Characters/Pairings: Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, Martha/Tom, Lois, Anwen, OC
Warnings/Spoilers: past mpreg, parental angst, up through S4 (characters only), mild violence
AN: You know that story you shouldn't write? The one that's so self-indulgent you're embarrassed sitting there as you type, unwilling to meet your own eyes in the reflection of your monitor's glow? That story? That's this story. Takes place in same storyverse as A Lantern in the Dark Autumn and Home, Take Two. Fills Trope Bingo square: kidfic. Probably sariagray's fault.
"Where are her ears?" Ianto dug into the drawers of the dresser, tossing aside tiny clothes in his frantic search.
"On her head?"
He glared at Jack. "I know I put them in here. We washed the costume, I put the extra parts away. You didn't move anything, did you?"
"No." Jack set Theia on the floor, where she happily scooted over to her toy chest and began extracting pastel ponies.
"No no," Ianto said, abandoning his search and scooping her up again whilst Jack sauntered over to dig around the drawers in his stead. Ianto pulled a pony with the bubblegum-pink mane out of Theia's fist. "Ponies later. We're going to the spooky tour." He enunciated slowly, "Spooooky."
"Got 'em," said Jack, and he tossed Ianto a headband with Minnie Mouse ears attached. Ianto caught the band and affixed it to their daughter's head as she squirmed. She'd have it off before they were in the car.
"It's unethical to glue the headband on the child's head, isn't it."
"If you have to ask, the answer's yes. Are you ready?"
"Almost." He nearly set her down, but instead passed her over before heading back to their bedroom for his cape. Ianto had decided to go full-on Dracula for his costume this year, minus the plastic teeth. He wasn't much for vampires, but as they'd browsed the shops for Theia's costume, Jack had wolf-whistled at the Dracula suit. Jack himself wore the same pirate outfit he'd worn last year, though he'd found a hat somewhere. The hat, alas, did not add to his charms. Also, Theia kept trying to grab it off his head. She of course was the aforementioned mouse, with red dress and polka dots. He'd briefly considered talking Jack into a group costuming affair, perhaps Theia dressed as Ariel and her dads as her fishy compatriots, or dress her as Dorothy with the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion at her side. But no. Before he'd even brought up the subject for discussion, he'd known.
In the car, Theia's headband was thrown to the floor. As Ianto drove, Jack reached back into the detritus of the back seat: spare bag with her change of clothes, spare snacks, old snacks, toys for the car, and half a dozen crayons mashed into the rug. Ianto wanted a tetanus shot whenever he had to look for anything back there. It didn't matter how often he cleaned, nor if he'd removed every single item in the car. Toddlers attracted filth, as well as producing it.
There were days he mused the only survival trait babies had was their amazing power of Cute.
He dropped Jack and Theia close to the Plass, and took the car to Torchwood's private carpark. Gwen's car was already here. Martha's had yet to leave from earlier. He ought to know the various vehicles on sight owned by their latest additions to the staff, but other than Lois's sensible Astra, he could only hazard guesses. Preoccupation would get him killed one of these days. Ianto sighed, parked, and got out the folding pram.
Jack had found Gwen and Rhys already. Theia had one fist mostly in her mouth, staring at Anwen's costume. "You made it," Gwen said warmly. Her hair was done in plaits and she wore Dorothy's blue-checked pinafore. Rhys was rather perfectly-cast in his lion's costume, and their child looked resplendent in Glinda's glittery white gown.
Just as well they'd dropped that idea, then, Ianto thought, before he swept his faux-satin cape around.
"Should we do the face painting first?" Ianto said, letting Jack set up the pram. Theia could walk, but she'd be less fussy this way.
Rhys squeezed Anwen's hand. "Nah. It'll mess up her costume."
And of course, Anwen really did look pristine in the white dress. She giggled and spun around, waving her wand but not so much that it might accidentally smack someone. She was always very careful, that one.
He sighed again, but turned it into a token, "Blah!"
Anwen was the most brilliant child at her nursery school. Anwen knew her numbers and letters, and could read the pretty picture books about the adventures of Pinkie Pie and her friends. (Jack read these to Theia at night, adding commentary about the sex lives of the ponies until Ianto made him stop.) Anwen had walked at ten months, and talked at a year. Anwen was completely toilet-trained. And just like her mummy, she had a heart big enough for the whole world, regularly rescuing insects and caring for small birds.
If it weren't incredibly petty to resent a four-year-old girl, Ianto wasn't sure how he'd feel about his friend's daughter.
Anwen didn't have delays in learning to walk, so much so that her dad began devouring infant and child development books. Anwen didn't have a speech delay at the age of thirty-five months. Gwen and Rhys hadn't visited doctors who asked the same questions over and over, and they hadn't been forced to lie. Of course the pregnancy had been typical. No family history of anything unusual. Ianto wondered what the specialists would make of the truth. And what is the typical age for onset of speech in children gestated by one father who'd come from a future where many colonists were genetically modified in this fashion as well as others? "She'll talk when she's ready," Jack always said, which wasn't helpful at all.
"Come on," Anwen said, grabbing Theia's hand before she pulled off her ears again. "Spooky tour."
Gwen said, "Apparently we're going on the spooky tour." She took Anwen's other hand as Ianto buckled Theia into her pram.
Jack touched his ear. "Martha, are you joining us?"
In his own ear, Ianto heard her. "Not yet. Someone left a dead Wenfilish in my bay."
"Ooo, bring its arm and you can make grabby claw hands at people."
Gwen made a face. "Jack!"
"I'll see you soon," Martha said.
The spooky tour was not as spooky as advertised. No doubt because their own job involved so very many ugly scares, Ianto found himself no more than mildly amused. Rhys jumped at a skeleton. Then Jack started flirting with a zombie. Not too dissimilar from their usual evenings, Ianto thought.
The other shops along Mermaid Quay handed out sweets for the younger trick-or-treaters. Lois kept watch at the Tourist Information Centre, cooing over the girls' costumes and dropping chocolate bars into their sacks.
"I love your costume," Jack said with his usual mixture of frank appreciation and just-within-regulations restraint.
Lois looked down at her outfit. She hadn't opted for any one borrowed identity, choosing layers of skirts overlaid with bells and bangles which shimmered and tinkled merrily as she moved. "Thanks," she replied shyly, then laughed as Theia grabbed hold of one bell and wouldn't let go.
"Here," Lois said, and quickly untied the bell. She gave Ianto a glance, waiting for his nod of approval before she let Theia take the bell. It was too big to be a choking hazard, he was almost certain. He felt the worry creep up his neck as she took it, shaking the bell clumsily in too tight a grasp and muting the clear silver tone.
Give him aliens. Give him fiendish killer robots. Give him crazed cannibals ritualistically consuming human flesh. Ianto could cope. Sometimes he'd coped at the bottom of a pint glass, or, buried under blankets in Jack's spartan bed, but he'd coped. But navigating what was best for this miracle of a child? He was lost, terrified and second-guessing himself at every step. Jack tried. He knew Jack tried. But Theia wasn't Jack's first or only child. Ianto had pinned down she was probably Jack's fourth or fifth, and her next-closest sibling was nearly forty and had a teenaged son. Jack's approach to parenting was to love the child as much as possible, and assume everything would work out somehow.
Which was why Ianto had to yank the bell out of her hand as soon as it went to her mouth, whilst Jack just rolled his eyes and said, "She's fine."
"Here," Gwen said, pulling a ribbon off of Anwen's wand and swiftly tying one end to the pram and the other to the bell. "Sorted." She smiled proudly.
"See?" Jack said. "It's sorted."
Pushing Jack into the Bay would not solve anything. Nor would snapping that stupid eye patch against his face. Ianto settled for thanking Lois for the sweets and indicating that if Martha wasn't joining them yet, they ought to keep moving.
Jack said, "You'll let us know if anything comes up."
Rhys said, "You know he just wants to mess about chasing aliens in his pirate get-up."
Gwen said, "We call those Thursdays."
Ianto said, "I could stay and you could go trick-or-treating."
"Out with you all," Lois said, shooing them. "I've heard there's pony rides."
"Ponies!" shrieked Anwen
Theia perked up, instantly forgetting about her bell. She said, "Ba," which was her word for "pony," "daddy," "papa," "bottle," and most everything else. But she clearly meant "pony" in this instance.
Ianto glared, but Lois only winked back as they left, emerging just as another group of children approached. Ianto had helped Lois draped cotton spider webs all over the entrance last week. But none of the parents tottering behind the trick-or-treaters guessed that three of the four adults they passed on the way out worked in this office, saving their world from far weirder things than giant wire and foam spiders.
In a way, it was like another secret costume. They didn't have to dress up to pretend.
They hit up four more shops for sweets before Ianto put a stop to the sugar intake. Jack of course bolted into two more, just to show off his costume and come out with another handful of brightly-coloured wrappers which he dropped into Theia's sack.
Theia had rediscovered her bell. She shook it as they walked, getting more and more frustrated as it refused to make the pretty noise while stuffed in her fist.
"We have to come up with a name," Ianto said, counting fingers and toes for the fifteenth time even as he was hindered by the swaddling blanket. "We can't just call her, 'Oi, you.'"
Martha settled into a chair by the bed where Jack rested. "It does have a ring to it."
"I have an idea," Jack said. "I've been thinking about the way she crashed into our lives."
As Jack explained, a smile spread over Ianto's face. "Yeah. I think it'll be perfect."
'Perfect' wasn't the right word now, not with a lost chocolate melting into the white polka dots of her dress. Ianto was a dab hand with bloodstains, and in the last two and a half years he'd learned to do his best with poo and sick. Chocolate was a whole other realm. "We'll have to take this in," he moaned.
"It'll be fine," said Gwen, but Gwen always left her worst stains in the laundry pile at the Hub for Ianto to explain to the dry cleaner.
Anwen's dress remained perfectly white despite the handfuls of sweets she'd already eaten. Theia not only had chocolate stains, but her face had become a sticky red mess. Ianto knew he hadn't given her anything from her sack.
"If she's sick, you're cleaning it up," he said to Jack.
"She'll be fine," Jack said. He unbuckled her and swept her up to his shoulder as she squealed. "See, much better from up here."
Cuddled in Jack's arms, and once again missing her Minnie ears, Theia could pass for a wee little pirate wench. As they walked, Ianto debated whether or not to fold the pram into umbrella size. He watched the other patrons goggle at the costumes around them. Gwen and Rhys collected loads of compliments on their choice. Even with her dirty dress, Theia now caught glances as people cooed over the wee little pirate and her pirate papa. He also noticed the sweep of eyes as they looked for a pirate mum and only found a drooping vampire having trouble folding the damn pram.
He wasn't bothered by stares, nor by what other people said or thought. His sister had accepted the story he'd fed her, that he and Jack had found a nice surrogate. The neighbours didn't stare much. The doctors asked questions they had to lie about, and read Torchwood-forged documents about Theia Jones. (Jack's insistence. Safer, he'd said with conviction. Easier to hide, Alice had pointed out with bitterness.) He didn't care. But part of him wondered if she would, one day. He wondered if she would resent the small and large hardships her life held in store entirely because she'd been conceived and born a bit unusually for this century.
Gwen and Rhys had a perfect little family and were in talks to add to it. Anwen was a lovely girl who would no doubt grow up bright and happy, and Jack and Ianto themselves had sworn privately they'd do whatever either could to make that happen.
He just wished he wasn't convinced Anwen was the only one who would be all right. He watched her colour, grabbing one crayon in a tight grip and very carefully staying in the lines. Theia hadn't been allowed any crayons though she kept tipping in Jack's arms as she tried to catch one. It'd wind up in her mouth or up her nose.
"What if we've ruined her?" he asked suddenly.
Jack turned his whole body to face him, bringing Theia around with him. "Huh?"
"Theia. What if we've already ruined her life?"
Jack blinked. "I only gave her two sweets. And I checked the wrappers first."
"I don't mean that." Ianto shrugged his cape. "What if you and I messed her up from the beginning? Her DNA. And then we've plunked her down in this life, with aliens and worse, and we can't even keep her clean for ten minutes." He was breathing faster. "What if we've completely wrecked her chance at ever having a normal life, Jack?"
Jack stared. Gwen coughed. Rhys said, "Ah, finally reached that stage, yeah?"
Gwen said, "Don't you start."
"What? The night you climbed onto the bed convinced Anwen was ruined for life because she spread poo all over her cot and it took us two hours to clean it all up?"
"Missed that story," said Jack.
"It was awful," moaned Gwen. "Poo was everywhere."
"Yeah, and you said we had to be the worst parents ever for leaving her alone in her room long enough."
Anwen was looking up from her colouring, scrunching up her nose. "Poo? Yucky."
Rhys grinned and knelt down, ruffling her hair with a big paw. "Very yucky."
"Well," said Gwen, "at least I didn't say we ought to take her back to hospital and find her a new home just because she wouldn't eat one day."
"She was starving herself," Rhys said. "Poor lamb."
They looked expectantly at Jack. "What?"
"Anything you'd care to volunteer?"
"I don't know what you mean. I'm a perfect parent." He grinned.
Ianto pulled out his mobile. He had Alice listed as number 8 on speed dial. Jack saw him go to press. "Put that away."
Just then, Martha came into view in the crowd. She wore a lab coat speckled bright red and goggles on her head.
Jack said, "Didn't wait to change?"
"It's my costume. Mad scientist." She glanced at the stains. "That's paint." Then she took in their faces. "What's wrong?"
Gwen said, "We're enumerating the reasons why we're awful people and ought to surrender our children for adoption by fit parents."
"Brilliant! I'll let Tom know. We'll adopt them both in the morning." She bent in to give Theia a pat and a cuddle.
Theia said. "Ba!" which meant "Auntie Martha." Then she looked at Jack and said, "Ba!" which meant "Bottle."
Ianto dug through her bag for a bottle. "Here you go. No more juice for you, young lady."
"How on Earth did you know that's what she wanted?"
He shrugged. "It's what she asked for."
Gwen said, "And that's why she's not talking, pet. You never let her."
"Ah, we're back to blaming me. Good."
Anwen started the yawns, and soon it was a contest between the two girls. Rhys picked up his own daughter. "It's time to take her home."
Gwen frowned. "So early? We could put her down for a nap."
"It'll wreck her sleep tonight. And where would we put her?"
Gwen smiled. It was Jack's turn to frown. "No kids in the Hub."
"We're right here."
"Theia was born there. Anwen would've been born there if my water had broken an hour earlier."
Anwen yawned again. "Can I pet the pterodactyl?"
"Home," said Rhys, and Ianto plucked Theia from Jack's arms in agreement.
Martha sighed. "You lot had kids and you're all homebodies now."
Jack said, "You could babysit."
"Good night," Martha said quickly, and popped a kiss onto Jack's cheek before moving off in search of other friendly faces. The rest of the team would be out here soon, having fun and not being scared by the Spooky Tour.
"I'll see you tomorrow," said Gwen, still looking disappointed. As she and Rhys headed toward the new caravan Rhys had insisted on, Ianto heard Gwen suggest some quick trick-or-treating along the way home.
Without their friends, and sure in the knowledge that the Hub would be empty by now, Jack and Ianto exchanged a quick glance. "We could go in for a few minutes," Ianto said.
"No. It's a good rule."
"You like breaking rules. Especially rules you wrote."
"I'm trying to set a good example. Let's go home."
Ianto could have argued, but chose against it. Jack acting responsibly ought to be rewarded in the hopes such behaviour would continue. They walked back to the car, Ianto still carrying Theia, Jack hoisting the folded-up pram over his shoulder like a very odd sword. If people stared, he chose not to care.
She squirmed as Ianto strapped her into her safety seat. Then she looked past him, little face gone very serious. "Ba!"
He didn't know this one. "You finished your bottle."
"Ba!" she shrieked, loud enough to get Jack's attention.
"Get down!" he shouted. Ianto instantly dropped, covering the safety seat with his whole body. Something sharp raked across his back, ripping into the cheap cape in parallel lines of pure fire. His instinct said to turn and fight, but his brain said to hold still else whatever it was took its next swipe at the child. The second swipe hurt much, much worse.
He heard Jack bolt around the car, felt more than saw the impact as Jack tackled whatever it was to the ground. Ianto made a quick, soothing noise at Theia then turned to join in if necessary. Weevil. It figured. Thinking back, he'd seen so many fake monster costumes tonight that it hadn't registered as anything out of the ordinary when he'd seen the thing in his peripheral vision a few minutes ago. Stupid.
Jack wrestled on the ground with the thing. Ianto's paralysis broke, and he dove into the glove box for what he hoped would be a spare can of spray. Success! He turned, tossing the can to Jack's waiting hands.
Then he sat heavily on the ground, still in front of the open door where Theia sat crying. "Sh," he said, the pain rushing back as he saw Jack subdue the creature. "Hush, now. It's all going to be fine."
"Ba," she said miserably.
Fortunately, Martha hadn't wandered far into the crowd. Ianto flinched as she disinfected his wounds, and tried to be grateful for how quickly she'd come.
Jack came down the stairs in the Med Bay. "She's settled for the moment."
"She won't stay there," said Ianto. "Ouch!"
"Sorry." Martha set down her swab and dug through a drawer. Ianto cringed away when he saw the needle in her hand, but one injection later, the pain smoothed away. "Better?"
"Thank you, yes." He stopped fidgeting as she returned to her work.
"How bad is it?" Jack asked, looking past Ianto.
"We've seen worse," said Martha. "I'll know more once this is cleaned. I don't think anything vital has been damaged. I'll run some scans before I start stitching, all right?" She patted Ianto gingerly on his good shoulder. "You'll have a few scars."
All three heads turned at a noise from up in the main Hub. Jack grimaced, bounding up the stairs again. He said, "Theia, it's bed time."
"That doesn't mean 'bed,'" Ianto said.
Jack brought her over to the rail. "See, there's Daddy. Daddy is okay." His tone was strained, but Jack often fretted when Ianto was injured, then pretended he wasn't and didn't. "Do you want to give Daddy a kiss before bed?"
Taking this as an affirmative, he brought her down the stairs. Martha said, "Careful. This is a bit gooey."
Martha returned to her work. Ianto stared. Jack stared. Jack said, carefully, not trusting his luck, "Gooey?"
"Gooey!" She wriggled until he brought her closer to Ianto, who obediently kissed her on the cheek. Gooey? He'd been hoping 'Dada' would be first. It'd come in time, he knew. Everything did.
"Go to bed, sweetheart. We'll take you home later." But he watched Jack as he spoke, and he caught Jack's hint of a grin as Jack carried her up to bed.
Previous Halloween-ish fics:
The Charm's Wound Up
The Faintest Restless Rustling Ran All Through
The Truth About Plums