It’s a nice place, Ianto thinks. Quiet and peaceful, not at all like the hubbub he left behind in the Hub. Distantly he can hear seabirds calling, but they’re so far out at sea as to be barely visible to the naked eye. Close to, there’s just the muted sound of the sea against the sand, a soft shushing that makes him imagine that the sea is exhorting the world to keep the noise levels down. It’s appreciated. The nagging headache he’s been suffering from all day is already melting away and he can’t keep from smiling.
To left and right, the beach stretches out as far as he can see, and behind him are dunes, the piled sand held in place by tussocks of coarse sea-grass, rustling softly in the light breeze coming off the water, a counterpoint to the voice of the sea. It’s mid-afternoon on a warm, late spring day, and the little gusts of wind that play with his hair feel like the gentlest of massages, soothing away his pain. Ianto breathes in deeply of the salty tang, and lets his breath out again in a long, drawn-out sigh. Everything is perfect, except for one small detail: He has no idea how he got here.
The beach looks vaguely familiar, like he’s been here before, he’s pretty sure he’s still in Wales, or at least he hopes he is, but five minutes ago he was in the Hub, listening to the rest of the team arguing, and Myfanwy squawking overhead while the computers hummed in the background, sounding a lot louder than they really were, his headache no doubt making him hypersensitive to sound. He remembers wishing that he was elsewhere, some place where the lack of noise could ease his pounding head. He’d closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them again, it was to the sight of this vast, deserted beach, and the sound of waves lapping at the shore.
Turning his back on the sea, he scrunches his way across the sand and up a dune. There’s a two-lane road maybe sixty feet away beyond some scrubby bushes, but it’s empty, no sign of traffic in either direction. It seems to follow the coast though. He debates whether to walk along the verge in the hopes that a car might pass and give him a lift to the nearest habitation, but then shrugs and meanders back onto the beach. He’s not ready to rejoin the human race yet.
It doesn’t seem to matter which direction he goes, so he turns right and sets off, not hurrying, just strolling at a leisurely pace. Walking on loose sand is hard on the calves, so he pulls off shoes and socks, turns up his trouser legs, and pads along where the sand is damp enough to be reasonably firm, but he’s far enough away from the wavelets to avoid getting his feet wet. The sunshine might feel warm, but the sea is bound to be ice cold, and besides, he doesn’t have a towel, or much of anything else, with him. Keeping dry seems the sensible thing to do.
He’s been walking for maybe half an hour before he hears it, the distant roar of an engine. A car is approaching along the coast road, out of sight because of the dunes, the sound it makes increasing in volume as it draws closer. Ianto ignores it as much as possible, a small frown forming on his forehead because the noise is most unwelcome after hearing nothing but the sounds of nature for the past forty minutes or so. It slows, engine growl growing deeper and then going quiet as it halts and the ignition is turned off. Moments later, there’s a click followed by a loud clunk as the door is opened and then shut. Ianto just keeps walking, shoes and balled up socks dangling from his right hand, the soft susurrus of the surf filling his ears.
Footsteps scrunch across the sand. Without even looking in that direction, Ianto instinctively knows it’s Jack, but he says nothing as the other man falls into step beside him, leaving it to Jack to break the silence.
“There you are. You really have to stop doing this, you know. This is the second time and it’s disconcerting when you suddenly vanish. I was looking right at you when you just blinked out of existence.”
“It wasn’t intentional. I just had a headache and I wished I was somewhere quiet, and… then I was. It’s nice here.”
Jack looks around, taking in the view. “Yes, it is. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?”
“I think so. It looks familiar.”
“Probably plucked a suitable spot from your memory and put you here.”
“How’s your head?”
“Much better now. Nothing like a bit of peace and quiet to make tension just melt away.”
“It’s a good thing you weren’t still in the Hub after you left; the commotion would have driven you round the bend.”
“If I’d still been there, I doubt there would have been such a commotion, but I take your point. It was bad enough when I left.”
“Do you still have it?”
“Of course.” The unknown device Ianto had been holding when he’d wished for quiet is now tucked safely in his pocket. “I’m guessing it’s some kind of personal teleport.”
“How far along the coast are we from Cardiff?”
“Fifteen miles or so. It’s a good thing you had your phone with you, Tosh was able to track the GPS so I could come and get you.”
“So, I suppose we have to go back to the madhouse now.” Ianto sighs wistfully.
“Not right away, if you don’t want to. I bought snacks.” Digging in his capacious coat pockets, Jack pulls out a couple of bottles of orange juice, two apples, and a packet of biscuits. “Not much of a picnic, I know, and the juice is a bit on the warm side now, but it’s better than nothing. We could sit on those rocks over there while we eat.” He points at an outcropping of smoothly weathered grey rocks jutting out of the sand halfway between the dunes and the sea.
“Why not?” For the first time, Ianto looks directly at Jack, and he smiles.
Sitting on sun-warmed rocks, they share the small feast and simply bask. Ianto thinks this must be how seals feel, when he’s seen them lying about in the sunshine, lazy and relaxed. There’s no need to talk, so they don’t, content to listen to wind, and waves, and those far-off seabirds. Contrary to popular belief, when he chooses to, Jack can be perfectly still and silent.
In a while, Ianto knows they’ll have to get up, head back along the beach and over the dunes to where Jack left the SUV, and return to the chaos of the Hub, and when they do, if the others are still squabbling, he intends to retreat to the archives where the only sounds are the rattling, hissing, and banging of the ventilation system, and the low hum that permeates the whole Hub, emanating from all the various electrical systems and from mainframe herself. But not quite yet. For this little while, they can forget about work, and responsibilities, and the whole rest of the world, and live in this single, perfect moment, enjoying the peace and quiet.