Characters: Ianto, Jack, Tosh.
Summary: Ianto and Jack need Tosh’s help with a rather awkward problem.
Word Count: 3093
Content Notes: Very shaky science.
Written For: Challenge 19: Attraction at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Tosh was working quietly on one of her computer programmes when a text message popped up on her screen.
Tosh, need your help in the archives, please hurry. Don’t tell anyone else. Ianto.
She glanced surreptitiously at her colleagues. Owen appeared to be taking a nap while Gwen was shopping for shoes online. Standing up, Tosh stretched a little, rubbing her back as though she were stiff from sitting for too long, then picked up her handbag and made her way across the Hub. If anyone had been paying attention, they would have assumed she was going to the ladies.
As soon as she was out of sight, she sped up and made instead for one of the auxiliary staircases that led by a roundabout route to the archives. Ianto never called for help unless there was a serious problem
Arriving at the area Ianto used as his office, Tosh walked straight in, then turned around heading for the doorway again, covering her eyes.
“Sorry, Ianto, I didn’t realise you were… busy. I got a message asking for help, thought it was from you,” she said, stifling a giggle.
“It was from me. Don’t leave, Tosh! This isn’t what it looks like! We’re stuck!” Ianto sounded desperate, almost panicked, so Tosh lowered her hand, turning around again and taking a closer look at her friend’s situation.
At first glance, she’d jumped to a slightly inaccurate conclusion. Ianto was there, leaning over his desk, with Jack plastered to his back, but both appeared to be fully dressed.
“Hi, Tosh!” Jack smiled a bit sheepishly. “So, a funny thing’s happened…” He trailed off awkwardly as Ianto straightened up and shuffled around to face Tosh. Jack stayed behind him, peering over his shoulder, his smile fading to an anxious look.
“We could really use your help working out what happened, why it happened, and how to stop it,” Ianto added, “because as fun as this might look, it’s going to get a bit inconvenient before long.”
“Exactly what is the problem?” Tosh asked, studying the two men.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jack asked, eyebrows going up. “We’re stuck together!”
“What, like with glue?” Tosh’s eyes widened.
“Um, no.” Ianto chewed his lip. “We’re not so much stuck together as sort of… magnetised. Watch.”
With a great deal of effort and Ianto holding on tightly to one of the metal shelf supports that were sunk into the concrete of both floor and ceiling, Jack managed to prise himself off Ianto’s back, only to immediately be pulled back against his lover with such force that they banged their heads together.
“OW! Dammit Jack!”
Ianto reached up to rub his head and his hand immediately stuck to Jack’s face. It was an even more awkward position to be in than before.
“Mmpf!” Jack protested.
“Oops!” Ianto tried to move his arm, but the angle meant he couldn’t get any leverage. “Tosh, could you just…”
“I know you’re attracted to each other, but this is ridiculous!” Tosh grabbed Ianto by the sleeve and after a couple of false starts due to magnetic resistance, finally managed to pry his hand off Jack’s face. “Now what?”
“If you can just pull my hand in front of me?”
She did as requested and Ianto folded his arms with a sigh of relief. “My body seems to act as a buffer. As long as I keep my hands and arms mostly in front of me they stay unstuck,” he explained.
“How did this happen?”
“How does anything weird happen around here? Alien tech, most likely; you’d think I’d be used to this kind of thing by now.” Ianto sounded resigned.
“Okay, walk me though what you were doing right before you and Jack wound up like this.” Tosh waved a hand at them and tried to sound businesslike despite the distracting sight in front of her.
“I’ve been cataloguing the miscellaneous items from room seventeen, where all the supposedly harmless unidentified objects have been stuffed over the years.” Ianto nodded towards the long worktable he had set up between the first rank of shelves and his desk area. Because they were now stuck cheek to cheek again, Jack’s head nodded too. “I was just unpacking the next boxful and laying the contents out ready to be photographed when Jack came in and grabbed me from behind. I told him to stop it because I was busy and he said…” Ianto paused, frowning. “What was it you said again? Something about attraction… Oh yeah, I remember now. He said ‘I can’t help myself, you’re irresistible,’ and I made some dumb joke about him being attracted by my animal magnetism. Jack growled and bit my ear; I started laughing, lost my balance and sort of half fell across the table. Then everything went blurry for a moment, and next thing we knew, we were stuck together.”
“Right, then something on this table is responsible, and it was probably something you touched when you fell across it, so where were you standing?”
Ianto and Jack shuffled towards the table in tandem. “About here.” Ianto gestured to where several items were jumbled together instead of being neatly laid out. A couple had even fallen on the floor, which was covered with a roll of lino Ianto had found propped against the wall when he’d taken over the area as his office and workroom.
Putting on one of the pairs of protective gloves Ianto kept there for handling unknown objects, Tosh picked up the two small devices from the floor, placed them back on the table and carefully spread out the others. “Do either of you know what any of these are?”
Ianto and Jack studied the array.
“The blue one’s a measuring device,” Ianto said. “I remember an identical one at Torchwood One, we used it to calculate the dimensions of the items we were cataloguing for the archives. It’ll be useful to have one here, if it still works.”
“We can rule that one out then.” Tosh moved it to Ianto’s desk, out of the way, leaving five items.
“The grey one with the black stripe is a communicator,” Jack added. That went on Ianto’s desk as well. “And the little black one is an emergency beacon. If that had gone off we’d all know about it; those things are loud. Looks like its power source is missing though. There should be a cover over the opening in the bottom and a universal battery inside.”
That left three. The first was a silver disc with a lump in the middle that looked like the top half of a miniature flying saucer and was about the size of a regular saucer. Then there was a black stick about twenty centimetres long with a handle at one end that featured an array of buttons like the ones on a remote control. The final suspect was rectangular, the size of a thick paperback novel, greenish grey and knobbly on one side and smooth on the other, with what looked like a screen covering half the smooth side and strange symbols arranged in rows and columns taking up the rest of the space.
“Alien calculator?” Ianto suggested, earning a chuckle from Jack.
“Or it could be a hand-held computer or PDA,” Tosh said with a grin. “Now all we have to do is work out which of these three caused your problem.” Tosh went over to the shelves where Ianto kept various pieces of diagnostic equipment and picked up a standard Torchwood scanner, bringing it back with her to the worktable.
Scanning eliminated another potential culprit. The ‘flying saucer’ had no internal workings or power source; it was a hollow shell with no definable purpose.
“Maybe it’s an ornament,” Jack commented.
Ianto tried to swivel his eyes to look at his lover but could only really see the tip of Jack’s nose from the position they were stuck in. “It’s not very decorative.”
“Not by human standards, but to the right alien it could be a work of art.”
“True, I suppose, there’s no accounting for tastes. What about the other two, Tosh?”
“Both are technological devices, and they’re both in working order as far as I can tell.”
“If they’re turned on, can’t you just switch them off?” Ianto asked plaintively. “Maybe that would work.”
“They’re already off,” Tosh replied, sounding apologetic.
“Damn. So much for that brilliant idea. I’m getting hot with Jack stuck to me and I can’t even take my jacket off.”
“Sorry. Let me try and slide around to your side.”
“What good will that do?”
“It’ll free one arm, then maybe Tosh can help you get that sleeve off…”
“Okay, we’ll try that. Let me just anchor myself with the shelf support first.” The pair shuffled back to the post again and Ianto grabbled hold with both hands while Jack slithered around him and with Tosh’s help, after five minutes of strenuous effort, Ianto’s Jacket and waistcoat were off, but by the time they were done, Jack was plastered to Ianto’s front, leaving them looking in opposite directions over each other’s shoulder. “I’m not sure if this is better or worse,” Ianto sighed.
Tosh turned her attention back to studying the two remaining suspects, but after twenty minutes was forced to conclude that neither was responsible. The knobbly one was some kind of travel guidebook while the stick was the alien equivalent of a slide rule. “At least those can be properly catalogued now,” Tosh told Ianto, trying to cheer him up but failing miserably. He just looked at her with a woebegone expression on what she could see of his face.
“Are you sure it’s not the saucer doing this?” Ianto asked after a minute, awkwardly turning Jack so he could see past him to Tosh. He sounded frustrated and fed up.
“Positive. It’s completely inert, no energy readings, no radiation, no magnetism… Nothing at all that could possibly affect anything.”
“How about scanning us?” Jack turned them around so that he was the one facing Tosh. “Maybe then you can trace what’s magnetised us.”
“Got to be worth a try,” Ianto muttered.
Something suddenly occurred to Tosh. “Did you try leaving the area? Maybe the effect will lessen if you put some distance…” she trailed off when she realised Ianto and Jack were trying to shake their heads.
“Tried that before we contacted you. Didn’t work. We went all the way to the far end of the room, and believe me that wasn’t easy! Then we had to come all the way back to PM you.”
“It was just a thought.” Tosh ran the scanner over them both, starting at their heads and working right down to their feet. The only thing she learned was that Ianto was North and Jack was South. “If I could reverse the polarity in one of you, you’d repel each other,” she mused.
Ianto got a mental image of the pair of them being thrown apart and winced. “That sounds like it could prove painful, not to mention dangerous.”
“Mmm,” Tosh agreed distractedly. “What I really need to do is find a way to turn off your magnetic charge or remove it. Maybe it could be transferred to something metal…”
“Hello? Shelf post? That’s metal and Ianto grabbing hold of it hasn’t changed anything,” Jack reminded her.
“Oh.” Tosh sat down in Ianto’s desk chair, looking defeated.
“So we’re stuck to each other permanently? I think I might cry,” Ianto said woefully.
“It’ll be okay, Ianto.” Jack rocked them both comfortingly if a bit awkwardly. “Don’t despair, we’ll figure it out somehow.”
“I’m beginning to understand how Siamese twins feel.”
Tosh stood up again, a determined expression on her face. “There has to be an explanation and a way to undo whatever’s happened to you two, and I’m not giving up until I find it.” She scanned everything again, starting with Jack and Ianto, and this time including the three objects they’d ruled out beforehand. Then she scanned over, under, and around the table. Next, she picked up each item that had been on the table and inspected it carefully. She frowned at the flying saucer, running gloved fingers over it. It was seamless and smooth except for a small hexagonal hole underneath, which she’d assumed was for mounting it on some sort of stand, but what if it wasn’t? What if there was something else that was supposed to fit in it?
She looked at Jack and Ianto again, her eyes moving down their bodies to their feet; Ianto with his shiny leather dress shoes and Jack with his big, heavy boots. There was one part of them she hadn’t scanned. She automatically ruled Ianto out; his shoes couldn’t conceal anything, but those boots…
“Jack, can you lift your foot for me?”
“I’ve got an idea. Just humour me.”
“Fine. Which foot?”
“Either. It doesn’t matter, I need to look at both anyway.”
“Okay.” Jack tried to bend his knee and lift his right foot, but Ianto yelped.
“Um, no, can’t do it like this, Ianto’s legs don’t bend that way, I’ll have to go around behind him.” More shuffling and wriggling ensued, ending with Jack in his original position, plastered to Ianto’s back. By now their clothes were getting very dishevelled, trousers twisted and their shirts creased and untucked.
Ianto held on to his worktable while Jack carefully lifted their right legs. Tosh crouched to look at Jack’s boot sole. “Do you ever clean your boots?”
“Of course I do! I polish them regularly.”
“You’ve got mud caked in the soles.”
“It rains a lot and the parks get muddy.”
“I wondered where all the dry mud I have to keep cleaning up around the Hub came from.” Tosh could practically hear Ianto’s eye roll.
“Other foot please.”
Jack put his and Ianto’s right feet down on the floor and lifted their left feet. Tosh peered closely and there it was, wedged in the sole of Jack’s boot, a small metallic hexagon. Pulling on insulated gauntlets and holding the ‘flying saucer’ in one hand, Tosh used the end of a pencil to poke the shiny object out of the mud. The moment it was free, it pinged into the empty hole in the underside of the still unidentified metallic object.
Instantly, Ianto collapsed across the worktable with a breathless ‘oof’ while Jack toppled backwards onto the floor, landing on his arse. With a groan, Ianto’s knees gave way and he slid off the table to join Jack on the floor.
“Ooh, it feels good to sit down!”
“Hmmm,” Jack agreed, shuffling closer. “You okay?”
“I think so, more or less. We don’t seem to be magnetic anymore, which is a definite improvement.” Ianto looked at the flying saucer thing in Tosh’s hands. “What exactly is that?”
Tosh shrugged helplessly. “I haven’t a clue. That bit there.” She pointed with the pencil, “is obviously highly magnetic, but how and why it magnetised the two of you is beyond any science I’m familiar with. Alien tech doesn’t always seem to be bound by the same laws of science as earth tech. We still have so much to learn.” She scanned the object cautiously. “Now it’s back in its proper place, it’s emitting a low-level magnetic field. The device, if that’s what it is, seems to dampen the effect of the magnet and spread it out. You must have knocked the hexagon loose when you fell on the table. Then it rolled onto the floor and Jack stepped on it.”
“Maybe we both got magnetised because I was still lying on the main part when Jack trod on the magnet bit,” Ianto mused.
“I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any,” Tosh agreed.
“Does it really matter why or how?” Jack asked. “The important thing is making sure it doesn’t happen again. That thing needs to be permanently sealed in a containment box so it can’t affect anything else.”
“I second that,” Ianto said with a shudder. He smiled wryly at Jack. “As much as I love you, I have no desire to be permanently stuck to you. It’s very restricting.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Tosh told them, standing up with the object still in her gloved hands.
“You’re not stuck to it, are you?” Ianto sounded worried.
Tosh laughed. “Of course not! See?” She let go with one hand, then swapped the saucer to her other hand. “The magnetic field is barely detectable now; as long as the hexagon stays in its hole there shouldn’t be any trouble, but I think I’ll tape it in place, just to be on the safe side.”
“Sounds sensible. Thanks, Tosh. We owe you.”
“Nonsense; friends are there for each other, no matter what. You’ve both helped me out of some awkward predicaments; it’s only fair that I return the favour. I’ll put this away while you two make yourselves presentable. See you upstairs in a bit?”
Ianto nodded. “I suppose it is about time for the mid-afternoon coffee round. Owen will only start complaining if he doesn’t get his caffeine fix on time.”
As soon as Tosh was out of sight, Jack stood up and helped Ianto to his feet, dusting him off. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Nothing a quick shower and a cup of coffee won’t fix,” Ianto assured him. “I always knew you had a magnetic personality, but that was taking things to extremes,” he quipped.
“Just so you know,” Jack said with a smile, “we don’t need to be magnetised for me to be irresistibly attracted to you.”
“I noticed. It’s sort of what got us into that mess to start with.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“No permanent harm done.” Ianto started to straighten Jack’s braces. “We look like we’ve gone a few rounds with a Weevil.”
“We should do something about that. You said something about a shower?”
Ianto hesitated for a moment then shrugged. “Why not? After all that, we could both use one. I don’t know about you, but I still feel unpleasantly sticky. Owen will just have to wait a little while longer for his coffee. It won’t kill him.”
Jack laughed. “He might have something to say about that.” He gestured grandly. “After you.”
Ianto frowned. “I don’t think so, you’ve been behind me too much today already.”
“Side by side then?”
“Much better.” As they left Ianto’s office, walking close together but not touching, he added feelingly, “I’m never going to take independent movement for granted again.”