Written for: invisible_lift
Title: Two Hours Until Midnight
Rating: PG-13 for mild language and boy kissing
Summary: Ianto faces a difficult decision with Jack's help, and they chase an alien on New Year Eve
A/N: Written for the twsecretsanta ficfest. Thank you to my wonderful beta amand_r, for fixing all my silly mistakes. You are absolutely awesome! Also, thank you to the marvy misswinterhill for the last-minute, last-scenes help.
Jack checked his watch for the tenth time as he walked aimlessly through the Hub. He’d tried to get some paperwork done but he’d been unable to focus. There wasn’t anything to eat in the kitchen, but he wasn’t sure he was hungry anyway. The Rift had been quiet for a few hours which was unusual these days. He was restless, bored, worried, and wished the time would hurry up and nine o’clock would get here.
He hated waiting.
Gwen and Owen had gone out for the evening at his insistence-- Calennig was in full swing, making Cardiff burst with music and noise, the perfect excuse to forget about aliens and violence and the Rift for awhile. They needed it. Tosh had demurred, insisting on catching up with some paperwork, though Jack knew she didn't want to leave him alone. He fully intended to make her go anyway. In a bit.
It'd been four months since he'd come back and as Jack had predicted before he’d left, the Rift had become more volatile, demanding more and more of the team--they were tired, worn down, not just physically but mentally as well. They needed a break, but the Rift wasn't interested.
With each passing day it seemed more and more determined to break them, one by one, until there was nothing left with which to fight. He didn’t worry about Gwen, Owen, or even Tosh. They were resilient, knew how to shake off the harsher effects of their work, recharge. When they got hurt, they bounced back. They were tired, but they would be okay.
Ianto was different. He’d always been different. And since Jack had come back, he’d become more and more concerned that Ianto had nearly reached his breaking point. He’d become quieter, less inclined to quip. Every time the Rift alarm sounded, he paled, then set off with a grim determination Jack recognized. He’d seen it on the face of many a soldier setting off into battle, positive that would be the day that he died.
Jack realized a latent feeling of guilt over abandoning Ianto could be behind the escalation of his concern, but he couldn't blame just that. It was other things. Ianto had brushed off the Christmas holidays and Tosh’s attempts to make it fun (tinsel still decorated the workstations), citing a headache, or more often, needing to refile something in the Archives. He’d adopted a façade of disinterest in anything but work, yet at night, every night, entwined with Jack in bed, he’d taken Jack with possessive fervor that Jack couldn’t pass off as just being happy to have him back. Though the sex was very good. Damn good, and he’d had the sore arse to prove it.
He wanted Ianto back.
Ordering Ianto to ease up hadn’t worked, ordering him to take a break hadn’t worked, but an unexpected encounter with a particularly-nasty blowfish hell bent on reducing the team by one sure had. Ianto had had no choice but to go home, and heal and work out whatever it was that had been bothering him. Jack hadn’t asked him, knowing a half-answer would be offered instead of the truth.
In the days following the attack, Ianto had not been by the office once, called, or checked in at the Hub. He knew Ianto had stayed in Cardiff whilst his physical wounds healed, but beyond that, he'd left Ianto to deal with his inner demons as he'd apparently wished. Alone.
He'd regretted that promise the second he'd made it. It haunted him, day and especially throughout the long nights in his empty bed, that he hadn't insisted Ianto get straight back to work after what had happened, even though he wasn't physically ready. But he'd had no choice. Ianto had reached a point he'd seen others reach before, and only Ianto could decide if this was worth all the sacrifice.
That Torchwood was worth it, that, yeah, maybe even that he was worth it.
A quick check of his watch confirmed Ianto had ten minutes to show up. Jack had told him to report today, New Years Eve, that if he chose not to, then as far as Jack was concerned, that was it. It would be time to open up a new bottle of Retcon. Ianto had agreed.
What Jack wasn't sure of was how he, personally, would handle the disappointment if the lift never descended with Ianto on it again, if he could never sneak up behind him in the Archives, never be pinned beneath him again.
Never kiss him again.
Jack glanced at his watch yet again. Forced down disappointment that was at the ready to strike. Five minutes. There was time yet.
Jack bent down a little to glance at his reflection in the mirror Gwen had brought in that morning. She'd hung it low, insisting it was for her and Tosh, not him. Jack thought it more a perverse means of torturing him. He couldn't exactly complain without inviting a round of teasing the likes of which he'd never hear the end. Not with those two. Cursing lightly, he ran a hand through his newly-spiked haircut Tosh had insisted he get.
He had to admit, he looked rather good. He raised an eyebrow at his reflection, turning his face to the side slightly as he noticed a stray hair the hairdresser had missed.
He fished about on the counter for the scissors. Pens, paper, some paperclips and coins. A few magazines, a couple of pizza coupons, and a card invitation to a grand opening he had no intention of attending. There was also a box of odds and ends Ianto had left to go through later. He poked around the contents, and pulled out a fork. He held it up and frowned, hitting a button he found on the side. A thin green arc glowed gently between the two tines. Not a fork at all, okay then.
He found a string and ran it over the glow. It cut the thread neatly in two. He nodded once, flipped it off and pocketed it. Would have to ask Ianto to figure out what it was, if he came back.
He yanked open a drawer then slammed it shut. "Dammit, where are those things?" Everything had gone a bit to hell since Ianto's temporary departure. He could find nothing when he needed it, and had spent much of the last few days searching for items that, if he'd bothered to pick up his mobile, Ianto would know exactly where they'd been placed.
"Tosh, where are the scissors?" he yelled.
"What scissors?" A pause. Then, "We have scissors?"
"Exactly," he muttered. He stalked back to his desk and pushed a few stacks of file folders about. He pulled out the object he'd pocketed and turned it on, returned to the mirror. Bending slightly at the knees, he examined his reflection again, pulling at the stray hair. Something moved behind him, reflected in the surface, and a hand grabbed his wrist from behind. Jack stilled, his breath sucked in sharp.
"Not advisable, sir."
Jack lifted his eyes to Ianto's reflected. His pulse leaped, but he quelled his reaction. And, his relief. “I wasn’t going to use it on my head. I’m not stupid.”
Ianto snorted. “Of course not.”
Jack huffed. "Find me the scissors then. What is it, anyway?" He turned it off, handed it to Ianto.
"Not positive. It's dangerous if not used correctly. It has two settings. That was just the low."
Jack watched Ianto run his finger over the object’s side and studied his wayward employee. Ianto looked as if he'd not missed a day. Impeccable black suit, red shirt, perfectly-knotted black tie. Shoes glowing, face freshly shaved. And a haircut. The bruises gone, and as far as Jack could guess, no longer a limp. Nothing different. Everything different. Business as usual for Ianto Jones at least in appearance, though Jack knew it was anything but for them both.
Ianto flipped the switch, and aimed the fork at the trashcan. The fork sputtered to life once more, and then a thin blue beam shot from it, hitting the trash bin. A flash burst from the bin...and then it was gone.
"That was the high setting." Ianto flipped off the switch, then handed it back to Jack, handle first.
“You owe me a new trash bin.” He took the fork and walked over to his cabinet, pulled out a container. He opened it, placing the object inside. "Where did it come from?"
"A yard sale in London a couple of weeks ago, actually. Hadn't fully investigated it yet."
Ianto shoved his hands in his pockets, looked away.
Jack nodded, setting the weapon out of his mind. There were more important things to discuss this morning than killer forks.
"You're back then?" he asked.
Ianto hesitated, then nodded. "Yes."
"Is everything under control?"
Ianto nodded. "Everything's fine."
Jack took a step closer to Ianto, looked him straight in the eye. "Complete honesty, Ianto. No hiding, no matter how small or big a problem is. I need to know about whatever interferes with your ability as a team member. Understood?" Especially, he thought, if it endangered any of them. But they'd settled that matter after the incident with Lisa. No need to go over that again.
Ianto stood stiff, a soldier at attention. His gaze held Jack's for a moment, flickered away, settled just about where Jack's ear was. "I'll do everything you say, sir."
Everything... Jack cleared his throat, quelled his frustration. "I don’t need a robot." Ianto's nose flared, jaw tensed in a quick flash of anger. Jack dropped his voice, soothing. "I need someone I can trust not to fall apart. Can I trust you not to?"
"I won't fall apart." He hesitated, a brief flash of concern in his eyes. "You...don't think I would do that, do you?"
"No. I don't. You wouldn't be here if I didn't believe in you." He put a hand on Ianto's shoulder, wanting to soften his words. "I'm glad you're back, Ianto. You've been missed."
The tension along Ianto's jaw lessened, but he still seemed wary. "By you?"
He squeezed Ianto's shoulder. "Very much so." He smiled, smoothing Ianto's jacket. "Missed that suit too. Looks good on you."
Ianto's voice was harsh with an emotion that at least for now, Jack chose not to try to define. Ianto remained stiff, unyielding, had not reacted in any way to Jack's touch, which in itself was telling. Not all the demons must've been slain during his absence, Jack thought, and now for the first time Jack wondered if he himself wasn't one of the worst of them.
Those nights in bed, though. No, it wasn’t him.
"You're welcome. You know, it took not having you here to realize just how much you do around here--" He stopped, realizing how that sounded, said, "I don't want your first day back to be awkward or miserable, or make you regret coming back."
Ianto nodded, looking away before looking back at Jack, a half-smile on his face. "I guess I should start with seeing what you've done to the Archives. After my-- After last time, they were a mess."
Jack tried to look hurt but quickly found it impossible not to grin. "Okay, okay, I may have messed up a thing or two, misfiled a few things," Ianto rolled his eyes at that, "but I've tried not to do too much damage this time. I swear. And the stapler is out of staples." He tugged at the wayward strand of hair. "And I can't find any scissors."
"I have some," Ianto said. "Have scissors, I mean." He slipped a hand into his pocket, pulled out an object. It took a second for Jack to realize it was simply a pocketknife. He had no idea why Ianto was suddenly carrying a pocketknife. He didn't seem the type. Ianto pulled a section out; a tiny pair of scissors.
“Nice knife.” He took the knife from Ianto.
Jack examined the knife. It was heavy, metal scratched and obviously well-used. His father's maybe? Didn’t seem likely and he knew not to ask. "Fix it for me?" He cocked his head to the side. "Unless, that is, you plan to stab me with those." He nodded at the little scissors which might, at worst, cut barely deep enough to draw blood.
A flicker of a smile at that, finally. "No sir, I need the job. Fuel bill's due soon."
Jack turned his back to Ianto, returned to the mirror and bent down. He found the offending hair. "Really, can we raise this a little? Get Tosh a stool?"
"I'd think you’d just want a bigger mirror."
Jack laughed, but Ianto's reflection did not join him; Jack's momentary hope faded. Ianto drew closer and Jack held still, one hand slipping to Ianto's hip. A sharp intake of air was Ianto's only reaction, but it was enough. Jack looked into Ianto's eyes; they flicked, held, away again. Jack took a slow, even breath, pressing himself closer to Ianto, not quite touching. Ianto flinched beneath his touch. Licked his lips,
Jack looked at him through half-lidded eyes. "Careful. No telling what I'll do if you nick me."
"It won't matter. You'll heal fast." Ianto's eyes widened and he looked quickly back at the offending hair, snipped it off.
Jack kept his expression neutral, wondering where that came from. He let it go, grabbed Ianto's hand holding the scissors and half-turned him, pushing him against the mirror. He cocked an eyebrow at Ianto. "I'm not exactly a fan of pain."
Ianto looked aghast. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“
“It’s okay.” He slid his free hand behind Ianto's neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
Ianto's reaction was immediate, and answered at least one of the questions flaring in Jack's mind. A groan escaped Ianto as he melted against Jack, opened his mouth and crushed Jack's mouth with his own. Nearly pulled off his feet Jack answered Ianto's hungry kiss with more, releasing Ianto's hand, sliding his hand between Ianto and the wall, pulling Ianto's hip into him, grinding into him with a hunger he'd feared would never be released again. At least not with Ianto.
Jack lost himself then. Lost himself in the power of Ianto's kisses, hot mouth, lips, tongue, the hunger that roared through him, the aching throb of his cock he wanted to explode, the insatiable want, an insane need to rip off his clothes, feel hot flesh against throbbing flesh, spread himself wide to Ianto and be plunged hard and fast until he had nothing left--
The roaring peal of the Rift alarm ripped through the Hub. Gasping, Jack jerked off of Ianto, chest heaving. Footsteps ran toward them--Tosh catapulted into the room, eyes wide, taking in one second what they'd been doing as she looked from one to the other.
Ianto froze. Jack looked at him. "You sure you're ready?"
A brief nod was the answer. Jack hoped to hell Ianto was right.
"Ianto! With me!"
Drawing his gun, Jack raced around the tumbled brick wall, crouching low so as not to provide a target for the...whatever it was. He really didn't wish to die today but had a bad feeling. A very bad one.
Ianto followed. There wasn't much of a breeze, but the afternoon waned--soon it would be dark, and colder, and though they were on the edge of the city centre, the early New Year's revelers mere blocks away; more people would be arriving by the minute and the likelihood of someone getting hurt escalated. They needed to find the creatures, needed to get this wrapped up.
All hell had broken loose when the alarm klaxons had gone off in the Hub. Not one but two threats had catapulted out of the Rift; he'd had no choice but to call in Gwen and Owen to follow leads pouring in as fast as Tosh could field them. He and Ianto had taken the other quarry. He hoped to hell nothing else decided to come through.
Seconds after disembarking from the SUV they'd given chase down the street until they'd ended up here on an empty street lined with abandoned buildings. Broken windows, glittering glass on the pavements, seagulls complaining over the disruption of their private roosts and deepening shadows; all these things kept Jack's adrenaline racing, kept that bad feeling stoked.
Ianto shifted behind him, peering carefully over the wall. "Nothing."
Jack grimaced. The seagulls suddenly burst into the air, squawking frantically as they raced into the sky. Jack and Ianto both looked over the wall, wondering who, or what, had set them off.
They had their answer when a discharge from a weapon--a blue laser of some sort he'd never seen before--shot out of a broken window, neatly slicing the SUV's rear passenger-side tyre in two.
"I'll toss a coin to see who changes that," Jack said. Ianto didn't react.
Another bolt of blue lightening streaked from the broken window, hitting the building behind them. Both ducked as bricks and mortar exploded.
It would've been incredible, if it wasn't so deadly. He was suddenly reminded of the fork back at the Hub. Reminded a lot. He'd consider that connection later. First, he had to figure out what the hell was going on and what was shooting at them. Whatever it was, it'd come through the Rift, and it was something new.
"We need to get out of here."
Jack peered over the wall--another shot seared past, slicing just over his head.
"Okay, this won't work. Come on."
Rubble skittered into the road along which they ran. The building, where their enemy-quarry had ensconced itself, lay several meters on the other side of the stone wall. A couple of cars occupied the street in front of the building, though neither looked as if it'd been moved in a long while. The only noise besides Jack's and Ianto's harsh breathing were the seagulls, returned to their squabbles. Clueless birds.
They still didn't know what manner of creature had crossed through the Rift, but it sure had good aim. He tapped his earpiece, crouching just before a break in the wall. Ianto joined him, his gaze riveted to the top of the wall. "Owen, what's happening?
"We fucking lost it. Gwen got hurt."
Ianto looked up sharply. His eyes met Jack. "How?" Jack demanded, though his mind was on Ianto, the stony expression.
"Pretty deep cut, needs stitches. She'll be fine once I get her back to the Hub. She's bleeding, but I have it stopped, as long as she stays still." His last words held a threat.
Gwen's voice popped on. "I'm fine."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"Tosh," Jack said, cutting in. "Where's the one they were following?"
Tosh's voice was puzzled. "I've-- It's gone. I only detect the one. It hasn't moved."
"We have it trapped inside an abandoned building. Let me know the second the other one shows up again." Hell. "Gwen, how did you get hurt?" Jack said. No one answered. "Owen--"
"Sorry. Some pissed bloke thought she was his girlfriend," Owen began.
"And that I was cheating on him with Owen," Gwen said.
Owen hesitated. "He smashed a glass and came after me with it."
"And I stopped him. Naturally."
"With your arm. Bloody stupid, that."
"Better than with your face! You didn't see it coming!"
"I could've ducked in time--"
Jack groaned. "Enough you two. Get her back to the Hub and stitched up."
"What about you two?" Owen said.
"Stay ready. I don't want to inflame the situation any further than necessary. Tosh, anything solid on our buddy here yet?"
"Not yet. I'm working on it. Checking the CCTV," she muttered. "Wait. I've located it, I think. Its heat register...no, more like an electric field. Electric."
"What is it?" Jack asked.
"Its body temperature fluctuates, spiking repeatedly. There are three other smaller shapes but without the electric charges. Jack, wait a second. It's moving away from the front windows. It's gone to the back of the building."
Jack swiveled to Ianto. "Cover me." Ianto hesitated, readied his gun, faced the wall. Jack grimaced--he hoped to hell Ianto was ready for this. "Now."
Ianto stood slightly, ready to fire if necessary. Reassured slightly, Jack wasted no time.
Holding tight to his gun, Jack ran like hell for the first car. He hurled himself toward it just as a guttural roar burst from the building. So much for having moved to the back. Something hit the driver's side, searing across it, and across the front tyre. Ianto shot back at the creature though Jack doubted bullets would do any good.
He hit the ground with a whomp, letting the momentum roll him to the back passenger side. He coughed, turned his face away from the noxious smell of burned rubber. After a moment, he raised his head and pushed to his knees, glanced back at Ianto and nodded. Ianto crouched back down behind the wall and leaned against, closed his eyes. No time to question what was going through his head, Jack was plenty worried about what was going through his own.
He touched his earpiece. "Stay there. I'm going to head for the other side of the building." Better to risk only himself at this point since he was in essence rechargeable. And, he wasn't yet convinced Ianto's mental state was sharp enough to handle a volatile situation.
What a first day back this had turned out to be.
Nothing he could do about the situation now, except Jack knew he had to get a look at the thing, see what they were up against. The usual methods for roping in Rift strays wouldn't work with this one, armed as it somehow appeared to be. He scrambled toward the front of the car, peering underneath it. He could see the front steps. The front door of the building slammed open, and a small brown shape hurled itself out the front doorway with a keening cry. He brought his gun up, only to realize a small dog had headed out of the building and down the street.
He looked back at Ianto again; Ianto shrugged. Seconds later, two more shapes, these white and unmistakably dogs, peeled out of the building. They ran the other direction with tails between their legs and headed into the gloom.
Jack turned his attention back to his goal--the barn. Taking a deep breath, he hurled forward again. This time when he dove behind the other car. Nothing happened. Good. Or, bad. Had the thing moved again?
"Here. It's not moved. The others were dogs."
"Yeah, I know."
"Jack!" Ianto shouted.
He touched his earpiece. "Ianto, what…Tosh?"
"I've lost it, I…I… don't see it. It's like…a shield or something. I'm working on it."
"Damn!" Jack gritted his teeth, rose up to look over the hood of the car just as Ianto burst from his hiding place. Ready to shout him back, Jack paused and realized what Ianto was doing--he circled around the opposite side of the building and disappeared from sight. Then Jack heard a clambering sound, a screech. He stood. A brilliant flash of blue light, so fast he wasn't sure he'd actually seen it, burst from behind the building.
"Back of the building. Fuck."
"Jack!" Tosh. "There was a flicker, the other one--it's gone again."
Jack moved quickly. Where was Ianto? Skirting to the side of the building, he kept an eye on the windows, ready to leap behind anything handy to keep from being blown away. He wasn't so sure he'd survive an accurate shot of that lightening though. No sign of Ianto. There was another building behind the first, but now he had no idea where the creature was. Or where Ianto was.
"Jack, I'm sorry, I don't see it. It's-- It's in the two-story building."
Jack grimaced. "Ianto, where are you? Do you see it?"
"No but I can hear it." Ianto made a sound of disgust. "It's eating something, Jack."
Hunger might've driven it here. "See any weapons?"
"None. I'm not sure it has one."
Tosh said, "I've got it. It's flickering in and out, though. I'm getting a scant reading of its genetic base."
"What are you seeing?" Jack demanded as he entered the building.
"Sorry. It's made of... Jack, it's electric."
"Yes. It's not electric itself; I mean it produces electrical fields. Wildly fluctuating ones, except when it shot at you. It somehow concentrated its emissions when it aimed at you."
"Owen, I need you back here."
"Almost to the Hub."
"Just get here fast as you can."
"Right," Owen said.
"Can you see it yet, Jack?" Tosh asked.
"Not yet," he said as he moved inside the building. He didn't have a chance to wonder anymore at their gawking--a banshee scream rent the air. Then metal clanging, a yell from Ianto...and a deafening roar as the creature's scream filled his ears.
"It's running out!" Ianto yelled.
"Hell," Jack said, then hurried out of the building and joined Ianto. "Which way did it go?"
In answer, Ianto ran. Jack followed in the gloom on Ianto's heels. He gripped his gun tighter, trying vainly to see which way the creature had gone.
"Over there," Ianto said, pulling up.
Jack slowed. The street led to an abandoned theatre. He watched, mesmerized, as a crackling beam of blue fire shot toward the theatre. With a roar, it the blue fire hit the boarded up building and exploded.
Grabbing Ianto, Jack fell to the ground, covering his head and hoping Ianto did the same. Wood, rocks, metal debris littered the ground around them--a heavy metal block landed just in front of his face. After a moment, all grew still except a light rain of dust.
Coughing, Jack pushed himself to his knees. He squinted, wiped his eyes and looked around for Ianto. He was sitting, looking slightly dazed. "You okay?"
"Yes, sir. I think so."
A loud thud shook the ground, followed by the clanking of something heavy and metal tumbling after it. The screeching started again. A miasma of electric blue and magenta pulsated out of the building.
Jack pushed up off the ground. Ianto stood, his gun at ready. He looked at Jack, his expression puzzled. "Could it have got trapped?"
A few last clangs against the inside, a burst of the blue and magenta--then nothing. Silence.
"Maybe. Only one way to find out."
Ianto ran a hand over his face. His tie had gone askew, his jacket opened, fake calm gone. "I don't know." Ianto looked at him, a cast of horror on his face, back to the dark maw. He took a step forward, then jerked back to Jack. "It's probably dead."
Jack nodded. "Possibly." He touched his earpiece. "Tosh? Got anything on it now?"
"It's not moving, but I'm registering it again. Its heat, it's...dropped by three degrees. Four. Five. I think its dying."
Damn. He'd hoped to capture it alive. "Okay keep me posted. We're going to try to get in there, see how to get it out."
He slid his gun back into its holster, studied the theatre's entrance. He moved closer, walking up to what was left of the barrier, touched it with his fingers. The wood was charred, the air reeked of it. But of something else as well. He took a deep breath. He glanced behind him. Ianto hadn't moved.
Ianto looked at him. Even with only the lights from the street behind them, Jack could see his grim expression. He took a step forward, then jerked back. "Why is everything so horrible, Jack? Why is everything that comes through--" He took a deep breath. "Evil, deadly, everything just wants--they all want to kill us. Why?" He looked at Jack, his eyes wide. "How can we stop it? They just keep coming. We'll never be able to stop it, will we. Everything we do is futile."
Jack let out his breath. This was what it was, then. The fatalistic resignation on Ianto's face seared him, but it gave him hope, too. If this was what had been tormenting Ianto, he could deal with this. He would deal with this. Somehow. "I don't believe that, Ianto. I wouldn't have kept Torchwood going if I believed otherwise." He walked up to Ianto, put his hand on his shoulder. "I promise you, we make a difference."
Behind them something crashed. Jack whipped around and looked back at Ianto. Ianto nodded, joining him, much to Jack's relief. They both looked in past the broken-down barrier into the theatre. Playing the torch over the inside of the building's entrance, he started forward. The path that the creature had taken was clear--the ground was scarred black, one side as charred as the entrance had been. They were plunged into complete darkness now, but up ahead, Jack's torchlight found the end of the hallway.
"Over here," Ianto said.
Jack turned, saw that Ianto had walked back a few steps, to an adjacent hallway. It was partially blocked though blasted open at the top, the gaping hole's acrid stench proving the creature had gone through it.
"I'll follow it," Ianto said, pulling himself up with his free hand.
"Ianto, I should go first."
Ianto had pulled himself up to where he now towered over Jack. "I can do it."
Jack shone his light, debating the best course of action. But Ianto took his pause for acquiescence. He hauled himself the rest of the way up, and disappeared through the hole.
"Ianto, dammit," Jack said beneath his breath, turned off his torch and followed.
He hauled himself up, cursing the lack of light. He reached the top, peering through the gape. Ianto stood on the ground on the other side, his torch lit. Jack grimaced, then dropped down. Ianto looked over his shoulder. A light breeze ruffled his hair. Jack played his torch around in a circle, looking for the source of the breeze. He found it, a small round opening that, he realized, would be impossible to reach in case of the need for an emergency exit. The only way out was the way they'd come.
He wasn't liking this.
Ianto had moved forward, his torch playing over the ground. Suddenly he stopped. Just ahead was a gaping hole of a different kind--this one in the ground.
"Stop right there, Ianto."
"It's down there. I don't hear anything. It's dead."
And so was Ianto's voice. He definitely wasn't liking this. He touched his earpiece. "Tosh?"
"Ianto's right. It's dead, Jack."
"What about the other one?"
"No sign of it."
Ianto took a step forward. Jack took another step. Ianto wasn't quite to the edge, but he was making Jack nervous. "Thanks Tosh. Owen there?"
"He's about to head back."
"Tell him not to come. We've just got to figure out how to get it out of here, change the tyre then we'll head back. Then he and I will go looking for the other one."
"Can you see it?" she asked. "The one there?"
Ianto's voice, hushed. "I can."
Jack frowned. "Stand by, Tosh. Ianto, stay put."
No more than a few feet from Ianto now. Barely an armslength...it all slowed then, the turn of Ianto's head toward him, his eyes wide in the torch light as he looked at Jack and then beyond him...Jack turning his own head slightly as the realization Ianto saw something very very bad...
The banshee scream, a flash of magenta and blue, not from within the building's bowels but from behind Jack. He reached for his gun; Ianto froze, then grabbed his own. Jack turned back the way he had come and--
"Jack! The second creature!"
He touched his earpiece. "I know." He dropped his hand.
A figure crouched before him. He hadn't even heard it follow them. Half-man, half... He didn't have anything in his vast repertoire of alien lifeforms to compare it to. Both haunting and horrible, shiny greyish skin with electric arcs of magenta and blue flashed from its hide, lighting the entire room where they stood. Like an eel.
The banshee cry erupted again, and Jack thought of a movie he'd seen some years before that had a director's idea of what a banshee would look like. If this was a real one, the director had not been far off.
The creature's scream of what Jack swore was both angry and full of sorrow tore through the air again. It looked a beast, its eyes glowed yellow, its claws on one hand sharp which it raised and pointed directly at Ianto.
Ianto turned toward it. Not taking his eyes off the creature, he held his hands out, torch in one, gun in the other. He dropped both.
"Ianto!" He didn't think, didn't question what would be safest for Ianto--to hell with himself. Jack threw himself at Ianto, pulling him down onto the ground--too close, too close to the edge of the hole--praying to whatever gods chose to listen that it would be he that the monster struck, and not Ianto.
Seconds later he got his wish.
Searing pain split Jack in two as he gasped back to life. Hands gripped him as he fought to sit up, pulling him back against a solid chest. Ianto. Relief ripped through him but another stab of pain made him gasp.
"Jack! Don't move," Ianto whispered, his voice urgent. "It's all right, but don't move."
Jack seized up, fists balled as the pain roiled through him, wave after wave of it. His head pounded, his ribs were stabbing his insides as he fought for breath and fought to stay still. He tried to calm himself, catch his breath as his body finished knitting itself back together but it hurt.
He'd been killed again, or close to it. But Ianto was okay at least. For now.
Ianto held him, his arms tight around Jack’s upper body. Only then did Jack realise they were in a pit, the pit; his leg had broken in the fall, and the alien creature of electric blue and magenta who had shot him crouched in front of them, watching.
Jack whispered, "How long have we been here?" How long was I dead?
Ianto's words came on warm breath against his ear. "About half an hour. It's been watching us the whole time."
“No hostile moves?”
It took Jack a moment to sense something odd--the lack of fear in Ianto's voice. Ianto's grip on him had lessened, but he'd not let Jack go. His head a little clearer now, Jack looked around the pit into which they'd fallen, trying not to move much both to keep the pain at bay, and to keep the alien in his sight.
The alien's flashes of light illuminated their prison in an eerie, pulsing glow. They'd fallen into a hole in the flooring which he guessed had likely rotted after years of neglect. Wooden planks jutted across the gap, others scattered around them, had broken their fall. He couldn’t believe Ianto wasn’t hurt. They were only a couple of metres below the surface though, and Jack suspected Ianto had landed on top of him.
They could get out again easily enough once his leg healed enough, at least.
The alien shifted, jerking Jack's attention back to it. Tiny arcs of the blue and magenta bounced and crackled all over the surface of its skin. It still crouched, its powerful thighs bulging as it held itself in position; flickers of electricity ran up and down its legs, its arms, its bare chest. It was naked, and male.
Its head was larger than seemed proportionate, its eyes--just two of them--were hooded, its expression indecipherable. It had no ears that Jack could see, and no hair anywhere on its body. Long, elegant fingers held a stick which it bounced idly in one hand. Jack had no idea what sort of creature it could be. He'd never run across anything like it, or any record of an alien creature that could produce electricity. Like an electric eel, he thought.
Behind the alien lay the second one. It wasn't moving.
The alien stood, stretching to its full height, then moved over to the dead alien. It bent down, and glanced over its shoulder at them before turning back. Spreading its hands over the dead alien, nothing seemed different for a moment. Then Jack realized that the speed of the electric arcs racing up and down the alien's limbs had escalated. They'd intensified, and were now not just blue and magenta, but fiery orange and yellow, green and purple. The alien’s skin crackled and popped, building and building so brightly that Jack found himself wincing. He raised an arm to shield his eyes, gingerly sitting up and pushing back against the wall next to Ianto.
The alien raised its hands higher, spreading its long fingers over the still dark mass stretched out on the ground. Jack glanced at Ianto; the awe on his face startled Jack.
"It's beautiful," Ianto said.
Jack looked at the alien again. It was beautiful, in its own way. Beautiful and deadly. But, he realised, with an agenda that didn't include them. It slid its arms under the dead creature and, holding it close, stood and turned to them. For a long moment, it focused on the body it held in its arms, lifted its head back and cried out.
Jack flattened against Ianto, gripping his hand as the alien continued its death song. Not the banshee-wail they’d heard before; this was different, undulating and sad, powerful and sharp. Full of pain and sorrow, a death song for the creature it held in its arms.
It went on and on, and there was nothing he and Ianto could do but sit, and watch, and witness the creature sing its terrible lament.
Finally its voice ceased. The creature stroked the dead alien’s face, tracing its fingers down the other’s cheeks. Ianto’s hand gripped his own hard. Jack felt it too, an intense sadness, and regret that whoever these intruders were, these accidental visitors forced through the Rift, had found this world so dangerous, so deadly.
Then, with one last look at he and Ianto, it pulled the body tight against itself and in a flash of multi-coloured light and heat and a crack of sound that roared in his ears, it disappeared, leaving behind crackles of blue and magenta which quickly faded.
They were alone in the dark.
Jack dropped his head back against the wall, relief coursing through him. It was gone, and they were okay. It could've killed them, but hadn't.
"You all right?" he asked Ianto, squeezing his hand again.
“I think so.” Ianto turned on his torch.
Touching his earpiece, he said, “Tosh?”
“Jack! You’re all right! Is Ianto there? I lost you completely until just this second.”
“We’re both fine. The aliens are gone.”
“Were you close to them? That could’ve disrupted communications.”
“Very close.” He glanced at Ianto. “Owen and Gwen there?”
“Gwen just left with Rhys. Owen’s still here.”
“Tell him to go home. You too.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. See you tomorrow.”
Ianto pushed to his feet. His torch's illumination, so meagre compared to the light show they'd just witnessed, was still enough to show the confusion on Ianto's face as he looked at Jack.
"Why didn't it kill us?"
"It killed me," Jack pointed out.
"I don't think it meant to. What was it? It was like an eel."
"I thought that too." Using the wall to brace himself, Jack pushed up to a standing position. He tested his leg, wincing a little, but it was almost healed. The pain in his chest had gone, too. "I don’t know, but we were lucky this time."
"Maybe," Ianto said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt us at all if we hadn’t chased it.”
"What do you mean by that?"
Ianto looked up at him. "When you were...dead, it..." Ianto shook his head. Jack waited, cursing himself now for being out so long. "I didn't know what to do. I asked it to leave us alone, and just leave. We didn't want to hurt it, were sorry it got stuck here. It seemed to understand me."
He doubted it understood that much but found himself nodding. He wasn’t about to dispel Ianto’s conclusion. Not if it helped him deal with everything more easily.
"Anything is possible. Not everything alive that comes through the Rift wants to destroy or kill."
“Where do you think it went?”
Jack stepped over some planks and bent down, touched the ground where the creature had been. A faint trash of ash coated his fingertips; its currents had charred the wood.
Relief passed through him; looked like they wouldn’t have to worry about tracking the creature down again after all. Somehow, it had transported out of there, maybe boosting itself from its own electrical current. “No way to know.”
Ianto joined him, crouching and passing his torchlight over the ground. The ash branched out in a jagged circle, barely discernible, but it was there.
Ianto rose more slowly, not taking his eyes off the ground. “I wish we could’ve helped it,” he finally said.
Jack sighed. “I wish we could help a lot of the creatures that come through the Rift. It’s just not usually possible.”
"Yeah," Ianto said, looking at him for a long moment. "Let's get out of here."
"Best idea I've heard tonight," Jack said.
Jack grinned as he scrambled out of the pit, Ianto following behind.
Ianto stood next to Jack, hands on his hips. Together they stared at the destroyed tyre. "So," Ianto finally said, slipping his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a coin, glanced sidelong at Jack. "Heads or tails?"
He smiled at Ianto. "Tails, of course."
Ianto eyed him, nodding once. "Of course." He flipped the coin up; they watched the coin's arc until it descended again. Ianto snatched it out of the air, and smacked it down on the back of his hand. He laughed, showed it to Jack. Tails. Damn. "Do you know how to change a tyre?" Ianto asked him.
Jack glared at the coin, stuffed his hands in his coat pockets. "Of course I do," he said. "Okay, more or less."
"I'll do it for you. But you owe me a favour."
He wasn't about to show Ianto how relieved he was. To be honest, he hadn't changed a tyre himself in decades. "And that would be?" He raised one eyebrow at Ianto.
Ianto didn't answer for a moment, just looked into his eyes, then glanced toward the city centre where a haze of bright lights illuminated the city. Calennig was in full swing. From where they stood they could see the ferris wheel spinning slowly, could hear music. "I'd fancy a pint, a ride on that thing, and," Ianto said, "that date you promised me."
Jack looked up, then with a last glance at the theatre, began to walk up the street. They could deal with the SUV later.
"What date was that?" he asked as Ianto caught up with him.
"The date you promised. When you got back. Four months ago?"
"I don’t remember promising a date," Jack said, smiling and stuffing his hands in his pockets as they turned the corner, and stepped into the edge of the noisy, jostling, laughing and already-somewhat-pissed holiday crowd.
"Nice restaurant, bottle of wine, just you and me, remember?" Ianto said. "A movie."
A movie? He definitely didn't remember that. But that's what Ianto wanted, he didn't care. "Oh that. We didn't do that yet?"
"There's just one problem," Jack said. "I don’t have my wallet. You'll have to pay."
Ianto sighed. "Wanker."
"Ferris wheel first though."
"Whatever you say, sir."
Jack laughed, sliding his arm through Ianto's and pulling him into the crowd.