Although Jack and Ianto had narrowed down the candidates to fifteen over the weekend, it was still taking a lot of time to go through them. Most of the applicants were from other branches of Torchwood or related agencies, but a few were civilians. These took a bit longer to evaluate, since he had to get them past the “oh my God, you hunt aliens?” stage before he could begin the actual interview.
One by one, he met them in the tourist office, introduced them to the team, and guided them through the main parts of the Hub. He explained the basic duties of the job: tidying up after the team (particularly Owen and Jack), ordering food, dry-cleaning, making coffee, and attempting the super-human task of keeping the filing system organised. And then, one by one, each of the first twelve applicants was served a cup of Ianto’s impeccable coffee, with complimentary Retcon.
None of the applicants realised it, but Ianto’s decision about them was really made before they made it much past the entrance to the Hub. The actual duties of the job were just details. The important thing was how well his replacement would mesh with the team. The Hub was close quarters, and keeping it running smoothly was more than a matter of getting everyone their coffee on time. They would have to anticipate their emotional needs, as well: when Toshiko needed encouragement, when Owen need to have the piss taken out of him, when Gwen needed to be distracted by something shiny so her chattering wouldn’t drive the others mad. When Jack needed… Oh, bollocks.
He sighed. Jack had teased him about doing the interviews on his own so he could make sure his replacement wasn’t prettier than he was, but Ianto knew that would be a wasted effort. Jack was Jack, and Torchwood was Torchwood, and eventually there would be a long, stressful mission, at the end of which he would be compelled to shag whoever was to hand. So long as it wasn’t Gwen, Ianto had already made up his mind to forgive him for it- after a suitable round of guilt-ridden making up, of course.
He kept a carefully neutral expression while serving the twelfth candidate an example of his coffee. He hadn’t even made it past the first level with this one- the man’s endless jabbering about how “awesome” everything was had set his teeth on edge. He seemed to think that working at Torchwood was just like being in a comic book.
Owen escorted the still-babbling bloke up the invisible lift while Ianto headed back to the tourist office to collect the next applicant. He was starting to feel pessimistic about the whole project.
His first view of his next interviewee was an unruly mass of light-brown curls bent over a rack of brochures on the counter. She was dressed for the cool April weather in a brown corduroy coat and a thick blue muffler. He cleared his throat, startling her.
A wide, genuine smile immediately lit up her freckled face as she looked up. Her light green eyes sparkled with intelligence and humour, and Ianto felt his hopes for the interview pick back up.
She grasped his hand as he smiled back, more warmly than he generally would have.
“Ianto Jones, Torchwood Cardiff,” he introduced himself. “I’ll be conducting your evaluation.”
“Pleased to meet you, Sir. I’m Kyra Lawson. I’ve been the receptionist at the Droch Faol research facility, Torchwood Glasgow.”
“You’re from London originally, though?” he raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, sir,” Her smile faltered and she dropped her gaze slightly. “I’d just started in the typing pool at Torchwood London, before…”
Ianto’s heart throbbed with sympathy for the girl. She was a poignant reminder that he wasn’t the only one who’d lost someone precious at Canary Wharf.
“Well, Miss Lawson, let’s get started showing you how we do things at Torchwood Cardiff,” he said briskly, trying to change the mood. He was rewarded with the renewed brilliance of her smile as he showed her where to hang her coat.
The tartan skirt and loafers she wore underneath made her look like a schoolgirl, although according to her file she was two months from her twenty-sixth birthday. She was a few inches shorter than him and slightly plump, in a way that seemed to match the warmth of her personality.
The tourist office’s hidden door and dank hallway were taken in stride, as befitted a seasoned Torchwood employee. She did make a small gasp when the door to the Hub rolled open, but it was appreciative rather than shocked.
“It’s beautiful,” she said softly, gazing at the column of water flowing down endlessly in the centre of the Hub. “Droch Faol was just a concrete box. This is so much more… organic.”
The team was seated at their workstations, both so they could get “work” done between introductions and to keep the candidates from feeling overwhelmed by meeting everyone at once. He took her to Gwen’s desk first.
“Gwen Cooper,” she introduced herself.
“Kyra Lawson, Torchwood Glasgow,” the young woman responded, suddenly looking a little shy.
Gwen gave her a reassuring smile, and Kyra’s own came back like the sun coming out from behind clouds.
“Is that your wedding photo?” she pointed to the eight by ten prominently displayed amid the clutter. Gwen’s eyes lit up and Ianto sighed inwardly as she went for the photo album she kept at the ready in her top drawer. He took the opportunity to surreptitiously cancel the rest of the day’s interviews. He could always reschedule them if necessary.
Twenty minutes later he finally managed to pry his recruit away from the endless re-hashing of wedding details and over to Tosh’s desk. She seemed to have regained her confidence during her conversation with Gwen, and she shook the Asian woman’s hand firmly as they introduced themselves.
“Oooh, is that Philip K. Dick?” Kyra asked, pointing to a paperback half-hidden under a stack of printouts. “I have all his books. Have you noticed that the only really good sci-fi movies are based on his work?”
Ianto zoned out again as the two girls chattered on about books, sci-fi shows and the use of aliens in fiction to represent humanity’s dark side. Finally, as his throat-clearing went repeatedly unnoticed, he interrupted.
“Well, time to move on. Thanks, Tosh.”
“It was nice talking to you! See you later, I hope.”
“I’m sure you will! And you have to lend me that book,” Tosh responded enthusiastically, actually giving her a little hug. Hire her, she mouthed at Ianto when Kyra’s back was turned.
Well, that was the girls down, Ianto thought. But they were the easy ones. Owen required a slightly more- or perhaps less- delicate touch. He wondered if this cheerful young girl would have the guts to stand up to him. He did notice a flicker of uneasiness as they descended into the autopsy bay, but that wasn’t unusual. Cold metal instruments and the suggestion of death made a lot of people uncomfortable, especially those who’d been through something like Canary Wharf. But he was pleased to see that she kept it under control. He doubted if anyone else would have noticed her nervousness.
Owen was pretending to be hard at work, but Ianto could tell from his too-innocent look that he’d been messaging Gwen about their new arrival the moment before. He spun round on his chair and looked Kyra up and down with studied indifference.
“So, you’ll be the new tea-girl then.”
Ianto watched in fascination as Kyra seemed to draw herself up to become taller and more imposing. Her entire demeanour changed, and suddenly her tartan-and-loafers outfit looked less ‘cute schoolgirl’ and more ‘stern headmistress.’
She raised an eyebrow at the doctor. “Providing the team with refreshments would be one of my duties, yes. Monitoring productivity,” and here she pointedly looked past Owen to the several chat screens and game of solitaire still open on his computer, “Mr. Jones tells me, would be another. I trust that won’t be a problem between us?”
Owen stammered something that sounded suspiciously like, “No, Ma’am,” as he hurried to close down the offending programs.
Ianto took her away quickly while Owen was still stunned. He managed to get them up to the catwalk before snorting with suppressed laughter.
“Oh, that was brilliant,” he chuckled. Kyra grinned at him cheekily, having returned to her normal stature.
“Seriously, though,” he added thoughtfully. “You handled each one of them perfectly.”
“I scored rather high on my Empathy tests when I entered Torchwood, so part of my job at Droch Faol was to monitor the emotional states of the research subjects. I didn’t like it much, but it did give me a lot of practice reading people. Your team is different, though. They have such a close bond; you can tell they really care about each other. Like a family.” She sounded wistful.
“They are at that,” he agreed.
“Why are you leaving?” she asked curiously. “You seem so happy here.”
“I’m not so much leaving as taking a step back. Jack and I- well, let’s just say it’s hard to have an even relationship with someone when you have to call him ‘Sir’.”
“Speaking of which, the rest of the tour can wait. I think it’s time you met your new boss.”
“Really?” She looked like she’d just won a trip to the Moon. Ianto didn’t think he’d ever get tired of that smile.
“Let’s go report to the Captain.”
Jack paced the pier like an expectant father. Ianto had kicked him out of the Hub for the duration of the interviews, claiming that he would be a distraction. He argued that since he was the boss, he should have final say on who Ianto choose to replace himself.
Ianto snorted. “No thanks. I know the kind of criteria you’d use. Wouldn’t want to end up being replaced in more ways than one.”
Sensing a trace of genuine bitterness behind the teasing, Jack pulled him into a long, slow kiss.
“You have absolutely nothing to worry about. No one is going to take me away from you.”
Ianto smiled, but a trace of sadness lingered behind his eyes.
Finally, as the morning moved on toward noon, Jack saw Ianto walking down from the tourist office with a cute, curly-headed girl in tow. He considered meeting them halfway, but decided it would be more commanding to let them come to him. Besides, he was still piqued at Ianto for excluding him from the decision-making.
When they reached him, his lover gave him a look that said, I know exactly what you’re doing, and shook his head slightly.
“Jack, I’d like you to meet my replacement, Miss Kyra Lawson. Kyra, this is Captain Jack Harkness.”
“Nice to meet you, Kyra Lawson.” To annoy Ianto further, he took her hand and kissed it instead of shaking it. She blushed furiously, and Ianto rewarded him with a satisfying glare.
“Pleased to meet you, sir. I’m honoured to have the chance to work for you. This is a big step up for me.”
“Kyra was a receptionist with Torchwood Two,” Ianto explained.
Jack raised an eyebrow. “This might be a little more than work than you’re used to. Ianto practically runs the Hub single-handedly.”
“Ran, Jack. Past tense. And I have full confidence that she can handle the job.” He placed a protective hand on his recruit’s shoulder.
“I’ll certainly do my best, sir, and I’m a fast learner,” Kyra assured him. Her determined look made him a little happier. He needed to know that she could hold her own.
“Alright then, let’s show her the important stuff first- food!” Jack gave his trademark grin and bounded off back toward the Hub.
Ianto showed his new recruit the take-away menus, filed by cuisine, with each team member’s preferred dishes highlighted.
“Pizza is the default food,” he explained. “Especially after a hard mission or for an all-nighter. It’s fast, easy to eat, and substantial. When it’s slow, ordering something a bit more exotic can help to get the team in a cheerier mood. As it’s your first day, why don’t you go ahead and pick?”
“How about Thai?” she said, picking out one of his favourite places.
Jack smiled at the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen as Ianto walked his replacement through the idiosyncrasies of the coffee machines. Her excitement about everything was contagious- she even made Owen smile. He had to admit it looked like Ianto had made a good choice. Her presence gave the Hub a much needed ray of sunshine. Plus, she was cute.
He picked up his empty mug and headed over to complain about the long wait for a refill.
He paused in the doorway, unnoticed. Ianto was standing behind the still giggling Kyra, who was trying to make a cappuccino. Three failed attempts sat on a nearby table. He was trying to explain the right tension to apply to the handles. His fingers rested lightly on the backs of her hands, which was the apparent source of her laughter.
Jack had an uncomfortable flashback to his first time teaching Gwen to shoot; his hands on hers, bodies pressed together, his breath warming her neck. This looked less sexual, but more intimate, like they’d known each other for years. He wasn’t sure which was worse. A sudden wave of fear swept over him, and he pushed it aside, forcing an amiable grin.
“Hey, who does a guy have to shag to get some coffee around here?”
Kyra backed up suddenly, startled, pushing Ianto into the cappuccino-laden table. One of the cups tumbled onto the floor and shattered, splashing coffee on the hem of Ianto’s trousers.
“I’m so sorry!” Kyra cried, diving for a towel to gather up the broken pieces. She tried to stand up again while she was still under the table, hitting her head with a jarring thunk and upsetting the remaining cups. Coffee streamed all over the floor. Ianto fetched a fresh pile of towels from the cupboard.
“There’s a pot of coffee by the fridge,” he told Jack curtly. “Please don’t hover about while we’re training.”
Stung, Jack edged his way around the disaster zone and filled his mug. He slunk back to his desk with it and slumped into his chair. After staring into the black liquid for a while, he reached into a side drawer and added a measure of whisky to it.
It made sense, he admitted to himself. She was a normal, pretty girl; as normal as one could be, working for Torchwood. She was bright, funny and sweet. Exactly the sort of person Ianto should be with. He squashed that train of thought ruthlessly and began to pay more attention to his stack of paperwork than it had seen in decades.
Ianto managed to finish helping to clear up the aftermath of Jack’s little interruption before the food arrived. He loved the man with all his heart, but did he always need to be the centre of attention? He’d like to give the poor girl a chance to learn the basics of the job before she had to deal with Jack’s constant flirting.
He admitted he felt a little protective of her as well. Her open-hearted playfulness reminded him of his little sister Rhiannon. They’d been thick as thieves growing up, but the few times he’d seen her since joining Torchwood they’d barely had anything to say to each other. It was nice to have that kind of innocent banter with someone again. Conversations and interactions that didn’t automatically turn to sex were refreshing in this atmosphere.
“Thank you,” Kyra said gratefully as he helped her sweep up the last pile of shards. “You’ve been so patient with me today.”
“It’s no trouble. You’re catching on fast,” he reassured her. “And it’s fun.” he added with a smile.
Gwen, Owen and Tosh were too busy interrogating the new girl to notice Jack’s bad mood at dinner. Ianto noticed it, but let it pass. Once the novelty wore off and he was the star attraction again, he’d be better. Perhaps a little extra attention tonight… he caught his wandering thoughts and concentrated on the conversation again. The girls were asking what Kyra thought of Cardiff.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she replied. “Droch Faol was out in the middle of nowhere, and the only people we were allowed to interact with were other Torchwood staff. Some of the secretaries were nice, but I didn’t get on with the researchers at all.” She shuddered. “It’s so nice here to just walk about and be a part of the world. And I love being by the water again. It makes the air feel different.”
“What about family?” Gwen asked. “Do you have any nearby?”
Kyra studied her food for a moment.
“No,” she replied softly. “I have a few distant relatives in London, I suppose, but my real family was my brother. He died at Canary Wharf.”
Absolute silence engulfed the table.
“I’m so sorry,” Gwen whispered. “That must have been so hard.”
The tear sliding down Kyra’s cheek tore at Ianto’s heart. He slid his chair closer and gave her a tight, reassuring hug.
“I lost someone, too. I know,” he told her. She raised her tear-filled eyes to meet his. He nodded his understanding, and she buried her face in his shoulder with a sob. He stroked her hair gently and fought back his own tears.
After a few minutes she composed herself and gave a shaky smile.
“Thanks, guys. You’ve all been so wonderful.”
“We really like having you here,” Tosh told her sincerely.
“Yeah, I haven’t had this much fun since Tosh programmed the mainframe to reorganize Ianto’s desktop at five-minute intervals,” Owen said.
“That was YOU???” Ianto growled in mock rage.
Tosh threw a chopstick at the doctor. “You tosser, you weren’t supposed to tell him that!”
They all laughed, good moods restored.
“So, have you found a place to stay yet?” Tosh inquired, re-directing the conversation and ignoring Ianto’s threatening motions with his chopsticks.
“Not really. I have a hotel room, but I didn’t want to look for a flat until I was sure I had the job.”
“Aww, there’s no reason to waste money on a hotel room,” Owen leered. “You can stay-“
“With me!” Tosh, Gwen, and Ianto all interrupted at once. Jack raised an eyebrow at Ianto, which he ignored.
“You can stay with me if you like,” Ianto followed up smoothly. “That way we can go over some of your training, and in the morning I can take you out to look for a flat. I have a few contacts with estate agents. And of course, the girls can help look, too,” he added in response to their crestfallen expressions. “That is, if it’s alright with Jack.”
“Nice of you to remember who’s in charge,” Jack said dryly. “Maybe it would be easier for her to stay here at the Hub, get used to things.”
“Oh, c’mon Jack, you can’t keep the girl cooped up here. That’s just cruel,” Owen protested.
Jack scowled at him. “I live here; I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t,” Owen muttered.
“Seriously, Jack, it does make more sense for her to stay with me,” Ianto added reasonably.
“Can I talk to you in private, Ianto?” Jack said tightly.
Ianto sighed, but followed Jack into the hallway, closing the door carefully behind him. “What’s the problem, Jack? You’ve been in a funk all afternoon.”
“My problem,” Jack whispered fiercely, “is you practically snogging your trainee in front of everyone, and then inviting her back to your place!”
“What?” Ianto exclaimed. “’Practically snogging’? Jack, were you even there? The girl was in tears! I was being sympathetic.”
“You didn’t need to have your hands all over her to be sympathetic. And what about earlier? Don’t tell me there was nothing going on in that kitchen; she practically jumped a foot when she noticed I was there.”
“That’s because you scared her, you idiot. And where exactly do you get off telling me who I can snog and when? It’s not like you’ve ever been discreet about your escapades. And I did not ‘invite her back to my place’. It was a friendly offer of a place to stay. I’m trying to make her feel comfortable, something you’re obviously not too concerned about.”
“What I’m concerned about is how comfortable you’re trying to make her.”
Ianto stared at him. “I cannot believe how irrational you’re being about this. Kyra is a perfectly nice girl, and even if I were flirting with her- which I’m NOT- I still don’t see where you have the right to object.”
“I’m your boyfriend!” Jack yelled, losing control.
“Then act like it and trust me for once!” Ianto yelled back. Then he took a deep breath and put on the flat expression that he knew scared Jack to death. “Fine, if you’re going to feel that way about it. Kyra is staying with me, and that’s final. You’re welcome to keep to the Hub tonight if you can’t handle that.”
He turned on his heel sharply and went back into the conference room, leaving Jack standing in the hall.
Jack felt the bottom fall out of his world as Ianto closed the door to the conference room behind him. He’d really done it now. Even if Ianto truly hadn’t been interested in Kyra before, now they would be alone in his house, talking about their pasts, sharing each other’s sorrows. And Jack knew from long experience just how easily comfort could turn to sex, and even to love.
He was losing the man he loved more than anything else, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.