Syphilis, or The Art of Changing Destinies (in Bed)
The takeaway was nearly finished. Bits of fried rice and sauce from kung pao chicken clung to the table, almost hidden beneath half-empty white boxes and used serviettes. Jack signaled the end of the meal by tossing fortune cookies at the others without warning.
"That's not fair," laughed Gwen. "We're suppose to choose our own fortunes." She grabbed her cookie from where it landed on the table in front of her.
"It's perfectly fair. I'm the boss, I decide all your destinies." He threw in a little gravitas, but Jack was honestly glad to see them all smiling and relaxed, enjoying dinner together in the conference room. Recent weeks had been difficult on everyone, from cannibals to mind-reading aliens and resurrected team members. They needed a break.
"Destiny my arse," said Owen, sitting back and gesturing with a chopstick. "It's not like they ever say anything useful, like, 'That sore is syphilis,' or, 'She's shagging your brother.'"
"Owen!" Gwen said with a fond mixture of admonition and amusement.. He grinned back at her, unrepentant.
Jack relaxed in his chair, watching them. Fortune cookies, like lottery tickets, were a cheap way to buy a five minute harmless fantasy of a different life than the ones they were going to end up living. "Go on."
Tosh read hers. "'Beauty is in the heart of the beholder.'" She beamed. "That's sweet."
"It's smarmy and meaningless," said Owen. He caught Jack's glare and grudgingly reached for his. "All right, all right. But we're adding 'in bed' to the rest, agreed?"
"Because we're twelve," Gwen said.
Jack said, "We could add myfavourite phrase."
Ianto let out a sigh. "Sir, I remind you what happened the last time you insisted on ending every sentence with the words: 'With my penis.'"
"The morning meeting was interesting for once?"
"The harassment forms are in the usual place, everyone." His tone was stern, but he was trying hard not to laugh.
Gwen took the next turn. "Mine says, 'Arrogance diminishes wisdom.'" Her face fell.
"In bed," said Owen. "Gwen, pass that one over. You got Jack's by mistake."
Jack stole half of Gwen's cookie on principle. "I have plenty of wisdom in bed, thank you." He kept his eyes on Owen, rather than risking a glance to the man sitting at his left. New affairs could be delicate, tricky things, and were best kept under wraps. The Book of Love surely had extra chapters for affairs with someone who'd threatened to kill you once. Jack crunched the last bits of Gwen's sweet, lemon-flavoured cookie, and began unwrapping his own.
Owen read off, "'The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.' This is really crap."
Tosh said, "You forgot 'In bed.'"
Ianto said, "Owen's sleepwalking problem comes to light at last."
For a fraction of a second, Gwen acted as though she would comment on Owen's nocturnal habits, but it appeared that was also still under wraps. She gave a quick nod to Jack. "What's yours?"
Jack broke his cookie open, glanced at the fortune he found, and said instead, "'You are devilishly charming, have a fantastic smile, and win the hearts of everyone around you.'" He supplied the smile, with extra devil at no charge.
"No way," said Gwen, still giggling. "Come on, share."
Tosh nudged Ianto. "Your turn."
Ianto took the last packet and opened the plastic, snapping his cookie in two. Ianto's eyes went over the crisp, white paper in his hand. He cleared his throat. "'That sore is syphilis.'"
Owen went to grab the fortune out of his hands, but Jack was faster. He pinched the little paper between thumb and forefinger for a dramatic reading. His breath failed him for a moment. Then he turned to Ianto, "You should have that looked at. Owen's got penicillin."
Owen rolled his eyes. "Destiny." He left the table, leaving behind his trash. Jack watched Ianto staring at the takeaway containers as Gwen and Tosh followed Owen's exit. It was time to go back to work.
Jack palmed Ianto's fortune beside his own. The Chinese takeaway bought their fortune cookies in bulk from a supplier in Manchester. The alleged destinies of thousands were written by two workers who'd dropped out of uni to spend their hours in a dusty office paraphrasing poetry and song lyrics; Jack had investigated the shop in relation to a psychic-probing incident years back. He'd ordered from them enough to know how often the fortunes were repeats. He didn't believe in any of it, not the slips of paper, not the catchy sayings everyone attached for fun. As for finding the same fortune as his new lover, that was coincidence and nothing more.
None of that stopped Jack from dropping the two bits of paper into a pocket. Sometimes five minutes of fantasy was enough to make it through the rest of a terrible day.
Without prompting, he helped Ianto clear away the mess. Ianto said nothing, but Jack read the gratitude in his silence and in his half-smile. Whenever they brushed hands while passing containers and utensils, a simple thrill ran through Jack.
Love is right in front of you, if you have eyes to see.