Tosh pointed over her shoulder. "Swimming."
Gwen looked where she was pointing, not at the exit but deeper into the Hub. "He's swimming?"
"Hum-mm." Alien script scrolled across all of Tosh's screens and reflected on her glasses.
"In the Hub?"
"I didn't even know there was a pool."
"There isn't. Really," Ianto said, having appeared at her elbow in that way he had of being right there when you were certain he was somewhere else. He handed her a scanner. "You can find your way with this if you like. It'll track his wristband."
On the screen, Jack was a flashing dot. "Can't you just tell me where the pool is? I already got my orienteering badge."
Ianto shook his head. "It's not always there. Not the same place, anyway. And you'll need these." He put a pair of sunglasses in her other hand.
Gwen looked at the scanner and the glasses and then back at Ianto.
"Yes?" he asked.
"I'm waiting for the pith helmet and the machete."
Ianto's lips thinned and the corner of his mouth twitched up in his standard expression of hilarious abandon. "Say hello to Julia for me."
But Ianto was already fussing over the cappuccino machine and didn't answer. Tosh was chanting, "Yes, yes, yes," and bouncing a little in her chair. Gwen didn't have the heart--or the courage--to interrupt whatever epiphany she was having.
"Right then. Julia."
As Gwen tromped down staircases and along dripping corridors, spiraled at least twice round the roots of the water tower (which, she discovered, really were roots), and down more stairs, she wondered if the notches between her eyebrows she'd noticed that morning were standard battle scars for Torchwood employees: bemusement creases, wtf lines. She reminded herself to look closely at Jack when she saw him, if she could see him through the dark glasses, which made ever so much sense down here where she was groping along by the light of her flash and the glow of the scanner. Then again, maybe Jack's body wouldn't hold them, bemusement creases, giving them up the way other scars smoothed over and left no sign. Or maybe Jack had gotten over the wtf stage altogether. In a way, that thought was comforting and strangely, sadly, hollow.
She tried instead to picture Jack swimming but couldn't mentally get him out of his suspenders which didn't go at all well with the swimming trunks. Her giggle raced ahead of her down the corridor, where, at the far end, it turned into a cool, rippling light.
Jack wasn't in his suspenders, although he was still wearing his wristband. And actually, it wasn't the fact that he was naked that made Gwen stumble a little and almost topple over the brink and into the dark, dark down, but the fact that he was floating in the middle of a cavernous space and there was no water at all to be floating in.
"Not a pool. Really," she said. The cavern said it back to her again and again until her voice took on a receding ghost quality that made her skin go prickly.
"Gwen!" Jack waved. "C'mon in, the water's--" He looked around and then shrugged. "Well, there isn't any, but it's fine anyway."
He back stroked a little further away from the ledge where Gwen was standing, executed a neat somersault and breast stroked a little way back. The rippling light played over his skin just like there was water there, only there was no sun to reflect, no light fixtures that Gwen could see. Edging closer to the precipice, Gwen stretched out her hand and waved it through the air. Nothing there at all, except for a faint tingle in her fingertips and a momentary glittering in the wake of her movement.
"What is it?"
"So you decided to swim in it."
"Seemed like the polite thing to do."
"Polite." She could feel the bemusement creases coming back.
Jack pointed down. "To Julia."
Correction: wtf lines.
With a little yelp, Gwen leaped back from the edge while Jack's laughter scurried around the cavern, chasing its own echoes like a dog after its tail.
"Gwen Cooper, meet Julia."
Gwen crept back. Down, down, down in the darkness, something was... growing. Green, and orange, iridescence scattering among shadows, a great spiral turning, turning--she couldn't tell if it was moving inward or outward, and even the sense that it was coming closer seemed more of a game her mind was playing, because the closer it came, the farther away it seemed. It made everything seem weightless, but Gwen knew she was pitching forward and put out a hand to catch herself, folded her legs and collapsed to her knees on the ledge, clutching the edge where the tiles crumbled and gave way to nothing. Below her, the first immense tentacle seemed to wind itself to its centre, and another one began at its thinnest, tightest turn and wound outward again. It was close enough now that Gwen could see secondary tentacles sprouting from the main ones, each smaller one identical to its parent, turning, turning, winding tight, beginning anew. It was as though all of space were collapsing and expanding at the same time, drawing her in and in and in and the light was lambent and warm and at the same time cool, water shot with sun, flowing, lush with translucent brightness. So bright.
And looking back at her.
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She let go of the tile and pointed. There was no way to know it, but she knew Julia was laughing.
"Yeah," Jack said from somewhere above her. "That's what I said, the first time. Kind of knocks your brain out of its little cup."
Finally, the main tentacle reached the ledge, passed it, swept Gwen's gaze upward where she found Jack floating above her, wound around with smaller tentacles, around his legs, his arms. One curled across his forehead like a crown.
"Julia, you minx," he said. "I told you last time, I'm not that kind of girl."
The light pulsed, shifted, grew deeper, bluer. The entire cavern was filled now with spirals within spirals. Gwen closed her eyes, but she could still see them.
"Well, okay. Maybe I am that kind of girl."
"Jack." Gwen groped blindly for an anchor, because she felt like she was unspooling from the inside, falling and rising, and it was a little much.
And he was, beside her on the ledge, holding her tightly so she wouldn't unwind completely.
"It's just Julia. How is a big question."
Gripping his arm tight, Gwen opened her eyes and found herself being watched although there were no eyes there at all. "Is she....?" She had no idea what she wanted to ask.
"Well, first of all, she's not a she. And second, she not really here." Gwen could feel him smiling against her hair and then the pressure of his chin on the top of her head. "Or she's here, partly. A part of her is here."
"A part? How big is she?"
"What's the biggest thing you can imagine?"
Gwen snorted out a laugh. "After a few months with you lot, I've learned to think very big."
"Okay, then multiply that by everything." He stood, drawing her up with him. "And then by nothing." Gently, he pulled her fingers away from his arm, flattened them and held her hand out toward the abyss like a parent showing a child how to feed an apple to a horse. "Look. Look closely."
Julia touched her. A tentacle grew itself closer and closer, and by the time it reached them, it was barely a finger's width, and from it grew others, and from them, others, and still others, each one smaller and smaller until, when the tentacle curled onto her hand, it had almost disappeared, registering only as a faint glitter on her skin. Gwen's palm felt a little numb, like she'd struck her funny bone.
"I don't understand."
"Julia isn't real. Or she's half real, half imaginary. Which doesn't mean she doesn't exist." Jack reached out and stroked the fine presence in Gwen's palm. "She's pure mathematical sentience."
"Maths?" The tentacle withdrew with the sound of a wave over shale. Gwen rubbed her hand on her jeans, but the tingle remained.
"Yep. This, what we see, is the art of her, the principle rendered in colour and light."
Gwen stood in Jack's arms and tilted her head back so that she could follow the spiral up and up until it disappeared, passing beyond the cavern ceiling like it wasn't there at all, and she could feel herself expanding with it, outward, beyond, beyond, beyond. It was terrifying and wonderful. She didn't realize she was weeping until Jack wiped her tears with his knuckle.
"Yeah, that's what I said, too."
In the verdant light, he looked ageless and ancient and brand new.
"Why, exactly, are you naked?"
When he laughed, the cavern laughed with him, in green and yellow shot with blue. "Easier to hear."
Gwen tilted her head and raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You hear better when you're naked."
"I hear Julia better when I'm naked." He stepped back and started to work at the zipper of her jacket, batting her hands away when she tried to interfere. "Don't go all Victorian on me, Gwen Cooper." He peeled the jacket off and tossed it toward the corridor, leaving her bare-armed in her t-shirt. Then the took her by the shoulders and turned her toward Julia. "Listen."
This time, the tentacle that reached for her was more substantial. It slipped around her upper arm and grew itself down past her elbow to her wrist and then sprouted new fronds along each of her fingers. Gwen gasped. There were voices, voices she could feel in her skin, and suddenly the light ebbing and flowing as the spirals turned above the abyss wasn't just colour or heat but language without words, speaking inside her, telling tales of the infinitely vast and the infinitely small, and through it all, like a whisper of waves on a far-off beach, Julia's laughter.
"For some reason," Jack said, his lips close to her ear and his words so unwieldy and imprecise and heavy and lightless by comparison, "Julia likes us. Humans, I mean. She likes the way we're bigger on the inside than we are on the outside."
The cavern pulsed, greener, the orange crisp and blinding at the centre of each spiral.
"She calls it hope."
Notes: Based on the picture above. It's tentacle!fic, and there's nekkidness but it's strangely not tentacle!porn. How disappointing. I think. 'Kay, going now.
Feedback welcomed at email@example.com.