“I’m sorry, Jack,” Ianto told his lover as he, Jack, and Tosh ambled along the pavement beneath their shared umbrella.
“Sorry?” Jack looked confused. “What are you sorry for? Did you do something I don’t know about?”
“No! Or yes, because I don’t automatically tell you everything, but that’s not what I’m sorry about. I didn’t expect to run into Rhi, or have her start asking questions about my love life, and now you’ve been caught up in my family obligations, which means dinner next week and a visit over Christmas…”
“I was already supposed to be going with you at Christmas to drop the presents off for your family,” Jack reminded him.
“Yes, but that would’ve been quick, just a flying visit. Now you’ll have to sit through dinner getting the third degree from my sister and her husband.”
“I think I can handle a family dinner; you know how charming I can be.” Jack flashed his best smile. “Besides, it was bound to happen someday, unless you were planning on keeping me as your dirty little secret for the rest of… well, forever.”
“Not so little, but definitely dirty,” Ianto winked and nudged Jack with his shoulder. “I was planning to tell her over Christmas anyway, I’d just hoped to spare us both the grilling. No chance of avoiding that now.” He glanced at Tosh. “I’m tempted to drag you along too, as moral support!”
“Sorry, I already have plans with Owen. You two are on your own,” Tosh laughed. “Your sister seemed really nice though,” she added.
“Oh, she is, that’s not the problem. I love her, but she takes her role as big sister very seriously; she’s always been overprotective and it gets a bit wearing at times. She’s the main reason I started climbing trees, so I could get away from her. She doesn’t like heights, so up a tree was practically the only place I could be sure she wouldn’t follow me. It bothered her, but in the end she told me if I fell and broke my neck, not to go running to her. I remember telling her the trees liked me and wouldn’t let me fall.” He frowned. “Not sure where that idea came from, but I’ve always felt completely safe up trees.” He shrugged. “Anyway, enough about that; where are we going next, more shops or the craft fair?”
Tosh checked her watch. “It’s almost two-thirty, I vote we head for the fair before half the stallholders sell out.”
“Might be the best idea,” Ianto agreed. “Then afterwards if we want we can take a quick look around the shopping centre before we get a bus back to the Plas. Any objections?” He glanced at Jack.
“It’s your shopping trip, so it’s up to the two of you. I’m easy.”
“I think most of Cardiff already knows that,” Ianto joked.
“Funny.” Jack pouted at Ianto. “Those days are behind me, why play the field when I already picked the cream of the crop?”
“Your mixed metaphors are much appreciated,” Ianto replied with a completely straight face as Tosh giggled.
It didn’t take them long to walk to St. David’s Hall, where Jack insisted on paying admission for all three of them, since he’d effectively gate-crashed their afternoon out. Before they left the foyer and entered the hall itself, Ianto put his wet umbrella in a spare carrier bag to avoid dripping on people. Despite the dismal weather, the place was packed. Stalls were arranged along all four walls of the enormous hall as well as in two double rows down the centre, and there was a second, smaller room at the far end holding even more.
“Wow!” Jack craned his neck, peering over the heads of other shoppers. “There are so many stalls, where do we even start?”
“I suggest we split up; I don’t know about you, but Tosh and I still have gifts to buy and there won’t be any surprises on Christmas Day if we already know what’s been bought.”
Jack nodded. “Sound strategy, every man, or woman, for themselves! Right, why don’t you two start at opposite sides of the hall and I’ll investigate the other room? Then we can swap around until we’ve all seen everything. We can meet back here afterwards.” He didn’t wait for an answer, just strode away through the crowds towards the door at the end of the hall.
Ianto chuckled. Even on a shopping trip, Jack was taking over and issuing orders as if it was a standard search and retrieve mission. Still, it was as good a plan as any. “Well, that’s us told! See you later, Tosh, happy shopping!”
“Same to you,” Tosh grinned, heading left as Ianto went right.
It was sort of nice being alone in the crowd with nobody rushing him or peering over his shoulder, so Ianto browsed leisurely, finding small gifts for Tosh, Owen, Gwen and Rhys, as well as for his family and Jack. Scented candles, jewellery, luxury handmade soaps and bath essences because Jack as well as the two girls adored bubble baths. He even found a detailed model of a spitfire, hand-carved from beautifully grained wood, which he bought as an extra gift for Jack. It was quite expensive, but he was sure Jack would love it.
Several stalls were selling sweets; not the kind you could buy in any confectioners, but home made toffees, fudges, truffles, coconut ice, and the most delicious-looking peppermint creams. Ianto thought he’d probably gone a bit overboard there, but everybody he knew had a sweet tooth so nothing would be wasted.
When they finally met up by the door into the foyer more than two hours later, all three of them were laden with bags. “We’ll have a job getting on the bus with this lot,” Ianto said ruefully.
“Oh God, there’s no way I can walk all the way back to the Plas,” Tosh groaned, collapsing into a chair beside the door. “My feet feel like they’ll fall off any minute and my arms must be six inches longer than they were when we started!”
“And I thought I was a drama queen!” Jack teased.
“You are.” Ianto smirked at his lover.
“It’s a gift.”
“Shame you can’t return it.”
Jack stuck his tongue out at Ianto and turned to Tosh, not wanting to be upstaged in the drama stakes. “Never fear, fair maiden!” he declaimed dramatically, striking a heroic pose that was slightly spoiled by the assortment of bags hanging from his arms. “Your carriage awaits!” He lowered his arms, wincing. “Ow, heavy bags.” Setting them on the ground at Ianto’s feet, he told his lover, “Watch these for me, and no peeking.”
“As if I would stoop to peeking. That’s your trick!” Ianto huffed indignantly. “Where are you going?”
“I heard you and Tosh planning your shopping trip this morning, so when I decided to join in, I left the car in the shopping centre car park before tracking you down. I can be back here with it in less than ten minutes.”
“My hero. Here, take my brolly so you don’t get drenched.” Sorting through his own bags, Ianto found the one holding his umbrella and handed it to Jack. “Just don’t lose it.”
“I’ll guard it with my life,” Jack replied gallantly, swooping in for a quick kiss before striding out into the rain.
Ianto watched him go, shaking his head. “The way he has of finding the drama in any situation, dinner with Rhi and her family is going to be interesting, to say the least.”
Tosh giggled. “I can imagine! So, what did you get? Anything for Jack?”
“I bought far too many sweets,” Ianto admitted. “It’s lucky I have a few friends and acquaintances I wanted a little something for, otherwise Jack and I would be the ones in need of corsets by the New Year. And the baked goods! Did you see the cakes and biscuits? I got Christmas cookies for Rhi’s lot, the kids are going to spend Christmas on a sugar high, my revenge for what she plans to put Jack and I through. Oh, and speaking of Jack, I got this for him.” Ianto showed Tosh the carved Spitfire.
“It’s beautiful, Jack will love it!”
“Yeah, I think he will. It’s very tactile, and you know how much he likes touching things; can’t keep his hands to himself. Which reminds me, a word of warning; don’t wear velvet at the Christmas party. He can’t resist it, so you’d just have him following you everywhere, stroking you, and then Owen would get mad and we’d end up with a drunken brawl. I should probably warn Gwen as well. Don’t think we need to worry about Rhys and Owen, I can’t picture either of them in velvet, but I’ll have a word with Andy, just to be safe…”
“I’m not sure I even want to know how you learned about Jack’s velvet fetish!”
“It wasn’t anything kinky. I bought a new shoe buffer for polishing my shoes and I never even got to use it. Ask Jack when he comes back, now it lives in his coat pocket; he takes it everywhere with him, says he finds stroking it soothing.”
“Only Jack!” Tosh laughed.
“If it makes him happy, I’m not going to object; at least he didn’t pick something obscene as a comforter. I’m back to using soft rags to put a shine on my shoes though.”
“Poor Ianto, Jack’s always stealing your toys.”
“I know; it’s tragic.” Ianto clutched at his heart.
“You’re getting as bad as he is.”
“He’s a bad influence,” Ianto admitted. “But I’ll refrain from any mention of how he’s rubbing off on me, out of a sense of decency.”
“Ianto! You’re terrible!” Tosh blushed. “And you tell him off for making saucy comments in public!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ianto looked and sounded so innocent that Tosh got the giggles again.
Jack strode back into the foyer a few minutes later, and made a beeline for the two friends. “I’m parked in a loading area, so we’d better hurry.” He glanced at Tosh, explaining, “Ianto gets mad at me when I get parking tickets, although we should be okay this time because I only stopped there so we could load all of this.” He gestured at the piles of bags. “Technically I’m not breaking any rules.”
Something suddenly occurred to Ianto. “Hang on a minute. Where’s my umbrella?”
“Don’t panic, I left it in the car because the rain’s almost stopped, and we’re going to have our hands too full with all the bags to hold it up anyway.”
“Oh, that’s alright then.” Ianto scooped up his bags as Jack and Tosh did the same, and the three friends filed out the door to Jack’s personal vehicle, a surprisingly utilitarian Range Rover not dissimilar to the Torchwood SUV but in an attractive deep blue instead of black.
Tosh climbed into the back seat, surrounded by her bags while Jack and Ianto loaded their purchases into the boot, making sure they wouldn’t get mixed up.
“There’s no point in taking all this back to the Hub,” Jack decided. “We’ll drop you off at your place, Tosh, I’m giving you the rest of the day off, you can put your sore feet up and relax. Ianto and I can drop our stuff off at the flat then finish up at work and send the others home. Who’s got night duty?” He flicked a glance at Ianto, who was the official keeper of rotas.
“It’s Mickey tonight.”
“Lucky Mickey, he should be in for a peaceful night, according to the Rift Monitor,” Tosh said from the back seat as Jack put the car in gear and pulled away.
“That makes one of us,” Ianto quipped.
Jack frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Rhi said she’d phone me tonight,” Ianto reminded him.
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” Tosh tried to reassure her friend.
“We’ll see,” Ianto sighed, making a mental note to check the Rift Predictor and see which night would be best for him and Jack to have dinner at Rhi’s. As tempting as it was to pick one where they’d be guaranteed to get called into work, that would only lead to questions he couldn’t answer. There were some things his sister didn’t need to know about. Yet. Closing his eyes, Ianto leaned back in his seat and relaxed. There’d be plenty of time for worrying later. There always was.