide shoulders curved with the slightest of stoops above a still broad chest. The expression he wore was one of uncertainty. "I'm not at all sure that it would be quite appropriate, really I'm not," Arthur – obviously native born and bred – protested. "Besides, you're young fellows; surely you don't want to dance with old crocks like us?"
"And that is why we didn't ask," Ianto retorted good-naturedly. He was tapping a foot in time with the music, and he rolled his eyes at George to suggest what he thought of Arthur's protest.
George grinned at Ianto before thwacking his partner gently, "Oh come on Arty, when did we last dance with such handsome gods? We'll be dead soon enough and I want one last go round with a gorgeous youngster before they put me in a box!"
"You should listen to him, Arthur," laughed Jack as Ianto nodded as though a decision had been reached.
Arthur responded to Jack with amused affection, "I've been listening to him for sixty three years and you wouldn't believe the trouble it's brought me. But I stuck around and we're still here!"
"We most certainly are, and look how beautiful it is," stated George with pride, as he watched with fascination the couples twirling in the dancing light. Though the numbers were now fewer, those remaining were still enjoying themselves, a continuous hum of chatter accompanying the music. Rhys and Gwen grinned broadly at the four men as they circled their way past. George continued in a reflective way, "Think of it Arthur – us, dancing on the Plass, dancing with men out in the open, in public. It's something we've never done. Oh Arty, just this once wouldn't you like –"
Arthur held his fingers up to George's lips to silence him and said with quiet benevolence, "Quiet kiddo, you make a good case, and I know you won't stop until I agree, so yes, we'll dance. Fortunately the music's a bit slower and we might even be able to keep up."
"Wonderful!" George and Jack exclaimed together.
"Kiddo?" mused Ianto with a questioning tilt of his head.
George merely smiled before running an appraising eye over them. "Tell you what Arty, you take Mr Matinee Idol – you know you've always had a thing for Cary Grant – and I'll take this Mr Gorgeous."
As if to share a confidence, Arthur lent in and pretended to whisper. He spoke to Ianto, "Use your vowels, he loves them. I used mine to win him and, if you'll take the advice of an old man, it's your secret weapon for keeping him under control!"
Face alive with understanding and eyes twinkling in Jack's direction, Ianto whispered back, "I've had practise."
"I'll bet you have," snorted George, "and while we dance you're going to tell me all about how you practise." With a naughty chuckle he reached out and grasped Ianto's hand and began to lead him away. "Now come along, before the music stops or I drop dead. You can lead, and I want to be dipped. I saw you doing that before."
Arthur's voice followed them. "Ianto, have some pity on me and don't dip him! He'll put his back out, and he's a grumpy old bugger when he can't get about."
Ianto turned to respond, but had missed his opportunity as Arthur was leading Jack away and into the dance. He caught Jack's eye and they grinned, with Jack mouthing "Good Luck!" before he was whirled away by a surprisingly energetic Arthur.
Almost as soon as Ianto had taken his new partner in his arms he faced a barrage of questions. At first they were of the form of polite conversation. George asked about his enjoyment of the opera, and shared his delight in the unexpected dancing. It wasn't long though before the questions became more curious and moved along the path toward personal information. He began by asking about Ianto and whether he was a Cardiff native. On hearing that he was George then turned his attention to Jack. After Ianto had revealed they worked together George asked:
"Jack's an American isn't he?"
When Ianto replied that he was, George went on. "Time was, during the war, when they were everywhere. We're so much the same and yet they're so different from us they might as well be from another planet."
"It's a bit like that." Ianto repressed his laugh at how unknowingly accurate was George's comment. He said, "They use the same words but the language is different."
"That's exactly the kind of thing Arty would say. And you manage the difference?"
"Most of the time," Ianto conceded. "No doubt you found the same thing with Arthur, him being Welsh and you being English."
"Oh indeed yes, there's been many a time it caused a cock-up."
"I'll bet." As George tittered with laughter, Ianto continued to slowly turn them through the thinning crowd. Taking control of the conversation in the same smooth way he was guiding their dancing he said, "I think it's my turn to ask a question. Sixty three years is a long time, so tell me, how did you meet Arthur?"
"It's so romantic really," replied George. "We met on VE day, Victory in Europe day, on the eighth of May in nineteen forty five, the day they announced the war was over. We were all out celebrating."
"Easy to remember your anniversary then," Ianto encouraged George to go on.
"I've never once forgotten, how could I?" George seemed almost offended that Ianto could make such a remark. "To meet such a man on such a day, you don't forget that! Parties everywhere, and the crowds, nothing like it, not even the coronation. Oh it was all so mad, and such a relief. The war was over at last. Everyone wanted to celebrate, and we did."
With his fascination for his heritage, and the inquisitiveness of someone who worked with archives, Ianto was genuinely interested in what George could tell him about the history of his city. He observed, "I imagine Cardiff hasn't seen anything like it since."
"Oh I suppose it hasn't, but no, silly, we weren't here. I'm a London boy, we were there, in The Mall, a million people all about. We met in the middle of all those happy people. I like to say he's –"
"One in a million!" As George had hoped, Ianto finished the sentence for him.
"You are adorable, your brain works just like Arty's does, and so like him in other ways too, I should think. You really are lovely." His eyes deepened with admiration.
When Ianto said nothing and looked away, George gave him a gentle slap on the shoulder. "Now there's no need to be coy about a compliment. For sixty three years I've adored that man, so doesn't that tell you what sort of praise it is that I've just given you? Just smile and accept it graciously. It's what one does with compliments."
Ianto laughed gently, and said "Yes sir, and thank you," as he softly squeezed George's hand to let him know he'd understood.
George examined Ianto's face for a moment and then remarked with sparkling delight, "Ooh, you're blushing, I've made you blush!"
"Fancy that George," Ianto dryly replied, "you've still got what it takes to make a young man blush."
"At my age, sweetheart, it's about all I can do!" snorted George and they laughed together as Ianto smoothly and very gently bent them into a dip.
Returning them to an upright position Ianto said with some conviction "I'd imagine there's a whole lot you can still do very well."
"Indeed there is," George waggled his eyebrows, "thank god for science and little blue pills."
Ianto sighed, "Now look who's not accepting a compliment, you should take your own advice!"
Appearing a little abashed at having been caught out George replied with sincerity, "I'm hopeless at it, Ianto. I couldn't ever see why someone would want to compliment me, and at times it drove Arty to despair. But like he said, he stuck around and," he paused and smiled with joy at his memories, "he never gave up being generous with kind words."
"I suspect you're offering me a piece of advice."
"Perhaps I am," replied George, "what I will suggest is if you follow his example it can lead to a very long and very loving life."
Not wanting to consider the implication of those words for his own situation, Ianto deftly picked up George's feeling of nostalgia and suggested, "Tell me more about the day you met, it sounds like something from a movie or a TV show."
"Yes, I suppose it was. Arthur was a lot like your Jack, and built the same way; so handsome he could have been in pictures. I was just nineteen, he was twenty seven. I literally fell into his arms."
Ianto chuckled and wryly said, "You fell into his arms?"
"I did. I know you young people these days laugh, and think that sounds all a bit sentimental, but it's what happened. I was standing on a ledge viewing the celebrations and I got bumped and lost my footing. He caught me in his arms, and it feels like I've never left them. I remember looking at him, it was as though time had stopped and everything was silent. Just for a few moments. And then, of course, he put me down, and the crowd came back. But he never let go." By the time he'd finished telling his story George was radiant with joy.
Ianto shook his head, and he too was beaming. He twirled George through a pair of fast turns before he replied. "I don't think it's sentimental at all, a moment like that can change a life, and it certainly did yours."
George cupped Ianto's cheek and said with real delight, "You're a bit of a romantic aren't you?"
Ianto shook his head, and replied, "I don't know, perhaps I am, but it is a lovely story, real Hollywood love at first sight."
George giggled rather naughtily, and with a waggle of his eyebrows he said, "Oh I'm not sure about love, but it was certainly lust. I thought all my Christmases had come at once, he was so handsome. I didn't know if he was like me, and it didn't matter, it was a moment that would have filled my daydreams for months. But, like I said, he didn't let go. And of course you couldn't ask outright, so we had to work it out. And we did over the course of the afternoon."
"Do you want to hear more?" he asked as a lascivious grin crossed his face, turning him into a wicked imp. With Ianto's assurance that he did he went on. "I knew what I wanted, and when it became obvious he wanted the same thing, well! I had this little room up in Soho so I rushed him back there. It was a tacky old room, with a single bed and a lumpy mattress that sagged in the middle. But we didn't care, it was private and safe. Oh, Ianto, I still remember it so well, Arty was so handsome, so fit, all lean muscle and so firm, so smooth. My little room felt like a palace." His eyes hadn't left Ianto's face as he told his story, and they took on an expression of wistfulness as he concluded: "Now-a-days of course it's the other way around, the mattress is firm and we've sagged in the middle. Truth is, it wasn't love at first. It was the physical, that came first, and then came the romantic courtship, the feelings stuff. Opposite way round from the hettys I suppose, although it was different for them too during the war."
"Hettys?" a perplexed Ianto responded.
George dropped his voice to whisper into Ianto's ear and share a naughty secret. "Hettys – it's what we used to call heterosexuals in my younger days." He chuckled with more naughty amusement. "I understand from my young friends that the nickname these days is 'breeders'."
"George!" Ianto snorted with some shock, before laughing, and saying, "My mate Rhys is going to love that." With impeccable timing Rhys and Gwen danced by, and though they lacked the grace and skill of Ianto and his partner, it was obvious they were enjoying themselves.
"He won't approve?" George asked with a tilt of his head. Ianto explained how Rhys had given him a nickname, and how he'd done so from nerves and then with humour. Their pace slowed as George listened, his attention focussed on Ianto's story. When he had heard it all he commented quite seriously, "Well; now you've got one for him. We poofs need to fight back."
George noticed a slight flinch at his choice of words. He scrutinised Ianto's expression, and his own became puzzled. His eyes narrowed as they wandered, and the tracery of lines on his face deepened with his confusion. What he found in Ianto's look surprised him and he lifted his hand from Ianto's shoulder and made a small caress of his jaw, "Oh my goodness, I am sorry. I'm truly am, I just presumed – you and Jack seemed so perfectly comfortable when you were dancing. And with the way you look at each other I thought –"
A look of something like confusion crossed Ianto's face and George understood.
"Ahh, he's your first isn't he, your first man. But it's not brand new."
Ianto acknowledged the accuracy of the comments with a nod but said nothing. George allowed his curiosity further free rein. "Were you surprised when he propositioned you?"
He was rewarded with a laugh and a relaxation of Ianto's posture. Ianto told him, "No, that was the more surprising thing – I propositioned him. So I was mostly surprised by myself, I wasn't used to acting on my own desires."
"Your own desires for a man?" George smiled, "Yes, it can be a bit of a surprise. When you realise what it is you're holding." He giggled at the widening of Ianto's eyes. "I mean all of him, you naughty boy, the whole man - not just those nice bits!"
"True enough and the nice bits are nice," Ianto said with a laugh. "I suppose there was surprise perhaps at that, the difference, but the action itself was fine. Is fine. And maybe I wasn't clear. My desire was for Jack, just Jack. I really wasn't thinking about it as me propositioning a man."
"That may be so, Ianto, but he's still very much a man."
"I know. "An expression of pleasure washed over Ianto's face and, turning the smile to George, he said, "Sometimes, when it's us alone I'll be doing something and I'll feel his hand on my back. He doesn't have to say anything, he just puts it there. And I know it's him. It feels right, and I don't want anything else. It doesn't make me something different to what I was. I'm still Ianto, the only change is I'm Ianto who enjoys his time with Jack."
"Didn't I say you're a romantic?" George had a tear in his eye. "And here I am trying to force a label on you may not need. Maybe the label's outlived its usefulness, now things are more accepted."
"Maybe it has, and the truth is I don't need to think about what might or might not be the label for me, because he's here and we've begun something but that doesn't make me a something. And while it's happening I don't have to think about a label." He chuckled and said, "And on that, George, wasn't it a bit presumptuous of you to think that it was Jack who propositioned me."
"Oh, yes I'm sorry. It was naughty of me, I should know better, it was quite an inappropriate assumption, for which I apologise." Georgie rattled out his response in rapid fire fashion to mask his embarrassment. Pausing to take a breath he then continued. "It can be a funny thing what people assume. If only they knew. People always think because Arty's taller and more strongly built than me that he must be the dominant man and therefore I'm the submissive wife. And here I did the same with you and Jack."
"I can't imagine you being 'the wife' George, something tells me you'd hold your own."
"Oh god, yes I do! I may be a bit of a camp old thing and Arty may be my prince but that doesn't make me a princess. I grew up in the East End of London, so I know how to fight my own corner, and I've never been ashamed to do so." When Ianto didn't respond George asked him, "What are you thinking?"
"Oh, umm, nothing really, what you said reminded me of a conversation that Jack and I had the other night, that we'd be equals, no roles no labels. We could be ourselves, just us, without fitting each other into roles."
"That's exactly my point. It's often how it goes with couples of the same gender. You have to work it out for yourselves."
"Are you calling us a couple?"
"But aren't you a couple?"
"I haven't said so in as many words."
"It's only the one word."
"But one with a whole lot of meaning attached."
George laughed, "Isn't that the truth! And I suspect it would mean something different for me than it does for you."
"Tell me how," Ianto suggested, pleased he could keep the focus on George.
"Ancient history I suppose, but can you imagine how much we wanted to say we were a couple but couldn't, even though we knew we were. Back then in the eyes of the great unwashed there was no such thing as a gay couple. They thought it was just perverts having sex, they didn't think it was about emotions. We used to hope that one day we could proclaim it quietly to the world. In time we did and now, well now, you young things, you avoid it. You don't want to acknowledge it. It's funny how things change."
"It must have been tough for you, back then." Ianto was genuinely curious.
"I suppose it was in many ways. The hardest part was we lived a life that was full of secrets from many we loved. That was the most draining part. And yet, you know, it also made us strong together, made us see the worth in what we had. Knowing that we were a couple, being able to name ourselves so, gave us the cause to fight for and to value the time we had together."
George made certain he had Ianto's full attention. "That's the important thing, valuing the time together, the war taught us that. And I think from what you've said you do understand that." He looked up at Ianto and asked, "You're not afraid he'll run off, are you? Back home to America."
"No," Ianto replied with sincere conviction. "I've asked him that, asked if he ever felt like going home. He told me he didn't. This is home now, he's committed to it." Ianto paused, considering whether to tell George exactly what Jack had said. His momentary hesitancy was enough for George.
"There was something else too, wasn't there?"
Ianto sighed and gave a fuller account of the conversation, finishing with Jack's line, "He said it meant he'd loved people he never would have known if he'd just stayed where he was."
A look of startled wonder crossed George's face, his eyes widening with pleasure, and he said, "My goodness, I wonder, how do you respond to a statement like that?"
Ianto smiled broadly, "I had no comeback, so I kissed him hard."
A chuckle and a nod preceded George's reply. "Often the best strategy when you don't know what to say. And he was including you in that? And therefore he loves you?"
To deny George a response to questions asked so unaffectedly and yet so deeply personal was, Ianto realised, impossible. The affectionate curiosity of George's nature was compelling. "Yes, I think so. I thought so. But he doesn't, that's as close as he's come, that either of us has come to using that word. We don't …that word, we don't actually say that word."
"What word don't you say?"
"You know what I mean."
"Humour me; I'm old so sometimes I need things spelled out. Tell me what word you don't say."
"I'm not sure I can."
"But why not, when it's so clear to anyone who sees you together that you do?"
When Ianto said nothing, Georgie allowed them to dance for a few moments before gently asking, "Have you had a love before?"
This time Ianto responded. "Yes but this, this is so different, and yet…" His voice tailed away.
"So why not be brave and practise with me?"
"Because I'm not sure. Because if I'm going to say it I should say it to Jack first. Because it would be stepping over the line into tempting fate. Because we've both said it to others and … geez, George, I can't believe all the things I'm telling you!"
"Oh I think you can. And call me Georgie; I think you've earned it. And," George took up and finished Ianto's incomplete sentence, "there was grief. Now you think if you say it again it can only be followed by grief again."
"It doesn't follow, it may not. It may be followed by something else – like joy. And all of us encounter grief at some point."
"True. But there are circumstances –"
George refused to let Ianto finish the sentence, cutting him off by saying, "Piffle, Ianto! Doesn't matter who you are or what you do, or what your circumstances are. It's a truism: a life without risk is a life half lived. You don't strike me as the type to live a half-life. So why be afraid of a little word."
"Maybe you're a wiser man than me."
"You flatter me, but the truth is I'm not wiser, I'm just older."
An understanding seemed to pass between them as they held each other's eyes, while turning perfectly through the dance. As they exchanged smiles the music to which they'd been dancing moved gently to a close. They timed their turns to bring them close to Arthur and Jack.
Owen called out to them as a new piece began to play. "This is the last one, guys, so don't waste it."
As the four men gathered, Arthur asked with affection, "Did you have fun, Georgie?"
The seriousness of the preceding minutes disappeared, and with humorous sprightliness George answered. "Oh I did, I did! Ianto was delightful, the perfect partner and we didn't miss a step despite me chattering all the way through. He's such a younger version of you, Arty, I'm thinking it's time I traded you in, and got myself the newer model." He pretended to seriously consider the option.
Arthur and Ianto together rolled their eyes. Jack, with theatrical gallantry, came to Arthur's defence. "I'm sure you'd find a buyer for such a classic model!"
Arthur chortled, "An old banger like me, most unlikely."
"Might be a collector of antiques," remarked Ianto with a teasing grin.
Arthur roared with laughter and exclaimed, "Touché, Ianto, touché," before turning to George. "You're right, he is like me, that's exactly the kind of thing I would say!" Taking George's hand he continued, "Come on then kiddo, let's make our formal public debut, and show these kids how it's really done."
As they danced away, Arthur gently leading George, Ianto turned to Jack and exhaled a sigh of exhaustion. He made a suggestion. "Your turn to lead, I think, I'm worn out."
"Kept you on your toes, did he?" Jack responded somewhat absently, his attention still fixed on the elderly pair. Arthur and George were the source of a ripple of smiles now washing across the crowd. Their age, their dignity and their flawless partnering were drawing admiration and a smattering of applause as they circled the Plass.
Watching them win public approval Ianto answered Jack's question with amusement, "He did at that, he's a living mind probe, and he's delightful."
Turning his attention back to dancing, Jack held out a hand and he and Ianto joined the others for the last dance. Owen had selected a soft slow waltz that Jack might have considered romantic had his thoughts not still been on the elderly couple. With a furrowed brow he commented, "I know his type, he's the sort that wouldn't miss much. They don't need a probe to get at your secrets."
As Owen and Tosh danced by, both laughing at something shared, Ianto gave them a small wave of the hand he was resting on Jack's shoulder before replying. When he did it was preceded by a wry laugh. "I rather got that. He likes to pretend he's a twittery old thing, so I'll admit he got me talking. But still, he was delightful."
"I'm sure he was." They danced for a time in silence.
Noticing that Jack seemed distracted, Ianto asked, "How was dancing with Arthur, was he a good partner?"
"A little stiffer than yours, I imagine, quite formal, and …umm, interesting."
Ianto caught the hesitancy in Jack's voice and the subtle tightening of the hold of the arm on his back. He felt himself drawn in closer; instead of being able to see Jack's face he was now looking over Jack's shoulder.
He asked, "And which form of interesting do you mean: curious, surprising or strange?"
"A mix of all of them really," Jack replied, his voice still somewhat distant. "He's got a classic background, served in the military for years, with military intelligence in fact – even during the war."
Ianto chose not to say anything for the moment, and allowed Jack to guide him in silence through some slower turns. As they turned, Ianto caught sight of Rhys and Gwen dancing close together, her head resting on his chest. They were swaying in time with the music, their linked hands held close in, and their steps small. Ianto smiled to himself at the protectiveness embodied in Rhys's firm hold – his supporting arm had wrapped completely around Gwen's back.
A few more turns brought them close to Arthur and George, dancing with a more traditional distance between them. Despite their formality, their enjoyment of a public debut was clearly evident – George merrily smiling and acknowledging the applause that rippled around those watching from the sidelines. Arthur noticed Ianto watching them and made a small gesture of recognition. Jack caught the last of the movement as he turned Ianto and he broke his silence, picking up the conversation as though he was going straight on from his earlier remarks.
"Arthur was hinting at something without asking anything outright, but he left enough breadcrumbs for me to follow."
"And did you?"
Jack hesitated, and then said, "Truth to tell we were playing a bit of cat and mouse."
"If you were the mouse, how tasty were the crumbs?"
"Not so tasty that I took the bait," Jack replied easily but Ianto recognised it for a smokescreen that failed to hide a further tensing of Jack's hold on him.
"Okay Jack, let's have a little more detail, something about him is making you unsettled."
"Well, in short, he did say they have been in Cardiff for such a long time that they've heard all sorts of rumours and stories."
"And you've been in Cardiff a very long time."
"So were the breadcrumbs only about Torchwood, or also about you?"
Jack said nothing, and Ianto had his answer. He said, "I imagine it's not the first time you've been to the opera here."
"What are you suggesting?"
"I think you're able to work it out."
"So now you're playing your own game of cat and mouse."
"Whenever you're ready, Jack," was all Ianto said, and they continued in silence. With a gentle flourish the music stopped. When it became obvious that there would be no more, a quiet wave of applause rippled through the remaining crowd. They began drifting off, the sound of their conversation fading with them. Soon the only people left on the Plass were the small group of Torchwood employees and Arthur and George. Noticing that they were approaching with a little hesitancy, Jack waved them over.
After nodding with a smile at the others, Arthur spoke to Jack and Ianto. "We don't wish to intrude with your friends, but we wanted to say thank you for making the end of a special evening even more so."
Jack was quick to reply, "It's not an intrusion Arthur. We wouldn't have wanted you to leave without saying good-bye. And now you can meet the people responsible for arranging the music." He guided them toward Owen and Tosh and made the introductions. He re-joined Ianto as George began to gush with enthusiasm at more new acquaintances. On hearing Tosh's family name Arthur had stopped and peered at her with curiosity. When Georgie paused to take a breath he said:
"Sato, you say. Uncommon name. There was a Sato at Bletchley Park, after the war, good chap – very clever. A relation of yours?" he asked her with interest.
Tosh replied with evident pride, "He was my grandfather."
"Then if you're anything like him you'll be a clever young thing. Haven't followed in his footsteps and gone into secret intelligence work, have you?"
Although his manner was light, something in the way he asked the question suggested to Tosh he was at least partially serious. Catching Jack's eye she saw that he too had the same reaction. She deflected Arthur's inquiry by lightly teasing him; leaning in she whispered into his ear, "If I have and I told you it wouldn't be secret intelligence, would it?" Pulling back she widened her eyes and gave him a brilliant smile to reinforce her humorous tone.
"Just like your grandfather, quick with an answer." He matched her smile with charm. "Clever, as well as pretty!"
Seeing an opportunity to further deflect him, Tosh teased him again. "Are you saying my grandfather was pretty?"
Arthur appeared to take the bait. "Well now, come to think of it, he did make it easier to go to work. He really was a handsome chap." He turned and glanced at Owen with a smile, and then remarked to Tosh, "As is your young man."
While Owen gaped open mouthed at the comment, Tosh floundered for a coherent response. "It's not …I mean he's not …we're friends, we work together."
"Oh I do apologise," Arthur offered in a serious tone though the sparkle in his eye suggested he was somehow pleased with the reply. "Well, if you say so, let's leave it at that, shall we."
Recognising the discomfort that Arthur had caused, George attempted to make amends. "My Arty has a habit of stomping in with his boots; ends up putting his foot in his mouth of course," he said with a mild tone of amusement, "but he means well, and –"
As George continued to speak to Tosh and Owen, and Arthur moved on to chat to Gwen and Rhys, Jack whispered to Ianto, "And there's a lesson in cat and mouse tactics, boy is he good."
Ianto thought for a moment before quietly proposing, "Ah, he was fishing again for information and now knows they work together, and so will assume because you introduced them –" He left the sentence unfinished knowing Jack would understand what he was implying.
Jack simply nodded, and Ianto murmured with some admiration, "And he'll have asked George about me, and us. The crafty old bugger." He turned and glanced at Jack and found him to be observing Arthur with real curiosity. He probed, "What will you say if he asks anything directly?"
Giving the question a moment's thought Jack concluded, "I doubt that he will; his training and sense of duty will stop him. But if he does ask, I honestly don't know." Both his tone and his expression suggested to Ianto that Jack was puzzled by his admission of uncertainty. "And I'm sure he'd spot any attempt at not being honest."
Ianto said nothing and they returned their attention to the conversation in time to hear Arthur say, "Rhys is a true Welshman's name." Arthur was regarding Rhys with open admiration. "You'll play rugby, I expect. You'd be a prop. Nice big shoulders and a broad chest like yours, you're built for it."
As a wave of laughter at the familiarity of the conversation washed over the team, George objected with some amusement, "Arthur! Leave the young man alone, and stop your flirting, you'll make him blush."
Laughing along with the others, Rhys responded, "No, not at all, men do it all the time these days, and yes I do play rugby."
"He's got a great hard tackle," Ianto called out.
"Well of course he does," Arthur drolly replied, "he's Welsh." Turning to Gwen he added with a huge grin," And you're a lucky young lady." He smiled with enchantment as she took his hands and said, "Indeed I am, especially right now," before kissing him on each cheek.
"Well, well," he mumbled with delight, before placing her hands into Rhys's, "Thank you." His voice grew louder and he confidently addressed the entire team, "And I really want to thank you all. Sometimes we old folk can feel invisible, as if the world doesn't notice us anymore. It was nice to feel significant again. What a delightful group you are." There was only genuine gratitude in his voice.
As no one knew quite who should speak or how, George filled the gap. He approached Jack and Ianto, and wrapped a hand over their intertwined fingers. He spoke quietly, his eyes not leaving Ianto's face. "I promise you, you'll find your own way to those words, and when you do you won't be afraid of them."
Kissing each of them on the cheek he stepped back, reaching for Arthur's hand as he did. He flashed them a smile and snuggled into Arthur's side, resting his head against his partner's chest. He spoke again. "Be good to each other, yeah, for me and Arty. We were once as handsome as you, you know." Tears sparkled in his eyes as he beamed at the memory, and then he sighed, "And look at us now, sitting in god's waiting room with our liver spots and wrinkles and stiff joints."
He paused and looked up at Arthur before turning back and continuing, "If the gods were kind they'd make you immortal, beauty like the two of you create should never fade."
Ianto shifted his gaze and searched Jack's face for his reaction to a statement made so generously, and yet one laden with unintended meaning. He saw Jack swallow, and heard the sharp intake of a breath, as he felt a quickening of Jack's pulse and a tightening of the grip on his hand. Bringing his free hand up to gently stroke Jack's forearm just above their linked hands he whispered so only Jack could hear. "Say something, Jack."
Jack gathered himself and relaxed his impulse of tension. He replied in a voice soft with admiration. "Thank you so much and you're so, so wrong. You're not in god's waiting room. You're so magnificent and wonderful you drew us to you. Tonight Georgie and Arty have been heroes dancing on the Plass. It's you who has given us a gift tonight."
"Oh now you're just being silly," an obviously affected George attempted to deflect Jack's compliments.
"No George, I mean every word." Jack quietly insisted. He turned and faced Ianto, silently asking for his support. It came subtly: a tender caressing of the grip of his hand, a slower movement of the fingers on his arm and in a smile of calm reassurance. Finding both comfort and encouragement in Ianto's unspoken gestures, Jack spoke directly to George:
"If Ianto and I could have what you and Arthur have, to be together in an old age where we are as handsome and as wonderful and as brave as the two of you are, if we could share our lives for as long as you have shared yours, then we would have the kindest of all gifts from the gods."
"As would we all," a soft voice came from behind them. It was Rhys who had spoken, his whispered aside carrying to them through the stillness of the Plass. He was holding Gwen close, her head resting on his chest in a mirror image of George resting against Arthur. As quiet tears rolled down her cheeks, Rhys used the back of his hand to wipe away his own tears and shared a look with Jack that understood their mutual hope. Alongside them Tosh had taken Owen's hand as he too struggled with his response to Jack's words.
George lifted his head from its resting place and considered Rhys and Gwen, and then Owen with Tosh, before he spoke to Jack. "I've touched on something, haven't I? And I've upset your friends too, and I'm sorry, I seem to have spoiled your evening." He released his tears and let them flow down his cheeks.
Arthur peered at Jack, and they exchanged expressions of understanding. Bending slightly he placed a kiss on the top of George's head and gently consoled him. "Sshh, kiddo, let it be, perhaps there are things here we don't understand."
"You're right of course, as always." George sniffled as he brought his tears under control. "Perhaps it's time you took your old chook home." As he wiped away the last of his tears he smiled wanly at them all and said, "I'm a bit tired; perhaps if someone could arrange a taxi for us."
Ianto stepped away from them and taking a few steps he whistled loudly and waved at a taxi standing in the forecourt of the Millennium Centre. Returning to the small group he stepped forward and took George's hand, "Let me escort you, Georgie, it would be an honour." He held out his arm as Arthur released George, and together they walked slowly toward the edge of the Plass, where the taxi was pulling up.
"Do you want to wait for Arthur?" Ianto asked when they arrived at the waiting car.
"Oh no, he'll be a minute or two yet, I'm a bit tired, so pop me in the taxi and I'll have a little nap. Arty will wake me when we arrive home, like he always does."
Opening the taxi door, Ianto made to assist George but stopped when he felt the grip on his arm tighten. He looked down into George's upturned face, and saw a mixture of sadness and hope in his expression.
Reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket George pulled out an old fashioned address card. On passing it over he whispered entreatingly, "Don't forget me, yeah, and come and see us some time."
"I'd like that, and I will – we will – I promise." Ianto answered with genuine pleasure as he tucked the card into his jacket. Seeing a small smile of delight in George's eyes he carried on, speaking softly, "I'll always remember the night I danced with Georgie on the Plass. I'll treasure the memory for as long as I live."
George released his hold on Ianto's arm and, taking his face between his hands, looked at him with wonder, "Jack may have Arty's physique, but you, Ianto, have Arty's soul. You're a beautiful man. You must stay that way no matter what the world brings." He placed his fingertips on Ianto's lips to stop him replying, before turning and bundling himself into the taxi.
While George was settling into the back seat of the cab, Arthur had stopped with a small distance yet to cover. He looked at them all, before stretching his gaze to take in the setting and the clear night sky. After a minute of silence his bearing stiffened slightly and the traces of the military man he had been became more evident. He brought his attention to Jack, and when he spoke there was an edge of command in his voice as he addressed him directly.
"The stories I spoke of, the rumours and hearsay?"
"All true." Jack's response came in a matching tone.
"So you are Torchwood, all of you, and it's real?"
"We are, all of us, and yes, it's real," Jack acknowledged.
"Then thank you, all of you, it's an important duty you have. I think you are very brave." It seemed as though Arthur had finished speaking and was about to move to the waiting taxi, but he paused, and straightened himself. He again looked at Jack, this time quizzically, and his tone softened as he spoke.
"That other story, any truth in it?"
"True as well."
"So you are –?" Arthur left his question unfinished.
"I am indeed, as you see, and as I think you already know," Jack responded quietly.
Arthur considered the reply for a moment. "I won't ask how. Do they know?"
Jack looked around at the Torchwood team. They were standing absolutely still, and listening with open mouthed wonder at the conversation. He smiled warmly at them as he said, "Yes, they do."
"Good man, only right they should," Arthur nodded again, and he asked a further question. "And what of the memories I have: of London, the Blitz, and a private ballroom in Gresham Place?" His expression suggested he already knew the answer and was simply seeking confirmation.
Jack took a moment to reply but when he did it was with the sparkle of affection in his eyes. He said, "All well remembered, and fondly treasured."
Arthur smiled with evident satisfaction, "Georgie has always said I never forget a jawline. Well, in that case I can say only this." He stepped back and, standing to attention, brought his right arm up in a formal salute, "Captain Harkness, it's been a delight to dance with you again, sir."
"As it has been with you, Lieutenant Lloyd," Jack returned the salute.
They regarded each other for several moments before Arthur turned and marched the two paces to the taxi and took a grip on the top of the open door. He twisted slightly and began quietly addressing Ianto, who had been waiting patiently to assist him. He spoke with sincerity:
"He was my first, you know, in a run-down hotel room in Covent Garden. It wasn't love – far too brief for that – but he was wonderful, so charming and so kind. A true gentleman. Without him I may never have found the courage to, well, I think you may understand. And then I would never have had the nerve to pursue my Georgie. Meeting Captain Harkness changed my life."
"Meeting him does do that," agreed Ianto with unmasked affection.
"And we are better men because of it," Arthur responded. He sought something in Ianto's face, and finding it he began to chuckle, "Such a pity he and I couldn't do supper again. I remember his supper being quite delicious."
"Still have perfect recall then, Arthur," replied Ianto, struggling to maintain a straight face as Arthur's humour dissolved the heightened emotions. Playing along, he added, "These days his preference is for the full big breakfast."
Arthur tossed his head back and laughed, "No, don't say it, I take your meaning, I remember he did like a large serving …and after all, we are Welsh!" He leaned over the door and gave Ianto a quick peck of a kiss on the cheek before raising his voice to ensure the others could hear.
"Gorgeous you may be, young Ianto, but I assure you if I was sixty years younger and single, you'd have some stiff competition for breakfast with the Captain!" Giving the team a farewell wave, he cheerily called "Goodnight to you all," before huffing at Ianto, "Antique indeed!"
With a final grin Arthur climbed into the cab and settled back in his seat, next to a dozing George. As Ianto closed the door and the cab drove off, the stillness of a frosty night settled on the Plass.
Additional Author's Note. There are two chapters to come; the next involves a further surprise from Owen that has them all together. The final chapter is the inevitable conclusion – across the chapters of SC there have been all sorts of conversations, with all sorts of pairings and combos. But there is one that hasn't happened at any real length. The last conversation is Ianto and Jack. It takes place in Ianto's bed.