Mysterious alien tat one, Captain Jack Harkness nil. Jack settled in behind his desk to go over the readings his team had obtained during the afternoon's expedition out to the wilds of Tongwynlais to recover a... well, the Captain just had his fingers crossed that the enigmatic lump he'd left Tosh prodding away at wasn't another one for the "alien aphrodisiacs" wing of the archives, it was getting harder and harder to convince Andy Davidson that no, that really didn't happen often enough around here to make it a recruitment point once Gwen's return to full-time hours sent him back to be Jack's man on the inside with the regular force. I can see the posters now, all the sex at work you can eat and on-site childcare no matter how many of your co-workers you end up marrying and/or having alien babies with --
Outside on the platform there was a crash that sounded an awful lot like a tray of mugs hitting concrete. Damn it, that better not have been my coffee. "Hey, remember what I've said about the horseplay," Jack called out absently.
There was a silence.
And a high-pitched voice said, in a very credible impression of Owen's accent, "Well, shit."
Okay, that was enough to get Jack back out of his chair. "Shit would seem to cover it," said another, even squeakier voice as Jack stepped out of his office to behold --
Well... children, as it happened, five of them, all wearing the clothes (or at least the shirts) his team had been dressed in just moments before. "I'd have to concur with shit," a third small voice said from very near the floor, blue eyes blinking out at Jack from the cavernous depths of a red dress-shirt.
"Erm, I think we've figured out what it does, Jack?" Tosh was clutching a keyboard to her chest like some sort of lifeline, looking a bit like it was the only thing anchoring her into her ridiculously vast chair.
"Yeah, I can see that. Everybody all right? I mean, considering?"
"Besides the part where we're all going to need several more centuries of therapy?" Owen was the only one whose head came past Jack's belt. The medic kicked away his fallen trousers and started digging at his eyes to dislodge ill-fitting contacts. "Oi, I've still got all those bruises from last week, that's hardly fair."
The loose neck of Andy's jumper had slipped down around his elbows. With a frustrated glower he wriggled free of it, and hitched up the shirt beneath to inspect the tattoo on his hip for a puzzled moment before turning a questioning look to Owen. "I imagine we've even got a procedure for this," the constable said, quite dryly for his apparent age.
"Actually, this one is new," Owen said, flapping a trailing sleeve irritably. "Although I suppose it was only a matter of time. Why don't the embarrassing ones ever seem to happen to Jack, damn it?" A little boy shouldn't have been able to flail like that, Jack thought, even when the mind animating him was Owen's.
Tosh, at least, was quick to get back on-point, tiny or not: "Since we seem to have kept our relative ages I would guess that it's rewound us by a set amount, rather than a regression to some specific stage of development?"
And a couple of years might be trivial to adults, but when the oldest of them now seemed to be about six... "So, even if Jack was hit we wouldn't necessarily see any difference," Owen agreed, a touch crossly. "S'pose we're only lucky it was set to something less than thirty, or Ianto might have disappeared altogether."
Gwen lifted her head from where she'd been cowering in her chair, wide-eyed. "And Martha is younger than Ianto. Never mind the children."
Jack was already touching his earpiece to open a channel to the creche upstairs before she'd finished, icy terror trickling through his veins. "Martha?" he said, trying to keep his voice steady. "Everything okay up there?"
A pause that tore at Jack's heart, and then a blessedly adult tone came from the nearby speaker, sounding as if it might be mumbling around a pin: "Yeah, just changing a round of nappies, why? What have you all done now?"
"Um, well... check out the CCTV when you get a minute, huh?"
"Right, just let me get this one back into her cot and -- Oh. My, God." A small chortle. "Wasn't Owen ever cute?"
"And he's too little to know what that gesture means, so I'm guessing they're all themselves in there, am I right?" Martha continued, a mix of professional assessment and concern for her friends creeping into her voice. "Oh, poor Ianto. What is he, about eighteen months?"
"Give or take, I'd say. Better stay up there with the ki -- with the real kids for now and keep the area channel open." Jack sighed and turned to survey his miniaturized crew. "At least it didn't extend very far. Like up to the Plass."
Ianto had made it onto his feet by now, clinging to the leg of Tosh's workstation to keep himself upright. "We'd have ended up retconning every social worker in Cardiff," he said. "Owen looks like someone needs to get done for child abuse as it is."
The medic lifted a hand to prod at the fading bruise over his left eye. Jack heard a metallic clatter as a wedding ring that no longer remotely fit slipped off Owen's finger and went rolling wildly, followed by two scrambling boys. Andy caught up to it first, slamming a hand down with a slightly undignified squeak of triumph and then presenting the outsized circle of gold to his mate with a stricken look. "I don't suppose this does us much good right now, does it."
Owen looked back at him for a long moment, then dissolved into splutters. "Sorry, erm, that was an extremely unwholesome thought, give me a moment here."
Tosh slid down from her chair and held out an even smaller hand; "Mine doesn't fit either," she said, as her husband's expression went far too somber for such a little child. The medic put his arms around his partners, looking a bit taken aback at his unaccustomed position as the physically largest of the three. But paterfamilias and linchpin was Owen's role in their little drama, never mind who actually wore the handcuffs at home, and after murmured reassurances the knot broke back apart all looking a bit shaken up but still dry-eyed. Tosh carefully ascended the sofa to settle herself primly in one corner, Owen making a slightly more graceful job of it as he hitched up his trailing lab coat to join her. "None of this makes sense, I mean, those bruises, and Andy still has that scar on his leg --"
"Tosh, you're three, I think trying to break that down into further degrees of weird is a bit off the point here." Well, Andy was their practical one, Jack supposed, time enough to delve into the arcane specifics of what the device had done once the initial shock wore off --
"So what do we do, Jack?" Gwen looked like she might be working herself up into a fit. "How long do you think we're going to have to stay like this? It's halfway to Lord of the Flies around here most days as it is. Do you..." Gwen put a hand over her mouth. "You don't think, we'd..."
"Well, there is that suggestion we could just wait for nature to take its course," Owen said, and grimaced. "Not looking forward to going through puberty again any more than any of you are."
"Especially not the part where I thought I'd never stop growing," Andy echoed, and climbed up onto the sofa beside Owen. The constable made an angelic child, all messy curls and huge solemn eyes, and the contrast with his medic's sullen darkness was striking. "I was already taller than my Mum before I was twelve. I'm nearly your size now, for god's sake."
"I am not," Ianto piped emphatically, "growing up alongside our own children. Even for Torchwood, that's just a bridge too far, Jack."
"Sometimes these things are only temporary, like the last time something turned Owen into a lemur," Jack assured the ring of worried eyes. "If the change is unstable, you might revert back to yourselves before very long. Probably not more than a few hours. But I'll run more diagnostics on that device, after all, like Owen says, if it zapped me who'd notice?"
"He gives such inspiring leaderly speeches," Andy remarked.
"This would be a weird sort of second chance, if we can't work out how to reverse it," Tosh said, and leaned into her husband with a sigh as he put a small arm round her shoulders. "To be able to do it all again, with what you've already learnt..."
"And what if we start forgetting we're not children?" Andy pointed out soberly. "Shit, what about everyone we know? I've got mates, I've got family besides you, they'd notice I'm suddenly a metre shorter. And do you want to spend the rest of your life trying to socialise with people who don't even remember the London Olympics?" The constable took a deep breath and tucked himself up against Owen's other side, shivering. "Sorry, I just -- it just hit me, all of a sudden --"
"It might be easier if we did forget," Gwen said, looking as if Andy had spoken for her as well. "At least then we wouldn't know any differently. Oh, god, and Rhys is... Rhys, is... Rhys is going to be here any moment. What is he going to say about this?"
"My money is on 'some choice words for Jack'," he answered her, wondering if a hug would be interpreted as reassuring or just patronizing. "Do you want me to call him and put him off?"
"No, he'd only worry more," Gwen sighed, slumping further in her chair. She was going to be on the floor in a moment. "God, and we can't even know if maybe it would be better to retcon ourselves into enjoying our second childhoods. I don't want to have to pretend to go to school."
"Although, to be seventeen again?" From the look on Owen's face as he regarded Andy with a speculative gaze he was picturing his long-limbed lover at seventeen and he'd just sprained something. "And know what you're doing in bed..."
"Still, it is good to know that we can always count on Owen to make a horrible experience completely unbearable," Ianto said into the awkward silence that followed.
Beyond trying to see that they were all comfortable, rolling up sleeves to fit little arms and spreading out a blanket for the mobility-challenged smallest to park himself on, there wasn't much that Jack could really do for his tiny employees while he carefully examined the burnt-out-looking device on Tosh's desk but watch out of one eye that no one went tumbling over the edge of the platform. Ianto sat huddling in that enormous shirt with an expression that would have portended black murder on anyone tall enough to reach a cutlery drawer but just made him look like a cherub with the beginnings of a migraine.
Owen and Andy, at least, seemed to have reached a temporary accommodation to their plight, wrestling like puppies on the sofa. Jack rather imagined that his medic might be working out some issues from his original youth, and thought it probably just as well Ianto had come out too small to roughhouse with. "I'm not sure I want to have your children now," Tosh said, leaning away from the tussling.
"We'll have girls."
Owen seemed to be enjoying his sudden size advantage over Andy a little too much, really. Or perhaps it was just that tickling was so effective on hairless skin. Jack decided that it wasn't worth trying to separate them unless the constable stopped giggling and turned his attention to the morose Gwen, who still sat kicking her dangling feet listlessly as she stared off into the distance. "Rhys and I were just talking this morning about a second," she said. "I don't think this was what he had in mind."
Jack scooted his chair over to Gwen's side. "I'll level with you, I've been sitting here thinking about how to handle things if we can't get all of you sorted out," he said. "I mean, Rhys would have to be a part of that, I couldn't just retcon him now the two of you have the baby." (Or, well, Jack could, but there was practical and then there was gratuitously inhumane...) "And it's not like Martha and I could suddenly turn up with five extra kids. It might come down to setting you all up somewhere on Torchwood's dime until the problem, um, resolves itself. As it were. But I promise you, Gwen Cooper, I'll let you and Rhys make that decision for yourselves --"
Jack was interrupted by a yowl from the sofa. It looked as if a small hand had caught the wrong end of one of the badges on Owen's lab coat, from the way Andy was sucking forlornly at the base of his thumb. With a little coaxing Owen got the constable to surrender his wounded paw for a proper medical inspection. "It's not serious, but it could do with better than licking it clean, I know where your mouth's been." The medic looked up at Jack with haunted eyes. "Erm, could you fetch me a damp towel? I... I don't think we can reach the taps."
Jack did, and watched as his medic carefully dabbed at the angry-looking scratch. "You want something to keep the dirt out of it, too?"
"Because I never would have thought of that after that much time in med school," Owen replied, but a little halfheartedly, as if he hadn't been thinking in terms of how children's bodies would manage to attract grime simply by virtue of their lesser distance from the floor. "Just needs a plaster, should be some in my kit somewhere."
Jack went to rummage through Owen's stock of various means for addressing the creative and sundry ways that Torchwood's staff could potentially manage to get themselves mutilated and found a small container of pedestrian sticking-plasters where it had sifted to the bottom of the rubble. He came back up the steps with them and couldn't resist jerking the package back out of Owen's reach when the medic made a peremptory grab for it: "Ah, ah, what do we say?"
"Oh, for christ's sake, pwease me fix Andy boo-boo, all right? Now just hand me the fucking plasters." Jack tossed him the box. Owen fumbled through the packets inside, a frown settling onto his small face; "I am almost positive that the usual stock of my surgery doesn't happen to include Disney princess anything," he said with an accusing glare up at his boss.
"Sorry, bad joke -- I've been waiting for you to notice they were in there for months," Martha said over the comm.
Owen looked like he was about to bite someone. "Fuck off, the both of you."
"He's small enough you could wash his mouth out with soap, you know," Gwen said. "Or give him a proper spanking, he's always needed one."
"I don't think that would get you the results you're after, Gwen," Andy said, with what Jack would have sworn was the deliberate weight of his dimpled innocence thrown behind the words.
Gwen gave him a puzzled look, and then scowled. "If anything's going to get the child-welfare authorities onto us it's you and your filthy little mind," she said, sighing as if she ought to have known better than to walk into an opening like that. Jack thought he heard a mutter of this is why we never ended up dating from the sofa. "Honestly, I don't know how Tosh even puts up with your weird games --"
"We do have our own bedrooms," Tosh shot back, glaring at her diminutive colleague. "Not that how we manage our household that way is anyone's concern --"
Ianto had suddenly gone as red as his shirt. "Erm, sorry, can I just break in here to mention that apparently I'm not out of nappies?"
There was a sudden quiet as they all turned their attention to the smallest victim of Torchwood's latest fiasco. "Oh, god," Owen muttered.
Well, anything that steered the tots' conversation away from turning into a spirited defense of kinky sex, Jack's standards may not have been particularly high but even he had some limits on the notions he was willing to entertain, wine and dine, and bring home to his to cap off a pleasant evening. He eyed the grown man who only appeared to be a toddler warily. "Um, you're gonna need a hand with this, would you feel comfortable with...?"
The chubby little face creased into far too grave an expression. "I'd rather ask Doctor Jones, I think."
"Right, I suppose I'm the biggest," Owen said, not actually so grudgingly as all that, and clambered down from the sofa to take Ianto's hand. "Come on, then."
The worst part of it was how unavoidably adorable a picture they made as one child helped the other to steady himself on the stairs, the soggy tail of Ianto's shirt dragging. "And tell her to give him a slug of brandy to calm him down, that's how we did things back in the old days," Jack called after them.
"Owen's good with children," Gwen remarked wonderingly once the pair had disappeared into the corridor that led to the creche. The other two looked at her for a long, long moment and then abruptly they were all falling about gasping with laughter. "Oh, poor Ianto."
Soon Owen reappeared, alone, small bare feet feeling a cautious way down the stairs. "Martha's going to tuck him up on the settee in there when they're finished, he's done in from this and I can't say I blame him either," the medic said, settling back onto the sofa. He'd stopped by the lockers to fetch the spectacles he kept for emergencies, absurdly wide on his little face and who knew how effective for smaller eyes but apparently better than nothing at all. "Right, so, does anyone even have a deck of cards or something, for fuck's sake?"
The grouping on the sofa had devolved into a still-life of three bored children picking at their grubby toes by the time the bell from the tourist office rang. Jack tapped commands into his wrist-strap to open and close the various locks and braced himself for the revelation. "Oh, 's quiet in here," Rhys observed cheerily as the door rolled closed behind him. "All buggered off for the day but you then, Jack?"
"Um, no, Rhys, it's... we've had a little accident."
The pudgy features sharpened in alarm. "Gwen's not hurt, is she?"
"Nothing debatable about it, Harkness, I'm already working on my case for mental anguish damages," Owen called from the sofa as Rhys came up the steps and Gwen propelled herself into his arms, or his legs anyway, sobbing incoherently.
"Picked up some more kids, have you?" Rhys patted Gwen's head absently, a frown wrinkling his forehead as he took in the lineup on the sofa. "Whose are they, then, the lippy one looks a lot like your..." Owen's eyes narrowed to slits behind the too-large spectacles and Rhys startled visibly. "Oh. Oh. You are not telling me --?"
"It was a very little accident," Jack said wanly.
Rhys looked down at the dark head butting against his thighs and heaved a sigh. "It's not as if I haven't figured it by now, my place in your organisational chart is to be Torchwood's cosmic straight-man, but turning my wife into a toddler is a bit rubbish even from you lot. We've got a baby at home, you know, how am I supposed to look after the both of them?"
"At least you can get home," Owen snapped back, glowering. "We're going to have to have Jack drive us, and then we're stuck there. -- If you think I'm letting the neighbours see me like this --"
"With that eye they'd call to have you taken into care," Andy said. "And the Morgans knew me at this age, what if they -- well, I suppose they wouldn't recognise me, as such, but I don't know what they would think. That I'd been out up to no good, I suppose. And what would we do about our baby?"
"I can't even feed her," Tosh said, hands flying to her childishly flat chest. "She should be ready to start solids, but they say at least six months --"
"Right, that settles it, we're getting this sorted." Owen gave Jack a withering glare.
Rhys sat down in the nearest chair and let Gwen hoist herself up into his lap. "Ssh, love, you're still you, that's what matters, isn't it? Better or worse, aye?"
Gwen snuffled. "As if it could be worse. What will we do if we do have to just... grow out of this? Would you still say that when I'm twenty and you're fifty?"
Rhys's eyes went wide with alarm. "Is that likely, do you think?"
Jack shrugged. "I'm just crossing my fingers I don't end up having to find adoptive parents who wouldn't break up Hermione, Harry and Ron here."
Andy gave his partners a thoughtful look. "Do you think I'm cute enough to get away with biting the boss?"
From Tosh's face it was probably a good thing she wasn't quite tall enough to punch Jack in the testicles. "Depends how hard."
"You are bloody cute, mate." Andy glared at Rhys and he chuckled. "Don't suppose you've got pictures of this yet, Harkness?"
"Oh, their dear wee asses are all over our CCTV, trust me." Jack grinned at the forest of scowls that erupted, although in truth it would have been hard to do much with the resulting stills that would have any meaning beyond this room. Their Mums probably already had worse photos. Owen's Mum probably had the same photo of a homely child playing at being a doctor. "Look, it's getting late, maybe Rhys wouldn't mind running you three back to yours and looking after you for tonight while the mainframe chews over the numbers we've got so far --"
In the stony silence that greeted this suggestion the soft crackle as the nearby speaker engaged was perfectly audible. "Jack, Ianto's himself again."
"What? What did you do?"
He could almost hear his wife shrug. "Nothing, just put him to bed. When I turned around just now to check on him... there he is, big as life."
"And that was all either of you did?"
"Well, he liked your idea of having a sip of whisky to help him settle his nerves." Martha sounded as if she wasn't sure whether it was right and proper to be as amused as she clearly was. "Really, if I were him I might have been going on a tiny little booze-up myself."
"Why is there a bottle of whisky in the creche?"
"Erm, yeah, I can explain that one," Owen said, raising a sheepish little hand. "Well, no, I can't, but trust me, it made perfect sense at the time."
"We are the worst parents ever," Jack said.
"Oi, Owen's your side of the family."
It was probably simple sleep that had set Ianto right, the undistracted mind taking its chance to reassert its morphic sense of itself, but just on the off-chance Jack went to fetch the decanter from his office. "Nap time, kids, drink up so Daddy Jack doesn't have to pay a sitter while he goes out for his poker night," he announced brightly, pouring some small mouthfuls of liquor into the nearest empty mugs.
If ever a look could have been described as the evil-eye, it was Gwen's. "Jack, we're children, in case you hadn't noticed."
"No, you're not, you only think you are. And if the answer to this is getting you drunk enough to forget that, then I say we go for it, huh?" It was certainly better than waiting around until someone should fall asleep on their own to test the theory, anyway. Owen had already latched onto the alcohol with an enthusiasm that would have been unseemly in a grown man and for a small child bordered on the outright disturbing. "Whoa, you maybe wanna slow down a bit there, champ?"
"I'll say when I've had enough, Harky." Owen probably weighed all of three stone, and they really ought to have taken some measurements for the archives when all of this started, but he was a doctor, Jack supposed, and presumably had at least some idea of what he was doing, which was more than Jack could exactly say for himself at this point. He sat back in his chair watching as Rhys helped his wife to take delicate sips from her mug and the toasts from the sofa got sillier and less coherent, and decided that yeah, the red speedo would probably be the better choice to pack for Torchwood's circle of damnation, all things considered...
Soon enough all the wee heads were nodding, and Jack went to drape a blanket over the tangle of little bodies on the sofa. Andy's slim arms wrapped round Owen as if there were any comfort that an even smaller boy could lend in a situation like this, and Tosh had snuggled herself up against her husband with her face buried in his chest. It was precious as hell, damn it. "You know, Rhys, I've done a lot of questionable things in my day, but this is a distinct low," Jack whispered, settling into the chair at Owen's workstation to wait.
The Captain only realized that he was dozing himself when a thump jolted him alert. Jack whirled around to see Tosh, a full-grown Tosh, picking herself up off the floor with an air of sleepy bewilderment as her partners unwound themselves to gape down at her. "Oi," Andy grunted, extracting his head from under the arm of the sofa. "Tell me that dream was me eating leftover pizza before a nap, then?"
"Gwen would be wearing knickers," Owen pointed out maliciously. (And Jack hadn't missed that split-second check that everything of his own was present and accounted for, yes.) Gwen startled awake at the sound of her name and overbalanced the chair, landing in an undignified heap with Rhys. Who, funnily enough, didn't seem to mind getting the wind knocked out of him by one very regulation-sized wife.
"I need a hot shower," Ianto groaned up above on the catwalk, rubbing his temple. "But I think I'd better wait til I have a proper bed to fall into after."
Andy stood up on legs that still looked like they weren't quite sure where they were going to meet the floor. "Bloody Torchwood. Dunno if this makes me want to have your adorable little babies, or swear off sex for the rest of my life."
"Certainly an argument against waxing," Tosh said absently, tugging down the hem of her shirt, and then blushed crimson.
"Right, we'll be off then," Rhys said, in a tone that brooked no argument. "...Erm, you were wearing knickers when you came to work?"
"Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of a party where you have to find your pants before you can go home," Jack said wistfully, watching the scrum for their scattered trousers. Yeah, mysterious alien tat one, Torchwood nil. In the morning, when the diagnostics had finished, ancient Jack would be the one to carry the device down to the secure level of the archives, and consign it to the too dangerous for further study storage facility. He wasn't sure he even wanted to know whether the technology had originally been meant as a weapon or a spa treatment; maybe the data they'd already collected would turn out to yield some important insight on ageing, or maybe he'd just be having a different sort of nightmares until the next time one of them almost got killed.
But that was a problem for another day, and Jack had enough of those lined up already.