Ianto leans against Toshiko’s workstation. The Hub, and the metal of the desk, is cool compared to the rough twenty eight degrees outside (Celsius, he reminds Jack every time, though he’s pretty sure Jack’s being difficult on purpose), but it’s still heavily humid. The air is infused with the mildewed damp that Ianto has spent the past two weeks trying to beat back with every sort of cleanser he could find.
He’d left Jack with a small stack of simple paperwork over an hour ago. Maybe it’s done, maybe it isn’t. Ianto is far too uncomfortable with the state of the atmosphere to care right now. Maybe Jack’s tossing pencils upwards to see if they stick in the ceiling. It’d hardly be a surprising turn of events.
Ianto looks up at the sound of Jack’s voice and nods. He stands up straight and makes to tidy Tosh’s station. He places the bits of unreturned archived tech and their subsequent wires and washers into a box to shelve downstairs. It’s even more dank down there, unfortunately, but it has to be done. Jack props himself up against the doorframe and watches; Ianto doesn’t look over, but he can feel the shift of air currents and the familiar sounds of Jack’s forced casualness.
“You should head home.” There’s a strange hitch of hesitation in Jack’s voice before it resumes its full Captain’s bravado. “It’s late. That stuff – it won’t go anywhere.”
Ianto sets the cardboard box on the chair and almost misses the mark. The weight of the air, its moisture, is getting to him. Or maybe it’s that he hasn’t eaten since a solitary slice of pizza at lunch. Or that he hadn’t slept more than two hours the previous night.
“There’s a bed, if you need it,” Jack finishes.
The box begins to tip over and Ianto catches it, painfully, with his knee. He can’t tell if Jack’s coming on to him, or if he thinks Ianto’s homeless. He also can’t tell which of the two options he prefers. He turns his head and sees Jack: the taut, tense muscles undermining his practiced incline. Jack’s gaze is soft and decidedly not leering.
“I’ve a perfectly serviceable bed at home, sir.” With central air, thank you.
Jack’s face relaxes into something more lecherous. “Is that an invitation?” Both of his eyebrows rise.
“Maybe.” The word has already been implanted into Jack’s brain before Ianto can stop himself.
Jack grins, and it’s fine, really, because at least Ianto will be in a chilled flat that won’t smell of mildew and the density of heat. That’s probably the only reason Jack’s interested in coming back with him, anyway.
“Gwen,” Jack says and Ianto touches his comm to listen in before turning the key in the ignition. “We’ve got nothing. Anything on your end?”
“Owen’s doing one last loop around the warehouse, but so far not a thing. Is that normal?”
“It’s rare,” Toshiko’s voice pipes up, tinny and soft, “but it does happen. I have a theory about particles, but nothing solid. In any case, if the scanners aren’t picking anything up, it’s probably harmless.”
“Right. Head back once Owen’s done. Ianto and I will pick up lunch. Any preferences?”
“Can we do Thai? That little place by Bute Park?”
“Sure, Gwen,” Ianto says. “Usual orders?”
They all respond simultaneously with various words of acquiescence, and get off the comms. Ianto pulls out his PDA and Jack chuckles.
“You know,” he says as Ianto busies himself, “they all think you’ve got their orders memorized.”
“Who says I don’t?” Ianto mutters absently.
“Fine. It’ll be our little secret.”
The wind picks up, bringing a sharp cold from off the bay through the open window. The leaves have hardly turned yet, though some small piles clutter the car park. Most of those that have fallen are the dull, dried brown of dead foliage. Every year, Ianto feels like he notices the beginnings of reds and oranges in with the fading green of summer and then, in between blinks, the trees are bare. He’s always disappointed when he realizes that he’s missed the best part.
“Are you going to call it in?” Jack asks after a long moment.
Ianto shakes his head. “No, let’s order when we get there and then we can….” He trails off, unsure of what he was going to suggest they do.
Jack seems to know, though, because he nods and smiles. “The park’s nice this time of year,” he says. “We could walk around a bit, you could beat up a weevil with a stick, it’d be like old times.”
Laughing despite himself, Ianto shakes his head and backs out of the parking space. As he lays his arm behind Jack’s headrest and looks back, Jack reaches up awkwardly and squeezes Ianto’s hand once.
It had been cold enough as it was, wrapped in layers of wool, but Ianto’s coat is now soaked through with frigid water. Which is what generally happens when a coat is dropped into a tiny stream in the throes of a mid-winter chill. In Ianto’s defense, the coat had severely limited his range of motion, which is never good while chasing a who-knows-what with sharp teeth and hook-like claws through the woods. At first, the adrenaline and the exertion had been enough to keep the cold at bay. Now, though, trekking through a copse of trees in the dark of midnight with just a torch between them, Ianto can practically feel his bones rattling.
“Cold?” Jack asks. He sounds, at first, like he’s making casual conversation, but Ianto’s learned to read the pattern of his breaths and he knows Jack’s concerned.
“I’m fine,” Ianto manages. His leg muscles spasm and he stumbles over the forest detritus. Jack catches his arm. “I’ll be fine.”
It’s only a two mile hike, at most, but Ianto feels so tired. They’ve been walking now for less than ten minutes and he’s already contemplating giving up. Not seriously, of course, but there’s a nice fir up ahead to rest against. It’s the wildest, most pleasurable fantasy he’s had for a long while. And that’s saying something.
Jack laughs a little, nasal and false. “Will you please take my coat?”
“I told you,” Ianto stutters, “then you’ll be cold. It’s not far. I’ll be fine.”
For the next few minutes, it’s like his body’s moving through thick syrup. Jack guides him, by the elbow, around an upraised tree root and then grasps Ianto close, holding him still. It’s not much of a challenge, really; Ianto hardly has the energy to resist.
“Wear the coat,” Jack practically pleads.
“No, it’s –”
“You will take this coat and you will wear it or I will suspend you for insubordination.”
Ianto closes his eyes and shudders as the body-warmed wool is wrapped around him. It’s nice, and it smells like Jack, and he doesn’t really want to move. He knows the threat is completely empty; there’s just the three of them now and they can hardly afford to be down a field agent. Or an archivist. Or a caretaker. Or whatever the hell he is.
“Less than a mile left. As soon as we get home, you’re getting changed into warm clothes. Please tell me you still have the hot water bottles Owen gave you.”
“Mmhmm,” Ianto manages.
Jack’s walking so close to him now, like he’s trying to share his body heat. Ianto almost wishes it were possible to navigate the woods with Jack wrapped around him.
“We didn’t have winter where I’m from,” Jack says after a moment and then chuckles a little. His hand is still close to Ianto’s elbow, like he’s helping an old woman to cross the street. “We had a very brief rainy season, but otherwise it was perpetually warm. It’s hell to get used to the cold, but then, I’ve had time to acclimate.”
Ianto smiles a bit at Jack’s babbling. He smiles all the way through it, actually, as he warms to a more normal temperature. His toes and fingers are still frigid and prickly, but his body is much more comfortable when they reach the SUV.
Jack practically dives in to turn the heat all the way up, and Ianto is grateful that he’d thought to fill up on petrol that morning. Taking Ianto’s hands in his own, Jack holds them close and breathes hotly over them. They tingle.
“You don’t have frostbite,” Jack says after a moment. “That’s good.” There’s a pause as Ianto, eyes closed, enjoys the warmth. “Don’t you dare do that again. You don’t have to be a fucking hero.”
Ianto’s eyelids fly open at the tenseness of Jack’s voice and he stares at him. There’s a retort on his lips, ready to be spoken, but it withers away when he sees Jack’s glare; it’s a mixture of anger and fear and Ianto feels a flutter of something in his chest. It’s probably just his internal organs thawing.
Gwen Cooper has seen many strange things in the past few years, but the strangest has got to be Jack Harkness sipping a cup of tea at her kitchen table with Anwen balanced on his lap. There are, in fact, so many strange things about this tableau that her head has begun to throb. First off, he’s drinking tea. But then, she supposes that it must be difficult; even she’s had a hard time swallowing a cup of coffee down these past two years.
“You were saying?” she says as she busies herself in the refrigerator. Rhys had done up a soup of some sort, and there was bread, so that was dinner sorted. She peers out of the kitchen window at the blossoming tree outside. She never had figured out what it was, but she’s pleased that it’s growing healthily.
“He left…he left some things for you. There was a box in his flat with your name on it. Some things of yours he’d borrowed, and some other stuff.”
Gwen looks up just in time to notice the white of his knuckles where they encircle the handle of the mug and the distant, faraway expression in his eyes. She’s glad that Rhys has stepped out for the weekend to visit his parents, and even more glad that he now has the freedom to do so; after they all (save Rex, of course, for obvious reasons) had made the trek back to Wales, the Cooper-Williams household was taken off of surveillance and could finally move about freely once more.
“Okay,” she says and moves to stand behind him. She rests her hands on his shoulders. She’d seen Ianto do it enough when Jack had been in a state, and maybe it’s not the best thing to do in this case, but it’s all she has right now. “Do you have it?”
Anwen gurgles and bangs a spoon on the tabletop, and Jack chuckles, which is a good thing, except that it sounds so desperately hollow.
“It’s in storage. Back in Cardiff. I gave his sister the rest and then some.”
His sentences are clipped short and of an unfamiliar, strange cadence. She takes a seat across from him, grabs his hand, and gently pries his fingers from the mug. She sits there for a moment, just watching him and clutching his hand tightly.
“Didn’t he leave anything for you?”
Jack is silent for a long while, his attention seemingly on his squirming niece, but Gwen knows him well. She knows that look, that pre-prevarication glaze. It clears.
“He left me plenty.”
Anwen starts fussing, so Gwen stands and takes her from Jack, hushing her in preparation for her nap. Jack doesn’t move as she walks to the nursery, which is just as well. She needs a minute. Or ten. Or a very long time, because before she knows it, Jack is standing awkwardly at her side. He’s too large for the nursery, or too small for the house. She can’t tell anymore.
“She’s beautiful,” he says and leans down to kiss Anwen on the forehead. She coos in her sleep and then her tiny bootied foot kicks him as he’s pulling away. “And she definitely takes after you.” He rubs at his jaw.
Gwen laughs and then sobers quickly. “Will you be all right?”
Jack nods. “Of course. I’ve got my two favorite girls.” He kisses Gwen’s cheek and makes for the kitchen again. When he reaches the doorway of the nursery, he turns around. “He was going to dote on her, you know.”
“Yeah,” Gwen says with a watery smile. “I know. And I’ll be sure she knows it, too.”