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Proof of Your Existence

Proof of Your Existence cover
Proof of Your Existence cover
Proof of Your Existence - Ianto

by sarcasticchick (LJ | e-mail | comment)
Torchwood | NC-17 | Team, Jack/Ianto | 24,595 words

"Can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you? When neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is."

Many thanks to my fabulous beta, Lilithilien (InsaneJournal) and my cheerleader, cs_whitewolf (LiveJournal). Takes place before "Reset."

Art by Becky_H (LJ | comment) and Hllangel (LJ | comment)


Ianto had only been away from the Hub for a short time, long enough to refile the materials he'd pulled for the investigation into Artifact 1959.10.31 and log the new files for the now deactivated device. Refiling, the routine second step on his too-often-used checklist to recover from yet another near world-ending situation defied only through sheer Torchwood Three luck and ingenuity. First step had been simple, remove Artifact 1959.10.31 from the clutches of the two-year-old child who refused to relinquish his 'blankie,' no matter how it ominously blinked. Quick substitution with a significantly less volatile, more chemically stable teddy bear proved the winning solution when Captain Jack Harkness' patented charm failed to work on the tot.

Step three, submit Requisition Form 29.e - "Personal Articles - Clothing - Accessories" to replace Gwen's Claudia Ciuti boots, destroyed when said tot vomited on said shoes, which really were the most obscene choice of footwear for an alien artifact pursuit. Impractical and expensive to replace when used to deactivate alien technology, the stomach acids and leather created an apparent caustic vapor destroying the integrity of the 'blankie's' circuitry.

He really should talk with Jack about their female teammates' choice in footwear. Owen didn't wear three-inch heels on a chase, though the mental image was nearly enough for Ianto to request that dress code as a joke. The dangers of sprained ankles, torn ligaments, and fractured tibias/fibulas outweighed the benefits of sleek calves, long legs, and height by a measure of five-to-one. Not that he believed Jack would listen; the captain always maintained a voyeuristic admiration for anything beautiful and had made enormous allowances in the Torchwood Code of Conduct for his staff. Quite frankly, after he had found Jack wearing Tosh's coveted ballet-wrap cashmere sweater, the delicate cyan knit stretched over firm muscle and curving gracefully around his pectorals while he luxuriated in the texture, Ianto feared the man might get ideas and begin wearing stilettos to work.

Not a trend Ianto wished to instigate. The shoes, not the sweater (Ianto may have made copies of the CCTV footage of Jack wearing Tosh's sweater for his own personal use).

Nineteen minutes, forty-one seconds. The time it had taken to traverse the distance from the Hub to the Archives to the Hub again, a steady pace, never rushing, never dawdling, returning just shortly after five. Of course, upon entering the chaos that had erupted in the Hub during those nineteen minutes and forty-one seconds he was away, Ianto found himself quickly reevaluating the belief that the worst of the day was behind them and there was no need to rush. It had all been quiet when he'd left; he hadn't even put coffee on before he'd exited to the archives.

How they were in chaos without coffee was beyond his comprehension. They never chaosed in the Hub without coffee.

Ianto reevaluated the situation again as he approached the throng hovering around Tosh's desk. 'Chaos' may have been too broad and disordered; instead it appeared that Tosh was the frantic one, Jack looked on concerned, and Owen and Gwen wore confused expressions. Minor situation, then, maybe an alien caught speeding and Tosh was removing the visual evidence. He approached curiously, if not cautiously, picking up a clipboard to keep his idle hands busy.

His arrival must have caught Jack's eye who, after a quick glance from head to toe and back again with a leer (nothing new, Jack had a certain affinity for this specific black pinstriped suit, which often left Ianto naked and begging, bent over Jack's desk while he whispered Ianto's name as he came), turned to point to Tosh. "We've got hackers," he said, like it was an infestation of fleas.

"That," Ianto blinked, taken aback by the notion; Torchwood had systems in place to deter such matters, "never happens."

"I know." Tosh's voice sounded strained as the keys clicked furiously, her fingers darting quickly over the keyboard to counter and protect their network; Torchwood's mainframe held far too much classified data for civilian access. "It shouldn't be happening. These are kids - their code is good, but their methods are inexperienced. I'm guessing they're just using copied scripts and skills they learned by watching Swordfish." Her tone was scathing, and Ianto agreed completely. That had been a horrible movie.

"Can you stop them?"

"Of course." Ianto had to smile at Tosh's affront to Jack's question. She had every right to be offended by Jack's doubt; she was good, and he doubted there were any who could best her. "It's not a matter of stopping them; none have broached the first level of security. But that they're there at all... Kusanagi erases our tracks on the Internet, monitors all incoming and outgoing packets and actively diverts any interest from the outside including shell scripts. They shouldn't know we're even here."

"Like no one knows who we are on the streets?"

"Hey, who orders pizza under the name Torchwood?" Jack's question silenced Owen, but not before Gwen could innocently ask who Kusanagi was. Ianto sort of listened, though mostly ignored as he followed the rapidly scrolling code on one of Tosh's monitors. Repeated information, nothing new he needed to hear or remember. But the code, the code was different. New. Puzzling. "Tosh named our main computer."

"I couldn't keep calling it 'it.' She's sentient."

"She?" Gwen's head bounced from Tosh to Jack like she was watching a tennis match; Ianto would find it amusing if he didn't find the code so disturbing. He gently nudged Gwen out of the way, pushed past Owen with a bit less consideration, and used his finger to track his place in the code, never touching the monitor; it had enough fingerprints on it already and he'd be damned if he contributed to such disrespect of equipment. Besides, it would simply add to what he already had to clean (step nine on his list), which was not an entertaining prospect. But he thought he spotted discrepancies in the system diagnostics Tosh was performing, holes in the data missed while she fended off the hackers. "The computer's sentient?"

"Crystalline being came through the Rift before Torchwood was formed, discovered by Torchwood Three in the early 1920s growing in one of the deepest cellar rooms." Jack's voice warmed into his lecture mode, drawing a slight smile from Ianto. He knew the captain would be standing predictably with his arms crossed (whether to portray a grandiose image of a proud, learned man or to highlight his biceps Ianto had yet to determine), a patient look on his face while he explained in simple terms the complexities of the universe.

He was good at it, Ianto had to give due credit, but for all appearances Ianto knew what Jack masked with aged experiences: he didn't know everything and did his best not to show it. Failure to understand bred fear, and as the mind grew to comprehend the enormity of the universe and the scope of time, fear was inevitable. Jack did a good job hiding it with confidence - a relief to the team who faced things they couldn't understand on a daily basis. Fear was simply not something Jack publicly indulged in. But Ianto knew that, buried within the cloak of night, the shadows grew fangs and Jack's arms drew tighter around him while he feigned sleep, providing passive comfort for Jack in the only way he knew how.

Jack continued, and Ianto had to wonder if he'd been involved when the crystals had first been found. It wouldn't surprise him the slightest. "Shipped to Torchwood One in 1954 after reports indicated the masses were growing, attracted to technology and possibly sentient. A few crystals were missed and by the 1990s it was discovered it'd grown and integrated with our computers. Been an active Torchwood member ever since."

Gwen's disbelief was almost comical; Ianto wondered if it had anything to do with the naughty emails she traded with Rhys on a daily basis or the pornographic CCTV footage Tosh sent whenever she found it across the city. "You're serious. My computer's alive."

"No, your computer's not alive," Tosh interrupted with a touch of disdain, if Ianto were to be asked. But he wasn't, and he was far too engrossed in the code to comment. Something was wrong, but he just couldn't put a finger on it, literally and figuratively. "It's a Dell. The infrastructure supporting your computer is. Well, partially. There are still man-made components, arrays, cables, servers, but much of the network is governed and built on- shit!" Tosh's rare curse drew even Ianto's attention away from the screen for a moment. "More hackers. Six."

"What the hell is going on here? Toshiko?"

Ianto didn't wait for Tosh to voice a reply to Jack's harried question, almost falling over himself in his haste to get even closer to the monitor. "Stop!" Not the word he'd been meaning to say, or rather, a word which failed to perform the function he truly intended. But Tosh's hands froze over the keyboard, waiting without hesitation. Ianto would have felt a warm sensation in his gut on any other occasion that someone had listened to him, but the code was scrawling past quickly and there was no time for warmth. "Pause the diagnostic. Now." A quick tap of Tosh's fingers and the scrawling text stopped. "Page up until I tell you to stop."

"Ianto? Care to inform the rest of us?"

He didn't ignore Jack often; in fact, he never did as a general rule. This time, however, Jack's voice was so quiet, so far away from his focus that Ianto barely heard it, which made it much easier to ignore. Ianto was looking for what he had seen. "Stop." Scowling, Ianto ran his finger across lines of code, knowing he looked like a child as his lips moved with the code, but the action, as functional as vocal reiteration of what he read, served to fix the text in his mind, for as much as it failed to make any sense.

The lines weren't what had initially caught his attention, though. "Up." Another page of text, then another, looking for what had first caught his eye. For all that it looked like gibberish there was pattern, there was poetry to the lines of number and letter, and it wasn't what was there so much as what wasn't that disturbed him. It was like reading a Shakespearean sonnet and encountering a passage which lacked the couplet that should have rhythmically followed the first; it was a gaping hole in the perfect lyrical picture. To the casual observer, it was indistinguishable from the mass of script, but glaringly obvious when one knew what he was reading. "Stop."

There it was, another instance of wrong. Different from the first, but what had originally caught his attention. There was nothing missing, not actually a gap or a hole in the data, but it was wrong; Ianto could feel that down to the marrow of his bones. The poetic picture of the systems failed at this point, as the point before, a scrambled splash of paints over a perfectly rendered image. It was meaningless, the code, meaningless as Tosh fending off a hacker or twenty, when there would be more coming and their defenses were ... decaying. Lines twisting, dissolving, letters tumbling into numbers falling into mistaken ones and zeros blurring until the patterns no longer rhymed.

But this was a hybrid system, a blending of earth-borne technology and sentient life. Code didn't just spontaneously change into random binary, dwindle into Swiss cheese until even the simplest of hacks could breach their systems. Not with Torchwood's mainframe. Common earth programming was built on top of a thinking being; it wouldn't lose cohesion like gelatin exposed to heat. The personal computers, the hardware and relatively simple operating systems, they could be affected by a virus brought in by a careless user (Owen's recent demonstration of a corrupted video game was a prime example; Tosh still hadn't forgiven him for that blunder). However, it couldn't affect the underlying base code entwined with alien consciousness. It couldn't happen.

At least, it shouldn't.

"Fuck." Ianto's mind finally clicked over to an answer he didn't particularly care for, eliciting confusion from the others, but there was no time to stop and answer the questions he knew they'd ask. He would waste too much time attempting to explain it in terms that Gwen would understand. By that time, while he knew she could grasp it eventually, Torchwood Three might already have fallen, victims of their own technology.

Sounded frighteningly familiar.

Ianto raced out of the Hub into the dark halls spanning out far beneath the surface, cutting sharp corners until he hit the stairs descending into the dark depths of Torchwood Three. Few ventured here, a blessing at points in his history, at others a curse. He didn't miss Jack's continued shouts at him, demands for explanations or even to hold up and wait for him and the others. Ianto skipped down three stairs at a time, spinning around landings and clearing the next half-flight in a bound, but he didn't stop, didn't pause, didn't patiently wait for the others. If the computer systems protecting Torchwood Three failed, the base would be in lock-down. And there were far too many dangerous creatures, not to mention gases and their air supply, that could be wrecked or set loose if whatever was eating away at their system gained access.

It wasn't natural, it wasn't some kids goofing around with ganked script or even seasoned hackers with marked experience with computer systems. Torchwood's system simply wasn't in the 'logical and existing' realm of Earth tech.

Down the next hall he ran, knowing the maze of the cellars like the back of his hand. The lights were a bit dodgy down here; he tried to maintain proper order but with the damp tunnels playing havoc with the wiring and the natural chill, nothing ever worked properly. And as though to prove a point, one of the bulbs winked out, leaving the section dark until the corner ahead where light curled its fingers around the stone. The others were still following; Ianto heard the curses and the questions but still he ran, down more steps and more hallways, following the twists until he was so deep below the surface he would see his breath if he paused to look for it, crossing grimy floors he never bothered cleaning. It'd be pointless at any rate, but more to the crux of the argument, he rather enjoyed the natural feel, the sharp, metallic smell of wet stone and time.

Two more corners, one more flight of stairs and he nearly slipped on damp ground as he stopped before a massive set of doors, twice as tall as he and wide enough to push a lorry through. The aged metal gleamed like new in the twinkling light of the underground, untouched as the rest of the expanse by nature and age. It was alien, Ianto knew, reaching out to gently trace the ornate design etched into the edges, a language, perhaps, from their builders. Not that the doors were installed at Torchwood Three by anyone other than humans; they'd fallen through the Rift years ago and, after initial fears and doubt as to their purpose, were put to use as guardians, protectors of Torchwood Three's most valuable possession. And as never-crumbling vault doors they stood tall and proud, a monolithic construction by some ingenuous race. Once, while he'd been exploring the depths of Torchwood on a night too young to sleep and too old to pretend he still had work within the Hub, he'd imagined them the doors of a grand king in a long-forgotten world, protecting the great hall or perhaps a treasure room much as they were doing now.

In comparison, the keypad next to it seemed simplistic, almost childish in design, out of place amidst the grand, impressive scale of the doors. By the time he'd started entering the code, a string of twenty in alien alpha-numeric symbols, the others arrived, Jack and Owen leading the way, Gwen and Tosh trailing behind. Gears cranked as the code was accepted, levers moving within and pistons falling into place to release the seal with a hiss. Twin handles appeared in the smooth surfaces, utilitarian in design and yet there was a certain beauty within the function.

"You're not supposed to know that code."

Ianto paused only for a moment, rolling his eyes in response to the rather weak objection. Jack always failed to remember that there was nothing about the base he didn't know, from the team's secrets to alien objects to Jack's collection of items from times future and past. Pieces of Jack, memorabilia, describing him far better than any word or picture. It was Ianto's duty to be thorough, to remember and catalogue, to archive events and log technology details.

Including the code.

He tore away from Jack's gaze, heaving the massive doors aside to spill soft violet light into the dank hall. It seemed almost cruel to expose the beauty to such darkness but there was no alternative. Ianto heard Tosh gasp and Gwen's 'oh my god' behind him and he allowed a small curl of a smile to touch his lips as he walked carefully into the room, minding his steps as he crossed the open path. The way was clear and swimming in purple, not from any human light but from the walls, from the floor and the ceiling.

She was beautiful. Kusanagi, or whatever her true name was; Ianto wasn't sure, and he'd never asked. Shards of crystals reached up from the floor, stretching towards the high ceilings where blobs swung on spindles, swaying with the air currents as webbing of vibrant purple pulsed around modern electronics. There was hardly a spot free of the creature, growing out from the walls and crawling slow as cold syrup in rings around the bases of the crystal spikes. If one looked, staring deep into the depths of the purplish light, one could see the sparkle shattering internally into millions of reflective surfaces, billions of pathways for data to travel and for storage. And with each throbbing pulse, the patterns shifted, reformed, bounced the light in new directions, cast new shadows until they appeared to dance with the light.

But there was little time to calmly observe, little time for the slow pulse of life.

"Wake up." Ianto ordered as he walked towards the console. Well, it appeared a dense clump of violet crystals but he knew better. "I need a keyboard." The confusion behind him as the others filed into the room was entertaining, but Ianto was far more concerned at the sluggish response from the creature. The pulses were slow, the steady beat of one awake yet not, conserving energy while continuing to function. This was typical, but she should have responded once he'd stepped into the room, once the sounds of the others were heard. She should have recognized the accelerated heartbeats and the smell of anxiety. But she didn't, or didn't immediately, and that heightened Ianto's fears.

A keyboard slowly took shape as the solid-looking crystals melted and sank into shape, the entire growth shifting into buttons and levers. A chair spun up from the floor and a very human-made flatscreen monitor dropped from the ceiling, suspended by more of the same spindles. Ianto ran a hand over the console as he sat, caressing the violet life form in fond memory before sitting and impatiently waiting for the monitor to turn on. "Come on, cariad, work with me here," he mumbled softly, sensing the others crowding behind him much as they had done to Tosh earlier. The lights brightened suddenly - nothing blinding, but the violet hues rose in tone, intensifying as the monitor turned on and the keyboard lit, filling the room with a soft hum that to Ianto sounded like the quiet tones of a Celtic song. It was relaxing, almost refreshing, and as the code spun before his eyes, Ianto fell into the pull of the brilliant mind surrounding them.

Code flashed before his eyes, scrolling past on the monitor. He typed as one would a keyboard but it was so much more than that, immersed quite literally in the network of program and creature. Ianto saw beyond the numbers and letters, reading into what they meant and where they functioned, seeing it as reality when he knew it was just electrical pulses, data flashing from pathway to pathway. But the towering structures around him, built in crystalline splendor, looked real, felt real as he maneuvered past unrelated or unimportant information in his quest. He knew it was there, somewhere, buried within Kusanagi's mind, destroying the wonderful preciseness and order, dissolving the creature and killing their system. It was the only possibility, tucked within the code. Something had found Torchwood, something was seeking to destroy their entire infrastructure, and possibly harm Ianto and the team.

"Show me. Show me where it hurts," Ianto calmly instructed, seeing the code flash past almost faster than the human eye could track. But it wasn't the code he was watching as he typed his way around the landscape of ones and zeros. He didn't need to. That's why they relied on this creature, to take Torchwood beyond a human understanding of technology, to permit them access to far corners of possibility. To be sure, there was always the threat of misunderstanding, of misinterpreting the intent, just as Torchwood One had so grievously failed. But Ianto felt nothing but compassion for this creature, and nothing short of respect for what she could do.

Suddenly the landscape shifted, turning jagged and dangerous as lines of code gave way, spilling and crashing to the floor. Ianto flinched in both fear and horror at what he witnessed, not realizing he'd truly moved until he felt a warm, solid hand on his shoulder, tightening in both reassurance and question. His fingers never ceased their directed movement across the keys as he spoke, quietly, as though the mere increase in sound might adversely affect the system. "She's... been poisoned," was the best he could vocalize it, unable to properly state what he was witnessing. Now that he knew where the damage was occurring, he could isolate it from the rest, focusing his attention on the crumbling structures as the hum became almost a keen.

Poison. A toxin. Like sulfuric acid on skin this toxic slime was literally dissolving the system, separating the code and the creature, leaving her fragile and broken as the ones and zeros oozed around her. Ianto wasn't sure where it had come from or how it had ever gained access, but it was there, spilt over their defenses and slowly eating its way into the core. That's what was leaving the holes, that's what was allowing the hackers to find them, and who knew how much information might leak before she crumbled completely, permitting access to the innermost secrets gathered across the universe.

"Do you know an antidote?"

Ianto realized Jack understood what he had said, that the problem existed on levels superseding current human tech. This wasn't a mere virus, wrecking havoc by performing its function (replicating useless code to overwhelm, deleting files, rewriting base code, stealing data), hiding itself and propagating, easily identified and eradicated by Tosh. Kusanagi existed beyond such bounds, and something was destroying her. It pained Ianto to see more of her fall away into nothing as the toxin spread, rolling like mercury over data.

Ianto nodded sharply, only slightly aware of the movement as he sank back into Kusanagi's complex world, where the physical failed to exist but the intangible was written in hard black and white. Or shades of purple, as it were. Sluggish, slow-moving shades of purple. "Don't give up on me now, cariad," Ianto encouraged, knowing she listened even as the network decayed around him.

The hand on his shoulder tightened, distracting Ianto from the lines and lines of three dimensional code, curving and bending in the shapes of crumbling towers and littered violet landscapes. "Flirting with my staff, Ianto?"

"Jack." The frantic typing slowed at the interruption, pulling Ianto from the immersion within Kusanagi. With one hand maintaining a moderate speed at the keyboard, he pointed towards the heavy doors. "Out. Now." He could feel the protest building in Jack's chest, jolting across muscle and sinew until Ianto swore he could feel it in the tips of Jack's fingers, but he cut the captain off before he could voice any of those protests. "Everyone. I can do this, just not with all of you breathing over my shoulder." He briefly considered the odds of them actually leaving the base at his request; he gave it roughly .00097% chance of working. "In case I can't, you should all get out of the base now while the systems still recognize you."

He could hear Tosh and Gwen's protests, but it wasn't their opinions that he was concerned about. Jack would understand, he would force them to leave, he understood the greater picture. He'd do what was necessary to save Torchwood, because they were important to saving Britain. "We'll be right outside these doors when you're done."

Of course, Ianto had been wrong once or twice before, not that he preferred to keep those tabs on himself but he would admit those times when pressed. He also wouldn't waste time considering what it meant for Jack to have that kind of faith in him for skills outside making coffee and maintaining the Hub. He ignored the team, instead bringing both hands again to the organic keyboard, split in half for comfort, pale lavender light shining where letters and numbers ought to appear.

Jack brought both hands to Ianto's shoulders as well, leaning down to distract despite Ianto's plea for solitude. "I expect an explanation." No brokering, no debate. Ianto didn't argue. His concern at the moment was not Jack or explanations but Kusanagi, Torchwood Three, and whatever had caused this toxin to poison their system.

Ianto felt the still as the others left, then the press of lips on his cheek. He knew it was Jack, no one else would dare (except for maybe Tosh, but that had been the one time while Jack was away and there had been a great deal of alcohol consumed), but he didn't respond; his focus was already back to the monitor. He knew when Jack left, however. Warmth leeched into the frigid air from his shoulders where Jack's hands had pressed, but it was the last conscious thought he considered as he swam into the code again.


He flinched - violently if one were to be asked from the degree to which his limbs reacted, but Ianto pretended it was just a mild startle when he was shaken from his doze. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, he didn't really remember falling asleep, but that was the only explanation for the complete and utter failure to take notice of the great doors opening or the team re-entering the room.

"Shit, you're freezing."

Ianto opened his mouth to protest that it wasn't that cold, that Jack was being foolish as he was pulled roughly to his feet. Then a tremble started at the root of his spine and quickly traveled to the nape of his neck, a precursor to shivers leaving him barely able to push Jack away, much less say anything against being manhandled. Through chattering teeth, he did manage to convey his point; he couldn't leave. Not yet. He wasn't quite done in Kusanagi's chambers, though the immediate threat was gone. All of it was gone. Ianto looked forlornly at his suit coat, tangled and smoking on the floor in a heap of burnt wool-silk, looking vaguely like a Mandlebrot set, physically answering Jack's question that was going to come next.

It was his favorite suit coat, both in the tailoring and the effect it had on Jack. With a mental sigh, he added Requisition Form 29.c - "Personal Articles - Clothing - Business Attire" to his to-do list, bumping it up in priority over cleaning and Gwen's shoes. Only appropriate - 'c' came before 'e', and he would never perform an action out of order if it could be avoided. Especially if it involved his favorite suit coat.

Jack didn't actually ask any questions other than the one Ianto assumed was coming, which he considered a small blessing. Instead, Jack sat on the crystal chair and pulled Ianto down with him. Before Ianto could even make to stand, heavy cloth draped over his shoulders, placed not by Jack's hands; those were wrapped around Ianto's waist, holding him close. Just one more token show of protest for the rest of the team and Ianto gave up, sinking into the natural heat of Jack's body, trapped and mirrored by what he'd realized was Jack's wool greatcoat. Private relationship or no, Ianto couldn't be arsed at the moment to care as he shook with cold. His teeth chattered as he rested his head on Jack's shoulder, ignoring the captain's quip about the power of certain parts of his anatomy heating households.

He was warm, that was all that mattered.

Tosh's focus was on the mainframe, of course. The code scrolling by in waves on the monitor dangling from pulsing webbing was too tempting for her to resist. Owen and Gwen stood behind them; Ianto had seen the pair briefly while Jack had been switching their places on the chair. Gwen kept whispering questions to Jack; Ianto couldn't fathom why she was whispering, and apparently Owen couldn't either as he began ridiculing her for it. Another typical day in the Torchwood family, except for the sentient life form cohabiting with their mainframe, bathing them in vibrant shades of purple.

"Ianto, how is Kusanagi?"

Shifting on Jack's lap with a subtle elbow into his ribs when Jack's hands groped far more than was necessary to keep the coat in place, Ianto turned his face away from the alluring body heat so that he could properly address Tosh's question, luckily without an overtly embarrassing clatter of teeth. "She'll be fine. Wrote out the infection, repaired some of the worst decay, and she's taking care of the rest of the gaps herself." With a knowing smirk that only Tosh would understand, Ianto added, "I pity the computers of the hackers she catches."

Tosh's radiant, albeit vengeful smile would have frightened Ianto if he hadn't felt similarly towards the ones who'd sought the thrill of victory in hacking through Torchwood's already abused defenses. "How did you...?" Ianto watched as Tosh's hands spun wildly at the keyboard and monitor before she clasped them behind her back, removing temptation.

"Yeah. Been wondering about that myself."

He could feel Jack's eyes boring into the back of his head, arms tightening with a warning at his waist and he knew a simple answer probably wouldn't suffice for Jack's previous promise of demand for an explanation. Unfortunately, all Ianto really had was a simple answer. "She gave me the code not long after Lisa. I think we shared a similar ... loneliness." Jack's touch turned to one more of compassion, encouraging swirls of fingertips dancing over the silk-cotton of his shirt. If Ianto leaned into the touch, pausing his speech to enjoy the empathy mixed with sensation, well, it could be written off as sorrow for Lisa. "And computers are a bit my specialty," Ianto ended with a shrug, slouching comfortably against Jack, tucked into the warmth of his coat in a demonstration that otherwise never would have happened in front of the team had there not been the excused threat of hypothermia.

"At Torchwood One? That wasn't on your CV."

"Neither were my skills at making the perfect cup of coffee," Ianto said flatly, feeling more himself after losing track of all time within the layers of the network and the natural chill from their depth underground. He gestured to Tosh with his chin, the only effective movement he had buried as he was beneath the greatcoat. Not that he was in any rush to flee. "Tosh is more than exceptional with tech and you needed a receptionist to handle menial duties."

"You lied on your-"

Ianto's flimsy response to Jack's accusation was lost before it ever passed his lips by the vibrant lights intensifying, making Tosh squeak and back away from the keyboard, hands in the air, swearing she hadn't touched anything. Whether Kusanagi had done it just to save Ianto from saying anything or if there was actually information she had collected remained yet to be seen, but Ianto thanked the deities for their timely intervention. He stood from Jack's lap, passing the greatcoat off as he stepped closer to the monitor to read the text blinking on the monitor. Lies. Since the aftermath of Lisa, there were no lies between him and Jack. Great gaping holes of fact, avoidance, and deflection, but no lies. At least no lies which harmed their relationship. And as much as he wished to maintain that, there were simply things that he didn't wish to talk about. His CV being one of them.

"What is it?"

The text was flashing, frozen in place on the screen as Kusanagi highlighted again and again the piece of information Ianto had requested. He had no idea how long it would take, or if the system could even manage to find the data. Unlike the curved images of code in towering structures and low-lying hills, the letters and numbers were fact, not representations of binary code programmed by human and alien minds. Fact, stable, existing outside the mainframe and in their every day lives, comprehended by the eye, tangible by touch and if one were to be so bold as to lick it, tasting just as foul as the toxic slime it had produced to kill Kusanagi and destroy Torchwood Three. It wasn't often that emotion worked its way into Ianto's consciousness; it perhaps always existed as natural as love and anger but was repressed, shoved aside like he'd learned to do with fear, as equally as unnecessary to embrace as it was dangerous to logic and common sense. But this time, there was no threat to logic, no hazard to common sense; the path lay ahead as clearly as the steps in his flat carrying him to his bedroom. It would frighten him, this unfurling of clarity and emotion, but after what he assumed were hours fighting to protect Kusanagi's life as well as Torchwood Three itself, it didn't dent the spirit driving action and plan, thoughts and wisdom.

The substance, uniquely both real and yet computer code, had been beyond anything current civilization could have produced. Alien. Most certainly alien. And if Torchwood protocol fed the emotion, provided the logic by which to accomplish execution of the emotion, Ianto wasn't going to lose sleep.

With a smile as dangerous as it was false, Ianto turned to Tosh, knowing she would understand better than anyone. "The location of the ones who did this to Kusanagi." His words were voiced low, gravely with every feeling he couldn't speak, not because he was afraid to say them but because there simply wasn't the capability in modern speech to articulate what additional things he could say. And Toshiko understood, her confusion hardening into determination as she nodded. This wasn't just a computer that had been attacked, this wasn't a simple trojan horse slipped in through an innocuous pop-up ad. It wasn't a meager earth system with a simple operating code and flimsy firewalls defending private data. This was a highly advanced alien attack. If Kusanagi could be threatened, then the world's entire economic, security, and social systems - all dependent on technology despite the rather pathetic defenses - were at risk.

Not least of all, Kusanagi was as much a part of Torchwood Three as Owen. Jack had said it himself, and someone or something had deliberately attempted to cause her harm, defenseless as her biological shell was.

"I'll collect a few things we might need as well as layouts for the building. Won't take but a minute."

"Hold on." Jack raised his hands to stop Tosh's exit, his eyes bouncing between Ianto and his tech expert like their faces might explain everything. "Are we going somewhere and who exactly is in charge here?"

Neither Ianto or Tosh hesitated, and if Ianto hadn't been busy calculating the probability of possible alien defenses given the advanced nature of the attack he might have laughed. But as he pointed to Kusanagi in unison with Tosh, Jack's defiant glare at being challenged for leadership shifted to resignation and defeat.

"Fine. Ianto, get the SUV. Owen and Gwen, weapons. I expect an explanation on the way."

Ianto nodded, giving the violet-toned crystals of the control console a last caress, reassuring it as much as promising. No matter how it was worded - protection, intel gathering, security for Britain's financial and data interests, or alien tech acquisition, Ianto knew as well as Tosh that it masked another, more primal emotion that had nothing to do with protection and everything to do with defending one of their own.

Vengeance.

Tosh smiled grimly as she exited, indicating to Ianto that she would gather laptops as well for the both of them. With Torchwood infiltrating the threat's base of operations and hacking their systems ... well, the ones in possession of advanced technology wouldn't know what hit them until their computers were reduced to nothing more basic than infinite loops of a dancing, triangular turtle.


This wasn't supposed to happen.

Ianto paced the length of the cell - a quick trip, merely twelve feet - before turning perpendicular to measure the equally short trip - six feet - turning once more to scan the walls for outlets, for weakened points in the shield sealing them in, for an 'off' button that would free them. Of course, nothing quite that obvious existed. They really were screwed, trapped inside and awaiting the return of their captors.

"Find anything?"

Ianto shook his head at Tosh, avoiding Jack's glare. The cell felt too crowded as it was without compounding it with Jack's ire. At least that's what it felt like to Ianto as he ran a hand through his hair. Hands deposited on his hips, he eyed the tiny bubble in the corner that he assumed was the security camera feed. "Thought there wasn't a cell you couldn't break out of."

Tosh's self-deprecating smile didn't help matters.

It should have worked. Tosh had taken care of the CCTV cameras along the way, hiding the SUV's approach through careful doctoring of footage. Ianto accessed the systems for security, comparing them to the blueprints and calculating weak points in their defenses. It was a large warehouse outside the city proper, easily analyzed; he might have hacked into a satellite as well to ascertain the physical defenses - guards, vehicles, fences and wires - though he'd deny ever having done that should anyone ask. Tosh and he wrote a quick script to bypass all electronic surveillance, uploaded to a flashdrive they could use at Guard Station #2, all before they were four blocks out from Torchwood Three.

Owen was bitching before they'd hit the first stoplight, wishing he'd been left at the Hub instead of Gwen. But as Jack put it, with the two apparent resident geeks in the SUV and possible hostiles, he wanted a doctor on hand; his track record with geeks was fairly poor, up to and including dismemberment while they had still been alive.

Ianto supposed that was a dig at him. He'd never really hid his skills, but he'd never had true cause to admit to more than a passing know-how of how to delete a few sensitive files from a home computer. Tosh, on the other hand, just smiled and thanked Jack for not referring to her as a 'nerd.' Ianto never understood the distinction, but Jack did. He blew a kiss at Tosh in the rear-vision mirror before eyeing Ianto, giving him the 'we'll discuss this later' look that had nothing to do with stopwatches or hockey sticks. A pity; Ianto had the notion to tweak his Roomba to respond to voice commands, bringing lube to whatever room in Ianto's flat Jack and he tumbled, but any sexual attraction to Jack now fled in annoyed petulance.

He refrained from the childish urge to stick out his tongue in defiance of Jack's glare, instead insisting that Jack watch the road for pedestrians or stray dogs and leave the monitoring to Tosh and him.

Maybe Jack had a reason to glare as the four of them stood within the cell, Owen nursing a cut lip but the rest of the team, for the most part, uninjured. Also lacking all their weapons and communications devices. Actually, anything remotely electronic was taken, sucked to and absorbed into a wall that acted like giant ... weapons and electronics magnets, including the pocket-sized vibrator Tosh carried in her pocket which could apparently plug into any portable music device. How the absorption was done or what kind of technology and power source used was beyond Ianto, though he recalled hints of similar devices on record in the Archives.

Ianto briefly wondered what Requisition Form to use for the pocket vibrator, which he assumed would be on Jack's next purchase list, quantity two if he had to replace Tosh's as well.

All scans had cleared them to park and enter Guard Station #2, uploading their script which set the building's internal cameras on a fifteen-minute loop. With no guards showing on the scans, Tosh's building diagnostics directed them to an internal room, approximately one hundred and fifty-three feet from the side entrance they were using. The plan was to quickly dismantle the advanced tech and scavenge what they could from the main drives before destroying the entire system, capture any life forms present, and beat a hasty exit, all skin intact.

Of course, once they entered the room, for all intents and purposes appearing like the main computer systems room, the hologram dropped and their cell revealed. Owen had snidely remarked about Tosh's skills at getting them all captured; Tosh promptly demonstrated evidence of Jack's hand-to-hand training with a swift blow to Owen's jaw which she quickly blamed on lingering holographic images of threatening alien scum.

That wasn't how the plan was supposed to work.

"Someone tell me I won't have to resort to shagging the guards to get us out of here."

All eyes turned to Jack, who appeared both angry and mildly entertained by whatever memory had prompted the comment. Ianto was fairly certain they would hear the tale before whomever had so ingeniously captured them showed their face. It hadn't escaped his notice that this was a well-established trap, possibly set up long before the attack on Kusanagi. He (mostly) tuned out Jack as he launched into his story, something about eight-foot green chimpanzees with six limbs and a tail as long as Jack was tall, while Ianto and Tosh continued looking for an exit. Or something they could use as an exit. Or something they could use to make an exit.

There was nothing - no windows, no doors, not even grooves in the wall to hint that an exit might be possible. Just three smooth, white-washed walls and the shimmering, slightly pink force-field which created the fourth. It was transparent, permitting a clear view down the corridor that had brought them to their current location. Standing close to one of the corners where the field and the wall met, Ianto could make out the raised outline of a control panel that more than likely held the keys to their escape, but nothing could pass the shield. Tosh's attempt to throw a hair pin through and Jack's body-lunge proved equally unsuccessful, as both hair pin and Jack were thrown back with a force Ianto quickly calculated to equal the collision with the bonnet of a Porsche traveling approximately twenty miles per hour or the clawed, closed-fisted end of a raging Weevil.

His 'I did warn you' eyebrow directed at Jack while the man struggled to his feet might have been responsible for Jack's current anger, but Ianto would never admit it nor apologize. It had been an idiot thing to attempt after Tosh's inanimate hair pin had failed.

"Gwen will come rescue us after she can't raise us on the comms." For the second time, all eyes turned to one individual; this time the disbelief was directed at Owen who belligerently stared back until he broke under the weight, shrugging in defeat. "Right then. Who's with me for an orgy before we all die?"

Ianto let the retort die on his lips as his ears picked up the clomping of metal on tiled floor. His spine grew rigid in an instant at the sound, no matter how quick his mind was to inform him that none of the scans had picked up alien activity remotely like the kind that had attacked Torchwood One. He would know; he'd programmed the scans himself to alert them the instant either race showed up in Cardiff. Unnecessary or not, Ianto was not risking that mistake again. At the same time, however, the niggling moment of pure terror at the sounds had him recoiling away from the shield faster than Jack had bounced, straight back into supporting hands he sincerely hoped belonged to Jack for all he leaned into the touch.

Despite the sound, the feet the metal clomping were connected to appeared nothing like the boots of the Cybermen. The logical portion of his mind finally claimed victory over the frantic as Ianto righted himself, stepping away from Jack as quickly as he could manage to maintain whatever dignity he had left. Owen didn't let loose a torrent of insults though, which surprised Ianto as he consciously slowed the rapid gulps of air his lungs continued to demand to a more respectful pace. The boots were enormous, the bodies likewise as they followed the feet into view. Tall, gangly creatures with enormous heads, Ianto wondered how they could even maintain an upright position with the weight on their skinny necks. Body armor covered their limbs (five) and chests, and what Ianto had at first taken for jewelry around their necks appeared more a beneficial construct than decoration. As they rounded the corner into the hallway in which their cell was located, Ianto realized he'd been correct. Their necks actually weren't supporting their massive heads; a slender brace encircled their necks, a length at the back extending up as a secondary spinal column to support their heads. In fact, if Ianto wasn't mistaken by their inability to turn their heads, he imagined they were somehow fused to the aliens' skulls.

He saw the pallor of the skin, tinted red like boiled lobster and he couldn't stop the sharp intake of breath, knowing at once who these aliens were. They'd been in the databases at Torchwood One, an advanced alien enemy taking second place to the Doctor ... well, at the time of the database's records, Ianto was fairly certain Daleks or Cybermen might have actually superseded the Doctor in threats to the human population. Ianto wasn't quite sure if the Doctor ought to be held in that regard; security footage from that day had shown the Doctor there, with his companion friend, and Ianto believed the Doctor might have had a hand in stopping the invasion. So these beings, Kraecs they were called, were maybe third on the list now, give or take. Not because they posed any true physical threat to Earth, the gravity was far too harsh for continuous exposure, hence the boots and body armor, Ianto assumed - perhaps enhanced to give strength and artificial buoyancy to a body which otherwise wouldn't have survived.

No, their threat was Earth's silicone and gold resources, as well as a sort of ... food. They were harvesters, not of anything conventional in earth's view, but they fed on data. Information. All the ones and zeros creating the backbone of earth's computerized technology gave these creatures life as they consumed everything from financial transactions to spam email to jpeg photos of grandchildren's birthday parties. Ianto didn't know how it worked, how their biological systems converted sheer data into a life-giving force. That hadn't been in the databases, but there were records upon records of civilizations devastated by the Kraecs. The original inhabitants of the worlds survived, but the societies were destroyed when the computers they were so dependent on suddenly lacked even basic maths and the massive storages of data just ... disappeared. Torchwood information had indicated that the Kraecs typically struck far more advanced civilizations. The more advanced, the more data, the more food for the aliens.

Kusanagi. Kusanagi must have attracted their attention, or maybe Torchwood One's mainframe had before the Battle of Canary Wharf and it had taken this long for the Kraecs to travel to Earth, expecting Earth in the 31st century, not Earth circa early 21st, just babies really in the grand scheme. That was why the attack had been so insidious, eroding Kusanagi's defenses until all that was left was the proverbial creamy center, the purest, sweetest and most satisfying nectar for these creatures. Kusanagi would go first, then the massive arrays in data centers worldwide, the supercomputers and the business and economic networks, and finally the smaller, personal computers with moderate storage capabilities.

"Shit," slipped Ianto's lips before he could stop it, realizing they now had Torchwood Three at their mercy and any hope for stopping them was dispersing as quickly as hacks for the latest DVD encryption on the Internet.

"Recognize them?"

Ianto nodded, his motions feeling large and bulky despite his efforts to minimize them, hyper-aware of the steady approach of the aliens to the cell as fear trickled down his spine. He recognized the slow burn consciously as adrenaline but his limbs and heart screamed direct orders to get the fuck out of there as fast as they could. If they could. No help there, really, the twelve feet wouldn't give much for running. Unless he made it a lap. Twelve by six by twelve by six. One hundred forty-six and two-thirds laps and he'd have a mile, but that still wouldn't be far enough. Distance was relative and they were completely screwed unless Tosh had another pocket-sized vibrator doubling as a weapon hidden on her person.

"Kraecs. Jack, they'll want Hub codes. They feed on data." Ianto darted a glance at the approaching aliens, feeling the need to blurt out as much information as possible so Jack would understand the threat. He watched one enter a code into the panel near their cell, memorizing the movements even if he couldn't see the panel. Not that it'd help them much behind the force field as they were, but maybe they'd have a chance. "They'll consume everything on Earth, throwing us back decades and lay ruin to everything storing even the smallest fraction of data." The force field fizzled once before it dissipated. Four aliens stepped past the threshold with their clomping metal boots. They had weapons, tiny slim pistols raised by one of their three hands, standing fierce in a line where the shield wall once stood. Ianto dropped his voice to a murmur, speaking loud enough for Jack to hear. "And with access to Kusanagi they'll have every piece of information we have on Earth computers, every hack Tosh has done into security systems worldwide, not to mention alien tech, worlds; they'd have a road map to-"



"Ianto!" Tosh shrieked before she could stop herself, the beam of yellow flashing so quickly from the weapon that none of them had a chance to flinch, much less react to stop them. She clapped a hand over her mouth, trying in vain to stifle the stunned protests she could feel pouring from her lips. Ianto first paused, like he did in those instants when he was about to unleash a deadpan quip that would leave her breathless as she struggled not to laugh. Then he simply... fell, knees buckling as the tall, graceful column toppled.

A roar from her left jolted her away from the horrifying tableau of Owen diving to the floor next to Ianto, feeling futilely for a pulse she knew had ceased the moment the beam pierced his forehead. Ianto she couldn't help, but Jack she could. "Jack, no!" She grabbed his greatcoat as he lunged, catching handfuls of wool which twisted under her fingers. She held firm, skidding forward with the force of Jack's leap until her feet found purchase on the slick tile.

She refused to consider why the tile was slick.

"Toshiko! Let me go!"

Jack's momentum carried them close to the aliens. 'Kraecs', Ianto had called them, and up close Tosh liked them even less than she had before. They reeked of exhaust, smelling like they'd dawdled too long behind a bus, red skin dry, no noses but a flap of skin dangling in front of their beady eyes. She pulled on his coat, unconcerned for the tongue-lashing she would later receive. They needed Jack alive, not dead or just-dead. She held him, even as the aliens laughed and Jack's struggles stilled, whether to restrain him should he attempt again or to reassure herself she wasn't sure. But touching him made her believe that maybe the three of them might make it out alive. At least he would.

"Any hope you had of cooperation vanished the moment you killed one of my team."

The Kraecs didn't even blink at the ferocity of Jack's growl, though Tosh wasn't sure they had eyelids. She'd have to update their profile once they returned to the Hub if it didn't contain the information. It might be of use in the future.

"When we return, give us the code to your mainframe or another dies." With a nod to the pair of aliens standing closest to Owen and ... the body, the speaker turned to leave. The other two Kraecs effortlessly shoved Owen aside to grab the ankles of their fallen teammate to drag him out of the cell. Tosh took the moment to slip away from Jack before he could grab her, rushing the aliens in what she hoped was a non-threatening threatening manner.

"No, leave him!" she screamed as loud as she could, allowing the sobs she couldn't cry to finally creep forward as she pounded on their body armor, kicking their metal-encased feet hard enough to ruin the leather of her boots. A loss, but worth it for the hysteria. "Don't you touch him!"

One of their hands pushed her away; they had to be enhanced by their body armor because there was no way those skeletal limbs were that strong. She ignored the caution, rushing the alien again. "Let him go! You've no right." Hair fell into her face, clouding her vision in a fog of jet black, but she shook it aside, not caring how disheveled she looked. Two pairs of hands grabbed her arms to pull her away. She could hear distant voices yelling her name, but she kicked on as the pair of aliens stepped away, carelessly dragging Ianto's body behind them, their passage marked by a shrinking stain of blood.

A Kraec cursed something in its native tongue, taunting her as the shield crackled back into life and separated Tosh and the alien by nothing more than a glimmering pink sheen. "You bastards," Tosh spat in reply, sagging into the arms of Jack and Owen. She didn't move until the aliens had rounded the corner of the hallway into the corridor and disappeared into the base without a second word.

Hastily she brushed the tears from her face; no time for crying, she'd do that later when they were back at the Hub. Tosh glanced about her, stuffing her hands into the deep pockets of her coat before stubbornly removing the last pin from her hair. The style was ruined at any rate and the pin had other uses. "Help me up," she said, taking a path to the far corner that side-stepped the stained tile in the middle of the room. She couldn't stomach that disrespect.

"Toshiko..." Jack's voice trailed off after following her line of sight. His countenance shifted immediately from protection to assistance and he stooped with his fingers locked in a small cradle. Tosh smiled in thanks before stepping into the basket, guiding herself up the wall as he gave her a boost. Owen lent a hand too, if the improper grope that could in no way be mistaken for support on her thigh was anything to judge. She ignored it - closest she'd gotten recently to having a lover outside her trusted dildo she'd named Gibson anyway - and jabbed the hair pin into the eye of the camera, flinching as sparks kissed her fingers but escaping relatively unharmed. After sucking on her fingertips she shook the sting off, letting Jack and Owen stabilize her as she stepped back to the tiled floor.

One problem solved. View the situation in its entirety - the pragmatic approach - break down the largest problem into tiny, manageable factors. Her first computer programming book had taught her that. One couldn't write a program on how to make an egg salad sandwich by instructing the computer to take some bread, spread some egg salad on it, and eat. Too many variables to identify, too many problems and equations to solve for a five-line piece of code. But when one broke it down, simplified each problem into an individual node to address with finite beginning and end statements, the solution was simple, really. Easy-peasy. One problem at a time.

Compartmentalizing spared Tosh her heartache; how Jack and Owen were managing she wasn't sure but they would have to manage some how. They didn't say anything, not for lack of trying but she simply couldn't think of anything to say as their attention was pulled to the chaos spilled on the floor, no discernible pattern that Tosh could identify just ... careless violence. Tosh glanced at Owen whose eyes darted to Jack - body rigid, his face expressionless - and back to the floor again, clearly as unwilling as Tosh to say anything which might crack either Jack or themselves. There was time later for grief; they had to escape and stop these Kraecs, because if Ianto was right ... well, of course Ianto was right. He was never wrong.

The thought of never made her swallow around the lump in her throat, refusing to acknowledge the quiet guilt of relief that she was alive. Knowing Owen had at times the emotional sensitivity of a blunt hammer dropped on Lalique crystal, Tosh moved first to break the silence. She touched Jack's arm, lightly, hoping to distract him from the bloody tiles.

He didn't move, didn't react. It was as though the touch never even registered.

Concerned, Tosh spoke up, her voice startling Owen for what it was worth. "Jack?" That got a response, though she wasn't prepared for the expression on Jack's face: brittle and shattered, sorrow in his eyes so powerful that she understood at once what it meant of Jack and of Ianto. It startled her so in its intensity that she almost wondered if Mary's necklace hadn't had a lingering effect on her mind. .

"You were lovers," Tosh stated rather than asked, flushing at the archaic term the romantic in her rather adored, but she didn't know what else to call them. Them. Jack and Ianto. Oh, she knew they were shagging, she'd the CCTV footage to prove it, and Owen had wages on the pair with Gwen - who topped, who gave orders, who blew who and if they swallowed. It wasn't the best kept secret at Torchwood Three, no matter how hard the two had tried to keep it such. But ... she'd never stopped to consider it more. It almost made her sad to think she'd never noticed, had never been able to show how happy she would have been for Ianto during all their talks of relationships. Well, the talks had been rather one-sided, she hadn't the best record and he listened remarkably well. And he always knew the best thing to say to leave her smiling with hope of finding that special someone.

She had been the opposite, resorting to bringing him coffee when she couldn't find the right words, or taking him to a concert or opera to get him away from everything dark and alien. The first time it'd been a lark; she'd won two tickets to Carmen on a radio quiz show and needed someone to join her, but after she had seen him enthralled, unashamed tears falling to his cheeks as the music swelled and ebbed, she took him again. And again. And each time, the same open, relaxed appreciation, the naked emotion so unlike the reserved Ianto. It was the least she could do, almost better than talking since he never did open up about his past. But she could watch his past play out when they sat dressed in formal black, programs forgotten on their laps as the maestro carried the music upon his baton and lost Ianto within the perfection of arias and concerti.

He'd never been to opera before, he admitted, had never heard live chamber music. She would have shared that with Jack had she known of their relationship, had Ianto told her anything at all. Tosh couldn't help but feel a bit angry with Ianto for that. Jack would have loved to have seen Ianto at the opera.

"I'm sorry, Jack," she softly offered instead, forcing a small smile to her lips as she squeezed her hands around the balled fist at Jack's side. He finally turned his gaze away from the floor, nodding once to Tosh before he wrapped his other hand around hers. Just a brief moment of acknowledgment before a terribly false mask slipped over his face, a smile so empty and plastic it would have made Tosh fearful for the aliens had her own sense of revenge not been just as fierce.

"So, plan. Sleeping with the guards is out. As is giving them any codes. Ideas?"

Owen's scowl had yet to leave his face, though Tosh knew it was more defensive than anything, the prickly quills of a hedgehog protecting the fragile skin beneath. She would have thought it cute if she presently didn't wish for such a permanent expression to hide her feelings. She'd never been good at hiding; luckily for her, no one chose to watch.

"Here." Tosh smiled, grim yet determined as she reached again into her pockets and withdrew the item she'd hid from the camera. She passed the weapon off to Jack, noting at first his disgust in handling the same weapon (make, maybe not the precise weapon as the aliens had all looked rather alike) before it slipped into surprised-confused-elation. "Palmed it off one of the Kraecs," she answered the unasked question, watching with private glee as his expression turned blank while he puzzled her words out, then transforming into a harried, yet true smile.

"Tosh, you're a genius." She blushed at his praise, not without a bit of pride. The hug surprised her, a warm, full-bodied hug which swept her off her feet and had Owen verbalizing his wonder at how the bloody hell she'd done it cause he hadn't seen it. Tosh clung to the greatcoat until Jack set her down, his laughter simultaneously warm and hollow. "Guards come back, we'll escape, recover the body, return to base-"

"Jack, we can't do that," Owen interrupted Jack, not surprising Tosh for being the voice of reason - a reason she wanted to both hate him for and thank. "We'll get ourselves killed trying to rescue a body. Ianto's dead, nothing we can do about that. We need-"

Whatever Owen had meant to say was silenced as Jack rushed at him. His hands fisted into Owen's shirt, shoving the doctor against the cell wall. Tosh winced as his head met the wall, though luckily the collision wasn't as hard as Tosh initially feared it would be. Jack must have held back at the last minute. "We're not leaving him behind!"

Owen's eyes narrowed, signifying the fight wasn't yet over and if Tosh were to be asked (which she wasn't), it meant he was just getting started. "Sod it all, Harkness, you're not thinking clearly," he spat back, struggling to free himself from Jack but the captain had far too many years of experience on his side. Tosh would have stepped in, but she'd have been rather ineffectual given their combined mass and irrational anger. She did move to retrieve the gun from Jack's hand, however. Just a quick movement; the alien weapon had been held awkwardly anyway as Jack was struggling to maintain his grip on Owen. A flash and she was back out of harm's way. Owen shot her a look of gratitude and she nodded in return; no sense accidentally killing Owen during their disagreement. "We've got to get the fuck out of here. Ianto said they-"

A rumble shook the floor; Tosh felt the tremor beneath her feet and deep within, more a sonic shake than an earthquake for all it threw off her sense of balance for a moment. Jack and Owen stopped fighting, at least, looking up and around like the answers were written on the ceiling or the floor.

Tosh rationalized the situation: zebra - perhaps Gwen had gotten word through to UNIT and they had struck the facility with a full-scale attack; horse - the building was actually a spaceship and was taking off with the three of them trapped on board.

Unsurprisingly, the hoof beats were neither.

Tosh had hoped her squeak wasn't a scream, but she rather thought it was as both men turned to look at her in earnest. Jack's hands fell from Owen to reach for her, then stepped in front as he saw the direction she was facing - out into the hall, down the corridor. He held his hand out flat behind him, motioning for the gun.

But then he stopped.

As did Owen.

As did Tosh's ability to breathe.

Her brain protested what she saw. There was no way to logically corroborate the visuals with reality but there was no mistake: it was Ianto striding down the hall in the same white dress shirt, black patterned waistcoat, and black, grey and white tie he'd worn that day. The same clothes he'd worn when he'd been killed. Killed. Dead. Shot through the head by a yellow laser beam. His blood still stained the floor in a coagulating mess of deepening red. He was dead.

Only, apparently he wasn't.

"Ianto?" Jack's shaky disbelief mirrored her own and Owen still hadn't moved from the wall; he stared slack-jawed, though in their line of work they should expect the unexpected. But even in their line of work people just didn't rise from the dead. Unless they were named Jack Harkness. Or Suzie. Actually, Torchwood saw far too many people rise from the dead. But not ...

Tosh blinked as her back hit the wall, not realizing she'd been stepping away from the shielded wall - matching Ianto's approach, though she wouldn't admit that - until she'd actually struck the immovable surface. There was something unusual about the way Ianto moved, something that didn't sit right, that brought to mind far too many zombie movies for her liking. As he paused in the middle of the long corridor, still not responding to Jack's query, she realized what it was. The usual fluid grace she'd always envied was gone. Instead, Ianto moved with almost calculated efficiency; his shoulders didn't move, his arms didn't swing, even his face was passive. It wasn't him. Not Ianto. She knew it couldn't be because Ianto, even with the straightest of faces his body still spoke, as did his eyes.

An impostor, then. Someone pretending to be Ianto.

An impostor who turned around and walked back to the far end of the corridor, firing bullets from a handgun that looked remarkably like Torchwood's at something shooting yellow lasers at him.

She would have been scared if she hadn't already sunk into terrified when the Kraecs had shot Ianto.

"Toshiko!" Jack snapped at her, holding his hand out for the gun and she turned it over without a second thought, though she almost wished she could take it back - not in doubt that Jack would fire the weapon at the quasi-Ianto, but that he would before they had any answers. And as much as she knew it wasn't their Ianto, an odd twitch shaking his facial features momentarily before resuming a passive expression, she desperately wished it was her friend, Jack's lover, and Owen's constant antagonist.

Tosh crept forward, standing between Owen and Jack as Ianto marched forward, no recognition or acknowledgement registered despite Jack's repeated attempts at questions and demands for information. The only deviation was the twitch she noted was constant, repetitive, like a tickle of a sneeze Ianto kept fighting off. But he was dead. Could he sneeze if he was dead?

She almost laughed, inappropriate as it was. She would have, if it wasn't Ianto staring at the gun in his hand while standing almost puzzled in front of the shielded room.

"He's dead. He's bloody dead. I checked him myself. No pulse, no breathing, and a fucking hole in his head!"

The blood was there to support Owen's claims, staining the floor and the pristine white collar of Ianto's shirt. But no exit or entrance wounds, least not that Tosh could see. And they had a good view too of the front, then the back of his head while Ianto turned his attention to the control panel, pausing to study it before punching in a code. The code, because the force field disappeared and Jack was out of the cell in a flash, alien weapon brandished quite comically for all it was the size of a small banana. Tosh had the sobering thought of knowing exactly the damage it was capable of and the amusement faded. Size didn't matter, in this case.

"Who are you? What've you done to Ianto?"

Tosh stepped anxiously into the hallway, eyes darting down the corridor, half expecting to see legions of Kraecs marching at them, weapons raised to block their escape. But none came, just a cloudy haze that might have been connected to the tremble they'd felt earlier or it might be completely unrelated. Ianto stood before them with his persistent twitch, a sight equally unexplained and unexpected. He hadn't even blinked at Jack's questions nor the weapon threatening him, just turned his attention back to the gun in his hands, turning it sideways before ejecting the magazine with the clipped efficiency Tosh had only seen in the older UNIT soldiers when they lent assistance to Torchwood. And on the rare occasion, Jack, discarding his old gun to handle the standard Torchwood semi-automatics that at the same time seemed too new and yet so ancient in his hands.

Apparently satisfied with whatever he was looking for, Ianto slipped the clip back into the gun, passing it off to a wary Owen. From behind his waistcoat, Tosh gasped in surprise. The man was once someone she trusted and now ... now she was torn between hoping it was him and knowing it wasn't as he held out Jack's Webley and her gun, patting his pockets after they'd accepted the weapons in uneasy silence before removing the electronics that had been in Tosh's coat pockets.

With a blush, she returned them quickly to those same pockets. Nice to have them back, but she could have done without the teasing she was sure would come from Owen eventually. Then again, she did have records of every porn site he visited; that was worth return blackmail at the very least.

"Sixty-two. Sixty-one."

Calm. Detached. The sound of Ianto's voice surprised her, not for sounding different, because it sounded so like Ianto that she could almost believe, despite what they had seen, that it really was him. But they were the first words he'd spoken, and he didn't appear to be inclined to say anything more as he watched them expectantly, his face contorting into a scowl every few breaths before returning to his expressionless stare. No, it wasn't so much a stare as steady watching, Tosh realized. Intrigued, she saw his gaze drift down to her feet, then back up again, his eyebrow arched in a look so much like Ianto's that she heard Jack's sharp intake as clearly as if he'd slowly enunciated 'what the hell?'

"Disadvantageous." Ianto remarked; Tosh took offense until she worked out that he meant her shoes. At least, she thought he did. She hoped he did. Not that she was self-conscious of her style, better than Gwen's unsophisticated street urchin look no matter what critique she'd overheard, but both Ianto and Jack had complimented her that morning. That morning. A lifetime ago, before the hackers and seeing the beauty that was Kusanagi and watching Ianto interact with her on levels she'd never thought possible, despite her years involved with Torchwood and the innumerable tech she encountered.

Raising her chin stubbornly, Tosh checked the weight of the gun in her hands and eyed the man who wasn't quite Ianto. "I get on well enough, thanks."

Jack snorted in soft laughter beside her; Ianto merely nodded sharply before twitching again. Seriously odd. "Forty-nine. Forty-eight." And with that said, Tosh watched as Ianto turned on his heel and proceeded to run down the hall with the same marked efficiency as earlier he'd walked.

"Oh my god. It's a countdown."

Tosh received two sets of stares from Owen and Jack before Jack made the decision for them, a grimace twisting his lips. His eyes widened just a fraction in the look that told Tosh that any laid plan was about to come unhinged. "Follow him!"

Aliens intent on consuming the earth's technology was the least of their concerns now as they raced down the hall following the path Ianto had taken, leading them into unknown areas of the facility and facing a countdown of unknown conclusion. He was waiting for them patiently at the door at the far end; when they caught up with him, he simply turned and opened the door, advancing without glancing back. Shrieks filled the air, a grating cacophony Tosh had heard in failing fan motors and worn car brakes, but when the three rushed through the door, it wasn't a sight she'd been expecting nor would soon forget, surfacing when she least expected it in her dreams, twisting them into nightmares of pain.

Kraecs littered the ground. More than just an advance ship, it seemed; they'd sent a small army. But at each station, technology blinking and whirring, a temptation Tosh was sorely reluctant to deny, lay a Kraec in a heap of red limbs and body armor. Their massive heads were weighted to the ground as their three arms struggled in futile efforts to push themselves up. It made sense, she realized, stopping with her gun raised, just in case. Their body armor, and the braces at their necks, of course, the explosion they'd felt. It must have taken out whatever powered their individual support structures. Maybe they were unable to adapt to earth's gravity, used to something lighter. Or maybe it had been an energy pulse resulting in an increased perceived gravity field. The idea was amazing; that armor technology could revolutionize how victims of spinal injuries moved, no longer confining them to wheelchairs.

"No time, Tosh." Owen startled her as he grabbed her arm, pulling her alongside him as they ran to catch up with Jack. It didn't take long; they both skidded to a halt half-way across the room, falling into line with the captain between them. And then they all three stared, because while they had seen Ianto Jones demonstrate remarkable grace and poise, they'd never seen him move without a serving tray of coffees in his hands. Jack might have, Tosh amended, given their relationship, but it must have been in a different sense than what they saw now, because he was as slack-jawed as Owen.

He ... it ... whatever Ianto now was, he was beautiful, she couldn't deny it. Where every movement had been articulated efficiency in his walk down the hall, this was as measured but fluid, each calculated strike bending and stretching into the next, poetry written in human physiology. Some of the Kraecs still stood, still threatened despite whatever had been done to damage their systems. Quite possibly it took a while for them to succumb or perhaps there were different types within their culture, like bees in a hive, their alien anatomy slightly different depending on their jobs, able to adapt for security purposes. It made no difference, Tosh realized as another Kraec fell in its attempt to stop Ianto or to flee the precision of his blows. A swift jab upwards caught one Kraec under the chin, forcing its head backwards, its skull pierced by its own supporting neckbrace. The action blended into an arching downward sweep in which he fired the alien's weapon behind him without so much a spared glance, the attacking Kraec crumbling in two parts to the floor as the yellow beam burned straight through the skinny neck and brace.

Tosh watched as Ianto acquired another weapon, two alien guns in his hands as he ran through the last quarter of the room. Back straight and head high, staring straight ahead, he slowed and quickened his pace in a tango with the Kraecs firing upon him. Their beams fell too soon or just past, failing every time to hit their intended target. Ianto returned fire, picking off the remaining Kraecs with frightening ease, not a single shot wasted or off target. He was clearing a path for them, she belatedly realized, her arms losing their taunt readiness as the thought drifted across her mind. Owen's gun lowered as well, not to his side but he must have had the same thought as their threats were eliminated. The Kraecs certainly weren't a danger to Ianto. He sprinted his way to the far door, ending his run with a spin that had him sinking to the floor, balanced artfully on one hand as his foot swung in a wide arc around him, perfectly maintaining his body's movement as a yellow beam passed over his head. His body never actually stopped, curving nearly double from his laid-out position to spring to his feet, firing his weapons before he'd landed to take out the last standing Kraec.

Beautiful and precise. But not their Ianto. Tosh knew Ianto, had joined him in the field, and while he may have possessed the grace of a cat - and be just as silent - she'd never seen him fight like that. She hadn't seen anyone fight like that.

"Impossible," Jack echoed Tosh's thoughts, his face far more open in incredulous recognition than Tosh had ever seen. "That's not possible."

"Twenty-seven. Twenty-six."

The numbers eerily rang clear in the still of the long room, the only other sounds the scrabbling attempts of the Kraecs still trying to stand, their enormous heads rooted to the ground. Ianto's voice seemed to pull the captain from whatever improbable thoughts he was thinking; Tosh knew she was better off not asking. Off running again, past bodies of Kraecs and technology she ached to get her hands on. Through the open door and down a hallway, chasing after Italian shoes and tailored trousers, they rounded a corner and raced down another corridor. An odd shadow of earlier events when they'd chased Ianto through the long-forgotten halls of Torchwood Three, only this time there were no steps and it was significantly better lit. Tosh struck her plans to run in the morning - she'd done enough for the week -.as they burst out of one door into the open night, surprisingly close to their SUV.

Ianto calmly waited in the driver's seat of the SUV with the engine rumbling. To Tosh he appeared calm (the occasional twitch aside) and she would have sworn he was a robot but for the quick rise and fall of his chest acknowledging the physical exertion required for the race through the alien facility. It made her feel a little better about trusting the being who couldn't be Ianto as she jumped into the SUV without hesitation, as did Jack and Owen, barely closing their doors before the tires screeched and they sped away from the building, past the vacant guard station and onto the road, blissfully empty given the time of night.

They'd not gone far when Ianto's voice was heard again, steady as he pushed the SUV to its speed limits; Tosh could feel the frame shake in protest. "Two. One."

The night lit up with fire behind them, a brilliant orange-red reflecting in the mirrors and off the windows, tingeing everyone's skin in a warm glow before the percussion blast followed, far enough away that the windows didn't shatter but Ianto struggled briefly to keep the vehicle on the road.

Silence spread through the car. Tosh settled her hands on her knees, drawing a deep breath to expel all the anxiety and nerves collected during their not-so-pleasant visit at the Kraec base and making a quick mental note to check the destruction of said facility - not that she believed anything could have survived that blast but there was always the chance. Owen's hand settled over hers, a quick, reassuring smile reminding Tosh why she still kept his picture on her fridge, there mostly to prove that he wasn't an insensitive arse all of the time, though the days he was vastly outnumbered the days he wasn't. She noted the gesture with a small nod of thanks before re-prioritizing her thoughts, rummaging in the backseat for the scanner she knew she had left there. She was just setting it to scan Ianto when the click of a gun distracted her from the readouts.

"Who the fuck are you?"

Trust Jack to threaten the man driving their vehicle. But Ianto didn't flinch away from the gun pointed at his head. Nor did he even blink, for what Tosh could tell, just kept his hands at ten and two while maintaining course.

"Jack, can your immortal thing, I don't know, rub off?"

"No," Jack growled at Owen; the question had crossed her mind too, and Tosh was rather glad she hadn't been the one to actually ask it. "Pull over immediately," he redirected at Ianto, nudging the barrel of his gun into Ianto's temple to signify the severity of his order. "And then you're going to tell me what the hell is going on here."

The SUV never slowed as it began weaving through the streets and sparse traffic of late-night Cardiff, headed towards their base, which was certainly odd because if it wasn't Ianto, then how would it know where the base was? The thought reminded Tosh of the scan she had been running and she couldn't help the gasp at what she saw. "That's not possible," she mumbled, hitting the scanner against the side of her hand and shaking it before rerunning the scan on Owen as a control subject. Not that she advocated violence against technology to encourage proper function, but sometimes it worked. On rare occasions. A loose wire she'd later have to solder back in place but right now she needed the device to work. And it was telling her it was working just fine, Owen was one-hundred percent Owen, down to the last molecules of Chinese take-away digesting in his stomach.

Disgusting.

"Tosh? Explain."

She cleared the memory and ran a new scan on Ianto, frowning when it came back with the same readings as before. A trickle of excitement curled around the thoughts and questions produced by the reports. "He's...completely human," she answered Jack's demand quickly before he changed his mind and decided to shoot Ianto while the vehicle was still in motion. "But it's not possible. Brain readings are completely abnormal, just a tiny ... speck ... of activity centralized in the cerebral cortex."

"What?" Owen grabbed the scanner from her, looking for himself because obviously she had failed her anatomy courses and had no concept of brain function. She settled for glaring at his lack of faith in her abilities, smirking when he had the same reaction. "Not only is that not bloody possible - not that coming back to life after being shot in the fucking head is possible - but Tosh is right. There's no activity in his brain stem. He shouldn't be alive, much less blowing up shite or driving this SUV."

"He does have that twitch, though," Tosh pointed out, watching Ianto's face spasm in near-sneeze again as she gratefully retrieved her scanner before Owen could drop it, damage it, or do any number of things she'd never believe possible to a piece of machinery. He drank coffee over his keyboard for gods' sake. No respect for the delicate nature of technology.

"You're saying he's completely human?" Jack still hadn't moved the gun from Ianto's head, but Ianto hadn't deviated either, continuing to drive them to the base with a single-minded determination.

"According to this, yes." Tosh shrugged, studying the reports again. "No signs of implants or signals indicating outside control. Standard cellular activity, an elevated number of antibodies and a high white blood cell count but no indication of infection or illness. Blood pressure's normal, cholesterol's low. Perfect health, really. We'll have to run a DNA match on a blood sample once we get back to the Hub to make sure it's him, but he is human, despite the atypical brain activity."

It didn't seem proper, talking about Ianto as though he weren't in the vehicle with them. But as Tosh's mind so helpfully pointed out, he really wasn't in the vehicle, at least not as she knew him. She glanced at Jack who shared an inexplicable look with her (if asked, she would have qualified it as helpless, but Jack was never helpless) then Owen. But Tosh didn't have anything to comment, and it seemed the others didn't either. Without any better solution to the situation, Tosh settled back into her seat and fastened her seat belt.



Ianto's head snapped up, a thought crossing his mind as pieces fell into place. Theirs was a hybrid system, a blending of earth-born technology and sentient life. Code didn't just spontaneously change into random binary, dwindle into Swiss cheese until even the simplest of hacks could breach their systems. Not with Torchwood's mainframe. Common earth programming was built on top of a thinking being; it wouldn't lose cohesion like gelatin exposed to heat. The personal computers, the hardware and relatively simple operating systems, they could be affected for certain by a virus brought in by a careless user (Owen's recent demonstration of a corrupted video game was a prime example, Tosh still hadn't forgiven him for that blunder). However, it couldn't affect the underlying base code entwined with alien consciousness. It couldn't happen.

At least, it shouldn't.

"Fuck." Ianto's mind finally clicked over to an answer he didn't particularly care for. He knew full-well how compromised their systems could already be and what that could mean to Torchwood Three and everybody still within, tucked away far below the surface with limited escape routes should Kusanagi fail.

It was purely his quick reflexes that saved him from ending up in a tangled heap upon the floor, one hand flailing and striking an object he could hold on to when his body turned, yet didn't move as it should have.

With a scowl more confused embarrassment than anger, Ianto let go of the couch arm rest and unfolded his legs, trying to place how the hell he'd ended up on the couch when he so clearly remembered standing next to Tosh's computer monitor reading the scrolling output of her system scan. Annoying, but lost in thought he might have sat down for a moment to think matters through; he'd done it before and it'd more than likely happen again.

He stood, straightening his waistcoat in an attempt to restore what dignity he had left after that resounding failure of grace before speaking. "Jack, we need to-" Ianto's teeth clacked with the force of his jaw closing, fingers frozen mid-tug on his sleeve cuff. Warily his eyes drifted over the barrels of three guns, all aimed at him. Slowly he raised his hands, wondering if perhaps whatever had infected Kusanagi had somehow mutated and jumped to a human-borne contagion. It was possible. Anything was possible. "Jack, what's going on?"

Ianto glanced at Gwen, the only one without a gun, and felt a glimmer of hope. If there was an infection in the Hub, a pathogen of sorts that could infect both Kusanagi and human alike, he'd have to act fast before he too was overwhelmed. Initiate lock-down if those procedures were still functioning. Maybe Gwen could disarm Owen, she was closest to him, and turn the situation to their favor, though Jack might as well count for a legion for all his experience. Not overwhelming odds, rather they were infinitesimally bleak. But Ianto still had to try.

"Who the hell are you?" Jack's question drew Ianto away from his calculations of bullet vectors and distances from the multiple computers within the Hub, none of which favorable to his person but Owen's offered the greater chance of lock-down success.

"Ianto Jones," he enunciated clearly, the situation instantly shifting now that a new variable had been introduced. Amnesia as well? Or was there a more permanent consequence? Memory being erased, like Retcon? Fuck, what if somehow they had been Retconned en masse as part of the incursion? "And you are Captain Jack Harkness. Toshiko Sato is to your left, Owen Harper on your right, and Gwen Cooper is on his right." Ianto waited a beat, watching for any sign of recognition on Jack's face, but it was as stony as before.

"What are you?"

"Human," Ianto drawled, both amused and disturbed by the question. "Just as you. I understand that you're confused," he held up what he hoped was a placating hand, glancing at Gwen to determine if she was in thrall as the others or if she would be of assistance; her increasingly confused expression negated any hope. His odds just rapidly decreased from non-existent to 'not a chance in hell.' Shifting tactics once again, he focused on Jack, hoping that the amnesia or whatever it was hadn't completely eaten away at his mind that all emotional connection to Ianto was lost. The notion pained Ianto, but he'd deal with that later. "But I need you to trust me. I can make things right, I just need you to put the guns away. There's something wrong with the computers. I can fix that before it's an even larger problem, and then we can find out why you don't remember me."

Jack opened his mouth to speak but Ianto cut him off, knowing that time was rapidly slipping away. "I'm not a threat, I promise you. You can even monitor me while I work. But our systems have been compromised and that could get ... very bad," he finished, keeping it simple and not adding that their personnel had been compromised as well. No need to scare the people with guns.

"You mean the systems you already fixed?"

Ianto stared at Jack in confusion, then to Tosh who looked less threatening but as assured as Jack. "That's ... not possible." He tried to read the monitors from where he stood; but most of the data appeared unrelated to the problem with the intruders and decaying system. Shaking his head, he quickly re-evaluated his re-evaluation. Whatever was causing the amnesia, maybe it had a self-protection clause, something of a defense mechanism. "Jack, I promise you, I haven't touched anything. If I don't get down to Kusanagi, it's just going to get worse. You're going to get worse. Trust me. I can fix this, I just need you to lower your gun."

"Ianto." Tosh's voice surprised him, and he reluctantly gave up his focus on Jack to look at her, hoping Jack wouldn't shoot him while his attention was elsewhere. "What time is it?"

Frowning, Ianto answered quickly. "Half-five." He might be off a few minutes, but given the time spent on the walk from the Archives plus the span spent investigating the troublesome hackers, it couldn't be much beyond that.

Tosh relaxed visibly; Ianto hadn't been expecting that. He was glad that her gun lowered, but her expression unnerved him - it simply wasn't the lost, paranoid amnesiac who was acting under influence of an outside source. And that was very, very wrong. "Check your watch," she replied, gesturing with her head towards his watch, partially hidden by his sleeve cuff.

He'd be lying if he denied the nervous flutter in his stomach as he glanced at his watch, then tugged the sleeve away so he could read the face unobstructed. "What...?" Ianto's eyes shot back to Tosh, searching her face for an explanation. It could be a trick; while he was trying to understand the problem with Torchwood Three's computer system perhaps they had messed with his watch. But that made little sense. For what purpose would they be playing this kind of trick on him, even unwell? He looked at Jack but he couldn't read the man's expression. Over eight hours were missing. It wasn't possible. Raising his hand in silent query for movement he hopefully wouldn't get shot for, he kept one eye on Jack while he patted his pockets for his mobile, needing additional proof. The signal bounced off a tower, it would be harder to alter the time. Not impossible - Tosh was good and he wouldn't underestimate her - but he needed confirmation.

The face of his mobile read the same time. Nearly two in the morning.

His heart tripped a beat, for the first time noticing a stain on the back of his sleeve, brown-red in color. He'd know that color anywhere, he'd taken enough of Jack's clothes to the cleaners to have the blood stains removed. But he couldn't remember how it got there, ever cutting himself or any of the team getting injured, and most of all, he couldn't place the past eight hours. He couldn't remember fixing the systems. He couldn't remember any of it. He looked from Jack to Tosh, then swung his gaze to Owen and Gwen, none of them giving him any quarter. Finally he went back to Jack, simply because the man knew him better than anyone on the team, and more importantly, would give him truth, even if it hurt. There was a reason why Jack and Owen's guns were still aimed at him. "Jack? What's happened? Have I ... have I hurt someone?" God, that was the worst thought, but it would explain the blood.

"Fuck, you really don't remember." Ianto's attention snapped to Owen, who, to his surprise, lowered his weapon and clicked the safety before tucking it into the waistband of his jeans. "Jack, let me run some scans, take some blood samples. If he's our tea-boy, I'll confirm it." Ianto rolled his eyes at Owen's comments, then realized that might not be the best response given the situation. It was just instinctual with Owen, though.

"What. Are. You?" Jack's growl threw Ianto back to the days of deceit and betrayal, Lisa run amok and her humanity destroyed, threats and accusations and the same fractured trust. He could remember every word, every swear and breath from that day.

He rather wished he couldn't. "Jack-" Ianto's eyes widened as the captain approached, two hands supporting his Webley until it pressed firmly against his forehead.

"Jack, maybe we should-"

"Not now, Gwen!" Ianto swallowed, trying to get some moisture to his dry lips as Jack shouted at Gwen in a mirror to that day. Would he never get out from behind Jack's gun? Those blue eyes, so fierce and betrayed before narrowed on him again. "We watched you die." The words were nearly spat, and Ianto forgot all about his dry mouth as he tried to comprehend what Jack was saying. "A Kraec shot you through the head and we watched.you.die."

"A Kraec? Kraecs are here?" Everything else fled his mind for a moment as Ianto processed the name and panicked appropriately. "Jack, they've got to be stopped. They feed on data. They'll consume everything on Earth, throwing us back decades and laying ruin to everything storing even the smallest fraction of data." Ianto's brain caught up with him, their system's problems finally making sense. "And with access to Kusanagi they'll have every piece of information we have on Earth computers, every hack Tosh has done into security systems worldwide, not to mention alien tech, worlds; they'd have a roadmap to-"

Ianto heard his own voice taper off as a choked gasp was audible over Jack's shoulder. Tosh's hand clamped firmly over her mouth, where the sound originated then. Although it might have been Owen; he could see the whites of Owen's eyes and that was quite the disturbing sight. The gun shook against his forehead, drawing his attention back to Jack who'd lost most of the anger, lips no longer the thin, pressed line but slack and open in disbelief. Or maybe it was horror. Or ... something else. Ianto didn't want to hope.

"We know. You told us that." Jack's voice was volumes lower than it had been before, when his rage had blasted it off every surface. Now it was just above a whisper, crawling just the positive side of audible. "Exactly that. Right before you died." Ianto still couldn't understand that thought, there must have been a mistake. But Jack didn't stop this time, his voice rising as he kept talking. "And then you came back and killed them all." The gun returned, pressing against his forehead so forcefully Ianto knew there'd be indentations left for hours, if not a bruise in the shape of the barrel. "Where'd you learn to fight as the Clan of Rivtams?"

"Who?" Ianto held himself perfectly still beneath the weight of the gun, for the most part. It was complete instinct that made him shift, just slightly, leaning back to get away from the gun, but Jack followed until Ianto finally gave up, shoulders slumped and his head shaking despite the Webley. "There must be some mistake. I didn't die. Maybe they made you think I died." He pointed an accusing finger at Jack. "You can't die - are you sure it didn't rub off?"

Owen snorted in what must have been laughter, or else Ianto reasoned the good doctor was coming down with something dreadful. Probably alien. The Archives were full of alien contagions dangerous to humans. Maybe the Kraecs had brought something to Earth. Gods, they could have a pandemic on their hands in no time.

"You had an odd tick." Tosh chimed in, trying to be helpful Ianto knew but her words left little comfort. "When you came back. And you came back here and just sort of ... stopped." She smiled and Ianto couldn't help but smile weakly in return, the continual threat of Jack killing him still too pressing a matter to make it a true smile. He knew how the story ended: he came-to back on the couch and lost the eight hours in which he apparently died, rose from the dead, and killed all the Kraecs.

Unless.

Huh.

Something must have shown in his face, some sort of recognition, because Jack was intense and in his face again, demanding answers. But he could hardly make out the words around the ringing in his ears. He had to get away from Jack and move. And Ianto did, brushing him aside (Jack really wouldn't have shot him, would he?) to pace back and forth in the small area not occupied by the others. To and fro, back and forth, over and over while he tried to get his mind around what happened. It made a bit of sense, but not entirely. His hand rubbed over his jaw, the scratch of evening stubble just tickling his fingertips. Very human stubble. Alive and breathing human, growing stubble.

"I am human." Ianto felt the need to reaffirm, because somewhere in the mix he felt the threads of humanity slipping away as inhumane things kept popping up to refute that claim. Although Jack shouldn't be one to talk about what defined humans. The man couldn't die. "A hexam data chip came through the Rift in Cardiff, was transferred to Torchwood One for translation."

"You came with the data chip." Owen interrupted, pointing at him. "Brought it with you from a future time."

Ianto's expression of disgusted disdain at the idea didn't even have to be forced. Came with a simple hexam data chip through the Rift? Well, he supposed stranger things had happened at Torchwood, but still, the notion was insulting. "No. The data was fed into London's mainframe, it contained the entire history and culture of the Rivtams, including their training and study."

"And you learned their entire method - something that won't even be developed for a thousand years because evolution hasn't developed the mind to that stage - by poking around on your computer during coffee breaks?" If Jack's mocking expression didn't prove his disbelief, then the tone of his voice certainly did. Ianto couldn't blame him; the Clan of the Rivtams devoted a lifetime to their art and method, a mathematical perfection of science and kinesis.

"No. I didn't." Ianto denied Jack's accusation easily, rushing forward with anticipations of the captain's true suspicions. "And no. I did not train as some elite assassin-style Torchwood One agent, nor am I from the Rivtam's time or any other ridiculous notion you might get in your head."

Ianto had pointed at Jack in exasperation, but Tosh's "oh my god!" cut through the Hub, distracting him from the full effect or Jack's response. He froze, watching as Tosh stepped forward, albeit warily, right into his personal space. If it hadn't been Tosh he would have stepped away, but he could see understanding in her eyes and fuck if she didn't know. Ianto supposed if anyone were to figure it out, it would be her, no disrespect to Jack meant; Jack knew him about as intimately as a person could know another. She didn't stop at just the invasion of personal space, touching his face and then placing a palm over his heart in a physical demonstration that would have left him squirming in embarrassment (as Tosh would more than likely be later), if it weren't Tosh.

Brilliant Tosh, never meeting a piece of technology she couldn't understand or a computer she couldn't hack. Ever so clever Tosh, but exceedingly naive if she couldn't feel Jack's irritation as he crossed his arms and stared at the two of them. Not in jealousy, though Ianto did wonder how Jack had reacted upon his death in a sort of dark, twisted curiosity. No, it was far more the stubborn Harkness who had just had his 51st century knowledge and Time Agent experience trumped by a mind from the 21st century. That had to sting his ego.

"But...how?" She seemed to realize at that moment that she was still touching him, her eyes dropping to the ground as she backed away with an apology. Joining the line of the confused, though her confusion was far different from Gwen's, Owen's, and Jack's, she repeated her question with a bit more confidence. "How?"

Ianto hadn't a clue how to even begin to form an answer, much less an explanation of why he didn't die. Oh, he knew how, but the why still escaped him a bit. "The Battle of Canary Wharf was fought on two fronts within Torchwood One."

"The Daleks and the Cybermen."

He nodded at Jack's interruption, resuming his pacing while Jack answered Gwen's question as to what a Dalek was with a certain ferocity and hatred Ianto wouldn't have expected from someone who hadn't partook in the Battle. He supposed everyone had their scars. The voices escalated and dwindled to nothing, the lull bringing Ianto to a stop as the others stared. "I could put on coffee, or maybe fetch something stronger?"

"Ianto." That was the first time he'd heard Jack say his name since the evening had spiraled down into the depths of every hellacious fiery level of 'ballsed up' short of Torchwood One's blunder. He spared a glance at Jack, reassuring himself that when he and Jack talked at whatever point Jack would speak with him again, there would be whisky. Perhaps lots of it. But the threat was understood; no disobeying, continue on with the explanation and quit avoiding.

"Both the Daleks and the Cybermen had their own objectives, and both found out about London's mainframe." Jack's knowing swear was in a language not to be known by Earth until years in the future, but Ianto understood the sentiments perfectly. "Exactly. The mainframe contained more data and was far more complex than the system here; Kusanagi is just far too young yet to compare. If either had gotten their hands on it..." Ianto shook his head, reorganizing his thoughts. "Many lives were lost, defending the entrances to the mainframe, but the agents were exterminated or upgraded, I suppose." Ianto didn't miss Jack's flinch that time. He'd ask about that later. "There were security measures guarding the doors, but the twin invasions were shredding them like paper."

"So what, you ran off with some of the mainframe?" Gwen asked, thankfully before Owen could get his jab in about Lisa that Ianto knew was on the tip of his tongue. But Tosh spoke up before he could say anything more to waylay Owen.

"He is the mainframe."


The eruption of denials and implausibilities were remarkably few, Ianto noted, limited only to Gwen and Owen. Of course, there were only five in the Hub, including him, and Tosh had already puzzled out the answer. And Jack...Jack stared, silent with temper simmering just below the surface of his crossed arms and scowl. While Gwen, Owen, and Tosh vocalized the arguments pro and con, Ianto pleaded with Jack to believe. Jack dared him to deny, never once speaking a word which would have been lost anyway amidst the other three's voices.

"You're telling me Ianto's a computer."

Ianto didn't look away from Jack, speaking to him even though he was answering Gwen's statement which most certainly couldn't be left unanswered. "I'm human."

"But Tosh says you're the mainframe from Torchwood One."

With a sigh, Ianto ran a hand through his hair, stopping immediately when he encountered resistance in the strands, as he tried to figure out how to explain or what to even explain. He shouldn't have to defend his existence to Gwen or any of them, but he was being backed into a corner he didn't appreciate. "There was no escape for London's mainframe, physically trapped within the confines of her room, so she created her mobile escape. Me."

"So you're a machine."

"Oi, he's no machine. Don't be questioning my integrity as a doctor." Ianto glanced at Owen who was tapping his chin in thought, almost thankful for the reassertion that he was, in fact, human. Of course, it was Owen, and within the span of a breath Ianto was reminded why he and the doctor weren't the best of friends. "If that's true, why the cyber-girlfriend in our basement?"

Ianto glanced at Jack, knowing the question was more than likely on the man's mind as well. On the surface, it didn't make much sense protecting and hiding the very being that he had been created to escape. "She was ..." He struggled to put it into words, explaining feelings in terms that made sense when he could barely make sense of them himself. "Lisa was the lead technician for London's systems, working years on the programming within the heart of the mainframe." Ianto cringed at how that sounded, how impersonal and detached when it had been so much more. "She was the only one I knew. And I knew her on levels ... she had written code that had become a part of me."

Gwen gasped, and Ianto looked at her in confusion. "You loved her," she answered his unspoken question.

Ianto looked at the others in hopes of figuring out what part of the conversation he was missing; Gwen had been there that horrible day, she had seen him - fuck she had seen him weep for Lisa. To say he was dumbfounded was an understatement. "You were there." It was easy to sink behind the flat voice and blank expression, retreating to the pain-free appearance that had been second nature for so long. Too easy. But at the same time, there was safety in the moderate tone and apathy. He might as well have been asking how she'd take her coffee or advising an umbrella for a Weevil hunt instead of defending his actions or the motivations driving him to save Lisa.

"But you were created by a computer."

If he hadn't already found his mask, the numbing cold washing over him - innocent in Gwen's honest confusion but a pain more fierce than he'd felt at the hands of the cannibals - firmly established the rigid, emotionless contours of his face. So many definitions of pain. In a mere two years he was learning them all. "Of course. That would render me incapable of emotion." Ianto smiled emptily at Gwen, somewhat pleased when he saw the confusion drift into what appeared to be awareness of what she'd said. Maybe. Maybe he really didn't feel like she did - perhaps he was innately incapable of understanding what 'true' humans felt - and he was messing up his interpretation. The thought of getting it wrong was nearly as horrifying as the belief he was unable to feel. "If you'll excuse me, I need to shower; I have blood drying most distastefully in my hair."

He turned on his heel, ignoring Gwen's stammered apologies and Jack's orders to stop. What would Jack do, shoot him? Might be mercy; demonstrate to Gwen that he could feel. Demonstrate to them all that he was as human as they when he cried in pain because of the injury. Maybe he'd die again, if he truly died at all. That did make him wonder: could he die? He'd never considered it a question before. The fear he'd felt for his own life while the man held a cleaver to his throat, that had been real. If he feared for his life, then there would have to exist the possibility of cessation to that life. The mainframe hadn't told him that, hadn't bothered leaving a life handbook when she poured all that she was into him to continue existing and to protect the secrets she kept.

He was still learning what it meant to be him. As far as he was concerned, that made him as human as any of the team.

Ianto had made it so far as the corridor when Tosh caught up with him, her high-heels clicking her approach before he could smell her perfume. He slowed, then stopped, leaning with one shoulder against the stone wall. It was cold, but for some reason, it felt that much more solid beneath his touch. "How you have managed not to break an ankle in all your years at Torchwood is beyond me," he drawled, crossing his arms over his chest as she approached.

Tosh smiled up at him, an honest smile that had him relaxing into the wall. "Apparently you didn't approve earlier either." Ianto didn't have to ask when it was she meant, he just hoped he hadn't said anything rude. "Gwen didn't mean that, not like it sounded. She just ..."

Tosh's voice trailed off as she hopelessly tried to apologize for their coworker. Ianto took pity on her and waved a hand, brushing it off. "It's not every day you learn that one of your team isn't quite as you'd expected."

"We capture aliens; this shouldn't be so difficult to accept. I know you," Tosh's hand on his arm surprised him, but when he jerked at the touch, she just curled her fingers around his wrist. "You grieved for Lisa. You mourned Jack and you love him."

This time he did try to pull away, denial for what she said quick on his tongue. Not that he didn't, at least, he thought he did. But Jack was Jack, as elusive and untamed as the wind. He knew better than to completely lose himself in the captain, and he had no doubts that the reverse was true in whatever sense Jack cared for him. So he enjoyed, and he loved in quiet moments when no one else was looking. Loving Jack was like that: nameless and victimless because neither party suffered if the other never knew. Jack never knew Ianto cared too much and Ianto never knew just how little Jack cared. But Tosh said different and the thought made Ianto desperately wish to be that unfeeling lump of cold machinery.

"You love him and us as well. Back at the Kraec facility, you were brilliant." She smiled and kept her hand locked firmly around his wrist; Ianto had the uncomfortable image of Tosh coming at him with a soldering iron, tweezers, and bits of wire the next time he cut himself. Irrational, but the thought did cross his mind at the look in her eyes, all excited like Christmas and birthday rolled into one. "The laser they shot you with, it must have corrupted the processes in your mind, reducing you to some primary functions. You rigged the place to detonate, rescued us, then defended our escape." He flushed at the thought; he had no memory of the events, but Tosh spoke with such vibrancy he couldn't help but be embarrassed by what he was sure would never happen again. He wasn't the person of whom she spoke. "Ianto, I ran a scan in the SUV. Only a small fraction of your mind was functioning, but you protected us at every risk to you."

Ianto made a mental note to grab the scans from Tosh's device to study later. That is, if he wasn't jumped in the middle of the night by some operation and hauled off to a lab somewhere, a situation entirely possible now that people knew. Not that he doubted his Torchwood team, but when the secret was self-contained, it was manageable. "You're not alarmed by any of this?"

"I think it's neat." At Ianto's questioning look, Tosh smiled up at him and he couldn't help but snort in amusement. Leave it to Tosh to find a computer for a brain neat. Still chuckling as Tosh gave him a hug, Ianto placed a kiss on the top of her head, almost reluctant to let go. He was human. He felt. Touch meant something and Tosh's hug meant more to him right at that moment than a thousand platitudes. "Besides," Tosh continued, head still tucked under his chin, "if you can reboot, then I never have to watch Jack lose you again."

"I appreciate your efforts." Ianto turned his smile into Tosh's hair, gently rubbing a hand over her back as she continued to squeeze his sides until he feared just slightly of asphyxiation. "But you don't have to lie. Trust is a fragile, yet vital creature at Torchwood Three and I just keep breaking it, don't I?"

"They'll come around. They're Torchwood." Tosh's radiant, knowing grin turned full on him, and Ianto would have flinched even if she hadn't jabbed him in the ribs. He crossed his arms again, leaning against the wall while he rubbed his side in mock pain. "And so are you. You're part of us, no matter how you were born. Just can't say I won't feel odd working with Kusanagi. She's basically your grandmother."

"I suppose, never really thought of that." He cocked his head in thought, seriously having never considered the notion before that he might actually have family. Physical family, not just metaphoric. Finally realizing how long he must have been staring off into the stone nothings of Torchwood, Ianto gave Tosh a quick smile. "Go on, they'll be sending rescue parties for you soon."

"Ianto, they don't-" Ianto arched an eyebrow, daring her to argue that he wouldn't be perceived as a threat for at least the immediate future. He'd be lucky if he was even allowed home. Torchwood Standard Protocol. She finally relented, albeit reluctantly. "Right. Well, I'll make sure they don't attempt to make coffee while you're away."

"I won't take long, Owen can survive on instant until then. And Tosh? Thanks." And Ianto meant it, too, for that glimmer of hope that things weren't entirely fucked. He watched as she turned away with a small wave, heading back to the Hub where everything had changed and he certainly hadn't been ready for it. How could he be - even the wisest philosophers still argued over what it meant to be human.


The showers at Torchwood Three were perfectly suited to the old stone structure, speaking more about its character than ever could be contained in history books or memory chips. It was really nothing more than a massive room with bare pipes running along the walls. Nothing fancy, nothing spectacularly tiled or even remotely bright. But it fit the Cardiff branch, with its numerous half-walled stalls and a few mismatched benches to rest one's belongings. No separate men's and women's, just a unisex showering area where the team had mad-scrambled on more occasions to wash alien goo or sludge or other various disgusting (and occasionally harmful) elements from their bodies. There were no curtains; Gwen had attempted that for a while for sake of modesty, but the combination of alien and damp had destroyed them in a week's time.

They had been ugly, at any rate. Though Jack had seemed particularly attached to the one with ducks. Ianto hadn't questioned it, had even played along once when Jack had insisted on shagging him against the curtain, but really, an odd attachment.

There were no curtains anymore, though that had hardly stopped Jack and him from enjoying occasional moments. It was with forlorn regret that Ianto removed his tie and quickly shed the rest of the clothing. He should have told Jack long ago, told him the truth. But secrets were their specialties, and there really had never been a good way to bring up the subject. Not that Ianto knew how best to tell Jack that he wasn't born of man and woman. It had never really mattered, not with Jack, who still forgave him even after Lisa. Everything had been so new, so brilliant, and he'd crashed just as hard knowing love (as much as he could identify 'love' - that's what he assumed it was supposed to feel like) and having it stripped away. Everything was just so much more than he had ever conceived possible through definitions and descriptions.

Ianto snorted at his melancholy and stepped into a shower stall, turning the heat on full to begin melting away all the blood he could feel caked in his hair and drying on the back of his neck. Even that - the smell of blood chemically identified through the odor of iron - was more than he'd expected once he'd become aware of self and person. The sounds of terror and smells of abject horror were his first experiences, his first steps dancing over bodies he named from personnel files and dodging weapons fire. His first word had been a cry upon finding Lisa, mid-conversion.

If he thought about it hard enough, he could remember his first actions had been to destroy. But those were tucked away, hidden from conscious thought. He didn't like to remember those days; he didn't suppose any of the survivors did.

But was he truly a survivor when he'd nothing to survive from? Ianto had emerged from the battle of Canary Wharf, no prior existence to base a conquering idea, even if survival for some had simply meant victory over death. The mainframe was a victim as well as a survivor, he supposed, living on as breathing history. But it wasn't so much a shared reality, Ianto never got the impression that there was much of anything of the mainframe's persona actually left within his mind. But she had passed on her knowledge through her sacrifice, and with that she still lived.

Not so different from humans, the Torchwood One mainframe. She saw the continuation of her life through her progeny and the lasting words of history. Quite literally, with all her data stored within his mind.

A mother's gift.

Mother. He'd never really understood the familial bonding of those around him and he took great pains to never consider it in great detail. Too great a reminder of who he was and what he wasn't - human in all aspects even down to the belly button created not because it ever had a function, only to blend in - but sometimes he wondered if he didn't miss something essential, something pure that gave everyone else an advantage as far as the human experience. Like chasing the wind, though Ianto knew technically that action was possible given the proper technology. Which only meant he could embrace humanity, having captured the wind.

And then there were nights like these that reminded him so harshly of the fallacies within that thought. Ianto slumped against the stone of the shower, arms bracing his body while the chill against his forehead provided sharp contrast to the heat cascading down his back. He'd meant what he said: he was human. He bled, he breathed, he felt, just like everyone else. And yet he'd ... rebooted. Engaged in a full system restore from a prior point in time. The concept was as nauseating as it was thrilling, provoking more questions about his true existence than he had ever consciously engaged.

"You lied to me." Jack's voice tangling with the steady spray of water startled Ianto from his thoughts, though he carefully made no movement to indicate any surprise; it'd just encourage the man to attempt it again. Ianto's fingers curled into the stone, partnered with a sigh buried by the shower, but he otherwise gave no indication as to the effect of the words.

"I thought it would lend further credence to my humanity. Isn't that what humans do? Lie?" Ianto shoved himself away from the wall but ignored Jack, reaching for the shampoo instead to build a lather in his hair. His fingernails scratched his scalp in an attempt to scour the taint of lingering fear away. Kraecs. On earth. He wasn't sure whose fear it was that cried panic at the notion, his or traces of the mainframe. Of course, it could also be the presence of Jack, an undefined variable in the equation of his life. Ianto was no fool; Jack currently held the power in the situation. He was Torchwood, Ianto knew what had been done to things inhuman, but also knew of Jack's rebellion against Torchwood Standard Operations. Hell, it'd been half the reason Ianto had sought him in the first place, hoping that what compassion existed in Jack for the unexplained might be exerted on him should he ever be discovered.

Of course, Ianto hadn't counted on falling into bed with the man, betraying him on levels possibly superseding his compassion. Failures on all levels, the instinctual desire to self-protect cobbled in lust and passion.

Then again, that was quite human as well.

"You'd never been camping."

Ianto closed his eyes, turning his face into the spray and choked back the bark of laughter which might have been closer to hysteria with the tension raising with the steam in the room. Of all the instances to quote, Jack picked the Brecon Beacons as the source of a lie - not the falsified Torchwood files or tidbits of family history that didn't exist but Ianto wished had. He'd built an entire past for himself on the off-chance that someone might ask, so real and inviting that he could almost envision what his father looked like. Or himself as a child attending the cinema. He could almost remember the feel of being cradled in his mother's arms, rocked to sleep by a lullaby, a comforting peace built on a memory of the one occasion Jack had done the same, after the Beacons, after Ianto's glossy fantasy world of humanity was devastated by the ugliness of its worst.

He'd felt pain. Physical pain.

He'd been surprised by how much it hurt.

And Jack had sung him a lullaby, rocking him to sleep when Ianto's mind couldn't stop circling around the pain and the shock of just how rotten humanity could smell.

"You'd never had sex before, either."

Dropping his head, Ianto let the patter of thousands of droplets beat a garbled rhythm into his head, pounding a steady message in near binary if Ianto listened, zeros and ones in the hit and empty space. He wondered what the water would say, if it could speak through the slotted fixture giving it voice. Denial, probably, crying that words of omission were not lies, just vacancies in truth. Ianto could almost hear them, poking holes in Jack's statement. He hadn't lied, he'd spoken truth when he'd said he'd never had sex with a man prior to that night with Jack. Too much whisky, too many 51st century pheromones, too heady to resist. Jack was mourning, Ianto was empathizing, and Ianto couldn't stop the finger that brushed aside the tear rolling down Jack's face nor the hardening of his cock when Jack licked the tear from his finger. He knew the definitions of sex. He understood the mechanics. Hell, he'd seen the pornography and touched himself to orgasm.

He hadn't lied; he'd never been with a man. But he'd never been touched before, never had hands upon him, skin sliding over sweat-slicked skin in desperate attempts to bury the past through consuming present. He didn't know he'd come embarrassingly quick, didn't understand Jack's pleased smile as he swallowed Ianto's semen without hesitation, only to proceed with a slow, intense fuck that had led to Ianto screaming into the pillow as he came again. Oh, Ianto understood now the source of Jack's grin, the man's pride at his skills in bed no quiet matter and really quite founded on fact. And Ianto had learned some measure of restraint and control.

He just never fully explained why.

"You were born into the worst of Torchwood's arrogance, with the knowledge of the extent of human fault and the enormity of time and space."

Ianto couldn't deny it, even though he never stopped to contemplate the extent of his own mind. His apparent skills with the Clan of the Rivtam's style of fighting a perfect example, data contained but never accessed, stored away useless until fear and desperation in light of the Kraecs drove him to locate the information. At least he assumed; he couldn't recall any of the events or even how to fight in their method. The style was there, somewhere, filed away in compartments, accessible if he remembered to call upon it.

His mind was as organized as the best-labeled Archives, and just as sealed off and partitioned. Ianto occasionally toyed with the notion of seeing everything, accessing everything at once, but even that seemed overwhelming. A pursuit in foolishness and what Ianto believed most likely insanity. It wasn't for him, it wasn't meant for him, not as a mere human when the mainframe had been so much more. But the data was there. He knew it as well as he knew every page of reference books across the globe and throughout the universe, dictionaries of every tongue and literature by every author.

Reaching for the soap and flannel, Ianto worked the bar into a lather before running it over his chest, letting the suds spill over his fingertips as he ran it down first one arm, then the other in an effort to wash away the evening. He didn't know how to respond; both affirmation or denial felt like lies in his head so he just rubbed the cloth over his skin, relishing the sensation as it buffed away skin cells and molecular waste, clinging bacteria and environmental elements like emissions from a factory produced forty years ago or air-borne pollen carried from the gardens of an obsessive green thumb in Splott. He knew what was there; he could catalogue every detail.

But what existed within his own mind, he didn't understand. Not entirely. He'd rebooted, and even subconscious perusal of file after file couldn't explain that.

"And yet, you're still here." Ianto froze, the flannel mid-swipe over his stomach and every hair stood on end as Jack's voice pitched just behind him, startling close the way the words slipped through the pelting water and rang loud in his ear. So close. He didn't breathe, couldn't really, just remained still as the tone of the shower changed, drops ceasing their patterned strike on the stone floor. The flannel disappeared from his hand, reappearing with a slow scrub at the back of his neck. He didn't dare breathe, but he couldn't deny the tremble when Jack spoke into his ear, a hoarse accusation dripping with heat. "You lied to me, Ianto Jones."

He still couldn't feel Jack, every muscle tensing in anticipation of contact of any additional kind. Jack might as well have been using a pole with the flannel attached to the end for all Ianto could tell. If not for his voice, sounding so close that Ianto was sure if he turned his head a fraction of an inch he'd collide with Jack's lips. But he remained still, the flannel rubbing round his spine in hard circles as though he was physically erasing Ianto, the water rushing down his back in rivulets washing him away. He waited for it, the prick in his neck injecting a sedative, the clamp of handcuffs around his wrists, the barrel of a gun directing him to a holding cell next to a Weevil.

It never came. The flannel still circled, digging into the small of his back before returning to his neck again, spreading out this time in a scratchy cleansing that left Ianto gasping in quick, shallow breaths, still torn between fear and trust in Jack.

"You'd never been kissed before, had you?"

He shook his head, more a jerk in the negative than a shake, but his limbs felt rooted and his head anchored to move much more than that despite the hot water this side of boiling pouring over his shoulders. It scared him to even admit it, the lie breathed so easily in a silly game. He and Lisa had never kissed but he'd envisioned what it might be like when he'd found a cure and even, on occasion, touched her lips with his own. Just ghosts of touches, nothing more, shadows of echoed memory still so vivid yet distinctly not his, her interactions with mainframe, the way she'd caressed every line of code and touched the depths of the mainframe's alien core. He'd even overcome his own embarrassment; after ensuring all the blinds were drawn and the doors locked, he'd snuck into his own bathroom and bolted the door shut, testing and perfecting a tongued kiss into his hand.

But it was different than being dragged back into consciousness (life? A possibility he'd died before, never confirmed by Jack but he wondered if he hadn't rebooted then, too) by a fierce kiss that screamed of energy and barely masked desire funneling into Ianto until he had no choice but to give in to the unspoken orders to breathe. Jack sharing the energy sustaining him hadn't surprised Ianto so much as the feeling of tongue slipping over his teeth and meeting his own, and why of all days he would choose to save Ianto when all he had done was betray Jack.

"You died." The flannel dipped to his arse, grinding cotton circles into the sensitive skin. But it was the sudden bite at his shoulder that shocked Ianto, so wound around Jack's words that he missed any change in position or movement from shifts in the fall of the water. He shouted, more a yelp, and he barely caught himself with his hands from crashing headfirst into the stone shower wall. The flannel kept moving despite Ianto's start, swirling into the line where his leg met his arse, curving around to his inner thigh before pushing up and dragging the coarse material back over the cheek. And timed just as well, the flat rasp of a tongue over his shoulder, right where Jack had bit, sinking into the tiny divots left by his teeth and fondling the water in between. "Fuck, do you know..." The words were lost as Jack nipped the same point again, lighter this time, his tongue playing with the trapped skin while his teeth increased their pressure until Ianto shook with the effort to remain still.

Not that he'd orders to remain still. Jack and he had played those games before and this time was most certainly no game. With his body braced against the wall, the stones grooved almost too perfectly for the grip which made Ianto wonder if Jack hadn't carved them himself, the flannel pushed even harder. With water-soaked cotton twists each an individual finger scratching over his skin, Ianto was torn between the twin focal points, the patch of skin on his shoulder so hyper-sensitized that the barest flick of Jack's tongue felt like a mallet and his arse, the constant massaging hard enough in the heat of the shower spray to feel molten.

It was too much, too much while he breathed thick steam and dug his fingers into the stone, the sickening dread of secrets lost and the extent of Jack's wrath collapsing beneath a shaky relief that shook Ianto far more than his words. He might have moaned, nothing remotely like a whimper and nothing like a beg, but the touches continued, hardened, the skin continuing to worry between Jack's teeth and the flannel almost just one massive wave of fire against him.

Ianto lost the moment, finally giving in to his body. He shifted just a little to escape the teeth and the cotton cloth, but a hand appeared suddenly in the small of his back, not forcibly restraining him but the intent was clear, a firm pressure against his spine. And then it was gone just as quickly, leaving Ianto gasping helplessly as he tried to reassure his senses through the solid strength of the wall. He couldn't even feel the shower spray anymore and the wall worked for a moment before the constant movement of tongue and the flannel distracted him from even the stone bending his fingernails.

Fuck, he was hard, too, his cock swinging with the massage of his arse in a slowly dizzying fashion as every suck and nip now fed directly into his erection like one single nerve connected the two. There wasn't one, Ianto knew there wasn't, but god, he felt Jack's tongue on his prick even if it was still lapping the water from his shoulder, smoothing flat over the delicate skin before teeth picked it up again. It was part frustration, part desperation that made him cry out again, squirming to both get away from the touch as to encourage something more.

Anything. Anything anywhere else as Ianto's vision frayed around the edges until even the stones danced in time with the rhythmic pulse of the cotton cloth but the lips and teeth just followed his movement, refusing to quit. Or move. Or anything else but twist and flick, a lick before lips pressed firmly around the round, isolated spot. Intensity blurred the lines of awareness to a surreal freefall where nothing pinned him down but the relentless circles and the ever-present teeth and lips. He couldn't even thrust his hips. In a moment of near panic that left him panting for air he tried to find center but it was too scattered, thrown to the wind with the rest of him until just those two spots remained, connected in a straight line to his cock that faintly twinged into awareness, generally on the up-swipe of the flannel, crushing his own flesh against the pelvic bones.

Too much. He couldn't take it. God, he felt too much.

His sharp intake of breath coincided with the shudder rippling down his body, so close to orgasm he wondered if he'd come but he distantly realized his cock still swung in time with the kneading of his arse and the sucking pressure against his skin. Fuck, he felt. The motions never stopped, his skin felt like every nerve was screaming for attention. He sank into it, giving the nerve endings the attention they clamored for because there was nothing more human than to feel and he felt alive. He quit squirming, going so far as to press back into the hand that kept the flannel moving because damn if he didn't think he could come like this, anchored to the Earth by twin points of touch.

He might have spoken that, or maybe something similar, because he swore the pressure of the lips changed for a fraction of a moment, curving into an arc that broke the sealed lock against his skin with a slurping pop. Before Ianto could ask if he really had said that out loud, teeth clamped down hard over his skin again, the surprise strangling the question before it left his lips and twisting into a garbled shout of what Ianto hoped was encouragement because he swore he could feel that jolt of shockpaindesire shoot straight from shoulder to cock without a hitch and just a few more of those and touch or no he'd come in mindless human bliss.

It never came.

One moment his arse burned as fire with the constant kneading rub of the flannel, the next the cotton was gone, as were the teeth at his shoulder. The loss of sensation was so swift and startling it took Ianto a moment to even realize the loss of all touch. He twisted because despite floating numbly he knew Jack had been there, had been responsible for the touch, but his hips were guided back, legs nudged apart.

Oh.

Oh.

Focus rearranged dramatically as the slow slide of Jack's cock entering him grounded Ianto more than the two points of touch had, pushing him down until all he felt supporting him were two hands at his waist and what felt like solid steel pressing through his core. Each finger dug divots in his skin, individual pressure points both restraining and guiding; cradling. Ten points flared then dimmed to near nothing as he felt Jack move, a minor alteration tickling Ianto's perception at first as it was too slight to cross from imagined to real but then Jack moved, a sharp near-withdrawal before a thrust forward completely whited-out his senses.

"You died," was growled into his ear, but the words caressed rather than sounded, timed with a rapidly scattering rhythm falling into complete disarray rather than a particular pattern, each buck of Jack's hips Ianto felt connecting the lines once again between his own cock and the tender, solitary spot on his shoulder. Far more intense than just the touch, far more than the nips and the sucking, god, he could feel it controlling the pace of his heart and the cue to breathe.

Jack shifted slightly and removed a hand from Ianto's hip, distracting Ianto for a moment from the tension curling its way into his balls to wonder at the sensation of only the one hand grabbing his hip. But it was only a moment; the path of Jack's cock found a new angle as he slammed forward at the same time a thumb dug into his shoulder, the same bitten, teased and sucked patch of skin and Ianto shattered like water through the shower head, aware he shouted as he came but felt completely powerless to silence himself, surrendering instead to his body's release.


Ianto paced his breaths by the press of skin against his back, the pattering rain of water from the shower head providing a constant rhythm of sound while warming his skin. He cast a silent thanks to the furnaces of Torchwood, a hybrid of alien and human tech, maintaining the scalding-hot shower despite the length of time or the use.

Time.

For once, Ianto was unaware of time, kneeling on the stone floor of the shower stall, Jack's chin on his shoulder and arms wrapped tight. He wasn't even really sure when they'd ended up on their knees, rather a blur between orgasm and the floor, and from the soft huffs in his ear - more movements of form than actually hearing the laughter - Ianto presumed Jack was more than amused by the daze.

Ianto would care, he needed to care as there were still dozens of unanswered questions and uncertainties pertaining to his existence and continued employment at Torchwood. But for the moment, he was content to lean into Jack's embrace. He wouldn't call it forgiving or maybe it was. Maybe it was a lot of things, but like caring Ianto couldn't bring himself to interpret Jack's actions, either in fear of what it might mean or in denial of what it wasn't.

He'd loved before, it had been easy because he understood Lisa's mind and spirit so intimately. Jack was different. Jack was risks and leaps of faith, hurt and apology, loss and gain. The captain could be betrayed, he could be worshipped, he could be adored and hated. But Ianto was fairly certain he loved Jack.

Ianto just wasn't sure what it was like to have that feeling returned.

"You'd never even been on a date, had you?" The words were muffled, half-spoken against his neck but Ianto could still hear the regret tingeing Jack's voice. Unwarranted, really, since they'd gone out to dinner following Jack's proposition on the night John Hart had intruded on their lives.

It'd been a good date. Ianto had hit every Internet site on dating protocol he could find, selecting the jeans he'd worn when he'd first met Jack, partnered with a simple black tee and jacket. Jack had picked Ianto up wearing a suit. Embarrassment was definitely not his forte, but Jack had dragged him out the door before he could escape to change into his standard suit, with gratuitous groping and ogling from both of them passing the time between Ianto's flat and the restaurant. A Weevil sighting had interrupted dessert, but that was to be expected with Torchwood. They'd talked, flirted, Ianto had even invited Jack in for 'coffee' post-Weevil capture as he really didn't think the 'no sex on the first date' rule applied to them.

A very good date, indeed.

Ianto didn't move, didn't bother answering; he didn't really think Jack expected an answer to any of his questions. Rhetorical. Jack knew the answers to them all. "Tosh says I'm to take you to the opera." That did surprise Ianto; his lips curled into a smile as he pictured her ordering Jack around with the same tenacity with which she had spoken to Ianto earlier. One of Jack's hands drifted down his chest, lulling Ianto from the distracting thoughts of Tosh to more corporeal ones. Nothing arousing as it finally rested on the opposite hip, fingers drawing idle circles against his skin, but Ianto found it almost ... comforting after the stresses of his revelation. "So I'm thinking dinner. Opera. Black formal attire."

With a quiet laugh amidst the fleeting image of Jack in tails, Ianto covered the other man's hand with his own. The circles turned more ticklish than comforting as they played in the water streaming down his side. "Are you asking me out on a date?" Ianto couldn't help but repeat his question, more assured in himself than he had the first time Jack had asked, but less certain now that Jack knew.

"Our second date."

"Jack," Ianto felt the need to remind the captain, perhaps the sex had addled his mind, it certainly had Ianto's for a time, but he clearly remembered what had transpired earlier, from Jack's anger to Gwen's doubt to his own apparent Lazarus-like skills. According to Torchwood Standard Operating Procedure, Ianto should be classified as an Unknown, locked in a cell, and studied for further scientific intelligence. Or at least monitored to ensure the reported abnormalities from earlier didn't repeat themselves. He knew the rules; he reminded Torchwood Three of proper procedure at least five times every day. While the date invitation was appreciated, Ianto knew Torchwood, he knew Torchwood better than any of them. "I'm-"

"Remarkably pruney?" Jack interrupted, holding up their hands so Ianto could see just how wrinkled his fingers had gotten after prolonged exposure to the water. Truthfully, the image had horrified Ianto the first time he'd seen it. He'd stared at his fingers, afraid he'd done irreparable damage to his new body until they had resumed their normal appearance. "There's nothing artificial about your intelligence, though I have to admit having sex with an AI is a first for me."

"Jack-"

"Ianto." Jack shifted behind him, Ianto thought at first to ease his knees on the stone floor, but then the light rasp of a tongue over what had to be a remarkable bruise on his shoulder indicated the motivation. The skin was still incredibly sensitive, bordering on painful, and just the barest touch left Ianto shuddering against Jack, clutching the hands holding him as he gasped for breath. "How do you feel?"

With a half-hearted groan, Ianto rested his head back on Jack's shoulder, closing his eyes to the water drops peppering the fragile skin of eye lids. He could count them all, if he wanted. Some mornings in the shower he would, simply for the novelty of awareness of every cell, every hair and how they interplayed with the water. But this time, he couldn't bring himself to even try.

"Human. I feel human."

Fin


Author Endnote: Title and summary quote taken from the movie "Ghost in the Shell."


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See the stories and art from Round 1 (2008)