With Christmas decorations everywhere and all of the shop window displays festooned with tinsel and lit with fairy lights, Cardiff was a riot of colour. It almost made up for the grey skies and the gloomy, wet weather that was making people hurry from place to place, sheltering beneath their brightly coloured umbrellas.
It was just after lunch, and as things at the Hub were reasonably quiet at the moment, and looked set to stay that way at least for the rest of the day, Ianto and Tosh had abandoned their colleagues to their unfinished paperwork and headed out to do some overdue Christmas shopping.
Arm in arm, safe from the persistent rain beneath the oversized red umbrella Jack had given Ianto as a surprise gift a few weeks ago, they ambled along the pavement, pausing occasionally to peruse the goods on display in windows, entering a shop whenever something caught their eye.
Already they were carrying several bags each, and between their burdens and the giant umbrella, other shoppers were forced to dodge around them as they continued on their leisurely way. They didn’t often get the chance to indulge themselves like this and they flatly refused to be hurried just because everyone else was in a mad rush to get done and get home.
Their ultimate goal was a Christmas craft fair taking place at St. David’s Hall, where they hoped to pick up a few gifts for friends and family that would be a bit out of the ordinary. Fairs were always fun, even if only for the sheer variety of things on sale. There was no rush though; the doors wouldn’t be closing until around seven in the evening so they had plenty of time.
Ianto leaned in close to hear what Tosh was saying over the patter of raindrops on their umbrella, the swoosh of car tyres through the water on the road, and the jumble of other sounds that were all part and parcel of a busy Saturday in town. She was pointing towards a display of computer games in the shop they were passing.
“I know Owen wants the latest Halo game, but would I be an idiot if I bought it for him? I mean, if he’s busy playing that I’m not going to get much attention from him, am I?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You could always slip into something sexy and pull the plug on his game. I doubt he’d complain for long.” Ianto winked at his friend and she laughed, blushing slightly.
“I suppose that might work,” she agreed. “Oh, what the Hell, I might as well live dangerously; at least I know that’s something he really wants so I can be sure he’ll be happy with one of his gifts.” She and Owen had only been together for five months so this would be their first Christmas together as a couple and Tosh had been stressing over what to get him.
“Don’t forget I already bought Jack that Millennium Falcon construction kit he’s had his eye on, so if our significant others are too busy with their presents to pay us the attention we deserve, we could always hit the Boxing Day sales together.”
“I like the way you think!” Tosh grinned as Ianto pushed the shop door open and ushered her through ahead of him, closing his umbrella and shaking the worst of the water off it before following.
They meandered their way through the busy shop, looking for the X-Box games, Ianto’s height proving an advantage since he could see over both the displays and many of the other customers.
“I should have checked with Rhi to see if there were any games the kids wanted.”
“Didn’t you already buy them both bicycles and helmets?” When Ianto nodded, Tosh shook her head. “You spoil those two rotten.”
“I’m entitled. They’re the only nephew and niece I’ve got, and they like me so I must be doing something right,” Ianto joked.
“You should leave the bikes as their main present and get them a few sweets and small novelties. You don’t want to outdo their parents in the gift-giving stakes.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ianto agreed solemnly, and Tosh elbowed him in the ribs, earning an indignant. “Oof, you’ve got bony elbows, did you know that?”
“Owen’s are bonier,” Tosh informed him.
“I know! What is it with him? He’s a couch potato, he eats like food is going out of fashion, and yet he’s skinny and never puts on weight!”
“He says he has a fast metabolism.”
“I could do with one of those!”
“What are you on about? Look at you, all lean muscle and not an ounce of fat anywhere. Probably from all the exercise you get with Jack.”
“He’s certainly good for a full body workout,” Ianto agreed with a dreamy smile. He leaned down to whisper in Tosh’s ear. “I’ll let you in on a secret though; it’s all about good tailoring. This suit hides a multitude of sins; I’ll have you know I’m developing love handles!”
“Oh the horror!” Tosh looked at him, eyes wide and a hand over her heart, then collapsed in giggles.
“Some friend you are,” Ianto grumbled, feigning hurt feelings.
“You’ll live. Anyway, you should worry; I only have to look at chocolate and I put on two pounds. By the time Christmas is over, I might have to resort to wearing a girdle to maintain my girlish figure,” Tosh said primly.
“I’ll loan you one of my corsets if you like.”
“Ooh, would you? I really liked the ice blue satin one you had on at Halloween. Do you think it would fit me?”
“You’ll have to come over one evening and try it on.”
“You know, I might just do that.”
They finally reached the section they wanted and Ianto reached up to pluck one of the few remaining copies of Halo 6 off the top shelf, handing it down to Tosh.
“Thanks, Ianto. Whatever would I do without you?”
“This is the real reason you like going shopping with me, isn’t it? Because I can reach the things you can’t.”
“Of course! And you only let me tag along so you don’t have to bend to get things off the low shelves. It’s a match made in heaven.”
They grinned at each other, but before either of them could say anything else, they were interrupted by a voice Ianto recognised. “Ianto? I thought that was you! What are you doing here? You told me you’d be at work all week!”
Ianto turned to face his sister, caught a bit off balance by the unexpectedness of seeing her. “Rhi, hi! You’re the last person I expected to run into today. Ah, technically I should be at work, but things were completely dead, nothing happening and nothing to do, so I skived off to finish my Christmas shopping.”
“Won’t you get in trouble with your boss?”
“No, it’s fine, he said I could go, and I’ve got my phone so he can call if he needs me for anything.” He quickly changed the subject. “So what brings you here?”
“I was trying to find the videogame David wanted for Christmas. Everywhere in Newport had sold out so I had to come all the way to Cardiff. This is the third shop I’ve been in, but…” She held up the game. “I found it! I think. Please tell me it’s the right one for the game console you got them last Christmas.”
Ianto took the box off her and checked. “Yep, that’s the one.”
“Oh, thank goodness. I’ve about worn my legs to stumps with all the walking. So, is this your girlfriend?” Rhi turned her attention to Tosh, holding out her hand. “I’m Rhiannon, Ianto’s big sister. I didn’t know he was seeing anyone, but then he never tells me anything.”
Ianto opened his mouth to reply, but Tosh beat him to it, accepting Rhi’s hand and giving it a brief squeeze. “Nice to meet you, Rhiannon. I’m Toshiko Sato, and no, Ianto and I are just really good friends. We work together.”
It was obvious that Rhi wasn’t buying the ‘just friends’ line. Tosh waved the game in her other hand and grinned at Ianto. “I have to go pay for this,” she said, and slipped quickly away, leaving Ianto to deal with his sister.
“Traitor!” he called after her before turning back to his sister. “You can wipe that look off your face, Rhi. Tosh is my best friend, and I love her to bits, but we’re not a couple and wouldn’t want to be. She’s very happy with her boyfriend, and I’m seeing someone too.”
“You are? When were you planning to tell me?” She looked sternly at her brother. “You’ve grown so secretive over the last few years. So who is this mystery woman if it’s not your pretty friend?”
This wasn’t at all the way he’d planned on coming out to his sister, and it certainly wasn’t the setting he would have chosen, but he wasn’t about to lie to her. Throwing caution to the winds, he decided the best way to handle the situation was just to jump in feet first. Rhi would just have to deal with it. “Not a mystery, and not a woman. I’m seeing a man, actually, and if you’re good, I might even introduce you to him sometime over Christmas.”
“You’re dating a bloke?”
“Wasn’t that what I just said?”
“Yes, sorry, I thought I must be hearing things. It’s not every day you find out your baby brother’s switched teams.”
“I haven’t ‘switched teams’, as you so quaintly put it. To extend your metaphor, I’ve always considered myself a free agent, playing for either team.”
“So you’re bi then?”
“I prefer to think of it more as being flexible. I’m open-minded to all possibilities,” Ianto replied easily, breathing a silent sigh of relief that Rhi was taking the news so well.
“Oh. Well good for you. Is he nice?”
“Isn’t that a bit of a daft question? If he wasn’t nice, why would I be dating him?” He waved a hand vaguely as if to brush his own question away. “Yes, he’s very nice, very handsome, charming…”
“Iantooooo!” a loud American voice called from across the shop, interrupting him.
Ianto winced. “And very loud. Speak of the Devil… Jack, what are you doing here?” he asked as Jack swept up to him, coat billowing, the other customers parting before him, letting him through to avoid being trampled underfoot.
“I finished my paperwork so I decided to join you and Tosh!” Jack was beaming with pride over having such a brilliant idea. “Where is Tosh?” he asked, looking around.
Ianto ignored Jack’s question. “You did ALL your paperwork?”
“Yep!” Jack nodded brightly, still smiling.
“Really?” Ianto narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “As I recall it was quite a big pile.”
The smile slipped a bit. “Well, maybe not quite all, but most of it.” Seeing the look on Ianto’s face, Jack scrambled to add, “There’s only a teeny tiny little pile left, but requisitions and expenses are so boring, and I missed you! Where’s Tosh?” It was a desperate attempt to distract Ianto, but it didn’t work as well as Jack had hoped.
“At the checkout, buying Owen’s present. Stop changing the subject! You promised to get that whole pile done today.”
“I know, and I will, I’ll finish it when we get back, I swear!” Jack turned on the puppy eyes, silently pleading not to be sent back to the Hub.
“Well, alright, but you’d better keep your promise this time or you’ll be in big trouble; you can’t keep putting stuff off just because you don’t like doing it. Never mind about that now though. How did you even know where I was? Wait, let me guess; you tracked my phone, didn’t you?”
“Yep!” Jack’s smile returned full force, and to Ianto he looked like an eager puppy expecting to be praised for doing something amazingly clever. If he’d had a tail, he would’ve been wagging it. Sometimes he was impossible to stay mad at.
“What am I going to do with you?” Ianto’s expression was one of fond exasperation.
“I can think of a few things!” Jack leered and waggled his eyebrows, and Ianto felt his cheeks starting to heat up.
“Jack! We’re in public!”
“Oops!” Jack glanced surreptitiously at the surrounding shoppers, then sheepishly back at Ianto. “Sorry, I just got a bit carried away, but you should know better than to ask me questions like that!”
“You’re impossible, but you’re right, I really should know better.”
“You still love me though, don’t you?”
“You have your moments.”
Rhiannon was watching the whole exchange with undisguised fascination.
“So, are you going to introduce me?”
“I don’t seem to have much choice, do I?” Ianto asked in a dry tone of voice. “Jack, this is my sister, Rhiannon.”
Immediately Jack turned on the charm. “Hi, Jack Harkness, nice to finally meet you.” He stuck out his hand and Rhiannon took it, a bit dazed by having the full force of Jack’s smile directed at her.
“Hello.” Blinking and still gripping Jack’s hand, Rhi glanced sidelong at her brother. “Bloody hell, you know how to pick them, don’t you? You were right about him being a charmer.”
“You told your sister about me?”
“I might have mentioned you in passing.”
“I thought Ianto’s friend was his girlfriend,” Rhi explained. “He set me straight. You’re not at all what I expected.”
Ianto smiled wryly. “Nobody really expects Jack, he just is. You have to get used to him sort of out of self-defence.”
Jack threw Ianto a hurt look, complete with pout. “I’m not that bad.”
“Didn’t say you were bad,” Ianto corrected him, “just unique. Some people seem to find you a bit overwhelming, though I can’t imagine why.”
Tosh reappeared just then. “Got it! Hi, Jack. Ianto didn’t say you’d be joining us.”
“That’s because I didn’t know,” Ianto told his friend. “He just decided he was bored with doing paperwork and gave himself the rest of the day off.”
“Hey! I’m the boss, I can do that if I want!”
“Wait a minute!” Rhi was getting confused. “You’re dating your boss?”
“Technically, yes,” Ianto admitted.
“But you were bossing him around a minute ago…”
“Jack’s our boss on paper, but we all know who’s really in charge in the office,” Tosh explained. “If it wasn’t for Ianto, nothing would ever get done. He keeps us all organised, and that includes Jack. Sometimes it seems like he knows what we need before we do, and fetches it for us before we can even ask. He’s indispensable.”
Rhi looked from Tosh to her brother, and then back at Tosh again. “That’s actually not hard to believe; he was always the tidy one when we were kids.”
Ianto shrugged. “It’s why I’m always at work. Everything falls apart if I take a day off.”
“I can imagine.” Rhi checked her watch. “Listen, I have about a million questions for both of you, but they’ll have to wait because if I don’t hurry I won’t make it back to the car park before my ticket runs out, and the last thing I need is a parking fine. But you’re both coming over for dinner one night next week, and I’m not taking ‘No’ for an answer.” She reached up to give Ianto a peck on the cheek. “I’ll call you this evening. Nice meeting you, Jack. You too, Toshiko. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“Right, because you’ll be wanting to interrogate me tonight, which I definitely won’t enjoy.” Ianto sounded resigned.
“It’s your own fault, baby brother. You can’t spring something like this on me out of the blue and expect me to just smile and say nothing. I want to know everything; after all, I have to make sure this charmer is good enough for you. It’s my responsibility as your big sister. Talk to you later.” She winked at Ianto, gave Jack a measuring look, and headed for the checkout queue.
“She’s a lot like you,” Jack commented, watching Rhiannon walk away. “Scary, but in a hot way.”
“Don’t even think of hitting on my sister, Jack. Not if you value certain parts of your anatomy.” Ianto fixed Jack with a glare. “I know ways of punishing you that even you wouldn’t enjoy.”
“See what I mean?” Jack whispered to Toshiko. “Scary, but incredibly hot!” He smiled at Ianto, who just rolled his eyes.
“Come on, I think we have time to visit a few more shops before we go the Craft Fair.” With a wave to his sister as they passed the cash register, Ianto led the way out of the shop, handing Jack some of his shopping bags so he could put his umbrella up. It was a good thing it was so big because they all managed to squeeze under it, keeping more or less dry as they set off down the street.
The day wasn’t turning out quite the way he’d expected and he couldn’t help wondering what other surprises it might have in store for him.