"Well, that's a first," Edmund says as the man rolls off of him and stands up, peering into the darkness with a distant expression on his face, one hand pressed to his ear. Listening to a com and responding, Edmund realizes, and then he notices the gun and the professionalism the man practically wears and the stance - he's a fighter but definitely not military and no training Edmund knows - and puts the pieces together. Ah. Cardiff. Torchwood 3. Edmund sighs as he stands up and brushes himself off. There might not be any way for this to go well.
"And yet you seem remarkably unsurprised by having almost been killed by a bull... man... thing," the man says, the conversation in his ear apparently over as he turns back to Edmund and offers a hand. "Ianto Jones."
"Minotaur," Edmund corrects automatically. "I'm Edmund." He leaves his last name off. No need for Ianto to go back to Torchwood's really super secret base and look him up and cause problems.
"Minotaur? Really?" Ianto says, looking more annoyed than anything.
"It's the roaring thing they do, dead giveaway," Edmund says casually. "And it wasn't the minotaur that surprised me, it was the man in a suit trying to save my life thing. Most men in suits I know would have cheerfully let it trample me, and then probably danced on my grave for good measure."
"Been irritating the wrong people?" Ianto says.
"Oh no, definitely the right people," Edmund says, and Ianto grins just a little bit, a private one that Edmund feels is reserved just for certain people. He's also pretty sure that's exactly what Ianto means him to feel, though, and he returns the smile with his own patented 'I am telling you and only you a secret because you are special' smile. Ianto just looks amused. Bugger.
"I owe you a drink," Ianto says. "You're probably feeling a little bit confused right now."
"Not so much, actually," Edmund says, "but I'm quite all right with a drink. Know any good bars?"
"Part of my job. There's one just a couple blocks from here."
"Quite an interesting job you've got. Minotaur handled, then?" Ianto just nods, a sharp glance sideways his only acknowledgment that Edmund probably shouldn't be asking these questions and making Ianto wonder more than is strictly necessary.
"Here," Ianto says not long after, and ducks into a hardly noticeable door. Edmund follows him more warily, finding himself in a small, cramped-feeling room. Scattered tables are filled, and the people don't give him a second glance. "They don't ask questions, here," Ianto says quietly, and slides into a chair at a table in the right corner, his back to the wall. Edmund hesitates a long moment before taking the chair across from him, feeling the hair at the back of his neck prickling. Another moment and he scoots his chair a quarter around so that his back is to the other wall of the corner. Ianto smiles and tosses him the beer list.
"What sort of questions would they be asking?" Edmund says, glancing over it, and Ianto tilts his head, watching him.
"Oh, things like: Minotaur? Seriously?"
"Oh, that," Edmund says. "Eventually you learn to recognize those sorts of things."
"If you're in places that actually have minotaurs, which would be zero that I know of," Ianto says.
"Why don't we just get drunk?" Edmund suggests, and Ianto holds his gaze for a long moment and then looks down.
"I can do that," he says softly.
"And no Retcon," Edmund adds calmly, ignoring the look of well concealed dismay Ianto is giving him as he asks for a beer.
Two hours later, they're both teetering on the edge of actually being impaired by the alcohol, which is mostly resulting in comments that Ianto tells Edmund are completely inappropriate but Edmund is pretty sure Ianto doesn't actually mind when -
Edmund blinks and looks around him for a long moment at the dark trees of the park. Narrowing his eyes, he turns towards the noise he's already heard once before, and steps forward into the dark at the edge of the path, sidestepping neatly as the minotaur charges at him. It roars past and into the night, and Edmund looks across the path at Ianto, who is standing there looking a little resigned and definitely sober, with an undercurrent of oh for god's sake running across his face.
"Okay, now I'm confused," Edmund says, and Ianto gives one short, sharp nod.
"This is your fault."
"No, it isn't."
"You're the one who walks around carrying alien tech."
"You're the one who won't explain how he knows what a bloody minotaur is."
"That was weak."
"That was weak, but you're shady and you know it."
"It's my job!"
"Quite an interesting job you've got."
"... That's just rude, quoting myself back at me."
"I know you do."
"Okay, just one more minute and then we know if it's happening again."
"You know the specific time we shifted back?"
"I always know what time it is."
"We were drunk. We are drunk!"
"I like watches."
"What sort of person likes watches?"
"I was hoping for some more insight than -"
"I cannot believe we're stuck in a time loop," Edmund says, sitting on the wet ground with his head in his hands. "This is ridiculously horrible."
"And it's not even long enough to do anything fun," Ianto sighs, still standing. There is a long pause, and then Edmund pries his face out of his hands slowly and starts grinning, in that way he has been told more than once is 'terrifying, you have to stop doing that or we won't have any allies left!'
"Or maybe there is," he says, and even Ianto looks suitably impressed by the sheer amount of maniacal glee in Edmund's face and voice.
"Like?" Ianto says, too practical by half. "We really should be trying to figure out what's going on, you know." Edmund's smile falls.
"I'm a civilian," he says. "You can't recruit a civilian to do all your secret organization's dirty work!" Ianto raises pointed eyebrows and takes out a gadget that appears to be scanning... things, and Edmund rolls his eyes. "Not without paying him, at least," he adds, and Ianto sighs.
"You want out, I want out, so help," he says, and Edmund gets up and cracks his neck before stepping into the edge of the brush that the minotaur had come from.
"Right then. I don't think it's a coincidence that the time loops starts just before I disturb the minotaur and he tries to kill me," Edmund says, straining his eyes to see the traces of where the minotaur had been standing. "It can't be. Maybe he started it, and he was worried I was trying to stop him and that's why he charged?"
"Is a minotaur intelligent enough to work sensitive equipment?" Ianto says, closer than Edmund had realized.
"No sneaking up on me," Edmund says, and bends closer to the ground. There's something silver and shiny poking out of the dirt, and he brushes at it to clear the leaves away. "And yes, they are. Intelligent enough to lead entire armies, scary enough to keep them in order. They're multitaskers like that."
"What's that?" Ianto says, now right next to Edmund, and Edmund tugs at it, an entire square of the forest floor opening up to reveal lit squares with writing that looks familiar.
"No idea," Edmund says, rocking back on his heels.
"I recognize the writing, but I haven't learnt it," Ianto says. "I'm going to need references from the Hub." Edmund shakes his head.
"Are they seriously going to believe you when you tell them what's going on?" There's a short pause.
"As it happens, there's been stranger, and I didn't say I'd tell them," Ianto says, but his voice is a little tight and he seems reluctant to actually leave.
"Maybe we can just figure it out from here," Edmund says. "I mean, look. Six squares are glowing, so we just need to figure out how to deactivate them. How hard can it be?"
"I told you that was a stupid thing to say."
"So why don't you want to go to the Hub?" Edmund says over the beer that they brought back to the park, when the fourth loop found them looking at each other and simultaneously saying 'I really need a drink'. "They're your team, yeah?"
"It's… complicated," Ianto says. "Why are we talking about this?"
"Because we already exhausted our other immediate sources of conversation, namely things I refuse to talk about and the Minotaur."
"Oh, so now we're branching into things I refuse to talk about?" Ianto says.
"I guess so," Edmund says. They're both silent for a long time.
"There was an incident," Ianto says quietly. "I did something I shouldn't have, but there wasn't really a choice, because I… I loved her, you see. Only she wasn't what she pretended to be, and people were hurt, and I called Jack a monster, though I think I meant that one, because he really can be and he tried to make me kill her and I think that was taking the lesson a little bit far." He pauses. "Why am I telling you this?"
"Time loops change all the rules," Edmund says, and his stomach tightens, remembering a winter morning a long time ago. Ianto's elbow is warm where it digs into his side, and he takes a breath and lets it out. "I did something like that once. It didn't turn out well."
"Shocking," Ianto deadpans. "And here I thought everyone else got it right."
"Not really," Edmund sighs, and stares at his empty beer bottle. "What's that make, five?"
"Two minutes till the shift," Ianto says.
"Do you think the minotaur's caught up in it too? I mean, he keeps doing the same thing, so maybe he isn't, but if he's the one messing with it…"
"I guess we'll see," Ianto says, and he stands up. "The sudden change is less disconcerting like this," he says just as –
"This may be stranger than cannibals trying to eat you, even," Ianto says thoughtfully, and Edmund crosses the path to stand next to him just as the minotaur ambles out of the forest slowly and all too purposefully, staring at them balefully.
"Yeah, I think he knows what's going on," Edmund says softly, and then, "Wait, cannibals?"
"Now's not the time," Ianto says, pulling out his gun, and Edmund shoves the gun down to point at the forest floor.
"Not a good idea," he hisses, and then steps forward, hands raised to show he doesn't have any weapons.
"Hail and well met," he says cautiously. "I think your machine is malfunctioning. Would you like some help fixing it?" There's not much warning – the minotaur just charges, as deadly and as fast as Edmund remembers, and he feels Ianto slam into him in a desperate attempt to get him out of its path.
"Jack, minotaur! Civilian down!" Ianto yells, tapping his com on as they hit the ground, and Edmund rolls over and realizes that his left shoulder hurts like hell, and that's the feel of a wound that's not going to heal anytime in the near future and it's bleeding all over Ianto's suit, too.
"Where'd it go?" he says, staggering onto his feet, and Ianto rolls over and up on Edmund's right in one fluid motion, wrapping an arm around Edmund's waist to help support him.
"Down to the right," Ianto says. "Okay, we need to get out of here now, in case he comes back. And did you really just try diplomacy with a minotaur?"
"It's worked before! Once. Sort of."
"One of your shining moments, I suppose," Ianto mutters as they walk cautiously down the path, and Edmund laughs and then winces.
"No, not really," he says.
"All right, I think we're good here," Ianto says as they come to an open space. His gaze goes to the distance for a minute, on the com again, and Edmund takes the time to look at his shoulder.
"I really hope time loop actually means time loop, as in my entire body will be fine again next shift," he says. "'Cuz this, this right here is bad. Last time I had something this bad I couldn't move my arm for months."
"Ianto! Been dabbling on the side?" someone says just from his left, and Edmund doesn't even think about it, just uses the momentum of his turn to punch the guy in the nose, and then doubles over gasping in pain from his shoulder.
"… Jack, Edmund, Edmund, Jack," Ianto says. "Edmund, did you just break his nose?"
"Yes, he did!" Jack says, and his voice is muffled. Probably from the blood from his broken nose, Edmund thinks, and can't help but feel satisfied.
"You surprised me. After I got attacked by a minotaur," Edmund says. "I'd think even an idiot would know that's a bad idea."
"Fair point," Ianto says over Jack's indignant muttering, and pushes Edmund down onto a bench. "Okay, let me have a look." He pries Edmund's hand off the wound and sighs. "That is bad, and you're losing a lot of blood. Okay, let's wrap it up and get you to the Hub."
"Hospital, you mean, Ianto?" Jack says, and Ianto shakes his head.
"Hub. He's got some information to help me look up and it really needs doing now."
"I can help you look up information," Jack says, somewhere between peeved and stern, and Ianto takes off his jacket and rips it up without regard into even strips, wrapping them one by one around Edmund's shoulder and tying them tightly, ignoring Edmund's hiss of displeasure.
"Not unless you want to go get gored by a minotaur," Ianto says firmly. "Come on, let's go." He helps Edmund up, setting his shoulders and looking unhappy as he avoids Jack's gaze, and Edmund adds another reason to the list of 'why punching Jack felt really good'.
As it turns out, Jack lets Ianto take Edmund to the car without comment, hopping in after them, and when he catches a glimpse of Edmund's shoulder, even bandaged, his eyebrows raise.
"You haven't passed out because…?" he says, and Edmund grits his teeth, noting that Jack's nose isn't even close to being broken anymore, though there's still some dried blood on his face that he's wiping off.
"Because I am very good at what I do," he says. "Not talking would help, though."
"Pain killers, Jack," Ianto says from the front seat as Jack opens his mouth to ask something, and Jack pulls out a box and rifles through it, taking out a needle and holding it up to Edmund. Edmund takes it from him with his good hand and stabs himself in the thigh with it, biting back the exclamation he feels like making as he presses his head against the back of the seat.
"Thanks," he says, handing the needle back. "Ianto, I've been thinking. It looked almost Arabic in origin, and very close to a language I used to know that was sort of derived from Arabic. Does that sound right to you?"
"I was thinking Arabic, yeah," Ianto says, taking a hard right, and Jack pretends he isn't listening. "There's this script we've seen twice that's clearly a derivative of Arabic that it reminded me of, and we've managed to translate that some. How much do you remember?"
"I'm pretty sure I can recognize all six glowing symbols on sight."
"I'm pretty sure I can recreate all six too, and some of the others," Ianto says, and the tires screech beneath them as he brakes and turns the car off, hopping out and opening Edmund's door. "Let's go." He's surprisingly careful about Edmund's shoulder as he helps him out, and Edmund remembers soldier for a moment, remembers that Ianto spends his time waiting for his team to come home to him, injured and maybe dead.
"I've got it," he tells Ianto. "The pain killer's taking effect."
"Jack, we'll be in the archives," Ianto says, and tugs at Edmund until they're both standing on a slab in the middle of the square. There is a long pause as Jack watches them, lips pressed tight together, and then he presses a button on his wrist band and the slab starts sinking.
"Nobody's going to see us?" Edmund says dubiously, and Ianto shakes his head.
"Perception filter alien doohickeys," he says, and Edmund nods.
"Naturally," Edmund says, and Ianto's mouth twitches.
"Jack'll explain, Owen," Ianto says to the man waiting for them at the bottom. "We've got to get to the archives." Edmund only spares a short glance for the surroundings before he follows Ianto into a really, really huge filing system that makes him want to cry with joy.
"It's so organized," he says almost reverently, and Ianto smiles with pride.
"Part of my job," he says, and gestures to a table. "Be right back with the files we need." Edmund sits down, and true to his word, Ianto shows up in less than a minute carrying two plain manila folders. "Okay, so these are the records for the two artifacts with the writing on them." Taking photos out of the folders, he spreads them across the table, and then takes out a sheaf of papers with rough translation notes written across them.
"That's one of them," Edmund says immediately, pointing it out. "You've got it marked down as meaning four. It makes sense that they're numbers if it's a device for messing about with time."
"Mmhmm, and that's the one that was in the middle. Does that read three or five?" Ianto says, squinting at his own handwriting.
"Five," Edmund says, "Definitely five. I think."
"You think," Ianto says, and rolls his eyes as he looks over the translation notes, pointing to one symbol. "That one wasn't glowing, but it was in the top right corner."
"… justice?" Edmund says. "Why can't they all be numbers? That would be so much easier."
"What's the word justice doing on a time manipulator?" Ianto muses, and Edmund frowns, biting his lip.
"It could be a mistake in translation, or possibly a double meaning," he suggests, and Ianto shakes his head.
"I had help with that portion of the translation from someone who speaks it," he says.
"It wouldn't be slang on such a sensitive machine, either," Edmund says. "So justice is there because… " he pauses, and then shakes his head. "Let's concentrate on the glowing ones," he says. "I think they're the important part for now."
"There, that one was repeated twice," Ianto says. "Six."
"Have you got a pen?" Edmund says, and Ianto takes one out of his pocket and slides it over. Edmund flips over a blank sheet at the bottom of the pile and draws all six symbols quickly, with the numbers they've found below them. "I think that's roughly the order they were in," he says, putting it in the middle of the table. Ianto takes the pen from him and writes the translation for the last two numbers. Seven and two. "So… if the order actually has anything to do with it, seven hundred thousand, five hundred and twenty four."
"It's the number of seconds," Ianto says suddenly, staring at it. "Look. Rearrange the numbers, and you get five hundred forty seven thousand two hundred. That's a hundred fifty two minutes worth of seconds."
"Seriously? You just… know that?" Edmund says.
"I told you I liked watches and numbers," Ianto says. "Edmund, that's the exact amount of time in the shift."
"I know," Edmund says. "So what do we do?"
"Wait for the shift, get the minotaur out, and fix it somehow," Ianto says determinedly, and then Edmund catches his eye.
"And we're fixing it how?" he says, and Ianto's mouth twitches.
"You just had to ask that, didn't you," he says, and Edmund nods.
An hour and forty five minutes later, they've assembled what they think is an accurate translation of the parts of the key pad they can remember, interrupted only by Ianto getting them both some of the best coffee Edmund's ever had and a trip to the infirmary for Edmund after Owen loses patience and drags him out of the archives to poke and prod at his shoulder and stab him with needles containing more pain killers and antibiotics and rewrap the bandage with clean gauze and cream and some stitches, muttering to himself about Ianto's questionable taste in people or something similar the whole time.
"So where'd you learn this language?" Ianto says casually, and Edmund continues to examine the photos of a vase that he recognizes as Calormene, probably belonging to a judge going by the inscription, and wonders how exactly to answer that question.
"I used to speak Arabic," he says cautiously, and Ianto smiles, just a flicker, and Edmund knows that this is Ianto's real smile, the one he reserves for friends, and he can't help but smile back.
"I know a cover story when I hear one," Ianto says, and Edmund's not sure how he's going to answer that either until Ianto just leans back, still smiling. "And I know when to let one go."
"Thank you," Edmund says, and then clears his throat and asks, "where did these come from?"
"Through a rift in time and space that runs through Cardiff," Ianto says. "We monitor it, which is how we picked them up. Honestly, we've no idea where they came from."
"Ah," Edmund says, and he wonders what else from Narnia has bled through into Cardiff. He wonders if there's any way to find out, and thinks probably not, because how would he describe what he's looking for?
"Hey," Ianto says, leaning forward after a quick glance at his watch. "This time, don't walk towards the minotaur with the big scary horns, you – "
"You were going to say?" Edmund says, crossing the path quickly as Ianto raises his gun.
"Nothing," Ianto says.
"So minotaurs don't like being shot at! Who'd have guessed?" Edmund says, and Ianto slams his fist into a tree in frustration.
"That should have killed him," he says. "We should be fixing the damn time machine right now, not just trying to put as much distance between us and a minotaur as we can."
"At least my shoulder's fine now, because that really wasn't fun."
"There are bigger problems here, Edmund!"
"Clearly, we need a break," Edmund says.
"Ah," Ianto says, and pauses. "Okay."
"How many bars do you think we can get kicked out of in two hours?" Edmund says, and Ianto laughs.
"Well we're on five with an hour and fifteen minutes left to go, so… a lot?"
"Oh ho! Have your numbers deserted you?"
"Never," Ianto says, his face earnest and dismayed, and Edmund doesn't really think about it, he just leans forward and kisses Ianto, tugging him closer with one hand on the back of his neck. He pulls away sooner than he'd like, sliding his hand off.
"Sorry," he says.
"What for?" Ianto says, and they stand there watching each other for a moment before Ianto smiles. "My apartment's two minutes that way," he says, and Edmund smiles back.
"Did you plan this or something?" he says, and Ianto just shrugs, looking almost innocent, and starts walking away.
"So, run, get better weapons, head back and fix this?" Edmund says, and Ianto nods.
"Sounds like a plan," he says.
"Well, we already had one of those, and that didn't go so – "
"Does it always have to interrupt me midsentence?" Edmund says as they rifle through the back of the Torchwood SUV. "Also, where's Jack?"
"Busy chasing weevils most likely, which is what we were originally here to do." Ianto holsters his pistol and sheathes a knife before picking up a larger gun. Edmund picks out a stun gun and then takes the semi-automatic Ianto forces on him. "It's all well and good trying to save his life, but you've got to have a second option too," he says, and Edmund accepts it.
Ianto presses the button they've both decided means 'clear' and they wait together in the dark around the machine they dug out of the ground.
"That was clever of you, luring the minotaur out to where Jack could catch it again," Ianto says.
"Thanks," Edmund says, and shifts nervously. Ianto keeps his gaze on his watch.
"Any second now," he says.
"Hey," Edmund says. "You be cautious with Jack. He's not safe."
"I already knew that," Ianto says.
"Yeah," Edmund says. "Oh, and while I'm telling you things you already know? That Owen is an ass."
"Mm, really? I never noticed," Ianto says, and Edmund smiles.
"I'll see you around, Ianto Jones," he says.
"Just don't stand around the Plaza looking forlorn, it doesn't make a good impression," Ianto says, and Edmund nods and turns to leave. He looks back after a block, and Ianto's gone.
He wouldn't be the sort to just stand and wait, Edmund thinks, and keeps walking.