Title: A window to the past
Characters: Jack, Tosh, Ianto
Length: 2,754 words
Content notes: none
Author notes: Written for Challenge 198 - Glass
Summary: Jack gives Tosh a gift which gives back in return.
'Should be around here somewhere,' Jack said slowing his pace, letting Tosh catch up to him and his long strides.
'It's always somewhere awkward, isn't it?' she asked, turning her body in a wide circle to take in the entirety of the park and all of its tall trees.
'Wouldn't be any fun if it just landed on our doorstep,' Jack replied, grinning. 'Come on, signal's getting stronger,' he said setting off again.
Tosh shone the beam of her torchlight out in front of Jack, lighting his way for him as he moved forward across the grass, making sure he didn't walk straight into any of the large oak trees, hindering the most direct route. This would've been easier in daylight, too, she thought, but if she'd learned anything in the past few months, it was that the rift was totally unpredictable and didn't keep to regular hours. Night and day didn't seem to have any meaning, and even her own hours were hardly what you'd call regular, which had taken some getting used to.
Whilst her mind was off elsewhere, contemplating the vindictiveness of the rift, she nearly slammed straight into the back of Jack, who'd come to a dead stop.
'Should be right on top of it, now. Start looking,' he said, pulling out his own torch, shining it around.
They searched the area for a good fifteen minutes, scouring every blade of grass and garden bed, but still they hadn't turned up anything.
'It should be here,' Jack said, kneeling down to reach under a small bush, double checking places he'd already looked. He growled. 'Damn thing is right under our noses, Tosh.'
She stared around, perplexed, leaning back against a big old oak, before realising her stupidity.
'What if it's not under our noses, but it's above us?' she said, pointing her torch skyward into the tree.
Jack dusted his hands off, standing up. 'Now we're talking.'
The lowest branch was well and truly out of their reach, even for Jack who was far taller than she was.
'Fancy climbing a tree?' Jack asked, already clasping his hands together to give her a leg up.
The added three feet was exactly enough for her to reach up and grab the lowest branch, pulling herself up with a little bit of help from Jack, now he that he had less of her weight to bear. She straddled the thick bough and pulled out her torch, Jack's own shining up so she could see better.
'Let's hope it's not too much higher up,' she said, scanning around, looking for anything out of place, whilst Jack roamed his own light around.
'Wait!' she called out. 'Move you light back just a bit, where it was.' Jack adjusted the angle, unable to see anything from where he was standing.
'You see something, Tosh?'
'Stop. There,' she said, pointing, spotting something glinting in the light. She reached for the main tree trunk, tentatively standing up on the branch so that she could use it to step up onto the next one. She just needed another foot or so of height to reach the object, nestled in the crook of two other branches.
'Be careful,' Jack warned.
She hoisted herself up, feeling a bit more secure with in foot firmly wedged in a narrow gap her, and her other hand holding firm to the branch. She wanted to laugh. She'd never been allowed to climb trees when she was little, for fear of falling and breaking bones, and now here she was, in her twenties, doing something she'd always considered naughty. And in the dark, too.
'Got it,' she said, wrapping a hand around the small, round object. She slipped it into her coat pocket, before beginning the more difficult task of clambering back down.
'I've got you,' Jack said, wrapping himself around her legs and helping lift her the rest of the way down to the ground.
'Good job,' he said, as she drew the object from her pocket, getting their first proper look at it.
'What is it?' she asked.
'Nothing harmful, thankfully. As for the rest, why don't I let you figure that out?'
'Really?' She loved puzzles, and Torchwood was good at providing them. Usually, Jack spent ages explaining to her what something was and how it worked, but of late, he'd begun letting her toy with things, analysing them to understand what they were. He never gave her anything dangerous, but he never gave her any clues either, which meant she had to go through what was becoming a standard set of tests, trying to narrow down the field of possibilities.
'Tomorrow,' he replied. 'It's late enough as it is without starting any new projects tonight.'
She grinned, knowing sleep would be hard to come by whilst she waited for morning.
She got up early, excited by the prospect of last night's find, barely stopping on her way to work except to pick up two takeaway coffees and a bag of danishes. A proper Torchwood breakfast.
'Knew you'd be up early,' Jack said, smiling and gratefully taking the proffered cup, shoving his hand into the bag and scoffing a large mouthful of pastry. He picked up the object off his desk and handed to it to her.
In the light of the hub, she got her first good look at it. It was perfectly round except for a small nodule at the top, which looked like it could be attached to a string or a chain, but which was now missing. More interestingly, it was light, and appeared to be made of some sort of glass, but even though it seemed hollow and transparent, it gleamed and glittered like it was covered in a dusting of stars.
'Not it's primary function, but you'll figure that out for yourself,' Jack replied. 'Should be a quiet day by all accounts.' He leaned in conspiratorially. 'Plenty of time for curious minds.'
She smiled back and left with the object.
Jack had given her some interesting equipment to use around the hub, most of it alien, but able to be used in much the same way as she would have used traditional scientific equipment. She checked the object for energy readings and radiation, sent it through the extraterrestrial version of an x-ray, subjected it to various light and sound waves, touched its surface looking for a reaction, suspended it in water, exposed it to heat and cold, but nothing she tried seemed to have any effect on it.
Puzzled, she knew Jack had the answer, but she wasn't ready to give in yet. She ran searches through their database, and when that came up with nothing, she trekked down to the cold, dark depths of their archives, pouring through dusty old files that hadn't yet made it into their computer systems. Still, she couldn't find any reference to anything of a similar description. She'd tried everything she could think of, but still there was no unlocking its mysteries. She picked it up off her desk and walked into Jack's office.
He looked up when she sat down and placed it on Jack's desk in amongst the other bizarre and curious objects that littered its surface.
'Figure it out?' he asked. He sounded genuine, which only vexed her more.
'I give up.'
'Give up?' he said, putting down his pen and looking at her. 'That's not like you.'
'I tried everything.'
He reached over and pulled her hand towards him, placing the glass ball in her hand. 'Just hold it for a minute.'
She closed her fingers around it and waited, but nothing happened. 'I'm sorry, Jack,' she apologised.
'Huh,' he said, frowning, taking it from her and holding it in his own hand for a minute.
'That's odd. Shoulda worked,' he said, holding it up to the light and examining it. He stood up and walked out of his office, headed for Tosh's desk, and she followed him. He placed it under one of their larger microscopes and began twirling it around, adjusting the focus until it came into view.
'Ah ha. That explains it,' he said, stepping back and letting her take a look for herself. When she took off her glasses and peered through the lens, she saw the slim crack, magnified a hundred times.
'It's broken?' she asked.
'Yup. Explains why nothing happened.'
'So... what was it supposed to do?'
'It's a memory bank. Kind of like a time capsule for memories, a scrapbook for thoughts, a repository for storing the most complex kind of energy there is. I was hoping there might be something interesting in there, but the contents must have leaked out through the crack.'
'Why would someone make something so valuable so delicate?'
Jack picked it up and tossed it idly in the air. It only looks breakable like glass. They're pretty resilient, actually. Would've taken a battering to crack it, even a tiny little gap like that. Then the memories would have slowly leaked out; fifty years, maybe a hundred, unless of course it was out in space, in which case the vacuum would've sucked them out in a heartbeat.'
'So this used to contain someone's memories?'
'Yup. Gone now, though, which is a shame,' he said, passing it back to her. She touched it gently, admiring its beauty.
He watched her, folding his arms over. 'Keep it,' he said.
'Really?' She'd never been allowed to take anything outside of Torchwood. It was all part of the rules.
Jack shrugged. 'Why not? Doubt we've got the technology to fix it. Might make a nice ornament to hang on the Christmas tree, but apart from that, it's not much good for anything now. A pretty gift for a pretty gal.'
He made his leave and she continued to stand there, tracing the glittering surface with her fingers.
Ianto pulled the box down from their attic roof, easing back down the short step ladder with it cradled in his arms. He could already feel the cold draft disappearing as he stepped back into the warmth of the hall, carrying the box back downstairs.
He sighed as he set it down, looking at the sad little pine, green and bushy, yet lacking any sort of adornment. It just wasn't a Christmas tree without tinsel and decorations and lights.
He peeled back the packing tape off the lid of the box, which had kept it carefully dust and moth free, lifting the lid and pulling out the contents. Inside was a string of golden tinsel, a box a fairy lights, and two smaller boxes of ornaments.
The lights went on the tree first, plugging them in to make sure they worked, replacing broken bulbs, watching them twinkle. Then he knelt down on the carpet to open the box of ornaments, laying them out. He looked at the second box with trepidation. They weren't his decorations. He'd found them when he'd been packing up Toshiko's apartment months ago. He wouldn't let anyone else help him with the task. They'd all suffered enough as it was, yet Torchwood policy remained. Everything had to be packed up and locked away, forever. This was something he needed to do.
It wasn't strictly kosher, taking stuff, but he'd spotted them and decided that he wanted them, something to remember her, and to remember why they kept doing what they did. He spread them out on the floor, organising them into neat piles of colours. He nearly laughed at the thought of Owen trimming a tree. There'd been no decorations hiding in his cupboards. Maybe if he and Tosh had ever... He pushed the thought away.
One of the ornaments caught his eye. It was silvery glass, sparkling and beautiful, and completely on its own, with no others to match it, singularly unique. He held it in his hand and got lost in its remarkable shimmer.
'Ianto, I'm home!' Jack called out, feet pounding heavily through the door. 'You won't believe the crazies out there. Give me a sewer full of weevils over the shops at Christmas any day.'
He dumped the bags in the hall and went looking for Ianto, who had yet to reply. He found him on the floor in their living room, kneeling in front of the tree.
'Hey, I thought we agreed to decorate the tree together this year?' Jack said.
Ianto didn't respond; didn't even turn around at Jack's voice.
'Earth to Ianto?' Jack said, stepping closer and waving a hand in front of his face, before seeing the red eyes and tear streaked cheeks.
'Ianto, what's wrong?' Jack said, kneeling down next to him.
Ianto tried to force the words out, but they wouldn't come. Instead more tears began to fall.
'Hey,' Jack said, wrapping him up tight in a hug. 'Whatever it is, it's okay,' he said, rocking him gently.
When he finally pulled back, he saw the glittering ball clutched in Ianto's hand and his breath caught in the back of his throat, recognising it. He picked it up by the silvery string and held it aloft. He looked down and saw the small white box, with the words "christmas decorations", written on top in small, familiar neat print. Ianto lifted a hand and, very unlike him, wiped his nose on his sleeve, sniffing loudly.
'I know,' Jack said, sparing Ianto from having to say anything more. His clever Toshiko, he thought. She'd managed to fix it after all.
He stood up and reached down to help Ianto up as well, leading them over to the sofa, where Ianto gratefully curled up next to Jack.
'Can I see?' Jack asked.
Ianto sniffed again, wrapping his arms around Jack and resting his head on his shoulder, giving a slight nod. Jack dropped it into his palm and curled his fingers around it.
When he closed his eyes, he saw the world through Toshiko's eyes, and felt her feelings as if they were his own. He saw her grandfather's eightieth birthday party, Toshiko surrounded by all of her family, laughing and chatting, and the feeling of relief that she'd even made it home at all to see it; waiting out in the cold for a cab on Christmas Eve, kissing Owen under the mistletoe she'd kept in her pocket, hoping to use it all day long, but being too shy, until she'd finally drunk enough to throw caution to the wind; Jack handing her the keys to her brand new flat in Cardiff, only hours after he'd busted her out of prison, still unsure what her new life had in store for her, but somehow knowing she could trust Jack; walking with her mother and father amongst the cherry blossom trees when she was five, pale pink petals showering them as she swung between their hands; the excitement of pulling her first ever casserole out of the oven, feeling proud that she'd so far managed living on her own, even if it meant having the same leftovers for a week; sitting around the boardroom table at the hub with the team, eating Chinese, laughing at Jack's ridiculous stories, Owen pulling faces at the rude bits and Ianto trying not to blush; standing with her mother at the port as they waved off the enormous naval cruiser and her father off on his latest posting, promising he'd be back before they knew it, but knowing she'd miss him every day until he came back; sitting on the roof of the Millennium Centre with Ianto on a sunny afternoon, throwing paper planes with silly messages on them like "call your mother, she loves you" and "eat more vegetables", watching them gliding on the wind, knowing no one would ever think to look for them up here.
As the images faded, Jack felt a wetness on his cheek, brushing it away with the back of his hand. He couldn't tell how long he'd been sitting there, only that Ianto hadn't moved. He let out a shuddering breath.
'I gave her this many years ago. It was broken, but my sweet, clever Toshiko fixed it. She never even told me. I always knew she'd figured it out one day.'
Ianto just hugged him tighter without saying a word. Christmas just wouldn't be the same this year without them. Jack considered the sparkling bauble in his hand.
'I think this should go right on the top of the tree, don't you? Who needs a star when we've got this?'