The department on Torchwood's Level Q liked to go about calling themselves the Transuniversal Spatio-Temporal Research Division. They'd had their own special logos done up for memos and faxes. They had the full name on a big, fancy plaque that they'd put on the wall right in front of the lift, so you couldn't miss it. So Mickey took a childish pleasure, while he was stuck hanging around Level Q's reception area, in ringing upstairs to Jake and loudly mentioning that if anybody needed him he was on the Magic Door Floor. The department secretary gave him a hateful look over the top of his computer, but since Mickey was one of the half a dozen people in the building with unrestricted access to this level, looking was about all he could do. Mickey gave him a big smile and the man disappeared behind his screen, glaring.
He'd almost been bored enough to start reading the big list of universe-crossing quarantine regulations on the wall when Martha barrelled through the double doors, overnight bag slung over her shoulder, mobile clamped to her ear. She gave him a little wave with her free hand, mouthing "family. Sorry."
"I'll get the half five from Cardiff. Mum, I will be there on time, I promise. Mum, I'm not even in the right universe yet, this is costing me a fortune, I'll ring you in Cardiff, all right? Yeah. Love you too - oh, you star. No, not you, Mum, Mickey's brought down those shoes Rose said she'd lend me." She took the shoebox out of his hands, rolling her eyes at something her mum had said. "No, I'm not bringing anyone to Leo's party. I'll see you later. Bye."
"You look really… nice," Mickey said lamely, instantly hating himself for it, as he did for practically every word that struggled out of his mouth when it was just him and Martha. When Rose or Jake or some of the Cardiff branch lot was with them, there was no problem. When it was just them, the constant mental God, she's gorgeous tended to drown out any chance of sounding halfway intelligent.
She didn't seem to notice, though. Probably used to men sounding like idiots around her, he thought. "My little brother's birthday," she said. "Mum'd murder me if I didn't show my face, even if I do technically work on a different planet. Are you coming across as well?"
"Yeah," he said, an invented excuse coming out of his mouth before his brain had a chance to okay it: "Tosh has got some alien tech thing she wants me to take a look at for her." Oh, nice one, because Tosh really needs you to help her with that stuff. Why not tell her you're helping Owen do some brain surgery as well?
He was saved, much to his surprise, by the stroppy secretary. "Excuse me. Sorry. I couldn't help overhearing," he did a little cough into his hand, "but if you're both planning on crossing over, you're going to have to go now. We're shutting down the grid for two hours maintenance in about ten minutes. It's not like a portal between universes runs on magic."
"We'd better go through together, then," Martha said. "That's safe, right? We won't end up like The Fly? …oh, no time to explain, I'll bring you back the DVD."
The secretary settled down again, appeased. The TSTR Division liked DVDs, though they'd soon worked out to ask Martha or Rose about anything that was puzzling them, ever since Mickey had managed to convince them Little Britain was a cutting-edge documentary about life in Universe B.
"Come on," Martha said, swiping her pass card through the scanner. He followed her through the offices and the lab to the huge metal door, which opened to both their codes with a satisfyingly Star Trek whoosh.
He'd always thought that after all that the magic door - or the transdimensional portal or whatever you wanted to call it - should be dead impressive. Maybe a mysterious shimmering wall of light, or a Stargate. It shouldn't just be a space the size of a stationery cupboard, where one door closed, the other one opened, and you were in the other universe. Nobody would want to see that on telly. They'd think you were working on a budget of 50p and a couple of egg boxes.
On the other hand, anything that got him this close to Martha for a few minutes couldn't be that bad.
"Bit small in here," he said, after the door on their side had whooshed shut and all the machinery clunked into place.
"I don't think they designed it for two people to go through at once."
"Probably because it's always breaking down. I was in here two hours last week. Wouldn't be much fun if you didn't like the person you were stuck with," she said, grinning up at him.
He was glad the other door opened before he could do something insane, like ask if she'd mind being stuck there with him.
Walking out of the portal room in a different universe to the one you'd started in was weird. The first few times he'd almost been sick with dizziness. He was used enough to it now that it just felt uncomfortable, like all the atoms in his body had decided to spin around at once.
"It works the other way for me," Martha said when he mentioned it. "I'm fine coming this direction, it's going back that's weird." He'd taken her bag and followed her up the stairs; if she wondered why he was coming this way and not going to find Toshiko, she didn't say anything about it. "I thought it was just cos I wasn't born in that universe. But you weren't either and it's different for you."
"I've lived there a couple of years," he pointed out. "You've only been there six months."
"Yeah, that's probably it. Maybe my department should look into…" A blast of frigid air hit them as she opened the street-level exit. "God, it's freezing!"
"I'd give you my coat," Mickey said, following her out onto the Plass with his teeth chattering, "if I was wearing one."
"Torchwood: master planners. That's us."
"Good thing we sometimes save the world or we'd be completely useless."
That made her laugh. "Two worlds, thanks. We're at least a hundred percent more brilliant than you're letting on."
"That's my natural modesty, babe," he said, and would have promptly killed himself for the unintentional last word if she hadn't looked away, smiling to herself like she really didn't mind it.
"Can I just ask…"
Mickey swallowed. There were so many bad ways that sentence could end -
"How come you've never asked me out?"
- and at least one good way. It was getting dark, it was freezing, it was Cardiff. None of that made the place any less beautiful, suddenly.
"Because," Martha plowed ahead, "I keep thinking you're about to and then you never do. And I thought it was the Rose thing, which was holding me back as well - y'know, sisters before misters and all that - only I finally just asked her and she says it's been a couple of years since you and her went out and she doesn't mind."
"You thought she'd be jealous about me? Seriously?" How on Earth, he wondered, had she got that impression? And she talked to Rose all the time, as well. It couldn't all be shoes and space travel. "Me and Rose were over…" he thought about it. Hard to fix on one date, they'd been finishing with each other for so long, even if you didn't bring time travel into it. "Ages ago. She's my best mate in the world, but that's all it is."
"It's just," she shrugged, "I've done the second-best thing. Never again."
"Look," Mickey said, "I'm not even going to start listing the ways in which you being second best to anybody is just wrong because we'll be here all night and it's really bloody cold and you'll miss your train and your mum sounds scary. Do you want to go out some time when you get back from your party?"
"Oh, about time," she said, and if it was a bit awkward snogging someone when one of your hands and both of theirs were full, he didn't mind. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought he'd always been waiting for the perfect moment to kiss her - the big film moment, all glamour and violin music and bright and romantic. Not an empty plaza in Cardiff with rain starting to drizzle down and a pterodactyl watching them with interest from the top of the fountain.
The film thing would have been pretty good. This was brilliant.
"Train," she said, giving him another quick kiss and grabbing her bag and turning and running for the taxi rank before he'd got over the first kiss. "My brother's twenty-two today!" she shouted back at him, as he stood half-reeling and wondering how she could go so fast in high heels. "Amazing what can change in a year, isn't it? See you on Sunday, Mr Smith…"