Author: Erin Giles
Disclaimer: Torchwood is property of the BBC.
Characters/Pairings: Jack/Ianto, OCs
Summary: Part of the Footprints in the Sand series. Ianto and Jack come home after a long couple of days at work only to discover Finn’s Birthday Party in full swing. Rhiannon’s in hell, Jack seems to be a catch with all the single mothers and Ianto’s throwing a temper tantrum to rival the rest of the six-year-olds. Finn, however, has never had a better birthday.
A/N: That’s right, Finn is back! It’s been a year without him, but my beta, pinkfairy727, gave me a brainwave the other day, fluttered her eyelashes and told me how much she missed Finn. How could I say no?
A. A. Milne
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.
“What’s going on?” Ianto asked, standing on the doormat just inside the front door of his house. He was staring down at rows upon rows of tiny shoes, some with wheels sticking out the bottom, some with flashing lights, some that had pink Barbie princesses and some with a green kid called Ben10. Rhiannon was stood in the middle of the hall, a plate of sausage rolls in one hand and a scrunched up ball of wrapping paper in the other.
“I asked you weeks ago,” Rhiannon protested, immediately on the defensive. “Don’t you dare say I didn’t because I asked you again last week over breakfast when you were trying to put the handle back on the kitchen drawer.”
Ianto remembered cursing under his breath as the screwdriver stripped the head from the screw, which meant the handle had fallen off the next morning again. Ianto hadn’t really cared though, the drawer was mainly full of fuses, used batteries and light bulbs – not exactly a drawer that was used everyday - but he had no recollection of the words ‘I’m opening up a day care centre in your living room’ passing his sister’s lips.
“Rhiannon, have you got any stain remover for the carpet? Charlie’s had a bit of a tantrum and thrown his Ribena everywhere,” a woman said as she emerged from the living room.
“Yeah, I’ll get it,” she replied, smiling tightly as she shoved the plate of sausage rolls at Jack’s chest. He was stood beside Ianto on the front doormat looking no less confused. He didn’t hesitate in helping himself to one of the sausage rolls as Rhiannon disappeared back into the kitchen. There was screaming from the living room that sounded as if a hundred kids had been fed a diabetic’s nightmare. Ianto turned to look at Jack, whom offered Ianto the plate of sausage rolls.
Ianto ignored the offer. “I’m definitely still awake, and this isn’t an exhaustion induced hallucination?”
“No,” Jack said calmly, shaking his head as he popped another sausage roll in his mouth.
“Rhiannon,” Ianto called out as he turned to find Rhiannon coming back out the kitchen with a wad of kitchen roll and a bottle of carpet stain remover.
“Jack, don’t eat them all, they’re for the kids,” she reprimanded, snatching the plate back off him and disappearing into the living room, completely ignoring Ianto. Ianto followed after her with hushed words that were not restrained in their anger. Jack stifled a yawn as he pulled his coat off, struggling to find room on the pegs to hang it. He ended up throwing it at the banister as he slipped his shoes off without undoing the laces. There was nowhere for him to put them either, what with the sudden spurt of children’s shoes, and so he left them abandoned in the middle of the mat as he padded down the hallway to the kitchen.
There was a gabble of woman clustered round the kitchen table with mugs of tea. They stopped talking when Jack entered, looking at him expectantly.
“Ladies,” he greeted, nodding to them with a smile that was not at its full strength. He was as disappointed as Ianto to find out that the house had been invaded. They’d been awake for an excess of forty-eight hours now and had run themselves ragged chasing their own shadows through Cardiff. Both of them had been looking forward to finding out if the bath held two fully-grown adults, ordering in Thai or Chinese – there’d been an argument in the car over that one – before crawling into bed for the foreseeable future. Now it appeared that they were to be employed as children’s entertainers.
“Jack Harkness,” he informed them as he flicked the switch on the kettle and pulled down the cafetiere and two mugs from the cupboard. If he and Ianto were going to survive ‘til bedtime then coffee was a must. He glanced back to see the women round the kitchen table were all looking at him like hungry vultures waiting for him to give his last death rattle.
“I didn’t forget, I just didn’t know it was today,” Ianto was protesting as he followed Rhiannon back into the kitchen. Rhiannon was stuffing purple stained bits of kitchen towel into the swing bin.
“Ianto, I asked you weeks, if not months ago if it was alright to have Finn’s birthday party here and you said it was fine. Jack, back me up here?” Rhiannon asked, turning accusatory eyes on Jack. Jack held up his hands in a way that said, ‘don’t involve me’. Thankfully, Rhiannon was already turning back to her brother, backing up her argument. “In fact, you even offered to help out. I don’t begrudge the fact you haven’t helped because you’re always so busy with work that I never see you anyway, but you could have at least remembered that it was your nephew’s birthday.” Rhiannon had this uncanny knack of turning the tables in any argument so that no matter what had happened it was always somehow Ianto’s fault. Ianto had the same habit. His sister was just better at it.
“I’m not annoyed-”
“Clearly you are,” Rhiannon interrupted, folding her arms across her chest to survey her brother with the haughty air of someone that knew they had already won the argument. Ianto huffed out a sigh, deflating slightly as he pursed his lips. With Ianto, politeness always won out over exhausted anger, especially when he realised he had an audience of four scathing looking women, two of which seemed to be eyeing up Jack rather than watching the drama of brother and sister arguing.
“I’ll go get his present,” Ianto muttered, moving to the backdoor, rattling the handle a couple of times before it opened to let him out into the back garden. The kettle boiled and Jack turned back to make a pot of coffee, then realised he should probably be polite.
“Another pot of tea, ladies? Or coffee?” Jack asked, looking over his shoulder at them.
“Sorry, where are my manners?” Ria said, suddenly remembering herself. “This is Jack,” Rhiannon looked for a brief moment like she was going to explain who exactly Jack was and why he was in the kitchen making coffee, but decided against it, “and that was my brother, Ianto.” Rhiannon gestured out the kitchen door.
“Jack, this is Silvia, Jane, Julie and Rachel.” Jack nodded at each of them in greeting just as Finn came skidding into the kitchen, aiming to address his mother but missing her completely and running straight at Jack.
“Uncle Jack!” Finn squealed as Jack picked him up, grunting slightly as Finn hugged him round the neck and accidentally kneed him in the ribs.
“Happy Birthday, kid,” said Jack. Ianto emerged back into the kitchen then, stamping his feet on the backdoor mat, slamming the door behind him as he rubbed his hands together to try and warm them.
“Happy Birthday, trouble,” Ianto said, dropping a kiss onto Finn’s forehead before handing him a small box wrapped in Thomas the Tank Engine paper. Jack let Finn down as he ripped happily at the paper, shaking the box so the contents fell onto the floor with a tinkle.
“What is it?” Finn enquired, his enthusiasm waning slightly as he picked up the blue object, holding it in both hands as Jack bent down.
“It’s a bell,” Jack told him, pulling the lever so it rang with a muffled ding against Finn and Jack’s hands. Finn looked confused, because, although it did make a noise that would annoy his mother eventually, it’s wasn’t exactly the most exciting thing he’d gotten for his birthday.
“You might need something to put it on though,” Ianto said after a moment, opening up the back door again and standing aside to let Finn see. On the patio next to a broken plant pot that once held roses, but now only held weeds, a fire engine red bike was resting on stabilizers, a blue bow tied round the handle bars with a tag that read, ‘Love from Uncle Ianto & Uncle Jack’. Ianto gave a tired but genuine smile as he watched his nephew giving him a bug-eyed look of disbelief.
“No way,” Finn muttered through his look of slack-jawed gormlessness.
“Yes way,” Jack said in his ear, causing Finn to start forward, cantering down the steps and already mounting the bike. His socked feet barely touched the patio slabs.
“What do you say?” Ria called out the back door to her son as Ianto and Jack followed him out into the garden. Ianto was trying to fit a helmet on his head as Finn pressed the breaks while simultaneous trying to peddle into Jack’s shins, completely ignoring his mother.
“He’s a bit of a catch,” said Silvia – mother of Oliver, whom was the most disgusting child Ria had ever met. Rhiannon followed Silvia’s eyes out the back door, trying to determine if she was after her brother, or Jack. She decided she didn’t much care right now, nor did she really want to set any of the four woman ogling both Jack and Ianto straight. She was still annoyed that Ianto had forgotten about the Birthday Party and the only reason she put up with the marauding mothers was because she didn’t want her son to spend his school life with his underpants up round his ears.
“Mmm, he is a bit, “ Rhiannon agreed, gaze flicking briefly to the bottle of red wine that was sat out on the side of the work surface and wondering if it was too early for a glass. It was at that moment, Rhiannon’s youngest, Rona, could be heard keeping up her unremitting babble of ‘mammammam’ from the next room. Rhiannon sighed and moved out into the corridor to find Rona crawling towards her from the living room with what looked like chocolate spread smeared all over her pudgy cheeks and down the front of her flowery dress. Rhiannon sighed again, picking Rona up and carrying her up the stairs, only to catch sight of Oliver wiping what he’d just dug out of his nose on the arm of the sofa.
Ianto was struggling to nod in all the right places as he listened to Julie, or Jane, or Judas – he’d missed the introductions – going on about her bastard of an ex-husband. He had a mug of coffee that Jack had made him cradled in his hands as he lent against the kitchen work surface. Jack had been roped into organising musical statues, which had left Ianto alone in the kitchen with four gossiping mothers.
It wouldn’t be rude if he excused himself to go to bed. Rhiannon might never forgive him and Jack would probably call him a skiver, but he could deal with that if he could just feel cotton beneath his tired… He jerked slightly as he came back to himself in the kitchen and found four expectant faces staring at him.
“Sorry?” he enquired.
“You’re Rhiannon’s brother, then?” the woman who looked like mutton dressed as lamb asked. He nodded, not trusting his tired brain to form its opinions verbally.
“Rhiannon says you work for the government.” Ianto didn’t know if that was a question or a statement of fact that he had to agree to, like he was giving evidence in court, so he just nodded again. He knew what was coming next when a couple of eyes flicked briefly to the doorway as Jack’s voice sounded down the hall.
“That Jack, is he Rhiannon’s new boyfriend then?” said the woman with the green cardigan, the icebreakers clearly over with. Ianto almost spat his coffee back out again, but restrained himself from becoming a cartoon cliché.
“Is that what she told you?” Ianto asked, fighting the urge to laugh with a veritable amount of self-restraint.
“Well no, but he seems to be quite happy making himself at home here,” the woman with sunglasses perched on her forehead said.
“He’s quite a dish too. I mean where would you go to pick up a man like that?”
“Quite a dish? He’s bloody gorgeous. Bet he doesn’t stay single long, bit of a ladies man that one.”
Ianto smirked as four eyes turned to look at him for some kind of confirmation. Ianto felt awkward suddenly, like he’d been cornered without realising it. He didn’t know what to say now, so took another gulp of coffee that gave him time to think.
“He’s not with Rhiannon,” Ianto said eventually, sounding out each word like he was unsure of them. He left another pause in conversation as he looked away, taking another mouthful of coffee. He was hoping they’d put two and two together and then subtly change the subject onto the price of pampers or something equally mundane.
“Oh my God, you’re gay!” mutton dressed as lamb suddenly exclaimed. Ianto would have been quite grateful if the toaster he was busy looking at chose that moment to spontaneously combust. Sadly, it didn’t. The rest of the women were giggling now, and Ianto was almost waiting for them to jump up and down clapping their hands together in childish excitement. He was considering the notion that he probably preferred the days when he would have been shunned from society instead of becoming a single woman’s ideal fashion accessory.
Ianto managed to mutter that he wasn’t gay, not quite loud enough to be heard, as Jack came back into the kitchen, empty coffee cup in hand to get a refill. Ianto gave him an imploring look that said, ‘rescue me’, but Jack had never been any good at subtle.
“Everything alright?” Jack asked as he filled his own mug up before he topped Ianto’s up with the last of the coffee.
“I can see it now. Very cute,” sunglasses muttered to her partners in crime and Jack turned to Ianto to give him a bemused look. Ianto just rolled his eyes and shook his head from side to side.
“Want to give me a hand with pass the parcel?” Jack enquired as he set the empty cafetiere by the sink. Ianto was already out the kitchen door. Jack gave the four women a brief smile before following him.
“What was all that about?” Jack asked as he joined Ianto where he’d positioned himself beside the stereo, leaning against the bookcase. Rhiannon was currently trying to shepherd the children into a rough circle at the centre of the room. The dining room table had been pushed back against the wall, and the sofa had been shoved into the bay window, the armchair squashed in between the television and bookcase in order to make enough room. Ianto was still wondering where the coffee table had disappeared to.
“Married women trying to get in my boyfriend’s pants,” Ianto muttered under his breath before he moved to help Rhiannon in steering kids away from the table piled with party food and make them sit still for longer than five minutes. Jack smirked after him, turning just in time to notice one of the boys making grubby jam fingerprints on the television screen.
“Come on, you, lets get those hands washed before we join in with pass the parcel,” Jack said, steering the boy towards the kitchen with a hand on his head, cringing as he felt something sticky in the boy’s hair too.
“Oh, Oliver, what have you done now?” one of the women round the table immediately exclaimed as Jack steered Oliver towards the sink.
“Someone was a bit overenthusiastic with the jam,” said Jack. He turned the tap on before lifting Oliver up onto the work surface beside the sink so he could reach properly. Jack poured liquid soap over both their hands and preceded to rub them together under the stream of water.
“So, Ianto tells us that you and he are an item,” one of the women piped up from behind Jack.
“That’s right,” Jack answered without any hesitation, wondering how on earth Oliver had managed to get jam on his left elbow.
“How did you two meet?” another of them enquired and Jack let out a nervous laugh as he finished washing Oliver’s hands. He dried Oliver off, lifting him back down off the counter, only answering when the young boy was running back towards the living room.
“We both work together,” Jack told them, leaning back against the sink as he dried his own hands off. “I’m his boss.”
This seemed to cause somewhat of a stir, women looking at each other with surreptitious looks that made Jack feel uneasy. He was sure Ianto would liken them to Mermaids, enticing sailors onto the rocky outcrops with their womanly wiles.
“You both work for the government? Bet there’s a bit of favouritism goes on in the office then?” A giggle made it’s way round the table in a sort of Mexican wave fashion.
Jack leaned forward slightly, as if he was imparting some great secret. “The only favouritism that goes on is the fact that I always get my coffee first.” He leaned back, smiling a little easier now. “But I think that’s more to do with the fact I’m the boss than the boyfriend.”
“But doesn’t it make things awkward?” one of them pressed.
“Not really,” Jack replied, brief thoughts of erased CCTV footage, Gwen’s shocked face and Owen’s looks of disgust that made Jack smile, before a flicker of a memory, all metal and blood wiped the smile from his face. It was as if they were mind readers.
“I thought Ria said that Ianto had a girlfriend at one point,” Rachel said in a confused tone.
“He did,” Jack replied, with a sombre look on his face. “But she died.”
That shut the harpies up long enough for Jack to make his escape back into the party. His stomach was turning slightly as he stepped back into the living room. Ianto shot him a smile across the room of kids dancing in place to music and Jack tried to return the smile, turning away to rescue his now cold mug of coffee from the bookcase. A smiling Ianto greeted him there too, young and carefree in a time before Jack knew him.
Jack turned back round to take in his Ianto. Bags under his eyes made him look like he had two black eyes, his shoulders hunched forward in weary resignation as he tried to help one of the kids unwrap a layer of newspaper, chasing a jelly baby under the dining room table and groaning when he got back to his feet. He looked old. A lot older than a man of twenty-five should look.
“Sorry,” a voice said at Jack’s shoulder. Jack turned to see the woman in the green cardigan – Rachel - stood there, an apologetic smile on her face. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jack told her, smiling in return as the music stopped again and there was the sound of enthusiastic ripping of paper going on followed by a disappointed ‘aw’.
“It’s just so little happens round here, we’ll jump on any chance to gossip,” Rachel said, as if she was trying to apologise for the other women. Jack had the feeling that she shouldn’t bother because they were probably in there gossiping about Rachel now too.
“Which one’s yours?” Jack asked, nodding towards the group of kids.
“The girl sat next to Finn with the skint knees,” Rachel said, indicating her with a nod of the head and a smile.
“Tomboy?” Jack asked, following Rachel’s gaze and taking in the dungarees, skinned knees and proximity to Finn.
Rachel laughed. “Oh, yeah. Turn my back for five seconds and she’s making mud pies and climbing trees.”
“Ah, so that’s where Finn gets it from?” Jack teased, laughing when Rachel turned to glare at him. Silence lapsed for a moment as pass the parcel continued for another two laps of the circle. The present was so small now Jack actually wondered if there was anything in it except a suffocated jelly baby.
“He’s lucky to have you and Ianto,” Rachel suddenly blurted. “Kimmie’s dad left the week after she was born. She’s never really had a father figure. Not that I think she really needs one considering what she’s like, but it’s good that you and Ianto are there for Finn and Rona.”
“Chris still sees them on weekends. When he can be bothered,” Jack replied, trying to keep the bitter edge out of his voice and failing.
“That’s better than nothing,” Rachel said quietly. “But it’s still nice that you’re both there for him the rest of the time.”
“To be honest, with the hours Ianto and I work we don’t get to see a lot of the kids which is why I think Ianto let Rhiannon move in here until she found a new place. Most of the time it’s just her and the kids,” Jack informed Rachel.
“Nice to have someone to come home to at the end of the day though,” Rachel said, sighing slightly. Jack turned to look at her, feeling deeply sorry for this woman that clearly didn’t want to be labelled under the heading ‘gossiping single mother’, but had sadly been put there many years ago to collect dust. Jack didn’t know what to say to her now, even though he did agree with her; he knew just as well what it was like to be horribly alone in the world.
“You sure you’re gay?” Rachel asked, trying to break the awkward tension.
Jack chuckled. “Not gay,” he winked at her, “but definitely taken.”
Ianto turned round to look at Jack then, as if he knew he was being talked about. Their eyes met as Ianto tried to muffle a yawn, Jack shaking his head and smiling in return. Ianto rolled his eyes before he went back to gathering up the shredded newspaper and putting it in a black bin bag. When Jack turned back to Rachel she was chatting to one of the other mothers.
“Bye,” Rhiannon called before she shut the front door, almost collapsing on the doormat now that she’d finally got rid of the last of the children and their mothers. The kids hadn’t been the problem; it was all the gossip spreading round the place like wildfire. She’d had to bite her tongue when she’d heard one woman say to another that she thought it was a disgrace bringing up kids in a house like this. The woman hadn’t expanded on what she meant, but Rhiannon had a pretty shrewd idea. She’d wanted to say something, wanted to stand up for her brother and Jack, but her patience was wearing so thin she was fairly certain she would have come to blows with the woman before rational thought prevailed.
“Thought you might need this.” Jack’s voice came from just behind Ria and she turned to find him holding out a glass of red wine. Ria’s shoulders slumped, smiling at Jack as she took the proffered glass from him, inhaling nearly half of it before she thanked him. Finn ran past them, flying a toy airplane he had gotten from one of the kids at the party, gunning down dust bunnies as he circled the island of Jack before heading towards a skirmish under the dining room table made of paper plates and crumbs.
Rhiannon sighed as she opened the under stairs cupboard, retrieving the vacuum cleaner with one hand. “I’ll hoover if you could clear for me, Jack,” Rhiannon instructed, still trying to cling onto her glass with one hand.
“Ianto,” she called as she lugged the vacuum into the living room.
“I think he’s finally crashed and burned,” Jack replied, already piling paper plates up in one hand, collecting used napkins with the other and sweeping them all into the black bin bag that was already full of wrapping paper.
“Bloody typical that is,” Rhiannon grumbled, begrudgingly setting her glass of wine on the bookcase as she plugged the hoover in.
“Finn, will you do me a favour and move all your toys into Uncle Ianto’s study, please,” Rhiannon instructed, uncoiling the wire from the back of the hoover. Finn grumped as he flew his plane over to a board game that Jack had never heard of, picking it up and carrying it under the plane like cargo towards the study.
“Leave some of it next to the door so you’re Uncle breaks his neck when he goes in next time,” Rhiannon muttered, just loud enough for Jack to hear before she switched the hoover on. A moment passed before the monotonous drone was interrupted by the rattle of plastic toy soldiers being sentenced to death in the plastic prison of the vacuum cleaner. A beat longer and the death rattle was interrupted by the General’s cry of desolate revenge, “Mam!” Jack made a tactical retreat into the kitchen.
Jack pushed open the bedroom door, smiling to himself at the view of Ianto lying spread eagle on top of the bedcovers, still fully dressed and snoring lightly. Jack tapped the end of Ianto’s foot with his hand and Ianto gave a startled snuffle as he woke up, rolling over and looking through eyelids at half-mast.
“Thanks for helping to clear up,” Jack said jokingly.
“Sorry, I just lay down for a second,” Ianto apologised, pulling himself into a sitting position and running a hand over his face. Jack was stepping out of his trousers which he flung over the armchair in Ianto’s room that Alf – a moth eaten looking cuddly toy that Ianto had had since he was born – occupied. His belt buckle smacked Alf in the face, clacking off his plastic eyes, causing Ianto to glare through his fingers.
“Rhiannon’s still annoyed with you,” said Jack as he started to unbutton his shirt. Ianto let out a sigh, leaning forward so his elbows rested on his knees, which was soon followed by a loud yawn.
“It slipped my mind, that’s all,” Ianto said, sounding highly apologetic.
“I said Rhiannon’s annoyed with you, not me,” Jack said, a hand running through Ianto’s hair before coming to rest at the base of his neck, kneading the muscles quietly for a moment. Ianto yawned again.
“So our plans for this afternoon were changed slightly, but the day can still end the same way,” Jack suggested. Ianto flopped backwards onto the bed in reply. Jack chuckled before he was pulling Ianto’s pinstriped trousers from him. Minutes later they were both lying underneath Ianto’s duvet that was pulled up around their chins, struggling to keep their eyes open.
“By the way, that wine you were planning on taking to your dad’s this weekend.”
Ianto hummed in enquiry, to let Jack know he was listening.
“You’ll need to pick up another one,” Jack told him. “Rhiannon was just draining the dregs from it when I came up to bed.”
Ianto didn’t reply and Jack was almost asleep himself before the bedroom door burst open. Ianto let out a muffled yell of surprise and Jack jumped away from Ianto in shock, which soon descended into amusement as Finn jumped onto the bed almost doing Ianto a mischief as he started bouncing up and down.
“This was the bestest birthday ever! Thank you, Uncle Ianto!” Finn exclaimed before throwing himself on top of Ianto in what was meant to translate as a hug of affection, but just resulted in knocking the wind out of Ianto.
“Can you and Uncle Jack take me out on my bike tomorrow, Uncle Ianto?” Finn asked, still pressed against Ianto.
“If I say yes will you let me and your Uncle Jack sleep?” Ianto asked, in a breathless voice.
“That’s blackmail,” Jack pointed out.
“I don’t care,” Ianto replied to Jack before saying to Finn, “If you go to bed and let both of us sleep until at least ten tomorrow then we promise to take you out on your bike and buy ice cream.”
“From that place in Aberystwyth?” Finn pushed, sensing his chance to get anything he ever wanted.
“Yup,” Ianto answered, somewhat grateful when Finn pulled back.
“And we can go and ride on the train afterwards?” Finn asked.
“Yup.” Ianto’s voice was now a monotone of agreement.
“Okay,” Finn agreed, having clearly thought of everything he could possibly get out of his Uncle’s weakened state before crawling over Ianto to get off the bed. Ianto let out a sigh of relief as the bedroom door closed. He felt Jack shifting behind him.
“We’re not really going to Aberystwyth tomorrow, are we?” he enquired.
“Nope,” Ianto replied, pulling the covers up round him again and settling further down in the pillows. “But we do get to lie in until ten.”