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03 January 2010 @ 07:55 pm
The Gulls - Part 1 of 2  
Title: The Gulls
Author: paragraphs
Prompt: The Birds (movie version directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
Pairings: Ianto/Jack
Wordcount: 17,398
Rating: R
Warnings: Violence in the form of bird attacks, but no gore as in The Birds
Summary/Spoilers: Jack didn't get to say a proper goodbye to Ianto, so decides to go back in time to do just that. Unfortunately, his presence where he doesn't belong causes a wee bit of trouble--especially for a younger Ianto Jones.
A/N #1: written for reel_torchwood
A/N #2: Much love and appreciation to blue_fjords for the beta and support. You got me through this, writing my first official Torchwood fic. Thank you, Blue! A special dedication is in order to all my Twitter Peeps for your encouragement, advice, and general hilarity throughout the writing of this fic. You all made the very solo act of writing anything but a lonely task. Torchwood and The Birds belong to Russell T. Davies and Alfred Hitchcock respectively. I am not claiming them as my own.


I.


Pulling his collar up against the cold, he hurried through the busy Newport streets, hands shoved in pockets, his gaze occasionally flicking up to the sky. There were a lot of seagulls in Newport today for some reason, he realised. Their raucous cries made him wrinkle his nose in disgust; rats with wings, that's what they were. He'd spent too many hours as a boy scrubbing their shit off the front stoop to think any different.

A gull strutted across the pavement in front of him, several others flapped their wings on the nearest shop roof. He turned a corner, realizing the bloody birds were roosting everywhere. There had to be hundreds of them perched on buildings, light posts, signs, landing in the street, annoying traffic and pedestrians alike. A gull pecked at his boot. He kicked at it, sending it squawking into the air.

"Ianto! Yoo hoo, Ianto Jones, is that you?" He turned to see an elderly woman bursting out of a pink suit waving at him. He couldn't remember-- Oh hell. Mrs. Fitzgerald. He hadn't seen her since she'd smacked him for laughing in church when he was about fourteen. He groaned as she hurried to him but gave her a brief smile and waited for her to catch up. She bustled up to him, her small feet in their patents clopping across the pavement. He waited, wondering what the hell she wanted.

"Hello, Mrs. Fitzgerald."

"I thought that was you," she said, breathless. "How are you doing, dear?" A gull that had been sitting on a bicycle took wing and flew over their heads. With one pudgy hand she pushed her faded hair back, her seamed face frowning at the gull as it flapped into the sky. "What do you suppose is wrong with them? They're everywhere!"

"I wouldn't know."

She sighed, flapping one hand about. Behind her, a gull flapped its wing. He had to bite back his laughter.

"Never mind," she said. "Must be a storm out at sea, they'll leave soon enough. Come in sometimes, though I've never seen so many at once." She patted his chest. "Thought you'd up and gone to London! How is your sister? When is she going to marry that Billy boy? Such a nice young man."

"Johnny. She's fine. They married last year."

Her face fell. "Johnny, that's right." Her eyebrows furrowed. "I don't think I know him. " Fortunate bloke, Ianto thought. "Married now? I didn't get an invitation. Must've been an oversight, I'm sure."

"I'm sure." Across the street, Ianto watched as a gull, followed by another, left their lofty perches and swooped down just over the heads of some pedestrians. A car honked, someone yelled at the birds. Suddenly, as if some signal were thrown, all the birds – they were only seagulls, he realised – started squawking and flapping their wings and then, in one ear-splitting swoosh, all took off.

All movement on the street paused as everyone turned to watch the seagulls' ascent into the sky.

"Well. Have you ever seen anything like that," Mrs. Fitzgerald murmured.

The street sprang back to life, returned to its noisy normality. Ianto looked for an escape. The last thing he wished was to answer any more questions; he'd be stuck here all day. "I need to go, Mrs. Fitzgerald," he said, backing away. "Sorry, can't stay to talk."

A chattering group of uniformed schoolgirls approached and he dove around them and into the first open door. He peered through the window, snorting softly to himself as Mrs. Fitzgerald looked about in confusion. She shrugged her shoulders then hurried on, shaking her head, no doubt nattering to herself about his rudeness. No matter. She would've expected no less from him, he was sure.

He turned to look around. A pet shop. The incessant chirping of hundreds of birds nearly drowned out the canned music. Ianto checked his watch. He had time to look around a bit before heading home.

The pet shop was two stories, with a wide stairway that led to the second floor, and stuffed with cages of puppies, kittens, ferrets and even a monkey. The shop was nearly empty though; a young mother dragging a whimpering toddler away from a bin of dog toys, a couple of girls tapping the glass where two little puppies were fast asleep, paws in air. Another puppy took up barking, attracting the girls' attention. Looking out the window he saw Mrs. Fitzgerald approach the front door.

Why the hell was she still looking for him? That woman was worse than the gulls.

Taking two steps at a time Ianto fled up the stairs. He stopped at the top, and looked about in amazement. There were birds, hundreds of birds. Budgies and parrots, cockatiels and birds he didn't recognize, all flitting about their cages, some trying to fly within their cramped confines. A circular cage dominated the center of the room and held a solitary white bird, and the walls were all lined with wire-mesh cages. Smaller wooden cages, price tags dangling, hung from the ceiling. Birds surrounded him on all sides, splashes of vibrant colour, brilliant hues of red and blue and green and yellow. Lisa would love this.

The birds all seemed rather excited though, none sleeping, all chirping, cooing, twittering and in the parrots' cases, squawking. They almost sounded as bad as the gulls.

He walked past their cages, peeking over the railing; the front door opened, but it wasn't Mrs. Fitzgerald, thank God. Some bloke in a military coat entered the store and stood in the middle, hands in pockets, surveying the first floor as if he were about to commandeer it. Ianto snorted. The puppy barked again, but the birds finally settled down at least. For a moment he watched the man, wondering what he was after. He didn't look the Budgie type.

Handsome though, Lisa would say. He supposed so.

Dismissing the man from his mind when he joined the girls petting the puppies, Ianto moved over to a counter, touching the different bird items. Scratching stones, toys – he picked up a plastic ball. What would a bird do with that? He tossed it up in the air a couple of times, then set it back. He checked his watch. Ought to be going, Lisa would be calling and he'd best be on the road when she did.

"Excuse me. Could you help me, please?"

Ianto set the ball down and turned around. "I'm not--" He sucked in his breath. It was the military bloke. He hadn't realized he'd come up the stairs. What was an American doing in Newport? Why would an American even want to be here?

"Could you help me, please?"

He started to protest, but one look into the stranger's glinting blue eyes and he changed his mind. No harm in helping, he supposed. He looked into the stranger's eyes again. Damn.

He forced himself to smile, tucking his hands behind his back. He was glad he'd shaved, had on clean denims, then wondered why in bloody hell he'd thought that. He swallowed, cleared his throat. "Certainly, sir. What are you looking for?"

The man looked at him for a long moment, a curious, almost wistful look fleeting across his face. Ianto shifted but kept his expression bland. The man grinned. "I'd like some help with lovebirds.”

"Lovebirds, sir?"

The man nodded, turned away and tapped one of the cages. He began to stroll around the room, looking back to see if Ianto was following. He hesitated, then did so. "Yes. I understand there are different varieties, is that true?"

Ianto cleared his throat again, searching his miniscule knowledge of bird types. "Well, yes of course there are. Many different types of birds. Lovebirds. Are they for you?" He wondered if the man had a girlfriend. Or a wife. He glanced at the man's hand; no ring. The man noticed his glance and smiled. Ianto's face heated but he tried not to let on.

"They're for a friend. Her daughter, actually. She'll be eleven and, well, frankly, I wouldn't want a pair of lovebirds that were too demonstrative."

Ianto frowned. "They're lovebirds. I think--" He paused at the man's narrowed gaze. He wasn't joking. Or was he? "I understand completely, sir." All the visits to his father's work, watching him help customers, was paying off. He smiled solicitously.

"At the same time," the man said, "I wouldn't want them to be...aloof." He grinned and, Ianto swore, winked. Okay maybe he had been joking. Ianto was starting to feel a bit off-kilter. "That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?" the man said, dropping his voice so if anyone else were around, they wouldn't hear. Except, they were alone, and the closer the man drew to Ianto the more hot and flustered he became.

Ianto cleared his throat. "Of course not, no. I mean, of course it would be a shame. A disappointment for the young girl." He died inside. "Oh yes sir, a very big disappointment. I hate to disappoint people."

Ianto jerked back a step when a woman wearing a smock and nametag bustled up the stairs. The shopkeeper. Wonderful. He steeled himself for the humiliation of being found out. She glanced their way but hurried behind the counter and began to move things around, muttering to herself.

"Then let's not let that happen, right?" The man cocked one eyebrow. "You'll see to it? Personally?"

Ianto drew back, clenching his hands behind his back. "Of-of course."

The man nodded, rubbed the cleft in his chin. "Do you have a pair that are just...friendly? Maybe," the man said, his eyes dropping lazily, then back up again, making Ianto flush, damn him, "maybe two males? Although," he said, interrupting Ianto before he could respond, "that doesn't guarantee they won't be friendly, right?" His gaze pierced Ianto.

What the hell? "I'm sure I can find you just the right birds, Mr.--"

"Harkness. Captain Jack Harkness. And you are..."

Fuck. But, what was the harm, not like he would see him again. "Ianto Jones."

A slow smile crept over Harkness's face. "Ianto Jones. A pleasure to see you, a very heartfelt pleasure."

The shopkeeper emerged from behind the counter, a box in her hands. She hurried to them. "Everything all right here?"

Harkness smiled, white teeth flashing. "Fine, thank you."

"If you need anything let me know. I'll be downstairs."

She hurried back down the stairs. Ianto watched her go. A tap on his shoulder brought him back.

"Lovebirds?"

Ianto blinked. "Lovebirds. Right." He turned on his heel, looking around. The only birds he knew were the Budgerigars and the parrots. Why couldn't Harkness want one of those?

He flicked a glance at Harkness. Drawing in a breath, he headed toward one of the cages, hoping to hell that the yellow birds inside were lovebirds. All the birds had completely settled down now; whatever had agitated them earlier had apparently passed. He wished he could find his own calm again. The back of his neck was hot and his stomach roiled and dammit, he couldn't take his eyes off the man; what had seemed a lark had turned into anything but. Somehow, Captain Jack Harkness had turned the tables on him, and Ianto's body knew it. Damn him.

"Aren't these lovebirds?"

Ianto turned to see Harkness standing in front of a cage full of reddish-pink birds. "No," Ianto said, “those are...redbirds."

Harkness peered closer then turned his head up and grinned. "Strange, the sign says strawberry finches."

Hell. "We call them that too." He stopped at a different cage where two solid-green parrot-like birds sat next to each other. "Here we go. Lovebirds."

With a sigh, Harkness said, "Doesn't it make you feel bad, Ianto Jones?"

"Bad? How--" He frowned. "Bad?"

Harkness waved his hand about the room. "All these innocent creatures, caged up like this."

"Well, they can't just fly around the shop."

The corner of Harkness's mouth twitched. "I suppose not. Is there an ornithological reason for keeping them in separate cages?"

Why wouldn't he just get the damn birds and leave? "Uh, yes." He froze, then burst out with, "Protect them from each other? Other." One quick nod and a quick smile and he died inside.

But oblivious to Ianto's stumble, Harkness nodded. He moved closer to Ianto, and said beneath his breath, "Wouldn't want the big ones to eat up the little ones, would you?" Ianto opened his mouth, snapped it shut. His denims suddenly felt tight. Fucking hell, he hoped Harkness didn't notice.

He figured his hoping was useless. Ianto drew his coat closer around himself.

"Take one out, please."

"Excuse me?"

"I want to see how tame it is. Wouldn't do to give a child a dangerous bird, would it?" He put his hands behind his back, rocking on his toes once, and waited expectantly.

Ianto glanced around the upper floor but they were still alone. This could go badly. Very, very badly. Harkness waited. Ianto supposed he could just walk out, right now, but the expectant expression on Harkness's face, and those eyes staring at Ianto with what he couldn't tell was intimidation or laughter, combined to throw Ianto off his feet. He didn't understand it, but Harkness was toying with him.

He had to know why.

He opened the cage, reaching in. "Okay bird," he muttered softly to the flittering bird – and in a flash of wings, the bird zoomed out of the cage. "Oh bloody hell," he said. Harkness laughed.

"What's going on here?" The shopkeeper flew up the stairs, her hands flapping in excitement. The bird dipped and soared overhead, frantic in its flight. "What are you doing? Why did you let it out?" She started toward them, but the bird flew down toward her, making her duck. Its antics made the other birds start to flap and twitter until the whole shop was in an uproar. "I'll get the net!" she said, hurrying into the back again.

But before she could reemerge, the bird came to a halt on a stack of bird magazines. With a grin, Harkness reached out and deftly snatched the bird in his hand. He held it up to his face. "Not nice to tease the shop boy," Harkness said to it, grinning at Ianto. He slid the bird back into the cage just as the shopkeeper hurried back, net in hand.

"Oh! How did you catch him?" she said.

"I just have a way with wild things," Harkness said. The woman frowned, but he raised his hand. "I’m so sorry, it's all my fault. I wanted to see it up close. Forgive me."

The shopkeeper looked confused for a moment, took in Harkness's appeasing smile, then shook her head. "Well. Don’t do it again."

"I won't. I promise. I'll be purchasing these lovebirds, actually."

Her wary expression turned into a smile. "That would be lovely. They're not lovebirds though. They're canaries."

Harkness laughed. Ianto closed his eyes briefly. "Do you even have any lovebirds?"

"Unfortunately no. But I expect a new shipment in the morning."

"That would be fine."

Ianto stepped back as she headed toward the cage next to the canaries. He seemed to be forgotten. Stepping behind one of the large cages, he watched as Harkness and the shopkeeper negotiated delivery, and as Harkness paid for the birds. Maybe he could slip out now, undetected...

He headed for the stairs, was down the first two when he heard Harkness call out. "Ianto."

Ianto paused. Harkness stood at the top of the stairs, forcing Ianto to look up. Hell. Ianto returned to the top stair. "You knew I didn't work here."

Harkness nodded. "I knew."

"You act like you know me," Ianto accused.

A sad, somewhat wistful smile crossed Harkness's face. "No, I don't know you." He started to say more, Ianto swore, but then shook his head. "I've kept you long enough. Nice meeting you here, Ianto Jones. Take care of yourself, okay?"

An awkward silence settled between them. Ianto hesitated. He shoved his hands in his pockets. "Yeah. Sure."

"Goodbye then," Harkness said, his voice soft. Before Ianto could react, Harkness drew close, bent his head down and, cradling Ianto's face, kissed him.

Stunned, Ianto couldn't move. His entire body thrummed; he instinctively reached for Harkness, a betraying groan escaping as he gave in to the kiss, opening himself to it.

Harkness jerked back, breathless, the expression in his eyes betraying nothing though. He gave Ianto a long, searching look, then bolted down the stairs and out of the shop, his coattails flying behind him. Confused, dazed, and hard as hell, fuck, Ianto watched until Harkness disappeared.

The shopkeeper appeared at Ianto's shoulder. "Who was that man?"

Ianto took a deep breath, his lips still feeling the strength of Harkness's lips. "I – Captain Jack Harkness." He smiled, an idea springing into his mind. "He wants me to deliver the birds to him."

"He didn't tell me that."

"He just told me. A minute ago. I'm headed out that way anyway. If you'll just write the address down for me –"

The woman frowned. "I don't know–"

Ianto reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, showed her his ID. "I'm with Torchwood London. You can call and verify my employment if you like. I'm just here on holiday."

She peered closely at his ID. "You're Ianto Jones? Rhiannon's brother?"

He sighed. He was definitely right to quit this fucking town. "Yes ma'am, that’s me."

She beamed then. "Well, that's all right then. Her son and my grandson are friends. He lives with me now, since my daughter--" She smiled thinly. "Rhiannon's mentioned you several times. She's so proud of you, you know."

Ianto shifted, glancing at his watch. "I'll see you in the morning, then?"

"About eight o'clock would be fine. I'll have them ready for you."

"I'll be here."

She handed him a slip of paper. "It's quite a drive. You sure you don't mind?"

He took the slip of paper, folding it and sticking it in his pocket. "I'm sure. See you then."

Ianto made his escape. Once he was back out on the pavement, he pulled the slip of paper from his pocket and looked at it. Cardigan? Damn. He looked down the street, not expecting to see but unable to resist looking for Harkness. Nothing, of course.

As he turned away to return to his car, he swore he saw a flash of military coat but when he turned back, only a single seagull was there.

II.


Ianto snapped his mobile shut with a grimace, tossing it on the seat beside him. It clinked against the bird cage. One of the birds fluttered its wings at him.

"Sorry," he said to it, then snorted softly to himself.

Pulling into traffic which was light so early in the morning, he headed for his destination--Cardigan, of all places in the world Harkness could be from. He should've been headed back to London, not stalking after some remnant of an impression he was struggling to understand. But the skies were clear, a warm day with a crisp breeze, perfect for a long, leisurely drive. Though driving to Cardigan and then all the way back to London would cost him the last of a tank of petrol that should've got him through the weekend, it would be worth it. He had to see Harkness again. Ask him... Ask Harkness why the hell he'd kissed him.

Maybe then he'd understand why it had felt so right.

Lisa had not been amused when he'd broken their date, but they'd only planned to go listen to music and have a few pints with friends anyway. "I hope Rhiannon feels better soon," she'd finally said, and he'd reassured her that it wasn't catching, but that his sister could use the hand with her two little ones, what with Johnny working so much. A couple of days rest, and everyone would be on their feet again.

He'd once vowed not to lie to Lisa, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t know Rhiannon's married name, and Lisa didn’t own him. They'd only been dating a few weeks, although, he thought with a smile, she truly was the most amazing woman he'd ever met. He would have to bring back something for her. That would set all to rights again.

The M-4 finally merged into the A-465. He tried not to think about Harkness as he drove the twisting, turning road, but the birds' chirping kept yanking him back to that moment on the stairs, that kiss. He turned on some music, but that didn’t help. There were too many questions, there was too much mystery surrounding the American and it would plague him until he had answers. If he could even get answers.

And then what? He wasn’t sure. It wasn’t as if he’d toss his future with Torchwood for a bloke. Or, for Lisa for that matter. His pulse quickened just thinking about her. She had a magical hold on him he knew he couldn’t get away from, or even wanted to. The first moment he turned around and saw her, and she smiled at him, and walked over to him and said, “Ianto Jones? These are for you,” he’d been intoxicated by her. Never mind that she was simply handling him an application, the zing was there. Lisa Hallet had him right then, and she knew it.

It occurred to him that Harkness gave him that same zing. He shifted in his seat.

At long last he reached Cardigan. He drove around awhile before he admitted to himself he'd have to ask for directions. He pulled into a petrol station and stopped, hopping out of his car after a quick check on the birds. They were fine. Maybe he should've bought bird seed for them too. He didn’t know the first thing about animals, really, having been forbidden to have pets of his own growing up. No matter, Harkness could tend to that.

Ianto entered the station's store, nodding at the clerk behind the counter. "Maps?"

"Over there," the man said, indicating the furthest row.

Ianto walked over to the indicated bin of maps and started rifling through them. Maps of London, general maps of Wales, nothing specifically Cardigan. The clerk appeared at his elbow.

"Trying to find someplace specific?"

"Cardigan?"

The clerk laughed. He rummaged around and pulled out a map and handed it to him. Ianto opened it, looking for the street listings. "D'you know where Coronation Drive is?" He turned the map around.

"You don't need a map for that. It's less than ten minutes from here. You can drive around this way up Gwbert Road," he said, indicating a road on the map heading north to the shore. “Gwbert Road’s right outside. It turns into Coronation. It’s a nice drive. Really pretty on a good day.”

Ianto nodded, noting the path. Easy. "Thanks. Is there someplace good to eat around here?"

"Tynewydd’s right across the street. It has the best food around. And cheap."

Ianto nodded once. "I could go for cheap. Thanks." He folded the map back up and returned it to its bin.

"Sure you don't want to buy the map too?"

Ianto shook his head but then thought better of it. It was pretty up here; maybe he'd bring Lisa up here sometime. Camp out somewhere, or even stay at a bed and breakfast, once he'd saved up enough money. "Good idea. Thanks."

After paying for the map he headed for the door, his gaze fixed on the café across the street, one hand outstretched to push the door open when, out of the corner of his eye, a white blurry shape dove from the sky.

"Watch out!" the clerk yelled. Ianto jumped back, just as the shape smashed, in an explosion of blood and feathers, into the glass door with a thud so hard the door cracked.

"What the fuck?" Ianto said, his heart racing. He stared as the seagull slid to the ground in front of the door.

The clerk came up behind him. "Did you see that?" he whispered. "It just flew into the door. Why would it do that?"

"I don't know." Ianto peered into the sky, then back at the dead gull. He pushed the door open, scraping the gull back. It left a smear of blood and bits of bird flesh, tiny feathers. "I've never seen anything like it." He moved around the door, holding it open. The clerk poked his head out, glancing nervously at the sky. The cry of seagulls broke into a momentary frenzy and the clerk jerked back in. Ianto glanced at them warily but none decided to follow their mate.

Bending down, he picked up the gull by one wing, turning it over so it lay on its back. It stared, sightless, up at him, its beak open, split from the force of impact. If it'd been possessed by some sort of mania, it was gone now, obliterated in a moment of bird insanity.

"Maybe it was sick," the clerk said, peering around the door. "It broke my door. A second later, it would've hit you."

Ianto nodded, standing. He wiped his hands on his denims, glancing at the café. "Sorry to leave you with this."

"That's okay. I'd better call my boss." The clerk disappeared with one last glance at the bloody mess.

Ianto took a deep breath. The seagulls had all gone silent now. He watched them, roosting quietly, watching him. He'd always hated the damn things; one less of their kind was nothing but a good thing.

Ianto could not get the image of the dead seagull out of his mind as he walked across the street to the café. He nodded to a passerby, a woman with a little girl in tow. The woman looked harried, lost.

"Are you all right, ma'am?" he asked. The kid looked up at him then up to the sky with round, fearful eyes.

The woman startled, grabbing her daughter close. "Did you see that? Did you see what that bird did?"

Ianto glanced back at the smashed seagull. "Yes ma'am, I was inside. I'm sure it was just an accident. The bird was sick or something."

The woman shook her head. "No. No, that bird wasn't sick. I saw it. It was flying in the sky, just like the others," she glanced around nervously, "and it just...it just dove, all of a sudden, as if possessed, straight for that door. It dove straight for that door!"

The little girl's eyes started to fill. He wanted to tell the woman look, lady, you're scaring your kid, but he just smiled at her. "No harm done though. The others are just fine. See? Normal seagulls."

The woman shook her head. "No, something strange is going on, something very strange. This isn't normal. They're not acting normal. It dove straight for the door!"

"Momma, I want to go," the little girl whimpered.

But the woman took a step closer to Ianto. "There's something strange here, something's wrong with the birds."

Ianto said nothing, watched as the woman, dragging her upset daughter along with her, headed for the café. With a sigh he followed after her, hands stuffed in pockets, a glance to the sky assuring him that he was right. Nothing was amiss, the untimely death of the seagull an aberration. Two seagulls wheeled lazily in the sky; then Ianto realised something. All the others, the ones that had been sitting, watching, perched on rails, on fence and roof, had left. Left so silently he hadn't even noticed.

With a shrug, he reached for the café door, and walked inside. The woman and her daughter were talking animatedly to a waitress who was trying to show them a seat. She saw Ianto over the woman's head, smiled at him and pointed to an empty booth. He nodded, and made his way to it.

Sliding into the booth, Ianto picked up the menu but he didn't scan it--one café of this kind was much like any other--and rather watched the other patrons. The woman and her sniffling daughter had taken a few booths from him and he noted she'd finally shut up, her face buried in the menu.

Her daughter could see him though. She looked at him now, her brown eyes huge and still scared. He guessed it must've been frightening to a little girl; seagulls were big birds, and could easily knock a small child over if they hit hard enough. He wiggled his fingers at her and smiled, and he was rewarded with a tentative smile in return.

Ianto turned his attention to the other patrons, but no one paid him any mind except a woman who sat silently eating with, he supposed, her husband. Her gaze flickered to him and back down to her plate; her husband frowned at her, muttered something. She hunched further down, reminding him of his mum. He looked away.

He supposed no one else had seen the bird's suicide dive. The waitress glanced at him. She smiled, excused herself from the customer she'd been talking to and walked over to him.

"Ready to order, sir?"

He nodded. "I'd like some coffee please. Black."

"How about a blueberry muffin to go with that? Fresh-baked this morning."

He considered it for a moment, and nodded. "A rasher of bacon too, and two eggs, sunny side up."

She scribbled his order on her paper pad and nodded. "Anything else?"

He cleared his throat. "You wouldn't happen to know a..." He pulled the piece of paper out of his pocket. "An Angeline Smith, would you?"

The waitress slowly shook her head. "No, I don't think so. What street?"

Ianto showed the waitress the address. An older gentleman walking by peered over her shoulder. "That'd be Martin Smith's daughter, Angie. She doesn't go by Smith anymore though."

"Do you know a Captain Jack Harkness?" Ianto asked the man. He frowned a moment, but before he could respond an overweight, dour-faced girl who reminded him somewhat of his sister said, "He’s American. Wears a military coat doesn't he?"

"Yes he does," the older gentleman said, glaring at the girl. She huffed and looked bored. "I know him, young man. We don’t get many Americans here."

"He's been here before then," Ianto said.

The silent woman at the table with her silent husband looked up. "I saw him walking by just a little while ago." She smiled, a soft smile that quickly vanished when her husband looked up.

"Who'd you see?" he said with a grunt.

She blushed, studying her plate, not answering. Ianto stared at the man until he looked away. Bastard.

The girl picked up a pair of glasses and put them on. "He was carrying some packages, headed down the street."

The waitress said, "He actually ate here earlier." She too smiled softly, then laughed, fanning her face. "Look at me being silly. It's been awhile since he’s eaten here, but he was here earlier this morning and that's always a treat. Ordered same as always. Two eggs sunny-side up, a rasher of bacon and," she looked at Ianto in amusement, "a muffin."

"Blueberry?" Ianto asked with a grin.

"No, apple spice actually. Always so nice. He looked tired though. Drank a whole pot of coffee by himself." She frowned at him. "Do you know him?"

"I--I have a delivery for him. Some birds. I brought them from Newport."

"All the way from Newport? You must be starving then. I'd best turn this order in." She took off.

The old man shook his head. "I have to tell you son, I've often wondered about that man. He's an odd one, breezing in and out of here every few months like he does, always looking the same, always wearing that coat. Been coming ever since Angie came back." He dropped his voice. "Changed."

Ianto frowned. "Changed? How so?"

The man grimaced. "Ran off one day, no word to her parents, nothing. Disappeared for more than four years, she did, and when she came back, she was carrying that little girl, and wouldn't talk about it. No husband, no word around town what she had gone and done, where she'd been. But she was different." He ran one wrinkled hand over his balding, age-spotted head. "Something happened to her, wherever she'd been. Her father and I were good friends back then. Whatever was going on, he wouldn’t tell me. I rather think he couldn't tell me. It was the oddest thing though, once he said to me, ‘Walker? There's things in this world, right here, we could never imagine. Terrible things. They're coming, they're coming and there's nothing we can do to stop them.’" He glanced toward the window. "Those birds, the seagulls. You've seen them?"

The image of the bloody smashed seagull popped fresh into his mind. "Yes."

"They've been acting oddly the last day or so. Something's not right, not right at all." He bent closer. "The odd thing? I've seen it before. Last time that captain fellow was here."

"Really," Ianto said. "Surely it was a coincidence."

The old man straightened. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Like I say, he comes into town every month or so. He just never stays long is all. This time something's kept him here. Maybe there's another reason. Maybe something's coming."

It was just a coincidence, the birds in Newport flocking as they had had nothing to do with Harkness. And the one that had smashed into the glass door--that had been an accident, nothing to do with anything at all. The birds' behavior was odd, though. Maybe he should call Torchwood. And say what? That some bloke in a military coat was making the seagulls go crazy? That was crazy. And yet, crazy or not, there was an odd sense of possibility the old man was right. Which of course made no sense.

Lisa had told him there were things he would see and do that he would not believe, to keep an open mind. He was trying. He happened to glance then at the woman with the daughter. The woman was staring at him, back to the old man.

"What's coming? What do you mean?" she said, pulling her daughter close. "Did you see that seagull? Did you see how it smashed into the door?" She pointed at Ianto. "He saw it. Something terrible's not coming, it's already here." Her little girl shrank into the seat but not, Ianto noted, against her mother.

The old man rolled his eyes, but turned and smiled genially. "Now Lucy, what are you talking about?"

Ianto interrupted. "A seagull accidentally smashed into the store across the street."

"It did it on purpose," Lucy said. "I saw it. It dove straight for the door." She looked at Ianto. "Straight for it."

The waitress bustled up to Lucy's table, pad in hand, before Lucy could say anything else. "Come on darling, what would you like?" she said to the little girl, bending down and smiling.

The old man sighed in relief. "That woman," he muttered.

"Is there anything else you can tell me about Harkness?" Ianto said, keeping his voice down now. He hoped the old man didn't think him odd for asking.

"Thought at first he was the baby's daddy, but she looks nothing like him. He and Angeline come here now and then. They're friends, that's obvious, but that's all."

The old man frowned, then moved out of the way as the waitress brought Ianto his coffee. As she poured it, her gaze flicked up to Ianto. "Sorry about Lucy. She's always like that." She shook her head. "I worry about that little girl of hers, with a mother like that, always seeing conspiracy behind everything, always convinced Judgment Day's coming."

"It's all right. They saw it happen. It had to have been upsetting." He wrapped one hand around the mug of coffee, relishing its heat. The smell of it made him smile.

"An ant could walk in front of her and she'd get upset. That's how she is, always complaining, always crying over something," the old man said.

The waitress laughed. "You bothering this nice young man, Mr. Walker?"

The old man chuckled. "Just telling tales, Emma."

She rolled her eyes. "Tell him to go away if you want to eat in peace," she said to Ianto.

"I don't mind."

"Your breakfast should be ready. Now go on, let him have his peace, Mr. Walker."

"Fine, fine," he said as the waitress headed for the kitchen. He nodded at Ianto. "Just be careful young man."

"I will." He wanted to ask the old man more questions but he'd already shuffled away, started talking to someone else. Lucy and her daughter had their food--pancakes for the little girl, only a mug of coffee for the mom. Ianto avoided her gaze.

His breakfast arrived then, and he tucked into it, watching the other patrons, his ears straining to hear more details about Jack Harkness, but talk turned to the weather, the coming winter, and a fête that was apparently going to take place at the end of the month.

The breakfast was delicious. It'd been a long time since he'd grabbed more than a muffin and a cup of coffee. He took another sip, grateful for the warmth.

The waitress brought his bill to him and he paid her and left the café. He glanced up--there were a lot of seagulls in flight but none looked bent on going kamikaze on him again. A quick glance at the store confirmed the clerk had cleaned up the smashed gull. Ianto shook his head and headed for his car. One less gull was fine with him.

Turning the corner to the car park where he'd left his car, he stopped. His car was the only one in the lot, and was covered with gulls. Some roosted; one flew off to be replaced by another. Two women had stopped, were watching the birds.

"Hey! You! Get off my car!" Ianto ran toward his car, arms waving. Each bird turned its head and looked at him, drawing him up short. A foot from the car, and the bastards wouldn't move. They cocked their heads from side to side, wings rustling, but only one flew up. "Hey!" he yelled at them, waving his arms again. The birds resumed their jostling about, others joining them. He peeked inside the car; the two lovebirds seemed undisturbed.

"Fuckers," he said, pulling his keys out. He hit one of the birds, sending it squawking in protest. But it flew off. He'd fix them. Opening up his car, pushing away wings, his ears starting to hurt from the cacophony they made--he couldn't believe this crap and the birds were shitting all over his car--he reached inside for the squash racquet Lisa had left in the back seat.

He pulled it out--realised that the two women had been joined by others, including the silent man and woman from the café. His inclination was to whack at the birds but the last thing he needed was the coppers called on him for animal abuse.

This is ridiculous.

He started to poke at the birds, raising his free arm to cover his face as in one tremendous rush of screeches and squawks, the seagulls burst into the air. He jumped up after them, swinging the racquet, hitting one. It veered off course; another circled around.

"Watch out!"

He turned, racquet raised, as the seagull headed straight for him. His eyes met its and his blood ran cold--he gripped the racquet with both hands and as the seagull went for him, he whacked it as hard as he could with all his strength, and an edge of fear that he couldn't believe he was experiencing over a fucking bird.

The racquet smashed the gull, sending it hurtling against his car. Cheers burst out from the gathered crowd, and the last of the attacking gulls took off. Other gulls had been watching, as if they were fans watching the professionals assault him and his car. Ianto gripped the racquet hard, kept it raised, watching the other gulls. The crowd fell silent as they too saw the other gulls, watching, waiting.

Fucking hell.

Ianto raised his arms and yelled at the damn birds, waving the racquet about. "Come on, you fuckers! Who's next? Come on, show me what you've got!" The gulls took off then, filling the air with a flurry of feathers and ear-piercing squawks, and then they were gone.

Silence fell. Ianto took a deep breath, fought to calm himself. He scanned the sky, but now there wasn't a gull in sight. What the hell.

One of the women walked toward him. "You okay?"

He ran a hand over his head, shaking it. "Yeah. I'm fine." He pushed past her to his car. It was covered in birdshit, and the gulls had picked at the trim on the car, tore up the windshield wipers. "Damn."

"Why do you think they did that?" she said.

"I don't know," Ianto said.

The other woman peered inside his car. "Maybe they were after your birds. They're so cute."

"I don't know," Ianto repeated. He just wanted to get out of there. "There a car wash around here?"

The first woman nodded. "Around the corner, actually."

"Thanks." He got in the car, shutting the door on the women.

He wasn't in the mood to deal with this. Sitting back in his seat, he glared at the filthy windshield. This wasn't at all how this was supposed to go. His plans were to deliver the birds, find Harkness, and...and what? What the hell was he doing? He glanced at the birds, grimacing. There was no backing out now, much as he just wanted to turn around and head to London. He glanced at his watch. If he left now, he'd be home in time to catch Lisa before she went to work.

He could always bring her the birds, he thought. She might like some pets.

He turned on the windshield wipers, spraying the windshield with water. As the wipers smeared the sludge the birds had left behind, his thoughts drifted back to Jack Harkness, the way his blue eyes flashed as he smiled, that strange look, the touch, and, he remembered with a start, that kiss.

Ianto knew he couldn't leave now. He had to know why the hell Jack Harkness had kissed him. And, he realised, only now acknowledging something that hadn't clicked until now...he had to know why that kiss had seemed so knowing. Ianto closed his eyes, his shoulders slumping as the war within him raged.

III.


Thirty minutes and a clean and refilled car later Ianto headed toward the house where Jack Harkness apparently lived. He intended to park the car and walk up to the house, leave the birds, and...

And what.

"Stupid." This whole thing was ridiculous. But now that he'd allowed the desire to see Jack Harkness take over again, he couldn't stop himself. He headed down the street, looking for a good place to park. The road snaked along the coastline here, and other cars, tourists probably, had pulled over, their occupants wielding cameras, recording dozens of images to take home and later wonder where the hell they were taken. As he drove, he automatically noted a freewheeling gull floating on the thermals. He grimaced at the bird, his once distracted dislike for them quickly turning into an all-out distaste.

This was close enough, he decided, pulling off the road where no other cars were close. A five, six minute walk would get him to the house in question. He grabbed the birdcage and slid out of the car, accidentally bumping the cage and sending the lovebirds into a panic.

"Sorry mates." He grinned, wondering if Jack Harkness would realize both were, in fact, males. The shopkeeper had been perturbed at his insistence that Harkness had wanted two of the same sex.

"That's just not the usual," she'd said, her brows furrowing. "Our customers generally want a pair of birds. A male and a female, you see. It's most unusual."

He'd smiled, hands tucked behind his back. "He is a most unusual man."

And now the two male birds were glaring at him, clearly affronted by his mishandling. He locked the car and headed up the hill, toting the bird cage with him. The ocean glimmered to his left as he hiked up the hill toward the cluster of houses at the end of the road--these were nice houses, the kinds of houses that made him think vacation home. Certainly nothing he could ever afford. A few cars passed him, but otherwise he felt alone with the water, the now-silent lovebirds, the hush of a sleepy late Saturday morning and the flock of sheep resting in the rich green grass on the other side of the fence lining the road.

It didn’t take long to reach the houses. Checking his slip of paper, he squinted at the numbers posted on the side of one house, not it. The next house didn't have any numbers at all. He kept on walking until he was at the end of the row. The last house, he realised, was actually a bed and breakfast. A man about the same age as Harkness, he thought, emerged from the house, nodded at him and away again, keys jangling in his hands, pace brisk. Ianto hesitated calling to him; the man walked around the corner before Ianto could make up his mind. Fuck.

“Excuse me," a voice called out. "Do you need some help?”

Ianto stopped, looked back over his shoulder. A tiny elderly woman was sitting on the grass next to a freshly-turned flower bed in front of one of the houses—he hadn’t even noticed her. He hesitated for a moment, then made up his mind. Wouldn't hurt to ask.

“Yes, if you don’t mind. I’m looking for,” he glanced at his paper, “number 210?"

She stood, brushing off her pants, laughing as she realised she'd done so with muddy-gloved hands. Ianto smiled. "Well, doesn't that just figure? So much for trying to keep clean." She peered at him. "Number 210?"

He nodded. "I'm looking for the Smith residence." He hesitated. "Captain Jack Harkness, actually."

She shook her head. "No no, he doesn't live there." She approached him, the breeze toying with escaped strands of silver hair as she peered at the bird cage. "What have you there?"

"Some lovebirds. I'm trying to deliver them to Mr. Harkness."

She frowned. "He visits about once a month or so. Maybe they're for Angeline's daughter. It's her birthday soon."

He nodded, wanting to get going now, get this silly idea over with. "Do you know where I can find them?"

"Come with me." She started up the hill, back toward the bed and breakfast. "I'm Maude James. You are--"

"Ianto Jones," he said, falling into step behind her.

"Ianto Jones. Nice name. You work for the pet shop?"

They were back at the bed and breakfast, and he wished she would simply tell him where to go to find Jack Harkness. But she seemed intent not to be in a hurry. "No ma'am, just doing a favor. I work in London."

"Oh my, you have a long drive back then.”

“Yes ma’am. I need to get back tonight." Overhead, a seagull swooped past, low in the cloudless sky.

The woman stared up at the seagull as it climbed higher in the sky. "So strange," she murmured.

"The seagull?" he asked, intrigued now. "Have the gulls been acting strange here, too?"

She looked at him. "Why do you say that?"

"I was just down in the village. Cardigan," he said, setting the bird cage down. "One flew into a door in a store I was in, and some attacked my car in the car park."

"Seagulls don't usually do that."

He raised an eyebrow at that. "I know." For a moment, they watched the gull fly aimlessly back and forth across the sky. "Someone told me a storm is coming."

She laughed, gesturing toward the calm ocean less than a half-kilometer away. It glimmered peacefully. "There might be a storm coming at that. You’ll find Angie’s house around the corner, one street down and across. It’s a white house with a red planter outside. I'm not sure anyone's home. I’m fairly certain I saw her leave this morning."

"I'll just put them on the front stoop then."

"Oh just put them inside. I'm sure that will be all right. No reason to lock doors here."

He smiled. "Not so in London."

She waved her hand. "Big cities. Nothing bad happens here, but I can imagine." She held out her hand, then laughed and took off her glove. "Nice to meet you, Ianto Jones. Be careful."

He took her hand. "Thanks. I will be."

Leaving her to return to her garden, he waited a moment for a car to pass, then glancing back the other way--he certainly didn't want Harkness to return now (who was he kidding)--he turned the corner and walked across the street. His heart thumped in anticipation, his imagination toyed with him. What if Harkness was inside? Maybe his car was around back. Maybe he would catch Ianto inside the house. Then what?

Ianto hoped he would find out.

Harkness, of course, didn't suddenly drive down the street, walk around the corner, anything of the sort. Ianto waited, reluctant to leave on the off-chance he'd see Harkness again. He pulled out his pocket watch, grimaced at it, flipped it closed and stuck it back in his pocket. Leaving the birds on the front porch, Ianto had no choice but to return to his car and leave. As he walked down the hill, his boots thudding on the concrete, he began to wonder what had come over him. No bloke had ever captured his attention before, he'd always preferred women, though now and then he had the odd fantasy of wondering what it would be like to be buggered. Suspected it'd feel damn good.

But that curiosity, he knew, didn't explain this madness he'd set out on. Didn’t explain his reaction to that kiss, and certainly didn't explain why the hell that kiss had happened in the first place. Something had driven Harkness first to tease him, then touch him, then kiss him. There was something in his eyes that made Ianto uncomfortable, a...knowing, if that could be possible. As if Harkness knew him, knew him well enough to play for certain reactions, and get them. But Ianto was the odd-man out here, ill-equipped to understand what the hell Harkness meant when he'd said what he'd said, and why his voice had sounded as it had. Full of loss. Why?

He needed Harkness to answer that question and many more and it looked like it wasn't going to happen. The only thing he'd learned was that he was a fool to chase after that which might have been his imagination.

Pulling his keys out of his pocket, Ianto jangled them in his hand as he reached his car. He unlocked it, got in, and looked back up the hill with a sigh. So much for that great plan. He started the engine and turned the car around, heading back to Cardigan. He glanced at his petrol gauge. Needed to fill up before he headed for London.

Turning the car around to head back the direction he'd come, Ianto didn't look in the rearview mirror. He was too disappointed his mission had failed.




Part Two