Characters: Owen, Ianto, mentions Jack and the team.
Spoilers: Set approximately three weeks after End of Days.
Summary: With Jack gone, the team have to pull together, which leads to an odd situation and a few revelations for Owen.
Word Count: 3798
Written For: Challenge 76: Sink at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Under normal circumstances, Owen would never have considered lowering himself to manual labour, but circumstances were far from normal right now, what with Jack gone and none of them sure whether or not he’d ever return. Besides, he’d been with Ianto on the retrieval when they’d found the thing, and there was no way Ianto could get it down to the archives on his own, even with the help of one of the anti-grav trolleys. Those things were a bitch to steer when heavily loaded, and if there was one thing this bit of Rift debris was, it was heavy. According to Ianto, it was part of the engine block of a Slart heavy cruiser, although how he happened to know that was anybody’s guess. Then again, he could be having Owen on the way he often did; there was no way of knowing.
Whatever it was, it had taken both of them, along with a lot of huffing and puffing, to get it in the SUV’s boot, and the vehicle had dipped sharply beneath the weight. With it riding low all the way back to the Hub, Ianto had been forced to drive very carefully over speed bumps and badly surfaced roads to avoid damaging the SUV’s undercarriage or breaking an axle, so getting back to the Hub had taken much longer than is should have, and the job was still only half completed.
If anything, unloading the hunk of metal from the boot and onto the trolley had been even more difficult than loading it. The uneven shape meant bits of it kept getting caught, and then they’d have to tip it this way and that until it came free again. By the time they had it securely strapped to the anti-grav trolley, both of them were soaked in sweat and breathing hard.
“What now?” Owen asked, straightening up with a groan and wiping his forehead on his sleeve. It was late at night, the alarms having gone off just after midnight, so they were the only two there.
“Now, we freshen up a bit, I make us coffee, and we take a breather. After we’ve recovered a bit, we take that piece of junk down to the archives and find a space for it.”
“Piece of junk? Thought you said it was part of an engine or something.”
“It is, but part of an engine is still junk if you don’t have the rest of it,” Ianto said with a wry smile. “Come on, we’ll raid my secret stash of chocolate biscuits too; reckon we need the energy boost after all that.”
“Now you’re talking!” Owen grinned. Ianto wasn’t a bad sort when he wasn’t being all prissy and Owen got the feeling he was seeing a side of his colleague that was more familiar to their absentee boss; after-hours Ianto as opposed to workday Ianto. Now if only Ianto could be like this all the time, Owen thought they’d get along pretty well.
In the small kitchen area, Ianto made straight for the sink, turning the taps on and grabbing a clean rag from the stash in the under-sink cupboard to wash off the worst of the grime and sweat. Owen did likewise, accepting a towel from Ianto to dry off with.
“That feels better,” he sighed. “Right, you said something about coffee and chocolate biscuits?”
“I did. Let me just get the coffee brewing and then I’ll fetch the biscuits. Go and sit down; I won’t be long.”
Ianto was as good as his word; hardly more than five minutes later they were relaxing on the sofa, drinking excellent coffee and munching dark chocolate digestives. It was a surprisingly pleasant interlude, but they both knew it couldn’t last; they still had a huge hunk of metal to deal with.
“Back to the grind, I s’pose,” Owen sighed as Ianto took their mugs back to the kitchen and rinsed them in the sink.
“You suppose right; that monstrosity isn’t going to move itself and if we leave it where it is, you won’t be able to get your car out to drive home,” Ianto pointed out.
“There’s that,” Owen agreed, trudging back towards the underground garage, Ianto falling in beside him. “So, where do we put this thing?” he asked, resting one hand on the corroded lump of metal. “You have a section down there devoted to spaceship engine parts?” It was supposed to be a joke, but…
“You’re ‘avin me on!”
“Well, technically, it’s not just engine parts, its bits of spaceships in general, but where possible we sort them into type and model, or at the very least by planet of origin. Sometimes I wonder if Jack is hoping to collect enough bits to make himself a whole spaceship one of theses days. He could even do it, in theory, since he doesn’t have to worry about running out of time. You know; if he ever comes back.”
“You miss him.” It wasn’t a question.
“We all do. I might miss him in slightly different ways, but he left all of us. And no, I’m not going to mope over him leaving; I’d like to think I’m not that pathetic. Regardless of whether or not he eventually comes back, there’s work to be done and we need to pull together. It’s a dangerous job at the best of times and right now we’re a man down; we can’t afford for anything to happen to any of us. Moping is a luxury none of us can afford.”
Owen felt a twinge of what might have been respect. Ianto might be the youngest member of the team, but he had a good head on his shoulders and he wasn’t any kind of wimp. It struck Owen that he’d been seriously underestimating the younger man, and he should probably stop that. Ianto was proving to be a very capable field agent, and he took orders much better than Gwen ever did.
Owen clapped his hands together. “Right, so let’s get this job done and dusted so we can both get some much needed sleep. Otherwise we’ll both be too tired tomorrow to be any kind of use.”
“No argument from me. I’ll lead and you follow.”
With Ianto at the front of the trolley guiding it, because he was the only one who knew where they were headed, and Owen at the rear keeping it going straight, they managed to manoeuvre everything into the lift, going down deeper into the bowels of the Hub than Owen had ever been before.
“How come we have to take something this big down so far?” he asked.
“Storage areas are bigger down here,” Ianto explained. “The upper levels have all been partitioned off into smaller spaces, but that stops a couple of levels above us. The people in charge when the Hub was built probably thought they already had more than enough storage so they gave up. Either that or they ran out of money. Excavating all this can’t have been cheap.”
“No kidding,” Owen agreed as he helped Ianto to manhandle the trolley along wide aisles left between piles of junk. There were bits of cars, bits of boats, piles of what looked like bicycle wheels, huge metal cogs, broken furniture of all descriptions, a lot of it decidedly alien in appearance… “Looks like you’ve got everything but the kitchen sink down here!”
“Oh, we’ve got those too,” Ianto assured him, pointing. “They’re just over there, aisle seven, section twenty-three.”
“Seriously? That I’ve got to see.”
“I’ll show you once we’ve offloaded this. Some of them are quite interesting.”
“Only you could find a kitchen sink interesting,” Owen laughed.
“They’re not all of earth origin, Owen,” Ianto said patiently. “Some are from other planets, designed for beings nothing like us, and some are from earth in the future.”
“The shape of plumbing to come?”
“Exactly,” Ianto replied. “There’s a lot to be learned about the future, and about alien cultures, from their everyday household items.”
“Huh. Never thought of it that way,” Owen admitted.
“It’s what I find most intriguing about what’s stored down here. The technology is fascinating, but that’s Tosh’s field of study. I prefer everyday ephemera, the stuff of ordinary lives. There’s a lot of insight to be gleaned from what other races have in their homes, everything from furniture and fittings to ornaments.”
“So you’re what, studying alien cultures through their home décor?”
Ianto laughed. “Something like that. I’m trying to add to the body of knowledge we have on the various species we’ve encountered, and some we haven’t met yet. You do the same thing by studying their biology and physiology, and Tosh does it through their technology. I was a junior researcher at Torchwood One; I researched aliens through their artefacts, trying to make sense of them. I’m doing the same sort of thing here, only it’s more interesting because unlike at One, we’re not hell bent on trying to kill or enslave every alien we meet and steal their technology. What we learn through our different fields of study could prove vital when earth eventually makes official first contact with sentient beings from other worlds.”
“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you? How come you never said anything about all this before?”
Ianto shrugged. “You never asked.”
That was true; Owen had never really made much effort to get to know Ianto, which was beginning to seem like an error in judgement. Still, at least it was an error he could correct. “Fair point.”
“Okay, almost there, turn left into the next aisle, the Slart section is about halfway along, but we might need to move a few of the smaller pieces to make space for this one. I think a corner position would work best, taking into account the size; it’ll be easier to unload, more room for manoeuvre.
Owen wouldn’t have thought of that, but Ianto was obviously used to squeezing new items into the available space. They set about shifting unidentifiable chunks of metal from the corner of an area Owen now realised was delineated by yellow lines painted on the concrete floor.
“How come you don’t just junk all this metal?” he asked, stacking smaller chunks on top of each other. “I mean, looks like most of this is broken anyway.”
“We do with some of it, once the Rift energy dissipates, but that can take years, even decades. It clings to some substances more than others, and metal is one of the worst offenders; something to do with magnetism, or so Jack says. I do regular checks, gathering together items that are down to low levels and then sending them for scrap when it’s safe to do so, but unfortunately, a lot of what comes through the Rift is made of metallic elements or alloys unknown on earth, so we have to hold on to them. Besides, some of the components can be put to other uses around the Hub, or used to repair spacecraft damaged by the Rift.”
“Huh. Must keep you busy.”
“You have no idea. Okay, looks like there’s enough room now. Give me a hand?”
Unstrapping their new acquisition from the trolley, they hauled it off and plonked it down in the space they’d cleared for it. Ianto had a good eye, because it fitted with very little overhang.
“Hope we don’t get anything else this big for a while,” Owen groaned. “That just about did my back in, not to mention my arms.”
“You’re not the only one.” Ianto stretched his back and turned to Owen. “So, still want to view the sink collection?” he asked.
Owen was about to say no, all he wanted was to go home to his bed, but then he changed his mind. He was curious, and really, where was the harm?
“Why the hell not? We’re already down here, might as well swing by before leaving, just in case I never get down this far again. Would be a shame not to see the sights,” he joked.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a pile of alien sinks.” Owen could tell from Ianto’s dry tone that he was just teasing. “And they are practically on our way.”
They guided the trolley back the way they’d come before taking a slight detour over towards the far side of the vast, cavernous room they were in, and strolling down aisle seven until they arrived at section twenty-three. Owen would have known they were in the right place even without the numbers stencilled in yellow on the floor.
Sinks of all descriptions were laid out there, grouped together by type, some piled on others. There were ceramic pedestal bathroom sinks, Belfast sinks, and stone troughs. Modern fibreglass rested alongside futuristic substances, and an assortment of stainless steel single and double basin kitchen sinks. Then there were the alien ones. A couple looked like oversized Ping-Pong balls with a round hole cut in the side for hands or other appendages to be inserted. One resembled an inverted pyramid on a ridiculously thin stalk, and several others looked more like birdbaths.
Owen walked slowly around the perimeter, fascinated in spite of himself, then stepped into the marked area and wandered among the strangely shaped objects as if they were exhibits in a museum. In some places he had to clamber over a few sinks in order to get a better look at others. At a rough count, there were over a hundred of them. He pointed to one. “That looks a lot like the ones where we scrubbed in for surgery during my residency, and that one there’s the same hideous colour as the one in my first flat. That one looks like it belongs in a mad scientist’s lab.” He nudged a weird-looking contraption that looked more like a gaping mouth. “Wouldn’t want to have to use that! And you’re sure they’re all sinks?” he asked, bemused.
“Well no, we’re not one hundred percent certain about all of them, but some things we end up just taking our best guess at. If we find out we’re wrong at a later date, they get reclassified. The same goes for most things in the archives.”
“Your job’s insane.” Owen shook his head. “I don’t envy you.”
“I’d rather my job than yours,” Ianto admitted. “Dealing with inanimate objects is generally a lot less stressful than trying to save lives.”
“Each to their own,” Owen declared with a shrug, turning back and scrambling over the piles of sinks towards the nearest of the broad aisles. He was almost out when the pile he was climbing over shifted beneath him, causing his foot to slip. He caught himself by grabbling hold of a hose-like protuberance to keep from falling.
“You okay?” Ianto asked, moving forwards
“Yeah, fine.” Owen shifted his weight to his other foot as he regained his balance, but what he’d thought was solid footing abruptly seemed to open beneath him and the next thing he knew, everything below his left knee had vanished down the plughole of the alien sink he’d had his foot in. He let go of the hose to grab the side of the sink in order to pull his leg out, but found it was wedged solid. “Um, Ianto? I think I might have a bit of a problem after all. My foot’s stuck.”
To Ianto’s credit, he didn’t burst out laughing or waste time dithering. He scrambled up beside Owen to investigate. Feeling around Owen’s leg, it quickly because obvious that it was stuck as firmly as a cork in the neck of a bottle.
“Okay, don’t panic. I’m going to move the other sinks from around you, then get you and this sink into the aisle so we can get a better look at what we’re dealing with. Believe it or not, things like this happen to Jack all the time.”
“He sticks his feet down plugholes?”
“Well, not as such, but I’ve lost count of how many times he’s got his hands or fingers stuck in alien machinery; he will keep poking into things. I’ve never had to lop anything off to free him though, so there’s nothing to worry about. Worse comes to worst, I’ll just break the sink, but we’ll see if there’s another way to get you out first.” As he spoke, Ianto was carefully moving the other sinks out of the way until he could get Owen and his new accessory into the open.
The sink was surprisingly lightweight, and Owen found once Ianto had cleared the way he could sort of walk, if rather awkwardly. One hand on Ianto’s shoulder, strictly for balance, he hobbled over to the anti-grav trolley and sank gratefully onto the edge of it, glaring at the sink. “Now what?”
“I don’t know yet.” Ianto knelt down for a closer look. “How does your leg feel?”
Owen frowned. “It feels fine. It’s not being squeezed tightly or anything, there’s not even any pain.” Holding the edges of the sink he had another go at pulling his leg out, but it wouldn’t budge. He gave up after several fruitless moments of tugging, shoulders slumping. “So much for that idea.”
Ianto lay flat on his back in order to look at the problem from underneath the sink. He prodded around the plughole and tried to slide a slim rod from the trolley’s attached toolkit between Owen’s leg and the edge of the plughole, but to no avail. Ten minutes later, after trying everything they could think of, including trying to smash the sink, which might as well have been made of rubber for all the good hitting it did, Owen was still stuck.
“What were you sayin’ earlier about how we couldn’t afford for anything to happen to any of us?” Owen asked. He was getting increasingly grumpy, but Ianto couldn’t blame him. Both of them were tired and wanted to get some sleep before morning. “Being stuck like this permanently is going to seriously cramp my style.”
“You are such a defeatist; we’ve barely even started here. Right, let’s try another approach.” Ianto stood up, dusting off his trousers.
“We’ve already tried everything!”
“No we haven’t.” Ianto shook his head. “If we had, you wouldn’t still be stuck. Look at it this way; if your foot went in, there must be a way to get it out again. A plughole that doesn’t open when you need it to would be pointless; we just need to figure out how it works. What were you doing when it happened?”
“Climbing over a pile of sinks!”
Ianto sighed in exasperation. “I mean exactly what were you doing? Think, Owen, because the answer has to be in something you did,” he said calmly.
Owen couldn’t understand why Ianto wasn’t yelling back at him. He obviously had a lot more patience than Owen did. He drew a deep breath and tried to calm himself. “Okay, so I was climbing over the sinks and then something in the pile shifted and I started to lose my balance, so I grabbed hold of the nearest thing to keep from falling.”
“The hose thingy there.” Owen pointed at part of the sink. “I thought the sink was solid, so I shifted my weight onto this foot,” he gestured at the one in the sink, “and a hole opened under it, and now I’m up to my knee in a sink! What good is any of this doing?”
“Quite a lot, actually. Grab the hose. Try to grip it the same way you did before.”
“Just humour me.”
Owen did as he was told. “Alright, I’ve got it.”
“You used it as leverage trying to pull your other foot up, so pull on it.” He rolled his eyes when Owen gave the hose a half-hearted tug. “I said pull, Owen. Put your back into it!”
“Fine!” Owen snapped, yanking hard on the hose, and just like that, the plughole gripping his leg slid smoothly open. He pulled his foot out fast before letting go of the hose, watching as the base of the sink closed seamlessly, like there’d never been a hole there at all.
Ianto smiled. “See? Told you we’d figure it out.” He picked up the sink and returned it to the pile. “Now we know how the plug mechanism works I’ll update the entry for this one in the morning,” he said, a note of satisfaction in his voice.
“You do that.” Owen looked at his watch and groaned. “Terrific, it’s three-fifteen in the bloody morning and we still have to get home! By the time I get to bed it’ll be time to get up again!”
“Why don’t you just sleep on the sofa tonight?” Ianto asked as he began to steer the trolley towards the lift, with Owen trudging along beside him.
“That’s not a bad idea.” He gave it some thought. “Yeah, I might do that. What about you though?”
Ianto smiled sheepishly. “Don’t tell the girls, but I’ve sort of been sleeping in Jack’s bunker since he left.”
“So you’re the first one in every morning because you never go home?”
“Myfanwy likes the company,” Ianto replied with a shrug. “She’s used to having someone around at night. Who knows what she’d get up to with nobody keeping an eye on her? Besides, someone needs to be on hand in case of Rift alerts, plus it means I get more sleep than I would if I went back to my flat every night.”
“Makes sense I suppose,” Owen agreed. “Don’t worry, my lips are sealed.” He smirked as Ianto punched the button in the lift and they headed upwards. “As long as you don’t breathe a word about my little mishap with the alien sink.”
“That sounds fair.” Ianto offered his hand and Owen shook it. “Deal.” Moments later, the lift shuddered to a halt and the two men made their way out into the main Hub, leaving the trolley where it was. “I’ll get you a pillow and blankets.” Ianto set off towards Jack’s office, returning shortly with an armful of bedding.
“Thanks, mate,” Owen said, taking it off him and making up a quite comfortable looking bed on the sofa. “Hopefully we can get a few hours’ kip before the girls get in.”
“Give you a wakeup call around seven-thirty?”
“That’d be good. ‘Night, Ianto.” Owen sat down and pulled his trainers off.
Watching Ianto walk away, for the first time since Jack vanished on them three weeks ago, Owen thought maybe they could actually keep things running until their errant boss came back. And if he didn’t… Well, they’d cross that bridge when they came to it.