Ianto was glowing. That wasn’t to say he appeared to be in excellent health, or that he looked radiantly happy, although the first of those was certainly true. The second, not so much. He looked more confused and worried than anything. Probably, Jack decided, because he was glowing.
The glow was clearly visible even in the harsh illumination of the Hub’s decontamination room; a bluish light radiated from the exposed parts of his body, which in this instance, meant most of him. All he had on was a towel, having just been thoroughly decontaminated following a rather messy Rift retrieval, during which he’d been liberally spattered with the blood of the latest homicidal alien wanting to enslave Cardiff, and parts beyond.
Ianto hadn’t been exactly overjoyed when Jack shot said alien and it exploded all over him, but he’d understood the necessity since the alien had been about to blow his head off. Jack really hadn’t had any other option, and Ianto would far rather his suit be a write-off than his head; suits could be replaced, after all. But the blood had soaked right through his clothing to his skin, and when he’d come out of the decon shower… Well, Ianto didn’t think luminous was a good look on him. Even his hair was glowing. On the other hand, the glow was quite a nice shade of blue, which was better than fluorescent pink, green, or orange; at least he didn’t look like someone had used a highlighter pen all over him.
As soon as Ianto had noticed himself starting to glow, he’d used his bluetooth headset to contact Jack upstairs. Jack, hearing the slightly panicked note in Ianto’s voice, had quite naturally hurried downstairs to find out what was wrong, and on seeing his shining blue boyfriend, had immediately called Owen down. Now they were both frowning as they stared at Ianto.
“Can someone please tell me why I’m glowing?” Ianto asked peevishly. “Is this anything I should worry about? Am I radioactive or something?”
“No.” Owen sounded completely certain of that, which was reassuring. He held up the scanner he’d brought down with him. “The alarms aren’t goin’ off and this isn’t registering any kind of radioactivity, so it’s not that. I’ll have to run some tests on the gloop that passes for blood in whatever that alien is, but my guess is that something in it reacted with something in the decontamination process and resulted in bioluminescence. It’s interesting.”
“Not from where I’m standing it’s not!” Ianto scowled at Owen.
“Look on the bright side, Glow-Boy. At least you’ll be able to see in the dark; won’t even need to carry a torch anymore.”
“Why am I not comforted by that thought?” It was a rhetorical question, spoken more to the air around him than to either of the people in the room with him, and Owen wisely decided not to reply.
“You’re a pretty colour,” Jack said, apparently trying to cheer Ianto up, although judging by the glare Ianto threw his way, it was the wrong thing to say.
“I can’t leave the Hub looking like this, Jack! Tomorrow was going to be the first day off I’ve had in a month! I had plans, and now I’ll have to stay right here in the Hub until I stop glowing.” A thought occurred to him and his face paled, or Jack thought it did; it was a bit difficult to be sure, what with the glow. “What if I don’t? What if it never wears off and I have to stay like this for the rest of my life?”
“You could make a fortune on the chat show circuit,” Owen suggested.
“Not helping, Owen!” Ianto snapped, folding glowing arms over his bare and glowing chest.
“Lighten up! Oh, sorry, you’re already doin’ that,” Owen sniggered.
“This isn’t funny!”
“Jeez, where’s your sense of humour? Keep your hair on! Suppose you’d better get dressed and come up to the med bay. I’ll take skin scrapings and other samples, run tests on them, the stuff used in decon, and the alien’s blood and tissue, see if I can figure out what’s causin’ you to glow like a light bulb. While I’m doin’ that, you can make yourself useful.”
Ianto huffed. “I suppose you want coffee.”
“Well yeah, if you’re makin’ some, but right now you’d be more help up in the hothouse. One of the grow lights is on the fritz.”
“Fine, I’ll see what I can do to fix it,” Ianto said with a sigh, turning away to pull on the clean clothes Jack had fetched for him.
“Fix it?” Owen smirked. “I was thinkin’ more along the lines of you takin’ its place.” He hurried out of the decontamination suite before Ianto could say anything in response, laughing loudly at his own joke.
“Great, there goes what little dignity I had left,” Ianto sighed, shoulders slumping. “Looks like I’m going to be the butt of everyone’s jokes for the foreseeable future. Why me? Sometimes I think the universe is out to get me.”
“You just had some bad luck, that’s all. Owen will figure things out and get you back to normal. He may be tactless and nowhere near as funny as he thinks, but he’s good at what he does,” Jack reassured his lover, wrapping both arms around Ianto in a comforting hug. “You’ll be fine.”
“I hope you’re right,” Ianto mumbled against Jack’s shoulder.
Owen ran exhaustive tests on the samples of skin, blood, and hair he took from Ianto, and similar samples taken from the alien’s corpse. He carried out experiments on the effects the decontamination chemicals, in various combinations, had on the alien’s skin, blood, and other tissues, He even took scrapings of his own skin, and by a judicious application of the alien’s blood and a combination of decon chemicals, succeeded in making those glow a pretty blue as well.
Ianto wasn’t overly impressed. “Great, now you know how to make people glow, but do you know how to stop them glowing? No? Didn’t think so,” he grumbled.
Undeterred, Owen scanned Ianto with every scanner he had available and then spent the rest of the day analysing and collating the results. In the meantime, Ianto tried to carry on as normally as possible, despite his ever-present glow.
That night he slept badly. There was a reason he never slept with a light on; it kept him awake. Now though, even with all lights turned off and his body covered, his head still glowed, illuminating Jack’s bunker quite brightly. Pulling his head under the covers just meant that he was exposed to the glow from his body as well.
The following day, Jack went out and bought Ianto a sleep mask, reasoning that if his eyes were covered, the light emitted by his body wouldn’t seep through his eyelids so easily. It helped, and Ianto's second night was a lot more restful than the first, but still he glowed.
Owen had managed to rule a lot of things out, and along the way determined that the glow, though annoying, wasn’t causing Ianto any physical harm; mental and emotional distress, yes, but not physical harm. Ianto supposed he should be grateful for small mercies, but somehow it didn’t make him feel any better about being a human glow-worm, even if the illumination he gave off did make reading some of the faded labels in the archives a lot easier.
Days passed, and Ianto continued to glow about his regular duties, but for obvious reasons, he was confined to the Hub twenty-four hours a day without even the dubious pleasure of taking his turn on Rift retrievals. He didn’t even get to go Weevil hunting with Jack, who took Gwen instead since she was the only one not currently involved in trying to find a solution to Ianto’s bioluminescence. Needless to say, Ianto was less than happy about that. He knew he was being oversensitive, but it felt as if Gwen was usurping his position on the team. Not only was she Jack’s new Weevil hunting partner, but she’d taken over manning the tourist office for a few hours each day as well, since they needed to keep up their cover and there was no way he could show his face up there. Making coffee, cleaning up after the team, caring for the residents, and doing the filing was all he was good for now, and both Janet any Myfanwy viewed him with suspicion whenever he fed them. He didn’t blame them; he hated catching sight of his reflection.
Almost a week after the incident that had given Ianto his new look, the Rift alarms went off. Jack turned towards Gwen, intending to ask her to accompany him, but on seeing the expression on Ianto’s face, changed his mind.
“Tosh, with me,” he called instead.
Looking up from her computers, Tosh spun her chair around to stare at Jack. “Me? What about Gwen?”
“Gwen hasn’t written up her report on the last retrieval yet, and you’ve been staring at your screens for days. You need a break. A bit of fresh air and exercise will help to clear your head.”
Reluctantly Tosh rose from her seat, wincing at the movement. She hadn’t realised she’d become so stiff. “You’re right, I could really do with a break. Thanks, Jack.”
“No need to thank me; I haven’t had the pleasure of your company for a while.”
Tosh blushed slightly, smiling as she pulled on her jacket.
“Ianto,” Jack called, “I thought we’d pick up something for lunch on the way back. What d’you fancy?”
“I’ll have whatever the others are having,” Ianto replied gloomily.
“That’s not what I asked.” Jack approached his lover and put his hands on Ianto’s shoulders. “I know you’re not having much fun at the moment, but at least I can get you something nice for lunch. Whatever you want.”
Ianto dredged up a smile; Jack was trying so hard to make him feel better, even though nothing he said or did helped much. He considered the question. “Okay, how about fish and chips? Haven’t had that in a while. With lots of vinegar,” he added.
“Your wish is my command!” Jack leaned in and kissed Ianto on his glowing lips. “Anything for you!” Ianto knew he meant it too.
Turning in a swirl of coat, Jack strode away through the door to the garage with Tosh hurrying after him, taking two steps to each of his long strides. As soon as Jack was out of sight, Ianto’s shoulders sagged again and he heaved a sigh before shambling towards the stairs to the archives. He had a pile of filing to do; that should keep him occupied until lunch arrived.
Jack and Tosh returned an hour and a half later, by which time Ianto was back upstairs, getting everything ready for the team’s lunchtime coffee.
“Lunch is served,” Jack called out as he breezed in from the garage, laden with a containment unit, Tosh following him with the bags of fish and chips. “Come and get it!” He set his burden on Tosh’s workstation as she took the team’s lunch over to the coffee table and started unpacking.
Everyone converged on the sofa and chairs, claiming their favourite seats, and Jack distributed paper-wrapped parcels. Ianto handed out cups of coffee before plonking himself beside Jack on the sofa and accepting his lunch. He frowned as he opened it.
“I don’t think this one’s mine,” he said as his nose failed to detect the sharp scent he was expecting. “No vinegar.”
“Ah, right! The shop’s stopped using those bottle things, they have these instead.” Jack dug in his coat pocket and pulled out an assortment of sachets, some filled with salt, others with vinegar, scattering them across the coffee table. “I brought plenty, so help yourself.”
There certainly were plenty, it looked like Jack had pilfered half the chip shop’s supplies, and Ianto scooped up a handful, sprinkling salt sparingly and handing the part-used sachet to Tosh, then tearing one of the little plastic doohickeys of vinegar open. It promptly squirted half its contents over his left hand and he rolled his eyes, tipping the remaining vinegar over his chips and reaching for a paper napkin to clean himself up with. Typical. Everything was conspiring against him. Opening the next couple of sachets more carefully, Ianto managed to avoid dousing himself any more than he already had, and was soon contentedly tucking in to steaming hot battered fish and vinegar soaked chips, oblivious to the way Owen was staring at him, a chip halfway to his mouth.
“Er, Ianto, mate?”
“What?” Ianto asked, hastily swallowing his mouthful of fish.
“Look at your hand.”
“No thanks, I’ve seen it already.” Ianto was a tad peeved; why was Owen drawing his attention to his predicament just when he’d almost managed to forget about it for long enough to enjoy his meal?
“Seriously, mate, I think you should. I’m not joking around.”
Ianto looked at his glowing right hand and felt the gloom settle over him once more.
“Not that one; the other one.”
“Why? They both look the same,” Ianto grumbled, automatically glancing at his left hand with weary resignation, only to find it didn’t look quite the same as his right hand. He blinked and raised it to look at it more closely, turning it this way and that. Although it still glowed in places, it was now splotched and streaked with patches of normal, non-luminous skin. “How…?” Then it hit him. “The vinegar?” After almost a week of glowing, the solution to his problem couldn’t be that simple, could it?
“Only one way to find out,” Owen said, snatching up a sachet of vinegar and tearing it open. “Give me your right hand.” The one that was still brightly shining.
Ianto stuffed a few chips in his mouth before extending his hand towards Owen, unwilling to let his lunch go cold. Besides, maybe if the vinegar was responsible for reversing the effects of the alien blood, eating it would work on the glow from the inside.
Owen drizzled vinegar over Ianto’s right hand, then rubbed at it with a paper napkin, studying the result. A large patch of Ianto’s hand had stopped glowing. “Yes!” Owen shouted triumphantly, punching the air as if he’d discovered the solution himself.
Ianto grinned at his hand. “I can stop glowing!”
“But it’s just vinegar!” Gwen said. “How can that work when nothing else you’ve tried has?”
If anything, Ianto’s grin grew wider. “Makes sense now I think about it; vinegar contains acetic acid, which is well-known for its cleaning properties.”
“So all you need to do is wash in vinegar?” Jack asked.
“Looks that way.”
“Right, Gwen, I want you to go to Asda and get a dozen of the biggest bottles of vinegar you can find. No, make that two dozen!”
“Jack, I don’t need to bath in the stuff!” Ianto protested. “Just rub myself down with it, wipe the glow off, then take a shower. A couple of bottles should be more than enough, and anything I don’t need can be saved for the next time we have fish and chips.” He turned to Gwen. “Get the best quality malted vinegar, not pickling vinegar; it might not be as effective. And finish your lunch first, because as eager as I am to go back to being plain old non-glowing Ianto Jones, I have no intention of doing anything until I’ve eaten every last one of my chips.”
Once lunch was over and the necessary supplies had been procured, Ianto headed down to a little-used bathroom near the decontamination suite, armed with bottles of vinegar, soft rags, paper towels, shampoo, conditioner, and moisturising body wash. After washing in vinegar his skin was going to require some serious moisturising. He also took Jack, or rather, Jack followed, insisting that Ianto couldn’t manage without him.
“How do you expect to do your back by yourself? You won’t be able to see if it’s stopped glowing.”
It was a far point. “Fine, you can help.”
“Yay! I’ll do your back and all the other bits you can’t reach easily while you do your front.”
Ianto rolled his eyes, but agreed it was a fair division of labour. Naturally, it meant both of them stripping naked and standing in an old bathtub. They set to work, rubbing vinegar over every millimetre of Ianto’s skin then scrubbing it off with paper towels, since that seemed to work best.
“Why’d you insist on coming down here instead of using the facilities in the locker room?” Jack asked as he plied his vinegar-soaked rag, spreading vinegar over Ianto’s back.
“First off, I didn’t want to leave the locker room smelling like a pickling factory, and secondly, this room is on my list for cleaning, so if vinegar gets splashed around it won’t matter; might even reduce the limescale build-up on the fittings.” Two birds, one stone; to Ianto it seemed like common sense to use his situation to his advantage.
“You think of everything, don’t you?”
When Ianto finally emerged back into the main Hub a couple of hours later, his skin, what could be seen of it since he was once again fully dressed, was no longer emitting a blue glow but was instead pink from scrubbing. He also smelled faintly of vinegar beneath the vanilla scent of his body wash and the apple fragrance of his shampoo. He didn’t mind; the chip shop aroma was a small price to pay for being back to normal.
“Just think,” Jack said. “If you hadn’t decided you wanted fish and chips for lunch, we might never have figured out how to stop you glowing!”
Ianto smiled. As far as he was concerned, that just gave him one more reason to love chips with extra vinegar.