Chapter 1: Prologue
The wind was slow to die down in the Hub. Papers, still in the process of being put back into a semblance of order after the Rift opening a few days before, flew from their carefully constructed piles and mixed together once more on the floor. One of the few remaining pages on the Rift Manipulator itself went into the pool at the base of the water tower, but that wouldn't be noticed for hours yet. For the most part, everything else had been anchored before the strange roaring wind began, either on one of the four desks stationed around the large room, in the recessed office a dark-haired woman had only recently vacated, or pinioned under a fallen piece of the structure which had yet to be repaired.
The noise faded much more quickly. If one were to ask the woman staring at the empty room before, her three companions behind her, she would have described it as a grinding wheeze - and perhaps compared it to a backfiring car on its last legs. That was the noise that had pulled her from her boss's office, that and he was never so quiet. The last time he had been that quiet was only a few hours ago, and that was something none of them wanted to happen again. All their nerves were rubbed raw, and strange noises in a place they had once considered the safest in Cardiff did little to soothe them. No one had asked her about the noise yet though.
"I thought we tidied up in here," Owen stated, glancing around in confusion. It was something echoed in the expressions Ianto and Toshiko wore as well, and though she was doing all she could to keep the same look from overcoming her face as well, Gwen Cooper was certain she was failing spectacularly. "What's the matter?"
And suddenly finding the right words to say were a lot more difficult than she thought they'd be, especially since she herself had no idea just what had gone on only a few scarce seconds before. Jack had been here, complaining about how long the coffees were taking. She heard his heavy boots descending the stairs. The noise had stopped for a second, she heard him take a few steps, then... nothing. Nothing but that noise, then the wind, and then no Jack. The lift was still in place, and he couldn't have gone out the main door, not and the others somehow miss him. Even Owen wasn't that unobservant, she thought dryly.
"He was just here." Even she was glancing around the mess that remained of the Hub, as if it would give her the answer they all were seeking. And in a way, it did. Something else was missing, something besides their leader. The hand in the bubbling jar, the one that was so important to Jack, was also gone from its post, the first time it had vanished since Carys took it all those months ago. And that cinched it. Jack was gone. That strange hand was gone. The current leader of Torchwood and what was probably a piece of an alien, for all that it looked so human, were missing, and that could only mean someone took them, someone who wanted Torchwood's information - and maybe something about that hand. But the hand wasn't what was important now. "Something's taken him. Jack's gone."
Gwen was taking this all too calmly, Toshiko Sato thought to herself, setting down her coffee on an empty piece of desk where a stack of papers had stood only a few minutes ago. If this were any other job in the world, she'd be sitting the Welshwoman down and have Owen check her over. It had been a rough few days, and she wasn't too sure how long it had been since Gwen had had any sleep. Lack of sleep could do strange things to a person, after all, cause hallucinations and the like, to say nothing of the stress they'd all been under lately.
But this wasn't any other job; this was Torchwood. And even if all of this sounded like a stress-induced hallucination to her, well, she was hardly an expert, and it couldn't be discounted. Not immediately anyway.
It was so quiet in the Hub. It immediately reminded her of those three days Jack had been dead. Gwen had never left the morgue, not that she'd ever seen anyway; Ianto had straightened Jack's office over and over again, crying into the man's greatcoat, as if the routine would wake him up once more; and Owen thrown himself into putting the Hub back into its original state of repair, trying to ease his mistakes by fixing what he could. And she had repaired the equipment, only half her mind on her work; the other half was on the larger than life man who lead Torchwood, and snippets of conversations they had shared, on a bench outside the Millennium Centre after Mary and in his office after 1941. The office had been a tomb, silent except the sounds of cleaning, muted though they had been, and the occasional ring of Gwen's mobile till its battery ran out. Every time anyone had checked the number, it had been Rhys.
It was that quiet again now, and she realised with a start that they were all waiting on Jack to just appear out of nowhere, to bounce back from whatever had him, as he had done when Owen shot him, as he had eventually done after Abaddon. They could all pretend they weren't waiting on him fall from the sky or even jump out from behind a desk and yell "Surprise". In a way, she wouldn't put it past Jack. One just never knew what to expect with him; sometimes she thought he might have even jumped out his own mother's birthday cake. It wouldn't surprise her, but lately little surprised her.
"Are you sure someone's taken him?" Owen was asking Gwen, circling past both her and Ianto to look at the other woman more closely. Good. If there were any signs of shock, the doctor would notice and get seen about. He was definitely cataloguing her responsiveness, as far as Tosh could tell, but again, she was hardly the expert here. He was, though. "Maybe he just left."
"How? The lift is still down, and he couldn't have gone out the main way without you seeing him." She frowned hard, as in deep thought on something she could not quite place. "And there was that noise. Such a strange noise, not like anything I've ever heard before."
"What did it sound like, Gwen?" she found herself asking, moving up to cluster close to the two of them. And she could tell herself it wasn't so they wouldn't vanish as well.
Well, Torchwood staff members did have a habit of disappearing. There was all of Torchwood Four still missing to this day, and no-one had ever found all the bodies from Torchwood One. Why Jack, though? Of all of them, why did it have to be Jack? They needed him. If someone was going to take one of them, why couldn't it be her instead?
Gwen's eyes closed, as she clearly tried to remember exactly how it sounded. "Something like a grinding... or a wheezing. Maybe both." She opened her eyes, glancing around at the mess on the floor. Behind them, Tosh could faintly seeing Ianto doing something at Owen's desk, just out of the corner of her eye. "The wind started at the same time. And it was all right when Jack vanished. It's all connected, somehow."
"A grinding or a wheezing?" Owen repeated. He was doing his best to keep a professional expression on his face, at least while he was still checking Gwen over, but disbelief was written in his eyes and all over his tone. "What? Someone drove a backfiring Volvo in the Hub through an entrance no-one knows about, kidnapped Jack, and left before any of us could notice?" It was strangely nice to know even the past week's events couldn't dull Owen's acetic tongue. Some things, at least, didn't change.
"I didn't say that!" Gwen hissed in return. The Welshwoman's eyes were flashing, but she was keeping her voice down. They all were, even Owen. It was just like, too much like, when Jack had been dead. "And I don't see you coming up with any kind of a real theory!" Abruptly, Toshiko was reminded of that wild punch Gwen had unexpectedly thrown at Jack and stepped to the side, so that she was closer to the woman than Owen. Just in case violence ensued, she told herself, she didn't want to be on the accidental receiving end of Gwen's temper. "So why don't you just-"
Whatever insult she was going to level on Owen was lost as a sound Toshiko could best describe only as a grinding wheeze, much as Gwen herself had, filled the still air of the Hub. The reaction was instantaneous: Owen cursed and reached for a gun that wasn't there, Gwen jumped and pulled a gun Toshiko hadn't known she had on her, and she froze.
Just as abruptly as the strange sound began, it ceased, leaving the room once more in a strained silence.
"Was that what you heard?" Ianto's voice spoke up, and as one, they turned to where he stood, still beside Owen's desk. A file was open on the desktop, and from here, all she could see was a random assortment of letters and the words 'Torchwood One'. "Gwen?"
She breathed a silent sigh of relief as the gun disappeared once more to wherever it had come from as Gwen and Owen both rushed over to the desk. "That was it!" she exclaimed. "What is it?"
Only Toshiko caught the darkening in the Welshman's eyes. Whatever it was, Ianto didn't like it. This wouldn't be good.
"That was recorded at Torchwood One, hours before it went under," he finally said, his voice dull. "Someone managed to load it on the Torchwood Archive mainframe before everything went-" He trailed off, as if searching for the appropriate phrase.
"Tits up?" Owen offered.
Ianto shrugged. "Exactly. It's the sound of the TARDIS, when it... arrived in Torchwood One."
Perhaps this sinking feeling was what people meant when they said their hearts sank. "The TARDIS? Like the Doctor's TARDIS?" she repeated in shock.
"The Doctor took Jack?" came from Gwen.
A loud bang made her jump, made them all start, and turn their attention to Owen. One of his fists had just come down on the edge of the desk hard, hard enough for her to wonder if they'd need to cast it later. "Why not?" he growled. "The Doctor was there when Torchwood One was destroyed. We may be his next targets."
Chapter 2: Chapter One
"Well, what would Jack do?!"
He wasn't too sure what Jack Harkness would do in a situation like they found they were currently finding themselves in, but Owen was fairly certain it wouldn't involve shrieking like a banshee in his ear. If it did, well, he wouldn't put a lot of things past Jack, and that included shrieking like a banshee but only if it'd be for their own good. He hoped, anyway.
Jack may have said he was forgave him, after all, but he wasn't sure he entirely believed him. Not when he wasn't completely ready to forgive himself. Since Jack's disappearance (Had it only been yesterday? It felt like both ages and mere hours ago.), he thrown himself into their work. He had Toshiko and Ianto back at the Hub trying to find out what they could about the Doctor, and he and Gwen had left on what seemed to be another normal Weevil spotting. How wrong he had been.
Apparently Jack had told Gwen just before his disappearance, because it was just too hard to think of a bloke like Jack being kidnapped, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the Rift would be getting more and more active. Either he was right and they were therefore getting new aliens they'd never seen before, or he was still right and they were getting evolved Weevils. Neither was a pleasant concept, especially not with Jack gone; the man sometimes seemed to have something more of a clue of what was going on than the rest of them, not that he was always willing to share what that clue might be, of course, but the fall-back had at least been there.
He'd love to get his hands on whoever had Jack. Never mind that if they had Jack and had managed to keep him this long, apparent immortality and all, they could probably hand him his own arse in a neat little pile. Never mind that; he wanted to get his hands around their throats, assuming they h ad them, and squeeze.
Toshiko and Ianto were dead certain it was the Doctor they were dealing with. To some extent that alarmed him: the Doctor showed up at Torchwood One, and hours later, over four hundred people were known to be dead - and half again as many as that still reported to be missing. Hell, it had been easier in the end to count the survivors (twenty-seven, out of eight hundred twenty-three) than the dead in the end, to say nothing of the civilians. That had been one of the days he'd hated being in Torchwood, cataloguing pieces of co-workers as best he could. No-one really knew what had happened with Torchwood Four, but if the Doctor was involved there, then what did that say about Jack's odds?
It was Jack, though. Whatever whoever had him was planning on, they were going to get a surprise, especially if anything... fatal happened to him. Owen almost wanted to be a fly on the wall when Jack sat right back up. Unless this Doctor got interested in finding out what made Jack sit right back up...
He needed to stop thinking up situations like that. Especially when they weren't one hundred per cent certain that it was the Doctor who had taken him. Tosh and Ianto were so certain, though, that the sound Gwen had heard was the Doctor's TARDIS. If it had been just the tea boy, even with the recording from Torchwood One, he might have room to doubt, but Tosh was equally as positive - and she'd heard the TARDIS in person, a couple years ago when Jack sent her to Albion Hospital in London on what was supposed to be an alien fished out a spaceship in the Thames.
Jack and Yvonne had been in heavy competition around that time, as he recalled it, and since Yvonne had sent them the widow of some nutter named Clive (Steve? Dave? He couldn't recall now) to deal with, Jack had sent Toshiko in to be the government's "resident alien expert", before Yvonne could even begin to mobilize her own people. Which in turn meant Tosh was the only surviving member of Torchwood, any branch of Torchwood, to have met the Doctor.
And he needed to quit worrying about Jack when his ass being on the line wasn't the immediate problem. No, the immediate problem was about a meter - but more likely a little more - taller than Gwen, smelled like a Weevil fresh out of the sewer, and looked twice as bad, with claws that were roughly triple the length. Maybe if the Weevil's mother had had a more than passing relationship with Abaddon, maybe then this thing could be related to Janet, the Weevil living in the basement of Torchwood's Hub. And where had Jack come up with a name like Janet for a Weevil anyway? Mentally he added that to the ever-growing list of questions he was going to ask the other man if - no, when they got him back. At the rate the list was growing and if he remembered them all, he'd be demanding answers from Jack till he was eighty. Not that he was likely to get many of them answered, but that wasn't the point.
The point was that he needed to start ducking faster.
Owen wasn't moving nearly as quickly as he should be, as he normally would be in the field, she thought in dismay. That had to mean he was still recovering from the gunshot wound Ianto gave him nearly a week ago. He probably shouldn't be out here yet, but...
They'd all gone out in the field with injuries before, of course. It was a necessary part of their job with Torchwood. A necessary evil, Jack had called it, not that he went out injured frequently. No, it was more common for Jack to die on a job than get hurt. Maybe that should have been a clue.
Owen ducked, rolling in a tuck that would make stunt co-ordinators weep, though whether from envy or derision she couldn't be absolutely certain, and coming back up with his gun aimed at the creature, firing three times in quick succession. At least one of them connected, striking high on its torso. Unfortunately, that just seemed to make it more angry, as if it wasn't enough already.
"Tosh! Tell me this thing has a weakness and you've found it!" she yelled into her earpiece as she tried to manoeuvre around Owen to get a clear shot herself. Maybe if she could just hit its head, no matter how freakishly small a target it was compared to the rest of the thing's body. Not while Owen's so close though. Not if lead bullets don't work. Insanity was doing the same thing and expecting different results, after all.
Right now they could really use Jack. Someone to cover for them, take the up close position till Tosh came up with a solution of some sort... and all the other things Jack did for them that they hadn't even begun to realise till he was gone. God, she hoped he was in better shape than they were, hope he was having better luck with whatever he was doing than they were against this thing.
How many times had he told her, after all, that he was waiting on the right kind of doctor. Two that immediately came to mind: standing above the city of Cardiff after everything with Suzie, the first time everything happened with Suzie, the one where Jack died, not where she almost did; and just before he was taken, like the words had summoned his kidnapper. Could it possibly be that Jack's doctor was the Doctor?
She hadn't exactly read the files on the Doctor since her second day on the job. For one thing, there were just so many and they were all so thick that they reminded her in a way of textbooks. Actually they did remind her of textbooks: each one was more dry that the one before. Whoever wrote the reports had apparently been trying to bore his audience to death. What she did recall was that every couple of files, the images of the Doctor would change into a completely new man, which made no sense, because she recalled a few of the dates overlapping. Granted, not all the notes were made by Torchwood employees: some of the files had been sent over directly to Jack by U.N.I.T. Ianto had admitted to her privately once that, even though he'd been at Torchwood One when the Doctor arrived that fateful day, he hadn't known nearly as much about the man (Alien? What she could recall of the files wasn't very specific.) they were supposed to be fighting as he did after seeing Jack's great amassed pile of files.
Maybe she should go back over those files. Hell, maybe they all should. There might be some sort of clue in there on how to get Jack back, if he wanted to come back. And maybe she should tell the others that Jack had been waiting on a doctor. But it wasn't her secret to tell, not really. But on the other hand, it might help them find him. She could almost place bets that even as Toshiko was rushing to find a solution to this problem, as well as research the latest information on the Doctor and his relationship to the other Torchwoods, the other woman was also working on a program to track their missing leader back down so that they could bring him home.
"Gwen? Do you have your Taser with you?" Tosh's voice asked in her ear.
She fumbled at her belt, but it was still clipped there. She'd started back carrying it after the Weevil Fight Club Owen had infiltrated. Not all the monsters were aliens after all; they should all know by now that sometimes humans were the biggest threats. And sometimes a bit of electricity was the best way to deal with a human. "Yes, I do."
"Do you see the small patch of skin under its neck that's lighter than the rest?" She almost nodded her agreement, still sometimes forgetting that Tosh couldn't see her. Though if Tosh could see the lighter bit of scaly skin that she herself could barely detect, then maybe Tosh could see her nod. "It appears that the scales are thinner there. If it's like cold-blooded animals here, the electricity may at least slow it down."
Well, Owen shooting it wasn't doing any good. "Owen!"
Obviously he heard Tosh as well because he was already moving back over towards her when she fired, praying to any deity that might be listening that her aim would be good. It was such a small target.
For an indeterminably long moment, she held her breath as the electric prongs flew through the air - then released it again in a loud triumphant whoop as it struck nearly exactly where she'd been aiming for but still in the paler patch of scales. The creature jerked and twitched its way to lie prone on the filthy concrete floor, and they shared an exhausted glance before slowly bending to collect the newest addition to Torchwood's basement's collection of aliens.
As they loaded it in the back of the SUV, she faintly heard Owen muttering, "Jack picked a fine time to disappear."
She couldn't really disagree that they could really use a fifth person right now, but... "Someone took him. Jack wouldn't leave us like this if he had a choice."
"I wish I had your faith." He looked surprised to have said that much and immediately got back to securing their unwilling passenger.
And she couldn't say why she had faith in Jack.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two
It was perfectly obvious to Toshiko what was happening around here. There were entire planets of denial circulating around, each one more oppressive than the one before, and for all that he might be trying to hide it, Owen might be the worst of the lot of them, with Gwen running a close second. At least Ianto was fairly honest in his utter misery - and wasn't that fun to sit around the Hub with - and she was keeping herself busy with their newest alien guest, as well trying to write a program to track the Doctor's TARDIS from the limited information they had on it.
The Torchwood One files had been no help in the matter whatsoever in the matter. Any information they may have had from trying to study it before everything went pear shaped was lost when the Cybermen and the other aliens (Jack had called them Daleks, and she was quite willing to go with that) started taking over. And it wasn't just the information the alien technology, including the TARDIS, that had been lost; the technology itself had been lost. Most estimates that had been done since the Battle of Canary Wharf, as it was now being called, about ninty-three per cent of the alien technology in Torchwood One's holdings had been lost or damaged beyond repair. To make matters all the worse, all of Torchwood Four's info and tech had been there in storage since that entire team's disappearance.
In the end, though, it meant she was flying a bit blind when it came to this program. She just didn't have enough information and was having to extrapolate nearly as much she knew with any degree of certainty. She couldn't exactly trace it just by the noise; otherwise, she'd end up tracking every backfiring Volvo, as Owen had put it, around the world. Chasing that many false leads would spread them too thin, which would leave them in no position to help Jack, should they eventually actually find the TARDIS that way. She'd briefly considered calling in Torchwood Two to help them find their missing leader, but no, if Owen's theory was correct and the Doctor was after Torchwood, then they'd need a unit in reserve. Still, she could set up a back-up program, so that if they didn't log into the Hub's interface, either mobilely or from one of the computers here, an alert would be sent to Edinburgh. She'd have to make sure it didn't send prematurely (perhaps she could set it for nine hours without a single log in) and that it sent all the information they'd collected so far, however much or little it was by that point.
She was well aware that she had something of a reputation in Torchwood, not for her intellectualism as she'd prefer, but for being the only living person in Torchwood to have met the Doctor. To this day, she was still amazed at how many people had called her from the other branches for information about him in the days and weeks after the aliens faking aliens incident. When all she could say was he was a brooding Northern-sounding man who made her feel stupid, the phone calls had begun to peter off. To her that was the amazing point: it wasn't often that she felt stupid. She could count them all on one hand, after all, and all but one of them had occurred since she'd joined Torchwood. The other had been she had been very young and was something she generally preferred not to think about on most days.
Right now, she wished she knew as much about the man as people had thought she did. Any information more than she had would be wonderful at the moment. Most of the files U.N.I.T. sent Jack had been on a different Doctor, an elderly chap with odd taste in clothing, though there had been files on other people called "the Doctor". Perhaps it was a title that was passed on, perhaps father to son. How many Doctors could there have been since Queen Victoria founded Torchwood? How many Doctors had there been since the missives retrieved from Queen Elizabeth I's personal documents? Just how many Doctors had there been?
But if it was a title passed from father to son, then how quickly did these aliens age? The Northern Doctor she'd met hadn't seemed old enough to have a son the age of the Doctor caught on Torchwood One's CCTV. Different maturity rates, perhaps, from humans? She almost hoped that was the answer. The only other option she could immediately come up with, the one that kept drifting back into the forefront of her mind like a portent of doom, was that all these Doctors were the same person, that there was just one Doctor, an alien capable of changing his face; in other words, a chameleon masquerading among humans. But that would mean he was either as immortal as Jack was or extremely, extremely long-lived. And she couldn't see the Northern Doctor she'd met at Albion Hospital being willing to let so many people die, not when he hadn't wanted the fake alien killed, not when he'd shown such sympathy for it. It had to be the former theory. There had to be more than one Doctor.
Any other idea was just too monstrous, even for Torchwood's number one enemy. Besides, the father-to-son theory explained why the current Doctor matched descriptions of the Doctor Queen Victoria had met. As for the descriptions of the woman who'd been with him, that London girl named Rose Tyler, matching the Victorian descriptions of the "timorous beastie" and the "wee naked child" with the Doctor then... Well, maybe there was a familial preference for blondes. Of course, Rose Tyler was on the list of the dead from Canary Wharf, the list which had arrived mere days before Ianto. When it had arrived, Jack had locked himself in his office for hours and had quietly drunk himself into a stupor. She supposed they'd all mourned Torchwood One in their own ways, since Owen had spent three days away from the Hub and come back looking like something she'd throw back in the rubbish bin.
Owen... She supposed he was blaming himself for this and that was why he was acting like he needed to be both himself and Jack for the rest of them. He was bound to stretch himself too thin, trying to both be their medic and a temporary leader, especially since they'd yet to follow procedure and call in Jack's disappearance to the proper people, namely the branch head of Torchwood Two, Bambera over at U.N.I.T., and the Prime Minister. Yes, Mister Saxon seemed like a great guy, and she'd even voted for him herself, but she didn't fancy telling him they'd managed to lose their branch leader.
Maybe if Owen wanted to play at being their temporary leader, he could make the calls. Better him than her, after all, she figured. And if he wanted someone to yell at him and punish him for whatever role he thought he'd played in Jack's vanishing, then she was sure Bambera was up to the task. No nonsense, that was how Bambera had struck her the one time she'd gone with Jack to meet the woman after the incident at Albion. There hadn't been a lot of U.N.I.T. officers left after that, as she recalled, and they had yet to assign a new Torchwood liaison, so they'd gotten to go straight to the top. As she also recalled it, Bambera had made a veiled reference to preferring Jack over Yvonne. She wouldn't be happy to know they let Jack get taken.
And if Owen was trying to be Jack for them, then Gwen was throwing herself further into work than even she was. At least she went home at night. She didn't think Gwen had been home since checking to make sure Rhys had been restored. She'd lost count how many times Rhys had called her personal mobile since then, till Gwen's phone's battery had died. It had been silent since then, two days ago, the day before Jack woke up and was taken, so she had to assume Gwen had yet to recharge the battery. If they bothered to cut on the police chatter, there would probably be a missing persons report being broadcast on her.
Now there was a halfway decent idea: if nothing else, she could set up an alert for all the versions of the Doctor she knew about (just in case) and Jack, both on the police bands and in the media (also just in case, better safe than sorry and all that). It wouldn't take any time at all to do that, and then she could get back to her research. Hastily she pulled up another window in her far right monitor and working on the new program.
She started, having almost forgotten about Ianto also being in the Hub in her preoccupation. "I'm setting up a second program, to monitor the police and media for the Doctor and Jack."
"Do you think they'll show up on the news?"
She shrugged. "It's a long shot, but it's worth a try. I'm having trouble setting up the program to track the Doctor, so this will have to do till it's finished."
"How long do you estimate on it?"
Poor Ianto, she thought to herself as she kept inputting information into the second program. There was absolutely no doubt what Bilis, if that was indeed the man's name, had shown him, they'd killed Jack, Jack had woken up, Jack had died again, come back, and been kidnapped all within a few scarce days of each other. The relationship between Jack and Ianto had been cause for more than a few late-night drink discussions between the other members of the team. The most they'd ever decided was that it was the most confusing thing they'd ever dealt with, which was saying a lot given where they worked and what they dealt with on a day-to-day basis, and it would be best for them to drop the subject before it became too much for the ale to deal with.
"I'm not really sure, Ianto. A few hours, if I can find something to trace the TARDIS. A few days, if I happen upon some lucky breakthrough. A few weeks, if I have to keep making it up as I go." She half-glanced over her shoulder at him, trying not to see the pervasive sadness in his eyes or the exhaustion in the slump of his shoulders, but they were so hard to ignore.
"It really is hard to say at this point. None of us are giving up on finding him though," she rushed to reassure him. "We're going to get Jack back, I know it."
"Do you think Owen's right? That the Doctor took him?"
"It's the best theory we have to run with right now. If he's wrong, then we'll come up with a new one. I promise you, Ianto: we're going to find Jack."
She really shouldn't be making promises like that, not when she had no idea if she'd be able to keep it. But it felt right. It felt like something they'd be able to accomplish somehow. They would get Jack back, and hopefully they would accomplish it before U.N.I.T. or Torchwood Two or even the Prime Minister found out. After all, they'd dealt with fairies (that one hadn't gone well), cannibals (well, Jack had shot the cannibals before the rest of them could become dinner), falling back in time (okay, Owen had had to open the Rift to save them, and things had gone distinctly south thanks to that rescue), a Cyberwoman in their basement (the less said about that the better), and Abaddon (again, that one had gone horribly, horribly wrong, and if she had been in Jack's position, she wasn't sure she could have forgiven them for what they'd done). Maybe their track record wasn't stellar, but they usually got some sort of resolution on the cases they took on, even if it wasn't always a pleasant or pleasing one.
No, they would get Jack back if it was the last thing they did. Jack wouldn't give up on them; they couldn't give up on him. The closest Jack had come to giving up on any of them had been in 1941 - and after they met the other Captain Jack Harkness. She couldn't even imagine how that must have felt for him, but she knew raw pain when she saw it and that was the look that had been in his eyes when they began to realise how trapped they were, when they left to come back to their own time, when they toasted to the other Captain Jack in his office. That impenetrable sadness had been so devastating to hear when he promised to take care of her that she'd wanted to cry and ask who would take care of him, especially watching him break slowly at not being able to save the other Captain Jack.
And yet she'd let herself be complicit the very next day in shooting him. She may not have pulled the trigger herself, but she certainly hadn't stopped Owen. She'd frozen, at first unable to believe the things Jack was saying to them, then unable to believe Gwen had punched him like that. But then Owen had had Jack's gun, and everything had happened so quickly. She'd frozen; that was the only way to put it. She would have no more been able to do anything then than if she'd been asked to fly. And she'd still gone along with their hastily made plan to open the Rift after seeing Jack's body on the floor; there was no stopping then. Even Ianto had carried through, despite his shock at Owen's actions. They were all equally guilty. Owen may have pulled the trigger, perhaps thinking at the time that death wouldn't be permanent on Jack either, just as it wouldn't be for Rhys, but they'd all had a part to play in the act. They were all guilty.
If her calculations and Jack's predictions were true, and the Rift was going to become a lot more active, then she wouldn't blame Jack in the least if he didn't forgive them this time, didn't trust them again. The Rift opening might have even been the impetus for the Doctor's visit; it might be their fault Jack was kidnapped. No, she wouldn't blame him in the least if he never trusted them again. Owen's betrayal was bad enough, actually killing him as he had, but the other three of them had betrayed him in much worse ways that couldn't be atoned for: Ianto and he had a relationship of some sort, so he had broken a lover's confidence; Gwen, he had trusted with the secret of his immortality, long before any of the rest of them had known (and only then they'd found out because Gwen had told them), so she'd broken a confidante's trust; and she was the only one who knew that Jack Harkness wasn't even his real name, that he'd been in 1941 before, that he'd been a conman, sometime in his past, so she'd betrayed a friend's trust, because that was what he'd called her, talking to Mary.
Somehow she didn't think it was a word he tossed around lightly. And she was none too sure he'd still use it. She'd liked it. She'd never had too many friends before, and she liked the idea of Jack being hers.
"Owen and Gwen are coming back with our new guest." Damn, she'd almost forgotten he was there again. How embarrassing. "I'll go get a cell ready and meet them upstairs."
She nodded absently. "Take an extra Taser. I'm not sure how long it will have been knocked out. It might be waking up soon." It had been fairly large. The electrical current may have diffused itself by now, or its neural synapses might still be firing. As an alien they were having a first encounter with, it was hard to say. They may have even accidentally killed it, but Owen probably would have said something if they had. If he was in doctor mode, that was, and not in a pretending to be Jack state of mind.
No, she shouldn't fault Owen for trying to find a way to make things right for them till Jack was back. They all were in their own way, after all, but Owen needed to be doing something that benefited himself as well, not just the rest of them. It just wasn't like the Owen they all knew to be selfless; he was supposed to be sarcastic and a bit crude and completely irascible. He was also supposed to be second-in-command, not the leader. He was supposed to be Owen, in other words, not Jack. Yes, they needed Jack right now, but they also needed Owen.
Right now, they couldn't afford to be even one person short, much less two. They needed a medic especially now, while they were all running themselves ragged. Till Jack was back, they'd just all have to equally share the burden of leadership. She'd made certain they all went home tonight, even Gwen, or at least slept some place that wasn't at their desk, on the couch, in the conference room, or in Jack's office; if they wouldn't got home, she'd just rent them all hotel rooms. She might even demand Gwen call Rhys and let him know she was still alive, if she wouldn't go home and reconcile things with him.
With a few last keystrokes, she set the secondary program to begin, with expanded search perimeters: it wouldn't just search Cardiff's media and police wavelengths - it would search throughout the United Kingdom. When she had the time to work on it further, once the main program was completed, she'd reset it to search throughout the world. It'd be a nice back-up to the Doctor-TARDIS search, a sort of fail-safe measure. It was a good idea. Jack would be proud of her.
After all, if they did things her way, when Jack got back, whether he freed himself or they found him, there would still be a team left to come back to, not a group of bedraggled has-beens in their place. Her way, there would still be a Torchwood Three left for Jack to come home to.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
The door to the holding cell closed with barely more than a hiss. Like all the ones on this floor, it had gotten some frequent use after the Rift had been opened the first time. When it had been opened the second time, anything that had slipped through time disappeared again. From then until now, the only thing that had been in a cage here again had been a couple of Weevils. Hopefully this wasn't a sign of things to come, that they were once again starting to use more of the cages.
At least Ianto had met them at the door with another Taser. Lucky break, that was, especially with their new... friend starting to wake up again. And starting to of course meant the damn thing was trying to claw through the cage in the back of the SUV. They were definitely going to have replace the entire back seat, at least the rear portion of it facing the cage. And replacing the cage might not be a bad idea either. Amazing; it held up so well against Weevils. Hell, two Weevils could go in it without too much damage to the SUV, but in less than twenty minutes, this thing had nearly ripped the back to pieces.
"Never thought I'd start appreciating Weevils," he muttered to himself. And he was resolutely ignoring how the Weevil in the cage just across from where he stood, the one Jack had named Janet, if he remembered right, was eyeing him. He'd been doing his best to avoid coming down here too often since that night in the cage and then Bilis and Abaddon, or at least trying not to stop near any of the Weevil-occupied cells. He still wasn't too sure what to think of Janet cowering before him or the way the creatures went silent and tried to make themselves small around him. It had been hard to hide, especially after the Rift had been opened the first time, and the Weevils started going mad, coming up out of the sewers and attacking the good, ignorant people of Cardiff in greater numbers than ever before on top of every other bit of hell that had broken loose, which in turn meant more Weevils for them to bring in. Ianto had equated the reaction once he'd seen it to the law of the jungle, weaker beasts cowering submissively before a greater predator. They had to be daft if they thought he was a better predator than the Weevils themselves, no matter how mighty he had felt baring his teeth and hissing at the creature.
Well, their new guest was definitely on a level above that, given the damage it had done to their equipment and those two poor bastards unlucky enough to get in its way. A pissed off gigantic iguana with extra long claws, extra big teeth, and an extra bad attitude, that was what this thing was. And, strangely he could almost get why Jack insisted on naming everything down here: it made it so much easier to keep up with which one was which. So... Charlie. Yeah, the thing looked like a Charlie. At least it wasn't Sandra or Kate or whatever it was Jack called that thing they fished out of the Bay that one time, back before Gwen got recruited. Suzie had hated the smell of that... thing, Sandra-or-Kate, which he recalled being far from pleasant but not quite bottom of a rubbish bin awful. Maybe more like those dirty socks you found hidden under your bed that may or may not have belonged to the person who lived in your flat before you; yeah, from what he remembered of Sandra-or-Kate and its particular odour, that was about the best analogy.
"Owen?" And that would be Tosh's voice, echoing in the holding room. She stood in the doorway, dressed a thousand times more casually than he ever seen her at work, jeans and a simple blouse. No make-up, of course, but the opposite there was much more of a rarity. Why was he noticing all this now, he had to wonder. But he also immediately figured it's another of those Jack being missing things. Suddenly their team of five had been reduced to a team of four, when they'd lost the one who inexplicably knew the most about the aliens they were up against. Well, most of the time anyway; Abaddon had been a bit beyond Jack, and if it hadn't been bloody terrifying, it might have proven enjoyable to see the Captain as much in the dark as the rest of them.
"What?" And snarling off his words wasn't hard, not with Charlie and Janet around. Charlie and Janet: they sounded like the Odd Couple like that. It meant they fit in perfectly around here. It meant everyone and everything was odd. About par for the course, if anyone asked him.
"I'm sending Ianto and Gwen home for the evening. We've all been here entirely too long. We're not going to do any good if we're falling asleep on our feet." She was clearly building herself up for the argument to end all arguments, and quite right too. "If our new friend here is secure, why don't you go on home as well? I'll close down the Hub for the evening."
He glanced over his shoulder to where their new friend was slowly climbing to its feet. Charlie didn't really look too bad for a creature that had been Tasered twice in one night. Obviously electricity had an effect, but not a permanent one. The last jolt Ianto had given it had been less than half an hour ago; that seemed to be about the amount of time it needed to shrug off the effects and get back up again. "The Tasers do a lot more good than guns," he had to admit. "Shooting it only made it angry, after all. Where do you suppose he fell through from?"
Tosh had slowly crossed the room to stand next to him before the cage. "I don't know." She jumped, catching her breath in a gasp as it leapt, snarling, towards them. Admirably, she recovered quickly. "I do know, though, that identifying its species can wait till tomorrow. You need to go home as well, Owen. We all do."
"There's still so much to do," he paused, tossing her a reassessing glance. "Besides, are you trying to send us home like bad kids, Mum?"
And there went a faint flush across her cheeks, and she glanced down to find something on the floor near her feet very interesting, somehow managing to completely ignore Charlie's scrambling, trying to claw his way through the clear wall. He wouldn't be able to, of course - or at least that was the running theory - but it was a bit odd that Toshiko was actually able to completely ignore it.
There was new resolve in her eyes when she looked up again, though. "Jack's gone."
"I thought that was completely obvious by this point."
"No, Jack is gone. We don't know when he'll be back, how he'll come back, or even if he'll come back at all."
He held a purely mental shudder in. "He'll be back. The bastard made it through Abaddon, the pug-faced so-called destroyer of worlds. He'll make it through the Doctor. I reckon that alien bastard probably isn't figuring on Jack being nigh on immortal."
"It's hardly common knowledge. The point is, until we manage to find and rescue him or Jack escapes, he's gone. We're short one person, unless you really want to call Glasgow or the Prime Minister and beg for a replacement branch leader and hope it's someone we can stand."
"Someone we won't have to shoot, you mean?" he drawled. No way was he going to let his distaste at the idea of calling in help be seen. Sure, Harold Saxon was a great guy and all that, but all the same, he didn't want to see who the man might send out to replace Jack, much less if the guy would do something like order them to stop searching for Jack. He had a bit of trust for Saxon, but not for other government officials; always looking out for their own asses, they were. "No thanks, I think we can manage on our own till Jack's back."
And she was nodding, a small, almost (no, scratch that almost) shy smile on her face. Obviously he said what she was leading up to. "I couldn't agree more. We can manage as a team of four for a little while, just till we get Jack back."
"Then what are you still wittering on about?"
"We can make it as four, but only if all four of us pulls his fair share and a bit more. We each have to do our own job. And then there's Jack's as well."
Seriously, what was she leading up to? Sometimes he really had no idea what Tosh was talking about, especially when she decided to beat around the bush like this. "I've been-"
"No, Owen," she interrupted boldly then looked surprised at herself for the intrusion. He couldn't help agreeing. It wasn't very like her to do something like that. "We're going to have to split Jack's jobs and duties among us. One person can't do all their own tasks and Jack's."
And the penny dropped. "That's what you've been building up to?"
"What did you think I meant?" Thankfully, she didn't give him time enough to answer that before pushing on. "You did a good job leading in the field today. I'll handle the Hub-side of things and deal with U.N.I.T.; I've had some experience with B ambera before now. I think we should delegate relations with the Prime Minister and the regular military over to Ianto and have Gwen step up relations with the police in general; we'll need all the extra resources we can get if we're going to get out of this fix quickly."
"And the police are supposed to be another great resource?" He didn't even bother pretending to keep the scorn out of his voice. The closest the Cardiff police had come to helping in any productive way had been either tossing Gwen over their direction or putting Roman soldiers in holding cells till they arrived. It was a bit better than the helpless flailing the hospital had done with the bubonic plague, after all, though not by much as far as he was concerned. "Think they can manage to pick the alien out of the line-up?"
"You're absolutely right, might be a bit much for them. Think we can, I don't know, get them flashcards or something? Match the aliens? Should bring it about down to their level."
She was smiling for real at last as he began to wind down. It hadn't taken nearly as long as he thought it might. "Thank you. I needed that."
"What you need is to go home and get some sleep. You look like you're dead on your feet."
"So do you." She sighed, sparing Charlie a long stare before speaking again. "I need to make sure Ianto and Gwen are leaving before I can do anything."
"Good luck getting her to go home," he muttered sullenly. And if Gwen asked, she was absolutely not sleeping on his couch. He made a point of not involving himself with an ex after the dumping was done. It would be a whole other thing if they'd broken it off a bit more amicably, but as it stood, he'd just as soon let her sleep on the door step. Well, no, maybe on the kitchen table. But that was it.
"I'll get her a hotel room if nothing else, but she can't stay here another night."
He couldn't resist a little barb. "I don't think she's that kind of girl, Tosh. You would have to catch her on a bad day or buy her a drink first." He paused, reconsidering his words. "Actually, you either have to catch her on a bad day or get her drunk - or lock yourself in a room with her and a bunch of alien sex pheromones."
"I think I'll have to take a pass on that. It's much more like your sort of thing to do. I would just like to know she's spending the night somewhere besides here - and perhaps taking a real shower. I don't think she's done that since Abaddon."
"Which is just a nice way of saying she smells about as bad as Charlie here," he tossed back, giving said alien a nod, which just seemed to make him even more angry. Yes, the glass should hold, but all the same, he almost wondered if they should give him another shock and move him to a level all of his own. A private suite, as it might be, rather than risk him getting out and killing the Weevils they had imprisoned.
"You named it Charlie?" She needn't sound so incredulous. The way she sounded, she was at most a few seconds from laughing hysterically at him. "Charlie?" And it was slipped out, the first giggle. "Why Charlie?" She cast a glance over her shoulder to Janet and burst out into more laughter.
"After the stinky, ugly kid who used to live next door to me, not that it makes any difference."
Another twitter of amusement escaped her. "So do you think... Charlie here will be all right till morning?" And she was entirely too amused by the whole thing. On the other hand, though, how long had it been since this place had heard any laughter? Any just plain relaxed laughter, not nervous or hysterical? Well, that was something even Jack hadn't managed lately. "The Weevils don't seem to like him much."
Well, that was true. Janet had flattened herself against the back wall of her cell when they brought Charlie in and scarcely moved since then. Abruptly he couldn't help but remember what Ianto had said about law of the jungle and recognising a better predator. Weevils were really less predators than scavengers, but they were definitely adept at killing their own meals if needs be. Charlie, on the other hand, was either a true predator or a sadist; it hadn't eaten the two men it had killed, but that might have been because it was on the run. With teeth and claws like that, it definitely was a carnivore. That, or wherever it was from had some vicious plant life, perhaps truly carnivorous plant life. That was a plant he never hoped to meet if he had anything to say about it and if the theory was correct; then again, he could kill cacti. Jack said he had a gift for killing plants - a "brown thumb" was how he'd put it - so he should be fine against carnivorous plants. Unless of course they were after revenge for all the plants he'd killed over the years; at that point, he'd be in a lot of trouble.
In fact, it'd probably be a lot like going through Jack's back catalogue of dates: a long, long list that would take a long, long time to go through. And that just brought up entire new worlds of questions: just how many guys could Jack have slept with? Sod what Toshiko said about him going for anything gorgeous; the man had to be gay. He was shagging Ianto, after all, so gay and desperate, as far as Owen was concerned. But how long could Jack's back catalogue be? He paused in consideration: it depended on just how old Jack was, a fact none of them had discovered yet. There was no record of a Captain Jack Harkness in the United Kingdom since 1941, and from Tosh's story, while he'd seemed to fit in in the Forties, that didn't fit some of the very few other clues they had.
At least Gwen hadn't gotten it into her head yet to put out a missing poster for him. There wasn't enough information they knew to even begin to fill it out. Hell, they wouldn't even know what to put down for his name. "Captain Jack Harkness" wasn't even his name, according to the info Toshiko had pulled in from her trip with him to 1941. They had his height, photograph, and physical description - but not any of the important things the amateurs in the police would need: name, age, or even where he was originally from. America, perhaps, based on his accent, but even that was a guess. Ianto had suggested C.I.A. or Black Ops once, and it made a degree of sense; if he'd been C.I.A. or even maybe in a special section of U.N.I.T., they may have erased his identity.
And he must have been exhausted for his mind to be wandering like it was. What was it Tosh had asked? "He should be fine till morning. I'll need to take a closer look at him and find out what I can about his species. If he's an example of what we're going to be getting from now on, we need a better idea of what to expect." He sighed tired. "Jack picked a hell of a time to swan off."
"Owen? Do you really think the Doctor took him?"
He shrugged one shoulder, the one that didn't have a great bloody bullet hole through it. If Ianto had been aiming for his shoulder, he supposed he had to be glad he hadn't been aiming anywhere more vital. "You're the one who's met the Doctor, not me. What do you think?"
She shifted on her feet, eyes locking on the floor. "The Doctor I met sounded like he was from the North. It wasn't the same Doctor as Canary Wharf." She paused, apparently thinking over what she was going to say before she said it. "If it was the Doctor I met... If he thought we did something wrong, he'd probably come here and tell us off for it. The Doctor from Canary Wharf, I don't know. I just don't know. I mean, all those people..."
"He'll get a shock if he tries anything on Jack." His smile was feral at best as a dark thought occurred to him. "He'll get an even bigger surprise the first time Jack sits right back up."
She laughed shortly, finally turning back towards him. "Owen? Can we agree to share Jack's responsibilities for the duration of however long he's gone?"
Another shrug. "I don't see why not. I hate paperwork, though, so that part's yours."
She laughed before spinning towards the door. "All right, then I'm sending them out of here. Start closing up the Hub for the evening and go home as well, Owen."
"After I make certain Charlie's secured. Last thing we want is him to get loose and wreaking havoc."
She nodded. "Oh yes. The pterodactyl might not approve. You are going home, though, right?"
"Of course. Why would I want to sleep here? I mean, the couch isn't that great, and have you seen Jack's little bunker under his office? I might not mind close quarters, but I'd prefer to share them with someone."
"I don't think Jack stayed - stays down there very often. He and Ianto seem to go to Ianto's flat on Mermaid Quay. Before that, though... I don't think he slept down there often." She smiled and shrugged. "Jack may well be the reason we have a couch."
He had to laugh at that as well. "Yeah, can you picture Yvonne Hartman letting anyone crash in her perfectly clean and sterile Canary Wharf building? She'd have probably died of an embolism before you got ten minutes into your nap, then come back from the dead, and disinfect after you."
"Well, you'd have never survived there. But we knew that a long time ago. Now, go home, Owen. I'll be waiting upstairs till you're gone."
That remained to be seen. He fully anticipated Gwen putting up a fight against leaving now. Now that he could stand to see.
Chapter 5: Chapter Four
Realistically, Gwen knew she'd left the Hub since Jack had left, but that was just to go collect the creature that was now occupying the cell Rhys had been in a few days ago. Well, and to make certain Rhys had been brought back to life once Abaddon had been defeated and Jack had been safely delivered back to the Hub. Well, relatively safely; he'd been dead when she got back and had stayed dead for days, only to wake up and be kidnapped. Awfully convenient timing, that was, in her opinion. Not that she could blame that Doctor bloke for not wanting to kidnap a corpse.
But more than that, what if Abaddon and Jack's subsequent eventual reawakening was what had brought the Doctor calling?
There was no two ways about it. Toshiko and Owen could make her leave the Hub, but they couldn't make her go home. The apartment she shared with Rhys seemed like another world right now, something completely separate from her Torchwood life. And that's what needed her right now. Going home to sooth Rhys's hurt feelings wouldn't help them find Jack, and more than ever, they needed Jack. Cardiff needed Jack. No more than that; the world needed Jack.
She'd take Tosh's suggestions to go to a hotel, but she wasn't going far. There were hotels close by, after all, and she could be back as soon as she needed to tomorrow. She was also taking all the information they had on this Doctor person with her. Maybe she could come up with some sort of profile that might help. Just because no-one had successfully been able to track him down before now didn't mean anything, other than Torchwood hadn't been trying too hard before.
She knew Tosh was working on a program to physically track the Doctor's transport, this TARDIS thing. Well, building computer programs was hardly her speciality, but she could always try to flesh out a personality profile on him, figure out what his next move would be. She was hardly an expert on psychology, but she hadn't done half bad profiling for cases before. And the one time she'd been really, truly wrong about a person's characteristics, they'd all been taken in - and wouldn't she just love to get her hands on Bilis. Wouldn't they all?
She suspected Toshiko was only letting her leave with the files to make certain she actually did leave. That the Asian woman followed her upstairs and that Owen was waiting in the tourist centre just cinched it for her. Ianto had left easily enough, to her mild surprise, but then the poor man had been through the wringer. She felt like she'd been through the wringer herself as it happened. Bilis killing Rhys, Jack dying and resurrecting and dying and eventually resurrecting and being taken, and the days of waiting by Jack's side and research... It was no wonder she felt like she'd been going on all cylinders for a month with no chance for a break; it had been a rough week.
They were all tired, she could see that, maybe more than anyone else, but all three of them, they were always so ready to just give up on Jack. Not believing he'd wake up and calling breaks in looking for him, they might as well have just admitted defeat to the Doctor. She'd helped kill Jack once; she wasn't going to give up on him again. She wasn't going to stop till he was back with them, no matter what it took.
They were going to be stretched thin, though, trying to find Jack and run Torchwood Three. She was sure Toshiko was coming up with some sort of plan to deal with the duties they were going to have to divvy out amongst them. Hopefully that should allow them time to look for Jack "on the clock" as it were. She had no qualms about staying late and sleeping on the couch someone had so conveniently set up in the office to get the work done and put in the time to find their boss, as long as Ianto showed up the next morning with coffee, but the rest of them seriously needed to spend some more time sleeping. Ianto seemed like he was fading out, Toshiko had dark circles under her eyes that rivalled the one time she'd played in her mum's eyeliner when she was small, and Owen definitely wasn't allowing himself time to heal properly; it had been less than a week since he'd been shot for God's sake. Even doctors needed longer to heal up after that. The only person she knew who'd be over being shot this quickly was, well, Jack, him being the man who stood right back up with a great bloody hole in the middle of his forehead one of the first times she'd met him.
She spread the papers she'd collected from the Hub before she left across the hotel bed and studied them in each turn. There were at least a few dozen pictures of the Doctor, several of them showing a different man each time. So, given that the files listed him as alien of unknown species (and since she couldn't read someone's horrible handwriting on the side of that note), she was going to assume (a) the title was familial or (b) the Doctor could change his face. Given that he was alien, she was leaning more towards Option B. So, a chameleon... It made sense, of a sort, but who knew what the Doctor really looked like then?
He seemed to have a limited number of facial and body type options, and as far as the files noted, he was limited to a Caucasian male appearance. Not very helpful for limiting the field. The faces she had seen were all males, approximately mid-thirties and increasing in age to sixties and covering the range between. So almost definitely no-one younger than thirty or older than, say, sixty-five. That narrowed it a bit more.
She eyed the pictures a bit more closely. Was that an opera coat? And she'd thought she worked with some odd ones back when she was still with the police. Apparently, she could add an occasional penchant for odd clothing to the list, even though the short-haired one with the big nose and ears wasn't too odd, compared to the rest anyway. It wasn't all the versions of the Doctor, but enough to count as she figured it, especially the bloke with the scarf that just kept on going. That counted as odd as far as she was concerned.
Most of the information she had before was painstakingly gathered by both Torchwood and U.N.I.T. As far as she could tell, there were two totally different takes on the Doctor presented before her. U.N.I.T. seemed to have benefited a great deal over the years from the Doctor's assistance and knowledge, and so they were the source of almost any positive comments in the files. These were apparently the files that Jack had access to that the remainder of Torchwood did not and detailed multiple instances the Doctor had saved or assisted in saving the Earth, whether from outside invasion or home-grown terrors. They were also the second driest reads she'd ever had to sit through, which said something after years of police reports.
U.N.I.T. didn't completely whitewash the Doctor and had thoughtfully included some shortcomings with each version they had chronicled, but those files didn't even display a third the venom towards some of the other aliens they had chronicled (and there had been quite a few mentioned; she'd spent several hours going over the files carefully one at the time) as the Torchwood files did for the Doctor. If she didn't know better, she'd think that these weren't even the same alien, that there was another Doctor that Torchwood had met compared to U.N.I.T. It seemed like maybe the higher-ups at Torchwood had met a different alien named "the Doctor" than the higher-ups at U.N.I.T. had, in other words.
Personally, she didn't buy the theory that there might be more than one Doctor out there in the universe. Oh sure, there might be billions of aliens out there who were doctors among their own people, just like there were thousands of doctors of various kinds here on Earth, but she was placing bets that there was only one the Doctor. The universe narrowed too much otherwise, and if there was one thing she'd looked learned in Torchwood (besides don't shag aliens, don't accept gifts that may or may not be alien artefacts from strange people who may or may not be aliens themselves, don't shag aliens, don't open the Rift, and oh yeah, don't shag aliens), it was that the universe was unimaginably huge.
It would be like Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation was usually the best. Never presume there were two criminals carrying out crimes when one criminal could just as easily have done all the crimes and the evidence supported that conclusion. The evidence, thanks to the addition of the U.N.I.T. files, supported the idea that there was indeed only one Doctor interested in any way with the Earth. It also supported the theory that the Doctor could change his face and body, not at will but at times when a human would have died, again going by U.N.I.T.'s files. (And she was curious how Jack had managed to get hold of them: they were all marked top secret and higher. She knew they had some dealings with U.N.I.T., and Ianto had once told her that the two organizations occasionally worked in tandem, if not cooperatively, in the past, before much of U.N.I.T.'s higher-ups had been killed at Downing Street and the majority of Torchwood was lost at the Battle of Canary Wharf. In her time with Torchwood, though, she had seen some information sharing going on but rarely anything this highly classified.)
So in her opinion, there was only one Doctor, capable of changing his face and body at times when he should have died, when a human would have. He was at least four hundred Earth years old, having met both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria - and made enemies of both of them. Interestingly, apparently he'd been wearing the same face both times, the face recorded at Canary Wharf and during the attempted invasion by the Sycorax at Christmas a few years ago. Yet that was not the face he'd been wearing when Toshiko met him not that long before Canary Wharf at Albion Hospital in London, when the officers of U.N.I.T. were murdered. All the evidence seemed to point towards the Doctor being stuck with the face and body he got after each near death, so there was no way for him to change back and forth as far as she could see. However, that was one of the few options she had for the changing back and forth this time line indicated...
But she was looking at it from a human point of view and normal Earth (non-Torchwood, non-U.N.I.T.) technology. Maybe she needed to be looking at it from a more alien view. After all, she never figured on an alien ship looking like a giant rock or being small enough to be an arm's length long and still fit two aliens larger than the one she and Owen had captured tonight. Earth was sadly behind in technology, comparing it to things she'd seen since joining Torchwood.
But what could alien tech do? The file mentioned a TARDIS as the Doctor's primary means of transportation, but how it travelled wasn't touched up, not even in the U.N.I.T. files on him. According to what little Torchwood had gotten at Canary Wharf before everything went pear-shaped, it materialised inside the building and out stepped the Doctor, the same Doctor Queen Elizabeth had met, the same Doctor Queen Victoria had met, knighted, and banished. He looked to be the youngest, but being no real expert in aliens (other than the simple rule of you don't shag them), she couldn't be certain. So, alien tech that no-one really understood, plus a humanoid alien that had been reported by two impeachable sources, added up to what exactly?
It sounded utterly daft and like something out of a bad science fiction film, but all she could add it up to was time travel. And frankly, if Jack and Tosh hadn't been pulled to 1941 recently, it probably would have never come to her mind in a million years. If they hadn't been snatched back through time by Bilis Manger, she would have probably left time travel in the realm of the impossible. And of course, that was to say nothing of how Bilis appeared and disappeared as it were: "stepping across eras" was how she thought he'd put it in the clock shop, before everything had really gone to shit, before they'd realised the true extent of his duplicity, before he'd killed Rhys (because who else could it have been?), before he tricked them into releasing Abaddon.
If Bilis could walk through time as easily as walking from one room to the next - she definitely remembered him saying that - then why couldn't the Doctor also travel in time? It made the most sense, and it was the simplest explanation. Occam's Razor worked here as well, and it wasn't like she couldn't compare her thoughts against Toshiko's tomorrow morning. Whatever the Asian woman was coming up with, it was probably more scientifically accurate. Figuring out people and how they would react was more Gwen's forte than the actual aliens themselves. And who knew? Maybe time travel wasn't possible. She remembered something from some film Rhys had rented by accident (but they'd watched anyway) about something with paradoxes or something like that; maybe that was a tick in the column against time travel being plausible. The scientific bits of it were well and truly above her head. Yes, in the morning, she'd run the time travel idea by Tosh and get her opinion on if it was even possible, much less likely. For all she knew, Tosh had already thought of, considered, and discarded the idea as simply too improbable.
This whole thing might just be her spinning her wheels at this point. It wasn't like Torchwood hadn't been working on this Doctor issue for over a hundred years. She certainly wasn't going to solve it in a single night, not when better, more scientific minds than hers had failed for this long. She wasn't going to solve a century old problem overnight, not even for Jack, but that certainly wasn't going to stop her from trying. There was no way she was giving up this easily.
She pulled the notepad provided by the hotel into her lap and balanced the pen she'd found in the bedside table drawer between her fingers as she tried to work out which of her theories was correct enough or plausible enough to jot down, biting down on the capped end in thought. Well, the time travel theory first, if only so Toshiko could reject it quickly and get it out of the way. Or better still, just get it all out so it could picked through. Owen would probably have a field day with it and probably order her up a psych evaluation once this was all over, but that was then and this was now - and now they needed a theory. (What they needed was Jack, but in the meanwhile, a theory on how to find Jack would have to suffice, and that was the best she could do for now. She wasn't giving up after all.) So with a heavy sigh, she uncapped the pen and began to write:
"Name: The Doctor (real name unknown)
Known alias: Doctor James McCrimmon (? spelling)
She paused in her writing to check back through the files and consult both the Torchwood One notes and what was recorded by the surviving members of Queen Victoria's guard and the Queen herself to make certain she had the name right before she continued:
"Rose Tyler (from Powell Estates?, London accent, seen in both Torchwood One in 2006 and Scotland in 1879), unknown companions (two meetings with Queen Elizabeth I, unnamed persons from various timezones), UNIT members, UNIT officers
Known allies: UNIT, various companions (human or humanoid)
Known enemies: Torchwood (? - still in charter, but hasn't been mentioned since I started and read initial files)
Known age: At least 400 human years (? possibly older)
Known actions: Several years with UNIT as advisor, Sycorax, werewolf, Albion Hospital, Downing Street bombing?, Canary Wharf
Known transport: TARDIS (dematerialise, whirring grinding noise - yes Owen back-firing auto - move from Powell Estate to Torchwood One - travels in space - maybe time? - help me out with this one Tosh)
"Initial thoughts: Maybe this Doctor can do like Bilis Manger and travel through time. If so, then this makes him doubly dangerous. Queen Victoria said he finds dangerous situations entirely too fun and enjoyable, making him dangerous, an adrenaline junkie, and therefore unpredictable. He also can be anywhere and now anywhen. We also have to add in to that equation that he was present at the attack of the Sycorax and the Racnoss (? spelling on both), both of which had a huge possibility of loss of human life, and the danger goes up. When we add in the Battle of Canary Wharf and the loss of human life, both civilian and Torchwood staff members alike, and the worldwide alien battle that resulted, it's no wonder the Doctor was written into our charter as one of the most dangerous aliens out there. If he doesn't cause it, (Tosh, your experience seems to indicate he's fairly peaceable if not provoked) then trouble follows him here to Earth. Which came first: the Doctor or the trouble?
"It may not be a valid theory, but given that Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, and Torchwood One all apparently met the same version of the Doctor, based on descriptions, sketches, and CCTV, I submit that he is likely extremely long-lived. Since Tosh met a different Doctor between those times and UNIT worked with several different Doctors between those times, my guess is he can travel in time. Maybe that is one of the TARDIS's functions, along with the dematerialising here and there across the Earth.
"The Doctor was present at the destruction of Torchwood One. We get a recording of his TARDIS when Captain Jack Harkness, our leader, vanishes. We are left with the inescapable conclusion that the Doctor wants Torchwood out of the way. Taking into effect the time travel theory above, perhaps he just learned Torchwood was created to protect the world from him when he landed at Torchwood One - but he is cleaning us up now.
"Of course all of this is theory. We've proven time and again that aliens don't always react in human-like ways, so all the theories above could be utter rubbish. And don't you dare say a word, Owen. We need theories, and I've yet to hear a decent one from you."
She stuck the cap back on her pen and tucked the notepad under her pillow as she laid down on it. No sense taking any chance with this information vanishing. They might need it after all.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five
Gwen was downing coffee like it was going out of style. She'd come in this morning with enough to go around, as had Ianto, and she'd already finished both cups. With some concern, Toshiko had to wonder if she'd even slept the night before, watching the other woman as she in turned eyed Ianto making coffee. ("Jack's industrial-strength coffee", their byword for the coffee the leader enjoyed despite being thick enough to eat through a spoon, was generally best when one drank it as quickly as possible before the taste really sank in. Before Gwen had joined, there had been some discussion of whether or not it could replace motor oil in the SUV. Tests had been run on various confiscated cars, but nothing had been successfully concluded, other than an engine or two had fallen out a few kilometres down the road. Owen still blamed the coffee to this day.)
Still Gwen had had two large coffees now, before any of them had finished their first, and it looked like she was planning on working her way through an entire pot of Jack-grade coffee on her own. And next to the coffee pot and mug in front of her on the conference table were a few stacks of papers, thankfully typed; she still had trouble with Gwen's handwriting from time to time.
"Did you even bother to sleep last night?" Owen groused, dropping down into his usual chair and flipping through the pages. Out of curiosity, she sank down into her own chair next to his and opened the packet Gwen had assembled.
She knew Gwen had gotten in after her and had gone straight to her desk and started sorting papers into what was apparently these packets. Obviously she hadn't gone home (and she hadn't come back here), so she must have stayed up at whatever hotel she stayed at, compiled all this, and printed it there. It was all neat and organised and almost completely unlike any other document Gwen had brought up since her first one, before she'd figured out that professional reports were rather low on the priority list.
"You know, Gwen," Tosh began hesitantly, "when I asked you to go somewhere and sleep, I was hoping you'd actually sleep."
"I did, a little," the other woman answered as both she and Ianto took their own chairs, opposite Owen and Tosh. "It may not be a lot of help, but I worked up a profile on the Doctor."
She could only look down at the pages before her in shock. Profiles had been done on the Doctor before - she was sure they had been, even if she'd never read one - but they'd never done one. They'd never seen the need to do one themselves, but then the need had never really arisen for one... till now.
Like any of Gwen's reports, the first several pages were nothing but photos. She knew to expect that; they all did. But then none of them had ever opened a folder to see the most current face of the Doctor, as clipped from CCTV staring up at her. How strange that he was looking directly at the camera too. What were the odds of that? A variety of other pictures followed, of various men that Torchwood or U.N.I.T. had tapped as the Doctor. Interestingly, though, there was no picture of the Doctor she'd met, just a photocopy of a picture dated 1914. "What about-"
Gwen opened her mouth to say something when Ianto slipped in neatly. "I ran a check last night. Apparently shortly after you met him, Tosh, a computer virus was released from somewhere in London. It wiped out all images of the Doctor on the web. Apparently, it was unable to bypass Torchwood's firewall programme though. If you will recall, you spent several weeks after Albion reinforcing the firewall."
Now that he mentioned it, she did remember that, though if she recalled correctly, Jack had never mentioned why she was having to do that. All he'd said was that she needed to do it, and maybe he'd mentioned a virus.
"Convenient timing, that," Owen commented dryly. "Think the Doctor tried to erase himself?"
The other man shrugged self-deprecatingly. "Perhaps. He did a good job. The files we got from U.N.I.T. were the hard copies the virus obviously couldn't get to. Any others they had were destroyed. Our files, of course, were protected by Toshiko's firewall."
"Not any real surprise then. U.N.I.T.'s on-line security isn't the best," she commented quietly. "So this picture you have of him? Is it really from 1914?"
"As far as I can tell, it's authentic. It was given to Torchwood - Jack, in particular, logged it in - by a Caroline Finch, widow of the late Clive Finch. Until his death, roughly a year prior to the bombing of 10 Downing Street, he ran a website dedicated to the Doctor. He even managed to secure images of the Doctor we didn't have..."
"At least not till he went and bit it, and the old lady gave Jack his stuff," Owen summarised. "What's so important about the picture?" He was a bit extra grumpy this morning; he probably hadn't slept much either. That he was pouring himself a cup of the industrial coffee proved her point.
Gwen fixed him with a hard look, the "ex look" she'd dubbed it. "First, it dates Tosh's Doctor over 90 years before she met him, and second, it was taken the day before the Titanic sailed."
"Which came first: the Doctor or the disaster?" Ianto intoned solemnly, lifting a picture of the curly-haired Doctor and the Doctor she'd met to compare.
"Exactly," the Welshwoman replied. "These are just some of the pictures I found of the Doctor, but there are others. I have two theories on this. Either 'the Doctor' is a title that's passed on father to son," Tosh nodded, as it was a theory she herself had come up with, "or he can change his face."
Finally Owen sat up a bit straighter, suddenly paying a bit more attention. What could she say? She couldn't exactly blame him. She was paying closer attention as well. "What? Like a chameleon?"
"In effect. U.N.I.T. files seem to indicate that he changes his face and body at times when he should have died, at times when a human would have died. They saw it happen at least once, from what I'm gathering. Considering that he's obviously an alien, no matter how human he looks, it makes a degree of sense."
Tosh nodded slowly, sinking back to slump in her chair once more, barely paying attention to Gwen pouring herself another cup of coffee and Ianto rising to put another pot on. "A chameleon... It makes sense. It's just that it's so easy to forget he's an alien when he looks so human."
"Perhaps," Ianto spoke up again, "it's like the invisible lift, how people can't see it unless they're looking for it. Perhaps the Doctor has something similar, so that people forget he's alien."
Gwen nodded, sipping from the still steaming cup in her hands. "Perhaps. It also looks like the Doctor from Canary Wharf is the same Doctor that both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth met." She looked up, about to speak, when the other woman continued, "We know that the TARDIS can move around the Earth. Presumably, it's also a spaceship, of some sort. But I was thinking: Bilis Manger could move about through time. What if the Doctor can too? Maybe the TARDIS is also a time machine. It would explain the overlapping timelines."
"If that's true, then he could have taken Jack not only anywhere..." Owen began.
Ianto finished his thought: "...but also anywhen. How are we supposed to fight that?"
"I might not be right," Gwen jumped in before either she or Owen could speak. "I'm still the newbie, after all. If Torchwood can't figure him out in a hundred years or Tosh in two, I'm definitely not going to." She reached back and set a comforting hand on his arm. "I'm probably wrong, Ianto."
A though occurred to her, and so she spoke up after the other woman. "And even if she is right and the Doctor can travel in time and space... He has all of time and space at his command, and yet he keeps coming back to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He likes them. He has a regular predilection for them. He'll be back here and now sooner, likely, rather than later. If he doesn't have Jack with him when he shows up..." She deliberately trailed off, glancing over to Owen.
"Then we'll just have a little... chat with him till he 'fesses up," he finished. "And if he's left Jack in the past somewhere, then we just wait a bit and he'll walk back in. I mean, Jack's immortal, right?"
The implication there was that Jack could walk back in that door any minute. She wasn't going to be the one to rain on anyone's parade and mention that, if that was the case then he'd have certainly been back by now; he'd have found a way to at least show up and tease them about managing to lose him so utterly. If he'd had long enough to have thought things up, someone - probably Ianto - might get a snog. Of course, someone might have also gotten shot if he'd had too long to think on it... but he'd almost definitely be here by now. Jack wouldn't leave them hanging for two days, not when he knew how they had to be worrying. No amount of petty revenge would be worth making them feel this frantic. Jack could be tough, after all, but he was rarely cruel.
"And it's not like he could take Jack to the future," Owen was continuing. "It's all... fluid and in motion, right?"
Gwen rolled her eyes and tossed an emptied sugar package at him. "That's Star Wars, idiot."
He threw it back. "Like you said, at least I have an idea. I'm not just sitting here twiddling my thumbs."
The packet flew back across the table, bouncing off Owen's shoulder, and nearly landing in her cup. Tosh grabbed it before it could do any further damage. "I'm not exactly twiddling my thumbs here. I want to make sure we find Jack, and who knows? This profile might help."
"You said it yourself. In a hundred years, no-one's figured out the Doctor. What makes you think you're going to be the one to do it, when no-one else could? Just because no-one else has been a former copper?"
Okay, maybe she should have let them keep throwing the empty slip of paper. It obviously had been doing more than she'd counted on for keeping their venom in check, she belatedly thought as Gwen began to push herself to her feet, her body held stiffly in anger. "At least I'm not giving up on him."
And Owen was on his feet as well. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
How the hell had those two slept together for as long as they had and not murdered each other was quite beyond her reasoning skills. It might be worth doing a psychology paper on, if she were interested in psychology at all. She could probably build a thesis on comparing the attraction of opposites in human beings, much the same as it worked with magnets. And of course, likes repelled, why she herself would never sleep with any of them. Perhaps humans were just giant magnets; the theory could bear some scientific exploration, if she ever developed the time to do any experimentation. Locking Gwen and Owen in a room could go a long way to prove the opposites attract theory. Who could she lock up to check the likes repel though? That would take some looking into.
"I mean, you lot were just ready to give up on him after Abaddon. You never believed me when I said that he was going to wake back up. You didn't believe me then that he couldn't die. Are you just going to give up on him now?" She was practically shrieking by the end.
And suddenly everything made a lot more sense.
That was why Gwen was pushing herself to the breaking point? The twit actually thought they might leave Jack dangling out there, wherever - whenever - the Doctor had him? Of all the dim-witted ideas she'd had to date, including taking Suzie on a driving tour of the country and "sneaking" her way into the Hub that first time as a pizza delivery girl, this one could arguably be the most dim-witted.
"Why the fuck would you think that?" he growled.
The look she shot him across the table would have incinerated a lesser man. Thankfully, of course, that wasn't him. "You shot him, Owen! One shot and he was dead and you kept shooting him!"
"I didn't see you stopping me!"
Wrong thing to say, he immediately thought. That was about all he had time for. There was a split second where Gwen's eyes darkened, then she took a swing at him. He lost all points for dignity by collapsing back in his chair, which immediately tipped over backwards, so that he sprawled awkwardly on the floor. At least he managed to dodge Gwen's killer right hook, though. He'd seen Jack laid out by it; he had no wish to find it being practised on him. A little loss of pride was probably worth avoiding that.
Of course, he was none too certain that however bad his jaw might have hurt from a punch would be worse than how badly his shoulder was now throbbing. Apparently he'd managed to come down on it wrong or too hard or something. He couldn't quite forget that Tea Boy had shot him a few short days ago most of the time, not with the mostly dull ache that persisted in the area, but yesterday's activities - chasing down Charlie, getting his cranky ass in a cage downstairs, not to mention a less than pleasant and in fact rather restless night's sleep (such that it was) - didn't exactly add up to the most comfortable feeling at the moment. In fact, he would really rather like to shoot both the Tea Boy and Gwen right now. Yeah, that would be nice: let them see how it felt for a while. It would do nothing more than serve them right.
By the time he'd pulled himself back into a sitting position, albeit now on the floor instead of a chair, everyone else in the room had apparently played fucking Ring Around the Damn Rosies. Tosh had been next to him, but now she was across the room, apparently trying to talk Gwen's temper down; and that was a woman who should have been born a redhead as he figured it. That, or she was just bloody insane - or she had a crush on the good Captain Jack, which would no doubt upset the Tea Boy, who was apparently making sure sure he hadn't bled through his bandages again yet. Which probably meant Ianto was enjoying his handiwork.
And that was when it suddenly occurred to him that they were a catalogue of the walking wounded. The same day the Tea Boy had shot him, Tosh had sliced her own hand open to get them the codes for the Rift Manipulator, which had been a bit of a bust anyway with how it kept not being complete, no doubt thanks to that asshole Bilis Manger. Ianto's and Gwen's wounds were a bit harder to see. Ianto's full-time shag had died a few times, one of them by their hands - Owen's hands - and had now been kidnapped. Gwen had held her boyfriend's corpse, seen him alive again, seen Jack die, seen Jack wake up, and been less than a minute late to save him from the Doctor. Those two might not be physically wounded, but neither of them were going to get better off antibiotics and painkillers. Ianto would probably be helped by them managing to retrieve Jack, and while he was no psychologist, he was willing to place bets that seeing Jack - and Jack telling her to go home and see her boyfriend - would do her a world of good.
And they were supposed to be the ones going after the Doctor? They might as well sign their own death warrants in their own blood. They certainly weren't going to be able to do Jack a lot of good in the conditions they were in, banged all to hell and back either physically or emotionally, much less somehow rescue him from the alien that had him. Gwen was right, in a way: now he did feel like chucking in the towel. There was just no way they were going to succeed at this, at getting Jack back, even if he was somewhere they could find and not on Mars a hundred years ago or something. And if that was the case, then Jack was buggered - and not in any sense the man would enjoy - given the luck just about every government on t his planet who had sent something to the red planet, including Britain herself with Guinevere One; he was going to be out there a long, long time before Earth got any sort of space travel between planets set up. And if Jack really couldn't die, then he would really be up shit creek sans paddle.
"It doesn't look like you're bleeding again," Ianto informed him, "at least not from what I can see with your shirt still on."
"It's going to take more than that to get the shirt off of me, tea boy," he muttered in return, "especially with that banshee over there out for blood."
It was as much a complaint as it was a statement of the miserable pain he was in - and as it was a test of Gwen's current mood. If she was still pissed off, there would be a surly bite to chase the banshee comment. If she was starting to calm down, either she would let it slide or he'd get off with just her pulling a face at him. The latter was what he got: almost amused annoyance with a side of exasperation.
"Did that feel odd to anyone else?" Tosh asked. How odd. He could almost lose her voice over his own rough breathing and his pulse beating loudly. Was Tosh's voice always so quiet? No, not all the time, but sometimes she did try to make herself as small a target as possible. At times like that, she even made her voice small. Like something tracking her couldn't pick up the fear miles and miles away. Tosh's fear would be like the perfume that's smell seeps into everything around it: permeating the world around it till it was impossible to think for it. And she was making herself a small target now, clearly nervous about bringing his and Gwen's attention back to her. Even her movements to calm Gwen were clearly as non-threatening as she could make them and still be near the woman.
The Welshwoman shrugged nonchalantly. "I want to hit Owen, so I tried to hit him." She blinked, obviously thinking something over once again. "It wouldn't be the first time I've wanted to hit Owen, but it's the first I've tried it. I never imagined - in all the times I've thought about hitting him - that if he dodged, I'd want to kill him with my bare hands, though."
"You'll have to forgive me if I stay well across the room from you then, Gwen," he replied. Definitely odd. And he both wanted to strangle her himself, just utterly choking the life out of her to watch the light go out behind her eyes, and drag her down to his autopsy room and shag the life out of her on the same slab he usually reserved for corpses and experiments that resulted in rat jam. He shook his head to try to clear it, but the thoughts persisted. "Toshiko, what would you and the tea boy?"
Well, the tea boy was obviously none too pleased with being continuously called that, if the narrowing of his eyes were any indication. When he spoke, though, his voice was utterly even and bland. "My first thought was get out of here or make myself a small target."
"Hide, hide, before the big bad wolf finds you," Toshiko whispered. "You too?" Her eyes were wide. Scared eyes, rabbit eyes.
"Not exactly those words, but definitely get out of the something big and the something bad's way before it could decide to eat me." Dark eyes, not afraid or hiding it well, turned to him. "Obviously you and Gwen got a slightly different treatment."
He managed somehow to nod. "I felt like I was the big bad, like I could conquer the world and devour anything weaker than me that crossed my path. It's not entirely dying down yet."
"Same here," Gwen spoke up, her voice a bit shaky. His probably was as well. Her pupils were dilated wide, from what he could see, watching Ianto like a lioness sizing up the gazelle that was going to be her dinner. Two hunters, two prey animals, small space. It'd be so easy. So very, very easy.
Chapter 7: Chapter Six
Making herself stay on her feet and not shrink back from Gwen or Owen was actually a lot harder than it sounded - and millions of times harder than it should have been. Every instinct in her body was screaming at her to do just that after all. The only reason she was currently able to resist the fight or flight instinct - or, well, in her case, just flight - that was screaming in her was thanks to her Torchwood training. Jack had drilled standing her ground into her almost from her first day. She'd had to practice every day to begin with to be able to stand to be near the Weevils.
The feeling she'd gotten from the Weevils back then was nothing compared to what she was getting from her own team-mates now. If the Weevils were scary, well, then Owen and Gwen were bloody terrifying. All she wanted was to get away, to get far, far away. Maybe she could even hide somewhere and throw away the key. If there was anywhere the wolf, Gwen, or the big bad, Owen, could never find her again, that was.
She wasn't always one to want to run and hide, but right now, it was an impulse that was hard to resist. She wasn't sure if she wanted to thank Jack for training resisting it into her or curse him for it. Because running away really sounded good right now.
She shook her head, trying to clear it, with about as much success as Owen had seemed to have had. No, the pressure eased just a bit. She could manage to think. She shook herself again, hard enough that she almost stumbled, catching herself on the table. "What's happening here?" she gasped out as forcefully as she could without sounding challenging - and definitely without meeting either Gwen's or Owen's eyes. As much as she was for trying to break them all out of this, she wasn't going to go and issue a challenge right now. Not when whatever was doing this had clearly selected her as a prey animal. Calling this much attention to herself was a bit more than she wanted, the way Gwen was eyeing her like she wanted to eat her alive. She hadn't seen a look like that turned on her since the cannibals, and she didn't want to think of herself as the secret ingredient in her team-mates' dinner. "Seriously, what's going on here?"
Owen hunched over, rubbing his forehead. "Fight or flight." He tried shaking his head again and finally glanced up at her. Immediately, her eyes dropped to the floor; she had to fight to raise them again. "Something is triggering a fight or flight response in all of us."
"Like what?" She had to wonder if it took Ianto as much an effort to speak as it had taken her. If it did, of course, he didn't let it show. Then, he wouldn't, would he? Thinking back to the cannibals and the Cyberwoman, it had been a long time since he really let anything slip out around them. "What have we all been exposed to that could trigger something like this in us all?"
"Other than that damn coffee?" Owen growled out, shooting the cups on the table a dark glare. "No, nothing. Is there anything in the coffee we need to know about, Tea Boy?"
"Only if Starbucks is trying to take over the world." She could almost imagine she heard his voice shaking just slightly. It was like opening something as innocuous as a refrigerator and finding pieces of what could only be people. No, his voice was quavering, not a lot, just enough for her to hear if she really listened. "I ran out of Jack's brand last week and just bought something there."
She shook her head again. As long as she kept doing that every few minutes, she could resist the urge to take off running and hide somewhere, maybe the morgue. (Yes, that was it! If it came down to that, she could hide in the morgue. No-one would think to look for her there. Open some of the compartments, and eventually the smell might overwhelm a predator's senses. Confuse it with the smell of the dead, and it would never, ever be able to sniff her out. That could be the plan! She might even take Ianto with her, if he could hide well enough, but if he couldn't... Well...) She bit down on her lower lip hard, dragging her thoughts back to the present and some semblance of order. It just wasn't like her to be so scatter-brained. She just had to think.
Okay, this all started this morning. It was two days since Jack had been kidnapped. They'd spent the last two days trying to take their erstwhile leader down and... and... they'd something else, something she now couldn't remember. It couldn't be too important. So they'd been looking for Jack. They'd been hitting dead ends every direction they turned. Why was that again? Oh yes, because the Doctor had him. Why would the Doctor take him? Because the Doctor had it out for Torchwood, and Jack was Torchwood. Obviously the Doctor was hoping that, without Jack, Torchwood would be crippled. It wasn't entirely inaccurate; they certainly weren't functioning at anything like their normal levels.
Could this be the Doctor doing this to them? Weaken them without their leader (She had to fight off the word "alpha" instead of leader), confuse them, then take them out? Was this what had happened to Torchwood One? Could this be why Torchwood Four was missing? It was a dirty way of dealing with one's enemies. Or was this the alien version of a fair fight? The alien wasn't to blame if they couldn't shake this off? Even with the basic psychic training Jack had insisted they get before Torchwood One went down, they couldn't fight it off.
Torchwood One... It had been gone by the time Gwen was brought into the Torchwood fold. There hadn't been anyone to show her mental defence except Jack, and she had no idea if the opportunity for the training had ever presented itself. She'd frankly been surprised that they'd given Gwen a gun before taking the time to show her how to use it, so maybe it should be no surprise that they'd sent her out in the field, with the potential of coming up again possibly telepathic foes without knowing what to do against them.
Of course, the other three of them had had received the training and it was still running rampant through their minds. It took throwing herself off balance (with the hard shaking of her head) or causing herself slight pain (biting her lips) to get the frame of mind to think even this coherently, if this passed for coherent in any way. What were they talking about anyway? "It's not the coffee. We've been drinking it for a week, and this just started suddenly. It's some more immediate."
"The Doctor," Owen growled, snatching a photo off the floor that had gone over with him, the Doctor with the curly hair, and ripping it in half. Completely against all her better thoughts, she fell back half a step in the face of his anger before she managed to stop herself. "We start catching on to his plan, and he starts his real work on taking us down."
"Maybe he planted something when he took Jack?" questioned Ianto.
Abruptly she noticed that both he and Owen were still sitting on the floor, like there weren't two chairs right in front of them. Why were they still sitting on the floor? For that matter, why were she and Gwen still standing, when there were also two chairs near them? She certainly felt no urge to sit down, not in such close proximity to two such predators as Owen and Gwen.
Of course! She'd noticed it before, just like she'd noticed Ianto and Owen on the floor before, but like that, it never really sunk in till now. Whatever this was, it was turning them in predator and prey animals. Obviously it was hoping that in the ensuing adrenalin rush, while they were caught in this fight or flight mentality, they'd take themselves out of the picture and save it, whatever it was, the trouble. And it had divided them so neatly into categories with Gwen and Owen as predators and herself and Ianto as prey. It made sense: Gwen and Owen were more dynamic and a bit more aggressive, while she and Ianto were more passive, preferring to take a more "behind the scenes" approach. So the two predators were probably supposed to kill the two prey animals then destroy each other. Too bad whatever had them all in its grasp hadn't counted on the adrenalin making the two ex's going after each other with a vengeance first, thereby tipping them off to its plan.
"I have an idea," she voiced at last. When the two men's eyes turned to her, again she had to fight the urge to back out of the room. "I don't know what's causing it, not exactly, but I know how it's causing it, how it's making us think the way we are."
"Increased stimulation of the adrenal glands, adrenalin takes over," Owen explained, sinking into doctor mode. "After that, evolution and civilization flies right out the window, and we're back on the savanna waiting in prehistoric days for the next big, hungry thing with sharp teeth to try to eat us. We either get ready to fight it or run from it."
"Why isn't it shutting off?" Again, Ianto spoke. Gwen remained curiously silent, but she wasn't looking at the Welshwoman. She was the wolf. Not even a regular wolf either. No, every time the word "Gwen" flashed through her mind, she saw a wolf of such size and ferocity, she wanted to call it the "big, bad wolf" of children's fairy tale; it was more akin to the Dire Wolf of ancient times than anything she'd ever seen in a zoo. And that was Gwen. When she thought of Owen, her mind provided something in the dark that she couldn't see but she knew would equally love to make a meal of her.
"Whatever it is, if it's a program or a projection, it's not being closed down by whoever is running it. It's taken our two most aggressive members," she swallowed and made herself say their names, willing her terror down as well, "Owen and Gwen, and increased their responses to predator level, while they reduce us down to prey, Ianto. I think it wants us to kill each other off and save it the trouble."
"So what is it?" Gwen finally spoke up, her voice tight and a bit choked. She glanced over at the woman standing a few steps from her (And she was acutely aware of every millimetre of space between them, and she would remain acutely aware of it, in case she needed to run.) and tried to appraise her not as an animal of prey looking at something that might kill her, but as a concerned friend.
Gwen's eyes were squeezed tightly closed, as were her fists; she could see the other woman's knuckles starting to turn white with the pressure she was exerting. In fact, her entire body was fairly quivering with barely held in tension. No psychic training, she reminded herself. She had to keep that in mind. For a person who had had no training against this compulsion, she was holding up to a psychic violation rather well. Surprisingly well, as a matter of fact; she had to say she hadn't seen that coming. Then again, she hadn't seen any of this coming; none of them had. How could they? Unexpected things happened every day with this job, but psychic warfare was supposed to be near the bottom of the list these days.
Of course! Maybe that was why it didn't seem to be bothering Ianto as much as the rest of them: he'd come to them from Torchwood One. Yvonne had supposedly had a very strict regime of psychic training for all employees, from the administrative staff all the way up to scientists in charge of the various projects they'd always had running - all of which were lost now, and even if the projects hadn't been lost, the scientists definitely had been; none of them had survived. No, Tosh, she scolded herself, stay on topic. Don't let your mind wander. She couldn't afford to let her mind wander. Not here, not now. She could end up dead if she did.
"The Doctor?" Owen was sticking to his guns on that, as the expression went. "We start talking about him, and suddenly the whammy is on full force. Bit much to be a coincidence, don't you think?"
It was a valid theory, and the reasoning almost stood up, almost. Maybe like a chair with one leg shorter than the others and didn't balance, but it still almost balanced. Fair enough description, if she did say so herself, if a bit unimaginative. It couldn't be helped; most of her imagination was tied up on wondering if and how two of her team-mates might try to kill her and hoping that they wouldn't decide to eat her. She was also trying to figure out if she could convince them, if it came down to it, to eat Ianto first; the last cannibals had seemed to think there was more meat to his body, after all. If they ate Ianto first, maybe she could have time to get to the weapons cabinet or, better still, out of the Hub and completely shut it down. But that was just planning for the worst: she should try to place more faith in Gwen's and Owen's self-control. They were her team-mates after all.
Something kept teasing the back of her mind, though, something she needed to remember but kept slipping away just as she grabbed for it. Like something only seen out of the corner of one's eyes, it teased her mind. It wasn't like her to not be able to remember something, especially something as important as this felt.
"It is a stretch to think anything else," she carefully answered, "but we shouldn't rule other options out just yet."
"What? Do you have other ideas?" Owen snapped. Somehow it was becoming easier not to react.
"There are other aliens Torchwood is involved with besides just the Doctor. Just because we don't know if any of them are telepathic doesn't mean they aren't."
"It could also be the Rift." She glanced over at Gwen quickly, surprised not only that she had spoken again, but at her suggestion. The Rift had never quite figured into her calculations. "Abaddon was imprisoned under the Rift. Maybe there are other things within it and beyond it as well."
"So maybe this is them talking through?" Apparently they were all starting to get used to it. There was clearly less hostility in Owen's posture, and he sounded a lot less likely to take her head off. Ianto was slowly climbing to his feet and collecting the coffee, heading for dispose of it, no doubt; to dispose of it, she thought, since it would be better to be safe than sorry in this case. Just in case Starbucks was trying to take over the world, one mind at the time. Now that wouldn't surprise her in the least. "What else could still be under the Rift, though? Shouldn't anything else trapped there have jumped out with Abaddon?"
Toshiko slowly moved forward to settle back down in the chair Ianto had previously occupied, trying not to make herself watch Ianto right his own chair and settle back down in it. Gwen was still standing behind her, but somehow now she could breathe with the other woman at her back. Psychic training, she expected, since Gwen didn't seem to be completely back to normal, was helping them recover their normal working minds.
"All I can really do is speculate, but if I were something under the Rift, I wouldn't want to come out at the same time as Abaddon. If all life dies in his shadow, then it would be pointless to escape the Rift, only to die because a creature like Abaddon got between me and the sun. I'd wait and come through later, once Abaddon was destroyed but the scar of the Rift was still fresh." Tosh shrugged helpless. "Jack did tell Gwen that the Rift would become a lot more active."
"So more Weevils? Among other things," Owen pondered aloud. "And now things trying to converse through the Rift itself."
There it was again: that strange feeling of something she was supposed be remembering tickling the back of her senses. "It's not really words so much as senses. They're sending feelings at us, as best I can guess. And I would also guess that they're hostile with a ploy like this."
"Now that sounds like the Doctor."
But she barely heard Owen because Gwen spoke up at the same time, and though her voice was softer, somehow it carried more than his: "Or it's afraid."
She turned quickly in her chair to again face the other woman. "What? Afraid? Why would something that could do this be afraid of us?"
Slowly, cautiously, Gwen moved to sit at the table, drawing her chair a little further from Tosh's, a little closer to where Jack would sit if he were here. She must not be completely out of the control yet, Tosh guess from how she was acting. "If it's heard anything about Earth and what we do to aliens, it would be afraid to have accidentally come here." She paused, briefly glancing over at their faces, then elaborated. "All they'd need to know would be the Sycorax."
"The Sycorax invaded us. They almost killed a third of the Earth's population if you'll recall." The words could have been harsh, but somehow Owen was modulating his voice so they came out almost calm, just reminding. Good. There was no need to set the whole chain of events off again.
"But according to what I read last night in the U.N.I.T. files, they were retreating when we shot them down," she argued in return. No anger as well there either, just a sort of resigned weariness. "It would look to outsiders like Earth doesn't obey the rules of surrender: if you're an alien on Earth, you're doomed. If it's an alien and it's already through the Rift, it might be trying to keep itself alive. Wherever it comes from, it might be the prey animal, and we're the next big, hungry thing on the savanna waiting to eat it. So maybe, just maybe, it's scared and is trying to defend himself - itself."
"Sounds like a bit of soft-hearted rubbish to me." She shot Owen a surprised glance. The tone was still soft, but it couldn't temper to cruel words. "It just tried to make us all kill each other. It got inside our heads and fucked around. That was a very hostile action to take."
"Get them before they get me," Gwen countered. And now they were bickering without a hint of their previous animosity. How did they do it? But then, they were probably making an especial effort to keep their anger reined in. If they let even a bit more than was safe slip, then they could all end up back where they had been only a few minutes ago: almost literally at each other's throats. Between the two of them, she wasn't even sure who would win: Owen had a height and weight advantage, but he was injured and Gwen seem the type to fight dirty, what with her habit of surprise punches from out of nowhere. She was also exhausted though; Tosh could clearly see it in her eyes and the dark circles beneath them that she hadn't even bothered trying to hide. No, it was best it not come down to a fight: there was no telling how it would turn out.
"Why don't we work out what it is before we try to start deciding its motives and how to deal with it?" Tosh suggested calmly. "If it's hostile, then we'll take care of it. If it's not, then we'll try to find a way to accommodate it." How they were going to do that was quite beyond her. If it was sentient enough for this, they certainly couldn't just lock it up downstairs. Maybe if it was humanoid enough, they could try to help it integrate into society, with them monitoring it for good behaviour.
But of course... that all depended on the alien...
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven
A fresh pot of coffee before them, this time brewed to a strength more easily tolerated by mere mortals and a change of location to Ianto's office in the tourist office upstairs, and it was almost a bearable atmosphere around them again. The air was a bit less thick and somehow more breathable, as odd as it sounded. She was still working on clearing her head, but Owen, Tosh, and Ianto seemed immeasurably better by the minute. She hadn't quite gotten up the energy or the nerve to ask why they were recovering so much more quickly than she was.
Apparently while Ianto had dashed off to make or buy new coffee, he'd also picked them up breakfast. Fresh coffee (hopefully with no chance of alien contaminants), honey cakes, and bakestones, and she was a happier woman. She'd almost be willing to nominate Ianto for sainthood, if it weren't for that whole pesky Cyberwoman in the basement thing. Maybe she really should start trying to forgive him for that one of these days. No, she had forgiven him, she corrected herself; she was just having problems with the forgetting stage of the game. Buying the whole team treats like this for breakfast after the hellish day they were already having - and it wasn't even nine in the morning yet! - could persuade her to step up her efforts though. The man was a god of coffee, after all, as far as the team was concerned.
All she really wanted to do for a while was sit here and nibble on the treats and sip on the lovely, lovely coffee so generously provided till her head finished clearing, but that wasn't seeming too likely. Still, at least her head was starting to clear, and the sudden extra senses were dulling. Well, it was dulling somewhat, not enough to make her happy, but enough that she could function as normal. The urge to take a chunk out of someone's throat was fading, which was probably a good thing as far as she was concerned, the strange feeling of someone else's emotions in her head was starting to diminish, and the almost-voices were gone now that she wasn't sitting so close to the Rift Manipulator machine. That last point was actually bothered her the most. No-one else said a thing about hearing anything close to voices, just the prey or predator feelings, even if they weren't exactly voices. Not in the strictest sense of word, per se, and they were almost gone, so there was no point in mentioning them. She wasn't in the frame of mind to deal with the questions that would inevitably result from saying anything.
The only ones who might understand without too many questions were Jack - who was still missing but was usually willing to listen to his team's problem, most of the time, rather that risk any more life-threatening situations developing - and perhaps Toshiko. She'd had that telepathic pendant for a while after all. She didn't exactly have the telepathic alien tech to use an excuse, but she was fairly certain she wasn't going insane or at least no more than this job usually made her feel. It seemed like it was tied in with the prey and predator thing, given how it was fading. Her head still felt like it was encased in cotton or maybe shipping Styrofoam, but the food and coffee were helping. As long as she could resist the urge to tear into Owen or possibly serve Ianto or Toshiko up as a side dish to the honey cakes, she should be okay.
As it stood, she was keeping the urge contained by thinking of two things: how many ways Jack would find to murder her if he came back to find out she'd eaten half of the remaining team and bashed Owen's brains in like so much rat jam (She would be doing good to get off with just being shot to death like they did Ianto's cyber girlfriend), and reminding herself that neither blood nor meat were proper accompaniments for a breakfast of sweets.
She bit down on a bakestone rather viciously and chased it with hot coffee. She was not hearing voices. She wasn't, because she said she wasn't, and that was all there was to it. They were gone, were a product of sleep deprivation mixed with a very active Rift, and they were gone.
A small hand touched her arm, and she nearly started out of her skin. Following it up the connecting arm, she was almost surprised to see Tosh smiling nervously at her. & quot;I'm sorry," the Asian woman was saying. "The first thing we do after we get Jack back is make him start your psychic training."
She felt her head tilt slightly in confusion. "'Psychic training'?" she repeated. "What's-"
Tosh sighed softly. "It used to be standard Torchwood protocol, part of original training program-"
"Even before weapons training," Owen put in helpfully. She glanced behind Toshiko to see both him and Ianto crouched before the ancient-looking (but really not) computer terminal. From where she sat, she couldn't see what they were looking at, but that didn't really bother her too much for some reason. She couldn't drag up an ounce of care. For now, she was more than willing to leave any and all responsibility up to someone else, anyone else. She couldn't trust herself to lead her way out of a bag at the moment.
"Yes, even before weapons. There's not as much need for it here in Cardiff, though, so I guess Jack thought it could wait."
"He probably wasn't planning on us being so damn stupid and opening the Rift, though," she muttered before taking a large bite out from one of her remaining honey cakes, enough that she wouldn't have to try to speak for a while.
"So once he's back," Tosh continued after several beats' pause, "we'll make certain you get trained. It'll help you fight off this if it happens again."
If this happened again... Now those were ominous words. As she saw it, there was no "if" to the matter. There would be another assault like this one. Maybe not immediately, maybe not even the next time they went back into the main section of the Hub (Myfanwy wasn't going to feed herself, after all, and then there were even more important things than making sure the pterodactyl got her regular meals), but it would happen again. There was something teasing the back of her consciousness, hinting towards what the answer might be - just might be - but it stubbornly refused to come forward. Whatever it was, it felt like it was important, but it continued to elude her. No point mentioning that either. God, she really was slipping.
Jack probably never would have taken her on the team if she'd been like she was now when he first met her. She definitely wasn't at her best at the moment. In fact, she might be several degrees below her worst. There were probably corpses out there left over from Abaddon, that just hadn't been found yet, that were probably in better, more viable shape that she felt like she was. Breakfast was helping, but not enough.
The thought that kept coming back to her, more than even the homicidal thoughts towards her team-mates and friends, was that she would be okay if she could just get away from the Rift. How silly. Torchwood was there to cover the Rift, after all, not run away from it at the first sign of trouble. Though with their recent track record, running from it might not be a bad idea: at least that way, they wouldn't be the ones doing the exact thing they'd been told repeatedly never to do. Never mess with the Rift. How many times had they all heard it, at one point or another, during each of their tenures with Torchwood? Well, they'd disobeyed that first cardinal rule and now they needed to work on cleaning up their own mess. And find Jack. They needed to work on that as well.
Well, she was certainly being a downer for the group. She forced a smile and tried to pretend it was not pained. "Absolutely. Once Jack's back, psychic training. Sounds fun." Actually it sounded perfectly miserable because how did one go about doing psychic training anyway? And would it involve Jack steering her around by the hips as he'd done with weapons training? Not that she'd complained then or would complain now. That particular part of her training hadn't been too bad. Okay, not bad in the least. Sod what Owen had said anyway: no way Jack was gay; no gay man enjoyed manoeuvring women around like that nearly as much as Jack clearly had.
"At least you'll have Jack training you," Ianto opinioned, drawing her attention back over to the two men. "He'll probably go easy on you. I had Yvonne Hartman. She was either going for complete control, utter insanity, or creating an army of psychic warriors."
"Well, that explains a lot," she heard come from Owen. "Not the psychic warriors or complete control, but the utter insanity."
The other man somehow resisted the urge to roll his eyes; she didn't know if she could have in his place. "Yes, Doctor Harper, I'm completely insane. I'm going to come to your house and turn all your clothes inside out, switch all the CDs in your collection so that they're all in the wrong cases, and mismatch every pair of your socks. You have discovered my evil master plan. Whatever shall I do?" The words were so deadpan that she had to give a quiet giggle almost against her will. That felt good. How long had it been since she'd laughed?
"So what's on the agenda for today?" Gwen had to say she felt a bit more relaxed now, like she could handle more than breakfast. She may not be back up and ready for a full-blown Torchwood adventure, complete with running for one's life and shooting at things that belonged in nightmares, but she was ready at least to brave the world beyond coffee.
"Well, first off, someone needs to call the police and have them call off the missing persons report that was filed on her last night," Owen retorted, shooting her a sardonic grin. "Who knew not showing for a few days would be cause to make the boyfriend worry? This would be why I live alone."
"Except when you're... entertaining guests?" Somehow she managed to say it completely without sarcasm. Amazingly she didn't even feel angry at the thought. She wasn't quite numb, but the anger just wasn't there.
"Even then," he returned with a smirk.
"I'll call Andy and have him rein in the manhunt." That was the most she was giving him though. She wasn't going home. Not yet. If she went home, Rhys would want explanations, and she didn't really have time for those. Even if she did, what would she say to him: 'Sorry I haven't been home in a week, honey. My boss died, got better, and got kidnapped, so I couldn't be home for tea'? It just didn't work like that. So she couldn't go home, not until they'd found Jack, and even then, he would probably have to send her home to make her go. "What else is on the agenda?"
"I'm going to finish working on my secondary program today, to track police chatter and the media for Jack." Tosh frowned in thought. "While I'm at it, I'll add parameters so that it will search archives as well. See if maybe I can find if the Doctor has dropped him off somewhere - somewhen. Sorry, I can't get used to saying that. Time travel... It seems a bit like science fiction, doesn't it?"
She offered up a hesitant smile. "It's just the best I could come up with. I'm not certain it's the right answer. It just feels like it is." She winced, catching herself on her words as she found a bit more attention than she'd strictly like on her again. "Sounds a bit daft, doesn't it?"
"What is that: copper speak?" Owen demanded. "'Feels right'? Daft is a mild way of putting it."
"Owen?" She smiled as she spoke. "Do you want me to hit you?"
"I never imagined this was going to end up being an abusive relationship," he bemoaned aloud, apparently completely uncaring that this could constitute outing their former relationship in front of their co-workers. She couldn't help grinning. "I say something, so you threaten to hit me, so I have to say something, and the whole vicious cycle continues. How bloody tragic. Someone really should put it on EastEnders."
"Sounds more like one of those bad American films," came completely unexpectedly from the other man. A laugh escaped her again, still completely by surprise. Why was Ianto suddenly so good at making her laugh? A new talent, or was she just getting better at deciphering a well-hidden dry wit? Maybe it was just that she never was quite expecting something even vaguely funny from Ianto and kept being surprised into laughing. "One of the ones with... whoever the big actress in America is right now. They change so quickly."
"I thought it was Jennifer Aniston again?" Toshiko offered almost hopefully. She looked a bit happy as well; they all did. That was good. This was the most relaxed they'd all been in quite a while.
She shook her head, amazed to still feel a smile on her face, careful to keep her voice teasing; it wouldn't do to hurt the other woman's feelings. "That's been a while, Tosh."
"Shows how much attention I pay to the tele, doesn't it?" With the smile still on her face, the Asian woman glanced around at the rest of them. "So my program and Gwen's police report... What else do we need to work on today?"
Owen stood slowly, looking like he was feeling a bit stiff and more than a bit s ore. "I've put off calling the Prime Minister and U.N.I.T. long enough. Torchwood Two for that matter as well. They need to know about Jack. He's had long enough to wander back home on his own. Maybe they can even help us find him." He groaned, loudly and theatrically. "So I'll probably be on the phone all day trying to get through."
"If you talk to Bambera, good luck," Tosh offered with a faint grin. "I think she liked Jack-"
"Everybody likes Jack. Even the people who don't like Jack, like Jack." Apparently Owen was also paying no attention to tenses. Just as well. She didn't want to think of Jack in the past tense either. Present and future only worked just fine by her. Jack was probably going to outlive everything on this planet anyway, as she figured it... not that she'd really thought about it till now. Jack's immortality, as it were, usually didn't exactly play on her mind.
Tosh giggled, actually giggled. That, in turn, made her own smile grow just a bit. "All the same, if you talk to Bambera, she'll probably be upset with you for us losing Jack."
"We didn't lose him, so to say. It's more he got taken right out from under our noses. Some of us more literally than others." She threw her last bakestone at Owen for the comment. "Thank you very much, Gwen," he finished, popping it in his mouth. "None the less, we didn't lose him, so Bambera can just piss off."
The other woman laughed. "You've obviously never talked to Bambera, have you? You are so in for it."
"Well, that's me, after all: winning friends and influencing people is the name of the game as far as I'm concerned. What about you, Tea Boy? Plans for the day?"
"The Weevils won't exactly feed themselves, nor does this office mind itself."
"You mean we actually get tourists?" Gwen glanced around. It wasn't exactly welcoming by any stretch of the imagination, and she couldn't imagine a tourist desperate enough to stop in here, except maybe - a very strong maybe - one that was completely and utterly lost. How lost could one get with the Millennium Centre right in front of one, though? Of course, she'd lived here all her life, so perhaps she had an unfair advantage. "No offence, but I can't imagine it."
"It must be my charming personality and irresistible wit."
"Now there's a laugh," Owen cut back in. "I'll trade you feeding the Weevils for calling Torchwood Two." Tosh giggled. "What? I don't like the guy."
The Asian woman leaned over to stage-whisper conspiratorially, "Owen's relationship with Torchwood Two might as well be the stuff of legend. No love lost there."
She cast her eyes back over to him, and he shrugged one shoulder in answer and repeated, "I don't like the guy. So how about it, Tea Boy? Weevils for Torchwood Two?"
Ianto didn't even bother pretending to think it over. "It's a deal. They seem to prefer you to me anyway." She might have imagined the nervous/guilty look that passed over Owen's face, it went by so quickly, but somehow she didn't think that was the case. She wasn't going to mention anything though. Ex-lover and still co-worker wasn't exactly in the acceptable range for expressing a huge amount of worry for someone. "All the same, though, I'll wait to call him until closer to evening." She knew all of them looked at the door when Ianto spoke again. "Just in case."
Just in case Jack walked back in that door at some point during the day, she finished to herself. That's what they were all really waiting on. They would all breathe a bit easier once he was back. Even when Jack didn't know something, it was still good to have someone who at the very least knew how to lead at the helm, instead of the four of them bumbling along as best they could, trying to plug in the gaps and make do. A team was nothing without a leader, and right now that's what they were teetering on the verge of: nothing, being nothing, becoming nothing. The thought oddly wasn't as distressing as it should be. There was something, hiding deep inside her that told her one simple but heartening thing: Jack would be back. Their leader was not gone for good.
"If that's the case, then maybe I should hold off on Bambera and Saxon until later," Owen hedged. "As you said, just in case."
Ianto nodded, like this was some sort of a bloke understanding. "Just before the ending of the working day."
"Of course." Owen pushed himself to stand, pressing the key to open the corridor that lead down to the rest of the Hub. "Gwen, come give me a hand with this, then you can call your copper buddies."
She hesitated for a brief second. This did sound like Owen being lazy, since Ianto did this every day on his own. On the other hand, Owen did have a bullet wound through one shoulder and had recently taken a nasty tumble that had been at least partially her fault. And she was in no great rush to call Andy. There would be another set of questions there that she was none too sure she wanted to have to deal with coming up with believable answers to: where had she been, why hadn't she called Rhys... were people going to start falling through time again? This would at least be enough of a distraction that she could come up with what she wanted to tell her former partner. "Sure, but don't count on me going in those cells for you. Nothing you can say will persuade me to do that."
Gwen followed him down the hallway to the lift, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet as it descended to the main floor of the Hub, hands jammed in the pockets of her jeans. A floor down, he finally spoke again. "Good job, with laughing at Ianto's piss-poor jokes." She pulled a confused face at him, glancing over out of the corner of her eye, one eyebrow raised. "No, seriously, I wasn't sure I could, and till Jack's back, we're going to have to play the whole team thing a lot closer than usual. Even the tea boy."
"He hates it when you call him that," she stated blandly, barely paying attention as the lift doors opened, followed by the rolling door and the gate, and they stepped through to pick up the meat kept in a separate refrigerator behind Owen's medical lab. "He thinks he should have earned more of your respect than that."
"Well, that would be what he gets for thinking." She wasn't buying it for a minute. She was currently able to ignore the hungry predator feeling that had been there before and wanted to come back only by focussing on this sense of what she was saying was right and that Owen knew that and that he probably didn't hate any of them nearly as much as he was trying to pretend.
"Not just him," she muttered under her breath. He thought he was doing so well with his hiding away of those pesky worried emotions (worried that this team was falling apart already, worried that he was letting Jack's trust letting him back on the team down, worried that he was further betraying Jack, worried that he wouldn't be able to be Jack for the team, worried that he wouldn't be able to hold them together), but she could see them, as clearly as if they were written on his face. It was like the induced feeling of predator that something had given her had woken up something else in her. Still best not to mention it. Not yet. This was something best brought directly to Jack himself, she decided, carrying a bucket of meat down several more floors to the cages.
Owen pushed open the door to the row of cells where the Weevils were currently kept, where she'd put Rhys to try to keep him safe from the end of the world - and there was something there that shouldn't be, locked carefully away behind a glass wall. "Owen?"
"Yeah?" he answered distractedly, his attention clearly on the Weevils before him.
"When did that thing get here? And where did it come from?"
Chapter 9: Chapter Eight
All he could really say for the lizard thing was, well, it was ugly. The first thing that came to mind was a very rough comparison to an iguana of some kind, if an iguana ever got up to about two and a half metres tall, grew gigantically long claws, and some rather nasty teeth, not to mention learned to walk in a vaguely bipedal fashion. Any picture he'd ever seen of a iguana showed them to be green or grey in colour for the most part, not the shiny black and brilliant red of the thing in front of him. Teeth and claws like that, and all he could think was predator.
And then the smell hit him. It was almost physical how strong it was, almost overpowering. It was like a million or so odours wrapped all into one, and his head was hurting already trying to pick out individual ones: rotting bananas, old milk, burned vegetation, fresh tar, dog shit on hot concrete, some of those bums that hung around the Millennium Centre on cold nights... And it clicked. The smell somehow made the pieces come back together in his brain. "Hello again, Charlie."
"'Charlie'?" Gwen repeated, alternating between looking at him like he was mad and staring a bit closer at the creature in the cage. "What is this thing doing down here? How did it-" His patience in waiting paid off as realisation dawned on her face. "We captured it on the streets upstairs yesterday. How in the world did I forget about it being here?"
Personally he seconded that question completely. Their smelly friend here was a bit too big, a bit too mean, and a bit too smelly to have just utterly forgotten about the way they both had. "Wasn't just you," he admitted. "I forgot the bastard was down here as well. What do you want to bet Tosh and Ianto forgot about him as well?"
"I'm not taking that bet," she answered, instead setting down the bucket of the Weevil's food (Frankly he was a bit surprised that she'd managed to hold on to it as long as she had. He'd have probably dropped it when he spotted Charlie himself.) and pulling out her work mobile. "I'm going to check, though."
Evidentially Toshiko picked up on the first ring because Gwen almost immediately began speaking. He let her voice fade into the background as he moved forward closer to the glass to examine the creature as closely as he dared. There was definitely no way he was going on the other side of the glass; he'd learned his lesson there with Janet's assistance in a cage that had been much less secure than he was now hoping these were. Gwen's attention was split between the mobile and the Weevils, leaning against the wall next to Janet's cell. She seemed to be dead certain that the glass would hold. Just because it had so far didn't guarantee that it would continue to do so. If it didn't, if Charlie managed to get out, getting them both out of here alive and hopefully in one piece would be an adventure he wasn't sure he wanted to have, at least not without back-up. And it wouldn't be the Tea Boy or Toshiko he wanted for back-up either.
No, he'd want someone with him who wouldn't debate a point to hell and back before pulling the trigger (not that he'd been particularly upset that Ianto hadn't just shot him the minute he'd first mentioned opening the Rift to get Jack and Toshiko back). Jack had, in an odd way, tried to talk them down from opening the Rift the second time, but he'd seen it in the man's eyes: if Gwen hadn't punched him when she did, he wouldn't have hesitated to shoot them. He probably wouldn't have been aiming for the shoulder either, as Ianto still claimed to have done. He also wouldn't particularly mind having Gwen as his back-up; that punch, as well as the predator-prey experience they'd had earlier, seemed to indicate similar things about her. She'd probably feel guilty as hell about it later, but when it came to keeping the team safe, of the three he had left to choose from till Jack got back, she'd be his first pick.
"Owen?" her voice interrupted his dark thoughts, a curious tone in her voice. Glancing over, she had her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and was eyeing him closely. He raised his eyebrows in silent communication to continue. "What was I supposed to be telling Tosh about?"
That quick? Just taking one's eyes off Charlie for about two minutes was all it took to forget about it again? He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the holding cage where the lizard-like alien was imprisoned. "You were going to ask if she remembered him." He was betting the other two didn't though, not if she could forget that quickly. As soon as her eyes landed on the iguana creature, he could see the remembrance bleed back into them. "Keep your eye on him. I'm going to feed the Weevils." She gave him a thumbs up and moved away closer to Charlie's cell so that he could get to the Weevils' cell.
Gwen's voice was a low hum at the edge of his attention as he went about what was normally Ianto's job. Janet didn't seem too fond of the company, but there wasn't really anything to do be done for it. If the other Weevil they'd put in the cell with her had been given a name from Jack yet, he wasn't aware of it, but she didn't appear to be any happier, hissing lowly at him. He growled-hissed back at her, and thankfully she backed off.
What the hell was Gwen babbling about over there? It wasn't like Tosh wasn't right upstairs, just a few levels above them. What was so important that it couldn't wait? he mentally grumbled to himself, especially since she was supposed to be helping him feed the Weevils. As the Tea Boy would probably point out, they didn't exactly feed themselves down here. Closing the door to Janet's and her cell-mate's cage, he turned to give her a piece of his mind on the matter - and there behind her was the biggest, ugliest, meanest-looking damn iguana he'd ever seen. A moment later, as she thumbed the off button, the smell hit his nostrils, and everything came rushing back with the olfactory offence. "Damn, that's potent," he couldn't help commenting.
"The smell or the way he can make you forget he's even there?" She eyed the creature a little more closely. "Either way, it's... wow. Do you suppose it's behind what hap-"
Charlie launched himself at the wall, the glass the only thing stopping from taking a huge chunk out of Gwen's head with one of those claws. Hell, its hand (for lack of knowing the proper term) was about the same size as her head; he wasn't even going to really consider what kind of damage it could have done if the wall hadn't been there or hadn't held. Gwen had immediately scrambled back, nearly tripping over him in the process. And it looked like his earlier thought had been right: her gun was in her hand, levelled almost steadily at the alien, keeping trained on it as it thrashed about the wall, evidentially trying to find a weak point in the glass.
"I think he likes you," Owen finally cracked, once they both had calmed down at least a little.
Gwen shifted her grip on the gun (He really should probably make her check it back into Weapons Storage, but that wasn't an argument he relished the idea of having, so he might save that one for Jack when he got back - because he was coming back and that was how it was going to be and no-one, not even Harold Saxon himself, was going to convince him otherwise), not actually lowering it but adjusting it to be a more comfortable and long-term hold. "Well, he's fully welcome to stop any moment now. He looks like he should be too big to move that fast."
He took a deep breath to steady himself - and reassure himself to the fact that Gwen could probably shoot it before it did fatal damage to him - and he stepped forward to examine the thing more closely. There was no getting by the ugliness. Looking at it proportionately, though, using other bipedal species as a basis, he was able to draw one extremely tentative conclusion. "It may not be full grown yet," he offered. "It looks like... well, like it's going through a teenage gangly phase."
"It's going to get bigger?" Gwen looked a bit ill at the prospect. He couldn't say where he blamed her. The ceiling of the cell was going to be an issue if the thing got any bigger, really, and the others on levels below them were no better. "Tell me you're joking."
He shrugged one shoulder again. "No idea. I'm guessing based on Earth standards, but I'm betting he's not a local boy, not in any timezone."
"He probably fell through the Rift, yeah?" She was clearly thinking aloud, so he didn't bother answer. "And if that's the case, then it's extending itself beyond just moving people through time: now it's starting to reach through space. We might start getting aliens from all over. If he's an example of what's to come..."
"Then we're fucked," he finished succinctly. That copper habit of hers of reasoning everything out was so damn annoying, especially when she thought she had to do it aloud. Why couldn't she just think to herself like normal people did? No-one needed to hear her every thought and possible deduction on the matter. He certainly didn't want to hear it all. "Completely and utterly fucked. Torchwood has already proven we don't stand a chance against things that can get in our heads, and if Charlie-boy here can do just that and make us forget he's there - and God knows what else he can do to us - then we are so far beyond fucked."
Owen was losing his mind. That was the only inescapable truth she could get out of this surreal moment. Owen was losing his mind, and they had an adolescent alien locked up in their cells that could make them forget about it within five minutes of them taking their eyes off him. Jack was still missing, they were no closer to finding him, there was a missing persons report out on her, there was something - maybe even the alien here - messing with their heads, and now to make it all that much better, Owen was going batty. Wonderful, just absolutely wonderful. The stupid fucking little wanker had to pick right now to lose his damn mind. What the hell had been possessing her to make her sleep with him before? Some new and different kind of sex-starved alien, not quite like what had possessed Carys but not not too dissimilar either? Or maybe temporary insanity? There was no way she'd slept with him repeatedly of her own free will and in a clear state of mind. The mere thought was just disgusting to her. He would be better off taken out of the gene pool before he had a chance to spread his unfortunate genetic material on to the unsuspecting next generation.
Her hands were lifting, her finger slipping around the trigger to do just that (Just one shot, bang, and there would be no next generation of Owen Harpers, and wouldn't that just be a relief for the entire planet?), when she caught herself in her thoughts. It was starting again. The damned fear and aggression cycle was starting again. She made herself thumb the safety back on the handgun and jam it down in its holster before the temptation to use it became too strong. No matter how nice the thought of shooting Owen might be, she was going to have to make herself resist for two reasons: one, it really wasn't her thoughts buzzing around up there making her want to murder him, and two, shooting him was more Ianto's thing and she'd hate to deprive him of this little bit of fun.
She wanted, with what bits of her conscious mind that were still functioning, to close her eyes and try to breathe her way through this, but she couldn't. No way was she taking her eyes off Owen or the alien for however long that might take. It probably wouldn't be a quick thing to accomplish. She was still reeling a bit from the last time (No psychic training, Tosh had said; that was why this was hitting her harder and longer than the rest of them. As soon as Jack was back and settled back into the swing of things, they were going to have to sort that out for her), but the rest of them had seemed over the mental assault. Yet if that was what it was and it was repeating itself so soon, it seemed to be hitting Owen harder than it was her. Why would that be? Because her mind was still muddled from before? That would be just brilliant. Saved from a mind fuck by having been mind fucked.
The aggression was screaming through her brain, pounding in her veins in quick time, loud like drums warning of approaching danger. Warning her of Owen? Or trying to warn Owen of her? She couldn't be certain. "Owen?" she questioned uncertainly.
"That's all there is to it. We're fucked." He shook his head hard, obviously trying to clear his thoughts. She couldn't tell how much success he was having. "Can't be the Doctor though."
Well, that was a very different tune from the last few days. Every other time, he'd been perfectly willing to blame the Doctor: for taking Jack (that one they were fairly certain on, at the very least), mind fucking them, destroying Canary Wharf, the toast landing butter-side down, and everything else that had gone wrong for Torchwood. Hell, he might have even been blaming the man for the loss of Torchwood Four - and even Jack had no idea what had happened to them. "Could it be him?" She nodded over his shoulder at the alien in the cell behind him.
"Who?" Damn, that was the most efficient ability she'd ever seen. How did that thing keep making a thing like this happen? To her, she could understand it happening, with what Toshiko had mentioned about psychic training (Why in the world would Jack have not bothered training her in that? Okay, granted, he had waited till after she'd had to use a gun to train her on how to use one; if that meant Jack's approach to training was 'let them see how bad it is without the training first then train', she might be forced to hit him - just on principle's sake), but it was happily tripping through Owen's mind like there was nothing to it and he had had the training. And frankly that disturbed her with what it could mean: there were things out there beyond their training, well beyond the scope of their experience. No, frankly it went well beyond disturbing her, right into frightening her. "How long has that thing been-" He shook his head again, recognition entering his eyes again. "Damn, he's good at that. Yeah, I'd say it's Charlie doing it. It makes sense."
"If he's doing this thing where we keep forgetting about him, mightn't he also be doing the other thing? Where we all wanted to kill each other?" The way his eyes were glazing over, not a lot, just enough to be noticed, something - likely this alien - was definitely still trying to work that trick on him. Weirdly, she could feel it scraping around the outer edges of her brain, the aggression beating a four-note beat in her head while her pulse was doing overtime, but her mind wasn't going under, not like it had before. She was willing to stick to her conclusion that it couldn't get back in because it had messed her mind up too much before and it hadn't yet completely recovered, too brain fucked to be brain fucked again, in other words. (Oh, she just bet that Jack would love hearing her say that. He'd probably be endlessly amused by the quaintness of it.)
He nodded slightly, more a loose-necked bobble than an actual conscious movement, though he was evidentially agreeing with her. "It would follow. So Charlie here has some sort of telepathic - no, telepathic and empathic ability. He can make us forget all about him, as well as stimulate fear and aggression in others." He rocked back on his heels to try to get a full view of the creature. "That might be a defence mechanism."
"How?" she had to ask. "It sounds like that'd be a good way to get himself killed. How does that work in his defence?" She really did have to ask. It was less how curious she was on the matter, though she could admit to being plenty, and more that Owen seemed more in control of himself when he was in 'Doctor Harper mode', as she and Tosh had gigglingly referred to it once. If she could keep him in that frame of mind for a little while, maybe they could figure out just what was going on and what they should expect from here on out from their new guest. No, he was too dangerous to be called a guest; adolescent or not, if the theory was correct, it was just too risky to think of him as anything other than a prisoner.
He raked a hand through already dishevelled hair, the gesture obviously both impatient and thoughtful at once. Oh, it was definitely at least trying to work on him, if it wasn't already in the back of his mind, needling away at him about little things that ordinarily would not be cause for violence, but in this case, it was apparently just as easily done to make them want to try to kill someone for saying the wrong thing as if they'd actually done something worthy of death. He repeated the gesture again, looking all too ready to start pacing except for the fact that he'd let the alien out off his sight and promptly forget about it again, before speaking at last, sounding a bit out of breath. "I'm really just guessing here, Gwen. Maybe it uses that thing - that whammy, for lack of a better term - to make predators turn on each other so it can get away. I don't know. The point is, it looks like he's using it to try to get away from us."
"But he can't get through the glass so he's just spinning his wheels, with the bonus side-effect of driving us crazy," she concluded. "That's my favourite part, after all." She took a step closer and leaned forward, running a finger along the glass. "Do you think it will keep holding?"
She barely had time to see motion out of the corner of her eye before she found herself pressed up against the wall of the next cell, the hiss of a Weevil at her back and hot, human breath on her face, and a heavy arm bracing across her chest. Damn it, she shouldn't have taken her attention even partially off Owen. She should have remembered that the alien wasn't the only threat in the room; the human was just as capable of wreaking havoc as it was, maybe more so since he wasn't stuck on the far side of a thick, nigh unbreakable glass wall. She could just seem her tombstone now, if Jack let her have one after this: 'Here lies Gwen Cooper, Died from being stupid'. Jack also could get Ianto and Toshiko shirts to wear to the funeral (if she got to have one) that said 'I worked with the stupid bint they're putting in the ground' or something. It would be just wonderful.
The arm slid up to lie across her throat with heavy pressure, and she could feel her breathing starting to get just a bit hard; he wasn't pressing down hard, but he didn't have to as long as he kept the pressure up. She didn't even have to think about trying to pull him away; her own hand was already up and trying to yank him away, to ease the pressing so she could get a full breath in her lungs, anything. She just needed air, and none seemed to be forthcoming. This wasn't far the way she wanted to go out: choked to death by her own team-mate. When the alien let up and Owen was back in his right mind, this was going to be sheer hell for him. He took everything so personally, and choking was a very personal way to kill someone, not like shooting them...
Shooting them... That might actually work. Maybe not shooting him - she didn't think she could get her gun out with him pressed so tightly against her, but there was still something else she could do. It might work just as well as shooting him herself (even if that was really more Ianto's shtick than hers) or it might not work all, but she was putting bets on the former with how careful he'd been being since the tumble he'd taken this morning. Getting a punch in was a lost cause; the quarters were just way too tight; but oh yes, there was still something she could do to make him hurt enough to let go.
Already gasping for breath (He was stronger than he looked, but at least the aggression messed with his head enough that he didn't seem to be able to use anything he'd undoubtedly learned at medical school or working through Torchwood on her) and feeling the edges of her vision starting to blur and go fuzzy, she reached up and wrapped her hand around his right shoulder. With all the strength she had left in her, she squeezed, a final gambit towards getting free while she was still alive.
It was strange: she was so hyper-aware of everything around her, especially everything that had anything to do with Owen, that she could feel the bandages sliding beneath her hand, thick and heavy fluid that could only be blood leaking through to wet her hand, and finally the yelp of pain immediately preceding her being dropped to the cold, damp concrete floor, coughing and choking but finally breathing again. Even though the noise she was making relearning to breathe, she could even hear him scrambling back away from her; she didn't have to see his face to know he looked horrified. It was the closest they'd come in a while, a week, since they killed Jack, since Ianto had shot Owen, to any real violence being done to a member of the Torchwood team, and for it to nearly be done by another member of said team yet again...
He'd almost killed Gwen.
He'd almost killed Gwen, and he hadn't even been in his right mind when he was doing it. Now if there was a point when he should complain about the unfairness of anything, this should be it: he'd almost killed his ex-lover and he'd barely been aware he was doing. He hadn't been aware of much at all, to be honest, not until the pain set in. It was good thinking, going for where he was already hurt rather than try to inflict a new injury to get free. He was going to have to patch it back up again, maybe do a quick shot of painkiller, but not till he checked on Gwen.
A half-step forward put the cell in his line of sight. Somehow it wasn't a surprise to see Charlie still there this time. If he could ascribe human emotions to aliens, he'd say this one looked hopeful, like it had shown them what it could do so couldn't they let him out now, in a weird way. Gwen was carefully climbing to her feet as well, looking at the alien also, though he did note that she was also keeping an eye on him as well. Not making the same mistake twice, in that case, he thought to himself, almost pleased.
"I take it back," she rasped out. "That's one hell of a defence mechanism." She was rubbing her throat lightly; there were probably going to be bruises soon. That would be interesting to explain to Toshiko and Ianto, not to mention her boyfriend. "So what are we going to do about him?"
Silently he moved his hand beneath the back of her shirt where her gun rested in its holster, pulling it out before she had a chance to object. Gwen fell a few wary steps back towards the door leading to the rest of the Hub.
A moment later, the sound of several shots cut through the still air of the Hub.
Chapter 10: Chapter Nine
She opened her eyes cautiously, not quite sure when she'd squeezed them tightly closed. It was strange to be so surprised to still be alive. No matter how much it may still pain her to do so at the moment, she was still breathing. Owen hadn't shot her. No, all the bullets had hit the alien squarely in the chest with two off shots piercing its abdomen. She'd be amazed at his aim and grouping, but she'd seen him do better. Jack demanded better of his team, injured or not. If Jack was here to see this, Owen would have been out on the target range requalifying for his weapon; as it was, she might demand it, since the damned thing was still alive as well. She could feel it scraping desperately at the edges of her mind, scrambling for a foothold on some dark piece of her consciousness. It wasn't going to make her forget about it, not with her staring right at it, exactly as Owen was doing also, but it was trying to distract her from it, so it could escape as near as she could figure from the feeling of 'run hide flee' it was invoking in her.
She shook her head lightly, careful to keep her eyes open. "It's still alive, Owen." It probably was not necessary to point it out to him, but it still seemed like the thing to do. It also gave her a chance to test if her voice still sounded as horrible as she feared it would. It was good to prove that her assumption was correct: she sounded a bit like the last time she'd been sick, had had next to no voice, and had ended up rasping everything out for days. She wasn't going to convince Andy she was fine and there was no need for a missing person's report if she sounded like this. Nothing to do for it, she supposed. Maybe she could just go into the station and do it in person, as long as she had someone convenient to be an excuse to leave quickly before she ended up having to stay long enough for Rhys to show up. That would take entirely too long - and she wasn't ready to go back to that apartment yet. Not till Jack was back to send her back there.
One of the Weevils growled, and she shivered. Well, maybe she should be glad he just tried to throttle her and not toss her in one of the other occupied cells with one of Torchwood's other favourite guests. She had just been being glad at the time that he hadn't shot her or succeeded in strangling the life out of her that the worse options had occurred to her till now. Going by their previous theory, if it was trying to keep them busy so it could escape and that would indicate that it preferred them both be too busy to chase after it. So obviously it was used to rather dangerous predators... Did that mean this huge thing with the horribly sharp and completely alarming teeth and claws might be a prey animal? It was almost too terrifying a thing to even contemplate.
"Should toss it in Janet's cell and let her finish it off," Owen muttered. He'd dropped all pretences of gender pronouns, she noted. The alien was now just an 'it'. That meant he was disassociating from it, the cop in her murmured, making it easier to kill the thing. Adolescent or not, she couldn't find it in herself to be too upset. Ordinarily, that would upset her or accuse herself of being more alien than the aliens they dealt with every day, but the alien had fallen out of her good graces - or at least ability to forgive - shortly after she first saw it, after she had found out it had killed two people but before it had messed with her head and definitely before it had tried to get Owen to kill her. Now she might be willing to hold the gun steady for him to kill it.
There was enough panic floating around her mind that it was hard to tell how much of it was her own and how much belonged to the alien, but she could at least tell it was just hers. "It's scared," she stated plainly. It would have been harder not to be plain; it felt as detached from the situation as Owen was sounding like he was. "It's damn terrified."
"No shit." Owen's words were a growl, as harsh as any the Weevils produced; in fact, it reminded her more than a little of a Weevil. Give that she was less than happy with the alien herself and wouldn't really mind growling at it herself, though, she wasn't going to say a word. "Maybe I should shoot it a few more times and see if doesn't get really unhappy." She was silent, waiting on him to wind down. It took a little while, but eventually he took a deep breath, released it as a sigh, and asked, "What did you mean then, about it being scared?"
"It's terrified right out of its mind and into mine. It sounds daft, I know..."
Owen fixed her with a dark look. "What's daft is that you keep trying to talk. You sound horrible." She would have taken offence, probably to his scathing tone if nothing else, but the past few months with Torchwood had taught her that he had a tendency to act like a git when he was worried about someone. Okay, more of a git than he usually was, to be fair, since he was trying at the best of times. "It's still transmitting at you?"
She hesitated, eyeing him standing in the open doorway to the lizard alien's cell, her gun still in his hand and still trained on the creature bleeding blood so dark that it might actually be black onto the concrete floor, his own blood leaking slowly out from her grabbing at his shoulder to break free, almost earnest eyes watching her while still keeping some of his attention on the alien. If there was anyone left in the tattered remains of Torchwood Three who could keep a secret, it was Owen. She'd had a brief affair with him, and still she sometimes felt she knew nothing about him. She'd trusted him enough then not to tell her boyfriend about the affair, and he'd followed through on that trust. He'd even mostly followed through on keeping it from the rest of their co-workers; Tosh had only been able to figure it out when she was able to read their minds. (Jack had probably figured it out sooner, but then that was Jack. Something - the same something whispering little things at her, about the alien, about Owen - told her he was older than he seemed; he probably had more experience than any psychologist or profiler on picking up the little things going on around him.) She'd trusted Owen this far; in theory, she should be able to trust him even further.
But he'd also shot Jack. She wasn't sure what there was between them - some sort of a weird mentor-pupil thing, though even just thinking that was nearly enough to make her burst into silly giggles, at the Star Wars-like images it put in her mind - but that did imply there were some boundaries he was willing to cross, trust or no trust. To be fair again, though, she'd betrayed Jack as well, so what did that say about how much people could trust her? Probably not too great of things, so who was she to cast aspersions?
"Maybe just a bit." She shook her head slightly. "It's like the damn thing opened up a door in my brain and I don't know how to close it." She paused, rethinking her words. "No, more like I can't turn off whatever it did to me."
"Great," he drawled. "I'm stuck with an empathetic equivalent of a drippy sink." She started to protest that he was over-simplifying this a bit too much, even for him, but he was already continuing to speak. "Only you, Gwen, could manage to get a bit of your brain jiggled loose by an alien. I guess there's just one way to deal with this then."
When Tosh came downstairs at last to announce the completion of her second project, a program to check for Jack in the media and police reports, already running on her laptop and set to email an alert to her mobile phone, at first she thought Owen and Gwen had been abducted as well. For the two of them, this was just too quiet, she had just decided when she finally heard the first trace of them: downstairs in what she tended to think of as Owen's room. She was certain if he had his choice, he'd spend more time in the autopsy room/miniature medical facility than at his desk. She was fairly certain that if he could drag his computer, a decent rolling chair, and a fridge not occupied by various medical supplies, Owen would set up permanent professional shop in here.
It wasn't in the least unusual to see someone sitting on the autopsy table being stitched up from some various injury. She'd been on there about a week ago, letting him work on her hand. Shortly after that, Jack had been there just long enough for Owen to give him a cursory examination to determine that he definitely was dead, at least at that time: death wasn't a permanent thing on Jack apparently, but they hadn't know that then, and so they had just thought they had lost a team member for the second time in a day - though thankfully at a hand other than their own the second go-round.
No, what was unusual was to see Owen sitting on the table, Gwen standing in front of him brandishing a needle. His shirt was on the table next to him, and the bandages that had been covering his shoulder had to be the bloodied ones in the rubbish bin next to the table. They weren't even arguing: Gwen would come near him with the needle, he'd dodge, she would give him a dirty look and reach at him with the needle, and the process would repeat itself again. The second time through she watched them pantomime this out, she couldn't resist a giggle. Two sets of dark eyes turned to stare balefully up at her. Predictably, it was Owen that spoke first, such that it was, snapping out a quick "What?" at her.
She shook her head. It could prove amusing to see their faces if she told them that they were just too cute, but all the nagging that would undoubtedly ensue from a comment like that made it not worth it, at least for right now. "What happened?" she had to ask. "You look awful."
"Why, thank you. Nothing much happened," he answered easily. "Pulled a few stitches. Gwen here thinks they need to be stitched back up, and as you can see, she's all set to do them herself. I still say butterfly sutures would do just as well, especially when she's being stingy with the morphine." Gwen mumbled something under her breath that sounded a lot like sneezing and made Owen glance at her sharply. "What was that?"
"I said that you're chicken shit." If Owen looked like a slice of raw hell, Gwen sounded like it. She didn't think she'd sounded nearly so bad when they'd been having breakfast upstairs. She was pretty sure she'd remember Gwen sounding like that before now. She hadn't heard her sound so bad since she'd caught some sort of bug after the whole thing with Suzie and the glove; Owen had theorised that Suzie's leech trick weakened her immune system briefly, letting a nasty cold bug from being laid out on the dock get to be a problem entirely too quickly. That was similar to how she sounded now, but without the shivering, sneezing, and coughing fits that went with it last time. No, this had to be something different. "I've done one autopsy before, so you know I'm decent with a needle. And you've had enough morphine. Now let me work on that."
He shied away from the other woman again and instead looked up at her where she leaned over the railing near them. "Was there something you needed, Tosh, or did you just want to poke fun at my plight here?"
He was playing it up so melodramatically that she had to grin at him as she spoke. "I got that program set up, the one to monitor the police and media for any word on Jack. It's up and running in fact. When it finds something, it will page my cell phone." She sighed heavily. "I started to run one on the Doctor, and it was setting off alerts left and right. Nothing that included Jack, though, but the most recent one was about a week or so ago, not too long before Abaddon and before Jack was taken. Apparently he was involved in those difficulties being reported at Lazarus Labs."
Owen snorted sardonically, almost managing to sound like he was just amused. "Now there's a surprise: the Doctor showing up somewhere and everything going to shit. And just before before Election Day too."
She started in surprise. "You think the Doctor's out to sabotage Harold Saxon's campaign?" She just couldn't imagine an alien like the Doctor deliberately messing up an election, but stranger things had happened, after all. One couldn't take anything to do with aliens for granted, as she'd learned the hard way. And if the Doctor was getting involved with the elections of public officials, this could go very bad very quickly.
"I heard a nasty rumour through U.N.I.T. that the Doctor was involved in Harriet Jones' health scare. Wouldn't put it past him," he confided with a completely reverent smile. "So much for Britain's Golden Age, or whatever bullshit the media was calling it." Another small, dark laugh escaped him. "Besides, didn't you hear?" He nodded at a radio sitting on the other side of the room, shut off now but not in the place it usually was; obviously they'd been listening to it earlier. "The results are finally in. Saxon is Prime Minister now, or he will be soon. Supposed to meet with the Queen in two days, they said."
"Well, that's a relief." It was a good thing, she thought. She'd liked Harriet Jones well enough, but she did like Harold Saxon. In fact, she'd go as far as to say she believed in him, not something to say lightly of a politician in her opinion. "Gwen said something on the phone about an alien down here." She hadn't sounded as bad on the phone as she did now. Unless Gwen had be screaming in the time between when they spoke and now - no, the entire time since they'd talked - she shouldn't sound so bad now. It just didn't make any sense.
"It's dealt with." Owen wasn't exactly meeting her eyes, but that might have something to do with Gwen advancing again with the needle. She would have all her attention on the person with an instrument that could cause her pain as well, not the person trying to talk to her; it just wouldn't be as big a deal. Normally she'd offer to stitch Owen back up herself, but she didn't want to make the stitches any worse than the ones he had managed to do to himself. With her hand still bandaged as it was, it was a real possibility. "It's in a locker till we can deal with it. I want a closer look at its brain."
He was evading actually answering the question as fully as she'd like, but sometimes one had to take what one could get with Owen. That was something that all of Torchwood Three had come to accept. If one couldn't accept that of him, then there would have be either a killing or a retconning occurring soon. He was a bit of a genius, after all, and he knew it. And oh, how Yvonne had hated him for that. He was too good for her to sack, but she had transferred him to Cardiff. At the time it had been little more than a remote monitoring station with delusions of grandeur of competing with the exponentially bigger Torchwood One in London and so it had been quite the impressive punishment, even if it had been billed to him as a promotion with relocation attached, but with the Battle of Canary Wharf, that had all changed. Suddenly there were only a half dozen or so members of Torchwood still active, instead of the nearly one thousand, counting the missing Torchwood Four, and Jack had stepped up to the task of rebuilding the network, slowly working them back to the efficiency that had once existed. It wasn't a task she envied him nor one she'd wish on her worst enemy; to say there was resistance to change was probably the understatement of the decade.
"Its brain? Did you turn into a zombie or something when I wasn't looking?" she tried to joke. It probably wasn't one of her best attempts, and usually even they fell flat in this crowd.
Gwen cracked a smile, though, and Owen snorted something like amusement. "It kept making us forget about it, and we figure it was behind the aggression-fear experiences we had before," he explained. "Also it was extremely hard to kill: three shots to the chest and two to the abdomen didn't kill it. It just laid on the floor, bleeding, trying to mess with our heads. Had to shoot it in the head to kill it. Gwen figures that wherever it was from, it was a prey animal."
"Telepathic and a prey animal? Seems an unlikely combination." She refused to think about her previous experience with a telepathic alien; Mary was a subject she didn't like breached and enjoyed bringing it up herself even less. In fact, she would really rather prefer it was never brought up again. Being privy to the thoughts of the greater Cardiff area was not a experience she wanted repeated, no more than being so in love with someone and having that love turned against her. "I suppose if the predators are impressive, then prey might evolve telepathy."
"Why it had it isn't important. I want to find out what we should be expecting if we run into anything else with telepathy." So should she just be glad he hadn't gotten it in his head to dissect her while she had that damned pendant? No, she had to believe Owen wouldn't do something like to her. "Besides no matter how big and scary it looked, it was plenty dangerous enough with just its mind."
What an odd way for him to phrase it. "How do you mean?"
"It tried to kill both of us. That's how I popped my stitches."
It made sense. It made perfect sense, and he put it so succinctly. It made absolute sense, and he was lying. How she knew, she wasn't sure, but he was definitely not telling the truth. Which part of it wasn't true, she couldn't be certain, but he wasn't being completely honest at the least. She wasn't naive enough to think this was the first time she'd been lied to by her team-mates - the incident with the pendant had taught her that much at least - but she wasn't going to press the issue this time. Well, at least not much. "What about Gwen?" The other woman looked up, a g uilty expression abruptly clear on her face. "Her voice?" She glanced a little closer. "And the bruises starting to show up on her throat?"
"Same thing. It tried to kill us." Another stretch on the truth, she was fairly sure, but again, she wasn't sure where he was doing it. There were enough secrets and mysteries around here right now without adding in her two co-workers acting abruptly different and lying to her to her face. "My stitches got ripped, and Gwen was nearly strangled."
"My God," she gasped. "Are you both all right?"
Owen opened his mouth to say something, but Gwen managed to smoothly cut in, her voice still rough but just loud enough to be heard. It was actually a bit painful to listen to, though hopefully that would fade soon. "I'm fine. Owen will be if he lets me stitch him up."
"It'll take a lot more morphine than this to get me to go under your needle," he fired right back. "I saw your stitch work on corpses, and they don't exactly move. I don't want to see how you do when it's on a live subject that might twitch."
"I can fix it so you don't move. I think I saw something in the medical cabinet that might knock you out. Or if you'd prefer, I always have a baseball bat in my car." There was a tight grin on the other woman's face.
"Well if we're talking about immobilising me, how about we just go with some light bondage? I'll be you still have some restraints in your desk left over from your copper days right. We can just tie me down to the table and bypass the stitches, yeah?"
"Hmm... How about no? Quit bitching, Owen. You're worse than a little kid." He glared at her, and she fixed him with a stern glare. "Seriously, you've probably bitched off that entire dose of morphine, so you'd rather sit there hurting than let me help. You're like a little kid who doesn't want to take his medicine. Just re-dose yourself and let me get this done. I'm tired and my throat is killing me. Arguing with you isn't exactly helping."
Tosh had to hold back a smile and a laugh as he slowly capitulated and obeyed. Well, if she wasn't the one having to stitch him up, she wasn't sticking around to watch the impromptu surgery. She still had work to do on her primary program, to trace the Doctor's machine, the TARDIS, and maybe she should also loan her secondary, completed program on the Hub's computer, just in case her laptop ran into some kind of problems and wasn't able to run the program. It was important that they find Jack; Torchwood needed its leader; but she also wanted to know just what the Doctor wanted with Torchwood. After meeting one version of him that one time, she wanted - no, needed - to know what would make him go a fter Torchwood. They were actually helping him with his job, if what Harriet Jones always said was true and he was supposedly defending the Earth, so why go gunning after them? Because they were supposed to also be his guard dogs?
It just wasn't easy setting up a program to track something when you had no idea what it was or how it worked. And saying she had no ideas on the TARDIS was such an understatement that it was almost laughable, but she had to know, so she had to figure out a way to track it. She wasn't placing all her bets on the media program working. The Doctor had been clever thus far in his life, for the most part avoiding the media, so she doubted anything would turn up. Though she still had to wonder if she should extend the media program to include newspaper archives. It couldn't hurt and would only take a few minutes to set up. Perhaps she would make it once she'd worked something out on the primary program. Tracking the TARDIS and finding Jack - and asking the Doctor her question - were the top priorities right now.
She'd sat down and had just long enough to get the secondary program loaded onto her workstation when the main doors opened again, and Ianto stepped into the main area. The faint stamp of surprise on his face would be exaggerated shock on anyone else, but he did seem a bit gobsmacked. "What is it?" she had to ask.
Out of the corner of one eye, she noted Gwen and Owen stepping back up to the main level of the work stations. He had yet to pull on a new shirt, but the bandages did a good job of covering much of his chest. While Ianto was obviously gathering his words, Owen grabbed a button-down shirt hanging from his workstation chair, shrugging carefully into it with Gwen's help, and carefully buttoning it. "Yeah, so what's the problem, Tea Boy?" He was back to his usual smarmy self, she noted with something like pleasure.
"We just got a call from the office of Harold Saxon. Apparently there's something they need Torchwood's help with. They're sending someone out to speak to us."
Chapter 11: Chapter Ten
"Harold Saxon? He's sending someone out here?" Toshiko felt a bit like a parrot, repeating the words back at Ianto, but really, the shock had gotten to her. There was just so much that had happened in the last week that visit from the new Prime Minister was just about enough to leave her utterly speechless or at least reeling a bit. To say the least, she wasn't at her most with it mental state. "The Prime Minister is sending someone to Torchwood?"
"More to the point," Owen groused, "he's not even officially Prime Minister yet. How the hell does he know about Torchwood? Whatever happened to the whole 'secret organisation' thing?"
"I believe that went out the window the first time Eugene IMed you," Ianto countered rather neatly. Mentally, she award Ianto a point for the small jab. She'd long since lost count of the actual score numbers between the two now, but she was fairly certain that Owen was still well in the lead. Of course Owen did have a more acetic wit more easily given to these small 'points', but every so often, Ianto would get zings like that one in.
Owen shot him a dark look that frankly would have been a lot more impressive if there wasn't still a hazy blur in his eyes from the morphine he'd had to take to let Gwen stitch him up. And she'd still like to know what exactly had happened with that alien to leave the two of them in the shape they were in, Gwen half-strangled and Owen with busted stitches that she was willing to believe were more than half-healed. What had that alien done, with them insisting that the mental abilities were worst than its physical attributes? "I think we'd all agreed that Eugene was a subject we were all dropping. You can't agree to something and back out on it when it's convenient."
"Why not? You do." She winced at Ianto's choice of a rejoinder and mentally awarded him five more points. He'd only get to keep them if Owen didn't try to kill him, of course, but it was a fairly snappy comeback, if it didn't get him dead.
She waited a tense few seconds, the air in the Hub thick enough to be sliced with a knife, and she was right in between the two groups. Ianto was all but leaning against the inner barred door (or he would be if it didn't require relaxing and she wasn't sure if he knew how, which raised all new questions she'd never ask about his and Jack's relationship), and on the other side of the Hub, over at Owen's desk, Gwen and Owen stood almost like a united front of the walking wounded. If they were a united front, it might be the first time without a real threat around them: the end of the world, aliens, cannibals... Of course, her desk was between them, so it was up to her to play mediator.
"Okay, everyone," she finally stepped in. "If someone from the new Prime Minister will be showing up soon, this place needs to be presentable."
"Mum..." She glared at Owen for that, not that it made a lot of difference, but she rather expected that when it came to him. "I don't think they're coming down here with a white glove to inspect us. This isn't school."
How exactly did Jack manage to not shoot him all these years? She'd be damn glad when he was back. How exactly had she ended up with the mediating part of his job? Maybe she needed to take a page from the guys' book and shoot whoever ends up disagreeing with her. It might save some time and perhaps inspire more of them to be more agreeable more of the time. It was worth considering. Hopefully Jack would be back before she had to think about it too long, before she had to give in to the urge to kill one of them.
"No, it's not school, but we are still professionals. We should present ourselves as such." Because we don't behave like pros, she finished to herself but didn't say aloud. That would be starting another fight, and that was something she didn't want to get involved in, much less begin. "It's either we tidy up down here or we only meet them in the tourist shop." She stopped briefly to assess their faces then continued quickly before they had a chance to argue the validity of the second option. "If we only meet in the tourist shop, then we'd best hope they don't need us to show them anything down here because it still looks like a bomb went off."
Owen at least seemed to seriously consider this, sinking down to sit in his chair, while meanwhile Gwen managed to clear out enough a spot on his desk to hover and Ianto moved to stand just over Tosh's shoulder. "If they know we exist already, when they shouldn't, they should know about Abaddon and the Rift opening. They may even know about Jack already."
She shook her head. "That's a stretch. We haven't even reported it to Torchwood Two, and we should have done it two days ago. If anyone was going . No-one should know about Jack that's not in this room right now."
"And the Doctor," he reminded her almost softly. Almost, of course.
Finally she wasn't able to hold back a short laugh. "Owen, ten minutes ago, you were theorising that the Doctor might be trying to sabotage Harold Saxon's campaign. Now they're bosom buddies trading kidnapping secrets. Make up your mind: are they friends or enemies?"
Gwen snickered, not even bothering to try to hide it. "Neither and both," she commented cryptically under her breath with her head ducked, just barely loud enough for Tosh to hear. Owen shot her a concerned glance, a look weighted in promises that they were going to speak more when they were alone. It was almost tempting to try to eavesdrop on them whenever that conversation finally came around to happening, but that would be too much of an invasion. After the pendant and reading all their thoughts, she wanted to know as few deep, dark secrets of theirs as possible. If there was some reason why Gwen was talking like a loon and Owen was looking at her like he knew the reason but was hoping something like this wouldn't happen, then frankly she had no wish to know. The other woman glanced up, apparently telling Owen 'Later' without saying a word, just as she distinctly got the impression of 'Everything is okay' from the expression on her face when she met Tosh's eyes. "I think we can just meet with them in the shop upstairs. They'll understand the mess if they have to come downstairs. And I'd really like to lie down for a bit if that's okay by everyone, just till they get here. Are they flying over or driving?"
"Driving," Ianto answered. "They were already on their way when they called, but you still have an hour or so if you want to lie down."
"Good," Gwen agreed and nodded, already getting up and wandering over to the couch against one of the walls. She didn't have to look hard to see the worry on Owen's face as he watched her all but collapse down on the couch, eyes immediately going closed, like a switch had been flipped to off in her. She had never seen anyone fall asleep so quickly. Clearly that was why Owen was concerned; as a doctor, co-worker, ex-lover, and friend, it had to be worrisome.
"I am going to tidy up the upstairs office and put the 'Closed' sign up," Ianto stated, moving to head back upstairs. "If you need me, please use the mobile in case I step away from the main phone."
"Yeah, right, us needing you. That's a bloody great laugh." She didn't think Ianto heard Owen's muttered words. If he did, he gave no indication of it as he left the main level to go back upstairs. Slowly she turned back to the program sitting open on her desk still, eyeing her code manually a line at the time trying to locate any errors before she started on the next section. "How are you holding up yourself then, Tosh?"
"What?" she yelped, before promptly wishing she could take it back. She couldn't help still being a little shy around him sometimes. It was almost engrained into her DNA now. At least she always recovered quickly. "Oh, fine. I'm fine. A bit tired as well, but nothing as bad as poor Gwen there. These programs are taking up just so much of my time lately."
"You did say you'd finished the one, right?" Well, colour her shocked. He'd been paying attention to what she was saying after all. "The one to track the police and the media for anything on Jack?"
She nodded. "The Doctor as well, but yes."
"No chance you could also tap into U.N.I.T. frequencies, is there? They're rebuilt enough to keep tabs on aliens as well, aren't they?" And that as good as told that he still hadn't called Bambera. If he had spoken to the woman at all, he'd know that U.N.I.T. was rebuilding itself quite nicely - and much more quickly than Torchwood was. Supposedly they'd even built themselves some sort of airbase currently hovering over Northern Europe. Yeah, they were definitely getting back on their feet quite nicely.
"I can try, but Bambera won't like it. She might share the information freely if we asked properly. I don't fancy pissing off U.N.I.T." She glanced down at her keyboard like it could convince her whether to ask her questions or not. "Do you really think that the Doctor is going after Torchwood?" One of them slipped out without her meaning for it to, and she winced sharply, feeling the need to clarify further before he took offence. "I mean, Harriet Jones seemed convinced that he was a good guy, with the way she addressed him on the tele and the references to a Code Nine being the Doctor."
"That was before Canary Wharf though," he stepped in. "And if Gwen's right about the whole 'different bodies but same bloke' thing, as well as her time travel theory, then... then maybe he just found out about us. Plus remember: strong rumour has it that he turned on Harriet Jones because of us, because Torchwood One followed her order to fire on the Sycorax."
"That just doesn't sound like the Doctor I met though," she argued, carefully keeping her voice low as to not disturb Gwen. "I can't imagine that Doctor being involved in something like the massacre at Canary Wharf."
"Different face. Maybe he acts differently with every new face. Who the hell knows? He's an alien, Tosh. Don't try to apply human logic to them." He paused, looking at her a bit more closely. "If you don't think he's after us, even with him taking the remaining real leader of Torchwood, then why are you working so hard on tracking him down?"
"I want to ask him what's going on. I want to hear his explanation in his words. I want to know why he let nearly four hundred people - that we could confirm! - die in London, and others get yanked through Torchwood One's artificial rift in pieces." The words just kept tumbling out of her, and she took a deep breath to calm herself before speaking again. "It's never wise to make judgements on anyone - human or alien - without knowing all the facts. And besides, remember: didn't Jack say that there was more to the Doctor than is in all our files?"
The woman sent out by Harold Saxon was blonde and a bit on the willowy side. Owen was certain to like her on sight, Gwen figured a bit sleepily. At the moment she hated her. It felt like she'd just laid down when Tosh shook her awake to say the representative was here. Right now all she could say was the woman was dressed all in black, one of those smart but severe business suits that always managed to make her feel like under-dressed when she saw someone filling it out properly, no matter what Gwen herself may be wearing, and she looked like she'd never smiled a day in her life. The cop in her wanted to say she looked like she was the kind of person who had been too busy taking apart kittens and pulling the wings off insects to bother being a bully as a child.
She'd politely refused both tea and coffee, and she had yet to formally introduce herself. A quiet, more paranoid part of Gwen wondered if she was a robot, made up to look human. It sounded a bit science fiction, but then what was life at Torchwood if not a bit science fiction? She kept expecting someone in a red shirt to beam down or whatever, like on those old American sci-fi shows a friend of hers back in school had loved.
"I know," the woman began, "that Torchwood is stretched thin at the moment, but Mister Saxon requires your assistance on a matter of some importance. I'm certain you must have questions. I will do my best to answer them." She appeared to fidget slightly in the chair Ianto had produced from God knew where, but quickly she returned to the same straight-backed position she'd occupied since she took her seat. It looked like there was a rod shoved down her back.
"How do you know about Torchwood?" Owen fired off immediately, almost as soon as she'd finished speaking. And so much for her theory about Owen fancying her on sight, for him with a woman, that was bordering on flat out rudeness.
Evidentially it didn't startle her too badly. She barely more than twitched at the venom and calmly answered, "As you know, Mister Saxon was Minister of Defence before running for Prime Minister. While I am certain we are not supposed to know about Torchwood, rumour does travel. Unfortunately, the first we heard of you was... the Battle of Canary Wharf, the metal monsters filling the skies and in every home - and so many of your people dying." Oh, she was good. This strange woman had all the right words and all the right facial expressions, but her eyes were blank. Pretending empathy only really worked if your eyes could act as well as your face did. "We utilised some of Torchwood's technology salvaged by Harriet Jones to shoot the Racnoss out of the sky later that year."
Impressive little laundry list, she noted to herself, taking a sip from her own cup of coffee. She'd done her homework on them, at the very least.
"What are you after us to do?" The next question came from Tosh, and if she didn't have a mouthful of hot liquid, she might have nodded her approval and agreement. "We're not exactly a service for hire." She cracked a nervous smile, which usually meant she was about to try to be a little funny. "And I'm sorry, but I'd be rubbish at babysitting the Prime Minister."
She had to smile at the comment, giving Tosh that expression as a silent form of solidarity, especially when the blonde didn't even so much as twitch her lips. Yeah, she was definitely not liking her. "Thankfully, then, we don't need Torchwood to guard the Prime Minister. There is an alien menace threatening this planet. It may not have plans of world domination, but it clearly homicidal. We've captured images of three of them so far, and we have reports of at least twenty dead to date. We cannot deal with this threat, as we can't cross international borders. Torchwood is beyond the United Nations, though, and is more ideal to the situation than U.N.I.T. There's no need to alarm the planet to the existence of aliens yet, is there, and that's what U.N.I.T. would do, calling in entire brigades and attracting too much attention."
She was vaguely reminded of something Jack had said to her, one of her first days on the job. No, it had been before her first day. 'The twenty-first century is when it all changes, and you've got to be ready.' She'd gotten the feeling that Jack was working from some sort of mental countdown, so she had never asked when in the twenty-first century they needed to be ready. This might be too soon, though: the countdown couldn't have expired a lready. And she didn't think Jack's disappearance was enough to move the deadline forward. If it was, she might have to hit the Doctor herself: for someone that Harriet Jones billed in those reports she read last night as humanity's defender and he changed something like that, so it changed with Torchwood too crippled without their leader to fix it or at least ease it in, then he wasn't living up to his billing.
"I know Torchwood is running short-staffed still, with the disappearance of Torchwood Four and the overwhelming loss of life at Canary Wharf." Apparently the woman was too damned cruel or out of it to realise the effect her words were having on them. She hadn't been at Torchwood long enough to have even been to Torchwood One before its collapse, but apparently the other two of them had and they knew Ianto had lost his girlfriend to the Cybermen's conversion process. The woman probably also didn't know they'd all recently had wounds, old and new, dragged across the coals recently. Otherwise she wouldn't be talking so matter of factly about the death of four hundred people, some of who had been near and dear to some members of this team. If Ianto was a little closer, she'd lean over and try putting a comforting hand on his arm; as it was though, she had to settle for a sympathetic glance across the counter. "And I know you must still be reeling from the events of the last few months - the last week in particular - and be feeling a little lost without Captain Harkness."
"How do you know about Jack?" Owen was out of his seat, looking particularly murderous. She couldn't blame him. Just how close was the Ministry of Defence keeping an eye on them? For them to know about Jack, when they hadn't blabbed about it to anyone off the team, even taking care when discussing it mobilely to be in a fairly secluded place.
She barely blinked, and Gwen mentally adjusted her original idea from slightly sociopathic and out of it to just sociopathic. "After what happened to Harriet Jones when she went against the Doctor, we've made it a policy to keep up to date on his doings. I understand that, after Canary Wharf, Torchwood might want and would deserve first shot at him, but we are also interested in finding out what kind of alien he is, where he came from, and how he got here, as why as he is so eager to keep changing Earth's history."
"Do you think we have any way to catch him?" Ianto was leaning forward, apparently momentarily forget his utter perfect composure. "Torchwood One only got him by accident."
That finally got something that resembled in a smile in the way her teeth bared and little else. "Mister Saxon has a few ideas on the matter. Please, at least for now, leave the Doctor to us. We'll work out how to deal with him, if we accidentally happen to succeed in capturing him before your return. I know you're more than capable of eventually capturing him, but Mister Saxon has requested that as patriotic citizens of Great Britain and inhabitants of this planet, that you help us with this other alien menace."
Simultaneously, Owen and Toshiko asked "What is it?" and & quot;Where is it?", respectively.
Leaning down, the woman opened her brief case and produced a set of photos, handing them over to Owen. Gwen was actually able to watch him go pale before he bypassed Tosh to hand the images over to her. And in turn, she was able to feel the blood drain from her own face as well. The images captured on the pages before her could only be of the same breed as the alien that had just dealt with downstairs. The body structure and features were almost identical, but this one was different in two major ways: it lacked the red colouration points theirs had had, and it was at least a metre taller. Maybe Owen's theory about it being an adolescent were correct, in which case these were the adults.
If their alien had been an child of that species and these were adults, that might explain the increased body count. Just how far international were they talking, she had to wonder, though. "Where are they?" she croaked out a repeat of Tosh's question.
"Nepal," the blonde answered. "In the Himalayas. Not too far from Kathmandu, to be exact. You see why we cannot allow U.N.I.T. to become involved; it's just too close to political hotbeds and who knows what the Americans might make of that?" She glanced at each of them, her face conveying utter hope while her eyes remained distressingly dark and empty. "Will you take the assignment?"
They glanced among themselves, silently communicating as months of working closely together had taught them. Finally Owen spoke up for all of them. "We'll help you out with this, but..." She raised an eyebrow, apparently at the idea of a stipulation. "It looks like the Doctor took Jack, Captain Jack Harkness, the leader of Torchwood. Kidnapped him right out from under us might be a better way to put it. If Jack is still with the Doctor, he might be being held against his will. If you manage to get the Doctor before we're back, could you send Jack our way?"
She smiled, and it chilled Gwen's bones. "Don't worry. We'll handle it all for you."
Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven
The Himalayas... Well, Toshiko had always said that she wanted to see them at some point in her life. She'd never thought that she'd actually get to go, much less go on someone else's ticket with someone else paying her entire way. That the government might be paying for her to go there never crossed her mind, though maybe given where she worked, it should have. In the years she'd been with Torchwood, though, it had never happened; she'd been to all corners of Wales, England, Scotland, and parts of Ireland with Torchwood, but the job had never sent her out of the country before. Besides, Jack would have probably never allowed it, not if it meant he'd be stuck in Cardiff with Owen and Ianto and only Suzie to play mediator between them in the days before Gwen joined, and after that, things had just been going non-stop that it seemed they scarcely had a chance to breathe before something came up again: if it wasn't fairies, then it was cannibals, or sex aliens, or spaceships parked in Cardiff Bay, or homicidal robots, or any number of other things.
Still, such short notice! Apparently Mister Saxon wanted them on a plane within the day, and there was one waiting to take them off shortly after two in the afternoon. It only gave them a few hours to get their things together and set the Hub to order. She supposed it was bad to be glad that Ianto was having to figure out what to do with the Weevils. The pterodactyl could just be let out to hunt for her own dinners. Jack and Suzie had trained her not to eat people, something she didn't want to think about how they'd accomplished, though it had eventually been done. No-one would be eaten by the pterodactyl if she was let out, but they might end up missing some household pets - but there was nothing she could do about that on such short notice.
As it was, she was scrounging to find her thickest winter coat and wondering if it would be thick enough. It was warm enough for Cardiff winters, and this one had been particularly mild so she'd let her warmest coat drift to the back of her closet. At least she'd managed to turn up some gloves and a scarf or two. That would be helpful. If worse came to worse, she supposed, she could always buy clothes once they landed. Cardiff just probably wasn't the best place to acquire winter clothes for the Himalayas. Well, they'd just all have to make do as long as they could till they could find something better. Every last one of them were good at that, she expected.
Finally! There was the coat! She pulled it off its hanger and carefully placed it in her bag on top of her other warm clothes. At least it hadn't been June when Mister Saxon asked them to go to the other side of the world. She would hate to have to get into the boxes she usually packed her non-seasonal clothes away in for something to keep her from freezing to death in Nepal. She wasn't bothering to properly fold and place everything in yet. Right now she was just worrying about getting in it all located and at least in the vicinity of her bag while also juggling the phone and trying to explain to her neighbour that she was going to be out of town for a while and wouldn't he be so kind as to step in occasionally and make certain everything was okay and that no-one stole her car.
After she got off the phone with Mister Davies, she still needed to call her parents and let them know what was going on. She'd stop by to see them, but time was short and growing shorter the more the man on the other end of the phone droned on. Finally she managed to find a break in her idle but ceaseless conversation, made her apologies and goodbyes, and ended the call. With exaggerated carefulness, she set her phone on top of the television and complained to herself that the man didn't half have a gob. He was definitely one of those 'why use one word when twenty work just as well' type of people, the type that got her nerves on a fairly regular basis, especially when she'd had a long, hard day at work.
For the past few months, it seemed like that was all that Torchwood Three had had: long, hard days and sometimes nights at work. She really should suggest to Jack if - no, when - they got him back that they start recruit more staff. Five people was barely a skeleton staff and was only just barely that, so increasing the staff - hopefully with real people, not alien constructs sent to monitor the Rift from this side - should be sufficient to cut individual workloads. In turn that would lessen the likelihood of burnout, as well as giving them a chance to specialise more than they were at this time. Of course, if she was going to present this idea to Jack, she would have to find a way to put it that didn't sound like corporate doublespeak. He had a notorious dislike of double-speak that rivalled his hatred of fairies.
It was starting to look like she had everything that was available here to get already in her bag or in its general vicinity and mostly ready to go, once she got it properly folded and in the tote and set just inside the door. Setting herself to that task, she picked up her mobile and dialled her mother's number out of habit. It would be the best place to start with her more important calls, she decided, listening to it ring and folding her clothes up both neatly and as small as possible. Nonetheless, as the phone rang quietly in her ear from its precarious position balanced between her shoulders, she did have to hope everything was going well for the rest of the team.
There was a quick click and she involuntarily straightened as a woman's voice spoke in her ear, "Moshi moshi?"
"Moshi moshi, okaasan. Toshiko desu..."
It really all came down to timing, she supposed. She had gone with Owen to his place to get his things together, still feeling a bit guilty for making his arm worse (and he was probably completely enjoying every moment of that), so he was driving her back over to her flat (her and Rhys's flat, even if she hadn't been there for a week). She really couldn't help it, but she was dreading going there after this long away. What was she going to say if Rhys wasn't there? Just raid the place for her warmest clothes and maybe, maybe leave a quick note? 'Haven't been kidnapped but am out of country. Clean out the fridge, and don't forget to buy more milk. ~Gwen' perhaps?
But even worse, what if he was there? Then she'd have to explain where she'd been the last week and why she had never gotten around to contacting him to let him know she was all right. The truth just was never going to cut it for that. Rhys would never buy 'My boss died and it was kind of our fault, so I had to wait for him to get better, and he woke up three days later, but then he was kidnapped, so we've been trying to find it', not in a million years. Shame how the truth was not usually the best answer. But no easy lie immediately came to mind either, so she was left with no real answer to give if Rhys was there. And now she hoped he wasn't.
"I can smell you worrying from over here," Owen commented in a monotone. "Knock it off. It's annoying." From the driver's side of his car, he glanced over at her. "We'll handle your Prince Charming once we get to it."
"You're coming up to help?" she had to ask in dumb-founded shock. She could count on one hand, with four fingers left over, how many times any member of Torchwood had been in her place, and that had been Jack, when the fairies had made a right mess of the flat, burying her living room in foliage and flower petals. At that moment, she'd understood why he disliked fairies so much. At that moment, she had too. "I wouldn't exactly say no, but you know you don't have to. I can pack my bags on my own. Been doing it rather well on my own so far in fact."
He laughed, a sardonic little chuckle that, when they'd been sleeping together, had gone straight to the part of her brain that liked to scream 'sex now', smirking at her across the car. Hard to believe just two months ago, she'd have probably made him pull over so she could screw him senseless. Now it just made her smile back. "I'm not agreeing to any heavy lifting or shit like that. You can just forget about that now. I'm back-up against your boyfriend, and that's it."
"My knight in shining armour," she drawled out. "What would we do without you?"
"Oh, that one's easy. You'd all have bled to death long ago. Well, maybe not Jack. Or he would have bled to death and woken back up. How does that work anyway?"
She shrugged. "He didn't exactly give me details. All he said was that he couldn't die."
"It's more like he dies and then wakes right back up. I wonder how it happened: some kind of bleed through from the Rift we should be worried about, or knowing Jack, maybe an alien STD."
She couldn't help it and burst out laughing. "Now that sounds right up Jack's alley," she giggled. "Life lesson there then: if you get screwed by aliens, then you'll really get screwed by aliens. Do you think it - the alien, I mean - thought Jack was a good enough..."
"Gwen?" Owen interrupted, and she trailed off to look over at him curiously. "I don't want to talk about Jack's sex life. In fact, it's a topic I want us to stay off of for the rest of my life."
"Oh really? That's why we had to talk about it my first day?" she shot back. It was true, after all, and it had shocked her till she realised just how much of an enigma Jack was to his own team. Instead of talking about the aliens they had seen that day, when they went out for drinks after work, they discussed their theories on Jack, ranging from the outlandish ("He's a pensioner they brought out of retirement; he just moistures a lot, why he looks so good for his age") to the serious ("Wasn't there any other way to get the fairies to leave than for him to just give them the girl?") and everything in between. And now that the other three knew about his immortality, she could foresee many new topics of conversation about Jack coming up, with theories as wild as an alien STD or as serious as Rift radiation no doubt coming up then too. And maybe this time, Ianto might even join them; he'd surely have ideas on the matter. Right now she didn't really care, as long as Jack eventually came back - and hopefully soon. They were more or less lost without him there already, and she would hate to see how they'd be if it stretched much longer. "My first day and several other days after that?"
"Hey, some people gossip around the water cooler about whatever is on the television. We gossip about our resident immortal, gay boss."
"I still don't think he's gay," she argued back automatically. "I mean, there was Estelle: I don't think that was his father in that 1940s picture with her, and Tosh did say he acted like he belonged in the Forties; it had to have been him. He's bi at the very least." She grinned out the window. "I still agree with Tosh: he'd probably shag anything if it's gorgeous enough."
"So if Jack's immortal and Jack was alive in the 1940s, what is he waiting around Cardiff for? There has to be something. No-one just sits around Cardiff like this just for fun." Oh, she should have known not to let Owen get started. She could swear he was worse for gossip than her grandmother and every bit as likely to keep going till someone shut him up or changed the topic. "Still, if he's immortal, what's he waiting on?"
The right kind of doctor immediately jumped into the forefront of her mind. And oh, God, that made a sickening kind of sense. How had she not thought of it before? It was one of the first things he'd said to her when she joined Torchwood and one of the last before he vanished: 'the right kind of doctor'. She felt like a complete idiot. But if the Doctor was Jack's 'right kind of doctor', then might he have left of his own free will? And if the Doctor was Jack's doctor, then were they ever going to see him again? But 'the right kind of doctor', that was Jack's story to tell. She shouldn't have even told them about his immortality, but she definitely could not tell Owen about this. She couldn't tell anyone this. It would be too much a betrayal, on top of what she had already done. She just couldn't.
"He never said anything to me," she finally lied. It didn't matter that it wasn't the truth. It wasn't like Owen would know till Jack got back, plenty enough time for this to die down some.
"And what? You never asked?" He sounded absolutely shocked, like the idea that not pushing for the information was just absolutely an anathema to him. "How could you not ask? How could you not be curious? Weren't you supposed to be a copper once upon a time?"
She rolled her eyes. "Of course, I was curious, but it's not my business. He told me about the immortality the day I joined; I was a bit too overwhelmed to ask too many questions. Remember: I had no idea anything like this existed before then. I was... Overwhelmed is the only word I can think of. And you've driven past my street three times already, Owen. What are we doing here?"
"Mostly, avoidance. We are avoiding your street. I don't feel like dealing with your boyfriend, you look like you don't feel like dealing with your boyfriend, so why don't we just swing into a store and buy you all new clothes for the trip? Avoid the entire thing."
It really shouldn't be so tempting, she thought to herself, grumpiness warring with exhaustion and resignation within her as she considered the option. It would avoid the confrontation all together, without the hassle of worrying if he was home or if he wasn't home or even if he might come home while she was packing. She wasn't planning on it taking long, but she wasn't too certain where her warmer winter clothes were: this winter had been so mild that she hadn't bothered getting out her winter garments and had just worn layers. That wouldn't work up in the Himalayas, though, so she would need her clothes if she were to go in there, but the temptation to listen to Owen was strong, almost too strong to ignore. "Were you trying to distract me from going to my flat?" she asked instead, countering his questions with another question.
"No, of course not!" He paused under the stern glare she turned on him. "Well, maybe a little." Like quicksilver, his mood changed abruptly. "Till we get Jack back, someone needs to keep this team going. No way it's going to be Tea Boy, you're getting your head scrambled, and Tosh is rubbish in the field, so who does that leave?"
"No-one has to lead till Jack gets back. We can share the responsibility and Jack's duties till he's back, then dump everything back on him so fast his head spins." He grinned, lightning fast, and finally turned down her street as they came to it again. "So what's the verdict?"
"If his car's there, we go shopping and get our last spot of decent food for a bit. If it's not there, then we grab your clothes and go get our last spot of decent food for a bit. The world won't end if we're not in the damn Himalayas by a certain time."
"I meant about leading Torchwood, dummy," she returned almost affectionately. They really did seem to get along better after the affair than they ever had before. And now, with Jack gone, suddenly they had found a few things to agree on: finding him and keeping the rest of the team safe. Those two things had become the most important things in their lives, more important anything else save the job, and they were going to do it. She got the feeling they were both pushing the matter for the same reason as well: they both still felt guilty about what they had done to their actual leader. What they had done to Jack was nigh unforgivable, but she hoped that k eeping Torchwood safe while he was gone was a good start.
And if he was with the Doctor and he was with the man by choice (And that still utterly boggled her mind to think about. Not humans going with the Doctor. Definitely not that: the man had a long and checkered past of various assistants traveling with him. No, what confused her was the idea of Jack with him. It'd be like putting two alpha male dogs in a small place and hoping for there not to be an explosion. A bit foolish, if anyone bothered to ask her) and it didn't seem like he would be back (If the Doctor was Jack's doctor, the one he was waiting to fix him, the only one who could have tempted him with visions to open the Rift, obviously the one Jack had so very strong feelings for, then how cruel could they be, asking him to give that up for them? She wasn't sure she had it in her to do that to him), then she'd at least make certain there was a good legacy left here in Jack's name. She wanted people to know it was Captain Jack Harkness who founded Torchwood, the one that survived anyway. No, not just survived: thrived, maybe even becoming a viable world power. If the twenty-first century was when it all changed and Jack wasn't here, then Torchwood would have to make certain everything and everyone was prepared, starting with them.
He was slowly down as they got closer where she lived and she leaned forward to try to look more closely for Rhys's car. "It's a valid idea," he conceded. "Who knows how it will work in the field, but it is a decent idea."
"Oi! It's more than a decent idea!" she shot back. "We can't afford to spread ourselves too thin, and I think we would do that if one of us trying to do all their own duties plus all of Jack's while the others just look on and twiddle their thumbs. It's not how Torchwood does things - and if that's how it is, then we need to change it. There are four of us: we can split everything more or less evenly, and get everything done. Why are you laughing, Owen?"
"I think Tosh and I had the same conversation. I can't really remember. I think we were standing next to our former resident scaly, telepathic alien at the time. That I remember even that much is pretty much a miracle . Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, after all. Who knows what's going on wherever they are."
The car wasn't there, so he pulled to a stop, letting her jump out. To her surprise, he shut off the car and followed her. Mounting the stairs to head to her flat, she hazed out a question: "Owen, what if Jack's with the Doctor by choice?"
"Like studying him or something? That'd be helpful. Not a very Jack-like thing to do, but helpful nonetheless." He stared over at her. "But you don't mean that. You mean, like... in a friendly way?"
"I... don't know. If it's by his choice, then maybe it's not such a bad thing. Maybe."
Chapter 13: Chapter Twelve
It shouldn't have surprised her to see Owen and Gwen leave together and come back together. They were thicker than thieves sometimes, back when they were sleeping together and again now that they weren't. They were acting like they were friends again, which was both a relief and a bit worrisome. She didn't relish the thought of them teaming up against her or Ianto or both of them. In a retaliatory war, she had the distinct feeling that those two would win: she had never een good at those sorts of things, and she just couldn't picture Ianto stooping to pranks and the like when they couldn't even get him to join them in a game of basketball from time to time. Yes, if there was ever a Torchwood prank war, she and Ianto were claiming Jack on their side. He'd probably be rather amazing at it, she could just bet. That would be the only way she and Ianto would win though. Otherwise, it wouldn't even begin to be a fair fight.
And all of this, as random and utterly out of context as it seemed, was better than thinking about that she was in the air. She had never been fond of flying, probably a good bit of the reason why she had never gotten to see the Himalayas nor more of the other sights of the world she wanted to see before now: sometimes even the thought of flying made her ill. Sometimes she could barely stand to look at planes, and Owen's girlfriend Diane's plane terrified her; she hadn't even been able to stand it land when they had gotten the tip that something that looked like a Fifties plane was picked up on radar. And now she had to make herself sit through a several hours' long flight.
When she'd initially gotten so excited about the prospect of going to the Himalayas, she had managed to forget it would mean flying. She'd managed to make herself forget it would mean hours trapped in a small box of thin metal, with almost nothing to protect them from the ground should they crash. Statistically, she knew she was more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash, but that didn't mean a lot to her. Thanks to Owen's girlfriend, now she had another worry to add to the 'crashing and dying' list: there was now also the concern that they could fly through the Rift and wind up in their future - or even worse, some time in the past. They could end up in the twenty-second century or conversely the eighteenth, either of which time zones this plane would very much be an anachronism. Or, to make matters worse, now that the Rift was more active - and they had managed to pick up a particularly dangerous alien through it - it was entirely possible that they might end up on another planet altogether.
One more thing she had apparently let herself forget till they were about to board the plane: she would be stuck in a very confined space with no way of escape for a long period time with Owen, Gwen, and Ianto. When it finally hit, she had immediately tried to volunteer to go back and mind the Hub till the others returned. Mister Saxon's assistant had politely but firmly reminded her that they were dealing with three aliens that two of them had a great deal of trouble taking down, that they would need the entire team - as much of it as was available with Jack missing - to take down the rest. So here she was, seated on one of the few seats on this small plane that didn't have a window near it, desperately gripping the armrests and trying not to jump at every slight fluctuation in the plane's otherwise almost smooth path through the skies, and trying to ignore the fact that her co-workers were insane.
At least Ianto was steady and slow in his insanity: he was making tea. That was good: she didn't think that she could take coffee right now. She was plenty enough jumpy as it was. Gwen was seated next to the window with her head leaning against it, staring out in nearly mute fascination yet looking entire too lost in thought to be paying any attention to the scenery outside. Owen had, improbably, fallen asleep just after take-off. How, she had just no idea. She could never manage to do something like that before; she couldn't manage to do something like that now. It was all she could do to keep from screaming in sheer terror and keep screaming till they reached Nepal. Simply breathing almost normally was enough of a task to keep her a bit busy for another half hour or so perhaps.
"Here." Ianto's voice cut through the panic for a moment as a cup of tea appeared before her. Bless the man for being a rock... a rock that made damn good tea. He had even the decency to make the tea how she liked it and not fill the cup; that was good, given how her hands were shaking when she managed to unclench them from the arm rests. She nodded her thanks, taking a quiet sip. "I didn't realise you don't fly well," he observed casually, sinking slowly into the seat next to hers.
"We haven't had to fly anywhere before as a group," she returned quietly. "It's just a bit of a phobia. I've never enjoyed it, no matter how nice the plane is."
He glanced around appreciatively. "Yes, Mister Saxon certainly spared no expense on our accounts, didn't he? A private plane to make up for how quickly we had to leave was a nice touch. Though I think we would have all preferred to wait to do anything till we found Jack..."
"That's for certain." She fidgeted slightly in her seat. It was all she could do not to full-out squirm uncomfortably. Talking about feelings hadn't been her forte even before the pendant and it was doubly not so now. "How are you holding up, Ianto?"
He looked almost as discomfited as she felt, to her relief and consternation. "I'm all right. Thank you for asking."
"I'm sure Jack is fine," she offered hesitantly. She really was rubbish at this. "And if he's not, he will be soon. You know Jack: he always bounces right back."
"Not always." His tone was a bit dark and sad. "Not even Jack bounces right back from everything." Abruptly she was reminded of him locking himself in his office after the list of the dead at Canary Wharf came in, and when Estelle died and the fairies took the child, and after meeting the other Captain Jack Harkness. No, not even Jack could bounce right back from everything.
The latter two times she'd seen Jack not bounce immediately had been intensely personal, though, not like Canary Wharf. Even if she still wondered sometimes when she was trying to fall asleep at night if Bilis Manger had deliberately thrown the other Captain Jack in front of their Jack to distract him, to keep him from noticing details that normally he'd have seen and she'd missed, so that Owen would have to open the Rift, so that the Rift would be weakened, so that he could tempt them with the fear of losing what they cared for most or regaining what they loved more than anything else in this world, so that Abaddon the Great Beast and Destroyer of Worlds could be released, it had been so very personal. In one night, only a few short hours, it seemed like Jack had fallen in love and had his heart completely broken by having to leave. And if Gwen's worst, darkest theory was correct and it was Jack who had met Estelle during World War Two, then he had to see a long-time love murdered senselessly. So what was so importantly about Canary Wharf? Who had Jack lost at Torchwood One?
"Still..." It wasn't good that her voice was so hesitant and nervous, was it? She trailed off, cleared her throat to try to alleviate the problem, and gave it another shot. "Still, we will get Jack back." She placed her free hand on his arm. "And if he's not all right, then we can just let Owen shoot whoever hurt him. That should cheer him right up."
"You make me sound like a gun-happy freak." Owen didn't even open his eyes when he spoke, though Gwen did turn away from the window, an amused grin on her face. "Do I sound American now or something?"
"Nope," Gwen fired back, "definitely not an American. A git, an idiot, and a freak - in your own words - but definitely not American."
"Oi!" He swiped in her general direction, but she dodged easily with plenty of room to spare. "Is it Pick on Owen Day or something?"
"I'm behind then." She nearly burst out laughing at Ianto's deadpan comment.
"In that case, it's just our patriotic duty to insult you," she joined in. "So no offence, Owen, but it's for the Queen. You understand."
Gwen was giggling and grinning. If Owen was amused, he was hiding it well, though. All she could read on his face was annoyance and a sense of putting up with more than he wanted to, but he wasn't cursing them out yet, so maybe that should be as good a clue as any that he wasn't as angry as he might be trying to seem. After a moment or so of letting them have their fun, though, he finally opened his eyes, sat up, and seriously asked, "Do either of you remember the alien Gwen and I brought in last night?"
She shook her head, and to her side, she could see Ianto doing the same. "I know what you were saying about it this morning and what Gwen said on the phone, but I don't remember seeing it. Did I see it?"
"Did either of us?" questioned the man beside her. "Because I don't remember it either."
"This kind of alien can make you think it's not there. It can make you forget all about it." And that might be the most horrific thing she'd heard in a while, and considering what they dealt with on a regular basis, that Owen saying this was the worst was fairly impressive. But then Gwen had to go and top it.
"We think it was also behind what happened this morning, where we started feeling like prey and predator animals. It did it again right before... before..."
"Before it tried to kill us and we ended up having to kill it instead," Owen finished, shooting her an indescribable look. There was annoyance still but also worry and concern and, maybe, guilt. Why would he look guilty? Maybe they'd had it out like real exes, yelling and screaming at each other under its influence. Though from what she could recall from this morning, what had pierced the haze surrounding her conscious mind, there hadn't been a lot of talking or even yelling. It had been all feelings and almost total incoherency. They weren't giving her time to think about it though. Owen was speaking again. "That's not all we have to look out for, though. The one we captured managed to kill two people that we found before we brought him in. We're fairly certain we captured a juvenile version, and these look more full-grown. It was about two and a half metres tall; these are going to be bigger."
"The good news is," Gwen stepped back in with some of the most wonderful things she'd heard in at least an hour, "they're extremely sensitive to electricity. You figured that out, Tosh, and you helped us keep him unconscious till we got him locked up downstairs, Ianto."
It was so strange to hear things she didn't remember doing only yesterday being discussed so frankly. "How odd," Ianto was saying, obviously feeling much the same way. "I don't remember a thing about it. That's quite a talent they have."
"Isn't it though?" Gwen sounded grim, and frankly she couldn't blame the other woman in the least. "The electricity only works for about half an hour, at least on the adolescent version, so bear that in mind."
"I think its scales are a bit more resilient than they look. They're not bullet-proof," Owen chimed back in. It was not quite a tag-team conversation, but it wasn't far off from it either. It can be hit, but only up close or, maybe, with high impact rounds. Chest and abdomen wounds will slow it down and even hurt, but headshots are the only thing we know that kill them."
"So, big, bad, telepathic, and hard to kill?" she summed up, feeling her stomach sink - and just from the plane ride this time.
"More empathic than telepathic," the other woman corrected her, "but otherwise pretty much on the nose. It gets in our head and controls what we feel, not what we think."
"The running theory is that it's a prey animal on... wherever it's from. It seems to trigger the aggression-fear response in things it perceives as a threat, apparently so whatever is after it will destroy one another or, if there's just one, think of... well, whatever is the biggest, baddest thing on its planet and make the predator paralysed till this thing can get away. Don't assume that's correct, though," Owen advised. "This is all conjecture, except for what we observed."
"Ability to make us forget," Gwen hopped back into the conversion to remind them, "and inducing the fear-aggression response." She winced slightly. "Oh yeah, and big claws, big teeth... just big all around."
Oh, Owen looked like he wanted to add something awful to that, probably something laden with innuendo that she wouldn't get right away, Ianto would disdainfully ignore whatever he said, and Gwen might end up hitting him. And if Jack were here... She shook her head slightly. But Jack wasn't here. They wouldn't be doing any searching for him while they were gone - they certainly wouldn't be in or even near what seemed to be the Doctor's location of choice: England, and of lately, specifically London, not to mention that, besides physical proximity, there probably wouldn't be time. If half of what Gwen and Owen were saying about the creatures were correct, then it would take everything they had to capture or destroy the things. Speaking of which...
"Does Mister Saxon want them captured and brought in alive or killed?" she had to ask. It could end up making a difference in how they proceeded from here on out. On some level it almost galled her to think that they might just have to kill these beings without giving them a chance. She'd never really thought it prior to a few months ago; Gwen had wrecked so much change on the way they had operated, especially compared to when Yvonne Hartman had been the Director of Torchwood, the sort of over-all leader that Jack now was. She was definitely not complaining: it was good to see humanity slowly leaking back into this organisation. But it would be... disappointing for them to be a slightly more human group and then have to go back to what they'd been before: 'if it's alien, it's ours'.
She had never been a huge fan of that policy. No-one at the Cardiff branch was. Of course, under Yvonne, being reassigned to Cardiff, at the time little more than a listening post for the Rift, was a punishment for disagreeing with one of her rules for those people with too much talent to be gotten rid of, so a good number of the people there were of like minds. She hadn't been assigned to Cardiff: apparently Jack had specifically requested her after she had been hired. Who knew? Maybe he saw something in her CV, but it wasn't like he had ever said anything about it and she had never asked. Owen had been a troublemaker (too damn smart and too aware of it, was how Yvonne had apparently put it to Jack, if she remembered the memo he'd had her feed to the pterodactyl correctly, but it had been in her first few weeks and she was still feeling overwhelmed) and had been reassigned, as had Suzie, though she didn't recall what it was for; Suzie had been there for a long time by the time Jack hired her. Ianto had been, as far as she knew, the only person who had survived Canary Wharf to stay on with Torchwood. And Gwen was the first person to be brought on since Canary Wharf, and frankly, she didn't think Yvonne would have hired her. If she had turned up Torchwood back then, on a good day she would have been retconned heavily enough that she might not remember several weeks instead of several hours and disposed of more permanently on a bad day, but she was fairly certain Yvonne would have never let her be hired.
But that was Yvonne and the old regime, not Jack and the newer way of doing things. She might not always agree with the newer way of doing things, but even on the days when things were at their worst (the fairies... the other Captain Jack... the cannibals... Abaddon...), somehow they always seemed to get results. Maybe not always results she could stand behind and maybe not always positive results or results that could be happily discussed over a drink or two, but there were always results, always a sign that they had accomplished something. In some sense, there was always a resolution, even if it was one she wanted to scream at God, the universe, and/or Jack about the unfairness of.
"From how the little chit put it," Gwen interrupted her thoughts, "I think they want the things dead and disposed of, to prevent an international incident and from letting people know about the presence of potentially hostile aliens on Earth."
Tosh nodded in sad reluctance. "It's a wonder it hasn't gotten out already. We would want a mass panic starting when we could do something to prevent it."
"Speak for yourself," Owen opinioned. "I just want to get them before they get me."
Gwen rolled her eyes. "From Nepal? Don't be utterly daft. I don't think it could go that far quietly, and the one we found in Cardiff wasn't all that fast." She winced, obviously thinking of something that she wasn't privy to yet. It looked like she was going to elaborate though. "Just remember those two blokes it got back home: one had headphones on and the other was on a mobile phone. Neither of them was bothering to pay enough attention to get out of its way."
And they were off with the sniping again. How typical. "What? You think just because we'll be paying attention we'll be all right?"
"Well, it won't hurt! That's what makes the difference with these things."
She almost hated to get involved with one of their arguments, but there was something she had to know about. "The one we captured and killed, it killed two people?" All of them were looking at her, and she fought the urge to squirm in her seat. One more set of eyes, and she might not have been able to resist the urge. "Do I need to set up cover stories for their deaths?"
Silence descended on the plane for a long moment, before Owen finally shook his head. "No, I wouldn't think so. Anyone who saw an alien kill two full-grown men without even stopping didn't remember it five minutes later. That's how quickly it can start working on you."
"Not even that long. It kicked in on you that once, while you were feeding the Weevils, in no more than three or four minutes," the other woman disagreed.
"That quickly?" she intoned softly, already trying to take that information into account with her projections for how they should proceed. So once they sighted one of them, they couldn't afford to let the creature out of their vision for more than a few minutes, if even that, or they could possibly forget what they were tracking. What could they do, then, if they lost it? They would have to set up a way to keep in constant visual of the aliens, on top of their usual audio relay, which may need to be reconfigured for the sub-freezing weather in the mountain areas. She would need to do a test on the stun guns to make certain they worked in the cold and if there was any significant loss of power. If there were, she would have to either purchase new gear for them or find a way to alter their current weaponry to stand up to the weather.
"Yeah, that quick," Owen answered her in the affirmative. "You see them, but very shortly thereafter, you forget about them. It only seems to work with visual line of sight; you remembered Gwen telling you about the alien we had over the phone, after all, but when she turned away from it to talk to you, she forgot about it. The aggression-fear stimulation, that's more long-distance. If you recall, we were in the conference room several levels above it when it first hit us with that little trick. It has a range: moving up to the tourist shop, several more floors up, did a lot to take care of the problem."
"For us," she stepped back into the conversation, "because we have had psychic training. We know, at least in theory, what to do in case of a psychic attack, not that did it a lot of good for the original assault. We got over it quicker, at least compared to Gwen," the other woman looked over at her in something very much like embarrassment, "who hasn't had it and got her head muddled."
"There's an upside to that." Even Owen looked confused as to what the good part of what had happened to all of them and had hit Gwen herself so strongly. At least she had the decency not to make them wait long for an answer. "Because my head got so muddled, as you put it, Tosh, the first time, it was harder for it to get back in my head a second time."
Obviously this was news to Owen, if the hard frown on his face was anything to go by. She, on the other hand, thought it was thoroughly fascinating. Until now she'd been thinking of this ability like a particularly trying computer virus: very difficult to get around and possibly that the affected system would have to be completely re-hardwired to deal with the issue, but this made the problem sound a bit more organic, something that should put it more up Owen's line of expertise. "So it's like some disease: if you're exposed badly enough the first time, you develop an immunity?"
Gwen shrugged, a grin on her face that she thought was most likely mirrored on her own. "I suppose."
"That's the best news I have all day," finally dryly came from Owen. "Now we just need to figure out how to use this to our advantage."
Chapter 14: Chapter Thirteen
"Well, it's not half cold."
She fixed Owen with a dark glare. "After all the complaining last time we left Cardiff, I never thought I'd hear you say something like that."
"Well, it's not exactly home, but it's definitely not the bloody Welsh countryside. Less of that horrible smelling grass stuff for starters, and the locals seem less likely to try to kill, skin, disembowel, and eat us, but that's just my first impression. They've yet to disprove it though; that's always good."
Out of the corner of her eyes, she noted Tosh and Ianto were beginning to look a bit green, and Tosh went as far as to set her food back down. That wasn't exactly something she wanted so graphic a reminder of either, and she hadn't had half the experience those two had at the hands of those wretched cannibals either. She hadn't been able to eat meat for a week afterwards, after hearing that horrid man comparing Ianto to veal, after all, and frankly, she had actually thrown up on Rhys for even mentioning meat on the very first day after she'd come home.
"Thank you, Owen." It might be her imagination or Ianto's voice might be shaking just slightly. Amazing: Tosh mentioning a friend getting hepatitis off roadside burgers didn't phase him, but bringing back up the cannibals, now that definitely got a reaction. Not a pleasant one either, but she hadn't really been expecting one. "Now I won't be able to look at anyone without wondering if they mean to eat me."
"Probably get a better meal of you than me, mate. They would probably think I'm a bit too stringy to be a good meal." How odd. She actually couldn't tell from Owen's voice if he was being sarcastic, cruel, or if this was some sort of bloke thing. A glance over at Tosh showed the Asian woman wore an almost identical puzzled expression to the one she felt on her own face.
"You shouldn't belittle yourself, Owen. All the running you field people do, you should be nice and lean." Jesus Christ, it was a bloke thing. It was some sort of weird bloke bonding ritual designed to be incomprehensible to females and disgusting to the population in general. She knew to expect weird things like that from Owen, but Ianto... She'd have never thought in a million years he would join in on something like this. Watch from the sidelines and offer little one line comments, perhaps, since he'd done things like that before on the very rare occasion, but actually get into a pissing contest over who would be a better meal for cannibals with Owen? Perish the thought.
"Still, they'd get a better meal off you. If we get cannibals again, you should cover yourself in ketchup and make yourself an appealing target so the rest of us can get away."
"How about we cover the pair of you in ketchup and let you both be the sacrificial lambs so Gwen and I can get away? We'll promise to remember your sacrifice in the annals of Torchwood for at least, say, ten minutes." Tosh offered with a smile. She felt herself grinning as well, if only because the others were as well. It felt good to be able to joke and laugh with them. After all, it had been the lack of someone to talk about her work problems with that had driven her into Owen's bed, at least partially, so if there was an opportunity for them all to relax and do things like this as a team from here on out, that would be a huge relief for her. For all of them, she suspected, and maybe even Jack as well. They were a fairly small team, after all; there was no reason one person to be excluded, as Ianto had once been and Jack sometimes was.
Still, this was a bit like a holiday. Actually, no, in fact, it was a lot like a holiday, and strange besides that. After all, they had been here for a very long night and part of a day, checking out the area as best they could, given that their equipment tended not to work too well in the cold beyond their hotel rooms, and yet they had still managed not to see any sign of the aliens they had come here after. Either the one in Cardiff was a terrible example of these creatures' stealth, holding true to their adolescent theory, or the creatures had moved on to a new locale with possibly better weather, or they were gone in some other manner... or worse of all, they had never existed. She wasn't really fond of the last theory: it would mean they were here without a purpose. She was giving it one more day of searching before she made her thoughts on the matter abundantly clear.
And the last theory also brought another dark thought chasing on its tail: if someone was sending them off on a merry chase, then who? The information had come from the office of Harold Saxon himself, and something in her prevented her from thinking he would be willing to lie to them for something as dangerous as this. For what purpose would he do something like that anyway? Why get one of the only forces in the United Kingdom with the know-how to fight aliens out of the way, out of the country even, chasing aliens that apparently only existed on or near the Cardiff Rift? No, even Harriet Jones she could believe would betray them like this, but not Harry Saxon. Not a chance. But that could mean someone in Mister Saxon's staff was corrupt...
But speaking of Harry Saxon... "Tosh?" That caught their attention, turning it back to her. "Isn't it about time for the Prime Minister's first speech?" She was interested in seeing it. In light of everything that was happening right now, he should have something to say that might pique their interests. And Mister Saxon was quite bright, after all, being the man behind the Archangel Network: he might even have something to say, in a veiled way that might pertain to what they were doing.
"You actually want to hear a politician give a speech?" Owen sounded derisive, but she would note that he was moving towards the television, trying to see if he could pick up the news in a language they would understand. They had a few nifty U.N.I.T. gadgets with them, one of which was at least portable enough for them to carry with them and get a general translation of what people wearing saying (About like running a foreign language through Babelfish, Owen had cynically declared, and frankly, none of them could disagree), but it didn't work worth a damn on televisions. And even if it did, they only had the one and the screen was tiny, designed more for ease of portability than several people around it trying to all read what it was saying at once.
The lack of a clear station to see what they wanted to apparently frustrated Owen, given the hearty slap he gave the television and give it a few choice words regarding what he thought of it. "I'm getting a clear streaming feed here!" Tosh announced though, saving the day via laptop again. Ianto quickly rearranged the chairs and they dropped down in front of the desk as she finished setting up the visuals, muttering to herself as she completed the commands necessary to keep it running off a satellite link she had set up on the flight over.
Poor Toshiko, on that flight. She had never realised the other woman was a bit afraid of flying, but once they were in the air and somewhere over France, she'd figured it out quickly. She had never seen anyone cling to a seat with such a white-knuckled grip since the last time a designated driver got pissed along with everyone else and conveniently forgot to mention that little fact till the car was in motion. They had come up with things to talk about, discussing their ideas on the aliens that they simply could not find and what to expect, but she suspected Tosh had still spent a lot of that flight thinking of everything except that they were thousands of miles above the ground. Who knew what she had come up with in that time?
When the announcer's voice filled the small room that she and Tosh were sharing, she almost had to smile. It was good to have a touch of home, especially here on what was almost a working holiday. "Mister Saxon has returned from the palace and is greeting the crowds inside Saxon Headquarters."
"Bit like being at home, isn't it?" she commented in the lull as the new Prime Minister smiled to the assembled people.
"Nah, screen's too small." She quickly balled up a piece of paper from the complimentary writing pad and tossed it past Ianto to hit him on the head.
"I'd be watching it at the Hub on the bigger screens in the conference room myself." She almost gaped to hear that come from Ianto.
"And the phones would be working, and there would be pizza on the way," Owen finished. "And decent beer."
"Nutters, the both of you," she muttered under her breath.
"Children... Do I need to separate all three of you?" She couldn't resist grinning at Tosh for the dry yet long-suffering comment. It had been just too perfect. And just a bit better than watching Saxon kiss his wife on the screen; Lucy Saxon had always looked just a bit too pretty and doll-like for her tastes.
Mister Saxon stepped down a few more steps from the rest of his entourage and spoke, the very tone of his voice one of confidence, the air of someone who believed in what he was saying. It was also one of a friend confiding in another, and she figured that was what she had liked so much about it from the beginning. No matter what he was saying or who he was saying it to, it always sounded like he was talking to her in particular and no-one else. "This country has been sick. This country needs healing." She found herself nodding in agreement, and if she wasn't mistaken, she wasn't the only one in the room doing so. "This country needs medicine. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that what this country really needs right now is a doctor."
He was smiling at the screen, but she couldn't make herself pay attention to it. She was just in too much shock, and again, she wasn't the only one. Of course, though, Owen was the first to recover his ability to speak. "He just called him out. Mister Saxon just called the Doctor out."
She found her own voice next, also perhaps no surprise. "He just called the Doctor out on television. All over the world... He just called the Doctor out for the world to see."
"You saw that, right?" Owen continued as if she hadn't even spoken. He turned to stare briefly at each of them as he spoke. "He just did what I think he did, didn't he?" If she didn't know, she would think he was a kid at Christmas, with how brightly his eyes were shining, like Father Christmas had just brought him the toy he had always wanted. If he wasn't a full-grown man who happened to also be her ex, it might have actually been cute.
"Do you have a crush on him now or something?" Tosh piped up, switching off the feed when it was clear there was to be nothing more at the moment. Her voice was just a bit softer and shakier than Gwen had heard it in a while. And why not? After all, their brand new Prime Minister had just issued a challenge to the alien described in such detail in their original charter and hundreds of documents since. Easily hundreds, maybe more. The charter and all subsequent documents about the Doctor and Rose Tyler penned by Queen Victoria and her few surviving entourage - or rather photocopies of those original missives - had been among the materials she had taken with her to her hotel room not that long ago: hard to believe it had only been the night before last. It was even harder to believe Jack had been gone only three days. What was hardest of all to fathom, though, was that they were still alive; she would have never thought they would have made it this long running alone. As many times as Jack had bailed their arses out of sticky situations before, after all...
"Well, maybe I do now." She nearly got whiplash whipping her head back around to stare wide-eyed at Owen. "I mean, that takes... I mean... I mean, the man just basically told the Doctor 'here I am, come and get me' - all over the tele! I don't think anyone has ever had that much nerve in the history of the fucking planet. I hope someone back home recorded that: I'm going to have to watch that again."
She laughed as he reached for his phone and started putting in numbers and shook her head in a bit of disbelief. "You are just so sweet, Owen."
"Like a schoolboy with his first crush." She resisted the urge to pat Tosh on the back for that one. As far as she was concerned, it was a bit masterful. He flipped them off, hanging up his phone without saying a word, and she felt her face fall even as she saw the same thing happening to both Tosh and Ianto. Toshiko was the one to ask the question on the rest of their minds, though. "The phones are still down?"
He tossed it a bit roughly on the desk, so that it skittered a bit, bumping against the side of the laptop. "So much for Archangel being worldwide. Still doesn't work in bumfuck Nepal or the damn Welsh countryside. Can't call out and no calls are coming in. Just the damn 'your network is being upgraded, please continued to be patient' message. I'd like to find whoever recorded that damn message and shoot them. No, tie them up and make them listen to it for hours."
Impressive. She wasn't overly fond of that message herself, but then she hadn't kept trying to get through like Owen had. She had to wonder if there was someone back there Owen was worried about or if he was just be stubborn. If it were anyone else, she would definitely choose the former, without hesitation. It was Owen, though, and she knew Owen so well. It could very well be either option, but if she had to place bets one of the two, she'd go with the second. Not that she was ruling out the other, but the latter just seemed so much more likely with him. Though Owen did seem to have a women in every bar, for a time herself included, he just didn't get attached enough to warrant this much annoyance. It had to be stubbornness.
"Look," Ianto stepped in, his voice soothing, "we're all a little stressed. It's been a trying week, and none of us have gotten any sleep at least twenty-six hours. After all, we got off the plane, checked in and dropped our belongings off, and went straight to searching for these aliens. A bit of sleep wouldn't be a bad thing right now, for us all. Maybe if we look at this in a few hours with a fresher eye, we'll find something we missed. Some vital clue, perhaps."
Tosh nodded, obviously leaping on the suggestion. "That sounds like a good idea, Ianto. We could do with some sleep. I'm going to leave the laptop running in case anything else important comes through."
She hopped into the conversation, grinning as broadly as she could stand to. She hadn't even felt the exhaustion till Ianto brought it up. She'd barely slept at the hotel as it was - maybe an hour to two, three tops, between finishing up her analysis (a copy of which had in theory been sent back to London with Mister Saxon's assistant) and getting up to run photocopies of said analysis - and suddenly the exhaustion was overwhelming. All she wanted to do was sleep. "Now, scoot, boys. This is the girls' room."
She didn't even wait for them to leave, instead dropping down still fully clothed on the small bed on the right side of the room. She faintly heard the scraping of chairs over thin carpeting, but that was about the extent of it before the darkness swam up to swallow her.
"She's asleep already?" Ianto sounded a bit surprised. Personally Tosh wasn't in the least. From what she was gathering from Owen's face, he wasn't either. This had apparently been the needed impetus for his temper to wane a bit. They had all had a stressful few days. No, more than a stressful set of days: a stressful few weeks, maybe even months. It had been a bit non-stop, after all.
Still she shrugged out her thoughts on the matter. "We have all been driving on empty for a bit now. Collapsing sooner or later was inevitable."
Owen yawned broadly, stretching as much as his injury would allow. "I have to say I think she has a marvellous idea. I think I'm going to do the same." And he was out the door, heading to the adjoining room he and Ianto had been assigned before anyone else could put in another word to him.
Ianto winced slightly. She had to say she felt a bit embarrassed as well, the two of them the only ones still conscious and/or in the room. Those two had both been pushing themselves too hard, and while she had noted it, she had done nothing about the situation. She had let them keep pushing themselves till, like now, they dropped. Well, that settled it: she would make a terrible leader if Jack didn't come back soon. And for now all she could hope was that nothing happened in the next few hours.
"We'll be next door, I suppose then," he said softly, obviously trying not to wake Gwen up, unlike Owen. Of course, Owen would know how deep a sleeper Gwen may or may not be. The other possibility was that he was also tired and just didn't give a damn. "The room to the right of this one. Just knock on the wall if anything comes up."
"Of course. Sleep well, Ianto." She smiled a bit tiredly at him as he left the room, closing the door with a quiet click.
She was nearly as exhausted as he had seemed to be. The day before had been nerve-racking, from the heightened fear - no, of absolute terror - that the alien had induced in her which had left her afraid of her own team-mates while it had her in its grasp, to finding out there was an alien in their basement that had made her forget all about her apparently seeing it, to the woman from Harold Saxon's office showing with this assignment, to the plane trip, to searching an unfamiliar area for pitch black coloured aliens. She did wish they had had the time to properly examine the alien before they had been sent off here; abilities like it seemed to possess could be a great asset to Torchwood if utilised properly. A bit like the invisible lift, but perhaps something that did not just randomly appear out of nowhere during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake a few years ago.
She couldn't tell if it was the exhaustion catching up with them all, but they all seemed a bit off lately. Maybe it was a combination of the stress they were all under suddenly multiplying, or the disappearance - no, apparent kidnapping, to be honest - of their leader at a time when they definitely needed him most, or the odd circumstances and place they now found themselves in, but they all were off their game, just a tiny bit, as of late. It was distressing, to say the least.
As it stood, she just hoped they survived to make it home and find Jack. Surely that wasn't too much to ask.
Chapter 15: Epilogue
She didn't remember falling asleep. The last thing she did clearly recall was sitting down on the too hard bed and leaning back against the too lumpy pillows to work on seeing if she couldn't find a workable solution to the phone problem. She vaguely remembered being frustrated by the lack of one that she could come up with using the materials she had brought here with her. She had definitely not anticipated a need to have to fix a buggy mobile network. Archangel was supposed to be global, as Owen had pointed out in his little pique earlier. As usual, she had over-packed a bit with everything she would need to fix her computer if anything untoward happened to it: screwdrivers of various styles and sizes, screws of every size she had been able to find in her apartment and the Hub on such short notice, a miniature hammer for just in case (in case she needed to flatten a piece or in case of co-workers, it never hurt to be prepared), and plenty else besides that.
But fallen asleep she had, though a quick glance at her watch said it hadn't been for long. Maybe fifteen minutes; Gwen had been asleep nearly an hour. What had woken her up, anyway? It couldn't be the fact there was something else in the room. Yes, she was used to sleeping alone, but there was a good metre or so between Gwen's bed and hers, and apparently the other woman was too exhausted to do more than just lie there: she hadn't moved an inch that Tosh could tell, and she certainly wasn't snoring or sleepwalking to have dragged her from unconsciousness.
From the end of her bed, her computer beeped again. In large red letters over the Archangel logo, the screen read, 'Saxon Broadcast All Channels'. A few keystrokes changed the screen over to the news feed she had turned up earlier. Mister Saxon was just settling in to speak, and she spared a half second to glance over at Gwen, wondering if she should wake her up. But then he started to speak before she could make up her mind properly. "Britain, Britain, Britain... What extraordinary times we've had. Just a few years ago, this world was so small."
She felt her eyes go wide. This couldn't be going where it sounded like it was going, could it? Still, she leaned back and banged on the wall behind her bed, startling Gwen awake as well. The only reason she didn't look over to find a gun trained on her was because she had slid it out of Gwen's back pocket after Owen and Ianto left the room. "Wh-What is it?" the other woman sleepily asked, sitting up slowly, even as a second or so later, Ianto and Owen burst back into the room.
"What?" Of course Owen was surly that was a given. Anyone who knew him knew to expect something like that.
"Shush. I believe Mister Saxon is talking about aliens."
Now that got their attention, and before she knew what to do, there were three more people piled on her too hard bed with its too lumpy pillows, all of them trying to see the laptop as their Prime Minister continued speaking.
"And then they came, out of the unknown, falling from the skies." On the screen, a spaceship flew into the clock face of Big Ben, and she sat up a little straighter.
"That was when I met the Doctor!" she exclaimed quietly, conscious of not overwhelming the audio on the feed.
"You've seen it happen. Big Ben, destroyed. The spaceship over London. All those ghosts and metal men. The Christmas Star that came to kill. Time and time again, and the government told you nothing."
This time it was Owen sitting up straighter, looking utterly affronted. "And it's so much better to start a mass panic and risk hundreds of lives than to keep people in the dark and only risk a few trained people? Please."
"Well, not me, not Harold Saxon. Because my purpose here today is to tell you this: citizens of Great Britain..." Oh, something about this gave her a sinking feeling in her bones; this was not going to go well. To her side, Gwen looked almost physically ill with worry. "I have been contacted. A message for humanity from beyond the stars."
He looked to his right and nodded slightly. Another video overlaid the one of the Prime Minister, this one displaying a small metal ball. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was categorising it for addition into the records database: not too big, about the size of a human skull, black with blinking lights on around its centre. When it spoke or the recorded message began or whatever, the voice reminded her of a nursery school child: childlike, with a gait and pitch that adults seemed to lose for the most part. "People of the Earth, we come in peace. We bring great gifts. We bring technology and wisdom and protection - and all we ask in return is your friendship."
"Don't buy it," immediately came from Owen. She couldn't help agreeing. They had me so very few non-hostile aliens in their careers at Torchwood that it was easier to believe the worst than the best. A small nod from Ianto and the determined look on Gwen's face seemed to indicate they were united in this assessment.
The camera cut back to Mister Saxon, and frankly she had to grin at the face he was making at the camera, serious situation going on or not. "Oh, sweet. And this species has identified itself. They are called the Toclafane."
She found Owen's attention turning to the rest of them. "Ringing any bells for anyone here?" She shook her head, holding on to hope for a few scant seconds that maybe she had just been out sick that day or something, but then Ianto and Gwen also shrugged in confusion. So an alien race that Torchwood had never heard of. The whole damn thing c ould possibly have grown more interesting, she was sure, but she wasn't too sure how.
"And tomorrow morning, they will appear, not in secret, but to all of you. Diplomatic relations with a new species will begin. Tomorrow, we take our place in the universe. Every man, woman, and child. Every teacher and chemist. Every lorry driver and farmer. Oh, I don't know, every..." he paused for a long breath, "medical student." He smiled broadly, and the feed cut back over the news announcer. Almost immediately, she cut the volume nearly off and leaned back.
All four of them sat in a sort of stunned silence for several long moments, gazing at the laptop like it had done a particularly impressive trick, before Ianto finally gathered his thoughts and spoke. "I do hope Torchwood Two or U.N.I.T. are involved in this. Otherwise it stands to get very out of hand very quickly."
"And if the Americans get involved, it'll just get worse," Owen complained bitterly. "So we have to operate and hunt our aliens in utter secrecy-"
"Except you don't know what that word means," the other man fired right back.
"-but Mister Saxon gets to announce his on television? On his first day on the job at that! Where's the justice in that?"
"Maybe it's because the aliens he's dealing with are supposedly friendly?" she hazarded a guess. "While we have the ones who want to play Jack the Ripper. It makes a difference, I suppose.
"At least they aren't playing at being John Christie or Peter Sutcliffe." Unsurprisingly that came from Gwen. And somehow comparing their aliens to serial killers made the situation that much more bizarre. "Do you suppose he knew about these... Toclafane before he sent us out here?"
Owen shuddered. "I don't even want to consider it. Why take us out of the picture when there are aliens coming, after all?"
"We do have a bit of a reputation of shooting first and asking questions later," Ianto voiced his opinion softly. "If these aliens are as harmless and, forgive the term, child-like as they seem," and good, someone else had gotten the same 'child' feel from the aliens, "then maybe it's so peace can be negotiated. 'Diplomatic relations with a new species', and all that, as he said."
"There will probably be follow-ups, if you want to stay around to watch," she offered and promptly winced to herself. No way Owen would let that pass by.
And of course, he didn't. "Sorry to disappoint you, Tosh, but even I don't sleep with someone on the first date." She winced again to herself; a crack like that was no doubt assured to set Gwen off in turn, and from the way he looked vaguely uncomfortable, she could just bet he realised it as well.
"Is this a new rule, then?" Right on cue, as she had predicted and Owen had clearly anticipated as well. Gwen probably would not appreciate it in the least that she was at least this predictable to them, but in the face of something like it looked they were facing, it was good to laugh; even Ianto cracked a faint smile.
There wasn't going to be a lot of time for humour soon, something told her, after all.
She had deliberately taunted Owen for the chance to lighten the situation some. For a while it had worked like a dream, far better than some of her plans she made when she wasn't exhausted. Perhaps she needed to make more plans when she was only half-awake, she thought in vague amusement.
Shortly after Mister Saxon's second broadcast of the day, Ianto had gone out to try to get them all coffee. They were all definitely too awake now to try to go back to sleep, after all. Once he'd returned, with the promised coffee and a few light snacks as well, though, they had sat down and started going through the files they had with them. There weren't that many, just what they hadn't cleaned out of their bags from other trips and what she herself had had in her bag and hadn't bothered removing before they had left Cardiff. It had also been amusing seeing what files were available: the grave majority were the files she had had on the Doctor, but there were also some notes on disappearing motorists in Brecon Beacons left over from their nearly disastrous trip to the Welsh countryside (They were sure to never get Owen to go camping again, and frankly she had lost a bit of interest in it herself as well, only species in the universe to camp or not), one or two concerning Guy Wildman and Sandra Applegate and missing nuclear fuel rods ("Not our best job there, but at least we didn't let Cardiff flood," Tosh cast in her opinion), and even a few on the rewired pig and Downing Street bombing.
That last last set of files had naturally led to some fairly good-natured teasing from Owen, while she and Ianto sat around the room, files open near them, grinning broadly. "Don't you ever throw anything away, Toshiko?" he was still going on.
Apparently Tosh was taking a page from her book, as she picked up an empty sugar packet and threw it at Owen, sitting on Gwen's bed. It didn't have the momentum to make the distance, though, and ended up falling to the floor between the two beds. "It taught me a very valuable lesson." Tosh's affectedly prim voice utterly did not match her behaviour nor the grin on her face. "If it looks like a pig in a spacesuit, it might indeed be a pig in a spacesuit."
Gwen opened her mouth to speak and ask if that was anything like something looking the Rift grabbing people but really was ritualistic cannibals doing their once a decade equivalent of a midnight snack, when the computer flashed another news update concerning the Prime Minister; it had apparently been a simple thing for their resident computer genius to add a search for the Doctor back on to her already running search after the Prime Minister's first speech. She leaned back on Tosh's bed so she could see the computer's screen, out of the corner seeing Owen and Ianto moving to Tosh's other side to watch - and she promptly felt her blood run cold.
Right there on BBC 24 was a picture of the Doctor, a little blurry and shot with his head down but definitely the Doctor. Large letters across the screen declared 'NATIONWIDE HUNT FOR TERRORIST SUSPECTS', while the scrolling text continued 'Prime Minister Saxon has taken the terror threat to a maximum, closed all ports and ordered an unprecedented nationwide search for three suspects'. But even that wasn't a third as disturbing as what the announcer was saying: "The ringleader who goes by the name of "the Doctor", with a second, Martha Jones, and a Jack Harkness," she had to wonder if this was what people felt like right before they passed out from shock, "who also identifies himself as 'the Captain'. They are known to be armed and extremely dangerous."
When the topic changed, Tosh leaned forward and switched the news feed back to a background program, staring at the screen in undisguised shock. A half glance to her side showed that the two men look equally as surprised as Tosh and as she felt, but she wasn't too surprised that Owen recovered his voice first. No, what got her was that the first thing he did was look over at her and intone, "You might have been right." Confusion must have shown on her face because he elaborated, "That Jack might be with the Doctor willingly. How did you know?"
She shook her head, suddenly all too conscious of all the attention being focussed on her. "I didn't. I just..." She trailed off, trying to think of what to say that wouldn't be a complete lie but would answer the question. She could tell them about Jack's 'right kind of doctor', she supposed, but it was really more Jack's story to tell if he decided he w anted them to know. "It just seemed like that, if Jack was being held against his will, he would have found a way to contact us. It's what he would expect us to do, at least, if the situations were reversed."
Owen nodded as if that explanation was perfectly acceptable, pushing himself to his feet; something in the back of his eyes told her, though, that they would discussing this in greater detail when they were alone. "All right. We need to get some rest for real now, people. Once night falls, we're going back out there to see if we can't find a few aliens; that's not too long now, so we need to grab what sleep we can. Tosh, you'll let us know if there are any more reports?"
She nodded. "Of course."
"And the broadcast with the Toclafane will be tomorrow, right?"
Again Tosh nodded. "Eight o'clock London time, so around noon here. It promises to be interesting."
Gwen was keeping secrets. That was all he could say with any degree of certainty, and that annoyed him. In fact, with everything else that was going on at the moment, with Captain Jack gone and apparently working in collusion with the Doctor, the Prime Minister sending them halfway across the globe the day before he revealed a new and apparently friendly species of aliens had made contact with him, the phones still being down and no amount of persuasion was getting anyone around here to let them use a phone to call internationally for some reason, the utter lack of the aliens they were sent here to locate, and him having to share a room with the tea boy, when he added in Gwen's new-found closed-mouth policy, it was everything he could do not to give into the urge to start raving like a madman and possibly shooting things.
And when had she gotten so good at avoiding him when he wanted to have it out with her, yell a bit, and in general give her hell till she told him the truth, the complete and total truth? He had tried to get her to come with him last night to look for the aliens, but she'd vanished with Toshiko almost before he could even think to ask her to come with him. And of course, now Toshiko and the tea boy were in the room as well, so he didn't want to start demanding answers. It'd end up going sour fast.
Well, that was fine. She could ignore him all she wanted right now. He'd corner her eventually and find out just what was going on in the little mind of hers. It wasn't like there was anywhere she could go: they were in a foreign country, not a one of them spoke the language, and the translator tool was in his and the tea boy's room. So they could sit all piled on Tosh's and Gwen's beds again, eating what pretended to be chips from wherever the tea boy had gone to get them something almost like a meal, and complain as President Winters droned on and on. Seriously it was getting to the point where he wanted to chunk a stale almost-chip at the screen and hope for it to go through and hit the man. Bloody annoying git.
Over on the desk, one of the mobiles - he wasn't sure which of the ones over there it was - beeped that it was through charging. Bit silly to recharge them when they weren't carrying a signal, but all four of them had completely drained the batteries on their mobiles trying to get through to Jack with no luck. He had found himself wishing one of them had thought to bring their personal one with them: they might have succeeded in getting through. After all, if their wildest conspiracy theories were correct, maybe it was just their work phones that were blocked, though that wasn't a theory he really wanted to invest too much time in trying to prove.
A bit reluctantly, he tuned back into the man speaking on the news feed, since he was finally moving past the 'blah-blah-my fellow Americans-blah-blah-historical moment-blah-blah' bits. "...great day for humanity. And I ask you now, I ask of the human race to join with me in welcoming our friends. I give you, the Toclafane."
And there they were, four of them anyway, four small black balls with blinking lights. Gwen reached over him for the complimentary notepad and pen and pen and started sketching them down. "What, don't think we're going to see them again?" he demanded, still a bit peeved that she had managed so well to avoid letting him question her.
"Doesn't hurt to be thorough." And while he probably could find fault with that statement, right now he didn't want to, not with aliens on the news. At least the television station here was broadcasting it as well, though he couldn't imagine anyone not picking up a historical event like this, blah blah blah. Dear God, his mind was starting to pick up on Winters' babbling.
"...welcome you to the Planet Earth and its associated moon."
This time he did throw the chip he'd been just about to try to choke down at the television. "Jesus Christ, what a wan-"
"You're not the Master."
They exchanged a worried look among them as the things - the Toclafane - continued to speak. No, 'whine' might be a better word for it. "We like the Mister Master."
"We don't like you!"
"This isn't going to be good," Tosh murmured, biting down on one of her knuckles worriedly. At his side, Gwen had stilled in her very rough sketching attempt. On the other bed with Tosh, Ianto's hand had gone white around his coffee cup he was gripping it so tightly; frankly it was a wonder the paper hadn't torn under the pressure.
"I... can be master if you so wish. I will accept mastery over you if that is God's will." Winters was floundering, that much was immediately obvious. He was completely out of his depth, and it didn't look like there was any way he was getting back into his depth with his dignity intact. Still, he could stand to see the man taken down a peg or two.
"Man is stupid."
"Master is our friend."
"Where's my Master? Pretty please?"
In the history of televised blunders, this one had all the potential to be the biggest and the worst ever. Of course the Americans just had to get involved and now it had all gone to shit. But still... 'the Master'? What did that mean? Better still, who?
"Oh, all right then, it's me!" What? Why was the Prime Minister jumping to his feet and grinning like a deranged clown? What did he mean it was him? "Ta-da!" Or a deranged salesman perhaps instead? "Sorry, sorry, I have this effect. People just get obsessed. Is it the smile? Is it the aftershave? Is it the capacity to laugh at myself? I don't know. It's crazy!"
"What the hell?" And with that, Gwen just about summed up everything he was thinking. Probably Tosh and Ianto too.
"Saxon, what are you talking about?" Winters demanded on the screen, the cameras snapping back and forth between them, trying to keep up with one of the world's weirdest conversations. And frankly, for once, he was in agreement with Winters.
He wouldn't want to be in the man's shoes, though, as Mister Saxon - the Master? Master of what? - turned to stare at him, the camera zooming in on his face. "I'm taking control, Uncle Sam, starting with you." The camera held tight on his face as he glanced to his side at one of the Toclafane hovering there. "Kill him."
Tosh's hands clapped over her mouth as Winters exploded into red confetti, for lack of a better way to think of it; his brain seemed to have frozen, and no description was horrible enough for what he had just seen. For an irreverent split second, all he could think was that he was glad Jack hadn't done that when he shot him. Come to think of it, that was about the same expression Tosh had worn when he pulled the trigger on their boss, though without quite as much of the personal horror. Oh well, that was probably because she didn't personally know Winters. Poor bastard.
The cameras captured guns appearing on people he had just been assuming were dignitaries of some sort, not guards or anything. People were screaming. And Mister Saxon, the Master of something, maybe, was laughing almost hysterically, all but bouncing as he clapped his hands and dashed up the stairs to where Winters had stood a few scant seconds before, yelling for the guards as he did. A moment later, he noted Lucy Saxon - Where did she figure into all this anyway? - hurry up to stand by his side to the tune of said guards ordering people not to move.
"Now then!" The cameras zoomed in close on Mister Saxon, and frankly he found himself leaning back from the screen. Somehow Gwen's hand was in his, and she was gripping it so tightly that it hurt. This was real and it was one of the most horrible things he'd seen in all his time in Torchwood and it was real and they were watching it on telly like it wasn't their job to stop this sort of thing from happening - and by God, it was real. That was all he could f ocus on.
It was really happening. Their Prime Minister was working with aliens and had just blown up the American President on television. It should be utterly surreal, but the pain from her grip on his hand was just enough to remind him it was real. "Owen," she whispered, almost too low to hear.
"Peoples of the earth, please attend carefully..."