Gwen had been kind enough to keep an eye on things while Jack took Ianto out for his birthday. He'd also given her the specific order not to call unless the end of the world was imminent.
Jack and Ianto had been in the car for over an hour now, they had left the hub at four and they were now driving around the countryside and Ianto started to fear the worst.
Ianto had tried to bribe Jack into spilling the beans, but he wouldn't say a single thing. He just went on and on about how beautiful it was out here and how glad he was to get out of the hub for a day.
It's not that Ianto disliked surprises, or was it?
Mostly in their line of work surprises ended in blood and tears and he'd just liked to know what Jack had planned, in case this turned into another unexpected disaster.
They finally came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by fields and rocks and Ianto thought it was a perfect place for a picnic, which would be nice of course, but they could have done that a lot closer to Cardiff.
At least Jack seemed to know where he was going, so Ianto followed him silently until Jack stopped in front of what looked like a small entrance to a cave.
Jack rummaged in the bag he'd brought along and took out two flashlights. He nodded towards the cave's entrance and slipped inside.
Ianto followed Jack inside, but it took some time for his eyes to adjust to the lack of light. Eventually he saw Jack's flashlight not to far ahead.
"A dark and damp cave!? And they say romance is dead!" he said sarcastically.
His remark was greeted with a single burst of laughter after which he felt a hand on his wrist.
"Do you trust me Ianto?"
"Yes I do, but even trusting people are prone to occasional doubts."
He stood right next to Jack now. They were surrounded by the dim light of the flashlight and he could see a smile on Jack's lips.
"Oh come on!! This will be great!"
They walked for a while until they found themselves at the very end of the cave. It seemed to be closed off but Jack pushed some buttons on his wrist-strap and suddenly the rocks seemed to shift. There was a crack now, just wide enough for them to slip through.
The darkness was worse here, especially after the rock slid back into place, but with the torchlight on, Ianto could see what looked like a tunnel, cut out in the rocks, going further down. Jack pulled his arm to make him move along.
After what seemed like forever the tunnel curved to the left and Ianto could see that the right side of the tunnel was no longer made of rocks but was made of metal. He rubbed his hand on the surface, surprised to find something this massive. He had no idea how far below the surface they were but this thing must have been here a while.
Still, there wasn't a trace of rust on it and it was covered with strange engravings. Drawings of stars and planets, spaceships and what could have represented suns.
Jack called out for him.
"Are you going to just stand there or do you want to see what's inside."
"Inside what Jack? What is this thing?"
"All good things come to those who wait." Was the only answer he got.
He moved on and finally found Jack standing in front of a door. It was covered with the same engravings and looked a bit too small to have been designed for humans.
"Welcome to the home of the Calderon'" he used his wrist-strap to open the door and they were greeted by ... more darkness.
"Right!" Ianto said "majorly impressive" he tried not to sound annoyed but he had no idea what they were doing here. "Can we go back now?"
"Really, Ianto, thou of little faith!!"
He shoved Ianto through the door and closed it up behind them.
Ianto could hear Jack using his wrist-strap again and in no time they had enough light to see.
Ianto tried to say something but the sight was too magnificent for him to say anything coherent. The entire ceiling was covered with little, slightly twinkling blue lights.
It was like looking up and seeing all the stars of the universe shining down on you.
He heard Jack's chuckle.
"I thought you might like it" he said with a big happy grin on his face. "As I said before, this is the home of the Calderon. Well not their home exactly, just their spaceship."
At the front of the spaceship was something that looked like a giant screen and in the middle of the room Ianto saw a king size inflatable mattress covered in white silk sheets and crimson cushions.
Next to the "bed" were two low tables draped in the same white silk.
Ianto noticed two bottles of red wine, lots of grapes, a giant plate of cheese and a basket filled with bread.
"I can't cook in here and we have takeaway every other day, so I thought we'd go French."
Jack looked at Ianto who was still looking around, looking up at the lights, at the bed, the food.
Knowing that nothing coherent was going to leave that pretty mouth any time soon Jack started explaining. He said that many centuries ago this spaceship crashed near Cardiff.
That in 1894 Torchwood Cardiff picked up readings and started digging. That he had been there when they'd found it and had immediately recognized its origin.
Torchwood had never succeeded in getting what they were looking for. The Calderons were known for their 'intent filters' throughout the universe. Such a filter would scan someone's intentions and if an intruder had any wish to use the Caderon's knowledge for anything else than peacefull purposes the vessel would go into lockdown and nothing would work.
Jack'd had no intention of helping Torchwood, so, none of the systems have ever worked and after 60 years of trying and fussing they'd given up, closed the file and shut down the excavation.
"Who are the Calderons?" Ianto asked intrigued.
"Us time agents nickname them "the archivists", their sole purpose, the only thing they live for is to gain as much knowledge as they possibly can. They are one of the oldest civilizations we know of.
Their wisdom is beyond anything we'll ever see. They travel though time and galaxies, observing, never intervening, just watching, inventorising."
Jack took a bottle of wine and started opening it. "I didn't bring you here just to show you a spaceship Ianto. Make yourself comfortable, this is only the beginning."
Ianto took off his jacket and sat on the bed. It was comfortable enough and the temperature in the spaceship seemed to be rising. Jack must have switched on the heating as well as the lights.
Jack came over with two glasses of wine and handed him one.
"Happy birthday!!" he said while sitting down next to Ianto. He grabbed a little black box that laid next to the bed and said "Ianto Jones... I give you the universe."
"I know you're a sucker for the dramatic, Jack" Ianto said when he was done laughing "but what am I supposed to do with this?"
To Ianto it was just a little black box with a few buttons on the top and he wasn't inclined to push any of them. He'd made that mistake already and had learned not to tinker with unidentified black boxes.
Jack snatched the box from his hands while trying to look insulted "Really, no trust at all !!" he said, then pointed the black box at the screen while pushing the left button.
Suddenly the screen in front of them came to life.
"I've made a little selection of my all time favourite worlds out there. We deal with so much scum and monsters coming through the rift that sometimes we forget that there is so much beauty. Such wonderful worlds and species. I wish I could take you out there but I can't. So I give you the next best thing."
Jack handed the box back to Ianto and he pushed a button. The images changed, another footage, now of a world that seemed to be covered with indigo flowers and giant leaves.
He saw creatures that didn't look like humans at all, they had 3 legs and 3 arms, they were very small but seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Ianto couldn't understand the words but they seemed to be playing some sort of game, throwing something and running after it. He could see the sky above that didn't look at all like the sky on earth, it was orange and there seemed to be 2 suns.
"Jack .." he tried to say something, but before he could find the words Jack started talking.
They watched footage after footage. Jack telling outrageous stories of how he'd met some of them, how some species lived, what their customs were.
They ate the cheese and drank the wine, but Jack never stopped talking or explaining, answering every question Ianto came up with.
Ianto saw things he'd never thought possible.
A planet covered with old ruins but nobody knew who'd built them.
Planets where it always rained, but not watery rain like on earth, it was green goo that covered everything. Like a big blanket turning the world emerald green.
A planet where the creatures looked like humans, except for some minor details, but who lived in perfect symbiosis with nature, refueling on energy by merging with trees.
Creatures that looked so ugly he'd almost wanted to skip that part.
Or scenery so breathtaking that tears stung his eyes.
Jack was so funny at times he had to rewind because he'd missed an entire part.
They both enjoyed themselves so much. Even if they were in a spaceship watching alien footage, this was the closest thing to a normal evening they had in a while.
They watched and talked and laughed for more than five hours, after which Ianto turned off the screen and handed the remote back to Jack.
"I can't believe you showed me the universe for my birthday!"
"Well, you know I like to show off. I'll have to dig deep to do better next year" Jack said tracing a finger down Ianto's cheek.
"It's so beautiful out there Jack. And you could still be out there, couldn't you? If you'd stayed with the doctor instead of coming back. You would still be experiencing all those wonderful things."
There was a moment of silence but eventually Jack found the words he was looking for.
"Maybe I will again someday. When there's nothing to keep me here anymore, maybe I'll go back to travelling the stars. But there is one thing I've learned while travelling with the Doctor Ianto. You can have the entire galaxy in the palm of your hand and still be the loneliest person in the universe. I have responsibilities here, I have friends and people I care about. And I have you to explore and experience over and over again, my own private galaxy tucked away in a suit."
Ianto looked up to meet Jack's eyes and they kissed, not a casual kiss, not lustful or wanting for more. This kiss was filled with gratitude, acceptance and so much love.
Jack broke the kiss, dimmed the lights with his wrist-strap and pushed Ianto down on the bed.
Ianto's birthday wasn't over yet...
A/N : this one is for Pinkfairy727 who wanted to know what Jack's surprise was. Follow up story to August 19, 2008