"I don't see how you could have taken a wrong turn!" the man screamed in increasingly high-pitched decibels. His accent was broad and flat – American, Ianto thought immediately, and rather uncharitably.
He didn't have anything against Americans in specific – he liked Captain Jack well enough – but Americans in general made his skin crawl under his perfectly pressed suit. It was generalizing, but they always seemed to be so wide and selfish and loud.
The inner door to the pub was shoved open with enough force to jostle the ancient wood against the stone wall. The screamer – a man was broad as his voice, pale and short of hair but sharp of features - added over his shoulder: "Scotland, north. Wales, west. Shouldn't your internal sheep-compass help with that?"
"Shut it, Rodney!" another man sniped back , coming in after the screamer and pausing to have the decency to close the door against the Welsh winter. "I've been driving on your side of the road for the last three years, now havenna I?"
His accent marked him Scottish, though it was mellow, almost American itself. Probably had something to do with the three years he'd just claimed to have spent overseas. The shouter – Rodney – stormed over to the bar, a flurry of snowflakes whipping off his bare head and shoulders in his wake, drifting to the threadbare carpets, leaving little puddles where they touched down. He dropped down into an empty stool two over from Ianto with a scowl worthy, Ianto thought, of Janet the Weevil.
The bloke who sounded Scottish stomped in the other direction, away from the bar and towards the side where the attached inn's check in counter was. He leaned over the counter to talk in soft tones with the young woman behind the cash machine.
Rodney the Screamer was muttering under his breath as he shed his coat, craning his head so beady blue eyes could sweep across the length of the bar. "Goddamn bloody Scottish stubbornness and can I please get some service here?!" He slapped his palm against the elbow-worn bartop.
Ianto winced on behalf of Howell, the barkeep. He was a calm, steady man who rushed for no one. That's why Ianto liked Howell's pub. Calm. Steady. Quiet.
Howell's leisurely pace inflamed Rodney the Screamer's already rancid mood, so when he ordered, it was two pints of "the closest piss you've got to good beer."
When Howell sauntered away, Ianto turned to Rodney the Screamer and said in his softest, most soothing, helpful, 'yessir Captain Jack' voice: "Lost?"
It was a dumb, dumb thing to do and Ianto regretted it instantly. That's what he got for thinking he could maybe try to help out a couple of lost tourists. Rodney the Screamer whipped around and narrowed balefully icy eyes. "Genius one, you are. Mensa member, are you? And how many PhDs do you hold?"
Ianto blinked. "One, actually," he admitted, running one finger around the rim of his pint glass. "Criminal psychology."
Not that I need it as a teaboy.
Rodney the Screamer blinked. "Uh...really? I... uh... Oh." He deflated a little. He squinched the corner of his crooked mouth for a brief second, then puffed out a sigh. The beer arrived, and Rodney the Screamer groped blindly for his mug, took a long swig, and set it back down on the bar.
Ianto smiled. "How many do you have?"
"Three," the man said absently, tapping arpeggios on the side of the mug with dexterous, blunt fingers. "Astrophysics, math, engineering."
Inato didn't need to fake being impressed. He lifted his glass to Rodney the Screamer and saluted.
Rodney the Screamer drained the rest of his beer and ordered another. The second one by his elbow sat untouched and getting warm, which was sort of a jerky thing to do to a friend, Ianto thought, but Rodney the Screamer was still pretty pissed.
"American, are you?" Ianto asked conversationally as Rodney the Screamer's second beer was coming.
Rodney the Screamer looked as if he was about to wind himself back up, then just sighed and rubbed his eyes instead. He looked exhausted, and by the sounds of the argument as he and his friend has stormed in, it had been a long and frustrating day.
"Canadian," Rodney the Screamer corrected wearily.
Ianto sipped his own beer. "What you doin' in Cardiff?"
Rodney the Screamer growled. Actually growled. "Carson the mamma's boy wanted to see his mum before we went back to At-" he said, caught himself, and changed his answer. "Back to work, that is."
Ianto narrowed his eyes, catching the dialating pupils, the nervous lip lick, all the signs of lies and secrets. He didn't have a PhD in Crim. Psyche for nothing. "Where do you work? What do you do, I mean?"
Rodney the Screamer snorted. "Clean up other people's shit, apparently," Rodney the Screamer snarled, gesturing at the back of his Scottish friend, Carson.
Ianto blinked and set down his glass. "With three PhDs?"
"Even with," Rodney the Screamer conceded.
Ianto sighed heavily. "No hope for me then."
For the first time, Rodney the Screamer seemed to look at Ianto and actually see him. "Yeah?" He said, and the that sucks was unspoken but no less present. "Where?"
"Doorchwort," Ianto rattled off unthinkingly, the anagram code name for the special ops base. On the outside it was a tourist information booth, and on paper it was Doorchwort Fine Antiques, and in reality it was the Torchwood Hub. Nice and circular and confusing.
Rodney the Screamer started on the stool so badly he nearly dropped his beer. Carefully he set it down, licked his lips once, and then leaned in to whisper: "Torchwood? It's real?"
Ianto narrowed his eyes and leaned in himself. Casually he put his free hand into his coat pocket, but gripped his cell phone carefully out of sight. Just in case he needed to get up and run. He could call and run at the same time. His other hand tightened on his beer, ready to smash Rodney the Screamer in the temple if necessary.
"How do you know about Torchwood?" Ianto hissed.
Rodney the Screamer grinned. "I work for the deep space telemetry project out of Cheyenne Mountain."
Ianto gawped. "The Stargate Program?" Pole-axed, Ianto barely registered that his mouth was hanging open in rather an undignified way. He knew he was staring at Rodney the Screamer like an idiot but...
... a real live scientist with the SGC.
Having a beer with Ianto Jones.
Ianto had read files of course: information about body-stealing aliens and god-like ascended beings. Torchwood had access to every alien-themed debriefing file that the English government got from the Americans, and a few that the Prime Minister never laid eyes on.
Ianto Jones had read them all. There was precious little else to do between coffee runs and the times when he had to go out and cut up corpses. Ianto knew them inside and out.
But to meet a real member of the project.
A project that went out there and did it. Didn't just sit and wait for the Rift-Shit to float to them. If the SGC was saving the world, then Torchwood was the sanitation service.
Rodney the Screamer said he and Carson were headed back to work after this visit. To the mountain? To an offworld base?
Ianto felt a surge of jealousy – to be out there, doing it instead of just... making coffee and sneaking in quickies with Captain Jack and cleaning up everyone's mistakes...
"Ianto Jones," Ianto said, quickly recovering himself and sticking out a hand. It never, never hurt to network. Rodney the Screamer took it and they shook. "Please, let me buy you a drink. If half the stuff they say about you people is true, I owe you my life, a few times over."
Rodney the Screamer chuckled. "If half of what they say about you people is true, then I owe you the same."
The folks at the SGC not only knew about Torchwood... they respected them?
That was almost too crazy for Ianto to accept, so he blinked and smiled and pretended he hadn't heard it, while secretly pressing the words into his heart, to cherish, to take out and look over, to distract himself with the next time he had to go dredge up a bay or scramble a dead person's face.
The SGC respected Torchwood.
Carson came back then, took one scathing look at the cozy scene, and dropped down into the stool on the far side of Rodney the Screamer from Ianto. "Bloody unfair," he said. He picked up the beer that Rodney the Screamer had left for him, took a sip, then grimaced. "It's warm, Rodney! Some friend!"
Rodney the Screamer replied. What the reply was, Ianto never knew, because his cell began to ring. He listened to Captain Jack on the other end, said "yes sir," and that was the end of his free time, at least until this new complication was dealt with.
"Oh, hey," Rodney the Screamer said as Ianto stood, put on his coat, and turned to walk away. He grabbed Ianto's sleeve and slipped a business card into his hand. "Just in case... you know, if there's a 'foothold' or something. You need us, you know."
Ianto looked at the card. It said Doctor M. Rodney McKay, Cheyenne Mountain, NORAD. Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.
Ianto fished in his pocket and retrieved his own slim card case. His card read Ianto Jones, Doorchwort Fine Antiques. Cardiff, Wales.
"And you call me," he said, "in case you need someone who knows how to clean up shit."
Rodney the Screamer smiled, the first real smile Ianto had seen on his face since he walked in the door. "Maybe I will, if you promise to bring some of your case files and goodies with you. We seem to be getting ourselves knee-deep lately."
He shared a knowing smile with Rodney the Screamer, and then Ianto was out in the chill winter night, saving the world again. A new job with the Americans, he thought. Possibly. For right now, he had work to do.
He'd save the world tonight in his own way – with industrial strength coffee and silly rhyming names, and when it was all over, Jack and the stopwatch.
Ianto liked Torchwood. Even if he wasn't respected. Yet. Torchwood was.
Someone out there appreciated them, and for tonight, that was enough to get Ianto through whatever strange, bloody, thing was trying to get through the Rift this time.
And when Jack saw Rodney the Screamer's card, he was going to be so jealous.