Word count: ~ 6600
Warnings: Passing mention of severe off-screen injury, massive amounts of sleep-deprived-author!weirdness.
Summary: Being a tale of misadventure, clockwork, and true love.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: For those who are term-savvy, this is a mix of clockpunk and steampunk, with a dash of cyberpunk (light on the punk, in all cases) thrown in for variety. For those who aren’t, this is steampunk. Enough said.
A/N2: I’d been hoping to get this finished so I could post it all at once, but that doesn't look like it’s happening any time soon. So, I'm just going to throw this out there as a celebration of my one-year anniversary of saying “to hell with it” and banging out my first Torchwood fic. Yeah, you read that right. One (1) year. Forty-eight (48!!!!) stories. Dear heavens. So, yay! I've survived this fandom so far. Here’s to the future! :D
Ianto Jones and the Airship Pirates
There is a finch singing outside the window.
Ianto pauses in his work, flat on his back and sprawled out beneath a triple-expansion engine for the Royal Fleet’s oldest air ship. But the finch keeps singing, bright and lovely, and he slowly lifts his head.
It’s a plain brown house finch perched in the bare, spindly tree outside of his workshop, and it cocks its head as Ianto rises to his feet. There's no fear in its eyes as it hops closer, chirping, but Ianto keeps his movements slow and deliberate as he crosses to the stand on the other side of the room. There is another bird perched there, watching him with jet eyes. She’s in the shape of a nightingale, but her feathers are finely wrought silver and gold, and her feet are made of copper wire. When Ianto reaches for her, she hops onto his outstretched hand and flutters her clockwork wings.
“Off you go, Myfanwy,” Ianto chides, raising his hand a little. With a hiss of gears, the nightingale obeys, gliding over to the window ledge. She lands easily and tips her head to regard the finch. Then she opens her wings a little, takes a small hop forward to where the window stands open, and chirps.
In a rush of feathers and frantic cheeping, the finch explodes off the branch and takes to the sky. It’s gone in an instant, terrified of a creature that is more clockwork than it is alive, and the nightingale is left on the windowsill, fluttering wings that catch the light and shine like something precious.
With a soft sigh, Ianto makes his way over and scoops up the nightingale, setting her on his shoulder. The little creature makes a nearly apologetic sound, curling tiny claws into the fabric of his shirt, and Ianto puts up a hand to stroke her breast.
“Sorry,” he murmurs, ignoring the trace of an ache settling under his heart. “I thought you'd get on better than that. Shows what I know, hm?”
Myfanwy chirps sadly and then swoops off his shoulder, alighting on her perch again and opening her beak. When she sings, though, it’s not a nightingale’s song that fills the room.
That's yet another thing that Ianto couldn't give her.
The song is lovely, though, taken on its own merits, and Ianto smiles a little as he turns back to the engine. There's something wrong with the motor unit that's making the pistons fire incorrectly, and while in theory it’s an easy fix, the engine is old and weary. Ianto can only do so much for it, and the Admiral of the Fleet has rejected his idea to scrap it and build a new one. Something about sentimentality and preserving traditions, Ianto thinks with a snort. While he’s all for tradition and ceremony, there's only so much that's practical before the real world gets in the way.
He abandons the wrench he’d been using before and crawls back under the engine with a candle and a jeweler’s glass, attempting to find any hairline cracks that might be releasing pressure. It’s long, tedious work, even with Myfanwy’s song to sooth his nerves, but he’s grown used to it. This isn’t even the work he was trained for, but he can't complain. It’s work, and in the end, he’s learned that's all that matters.
And the damn thing has three cracks, not one. Ianto hates inefficiency, and repairing this old heap of junk is that to a tee. He’s halfway tempted to let the scrapper “accidentally” take it to the junkyard on the next scrap run, but it’s not worth the fuss First Admiral Hartman will raise.
By the time he’s patched the cracks and treated vulnerable areas to prevent any more from forming, the clock is chiming the first hour of morning, and Ianto aches all over. He heaves himself out from under the engine and straightens gingerly, rubbing a gloved hand over his sore right shoulder. Grease is setting stiff in his hair and drying in thick streaks on his skin, and he smells like very old engine. Stifling a weary sigh, he rubs his hands over his face then reaches out for Myfanwy. She flutters over obligingly, although she’s careful not to get any grease on her as she settles delicately on his wrist.
“Such a princess,” Ianto tells her, amused, but he lets her keep her place instead of moving her up to his shoulder as he normally would. The bath is calling, followed by his gloriously soft bed, and the engine is finished until the next time the Fleet engineers manage to break it. He and Myfanwy are still the only living creatures in the echoingly large house, and the city outside is quiet.
Ianto is more than ready to forget his thoughts in sleep, at least temporarily.
He blows out the lamps, shuts the door of his main workroom, and carefully locks it behind him.
Ianto is sixteen when he first realizes that he’s not just going to be a simple engineer for the rest of his life.
He’s sixteen and a little wild still, wary and fresh from the gutter where he retreated by choice when his father was alive, and by necessity afterwards. But he’s the equivalent of a journeyman, apprenticed to an old friend of his father’s who is a dockside engineer and a decent enough man. Engineering is boring, though, to a mind as quick as Ianto’s, and he’s already looking for something that will be more.
Then he finds a nightingale in a gutter, dying but most certainly not yet dead, and takes her home with him. It has never been easy for Ianto to be sensible about life and death, and this is no exception. But he has a quick mind and quick hands and a certain sort of mulish I’ll-die-before-I-let-go tenacity, and a clockwork cat that he’s been building and tinkering with in his spare time, trying to make it change shape.
It’s a feat that even most trained mechanists struggle with, but Ianto takes the nightingale, transfers her brain to the cat’s body, gives the clockwork a swift-brave bird-heart to power it, and saves one tiny, precious life.
There's no possible way he can ever be just an engineer after that.
The next day he walks up to a man named Rupert Howarth on the street, hands shaking but shoulders squared, Myfanwy the clockwork cat in his arms, and says, “Please. Teach me.”
“Careful! That's worth far more than your life, cadet!” Ianto snaps, sliding down the outer edge of the clockwork driver. He lands on the metal planking of the engineering deck with a clatter, Myfanwy swooping behind him, and waves the hovering sailors off impatiently as he ducks under the creaking clockwork. The cadet in question backs away with wide eyes, giving way as Ianto takes his place in guiding the next gear into its housing. One of the teeth snags the sleeve of his shirt, tearing it nearly off, but he just pushes the cuff up and begins tightening the mechanism.
“Taking jobs from the cadets again, Mr. Jones?” an amused voice asks from beyond the screen of turning cogs.
Ianto tightens a final screw before ducking back out, coming face to face with a lovely, dark-skinned woman in a red corset and blouse, her skirt hitched up in a practical manner with straps that lift it above her tall boots. He smiles at her and dips his head in greeting as Myfanwy comes to land on his shoulder again.
“Not at all, Dr. Jones,” he returns, taking the hand she offers and gallantly kissing the back of it. “I'm simply ensuring that everything is prepared for the new engineer. Preserving the pride of the Fleet and all that.”
Martha laughs at him and pulls her hand away, swatting him gently in the side of the head as she does. “I believe we termed that ‘over-indulging your obsessive need to control things,’ Ianto. Mechanists aren’t supposed to be doing grunt work.”
Ianto tries very hard not to roll his eyes. It’s mostly a success. “Martha, stop mothering. If you want Torchwood to launch on time, you’ll let me obsess. A ship of this scale requires it for a smooth maiden flight.”
Of course, the best way to distract Martha from anything is to mention the impending launch. Her dark eyes light up and she latches on to Ianto’s arm, pulling him towards the door. “Oh, you must come see! We’ve finally gotten the navigation instruments set on the bridge. They're the most sensitive ever used on an airship of this class—Singh swears that they'll be able to spot even a one-man craft almost one league out, and measure any atmospheric conditions within two.”
Stifling a laugh, Ianto lays his hand over Martha's and murmurs, “Careful, Dr. Jones. Your cartographer’s showing.”
She makes a face at him, but manages to contain herself, smoothing down the white cross on the sleeve of her blouse that proclaims her a fully qualified physician. She’s got training as a cartographer too, of course—that's where she and Ianto met, at the Royal Society for the Advancement of Aeronautics—but in Ianto’s opinion, it was a waste of her talents. She’s a brilliant navigator but an even better doctor. The empire has far too many of the former and too few of the latter.
“Has the First Admiral chosen a crew yet?” Ianto asks as Martha guides him up one level and down a long corridor. There's a ladder set into the wall at the end, next to the window, to provide a shortcut up to the bridge. Politely, Ianto goes first, though Martha is entirely aware that he has no interest in looking up her skirt. The hatch at the top squeaks a little, and Ianto pauses to pull out his small flask of oil and grease the hinges before pulling himself up onto the bridge.
When he reaches back around to offer a hand up, Martha is rolling her eyes at him. She lets him help her, though, and answers, “Not that I've heard, but then, I'm just the mechanics and technology liaison. I've nothing to do with recruitment, especially not on a top-of-the-line new model like this.”
“Shame,” Ianto remarks distractedly, his ears already picking up the slightly uneven hum of machinery that's a little out of alignment. Myfanwy chirps an agreement and drops from his shoulder, fluttering across the room to land on an instrument panel. Ianto follows her, immediately crouching down to examine the mechanism. As he’d thought, the delicate clockwork isn’t spinning smoothly; one of the cogs seems to be halfway jammed. Sighing between his teeth, Ianto ducks down to fix it.
Martha leans against the nearest console to watch him work. “You know they're going to want you on this crew,” she remarks. “You're the best mechanist in the Fleet; Hartman’s not going to trust anyone else with Torchwood, not on the maiden voyage.”
“Martha. You know why they won't.” Ianto shoots her a dark look to hide the uncomfortable feeling bubbling up in his chest. At one point, it was his dream to work as a mechanist on an airship. It was what he trained for, what he aimed to do ever since he could first hold a wrench. But sometimes, he’s learned more recently, dreams have to die.
It’s a fact of life, and one that it’s high time he accepted.
Martha's reluctance is obvious, but she subsides with only a little grumbling—less, certainly, than she would give if she didn't understand his reasons. He’s not good to be around people, not in cramped quarters for extended periods of time, with a quickly moving rumor mill. And, no matter how large an airship seems in port, in flight it’s always going to be cramped, and its rumor mill would put that of Society to shame.
Myfanwy chirps, a quiet question, and then hops off the instrument stand and down to the floor. Ianto pauses in his repairs to watch, worried—as always—that something will go wrong with the process and she’ll—
With a grinding and creaking of sprockets and springs, the nightingale’s shape folds in on itself and then expands, the silver and gold feathers sliding away to be replaced with silken-fine fur. Fifteen seconds is all it takes before the hissing cogs stop, and a small bronze cat sits at Ianto’s feet, her tail twitching. She looks up, blinks wide emerald eyes at Ianto, and then trots off to inspect the far corner of the room.
Martha watches her go, eyes a little wide. She takes a breath and then lays a hand over her chest. “Hearts and high-flyers, I’d forgotten what it was like when she did that.” Her gaze shifts to Ianto, and there’s admiration in it, a little bit of awe. “You're incredible, Mr. Jones.”
“Myfanwy’s the amazing one,” Ianto demurs, sliding the panel shut and rising to his feet. “I gave her the ability, but she’s the one who learned to use it. Not many creatures could have done that.”
“Nevertheless.” Martha reaches out to take his hand, regardless of the oil and grime ground into the skin. “Being a mechanist—how incredible, Ianto.”
Ianto turns to look at Myfanwy, who’s found a dust bunny to bat across the decking, and has to smile. It is. He forgets so often, takes it for granted, but it is. Myfanwy is everything that makes it worthwhile. With a soft chuckle, Ianto nods, accepting the point with grace even as he lifts a hand to rub at his right shoulder.
“All right,” he agrees, watching Myfanwy flop onto her side in a patch of sunlight and start up a rumbling purr. He turns to Martha, who is beaming at him, and raises an eyebrow. “May I return to work now?”
“Your work,” Martha emphasizes sternly, though her laugh lines are showing. “Leave menial work to the cadets, Ianto.”
“Yes, mum,” Ianto drawls, then scoops up Myfanwy, throws himself through the hatch, and slides down the ladder before Martha can take another swing at him.
He’s seventeen when the first accident happens, a moment of not-quite-carelessness mixed with incredibly bad luck while working with a vast, ancient merchant-ship engine, and when the smoke clears and the fires have been put out Ianto is left with one arm, one working hand, and enough misdirected anger to start a land war. It’s not just the loss of his right hand, his right arm from the shoulder down, but that’s the main part of it.
Rupert Howarth is a good man, though, an earl who devotes all of his time to clockwork and steam engines, and he wastes no time in getting another arm made, this one of brass and copper and iron, light but strong and just as deft as Ianto’s original. Ianto is thankful, but that only makes him angrier at everything and nothing. He’s terrified, too, that this could be the end of it, that he’ll never again be able to set a clockwork system or tinker with the maddeningly tiny motors that are a mechanist’s trade.
The prosthetics surgeon tells him not to be too hopeful, and that's the same as telling him to despair.
And then Ianto walks outside one day with his sleeve rolled up and Myfanwy on his shoulder, and there are whispers. People stare, and murmur “Mechanist” behind their hands, and slide around Ianto on the street with as much space between them as possible.
Ianto hates them. He hates them so very much.
His arm hurts. It aches is cold weather and burns in hot, stiffens up in the damp and never, ever works as it should. Prosthetic arms are never anyone’s first choice—too many problems for too great a cost—but for Ianto it’s the only chance he has of ever having two working hands, of being able to do a mechanist’s work. So he thanks Rupert for the gift, grits his teeth against the stares, and walks out the door of Rupert’s house in the city with his head held high.
The whispers never stop, but they grow…bearable.
Ianto doesn't go out often, even though he lives in the middle of the city, and when he does it tends to be after nightfall. It’s personal preference more that any prejudice against mechanists—though, as far as that goes, engineers are far more respected and not nearly as feared.
It’s telling that, even after dark, people give Ianto—and Myfanwy, perched on his shoulder in her cat form—a very wide berth. She’ll never be able to pass as a real animal, as anything other than what she is, and while Ianto is tempted sometimes to find a way where she could, he’s never been able to bring himself to do so. It’s not fair to either of them.
One of the boys on the corner, wrapped in rags and shadows, watches Ianto pass with dark eyes, clutching a bundle wrapped in greasy newsprint to his chest. Ianto feels a pang at the sight of those wary, weary eyes—he knows that feeling, has been in that place before, and it’s not somewhere he ever wants to go back to. But he also knows that the boy won't accept anything from anyone right now, so he simply tips his dove grey derby in greeting and continues down the road. Myfanwy isn’t quite so reserved; she trots to within a few feet of the boy and offers a cat-chirp, then flicks her tail and darts after Ianto.
As she winds between his feet and then slips off to investigate the gutters, Ianto takes one more glance at the boy, but he’s gone. Back in the shadows, doubtless, where he thinks he belongs.
There's nothing that Ianto can say that will make him think differently, either.
The constable at the next corner nods to Ianto, friendly for all that they've never spoken. Ianto nods back, steps never slowing as he crosses street. A lone carriage rattles past, noisy over the cobblestones, and it kicks up a few loose sheets of paper left in the gutter. One flutters past Ianto, borne on a tired wind, and he only spares enough of a glance to see that it’s yet another cry for revolution.
Everyone wants to overturn the Empire, it seems, but no one’s gotten up the courage to actually do anything yet aside from a few splinter groups and madmen. And that doesn't look to be changing soon.
The wind changes, the air shifts, and the leaflet tumbles end over end into the street and is caught by a puddle of filthy brown water.
Ianto spares it one last glance before rounding the corner, and hailing a hansom cab.
“The Academy of Aeronautical Engineering and Mechanical Sciences,” he tells the driver, and the man tips his hat agreeably. Ianto nods in return and ducks into the dark interior of the cab, pulling the door shut behind him. Myfanwy is already curled up on the worn seat, jeweled eyes catching what little light there is and burning with it.
“You won't be able to go in looking like that,” Ianto tells her with some amusement. “What would the other birds say?”
She manages to look down her nose at him with every ounce of feline disdain the comment is worth, and then yawns delicately. It shows off her sharp ivory teeth quite nicely.
“Point taken,” Ianto allows, trying not to laugh. He gets the feeling it won't be appreciated.
The cab suddenly hits a particularly vicious bump, knocking Ianto into the wall shoulder-first, and he sucks in a sharp breath that is equal parts surprise and pain as something beneath the skin wrenches. Ianto slaps a hand over it, trying to feel through his frock coat and shirt if the skin has been torn, but there's nothing leaking through. Just a lingering ache and burn from where the gears have shifted in a way they're not meant to.
With a grimace, Ianto tugs off his calfskin gloves and wiggles his fingers, checking that nothing’s been damaged to the point of inhibiting movement. As a mechanist, his hands are the most precious part of him, and the thought that they could be ruined by something as inane and meaningless as a rough street is truly horrifying. But for the moment his fear is unrealized; there's no hesitation in the movements, and the motor response seems typical. The arm moves freely, the elbow bends smoothly, and there's no tingling or numbness to indicate a nerve has been hit.
Myfanwy chirps worriedly, a nearly birdlike sound, and sits up to watch him more closely. Ianto manages a smile for her, hoping it doesn't look as wan as it feels, and offers, “I’ll be fine, my beauty. Just a bit of a bump. Would you let me know when we reach the street?”
Even though she looks entirely unconvinced, Myfanwy chirps a dubious agreement and stands up, putting her paws on the edge of the window. Seeing that she’ll be occupied until they reach their destination, Ianto closes his eyes and leans back against the wall, evening out his breath and controlling his heartbeat.
Pain is in the mind. Mechanical limbs always come with a price attached, and this is what Ianto has to pay to keep his promise and continue his work. Admittedly, the work is important enough that he’d do it without the promise, but Lisa asked.
Ianto never was able to say no to her.
Letting out a long breath, too heavy to be a sigh, Ianto forces his muscles to relax and then breathes deep, the pain easing to a dull, manageable soreness. There's a soft chirrup from the other side of the cab and then a warm weight is suddenly landing in his lap, vibrating happily. Ianto smiles a little, eyes still closed, and strokes his fingers through Myfanwy's silken fur. For the last three years, it’s been the two of them together, and while Ianto’s penchant for dramatics isn’t strong enough to say that it’s been them against the world, it’s most certainly been them against the overwhelming pull of loneliness.
It’s been a hard adjustment, but Ianto has always been a little distant, a little reserved. This isn’t so different than his childhood, watching a man who had once been his hero descend into drunkenness, his beautiful clockwork abandoned in favor of the bottle and a few swings at his quiet, precocious son. Ianto is an outsider here too, even though it’s his own life and that shouldn't be possible. But for all that he loves his work, loves Myfanwy and the others he creates, loves the engines and machines with their complexities and personalities, he hates Hartman and her like, hates that she’s about to become Queen and have free rein to reshape the world in her twisted image.
Four years ago, living happily with a beautiful, sweet woman, working a prestigious if somewhat misunderstood job, entirely content with his life and apparent future, Ianto would never have thought he could sympathize with the dissidents.
But then the accident had happened, and Ianto had once again been forced to face what he had learned as a child living almost entirely on the streets and then tried to forget.
The cab jolts around a corner and slows, and the driver’s voice calls out, “The Academy, sir.”
Scooping Myfanwy up in one arm, Ianto opens the door and steps down, nodding to the driver. He digs out the requested coins for payment and steps onto the street as the horses set off again, splashing water up from the puddles. He sidesteps it absently, though it makes Myfanwy hiss a bit and scramble up onto his shoulder. Ianto, long since used to her sudden bursts of exceptionally cat-like behavior, endures her claws patiently as she settles herself under his left ear, still bristling.
“Set?” he asks her amusedly, and gets a growl in return. With a soft chuckle, he turns and makes for the grand, imposing entrance to the Academy, all gilded doors and dull grey brick. There’s a pair of engineers coming out as he nears, and one pauses to hold the door for him. Ianto smiles his thanks, tips his hat, and steps in, breathing in the dusty paper smell that has managed to seep into every inch of stone in the building. It’s comforting in a way that not much manages to be anymore, more familiar than anything else in Ianto’s world aside from clockwork and steampower.
“Ianto, my boy! Prompt as ever, I see!” someone calls, and Ianto turns to see a tall, older gentleman with a silver-handled walking stick approaching. He’s stately despite his advancing years, still sporting muscles gained over a lifetime working with heavy machinery, and has a bearing few can rival no matter their age. Ianto feels something in his chest warm, and smiles as he removes his hat. This man is the closest thing to a true father he’s known in over twenty years, and Ianto adores him far more than is likely proper, given the circumstances.
“Lord Howarth,” he greets him, and at the stern look amends, “Rupert. You're looking very well.”
Rupert Howarth claps him on the shoulder—nearly upsetting Myfanwy, though she bears it with good grace—and then steers him down a long hallway. “’Course I am,” he protests. “It would take more than a broken leg to stop me, my boy, and I'm insulted you would think otherwise.”
Ianto rolls his eyes a little at that, because Rupert broke his leg while climbing up a precariously fastened ladder in the bowels of the palace, attempting to tinker with one of the chronically malfunctioning engines there. It’s hardly the first time, either, and Ianto knows very well that it won't be the last. Lord Rupert Howarth, Earl of Castlehaven, is one of the most accomplished engineers in the Empire, and has been since he was little older than Ianto is now.
“It’s very good you're not married,” he informs his mentor dryly. “I've no doubt any woman who had to put up with you and your madcap antics would make herself a widow inside of six months.”
Rupert laughs, loud and free and unconcerned for propriety—but then, he’s ever been that way, and it’s one of the things Ianto likes best about him, though he has a hard time following the man’s example. “And still you underestimate me,” he prods gently. “Six months? I’d give it six weeks, if that!”
Ianto surrenders the point with an agreeable chuckle, allowing himself to be directed into Rupert’s office. As ever, it’s been crammed with prototypes and bits of clockwork, pieces of whatever dozen side projects Rupert is currently working on or anything that’s managed to catch his magpie eye in his frequent wanderings around the city. Myfanwy immediately takes an interest in a swinging pendulum and abandons Ianto’s shoulder in favor of investigating. He and Rupert both watch her go, Ianto equal parts exasperated and indulgent and Rupert curious.
“What a sight,” he murmurs, patting Ianto’s now-free shoulder absently. “An automaton with the heart of a bird and the mind of a cat. Still no problems that you've encountered with the design, then?”
“Not at all.” Ianto settles himself into the lone chair that's managed to escape the chaotic overflow of mechanisms and takes the cup of tea that's offered. After a wary check to make sure it does contain tea—he’s never quite recovered from the incident with the engine oil—he takes a sip. “She’s adjusted perfectly; better than most humans would, I believe. She’s…”
“Extraordinary,” Rupert finishes for him, smile soft. “As are you, my boy. And how goes the work on Torchwood? I hear she’s a magnificent thing.”
Ianto thinks of the immense engines, the gleaming clockwork, the decks with their polished wood and wrought metal, and has to smile. “She is,” he agrees. “Quite magnificent. Though I'm surprised you've yet to see her, Rupert—has someone banned you for fear of what you'll do to her?”
Rupert chuckles, settling back with his own cup of tea. “Not at all, dear boy. But Torchwood is a thing of the new generation, and a relic of the old has no place working on her. I’ll content myself with viewing your success from the docks when she launches.”
Ianto shakes his head at that, equal parts confused and amused. Rupert is an odd one, and whenever he gets notions into his head, it takes a few solid whacks with a blunt object to remove them. There hasn't been a chance to address this one, and from the look Rupert is giving him, there won't be one now. The subject is closed, and Ianto surrenders to the inevitable change of subject with good grace.
“And your lectures?” he asks instead. “Still driving your students mad?”
“Of course! They don't have your inquiring mind, Ianto, and I despair of the future if this is what the next generation of engineers and mechanists is like.” He shakes his head and sighs wearily. “Why, I had to explain the concept of integration of parts and energy output three times! Truly shameful.”
There's a brief pause, and that alone is odd enough to make Ianto raise a brow at him, because Rupert is a cheerful waterfall of information and ideas at all times. Silence is an unknown thing in his presence. But the older man looks faintly troubled, and when Ianto makes an inquiring sound, he simply smiles wearily. That too is unknown, because Rupert is always vital and brilliant and full of energy, a driving force behind everything he puts his mind to.
At length, Rupert sets his cup carefully on his desk and look up to meet Ianto’s eyes. “I'm getting no younger, my boy,” he says eventually. “And as you've pointed out, I’ve no wife, nor any children of my own. I'm the last of my line, with no one left to carry on the title.”
With a sinking feeling, Ianto begins to suspect where this is headed.
“Rupert,” he begins warningly, but the man cuts him off before he can say anything further.
“No, no, hear me out. I'm in need of an heir, someone to continue the line, and I don't want some empty-headed fool of a dandy who won't understand my life’s work. Think on it, Ianto, because I have, and there's no one I would rather take my title. While I understand your objections, I also find myself entirely unable to care what the rest of polite society will think of it, or me. Being eccentric has its uses.”
Ianto takes a breath, because this is overwhelming for all that he’s halfway suspected for a while now that it was coming. But Ianto is the son of a poor watchmaker who died when he was twelve, and to take on the title of an earl, especially with his past—
But Rupert is an engineer and a mechanist, although few people ever gain both titles. He understands Ianto’s devotion to his work, and—
And if he were to take the position, to allow Rupert to formally adopt him, then he would be eligible to serve as an airship’s mechanist once more. Not only eligible, but also wanted. Those with titles are always first in line when crew are picked, and though Ianto’s repeated requests to serve have been ignored, becoming Rupert’s heir will move him from the very bottom of the list to the very top, regardless of past deeds.
It’s been his dream for so long, though abandoned when Lisa died and he made all of the wrong choices for the right reasons. Rupert is tempting him with it now, because he knows what Ianto wants—often better than Ianto does himself—and isn’t above using it to get himself an heir.
Rupert’s always been a cunning bastard like that, and it’s one of the things Ianto admires greatly about him.
He always wins, as well, and from the spreading smile on his face as he watches Ianto, he clearly knows that this time is no different.
Clapping his hands together cheerily, the earl rises to his feet and comes around the desk to pull Ianto up as well. “No time to waste!” he enthuses. “Off to file the paperwork then, my boy. Come along—the offices are only open for another two hours, and if we wait any longer you'll doubtless change you mind. Hurry, hurry, off we go!”
As ever, at least where Rupert Howarth is involved, Ianto gives in and lets himself be steered. It’s easier that way, and it’s never, ever boring.
Older now but still too young, three weeks from eighteen and certification as a fully qualified mechanist, and Ianto follows Rupert to Castlehaven and his estate, because there's nothing else to do until the exams. It’s his first long flight on an airship, and even if this one is a passenger ship rather than a swift, sleek gunship, it’s still beautiful to Ianto’s eyes. He traces the flow of power from the vast steam engines up to where they wind the great clockwork gears that power the turbines and propellers, and is awed.
Rupert watches him that first night at dinner, smiling softly as Ianto expounds upon the numerous stupid mistakes the engineers have made, and Ianto doesn't care enough to ask him why.
(But it’s the first time since Ianto lost his arm that he’s shown an interest in anything, and Rupert is now certain that the mechanical arm was a good idea. If anything can save Ianto Jones right now, it’s clockwork.)
The engineers tend to groan when Ianto approaches them, or chase him away with claims of too little time, but the mechanists in the other half of the deck are more than happy to speak with him, to let him immerse himself in their work. They like Myfanwy, laugh at her antics, and smile when they see her following Ianto, never more than three feet between them regardless of which form she’s in. They understand her as an engineer never could, as normal people never will, and Ianto has never appreciated it so much before.
He is beneath a complex gear system that refuses to mesh smoothly, cursing the air blue, when the heavy tramp of hobnail boots pauses near his head. ‘No mechanist, not with boots like those,’ Ianto thinks vaguely, jamming a screwdriver between his teeth and simply blinking when oil splatters across his face. Mechanists are up and down the ladders constantly, running across catwalks and climbing nimbly up the faces of the gears themselves. No self-respecting mechanist would wear such heavy, encumbering boots on the job.
And then a face appears on his left, nearly startling Ianto into swallowing the screwdriver. He jerks, cracks his right-hand knuckles hard against the closest sprocket, and the cog grinds as it snaps into place and starts spinning. Ianto winces.
The face, crowned by a mop of sandy-brown hair, takes on a decidedly sheepish cast. “Oops?” the man offers, holding out a hand to help Ianto to his feet.
Ianto pointedly ignores the hand, rolling out from under the system and calling, “Adeola, this one looks fine for now, but we might want to keep an eye on it.”
Adeola, the pretty and frighteningly competent Chief Mechanist, raises a hand in acknowledgement as she peers at the gauges on the wall. Otherwise, she ignores him, and Ianto rises and turns to face the stranger with a glare already forming.
“Sorry!” the man cries preemptively, raising his hands as if to ward off a blow. “I thought you’d heard me.”
“My grandmother heard you, Harkness,” Gareth, another mechanist, mutters as he lugs a tub of powdered chalk past them. “And she’s been dead and buried for three years.”
Seeing the hopeful and nearly pleading look the man—Harkness—is directing at him, Ianto shakes his head in exasperation. “Don't look at me—I'm in agreement. I just didn't expect you to try and crawl under there with me.”
Harkness grins at him, brilliant and very white, and it’s so unexpectedly gorgeous that Ianto’s breath catches somewhere low in his chest. He pauses, because the sensation is entirely unfamiliar.
Always, always before Ianto has seen clockwork and gears where most boys his age were seeing lovely faces and alluring forms, and this want is entirely unexpected.
He freezes, but Harkness thankfully doesn't notice as he offers his hand again. “I'm Jack,” he says cheerfully. “Lieutenant Jack Harkness, soon to be Captain.”
Ianto takes the hand—firm grip, calluses, big palm and long fingers, skin hot—but can't help the dry observation, “Captain? Perhaps I'm mistaken, sir, but you seem to be skipping a few ranks there in the middle.”
Jack's answering grin is delighted. “And you are?” he purrs, leaning in a little too close.
Ianto debates answering, debates not, but before he can choose one way or another something along the far wall explodes, and alarm bells start ringing. He jerks himself away and heads there at a sprint, along with every other mechanist on duty, as the entire ship gives a shuddering lurch and tilts sharply.
This is the disaster of the day, apparently, and Ianto can't help the fierce sense of right that comes over him whenever he’s like this, surrounded by other mechanists and throwing himself full force into whatever danger has appeared. He’s never thought of himself as a thrill seeker, never had a death wish, but this—
This is him.
But he casts a single glance back to where Jack Harkness is watching him go with an odd expression, and thinks, ‘Maybe…’
End Part One