Rating: R (little language-y)
Spoilers: S1, eps 1-11
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply. If I owned, Jack would be in the TARDIS, bare foot and pregnant where he belongs.
Archive: Feel free, just drop me a line so I know (my ego is like that)
Beta: Apologies to my long-suffering beta, I had postitus. Again. Encouragement provided by darkbunnyrabbitXYZ
Jack was more bored than hungry. The hub was empty, dark and quiet, the buzz of the electronic equipment and the occasional hum of the refrigerator were about all he had to fill the silence since the music had run out about thirty seconds prior. Somewhere in the distance, if he listened hard enough, he could hear the needle sliding against the paper label of the album.
As he dug around the various take away containers, he found something that looked vaguely Chinese-y and contemplated how he really ought to flip the record over, if only to stop the wear and tear the poor thing was already suffering. The record itself was older than dirt; he only kept it because the high level of surface noise of the shellac record over the orchestra was somehow comforting on these long nights when a chill ran through the hub and the quiet was maddening. The glue holding the paper label on was dried up and beginning to fail, one of these nights the scraping needle would sheer it clean off.
Grabbing a fork, he opened the box, being sure to sniff the contents before walking down to the main floor of the hub to deal with the record player. No one packed a lunch here. That was ten extra minutes of sleep in the morning, which was usually well-needed; their nights tended to be long and tiring.
Of course, packing a lunch meant that there was food at home, and if he knew Owen and Tosh's habits, grocery shopping was very low on the priority list. Ianto was anal, er, thorough enough to have some sort of schedule, or pay to have it delivered, and it was just the sort of mundane domesticity that Gwen would flock towards. But what it left him with was a refrigerator full of abandoned meals and little else to do during his alleged 'down time.'
Picking past the peppers and going straight for the beef, Jack gave an appreciative grunt. It was strangely good cold. After flipping the phonograph and starting it going again, he began to wander around with his food, dodging the peppers as he attacked the cold and coagulated onions and meat.
Between bites, he conducted with the tip of his fork, thinking back to a simpler time. Women were women, men were men and with some fast talking, he could have them both in his bed by nine. Pressed cotton shirts, well-made trousers with deep pockets, A-line skirts and soft white blouses, red lips and red finger tips, dance halls, chocolate bars and ham salad sandwiches.
And sexism, and racism and every other ism one could think of. War, truly frightening additives in the foodstuffs, questionably clean water and even sadder medical care than these 'more complicated' times.
It wasn't really even that—every time was different and had its own problems and a revolving door of both good and bad values. That was something he'd learned in just a few months of being a Time Agent.
He just missed it. There'd been something very…home-like about that era, in a bitter-sweet kind of way. He'd found Estelle one time around, but had to leave her due to circumstances beyond his control. Another time, he'd found the crude makings of a family, also abandoned due to circumstance.
Picking around the box until all the good stuff was gone, Jack stared up at the shadowy figure darting around the top of the hub. Even the pterodactyl didn't want to have anything to do with him tonight. The thing was like a cat—it only bothered with Jack when it wanted fed.
He spent enough damned time down here alone that you'd think he'd be over it, but the nights wore on him whenever he ran out of things to do, or his mind simply couldn't take the grind any more and shut off from the more difficult tasks of keeping this place afloat. The day-to-day operational stuff didn't happen on its own, and it wasn't like he had the support staff they had in London.
Fucking London. The Cardiff office was a bit ragtag and they managed to create some of their own problems, but the London office was a goddamned amateur hour in comparison. Ok, so Owen had tried seducing people with alien aftershave. Yvonne Hartman had opened the fucking Rift somewhere there wasn't even a weak point, had nearly destroyed the world with both Daleks AND Cybermen, and had killed Rose Tyler.
Comparatively his team was a bunch of fucking geniuses.
London had gotten too big for its britches, first of all. They were Torchwood One. They had been there the longest. This meant they got the funding and the facilities. And actual windows. They also had the time to build up the biggest bureaucratic clusterfuck he'd seen this side of The Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire.
At first, it had been kind of nice, being so far away from London, and basically being ignored by them. Sure it wasn't too great for his fiscal resources, but it saved him paperwork and explaining. He was only here for the rift, after all, and the Cardiff branch wouldn't exist without his insistence that the rift be monitored. They'd wanted him in London and had made him quite a lucrative offer, but he'd had his heart set on Cardiff. First, he didn't want to run into the wrong version of the Doctor or Rose, considering how much the Doctor seemed to hang out in London (vacation homes for Time Lords, he reasoned), and he had a higher chance for encountering the right version of the Doctor here, next time the Time Lord stopped for a fill-up.
And those bastards in London had just always bothered him. Paperwork, mandatory sexual harassment seminars, office picnics…
Of course, Gwen might not have made such a huge mistake on her first day with Torchwood, had she been through the type of boring but compulsory three week training class required by the London branch. Safety first, chain of command, retirement investing, if it's alien it's ours.
No, he didn't demand that kind of shit from his employees. It was possible having policies and actual standards could cut out some of the problems they seemed to have, but His meetings with Yvonne Hartman had always left him feeling dirty in that special way that made him want to be as different from London as possible. It was also part of his subversive nature—they did it that way, they were technically the lead group, therefore if he COULD get away with running his ship differently, he would.
Finding another record to put on, Jack gathered up his mess—used napkin, fork, box of decimated Chinese and wandered back to the kitchenette for some more coffee. It had been sitting there since Ianto had left the night before, and it was liable to be acidic, burnt and slightly rank, but coffee was coffee, in any case. It gave his hands something to do while he was wandering around, checking on some of his long-term experiments. Nothing wrong with a little boredom eating, he supposed.
All the shit they went through aside—Jack wouldn't trade the way he did things. What the hell good had Torchwood One's regulations gotten them? They'd screwed up far worse than his team ever had. A couple of rift accidents were nothing compared to Cybermen AND Daleks. That bitch Yvonne Hartman had fucked over Earth pretty damned good, and the body count had been far higher than anything that should have been instigated by an allegedly professional secret organization.
Or, hell, just look at any of the other retarded projects London had going—like taking over the long-abandoned UNIT project to drill to the Earth's core. THAT couldn't end well. The idea sounded ludicrous, and apparently he was the only one that realised that.
He wasn't proud of what Suzie had done, or any of the other costly mistakes made by Torchwood Three, but it hadn't been Cybermen and Daleks. Still—he had recognised then the dark path they were on the verge of travelling down, if he didn't do SOMETHING to change the dynamic of the organisation. One had gotten so full of itself, it had begun doing things simply because it could. THAT was what the ghost shifts had been about. And Torchwood One was now fifteen abandoned floors of an office building with blood smears on the walls.
Is own team…somehow in their effort to arm and protect Earth, they'd lost sight of the thing that made up the larger unit of that which they were trying to protect—people. He still couldn't say they were a customer service oriented organisation, but at least they tried to do a little good now and again.
That's what Gwen was there for. Something to shake things up, knock them out of their 'if it's alien, it's ours' mentality. It was great for teamwork that they all pretty much had the same opinions on things, but it was shit for checks and balances. He'd hated London, the way they did things, and their constant interference, but they at least had the occasional outside opinion. Without Torchwood One looking over their shoulder, they had no one, not even a shitty group with similar ambitions to make them rethink themselves.
Pulling back the stasis shielding on a row of plants in various states of growth, Jack checked heights and water saturations, before putting everything back as it was. He hadn't gotten it quite right, yet. Growth had been nearly halted, but it hadn't been stopped completely. He'd have to keep tweeking.
The truth was—Gwen, or anyone else for that matter, may have benefited from London's formal training program. But in Gwen's case, she'd have never made it that far. A group like that can be as choosy as it wants, and what does it need with a former police woman with enough curiosity, decent detecting skills and a genuine interest in people? They'd have taken one look at her lack of formal education (everyone at the London office had at least two advanced degrees) and tossed her resume in the recycling bin.
Of course, look at his people WITH multiple degrees. Owen had been sent to Cardiff after a bit of a sexual harassment witch hunt (really, hadn't he watched the training videos? Didn't he know it wasn't allowed). His skills were being ignored simply because he was a crass, crude smartass who couldn't keep his hands out of other people's pants (Jack could sympathise, he felt he never got a fair shake from the Time Agency for that reason).
Toshiko, on the other hand, he'd cherry picked because her skills were being underutilized. Since she was shy and a tad anti-social, she was relegated to liaising with UNIT and working with all the data they managed to pry out of the other group. She'd have never moved up, due to her lack of field rating. They'd have also never trained her for fieldwork simply because she had no prior qualifications (bureaucracy didn't really have a place for people without silly pieces of paper which said they could do things). Jack managed to correct the problem with her (and later on with Gwen) in a matter of a few days, and now she was invaluable and fast-thinking in the field.
She and Owen weren't 'company men' the way crazy Yvonne preferred, but they were also capable of accomplishing more, and in a shorter period of time than their entire counterpart departments 'back home' Despite being 'high maintenance' and occasionally making mistakes London agent might not have, he wasn't sorry to have them.
Especially since they'd be dead, if they'd have stayed in London. In light of that, Owen fucking someone assigned to him as a case project and Toshiko telling office secrets to a sultry evil alien were things he could clean up after and deal with.
Besides, due to the way Torchwood One used to conduct itself, the organisation as a whole was worst-kept secret in the world. Fortunately he'd thought to tack on the 'special ops' subtitle to the group when he'd gotten to Cardiff, otherwise not only would their existence be known, but so would their true purpose. Throw around a few more words like internal security and anti-terrorism anything, and people'd let you into just about anywhere without a question—including that meat packing plant they'd driven a Krek Beast out of that one time.
Which brought him to Ianto. Did Ianto hate him? Did Ianto not hate him? Probably depended on the day, which way the wind was blowing and whether Jack could resist the urge to slap the younger man's ass or not.
Jack checked the temperature and pressure gauge on the jar containing his prize possession. Owen thought it was a demented, macabre fascination with the hand, and that he should get help. Jack thought Owen should mind his own business.
It looked like Ianto was still dusting the bio-jar, even though he'd asked the other man not to. He didn't want any of the settings bumped or the preservation mode changed in any sort of way. The hand could be nothing, or it could be everything. Either way, he wasn't going to let something happen to it.
Ianto. Ianto was such a difficult person to get a handle on. There was the 150 IQ, the obsessive-compulsive neat streak, the way he looked in a suit, the way he made coffee, and…that other thing.
The thing that probably made Ianto need therapy even more than Jack did. Not the hiding the half-cyberised girlfriend in the basement thing, either. In the proper context, Jack could almost understand that. It was that part of being a branch director's personal assistant that didn't involve coffee or sending memos.
In fact, looking at Ianto's London file, Jack had been equal parts impressed and frightened with the young man's qualifications and when the 'personal assistant' had asked to transfer to the only other functional branch (Scotland didn't count—Bob was pushing eighty and only kept up with the cataloging of all things alien because it got him away from his nutty wife a few hours a day) after the battle at Canary Warf.
He supposed it related to Ianto being a neat freak. Being a Cleaner. Need a body disposed of? Need to make it look like an accident, or need to just make the whole thing disappear, as if it had never happened? Call Ianto. He'll make you a cup of coffee while the bodies are dissolving in a vat of acid.
According to Yvonne's personal file of the incident, Ianto had once made a mass murder by hostile aliens look like a pub fire started by faulty wiring…in twenty minutes. A hundred and nineteen bodies, disposed of, and explained, just like that. Another thirty and he had plausible paper trails on the public record for why all of those unrelated people were in that pub at that particular time.
True, all Ianto did was clean up shit, but he was very good at it. You probably also didn't want to fuck with him—you'd end up dead and your life would be rewritten to make you look like a junkie or a mob hit man. And you'd never know it to look at him. It wasn't like his personal appearance says 'cold hearted bastard,' or he ever, EVER spoke of his more…specialised activities for Torchwood. Holding all that inside couldn't be healthy or good.
Yes, Jack had felt betrayed, but he'd let go of the Lisa thing. But Ianto was screwed up far worse than he was. He was just an immortal hundred and eighty four year old former Time Agent and con man who'd been abandoned in the future, had hitched a ride to the past and was missing two years of his life. He didn't hold a candle to Ianto, sometimes. Not only had Mr. Jones been doing Yvonne Hartman's dirty deeds for his entire tenure at Torchwood, but he'd been through that hellish battle with the Cybermen and Daleks and had the love of his life turned into half of a creature.
Upon retrospect, Jack had decided that it would have been easier on Ianto, had his girlfriend died, or had been fully converted. It was far crueler to see his love's face staring back from that mess of metal. It was a perversion, an echo of life that, on top of everything else, had probably made Ianto a little nutty. Ok, nuttier than he must have been before. When it came down to it, Ianto could be a cold bastard—had to be, to do his job. He'd had some small piece of his life that had been marginally normal, and it had been fucked up beyond all recognition. He'd spot the young man, just this once, the temporary leave of his judgment.
Slapping a Post-it on the jar, ordering Ianto NOT to dust it, upon pain of firing, Jack looked down at his mostly empty mug. It was cold and it tasted like shit. So far he'd been given no indication that the afterlife existed. If it did, his purgatory was sure to be filled with half-empty mugs of tepid coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cider and anything else that should be consumed while hot. He may possibly be in purgatory now.
Making one last trip to the kitchenette, Jack sighed. He could put on a new pot, he supposed, but then Ianto would act put-out when he came in. Making coffee was not a job for mere mortals. And Ianto's coffee was just better. Apparently there was some London training module that included making coffee and faking freak accidents and suicides that Jack hadn't been privy to. Or it might be a mutant power, like in the comic books.
Dumping out last night's grounds, Jack found a filter then grabbed the glass carafe from the burner. At the sink, he dumped out the leftover coffee and rinsed before refilling the pot with water. Ianto was due in any moment, and would save him from himself, of that he had no doubt.
He couldn't even make coffee in this century.
He'd adapted rather well, he'd thought. Had managed to have quite a bit of fun in a few eras that had seemed more like home than his own time, even. But somehow, in the here and now, he was a marginal personnel manager, a crappy motivator and all-round shitty boss who couldn't even make a pot of coffee as well as some kid with a penchant for disposing of bodies, a mere sixteenth of his age.
Seeing Ianto enter the hub, he made a show of getting the coffee beans. He knew his limitations. With the coffee, and with the bossing. One'd think with his knowledge of the future, and military organizations in general, he'd suck less, but it wasn't the case. If it were so, he wouldn't have done everything the exact opposite way of Yvonne Hartman just for the sake of spite.
What it came down to, Jack thought as Ianto silently took the bag of beans away from him, was that they were five people who were incredibly bad at their jobs. Owen couldn't keep his mouth shut to save his life, Tosh couldn't speak up to save her life, Gwen was not even the Torchwood type, Ianto had a bucket full of issues, and Jack wasn't any better—he was just here to find the Doctor and figure out why he couldn't die, and if he helped humanity in any sort of way, well, it made him feel like less of a shitty human being than he knew himself to be.
That being said…so far his people hadn't ripped a hole into the Void and dumped tin men and pepper pots on a defenseless world in an ignorant time—yet (it being a world of infinite possibilities, he knew better than to ever say never). They were also still alive, where as Torchwood One was a tundra, empty and frozen at that moment of final devastation. Not even clever, brilliant Rose Tyler had escaped that. They were all so very incredibly alive.
Arms folded, he watched Ianto dump the contents of the grinder into the basket, then turned around when he heard a snort from the door. "He catch you trying to make coffee again?"
Jack didn't respond to the jab. "Good morning, Owen."
In the distance, he heard Gwen and Tosh. Mostly Gwen—twittering away about what some starlet had been wearing on an awards show last night. Toshiko was just doing that smile and nod thing that indicated to him that once again she had no idea how to respond in a social situation. He gestured for both of them to come up to the kitchen, if only to save him from Owen's acerbic pre-coffee repertoire of insults.
Usually it took the team medic two cups to knock down the incivility to a mild roar. Another two after that, and he'd fly through the whole stack of files that Jack would place on his desk in the middle of the night in just a few hours.
Yeah. From a certain perspective, they were five people who were incredibly bad at their jobs—but they were doing London's job with just a handful of agents, AND the world was still in one piece, therefore, they also rocked.
They all watched the stream of coffee coming from the machine, transfixed at the sight of the dark elixir of life and hangover repellant slowly filled the bulb shaped pot. Like it held some kind of answers or wisdom.
Though, Jack supposed, at six thirty in the morning, coffee was the chemical equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi.
Toshiko breathed in deeply, the smell of the brew seeming to wake her a bit more. Owen gestured for it to percolate faster, as if he could make it do so by will alone. Seeing that Ianto was not amused, Gwen clipped Owen in the arm with her elbow.
They might be scraps—leftovers, but the Earth was in good hands with them on the job. And this morning, he didn't even mean that sarcastically.
And…they were his team. His family. He wouldn't trade a single one of them for the world.