A Slight Problem

by badly_knitted [Reviews - 1]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, Drama, Humor, Mystery, Standalone

Author's Notes:
Written for Prompt 120 – Technical Difficulties at fandomweekly.

Alien technology was supposed to be far superior to anything yet developed on earth, but there were times Ianto couldn’t help having his doubts. Sure, alien tech was capable of doing things the people of earth would never have imagined in a million years, but honestly, even taking into account the overall… alienness of the average alien, after all the mishaps he’d endured over the years he had to wonder whether aliens could be considered entirely sane. There seemed no logical reason, or none that a mere human could grasp, for many of the devices the Rift dropped in Torchwood’s laps. Maybe they were discards, failed experiments, ideas that for one reason or another didn’t pan out…

All of that was beside the point right now, however. Ianto had far more pressing matters to think about.

“Jack, what’s happening to me?” He was doing his best to remain calm, after all this wasn’t the first alarming situation he’d been in, but it wasn’t easy.

“No need to panic, everything’s under control,” Jack replied, sounding more than a bit panicked himself. “We’re just experiencing some minor technical difficulties.”

“We? From where I’m standing, I’m the one doing all the experiencing, and I don’t like it. In fact, I’d very much appreciate it if you’d make it stop!”

“I’m doing my best; I’ve just never come across one of these before!”

That was not what Ianto wanted to hear. “You don’t know how to turn it off, do you?”

“Um, no, not exactly, but I called Tosh, and she said she’ll be here as soon as she can.” Jack continued fiddling with the device he was holding. “In the meantime, all I can do is keep trying different combinations and hope for the best.”

Ianto didn’t like the sound of that one little bit! “Jack? I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Maybe it would be best if you just waited until Tosh gets here…”

“What for? I’d think you’d want everything back to normal as soon as possible. Relax, I’m doing exactly what Tosh would be doing in my place; it’ll save her time when she arrives. Figuring these things out is a process of elimination.”

“I’m aware of that, but I’d just as soon not be accidentally eliminated in the process, thank you.”

Jack obviously wasn’t listening, which, while not unusual, was somewhat perturbing, especially given the way he was muttering to himself, making Ianto think of a mad scientist performing experiments on his unwilling subject. “How about if I…” He reached for one of the dials on the device, which they could only assume was malfunctioning, and started to turn it anti-clockwise.

“Not that one!” Ianto yelped, grabbing for a nearby fence post and somehow managing to pull himself out of the ground. It wasn’t that the ground was soft, in fact a hard frost the night before had left it solid as a rock. It was more that parts of Ianto’s body were randomly becoming less substantial than they ought to be.

“Oops!” Jack turned the dial the other way and Ianto sighed with relief as his feet and legs regained their solidity, meaning he was able to stand again. Then his arm passed right through the fence post he was still clinging to. As he toppled over sideways, he stuck out his hand to cushion his fall, which did him no good whatsoever; his entire arm sunk to the shoulder in the cold, frozen mud of the field where the Rift had deposited the device. He had to clench his teeth to keep them from chattering as the chill from the ground seemed to seep into his bones.

Rolling onto his back, Ianto awkwardly pulled his arm free and examined it. Not that he could see much; it was barely visible, little more than a vaguely arm-shaped misty blur. He shuddered, partly from the cold and partly because the sensation of frozen soil passing through part of his anatomy had felt distinctly unpleasant.

“Jack!” he ground out in a tone that threatened the cheapest instant decaf he could find.

Jack tried for an apologetic smile, but it looked more like a grimace. Still, at least the implied threat hadn’t gone unnoticed. “Oops. Sorry about that.”

“I should think so.” Ianto stood up, careful to hold his arm well clear of everything, the rest of him included. He didn’t want to think what might happen if he got his arm somehow stuck inside his own body, especially if it solidified like that.

“Okay, so that didn’t work. How about this?” Jack pressed a button, then looked at Ianto; his eyes went a bit wild. “Oh, no, definitely not that one.”

“What did you do?”

“No, it’s alright, it’s still there.” Jack’s sigh of relief wasn’t at all comforting.

“What’s still there?” Ianto wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but he asked anyway.

“Your head. I wouldn’t be able to hear you speak if it wasn’t there, it’s just…” Jack moved closer, walking carefully around Ianto. “Ah, there you are! Not completely invisible then. Okay, let’s try something else.”

Closing his eyes, Ianto prayed for patience. “I’d really rather you didn’t.”

“What? Why?”

“Look at me! D’you really need to ask? What if the next thing you touch turns me completely insubstantial and I sink all the way into the ground? Then what would you do? There’d be no way to dig me out without potentially sticking your digging tools through me, and if you succeeded in solidifying me while I was down there, I’d probably suffocate. You’ve been buried alive; you know how it feels. Would you really want to chance putting me through that?”

“Of course not!” Jack sounded hurt. “How can you even think that?”

“You have no idea what that device is or how it works, but you seem perfectly happy to keep experimenting on me, and now my head and one arm are so insubstantial you can see right through me!” Ianto tried to take a step back and found he couldn’t move his feet. “Great. Now I’m practically pinned in place! Either my feet have frozen to the ground, which wouldn’t surprise me, or they’re suddenly about fifty times heavier than they should be. I can’t even move around to keep warm! Thanks for that.”

Jack winced; Ianto wielded sarcasm to devastating effect. “I didn’t know this thing would do that!”

“Precisely! You didn’t know, but you went ahead and fiddled with it anyway! Just put it down and leave it alone until Tosh gets here before you do something that can’t be undone. For all either of us knows, you already have! I could be stuck like this permanently!” Ianto didn’t bother adding that the life expectancy of a partially insubstantial person might be rather short since he probably wouldn’t be able to eat or drink with his head in its current state. He considered it a miracle he was still able to breathe.

“I was only trying to help!”

“You’re trying, I’ll give you that much.”

Jack pouted.

Ianto rolled his eyes. Not that Jack could see him. “Some things are best left to the experts, and when it comes to problems caused by alien technology, nobody’s better suited to finding a solution than Tosh.”

“I suppose. I really am sorry.”

“I know. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

They fell silent, Jack throwing variously hurt and guilty glances Ianto’s way, and Ianto trying to think calming thoughts, until Torchwood’s tech expert arrived twenty minutes later, picking her way carefully across the frozen field.


“Still here, Tosh, more or less. I was better off before Jack started trying to fix things. Then it was only my left hand and ear you could see through. Now... Well, see for yourself.”

“Don’t worry, it sounds like a programming glitch. I just need to reset the device; that should fix everything.”

Tosh was as good as her word; less than thirty minutes later Ianto was himself again. After a quick check and a few minutes of stamping some warmth back into his frozen feet he confronted his lover. “I hope you’ve learned something from this; I know I have. Next time I tell you not to touch something, maybe you’ll listen instead of thinking you know best!”

Jack hung his head. “I will, Ianto, I promise.”

“You’d better.” As Ianto set off across the field with Tosh to where they’d left their cars, Jack scurried after them, suddenly worried they might leave him behind.

“So, how long am I going to be on decaf for this?” he asked, falling into step alongside his lover.

“You don’t want to know.”

The End