“Wish it would stop looking like a hole,” Gwen said ruefully.
Jack kicked a loose chunk of pavement into the gaping maw in the Roald Dahl Plass. It clattered down the steep decline, tumbling and knocking other hunks of cement and rubble down with it. It came to a rest at the bottom. The rest collected beside it. The dull stillness that followed made Jack breathe out a sigh.
“Yeah,” he said. “You and me both.”
Gwen folded her arms, her hair swinging forward in a curtain as she peered over the ledge.
“This is going to take a while, isn’t it?”
Jack sighed again. “I’m hoping the government has paid off enough people that they can get it done in a… timely fashion.”
She gave a low chuckle. “Funny, that. Them having to tuck their tails and clean up their own mess. How often does that happen?”
“Not enough.” Jack turned to her. “Ground-breaking starts tomorrow. Or, should I say… ground-building?”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes.
He smiled at her. “Go home. Have the day off.”
“I’ve been doing nothing but ‘having the day off’ for two weeks now,” she reminded him.
“Have another. It’s just one more day. Half a day, by now.” He smirked. “Coerce Rhys into giving you another foot massage.”
She pointed an accusatory finger at him. “If that’s a pregnancy joke, Mister Harkness…”
Jack laughed, then hugged her.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
She pulled out of the hug a little to look up into his face. “Give Ianto my love, yeah?”
Jack read the minute lines of her face, the slight quiver in very fringes of her tone, and the tacit message hidden in her words. She was still worried. He couldn’t blame her.
“I will. Though I bet you five quid he’ll do nothing but roll his eyes,” Jack said. “You did just see him yesterday.”
“Of course he would,” she huffed, smiling and shaking her head.
The lines of her face eased, her wavering tone strengthened, but the message still remained. Jack nodded to her once, a promise he’d look after Ianto. She nodded back resolutely, stepped back with a wave, and headed off to her car.
He watched her go, making sure she drove safely off. When she’d gone, he glanced back again at the yawning hole behind him. It taunted him.
So much to unearth. So much to salvage. So much to rebuild.
Jack supposed they could find a way to get it done, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his greatcoat. He shifted his shoulders before setting off. This was his new greatcoat—the one Ianto had gotten him. It still needed a bit of wearing-in before it felt just right.
The SUV, now re-pilfered from the Cromwell estate, sat awaiting him in the old car park. It had, surprisingly, been left untouched during the explosion. Jack was glad at least something was structured well enough that it hadn’t blown to bits.
The drive home went by in the blink of an eye. Rhys had once told Jack that was a mark of bad driving—if there was no way to remember how the vehicle got from there to here, it meant any number of accidents could’ve happened during the course of the trip. Jack honestly thought that was a load of horseshit. But he did find himself musing on it as he fumbled for his key to Ianto’s flat.
“Hey,” he called the moment he stepped inside. “You up?”
Jack winced slightly at the raised voice. He didn’t like when Ianto did that now. Even the slightest strain worried him.
He took a moment to recollect himself, then pulled his boots off and set them neatly on the mat. He frowned at the small pair of heels sitting in the spot his boots always went. And the coat rack held a petite navy peacoat hanging where his greatcoat was meant to go. He moved the shoes and the coat, replacing them with his own belongings.
“Ianto? Who’s here?” he asked, making his way to the sitting room.
Two faces glanced up at him the moment he entered. The set of tired blue eyes trained upon him were expected, but the pair of brown ones blinking widely up at him were not what he had anticipated.
“Lois?” Jack asked.
“Captain Harkness,” she said.
She sat in a chair, pulled up strategically on the opposite side of the coffee table to the sofa, where Ianto was sitting. She looked quite the picture, sitting primly in the chair and wearing a purple blouse and nice trousers. The business attire certainly had Jack suspicious.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, crossing his arms and frowning at her.
“Working on paperwork.”
Jack looked to Ianto, who gazed steadily back with raised eyebrows, and then down at the coffee table, strewn with papers and littered with pens.
“Well,” Ianto said measuredly, “budgets to keep track of how much we’re paying the workers for construction; permits to rebuild under the Plass; files on every worker to make sure we’ve got the best of the best—”
“—planners and schedules to make sure everything happens right when it’s meant to; old maps, floorplans, and escape routes to make certain it’s being rebuilt correctly. Oh, and a healthy stack of documents to ensure the government keeps quiet,” Lois finished.
Jack was sure they had it all laid very well out in each pile they had pointed to, but it still looked, quite frankly, like one big mess covering the table and scattering onto the floor. And add to it the mug and the plates in the small spaces the pages didn’t cover…
“Hang on,” Jack said, frowning down at the mug. “Is that coffee?”
“It’s hers,” Ianto said.
“You made her coffee?” Jack demanded.
“Um, actually,” Lois said, leaning forward to break Jack’s glare at Ianto, “I made it myself.”
Jack glanced at her, shock tearing the scowl from his face. He was glad Ianto hadn’t made the coffee (as he wasn’t allowed to be doing anything, at all), but he was also quite confused. Ianto? Permitting someone else to even think about touching his beloved coffee machine? Jack hadn’t even been allowed to fix it himself when he’d put the flat back together again. No, Ianto had demanded, in his few bouts of awareness, that it went to a professional.
“You let her make coffee?”
Ianto shrugged. “She’s fairly decent at it.”
“He tested it to make sure,” Lois added.
Jack’s glower jumped back on his face in an instant.
“You can’t have stimulants,” he said, unhappy they had to have this conversation again.
“It was just a sip!”
Jack just glared at him even more. Ianto didn’t waver beneath the gaze. Ianto never did. Steadfast as always, Ianto was. Which might not be very good at the moment, and that was really Jack’s point.
“It was just a sip,” Lois said, cutting between their stares again. “I made sure.”
Jack blinked at Lois. “You did?”
“She did,” Ianto grumbled.
“Hm,” Jack said, as he couldn’t think of much else to say.
His eyes roamed the table again, fixating on the plates this time.
“Is that Chinese?”
“Chinese isn’t a stimulant,” Ianto said instantly.
Jack threw him another look. Ianto ignored it again.
“And there’s leftovers in the fridge.”
Jack frowned at him a moment longer, then reached over across the sofa to smooth down the flipped cuff of Ianto’s old white t-shirt.
“You going to finish that off?” Jack asked, nodding to Ianto’s only partially touched plate.
Ianto shook his head, so Jack came and sat beside him, taking the abandoned plate and chopsticks. He sniffed it before anything else. Ianto’s tastes weren’t the same as Jack’s, and Jack wasn’t certain if he’d liked whatever sauce went with this beef, but Jack really didn’t mind. Plus, Ianto had left some spring rolls.
Ianto pointedly flicked crumbs (Jack swore they were imaginary) off of the blanket pooled loosely in his lap. Jack finished chewing and swallowed spring roll before he finished his sentence.
“Gwen sends her love,” Jack says.
Ianto rolled his eyes. “She was here yesterday.”
Jack, silently to himself, added five quid to the slowly growing sum Gwen was beginning to owe him.
He could understand Ianto’s frustration, though. Ianto didn’t like being fussed over quite so much. Not like this, anyway. Jack tried to remind him, and constantly, that this was what happened when one had such a near-fatal experience as Ianto had, but Ianto didn’t like to listen to that.
“I’ll tell her you miss her, too,” Jack said, then popped the second half of the spring roll in his mouth.
Ianto rolled his eyes again.
“So,” Ianto said to Lois, “budgets.”
“Budgets,” Lois agreed.
Jack lost track of everything the two of them said after that. Partly because he was more concerned about devouring the food on the plate—which he had decided was rather good, and might be something he would order in the future—and partly because he detested paperwork. More than anything. Or most things, anyway, he supposed with a gruesome memory of a blue, misty tank and a hard, tiled floor.
Anyway, that was why he had let Gwen convince him they needed Lois. Paperwork. Sure, Gwen had listed off a good many other wonderful qualities, ranging from hard working to brave, from intelligent to good-looking. But Jack hated paperwork, and Ianto was in the hospital for a yet-undetermined amount of time, so Jack was in no way prepared to say “no.”
He hadn’t really expected for Lois to show up for her first day of work at the hospital, but that was what had happened. He’d immediately set her on the charge of blackmailing her own government, once again. It had mostly been a way for her to stop pestering him with questions like “what can I do?” and “how can I help?” and all that nonsense, but she’d… well, she had gone and done it. And successfully. Of course, Jack had gone back and done it all again, reinforcing his own name in their books, but he’d been very impressed. And a little wary…
Now, though, he sat and watched Ianto and Lois talk, interested getting to understand their newest hire.
The first thing he noted was that Lois kept up with Ianto, and then some. That alone was no small feat. Ianto was incredibly good at his job, and far more knowledgeable than even most people understood. So, the fact that Lois was following along Ianto’s train of thought perfectly, responding to his queries and suggestions well, and even, at times, finishing his own sentences, was something to be commended.
The second thing he noticed was that Lois took direction like nobody else. She didn’t mind that she wasn’t on top. When she was told to write something down, she did it, and in half the time expected. She was a PA, and evidently very, very proud of this fact. Jack wanted to say he’d never take advantage of that—because that would make him a rather horrid person, let alone boss—but there was a part of him that was certain he was going to end up timing how fast Lois took notes.
And the last thing that Jack observed was that she kept checking over Ianto. Any time Ianto took a pause to collect himself or to refocus on a train of thought, she would lean ever-so-slightly forward. At first, Jack had assumed this was anticipation on her part, but then he realised she was checking his face studiously for any unwelcome signs or symptoms.
Jack had been taken somewhat aback when he figured that out. And then he’d been slightly sceptical. He had his own reasons for sneakily taking Ianto’s wrist and checking Ianto’s heartrate every so often, but he didn’t know Lois’s. She’d been a traitor, once. Loyalty was the one thing not mentioned in Gwen’s list.
He finished off his last spring roll and set the plate and chopsticks down on the table.
“Hey,” Ianto complained instantly. “You can’t put that there.”
“Those are the files for the workers,” Lois said.
“Alright, fine,” Jack said. He moved the plate to the floor. “Better?”
“Um,” Lois said. “Not really.”
“You’re going to get the…”
Jack immediately sat up, and Lois leant forward again. Ianto closed his eyes and let out a slow, thready breath. The breath back in didn’t sound too great, either, but with a few more inhales and exhales, Ianto returned to the semi-normalcy he’d been barely treading since he’d come home three days ago.
“You alright?” Jack asked when Ianto opened his eyes again.
“Fine,” Ianto said.
“Dizzy?” Jack asked
“Light-headed?” Lois asked.
“Shortness of breath?”
“Guys,” Ianto said, sounding a smidge annoyed. “I’m fine.”
“You sure?” Jack and Lois asked.
They glanced at one another.
“Yes,” Ianto snapped. “I’m fine.”
He took a second pause, and this time, as Jack tried to check his heartrate, he yanked his hand away. Which wasn’t as dramatic as Ianto had maybe intended, as Ianto was a lot slower, weaker, and more lethargic than he usually was.
“Don’t put the plate on the floor,” Ianto eventually said. “We might drop papers on it. And you’re going to get the floor all messy.”
“Alright, fine,” Jack said.
He picked up the plate again, this time standing as he went. He made a great show of carrying it out of the sitting room, feeling rather than seeing Ianto and Lois’s shared eye-roll.
Setting the plate in the sink so he could later wash it, he chucked away the chopsticks into the rubbish bin and grabbed a glass from the cupboards. One of the few things not ransacked in this place—the dishes. Smart of those officers to think Ianto couldn’t have been hiding in his cupboards but could maybe have been hiding in his dresser.
He shook his head to himself as he filled his glass with water. He downed it, put the glass aside for later, and then returned to the sitting room.
Of course, that trip was a lot quicker than he’d originally intended, as a quick shout of “Mister Jones!” had him sprinting back.
Jack managed to catch Ianto before he toppled over sideways, holding him up as best as possible. Lois joined him, having finally managed to hop across the piles of papers without injuring herself, and together they propped him upright as Jack awkwardly maneuverer himself around the sofa.
“I think it’s time you had another lie-down,” Jack said.
Ianto nodded, looking drained.
Jack looked up at Lois, trying to express what he wanted to her without a single word. She seemed to catch his drift, as she left Ianto to Jack and turned to start collecting the papers.
While Lois cleaned up, Jack helped Ianto lay down across the sofa, making sure the pillows were in a good place and that the blanket covered him the way he liked. Ianto didn’t seem to mind the fussing now, which was good. He needed to focus on not passing out again.
Jack took Ianto’s pulse and checked his breathing. They both seemed fine. Though “fine” was incredibly relative. If he took Lois’s pulse and compared it to Ianto’s, he would probably start to panic. But, considering this was an improvement to a week ago, Jack could honestly say “fine” was adequate.
“Should we pick this up tomorrow?” Lois asked.
Jack stood, brushing the tips of his fingers through Ianto’s hair.
“That’d be best,” he said.
Lois nodded once, then pointed down to the neatly stacked documents and files on the coffee table.
“I’ll just leave this here for now, shall I? Only, I don’t think I can carry it all out to my car…”
Jack just shrugged. He didn’t much care. The coffee table really had no other purpose in their everyday lives other than to sometimes hold plates and mugs.
“Okay,” Lois said. She smiled down to Ianto. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
But then she looked up at Jack and gave a slight-but-meaningful tilt of the head. Then she turned and walked to the door. Intrigued and confused, Jack followed after her, like she’d silently requested.
At the door, Lois was sliding her coat over her shoulders and slipping her shoes on at the same time. Jack mentally admired her ability to do that. He couldn’t do that with his boots.
He folded his arms as she slipped a strap of her bag over her shoulder, flinging the other over the side and zipping it all the way open.
“Right,” she said quietly as she dug through it. “So, before you get mad, he asked me to move some furniture around. I wasn’t just sneaking around your flat for the purpose of snooping.”
She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her bag. Jack’s heart skipped a beat.
“I don’t think he does much smoking anymore, by the looks of how old this pack is,” she murmured. “But I figured I’d get it out of here, just in case. I don’t think it would be wise to let Mister Jones pick up his smoking habits again.”
“No,” Jack breathed. “No, it wouldn’t.”
She nodded, then tucked the case back into her purse, closing it quickly and quietly.
“I’ll just throw it in a bin,” she said.
With a final readjustment of her coat, she began to take her leave.
She’d only barely managed to slip through the door when Jack put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her from going any farther. She looked up at him expectantly.
“Thank you,” Jack said.
“Oh,” she said, a small smile forming on her face. “You’re welcome.”
Then Jack let her go and she slipped away, still smiling.
Jack closed the door behind her, staring at it for a moment as he processed one or two things.
When he’d had his moment, he took a breath and returned to Ianto’s side.
“You know what?” Jack asked, crouching down next to Ianto.
“What?” Ianto asked softly.
“She is,” Jack said, placing his hand on Ianto’s cheek, “almost exactly like you.”
Ianto’s mouth twitched into a small smile. “I take it you’ve finally come around to her, then?”
“I’m getting there.”
“Just as long as you don’t end up sleeping with her, too…” Ianto teased.
“Hey,” Jack said with a grin. “I think I’m fine with the first PA I wrangled in a warehouse.”
“That was a pteranodon, and I believe I said ‘butler.’”
Ianto then took a few breaths to himself and Jack stroked his hair sympathetically.
“Get some rest,” Jack told him when he’d gotten his breath back.
“Hmm,” Ianto replied.
Jack pressed a kiss to the corner of Ianto’s mouth, then another to Ianto’s brow. Ianto’s eyes drifted shut, and Jack left him to get the much-needed rest.
The faint sound of a car starting permeated the walls of the flat. Jack stood and went to the window, peering out below.
A small car was driving off. Jack watched it go, thinking about its driver.
Lois Habiba. So similar to his Ianto, when he got down to it. And loyalty… hadn’t he doubted Ianto the same way? Well. Look how that turned out. Jack supposed he could give her the benefit of the doubt, just this once.
Jack glanced back at Ianto, who had fully succumbed to sleep.
So much to rebuild.
They needed a Lois Habiba.