"Oh, excuse me." Carson made to back politely out of the door of the Mermaid Quay Tourist Information Centre, having caught sight of the two men engaged in a enthusiastic kiss behind the counter. To his surprise, the men almost immediately disengaged, the darker-haired of the two quickly straightening his tie before turning to face him.
"Please, wait!" he said, and Carson stopped, the door already half-open behind him. "My apologies," he added. "We're not Cycling, I promise."
"Just a little recreation," his companion added, flashing a quick smile at Carson.
The first man shot him a look, then returned his attention to Carson, smiling affably. "My name is Ianto Jones. How can I help you?"
Reassured that he wasn't interrupting, Carson stepped back to the counter. "Well, to tell the truth, I'm a bit lost," Carson said, trying not to sound embarrassed. "I was supposed to meet up with a walking tour up there on the Plass, but either I mucked up the time and place or the tour guide did. I'm fed up with being dragged around in a group, anyway," he admitted in a burst of candor. "I thought I'd see if you had any do-it-yourself tours. And a bus schedule," he added.
The young man, absently straightening the slightly disarranged fit of his neat, dark suit as he listened, nodded when Carson finished. "I've got a few packets in the back," he said. "I'll get you some." He gestured to his companion, who'd watched the exchange while leaning against the wall, hands stuck in his pockets. "Jack can find you a bus schedule."
This, apparently, was news to Jack. "I can?" he asked Jones, and got a raised eyebrow as an answer. With a shrug, he straightened up and stepped forward as Jones disappeared into the back. He was maybe a little older than Carson, tall and brown-haired and blue-eyed, dressed much more casually than Jones in a blue shirt and kakhi trousers, dark brown gloves on his hands.
"Hi," he said. "Captain Jack Harkness."
Harkness stopped, his gloved hand half-extended. Carson resisted the urge to look behind himself as his gaze snapped back to Carson's face, and his eyes widened. "Oh, my god," he said, and Carson suddenly found his hand seized in a strong, enthusiastic grip. "My god, you really are!"
Carson kept his smile fixed on his face. "Um, last time I checked I was, yes," he said feebly.
"Very, very pleased to meet you," Harkness said, and this time the purring note of seduction was unmistakable. Carson found himself double-checking to make sure his own gloves were firmly in place, despite him being nowhere near his own Cycle, and extracted his hand as soon as was polite.
"I'm sorry, have we met? No, of course not, if you're pleased to meet me." Carson realized he was babbling, and shut his mouth.
"No. Much to my chagrin." Harkness smiled, and something in that smile made Carson's stomach do a pleasant little flop, Cycle or not. "I've read you," he finally explained. "Your genetic work on the Universal Receptor genes. Interesting stuff." Again the smile. "Especially to me."
"Oh, are you a Uni yourself?" Carson asked.
Harkness spread his arms. "In the flesh." He leaned forward a bit, propping his hands on the counter, and Carson found himself mirroring the gesture, almost involuntarily. Harkness went on, his voice low. "I'm especially intrigued by your work on the gene therapy to activate more Unis. World-changing stuff, potentially."
Carson gaped, then made an effort to control his expression. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do," Harkness said easily. "You've already successfully given the therapy to, what, nearly two dozen people? Good thing you had the therapy all ready to test once the Atlantis personnel started Cycling in the Pegasus galaxy, huh."
The pleasant thrum in his stomach turned into a cold knot. "I think I should go." Carson straightened up and stepped to the door.
"Hey, hey. Don't run off." Harkness took a step towards him, then apparently thought better of it and stopped, shoving his hands into his pockets again. "Okay, I was showing off, but I couldn't resist." He shrugged. "I know about your classified stuff because I'm classified, too. Torchwood."
Whatever Carson might have expected to hear, "Torchwood" hadn't been it. "Oh. Oh!" Carson didn't step back to the counter, but neither did he reach for the door handle. "I was beginning to think you lot were a rumor."
"We don't advertise, that's all. Well, not much. But I get briefings from your SGC, and I admit that I've pulled some strings to take a look at your work in particular, Doctor."
Whatever else it might have been, including "unnerving" and "a bit creepy," Carson didn't have an opportunity to say. Jones chose that moment to push back through the beaded curtain that separated the little office from what was presumably the back room, his arms loaded with pamphlets.
"Here you are, sir," he said, laying them down on the counter in three neat stacks. "I really should keep some of these out here, anyway."
"Ianto, do you know who this is?" Harkness demanded.
"Yes, sir. I heard," Jones added, with a touch of dryness. He didn't, Carson noticed, offer his own gloved hand, bowing his head instead. "Very pleased to meet you, Dr. Beckett. Jack let me read some of your more sensitive work. Very intriguing."
"Ah, so you're...this is..." Carson gestured to the tourist office. "This is all Torchwood?"
"Let's just say this is our anteroom," Harkness told him. He jerked his head to the side, indicating, apparently, the wall next to the counter. "Would you like to see the rest?"
"So, that was the famous Carson Beckett," Ianto said, sitting down across from Jack and stripping off his gloves, tossing them next to Jack's already discarded pair on top of Jack's desk. Taking them off was like lifting a weight, and he didn't bother to suppress his sigh of satisfaction as his bare fingers curled around the warm cup of coffee he'd set on the desk. He breathed in the strong, sharp scent, then leaned back to settle the cup on his knee. "Nice fellow. Quite intelligent." He took a sip of coffee. "Handsome, too," he added, just to see Jack's face light up a bit in recollection.
"His holograms did not do the man justice," Jack agreed. "Plus, the accent. Dead sexy," he said, in a horrible attempt at a Scottish accent that made Ianto wince.
"Um, yes." Ianto drank coffee. "You never did mention, though, why exactly he's so famous. To you, anyway."
Jack's expression grew thoughtful. "In my time," he said carefully, watching Ianto as if to gauge his reaction, "ninety percent of the human population are Universal Receptors. Nearly half of the humans are also Universal Cyclers. Do the math."
Ianto already had, and he was sure his reaction was written all over his face. "Ninety percent," he repeated, feeling stunned. "That's...that would mean that nearly anyone--practically everyone--could find a Receptor just standing right next to them." He blinked, trying to absorb it, take it all in. "And I've never heard of a Universal Cycler, but I presume that means what it sounds like."
"Yep. Any ride will do," Jack confirmed with a grin. "Over a hundred alien species included. And you haven't heard of them because they don't exist yet." His grin broadened. "Present company excepted."
"Oh. I...wondered, I admit." And he had, and he couldn't say that that information was a particular surprise. As interesting as that fact was, though, Ianto's thoughts were quickly moving on. "But, if almost everyone's a Uni--" Both ways, apparently, which frankly boggled Ianto's mind a bit. "--that means that Cycling must be, well, not so much of a...process."
"You've known me how long, and this surprises you?" Jack retorted.
"Touche," Ianto conceded.
"Damn right. And no, it isn't. We still have panic buttons--well, the equivalent--because even if you can go into Sympathy it doesn't mean you have to. Most people go for it anyway, but having the choice is kind of the point. Which is also the point of encouraging the Uni genes. Being Unis takes the pressure off everyone, instead of laying so much of it on the few Unis you lot have now." Jack's expression sobered suddenly, and Ianto looked down at his coffee, biting his lip on the useless, unwanted words of sympathy. Jack went on, more quietly. "Changed the world, if you want to look at it that way."
"Is this that 'everything changes' thing you keep going on about? Dr. Beckett's research?"
As quickly as he had grown somber, Jack cheered up, surprising Ianto by laughing out loud. "I wish," he said, and Ianto wished he got the joke. "But no. The gene therapy is the first step, but it's going to take generations for the Uni gene to take hold in the broader population, and generations more to figure out the Universal Cycle gene--also rooted in Beckett's research, by the way. Not to mention that after humans went into space, it seemed at first that we wouldn't need it, and then we did--long story--and it took a while to start the process over."
"The process that Dr. Beckett began."
"Yep." Jack looked off into the distance, his expression thoughtful. "I always thought I should try to meet him, look him up and thank him. You know, properly." His eyes began to lose focus. Ianto cleared his throat, and Jack snapped back to reality. He picked up his coffee. "Never thought he'd just walk into the Tourist Office. Small world."
"I suppose." Ianto drained his own coffee, and stood up. "Speaking of which, I should close up upstairs. You need anything?"
"No, thanks. Got all I want right here." Jack winked, and Ianto shook his head, smiling.
"I'll be back in a bit." He trailed his bared fingers over the back of Jack's hand, feeling the spark, hearing Jack's breath hitch and seeing his eyes dilate. Jack turned his hand, stroking over Ianto's palm until Ianto's breath caught in return.
"I'll be waiting."