by Jane St Clair
19 January 2007
Warnings: None for Torchwood. Basic spoilers for DW 2.13 (End of Days).
Notes: 1300 words for the 'Lost in the Hub' challenge.
Ianto's filing boxes when he finds it. Because the records of Torchwood One, kept beautifully organized in climate-controlled vaults, were reduced to ashes by a randomly-firing Dalek, and then blown into the next reality by what came later, and so Torchwood Three's records are all they have. And the vaults of the Hub may not be climate-controlled, and they're laid over the Rift, but Ianto can't stop. In his bones, he's an organizer and preserver. He knows where every piece of paper in the Hub is, and he keeps an inventory of the pieces that have been lost into other parts of the universe. For this reason, they have off-site storage, now. But the originals still go in archival boxes, and then he loads them on the cart and takes them downstairs in the ancient lift.
And it's just there. Luminous in the corridor lights. Faintly blue-orange-silver. Almost remarkable inhuman, except for the fetal curl of the body and the crackle along Ianto's nerves that might be crying.
It's taken a blanket from the barracks, and it's . . . leaking . . . onto the wool. Silver-orange that smells like marzipan and might be blood.
Ianto thinks for a moment that reality's in flux, as it may well be. He has trouble focusing. And he's down four levels, unarmed except for a permanent marker and a rusting dolly. Nothing in the documents he's so carefully organized suggests how these materials might be adapted to the current situation. He wishes the thing would stop crying and let him think.
And in the end, because it seems most sensible, he calls Jack, and cautiously explains that he has found a small, tearful, possibly injured something in the archives. Jack listens and asks for colours and scents and also the particular key in which the something is crying. Ianto listens and suggests C sharp. He's not sure why he can hear Jack nod.
While he's waiting, Ianto offers the thing a plastic-wrapped strawberry candy, tucked in his pocket since his last visit to a sit-down restaurant, somewhat linty. He's not sure how long he's had it.
But the liquid-blue fingers reach out for it. Translucent where it touches the cellophane.
The sucking noises that follow are shockingly human, and the crying tapers off a little.
Later, Owen tells him that sugar, for whatever reason, was exactly the right answer. It's a very young adult creature, and someone on the other side of the universe hurt it terribly. Its metabolism is alien, but pure, refined sugar seems to be digestible. So when they have it bedded down with an armful of survival blankets in one of the less weevil-marked cells, Ianto goes out shopping. Returns with a variety of basic sweets and also a box of sugar cubes.
He makes the thing weak, sweet tea. Puts it in the terrifying mug decorated with kittens that appeared one day in the morgue and has since been thoroughly sterilized. There's something deeply gratifying about watching those translucent fingers wrap around the cheap ceramic and the incandescent face lower into the sugared steam. Hours later, haunted by that look of basic hope, he comes back with a disk of candy and a mug of hot chocolate. He asked Owen about caffeine, just in passing, and Owen muttered that he had no clue, but presumably if it was allergic, it would explode.
Gwen said she had never heard of anything perishing of chocolate. But she keeps Cadbury's bars in her purse.
Ianto learns that the creature likes the pure sugar best, and the chocolate cautiously, as though it's something delightful but alien beyond the telling. He gives Owen the box of cubes to take with him when he heads down to the cells with his medical kit. And Owen's a prick, but he comes back with a distant expression and his fingers sticky and luminous.
In the night, Ianto brings coffee and more sweet tea down to the cells. Tosh is sitting on the floor with a quilt around herself and the thing sitting across her lap. Almost human-sized as it unfolds, but ethereal. Tosh has butterscotch lifesavers, and she's singing old jazz songs, very softly. Occasionally pressing her lips to the top of the thing's head. Her blouse is faintly marked with silver-orange blood from the not-quite-closed wounds, and Ianto makes a note to find out whether standard methods for removing human blood work on shimmering alien fluids.
Eventually, he goes home to sleep and shower and change his suit. Wakes up smelling candied ginger. Lingering psychic trace that he can't shake even in the shower, though the fruit scents of shampoo mingle with it. Spice from his aftershave. Sharp edge of his own black coffee and the milky, sweetened versions he makes for others.
Sweet blood metallic all over Myfanwy's breakfast.
Most of the time, the creature sleeps. Eats and burrows into the arms of whoever drifts down to the cells to cuddle it. Gwen and Tosh and Owen and Ianto. If Jack visits, he does so when the rest of them have gone home, and he comes out cleaner than the rest of them. But it doesn't necessarily follow that he hasn't gone.
Days shift and weevils eat several Alsatian dogs in Cathays. Gwen and Jack bring the monsters in, muttering in their own dark language and trailing bits of hair. One of the weevils is still chewing on a tail.
The creature in the cells is miserable, like it can smell blood and fear and disgust on everyone. It crawls back into a corner and keens to itself and won't be drawn out with even the best sweets they can procure. Until finally Jack goes down, picks the thing up, and simply carries it out of the cells and up to the main level, away from weevil smell and the lingering psychic fear there. And Gwen, like someone's perfectly beloved aunt, produces a bag of candy floss in wild colours.
They never get around to naming it. It just is, quietly shining in corners and gradually putting itself back together.
Eventually, the creature goes wandering. Never outside, even when there are street vendors in the millennium centre and everything smells of sugar and light. It goes back down, drifting through the catacombs and stroking the walls. Faint silver trails that go along behind it.
It's feeling for the Rift.
And then it's gone. The blankets it used are left folded, and the candy-bowl is empty. Little sticky traces down into the deep layers of the Hub before they fade out.
Ianto goes through the Hub and cleans up. Mugs are washed and stored away in the kitchen, the candy-bowl goes back in the cupboard, the blankets and alien-stained clothing are laundered and folded, left smelling of nothing but chemical-lavender fabric softener and a trace of Ianto's cologne. Returned to the closets and to people's workstations.
Except. He finds himself holding Jack's shirt, searching it for silver trace. Really, he ought to go home to bed, and if he still feels this bereft in a week, he can acquire for the Hub some sort of mascot animal. A guinea-pig, maybe, or a ragged-eared cat. Instead, he goes looking for Jack. Finds him reading in his bedroom, still half-dressed and sporting braces draped artfully around his hips.
Jack makes room on the bed. Shifts to accommodate Ianto's body against his and goes on reading, wrapping on arm around Ianto's shoulders. Presses his lips absently into Ianto's hair.
Jack smells, always, like bright water and electricity. Eventually, he puts his book aside. Reaches into a drawer and draws out a box of raw-sugar cubes. He feeds them to Ianto, one at a time. Strokes his hair with sticky fingers, and eventually leans down to kiss him.
Ianto wakes up later, naked and tangled around Jack, and Jack's crackling with energy, not softly luminous but charged, like he might strike sparks. He tastes sharp and salty under Ianto's tongue.