Title: When This Long Trick
Spoilers: Up through COE
Warnings: some graphic descriptions of injuries, character death
Betas: eldarwannabe provided valuable help and suggestions, and fide_et_spe and amilyn brought it home.
AN: Written for the ianto_bigbang, Jack/Ianto Minibang Track. Part of the Intersections series.
Previous stories in this series:
In My Unique Position
The Roots of the Quadratic
From the Cold Coast of Norway
Wherever his travels took him, Ianto had found that the pubs in the spaceports were essentially the same. The better establishments were upscale clubs with themes and expensive drinks, places to be seen and be social. Jack and Ianto didn't spend much time in these. Their more usual haunts were dingy, unkempt taverns set aside for hard drinkers and criminals, where illicit deals formed half the ambience and which served beverages indistinguishable from paint thinner.
Paint thinner wasn't that bad, once he was used to it.
Ianto sat at his customary place at the bar, watching the room for trouble while Jack negotiated with their latest potential client. Ianto hadn't met Nyxinians before. After all this time, he still found it awe-inspiring to observe a three-metre-tall wall of grey fur as it argued with Jack over the price of a trip to the next star system. Ianto tried to listen in over the ambient noise of the pub, but although he'd picked up enough Standard to be fluent, that wasn't helpful when the conversation took place in whispers and euphemisms.
The negotiations ended abruptly when the grey giant stood up, growled at Jack, and heaved his bulk off in a huff. Jack finished his water, then joined Ianto.
"His friends went with him," Ianto said in English. "We're clear."
"Was the price too high?"
"I didn't like the cargo. There's a reason that stuff is outlawed in the next star system."
Drugs again, then. Their ship was frequently used for smuggling purposes, and more than once, they'd brought on illegal cargo. Jack claimed to have tried most of the available hallucinogens in this time period during his days as a Time Agent, and he was firm on which were harmless and which were equivalent to setting one's own hair on fire for kicks. Ianto had sampled one of their hauls, by accidental exposure rather than by choice. After the pink giraffes had roamed away two days later, he'd sworn off anything harder than the paint thinner. He knew where he stood with paint thinner.
He took one last nasty swallow and left a tip for the bartender.
"We'll come back tomorrow," Jack said. "We can find more business once our name gets around."
Jack drove the hardest bargains with the least savoury potential clients. They could afford to lose jobs if he priced them out of reach. All their profits went into an investment account for a philanthropic foundation they'd set up under one of Jack's old nicknames. Taking the money out of circulation from the local criminal element was an additional benefit.
Ianto smiled uneasily as they passed one of the red-clad security officers who patrolled this station. He wasn't sure he wanted too much notoriety here. He'd had enough of waking up in alien prison cells.
Dear David and Mica,
This is a mental photograph of a space station Jack and I visited. Notice the grey walls and lack of décor. Don't be frightened by the aliens. Yes, many of them appear large and scary, and some of them would happily rip out your ribs for a snack, but most just go about their lives, working and having baby aliens and setting aside money for the future.
Ask your mam about making baby aliens. I don't want to get into it.
I miss you. Didn't think I would, but when I look around places like this, I wonder what you'd see, who you might have grown up to be surrounded by all this Spock stuff.
Here's a mental snap of Jack standing by our ship.
The docks at this spaceport were stacked like so many LEGO bricks, big and small ships each in their own private bays rented out at exorbitant rates by the week. ("Scam," Jack had said flatly. "They know most of the ships won't dock that long, but they have to pay the full week anyway.") The Celes Tirrasat in a bay far too large for her sleek, compact body. ("Another scam. We passed bays that would have been fine, but we're being charged for the larger area.") They were alone.
Or should have been.
Giant, Grey and Furry had brought his friends to visit, and with the bay cut off from the rest, no-one would hear them. Were they here to steal the ship? Ianto glanced at Jack's face, saw that he was taking in the grey's weapon: heavy, blunt, not good for a simple shoot-and-grab. They'd come to teach a lesson, then. Given that two of the other aliens carried blasters, the Nyxinian was contemplating a permanent lesson intended for future business partners.
"I count five," Jack said in English, and then in Standard he said, "Hello, boys. Did you reconsider our price?"
Ianto said, "There's a sixth one behind the starboard strut. Different species." He couldn't make out more than a shape in the shadows, but it was smaller, not furry, could be humanoid.
"You should reconsider my offer," said the Nyxinian. "I will offer you your life and the life of your mate in trade for your dooendship."
"I've had better deals," Jack said, ignoring the insult. His hands hung loose by his sides, easily within reach to grab his weapon. "Why don't we go back to the pub and have a chat?"
Another Nyxinian, one with deep brown fur, leaned over to the grey, and said something in a language Ianto didn't know. The grey alien made a hand gesture he did know. Two of the remaining Nyxinians stepped forward with their, for lack of a better term, clubs.
Jack's hand flew to his weapon and had it pointed directly at the leader. "Let's not do anything we regret."
"Jack," Ianto said quietly. "Seven and eight are behind us." He turned carefully, not grabbing his weapon yet.
The alien in the shadows stepped out, aimed and fired. Ianto and Jack dove to the ground. Jack's gun was in his hand, and he shot the grey alien, who fell with a soft grunt. Ianto had more trouble getting his own gun free, expecting any second to feel a blast ripping through him. As he went to aim, he saw the humanoid fire over him. Ianto's head whipped around to see a Nyxinian crumple to the ground. He had a friend behind him, whom Ianto managed to clip in the legs. The Nyxinian fell, then kept crawling towards them. Ianto fired again, and didn't miss.
Beside him, Jack grunted and stiffened. Ianto rolled, barely dodging a second blast, and scrambled to his feet, wanting to meet his assailant face-on. There was another shot, and the alien fell. Bodies surrounded him, he took in with a scared glance. Jack's eyes were open and sightless. Their own weapons had been set on stun, but their assailants had different standards.
The last alien came closer. It hadn't fired upon Ianto or Jack. Ianto forced himself not to shoot. He said in Standard, "You helped us. Why?"
"You needed help. Get him into the ship. We need to be out of here before they wake up."
Ianto hesitated. He wasn't stupid. No-one he'd met in the last five years helped people out of the goodness of their hearts (or heart-analogues). It was possible the alien had set up the encounter with the Nyxinians in order to give Ianto and Jack a reason to trust him. On the other hand, Ianto needed assistance dragging Jack's corpse into the ship, and he could set aside his inner suspicious bastard for that long.
"Get his legs. He took a bad stun to the chest." The alien moved closer and pulled aside his loose poncho to free his arms. He wasn't just humanoid, but human, a rarity in these parts. His sandy brown hair was drawn back in a neat ponytail, common for travellers who expected long journeys between barber visits. Handsome, Ianto thought and then dismissed. The bloke was half his age.
The man took a critical look at Jack's injury, and then hefted his legs. Ianto keyed in the open code for the Celes Tirra, and together, they brought Jack inside, placing him carefully on the deck.
"Thank you for your help. I'll be taking off now." He indicated the gangplank.
The man smiled tightly. "Is saving your life worth a quick trip? I won't be welcome here, either."
Ianto had a moment's agony of indecision. He ought to eject their unwanted passenger, but he'd helped them out in a bad situation and, scam or not, Ianto was raised better than that. He really didn't want the stranger in the control room. There was little the man could possibly do to Jack whilst Jack was dead. "Stay here with him. I'm sure he'll wake up soon."
"I give him about six more minutes. These blasters do a number on the nervous system."
Ianto hurried into the control room, then started the warm up for the engines. He could do a cold start, though Jack said it was hard on the ship: more maintenance later for a longer head start now. He'd take it.
Ianto signalled the Dock Master for an opening, and guided the ship out carefully. He'd learned the basics of flying for this kind of emergency. He couldn't dodge or roll or perform the tricks Jack knew with fluid ease, could never make the ship an extension of himself, but he could get them into the sky and chart a flight path that didn't run them through any suns.
He spent some time setting a course for a nearby port they'd visited numerous times going from place to place. He kept an ear out for any pursuit. None came. To be on the safe side, he also ran a security sweep for tracking devices on the outer hull. When he was satisfied they were away and free, he returned to the main cabin where Jack was coming around. Ianto helped him sit up, but Jack's eyes were fixed on the newcomer.
"We have company?"
"He assisted in the firefight. You were stunned pretty badly."
"Died, actually," said the man. "Fortunately, you seem to be feeling better."
"Yeah. Thanks." Jack got to his feet.
The man offered the same tight smile as before. "What names are you two going by these days? The ship wasn't registered at the station under Harkness or Jones."
Jack was an old master at not showing anything on his face. "Twil Dane. My partner, Pallan Nos." Their last two sets of identities were wanted in this sector. Jack figured one more move and they could go back to plain old Jack and Ianto. "And you are?"
"Really?" Ianto asked before he could stop himself.
"No." The smile stayed on his face, friendly but wary. "It's as good a name as you're using."
"Fair enough," said Jack. "What do you want?"
"Your help. I can pay." From nowhere, he produced a credit slip and passed it to Jack, whose eyebrows shot up as he read. Then he handed it back.
"We choose the jobs. Call me funny, but I'm suspicious of anyone with this much money who comes to me."
Bob shrugged. "The credits are good. It's up to you if you want them."
"How did you find us?" Ianto asked. "We've been working incognito due to a few too many run-ins with people who'd like us dead. But you knew where we'd be, and what to ask." And how did he know their surnames?
Bob smiled. "Ah. Well. I've read the book."
"What book?" Jack asked.
"Yours." He reached into his rucksack and pulled out a small bookplayer. "There are three chapters and an appendix dedicated to the time you two went gallivanting around the galaxy together. You weren't hard to trace." Jack made a grab for the book, but Bob shoved it away. "You can't see, sorry."
Ianto said, "If you say 'spoilers,' I will rip off your lips."
Bob laughed again. "That's right, the two of you ran into River not that long ago. What did she steal, exactly? You weren't forthcoming with details when you wrote about it."
"It was nothing," Jack said. The most expensive lockpick in the galaxy, which they'd been quietly transporting for a particular royal family, was hardly "nothing," especially when the theft had nearly cost them their heads when they'd arrived empty-handed. Doctor Song was high on Jack and Ianto's shortlist of unwanted passengers.
Maybe Bob knew all this, maybe he didn't. He shrugged. "I'll just tell you, no peeking."
Jack folded his arms. "Say we believe you."
"Say you do."
"What's the job?"
"Stolen item. I need it back."
"Let me guess. Family heirloom, no monetary worth but a high sentimental value?" No self-respecting independent businessperson would give any other answer when asked about not-especially-legal loot.
"You're not entirely off base, but no. It's my time machine. I'm not supposed to be in this time, and I'd like to get back to mine."
That had Jack's attention. Of course, Bob must be a time traveller to have read the book. But the possibility of "borrowing" the time-travel device was clearly running through Jack's mind even moreso than stealing a look at his memoirs. Jack's long life was full of regrets. So was Ianto's. Five minutes back with someone either had loved once would be worth every credit they'd made, and more.
"When are you from? Why are you here?"
"Far enough ahead, and none of your business."
"I want one or the other. We trade in information as much as we do in transport." This was true. Some passengers could only pay in secrets, and in favours owed; information was an acceptable coin of trade.
Bob's face turned in a scowl. "This was a stopping place. I came back to retrieve something to take forward." He dug into a pocket. Ianto tensed when Bob drew out a small device, about the size of a plum. "You can touch it."
Jack looked over the device and handed it back. "It's a toy. You're time-travelling for games?"
"I found it for a collector. This is the only time period when they made this particular unit. I tracked one down at Lyndrica Base. While I was busy making the deal, my time machine was stolen."
Ah. Bob was a dealer in ancient artefacts, using an insider's advantage for their acquisition. Jack could work with that. "Ten thousand up front, another ten when we find it."
"Twenty thousand now, and your personal word you're not going to swipe it from me. Five thousand on completion."
Jack was the negotiator, and wouldn't dare to pass along a questioning look to his partner. Ianto could hear the uncertainty in his tone, even as Jack masked his caution with a little extra bombastic flair. "For that much, you can buy a time travel device on the black market."
"I can buy a puddle-jumper. My device goes much farther than the trinkets you've got floating around today."
The Time Agency had left behind only scraps in the wake of their destruction. Time-hoppers went up to fifty years in either direction, if the user didn't mind the huge power drain, the likelihood it would be a one-way trip, or the fifty percent chance of induced insanity from flying unshielded through the Vortex. Ianto often wondered where the good technology had gone, all the VMs, all the large transporters, the backbone of the Time Agency's operation. The only explanation that made sense was what he'd been considering since he first encountered the Agency, when they'd brought him back amongst the living and whisked him into this strange future. Someone, somewhere, had been keeping an eye out, manipulating Time Agents from far off, and that same shadowy figure may have come after their fall to sweep up the most dangerous playthings before someone got hurt. He would suspect Jack's daughter and her Gallifreyan girlfriend, but subtle wasn't their style.
"I don't trust him," Ianto said in English. "This sounds too good to be true."
"I'm with you. If half of what he says is true, though, I want him where we can see him." And if following Bob meant they could grab the time machine, who would blame them? Jack dropped back into Standard. "It's a good deal."
Bob said, "Your word, Captain?"
Jack nodded, and they shook on it. Ianto didn't miss how Bob held onto Jack's hand longer than necessary, but jealousy had never served him with Jack. He offered Bob a smile instead, considering ways to get him off the ship as soon as possible.
They docked with little trouble at Lyndrica Base, which orbited a blue-ringed gas giant. Jack flirted with the Dock Master to get them a better parking location. Ianto spoofed their ship ID in case their reputation preceded them. Bob said nothing, his fingers playing idly at his side.
"You came all the way to find us from here?" Jack asked as they disembarked. "You could have hired someone closer."
"I could have. You're the best."
Ianto watched Jack's chest puff up, though he hid most of the bravado. Flattery was the fastest way to Jack's heart, always.
Their contacts list didn't extend to this particular vile spaceport. That didn't stop Jack from scoping out the area and setting up operation in yet another badly-lit pub. Ianto and Bob waited at the bar while Jack smoothly slid into a table. The paint thinner was worse than the swill from the last establishment. Ianto shuddered as he took a taste, then set his cup - this pub went for earthenware glazed with aquamarine gemstones - as far away from him as politeness permitted.
Two slow hours passed in which Jack made friends and Ianto sipped his cup of bad brew while keeping a lookout. Bob had slipped off to see if he could catch a glimpse of the aliens who'd robbed him. Ianto couldn't say he was unhappy to see him gone. The sooner this operation was finished, the better.
Nodding as his latest new friend rolled away, Jack left his table with credits down for the waitress, and made his way to Ianto's side. The warmth of him, and the happy glow on his face, were enough to make this whole dark pub light up.
"We're in luck," Jack said in English, taking Ianto's hand and playing with the webbing between his fingers. "Tonight, there's an unofficial auction in one of the staterooms, invitation-only but I'll get us in." Unofficial auctions meant black market. Whoever had stolen Bob's time machine would have flogged it quickly, but even if it didn't wind up in this auction, someone amongst the clientele might know who had possession now.
"What's our cover?"
"We're looking for a high-quality time-hopper. Something bad happened to our children twenty years ago, I've left it vague, we don't want to talk about it. We're mounting a mission to find them and bring them forward, and we'll pay anything. Our good buddy Bob brought us here in his ship. He had what we needed but he lost it, the fool, so we're here to handle things personally."
Ianto nodded, absorbing the details. "How many children?"
"Two, a boy and a girl. You can choose their names."
"Cefn and Brynne."
"Fine." Jack paused. "How long have you had names picked out?"
"Back in the old days, I used to doodle them along with 'Ianto Harkness' on my notepad during slow times at the TIC." Ianto kept his face perfectly blank. Jack stared back, equally unwilling to be the first one to break for the joke.
It ended in stalemate, as Bob came back into the pub and joined them at the bar. "The Marnites I ran into are still here," he said. "I saw them, I don't think they saw me."
Jack let go of Ianto's hand. "Good," he said, sliding back into Standard speech. "Pallan and I are going in tonight to work an auction. If you can give us a description on the robbers, this will be over quickly."
"Let's hope so," said Bob. His gaze went back to where their hands had been joined, and his expression went strange before it smoothed out again.
"You can't be serious."
Ianto stared into the mirror. They'd compromised on a smaller mirror than Jack had wanted; this one fit on the bulkhead. The reflective surface, made of a metal-imbued polymer, showed most of a full adult male human body. Jack loved getting ready in it, and making out in front of it. Ianto found it useful for previewing the sartorial nightmares Jack insisted on for various activities, both professional and otherwise.
This outfit counted as professional. For certain professions, anyway.
"It's a miniskirt."
"It's not," Jack said sliding up happily behind him, completely unashamed in his own far-too-small ensemble. "Miniskirts are technically four centimetres shorter than this." He placed his hand on Ianto's thigh, edging up under the edge of the skirt exactly four centimetres, fingers in wonderfully close proximity to Ianto's dick. That wasn't going to make up for this. Ianto reached down and moved the hand.
"We'll wear our normal kit. This is ridiculous."
"This is less conspicuous than our kit. Patrons of the auction are going to be wearing clothes like this to indicate they're not carrying weapons."
"I've seen your secret holster."
Jack grinned. "I could fit you with one."
"You've got the perfect legs for this."
"Jack … "
"It'll be fine." Jack caught his expression. "Really. It'll be fine."
They could have shown up in their kit. Half the clientele milling around the anteroom wore similarly revealing outfits to those Jack and Ianto sported, but the rest were dressed normally, if in finer fabrics than Ianto typically saw: more gems, more flattering cuts, higher-quality construction than the standard loose tunics and tight trousers. He'd made a study when they'd first begun this stage of their lives, another new set of details to absorb about life much further in the future than he'd dared hope to see. With practise, he could tell which potential clients had the fattest pockets. That was why Jack had opted them for the more revealing clothes. They were claiming to be wealthy, but only in the service of their goal.
As Ianto scanned the aliens present, he kept his amusement to himself. They werewealthy, thanks to thousands of years of investments during Jack's slow path through his life, rich enough for the two of them to live like princes on a pleasure planet for the rest of Ianto's life, no matter how much leg they were showing.
Bob waited for them back at the pub. He'd taken one look at their clothes, and he hadn't laughed, but it had been a close call.
Ianto took a glass heavy with drink and kept it in his hand as camouflage. The alcohol would taste better here, but he needed a clear head and wouldn't risk sampling. Jack dropped off their offering for the auction - a haul of gemstones they'd taken in barter for passage last week - while checking for their quarry.
"No joy," Jack said, fluttering back and wrapping a protective hand around the one holding the glass.
"You know, this won't start for a little bit yet. We could step out and find a dark corner." Jack's eyes glittered like one of the jewelled capes passing by. His voice dropped a register. "I went regimental."
"Have you ever given up an opportunity to forgo pants?" Despite himself, he began glancing around for the best place to go for a quiet snog. These outfits weren't going to hide anything if Jack upped the flirting, so he may as well enjoy it.
"Not yet." Jack's growl promised quite a lot from that snog. Give him a darkened spot just out of view, and Ianto's hands could be under the thick fabric at Jack's thighs in a heartbeat. His own pants would shimmy down his legs as fast as Jack could drop them. Jack's firm, knowing hand would be on him, wanking him as they kissed, their mouths growing messy. Ianto could reciprocate, rubbing his thumb over Jack's wet slit and foreskin, or drop shamelessly to his knees to suck.
Just thinking about it, he was growing aroused. Alas, there was no dark corner to utilise.
He rested his chin on Jack's shoulder to breathe in his ear: "When we get back to the ship, I want you." Jack rewarded him with a shiver.
Another group of aliens in skimpy clothes entered the anteroom to mingle. Ianto noticed the distinct green plumage and sloping extra limbs: a Marnite flock, just as Bob had described. Whether they'd robbed him as he claimed or he intended to rob them, the truth wasn't an issue. Contact was first, then negotiation. Theft could wait. Also sex.
Ianto took a lingering glance at Jack as he watched the Marnites. The birds carried their gear in a rucksack. Inside might be Bob's time machine, or they may have stowed it elsewhere, or they'd sold it. No way to tell yet, no use in making a move too soon. Jack's eyes never left the sack.
Inside the large stateroom proper, Ianto saw more evidence of wealth: an expansive view of the gas giant below was available through one window, whereas most visitors to the base would be lucky to catch even a glimpse of starfield as they went about their business. Interior rooms were small, cramped, and windowless.
Comfortable seats had been reserved for the better-dressed patrons. Jack and Ianto took stations standing by the outer door, and the auction got underway. The cheapest items were bid upon and won. Jack put in small bids for two early pieces Ianto didn't recognise, and was quickly outbid on both. Their gemstones were snatched up by a Marnite, who fluffed her feathers happily as she paid the auctioneer. As the better items went up for bid, the rich clients began competing. Jack bid on a low-quality time-hopper, a cheap imitation of his vortex manipulator that was going for a steep price. When he was outbid at the end, he swore loudly. Ianto took the chance to comfort him. A few pitying looks came their way.
Jack leaned on his shoulder. "Now they know what we're here for. Keep your eyes peeled. Someone will make us an offer on the side."
Ianto kissed his forehead. "How much can I spend?"
"Nothing. Tell them I need to see it, because I'm the tech, and we've been swindled before."
They broke apart as the auction continued. The next item up was a phase shifter, a handy device temporarily rendering the user out of phase. Used correctly, it left bank vaults, safe rooms, and the most secure facilities open to someone walking right through the walls. Uncalibrated, damaged, or in the hands of a novice, the owner would find him or herself permanently entombed within whatever material was being traversed when the device switched back to normal. Shifters were highly illegal in every sector. Jack and Ianto owned two.
A bidding war broke out between two parties: a richly-garbed insectoid with bluish chitin, and a rough-looking humanoid, multi-eyed and silvery. The humanoid shouted his bids. The insectoid clicked hers back, always higher.
Jack took a spare seat beside one of the better-dressed audience members, and began conversing in a language Ianto didn't speak. As the bids got crazier, Jack came back. "Huh. She's been buying these up. Word is, she's got something guarded and she doesn't want anyone breaking in to steal it, so she's snapping up the shifters before the thieves can."
"You're thinking we can sell her our spare."
"I'm thinking we can sell her our spare and still take a look at what she's got locked up. Might be worth coming back here later. We'll keep it in mind." That was Jack all over, looking forward to the next job. They likely wouldn't take whatever the insect was hiding, but information might be what they needed someday to grease another transaction. The last time they'd pulled a job like this, the (almost) impenetrable fortress had held well-heeled prisoners awaiting ransom, all of whom had been very generous in their gratitude towards their rescuers. The Foundation's account had grown prodigiously as a result of their appreciation.
The shifter sold to the insectoid for a significant sum. Bidding began for the next item, a rare artefact from a dead species. Ianto thought he recognised something similar that fell through the Rift once.
Before he could edge closer to take a look, the humanoid who'd lost the auction shouted angrily and fired a weapon that had to have been stowed as well as Jack's. The insectoid's bodyguard covered her. Ianto lost sight as panic broke out. Members of the audience saw their opportunity to settle old scores, start new ones, or just begin taking what they wanted from the goodies on display. Honour among thieves, and all that, Ianto thought, and then glimpsed Jack making a beeline for the auction items. In the fray, one of the containers tipped over. What very well could be Bob's time machine spilled to the floor with a lot of other alien tech. The heavies hired to protect the auctioneer and the goods were split between gathering up the loose junk and keeping the silvery humanoid's friends from strangling the auctioneer.
Jack was the second one to reach the box. The first was a Dolesh, who extended one meaty paw to grab a different device, even as the heavies fired a warning shot.
The light should have been bright, Ianto thought later. That would have been proper space-stuff. But no, instead of bright, there was an oily darkness surrounding the table and extending in a large sphere, which collapsed with an air-rush into the empty space left behind, and turned into a gale blowing out through the hole formed in the outer bulkhead.
Ianto lost his footing and he clawed for purchase that wasn't available as he was pushed towards the new hole and the dark gleam of space outside. Bodies, chairs and decorations flew with him, right before the emergency forcefield activated over the area, sealing the hole. Ianto fell through the matching hole in the floor to the stateroom below, and smacked his head hard on something as he landed.
He had time to wonder where Jack had been taken before unconsciousness claimed him.