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Hard to Swallow (the Percolation Remix) [Torchwood; Ianto Jones, PG]

Title: Hard to Swallow (the Percolation Remix)
Author: beatrice_otter
Summary: Ianto Jones. Tea, coffee, and the transition from London to Cardiff
Fandom: Torchwood
Character: Ianto Jones
Rating: PG
Word Count: 2,597
Original Story: Ianto Jones/Coffee by glinda_penguin
Notes: Title is taken from “Question” by The Moody Blues. Thanks to alixtii for the beta.

Ianto, like all proper British citizens whether Welsh, English, Scottish, or Irish, was raised to be a tea drinker. It wasn’t that he disliked coffee; it was that it had its proper place, such as when pulling an all-night study session, for which purpose it was better than those highly caffeinated sodas his mates preferred. (Ianto never really cared for the sickly-sweet things.) But when sitting down to breakfast in the morning, or for a snack in the afternoon, Ianto quite liked tea

A few years knocking around London after he was through with school did nothing to change his preferences, and Torchwood reinforced them.

At Torchwood, everyone had their breaks precisely timed so that there would always be people in each department should an emergency arise (or should Yvonne Hartman decide to drop by unannounced, which was far more likely). One waited, watching the clock, until the minute hand ticked over, then stood, buttoning one’s jacket, and walked briskly to the nearest break room, where tea and biscuits were always waiting, and perhaps a cake if someone was having a birthday or anniversary.

All the proper rituals of tea making and drinking were observed, water brought to a rolling boil, teapot preheated, loose black tea steeped for approximately four minutes (the exact time being a matter of debate depending on who was present). Milk poured into the cup, followed by the tea in proper order so it wouldn’t scald, then sugar or honey. Fifteen or twenty people standing around watching, all dressed in conservative dark suits, chatting about their families and the weather and football and the telly.

The first time Ianto had seen it, he’d had to bite his lip to keep from laughing in disbelief. If you’d taken out the women and the few minorities present, it could have been any break room in England—in the 1950’s. He wondered if they knew it was the twenty-first century, and then if he could possibly stand to work in a place this stuffy and old-fashioned. He’d have to make sure his mates never heard about it; he’d had enough trouble with his flatmate that morning over the suit. It was a very nice suit, one his father would have approved of—which was the problem with it, of course.

An attractive woman across the break room had smiled at him, teeth flashing white against dark skin, and turned back to her conversation. As everyone else was absorbed in their own conversations—and it had been a gorgeous smile, on a pretty face above a shapely body—he made his way through his new coworkers toward her. “Ianto Jones,” he said as she turned to meet him.

“Lisa Hallett,” she replied, shaking his hand. “I know this all looks terribly stodgy, but don’t worry—you’ll come to love the ritual soon enough. We face such strange things all the time, you see; it’s good to be reminded of who we are, where we came from.” She laughed. “Who knew that stodgy routine could keep you sane?”

Ianto laughed with her, though he wasn’t quite sure he believed her; couldn’t accept that he’d ever like wearing a suit instead of jeans, formal tea rather than chips and beer with his mates. He was glad, later, that he hadn’t contradicted her because she turned out to be right. Lisa was almost always right, he found, and it wasn’t just that he was in love with her that made him think that. She was about as close to perfect as any person could get—that’s why she’d risen as high in the Torchwood One hierarchy as she had.

Later, after Canary Wharf, he knew that she wouldn’t have wanted him to keep her secret, wouldn’t have wanted him to try to save her—she wouldn’t want to risk the world for her own life, and she would have wanted to serve her country through science and intelligence about the Cybermen threat if she couldn’t serve it any other way. But he couldn’t make himself abandon her that way, and so he took her to Cardiff. And he realized that if he were going to save her he’d have to do it perfectly, no mistakes. Everything would have to be planned out carefully ahead of time. Lisa would have known how to do it; he’d think like Lisa.

First, he needed to be hired. No, first he needed to set Lisa up in his new Cardiff apartment as comfortably as possible while he figured out how to get hired. It took several long nights of moving things in as quietly as possible to get everything there and hooked up, Lisa only half-conscious for short periods of time all through it. He told her what he was planning when she was asleep, so she couldn’t try to talk him out of it; he didn’t think he could bear it. The conversion machinery took over his living room; it wouldn’t fit in the bedroom. Besides, it gave him nightmares as it was, remembering the sight of robot arms flashing and friends and coworkers screaming while he hid, terrified, unable to help them. He couldn’t sleep in the same room with the machine, no matter how much he loved Lisa. It stank of ozone and the coppery tang of blood no matter how much he scrubbed it or aired out the apartment; he’d just have to live with it, and hope no one complained.

That done, he turned to the task of getting hired. It wouldn’t be easy. Torchwood Three had turned it’s back on London and all who worked there—they’d made that abundantly clear when they’d come for the technology and ignored the survivors. So Ianto found a good spot to watch the main entrance of the Torchwood Three from, and occasionally tailed its agents looking for patterns. Harkness was known for flirting with everyone he met, and for being perfectly willing to follow through on it; there’d been a lot of jokes about the subject at Canary Wharf. And watching the man, Ianto realized that if anything the jokes had been underestimating the man’s libido. Flirting, Ianto could do for Lisa; if Captain Harkness wanted more … Ianto would do whatever it took to get what Lisa needed. But it wouldn’t be enough on its own; if Harkness truly let himself be led around by his gonads, Hartmann would never have let him keep Three.

So Ianto needed to find a job he could do that Torchwood needed, and make himself indispensible at it. Preferably for a support position where no one would pay much attention to his comings and goings, and where he could order equipment and such without suspicion. Torchwood One had had hundreds of such support staff, so that each archivist, researcher, and field agent could work at maximum efficiency secure in the knowledge that the filing, requisitions, cleanup, etc., were all taken care of.

Torchwood Three … didn’t seem to have any support staff at all, he realized as he watched them, careful to stay unobtrusive. All the employees that he ever saw enter or leave their headquarters went regularly on missions. Ianto’d managed to steal some of Torchwood Three’s records off what was left of the mainframe at Canary Wharf, and he knew that Captain Harkness was in the process of reforming that organization after the murder/suicide of the preceding team. (Ianto was rather curious as to how he’d survived, but it wasn’t in the lists.) However, he wasn’t sure from the information he had if Torchwood Three had ever had a support staff. If not, perhaps now during rebuilding would be a good time to change that?

He’d been an archivist, not support staff, at Torchwood One. He wasn’t quite sure what the support staff duties had been specifically, but bringing tea and snacks to people at their stations during long crises was far and away their most popular job. And if Three had never had proper support, they wouldn’t know if Ianto wasn’t doing everything quite right as long as the big obvious things (like snacks and tea) were taken care of. This required more research; Ianto was thankful that among the sundry scraps of information on Three he’d recovered was their corporate credit card number, through which he could track their purchases. He took note of favorite foods and snacks, and noticed that while they bought very little tea, they bought a lot of coffee. It made sense, given how understaffed they were and Harkness’ Americanness, though Ianto would have hired enough staff rather than overwork people and keep them awake on coffee.

But if Torchwood Three drank coffee, then Ianto would learn everything about coffee there was to know.

He bought a coffee machine, expensive, sleek chrome so different from the rough steel of Lisa’s support equipment, and brought it home to his kitchen and studied the instructions. He checked Three’s credit card to find what kind of coffee they drank—whatever was cheapest or on sale, it turned out. Well, that Ianto could do, but he’d learned at Torchwood London—from Lisa, mostly—that anything worth doing was worth doing well. So he did some research, selected a reputable, quality brand and blend, whole beans instead of pre-ground because the flavor was fresher, that way. He bought a grinder, and took it home, and spooned the proper amount of beans in, and turned it on.

He came to himself, gasping, curled in a corner of the kitchen with the grinder in pieces against the opposite wall, adrenaline pouring through him, Lisa keening in the other room. His breath came in great, heaving gulps. That was the grinder, not a conversion unit, he told himself. There are no Cybermen in the flat; the stink of battle and conversion is mere fantasy, imagination. … no. It was the smell of Lisa’s equipment—

Ianto barely made it to the toilet before losing the contents of his stomach. When there was nothing left to come up, he rinsed his mouth out and went to Lisa, still keening, a wordless cry for help which there was no one but himself to answer. He fancied he still heard the grinding, knew it wasn’t real, turned the telly on to cover it anyway. He lit all the candles he’d bought, the incense. He took a deep breath—that was a mistake—and turned to face her, made himself step towards her, look at her face and ignore the monstrosity that had invaded her body.

He couldn’t. Ianto retreated to the kitchen and fixed himself a pot of tea, cleaning up the mess while he waited for the water to boil. Lisa stopped crying, and Ianto sagged, berating himself for not being there. For not being strong enough.

After an eternity, the tea was ready, and Ianto brought two cups out into the other room and sat next to Lisa and told stories about his day, how he was planning to get hired at Torchwood Three. Mostly, he spoke of good times at Torchwood One, before the battle, before even the ghost shifts. It helped him pretend they were back in the break room at Canary Wharf.

That night he went out and fought a Weevil with Captain Harkness, even though he hadn’t finished his research and planning yet.

The next day he went to Tesco and bought pre-ground coffee, and brought it home and made three pots until he was certain he knew how to make it perfectly. It was easier than tea, really—scoop the right amount in, let the machine do the rest. It didn’t even matter what order you added milk. Still, there was a kind of soothing stillness to watching it drip down into the pot, almost like a kind of meditation.

After making three pots for practice, most of which he threw away, he realized that the rich dark smell of fresh coffee covered the stench of the conversion machine. So he kept brewing coffee until the entire bag was gone, losing himself in the simple motions.

He drank some of it, sitting next to Lisa, talking, holding her hand as best he could. He found if he added just a drop of milk, he could make his coffee almost the color of her skin, and then he could look at it remember why he was here, why he was doing this, and it was almost like looking at her except he didn’t have to pretend he couldn’t see the machinery that held her prisoner in her own body. So he rambled on about what they’d do when she was free from it—go on a tour of the world, maybe get married, settle down somewhere, and never see any aliens or robots ever again.

The next morning he went to Tesco and bought several bags of the best brand of coffee they had. He went back to his flat and brewed it, and was waiting for Captain Harkness when he emerged from the Hub. Ianto let himself get too desperate, he knew he did, knew he wasn’t helping his cause by it, but couldn’t stop, and Harkness shot him down a hundred times harder than he had the first time.

Ianto went home and held Lisa’s hand and brewed more coffee. And thought. He’d known he needed to think like Lisa, and yet he’d allowed himself to go off half-cocked twice with no plan. That would never do. So he went out and found something before Three did, a pteranodon, something impressive to lure Harkness in with. He wore a suit, Lisa’s favorite, for good luck and to remind himself of everything he’d learned from her and Torchwood London. It worked, too, though he had to flirt more than he liked to make it happen. Lisa, he reminded himself. Everything is for Lisa.

The next day he received his orientation, what little there was of it, and that night he snuck Lisa into the Hub. He worked feverishly through the night—this was the riskiest part of the whole plan—bringing everything down to the room he’d found, getting it all connected, making her as comfortable as possible in the cold dankness. Her machinery reeked worse than ever, magnified by the faint odor of dirt and metal that pervaded the hub.

Ianto finished wiping the cameras and the last of the cleanup with barely an hour to spare before the others were due in. Captain Harkness lived in the Hub, but Ianto had managed to avoid him all night. (The place was a warren. Lisa was well-hidden.) He showered, changed into Lisa’s favorite suit, and brewed coffee to calm himself.

“I could get used to this,” Harkness said from behind him.

Ianto kept himself from jumping.

“The service, the view.”

Ianto could feel the man leering at his ass. He pasted a smile on his face, as real as he could, and turned around with a mug of coffee in his hand. This was all for Lisa. “Told you you wouldn’t regret hiring me,” he said.

“Mm,” Harkness said noncommittally, taking a sip. He wandered off to his office.

The others trickled in over the next few minutes. Toshiko smiled at him, Suzie gave him a short nod, Owen ignored him. When they were all here he poured three more cups of coffee, loaded them onto a tray, and arranged creamer and sugar neatly beside them. He took a deep breath, letting the smell of coffee remind him why he was here, and took the coffee down to his new coworkers.


Read the companion fic Knocking at the Door (the Things Unspoken Remix)
Tags: character: ianto jones, fandom: torchwood, original author: glinda_penguin, rating: pg, remix author: beatrice_otter
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