Ianto felt muddled and groggy when he lifted his head from the conference room table and swiped at the puddle of spit that connected his face to the wooden gloss. Oh Jesus. Sleeping at work, that was just sad.
He sat up, inspected his suit trousers—wrinkled but passable, if he wore the jacket to cover the horrid state of the shirt. His tie was…well, he had others stashed in a desk drawer.
The team was horsing about in the atrium by the time he was presentable, and he could smell that someone had tried to make the coffee. Why did they always try to make the coffee? He'd given them Starbucks gift cards so that they could go up and get free coffee just to ensure that they didn't try to make the coffee.
Gwen glanced up at him and dropped the basketball, grinning. "Good morning, Ianto! Did you sleep well?"
Ianto narrowed his eyes at her. Was she the coffee violator? Her fingers looked a little dirty and the Guatemalan was finely ground and staining.
Ianto was about to say something when Tosh shoved a cup of coffee into his hand. "Jack made the coffee."
Ianto sniffed the contents of the mug. Oh, okay then. Jack was allowed to make the coffee; he'd passed the Jones School of Brewing course, offered nights and weekends, clothing optional. The graduation incentives included a diploma and abundant oral stimulation. Ianto sipped from the mug and sighed, rubbing his temples. Tosh's typing felt louder.
"Why did you let me sleep in the conference room?" he groused, shooting his cuff. He felt grimy. He could get a shower in the locker room downstairs, but he always felt off kilter when he didn't wake in his own bed. Or any bed.
Gwen sipped from her mug and frowned. "Owen," she called over her shoulder. "Call Jack and tell him Ianto's up. And come here." She ran her eyes along Ianto's face. "Bring a scanner."
Ianto figured that if they were a danger to each other she'd have a gun on him, either because she was a bad guy or he was, so instead, he steeled himself, sat on the closest spinning chair and did a few rotations as Owen came up from the autopsy bay, twirling the scanner on his finger like a revolver.
"You've been asleep for the past day," Gwen said. "We left you because we didn't want to, well, we couldn't be sure that you were--"
"You were hopped up on alien truth serum, and Jack and Gwen were afraid that if you kept trying to do your job, such as it is, you'd get them in further trouble," Owen answered and Tosh hissed at him, throwing a biscuit before remembering Ianto's 'Don't punish me by punishing Owen' rule, made especially for Gwen and Tosh in the face of constant barrages of flying bits of food. Her face reddened and she mouthed the word 'Sorry!' before chasing the errant snack across the hub.
Owen tossed his stethoscope around his neck. "Yeah so as I was saying, Boyfriend dearest and his hench-ettes here locked you in the conference room so that you wouldn't make any more truthful calls to the Queen."
Ianto spit his coffee back into his mug. "I what? When did this happen? You're taking the piss."
Tosh nodded. "It's true. I have video. And today is Thursday."
Ianto blinked and ran a self-diagnostic. Last he remembered, it was Tuesday. Gwen's lips were curled in and her brows drawn in what he deemed her 'worried and compassionate' look. Oh dear, he thought, as Owen ran the scanner along his torso, pausing just below his waist, in front of his crotch. "Have you always had this vagina here, Jones?"
Ianto cuffed his ear with one hand. Owen smiled and crouched down, completing his scan and making Ianto feel as if he was about to get onto an international flight.
"Okay," he said slowly. "Alien gas. Truth serum. Locked up. Am I. Am I okay?"
Owen rose, put one hand on his knees and bent at the waist slowly. "God, I'm getting old." Behind him, Tosh rolled her eyes and Gwen made a wanking gesture. For a second or two, Ianto worried that maybe they were the ones who were on alien drugs, but no, this was how they were normally.
"Yeah, well, you clear the scanner, but I suppose trace residue could be in your system, so do us a favor, and if you happen to feel the urge to be truthful, do it in the mirror or to Jack or something."
Gwen refilled her coffee from the carafe and stopped in place. "How do we know he's recovered?"
Ianto shrugged. "Ask me anything." He paused. Was he under the influence? He didn't want to be saying certain things and oh god, what if he couldn't help himself. "No, no, don't ask me anything. Uhm, ask me, shit, what?"
Owen grasped Ianto's shoulder. "Mate, how do you feel about Open Arms?"
Ianto raised an eyebrow. That had not been what he was expecting. "God save me from Journey."
Owen let go of his shoulder and shrugged, putting his scanner back into his lab coat pocket. "He's fine."
"Wait, wait," Gwen said. "How is that a diagnostic tool?"
Owen flopped down in his chair, rolled to his workstation and put his feet up on his console. "There are two kinds of people in the world," he said, not even bothering to look at them as he searched his desk for something. "People who love Open Arms by Journey, and people who say they hate it but secretly love it. Teaboy is lying again."
Gwen glanced at Tosh. "That can't be true."
Tosh shrugged. "I like it."
Ianto ducked his head. "Okay so maybe I have a soft spot for it. Jenny Abernathy and I danced to it at Spring formal." He glanced up and looked away, face reddening. "I might have sung it to her under my breath."
Gwen smiled. "It's good to have you back, Ianto."
Friday morning, Ianto picked the post up from the floor and leafed through it before he would dump it on the hallway table and leave it to sort out when he got home that night, or the next day.
He felt so much better; he'd eaten a proper supper the night before (thawed from the freezer and cooked in the microwave like a proper bachelor), drunk a few pints, and slept in his proper bed, horizontal, not bent like a swizzle stick in a rolly-chair. He'd been able to fend off Jack's advances with a well-placed tirade ("Even if, as you say, I was under the influence, would it have been too much to let me move to the bunk? Put me in a cell with a pallet? No, you let me stay all night in a rolly-chair. You get no sex until I see a chiropractor."), and he had to admit, sometimes he just liked to be alone. The night after waking to find one had been doused with alien truth gas was one such a time.
And he was lying about the sex, if only because it would take him three weeks to see a chiropractor, and he hadn't that kind of willpower. Or rather, he did, but not about this one thing. And, he would only ever admit in secret, Hob-Nobs. The chocolate kind.
He was sorting through the slim stack of envelopes and wondering when he could just switch over to electronic payments for most of this when the letter-size envelope with his handwriting caught his eye. He held it up. Yup, to Ianto Jones. Return address was ironically the same as the posting address. Same writing all around. Postmarked Wednesday afternoon.
He didn't bother to speculate, but used a pocketknife to slit open the top and pull out the three or so sheets of folded paper. It was his handwriting, he noted, not just on the envelope. Right down to the oversized capital letters at the beginning of each new paragraph, since he'd seen that once in a children's book and thought it looked cool (No matter how hard he tried, he forgot not to do it. His diary was a mess of scriptive capitals and small printing. A graphologist would say he was of two or three minds about himself. Ianto was, too, but that was obvious without the handwriting sample.).
This is you. This is you on drugs. Alien drugs. They feel funny.
I would like a Hob-Nob. The chocolate kind.
Oh! Message from you to you on paper—
Be honest with yourself. I am doing that now. Honest, and true, like an old western. I hope I remember to post these.
Ianto looked up from his own handwriting (three pages of it in fact), and stared at himself in the small mirror. "These?"
Owen yanked the door to morgue drawer three open and slid the tray out so that he could attach it to the litter and wheel it to the center of the bay for a proper autopsy. The Clippt was a nasty critter with a horrible stench, but he'd only ever seen a half of one before (the bottom half. The rest had been in a trash compactor), so he was looking forward to seeing where all those tubes he'd mapped in the first specimen actually went in the upper half. Fascinating. Disgusting, but fascinating. This was why they paid him the big bucks anyway.
He was in the middle of dabbing some camphor under his nostrils to mask the smell (a trick he'd mocked on Silence of the Lambs until they'd pulled a decaying blowfish out of the Taff about three weeks after he'd started. Now he was a gift horse taker and not a looker) when Jack and Ianto entered through the tourist office, and made a pit stop down in the autopsy bay to drop off coffee and a maki roll in a styro container.
"What?" Jack said distractedly, waving a hand. Ianto trailed behind him, his face visibly upset. "Yeah, Ianto, I took care of a bunch of stuff while you were out." He shrugged off his coat and draped it over Ianto's waiting arm. "You know, weevil cages, post, supplies, dishes, tourist office." He paused. "It smells musty up there."
Ianto ignored the insult about the upper office. "Yes, but the post, how many envelopes would you say you posted? Did you look at them before you—"
"I don't know, ten maybe? It wasn't that hard, Ianto, They were already stamped. I just popped them in the big red box down the Quay." Jack winked. "Before I met you I could tie my shoes and everything."
Ianto sighed, and his shoulders fell in on themselves a little.
Owen couldn't help it. He'd been holding the envelope in his back pocket all morning, and he was so excited to actually be able to use it. It was the perfect opening. "About the post," he said. "I received the funniest letter this morning."
Ianto's head whipped towards him, and his eyes darted to the envelope in Owens's fingers. Owen let him see that it had been ripped open, presumably read (Of course he'd read it, though it had been disappointing. He'd wanted confessions like When I think of how poorly I treat you, Doctor Harper, I weep bitter tears, but that was never going to come.).
"Oh god," Ianto said, eyes fastened to the letter with a look of abject horror. "This is like the worst premise to a comedy that has ever been hatched." He looked at Jack. "Am I in a Zucker film?"
Jack took his coat from Ianto and draped it over the railing, as if to prevent it from falling to the floor when Ianto's arms fell to his sides and he sighed. "I can't think past the Shirley joke," he told Ianto, smiling.
Ianto closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Jack stuffed his hands in his pockets and cocked his head. Owen waved the envelope. "What's in the envelope?" Jack asked.
"Well," Owen began.
"When I was under the influence I wrote everyone letters," Ianto said quickly, before Owen could give his version of the story. "Which you posted." He opened his eyes. "Even if I wrote to all of you, that's only five envelopes, and you said there were—"
"About a dozen," Jack capitulated. "I wasn't really looking too hard." It was his turn to look sheepish, brows wrinkling. "This is bad, isn't it?"
Ianto leaned towards Jack as if he was going to whisper into his ear or face, and Jack complied with a little tilt of his own. "Imagine that you had done the same thing. Imagine that you were hopped up on truth gas, and you wrote letters to everyone you knew."
Jack's grin wavered. "Okay then," he said, back snapping upright. "Owen, give Ianto his letter back, and zip it." When Owen opened his mouth to protest, Jack raised an eyebrow. "I don't need truth serum to talk about the skeletons in your closet," he warned.
Oh, fuck. Owen thrust the envelope at Ianto as Jack watched, a little hall monitor. "Yeah, well you didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know," he mumbled as Ianto took the letter, crumpling it in one hand. His back was stiff, face dispassionate. Owen spared a split second to think about how he'd feel if he'd been serumed up and written letters to everyone (Oh god, some of them would have little hearts on them, he knew it.). Oh well. He could consider this his good deed for the week—returning such fodder and never saying anything about it.
Jack grinned. "Aw, I know I could count on you two to—"
"You know," Ianto said suddenly, peering at the letter in his hand. "This paper isn't stored in the conference room. None of the office supplies are."
Owen cringed and bent over the corpse. "So uh, this guy here, this fellow, he uh, died of exsanguination," he temporised quickly. Jack crossed his arms and assumed the briefing position, as if this was what they had been doing minutes earlier. Ianto simply stared at the folded paper in his hands. "My guess is that the enormous stab wound in his chest—"
"You gave me the paper," Ianto all but shouted, and Owen and Jack glanced up at him in alarm. Ianto's fist clenched so tightly it shook, and every second saw his breathing speed up. There was a vein on his forehead that was straining.
Shit. "Look, mate—"
"You told me to keep myself busy," Ianto said, voice so calm it was hysterical, like two negatives multiplied to make a positive. "I remember. I remember now."
He looked about to reach over the body and grab Owen by the lapels of his lab coat when his mobile trilled in his pocket and he froze, his eyes wide, nostrils flared. Owen glanced at Jack. If Jack hadn't been here, he'd have been a dead man. Doing his own autopsy, even.
Jack had raised one arm across Ianto's front, as if he was stopping him from lunging at Owen, or possibly to keep him from going through an imaginary windshield. Hard to tell. "Ianto," he said slowly, "are you going to get that?"
Without looking away from Owen, Ianto breathed heavily through his nose and reached into his pocket.
He flipped open his phone, lifting it to his year. "Hullo," he said sharply, eyes riveted to Owen's.
There was that mumbly noise of someone speaking loudly into a phone, just loud enough for Owen to make out a female voice, and that she was upset.
Ianto's face folded and he snapped his whole body to the side, away from them both. "Rhi?" Ianto capped his free ear with his hand and took two steps away. "What's wrong? Are the kids—oh you did," he said, turning back to look at Owen, his eyes filled with rage through a cheesecloth. "No, no, I'm not dying, I'm fine…"
Ianto jogged the few steps up to the atrium and left Jack and Owen staring at each other across the warming body, which chose that moment to let out a massive burst of gas.
Jack made a face and looked down at the Clippt. "Well," he said, and paused, then opened his mouth to say more, but closed it again, turned on his heel, and left.
Owen sighed. Life used to be funny before those two started banging arses. Well, no, it didn't. Or maybe it did.
Toshiko sailed into the Hub at eleven. She'd had a visit to the 'lady-day doctor,' as Jack liked to call it when she and Gwen pencilled in GYN on the calendar, to make Owen pull a face and say, "TMI, people."
She was pleased and distracted and amused by the fact that Dr. Nguyen had warmed the speculum, and she'd also complimented Tosh's hair. Tosh wondered about the ethics of asking one's 'lay-day doctor' out, and whether the further fact that Dr. Nguyen had seen her more…tender bits already counted as a first date. She deposited her purse at her workstation and looked about for the others. Owen was in autopsy, he had to be, because the smell was horrid. One of these days she was going to help Ianto rebuild the ventilation ducts. Or relocate her office next to Jack's.
Gwen was stapled to her desk, eyes glued to the keyboard, doing her six fingered typing routine. Jack was in his odour-free office, she could tell by the light, but Ianto—Ianto was nowhere to be seen. That wasn't unusual; his daily tasks took him to all levels of the Hub in random ways.
She pulled the letter from her purse and set the envelope in front of her sweetie jar, propped up by the edge of her keyboard. She started a playlist and warmed up a few secondary programs, dug about in her drawers for a box of old flash drives, selecting one to wipe so that she could do her side project for the day: Ianto needed a new music mix.
"Tosh?" Owen called, and Gwen looked up, waved to Tosh, was distracted by something on her screen and swore, already sucked back into whatever was giving her issues.
"Look Tosh," Owen said sotto voce. He was so close she could smell the mint of his mouthwash, or maybe the camphor he put under his nose when he was dissecting. His eyes were particularly piercing today. She focused on the curve of them, the way they…Oh wait, he was talking.
"Anyway, don't say anything, if you value your life," Owen finished. "All right?"
Tosh nodded and then her alarm went off on the dethreading program with the corollary buffer system setup she was doing, and she had to attack it with both hands, because really, the code was easier to deal with if you edited it as it scrolled. It was like playing Tetris with two hands and a toe. Tosh liked the challenge, her eyes darting along.
Five minutes later, Ianto stomped up from one of the sub-levels, stopped in his tracks and watched Tosh. She could see him in the reflection of her monitor, but she didn't dare do more than that, at least not until she was finished with this, which would be another five minutes. He must have read her mind, because she heard the grinder a little later and then screech of the coffee machine and her fingers shifted to a faster speed so that she could catch the code more quickly. She wanted that coffee while it was fresh.
The best part about designing your own programs was that when you made them, you got to choose all the features, case in point being that when Tosh finished her code editing and the program unfolded itself, twisted and repacked itself, it signalled success with the opening to the Gorillaz' 'Feel Good, Inc.' She smiled and turned in her chair, doing a modified version of the twist for a few seconds before Ianto reappeared on her floor level with a tray.
She swiveled back to her desk to snatch the envelope up. Ianto set the tray on the small station next to her work desk and reached for a clean mug.
"Ianto," Tosh said, opening her envelope and pulling. "I had no idea you felt so strongly about…" she trailed off as she watched Owen jump up and behind Ianto, making 'cut' gestures across his neck. It suddenly occurred to her what he meant when he was talking about the 'value your life' bit. Ianto's brows were knitted in worry. "Written correspondence," she finished.
Ianto smiled, tightlipped. "Yeaaaaaah, about that." He took the papers from her and slid the whole thing in his inside breast pocket. "I'd appreciate if we could just…"
Tosh glanced at Owen, who had his teeth gritted, hands out, palms up, making possible 'raise the roof' gestures. What the hell did that mean? The man needed a course in sign language. Or semaphore.
"Sure," she said quickly, rubbing her now-empty hands together for lack of anything better to do with them. "But Ianto, I just want you to know," she leant in, "you're a gem."
Ianto smiled weakly and glanced up at the light in Jack's office and down at his hands and then up at her face, the grooves of his mouth deepening with relieved amusement. "Obviously I meant what I said, even if I don't remember it."
Tosh patted his cheek. "A gem." To Owen she said. "I don't know what you were all stropped about. Ianto would never write me a bad letter."
Ianto brushed some hair behind her ear before turning away. "Quite right."
"Oh wait, you got letters too?" Gwen said fumbling in her bag. "I forgot I'd got the post today, and I hadn't a chance to read it—"
"Oh please don't," Ianto said loudly, descending the few stairs to her desk. She unfolded the paper and held up a hand in her 'Halt! Police!' way and strangely, Ianto obeyed.
"'Dear Gwen,'" Gwen said loudly, and Tosh wondered if Owen had bothered to tell her. His face was panicked as if he had forgot to tell her and just remembered that fact. Ianto and Gwen were frighteningly good friends (Tosh had to admit that sometimes she wondered). She leant back and watched Ianto circle around Gwen like a curious wounded predator.
"'Dear Gwen,'" she began again, smiling, eyes on the paper. "'I cannot say you are like the older sister I never had, because I have an older sister. So I shall say that you are like the other older sister I never had, albeit with smaller ti—'"
"Yes well, " Ianto said, cutting her off and snatching the letter from her hand. Gwen grabbed for it but only managed to tear a small bottom corner from one of the papers. "I was off my rocker, obviously."
Gwen smiled and waved the scrap of paper across his nose, back and forth a few times before he swiped it away too. "Obviously."
"Well, then," Owen said, clapping his hands. Tosh wondered why he cared so much about the letter thing. He was rubbing his hands the way he did when he was trying to avoid getting into trouble, and she vaguely remembered something about him disappearing up to the conference room with some paper and envelopes when Ianto had been…oh. Oh Owen.
Tosh glanced up at the Plexiglas of Jack's office and found the man standing, arms crossed, staring down at them, but he was wearing his amused face, so she wasn't too concerned for Owen's well being. Much. Ianto had once knocked a Hoix out with his fist. It had been an accident, and he'd been holding a rock, and the thing had already been half dead, but she'd seen it, and it counted. She wondered if Owen remembered, too.
Maybe he just felt bad.
"You have all your letters back," Owen said, and Ianto poured the coffee into the mug on the tray and passed it to Tosh. She smiled and patted his hand. "Now it's all water under the bridge, right?"
Ianto said nothing, just turned away from Owen, poured steaming coffee into what he normally reserved as Owen's mug (it said 'I like to move-it move-it) and then stepped critically close to Owen's personal space.
"I had to tell my sister I was in a twelve-step program," Ianto said to Owen, his voice so low that it was sub-level. His eyes bored into Owen's and he held the coffee out to him. Owen's hand went up, caught the bottom of the mug in one paw, and then he backed away from Ianto, who raised an eyebrow and turned on his heel.
Tosh smiled and flipped through her mixer. Ianto needed more Prodigy.
Ianto took the SUV into a horribly frightening turn and Gwen held on to what Rhys called the 'Oh sweet Jesus bar' up above her head. She wanted to ask him if he was all right, but he most certainly wasn't, what with the letters and the truth serum and all. Ianto was a private person by nature, and Gwen could only imagine what he felt about having his secret thoughts beamed directly at the person to whom they referred.
She looked at her chest critically. Poor Ianto. Bless.
Jack was saying something about Janet and her buddies starting a band in the warehouse off of Ocean Way and wasn't this going to be fun. He probably should have stopped there, but he must have sensed that he was on a roll, because he added something about no agent ever wanting to sign them because they kept eating their managers, and it occurred to Gwen that Jack was desperately trying to get Ianto to play with him, which under any other circumstances, he would have.
Well, Jack did post those letters. She gave Ianto about twelve more hours before the mortification wore off. In the meantime she wondered what they would pick up for lunch on the way back. It was half noon and no one had said anything.
The SUV skidded into the carpark and Ianto yanked on the safety break so hard that the tires screeched and Jack had to brace both his hands on the dashboard to prevent him from headbutting it. Gwen unclipped her belt and hopped out of the back, checking her weapons and spray. They had room in the back for two unconscious weevils, but once they'd trussed a third and put her in the backseat with Owen. She didn't want a repeat of that, not when she was the one who had to be in the back.
"Okay standard grab and bag," Jack said, fitting his earpiece in. "I'll take the back, and the two of you take those two front entrances."
Ianto didn't say anything, simply stuck his earpiece in and walked towards the door so quickly Gwen had to jog to catch up.
"Are we clear, Ianto?" Jack said, his voice rife with exasperation.
Ianto didn't stop walking, but did a three-sixty, giving Jack two thumbs up.
Gwen turned on her earpiece. Comforting.
They didn't have to look long for the nest: they were on the ground floor, and it looked as if they'd taken advantage of the abandoned warehouse to set up shop. The place stank (though Gwen noted that like the rest of the weevils they had ever seen, they confined their toilet activities to the same far corner. Thank god for some mercies), and the center of the room was host to wads and wads of padding, ripped fiberglass insulation (just great) and blankets that the weevils used as bedding.
No weevils, though.
Gwen heard the creak of metal and realised that Jack had finally made his way in, though where was a little difficult to see. She pulled her spray from her pocket and flipped the clasp on her holster. Ianto turned to her and pointed off to the left. She nodded. He started to turn when there was a chirruping of their comms, the noise that indicated that there was an incoming call on one of their phones.
Gwen felt in her pocket, but her mobile was on vibrate and was utterly motionless. Jack didn't get calls to his mobile when they were out, so that left--
"Ianto Jones," Ianto said into the comm, his fingers flipping the safety off the firearm and pointing it at the ceiling. Somewhere across the warehouse Gwen saw the flash of Jack's hardware, little blue glowing dot of his comm. "I'm sorry, who is this?"
Gwen rolled her eyes and waited for Ianto to say something to the effect of, 'I'm quite pleased with my long distance provider,' but instead he lowered the gun a bit and flicked his eyes to her. "Uhm, Jenny, this isn't—uunf!" The weevil hit him from behind at the wait, a perfect tackle too, and Gwen thought to herself that if Rhys could have seen it he would have been begging her to let him have weevils on the Harwood's rugby team. Ianto's head dashed off the side of a wooden crate and he shook it off. He hadn't the stun gun (weevils liked the stun guns anyway, kinky bitches), and he hadn't a clear shot, so Gwen dove in and kicked the thing in the head, enough that it let go of Ianto's waist and stared at her.
She must have looked chewier, because the weevil pushed Ianto to the ground as it pushed itself upright and Ianto sat up. "Huh I what?" he mumbled, shaking his head. "Oh Jenny I—"
"I just wanted to say that I received your lovely letter, Ianto," Jenny said into Gwen's comm, and the bright bubbly voice was unexpected enough that she was too distracted and let the weevil cut her shoulder a little. She let out a grunt and aimed her spray for the thing's face.
"I'm sorry is there someone there?" Jenny said, her voice sounding worried and hesitant.
Ianto tapped his comm frantically. "No no, well yes, well, I'm at work." He rose unsteadily to his feet and kicked the weevil in the shins until it fell on the ground. "You say you got my letter?"
Gwen sprayed the weevil in the face until the spray dripped down onto the floor and the thing finally lay down long enough for her to get the hood over its head. By that time, Ianto had pulled a series of restraints from his pocket and unrolled them, the long heavy plastic police issue zip ties. He handed them to her distractedly.
"Oh yes," Jenny said, and Gwen tried to place a face to the name. This was Ianto's Open Arms girl. She sounded like a blonde. Gwen wondered how big her tits were. Oh, she was catty today. "I had no idea you were so devastated when I threw you over for Brian—"
"That was a long time ago," Ianto interjected. "Uhm, without this seeming strange, could you just tell me the gist of everything I said?"
Jenny paused for a long moment. "Are you quite sure you're all right?"
Ianto leant against a crate and rubbed the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger. "Absolutely. I just. The doctors gave me a bit of Percocet for a back injury and I'm afraid that I wrote those while—"
"Oh!" Jenny said, her voice dripping with concern. Gwen held back a snicker and wondered if Jenny were still on the market. A glance at Ianto made her wonder if he'd even be interested if she were. "Of course! Well, you said that you cried for weeks and that for years you always thought of Open Arms as our song."
Off to the far right there was a long growl and Ianto's eyes connected with Gwen's, but they were desperate. He wanted to know what she'd written, obviously, but--
"Forgive me, darling, but Ianto is a little busy right now," Jack said into the headset. They could hear him in the earpiece and off to the left as he made his way through the crates towards them. "I'll have him call you right back as soon as we're done here." Jack reached out and pressed the button on Ianto's headset and Gwen heard the disconnect as her comm went silent. She rose to her feet and dusted her hands. Jack put a finger to his lips, pointed towards the growling, and jerked his head left.
Ianto sighed and followed Jack. Gwen stayed with their downed quarry, wondering what it would be like if she had written everyone she knew letters while under the influence.
First there'd be Rhys. Oh dear god, and then her mum and dad. Then probably her mate Saskia, and wouldn't that be a can of worms. Given enough paper she might even get to Andy.
She'd be mad at Jack too, even if he didn't deserve it.
Her hands were sweaty and she was busy thanking the baby Jesus that Ianto had been the one to take the truth serum hit by the time Jack and Ianto returned, dragging the weevil by one leg each. Ianto was mumbling and Jack's face was grim.
"I didn't remember what I wrote—"
"You could have called her back—"
"We had everything under control—"
"There was a second one, and you—"
"Stop it," Ianto hissed. Gwen ducked behind a crate to give them more privacy. "I don't want to have this conversation with you, but I want you to understand."
"I do, and I'm saying—"
"All my secret thoughts about everyone are in those letters, Jack. And I don't know where they are. It's a fucking miracle I didn't tell Rhi about Torchwood. Or Jenny. And to whom else did I send them? Do you know? Do you?"
A stretch of silence.
"Thought so," Ianto humphed, and there was the slide of resumed dragging. "So forgive me if I'm on edge, what with little truth bombs out there like land mines all over my interpersonal relationships."
Gwen stepped out from behind the crates and coughed into her hand, and Jack smiled at her in relief. It didn't take them long to load the two weevils into the back of the SUV, what with Ianto's overzealous use of zip ties at their hands, forearms, ankles and knees. Jack had to stop him from zip tying the hoods over their heads, saying something about free airways.
Jack apparently hadn't felt like wresting driving control away from Ianto, so Gwen buckled up in the back and prepared herself for a short nerve wracking ride back to the Hub. Ianto plugged a flash drive into the USB port by the stereo and seconds later they were assaulted with 'Smack My Bitch Up.' Jack jolted in his seat, and Gwen almost covered her ears.
She often forgot how much younger Ianto was than the rest of them.
"Do you think you could turn that down a little there, champ?" Jack said loudly, hand going for the volume control. Ianto took the SUV into another turn that conveniently made Jack fall the opposite direction and turned his head to look at Jack next to him in the passenger seat.
Whatever Jack saw that made him lower his hand. "I'm just saying that we keep a low profile and—hey stop it!" Jack turned around and stared at Gwen. "Did you just kick my seat?"
Gwen tried her best to convey what she wanted to say with head tosses and wide eyes, but Jack didn't speak subtle. It was a language that had to be filtered through several translators until it was a related dialect called 'fucking obvious'.
Ianto sighed and clicked a button on the side of the stereo controls and the song switched over to Eagle Eye Cherry's 'Save Tonight'. Ianto seemed to think that was okay, because his hands set themselves at ten and two on the wheel and he steered them back to the Hub in silence. Right before he cut the engine he looked at Jack.
"You should go get lunch."
Ianto set the final cup of coffee on the tray and prepared to run the circular gauntlet of the Hub. He liked making the coffee. If he were a manipulative man, he would say that he liked the idea that he held the team hostage with decent caffeine. If he were being persnickety, he'd say that this way they all received good coffee. If he were just being himself, he'd say he liked contributing something that only he could do (and no matter how excellent the graduates of the Jones School of Brewing were, they were still not Ianto Jones and his magic touch.).
He loaded the few files and papers on the side of the tray, a accumulated list of odds and ends that he had to deliver but didn't merit a trip of their own: more PD1401's for Gwen, a few small rolls of coaxial for Tosh, a bag of Twiglets for Owen (okay, so he forgave the little shite, still, it didn't stop him from wanting to make a pinprick in the packaging and inject the pretzels with a little bit of truth serum. Instead, he just replayed the scenario in his head for amusement.). Himself wanted a Mars bar and three files from the Archives. Ianto stacked the post on top of the files and zoomed through the Hub as quickly as possible to avoid conversation.
It wasn't even that he didn't want to talk about the letters. It was that he actually had work to do, and a ten-minute window to enjoy his coffee before it became too old by his standards. That and he had a checklist of things to plan out for tomorrow, Saturday. He was thinking that he'd spend the day in isolation, and then he'd changed his mind and was currently wondering if he could possibly drive about the country and retcon all the appropriate people in one day and without Jack noticing.
Owen wasn't even at his desk, instead he'd been camped out with the same ghastly and foul-smelling alien all day. The last time Ianto had bothered to look over the ledge at the autopsy chamber, Owen had coils of yellow intestinal tubing wrapped about his wrists and was singing something about the 'leg bone connecting to the four-rod and the four-rod connecting to the thingamajigger.' In any case, any quick movements from Owen's hands would result in spatter, and no one needed that, especially a man with a tray full of open coffees. He simply deposited Owen's Twiglets on his desk and sailed to Tosh, who accepted her coffee and cables with a smile.
"Did you like it?" she asked, winking.
Ianto nodded. He really did like Tosh, more than he probably should, he figured, for a co-worker. "It was helpful," he told her, turning away. "One can always use more Prodigy," he told her over his shoulder.
Tosh turned back to her monitor. "I always think so."
Gwen was elbow-deep in police reports, but he managed to ply her with beverages and slip the forms into her buff folder without disrupting her conversation with her keyboard, which consisted of "oh no no, bugger you, you know what I mean. 'Cromulent' isn't in the spellchecker? No…." He left her banging on the keys and stopped at his workstation to IM her a link to the wikipedia entry on "cromulent" before she sent out actual official correspondence containing the word.
That left Jack. Ianto had seen the man go down to the firing range about thirty minutes ago, but there was a reason Jack wore that pocketwatch, and that was so that he could be on time for important things, such as afternoon coffee. If Ianto hurried, he could be in and out of the office with minimal to no contact, and the coffee would still be hot by the time Jack resurfaced to find it sitting on his desk.
It was a skill, not unlike managing the train tables.
It was no surprise then, that Jack's office was empty, green lamp lit and bent over his coral, metronome left ticking in the corner for no reason, perhaps to keep the coral company, perhaps just to irritate the fuck out of anyone who came into the room. Ianto rather liked the rhythm, of it, and considered it, depending on his mood, a challenge to either complete all his movements in time with it, or completely against it.
Today was a "with" day.
Put-papers on-the-desk, centre-mug right-on-top, Mars-bar in-the-drawer. Pick-up stack-of-post. Junk-junk-junk, for-me, junk-oh-no, that-can't-be. Another-summons from-the-court. File-that in-the-bin. This—
Ianto stared at the envelope addressed to Jack in his precise handwriting, and then cast an unrestrained glance at the door even though he would have heard him coming from miles away. It didn't matter anyway; Jack would never force him to hand over the envelope.
On one hand, he had no idea what was inside. He held it to the light, though the envelope was thick enough paper that technique bore no fruit. It wasn't anywhere near as weighty as Owen or Tosh's letters, so there was definitely less paper. Of course, he could do a lot of damage in a short scrap of paper.
Ianto sat on the edge of the desk and sipped his coffee. He stared at his handwriting. He wondered if maybe he'd just wanked into the envelope. He thought about what he could have said. He thought about his own letter to himself and wondered if this had anything to do with that, or Tosh's or Gwen's, Or Rhi's. The one to Owen had been a stream of pop psychology and invective.
He stood to-the-metro-nome. Turned-to face-Jack's-desk. Set-the-envelope against-the-cup.
Pick-up-tray. Turn-off the fucking metronome.
Nod with trepidation.
Walk back to one's workstation.
Jack signed for the envelope and slipped the messenger twenty quid. It was past business hours and he didn't have to make the extra trip, but Jack appreciated the effort. He was also fairly sure that with the price he'd paid to have this particular errand run, he should have received a blow job along with it, but some jokes just never went over well.
Well, and the envelope in his hand told him all about what he felt about casual sex these days.
Jack ripped the cardboard outer casing open and fished out the actual letter, then tossed the wrapper, slammed the button to the downstairs with his hip and tapped the paper against his hand as he trotted down into the atrium. It was a bit like a rollercoaster if one made the whole trip without stopping: down the stairs, through the cog, down more steps, over a bit, up more stairs, across the way, back, side, side, rockstep, electric bugaloo.
That landed him in the conference room, where Ianto was settled with a cup of tea and some biscuits, finishing a conversation on his mobile.
"…it's not happening. No. Fuck off." Jack raised an eyebrow and Ianto rolled his eyes. His fingers tapped on the table. "Oh and that's a shame, right?" Pause, and Jack tried to figure out what was different about Ianto as he slouched in the chair. Posture, voice, ah accent. Hard and Welsh. Ianto's dockworker Newport slide. Nice. Rough.
Jack sat down in a chair across from Ianto and turned the envelope end on end in his fingers. Ianto glanced at it, but his eyes darted away as if he didn't want to see. Instead, he turned his chair away so that he was in profile.
"You know, that's the kind if attitude that'll get you flattened, that is…right. So, sure, sure, I will. Not that. Yeah, yeah," Ianto didn't look at him, but he made a 'yak yak yak' hand puppet in the air, then scrolled his wrist. Jack stole a biscuit and licked the edge. Ianto's mouth twitched. "Oh bollocks to you," he said, laughed, and hung up, setting the mobile down and off to the side.
"Animated," Jack said.
"That was Joffe," Ianto said, "An old mate. We play rugby off and on."
"He wants to meet the man in my life," Ianto said, now turning his chair back to the table and picking up the papers in front of him. "You know, the one I wrote about in my letter."
Jack sighed. "What did you tell him?"
Ianto glanced up. "I told him you were lousy at sport."
Jack tried to look indignant, but it was true. All those rules, and he was too distracted by other things. And the word 'scrum' was just downright filthy.
Now was the time for some suggestive quipping. That was a sport, right? "I know some sports—"
Ianto snorted. "Anyway, I told him that you were hopelessly bad at athletics and that you hated beer and couldn't follow a simple footie match. There's no way you're ever to be in the same room with any of those tossers." He shuffled the papers again, and Jack realised that they were all his recovered letters.
"If you think it's for the best," Jack conceded, as a verbal space filler.
"Listen to this," Ianto said, then cleared his throat. "'Dear Tosh. I like your perfume. Also, you are a technological genius. Sometimes I want to buy you a gentle panda.'" He lowered the paper and stared at Jack. "What am I, twelve?"
Jack grinned and pushed the box of Hob-Nobs across the conference table. The chocolate kind. Ianto glared at them in suspicion. "Twelve year olds lie too much. Eight. Possibly lower."
"I wrote one to Myfanwy," Ianto groaned. "It arrived upstairs in today's post."
"Are you going to read it to her?" Jack teased, leaning back and biting his biscuit in half.
Ianto shrugged and glanced out the window to her nest. "She knows how I feel."
Jack picked the envelope up from his side of the table and turned it, address side up before sliding it across the table to Ianto. Ianto's eyes darted from the papers in his hand to the envelope and back, and slowly he lowered his hand to slide it the rest of the way to him. He was silent for a long moment before sweeping the envelope up into his stack and stuffing them all into a buff file.
"Thank you," he said softly.
Jack had had a whole spiel about what he'd gone through to get the envelope, from derailing a Royal Mail truck to bribing an old contact at the Public Works office, to promising an alien friend of his a few slabs of alien meat the next time they ran across it, but the look on Ianto's face stuffed all that back down in his gullet until he was just left with a satisfied feeling, as if he had eaten it.
"They deserve to not know," he said then. "It wasn't her fault."
Ianto stood and tucked the file folder under his arm. "Yes, well, I suppose we could have retconned them," he mumbled, eyes still everywhere but Jack's face.
Jack sighed and finished his biscuit, licking the chocolate from his fingers. "That's a mess. I prefer that they never knew for one second. Don't you?" It was true. Jack didn't want to add that with their luck, the Halletts would be retcon-resistent. Then they'd have a mess on their hands. No, post tampering was preferable when compared to that.
And Ianto had had a shite day enough already. Jack could see it in his face when he massaged the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "I'm ready to declare this day terminated," Ianto said. "I have such a bad headache I'm using the showers here before I go." His hand slid down his face and behind his head, where his fingers worked at his neck at the base of his skull.
"Do you want a hand?"
Ianto stopped and looked at Jack, eyes finally willing to rest on him longer than a split second, and they were looking all right. Jack might've shifted a little if he didn't think it would break the moment. It wasn't sexy (well, yeah, it was), but it was searching, Ianto inspecting him, scanning for an answer in body language so that he wouldn't have to ask the question that Jack knew had been on the tip of his tongue since teatime.
It wasn't that Jack meant to keep him in suspense, it was more like he wasn't sure of the exact nature of the conversation. He did have a ready answer for every possibility, but it wasn't until all the chips landed, after Ianto tossed them and let them fall whenever, wherever, that he knew when to say it.
Jack could wait.
"In a minute, maybe," Ianto said finally. Then waited. Jack looked at the Hob-Nobs. He did like the chocolate kind. Tasty. He was in the middle of reaching for another one when Ianto's bomb fell, a pin falling out of a grenade. War metaphors were not appropriate for this.
"This afternoon I—"
"I saw." The pause was so pregnant it had a whole litter of kittens right there.
"I burnt it," Jack said, pushing away from the table and leaning back in the chair, folding his hands behind his head because it kept his fingers from the biscuits.
"And you didn't read it." Statement, not a question.
Jack shrugged. "You were on drugs."
"Truth serum." Ianto leant forward, hands splayed on the table. "Some people might take advantage of that."
"Nah. Thing about telling the truth? It's seldom the wisest course," Jack answered, rocking the chair back a little. "We're a species built on politeness and lies." His eyes sparkled. "Civility and amity rely on them, as you well know."
"Oh, really now."
"Quite, take it from a former con man."
Ianto's mouth worked, he opened and closed it, and Jack entertained a few things he'd like to do with that mouth, once it got over its shocked state. Oh come now, Ianto wasn't shocked. Just planning. Perhaps trying to catch Jack in a lie. Well, good luck to him.
"Okay then," Ianto said slowly. "You weren't even curious?"
Jack shrugged. "It wasn't about me, was it?"
Ianto stood straight then, loosened his tie, picked up his mug, rechecked the folder, all in a little easy rhythm Jack could have tapped out like a metronome. He gave Jack a weak smile. "You coming?" he called over his shoulder as he made for the doorway.
Jack leant forward in his chair. "In a few. Loose ends."
Ianto snorted. "Tell me about it."
Jack waited until he heard Ianto's shoes rattle the metal step at the bottom of the stairs, and the distant clink of his mug being settled into the sink for a washing later. He listened for the rattle of the catwalk where it needed to be secured on the way to the basement access towards the communal showers. The metal hollow ring of the access door being opened by the push bar, and then the heavy scrape of it shutting again, door edges grinding as if they were bitching at having to do their job.
He shifted so that he could pull the paper from his back pocket and then dug about in his trousers for his pocketknife. Unfolded the cream envelope and read the front again, for the millionth time.
Uncreased the middle, laid it flat again.
Then finally, he slipped the knife under the lip of the envelope, pulling it up and across.
One piece of paper then, was what he merited (Tosh had got three). Of course, Jack had always stressed quality over quantity. He smiled to himself and pulled the paper out, unfolding it and holding it away a bit as if it was filled with poison gas or a punch in the face.
Mister Ianto Jones
1313 Penarth Road #3
Cardiff, CF11 7JE
The Queen thanks you for your letter! Unfortunately, Her Majesty receives many letters and is saddened that she cannot reply to them all personally. However, she thanks you for your correspondence and endeavours to serve as your Monarch to the best of her ability and to the glory of the country. Please find enclosed an autographed photo, as requested.
Gordon Leicester, Personal Secretary,
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith
PS: Please give Our regards to Captain Harkness