Jack sidled up beside the workstation where Ianto was sitting, tidying up a few last files before his holiday. Ianto barely glanced over at him, having long since memorised that particular expression of Jack's. It was the one which said if Ianto gave the slightest hint, then Jack would happily call off all other plans and shag Ianto.
To be fair, Jack often aimed that particular look at anyone who stood still long enough. Ianto had been known quite subtly aim Jack elsewhere when Ianto had something important he needed to attend to.
"Have you seen to Myfanwy, sir?" Ianto asked, and it occurred to him that if Jack had ever flirted with the pteranodon, he didn't want to know about it.
"I have," Jack answered promptly, sounding a bit like a trusted Scout. He leaned one elbow across the top of the computer monitor and flashed a bright smile.
Ianto rolled his eyes. "I am still going on holiday, sir."
Jack's smile flickered just a bit, then Jack sighed. "Of course you are, Ianto. If anyone deserves a bit of time off, it's you. I'm sorry we couldn't manage any free time for you to visit your family at Christmas." His regret seemed sincere, even if his eyes were still dancing with ideas of delaying Ianto's journey for an hour or two.
"That's all right, sir. Torchwood never lets employees leave during December -- every year the world seems to end, right around December 24th. My family's used to my coming home in January; they prefer it, actually. Less chaos, more time to actually visit." He gave Jack a smile. "I'll be back before you notice I'm gone."
Jack's smile died away and the merriment faded from his expression. "I doubt that," he said quietly, then forced a half-grin. "But you can bring me back a present." He waggled his eyebrows, his cheerful leer making no doubt what sort of category a gift he wanted.
"There are no more flavors of lube we've not tried," Ianto began. "Not in this time and place. And no, I am not letting you raid the Torchwood archives for what's dropped out of the Rift."
"I'm telling you that stuff is perfectly safe," Jack protested.
"It ate a hole through the filing cabinet drawer; no, sir." Ianto typed a few last keystrokes, then began closing down the workstation.
"You're supposed to warm it up -- skin contact is plenty of heat. When it's cold, yeah, it can...rust metal a little bit. But the way it feels--"
Ianto stood up from the desk, grateful he'd hidden the alien lube in the archives: filed under 'N' for 'Never, No way, Not in this lifetime, No.' Even if Jack figured it out, he'd find a note tied to the bottle, wrapped safely in plastic, which explained that if Jack attempted to utilise the lube in any adult situation with Ianto, then the lube would be applied to the coffee machine and Jack could make do with instant for the next decade.
"Will there be anything else, sir?" Ianto asked.
Jack looked at him -- a perfunctory but appreciative sweep from head to toe. He smiled, but said, "No, Ianto. Go, have fun. We'll see you back here in two weeks." He winked. "No tan lines."
"I don't expect to get a tan at all, in Wales in January." Ianto picked up his jacket from the back of the chair and hurried towards the door. If he could get out before any alarms went off, then he would be free and clear. No obligation to turn around and help save the world if he was already in the carpark when the day's invasion began.
As it was, he got to his flat without any sign of impending doom from time or space; either that or Jack had blocked Ianto's cell from receiving Torchwood alerts. But Ianto was glad, and stopped only long enough to grab his luggage and lock up, then he rang to say he was on his way.
The trip didn't take long, as always, and soon enough Ianto found himself stepping through the entrance of his father's workroom. He paused, letting the sight and sounds of his father's workshop wash over him. He inhaled deeply, letting old familiar scents fill his head and bring forth memories of his childhood. So many days spent here, watching his Da work, learning a trade that, in Ianto's life back in London and Cardiff, was seen as old-fashioned and out-dated. Ianto loved it, and he loved this moment when he first returned, letting it all fill him up and remind him that there were some places that the world of Torchwood could not reach.
He opened his eyes and looked over; grinning, he held out his arms to receive his father's hug. "Da, it's so good to see you." He clung to the other man for a brief moment -- wishing, as he often did when he came home, that he could be a child again at his father's knee. Lose all the painful lessons the world seemed determined to teach him and just be happy again.
His father leaned back and looked him in the eye. "It's good to see you, son," he said, his eyes twinkling. "And of course you've only just got here, but I could really use your help with the computer."
Ianto laughed. "Of course, Da. What's the trouble?" He left his suitcase on the floor, knowing no harm would come to it there, and let his father lead him back through the outer room and towards the back office.
His father shook his head and sighed. "I just don't know. These new-fangled machines -- I know they're supposed to make everyone's jobs easier, but I still think nothing can't be done on one that can't be accomplished with a paper and pencil." He brought Ianto into the office and waved a hand at the desk. The computer was sitting there, surrounded by pieces of tape and sheets of paper, and a can of pencils and chalk marked his father's words as not mere hyperbole.
His Da pointed at the screen, as if accusing it. "That database you set up for me worked just fine for last year. But something's gone wrong. We tried to input the new data for this year and...well, I don't know." He waved a hand again and gave Ianto a confused and frustrated look.
"What's it doing?"
"Nothing! Well, all right," his Da conceded as Ianto gave him a flat look. "We entered a few names and addresses, then I set it up with the control list to test things out. You know, names of family and close friends -- people I can double check the computer's results with, I could check them in my sleep, in fact."
"And what did it say?"
His Da gave him a Look. "It spit out your name. Said you'd been 'Naughty.'"
Ianto blinked. He waited, but his father didn't elaborate. He started to say he'd take a look, when a feeling of dread creeped over him.
But his father patted his shoulder. "Now, now, Ianto, I don't mean that. That was two years ago, and...well, when I said you'd been 'Nice' I meant it. All that horrible business with Lisa... it was a tragedy, but your heart was in the right place. I told you that." His voice was soft, and gentle, and Ianto couldn't hear a single note of censure in it.
Ianto nodded, feeling his throat closing up. He remembered that conversation with his father that year, when Lisa's blood had seemed to still be staining his hands. He'd wanted to skip his visit home that year, but his father had sent some of his helpers to bring him home -- he'd gone, thinking he'd been in for a dressing down the likes of which he'd never imagined. But his father had simply given him a cup of tea and shown him his name on his father's annual list.
Ianto Jones, Nice.
He's argued, accusing his father of fixing the results. But slowly he'd come to understand that it had been forgiving himself -- and earning back Jack's and the others' trust -- that had tipped him back over to the other side of the list. Ianto looked at his father, confused. "So then why...?"
His father glanced at the computer, then sighed and rummaged through a sheaf of papers. He found the one he wanted and read it over, then held it out to Ianto. Ianto took it, recognising his father's handwriting. "Ianto Jones, Naughty."
But after that, in someone else's handwriting, was a post script. "Needs spanking."
Ianto stared. His first thought was that he was going to kill Jack. His second thought was the one he voiced. "How did he get that on there?"
"Is there something you need to tell me, lad?" his Da asked kindly. Then he cleared his throat and said more meaningfully, "Is this someone I need to meet?"
"Oh, God no!" Ianto sputtered. "I mean, no, Da. I... but how--?"
He looked up from the paper to see the smile his father was trying to hide behind his beard, but the mischief was twinkling in the old man's eyes. "When you hooked us up to the Internet, you said it would be useful for you to help maintain the databases throughout the year. Avoid that '97 fiasco with the pink unicorns in everybody's stocking." He sighed. "Georg is still having flashbacks from speeding through time and space to exchange the ones that wouldn't have been welcomed. But it seems someone at Torchwood noticed my emails to you. A few months ago I got an message from one Jack Harkness, asking me why I was harassing his receptionist."
Ianto sighed. "I'm sorry, Da. I thought the firewalls would keep Torchwood out."
"Oh, they did -- it was that... thingamajig that did it." His father waved one hand; across the room a sprig of holly burst forth from the wall. Ianto stared at it and his father cleared his throat, looking momentarily embarrassed. "The other computer. The one that grows in your cavern."
"Ah." Ianto nodded. "I thought I'd asked her not to tell anyone, but... well, Jack can be quite persuasive." He felt himself blushing and focused on his father's computer. "So...is there anything wrong with your database?"
"Well, now, that depends," his father began. "As you know, I know when you're sleeping, and when you're awake -- and like any good father I don't pay any attention to that sort of thing. But I would have to be blind not to notice how often 'Ianto sleeping' is right next to 'Jack sleeping.'" He cleared his throat, but thankfully didn't add the 'not sleeping' part.
Ianto wondered if it was possible to die from embarrassment. He hadn't managed it when he and his father had had the Sex Talk when he'd been twelve, but this was actually worse. He leaned forward and rested his head in his hands.
Calmly, as if his son weren't about to choke himself to death with his tie, his Da said, "So, Ianto. You might invite him around to dinner. Let me get a good look at him."
Ianto bit back a groan, and only said, "Yes, Da."
"So, this is the North Pole!" Jack clapped his hand on Ianto's shoulder, looking around like a child about to be let loose in a toy shop.
"Of course not," Ianto said, quellingly. "It's a pocket dimension."
Jack just laughed. "And we're in Santa's workshop!"
Bibby, one of the seamstresses, paused on her way past them and looked up to give Jack a bright smile. "That's right! Welcome to the North Pole, Captain." She reached out and shook Jack's hand, and giggled when Jack dropped a kiss on the back of it.
"Stop it," Ianto said. "She has three wives already and doesn't need to add you to the lot."
But Jack only smiled at Bibby. "If you ever need someone to hold the towels, just let me know."
Bibby laughed, and Ianto smacked Jack on the shoulder. "Do you mind? This is a place where children's dreams come true. You're...interfering with a lot of good memories." Ianto looked around, remembering how the wood-worker elves had patiently taught him how to carve his first real toy boat. He'd placed it into his father's bag that year with a sense of pride; he'd even labeled the tag himself: To Stewart, From Santa.
Jack nudged his arm. "So you're not thinking about sneaking off into a side closet with me?"
"Yes, a bit," Ianto admitted. "But I'm not going to until you've had the tour and met my father, and I've survived the humiliation of watching Father Christmas interrogate my boyfriend."
Jack took hold of Ianto's hand and tugged, but let Ianto be the one to drag them along, through the workshop. Ianto pointed out the various rooms and work-centers, talking very quickly about how the entire operation worked.
"So, no time bubble?" Jack asked, when Ianto first mentioned Christmas Eve's delivery.
"No," Ianto grinned. "And I can't explain how we do it. Family secret." He touched one finger to the side of his nose.
"Speaking of family secrets," Jack began, and he pulled Ianto against him, leaning back against a wall. The hallway wasn't quite deserted, but Ianto couldn't quite bring himself to object. Yet. As long as Jack kept his hands above the waist.... "Father Christmas?" Jack asked, leadingly.
He felt his stomach tighten, but said lightly, "Ah. Um, so, Jack, did I ever tell you my father isn't a tailor? Well, he does enjoy making clothes for the dolls. But it's more of a hobby. Sideline, as it were, to his real job."
Jack's expression was dead serious. "I sort of figured that part out already. The red suit and the ho ho hos were a giveaway."
"He only laughs like that because it's expected of him. Privately, he sort of..giggles." Ianto tried wriggling a bit, to see how distractable Jack was.
Jack frowned. So, not very. "Your father is...well, I can't very well say he's a myth. But...Santa Claus isn't real."
"If you say that too often, you get coal in your stocking." Ianto nodded, though, because he knew what Jack was trying to ask. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything, but, honestly Jack -- how could I? How could you have believed me?"
Jack's eyebrows went up. "Time traveller born on another planet? Who, oh, by the way, is immortal? You think I'd have trouble with...are you even human?" Jack asked, narrowing his eyes.
Ianto shook his head. "Jolly Old Elf," he said. "We look human enough. I wasn't trying to lie to you, Jack. I just...didn't see the point. You and I -- one day we'll go our separate ways. Torchwood, or your Doctor, will take you away from here and...someday I'll inherit my father's job. And my time as just 'Ianto Jones' will be over. I'll be here, in this place." He looked around, feeling a moment of melancholy, but knowing it wasn't for one day living here. It was for what he'd have to lose to get it -- his father, and Jack. "Except for one night a year." Ianto gave Jack a smile.
Jack didn't return it, but the frown had gone. "Just...grabbing what time you have, then? I suppose I can understand that."
Ianto could hear the bitterness in Jack's voice, but knew it wasn't necessarily directed at him. Not solely at him. "I'm sorry," he said, anyway.
"Don't be." With a shake of his head, Jack smiled again. Forced, and mostly fake -- the mask Ianto had seen on Jack's face too many times. "Like you said, we'll take the time we have. Have some fun. Have a few laughs."
Ianto put his fingers on Jack's lips. "Don't, Jack. Don't pretend you don't hate it. Yell at me if you want to, insist I make it up to you until we're both worn out and have blisters. But my father was right. I needed to tell you. Which is why you're here; this is who I am, and what I am. And we will have to part ways someday, but that day is not today."
For a long moment, Jack didn't say a word. He looked at Ianto, and Ianto tried to keep his expression open, let Jack see whatever he wanted to see. Finally, Jack just nodded. He still said nothing, but Ianto felt some of the tension slip away and he took Jack's hand in his. He stepped into the middle of the hallway, pulling Jack after him.
"Come on, I want to show you something."
"What?" Jack grinned, and this time it was more sincere than forced. "Is it your old bedroom? Can we have sex on the same bed you used to jerk off in?"
"Oh for..." Ianto rolled his eyes. "No, Jack. I am taking you to the wing room."
Jack blinked at him, following along slowly as Ianto tugged him down the hallway. "Are you telling me--"
Ianto laughed. "No. Aeroplanes. Spaceships. Remote-control hovercraft." He paused and gave Jack a Look. "I happen to know of a little boy who loves such things."
"I never saw an airplane until I was an adult," Jack said, though he was following Ianto more easily now.
"I meant me, Jack. I always visit the wing room when I come home. I want to show you my favorite -- it's a Bolson E X 50 and it's got green wings!"
"I've never heard of...does your father deliver to other planets, too?"
Ianto shook his head. "I made it up and Dovis built it for me from a drawing I made. Since it isn't meant for anybody on Earth, he made it so that it really flies. Elven magic -- come on!"
With a startled laugh, Jack finally hurried down the hallway, his hand in Ianto's. Ianto waited, then broke into a run -- pellmell down the hallways, turns and intersections long since memorised. As a boy he'd careened off the walls, or skidded on his sock-feet. Now, he just ran - with Jack matching him step for step, and laughing out loud, his voice echoing through the hallway along with Ianto's own.
In the office, Ianto's Da sat back in his chair and smiled. With the last present of the year finally delivered, it was time for a nap.
Tomorrow he would see about designing a new style of suit for the dolls his Chief Dollmaker was building.