Ianto squinted over at Tosh to see her unbuttoning her blouse. Tosh's bra was a pretty peach pink, translucent with sweat, and contrasted nicely with the heat flush on her breasts. "Please don't tell me you 'don't want to die a virgin'," he said, wearily closing his eyes agin. His voice echoed flatly in the cramped space they were in, the metal walls unforgiving in every way.
Tosh's reply was a sharp exhalation through her nose, both of them too tired and too miserable for more. "I'm going to try again."
At that, Ianto opened his eyes and pushed himself onto his elbows, barking his head on the low ceiling. "Tosh," he warned, "you've already tried. It's too small."
"That was ... days ago," she smiled brightly, fingers trembling. "Between starvation and dehydration I'm an inch or so thinner. Maybe that's enough."
It might be true. What was true was they were trapped -- kidnapped by aliens, sucked up by the Rift, who knew -- and were stuck in a thirty foot length of hot metal tubing without food or water. The overheated space was already rank with the inevitable stink of their own bodies and the crap corner (as Ianto had named it) at the farthest end of the tube. If they didn't get out, or rescued very soon, they were going to die.
Ianto wiggled around until he could crawl with Tosh to the cleaner end of their prison. The tube was capped here too, but unlike the other end, a square of mesh let in fresh, if hot air. Within twenty minutes of regaining consciousness, they'd both realized it was the only way out and torn their hands bloody pulling the mesh out. The only problem was, it was less than 12" square.
"It's worth a try," Ianto admitted, Tosh's filthy shoulder brushing against his bare, sweaty skin. Ianto had abandoned tie, jacket and finally shirt in the face of the stifling heat. Tosh had been more modest, keeping her shirt and skirt on though she'd torn her stockings and shoes off with a cry of misery some time ago. "You'd get a change of scenery, at least."
Beyond the mesh there was nothing more than further metal tunnel, the only benefit being there was no visible cap on the other end, instead it curved out of sight.
Tosh's hand closed on Ianto's wrist and he looked unwillingly over at her gaunt face. There were dark circles under her bloodshot eyes and her lips were crusty and chapped -- just like his. She was earnest though, desperately so. "I'll come back for you," she promised.
"Don't!" Ianto said angrily. "Don't you dare!"
"I can't just leave you here!"
Ianto squeezed her hand hard, narrow bones sharp in his grip as he swallowed down his resentment and terror, putting on his favorite bland face and fighting his voice back down to something resembling normal. "You can and you will."
Tosh shook her head wildly, filthy black hair flicking over Ianto's stubbled cheek. She was too dry to cry and both of them were too exhausted to do more than stare at each other.
Ianto touched Tosh's cheek gently and lied through his teeth. "It's all right, Tosh."
"Fuck that, Ianto," she said raggedly, closing her eyes for a long stricken moment. "It's not all right."
Ianto could starve down to bones (in fact, he would, he knew) and he still couldn't fit through the tiny opening. Tosh would have to leave him behind. To die.
"Hey, at least I'm not going into cold storage with the rest of Jack's old conquests," Ianto husked, mouth twisted in a sour smile. "Jack will be pissed."
She didn't ask him for any heroic last words or messages for loved ones and Ianto was deeply grateful. What would he say to Jack, passed through Tosh's mouth, anyway? And, anything he wanted to say to his sister would never reach her -- Jack and Owen would come up with some tragic story, a spare corpse, and leave her with nothing but false platitudes.
"Bloody Torchwood," Toshiko whispered.
"That's not technically the official motto," Ianto murmured and Tosh snorted out a helpless laugh.
Those crucial two inches of lost flesh made all the difference and Tosh was able to squeeze through the barrier, leaving behind strands of hair, some blood, and a torn shred of silky peach fabric.
Ianto passed through his shirt to her. "In case you find the air conditioned section." He passed through his gun too, he didn't need to explain why.
Then he watched Tosh's arse (her knickers matched her bra) and feet crawl away from him, around the bend in the tunnel, and out of sight. He'd always thought Tosh had a lovely arse and perhaps it was a decent last sight to see.
Then he lay down beside the little hatch, where it was coolest, and waited to die.
Ianto's head was ringing like a gong, over and over again, and it took him long moments to realize that it wasn't just his head. The faint sound of his name made Ianto pop up, to knock his head on the low ceiling again and fall back onto the hot, curved floor. His arms trembled with weakness as he sat up more carefully this time. He hadn't been miraculously rescued in his sleep.
"Ianto -- Ianto?" Bang-bang-bang. It was Tosh, her voice and the hammering coming from the other end of the tube. Ianto struggled to his hands and knees and crawled shakily towards the sounds.
"Tosh?" He croaked, coughed and tried again. "Tosh!"
"I found you!" She yelled triumphantly from wherever she was. Renewed banging made clear she was just on the other side of the blank end of the tube. "I think I can open this, you've got to pull, Ianto!"
"There's nothing to hang onto!" Ianto shouted back, scrabbling with his fingers over the shiny bulge that blocked the tunnel. It flexed with a metallic groan and he could hear Tosh yelling with effort on the other side. A tiny space, barely a slit, opened between the bulge and the curved side and Ianto jammed his fingertips into it, not caring if he lost them.
"Pull!" Tosh's voice was clearer now, hoarse and desperate.
"I am!" Ianto pulled while Tosh pushed and banged and the space between the plug and the wall slowly grew. He lost a fingernail and was smeared with old crap and urine before they were able to force a space large enough for him to crawl through. Frantic, Ianto forced his way out of what had been his death trap. Tosh was on the other side, bruised, filthy and grinning triumphantly.
"You didn't think I'd leave you there," she flung her arms around him and Ianto clung to her, burying his face against her neck, husking out a few dry, painful sobs.
"Stupid," he whispered. "Tosh --"
"Shut up," Tosh told him, patting his cheek. "Come on. I found water."
The thought of water made Ianto's mouth ache with thirst and he scrambled after Tosh as she led him through more featureless, cramped tunnels to a little cul-de-sac where, dribbling slowly down the curve of one wall, there was water.
Tosh let him crawl over her to reach it and Ianto pressed his mouth to the wall, lapping with animal desperation at the thin stream. It was ice cold, bitter, and painful on his raw tongue and cracked mouth.
Water extended their lives but couldn't save them. They were in a mini-maze of identical tunnels, walls hot enough to blister, each of them eventually coming to a blank, impassable end. Ianto kept track of time by his stubble, which was becoming a patchy, hot, and filthy beard. Sometime between stubble and beard, Tosh started to run a fever, red streaks of infection spreading from one of the scrapes on her knees.
"You have to," Tosh insisted, not for the first time. "Ianto you'll starve here."
"I do not!"
"You can take me to the really hot end," she rasped, "and dry me and --"
"Christ!" Ianto yelled, tears leaking from his eyes and caught in a perfect balance of grief and fury as Tosh talked about the best way to eat her. He wasn't going to eat her but he wanted to strangle her. "Shut up! Shut up!"
Ianto left her to crawl to the water, breath coming in sobs and soaked his shirt -- little more than rags now -- then crawled back to where Tosh lay, weak and gray. Pressing the wet shirt against Tosh's chest, he watched her gasp and squirm, eyes widening at the cold. He studiously wiped her arms and legs, ran the fabric over her belly as she started to shiver convulsively, nipples tightening against the filthy fabric of her bra and her fever broke for a few moments. Her knee was swollen immobile and red streaks climbed up her thigh. It was blood poisoning that was killing her. It wasn't, Ianto recalled vaguely, a terrible way to die. Fairly painless, considering some of the other ways Torchwood killed you. Starvation wasn't too bad either.
"I didn't like those burgers in the Beacons anyway," he muttered. "Too gamey."
Tosh giggled. "Long pork sucks."
Ianto sniffed and laughed. "I've always wanted to go vegetarian."
Sometime in their sleep, huddled together for comfort despite the heat, Tosh had a seizure. Ianto flung himself over her as she shuddered and spasmed under him, trying to hold her still and safe against the hard metal all around them. Her skin was burning hot under him, especially around her infected knee as her body fought a losing battle against the sickness. When she went suddenly limp, Ianto whimpered and fumbled frantically for her throat, afraid she'd died. Her pulse was thready and weak and Ianto scrambled to the water, then back with his shirt, fighting to bring her killing fever down. Whenever she seized, he'd hold her down, padding her against the tunnel with his own body and rock her gently afterwards, hissing soothing, ridiculous promises in her ear.
He didn't sleep anymore, couldn't risk it, and crawled in an endless circuit between the trickle of water and Tosh. Most of the time she barely woke when he rubbed her down with the freezing water and Ianto had to feed her water from his own mouth, caring it back like a mother bird for a chick and pressing his mouth to hers, letting it trickle slowly between her lips and hope she'd swallow instead of choke.
"I'm thinking we deserve a vacation," Ianto muttered against the curve of Tosh's cheek, wiping away traces of the water he'd just fed her with his fingers. "The Antarctic is nice this time of year, open spaces ... cold fresh air ... sky as far as you can see."
"Blue s-sky," Tosh whispered faintly. "Forever."
Her fever had broken, finally, but she had no strength. She was gaunt and wasted, cheekbones and wrist bones, ribs and shoulders like knives under her skin. Ianto gathered her up -- she'd be so light if he weren't so weak -- and cradled her against his own bony body.
"Yeah," he sighed, kissing her hair and closing his eyes. "Beautiful blue sky forever."
"And really smelly penguins," Tosh replied drowsily. "You know they smell terrible, don't you?"
Ianto just chuckled. "Like we can complain?"
"Mmm," Tosh just sighed and snuggled close. Ianto rested his head against hers, ignoring the way the hot metal under his shoulders started to burn. There was no reason to move, really, and it was a pain he was so used to it didn't register as hurt anymore. It was time. They were done.
"Now that's a pretty sight." The blinding flash of rose-gold light in the dimness wasn't heaven. "Wait -- fuck, you stink, I take it back."
"Fuck!" Ianto said weakly, prying his eyes open and there was John Hart, with his shit-eating grin, gold sparks trailing from his hair and shimmering over his red coat. What a horrible dying hallucination. "W-what the -- what are you doing here?"
"Saving your lives, Eye Candy, what else?" Hart said with a grin, reaching for them.
Ianto was dying but he wasn't stupid. He let Hart get just close enough and jammed the barrel of his gun into Hart's belly. The man's eyes went wide and he froze. His eyes were the exact same shade of blue as Jack's.
"We didn't have anything to shoot here," Ianto said roughly, "so I've got plenty of bullets."
"Hey," Hart had the gall to look affronted, sweat beading rapidly on his forehead in the heat. "Really, I'm saving you. And Tosh ... she's not dead yet, is she? I've been bouncing around trying to find the two of you alive for hours. Pain in the arse, let me tell you. And I thought you two stank when you were dead," he trailed off in a mutter.
"H-how'd you get here?"
Hart rolled his eyes and waggled his right hand, wearing the heavy wristband that was a twin of Jack's. "Unlike Jack, my vortex manipulator isn't on the fritz. I'm your prince charming, Eye Candy, show a little gratitude, why don't you?"
"Sure," Ianto said, holding Tosh tight. "Open your mouth and I'll show you my gratitude."
Hart look confused and Ianto nudged his ribs with the gun to remind him of why he might want to cooperate. "Well, you kinda stink but I'm not one to complain --" Hart let his mouth fall wide as Ianto jabbed him more insistently.
There was an irresistible, heady, satisfaction in sliding the barrel of his pistol into Hart's open mouth and watching the man's eyes go wider, blue and shocked. Revenge was sweet.
"I trust you about as far as I can kick you," Ianto paused, "wait, no, not that much. Now, take us home."
Hart closed his mouth around the pistol, cheeks hollowing as he sucked obscenely, eyes gleaming, and the world dissolved into gold.
When he woke next, they had been miraculously rescued (he'd die before admitting that John Hart was any kind of miracle) and Ianto had about five seconds to see the white walls of a hospital and a glimpse of Owen's sour smile before he went under again, which was the way the next few days went, more or less.
When he was strong enough, Ianto struggled to his feet and shuffled down the hallway to Tosh's room, dragging his IV pole along. The world seemed enormous now, spacious and bright and full of noise. The monitors around Tosh's bed beeped loudly and she was festooned with even more tubes and wires then he was. Ianto sank into the nearby chair -- clearly someone else had been keeping watch over her as well -- and watched Tosh breathe.
The sound of Jack's voice made Ianto jerk out of a doze and he looked up to see him leaning on the doorway, shirtsleeves rolled up, hair unkempt but otherwise so very, perfectly, Jack.
"You should still be flat on your back," Jack said. "You look like crap."
"Thank you, sir," Ianto said. "But I think I'm still on disability leave and don't have to listen to you."
Jack's boots were loud on the lino and Ianto glanced over at Tosh but she didn't even stir. Jack's hand rested heavily on his shoulder and Ianto glanced up to see a swiftly shuttered look of relief and joy on Jack's face. Huh.
"I can live with that," Jack said. "That means you don't have to call me 'sir', then, either."
"John Hart?" He said after a pause. "John Hart?"
Jack had dragged a chair in to sit next to Ianto, watching Tosh's chest rise and fall pensively beside him. He shrugged. "Working time vortex and he wants to be back in my good graces. Beggars can't be choosers."
Ianto wondered if Jack meant himself or the two of them, dying slowly, alone. Knowing Jack, he meant both.
"He --" Jack tilted his head thoughtfully. "Had to make several jumps, trying to find a moment in time when you were ... still alive. It's a bit of a trick."
Ianto looked over in surprise. "He couldn't come back earlier still when we weren't on the verge of death?"
Jack shook his head, gaze returning to Tosh, lying so still. She was alive, but still critical, and no one was yet sure if she'd pull through the massive infection.
"Every jump in the same general timeframe makes the next more dangerous," he said. "He was running out of chances."
"Oh," Ianto said. Grudgingly, he realized he was going to have to be grateful to the man.
"But it was a sight to see, your gun jammed halfway down his throat," Jack said with a grin, leaning back in the ugly green chair and folding his hands behind his head. "You should be careful though, John might as for a repeat. He's got an ... oral fixation."
"The only thing I'm ever going to stick in that man's mouth is my gun," Ianto muttered and Jack laughed. Stuck full of IV lines and catheter tubes, he had to sit carefully and watched Jack's sprawl enviously.
"Where were we?" Ianto finally asked, wondering if some alien invasion had been thwarted, or interstellar diplomacy achieved. Jack grimaced.
Ianto raised his brows, staring patiently.
"Sontaran environmental circulation system," Jack admitted with a sigh. "They use a transmit technology to get rid of their waste and it was mistuned, it pulled you an Tosh up in an exchange."
"They were emptying the garbage," Ianto translated flatly. "And picked us up by accident."
"Yeah," Jack agreed, unwillingly.
Ianto watched Tosh while the filtered sunlight shifted on the wall. "A pointless death, then."
Jack reached out, resting a warm hand on Ianto's arm. "They usually are."