A Vicodin pill arced through the air, spinning in time to the ticking of the clock on the wall. Five point three seconds later, it was safely home in the stomach of Doctor Gregory House, followed by its friend another five point three seconds later. Wilson might consider this an obsession, but House preferred to think of it as reducing life to a science.
It was getting late and House was contemplating sleep. There wasn't anything good on TV, and he was finally beginning to feel tired anyway. The only thing keeping him up was his leg, which was threatening to complain if he attempted a relocation.
He put it off for a few more minutes and then, sighing, hauled himself off his nice, comfortable couch to begin the long journey to the bathroom. He'd brushed his teeth and had just finished changing when he heard a strange noise from the living room. He barely hesitated before grabbing his cane from where it had been propped by his side and, gripping it tightly, made his way slowly to the source of the noise. He noticed nothing suspicious off the bat, so he crept as quietly as he could manage into the living room. Still, he couldn't spot anything that might have made such a sound. After a not-so-thorough search of the immediate vicinity, he decided he didn't care enough and went to bed.
The next morning House woke, got ready as usual, and was about to leave when something on the floor by the piano caught his eye. Curious, he picked it up and examined it. It was an object small enough to fit easily in his palm. It was grey and oval-shaped, and there was a small square of a slightly lighter shade in the center, but other than that it was unmarked and he couldn't find anything that might be a clue as to what it was. He couldn't remember ever seeing it before.
Though curious, he decided to examine it further at the hospital. He slipped it into his jacket pocket and exited.
* * *
"He's late!" Cameron exclaimed angrily, pacing in front of the table, at which was seated House's other two minions.
"It's not like we have a case right now." Foreman shrugged. Chase didn't even bother to look up from his crossword. Cameron gave them a ruffled glare.
"It's the principle of it! He shouldn't be late to work so often." She didn't get a response, so she returned to pacing. Both were used to Cameron's periodic dissatisfied fits. Five uneventful minutes later, Wilson walked in and paused, looking mildly disappointed.
"Is House not in yet?" he asked. Cameron opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by House himself, who entered directly behind Wilson.
"I've been following you since you left your office and you didn't notice!" he admonished his friend, who rolled his eyes.
"Where have you been?" Cameron asked angrily. House raised an eyebrow at her.
"That time of the month again, Cameron? I was just getting some beauty sleep! You know how I need my rest so I can be just as bright and chipper in the mornings as you lot!"
Cameron fumed as Foreman cut in, his voice hopeful.
"Got a new case?" he inquired as House made himself comfortable. Wilson moved toward the coffee.
"Do you see me carrying a file?" Foreman raised a questioning eyebrow. "Cuddy'll drag one up sooner or later," House added, not sounding particularly enthusiastic.
Foreman adopted a cross look and stood. "Right, then. I'm going to go see if they need some help in neurology, since I'm apparently not needed here." He strode out without waiting for a response. Wilson took his vacated seat as House snatched Chase's crossword out of his hands.
"Hey! That's mine!" Chase cried.
"Not anymore it's not," House responded, taking advantage of Chase's diverted attention to steal his pencil as well. Cameron made a disgruntled sound and left the room, looking exasperated and not bothering to say where she was going. Wilson was moving his chair so he could get a look at the puzzle and Chase was about to attempt another (inevitably futile) protest when House caught sight of Doctor Cuddy, looking mildly harassed and running past the room with as much speed as her ridiculously high heels allowed. Tucking the paper into his jacket, House quickly stood and rushed out of the room, not even hearing Chase calling after him.
Once out in the hall, House opted for yelling Cuddy's name instead of trying to keep up with her, a feat that would probably have been impossible. She glanced back, shot him an annoyed look, and didn't bother to wait for him. More than a little peeved but still interested in what might have the Dean of Medicine running around so frantically, he limped after her. The faint sound of yelling from the floor below preceded the not-so-faint--and significantly more interesting--sound of shattering glass.
House grinned. Ah, potential entertainment.
He took the elevator to the first floor, took a moment to take in the chaos, and used his cane to help push through the crowd of doctors surrounding an unconscious young woman. Standing amidst the broken glass, he noticed a young man in a suit with a horribly green tie that reminded him of Wilson and a stunned expression that reminded him of Cameron the day he used her stethoscope as part of a demonstration to explain to an eighteen-year-old clinic patient how babies were made. He also noted that Foreman and Cameron had already shown up and were helping get the woman onto a gurney. He wasn't interested in her. People fainted all the time, especially in hospitals; that wasn't entertaining. He was interested in the broken glass and finding out exactly what had happened. After all, it was a hospital. The drama that happened here could often be better than anything on TV.
* * *
For once, Ianto Jones mused, Americans were right; New Jersey really was the armpit of America. A faint drizzle had been falling when they left the Newark airport, the sort that made everything humid and sticky without ever actually seeming to rain. It also refused to let up. Meanwhile, the car smelled disturbingly of deodorant, though he suspected that might be Owen.
Thunder rumbled behind storm clouds grey and foreboding, dull as the sheen of a cyberman’s armor, cold metal encasing burning flesh. Ianto shuddered. Best not to think about it, not if he wanted to stay professional. Funny, the difference half a year makes. The thought of pushing Lisa out of his mind would’ve been unforgivable in the months after her death, but it was hard to deny the truth, the fact that the Lisa he’d pulled out of Torchwood One had been, in fact, just another cyberman. No, never that. But not Lisa.
“Bugger me if this isn’t worse than Brecon Beacons,” Owen said.
Oh yes, just like Owen to make him think of cannibals instead of Lisa. So much better. “Shut up, Owen, or I’ll pull over and find you a burger that really is contaminated with Hep-A. Shouldn’t be too hard here.”
“Come on, Ianto, it isn’t that bad,” Tosh said. “The way you talk, you’d think someone in New Jersey comes down with a weird, unknown disease every week.”
“Are we there yet?” Jack asked, peering at the map in Gwen’s hands.
Ianto sighed and reached back to turn the map right-side up.
“Oh.” Gwen looked chagrined. “I was wondering why the Atlantic was to the west.”
“I want to know why the bloody GPS isn’t working.” Owen elbowed Tosh. “Oy, Tosh, you’re the computer genius, get on it.”
Gwen shoved the map at Owen. “It wouldn’t hurt if you learned to use a map.”
“It wouldn’t hurt if you took the middle seat once in a while.”
“It’s not every day you’re sandwiched between two lovely women.” Jack flashed Owen his most winning grin.
“Shut up, Harkness.”
“We’ve got a reading!” Tosh exclaimed.
“Ianto, was that the exit 9 to New Brunswick?” Gwen asked.
Owen rolled his eyes. “That was a six, Cooper.”
“Are you getting shirty with me?”
“Six, nine, completely different. You ought to know.”
“I’ve got a reading!” Tosh repeated.
“Where?” Ianto asked, trying his best to shut everyone else out.
“Are you having sex with Owen?” Jack asked.
“No!” replied Ianto.
Jack raised an eyebrow. “I was talking to Gwen.”
“Then you should’ve said ‘again.’”
“You and the teaboy are hardly role models for platonic office relationships,” Owen said.
“Forwarding the coordinates,” Tosh said.
“Got it.” Ianto spared his handheld a glance before returning his attention to the road with the cars on the wrong side.
“Rhys and I are getting along fine, Jack,” Gwen said.
“I’m worried about you.”
“And she’s shagging Owen,” Tosh muttered.
“What?” Three heads turned simultaneously.
Tosh sighed. “I announce a fix on the alien artifact and only Ianto responds, but I have a juicy piece of gossip and you can’t pay attention fast enough!”
Jack tapped a few buttons on his wristband. “You locked onto a band of microwave radiation originating from the object’s passage through the Rift. I’ve been narrowing the frequency search while we were discussing Gwen’s sex life, and it seems to be emanating from a spot in Princeton.”
“We figured that out back in Cardiff,” Owen said.
Tosh examined her handheld. “He means Princeton University.”
Jack entered a few last commands. “More specifically, a hospital. The Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.”
“Tosh’s readings indicate residual radiation all across the city,” Ianto said.
“Pay attention to the road,” Owen said.
“Pay attention to your job. You’ll want to be prepared when you meet a real doctor.”
“Real funny. I’m laughing my arse off.”
“The object was moved.” Tosh’s eyes widened as she considered the implications. “What if someone set it off?”
Jack shook his head. “No, we’d have intercepted some report, from the media or the FBI or UNIT, and from the analysis I did in the Hub, the technology has a massive energy output. There’s no way we’d miss that.”
“Well, either way, we’d better hurry,” Ianto said. “Alien technology loose in a teaching hospital? It’d be like Grey’s Anatomy meets Scrubs.”
“With blood and violence,” Gwen said.
“And sex.” Owen sounded far too cheerful for his own good.
Ianto felt that risking a speeding ticket was preferable to risking his sanity, so he pressed his foot harder against the gas pedal.
An hour, numerous wrong turns, and one traffic violation from an annoyingly arrogant cop named Tritter later, they finally found themselves in the parking lot of Princeton-Plainsboro. For some reason, the sun was now shining, but the drizzle continued, and the combination created wisps of steam rising off the asphalt. Shrill sirens announced the arrival of an ambulance at the other end of the hospital, and they watched as doctors rushed out to cart a patient in, looking efficient and professional until one of them slipped and fell off the curb. Ianto decided Torchwood vacations were overrated.
“So what do you suppose we’re looking for?” Gwen asked.
Jack shrugged. “Lots of things in the universe produce enough energy to blow up a continent.”
Ianto scanned the hospital. Grand, sprawling, elegant, it was clearly a modern facility, designed to attract donors as well as patients. Rows and rows of windows gave a clear view into the building, as though it were screaming on behalf of all its occupants, We have nothing to hide. But Ianto knew that glass walls just concealed their secrets by other, better means.
He was jolted out of his reverie when Gwen suddenly cried out. Then Jack was falling too. Ianto rushed over, grabbing his arm and steadying him. To his other side, Gwen clambered back onto her feet, rubbing her torn pant leg with one hand, the other still clutching Jack’s greatcoat.
Jack gave Ianto a nod and turned to Gwen. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, fine, I must have slipped.”
“Still a little weak in the knees?” Owen winked at her.
Gwen ignored him and strode through the glass front doors without waiting for them. Ianto’s nose wrinkled in anticipation of the stink of antiseptics and was surprised when the lobby smelled faintly of spruce air freshener and little else. It almost reminded him of the Hub.
They moved past the desk at the center of the lobby. Several nurses wandered past, paying them no attention. Jack quickened his pace, concentrating on Gwen. Ianto cut him off and said to Gwen, “I thought you were going to stay faithful to Rhys after he died.”
Jack’s glare was filled with disapproval, and for a moment, Ianto felt disoriented as memories of threats and doubts flooded back, reinforced by the eerily darkening skies outside. He had no time to respond, however, as Gwen rounded on him and grabbed his collar, shoving him back. His fingers tugged at hers, partly to keep her from choking him, partly to save his tie, which he was quite fond of.
“What I do is none of your business, Jack!” Gwen screamed.
Now they had everyone’s attention.
Jack and Owen ran up, trying to separate the two of them, but Gwen’s grip was ironclad. Ianto started to wheeze as his shirt tightened around his throat.
“Gwen... who… am I?” Ianto gasped.
“Shut up, Jack. I’m sick of your stupid questions!”
With a roar, Gwen threw Ianto back. He heard crashing cymbals and realized he was falling through glass. He squeezed his eyelids shut and tried to resist the urge to cushion his impact with his hands. Shards of glass fell against him like drops of cold water, tiny pinpricks against his back as he was thrown by a woman he’d thought he’d known. Then Gwen started screaming, and screaming, and screaming.
All the air was knocked out of his lungs as he smashed onto the vinyl tiling. Shaking his face clean of glass, he opened his eyes to see Jack and three nurses trying to restrain Gwen as she flailed about on the ground, kicking and punching and screaming all the while.
“Help! Help! HELP ME!” Her struggle was losing purpose, her limbs twitching from uncontrollable spasms rather than by any conscious will.
He stood, unsure what to do. A chance moment brought Jack’s gaze in line with his, and he took a step backward in shock; he had seen many emotions in Jack’s eyes, from fear to hatred to sadness, but never despair, never sheer despair. This wasn’t something Jack understood, and it wasn’t anything he had control over. It wasn’t alien, it wasn’t an enemy he could fight, it was an illness, a weakness all too human. Oh god, please no, please let her stop, please let her be all right, please make it stop.
Gwen fell still. Ianto approached with his heart in his throat. More doctors, more nurses, all rushed toward them, but Ianto didn’t study them, didn’t even look at them. His eyes were fixed on his colleague, his ally, his friend, but her eyes were fixed on the ceiling, unmoving, unseeing.
“Is she... is she dead?” he asked no one in particular.
No one answered. A wall of white lab coats cut him off from her.