A Secret Santa gift for nancybrown. AU, supposed to be set in whatever universe nancybrown's To Do List is set.
"I believe there's a rule against hiding in the archives to cry." Ianto stopped a few feet away from her, his hands in his pockets, eyes directed tastefully away as she turned to look at him.
She wiped at her cheeks with the flats of her hands. "You'll have to reprimand me, then."
His brief flutter of a smile matched hers. Oh, were I Jack. "I think a warning will suffice." He leaned against the wall next to her, his shoulder a hair's breadth from her own, and looked up at the ceiling, at the vaulted brick that rounded their words and sent them back. "It's all right," he said, too low to echo at all.
"It isn't." She set her head back against the wall, closing her eyes, tears slipping out of the corners. "I froze. I couldn't handle it." She let out a breath, her hands uncurling against the brick behind her, palms flat and pressed against the rough edges. "I shouldn't be here."
"You should," he said. "You've done well. Today was an exception."
She shook her head slowly back and forth without opening her eyes. "It's always going to be like this. It's always going to be – the dregs. We get the cast-off and the dangerous." Her breath caught. "It's never something beautiful."
He reached down and took her hand. "Come on," he said, and pushed away from the wall, starting off before she could argue. She stumbled slightly, but righted herself, kept up, staring down at their hands clasped between them, her dark against his light. In the months she'd been working there, she didn't think Ianto Jones had touched her once. This was definitely new.
"Where are we--" she started.
"Patience," he said, looking over his shoulder to grin at her, lips quirked a little higher than usual, some secret thing drawing his smile brighter. "All will become clear."
"You sound like a fortune teller."
"I've passed for one a few times."
She laughed despite herself, imagining Ianto in a dark robe with his hands clasped around a crystal ball. Affecting an accent entirely incapable of being placed; part Welsh, part Caribbean, part Derren Brown. "I'd like to hear that one."
"Get me drunk enough." They ducked down another hallway, this one more narrow than the first, the brick darkened as though there had been a fire. "Just don't ask Jack to tell it. He never tells it right." A new door; they were past the point where she felt comfortable in the archives, the places that were familiar. They were into Ianto's Archives, the places only he seemed to know. He and Jack, probably, but they belonged to him as much as the Hub belonged to Jack, and she knew that as well as she knew anything without having to be told. "Everything's sex and adventure with him." He turned around suddenly, and she nearly collided with him. "I add a little more intrigue. Suspense."
"You're Bond," she said, with a hesitant smile.
He tapped the air with his finger. Right in one. Then he opened the door beside them and swept his arm for her to enter. She did.
It was a small room, compared to the vaulted ones that seemed to come one after the other, all blending together, especially when one is lost. (She'd gotten lost, hopelessly lost, her second day; Gwen had found her eventually, as she stood frowning at the apex of about ten hallways, with no idea of which would lead her back. She would learn, eventually. She would know the rooms the way that Ianto did.) The walls were lined with shelves, the shelves with items she could not make out from the doorway, with only the dim yellow light from the overhead hall fixtures. There was a table at the center, further piled with indistinct shapes. Then, behind her, Ianto flicked a switch, and she could see.
"What are they?" Her voice reverence-softened.
He stepped around her. "This," he said, "is Room NB98." He approached the table and gestured for her to follow. She did, but only after a moment, the items laid out there at once drawing her in and forcing her away, because there was nothing here that came without a price, and no chance that the glittering was actually gold. But she drew up next to him and he reached across the table to lift something small and hold it up before his eyes. "This is where we keep the better things."
"The better things?" She couldn't pull her eyes away from the object in his hands, the round, smooth glass cupped between his fingers, so much like the image of the robe and the crystal ball. But, no. This wasn't a crystal ball. It was a snow globe.
"The things that aren't dangerous." He picked up her hand and laid the snow globe there, then lifted it to her eyes. "The things that we don't have to kill or maintain or decommission. This is where we keep the items that come through the rift intact and-" He trailed off, unable to say what he meant, but gestured to the globe to show her.
Held up before her eyes, the snow globe contained a thunderstorm. A dark cloud filled the space between the curved glass dome and the black base. Lightning flared inside of the cloud, highlighting it, flashing against her face brighter than any lights in the catacomb could do. There was a tiny sigh of thunder, and the globe rattled minutely in her hands. "It's beautiful," she said.
Ianto smiled. "It is." He ran a finger along the seam where the glass met the base. "Sometimes it snows. Sometimes there's a key on the bottom of it that plays Bach's Cello Suit No. 1 when it's turned."
"Where'd it come from?"
Ianto shrugged. "It's been here for a long time. It fell through the rift in the twenties." He took it gently from her hands and placed it back on the table. "Here," he said, and picked up a few yellowed pieces of paper, handing them to her.
They were photographs. Her eyebrows shot up when she took them, staring at the images captured there. "They're moving." She traced the smooth face of the photo. "It's like-"
Harry Potter!, Ianto mouthed along with her exclamation. "Is it? I hadn't noticed." He grinned when she looked up with a roll of her eyes. "Jack says they don't have this sort of thing when he's from, or from any time period he's visited. He reckons they came from another universe, one the rift touches."
A woman smiled up at Lois, waving from her place in front of a fireplace. Two children stood on either side of her, a young boy sticking out his tongue to the photographer and a younger girl clutching a doll beneath her arm and staring with her mouth a rounded o into the camera flash. In another photo, a man skated across a frozen lake with a little girl on his back, both of them laughing as though in a silent film, all sepia and beautiful and strange. She set them back on the table and looked at Ianto.
He smiled. "There's more." He took her arm and led her to a shelf. "This chess set changes color as the player's time runs out. When it turns mauve, the turn is over." Lois raised a brow at mauve and Ianto shrugged. "Ask Jack." He led her further down the shelf. "These are-" He paused, frowning as he picked up a pile of round pieces of what looked like parchment. "Tosh translated these." He ran his fingers over the strange symbols, the lines in his forehead deepening. "They're letters home from a soldier at war. She was ecstatic when she cracked it. They're-" he waved it away and set them back down. His fingers strayed at the ribbon that bound them. They're beautiful. He moved on, across to the next shelf, and smiled at the rows of half-liter bottles that lined it. "These," he said expansively, moving aside so that she could get a proper look, "are brilliant."
Lois frowned. "They look empty."
Ianto shook his head, ticking one finger back and forth in a tsk-tsk gesture. "They are not." He took a jar and held it out to her, rolling it so that she could see the white label, scrawled with black in a language she did not know. Beneath it in careful blue letters were the words Venus – 4433. She frowned, uncomprehending, and he grinned. "It's air," he said.
"Air." She looked at him, cocking her head very slightly. "Jars of air?"
Ianto nodded. "Someone traveled the universe, as far as he could go, and collected air from every habitable world he visited."
"But Venus isn't habitable."
Ianto waved a hand. "Some other Venus." He straightened the jars so that their labels pointed out towards the room. "Point is, a man collected something from everywhere he went, and somehow it got here to us, in some futuristic carrying case." He turned the last jar out and checked the lids for dust.
"What makes you think it was a man?" Lois crossed her arms, brow arched.
"What woman would do something so inane?"
She laughed, and he looked at her to smile. He set his hand on the shelf next to her arm. "Lois," he said, "You're mostly right." His face took on a serious expression, his mouth dropping sharply to a thoughtful frown. "Most of what we get is dangerous and terrible. A lot of it is disgusting. A lot of it makes no sense. We get a lot of weapons, a lot of things made because of anger. But then-" He gestured to the room, to everything inside of it. "We get this. We get a room full of things that are beautiful. We get a room full of things that make sense, that make the universe look like us." His hand moved to her shoulder. "You need to know that not everything is shit. Some of what we have, some of what we know – it's magnificent."
She was there before she knew where she was going, his mouth soft and surprised against hers, a laugh bubbling from behind his teeth even as he leaned into the kiss, his hand moving from her shoulder to curl against her neck. When she stepped away, two bright spots of color were rising in her cheeks, her eyes shining and her smile pleased, embarrassed. "Sorry," she murmured, touching the back of her head with a hand, playing with her braids, a nervous gesture brought out under pressure.
He laughed. "Don't be," he said. "It isn't often I'm kissed suddenly by a beautiful woman. And Jack will be playing that footage back for weeks." She pinked further. He shook his head. "He won't. I'll make sure of it."
She let out a breath. "Thank you," she said. And she meant more than for deleting the CCTV footage. The words seemed to span the room and resonate in the small space between them. She said again, "Thank you."
Again, he shook his head. "We all need this. It's what this room is for. We need to be reminded." He smiled. "Gwen needed it a few weeks in. I think her favorite was the accordion that sounded like ducks." He tilted his head in the direction of the offending object.
"Did you take her down here?"
He nodded. "I did. I didn't know how important this room was, yet. But I thought it might help her. Eventually, it helped me."
"Who took you down here?" she asked, and smiled at his smile.
Ianto quirked a brow. "Was that an eyeroll, Lois Habiba? You're learning yet."
She shook her head, and let her eyes once more rove the shelves, taking in the objects that surrounded them. Quietly she asked, "Who put them here?"
Her eyes settled back on him and she was surprised to see him with his hand on the back of his neck, his elbow in the air. His own awkward position. "Actually," he said, "Same answer. Jack."
She stared at him. "Really?"
Ianto shrugged, dropping his arm. "I think he saw the need for it, a long time ago." He looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling, tucking his hands into his trouser pockets. "I think it's one of the few good organizational decisions he's ever made. Better than the time when I was out with the flu and he reorganized the Anachronistic Technologies wing to correspond to the Andromeda lunar calendar." Lois's face was horrified, and he smiled. "I think he just did it to annoy me." He turned for the door. "Come on," he said. "We've work to do. Saving the world."
"Finding more things that we can put in here."
He looked back at her. He grinned. "That's what we work for, Lois. That's why we're here."