Tommy had no idea why he had asked to meet Ianto for lunch, he still wasn’t sure about the man dating his father but he couldn’t deny that Ianto made his father very happy and there was something about Ianto that just screamed “talk to me, I understand your pain”.
Pulled from his thoughts Tommy smiled slightly as Ianto approached the table. “Ianto, thanks for meeting me.”
Ianto would admit that he had been surprised when Tommy had asked him to meet. “It’s no problem, Tommy; I was looking for the chance to get to know you a bit better,” Ianto informed the younger man as he slipped into the free chair.
A silence fell over the table that was both comfortable and awkward as the two men studied the menu, neither really wanting to break the relaxed moment.
With all the words swimming in front of his eyes, Tommy gave up on reading his menu, closed it with a snap and dropped it on the table. He started to ask if Ianto had decided what he wanted but when he opened his mouth, something entirely different came out. “Have you ever felt like you are not enough? That you are just a stand-in because they can’t have the one they truly love?” He had absolutely no idea what on earth had prompted him to ask such a personal question but it was too late to take back now.
Placing down his menu Ianto was thankful that they had a table in a rather private area of the dining room. “I have, Tommy; before your father I had a lover that had the same habit. Jack was very open with his affections and he couldn’t be tied down to just one relationship, he liked having ‘options’.” Ianto made air quotes around that last world.
Tommy chuckled politely.
“I think Jack loved me in his own way but he had an extremely different view of love and he just couldn’t understand why it hurt me to come a distant third in his heart. On top of that, I had to compete against his past. There was a woman we worked with and Jack never once hid how much she meant to him. To him it was just normal behaviour but it caused me so much pain to watch them flirt and carry on as if no one else was around.” Ianto didn’t realise just how much Jack’s actions were still affecting him until he heard himself say, “He basically declared his love for her right in front of me when she threatened to quit if she didn’t get her way.”
“How could he not see the effect he had on you? That would hurt anyone!” Tommy was outraged on behalf of Ianto. Sure he knew that Oliver still loved Laurel but thankfully Oliver had never made that kind of demand because Tommy knew that if he did, he would definitely be the loser in the triangle, not Oliver.
Ianto smiled at Tommy, touched that the young man cared enough about him to be upset. “When it came to Gwen Cooper Jack was almost completely blind to her faults, whether it was coming in late every day or screwing up out in the field. I think he saw someone in her that he’d lost long ago and he did his best to make sure that Gwen was given the life his friend had been denied.”
“Still that’s not fair to you. It’s sad about his friend but that still does not give him the right to treat you like that and flaunt his feelings for her all over the place.” Tommy was seething; the more he thought about the way Jack had been so callous towards Ianto the more he wanted to punch him in the face.
Seeing the fire in Tommy’s eyes, Ianto’s smiled turned sad as he recalled Tosh saying the same thing to him after the whole space whale disaster. Jack had caved in so damned easily to Gwen’s dramatic declarations about Rhys, completely ignoring how deeply upset Ianto had been by Jack’s words.It didn’t help matters that just a few weeks later, on the day of her wedding to Rhys, the man she had so vehemently and vocally protected, Jack and Gwen had become lost in one another’s eyes as they danced at her reception.
“I don’t think Jack ever saw how much some of his actions or words hurt me.” There was naked raw honesty on the Welshman’s face. “In my time with Jack I suffered my share of heartbreak over the fact that I was never enough for him or that in his heart he longed for another. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone.” Ianto’s eyes met Tommy’s. “It’s never easy walking away from someone you love but if fate hadn’t dealt me the hand it had I know now that I would have walked away from Jack. You can only take being someone’s second or in my case third choice for so long before it kills you inside.”
From the corner of his eye Tommy saw a waiter approaching their table and he surreptitiously waved him off; he knew that if Ianto were interrupted he would shut down just as he knew that the man needed to unburden himself.
“Tommy, I know you love Laurel, I can see it in your eyes whenever you talk about her but I can also see the pain when you realise that you aren’t the main one in her heart. Sometimes it’s hardest the thing you’ll ever have to do to put yourself first and walk away. You might not be old enough to remember the saying about if they truly love you they will come back.”
As he considered the older man’s words, Tommy didn’t want to admit it but Ianto had a point; he had been waiting for such a long time for Laurel to notice him, hoping that she would love him like he loved her. Finally she accepted his affections but just when it looked like his greatest wish had been granted Oliver Queen returned from the dead. Even a blind man could see the fire between Oliver and Laurel re-ignite and he knew that maybe the universe was telling him that he and Laurel just weren’t meant to be.
Ianto could see it in Tommy’s eyes, the young man was taking his words to heart and Ianto hoped that it was enough to change Tommy’s fate. “So I think that is enough serious talk, I’m starving and this place is supposed to have some of the best food this side of the coast and I’m looking to see if that’s true.” Ianto casually changed the subject and right on cue his stomach growled loudly causing the oh-so-proper Welshman to blush furiously.
Unable to stop the chuckle that burst from his lips, Tommy was grateful for the unexpected tension breaker and he sent a knowing smirk Ianto’s way. “I hear they have some of the best coffee in Starling City, something I’ve heard might even impress you.”
Ianto’s lips curved up into his own smirk. “We shall see, we shall see.”
Laurel Lance was emotionally torn, something she had been ever since Oliver had returned and learned that she was dating Tommy. Despite the pain that Oliver had caused her with his incessant cheating Laurel still loved him. Oh there was no doubt that she hated him and there were moments when she just wanted to hit Oliver and scream at him for all the pain he’d caused her. But then there were moments when she could see the sweet gentle boy she had fallen in love with and she just wanted to melt into his arms.
Laurel knew it wasn’t fair, not to her, not to Oliver and certainly not to Tommy and she couldn’t deny that she was torn between the two men. She knew that the smart choice, the safe choice was to say good-bye to Oliver and choose Tommy but in her heart Laurel knew that she would never be able to say no to Oliver.
“I’m so sorry, Tommy,” Laurel whispered softly, she knew that she wasn’t being fair to Tommy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, as long as Oliver kept fighting for her she wouldn’t be able to turn her back on him. She couldn’t believe that she was hurting Tommy in the same way that Oliver had hurt her in the past, but in the end she just wasn’t strong enough to firmly shut the door on the idea that she and Oliver had a future together.
Laurel’s guilt weighed heavily on her as she considered her options. ‘I know I should let Tommy go so he can find his own true happiness.’ Laurel knew that would be the right thing to do but she just couldn’t let Tommy go; she loved him, maybe not as much as she loved Oliver but with Tommy she could see a future with him, a home and a family. Despite that, she selfishly could not let go of Oliver Queen.
Tommy Merlyn had a lot on his mind and found himself thinking over Ianto’s advice again and again. After narrowly missing sideswiping a parked car, Tommy decided he needed a safe place to think. Knowing some silence would help, he stopped at the park that he and Oliver used to play in when they were children. Tommy had fond memories of this place and he hoped that the setting would help settle his mind.
“Now there’s the face of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
Thinking he was alone in the park, Tommy was startled by the unexpected interruption and shifted his gaze from the small lake he had been staring at; the ripples on the surface had been soothing, allowing him to calm his erratic thoughts. As he glanced at the source of the voice, the man took a seat on the bench next to him.
Tommy found himself instantly on guard as he stared at the other man; he had to admit that the man was handsome in a classic kind of way and Tommy felt his heart skip a little beat. There was a certain part of him that he kept carefully hidden deep down inside him, where even he didn’t have to face it. He was terribly afraid of how those he cared about would feel, how they would look at him if they knew; in fact, it was so devastating that he didn't even want Oliver – his best friend for more than two decades – to know.
He wasn't just jealous of Oliver having Laurel, he had also been jealous of Laurel having Oliver. She was fortunate enough to know the man in ways that Tommy knew would forever be something of his dreams and fantasies because if there was one thing that Oliver Queen was, he was straight. Tommy sighed deeply, realising that the stranger wasn’t going to go away. "I guess I do have the weight of the world on my mind, my own."
Slade Wilson knew full well who this man was sitting next him: Tommy Merlyn. He had been keeping a very close eye on all those who mattered to his prime nemesis, Oliver Queen, and Tommy was one person that Slade had particularly close attention to. "Sometimes that’s a far greater weight and a heavier burden to bear than something the world gives us. We all have to make the hard choices, ones that are never easy and we have to live with them.”
“For a while we all wonder did I make the right choices? Was there another way could this have gone? Would I have been happier living the lie? But sometimes we have to do what is best for ourselves no matter who it ends up hurting; we can't accept anyone loving us if we don't love ourselves first. We also have to like the person we are when we’re with this special person.” Slade tried not to intimidate Tommy too much as he asked, “Do you like yourself around your love?"
Tommy might not have a clue as to who this stranger was but he was offering some rather wise advice. "How do you know that it’s love that’s weighing down on my heart?" Tommy asked.
Slade smiled sadly at the younger man. "I know well the look you wear. You're in love with someone who may still be in love with another. I was there once myself, watching as the two people I cared about fell for one another leaving me out in the cold. Then one friend was reunited with an old flame and the two of us were left with broken hearts. So, yes, I've been where you are right now and I wish that I had had the courage to offer my friend the advice I just gave you. If I had then she might still be alive today."
Tommy knew the look in the man's eye; it was a look that Laurel had worn after word had come that the Queen’s Gambit had gone down in a storm and Oliver and Sara had been lost at sea. "I'm sorry for your loss; you must have loved her dearly."
"I did and I regret every day that I didn't tell her how much I loved her. Don't make my mistake, don't settle for second place," Slade cautioned him.
Tommy couldn't help but notice how much this man sounded like Ianto. "You sound like my dad's partner; he too suffered in never knowing where he stood with his lover and it all ended up in heartbreak. I don't want to end up like that. I love her but I know I'm not first in her heart and I thought I could handle it but I don't think I can, not when I know that Laurel will always love Oliver the most.” Tommy shook his head in bewilderment. “I don't know why I am telling this to a complete stranger. I don't even know your name."
"Sometimes it helps to have a listening ear with no real loyalties to any of the involved parties. But I can help with the name thing, I'm Slade Wilson and you are?" Slade held out his hand to Tommy.
Tommy only hesitated for the briefest second before taking Slade's offered hand. "I'm Tommy Merlyn and it's nice to meet you, Slade. If you're going to listen to my problems we could at least do it over a cup of coffee, my treat," the younger man offered.
Carefully hiding his triumphant grin, Slade flashed him a winning smile. "If you offer to play tourist guide as well, then I accept. This is my first time visiting Starling City and I could do with an escort.”
It only took Tommy a moment to decide that he would enjoy spending time with a man who was such a good listener, and if he was as handsome as Slade, then that was just icing on the cake. Honestly he couldn't see what harm it could do and it would be nice to make a new friend, one that was all his, one that wasn't connected to Laurel or Oliver. "It would be my pleasure."Slade returned Tommy's smile, he didn't think it would be this easy. ‘This is just another person you’ve hurt with your actions, Oliver, and someday soon you will get just what’s coming to you, I promise you that.’ He looked at his new friend’s open, honest face and refused to be swayed by it. ‘You, young Mr Merlyn, just might be the key to that.'