"Twelve pounds fifty," the attendant said. Ianto handed a twenty over, then grabbed a Coke, shoving it across the counter. The attendant glared as she re-rang his purchases. She didn't bother to count his change as she handed it to him, but Ianto did so. It was correct. He grabbed his drink and headed out the door.
The petrol station was just a short distance from the café he'd eaten in earlier. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, the reluctance to leave this place once again settling in. Who was he kidding, he asked himself as he opened the car door and slid in. That moment in the pet store was meant to stay just that--a moment, brief and wonderful and mysterious. Something to fuel his wanking fantasies, something he would wonder about forever.
Perhaps he wasn't meant to have answers.
He started the car, fully meaning to head toward London, home and Lisa, but found himself turning the other way, and driving into the café's parking lot. He could pick up a sandwich to eat on the way. It would be hours before he got home. And maybe…
Maybe he'd learn something else about Harkness.
He got out of the car, feeling a cross between a fool and a driven man...why couldn't he let this ridiculous thing go? He paused for a moment, his hand on the car door handle. He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest, shaking his head at himself, warring with indecision, muscles tense, nerves on edge.
Fuck it all, he had to find Harkness. He opened his eyes and dropped his hand off the door handle, glancing in the door window's reflection.
And saw a gull headed straight for him.
There wasn't time to think beyond bloody hell? He whirled around, raising his arm to block the gull, but he was too late; with a screech that sent ice through his veins, the seagull aimed straight for his face. My eyes, the bastard!
Ianto yelled as the seagull hit, full force, its body big enough and coming fast enough to knock him into the car. Wings filled his vision, he felt the rake of extended claws on his face, and a stab of fire tore at his skull.
He fell to the ground, curling his arms around his face; he could feel blood pouring out of the head wound. The fucking bastard had taken a chunk out of his head. He batted against the bird but it struck him, again and again, its talons, seagulls have talons,ripping at his arm, shredding the skin and turning his arm into a sea of hurt. He kept his eyes closed, the damn fucking bird wanted his eyes.
A screech--but not the bird, a car. Footsteps running, and the gull was ripped away from its attack. Ianto curled up into a ball, his heart racing, gasping for breath. His arm, his head, his face, fucking hell, they burned; he could feel the blood trickling down his neck, seeping into his collar.
Whoever had saved him now knelt beside him, then lay a hand on the back of his neck and squeezed gently. "It's okay now. I killed it. Look at me, Ianto. Let me see what it did to you."
That voice. Ianto lay still a moment longer, not believing it was him, that Harkness, of all people, Jack Harkness had saved him from the murderous seagull. He felt like crying, it damn fucking hurt, but as he opened his eyes to see Harkness, eyes flashing with anger clearly directed at him, he felt more like cringing away.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Harkness demanded even as he helped Ianto sit up against his car.
"Visiting a friend." Ianto squeezed his eyes shut. His head roared, his arm was shredded and ribbons of heat where the bird's talons had raked his neck all served to make him feel nauseous. "Stupid idea," he muttered.
"I'll say it is. You weren't supposed to--" Harkness made a sound of disgust, or at least it sounded like disgust, then stood. "Wait here."
"Not going anywhere." Ianto couldn't move if he'd wanted. He scanned the sky worriedly--why had that gull attacked him? The second bird to have done that? The one that had smashed into the door had been coming for him, too.
His head throbbed, and he wanted a beer. Bad. The seagull lay in an awkward heap of feathers not far from where he sat against the car, one eye staring at him, its beak gaping at him as if any moment it would screech out something to him. Taunt him. He wished it would tell him why the fuck it had attacked him. What the hell was going on here?
He truly wished now he'd gone back to London.
Ianto closed his eyes again. He heard some cars pass--slowing down, gawking at him, the dead seagull. He reached up and touched his head; wet. Harkness returned then, carrying a kit. He set it down and opened it--first aid supplies, neatly arranged. Harkness ripped open a bandage, and put it over the head wound.
"Can you hold that until we get inside?" Ianto nodded, wincing as Harkness placed his hand on his head to hold the towel. "Got you good," Harkness said, pulling Ianto's arm out straight and unceremoniously ripping the shredded material off. "Hope you were tired of that shirt. Got anymore?"
"Plenty. I... My father's a master tailor." He dropped his gaze. "Was, that is." He looked back up at Harkness.
Harkness nodded, his expression grim. He crouched in front of Ianto, hands loosely propped on his knees. The mysterious anger Harkness had directed toward Ianto seemed to have faded. But like the kiss, Ianto wouldn't forget it. "What happened," Harkness said, taking his arm again. He dabbed at the blood with a towel.
"It went crazy on me. I saw it coming at me, reflection in the car window."
"A lot of gulls are going crazy."
"Tell me about it," Ianto said.
A flurry of light footsteps headed toward them. "Is he all right? What hit him?”
Harkness half-turned. "A seagull did."
"Oh, it's the delivery boy!"
"Delivery boy?" Harkness asked as the neighbor Ianto had talked to earlier came into his line of vision.
Great. So much for getting away with that one.
"He delivered the birds you ordered. Did you get them there safely?" She looked up at the sky worriedly.
"The birds?" Harkness stared at Ianto, then huffed. "Right. The love birds."
"If you're all right, I'd best be going."
"I'll take care of him," Harkness said.
She patted Ianto's shoulder. "Feel better, young man. Drop by when you're in town next. I'll give you some of those tomatoes I was planting."
Ianto flashed her a smile and winced, closing his eyes. He was grateful when her footsteps hurried away, at least until he opened his eyes and looked at Harkness again.
Ianto felt his face heating at Harknesses' narrowed gaze.
"I suppose I should thank you for taking the trouble to bring the birds." He smiled, but the harshness stayed in his eyes. "But I guess you were visiting a friend here anyway, right?" He didn't give Ianto time to answer, slid one arm under Ianto's, pulling him roughly to his feet. "Come on, we need to get you inside." Harkness looked up and Ianto did too.
On silent wings, a flock of seagulls as big as the café they stood next to flew toward them.
They hurried to the café. Ianto wasn't sure how he did it--his head hurt like a motherfucker and the undulating ground beneath his feet made him want to throw up--but somehow, with Harkness dragging him by the arm, he managed to stay upright long enough to get to the café.
Harkness pushed Ianto inside, almost sending him stumbling into the waitress who had served him earlier. She yelped, grabbing him to help him regain his balance, looked past him, and gasped.
"Sorry," he said, but her gaze was fixed elsewhere. He glanced behind him--the gulls were still some distance away, but their cries could already be heard. He leaned against the wall, his hand clutched to the bandage on his head. All eyes in the café turned to them, but fortunately the café wasn't as busy as it had been that morning. Just some teenagers, an older couple who sitting next to each other with a map spread out on their table, a man sitting by himself reading the newspaper and nursing a coffee. Most of the tables had been cleaned up after the morning rush.
"Close the door. Quickly," the waitress said. Harkness did just that. "Did you see them coming?" she asked them.
Harkness nodded. "They're headed this way, but they may just fly over."
The waitress's expression was grim. "I hope so. I've never seen anything like this. I don't understand what's wrong with them."
"Me either," Harkness said. Something in his tone made Ianto look up sharply, but the movement made his head throb and he winced. Harkness looked at him, his face stone.
The waitress turned her attention to Ianto. "You poor thing. Are you all right? I saw what happened through the window."
"I'm fine." Except his head and arm were killing him, he'd been attacked by a seagull intent on ripping him apart, and he just wanted to get the hell out of there and get back to London and forget everything. Forget Harkness, the blasted lovebirds. That kiss.
"You might need stitches," Harkness said, grabbing Ianto's undamaged arm again and helping him to a chair. He sank into it gratefully. "Have a doctor handy?" Harkness flashed Ianto a grin, one eyebrow raised. "The doctor never seems to be around when you need him."
The waitress frowned at Harkness, and Ianto would've if his head didn't hurt so much. "I think I may have some TCP in the back. Clean that wound out. I'll check." She hurried off.
A woman with a young girl in tow hurried into the dining area. Ianto recognized her, and groaned. Fuck. The hysterical woman from that morning, still here. Lucy.Fuck. He glanced out the window, saw what he'd hoped he wouldn't. Seagulls everywhere, floating past the window, landing on whatever space was available.
Lucy shoved her kid into a booth. She glanced about the room, thankfully not out the window, her gaze settling first on Jack. Her eyes widened, then she noticed Ianto. Her hand flew to her mouth.
"Oh my God, what happened? What happened to him?" she demanded.
"It's nothing. He'll be fine, ma'am," Harkness said. "Just a little encounter with a bird. Nothing to worry about."
"It was a seagull wasn't it. A seagull did that." She pointed at Ianto's arm.
"He fell, ma'am. Everything's fine. Sorry to disturb your breakfast." He smiled at her, then at the older couple who had broken away from pouring over their map to watch Lucy. When he turned back to Ianto the smile faded. "The last person we need here," he murmured, "and she's it."
"I met her earlier."
The waitress returned with a bottle of TCP and a box of bandages in her hand. She handed it to Jack, then with a grimace turned to Lucy. "Just sit down with your daughter, Lucy. Everything's fine. I'll bring you some coffee." To them she said, "Her husband was supposed to be here half an hour ago. Late as usual."
Lucy hesitated, clutching her purse in her hands, but Harkness, hands behind his back, cocked his head to one side expectantly. She huffed, but sat. Her daughter stared out the window and bit her lip.
Ianto closed his eyes, wishing to hell he hadn't stopped here, hadn't been so stupid as to pursue something that Harkness no doubt had forgotten and he'd begun to wonder himself had ever happened. His head pounded, and he longed, futily, again, for his couch, a beer, and darkness. And for that woman to be gone.
He opened his eyes. Still there, and Harkness seemed to have forgotten him for the moment, his attention fixed on his mobile which was unlike any mobile Ianto had ever seen. He frowned. At least he thought it was a mobile. He slid it into his pocket before Ianto could see.
Harkness must be rich.
Ianto took the moment to study Harkness as he opened up the bandages, the first moment he'd had the chance to do so since meeting him the day before. He wore the military coat still, dark trousers underneath, a hint of red braces over a blue shirt. An odd, almost costume-like getup that might've looked stupid on some men. But not on Harkness. Even the mussed-up hair did nothing to diminish the man's bearing. Ianto couldn't imagine what he did, but the hard lines on his face, the grim expression and determined look in his eyes behind that flashing smile convinced Ianto that Harkness was a man used to being in control of things, of getting his way through either charm or force, whichever worked best. He was not a man to be pushed aside and forgotten.
Ianto sure couldn't.
"Hold out your arm. This is going to sting."
Ianto held out his arm. Harkness dabbed at it; he hissed as fiery pain sizzled. "Fuck."
Harkness paused. "Sorry. Can't be helped."
"I know." He closed his eyes, stealing himself.
"Captain," someone said softly. The waitress.
Ianto jerked his head around. Harkness cursed, joining the waitress at the door they'd come in. Harkness didn’t open the door, but peered through its window. He looked back at Ianto.
Ianto exhaled. "Look through the other window."
Harkness did so. "They're settling."
"Waiting for something."
"Seems like it."
Ianto slumped in his chair again.
Abandoning her daughter, Lucy pushed her way to them. She bumped into one of the teenagers. He scowled at her, muttered 'hey lady, watch it' but she ignored him, her attention glued on Ianto and his damaged arm.
"That gull attacked him, just like the other one had. Didn't it," she said to Harkness, her voice rising. She pointed out the window. So much for hoping she wouldn't notice. The other patrons' attention were fixed on her now. "They're coming, don’t you see? They're coming here, something's wrong, something's horribly wrong with them." Her gaze darted from him to Harkness. "They're waiting for something. What are they waiting for? Why is this happening?"
"Another gull attacked you?" Harkness asked Ianto.
"I got attacked too," a craggy-faced man in a somewhat tattered overcoat said before Ianto could respond. "Comin' up to the dock, gull came straight at me."
"Yes! I saw that too!" Lucy wrung her hands, glancing out the window.
The fisherman scratched days-old stubble. "Now Lucy, I was out on my boat. I doubt you saw it."
Lucy gulped, stepped back. "I--I-- I thought you meant-- I--"
The fisherman turned away in quiet exasperation, but Ianto watched her. She dropped her gaze, drawing her arms tight around her thin frame. The fisherman continued. "Weirdest thing I ever seen. Didn't hit me, though. Took it out with an oar." He nodded at Ianto. "This lad wasn't so lucky."
"It was just a coincidence," Harkness said, though Ianto wasn't so convinced. He didn't have an explanation though, other than something was seriously wrong with the birds. He glanced at his arm, at the bloodied, shredded sleeve. Gulls didn't attack people. Pestered, yes, but attack? Everything about this was wrong, and knowing he wasn't the only one they'd zeroed in on did little to make him think it was an aberration.
Lucy pointed at his arm. "They ripped you apart, they would've ripped you --"
Harkness took her by the arm, pushing her back--and not so gently. "Please, sit down so I can tend to him." When she didn't move, he marched her back to her seat, forcing her down. Ianto would've smiled at the shocked expression on her face but a flutter of wings against the window made him jump.
The waitress came back then, a first aid kit in her hand. "Sorry it took so long. Most everything's been used but I think we can clean him up." The waitress frowned at the fisherman as he moved out of the way. "Now Charles, you know you can't light up in here."
"I know, I know, don't worry." He chuckled, face breaking into a somewhat toothless grin. "Haven't had a smoke in two weeks now." He gestured at Harkness with his pipe. "Seen strange things in my years on the sea, lads. I know gulls though. Gulls don't do that sort of thing usually. Attack people, no. They're pests, they'll steal your food if you're not looking, but attack people? Something's up, something's disturbed them." He peered at Harkness. "'Bout the time you arrived this time."
Ianto looked up at Harkness. His face had stilled, his eyes narrowed.
"What do you mean?" Lucy demanded, but the waitress hushed her.
"Now Lucy, Charles doesn’t know what he's talking about.” The fisherman snorted at that. “How about another cup of coffee? Your ride should be here soon, right? I'm sure you have time for one more cup. Now go sit with your daughter. She needs you."
Lucy glanced at her daughter, wide-eyed, as if she'd forgotten she was there. "Yes, Hwbert should be here soon."
"He'd better hurry," Harkness said beneath his breath.
"Do you think they'll do anything else? They're just sitting out there," the waitress said.
Charles coughed. "They're waiting on something, I reckon." He nodded at Harkness, put his pipe in his mouth and took his seat again.
Ianto felt a hand on his shoulder, a slight squeeze. Harkness came around in front of him. "You feeling okay?"
"Not really," Ianto said. "I'll be all right." He dropped his hand down and stared at the blood-soaked rag. The waitress held out a sack; he put the rag into it, smiled his thanks.
"Do you want me to help you?" the waitress asked, but Harkness shook his head.
"Just keep Lucy calm, if you can." Harkness glanced at the teenagers. "And hope there's nothing for them to see out there now than a bunch of birds."
Harkness pulled off his coat and laid it across a table, then grabbed a chair and pulled it in front of Ianto and sat, grabbing the bottle again. "Shall we finish?" He opened it, soaked a clean pad, then leaning close to Ianto, said, "Drop your head down."
Ianto did so, found himself staring at Harkness's trousered legs, one of which nearly, almost, pressed against Ianto's knee.
Ianto swear he could feel it.
"Why did you follow me," Harkness said, then began to clean Ianto's head wound.
Ianto flinched. "Ouch, careful."
"Answer my question."
Keeping his head down had its advantages. Harkness couldn't see his face, but then he couldn't see Harkness's either. It made it easier to lie. "I was headed this way anyway, said I'd drop your birds off."
Harkness stopped cleaning his head wound. Ianto jerked back as Harkness grabbed his chin and lifted his head. Ianto froze--they were eye to eye.
"Bullshit," Harkness said. "You followed me. Why."
He was trapped. He couldn't move, couldn't jerk away; heat flooded him, shame at his reaction and a spike of uncharacteristic fear mingled. If he could run, right now, he would. Harkness's leg pressed against his own. He had to know. Had to. Like a fucking predator hypnotizing his prey, Ianto was at his mercy and Harkness knew it.
"You kissed me," Ianto said.
Harkness stared at him for a moment, dropped his hand, sat back, closed his eyes. "Damn."
Confused by that reaction? Hell yes he was. "I had to know why you did that." He paused. Harkness opened his eyes, all traces of anger gone.
"And I shouldn't have."
"Why did you?"
"I--" Harkness sighed, rubbed the back of his neck.
"I liked it," Ianto said.
"I shouldn’t have done that. I-- You shouldn't have followed me. You weren't supposed to."
"I tend to surprise people."
Harkness snorted at that.
Harkness's hands fell between his legs. He sighed, then took Ianto's damaged arm and with the barest of hesitation, set it on his leg. Ianto had to fight not to curl his hand around Harkness's thigh. Harkness shifted; the muscles captured by trousers made Ianto forget his pain for a moment.
"Who are you, Jack Harkness?" he said, his voice low. Who are you? Why are you here, making me want something I never have before?
Harkness looked at him. "A fool. A friend of mine told me I'd regret this, that it would cause problems." He motioned for Ianto to take off his damaged shirt. Fortunately, he had a t-shirt on underneath. He did so, wincing as he pulled it off his throbbing arm. Harkness took it and dropped it into the sack the waitress had given them.
Ianto was confused. "What do you mean, this?"
Harkness's smile was grim. "This." He gestured between them. "We know each other already, Ianto."
"I've never seen you before."
Harkness started to clean his arm. The gull had done a good job at ripping his skin. It would've been worse if he'd not had the shirt on. "You will. You work for Torchwood don't you."
"I'm from Torchwood Three. Cardiff." Harkness leaned closer, blue eyes flashing. "The future."
Ianto stared at him. "But that's--"
"Did you see that?" one of the teenagers said. Ianto and Harkness turned around. The teenager got up from his seat, and the others followed. They crowded around the window, talking excitedly. The fisherman followed, but stood back, pipe in his mouth, a thoughtful look on his face.
"Problems," Ianto said to Harkness.
"They're everywhere," the girl said. "How are we going to get home?"
The other boy shrugged. "I'm not leaving. Man, look at that bloke over at the petrol station." He laughed. "Sprayed one with something."
"Do you hear them?" the girl said. Ianto did hear them now. Their squawks and screeches raked down Ianto's spine.
Lucy shrank in her chair, finally paying attention to her kid, pulling her close. The older couple with the map also stood and went to the window, whispering to each other. They hurried back to their seats, grabbed their things, and headed for the door. No one stopped them, though the first teenage boy watched after them.
"That's stupid," he said. Ianto couldn't disagree.
Harkness glanced at Ianto, then joined the fisherman. For a moment, no one said anything. The waitress walked out of the back, ringing a dishcloth in her hands. She stared out the window. Ianto pushed himself to his feet and joined the others, nodding at the flash of concern in Harkness's eyes. A flash quickly covered.
"I'm all right," he said, and looked out the window.
They could see the petrol station where they stood. A car slowly moved down the street but other than that, nothing but the birds, hundreds of seagulls, surged in a noisy, squawking screeching column down the street. Ianto's head pounded, he realised he actually felt a little bit off balance so pulled out a chair and sat, and watched.
The blur of white and grey shrieked and undulated outside the window, wings thumping into the glass before moving on. Gull after gull hit it, making Lucy shriek. Her daughter started to cry.
"The glass! It's going to break!" Lucy cried out.
"It'll hold," Harkness said calmly.
Ianto sure as hell hoped so. Body after body thumped it, each harder than before, each hit shaking the glass in its frame. But the window didn't crack. Ianto wondered what a straight-on assault would do to it--nothing could stop that. Not as hard as the gull had hit him.
"It's double-paned," the waitress said, her voice shaking.
The teenage girl moved between the two boys and wrapped her arms around their waists. They hugged her tight but Ianto wasn't sure it was the girl who was the most frightened.
"I don’t like this," the girl said. She looked at Harkness. "Why are they doing this?" she said, though it was clear she didn’t expect an answer. She turned back to the window. "I hate this place."
"Me too," the second boy said. Ianto didn’t blame them. "Shit, look at that car over there."
"At the petrol station. See? Someone's trying to get in it." They watched as the person, a man, tried to use an umbrella to fight the seagulls back. They dove at him, relentless in their attack. He'd been filling his car, and somehow the nozzle had fallen out. A river of petrol poured from the nozzle.
"He's going to get hurt!" the girl said. "Look, there's someone else in the car, it's a woman."
"She's getting out. Oh God, the gulls are attacking her too." Tears streamed down the teenager's face as she turned to Harkness. "You have to help them! Please!"
"I can't," Harkness said, his expression hard.
Ianto looked sharply at him. Harkness clenched his fist, his entire body was tense. Ianto stood, the throbbing in his head and arm forgotten as he watched, his horror growing by the second. The woman stumbled down the street, falling to the ground, covering her head with her hands. The man dropped the umbrella and in desperation pulled something out of his pocket. A gull hit his shoulder, sending him sprawling but he caught himself and Ianto realised then what the man was trying to do. Scare the birds away with the flame.
"He's got a lighter!" the teenage girl said.
"Fuck," Ianto said as the teenagers started to pound on the window, yelling at the man.
"Don't do it! Don't do it! Don't do it!"
Lucy began to scream. Her daughter sobbed. The fisherman turned away and the waitress hid behind Jack who stood, stalwart, waiting for the inevitable. Ianto closed his eyes just as the explosion rocked the café, knocking them all off their feet.
Ianto slammed against a table with his bad arm, sending a path of fire straight through to his skull. He gasped, fought against the dizzying pain, willing it to lessen.
"I see the woman, she's okay!"
The teenager sobbed. "You've got to help her. Please."
Ianto scrambled to his feet, glancing at Harkness just in time to see Lucy hurling herself toward him.
"You have to help them! Why won't you help them?" She beat against Harkness, sobbing, then drew one hand back and slapped him across the face.
Harkness's head jerked but he didn't move.
"Lucy!" The fisherman grabbed her; Ianto pushed himself up and blocked her from reaching Harkness again.
But Harkness stopped him, grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him close. "When I come back, get me away from everyone else. Understood?"
"What are you doing?"
With a grim smile, Harkness grabbed his coat and before Ianto could say anything else, ran out the door.
The waitress dragged a still-shrieking Lucy out of the room. Her little girl sat, eyes wide and staring. Kid would need therapy now, Ianto thought as he joined the others at the window. He grabbed the edge of the table, his body tense and his stomach roiling as he watched Harkness. He was going to get hurt, and bad. Or worse. Killed.
Harkness had pulled his heavy coat over his head. He ducked low but gull after gull hit him, nearly knocking him down more than once. He hurried past the the still-burning man without hesitating.
A tower of fire and black roiling smoke billowed out from the petrol station, but it had had the effect of buffering most of the gulls away from the fallen woman. Ianto's head pulsed, his arm sizzled and he winced as gull after gull took bites out of Harkness. But somehow he managed across to the fallen woman. He threw the coat over her--Ianto could barely see, there were so many squawking, shrieking birds between them.
Then suddenly the column thinned. The gray and white mass lost its cohesiveness, and the gulls stopped running into the glass. Within seconds, only a few gulls, lagging behind, flew past, but that was almost more disturbing than the flapping column of birds had been.
They could see them now, the franticness of their flight. Seagulls didn’t fly like this. They were supposed to fly in lazy patterns, circling high in the sky, floating on the thermals. They were even pretty up there like that.
Not these. These were intent on one thing, or were driven by something unseen. Ianto would never think of seagulls the same again.
"He's bringing her back!"
Ianto watched as Harkness, the woman in his arms, struggled across the street toward them. Ignoring his own injuries now, Ianto pushed his way to the door followed by the two boys, opening it as Harkness, his face, hands and neck as shredded and bloody as Ianto's arm had been, pushed his way in.
"Take her," Harkness said to the boys, rivulets of blood trailing down his face. The boys helped Harkness lay the woman down. He nearly stumbled. Ianto reached for him, but Harkness straightened.
"You're hurt, we need to--"
"Get me out of here."
Ianto blinked. "Out?"
Harkness grabbed his shoulder, squeezing hard. "I'll explain in your car. Can you drive?"
"Sure." He hoped. He patted his denims, pulled out his keys.
Ianto went. Stepping out into the sunlight, he squinted. The acrid smell of burning petrol and smoke stung his nostrils. All but a handful of gulls were gone, but bird droppings and carcasses--had they attacked their own?--were everywhere. People cautiously moved about, scanning the skies.
Ianto hurried, trying to ignore his head, the lingering clench in his stomach. He reached his car and opened the passenger's side. Harkness leaned against the car. His face was a ghastly mess. Harkness slid inside, collapsing in the seat and Ianto closed the door, his brain so seared by the image of Harkness's torn and bloodied face that his own injuries were laughable. His arm screamed at him, and in the distance a seagull screeched as if in answer. Disgust filled Ianto but he brushed it off. His concern now was Harkness.
He slid into the car. "I should get you to hospital. Those cuts are deep."
Harkness's eyes were closed. "Just drive."
"Doesn't matter, just go."
Without another word, Ianto started his car and headed down the street, not bothering to dodge the occasional injured or dead seagull. Each one he rolled over gave him a satisfied thrill.
Ianto kept checking the rear-view mirror as they headed out of Cardigan to make sure none of the seagulls were following them. He felt silly thinking they would, but couldn't help but be relieved when finally the last remaining sign of what had transpired that afternoon, the thick black smoke from the petrol station, disappeared from view. He began to relax a little, but Harkness was hurt, he still hurt, they should be heading to hospital, not driving aimlessly away. He wasn't sure which way or how far he should go, so with no better idea and as his passenger apparently didn't care, he headed out the A48. He didn't care either, as long as it was away from Cardigan, from the seagulls, away from the stupidest idea he'd ever had.
The green-canopied road twisted and turned, giving him little chance to glance at Harkness. The other man remained silent as he cleaned off his face with what was left in the kit. Now and then he would hiss in pain, but other than that he gave no sign that he'd been mauled by the seagulls, had been tossed by an explosion, and risked his life to save that woman.
Ianto wanted to ask him why he'd done that, but in the awkward silence, all thought of small talk fell flat.
He chanced a look at Harkness. He now sat with his head back, eyes closed. Only the worst cut on his cheek still bled a little. That surprised Ianto. Maybe it had just looked worse than it was. He could've sworn Harkness's had had more cuts than that--his own sure did and only one seagull had attacked him. There'd been half a dozen at least trying to take chunks out of Harkness's face. And, his hands. They didn't look as bad as Ianto thought they would, either.
"Any place specific you'd like me to take you?" Ianto asked.
"I'll tell you when to stop."
Ianto started to say something, but snapped his mouth shut. Now that he'd calmed down, and could think, there were too many questions he wanted answers to. Harkness hadn't meant for Ianto to find him, and had said Ianto wasn't supposed to. What did he mean by that? And why, despite saying that, did Harkness act like he was glad Ianto was there?
But he was almost afraid to ask, not sure he wanted to know the answers. Something simmered beneath Captain Jack Harkness's smooth exterior, something Ianto realised frightened him a little. So the silence continued. He thought about turning on the radio but wasn't sure they'd get good enough reception anyway. Or maybe put in a CD, but he wasn't sure how Harkness would take the kind of music he liked to listen to. Ianto smiled.
"Why are you smiling?"
Ianto glanced at Harkness, but a turn was up ahead and he couldn't take his eyes off the road for long. His hurt arm was getting a workout. "Was just wondering what you'd think of my music."
"I don't-- Have any musicals?"
Ianto laughed. "Not exactly."
"We're almost there anyway." Harkness straightened. "See that road? Take it."
Ianto nodded and awkwardness resumed. At least for him. Harkness didn't seem to feel it at all, but for Ianto, the weirdness of this whole situation, and the oddness of Harkness's request for him to pull over in the middle of nowhere made him uneasy. But he did as asked, turning down the road which, he realised, led to an empty parking lot. Through a railing and a line of trees he could see glimmers of water. A lake then. He parked the car.
Before Ianto could turn to Harkness and ask him 'what now?' Harkness had his seatbelt undone and was out of the car, grabbing his coat and whipping it on before the car door had closed. Ianto watched him, bemused, as Harkness strode toward a stile and stepped over the fence.
"Well, okay then." Ianto turned off the engine, got out of the car and followed.
Once on the other side of the fence, Ianto realised he'd lost sight of Harkness. He had no idea if he was meant to follow, or if he should just turn around and go back to the car and wait. He looked up and down the rocky shore. No sign of life, no sign of Harkness.
Ianto kept checking his watch, and scanning the sky--only one seagull floating aimlessly above, but he didn’t trust it not to dive-bomb for him like the others had. Maybe he should just leave. He should. He should be glad to put an end to this nonsense he had started.
Yet he couldn't make himself go just yet and resigned himself to wait at least a little longer. It would get him back to London later than he'd like, but he didn't like not knowing what Harkness obviously knew so he would wait him out, hope he showed up again.
Ianto scooped up a handful of the rocks, and started to skip them across the lake. It hurt his arm a little but at least his head had stopped hurting. The first few throws weren't good ones, and on the last a cry from a seagull distracted him and the rock plunked into the lake with a loud plop.
Something moved behind him. He whirled around. Harkness was standing under the shadows of a tree, hands in his coat pockets. Watching him. For how long, Ianto wondered.
Ianto nodded. "You startled me."
"Sorry," Harkness said.
Ianto still held two rocks in his hand. He tossed them aside. "Where did you go?"
Harkness didn't say anything for a moment. "Needed to get away from you for a few minutes. I didn’t want to startle you."
Ianto stilled, frowning. "What do you mean?" Another seagull cried out, and Ianto realised there were now several circling high overhead. He didn’t like the look of that at all.
Harkness glanced at the birds. Another joined them. He looked back at Ianto and sighed. "There's not much more time before more come."
Ianto took a step forward. "Harkness--"
"Jack. Call me Jack, even though it's just for a little while."
Ianto shrugged. "Of course." Now what?
Then Jack stepped out of the shadows, and Ianto looked into his eyes...and Ianto's gaze drifted down to Jack's face. Jack's clear, undamaged face. Ianto looked down at Jack's hands. Undamaged. Not a mark on them. He took a step back, confused, his mind blanking on what he was seeing.
Or rather, wasn't.
"What the hell?" Ianto said. "Your face. It's--" It was as if he'd never been attacked. Ianto's own arm and head still throbbed, and would take days to heal.
Jack stopped with only an arms breadth to spare between them. "I told you my coming back was a mistake. I told you I was with Torchwood 3?
"Yeah." Then he remembered. "You said from the future."
"From your future." He hesitated. "Our future." He looked up over Ianto's shoulder at the birds. Ianto resisted doing the same. He could hear them. He knew more were coming. Fucking hell. He couldn't take his eyes off Jack's face.
Then the words registered. Everything else around him faded. Ianto closed his eyes as what Jack was telling him slammed into place.
"Impossible," he whispered, then opened his eyes. "Possible?"
Jack sighed, rubbed the back of his neck. "Yes. At least for me." He gestured toward the gathering seagulls. They kept a wide berth, but they were watching. Waiting.
Ianto shook his head. "What. People in the future heal fast can travel back in time and heal fast?"
"No. Just me."
Ianto blinked. "I don't understand."
But Jack looked away, down the shore. "It's time I left before anything else happens."
"You're the reason they're acting like this?"
He shrugged. "Possibly. A disturbance in the Rift, or I'm too close to the other me."
The Rift. Lisa had told him about that. Shouldn't have, but she'd told him a lot of things he shouldn't know yet. She'd told him wonderful things, amazing things he wanted to be a part of but now it was like being slapped, realizing she only shared what she herself knew. There were dark sides to working for Torchwood, and Captain Jack Harkness represented one of them.
"What did you mean, the other me?"
"From your time. I-- We lived in Cardiff."
"They said at the café that you visited someone there."
"Angeline worked for Torchwood." His gaze pierced Ianto's. "She wanted out. I let her go."
"But you still see her."
"Is her daughter yours?"
Jack looked at him for a long moment, then shook his head. "No, but I make sure she's all right. It's the least I can do."
"Why do you say that?"
"Torchwood demands sacrifices. Angeline sacrificed more than most. It's the least I can do for her, be there for her daughter."
"Is that why you came back? Because it was the least you could do?" He threw his hands up. "I'm dead, aren't I. Wherever you came from, whatever year it was." Jack started to open his mouth but Ianto raised his hand and pointed at him. "No, don't tell me, I don’t want to know when. Just that I'm right."
Jack's mouth pressed into a grim line. "It's not that simple. Not with you." He took two steps forward, closing the space between them. "You're-- You were very important to me." His eyes, damn them, shone brightly as he looked into Ianto's own. Ianto's heart raced, he clenched his fists. They'd been together, then. Harkness was as close to him as he'd been in the pet shop, and Ianto was as transfixed now as he was then.
"Did we...love each other?" he threw out.
Harkness broke eye contact then. "Yes."
"And I died."
"So you came back to find me." Ianto raised one hand, palm up, in disbelief. "What." He laughed. "Just to say goodbye?" He would not think too deep on this. "Must've happened fast."
Jack looked at Ianto's hand, then covered it with his own. "I should've stopped you. You shouldn't have--" He broke off, his voice choked. But he bowed no further than that in his obvious grief.
Ianto squeezed his hand, studied Jack's face, the warring emotions there. He didn’t love this man, not yet anyway, and wondered how the hell he got from his relationship with Lisa to a relationship that completely threw out every future he'd ever imagined for himself, but it hurt. It hurt to see that kind of pain, and be the cause of it. He didn’t like hurting people.
"I'm sorry," he finally said. He didn't know what else to say.
Jack pulled his hand away from Ianto's but cradled his face, still moving, his fingers flexing against Ianto's skin. "No reason to be sorry."
A hand touching him, that's all, yet a telling warmth began to ebb deep inside Ianto. His breath quickened, and his pulse, damn. He leaned closer to Jack, his own hands hanging at his side. He'd kissed him once. He wanted to kiss Jack Harkness again. He smiled.
"Now I know how easily you got me," he said, then eyes half-closed he kissed Jack.
Jack exhaled in surprise, and for a moment Ianto thought Jack would pull away. A low groan escaped him though, and Jack took over. Ianto was the surprised one then but it all clicked, he melted against Jack, his mouth opening willingly to Jack's, his body heating more than willingly as the kiss deepened. He didn’t know what the hell he was doing but he didn't care now, he pressed against Jack, losing himself in the force of his lips, his tongue--teeth clashed, he wanted to devour him. No, he wanted Jack to devour him.
The seagulls suddenly broke into mad squawking and a rush of hundreds of wings surrounded them. Ianto yanked back, his heart racing now with fear--stupid stupid stupid, they should've left while they could. He stumbled, but Jack caught him. Ianto stared in horror as gull after gull flew down toward the lake to join the hundreds already there. They covered the sky, Ianto raised his arms to protect his face and ducked as one, two, three swooped down at him before plunging into the undulating white and gray mass. He hunched into his coat as their cries seared his ears--he feared the ringing would last for days, if he got out of this mess.
Just as suddenly, the sky cleared. Ianto dropped his arm and stared around them. They were everywhere now, on every surface, skimming over the lake to settle on the shore, in the trees, on the rocks. Restless murmurs rippled through the crowd, but each and every seagull settled, and faced them.
"Bloody hell," Ianto said. He looked up at Jack. "If you leave, will they go?"
Jack nodded. "They should."
Ianto could still feel Jack's lips on his, he was hard as hell, and he stood in a fucking nightmare. "Should?"
The gulls crowded around their feet. One pecked at Ianto's boot. He fought the urge to kick it, but he was too afraid that would send them all into a frenzy.
Ianto took a deep breath. He had so many questions, questions he probably shouldn't ask. "Tell me what to do. Think we can make it to the car?" He laughed softly. "We must be able to. We meet again later, right?"
Jack smiled at that. "Good point."
Ianto cocked an eyebrow at him and grinned back. "We have fun, I take it."
"Oh, yes. We do."
"I'll look forward to that then," Ianto said. He realised he really was. He couldn't imagine how his life would change over the next however many months or years before his next encounter with Jack Harkness, but not knowing when it would happen didn't, he realised, disappoint him much.
He was trying to keep an eye on the birds, so nearly missed the shadow that crossed Jack's face. "What?"
Jack's smile was sad. Regretful. "You can't. I can't let you remember this."
Ianto pulled back. "You're not going to kill me, I hope."
A grin broke out on Jack's face. "That would defeat the purpose of coming here to see you, I think."
Ianto nodded. He wiped his hand over his mouth, looked back at the birds. He would have to forget this? Forget the birds, forget--he looked up at Jack, his grim expression. The sadness in his eyes. Fucking hell. "I don't want to forget you."
Ianto closed his eyes for a moment, searching for the right words to argue with. He didn't want to forget. There had to be a way, somehow, but every solution smacked against a myriad of additional problems. Some, he suspected, would be a worse disaster than they'd already been through.
There was no choice. His shoulders sagged. "So, how do we go about this then."
Jack pulled something out of his pocket then opened his hand. Cradled in the palm was a single little white pill. "This."
Another gull stabbed at Ianto's feet. Down the coast, a small group fluttered their wings. It had a ripple effect, bird after bird after bird.
Ianto took the pill. It wasn't anything special, just a simple, chalk-white pill with no markings.
"It'll make me forget everything?"
"You'll just forget the last couple of days. From when we met."
A single cry pierced the air. Ianto's heart skipped a beat. They were getting restless. There wasn't much time. So much to ask.
"How will you leave?"
Jack lifted his other arm, pulled back his coat sleeve to show Ianto his wrist. It looked like a computer. And he'd thought the mobile was fancy. He wanted to see more. He wanted to know more. "What about me? What will you do with me?"
"I'll take care of you. You'll wake up in your car. You won't know how you got there. Or," he said, nodding to Ianto's bandaged arm, "what happened to you."
Ianto snorted. "Don't happen to have a beer on you, do you?" He stared at the pill, then put it into his mouth. No point asking what it was, exactly. He took a deep breath, reached out to Jack as a wave of dizziness hit him. His knees buckled. Jack grabbed him, helped him down to the ground. The birds, the gulls. He looked over Jack's shoulder--they meandered about now, watching them. "They're waiting," he said, leaning against Jack. "Don't let them get me."
Jack pulled Ianto to him, stroking his hair back. Ianto felt lips pressed against his head. He smiled. "Don't worry, I'll protect you." Ianto felt Jack's breath catch, could hear his heart. "You're safe."
Ianto shuddered. He could feel his heart slowing as a wave of calm peace came over him. He tried to pull back and look into Jack's face but his head was so heavy, he couldn't. "I really love you, then?" he murmured.
"Yes, yes you do."
Ianto buried his face into the coat, inhaled its musky scent. So warm-- He gave in, closed his eyes, his grip relaxing as fighting gravity became impossible. Must ask him... He shuddered again. He wanted to say something, had to ask...the coat...warmth and darkness, safe, so safe and warm, he had to know if....couldn't remember, what...
Ianto startled, smacking his arm against the steering wheel. "What the fuck?" he muttered. He blinked, rubbed his eyes and winced as pinpricks of pain burst from his forearm. His bandaged forearm.
"What the hell?" He touched his head, realizing it too hurt, but with a dull, thumping pain. He peered into the mirror. He looked like hell.
Fumbling with the handle he opened the door and slid out of his car. He was in a dirt parking lot, alone. Somewhere. No traffic nearby, nothing. He glanced at his watch. Early morning. He'd spent the night in his car, in a parking lot, somewhere he'd never seen before in his life.
The lone cry of a seagull made him jerk around. His heart raced. He laughed, too loudly. "What the hell did I drink last night?"
He had no idea. He had no idea where he was, or how he got here, either. Or, how he got hurt.
His mobile buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and smiled. Lisa. He flipped it open, turning around for some sort of clue, said, "Hey."
"About time you answered. Are you okay? I've been trying to get through to you for hours!"
A thrill raced through him. He grinned. "You were worried?"
She made an exasperated noise. "Of course I was, you idiot. I thought you were coming home last night. Where are you?"
Ianto turned around in a slow circle. Nothing seemed familiar to him. Not a single thing. "I honestly don't know. I think--I think I passed out."
"What did you do last night?"
"I-- I really don't know. I'm in a parking lot by a lake. I guess I fell asleep."
He laughed. "Of course alone. Very alone. I wish you were here."
"What, you miss me?"
And he realised then that he did. Very much. "Where are you?" He growled for extra effect.
"Staring at my very empty bed."
"Now, that's tragic."
"What do you intend to do about it, then, Ianto Jones?"
He scrambled back into his car, searching for the keys. In the ignition. He closed the door, snapped his seatbelt and started the car. "I'll be there soon as I can. Be ready?"
Her answer was a low chuckle that sent his pulse racing. "I'm always ready for you, Jones. Now get home." She hung up.
Ianto closed his mobile, and set it aside. He sat back for a moment, staring at the glimmer of the lake through the trees, trying to remember something, anything, from the night before. How he got here. What had happened. How the hell he got hurt, but there was nothing. Nothing at all other than the dull throb of his head.
Whatever had happened, he hoped it'd been good. No matter now. He had more important things to think about anyway. With a smile of anticipation and without a moment's hesitation, he turned left into the road and headed for London, and home.
Behind him, a flock of seagulls burst into the sky.