Sometimes everything turns out okay after all...but not really
The last thing Ianto remembers, remembers clearly anyway, is the sound of an entire building locking down. Screams echoing through vents and stairwells, the sound of footsteps thundering down the halls in herds, and the smell. That rotten, sickly sweet smell of whatever the 456 released into the air, the carrier base their virus was tucked into.
After that, it gets a bit muzzy. He kind of remembers the tight blooming pain in his chest, the way each breath took in less air. A ringing in his ears that almost sounded like the shivery warbling ring that Jack's wrist strap made that one time he teleported with it. Arms around him, unfamiliar ones, yanking him away from Jack, something slapped roughly across his mouth and Jack just staring at him as he's dropped to the ground.
Sometimes he thinks he remembers the glint of a tooled scabbard and a flash of red, but he's not sure if it's actually something he remembers, or if that's just a reaction to Gwen telling him they identified John Hart's body afterward as a John Doe corpse in the hall.
The first thing he remembers afterward (and the rest of his life will always before and after Thames House now) is waking up to the sound of hospital machinery droning away, Gwen's head heavy on his legs as she drools on him with Rhys snoring away in the chair next to her, his hand spread wide across her back, head tipped back as he sleeps. Then there's Jack, sitting sideways in the window with his gun drawn and resting in his lap as he does something with the wrist straps in his hands.
“Can I take the fact that we're all alive as a win for Earth?” His voice is rough, fading in and out when it's not cracking, but Jack obviously hears him, whipping his head around.
“Hey, you. Another win for team Torchwood.”
Gwen comes awake in a flurry, all but climbing onto the bed to wrap her arms around him, laughing and crying and calling him all sorts of lazy sods for sleeping through the last of it. It feels like the best win ever, no bodies on their side and the children of Earth all have their feet firmly on the ground where they belong.
It won't be until tomorrow that he finds out about Jack's grandson. About Archie and his granddaughter left on the floors of the ransacked Torchwood House in Scotland.
It won't be until the day after that Martha Jones will come in with a file as thick as her wrist and a face she can't quite keep professional to tell them John wasn't fast enough. That he only bought Ianto eighteen months, two years as a best case scenario.
But today is pretty close to fantastic.
If home is where the heart is, I obviously live behind your sternum.
The explosions that John set across the city the night Tosh and Owen died took out Ianto's entire block, so he moved into the Hub with Jack. Now the Hub is gone and he has no idea where they're going to go when the hospital releases him.
Rhys looks at him like he's an arse when he admits it quietly one night as Jack and Gwen are making a run for coffee.
“That's the stupidest load of shite I've ever heard anyone spill, you're coming home with us.” He doesn't know what to say to that, just sits, gobsmacked, in the center of his hospital bed. “I'll even let you bring your Jack, since he pulled the strings to get us the place we're going to. Hope you like the beach.”
“Well, even if I don't, I won't be there long, will I?”
The house is two stories of sea silvered wood on a long desolate stretch of beach that's bracketed by steep rock ledges except for the one entrance by land and the long open stretch of sea. It's in the middle of nowhere. The kind of place you go (to die) to hide and lick your wounds when everything and everyone has turned against you. They only thing on the walls when they enter is a framed copy of a Royal Land grant from the Queen herself, made out to Gwyneth Cooper-Williams 'in poor restitution for services rendered to the crown and the world'. The real one, Jack tells them as they wander around the echoing rooms, is in a safe place...somewhere.
Gwen offers them the master suite on the second floor and it's almost a fight talking her out of it. Ianto cannot imagine pushing them out of what is obviously their room, not when there's a guest room on the first floor, another two bedrooms on the second, and a large finished loft taking up half the attic space. Jack refuses also, but he when he does, it's all arguments about how long Ianto will be able to climb stairs, and talk of negotiating things like heart monitors and respirators up and down stairs which starts Gwen crying and Rhys snapping at Jack until Ianto puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles loud enough to make all three of them flinch.
“I'm not dead yet. I'm not even sick yet. We'll take the other half of the attic.” No one but him likes the solution, but no one wants to argue with him. They just mutter and shuffle as if he'll fall to the ground cold and gone if they disagree. It reminds him of the way Owen would bitch about all the stupid little things Jack would let him get away with around the Hub once he was dead, and about how he could barely enjoy any of it.
He'll have to abuse this situation, just a little, if this is how it's going to be. Owen would have wanted him to.
The first person to make a completely unoriginal joke about Denial and Egypt gets a punch in the mouth.
Jack and Rhys are plotting against himself and Gwen, and it isn't going to end well. He and Gwen will head out in her car (the only surviving vehicle) for paint, or food, or any little chore that Jack has always avoided like the plague and Rhys is apparently rubbish at, and while the two of them are busy trying to find something everyone can eat or a color that they both like for the same space, Jack and Rhys will be busy on their own.
“Dammit! Gwen, they did it again!” The living room, the one that had been empty when they pulled out of the drive this morning is somewhat furnished now, the overstuffed black leather sectional he and Gwen had stopped to admire more than once is set up (incorrectly) in the middle of the room in front of one of those shamefully large plasma tellies. One of the ones you have to pretend to be disgusted by, because no one wants to admit to that kind of avarice out loud.
“How did they set this up? It doesn't even look like a bloody couch, it looks like a black leather orgy sized bed! You know bloody Rhys threw his back out again moving this shite. Rhys!” Gwen stomps off towards the stairs and Ianto crosses his arms and refuses to give into the childish urge to kick the furniture.
“It stopped being cute after our room Jack.” The immortal man steps out of the doorway, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, hair falling in his eyes. “In fact, it wasn't cute then either! Stop sending us on stupid little errands so that you and Rhys can half kill yourselves trying to move furniture in secret. We are both perfectly capable of moving end tables and couches or whatever it is you think we can't do now!”
Gwen finds him stretched out on the sand half a mile down the beach an hour later, watching the empty skies above him and ignoring the sea water wrapping cold around his feet.
“I don't even look up anymore.” She admits, dropping to the sand next to him. Flat on her back it's easier to see the slight rounding to her stomach, and she doesn't stop him when he reaches over and rucks up the hem of her shirt. The sprawl of his hand covers all of the tiny swell there. “I can't. The more I look at the sky, the less safe I feel.”
“It's not our problem anymore though, is it? UNIT gets to wade through all the shit by themselves now. Weevils, rift debris, Christmas invasions...none of it has a single thing to do with us. There are still professionals on call, but now they aren't us. Enjoy it.”
“I don't want you to die.” Gwen laces her fingers with his before he can pull away, pressing their hands harder down against the soft skin under them. “I don't want you to leave me, and I know how that sounds, but I've always known you best. I fucked Owen, and I had hen talk with Tosh, and Jack was my hero...”
“Jack is everyone's hero except himself.”
“But if I had a best mate at Torchwood it's you. You're the one I talk to when everything is pissing me off, and we watch the same shows, and I get to have those conversations with you that I would be mortified to have with anyone else but now they're gone too...you can't leave me!”
Ianto reaches over, wrapping his arms around her and cuddles her crying form against him until the waves start lapping at their knees. He does not tell her how hard it is to pretend like he's going to be fine when everyone's so willing to talk about it.
Anger may be a sign of acceptance, but some people take it too far
Vortex manipulators make a very distinctive sound. It's easy to pass off as just a weird ringing in the ears if you've never heard one, and impossible to not recognize if you've ever heard anything that travels through time. Ianto pushes himself up out of the bed, sheet twisted around his hips as he pads softly across the polished hardwood floor. Outside the oriel window that takes up a good quarter of their narrow far wall, a full moon has turned the sea silver and Ianto's skin cold bone white as he reaches for the door to the en-suite.
Jack is bent over the sink, scrubbing thoroughly at his hands. Ianto watches the suds go from red to pink swirling down the drain before he can make himself speak.
“It's got to stop Jack. They're not going to be so willing to forget letting us all walk despite black orders if you keep killing people.”
“I'm not killing people. I'm performing a public service. Pest control.” Jack has grown his hair out in the two months since Thames House. It falls around his face in an attractive not-quite-shaggy frame, hiding his eyes as he takes the nail brush and starts working the blood out of the cracks and crevasses in his knuckles and cuticles.
“They're people Jack. Awful people who made all the wrong decisions, but people.”
“My home is gone. My grandson is dead and my daughter shot me in the head last time she saw me. The pictures of my wives, my children, they're all gone. Tosh...Tosh was still in there. Myfanwy was inside, my brother was inside. They took everything I had, and you,” His voice breaks. “I'm losing you too and I've never been this angry. Never, and I have seen the world burn for a year. Some days I can't breathe for it, and I know that's not how it works, but I just keep thinking that if I know they didn't get away with it, I can learn to deal with it. So I'm making sure they don't get away with it.”
“You're scaring Gwen.” It's dirty pool and he knows it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. “You aren't the only one keeping your ear to the ground Jack, and she's starting to wonder. The stress on her is far worse for the baby than sliding a couple couches across the floor.”
“I'm done now. I swear, I'm done.”
He lets Jack lead him back to bed and wrap around him because Ianto isn't sure what else he should be doing. In the morning he sees Agent Johnson's face splashed across the internet, pulls his eyes away from the sentences saying her body was found in 'deplorable conditions' on the borders of Morocco, and closes the page; clearing the web history and loads up a series of videos of cats doing stupid things.
All the best Epic Bromances come from nowhere; Legolas and Gimli, Dean and Castiel, Jack and Rhys.
Ianto is of the opinion (and Gwen agrees) that Jack and Rhys' new relationship is simultaneously the funniest and strangest thing they've ever seen. Rhys is kind of uncomfortable with Jack flirting with himself and Gwen, definitely uncomfortably with all the touching Jack does, but apparently they share a certain shamelessness and love of classic engines that transcends the too-straight-for-this barrier in Rhys' head.
“So is everyone a bit bent in the future?” They're rebuilding the engine to a fifty-eight Healey, Jack and Rhys side by side under the hood and covered in grease, Ianto cross legged on the ground keeping a running inventory of what parts need replacing versus rebuilding. “Cause I heard on a science show that everyone's going to be a bit bent in the future.” There's a smear of grease following the curve of Jack's cheekbone that he adds to as he brushes his hair back for the sixth time. “Need a clip there princess?”
“I've got one.” Ianto bites his lip and makes no sound at all as Jack digs one of Gwen's oval hair clips out of his pockets, yanking his hair back and pinning it behind his ears. Rhys has no such desire to muffle his mirth, smacking his hand off the transmission they're working on as he crumples forward laughing. “You, sir, are a twat.”
“Better a twat than the prettiest princess on the beach. But seriously, you're from the future, and you've made it clear you'll shag anything remotely interested. So, are you just extra easy, or is the entire future a little...” Rhys lifts one hand and wiggles it back and forth.
“Ha! The entire future is a lot,” Jack parrots the motion back to him and Ianto tries not to sulk a bit over the fact that with a shiny silver girls hair clip in, Jack just looks like Jack, while Ianto would look like an idiot. “It's an evolutionary branch we take that's going to make it possible for us to literally be the last race alive at the end of the universe.”
“Heh, well isn't that embarrassing to all those fire and shame folks? Glad I live now though, cause I would be one very lonely spaceman. Ianto, kick a spanner over, will ya mate?” He doesn't kick one over, gets up instead and peers down into the engine before slapping a five-sixteenth into Rhys's wide palm. “Cause, and I know how this makes me sound, I can't figure out how you can do it. I look at you and I know you're good looking. I know what the general qualifications for male attractiveness are and even I am aware that you tick all the boxes, but it's like looking at a show horse. I know what it takes for those to be pretty...I don't want to fuck one of those either.” It's apparently the funniest thing the immortal man has ever heard if the way he laughs is any indication, spinning around and actually sliding down the side of the car.
“Oh, oh that's fantastic. I'm telling Gwen. Hey Gwen!” Jack stumbles to his feet, breaking for the house and laughing like an idiot as he slams the screen door open hard enough that it bounces shut behind him as he disappears through it. “Gwen, Rhys won't fuck me or horses!”
“Right, well if it helps, I wouldn't fuck a horse either.” Rhys snorts and punches Ianto in the shoulder as the younger man takes Jack's spot under the hood of the junker. “I think you're going to have to scrap this whole tranny.”
If you must bargain for my life, throw in a couple fatted calves. I must be worth at least three
Gwen is five months pregnant when they see the first sign that Ianto is indeed on a clock that's running down.
They're making dinner, everyone in the sprawling kitchen laughing and jostling each other as they argue about mushrooms (allowed in the lasagna but not the salad), bread (Jack likes long loafs, Gwen cuts hers before she bakes them), and music (Ianto always gets to choose because he has the biggest iPod available and has actually filled it) and that's the last thing Ianto is aware of. One moment he's at the stove top, stirring red sauce and listening to Jack croon along with the Neon Trees, and the next he's coming to on the floor with an aching head and a fierce hot pain along his arm. The lap his head is on is too broad to be Jack's and Gwen is kneeling next to him, crying hard enough that her face is blotchy and shiny as she drags what feels like cold wet sandpaper over his forearm.
“For a straight guy, you're pretty comfortable cradling my head in your lap and stroking my hair.” Rhys snorts under him.
“Living with Jack either changes your mind, or make you very secure in your sexuality. You fell out on us mate. One minute you were stirring sauce then you just went over, still holding the bloody pasta sauce. You've got a pretty nasty burn on your arm, but at least it didn't hit your face.” Well, that explains what Gwen's doing to his arm that hurts like that. “Don't move! You stay put until Jack gets back.” Ianto relaxes back against the larger man, staring up at the ceiling trying to remember what happened. He doesn't really feel any different. He's breathing deep and evenly, his head is swimming a bit, but he probably knocked it good on the way down, and his pulse doesn't feel fast or thready.
“Gwen? It's fine Gwen, I'm okay.”
“You're not okay! You're not and now we can't even pretend anymore that you're not dying.” The air rings and warbles and Jack comes out of the twist of gold rift spill off at a run, Martha Jones and Mickey Smith at his heels.
“Oh wow, I get the Calvary and everything? 'Sup Micheal?”
“Not much. Captain cheesecake here got us out of bed cause you burned yourself, so it better be a good one.” Martha settles on her knees next to Gwen and Ianto's starting to feel a little claustrophobic, pinned in on every side by concerned bodies.
“Well, it does sting like a bitch, I'll give it that.”
“Okay, let's get him off the floor please.” Ianto moves to sit up and Jack beats him to it, reaching over and scooping him off the floor like he's as small and light as Gwen or Martha, striding out into the living room.
“Jack! Put me down, this is embarrassing!” Jack winks at him, but the smile on his face is wobbly at the edges and his fingertips are digging too tightly into Ianto's skin.
“Princes and kings have ransomed entire countries to have me sweep them up like this.” Jack settles him in the middle of the (still) incorrectly arranged sectional, but Ianto's starting to think that was less than accidental as it's now long enough to accommodate a grown man stretched at full length in any direction.
“The part that makes that funny, is that I believe it completely.” Martha joins them on the sectional, and Ianto can hear Mickey and Rhys speaking softly over Gwen's softening cries. “All right you, let's take a look.”
Martha and Mickey stay for dinner (Thai take away since the pasta was boiled down to glue and Ianto wore the sauce) and a couple hands of Snap afterward since they're already there. Martha even gives Gwen a quick between-prenatal checkup since she's there.
“So, is this going to happen a lot?” He has to ambush Doctor Jones outside the loo and bum rush her out the backdoor to speak to her privately, but Ianto is not above a sneak attack by the restroom. Martha sighs and sinks down onto the wrought iron bench looking down onto the rocky side of the shore.
“I don't know Ianto. I still don't know what you were exposed to, when it's from, how it reacts... I'm sorry, but I'm mostly just going to be patching you up as long as I can. If you're in pain, I'll make sure you have medication. If you need any equipment I'll arrange for it and make sure everyone knows how to read it and work it, but I can't...I can't make you well. I can't even tell you why you're dying, other than aliens tried to kill you to prove a point and they didn't succeed.”
“Sure they did. Just...in slow motion.” The moon is a tiny sliver, almost gone from the late fall sky as Ianto tips his head back and watches his words leave his mouth as steam that swirls around them. “It's not how I thought I'd go, you know? I was Torchwood and who the hell works for Torchwood only to die a long slow death? You get blown up, or shot, or eaten. You don't...do whatever it is I'm going to do.” He doesn't think his voice so much as wobbles and Ianto is (probably foolishly) extremely proud of that. “Do you know what's going to happen to me?”
“Not really. I can guess, based on your current symptoms and the pathology reports from the autopsy reports.” She reaches over to take his hand, and Ianto lets her, focusing his eyes on the wrist strap that used to be Jack's wrapped around her thin arm. A way for Jack to always find the only doctor he seems willing to have around. “Your heart and lungs are the main targets. They're going to fail eventually. You need to take it slow because the more stress they're under, the quicker they'll give out. Keep a diary of symptoms. Dizzy spells, shortness of breath, racing heart rates. The more information I have, the more accurate your time line will be.”
“Okay.” He's colder than he was just minutes ago and doesn't know whether to blame it on the ocean breeze or just fear. “So, does Jack have you trying to call up your Doctor?” He knows that she knows who he means by the way she goes very still next to him. “I hear him in the loo some nights, leaving voice mails, begging the man to come. Can you just, the next time Jack asks you to call him, just leave him a message asking him not to come, from me? If your friend isn't coming, there's probably a reason and I don't want a falling out when there's nothing that can be done. One day Jack will go back out there and I want him to have a friend there still.”
“Just answer your bloody mobile! You can fly the only TARDIS in the universe, so don't try telling me you can't figure out how to open your voice mail box! Please. Please, Doctor, please?” Ianto lies in bed, counting the rafters over his head and forcing himself not to get out of his comfortable spot and march into the bathroom to rip the phone from Jack's hand and flush it down the toilet. “I don't...I don't know what to do. I don't even know what they did to him. I don't know what he's dying of, I don't know what will make him better and what will make him worse. I've never called you to ask you for anything Doc. Not once, in my very long life, have I asked for anything other than to know what happened to me, but I'm asking you now. Come here and help me! Please. There has to be something I can do for you, something you need from me. Whatever it is, please?”
There's a hipster kid on the beach, ruining a pair of really nice combat boots by letting the salt water wash over the toes as he digs around in the pockets of his blazer.
“Excuse me. Hate to be rude, but you're trespassing on a private beach.” Ianto keeps his hand in his pockets and on the butt of his pistol, moving forward and left enough to block any shot the ridiculous, harmless looking kid might take in their direction. Behind him Gwen grumbles, but shifts with him to keep his body between the tight curve of her stomach and the stranger.
“Good, perfect, fantastic, because I have spent three days loitering on various beaches and not once has anyone tried to run me off with a concealed weapon so I am most definitely in the right place!” The kid grins and rubs his hands together before shoving them in the air over his head. “Torchwood, take me to your leader! Oh, that never stops being funny.” The smile slides off the kids face as he and Gwen take their guns out and take the safeties off, pointing them directly between the eyes. “Okay, apparently today is the day it stops being funny. Will someone please call Jack before I lose a perfectly good regeneration for no particular reason?”
“Jack, we're a quarter mile down the beach with an unidentified white male, six even, brown and brown, apparently unarmed asking for you by name who has apparently been stalking beaches looking for Torchwood...” The pounding of the surf is echoing in Ianto's ears, too loud for low tide on a sandy shore and he sets his teeth into the curve of his lower lip, biting until the tang of blood fills his mouth and locking his knees as the beach begins to sway. “Ianto? Ianto! Come now Jack, he's going again!”
“Whoops! Come here.” The stranger ducks under his outstretched arm like the gun at the end of it is the least of his worries, catching Ianto under the arms and easing him down onto the sand easily, despite being significantly smaller. “Jack's already going to be vexed enough with me for taking so long, letting you drown in half an inch of seawater is hardly going to make it better.” The edges of his vision are starting to go black, and there's an echo under his ear where it's resting against the narrow chest.
“Put him down! Now, or I'll shoot and I promise, being pregnant has not affected my aim in the slightest...”
The world goes dark, and light again.
“Seven minutes, thirteen seconds.” It's the kids cheerful voice, pulling him just as whip quick back into consciousness as last time. “That's quite long, does he normally stop breathing?”
“I stopped breathing?” Ianto forces his eyes open and sure enough, everyone is crowded as closely around him as they can squeeze themselves. “People, we've talked about this; you're all in Ianto's purple circle. Six inches backwards.” Rhys and the hipster are the only ones who listen, even through the kid is chuckling under his breath and sort of defeats the purpose by dragging Ianto with him to keep his fingers on the soft hollow under his chin. “So, random stranger talking nonsense and looking alarmingly harmless, you must be Jack's Doctor.” The kid laughs and behind the shadow of his hair his eyes flash bright gold.
“And you are funnier than you looked on the sub-wave network Ianto Jones.”
“I'm better looking in person too. Did you say I stopped breathing? Not for seven minutes though.” The Doctor shakes his head.
“Not for seven minutes, no. Long enough that I disapprove though. All right, let me see you get to your feet on your own.” Nothing on him hurts, or is tired (he always feels better after one of these episodes, strangely enough) so Ianto rolls back and springs to his feet, dusting sand off his clothes and ignoring the scowl on Jack's face. “Well, you bend and jump just fine.” The kid, the Doctor grabs his wrist again and frowns. “And your pulse hasn't so much as flickered. Jack, do what he just did.” The immortal man doesn't hesitate, dropping flat to his back in the sand and popping up directly to his feet and into the alien's grip. “Now that is curious. The heart that literally won't give out in a million years just had to ramp up by twelve beats a minute, and Ianto Jones, who is apparently dying of multi-organ failure never so much as skipped a beat. Right, I'm going to need my med bay and my brainy specs for this one. Give me the coordinates and I'll meet you at your house before you get there.”
If life were fair...I can't even think up a comparison as ridiculous as the idea of life being fair..
They spend the day in a room that looks more like someone's living room, if that someone also happened to preform surgery in their living room regularly.
“Right-o. Let's start with full body scans of everyone, just for comparison and while we're at it, hack into the Torchwood computer last year and get me..ah, that's my girl.” On one long wall a screen is flickering too fast for Ianto to make out anything other than an occasional flash of a photograph. “Well, don't stand there, unless you want to stand of course. There're couches, comfy ones. I seem to have a thing for comfy this regeneration.” Jack drops down onto a cabbage rose covered sofa that looks like it was dragged out of someone's auntie's attic, perfectly at home, and Rhys follows, flopping back onto an over stuffed plaid monstrosity, eyes continuously skipping around the room. “Does anyone want anything? I've got one hundred and thirteen kinds of biscuits from forty-three different planets.” Rhys' hand goes up and doesn't waver as Gwen gives him a withering look.
“What?! How likely am I to ever be served alien biscuits in a space ship again?”
“Exactly! That's the spirit young man! Kiss strangers, and eat foreign food. Jack, go get this man a biscuit, you know where the galley is.” The immortal man rolls his eyes but levels himself out of his seat and disappears through the door. “Fantastic. Now, while Mr. Jones' scan finishes, who would like a proper look at that baby you're busy growing?”
Gwen is having a little girl, and the holographic image of it floating suspended in the air between them keeps them both nicely distracted as the Time Lord leans over Ianto's shoulder and gestures for him to join the alien on the other side of the room.
“That was quick. Quick enough that I'm guessing you can't do anything.” It's kind of relieving, watching the man next to him shake his head. As long as Jack had kept holding out hope, there was a tiny place in himself that was hoping alongside him. “Can you, I hate asking this because apparently if there's anyone busier than us, it's you, but are there any other tests we can run, or fake running...I don't think I'm ready to disappoint them yet.”
“Well, no worries there; I still have an obscene battery of tests to run before I have a confirmation.”
“But you think you know what it is already, or you wouldn't be telling me there's no hope. What is it?” The Time Lord sighs and shoves his hand in his jacket pockets, pulling out a green and platinum cylinder, pointing it at the screen and a jumble of completely incomprehensible numbers, glyphs and graphs.
“You were exposed to a series of viruses and pathogens from various points around the galaxy, most of which are illegally in this time period, something I will be taking a little peek into.” His face is completely friendly, open and charming when he says it, which in no way stops the cold rush down Ianto's spine when he thinks how glad he is not to be the one smuggling weapons and viruses across time and space. “Now it looks like you were also administered an atomized version of the wide band spectrum all purpose anti-pathogen the Time agency favored from the forty-ninth to fifty-second century. If you knew what these columns meant, you'd know fifteen different pathogens were neutralized, but damage, serious damage, was done. You shouldn't have woken up, except one of the strains you were exposed to is called Rodgers virus.”
There's a crash from the doorway and Jack is standing there when Ianto turns around, grinning a bit too brightly and blinking a little too often.
“Sorry. Sorry, forgot about that step up. It's been a couple centuries since I was here, can't remember everything right? Rhys, come help me pick these up, they're for you anyway.” Jack has his left hand clenched tightly enough around around a bright red package that he's reducing whatever is inside to crumbs, even as he piles small boxes and travel packs violently onto the tray. Rhys reaches out for one and draws back suddenly as the silver tray strikes the ground, over and over, smashing into the grating with an echoing crash as Jack slings it across the room and scrambles off the floor and out of the door.
“What the hell was that?” So much for keeping it back.
“I am apparently dying of Rodgers virus and I assume Jack knows what it is. I should...”
“Nah, I've got him.” Rhys pockets the least damaged package of biscuits as he shove up onto his feet. “He's been not dealing with this for long enough that he might need to take a swing. It should be at someone willing to swing back. It's good for him.”
They wait ten minutes, which is, in Ianto's opinion, nine minutes too long before drifting out of the strange medical area and wandering around hexagonal halls until they find Rhys on the floor, face solemn as he strokes Jack's shaggy hair, arm wrapped around sides heaving far too hard for far too little air.
“It's not fair! I'm out of things to give up. I can't...it's not fair.” The Doctor squeezes past them to kneel next to Jack, pressing something round and shiny against the heaving length of his throat.
“I know. It's okay, you just need to take a break, Jack. Let's get you resting.”
“I can't get up, I have no feet.” Ianto rolls his eyes as he hunkers down, letting Rhys wrap Jack around him so he can muscle the older man to his feet with the Doctor's assistance.
“No my friend, you have two perfectly functional feet and enough tranquilizer in you to drop a baby bantha.” Ianto rolls his eyes as Rhys exclaims loudly and starts doing his victory dance around Gwen, shuffling and pointing. “I won't ask. Come on, let's get you stretched out before you decide to take a nap in the middle of my corridors.”
“I won't. I haven't slept in months. I just kinda stare at the moon.” Jack's voice is trailing upwards into a distant, higher, register; his head flopped down into the crook of Ianto's neck as he stumbles over his own feet, hindering them more than anything else as the alien in the bow tie leads them back through twisting corridors that all look the same.
“Well, let me be the first to tell you that not sleeping for months is bad for you.” A door opens on their left and they guide Jack's limp body to the closest couch, dropping him down a bit rougher than they meant to, not that the immortal man complains, deeply asleep as he is. “All right, while he sleeps that off, four to five hours I'd say, I have some tests I'd like to run if you'd care to join me Mr. Jones?”
If you have to die, there are worse ways to go than being brilliant and beautiful
Rodgers Virus hasn't been invented yet, technically. In the Twenty-third century a serum will be invented to better prepare humanity for it's explorations in the galaxy; to make them smarter, faster, stronger. It'll kill everyone they give it to and one of them, one unlucky soul, will be sick with something unidentified, caught off planet the day he's given his injection. The medication, named for a fictional character from the early twenty-first century, will mutate when exposed to alien pathogens into something airborne that almost works the way they expect it to. It creeps into every cell, forcing it to constantly overwrite itself into constantly shifting and perfecting copies. The carrier is slowly refined down to an almost super-humanly perfect version of themselves. They sleep less and less, eat less and less; they're faster and smarter, and all together more than a human body is meant to sustain. It kills it's victims by making them more efficient than they are meant to be. Too much for their body to support.
“Think of yourself like a laptop with a rubbish battery. The kind that overheats all the time when it's plugged in, but can't hold a charge. You'll run, at peak performance, until you 'overheat' if we may stick with the faulty laptop comparison, at which point you shutdown and reboot as the virus rewrites you back to it's last settings. The further along you get, the more often it will happen, until one day it can't reboot you.”
“So, I'm dying of perfection?” He's got Jack's head in his lap, stroking through the shaggy lengths of his hair as the immortal man snores loudly. Gwen is pressed so tightly between himself and the arm of the couch where Rhys is rubbing the nape of her neck that Ianto can feel her shivering all along the length of his body. “Does it, does it hurt, or...”
“Not at all. It is, by far, harder on those left behind. You, Ianto Jones, will find the closer to death you get, the better you feel. There's nothing to be done for it, as far as stopping it, but it can be slowed a bit. You've even got a couple things here on Earth that can do it for you, if you don't mind me making a call?” Ianto waves him way, taking the hand Gwen has clenched in the fabric of his jacket and coaxing it to twine with his own.
“There, now we know. It could be worse Gwen.”
“No it can't.” Her voice is thick and wobbly as she leans over, hiding her face in the breadth of Rhys' chest. “He can't do anything for you. All of time and space and he can't make you better.”
“I wasn't going to get better Gwen and it's not fair to be disappointed in him because nothing has changed. I'm dying, and there are worse ways to go than peacefully and perfect.”
“No, it's not because you're black!” They all whip their heads over to the Doctor, standing in the far corner looking scandalized at his mobile, a flush across his cheekbones as he holds the phone away from his face. Whoever is on the other end is laughing hard enough that Ianto can hear it like a tinny whisper from his seat. “Well, it's not funny! Stop laughing right now! Fine, good, bring it round, we're parked in Jack's garage. Sorry, Gwen's garage then. Good, I'll see you then.” The man clicks his phone closed and makes a fuss of straightening his bow tie “Right, so, Mr. Jones, you know what to do with cannabis, right?”
If the cops pull me over with a bag, I intend to tell them it was Doctor prescribed. Won't keep me out of jail, but Jack should get a laugh out of it when he comes to bail me out.
Jack wakes up just in time to watch Mickey Smith pull a zip-lock bag with two fat fluffy ounces out of his inner coat pocket and pass it to the Doctor.
“Oh good, I'm still sleeping then.”
“No, you are most definitely awake and watching the strangest drug deal I have ever been involved in.” Ianto reaches down and strokes the fringe out of Jack's eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“Mortified and well rested. It's a bizarre combination. I'm sorry, about earlier. I didn't...”
“It's fine. We've been waiting for it Jack.” Ianto's lips, slightly chapped, brush the soft skin at the hollow of his temple. “Besides, apparently Mickey still has unsavory friends, and I have already heard the words, 'Ish' and 'Ooo-wee' tossed out, so I'm pretty sure I'm in for a fantastic evening. You should join me.”
“Jack high? Good God, what a thought.” Gwen is smiling for the first time in days, a tiny cuff around her wrist monitoring her blood pressure as the tranquilizer that was melted under her tongue takes effect. “Jack, you never told us your friend was going to drug us all before he left!”
“Apparently her blood pressure has been sky-high for a week now, and whatever it was the Doctor gave her, she's been snickering for ten minutes now. Rhys and Martha are likely the only ones walking out of here sober tonight.”
“Oh no. No, no, you and anyone indulging in your completely valid medical treatment for their own purposes will be doing so off my ship. The smoke gets in the ventilation and then it all goes rather wrong from there since my ship's somewhat alive.” He doesn't need to say anything else, not when the thought of a time traveling ship that can read your mind bombed out of it's circuits is giving him cold shivers up his spine. “In fact, everyone off now. Let's go, to the outside world!” It's easy to see what draws otherwise sane people like Martha and...well, perhaps only Martha is sensible and sane, but regardless, it's easy to see how people like herself, and Mickey, and Jack run away with this man when he's flailing his arms like an idiot and shouting ridiculous things that you make you smile against your will.
Apparently having a spaceship bigger than Windsor castle on the inside and a screw driver that can do anything but put up shelves does not guarantee you will be well equipped when faced with a bag full of sticky stinking weed. Ianto rolls his eyes and takes the clear bag from the alien looking at it with hostile confusion, collapsing back onto one of the little cubes the Doctor had tossed on the ground that unfolded itself out into a low squishy flat surface for sitting.
“Right. I need, something large and flat, I used to use album covers but anything that size will do, a cheap Bic pen, a straw, an apple, and a sharp knife unless we have an apple corer.” Rhys gets up with a chuckle and pops back out five minutes later with everything stacked neatly atop a battered copy of The White Album they found in the attic when cleaning it out. Making a bowl from an apple is the kind of stuff most the kids in his neighborhood could do by the time they were thirteen or so, which only adds to the amusement factor of the two most brilliant men any of them know watching him like he's building an atom smasher instead of a makeshift container for illegal drugs. “Et voila!” He brandishes the semi-cored apple with a hollowed out pen sticking out one side of it and a straw lined hole drilled down approximately ninety degrees around from it. “Weed goes in the top, thumb goes over the little hole, lips go on the pen.”
“Look at that! Humans; you are such funny, creative little things. An apple and a pen.”
“There are few things on Earth more creative than a thirteen year old who wants to smoke a bowl before class and has only the contents of their knapsack to work with.” He grins at Jack's scandalized expression, winking as his fingers quickly remember how to break up the sticky green under them. “What can I say, I was an awful little punk. Pass that back please.” Mickey is busy cracking jokes at Ianto's proficiency that he ignores, looking up at the alien watching him curiously. “So, and I'm not complaining, but why exactly am I getting stoned again?”
“How's your knowledge on neuroscience?” Ianto strikes his lighter to the edges of the shredded greenery, drawing the flame slowly.
“I have no knowledge of neuroscience to speak of. I know I have a brain and that it is fantastic and complicated and seems to run mostly on electrical impulses and caffeine.” His voice is thick as he holds his breath, little wisps of smoke curling out of his mouth around the words.
“Oh, well that's all far too simple and kind of wrong, so if that's your start point...hmm.”
“Just take his word for it that this will help or he'll end up disappearing into the TARDIS for a white board and blow your high drawing Venn Diagrams.” Mickey takes the fruit and cuts his eyes to Martha who's pretending not to see him, hitting it quick and freezing as the smoke hangs in the back of his throat. The Time Lord plucks it from his hand, wrinkling his nose and passing it across.
“My diagrams are never boring. I illustrate them with stick figures and explosions!”
“I'm pretty sure most people don't have to work explosions into their diagrams.” Jack looks distrustfully down at the smoking apple in his hand.
“No, the Mythbusters do. Seen 'em on the TV, and they definitely draw almost as many explosions as he does.” Mickey leans over, butting Jack's shoulder with his. “It's not a microphone Captain cheesecake, hit it. Peer pressure. Peeeeeeeer pressure.” Ianto rolls his eyes and leans over, striking his lighter at the browned, shriveling edge of the apple, swaying with the repetitive thumps of Mickey into Jack.
“You don't have to, but I thought you tried anything once.”
“I'll try anyone once. Completely different.” But Jack leans down, drawing slow and carefully as he's instructed before handing the fruit back to Ianto.
“Lovely fellows, those Mythbusters.” The Doctor interjects as Jack begins to choke and cough. “Helped me build a fake army once. Loads of those little marching boot men they made for telly, all with sonic modulators built in. Won a war in twenty minutes.”
It's been years, almost seven, since Ianto has done anything like this and it's hitting him like he's as new as Jack. He's got a deep lungful of smoke when his fingers slide off the taut skin and into a fresh juicy divot in the apple.
“Right, who's been eating the bowl?” Jack sheepishly raises his hand and obviously it's time to put the weed away if people are eating the pipe.
“I want a cuddle, and a pizza, and a nap, in any particular order.” The captain sounds puzzled as he flops back onto the fluffy bench, wiggling like a cat around Gwen until he's got his head in Rhys' lap so he can curl around Gwen with his hands splayed across her swollen stomach.
“Well, yes. Those are the typical side effects of getting stoned Jack. Really, you lived through the sixties and seventies and never smoked weed not ever?” Mickey has Martha in his lap, chin resting on her shoulder as he tugs at the ends of her braids under the Time Lord's baleful over protective glower.
“Hey, it's been a very busy century for me and this isn't the kind of thing we grew back home.” Jack keeps stretching out, hooking his socked feet under Ianto's thigh and pulling, so the younger man slides over with a groan, letting Jack throw both legs into his lap with a contented sigh as he begins to explain about how difficult it would have been to grow something as temperamental as marijuana in the desert where he grew up. It's the most he and Gwen have ever heard about the vulnerable little wind farming colony Jack comes from and it's nice, particularly when the pizza arrives.
Christmas seems brighter when you don't know if it's your last.
It's amazing how much the drugs actually help. Thoughts that had begun racing are slowed, and food Ianto kept trying to force himself to eat is appealing again, if only for an hour or so once he's high. As long as he smokes a ridiculous amount (and really, it's a good thing he put so much of his pay away, because his new habit is not cheap) it's hard to remember this is a temporary fix to a permanent problem.
“These brownies taste awful. I did something wrong. I think.” Jack is grimacing down at them as he chews and Ianto forces himself to swallow his unfortunately large and leafy mouthful.
“That's because you don't actually make pot brownies by grinding up pot into brownie mix. These are...oh Jack, these are rubbish.” They've got all the windows open despite the winter chill coming in off the water, laughing and trying to wave out the funky odor of chocolate and weed before Gwen and Rhys get back from her prenatal. She's having one every two weeks now as she closes in on the end of her seventh month.
“Well then how do you get it in there?”
“I neither know, nor care at this point.” Ianto gathers the tray of cooling brownies up, dumping them into a tea towel and mashing them into crumbs. “But every seagull in miles of here is going to be wasted. Come on, let's get rid of these.”
They're sitting side by side in the sand, bundled up in heavy coats as they pass a joint and watch sea birds squabble over truly horrendous pot brownies when the car pulls up and Rhys helps Gwen out before either of them can get to their feet.
“No, you two stay put, I'm smuggling a surprise into the house, so turn around!” No one dares disobey Gwen after she's spent half an hour with frigid blue goop slathered across her skin, so Ianto and Jack collapse back down to the sand and content themselves with sharing rolled eyes and snorts as they stare out to sea and not behind themselves despite the noise.
“I'm not sure if I want to know what kind of surprise Gwen's smuggling, because if it's a puppy, she will tragically disappointed by my allergies.” Ianto pauses and stubs the roach out into the sand. “Actually, am I still allergic to dogs?”
“Nope, probably not. Why, do you want a puppy?” They've both let their hair grow and the December winds are whipping curls into Ianto's eyes as it tears the smoke from his lungs across the skies.
“Doesn't seem fair to get a puppy if I can't stick around to take care of it more than a year or so....oh shit, it's almost Christmas! She's smuggling Christmas presents and we haven't gone shopping.”
It is potentially a tragedy of epic proportions.
Jack wants to shop online and Ianto isn't having it.
“You can shop on the computer if you want, but I'm going out to do it properly. Besides, we need a tree.” Jack spends an entire day trying to convince them all that trees can be delivered on line as easily as anything else before getting voted down, so they all pile into Gwen and Rhys' tiny car and head out to Pwllheli to shop.
It's the first time Ianto has spent a day sober since he was advised not to, and he's not quite sure why, because this is almost as pleasant as spending the entire day with a body buzz. Everything looks just a little sharper and sounds a little clearer, and if there's anything approaching an appropriate time for things like this, it's Christmas. The lights strung around the buildings glint off the windows and icicles hanging from the eves, shining translucent down on them through the early afternoon twilight as they split off to do their shopping.
An hour and a half later Ianto is drowning in shopping bags when he steps out of a baby store and almost runs into a cluster of carolers, half of which seem to be tourists. They're a bit off key and two girls are giggling over half the words, but they're all flushed and smiling and Ianto suddenly finds himself wanting to be right in the middle of them. They finish up their song and no one objects when he squeezes in, an older gentleman in an ugly green elf hat even leaning over to share his song book. They wander down the lane, caroling at the top of their lungs and Ianto almost smacks one of the gigglers in the head with his bags as he looks up and waves to Gwen, grinning at the group from behind her mobile, Jack and Rhys bracketing her in on either side.
“Well, that was adorable.” The cold has her face a fetching bright pink and her hair is spilling out of the bright red cap pulled low over her head. Sometimes the light hits her just right, particularly recently as she's gotten fuller and rounder, and it makes his heart skip a beat how lovely she is and how much he adores her. “Is this a hilarious tradition of yours that I've never known about, randomly caroling with strangers?”
“Never done it before in my life.” He waves at the tittering girls and the gentleman in the elf hat as they wander off with the rest of the group. “But why not?” The words slip his mouth before he can stop himself and Ianto wants to bite his tongue, force the words back in case Gwen gets that look in her eyes again, or Jack. Instead she laughs and hooks her arm through his, resting her head on the curve of his shoulder.
“I'm glad you did. You were quite good and I didn't get to really appreciate it on that last case. You'll have to sing me carols the entire time I'm decorating.”
“Don't know what she's talking about since Jack and I are the ones who have to climb the bloody roof and ladders to string lights.” Rhys grins broadly at him, batting his eyes comically. “But you can sing to me.”
“Berk.” Ianto shoulder checks the shorter man as they cross the street, weighed down with enough bags between the four of them to stock one of the tiny store fronts they're passing. He doesn't argue the assumption that he'll be keeping both feet on the ground with Gwen. He's been rebooting (they unanimously prefer the term to seizing) approximately every two weeks since the one on the beach and he's twelve days from his last one, which means it could come at any time now, and on the roof is hardly the place to fall over, spasm violently and then stop breathing.
It seems ridiculous and impossible when he thinks of it that clinically compared to how good he feels afterward, but not ridiculous or impossible enough to get him off the ground or behind the wheel of a car. Not this close to one anyway.
The stop to get a tree is a comedy of errors that would be miserable if it wasn't so hilarious. Gwen and Jack both have an idea of a perfect Christmas tree that seem exactly the same when described and don't seem to match at all when confronted with actual trees. This one has a bald spot, that one is lopsided, seven are too short because Jack doesn't have to stretch to reach the top, and one doesn't smell right, even though everything on the lot just mostly smells cold and resinous.
“Do you think if I just drop to the ground right now they'll just pick one and go?” At his side Rhys snorts and rolls his eyes, blowing across the top of his coffee.
“At this point I think they'd just step over you and keep arguing. Keep an eye on them, I'm gonna go bribe the guy running the lot to cut six inches off the bottom of a different tree and nail it on to one of the 'too short' rejects.”
“Use number three!” Ianto calls after him as quietly as he can. “It was the closest they've come to agreeing!”
The sad thing is, it works. They make it all the way home and are wrestling the tree into the stand before Jack notices that the bottom six inches of the tree are a full inch larger around than the rest of the trunk. Thankfully they both seem to find it hilarious, something Ianto thinks may have something to do with his ineffectual attempt to lean out the living room window to smoke his bowl and the way the ocean wind keeps whipping the smoke back into the house.
They figure out the secret to baking with pot (make pot infused butter, add pot infused butter instead) and color code the biscuits with frosting; green for Ianto and anything else for everyone else. Rhys forgets once and eats two Christmas trees followed by almost a full dozen of the normal kind. Jack does not forget but eats eight wreaths before Ianto can tell him what a bad idea that is, and spends an hour sitting very still on the edge of the couch, watching the tree intently.
His biscuits remain unbothered after that.
The house looks fantastic from the dunes, dripping white lights from every available overhang and window on both the house proper and the garage next to it. Through the wide window, the tree glints and twinkles at Ianto, who's off to the side smoking and Rhys, huddled around the fire pit on the high dunes to escape the holiday madness inside.
“If I had to move one more string of ivy, I was going to strangle someone with it. Your wife is holiday crazy.”
“Your...Jack, isn't much better.” Ianto chokes on the smoke in his throat as he rolls his eyes.
“My Jack?” The moonlight hits him just right as he tips his head back, exhaling up and into the wind, for Rhys to actually notice what he's been watching happen in slow motion over the course of a few months. Ianto is beautiful. His skin is the same milky silver under the swollen winter moon as the foam on the breakers. The curly ends of his hair are black enough to glint blue and white in the firelight, curling around his face to brush the edges of his lips, the bolt of his jaw, and lots of other places on the faces of men that Rhys tends not to notice. “Are you looking uncomfortable over there because you're trying to make yourself say the word boyfriend, or is it something else?”
“Piss off. I don't say boyfriend because the word doesn't seem big and complicated enough for what you two have, particularly since my wife seems to be tangled in the edges of whatever it is. I uh, have you looked in a mirror lately mate? You're looking kind of, pretty. Actually, you're looking seriously pretty and now that I can see it, it's creeping me out.” The boy laughs at him, settling his bowl into the sand and flipping onto his knees to crawl across the sand towards Rhys.
“You think I'm preeeeeeeety, you think I'm seeeeeexy, you wanna fuuuuu...”
“Shut up!” He kicks sand at the lithe figure slinking across the ground and does it again when Ianto flops down face first in the middle of his obnoxious and completely untrue little song. “And stop pissing around. Get up.”
Ianto does not get up. His back, however, arches like a direct current has been run through him and Rhys is kicking sand into the fire as he scrambles around it, flipping Ianto onto his side, head pillowed on Rhys' thighs as he bucks twice more and takes one deep breath before going completely still.
Five minutes and twenty-seven seconds later, according the the timer on the watch around Ianto's wrist, he pulls his first quiet breath. Thirty seconds later he opens his eyes and smirks up at Rhys.
“I notice that it's your lap I wake up in most often. It's okay to be seduced by my manly beauty.” He stands, dumping the cackling boy onto the sand, heading down for the house. “No! Come back! I'll let you have your way w-with me under the m-moonlight!” His words devolve into howling laughter that follows Rhys back to the house.
Note to future generations; Christmas puppies will, if not crated, eat a tray of biscuits, the paper off all the gifts, and then vomit on the rug.
There is a puppy Christmas morning. A clumsy, huge footed ball of black fur wearing a crooked bow and crying next to the half eaten remains of several formerly wrapped presents.
“Now, how did you get out of the kitchen!” Jack throws his hands in the air and Ianto doesn't care, not when the remorseful black bundle is dashing back and forth between him and Gwen, smashing solidly into their legs and thumping them about the shins with a heavy tail.
“I don't care how she got out, she's beautiful!” Gwen's flopped down onto the couch and has tugged the puppy onto the furniture with her, laughing as the dog tries to nose her way onto the woman's ever shrinking lap and starts a game of tag with the baby; prodding the bulge of Gwen's stomach and hopping backwards with a yip when the baby inside kicks back. “What is she Jack?”
“A Newfoundland. Great family dogs, very gentle, fantastic swimmers, and easy to train.” He casts a narrow eye at the holly jolly destruction scattered around the floor. “Mostly.”
“That was the dog in Peter Pan!” Everyone turns to stare at Rhys who's blushing lightly, even as he straightens the ridiculous antlers on his head. “well, it was, a black and white Newfoundland named Nana.”
“You know the strangest things Rhys Williams. So yes, a puppy. Every family needs a puppy.” Said puppy is apparently done playing with the fetus because now she's plopped into Ianto's lap, staring adoringly up at him and there's not so much as a tickle behind his eyes. “Here.” Jack drops one of the shredded packages in Ianto's hand, the gnawed sleeve of a sweater flopping onto the furry head. “Happy Christmas, have a half eaten sweater.”
Gwen has obviously been obsessing about the way he's dying, even more than they thought she was. She yanks a guitar case out from behind the tree, almost toppling it over onto Rhys.
“I was thinking about what the Doctor said, how you're going to be sleeping so much less, and thought you might want a new hobby...” He doesn't intend on telling her this is hardly a new hobby, but he can't keep from exclaiming when he throws the hard case open and looks down at he glossy Koa wood top and gently arching rosewood bridge.
“Gwen, this is entirely too expensive.” Which is, at best, hypocritical since Ianto's been trying to spend broke and he knows for a fact that Gwen's got a fantastic amount of jewelry under the tree. She just rolls her eyes at him and shoves a small thin box at him.
“Shut up. This is from Jack, but he let me help load it up.” Ianto keeps the case next to him, shooing the puppy away when she tries to stick her nose in on the instrument.
“Nope, halt on the presents for me. I am gonna go get coffee on and breakfast slapped together, and we'll do this properly, taking turns, when I get back. Just tearing into presents all at one; Savages and heathens, all of you.” He and Rhys made muffins last night and the smell of them and the bacon he's frying makes him, not nauseous exactly, but sort of high strung and distracted. He forces himself to eat two of the freshly baked Christmas tree biscuits spread out on the decorative plate on the counter as he cooks. It takes a third biscuit while he's scrambling eggs before the food stops smelling like something strange and starts smelling like something he might want to eat. “Come and get it!”
The puppy follows them into the kitchen, scampering around everyone's feet as they dish up their plates, distracting Jack and Gwen enough that only Rhys seems to be casting a gimlet eye between the tiny portion Ianto's putting on his plate and the three large biscuits already missing from the plate. Ianto shakes his head, just a bit, and lets his shoulders slump a little in relief as the older man bumps the plate with his elbow on the way by, scattering the biscuits out of their picture perfect arrangement and making it a little harder to tell how many have been eaten at first glance.
Opening gifts takes a long time, between learning the hard way that any plates set on the coffee table are viewed as fair game by the puppy and passing around the new video camera for Rhys that says it's from Father Christmas is Jack's handwriting. Actually, there's quite a bit of stuff under the tree with the Father Christmas tag, lots of it addressed to 'unnamed Cooper-Williams fetus'.
“You're ridiculous Jack.” The immortal man looks into the camera, beaming that fantastic grin of his as the puppy tries to catch the bobble on the end of his Christmas hat and tug it off his head. “Unnamed fetus? Really?”
“That was not me, that was Father Christmas. That said, if you two would pick a name, they would have said something like 'Baby Bridget' instead.” Gwen snorts, rolling her eyes and Ianto hopes Rhys caught the mixture of pleasure and exasperation on her face as she folds the enormous layette the still-unnamed baby has collected this morning. She's got on the necklace Ianto paid for in town, a small Amethyst studded circle for the baby due in the middle of February set inside a larger circle embedded with Gwen and Rhys' birthstones and it looks perfect hanging around her slim throat.
“We hate Bridget Jack. It's awful.”
“Everyone says that! I have been pushing that name, which is my favorite and not at all awful, for centuries and everyone hates it. My wives hated it, my girlfriends hated it, my friends hate it...”
“Well the puppy likes it. Look. Bridget, come here Bridget.” Gwen pats her hands on her lap and the puppy knocks her backwards against Ianto's leg as she leaps from Jack's lap and rushes forward enthusiastically. “There. This is your Bridget.”
It's apparently a compromise Jack can live with.
All you need to be a rock star is a fat joint and a guitar
It's kind of like being seventeen again, sitting out in the garage smoking a joint and tuning his guitar, but only kind of since he's tossed his coat over into the corner, not at all chilled despite the wind whipping in off the ocean and he's using a tuning app on his new iPad that he would have killed for when he was learning to do this by ear. Bridget seems to think he's fantastic, eyes locked on him and heavy square head cocked to the side as he runs through chords and fretting positions while she thumps her tail against the floor.
“You've done this before, you cheater!” Gwen's standing just inside the door, bundled up tightly in a coat, hand stuffed in her pockets as she grins.
“Never said I hadn't. I was in a band in fact. Five of us in a two bedroom flat living on ramen and drink tickets from the pubs. We weren't bad, but not a one of us could write a song to save our bloody lives. I'm not late for dinner, am I?” He hopes not, isn't sure if he can make himself eat anything this close after breakfast no matter how many joints he smokes or biscuits he eats, but Gwen answers his prayers with a shake of her head and a roll of her eyes.
“Nah, Jack and Rhys are still fussing with the goose. It'll be hours yet. I just got bored, thought I'd come out and sit with you for a bit.” She crosses the floor and flops down heavily onto one of the low white settees. “You're going to have to pry me up off this.”
“I know.” She's getting huge, big enough that they've all found themselves at some point tying her boots for her and lifting her off of furniture. “Let's see if I'm still any good at this. Pick a song, any song.” He's got a heavy gauge pick between his teeth as he smiles at her.
“What if you don't know the song I want smarty-pants?”
“Like the commercial says; there's an app for that.” He waves the iPad at her and doesn't remind her that she's the one who paid for it and installed it.
Having babies is not for the faint of heart
Ianto thinks the cluster fuck of a comedy sketch that happens when Gwen goes into labor could have been excused under certain circumstances. If it were three am and blizzarding outside, he would have understood the panic, but it isn't. It's three in the bloody afternoon on a cold clear day and they're walking along the beach because Gwen's been a pain in the arse for hours now, starting the washing up before people are done eating, pacing back and forth to tidy around the living room even though he, Jack, and Rhys are sprawled on the couch in a Halo death match which strangely enough Rhys is dominating at, and fidgeting enough that finally Ianto offers to take her and Bridget for a walk. Gwen punches him, hard, in the shoulder, but seems desperate to go because she is apparently getting on even her own nerves.
The two of them are a a mile and a half down the beach throwing sticks for the huge clumsy puppy when Jack and Rhys come hurrying across the sand, Jack flushed and Rhys pale and vaguely queasy looking.
“It occurred to me, about ten minutes after you two left, that I've seen this behavior before and maybe Gwen should stick close to home...”
“Oh, ew.” Every eye whips over to Gwen who's milk white and shuffling in place, looking down at a few little wet spots of sand with huge eyes. “I think I just...”
“Went into labor?” Jack grimaces. “We should have driven the car down to get you.”
They have to walk back to the car, which Gwen says is fine because she needs to change before they're off to Hospital anyway, but Rhys keeps trying to convince Jack to use his vortex manipulator to go back for the car and the more he asks, the more Jack looks like he thinks it's a good idea.
“Ignore them. I think I've done this more recently than anyone here with my sister and I promise, you're more comfortable walking now than you will be sitting down somewhere.”
Jack is driving them all crazy by the time they get back to the house, disregarding nearly everything Ianto's sure he actually knows about the birthing process and falling back on his sketchy two thousand year old memories of the last time he was personally involved back in the sixties when the proper thing to do was head immediately for the A&E and wait for fourteen hours in ugly waiting rooms.
“All right, go take a shower, get into something comfortable, and make sure your bags are ready. I'll call your OB and see when he wants us to meet him in town.” Ianto looks over his shoulder at Rhys and Jack who are, for some bizarre reason, plotting their route to the medical center as if they won't be taking the same damn route they always do. “And take Rhys with you. Maybe they'll calm down if you separate them.”
They don't calm down when separated. They just start texting each other instead.
“Gwen has been stabbed, shot, poisoned, and just generally beaten and she made it out better than the rest of us. Stop texting Rhys, she's having teeny tiny contractions every fifteen minutes or so which she probably can't even feel under that monster massage head you installed in their loo. It's not the sixties anymore Jack, the future is now.” He yanks the phone from Jacks fingers, scrolling through the sent texts on the touch screen and trying not to roll their eyes at the random listing of things they don't need that the two men are accumulating. “The two of you. For goodness sakes, what would you have done back where you were growing up?”
“We would have moved her to a hospital buried under the desert in the same bunker with our hydroponics labs about two months ago when she got too big to effectively run for her life and kept her there until she was well enough to pick up her baby and run for her life.”
“Ah.” Ianto forgets sometimes how much the future is like a wild western. He leans down, brushing his lips across Jack's head. “Well then, seeing as how you've been bred for pregnancy hysteria, I think you're doing quite well.” He presses Jack's phone back into his hand. “Carry on.”
He's been sober six hours now because Ianto doesn't trust Jack or Rhys not to drive like this is a Torchwood emergency.
“She's experiencing genuine discomfort, so we're on our way in.” It's funny how many of his Torchwood skills are transferable in civilian life. He's got the OB on the blue-tooth set, one hand stroking Jack's knee to keep him seated and facing the right way, and Ianto's eyes keep cutting between the road and Gwen curled in against Rhys in the back seat cursing low under her breath. “We're at six minutes apart for about thirty seconds, but it still seems kind of fast for her first, so...”
“Tell them to shut up and just have my bloody drugs ready! Owen would have been ready. I want Owen!”
“I know sweetheart.” Jack turns in his seat, reaching back and rubbing circles on the tight curve of her back. “How about I call your mum instead?”
Anwen Williams is born a little after two in the morning, much to the relief of the nervous hospital staff who have had to run the 'great Jack gauntlet' every time they leave the room or switch shifts; heralded into the world, not by her first cry, but her mother bellowing 'finally' at the top of her lungs. Ianto and Jack almost crash into each other in the doorway as they both try to enter at the same time. Jack takes up a post against the far wall, watching the nurses like a hawk as they wipe down the squalling pink body of their newest arrival, but Ianto heads right for Gwen, collapsed back into her bed laughing and sweaty as her husband covers her with kisses.
“You curse like a sailor, mum. We're going to have to work on that.” She giggles, a bit hysterically which is unsurprising, and opens her arms wider.
“Shut up and come hug me so I can hold my baby.” It's kind of strange, squeezing Gwen tightly when she's still holding Rhys and there are strangers still doing things Ianto would prefer not to think of between her legs, but she sighs tiredly and tips her head up to his ear. “Do something with Jack, pet. He's scaring off the people with my medication.”
“I've tried. We'll just have to deal with it until we're home with the baby. He'll calm down then. Here, there's someone waiting to meet you.” Gwen glows as the tiny pink bundle; pink face, pink blanket, pink hat is settled into her arms and Ianto is so glad he made it to see this.
It's the humming that wakes Gwen. The light in the room is the pale watery pre-dawn kind, silvery edging towards gold as she flicks her eyes from the pullout chair where Rhys is sleeping to the empty spot in front of the closed door where Jack had been dozing with military lightness before stalling on the cot against the far wall.
“It's fine Gwen. I've got her.” Ianto's perched on the wide ledge of the window, Anwen looking extra small in the cradle of his wide palms as he twists his body, swaying side to side as they stare at each other. “We were just spending a little time since she woke up wet. You're all dry now though, aren't you, Princess? Dry and ready to go see mummy.”
“No stranger to this, are you?” He slips Anwen into her arms with an ease born of experience, turning his back to move a chair while Gwen fumbles to get Anwen settled for feeding and then get herself covered without just dropping a blanket over the baby's head.
“I should hope not, I've been doing it long enough with my niece and nephew. I sent Jack back to the house to check on Bridget and get us all a change of clothes. I think he's also throwing some biscuits together for me, because he's been gone almost an hour now.”
“Fuck. Ianto, have you been sober since yesterday?” Sometimes Gwen forgets that there's an actual point to all the time the man in front of her spends high. That he has an actual minimum prescribed dosage to ingest.
“I have.” He rolls his eyes, getting up and pacing over towards the windows, flicking the curtains back. The sunrise outside is brighter now, but he doesn't squint, just scans over the grounds quickly before closing the drapes. “It's not the end of the world Gwen, we should know. I'm just...a little faster today then I've been.”
“You're not just a little faster, whatever you think that means, because what it actually means is that you haven't eaten since dinner the day before yesterday, and you probably didn't sleep either.”
“I don't sleep for beans anymore anyways. I get an hour or two a night and I don't miss it. I just climb out the window and sit on the roof smoking and playing Angry birds.”
“Well, unless you can promise me that skipping an entire day isn't going to be the difference between another nine months and another fifteen months, you need to stop it.” His smirk is amused.
“You'll be glad I don't sleep anymore when someone's always up with Anwen.” There's a ringing in the air from Jack's wrist strap that has Rhys sitting up flailing, even as he reaches for the closest available thing to throw. Jack steps out of the shimmer of rift energy with a duffel bag over his shoulder and a Tupperware balanced on his hand.
“So much for sneaking back in while everyone's asleep. Sorry about the wait, I had to clean up after Bridget and re-up the biscuit supply.” Gwen snickers as Ianto pauses, biscuit halfway in his mouth and Jack scoffs. “Not in that order. Snickerdoodles with THC and Rift fallout, eat it.”
“It'll never catch on.” The younger man mumbles around a mouth full.
Babies are much sturdier than psyches
Anwen is nine days old when it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that Jack has yet to hold her. It was easy to miss the first week or so, when Gwen's parents were up for three days and Rhys', thankfully, only for the afternoon, and then Martha stopped by twice, and even then it didn't seem they were noticing right. Jack's always somewhere near Anwen, keeping Bridget in a tremblingly excited sit the first time they set the bassinet up in the living room, keeping her little travel chair rocking with his foot if she fusses, surely he's held her at some point; except he hasn't, not if they're all correct when they sit together on the couch waiting for him to get back with the dog food and pot.
“So, is it some kind of weird space thing I shouldn't be gobbing on about, like no touching other peoples babies until they're a certain age or something?” They've got the baby laid out on the couch between her parents, little eyes gazing up at the terrycloth fairy Ianto's leaning over the back of the couch to wiggle over her head.
“Don't think so. If it were something awkward like that he would have told us. I think it's just good old fashioned guilt. I'll figure it out, just give me a couple days to think of something.”
Ianto doesn't actually need a couple of days to come up with a plan, because he's already got one brewing in the back of his head. What he actually needs is to wait for a day when Bridget starts acting weird.
He's heard of animals that predict seizures for their owners, but he didn't realize his reboots would be close enough for her to be able to tell.
She can, and it's a Wednesday when Ianto glances up from where he's playing Fable downstairs while Jack catches a couple hours of sleep to see Bridget inching across the couch on her belly, eyes fixed on him until she's close enough to start butting him with her head and try to knock him over. That's it then; from now until the moment he actually passes out the dog is going to stay under foot, bulky puppy body trying to force him to sit every time he gets up, walking close enough for her furry shoulder to knock into his knees with every step while he's on his feet. Bridget lumbers to her feet, staring reproachfully at him as he orders her to let him up and presses against him the entire way to the kitchen.
“You know Missy, if I had something that impaired my balance you would have killed me by now, crowding me like that.” She huffs out a low noise of disbelief or possibly disgust as he reaches in the junk drawer and fishes out a small notebook and pen, writing out a list of things they've needed, but not desperately enough to bother going out for yet.
He gives the list to Gwen and Rhys late in the morning.
“So, we're out of a bunch of stupid little things and I was thinking that if you two would like to run to town and get them you could stop for lunch and Jack and I will watch Anwen for you.” Rhys looks thrilled with the idea of his wife all to himself for the princely amount of two whole hours and Gwen is staring at him out of wide slightly panicked eyes. “I promise Gwen, the first time you leave her is the hardest, and the longer you wait to do it the harder it gets. Trust the man with almost a decade of babysitting experience please, and don't turn into my sister who didn't leave David until he was three months old and cried the entire time, unlike the baby, who was perfect the entire time she was gone. Go get the rolling papers, picks, and memory cards and then have a nice quick lunch.”
It takes an hour to convince Gwen to go, and Ianto spends the entire time he's talking her out of her emotional tree trekking up and down the stairs to get everything Anwen might need, so he can set up base camp in the living room, snagging Jack on his last trip to get the vibrating seat. By the time Rhys bundles Gwen out the door, they've got Lego Batman loaded up and Jack is bitching about losing the coin toss and having to be Robin.
“Okay, Bridget get down. What are you doing, don't climb on people like that.” Jack reaches over, shoving gently at the furry bulk, brows furrowing as the dog not only refuses to hop down, but grumbles low in her chest as she belly crawls further into Ianto's lap. “What's your problem today Bri?”
“She's hovering. I'm apparently due for an early reboot today.” He curses as Robin drops his part of the object they're assembling and gets swarmed by baddies. “Jack!”
“But, it's only been nine days you're not...I'll call Rhys and have them turn around...”
“Don't you dare.” He rolls his eyes and reaches over, dropping Jack out of the level since he's not paying attention and running across the now whole screen. “I got them out on purpose. There are still two adults in the house, I just won't pick her up until It's happened. We're fine.”
“We're not fine! Who's supposed to take care of her and you while you're dying on the floor!”
“You will take care of her and I will stop breathing and start again on my own the way I've been doing Jack. I don't actually require coming around in laps being cossetted. I get up, dust off and keep going. I'm fine.”
“You're not fine, you're dying and you're sticking me with Gwen's kid while you do and it's not okay!” Jack somehow still manages to look like he's billowing a greatcoat when he's stomping around barefooted in jeans gone age white at the knees and thighs with his hair in his eyes.
“Yeah, well you've got to get used to it, you and Gwen because this is what it is, and all the sad temper tantrums in the world won't change it. Son of a bitch!” He throws his controller down in disgust as Jack stomps by, kicking the xbox hard enough to freeze it.
“Call them and tell them to come home, or figure out how to be dead and take care of a baby at the same time on your own!” Ianto rolls his eyes and leans forward to restart the game.
“If you broke this, you're buying me a better one!”
Jack has been gone more than an hour, still off in a fit somewhere in the house and Ianto's sitting on the floor, holding a bottle for Anwen when Bridget starts whining loudly and throwing her paws up on his shoulder to try and force him to the ground.
“Jack! Stop acting like a little bitch Jack!” He's scooting away from the bassinet because Bridget won't let him up, trying to get far enough away that if his feet jerk or lash out Anwen's out of harms way. He's not completely sure he's far enough back when Bridget surges forward mid scoot, knocking him flat as the blood starts to rush in his ears and the edges of his vision go gray. Faintly, he hears Bridget begin to howl as the world goes black.
And comes back to the sound of Jack cursing him in a sweet melodic sing-song.
“He's a fucking asshole sweetheart. Yes he is. He's a manipulative twat who is not above using his death to get what he wants and he's lucky I don't just kick him right in his...”
“Do you often threaten to do me bodily harm while I'm out, because I have to say that the thought amuses me more than anything. Also, you are the pot calling the kettle black.” Ianto opens his eyes, rolling over to see Jack sitting on the edge of the couch closest to him, jiggling Anwen awkwardly as she whines and sniffles.
“I'm not fighting with you. Just take the baby.” Ianto ignores the bundle thrust in his direction, getting to his feet and dusting his jeans off.
“In a minute. Let me hit the loo first.” He ignores Jack's cursing, walking past him towards the downstairs bathroom and pretending he can't hear the man following him all the way to the door.
“Okay, this has gone from a bit weird to worrying.” He rolls his eyes as he almost crashes into Jack trying to step out of the bathroom, stepping backwards onto the tile to keep from crushing the tiny two week old between them. “Jack, what are doing? This is the first time you've even held her. She's titchy and squishy, enjoy it.”
“I can't. Just take her before something happens to her.” He does, but only because Jack's hands are shaking hard enough that Ianto can see them trembling. Anwen stops fussing as Ianto cradles her against his chest, reaching out to snag the collar of Jack's shirt as the older man tries to make his escape.
“Oh no. We're talking about this.” He's not prepared for Jack to wrench away hard enough to rip his shirt, stumbling over his own feet and almost dropping back onto Bridget who's whining behind them.
“There's nothing to talk about. I'm awful with children. Love 'em, but I'm...I'm poison to them. I am possibly the last human being alive who should be allowed near a child.”
“At least Pedophiles only fuck them!" Wow. Ianto freezes where he's at and Jack keeps trying to pace only to be herded back towards Ianto and Anwen every time. "They tend to drop dead and disappear off the face of the planet around me, so you'll have to forgive me if I don't want to hold the damn baby! I shouldn't be here, and I'm not...I'm only staying here for you and then I'm leaving for her!”
“Oh, so you're going to break up our mostly-gay-unconsumated-common-law-not-marriage without even telling us then?” They've been fighting, loud and long enough that neither of them has heard the car pull up or the door open. Ianto looks over at Rhys, glowering in the doorway, bags dangling from his hands. “What the hell? We're gone an hour and a half and we come back to half a fist fight with my bloody kid in the middle. Fucking knuckleheads.” Gwen's red faced and furious as she stomps across the hardwood floor, snatching Anwen from Ianto.
“Jack, you're a fucking idiot; so busy feeling sorry yourself that you're just going to run off on us? Just go then. It's not bad enough she's going to lose him,” Her finger jabs painfully into Ianto's chest “without losing you too, so just get lost if you're going then. If you were planning on just pissing off into the bloody ether without so much as a by-your-leave then do us a favor and just get lost now.”
Gwen storms off up the front stairs, Jack disappears up the back way by the kitchen and Ianto's left staring at Rhys, who shoves the bags in his hand.
“If all your plans went this way, it's a wonder you lived this long. I'll take the blue corner, you take the pink one.”
Gwen doesn't look up or acknowledge him, even when Ianto crawls across the mattress to spoon up behind her.
“I'm not talking to you right now Ianto Jones.”
“I can tell.” Anwen's asleep in the cradle of Gwen's arms, so Ianto scoots closer, fitting himself along her back to wrap around both of them. “He's not a pet Gwen, you can't expect he was going to stay forever.”
“Not forever, just another sixty or seventy years?” Her laugh is wet as she turns her face from him, burying it in the pillow. The early March sunlight is painting slightly warmer stripes over the back of his neck as it cuts in through the window. “I didn't...I didn't think he was planning on just leaving us like that after you're gone.”
“He wouldn't. He was just, I may have miscalculated how much he was freaking out about being around Anwen after everything with the 456 and his grandson and I'm man enough to admit I relied on a particularly dirty trick to make him hold her.”
“He held her?”
“He had to; I rebooted while you and Rhys were gone.”
“Ianto!” Gwen whips her head around, giving him a mouthful of loam brown curls to try and spit out.
“I know, okay! I know it was a miserable, mean thing to do but if he'd just bothered telling someone why he didn't want to hold the baby we could have dealt with it like adults.” His voice drops down to a low sulky growl.
“My husband is probably the only person in this house who knows how to be a functional adult. Did you ask Jack why he wasn't holding her? Because I didn't. Our first impulse was a close to the vest plot. We plotted, and he's leaving once you're dead, and you're dying. We're rubbish adults.”
“You can't put my completely-not-my-fault dying in the same category as plotting and emotional abandonment.”
“Sure she can.” They look up at Rhys' cheerful voice to see him in the doorway, hand clapped down on Jack's shoulder. “Because my Gwen has many fine qualities and a calm and logical look at her emotions has never been one of them. You, “ He points to Ianto. “Stop cuddling my wife in my bed. You're on my side and everything, my pillows are going to smell like you now.”
“Phbbbt, you should be so lucky. Besides, you're the berk who called it our mostly gay, unconsummated, common law not-marriage which I'm pretty sure means I get at least a twenty percent share in Gwen in and the baby.”
“Poor Jack. Everyone who doesn't know him accuses you of being the mouthy one, don't they?” The immortal man rolls his eyes, the corner of his mouth tipping up in a ghost of a smile.
“You have no idea.”
“Well, off the bed, everyone. We're going downstairs and watching a bloody movie.”
They watch A Knights Tale, everyone jumbled together on the couch under afghans and dog bulk, Rhys rolling his eyes every time Jack and Gwen make a production of cooing over the knights, while Ianto ignores them all to actually watch the movie and whatever Rhys said upstairs must have worked because Jack might not be reaching eagerly for Anwen, but he's not trying to avoid her when Gwen passes her to Ianto either.
If there wasn't a death at the end, it would all be a bit anti-climatic
This is how life goes. Anwen lifts her head and Ianto goes from an hour or two of sleep every couple of days to an hour or two every couple of weeks. She starts trying to push herself up onto arms that manage to be utterly teeny and fat at the same time and Ianto is rebooting once a week no matter how much he smokes.
“What are you working on out here in the garage?” Rhys leans over his shoulder to peek at his laptop and Anwen squeals and sinks both fists deep into his hair, tugging it sharply.
“Ow! Easy my evil minion, don't yank on your uncle Ianto like that.” Rhys surrenders her when Ianto reaches up and she smells like lavender baby wash and her fathers' cologne. “I was making funeral arrangements, actually. Seems kind of cold-hearted to leave everything to you, Gwen, and Jack when time's running down and I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself, so I've picked a crematorium, pre-paid, made sure my will was in order...” He trails off as the man behind him reaches around, squeezing him tightly.
“I've tried not to harp on it, you get enough of it from Heckle and Jekyll inside, but you've got to stop talking like that. Like it's okay.” The hug itself was a surprise, but the rasp in Rhys' voice is enough to make Ianto turn his head, the stubble on his face rasping against Ianto's jaw as he stares in surprise at the other man.
“But it is okay. I don't know how to make you all understand how good this feels because no one wants to talk about it anymore, but I feel so good Rhys. Things smell better and sound sharper. I ran from the house to one end of our beach to the other and back in eighteen minutes Rhys. Five miles in eighteen minutes. I swam out so far last night I couldn't see the house without getting tired and swam back immediately without being cold. I'm doing stupid things I never had time to do when we were Torchwood. I had a random dance party in the middle of the road to town with a car full of American kids on their gap year for no other reason than I'd never danced in the middle of the street and it looked like fun, so I pulled over and joined in.”
“You're right. I don't understand how dying could possibly feel good and I really don't understand how you aren't scared out of your skull when Jack says it's like being awake and aware in the dark when there are things there.” He laughs and then has to switch Anwen to one arm so he can sling the other around Rhys' neck, keeping him from pulling back.
“I'm. Not. Scared. I'm not, and part of it's the virus, the Doctor did say the closer I get the better about it I'd feel, but part of it is just that I think Jack's wrong. I don't think there's a heaven or anything, my mum and Lisa and all our friends from the tower won't be waiting for me, but keep in mind who's telling us these frightening things. Jack dies, but he dies like I'm dying now, imperfectly. Impermanently. I've thought about it, really I have, and I think he's just kind of sticking, somewhere in between here and gone until he resurrects. I won't stick Rhys, I'll just be gone, and I'm okay with that.” He leans forward, resting their foreheads together. “I am.”
“I'm not.” Rhys pulls back, clearing his throat and pretending that his eyes aren't shining in the late spring sun slanting through the open garage doors. “Also, we keep getting progressively gayer. I have never cuddled so much with men in my life. I think you're trying to convert me before you die.” It's a very definite change of topic and Ianto goes with it, rolling his eyes and chucking Anwen under the chin to make her giggle.
“I learned it from Jack.”
A relationship this convoluted, tangled, codependent and comforting can only be compared to something equally absurd and comforting, like zucchinis and other summer squash
Anwen is six months old, sitting up on her own, spitting strained peas with deadly accuracy at everyone except Jack when she and the dog both cock their heads to the side seconds before a familiar grating whine cuts through the air.
“Is that what I think it is?” Apparently it is, because Jack comes thundering down the stairs in bare feet and yoga pants, pausing long enough to scoop up Anwen like he's been doing it her whole life and not just when no one else is available.
“Come on pretty girl, Captain Jack's gonna show you your first spaceship!” They're gone, baby babbling and covered in spit food, dog bounding behind them leaving Gwen and Ianto staring incredulously at each other.
“That's what it takes to get Jack to carry her? A semi-sentient time-ship?” Her words trail off as Gwen's chair clatters to the floor, plastic sandals slapping against the tile as she takes off running. “Jack Harkness don't you dare take my baby in that thing without me!” Ianto rolls his eyes, getting up leisurely and wiping a bit of strained pea off his forearm before bellowing up the stairs.
“Rhys, we've got company! Get my Sig out of the gun cabinet just in case he's come 'round for backup!”
The Doctor has not come around for backup.
“It's not a guarantee, but it might work, only problem is, I can't tell you what it is that might work. I can't even get too close to it actually. It's one of those events that isn't just fixed, but locked. My Tardis won't go but so close.” The Doctor is looking up at him intently through his floppy bangs, hands clasped between sprawled knees.
“So you're saying there's something that might fix me, but you can't tell me what it is, what it will do, or if it will work?” The alien nods solemnly. “So what can you tell me?”
“That you will stay on the Tardis, I'll jump forward five months, and you will step back out ten seconds and five months later and wait for it to happen.” Jack is holding himself so still he's kind of creeping Ianto out.
“And I'll just know it when I see it, will I?” He doesn't like the fact that the man across from him only quirks a dark hint of a smile.
“I dare say you won't be able to miss it. I'm not going to be able to do too much more hopping around this close to the event though, so I'm sorry, but I'll need you to decide while I'm here and I won't be here long. I've got to pick up the Ponds from the portion of their honeymoon that doesn't involve me. Did I tell you I've got a married set now Jack!” Ianto thinks it might be creepy to hear any other alien talk about 'having a married set' of humans, but somehow the Doctor manages to just sound excited that he has not just two companions, but a married set of companions.
“You've got to go Ianto.” Gwen is almost as enthralled by the shifting array of what's best described as scented lights dancing and spinning in the air in front of Anwen, but not so much that she's not following the conversation. “If it can fix you, make you better, then you've got to go. In fact, if you don't go, if you dare step off this ship with us, I will spend every minute of the next five months kicking your arse up onto your shoulders.”
“Except he doesn't have five months, does he?” Jack looks more like himself than he has in months, eyes alert and shrew as he leans forward. “Because if he did, you wouldn't risk coming so close to a locked chrono-spacial event, much less twice, and whatever it is, you think we'll be involved.”
“I think that I've set a virus lose that will delete every mention of Torchwood world wide the first time it's searched from any government mainframe and I hope you won't need it.” Little chance of that from the carefully blank expression on the too young face with the too old eyes looking at them.
“Right, well, that settles that then. We'll need every boot on the ground if something's coming up. Jack's always talking about how Tardis is the only way to travel anyway.” Ianto stands and reaches through the shifting light pattern, kissing Anwen on the top of the head. “Don't let her start walking without me, and no one touch my laptop.”
It's easier to accept a bad certainty than a bright hope, but not nearly as exciting
It does not take ten seconds to go five months in the future. It actually takes four days since they go to pick up the Ponds' (who are actually also the Williams not that the Doctor cares) and run into a minor civil rebellion, but it was four days well spent, and they make the Welsh daylight feel warmer and the ocean smell better when Ianto slings the door open and steps out onto the beach. The door has hardly closed behind him before the rift wind from the ship taking off is rumpling his hair, ship and pilot fleeing the uncomfortable sensation of being, apparently, entirely too close to something they're not suppose to be near.
There are carved pumpkins winding their way along the walk, the candles inside guttering and flickering low as lights are flipped on all over the house and silhouettes begin scrambling down staircases to meet him at the door and silence the booming bark coming from inside before the door is slung open.
“So, how long did you wait before breaking into my computer?” Jack looks good, hair cut back to the style he used to wear and shoes on his feet as he grins widely.
“The Tardis sounds hadn't even stopped echoing. Love the videos of you practicing your guitar by the way.” Gwen shoves between Jack and the door. “Look who came back to see you baby girl. Who's that, Anwen? Is it Ianto?” The baby has tripled in size as she kicks and squirms in her stripped pajamas, arms out like she remembers him.
“Also,” Rhys chimes in, wrapped around Gwen's shoulders. “Jack smoked the rest of your weed.”
“It was going to shrivel up and blow away if I didn't.”
It's just ridiculous enough for him to know he's really home. Then again, so is the impromptu slumber party on the couch where Bridget makes sure he knows what a difference there is between sharing space with a forty pound puppy and a hundred and fifteen pound one. This is his family and as Gwen tries to get Anwen to tell him what she's going to be for Halloween, (a candy corn apparently) he's so glad to be home.
Because sometimes everything turns out okay...but not really
The next day, Oswald Danes does not die.