Torchwood One Archive

Author's Note: I moved canon around a bit because I needed Martha, but wanted to avoid Dead!Owen angst. So I simply had her show up earlier for reasons unexplored. Cope.

~~~

Ianto wriggled backwards in the bed, smiling as his naked arse pressed up against Jack's groin. Jack snugged his arm more tightly around Ianto's chest, but groaned as if annoyed. "What, again?" he whispered, though it was obvious he was anything but annoyed.

"I'm just trying to get comfortable," Ianto said, grinning into the darkness of the bedroom. They'd shut out the lights in Jack's room -- an hour? two? -- before and there were no lights at all streaming down through the open hatchway.

"Go to sleep," Jack said in a sleepy voice, breath tickling Ianto's neck. But then Ianto laughed as Jack's tongue touched the tip of his ear.

"I thought you were sleepy," Ianto protested, making no effort to move away.

"I'm helping you get comfortable."

"Bollocks." Ianto closed his eyes -- then yelped as a hand squeezed his testicles.

"I can lick those, too, if you want." Jack sounded very much awake, but Ianto was surprised to find that certain parts of his anatomy were too tired to engage in Jack's suggestion -- normally they perked right up at the mere mention of Jack. Actually, most of his anatomy wanted a nice, long nap, as long as he didn't have to get out of bed and go home in order to do so.

He'd often slept the night in Jack's bed before. Before Jack left. When he'd returned, they'd slowly moved into some kind of relationship where they dated during the day, formally and somewhat awkwardly, and at night they had sex like old lovers who fit together like a hand in a glove. Or a hand in-between someone's legs, Ianto amended silently. He squeezed his thighs tight around Jack's hand, and Jack laughed softly.

Ianto had no idea what to make of this makeshift relationship. During the day, they were still finding their place with one another. But as soon as the clothes started coming off, it was as if Jack had never gone. He wondered sometimes if they were lying to themselves, and if so, which was the facade. Perhaps it didn't matter; it seemed like they were on their way to bringing the two parts of their lives together -- sex and emotion, he supposed it was. Acting like they were in love until they were, or acting like they weren't until it felt safe enough to admit what they'd been all along.

Ianto had no idea, and as Jack's fingers began inching their way up his stomach as if searching for clues, he found himself hoping they had time. Time for them to cement whatever it was, into whatever it should be, before-- Sometimes he thought himself cruel, letting Jack love him when Jack would outlive him by uncountable years. But who else would be able to love him, Ianto consoled himself, but a man who expected to lose his lover young?

Ianto turned in Jack's arms, surprising Jack but silencing him immediately with a kiss. He might be too worn out for sex, but had faith Jack would only take a slow response as a challenge. Ianto tried to hold himself back, fighting the sudden sense of urgency, but Jack was pulling at him, drawing him into a deeper kiss, encouraging the wild change in mood with hands and tongue and long, happy moans.

Ianto's head ached and he closed his eyes against the darkness of the room. He focused on the scent of their bodies, sweat and sex on the sheets, and the enthusiastic noises coming from Jack's throat, and pushed all thoughts away of anything -- everything -- else.

It would simply have to be enough time.

~~~

It was the third quiet day in a row when the door to the Tourist Office opened; Ianto looked up and sighed. The only thing which had been marring the day was the persistent buzz of a headache; now things were going to get a lot worse.

The Doctor stood inside the door of the tourist office grinning widely at him, looking for all the world as if nothing were wrong. Ianto stopped himself from flicking on the telly to catch the news; chances were he'd find out faster by just going downstairs.

With a still-friendly smile, the Doctor said, "Hello! Here I am." He looked exactly like the photo Martha had shown him, but that told Ianto nothing, really, about where in anyone's personal timeline the Doctor had come from. At least he wasn't shouting about invading aliens, Ianto mused. That meant they had at least a few minutes before disaster struck.

"Yes, sir," Ianto said, and waited. The Doctor continued to smile at him patiently, if expectantly. Then he quirked one eyebrow up as if to say, get on with it. Ianto frowned. "Were we expecting you?"

He didn't know whether or not to be frustrated with the lack of warning. Jack hadn't mentioned the Doctor's arrival and God knew he'd had enough chances; over the last week they'd barely been out of each other's sight for more than half an hour. Not that they hadn't been busy doing other things for most of that time; a quiet few days led to everyone else being sent home to enjoy a mid-week holiday while Jack and Ianto spent time at the Hub doing anything but working. Anything, everything, and a few things Ianto was fairly sure Jack had invented on the spot. But there had been conversation as well, and if Jack had wanted to alert Ianto that the Doctor would be arriving soon, he'd certainly had his chances.

The Doctor was looking at him, confused. "Aren't you? Isn't Martha here?"

"Yes, of course." Ianto nodded with a glimmer of relief. Perhaps Jack hadn't been the one responsible after all. "She's just downstairs." He paused, then asked, "Excuse me, but is the world about to end?"

The Doctor blinked. "Not that I'm aware of."

"Aliens attacking? Sun exploding? Gareth Jenkins is an alien?"

"No, no, and yes but it's no excuse for losing the match to Fiji."

"It does explain a few things about the rugby team, however," Ianto said, and stepped over to press the blue button that would open the door to the Hub. He didn't bother calling down -- even if Jack wasn't already watching the CCTV, Ianto was fairly sure the Doctor had standing permission to enter Jack's Torchwood base.

The Doctor gave him a happy grin and preceded Ianto towards the stairs. Ianto quickly locked up the Tourist Office and followed him down, hiding the concern he felt. Jack had only been returned for less than two months and the team was just settling in to something like a comfortable routine. Gwen had more or less returned control of the team to Jack and the team was more or less willing to follow Jack's orders again.

Professionally, Torchwood was doing fine and personally...Ianto didn't want to think about what the Doctor's return meant. As he walked down the long staircase, watching the back of the Doctor's head with as impassive an expression as he could manage, Ianto tried very hard not to think about it.

He and Jack had been on two actual dates since that night Jack had asked him and they'd resumed their sexual relationship with vigor. Ianto's legs were still sore from last night's vigor, and the long walk down the stairs now wasn't really helping any. Jack had offered to rub them that morning when Ianto had moaned about it before crawling out of Jack's bed; at the moment Ianto was regretting turning him down.

That won't get the coffee made," Ianto had said, smiling and enjoying a leisurely kiss before freeing himself from his lover's grip. Jack had laughed as Ianto climbed up the ladder wearing only a pair of socks. Coffee and a bit of a lie-in had made the day seem just about perfect.

Two hours later and his world was about to be turned upside-down.

He didn't say a word as they finally reached the bottom, waiting as the cog door rolled open. Ianto followed the Doctor into the Hub proper, not bothering to announce their arrival. Two steps in and he heard Martha's happy voice shout, "Doctor!"

Ianto watched as Martha greeted the Doctor with an enthusiastic hug; moments later she stepped back and Jack was there beside them. Ianto couldn't tell if it was his imagination, or if Jack hesitated before stepping up and collecting a hello hug of his own.

"What brings you here?" Jack asked, his joyous smile fading to a look of concern. "We're not about to be under attack are we?"

"No, no -- what is it with you people, always assuming there's some galaxy-wide disaster on hand just because I make an appearance?" The Doctor sounded relaxed, but Ianto kept his attention on Jack. It was clear by his body language that Jack wasn't convinced. Ianto moved down the stairs a bit, edging slightly closer, ready to grab...whatever would end up being needed once the Doctor explained his visit.

"Because we know you," Martha was saying, though from what Ianto could tell, she wasn't as worried as Jack was. "Now what's going on?" She narrowed her eyes, poking one finger at the Doctor's chest.

"I'm here because you asked me," the Doctor said, and Ianto saw both Jack and Martha's eyes go wide.

"We did?" Jack asked.

Ianto moved closer, walking around to stand just behind Tosh's workstation. He could see the Doctor's profile now, see the satisfied, happy grin on the Doctor's face as he explained, "Martha did. Sent me a text message, asking me to come pick her up for her birthday. And here I am!"

Martha and Jack exchanged a look, then Martha said, "I haven't sent you any text message, Doctor. And my birthday isn't for another five months."

The Doctor looked at her in what Ianto thought might have been genuine surprise. "Five months? This isn't December?"

"It's July," Jack said. "2008," he added after only a slight hesitation.

"Ah. Oops? Well, you will send me a text, asking me to come around. Still, I got the right year anyway. So, how about it? Dinner, dancing, Morifrair Nebula?" He rubbed his hands together briskly in anticipation.

With a laugh, Martha said, "You really just came around to take me out for my birthday? Really?"

The Doctor shrugged, and Ianto still watched Jack's face. It had closed off, ever so slightly and Ianto couldn't guess as to the reason behind it. The Doctor said, "Why not? Even if it isn't technically your birthday yet; here I am, here you are, and there the Morifrair Nebula is, just waiting for a good excuse to have a good time."

"Don't jinx it," Martha scolded him. "And yes, I'd love to! As long as we're back here today! I've got a lot of work to do." She looked over at Jack. "Although perhaps if I take you with me, I won't have to worry about missing half a day of work."

Jack's eyebrows went up in a look of surprise. He started to smile; Ianto held himself tightly. He kept himself still as Jack said, "I'd love to," but he spoke with a tentativeness Ianto had rarely heard from him. Captain Jack Harkness simply didn't do hesitation or self-doubt.

In fact, the only time Ianto could remember hearing that particular tone before was in an office late at night, Jack leaning towards him from across the room to ask him oh so carefully on a date. He didn't understand what was causing that tone now, but Ianto could feel his heart racing. He gripped the edge of the worktable, fully aware of how none of them had so much as glanced over his way.

There was a silent moment of time that seemed to stretch out forever and Ianto could just begin to see something dark appear in Jack's eyes. Then the Doctor clapped Jack easily on the arm and said, "Of course! If you want to. More the merrier!"

With an obvious look of relief, Jack laughed. "Dinner and dancing at the Morifrair Nebula? Wait -- what century?" He gave the Doctor a suspicious look, but Ianto could see the teasing behind it. He told himself to breathe, but he wasn't sure it was working. His headache was pounding harder.

"42nd century, of course," the Doctor replied, sounding affronted, but it was clear he knew he was being teased.

"Oh, I am so in," Jack said, leaning back and clapping his hands together. He and Martha exchanged delighted grins and Ianto's grip on the table edge tightened. The three of them looked so comfortable together.

"So you'll be gone the day, then?"

They turned towards Gwen who was standing halfway across the main area. Ianto was struck by how closely the other three were standing, like they were inside a police box that wasn't bigger on the inside. He had a brief image of the TARDIS being, in fact, just that small inside despite everything he'd heard or read and had to stifle a laugh.

But Gwen was looking at Jack with a distinctly unamused expression. Arms folded in front of her, glaring at Jack and making it clear her displeasure was all for him alone.

"We'll be back this afternoon," Martha began, but subsided as Gwen didn't so much as glance her way.

"At least he's telling us," Ianto found himself saying, shocked at his words and focusing on Gwen, carefully avoiding looking over at Jack. Gwen met his eyes and he found a sense of horrible relief that she understood how he felt.

"I'm coming back," Jack began. "It's one night."

It was unfair of them, Ianto knew. What little Jack had said about his last trip with the Doctor, it was still clear to Ianto that Jack had made his decision to return to Cardiff. Ianto had gathered that things had not been as rosy and wonderful with the Doctor as Jack had been hoping, and certainly he had seemed content to rebuild his life here, with Torchwood Three. And himself.

At least it had been clear before the Doctor returned and Jack suddenly had that look on his face. The appeal of 21st century Earth had to pale against the chance to travel with the Doctor one more time. Ianto couldn't fight the fear burning deep inside him that it would be a mistake to let Jack walk out of there with the Doctor. The fact the Doctor was five months off from a simple birthday was evidence enough that being gone for only one night, one morning, was anything but a certainty.

Jack was staring at him and Ianto tried to meet his gaze calmly. "Do you want me not to go?" Jack asked and Ianto felt his mouth drop open.

Seconds ticked and he knew he could say it. Would Jack really stay, if he asked? Should he?

But even as he formed the question in his mind, Ianto shook his head. He had no claims on Jack Harkness -- none that would forbid him from what should, by rights, be a simple thing. A night out for a friend's birthday, and forget for the moment it was to another galaxy and another century. "It's all right," he said, grateful his voice didn't shake. He ignored the worry screaming in his ear that Jack might not return. That'd he'd discover he'd made a mistake in giving up the universe and all of time to stay in Cardiff. Ianto stuffed down the voice that asked what he had to compare to such marvels, to entice Jack into coming back. He'd fought it often enough in Jack's absence, drowned it in work and drink and things he had hoped one day he could confess to Jack and seek forgiveness for.

"Go, have your fun," Ianto said, forcing himself to sound perfectly fine despite the way Jack's eyes narrowed at him as if he knew exactly what Ianto was feeling. He tried to smile, let him know it really was all right, but he couldn't quite manage it.

Martha gave a huff of breath. "Oh for -- Doctor, why don't we just bring them with us? It's my birthday we're celebrating. I can invite friends to my birthday dinner."

Ianto and Gwen stared at her. Jack's eyes had gone wide again, looking at the Doctor like he was afraid to say a word to help convince him. The Doctor looked around at all of them and Ianto saw Gwen taking a silent, deep breath.

"Besides," Martha continued breezily, "If we don't take Ianto with us, Jack will just spend the whole evening pining."

Jack looked surprised. "I don't pine-"

"Oh, please," Martha interrupted. "You were pining the whole time we were traveling." She waved a hand. "You even scratched yours and his initials into the TARDIS' wall."

"I didn't!" Jack protested, sounding...not nearly as scandalised as Ianto thought he would have if he hadn't actually done so.

"You did what?" the Doctor demanded, but Ianto was suddenly not paying him any attention. Jack tried to brush off Martha's words, but halfway through his eyes met Ianto's, and Ianto could see his words fairly stutter to a stop. Ianto tried not to grin.

"Pining for me?" he asked, cheekily as he could against the loop-de-loop of emotion that was hitting him.

Jack shrugged casually, but the look on his face was anything but. "Maybe," was all he said, but his smile was saying something else. Ianto started to accept the invitation when he realised -- there hadn't been one, yet. He looked to the Doctor.

The Doctor just smiled, slowly. "Well, we don't want Jack pining, do we? Come on, then, both of you. All of you -- let's be off!"

Ianto saw Gwen jump, running past him for her own workstation. "What about Tosh and Owen?" she asked him, keeping her voice low.

"Owen's still got the flu," Ianto said. "I don't think he'd want an alien dinner."

"Tosh is just pulling into the parking garage," Jack said, directly behind them making them both jump. "We'll collect her on the way out." He turned, looked over at the Doctor and Ianto could see a question, or perhaps an apology, on Jack's face. But the Doctor just smiled once more.

"You'll be paying the tab, Captain."

Jack laughed, and the sound made Ianto slip his hand into Jack's. "I'll be glad to," Jack said, as his fingers tightened on Ianto's.

"At least this way he won't be flirting with everything that moves," Martha said.

"Of course he will," Ianto told her, not making the slightest effort to pull his hand free. "And at the most inappropriate times."

He ignored Jack's attempts to protest this -- they all did, as Gwen gathered her purse and jacket and Ianto switched the Hub's automatic systems to 'empty nest.' He really had no idea when the Doctor would have them back, whether a few hours as promised or a few months as Ianto secretly suspected. He gave the Hub a quick glance, found Jack watching him with a distinctly amused expression.

"Everything's in order, sir," he said carefully.

"What have I told you about calling me 'sir'?" Jack asked, as they headed for the stairs.

Ianto faked reading off a mental list. "Only when we're off-duty, alone, and you've already tied--" He stopped as Jack's glare sharpened, ignoring Gwen and Martha's stifled laughter. Ianto gave Jack an unperturbed smile and wasn't surprised at all when Jack kissed him.

Perhaps the day would turn out rather well, after all.

~~~

Convincing Tosh to join them hadn't been difficult; Ianto surmised it was because they'd only said 'Come with us,' and none of them had actually thought to say it was for dinner, not an emergency. Once inside, Tosh and Gwen had stood just inside the TARDIS doors, staring up and around at everything for several long moments. Privately, Ianto had bet Gwen would say it first, but Tosh had been the one to finally observe that it was larger on the inside.

Martha had taken the girls in hand for a quick orientation of the TARDIS' consoles and displays, inviting Ianto to join them but he'd found he preferred remaining by Jack's side and watching from a distance. He finally found himself beginning to relax, hand still closed in Jack's.

"You didn't seem very surprised," Jack said, drawing him away to the side of the room until they were more or less alone. Jack had initially invited Ianto to go on a 'private tour' but Ianto knew that look quite well and had turned him down.

"Plenty of time for that later," he'd said, and Jack had only leered.

"Torchwood One had quite the file on the TARDIS," Ianto said, looking around the room again as he answered Jack's question. "There weren't any photos, of course, but there was rather a lot of detail. The Archive is quite...crammed full of stuff about the TARDIS." He tried not to actively think about the information in the Archive, not wanting to get distracted. Seeing the TARDIS in person trumped anything that would be in the Torchwood files at any rate.

He didn't want to admit that he, too, felt like staring with his mouth gaping open like Gwen and Toshiko, but he wanted to maintain a little bit of dignity. For now -- he seemed to always lose his dignity whenever Jack started removing his clothing and he suspected that would happen before the day was over. He didn't really think he could be blamed for that one weakness, however.

Ianto rubbed one finger absently alongside his temple; he'd neglected earlier to grab a paracetamol for his headache, though he knew from experience it would barely have an effect. The look on Jack's face was enough to banish any concern for his headache; Ianto watched him for a moment, enjoying the sheer delight on his lover's face.

How Jack had ever been able to give this up, he couldn't imagine. Ianto knew, somehow, that he shouldn't ask. He opened his mouth to tease Jack about the expression on his face, and instead he just leaned forward and gave Jack a kiss. "This will be our third real date," he said, when Jack finally let him come up for air.

"I'm not sure how I'm going to top this one." Jack gave him a slightly-screwed up smile. "I should have thought of that before accepting the Doctor's invitation."

"You've never had a problem topping before," Ianto said, pleased at the way Jack's laugh seemed to jolt right out of him. Ianto found himself being pulled in close, pressed tightly against Jack. It was, he had to admit, one of his favorite places to be.

"Oh yes, this is clearly better," the Doctor said, from somewhere behind them. Ianto glanced over, and the Doctor made a shooing motion as he moved over, pointing at one of the displays Martha had been explaining. He said something to Toshiko, then looked back up at he and Jack. "At least I won't have to keep him from flirting with all the visiting dignitaries who will end up either marrying him to their offspring, or arresting him for crimes against the throne. Or both."

Ianto frowned at Jack, who tried to look blameless. "I never...once, but it wasn't...hey, Ianto, why don't I show you whatever bedroom pops up first?"

"Won't we be arriving at the Morifrair Nebula soon?"

"We'll be landing in five minutes," the Doctor said. "But I'm afraid I haven't put us on the waiting list for dinner."

"So we have a couple hours," Jack said, and that grin slowly appeared. That grin went directly to the base of Ianto's spine and made his nerve endings feel things he wasn't sure 21st century humans were meant to feel. Jack stepped back and tugged on Ianto's hand. "Come on. I bet the TARDIS gives us a bedroom less than five steps away from the control room."

"You're saying the TARDIS approves of sex?" Ianto asked, and he found himself distracted even as Jack tugged him out of the control room. He'd read the files on the TARDIS, of course. Seen all the transcripts and videos of interviews, seen the drawings and conjectured architectural blueprints. He knew how the TARDIS re-arranged itself according to some whim that apparently only the TARDIS was aware of. Jack himself had told Ianto about losing his bedroom on one occasion, wandering the hallways while alternatively flirting with and begging the TARDIS to just give him something he could lie down on. He'd ended up at Rose's room, and Jack had never satisfactorily finished that story.

"I think the TARDIS likes the Doctor well enough to give him what he wants, and he knows that we'll end up having sex in the hallway if we don't find a bedroom quickly." Jack pulled him down the hallway, and Ianto counted the steps.

"I heard that!" the Doctor called after them. "And you're exactly right!"

It was six steps before a door opened. Jack grinned and said, "She doesn't like being predictable, either." Then he drew Ianto inside and there was just enough time to see a normal-looking bedroom, with a normal bed in the center, before Jack was kissing him again.

~~~

"It's about time," Martha said as Ianto followed Jack into the control room. He'd decided not to be bothered by the fact they'd walked nearly five times as far to get back to the control room as they'd gone to get to it. He'd spent the entire walk back fending off Jack's wandering hands, and he gave his suit jacket one more tug to make sure he looked presentable despite Jack's best efforts to rumple him.

"Some things can't be rushed," Jack said, and Ianto was once again grateful he didn't blush easily.

"Have we been called to our table?" Ianto asked, still trying to -- or pretend that he as trying to -- ignore Jack's hand tugging at his jacket button. He caught sight of Toshiko, bent over one of the TARDIS' displays, and held back a smile. They might not be able to get her out of the TARDIS long enough for her to eat dinner.

"I called ahead," the Doctor said, nodding. He leaned over and said to Tosh, "That's the multi-translucent-harmonisation-calibrator."

Tosh's eyes went wide, and Ianto made a mental note to get her carry-out. Then he frowned. "Did you just make that up?"

"Of course not!" The Doctor looked mildly offended. Then he shrugged. "Simplified it a bit. Ape brains, you lot. Still, does the trick. Come on, dinner's waiting!"

Ianto turned his confused scowl to Jack, who just grinned and gave him an apologetic shrug. "You get used to it," Jack said. Then Jack tugged Ianto's hand, and reached over to take a hold of Toshiko's hand, dragging her away from the console. "You can stare at it on the trip back," he promised her.

"I'm really not hungry," she said, letting herself be pulled but not looking away from the displays. "I had breakfast half an hour ago. I could wait here--"

"You're coming with us," Martha said, intervening by taking Toshiko's other hand. "We'll find you someone to dance with and work up an appetite." She stopped and scowled at Jack. "I don't mean like that."

"What? I didn't say anything."

"No, but you were thinking it," Ianto told him. He headed for the door where Gwen and the Doctor were waiting, tugging Jack after him. "You're always thinking it." He gave Jack a smile over his shoulder -- and caught Jack's eyes focused downward. "You can look at my arse while I dance with Gwen and Toshiko," he offered. Jack beamed at him and Ianto rolled his eyes. "I did mean one at a time, you know."

Turning away from him, Ianto stepped through the doorway into whatever dinner and dancing experience was waiting for them...and stopped. Gwen and the Doctor were standing in a hallway, looking around. Gwen didn't seem exactly impressed. Ianto had to admit, he agreed with the look on her face.

"All right, where are we?" Martha asked. Ianto glanced back to see her hands on her hips, glaring at the Doctor. Behind her, Toshiko was looking around her, almost managing to hide her disappointment behind a polite expression of interest.

"We're at the Morifrair Nebula! I checked when we landed!" The Doctor looked put out as he strode over to a blank screen hanging on the otherwise blank wall. They watched as he took out his sonic screwdriver and turned the screen on. Ianto couldn't make sense of the data, or even the alphabet, that appeared -- his first and so far only clue that they'd landed someplace alien. Suddenly the Doctor frowned. "Oh. Well, that would explain it."

"Explain what?" Martha demanded.

The Doctor turned around and tried smiling at them all. In Ianto's opinion, it didn't seem very reassuring. "We've landed at the Rifin Lad Hub in Sector Four of the Morifrair Nebula. Exactly as I'd planned. But in 4491, instead of 4194. The place has been deserted for years by now!" The Doctor grinned as though missing by nearly three hundred years was no big deal. He glanced at the walls, sliding on fingertip down the spot nearest him. "Nice to see the place hasn't gone under with dust and corrosion."

"Doctor, you said dinner and dancing." Martha glared at him.

"And we will! We'll just get back on the TARDIS and go back a bit. That would explain why no one confirmed my dinner reservation," he added, thoughtfully.

"Right." Martha grabbed the Doctor by the arm -- and Jack held up a hand. He was looking at his wristband.

"I'm reading a single life form."

~~~

Now this, Ianto thought, was exactly the sort of adventure he expected from traveling with the Doctor. He, Gwen, and Toshiko were following along behind the Doctor and Martha, with Jack bringing up the rear. The significance of it wasn't lost on him, keeping those less-experienced safely in the middle. None of the Torchwood agents had objected when Jack had directed them to follow the Doctor not too closely. Only Gwen had had her pistol on her, carrying it at her side despite Jack's warnings that it probably would do no good.

Hunting down aliens in Cardiff wasn't the same as hunting down aliens in an alien restaurant hundreds of light-years from Earth. It was odd, Ianto thought, how much it looked like a regular restaurant as they exited the first hallway and began crossing through dining areas, serving nooks and bars, then down another hallway through what must have been a kitchen. From the way Jack sighed, Ianto supposed it might have been a room full of sex toys; he had to admit he wouldn't necessarily be able to tell.

The place did at least look remarkably alien, and even if there was no dinner, dancing, or sex with Jack -- more sex, Ianto amended -- at least he was seeing something he'd have never seen otherwise. He caught sight of another serving nook and frowned. Apparently tea sets never changed.

"When we get to 4194, we'll order some tea," Jack whispered, catching his glance. "And maybe steal some of the tea leaves to take home with us."

"I wouldn't have thought they'd have tea," Gwen said, sounding disappointed with her off-world adventure.

"The Morifrair Nebula serves humans as well as other species," the Doctor said in a tone of lecture. "Tea leaves are cultivated on many of the human worlds. As are cocoa beans. You can get a really marvelous hot cocoa in this place. Well, you could, when it was open. We're just about there!" He made a 'shhing' gesture and the group fell silent.

The Doctor crept towards a large set of double doors with round windows set in them about at the level of Ianto's chest. Short waiters, then, Ianto presumed. They watched as the Doctor peered in, then froze.

"What is it?" Martha whispered, as she moved forward to look through the other window. "All I can see is a great black blob."

The Doctor turned to her with a manic grin. "No idea! Come on!" He shoved the door opened and strode in. After a second, Martha hurried after him. Jack pulled on Ianto's jacket as he ordered the three of them to wait there, but Toshiko was already on Martha's heels and Gwen was right behind her.

Ianto shrugged, smiled, and followed them.

Inside was a huge room, filled with shelving and short round containers. Several of the containers were lying on their side, broken open and emptied. More were still standing upright, still intact and full. In-between the two was a large, black, alien thing.

"What is it?" Gwen asked, and flinched as the alien whatever moved an arm downwards. It only grabbed another container, however, and snapped the top off. It brought the container up and guzzled, looking exactly like a human downing a can of beer.

Ianto found himself staring, barely aware of Jack beside him. He'd seen aliens, dozens of them. The Archive had files of hundreds more, many with photos and drawings, depicting the weird and sometimes indescribable. He'd seen them all, at one time or another. Yet somehow he felt like this was more alien than any of the monsters and lost travelers that washed up on the shores of Great Britain. Its skin appeared to glisten, like fresh tar, and its arm seemed to have three or four joints as it moved to set the container down and pick up another. Its head had no hair, nor visible ears, and Ianto couldn't see, from this vantage, anything of its face or hands.

"Doctor?" Jack asked. "What is it?" He sounded calm -- the sort of forced calm that Ianto recognised from hearing it right before Jack would shout at them to run. He saw Gwen and Toshiko tense up and Toshiko took a half-step backwards.

The Doctor shook his head. "No idea. Never seen it before. Could be mutated, I suppose, or created by something...." He started walking towards the thing, giving it a wide berth. When he drew nearer, the Doctor called out, "Hello!"

Ianto shot a look at Jack. "Doesn't that ever get him killed?"

"Sometimes," Jack nodded. "Mostly he manages to duck."

The thing didn't seem to hear the Doctor, or perhaps it didn't care. They watched as it finished off another container of whatever it was eating and picked up another. Martha began to move forward towards the Doctor, and Ianto and Gwen each took advantage of it to edge forward as well. Ianto felt Jack brushing past him, then Jack stepped in front of them -- the protective stance was not at all subtle, though Ianto couldn't find it in himself to object. If the alien began firing off poison darts, he didn't mind being behind someone who couldn't die.

The Doctor called again, "Hello! I'm the Doctor. And you are?"

The thing still took no notice, and they all watched as the Doctor stepped right next to the container the thing's hand was aiming for. It stopped and turned its head.

Ianto gasped. "It's enormous!"

"You couldn't tell that from behind?" Gwen asked, giving him a confused look.

But Ianto shook his head. "Dryfernaidiand," he said, not entirely sure he wasn't mangling the word.

The Doctor, Martha, and Jack all turned and stared at him. Ianto swallowed, nervously, as he checked the thing's face against the picture in his head.

"It's too large," he said. "Unless...well, we didn't have anything to compare it to scale except the jar of antiberries. I suppose it could naturally grow to this size...but the face is right."

"And how do you know what a Dryfernaidiand is?" Jack asked, glaring at him. "What the hell is a Dryfernaidiand?"

Ianto tore his eyes away from the creature and looked at Jack. Jack, who was glaring at him now as the head of Torchwood Three, his boss who was pissed off and not the laughing lover who'd tugged him delightedly down the corridors of an alien time-and-spaceship.

He swallowed again and fought to keep his voice even. "I was Torchwood One Archive," he said quietly, ignoring the sharp stab of emotion as he spoke the words out loud. He forced himself to speak calmly. "There was a children's alphabet book. 'D' for Dryfernaidiand. Not sure what alphabet it was; we never could translate the cover. 'D' was the seventh letter." He tore his eyes away from Jack, to look at the Doctor, whose face was just impassive. Ianto looked back at Jack. "I could copy out the symbols from the cover, if you like. But that's all I know about it, except...in the picture, it looked smaller and eating a grassy-sort of plant."

"Dryfernaidiand!" The Doctor suddenly exclaimed, his pronunciation notably different from Ianto's; Ianto made a note of it. "Of course; herbivores, native to Wellawhachia. Never did meet the human race as I recall; not a very plentiful species and tends to prefer staying at home. How did you end up here, I wonder? Not supposed to grow this big, you're right about that." The Doctor walked closer to the creature, then took a peek into one of the containers. "Well, that explains that. They're supposed to eat grass, and leaves, that sort of thing. However it got here, it's been gorging itself on pure malaca syrup. Grown to nearly twice its normal size, poor thing." The Doctor shook his head, and rested his hand on the creature's flank. The creature didn't take notice of him.

"Children's coloring book?" Gwen said, wrenching Ianto's attention away from Jack, whose angry expression had yet to fade.

Ianto nodded. "Two of the pages had already been coloured in. By someone fairly young; they didn't stay inside the lines," he added, smiling. Gwen laughed, as he'd hoped she would.

"So, it's not dangerous?" Martha asked, doubtfully.

"Not a bit!" The Doctor looked up at the Dryfernaidiand. "We should get it home, though, back where it belongs. Proper diet, bit of exercise and it should be fine."

"How are we going to fit that thing into the TARDIS?" Martha asked. "I know it's bigger on the inside, but the doors are still us-sized."

"Cargo bay," The Doctor said. Then he frowned thoughtfully. "I'm fairly sure the TARDIS has one."

"Lucky you happened to see the colouring book in the Archives, Ianto," Martha said, her tone caught between being impressed and disbelief.

Ianto opened his mouth to distract her with something meaningless , but Jack interrupted him in a tight, confused tone. "I thought you said you worked in the research department, not the Archives. Your files don't say you worked in the Archives Division." The accusation was hot in Jack's tone, that Ianto might have altered his records. More lies.

For a moment they just looked at each other, Ianto hearing the echoes of Jack's voice, gun pressed to his head.

"That's not what you said, though, is it?" the Doctor said, looking at him with an all-too serious expression on his face. Ianto felt himself freeze.

Of course the Doctor would know, he thought.

"What?" Jack scowled at the Doctor in frustration, hands balling into fists as though hitting something might make answers come faster.

"You said you were Torchwood One Archive. Not working in the Archives. You were the Archive." The Doctor still stared at him, and Ianto knew he didn't even have to nod. He heard the others' confused questions and ignored them until Jack suddenly rounded on him, anger vanishing to be replaced with shock.

"Humans didn't start doing that until the 22nd century," Jack whispered, looking from Ianto to the Doctor. "Tell me they didn't -- the procedure was never perfected; they abandoned it a hundred years later!" His voice grew from a whisper to a horrified shout as he grabbed the Doctor's arm, clearly demanding a different explanation. When the Doctor didn't respond, Jack whirled and stormed over to Ianto's side, coming to a stop, frozen, much the way Ianto felt. "Ianto?"

He wished he could say something, but Ianto's throat had gone dry. He didn't trust himself to keep himself under control, so he merely nodded. The Doctor hadn't taken his eyes from Ianto, and Ianto found that to be somehow more comforting than Jack's presence at his side. Even though the Doctor's next words were to tell Jack what Ianto tried every day not to remember.

"It wasn't public until then, but they started, oh, much earlier."

"1997," Ianto said, quietly. "The first...successful Archival procedure." He'd seen the reports, of course -- they were part of the Archive. The first forays into the technique as early as the 60s and all of the failures in horrible detail. All the successful Archives, equally detailed and equally horrible.

The Doctor nodded. "Meaning the human's brain didn't short out the moment they uploaded everything. 'Successful' because the brain doesn't burn out for...?" There was sorrow in the Doctor's questioning expression.

"Three to five years," Ianto finished for him. He kept his eyes straight ahead, locked on the Doctor. He didn't think he could bear to see the expression on Jack's face when he answered the Doctor's next, inevitable question.

"How long ago did they upload the Archive?" the Doctor asked, his voice softer, filled with a sad kindness.

Ianto had to try twice before he could answer calmly. "Four years."

There was silence, and Ianto almost risked a glance over, but caught himself. The buzz of his headache was right behind his eyes. Growing stronger over the last several months and never quite fading away. The first year it had come and gone, pain eased by over-the-counter medication. He'd seen a video of an earlier Archive in her final week, writhing in her hospital bed, begging for morphine that had barely any effect.

He sometimes wished Torchwood One hadn't felt the need to put everything into the Archive.

"Would someone please tell us what's going on?" Toshiko demanded, quietly.

At the Doctor's nod, Ianto took a deep breath, and turned to the others but stared safely at the far wall instead of the faces of his friends. With firm control of his voice, he began to explain.

His first day at work at Torchwood One. He'd spent a week enduring a number of tests -- personality, psychic, efficiency tests. All intended to tell his new employers were they could best use their newest employee. It mattered little that he'd applied for a researcher's position, referred by a friend who'd been working for Torchwood for over a year already.

His first real day of employment, however, began in a small room that looked remarkably like an interrogation chamber with a small black box sitting on the table, cables and wiring leading off to one wall. He'd felt a thrill of fear and confusion, not allayed when two people came in wearing white laboratory coats and serious expressions. He later knew them as Drs. Georgia Hammerstein and Martin Philips, head of the Archives Division. When they walked in, they'd only said that he seemed well-suited for a very special position. His affinity for order, for understanding information, and a brain that didn't seem susceptible to mild levels of psychic attack made him a perfect candidate. They'd made noises about it being just in time, and ignored his stammered questions and demands.

They'd sat him in a chair, not even bothering to strap him down. The moment they'd laid the connection against his forehead he'd been unable to move, paralyzed as something else took over. Afterwards, he'd reviewed the Archive files on the procedure. It took about four hours to upload the contents of the Torchwood Archives into a single human brain.

It took three to five years for the human brain to wear out under the strain, and die.

The others were all staring at him, expressions a mix of horror and outrage.

"You--" Jack began, then stopped. He reached his hand up and, very gently, stroked Ianto's temple. He didn't say more, but the look in his eyes made words unnecessary.

"I thought you had perfect recall, or a photographic memory," Toshiko said, her voice shaking ever so slightly. Ianto gave her a slight smile, remembering the conversation they'd had. Suzie and Toshiko had spent an afternoon testing him, trying to come up with some fact he couldn't verify or random question he didn't know the answer to. He'd played along, honestly not able to answer everything simply because most things on Earth, Torchwood One hadn't bothered keeping records on.

"So what are we going to do?" Gwen asked.

"Can we take him somewhere, in the 22nd or 23rd century and have them fix it?" Martha asked.

"Can't," the Doctor said, not looking away from Ianto. "The procedure was abandoned because they could never figure out how to stabilise the transfer."

Jack's eyes narrowed. "You're not telling me there is no way to save him." Jack's voice was nearly a growl, and Ianto found himself wanting to lean sideways against Jack. Wrap himself in those arms and just close his eyes. Forget about Torchwood, and aliens and archives for awhile.

"Of course we can save him," the Doctor said, and Ianto jerked his head up in surprise. The Doctor continued, "Your mainframe, back in 2008 -- still the same system you had before? Part computer, part something else?"

"Yes," Jack said, distrustfully.

"Well then, all we have to do is download the Archive into the Torchwood mainframe. It's complex enough a lifeform to handle the information load, and with it out of your head, there won't be any burning up or shorting out." His grin was wide, that manic grin which made Ianto realise, intimately, why several files had noted that the Doctor could not be trusted.

He found himself pressed against Jack with Jack's arm curled around him. The touch of it was so familiar his body was practically conditioned to relax. If he hadn't been terrified, he might have even done so. Four years, and he'd almost resigned himself to his future; to be shown a hint of avoiding it -- Ianto didn't dare let himself believe it.

He shoved away the files on all of Torchwood's attempts to download the Archives out of an Archive's brain, and the significantly messy results left behind. One poor sod had left brains literally splattered all over the walls.

Ianto squeezed his eyes shut and thought of marjinzia, an alien flower planted in the fields of ancient Ireland that had grown to become wild asparagus.

"Would that work?" Toshiko was demanding, and Ianto was grateful. He wasn't certain he could speak just yet.

"We don't have anything that would safely transfer the information," Jack said quietly, not loosening his grip on Ianto. If anything, he seemed to pull Ianto in just a little more. Ianto held onto Jack's arm, fervently wishing not to be let go of.

"No, but the TARDIS has just the thing." The Doctor looked at Ianto, and Ianto was struck by an overwhelming sensation of trust. He suddenly, vividly, understood why Jack was so ready to leave everything and run after this man. It might or might not have been love -- but the sincere and utter belief that the Doctor would fix this made Ianto forgive every second he'd spent alone, wondering if Jack would ever return.

What the Doctor said filtered back through his brain, and Ianto tensed. "You can really remove the Archive?" Surely, the Doctor's technology would be more advanced. He wouldn't be suggesting it -- Jack wouldn't be looking so relieved, if there was a chance it wouldn't truly work. He didn't know what sort of tech the Doctor had, but Jack knew. Jack, who'd come from the 51st century and had travelled long years with the Doctor.

Jack knew, and he was looking like the problem was solved.

"This will really work?" Ianto asked him, needing to hear it. Before Jack or anyone else could answer, Ianto's knees began to shake and suddenly Jack's grip on him was the only thing holding him upright.

He felt Jack's lips press against his ear, whispering something that might have been English, or might have been nonsense for all Ianto could focus. He tried to turn around without loosening himself from Jack's grip and finally managed to get himself facing Jack, arms over Jack's shoulders and fighting to get himself back under some kind of control.

He felt a hand on his back, and the Doctor's voice behind him. "We'll get him sorted out, Jack. Don't worry."

~~~

The trip back to the TARDIS was a blur; Ianto let Jack manhandle him into the ship and through the control room, back to the bedroom that once again appeared just on the other side of the door. Five steps this time, he noticed, counting them to distract himself from-- that.

Jack had eased them down on the bed, not saying a word, and held onto him while Ianto tried to think.

It was difficult -- as it always was, every thought so easily triggered any relevant files in the Archive. Research was easy when he intended it, cross-referencing every mention of a word or phrase -- the other researchers at Torchwood London had come to him constantly, asking him questions they could have almost as easily searched their computers for. Ianto was just that bit faster -- they'd timed him, over and over -- and it was, after all, why they'd uploaded the files in the first place.

But at times it was overwhelming, and there had been many long nights he'd spent lying in bed unable to sleep for the cascade of information that filtered through his consciousness. Other nights he'd indulged himself -- lonely nights when Jack was gone, he'd pulled out the files on Captain Jack Harkness. He'd memorised their contents long before, preparing to bring Lisa into Cardiff. But later it had been soothing, after a fashion, to page through the reports and assorted memorandum.

There were half a dozen memos in Jack's own handwriting scanned into the Archive, along with personnel photos from two different decades. He'd lingered over them in the privacy of his head, not knowing at the time it if would be all he would have left of his lover.

He opened his eyes and found Jack there, looking at him, face mere inches away. Ianto tried to smile, and it was returned with a blinding, charming smile that almost hid the sorrow in Jack's eyes.

"This is going to work," Jack said, and Ianto found himself believing it even more. He nodded and tucked himself as close as he could into Jack's embrace.

It didn't seem like long at all before there was a soft knock on the door and Gwen's voice said, "We've arrived."

Ianto lifted his head, feeling frightened and tired, not wanting to peel himself away from Jack. Luckily Jack didn't seem to, either, as he pushed them both upright and to their feet, all somehow without pulling them apart. Ianto didn't try to say anything as Jack led them from the room -- surprisingly only five steps once again to the control room. No one said a word and Ianto avoided meeting anyone's eyes. He let Jack led him out of the TARDIS and onto the Plass.

No one seemed to take notice of them as they crossed to the Tourist Office; Ianto didn't seem to feel any relief as they went down to the Hub. He didn't think he'd really believe it until it was over, and it had worked.

Jack led him silently towards the open area between the workstations -- and Ianto stopped as he saw Owen, standing beside a chair set before one of the Mainframe's access stations.

"You're home sick," Ianto said, stupidly.

"The Doctor called to make sure we had the right equipment, and I figured you'd rather a qualified medical doctor was on-hand." Owen glared. "And don't think I'm not sore about you lot going off to another planet without me."

"You have the flu!" Gwen protested.

"I wouldn't mind having the flu on another planet," Owen told her, still scowling. But when he looked at Ianto the irritation smoothed away. "I've got it all set up, just waiting for him to finish the bits I didn't understand a word of." He grinned, slightly.

The Doctor bounced forward, inspecting the mainframe workstation and the equipment Owen had set up. Ianto recognised the cabling and connector which they'd used whenever they wanted to network an alien computer to the Torchwood mainframe. His brain wasn't exactly alien, he thought, and suddenly Jack was gripping him tightly. Holding him upright.

"All I need to do is connect this," the Doctor said, taking a bit of...something, from his jacket. Alien tech, Ianto mused. It wasn't in the Archive, so he had no idea what it was.

They all watched the Doctor work, only a few moments, waving his sonic screwdriver over things with a blue light and a faint buzzing. Or perhaps the buzzing was his headache. Ianto couldn't be sure. His head was pounding, now, and he just wanted to close his eyes. Or hit himself with a hammer, repeatedly.

Too soon the Doctor said, "Right, then, you sit down here and we'll get you set up."

"Is it all right if I keep hold of him?" Jack asked. Ianto looked at him, surprised.

The Doctor nodded. "That'll be fine, Jack. Won't bother the transfer a bit."

Jack walked towards the chair and Ianto followed, hand held tightly in Jack's and relieved that he wouldn't have to let go. Then Jack was sitting down, in the chair, and Ianto barely had time to blink at him before Jack was tugging him forward.

It only took a second for Ianto to step closer, then he dropped gratefully onto Jack's lap, straddling Jack's legs and letting his head fall onto Jack's shoulder. Jack's arms came around to hold him; Ianto closed his eyes. He heard Jack ask the Doctor something, and a hand gently ruffled Ianto's hair. He heard them moving around, heard the clicks of equipment and the scuffling of feet. Somewhere above, Myfanwy was perched; he could hear the scrape of claw on metal echoing down the shaft.

Ianto didn't try to relax, didn't bother denying the fact he was fairly shaking in Jack's embrace. Jack just held him tighter and he heard the Doctor say, "I'll just put--"

Owen's voice interrupted. "I'll do it."

A moment later, something cold touched the back of his neck, and Ianto -- didn't jump. Owen was pressing leads against his neck and perhaps he didn't know any more than Ianto did about the way this set up was supposed to work. But it helped, somehow, to know it was Owen connecting him to the mainframe instead of an alien Time Lord that he barely knew and fully believed would fix this, fix everything, despite it all.

Ianto swallowed, once, as the last of the three leads was pressed against the base of his skull. He pressed his forehead tighter against Jack's shoulder; crazily, he wanted to scream at them to remove them, but he kept his jaw shut. He waited, not knowing what to expect from the Doctor's set-up, not sure he wanted to ask. Jack just kept a hold of him, arms locked around him as if afraid someone or something might try to steal him away. He was still shaking, and Jack pressed his head against Ianto's.

"Now Jack," the Doctor said, calmly, "This is going to disorient him, and he's clearly quite frightened. But I promise you, it won't hurt him. Not one bit."

"Why are you telling me?" Jack asked.

There was something in his voice -- that sadness, and kindness, like the Doctor knew everything and sometimes wished he didn't. The Doctor said simply, "Because he might scream."

Then there was a flip of a switch and all of Ianto's senses went black.

The summit meeting of the Trangalrash and the Gring delegations was/and there was no way of knowing which button made the thing turn on/ Four weevils spotted in Bristol/watching carefully, I don't think they spotted me/spaceships reported landing on the Eiffel Tower/reports of the Doctor turned out to be false/Rifhgith closest planet to the star/A F D G, what begins with F?/small, blue, compact, unlike anything we've ever seen/do not open/died under the influence of/radically different ways of seeing/four brains/my god, what have we done/Time travel simply should not be possible despite/Annual Review, Jane Stewart, employee number 456-8109-756/their skin shrivels when exposed to oxygen/whoever thought it was possible? Real, live, aliens in London/his name is Jack Harkness, and we believe he may be/File under 'Dangerous, live, possibly sentient/one two three four/one two three four/one two three four

"One, two, three...four...."

Ianto opened his eyes as the Doctor's voice repeated the numbers again. He blinked and looked up, blearily. The Doctor grinned at him and Ianto turned his head towards Jack, discovering his neck was stiff and ached terribly. He found Jack looking at him, smiling, though his eyes were red and his face strained.

"Wha--" Ianto stopped as he found his throat hurt.

"Here, drink this," Gwen said, and he glanced over his shoulder to find her holding out a cup of tea. He reached for it and his hand faltered; Jack caught it up and held it, bringing it up to Ianto's mouth so he could drink.

They all waited as Ianto drank half of the tea, then he gestured for Jack to put it down. He inhaled once, deeply, and looked a question at Jack.

"You were screaming," Jack said in a rough voice.

"How long...did it take?"

"About half an hour," the Doctor answered. "And according to the readouts, all the files are safely transferred. The whole Archive is inside the Torchwood mainframe. Where they belong." He looked over at the mainframe's workstation where Tosh and Martha were dismantling the connections.

"And am I--" Ianto stopped.

"Brain's all clear," the Doctor said with a gentle smile.

Beside him, Owen sighed. "Your vital signs are all fine," he elaborated, holding a medical scanner. "Your brain waves are perfectly normal -- no sign that anything went wrong."

Ianto nodded. He was exhausted, and would have liked to fall over and sleep for a few days.

"How do you feel?" Jack asked, and it was clear that wasn't exactly his question. Ianto cautiously looked at the corner of his brain where the Archive had been in residence.

Nothing.

He looked again and tried to access the files. Nothing happened. He thought about the things he knew were in there, files he'd read recently. Files he'd only seen in passing. Any files at all, connected with Torchwood.

Slowly, Ianto smiled. "There's nothing there. They're gone."

Jack's answering smile was all he needed.

Which was not to say the kiss was unwelcome. Nor was the way Jack still wasn't letting go, although Ianto didn't think he could stay awake to enjoy it for much longer.

"Is it all right if I lie down for a bit?" he asked, when Jack finally broke the kiss.

"I want you to stay at the Hub," Owen said. "Just so we can monitor you. Make sure-- well, just to keep an eye on you."

Jack grinned, and that look appeared. "I'll keep more than an eye on him."

"Jack, we are all still standing here," Gwen protested, but Ianto heard the amusement in her voice.

"Maybe we could just take pictures?" Owen suggested.

"We already--" Jack began, and Ianto found the energy to scowl, hard.

"I want to sleep," he said, and it was getting harder to keep his eyes open. He thought he might just put his head back on Jack's shoulder long enough to gather his strength before standing up. Just one moment.

And that was where he fell asleep.

~~~

He'd been forbidden to work, but as he was also restricted to the Hub -- and Jack's watchful eye -- Ianto had, after two days, taken back up the lightest of his duties. He didn't mind lying about in Jack's bed until late in the morning, and rising only in time to make coffee for everyone. The actual work was not much different from his early days, doing the rounds of coffee mugs and emptying out the trash, but now there was the bonus of five or six breaks a day to cuddle -- or more -- with Jack.

He felt fine, all things considered; though he grew exhausted by mid-afternoon and as such didn't push Jack or Owen into releasing him to return to active duty. Nothing was happening at any rate; he knew that if something did occur, he'd simply get back to work and not pay attention if they protested.

For now he stuck to bringing everyone their coffee and lunch and lounging on the couch reading trashy mystery novels.

He was taking around a tray when he heard Gwen ask, "Does anyone know what the last reported sighting of Rovinia Starcruisers in Eastern Asia was?"

Ianto stepped up behind her as she stared at the computer screens. She looked around after a moment when no one had answered her question, then looked up at him hopefully.

"Sorry," Ianto said, slowly. "Haven't got a clue."

There was a long pause while Ianto tried to control his expression as Gwen blinked at him. Then suddenly she grinned and leapt up, throwing her arms around him, and Ianto found himself grinning as well.

"What's the celebration?" Jack asked, appearing beside them. Ianto disentangled himself from Gwen and gave Jack a happy smile.

"I didn't know the answer to her question." It was disconcerting, to be sure, but Ianto could barely believe how free he suddenly felt. No huge weight of information clogging his thoughts -- no fear of the day it would swallow him whole. His mind was his own again, and the huge, empty space that he could feel -- poking at it with his thoughts like worrying after a lost tooth with one's tongue -- made him want to laugh with relief.

Jack had looked momentarily confused, then slowly he smiled as well. "Congratulations," he said, stepping forward. Gwen stepped away as Jack moved closer, putting his hands on Ianto's hips.

"It's really gone," Ianto whispered. It wasn't what he'd meant to say, the sly witticism dying from his lips as the reality of it hit him all over again. "It's actually gone." He looked at Jack, shaking his head and trying to find some way to put it into words.

Jack's fingers slid inside his waistband. "This calls for a celebration?" Jack suggested, half-teasing and half something else.

"I'm still quite worn out from this morning," Ianto said. "I do need a bit of rest now and again."

Jack pouted. "Really?"

Ianto shook his head. "Not really."

There was a pause, then Jack laughed. "Cheeky," Jack said, and kissed him. It was short, and quick -- a rare enough kiss from Jack, who tended towards the long and involved when it came to kissing. At least as far as Ianto was concerned; he had to admit he had no references for Jack's kisses with other people.

But this one was simple, like he was willing to let Ianto go and return to work, and let all thought of a mid-morning shag fall by the wayside.

It could have felt like a rejection of sorts, given that both Jack and Ianto knew that he wasn't really too tired to have another go. But Ianto discovered that, instead, it felt like two halves of something finally fitting together. The distance of a first date, and the long, steady pace of oft-time lovers, gradually blending together. Not there yet, but he could see it happening, one day. In time.

And it would be enough.

~~~

Epilogue

"Morning," Gwen called over, and Ianto looked up from the tray. He'd placed six mugs on it instead of the usual five. Gwen detoured towards him and picked up her mug of coffee, and paused with it halfway to her mouth. He watched her count the mugs, then she squealed. "It's Friday, isn't it?"

"Will be, all day," Ianto agreed, and laughed as Gwen hit him lightly on the arm.

"I'd forgotten it was this Friday, is all," she said, taking her mug away with her.

"For all we know, it isn't," Ianto reminded her. "But I thought it best to be prepared." He picked up the tray and carried it towards the medical station where Martha and Owen were working. He handed out their mugs, gathering a smile from Martha and no response at all from Owen. Ianto continued on his way, up to Jack's office. He stopped as the cog door alarms went off and the huge door rolled open.

Toshiko walked in, grinning.

"Tosh!" Gwen ran over, and Ianto followed after, carrying the tray carefully. He waited until Gwen's embrace was over, then offered Toshiko her usual mug.

"Thank you; god, I've missed this!" She took the mug and drank, a look of reverent joy appearing on her face.

"So, how long were you gone?" Gwen asked in a voice promising a long day of gossip.

Toshiko shrugged, then smiled. "A couple years."

"And you still came back?" Gwen winked, laughing.

But Toshiko nodded. "I missed this place. And my work here. I learned a lot, traveling with him. But it was time."

"Glad to have you back," Ianto said. "Even though it's only been two weeks for us. You'll find we barely had a chance to break into your computer and reprogram it."

Owen had wanted to download porn onto her computer; Gwen and Ianto had had to threaten to lock him in a cell next to the Weevils, to finally get him to agree not to.

"Toshiko!"

They all looked up at Jack's delighted shout. Ianto watched as Jack fairly ran down the stairs -- shirt still only half-buttoned, due to Ianto's retaliation from Jack's own attempts to keep Ianto similarly undressed. Ianto watched as Jack swooped Toshiko into his arms. Toshiko laughed, barely managing to keep her coffee cup upright.

"Put me down! I swear, Jack--" She trailed off, shaking her head, but grinning from ear to ear. She reached out and squeezed Gwen's hand. "Oh, I've missed you all so much! I have so much I want to tell you!"

"And we want to hear it all," Jack said. Then he gave her a stern look. "But right now you're on company time." He tapped his wrist and gave her a stern look. Ianto smirked, and Gwen just rolled her eyes.

Gwen took Toshiko's arm, and led her away. "Don't listen to him, Tosh. I want to hear everything!"

"Hey!" Jack called after them. "You remember who's in charge around here!"

Gwen looked over her shoulder and pointed. Ianto gave Jack as bland a look as he could manage, as Gwen pointed at him. Jack just raised an eyebrow.

"I believe, sir, that I have work to do," Ianto said.

"What did I say about calling me 'sir'?" Jack asked. Ianto held the tray up, with one last mug of coffee on it. Jack looked at it. "Is that one mine?"

"It is, sir." Ianto waited.

"I think maybe you should deliver it, then. To my office."

"Indeed," Ianto said, blandly as he could. He heard Gwen and Toshiko disappear into the break room, and Owen and Martha were still down in the medical labs.

Jack just looked at him, and Ianto wondered if he would have the chance to set the coffee down on a flat surface before it got knocked to the floor.

the end