Title: In the Future There Is No Coffee (1 of 2)
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Gwen, Owen, Toshiko, OCs
Pairings: Jack/Ianto, mild Jack/Gwen
Spoilers: diverges from canon around KKBB, brief mention of characters from CoE
Warnings: brief mention of underage, graphic descriptions of food
AN: Written for Trope Bingo square: food porn
The thing was, in many respects the future was very little different from the past or the present.
The Rift had exhibited its usual perverse sense of humour, transplanting the five of them right out of the warehouse where they'd just dispatched a nasty Gilonian hell-bent on blowing up County Glamorgan and all the way to … here. At least they'd landed on a planet with a habitable atmosphere, a human(ish) colony population, and no imminent threat to life or limb. But the thing was, after that first terrifying rush of "ohshitohshit" and (for Ianto) worry that this was their first drop down the same precipice as those poor bastards out on Flat Holm, the humans (ish) that they encountered were, well, very normal. Very typical, practical people. They took in the group of strangers with raised eyebrows, and after dealing with the immediacies of their situation, went back to ignoring the Torchwood team, returning their attention to their own lives, and petty squabbles, and the realities of living as they did in a thin strand of land thrust out on an unforgiving sea. Ianto would say that on the whole, the colonists were very Welsh, but as much as offending Owen had its benefits, he hated to do the same to Tosh.
So. Alien planet. In the future. The five of them had found themselves marooned, but on the whole, things could be far worse. And Jack was playing his emotions so close Ianto couldn't read more than the squint in his eyes against the glare of the unfamiliar star overhead. Yet if he could, and if he did, he'd think Jack was remembering, and that this planet was less foreign to him than it first appeared.
"Stay here," he told them over the simple lunch the colonists had brought them.
Gwen asked, "Where are you going?" They could all hear her other questions, if Jack was leaving for good, if not when would he return, and what in the hell were they to do without him there translating the strange dialect of English?
"I'll be back soon," he said in answer to all. Without another glance to any of them he went out.
Ianto returned to his food. The tubers weren't much different from potato, with a hint of parsnip. The greens had been boiled too long, and were salted past flavour, but spread over the seedy flatbread they'd been given in a thick pile of warm carbohydrates, they weren't bad. Perhaps some butter would help, or a drizzle of olive oil. Neither appeared to be available, and Ianto wondered what else would be difficult or impossible to come by.
Just as when they'd been stranded briefly in Nepal, he began making mental lists of what they needed, what they'd want, and how to get by until they could make their way home. Ianto helped himself to more flatbread as he considered.
Owen chewed his food with complaint, Tosh less so. Gwen tried to come up with nice things to say but found herself speaking alone. She went quiet, finishing the meal in silence.
Jack came back towards dusk with a twisted, thoughtful expression. "Pack up," he said shortly, not that they had much to pack. "I've found a place for us to stay that's better than this." The public house where they lurked was as sparse and spartan as an abandoned tyre.
"Where are we going?" Gwen asked as they set out after Jack thanked their hosts for them. The hosts offered them more discs of bread to eat as they walked. Ianto wrapped the leftovers in a clean handkerchief and put himself in charge of the food stores. No-one objected, or noticed.
"A little place I know. It's not so far. I thought maybe," he said, but maybe what he wouldn't say. Ianto walked a half-pace behind him.
"A little place you know?" Owen asked. "You've been here before. We're caught up in another one of your fucking messes."
Toshiko was more excited than the rest of them. As they walked, and walk they did for over an hour, she bubbled excitedly about the snatches of future tech she'd seen: the robots and the sensors and the electronics she couldn't identify yet but was dying to explore. Owen rolled his eyes, Gwen smiled indulgently without understanding a word, and Jack kept walking without offering any comment.
The chilly breeze coming in off the sea offset the hot desert air from earlier. Ianto shivered even with the exertion of their long walk. He hoped they'd reach their destination soon. The building grew up against the seaside as they walked, looming eerily in the dark night. Sandstone, smooth corners, but with lights peeping out into the night, alien yet welcoming.
Jack rapped on the door with a comforting ease. He knew this place, somehow, from some adventure. A woman with a tired face answered the door. She exchanged words with Jack as he introduced them each by name. He'd spoken with her earlier, then. But he'd been gone for several hours, and this trip took far less time. Supposition: he'd been here quite some time before he'd returned for the four of them.
Ianto smiled politely at the woman as his own name was spoken, taking in the lines of her face and the desert-faded blue of her eyes. The home they entered was only a unit of the building, a part of the whole. Later, he would see the other residents going about their business, friendly to Jack and disinterested in his companions.
"We can stay," Jack said simply to them after a lengthy discussion with the woman. Gwen went to shake her hand in gratitude, but the woman pulled away.
Jack said, "Don't," and instead of explaining, he brought them to the largish room they would come to share during their time on this alien world. The centre of the room was filled with an oversized circular pad piled high with blankets. To either side were small hints of who may have slept here: a child's set of toys, small clothes in the wardrobe. But during their stay, Ianto never saw a child in this home.
"Believe it or not," Jack said, "as a rule people here sleep together. Big, happy pile of naked." He grinned, and was the old Jack for a nice moment. "You can get by with pyjamas. I won't tell."
Tosh said, "You won't be here with us?"
Gwen frowned, clearly wondering how many minutes would pass before Jack was in bed with their new hostess. Ianto watched Jack, watched the way he moved and the shadows crawling over his face, and thought not. "Thanks for finding this," he said for Jack to hear only, quiet, because the others were too busy freaking out and because honestly, what else was he to say?
"It's going to be okay," Jack said, also quiet, also only to him. "We're safe here."
And with that, he left them to wonder alone.
Morning brought few answers. Jack woke them around dawn, calling them into the cosy kitchen space. The woman, her name was Arian or Arianne, made deep-fried batter cakes for them, thick and rich with grain and fat. Ianto longed for some butter or honey to coat them, eventually eating four just as Jack did.
"What are these made of?" Gwen asked, trying to smile at Arianne but meeting a stone wall of silence.
Jack said, "Corn derivative. Earth corn from your time isn't especially nutritious. It's been genetically modified by now. Full of vitamins. You can go all day on a plateful." He chewed the last cake noisily, sucking on his fingers. Ianto tore his gaze away from Jack's hands and mouth. This wasn't the time.
Owen glanced at Arianne, who wasn't joining them at the well-scrubbed table. "Why do I get the feeling she'd like to shoot us?"
"She won't," said Jack. "You're with me."
Tosh asked, "Would she shoot us if we weren't with you?"
"Where are we?" Gwen asked, staring at him.
Jack sat back. The chairs weren't a matched set, Ianto had noticed. Four were the same, one had been brought in from elsewhere. Jack took the different chair, sitting in the oddly-sprung seat like he belonged there.
He took a long drink of water. Water was the only drink here, Ianto realised over time, pure and sweet, filtered with care from the seawater. When Jack finished his cup, he placed it carefully at a precise angle with the plate and spoon. "I was born here."
The last pieces fell into as perfect a place as Jack's cup. Arianne was his mother or his sister, her face closely-hewn to Jack's features. This was his home. Of course.
Gwen's mouth made a little O of shock. Tosh's eyes went wide in her surprise. Owen merely looked annoyed and disgusted, but he often did. "Were you going to tell us?"
"I just did."
"How did we get here?" asked Gwen, trying for another smile at Arianne, and getting as neutral a response as before.
Ianto said, "The Rift takes people sometimes. It doesn't just bring shit to Cardiff." It was as close to a confession of what else he knew as he'd say without Jack's specific blessing. The facility was his project; Ianto merely tallied the numbers and placed orders when needed, and kept his hands as clean as he dared.
"What?" Tosh had spoken, but Gwen and Owen matched her expression.
Jack said, "We'll get home." Which wasn't an answer at all.
Jack went out in the mornings with the young women and men of the colony. The chief means of support and sustenance for those who lived on this sparse peninsula colony appeared to be fishing and growing the corn and vegetables that made up every meal. For trade, they preserved via suspended animation the rarest and tastiest of the caught seafood: whorls of shell that looked like scallops, multi-legged stars with eyes over every appendage, and once (Jack seemed very proud of catching this) a graceless monstrosity of delicate pink fronds the size of a large housecat. Jack broke off a handful of heliotrope tentacles, giving the rest to storage, and he and his mother fried their portion in a shallow pan.
"Try this," he said, grinning, blowing on a hot piece before popping it into Ianto's obediently open mouth. Scorching fat scalded his tongue. He gasped, then noticed the heat sinking without burning, and the rich flavour of salt and chewy muscle filling his mouth.
"That's not bad."
"Not bad? A plate of this goes for seventy credits on one of the inner worlds. And that's without the starters or the salad." Jack was lost for a moment in some unnameable memory. Ianto chewed the last of his bite.
The others hadn't returned yet. Gwen had wanted to take a closer look at the marketplace, now that they had their bearings and a smattering of the lingo. She'd coaxed Tosh to go with her, unafraid of walking in the twilight with Jack's assurances that the colonists would eat their own ears before harming the pair of them. Owen had gone off somewhere. He didn't like this world, this place, and he was sure Jack's mum gave him the evil eye.
Ianto didn't mind. He'd thought he would be homesick, but once he'd settled himself, he found he missed Cardiff only as an absent want. He'd always been the one to leave, had wanted to leave since he'd been a boy, and were it not for needing a space for Lisa, and after, a space to find himself again, he would have left for good. The sun here was brighter, and the sea was more active, and Jack was here. His friends were here. Everything and everyone he'd left behind seemed less important, although part of him nagged and worried that perhaps he hadn't filled the Weevil feeders or set the automatic door to let the pterodactyl outside.
Jack and his mum continued their conversation. Ianto couldn't follow more than a word here and there. But he could fetch food from the pantry, and when Arianne pushed a spoon into his hand and told him to keep stirring, he managed.
"She worked on the boats until her back got too tired," Jack told him. "Now she helps out in the colony centre during lessons, teaching art to the kids. Mum used to be a painter." The revelation seemed fitting somehow, although Jack himself never once took up a brush. The warm colours of this hearth, the murals covering the walls with incongruous greens of trees that would not grow in this sandy soil, these spoke of her passions.
When the meal was ready and the others still not back, the three of them sat at the table. Arianne asked Jack questions, some of which he obviously dodged. God alone knew what she asked, what he said. Did she know he was immortal now? Hell, did she know he had everything and everyone possible in his bed? (Not Ianto, not recently. They'd never made that date, not with the Rift being a bastard, and with their sudden displacement. Jack had not made a move, nor had he. He half-wondered if Jack was availing himself to the opportunities afforded by his fellow sailors, but he came home every night, piling into his mother's family bed like an infant. Which was weird, but apparently, expected.)
Ianto nibbled at a few fried pieces of pink fish, but Jack spooned more onto his thick, sandstone plate. "These won't still be good by the time the others get back." Jack himself polished off the rest; Arianne apparently didn't like them, picking choicely browned pieces of the tubers for her own plate. Ianto could not fault her. Properly seasoned and baked, the tubers were less potato-and-parsnip, more garlic-and-cheese-toastie with neither garlic nor cheese. Once he was used to it, the food was wonderful here.
Three days later, Jack didn't go out on the sea, but instead woke them all, packed a basket full of bread and little jars he'd picked up at the marketplace, and led them (complaining) to a long, grassy slope some distance away.
"A picnic?" Gwen asked, sitting down uncomfortably. She looked natural in the garb they'd all started to wear, the loose clothes adapted to the desert on the sea. She gazed around the scrubland as though Jack had picked a garbage dump.
Jack said, "A picnic." He threw himself down easily, reclining.
And his mother hadn't joined them, Ianto noticed. He passed out the plates, these made of flimsy material not unlike cardboard.
"Seriously, Jack," said Owen. "When are we getting home?" The sand abraded his pale skin, and his eyes squinted against the twin brightnesses of the sand and the sunlight glinting from the sea. Owen detested this place, and made no secret of that fact.
"I'm working on it."
Tosh asked, "How? Is there something we can do to help?" The most they had done, any of them, was to join the teams working the fields, but none of them had the skills or patience, and they'd all been politely but firmly asked to stop helping.
Jack ignored the question, and took out a nice, big disc of bread, with a small pot of something brown in his other hand. With a little production number, he spread what could possibly have been jam over the bread, broke it into pieces, and passed them around. It wasn't bad at all, Ianto thought. This place lacked sweets, but the savouries made up for the loss, and today's sample was no exception. The spread was similar to a buttery meat paste, a little like foie gras. Jack took out all the little pots, making them bites like a dad feeding his kids.
If it weren't for Ianto's desire to lick the spreads from Jack's fingers, and maybe paint some parts of his anatomy with same, the thought would have worked better. They shared a large canteen of sweet water amongst them. Owen still squinted at the water every time, despite Jack's assurances that there were no parasites to fear.
"What's this?" asked Gwen of a cream-coloured spread that tasted a bit of Marmite.
Jack paused. "Okay, I've watched all of you eat honey, right?"
Owen set down his plate, coming to Jack's point faster than the rest of them. "Honey. As in, bee vomit?"
"Honey. As in, if you really like it, don't think too hard about where it comes from."
The last pot was a shocking cobalt blue. As Ianto bit down into his portion of bread, sugar burst across his tongue, and lushly acidic fruit flavours. He hoped he kept the moan to himself, but from the way Jack's eyebrows raised, he doubted it. "That's good," he covered.
"Not much fruit here," Jack said, grin poking over his whole face.
Tosh asked hopefully, "Is there more of that blue one?"
"Not with us. I can pick up another pot. With the work I've done, we have a little spending money. It's going to take more to get passage to the inner planets." His face went firm, hidden.
Gwen said, "Jack? What aren't you telling us?"
"If we can get hold of some Time Agency tech, I'll be able to send us back to our time. But it's going to take a lot of money to get us all to where they're located, and then I have to figure out how to steal something we can use." He scratched the back of his neck. "And there's the slight problem where the Time Agency, assuming it still exists, will have a price out on my head."
"You are fucking kidding me." Owen's food was mostly untouched ever since the honey comment. Ianto made eyes at his fruit spread piece, wondering if he could convince Toshiko to split the rest with him.
"They don't know I'm here. They don't know I'm alive. They might even have disbanded by now. John wasn't clear on the timing for that." A quelled shudder went through the group at the mention of Hart's name. He was also from this time period, and the last thing any of them wanted was to see that maniac again. "But yeah, we'll have to get close, raid one of their facilities, and nick another Vortex Manipulator." He gestured to his wrist strap. "Simple."
Gwen had been holding herself together for the week they'd been stranded, but now she collapsed into a heap of misery. "I'm never going to see Rhys again." That she hadn't mentioned her fiancé even once before now meant little. Tosh gave her a comforting pat on her shoulder.
"We'll sort it out," she said. "And it's time travel. We can go back so he won't even know we've gone, right?" This was to Jack, who didn't reply.
"The other option," he said, "is that I try to track down my Doctor and ask him for a lift. Only I spent over a century in Cardiff waiting to do just that, so I wouldn't want to make the rest of you have to wait."
The following day, Jack was back out on the sea. Ianto had asked him about going along, only to be met with a frown and an all-too-familiar hand held at his chest. "Don't even think about it."
"But I could help."
"You get seasick."
"That was only one time." The sea had been choppy on his way back from his first trip out to Jack's private care home on Flat Holm, and he'd just come face to face with some of the horrors hidden there. He still didn't know if Jack had been punishing him, or offering him a token of forgiveness, but either way, his lunch had gone overboard.
"You don't know what you're doing out there. I'd have to spend time keeping an eye on your safety. If you want to be useful, help out in the fields." He'd left before Ianto could remind him that they'd already been asked not to help there, either.
The thing about the future was that the four of them from the twenty-first century fit in as well as Socrates at a rugby match.
Gwen suggested a nice walk, but Ianto, still put out by Jack's refusal, declined, He watched the other three meander off away from the sea, over the dunes towards the colony centre. For a moment, he regretted his decision, now feeling even more useless with nothing to do, but never one to let a good sulk go, he went back to the room he shared with them intending to take a nap.
The bed was a mess. They'd each staked out a corner by mutual assent although by morning he generally woke with someone's arm or foot shoved in his back, and the covers showed it. Ianto set about tidying, folding and stacking blankets until the room looked like adults lived there instead of just Owen. He collected extra blankets and carried them to the room Jack was sharing with his mother. (Because that wasn't weird. It fit Jack somehow, but weird.)
He found Arianne in the room, curled up amongst the blankets. Ianto stammered, "Sorry. I thought you'd left." He made to leave, but despite the language gap, the tone in her sleepy voice made him turn around. She sat up, took a look at the pile of blankets, and gestured towards a doorway along the far wall, away from the outer corridor.
Ianto followed her direction, stooping under the low lintel to what he thought would be a dressing room or storage room. Instead, he discovered another bed, clearly slept in. The walls were fitted with the same pull-handles that functioned as drawers in the room Ianto shared with the others. Thinking perhaps he was meant to put the blankets here, he opened one and found where Jack had put his regular clothes. Ianto took a second look.
Oh. Jack had his own room, accessed from his mother's room but separate, almost like a nursery.
Ianto set the blankets on the bed, then took the opportunity to prowl. There wasn't much here. The drawers held clothes that would fit a teenager. There weren't many fripperies or knickknacks, just a few photos. To Ianto's surprise, the pictures moved as he lifted one closer. It was surreally reminiscent of Harry Potter, except that the frame was clearly technological, not magical. The moving pictures showed people Ianto didn't know. One videograph held four people, one of whom was a younger Arianne and another who had Jack's eyes with a goofier grin. But there were no other pictures anywhere in the house of the man, nor the other little boy, nor even of Jack.
When Ianto had been fifteen, Rhiannon had gone through the house and packed up every picture of Mam, and put them in the attic. Then she'd had a good cry whilst Ianto had sat in his room with the radio up so loud the neighbours complained.
The four people in the photo looked happy, smiling and waving. The little boy was proudly displaying something that looked like it could be an award of some sort. A quick glance showed the same item, a little statue of what looked a bit like a fish, sitting dusty and abandoned at the back of one of the small tables in Jack's room.
He put the picture frame back where he'd found it, hating the crawling feeling he had that he was prying. There was another doorway at the far end of Jack's room, leading God knew where. It dawned on Ianto, as he mentally recatalogued the layout of the flat, that the rooms were not laid out in a simple pattern of spaces shooting off the central room or hallway, but instead wound through and around like a rabbit warren. The next room might belong to the little boy in the picture, or might be something new entirely. But he wasn't going exploring now.
He managed a friendly smile for Arianne as he made his way back out through her room. She stayed where she was, eyes half-lidded. The poor woman looked exhausted.
She didn't speak English, not English as he knew it, and he couldn't yet parse the tongue she used with her son. He hoped a pleasant tone and open demeanour would fill in where meaning was lost, as he said, "Can I help you with anything? I could help clean the house, or make you some tea, or something."
Arianne blinked at him, and he mimed drinking tea from a cup and saucer. She gave a half-laugh, more of a snort really. But she smiled.
"Tea it is," he declared, then turned and walked towards the kitchen, wondering if he'd seen anything remotely resembling any kind of tea leaves, or for that matter, a kettle.
He made do with a pot, and lit the hob without setting himself or the kitchen on fire. Alas, tea or some futuristic version of same were nowhere to be found. Everyone here drank water, and the caffeine-withdrawal bitchiness they'd all been experiencing was strong evidence that would remain the case.
Eventually, Arianne emerged from her room, watching Ianto. She moved past him to the pantry, the cold larder instead of the warm (everything here was stored in suspended animation, from the biscuits to the vegetables). She came back with fresh green leaves of something, which she crushed in her hands over two small bowls of the boiling water he'd prepared. As an example, she pulled the bowl to her face and sniffed deeply, then took a drink. Ianto mimicked her. The aroma hit him as something fresh, verdant and unexpected on this sandy, salty strip of land, and when he took a drink, the hot liquid tasted the way newly-cut grass smelled. He smiled at her in thanks, accepting her tired smile in return.
Tea, if tea it was, lasted a nice, quiet while. Outside and from the other units, Ianto could hear voices, movements, the sounds of people living their lives. In here, they passed the time in a silence that did not impose.
After, Arianne took the bowls but Ianto motioned that he'd wash up. She nodded and began instead to gather baking supplies: fresh corn, soda powder, water warmed gently in a pan. He watched her movements as she took each ingredient, ground the corn to a fine meal and sifted in a light dusting of powdery sugar. Ianto offered his hands with broad gestures, pouring seeds into the grinder, and stirring the thick mixture. Together, they poured the final result into small pans, greased with something unknowable from a tub, and placed them into the hot oven.
The first seed cake came out of the oven twenty minutes later. Arianne showed him how to pop it from the pan onto a plate. They cut slices, spreading more of the thick, rich paste Jack had shown them, and took a fine lunch by themselves in the kitchen. The firm crumb of the seed cake had a plain but familiar solidity in his mouth, nutty but not overpowering, and the paste added a salty, beefy tone he appreciated as a contrast with the usual fish flavours.
Arianne spoke to him, words he couldn't make out but he took the tone of. Ianto nodded when he felt the pause was right. When her face crumpled sadly, he placed a gentle hand against her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said, because even if he didn't know what her pain was, he recognised the feeling.
She patted his hand, and he suspected the words she said were calling him a good boy.
When the others arrived home, Ianto mentioned the seed cakes were ready for their tea, neglecting to mention the actual tea. They ate as they chatted, not a one taking time to appreciate the food as more than a temporary slake to hunger. Ianto shared a look with Arianne, but she said nothing to them, merely went back to her room.
Jack got home late, smelling of the sea (which was to say mostly of fish). He went straight to the bath, a salty warmth Ianto was learning to appreciate, before he came out and ate three cakes himself. His mother came out to say hello, and Jack spoke to her, clearly complimenting her cooking. She gestured at Ianto, earning an appreciative glance from Jack as he continued to chew.
His portion of today's catch lay on the prep slab, keeping cool. Arianne began to prepare dinner, with Ianto shadowing her to observe how she warmed the fragrant oils she'd use to sear the fillets before baking them to a flaky perfection.
Gwen pulled a chair over to watch, face clearly trying to summon up enthusiasm for yet more fish. "I'd kill for a steak and kidney pie," she said wistfully.
"Inner planets," Jack said, and without prompting, he started to peel the tubers.
Owen, face drier and redder by the hour, found work as an extra pair of hands in the local clinic. The first few days, he came home ever more sour than usual. After that, he started describing to the rest of them, with some translations by Jack, the miraculous medical technology available on this out of the way little colony world.
"No, you can't take it home with you," Jack said, for the tenth time.
"But it's a cure for fucking cancer. Do you have any idea what that would mean to the world?"
"As a matter of fact, yeah. And you can't."
Jack was just as firm with Toshiko, who'd finally worked her head around accessing the computer systems here. The inputs were as much mental and emotional as they were physical, she told them, aglow with discovery. She was learning day by day, and the glances Jack gave her were both paternally proud and concerned that he might have to wipe her memory. Gwen, in an attempt to butter up Jack's mum, had gone with her to the school a few days, and discovered for herself that she enjoyed spending time with the children, minding them as they played between lessons, and putting her foot down when the older children bullied the younger tots.
They were settling in, not well, but slowly. Ianto chose to stay near home, taking over more of the upkeep. Arianne guided him to the chores that needed doing, not just sweeping the ever-present sand that crept in, but mending the furniture and resetting the pieces that had come askew. The tasks gave him something useful with which to pass his time. In the evenings, he helped her prepare their meals, gradually taking over to give her a break from dealing with her wayward son and his friends. Still, she sat in her favourite chair in the kitchen as he mixed and added, giving him advice, and chatting at him in her own tongue.
"He was always a good boy," she said one day, and Ianto replied without thinking, "You wouldn't think so."
Then he turned to her, shocked but pleased. She grinned back. He said, in her language, "He's terribly naughty back home."
Arianne nodded. "I'm not surprised."
Grasp of the language came quickly after that, and soon Ianto gossiped with Jack's mother like they were old friends out for lunch. He couldn't pronounce the name she called her son, too much of a lilt on the vowel, and a glottal stop on the end consonant he thought might be a compound sound he wasn't making out. "Jack" was close enough, and she knew whom he meant.
Arianne told him stories about Jack's childhood, silly games he'd played, times he'd hurt himself. In return, Ianto gave her tales he was fairly sure were true rather than tall: how Jack had saved the world, how he'd travelled the stars with a madman and a teenager. There were holes in her stories, he could tell but didn't know how to ask. Something was missing. He considered the photograph, four people in a family that now had only two.
By the time Jack got home from fishing that evening, Ianto and Arianne were in tears from laughing so hard over one of her stories: Jack in the water all a mess, and naked, proud of himself for catching a crab.
"What's so funny?" Jack asked, carefully laying his catch on the cold artificial marble of the preparation slab.
"Crab hands," Ianto said with delight, in the language he'd learned. Arianne pealed with laughter again, while Jack frowned.
"Do you even know what that means?"
Ianto then told him the same story Arianne had told him, with her offering additions and corrections as he went. Jack's eyes grew wider. "I can't believe you told him that."
"You were adorable."
"I was six."
"Adorable," she repeated. With happiness all over her face, she looked years younger. Ianto smiled again to see it. Then he got up from his chair to cook up the fish for the rest of their dinner. Jack took his seat, watching him.
In English, Jack said, "Since when do you speak the language?"
"I've been learning." He took the sharpest knife, odd that some things in a kitchen never changed, and began to fillet the bulbous flesh.
"Just like you've learned to cook."
"Something to do with my time."
"I'll get you home."
"I never said you wouldn't. A sauce with this, do you think? I wish we had garlic. The oil's nice, and almost buttery, but garlic and basil would help."
Jack slipped back into his native tongue. "Garlic and basil are luxury goods. Most seasonings are. The climate here doesn't do well with herbs."
"I may have something," Arianne said, and she went to the cold pantry, coming back with a small bottle that Jack inspected.
"We never had this stuff when I was a kid," he said, slightly accusatory.
"You were happy with beans, and Gray just wanted cheese all the time. I wasn't about to waste my good spices on something you wouldn't eat." She handed Ianto the bottle, and warned him to only use a few drops.
"Should I ask what it is? Are we talking more bee vomit?"
Jack shrugged. "Go ahead."
When the fish was warm and flaky, Ianto took a test bite. The sauce added a smoky flavour to the rest. Unusual, and he preferred lemon or garlic butter, but as the tender meat dissolved on his tongue, the subtle taste mixture went through his mouth and into his nose. "Wow."
"Good, right?" Jack asked, delighted.
Gwen enjoyed the new dish, as did Tosh. Owen was smart enough to eat it and not complain, so that was another victory.
Ianto did the washing up after, because Arianne looked tired. Jack helped him, drying the thick sandstone plates and chatting about his day on the boat. It was nice. They hadn't spent time together lately, still too busy back home to work on that date, and too busy here to think about dating. As Ianto passed each dish to Jack, he was delighted to note how their hands managed to touch far more often than necessary. The rest ignored them, which made the secret touches that much more fun.
The night was pleasantly chill, and Ianto hadn't been out much. "I'm going for a walk," he announced after everything was cleaned up, and he wasn't surprised when Jack offered to join him. This was met with a certain roll of eye and annoyance from their friends. Arianne had already returned to her room.
As soon as they were away, Ianto said, "You know they think we came out here to have sex."
"Well, I was thinking a walk sounded nice, but if you're insistent about the sex, I won't say no."
Ianto kept walking, bumping his shoulder into Jack's on purpose. "Ah, then you didn't get me out here alone to ravish me?"
"Hey, this was your idea. I expect to be the one getting ravished."
It had been too long since they'd just spent time alone this way, acting like idiots around each other because they could. "Tell me more about your day," Ianto said.
"Not much to tell. I go out on the boat, we throw the nets, I haul them in, I get tired."
"What aren't you telling me?"
He shrugged. "Nothing yet? There's nothing definite and I don't want to worry you. All right?"
That was significantly more worrisome than Ianto had suspected. "Jack?"
"It's fine." He grinned, and changed the subject. "Hey, in a few days we're having a festival. They call it Sol, for the longest day of the year even though we're around a different star."
Jack laughed. "I guess. But I was thinking, I still owe you a date. Want to go together?"
Ianto blinked. "Are you sure?"
"Why wouldn't I be sure?"
"Does your mother know about you?"
"About what about me?"
In the low light, they looked at each other, aliens from different planets. Ianto made his choice first. "Back home, I haven't told anyone about us, about you. I'm not embarrassed," he said quickly, "it's just that." He paused. "I don't know what to say. I'm not gay. I'm not sure I like the baggage around the word 'bisexual,' and I don't think it applies because I'm not attracted to most other men. You're just … you."
He glared at Jack, nearly a year's worth of blame for self-doubt and questioning crammed into one scowl. Jack didn't help matters with his chuckle.
"You people," he started, but Ianto cut him off.
"Don't give me that. You may be from here, but you're as lost as we are. You've lived in my time longer than you have in this time, so don't say, 'You people.' You are our people, Jack. So I am asking, does your mother know?"
"About you and me? No. I didn't think we'd be staying long, and you and I haven't been together since we've been here."
"But she knows you're … you," Ianto said. Jack took his hand whilst they started to climb one of the steeper hills. They helped each other to the top.
"She knows I'm me." Jack was confused, and then he wasn't. "There's some cultural context you're not getting. Here, and actually most places I know of, they have a tradition. When you're ready to embark on your sex life, your parents set you up with a couple or a triad they know well to show you the ropes. Usually, it's a male and female couple, but kids who already know their preferences sometimes ask for something more specific. My best friend knew he was gay, and his first time was with these two guys we'd known all our lives."
"What about you?"
Jack shrugged. "It was just Mum and me then. She had some friends who were happy to teach me."
"You're saying your first time was a threesome with your mother's best friends?" He tried and failed to wrap his mind around that.
"Maybe not 'best' but yeah."
"How old were you?"
"I was ready at thirteen but she made me wait until I was almost fifteen. Got in a lot of quality wanking time before I finally got the chance, let me tell you."
Ianto chose not to picture this. It fit him, though: Captain Jack Harkness, threesomes at fourteen years old.
"Do you want to go or not?" Jack sounded a touch impatient, and Ianto nearly said no out of spite.
"Sure. What is it?"
"Just a party. Lot of food. Dancing. We'll have a blast."
Ianto nodded, nervous and warm. They stood very close together in the chilly air. From here, they could see the waves gently rocking on the sea, with starlight everywhere. Bit romantic, more than a bit romance novel, Ianto thought. Any second now, one of them would turn to the other, and they'd meet in a nice kiss. It'd been too long. The others already reckoned they were out here fucking, no reason not to. He leaned closer to Jack, felt his arm slide around him comfortably.
"We should get back," said Jack, and with a tug, he started to walk back down the hill, Ianto dragged along behind him.
Ianto hesitated. "We could stay out."
"I have to work tomorrow. You can stay out if you want. It's safe." He turned away and kept walking. As if Ianto worried about his safety here. As if that was the reason they were out here.
Ianto watched him go, wanting to join him and wanting more for him to come back.
to be continued