Warnings/spoilers: Set after Exit Wounds.
For: Day Ten prompt at redismycolour.
Word Count: 1,301
Author's Notes: Un-beta'ed. I wrote this because I will always remember the best hot chocolate I ever tasted, and because hot chocolate is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
finding new ways to be awed
They come back from the cold, frozen to the core and exhausted but hanging on, always on guard and ready for their next challenge. Gwen calls Rhys as they step inside the Hub, assures him that she's all right, that she's coming home tonight. Her face glows with warmth, and she's laughing at something, probably a delightfully silly joke Rhys has just made. Ianto notices Jack watching her thoughtfully as she packs up to leave. Ianto knows that Jack thinks there is something strangely beautiful about the way Gwen's hair falls into her face, the way she tucks her phone in between her ear and her shoulder, the way she smiles effortlessly with all the genuine happiness of someone in love.
"See you tomorrow, guys," Gwen says, swinging her bag over her arm.
"Well done today, Gwen," Jack acknowledges, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Don't be late for work tomorrow."
"I won't," Gwen promises, and with a little wave she walks out of the Hub, a cheerful spring in her step, as if all her tiredness has been eased away with just one simple phone call. There is someone she can always depend on, someone she can always come home to, and the knowledge of that is powerfully comforting.
Jack stares at the door absent-mindedly for a short while after she has gone. Ianto approaches him and taps him on the shoulder. He starts, and looks at Ianto, slightly dazed. "Ianto?" he prompts.
"Would you like some coffee, Jack?" Ianto offers. "You'd have to write that report tonight."
"Something different, maybe?" Jack suggests after a moment of silence. "I could do with something different."
"What kind of different?" Ianto asks. "Any idea at all?"
"No, not really," Jack says. "I'm sure you can come up with something brilliant, Ianto. You always do."
"I'll try," Ianto says modestly. "I have been... working on something for some time now, actually. Maybe now's the time to find out what the finished product is like."
Jack looks curious. "Well, I'm looking forward to it," he says as Ianto turns around.
Ianto is fiddling with the coffee machine when he senses Jack hovering near him. He hides a smile and continues to experiment with the settings of the machine, waiting for Jack to speak first.
"Ianto, what are you doing?" Jack enquires finally.
"Making changes to the coffee machine so that we can have something different," Ianto informs him.
"Does that thing really employ alien technology?" Jack says, raising his eyebrows. "You were always the only one who could figure it out."
"Some things are best kept mysteries, Jack," Ianto says, finding it harder and harder not to smile.
"Ah," Jack says, as if enlightened. "Yes, that's right, Ianto." He pauses, and then he begins, hesitantly, "Did you see how she looked when she left? She was so happy, Ianto. All these things that keep happening to us, and somehow she's managed to have a life outside. She's married. I thought it would be impossible. Once you join Torchwood, you're married to Torchwood. But she's not. She's doing a perfect job here and yet she's still so normal and happy. Isn't that a miracle?"
Ianto doesn't answer. He stares blankly at a sheet of paper with his fine, neat handwriting on it. Then he says, "Were you ever that happy once, Jack, do you think?"
Jack smiles, his lips a soft melancholic curve. "It's so hard to remember. Happiness is such a delicate emotion. I have memories in which I know was happy, but I can't remember the feeling itself. But I was, probably. Several times in the past. A long time ago, though. Or at least it feels like it. But it's not like I'm not happy now. I'm definitely glad to still be here. What about you, Ianto?"
"Oh, maybe," Ianto says, his voice a half-whisper. "You know, Jack." His body tenses and he busies himself with the machine, tries to make it clear that the conversation ends here.
Ianto enters Jack's office with the finished product of his experiments. "Ta-da!" he proclaims, setting the mug down on Jack's desk, somehow managing it with a flourish. "Hope you enjoy, sir."
Jack glances at it and he grins. "Ianto, is that hot chocolate?" he says. "With whipped cream and chocolate flakes and marshmallows on top?"
"Caramel hot chocolate. Completely and utterly homemade. Well, Ianto-made, possibly with the aid of alien technology but I'm not admitting anything," Ianto says, smiling. "None of the Cadbury stuff, nothing, though I have to say I was considering using one of those Cadbury 99 flakes just because it would take less effort, but they taste awful."
Jack picks up the mug and is about to take a sip when Ianto stops him. "Careful, it's hot," he warns.
"I know it is," Jack says, and he puts the mug to his lips. "That's a lot of whipped cream," he remarks, before sticking his tongue out and lapping up a fair amount of the cream. Ianto tries his best not to stare. Then Jack takes a tiny sip.
"How is it?" Ianto asks.
Jack's smile is an immensely awed and satisfied one. "Care to share the recipe?"
"Highly classified. Plus you wouldn't know what to do with it anyway," Ianto says, smiling back sweetly. "I wrote it myself, entirely in code, and now that I've memorised it I think I shall burn it, or at least lock it away where nobody will ever find it."
"Yes. I suppose. You will always be the only one who will know how to make stuff like this. It's the best I've ever tasted," Jack says, admiring as he bites into the chocolate flakes.
"I drank something like this in a quaint little coffee shop in Bath years ago," Ianto explains quietly, watching Jack dip the marshmallows into the chocolate and eat them slowly. "And I've never had anything like it since. I've been trying to replicate the taste for a long time, but I can never get it right. Well, to me, that hot chocolate in Bath will always the best because it was the taste of happiness."
Their eyes meet. Jack's eyes are soft and sympathetic, and Ianto wants to close his eyes or look away but he finds that he cannot. He remembers the girl saying that Jack's eyes are older than his face, and in them there is years of understanding, of experiences that Ianto knows are confusing and terrifying and heartbreaking. Jack's sympathy is more profound than a lot of other people's, and Ianto cannot deny that.
"I have you," Jack says suddenly, and he drains the rest of the mug before continuing, "Isn't that strange, Ianto? I have you and here you are, making hot chocolate for me and operating that ridiculous coffee machine that probably dropped out of the Rift once upon a time. I look at Gwen and I think, isn't she lucky? But she's not the one who's sitting here right now drinking this hot chocolate, is she?" He smiles, and pulls Ianto in for a kiss, slipping a tongue into Ianto's mouth and letting the taste of hot chocolate and something close to happiness linger between their lips.
When they break apart, Jack says, "You know, you should make this for Gwen when she comes to work tomorrow. She'll appreciate it."
"Yes, Jack, I will," Ianto says. "And thank you."
"For what?" Jack asks.
"For being the test subject of the prototype of the Choc Shock," Ianto says, smiling.
Jack stares at him. "Is that really what you're calling it?" he says, chuckling.
"As I said, it is a prototype. I'll probably have come up with a better name for it by tomorrow morning," Ianto replies, shrugging, and leans in for another kiss.