Tosh re-sets the perimeter alarms as quickly as possible before hurrying through the bead curtain in the tourist office, eager to dump her equipment and head home to her own bed.
The others are waiting by the lift; it arrives shortly after Tosh does and they all crowd in, the smell of damp equipment and unwashed bodies somehow tiredly comfortable in her nostrils as the doors close jerkily. The lift knocks them all against each other briefly as it begins its shuddering journey downward. Their personal luggage awaits them in the tourist office, but there’s still not quite enough room in the lift for four people and their climbing gear, let alone several hefty packs of alien-detecting technology.
Not that all that technology had been much use. Still, Tosh always had wanted to visit Tibet.
There’s an alert klaxon ringing out insistently when the cog door rolls out in front of them, and Ianto moves swiftly to Gwen’s work station as if he isn’t just as tired as the rest of them. The sudden silencing of the alarm leaves Tosh’s ears ringing, but it’s only for the barest instant before another siren whips against her with enough audible force for her to clap her hands over her ears.
If she wasn’t so tired, her first instinct would have been not to stop the sound, but to run for the doors behind them, but it’s too late; the cog’s rolled over with a speed she’s never before seen. Perhaps she might have made it in time, had the first alarm not made her follow Ianto out of concern and curiosity.
“No, no, no!” she cries, hammering her fists against it for a brief moment before she regains enough self-control to run back to Gwen’s station and shoulder Ianto aside.
She sees what the first alarm was for, now--the news feed takes up the bottom right quarter of the screen, a typical split-screen and ticker divide before the display flickers and fills with the face of the Prime Minister, beaming smarmily. Scowling, Tosh closes the feed and pulls up the security panel, but it’s too late.
“What is it?” Gwen’s shouting over the noise of the siren.
“We’re locked down!” Ianto says, barely audible above the artificial shrieking.
“Could you shut that bloody racket off?” Owen yells.
All relief at being back on British soil shrivels as Tosh gives up on trying to override the system and instead resorts to at least ceasing the audio assault.
“I said, we’re locked down!” Ianto bellows, the last booming out into the abrupt silence.
“What?” Gwen says again, in a whisper this time, mobile phone clutched to her chest.
Owen’s beating his fists against the cog door.
“It’s no use,” says Tosh. “It’s an emergency lockdown. Activated automatically in the case of the threat of terrestrial extinction.”
Extinction. Tosh swallows dryly. Surely the context for saying such things requires more gravity, but in the subsequent appalled silence she finds she’s unable to even meet the eyes of her team-mates.
Owen breaks the silence. “So, we’re shut in,” he clarifies baldly, still panting from exertion.
“Or,” Ianto says, sinking into Gwen’s chair, his face pale. “Whatever’s out there is shut out.”
Either way, it looks like Tosh isn’t going to be getting home to her own bed any time soon.
"Right," Gwen says on the anniversary of their second week in lockdown. "Well, I'm not going to mope about here any more." She rubs her hands against the thighs of her jeans, lips pursing briefly as if winding herself up for the next grandiose statement.
Tosh doesn’t respond, even though the intense exhaustion she’d felt a mere 14 days ago when they’d arrived home from the Himalayas has long worn off. If anything, she feels increasingly restless. Even the initial guilty resentment she’d felt towards the President for distracting her by being assassinated by aliens on live television has somewhat faded. She is, however, still sulking enough to prevent her from joining what appears to be Gwen’s new acceptance of their situation.
"Oh, great," Owen says from his sprawl on the saggy sofa, deeply embedded in the groove formed by his slouching body. "Wondering when you'd leave. Don't let the door--" He makes a smacking motion with his hand in mid-air. "--You on the way out." He lets his head drop back onto the arm, lifting his mobile once more to continue his latest round of Tetris and effectively conveying Tosh’s complex emotional state on the matter without her even having to open her mouth.
Gwen snatches the phone away, apparently ignoring Owen's exclamation of protest but moving to stand out of reach nonetheless. Tosh rolls her eyes, turning back to the computer screen.
"If we're going to be stuck in here for god knows how long, I'm not going to spend the whole time chasing down the same dead ends over and over."
Tosh can feel Gwen's eyes boring into the back of her neck, but ignores them, continuing to click and drag the files on her screen into their new, improved directory structure. The third new, improved directory structure she's developed in five days.
"I think we should keep ourselves occupied," Gwen continues.
"Sex," Owen says immediately, clearly paying attention despite the forearm he's thrown over his eyes in pretense of disregarding Gwen's speech. Then again, maybe it isn’t a pretense; his interjection isn't so unusual, and in fact is getting more and more frequent--and more of a non sequitur--every time. "We should all have sex."
It hadn't taken all that long, Tosh reflected, for the polite professionalism between colleagues to degrade into a high-frequency irritation behind a passive-aggressive front. For all of them. Inasmuch as they were polite and professional to begin with; at least they were able to get along with each other knowing that Torchwood was still a day job. All right, well not so much a day job, what with the constant paranoia and lack of regular hours; but at least before they'd all been able to go home in the stretches of boredom between alien incursions.
Gwen makes a swift, repetitive gesture with her wrist to indicate either that Owen is a wanker, or that he should just go and have a wank. At this point, frankly, Tosh is inclined to agree. With both interpretations.
"We should at least have a schedule--get some work done. Or," Gwen continues hastily when Owen begins to moan again. "At least have some fun."
"With a schedule."
"A schedule of fun," Gwen insists, and the hair on Tosh's nape stirs uncomfortably at the fervour that hadn't so much crept as pounced into Gwen's tone. "Activities. Team building exercises. Jack would want us to--"
"Jack would want us to all have sex," Ianto interjects morosely, and it isn't so much that Tosh forgot he was there, just that his suit has become as much of the landscape of the Hub in the past fourteen days as the water tower is. How he manages to keep his clothes pressed and not unpleasantly fragrant is beyond her; all she knows is that his laundering secrets are not being shared with Owen. That, at least, is a certainty she can rely on.
"Well, that's certainly not happening," Gwen says primly, hands smoothing over her thighs once more, and Tosh finds herself meeting Ianto's eyes, certain his expression reflects hers in its foreboding of another tear-filled breakdown about Rhys.
"There are at least four levels of archives below us that haven't had data compiled on them since the seventies," Ianto offers with a degree of hopefulness, his gaze flicking over to Gwen's.
"Fuck that," Owen says. "I'm not spending the next however-long compiling data on bloody alien lava lamps."
"It's a rift in space and time, Owen," Ianto explains with more tetchiness than patience.
"How do you explain that alien disco ball, then?" Owen retorts.
"It's not a disco ball, it's a hyper-detection sphere for--"
"It's round and covered in bits of mirror. And Jack hung it from the ceiling." Owen's heart is clearly not in the argument, bored even with picking at the same bits of Ianto's reserve over and over, yet he continues half-heartedly anyway. "And as far as I recall, he never even told us what it was for, Teaboy, so there's no need to…"
Owen trails off as Ianto stands stiffly and turns, walking away from them in the direction of the archives without another word.
"Owen," Gwen admonishes.
"Oh, for fuck's sake Gwen, use that thing to call someone who cares!" Owen shoots up from the sofa, not bothering to snatch the near-useless phone from Gwen before storming across the Hub and into Jack's office. No doubt to rummage through the drawers in search of more liquor. Not that he'd find any. Ianto had been quite helpful in clearing it out with him in the first place, and they'd gone through all three bottles over the first weekend.
Gwen gives Tosh a hopeful smile in the subsequent silence, broken only by the pattering of water rushing down the tower and into the pool below.
"Sorry, Gwen," Tosh says. "Not quite at the plaiting-each other's-hair stage just yet." It's getting easier and easier to just let whatever pops into her head to proceed directly to her mouth, at least. And it meant that Owen actually leaves her alone more often than not. Funny how things turn out; just two weeks stuck in the Hub with him and that’s something she's grateful for.
Tosh smiles conciliatorily at Gwen's kicked-puppy expression and turns back to her computer yet again.
They still convene in the conference room for at least one meal a day, and that routine is enough of a lynchpin to bring at least some order to the rest of their time. Mainly it's Ianto's fault, he'd got them down to one espresso coffee per person per day, and refuses to serve it up anywhere other than where the team are all sitting around the table. For the rest of the day a percolator steams away in the tea room, magically refilling whenever it threatens to near dregs.
"Oi," Owen says, spraying out crumbs of his rather arid savoury biscuit; the digestives had been consumed within a week. "What happens when we run out of coffee?"
No one challenges his priorities. Tosh had been savouring each cup herself with the same thing on her mind.
"We won't," Ianto says serenely, setting the last mug on the coaster at his place before taking a seat. "I've got enough in storage."
"Enough for what?" Owen asks, then his eyes narrow and he immediately follows with, "And where?"
"Well I'm certainly not telling you." Ianto's expression is bland, his movements almost dainty as he nibbles at the corner of his biscuit, ignoring Owen's scowl.
There's a small pile of the biscuits on a plate in the middle of the table. The first couple of times they'd each tried to open their own vacuum-wrapped packages before eating, Ianto's face had taken on a certain pinchedness with the amount of mess--and waste--they'd made.
There had been a time, Tosh is sure, when she’d found space food intriguing. It's just that right now she can't possibly recall exactly why that was. Jack had clearly nurtured his own fascination with it, if the inexplicably large--though rapidly depleting--stores of it in the recesses of the Hub were anything to go by.
"And while we're talking about Ianto being all secretive and holding out food on us," Owen continues. "Why the hell haven't we been eaten by that bloody pterodactyl, yet?"
"Road kill," Ianto says, not even looking up from his 'meal'. "Chest freezers full of them. And she’s a pteranodon."
"Road kill?" Owen ignores the correction Ianto never seems to tire of making.
"Well we've not been feeding them steak all these years, Owen," Ianto snaps. "The council picks it up, we put it in refrigeration. We've enough to keep Myfanwy and Janet going for a several months."
"The council? What happened to 'outside the government, beyond the police'? Does that not include the bloody council? And that's valuable protein, there, maybe we should be eating it."
Ianto pulls a face and shudders. "I didn't say it was necessarily fresh road kill, frozen or not."
Owen shifts in his chair, straightening and leaning forward a little more. "My point remains, though," he says, pausing as he caught sight of fragments of his lunch speckling the dark, glossy table. He licks the tip of his finger, presses them against the crumbs to pick them up and wipes them back onto his tongue. Ianto subtly cringes, the movement no doubt involuntary. "What happens when we run out of food?"
"He's got a point," Gwen speaks up at last, having observed the conversation like she would a tennis match. She blots up her own crumbs, tip of her tongue dabbing her palm. "Don't you think, Tosh?"
"We can always eat the pets, I suppose," Owen says, as if he's actually considering it, and Gwen and Ianto exclaim in protest immediately. Tosh can't really see the point either; Myfanwy has very little meat beneath her leathery hide as it is, and she's not about to let who knows what alien compounds into her system by eating a weevil, for god's sake. She's just glad there weren't more prisoners in the vaults when the Hub went into lockdown.
"If you're that against it," Owen raises his voice to speak over Gwen's lingering protests of the immorality of it all. "We can always eat the other meat we've got on ice." He shrugs in the vague direction of the morgue and its refrigerated wall of corpses.
The remainder of Tosh's meal suddenly loses what little appeal it had, despite the continuing gnawing sensation in her stomach. She glances at Ianto, sees his lips pressed tight, knows he's remembering the fridge in the cellar of the farmhouse at the Beacons too. Gwen doesn't look that much better off. It's not the first time they've had the food conversation, but it's the first time Owen's goading has strayed that far in his suggestions of solutions.
Ianto swallows visibly. "Won't matter if the generator runs out of fuel before then." He glances around the table. "Everyone'll go off."
"We're low on fuel?" She should have known--should have been paying more attention to this herself, and actually, the part of the mainframe that monitored all their essential systems should have notified her of it.
"Not quite," Ianto looks a little apologetic in the wake of his dramatic statement. "But we will be," he continues softly. "Eventually."
"God, you're morbid," Owen says, as if he hadn't been suggesting they resort to cannibalism moments before. "You going to eat that?" he asks Tosh, sweeping the last bits of her biscuit off the table and into his cupped hand when she shakes her head. He shoves his hand in his face like a horse at a feedbag.
Hours later Tosh leans back in her desk chair, tipping her head back and then side-to-side, feeling the creak in her neck from hours of immobility. There's no natural light coming into the Hub, but the artificial lights have dimmed. It’s the result of a quick-and-easy bit of programming she set up in the first month, ambient lighting at least mimicking the more natural cycles of day and night above them.
Gwen's zoned out on the sofa; dog-eared novel pilfered from Jack's office held up in front of her face. Oblivious, she chews at her own lips, fingers pulling at the hair at the back of her neck. She startles as Tosh moves silently past her, looks up and blinks owlishly before her eyes crinkle again and her mouth stretches into a close-lipped smile.
"All right, then?" she asks, and Tosh smiles and nods back, for a change not feeling the grate of the other woman's personality coupled with an almost-painful clenching of her jaw.
In which case, she might as well make the most of it. Tosh alters her stance, standing more relaxed in front of Gwen instead of continuing her brisk walk onwards, politely not looking at the garishly pink cover of the book as Gwen sets it down beside her, pages splayed open.
"What's on the schedule for tomorrow, then?" Tosh enquires, nodding upward a little toward the sheet of paper taped to the wall above the sofa. It contains an eclectic list of activities, most in Gwen's curly hand but a considerable number in Owen's barely-legible doctor's scrawl, like Practice oral sex and De-sex T-boy w/ singularity scalpel. Letting other people suggest some 'team-building activities' had been one of the compromises between Gwen and the rest of the team that allowed the schedule to exist at all.
Gwen beams gappily. "I thought you could teach us origami, Tosh."
Tosh suppresses a grimace with a degree of willpower that even she's impressed by. "You know how to make cranes better than me by now, Gwen," she says, hastily steering the conversation in an alternate direction. "Isn't it about time for the next dancing lesson?"
Gwen is, in her own words, an excellent dancer. In Owen's words of course, she's “a right twat”, a title that extended to Ianto as well subsequent to the bickering that resulted last time Gwen had decided to teach them 'traditional Welsh folk dancing'. From what Tosh could tell, the argument had been less about Gwen's moves and more about semantics, or, in Ianto's words, the difference between traditional Welsh folk dancing and "that river dance shite".
Gwen's pupils are huge in the low light and her eyes gleaming, the effect more pronounced the wider she opens them. "It was good, wasn't it?" she says, slightly hushed as if in reverence. "Fun, wasn't it?"
Tosh pauses, casting her mind back to watching Gwen and Ianto face off, Ianto managing to maintain his stormy expression despite Gwen's antics below the knee. Owen had practically broken out the popcorn, observing from a safe distance on one of the catwalks.
"It was certainly… entertaining."
Gwen claps her hands together in front of her with such excitement that Tosh startles, and takes it as her cue to walk on, waving a little over her shoulder as Gwen coos a goodbye behind her.
Owen has turned on the surgery lamps in the autopsy bay, unforgiving brightness filling the sunken space as he strides around it. Tosh watches for a moment from the gallery surrounding it, leaning against the railing and hooking her bare toes up over the lower bar.
They all had a set spare clothes in the employee bathrooms, luckily. Gwen and Tosh had bonded over their familiarity with washing their knickers in the bathroom basin, having both traveled as students, albeit to wildly different locales. Even despite that camaraderie, Tosh is still glad that their body types are different enough that they're not forced by circumstance into sharing clothes. The same two outfits of jogging bottoms, teeshirt, pencil skirt and blouse may be boring after several weeks, but at least they're hers. And there always is the rolling up of one’s cuffs to provide a bit more variety.
Owen, however, having failed in his determined mission to get Ianto to launder his clothes, had simply discarded his as they had become unwearable. This hadn’t resulted in as much nudity as might have been expected; as he soon resorted to wearing the scrubs Torchwood Three ordinarily used to dress their corpses before they came to their final resting place in the morgue.
Tosh figures he changes every few days; she’s able to tell by the varying degrees of discolouration and occasionally, the varying sizes of the garments. They don't leave much to the imagination; clearly Owen had decided to forego the difficulty of underpants around the same time he abandoned the rest of his civvies, and as generously as they're cut, the scrubs aren't exactly tailored for living, moving bodies.
Tosh takes a moment to reflect on life as she's come to know it. They've certainly all gone a little mad since being trapped in the Hub. Though the term ‘trapped’ does infer a kind of captivity that makes her feel mildly guilty; they’re sealed in safety, undetectable by the world outside, but also unable to help it. A certain avoidance of that dynamic is undeniably what keeps Tosh from wallowing in a fugue of survivor’s guilt, and Gwen is the only one now who keeps the telly on for any chance Saxon broadcasts, the only one with someone left outside.
Owen, though. Owen looks like he's lost his mind, like an evil scientist escaped from a loony bin as he mutters to himself, rummaging around and sniffing at the huge vat of… something that he's concocted.
This is new. This is why Tosh hasn't been around the autopsy bay for a while. So she can experience something new.
She pads down the steps, wanders over to the examination table while Owen's got his back turned. There's all manner of vials and instruments scattered about on it, but she finds a clear enough spot and boosts herself up onto it, keeping the heels of her palms braced against the edge as her legs swing.
Owen mutters something then turns, jerking and falling back almost comically when he sees her. "Christ, Tosh, I nearly shat myself!"
Tosh pulls a face, decides not to comment, and certainly not about how he could just change his trousers for a fresh, identical pair. "What's that you're brewing, then?" she inquires, nodding towards the vat--she now recognises it as the device Jack has dubbed the 'liquid-alien stretcher', a transportation device for organisms that had too little solidity to be carried around in a body bag. Basically, a giant tin tub with retractable wheels.
"Not brewing," Owen says shortly, turning back to it with what looks like a laundry stick and stirring it around like a giant spoon. "Distilling."
He sneaks a wicked glance back over his shoulder, baring his teeth. It sends an unexpected thrill up from the bottom of Tosh's spine, and she shifts a little on the table.
"Where'd you get the ingredients for this, then?" she enquires, injecting a little sauciness into it.
Owen doesn't turn around, continues to slosh at the tub of clear liquid. "Had it on the go before we even left the country, love," he says.
Tosh braces her hands behind her and leans back a little, shoulders popping up and chest pushed forward. She swings her leg a little further so it brushes briefly against the side of Owen's thigh. The contact only occurs for an instant, but the sensation sparks up from her bare leg and into her solar plexus like she's been zapped.
It's not like she'd usually thrive on human contact; quite the opposite, actually. The occasional inappropriate public display of affection from Jack or clap on the shoulder from another team member had been enough to keep her going without making her uncomfortable. Since the lockdown, though, she'd been too annoyed by everyone for touch to do anything but make her skin crawl.
Owen, though… She swings her leg out again, pinky toe moving the saggy white fabric a little.
Owen glances down. "Watch it, Tosh," he says. "This giant underground base not big enough for you, is it?"
Tosh kicks him, hard enough for him to stumble forward.
"Ow," he says, looking back with an expression of hurt bewilderment.
Tosh rolls her eyes. "Give us a taste then, Owen," she says, not even bothering to try and turn it into innuendo.
"Can't," Owen says. "Not quite ready yet. But here--" He wafts the laundry stick under her nose and her eyes practically water with the fumes that rise from it.
"That's quite…" She blinks rapidly. "Powerful stuff."
Owen nods solemnly. "Could run the SUV on this." He turns away from her again, tossing the stick onto the floor like the precursor to a tantrum. "That is, if we could drive the bloody thing anywhere."
Fuel. That's right. Tosh drops down from the examination table, standing on the edges of her feet, a little more wary now she knows about Owen's moonshine and not entirely sure that it won't eat through the tiles, let alone her skin. More confident in her stride once she's ascended the stairs from the autopsy bay, Tosh proceeds to Jack's office.
The process of enabling the emergency access protocols first involves smacking the correct corner of Jack's desk blotter. Subsequently, the entire panel rotates into the desk to flip up, the mechanism effortlessly transitioning from rude biro doodles to a flat screen display with flashing cursor. Tosh smirks at the Bond-ness of it all, imagining--not for the first time, though boredom gives one's mind a certain degree more liberty--that that would make her M. The Dame’s M, of course.
An M in rolled-up grey jogging bottoms, specs and a scrunchy, but still… She runs her hands along the edge of the desk appreciatively, then taps in the access code. She could get used to this.
Enabling the emergency access protocols is something she probably should have done back in the early days, but if she’s a bit more lenient on herself, they hadn't really needed to until now.
In addition to the survival kit the protocols make available, of course, the protocols activate the Rift Suppressor--a mechanism never used in Tosh’s time at Torchwood Three, a record she’s not particularly looking forward to breaking. But there haven’t been any alerts of Rift activity out in Cardiff since they’ve been locked down; it’s most likely that whatever is going on out there is already interfering with the Rift’s ‘normal’ operation. The Suppressor shouldn’t cause any more damage than a bandage over unharmed skin.
At any rate, the protocols are in place to ensure the survival of any Torchwood employees sheltering in the Hub, even though they weren't set up to automatically activate in case of lockdown. The purpose of lockdown being, of course, not only to keep potential threats to Torchwood out but to keep potential threats to Cardiff in, and it just wouldn’t do to provide such threats with the materials of the protocols’ survival kit.
Despite the fact that Owen's growing pile of chewed-off toenail clippings might constitute the latter, Tosh only feels brief misgivings before confirming the protocols’ activation.
The screen flickers momentarily then is suddenly shining too brightly up into her face as the rest of the Hub's lights shut off. Just for a heart-stopping instant; then they stumble back into a dimmer scheme at the same time the ventilation fans audibly spin back up again from their brief pause. Tosh didn't even know they had the light globes for this; the Hub is bathed in a dull, almost pornographic red glow, only a couple of areas still lit up properly by their own comfort lighting--desk lamp in Jack's office, the reading lamp by the sofa.
The PA crackles in the corner of the room. "Emergency protocols activated,” Jack's voice echoes out through all the speakers in the Hub, low and sultry. "Oh, yeah.”
Tosh rushes out of the office to stand on its ridiculous little porch, looking out over the rest of the Hub. "Sorry," she calls out, glancing about apologetically. Ianto's standing by the Rift pool with eyes wide like a rabbit caught in headlights, body tense as if it's almost about to go into a crouch. Gwen's standing in front of the sofa, book clutched to her chest.
"Sorry," Tosh says again. "Still, better than a siren, wasn't it?"
Owen's voice wafts up from the autopsy bay. "Has that bloody disco ball come down again?"
Apparently the panels they need to access to re-instigate proper lighting in the Hub are protected by maintenance codes. Ironically, these exclude the high-level security codes that Tosh tries to enter, and it's only with assistance from Ianto--who, it turns out, has access to the most mundane cupboards and compartments of the Hub--that she finally manages to get their lighting scheme back to normal. She doesn't mind the delay so much, having learnt after the first month or so that it was better to drag things out and keep her occupied for longer than rush through them and be interminably bored.
It does, however, make for a long night.
She wakes up in Jack's office chair, feeling the lingering vibration of a snore at the back of her throat upon the instant of waking. Her neck aches from the awkward angle, and her hips feel like they're popping back into alignment when she stands.
The jogging bottoms are still too comfortable to take off, so she just pulls the pencil skirt over them. The tee-shirt, though, is a little more pungent after she's spent half the night wrenching wires out of a fuse box and fetching tools from about the Hub (Tosh makes a mental note to scratch 'treasure hunting' from Gwen's list of team-building activities). She tries to avoid the others as she makes her way down to medical storage, which isn't hard as they all seem to be unconscious. Each of them have claimed their own spaces in the Hub to keep clothes and escape from the others, but inevitably they end up sleeping wherever the mood takes them.
Owen's space is unoccupied this morning, so there's no need to be stealthy as she quickly locates his stash of scrubs and swaps off her tee-shirt. The emergency storage rooms, she knows, are more like bunkers than anything else--that, coupled with the rest of the emergency protocols, makes her think that the 'keeping Torchwood agents in' plans were formed at a high point of Cold War paranoia. Their corridors aren't far beyond the main entrance to the archives, but she grabs a torch just to be on the safe side, anyway.
She doesn't need it. Cool fluorescent bulbs ping on automatically as she makes her way up the corridor. Only one door has a keypad available to type in an access code, and she doesn't try any more of the other door handles once she gets to it. Activated by the protocols, the door swings open silently when she enters her access code, lights flickering on with the same cool, glassy sound as they had in the corridor.
The walls are stacked with translucent plastic crates labelled with barcodes and numbers. It's not the first time she's been in here--Jack had given her the tour along with her access codes shortly after she joined, but at the time she'd been too busy trying to fend off his inappropriate touches to query the contents of all the crates in the room. Jack had only opened one anyway, taking out one of the alien fuel cylinders--looking like no more than a tube of clear gel--in order to demonstrate how to load it into the generator.
The barcodes would probably yield all the information she could ever want on the contents of each and every crate, but unfortunately Tosh’s PDA with built-in scanner is not on hand. Instead, she stands on tip-toe and lifts one of the crate lids experimentally.
She frowns, dips her hand into the crate, pulls out one of the packets, plastic cool and slippery against her skin. Socks. Men's white socks. She hauls the crate down, confirms that the rest of the content is the same, then opens the next. More of the same. More socks.
Her eyes scan over the labels on the crates; both sock ones seem to be labelled the same, stacked atop a pile with no variation in the barcodes or numbers. Tosh opens the first different one she sees, this one on a lower stack, so she can look right in. She blinks, surprised for only a moment, then scowls at the box of condoms--just one atop a whole crate of them--facing blankly up at her. On instinct she flips the box over, checking the expiry date--September 2010. Hauling the short tower of crates back from the wall, she unstacks and digs into one of the crates at the very bottom and back. More condoms, with slightly more dated packaging--expiry, December 1980.
Tosh takes a deep breath, forcing herself to remain calm instead of cursing Jack bloody Harkness whilst performing a war dance. If nothing else, stomping on the concrete floor in bare feet would leave her more sore than satisfied.
With little ceremony and expectations greatly lowered she tears the lid off one of the next bank of crates, to find them filled with… tubes. Not of fuel; she recognises the script labelling it Cyrillic rather than alien, and these are made of aluminium rather than clear plastic, labels printed on in orange. And, from what she can deduce by the consistent colour filtering mistily through the translucent plastic of the rest of the crates in the stack, there are an awful lot of them.
Tosh hitches her skirt up to slip one of the tubes into the pocket of her jogging bottoms, not even bothering to replace the lid on the crate before moving to the next stack, unexpectedly relieved that at least there's no surprise with this one. She’ll just need to grab a couple of cylinders of the fuel to keep them going for a couple more months then take her findings back to the rest of the team--
The smell that assaults her nostrils as soon as she pulls the lid off isn't an unpleasant one, nor is it unfamiliar. But it isn’t the fuel cylinders.
The crate is filled with coffee beans.
Bags and bags of coffee beans. In short order she’s ripped the lids off the rest of the stack and gives out a short but primal scream.
She barely registers her return trip to the main area of the Hub, nor Owen's indignant "Oi, that's my shirt!" that follows her as she storms along the gallery of the autopsy bay. In fact, she doesn't register much at all until she sees Ianto standing by the Rift pool again, and she interrupts his moping with a full-body slam.
Ianto crashes to the ground with a yell, Tosh right on top of him, and her hands unerringly find his throat and squeeze. He's flailing and splashing around--they've fallen half into the pool, and it's too shallow there to shove his head under, but she tries anyway. She's shouting something but she's not quite sure even if they're words, and anyway she's not the only one yelling, both Gwen and Owen's voices present over the sound of Ianto's spluttering.
"Toshiko!" Someone grabs the back of Tosh's shirt and she's hauled back only a little way before Gwen's grip slips again, but it's enough for Tosh's hands to draw Ianto back out of the water for a moment and for her to realise that he's sobbing.
Abruptly immensely embarrassed, she lets go and leans back. He makes no move to throw her off or sit up out of the water, though, his face still all screwed up and his chest heaving between her thighs. Owen is still cheering from the opposite side of the pool and, mortified, Tosh finally heaves herself off Ianto's body and onto dry land. Well, dry-ish. She has made quite a splash.
"Oh my god, Tosh," Gwen says, and Tosh grimaces, not ready for another sanctimonious speech about how they have to stick together. Gwen drops to her knees next to her. "You're bleeding!"
Gwen yanks Tosh's skirt up without even a pause, looking at the spreading dark pink stain around the hip of her jogging bottoms. Tosh blinks, suddenly aware of the sharp pain that had occurred on impact with the ground and with Ianto. Owen's beside her, face screwed up in concentration, holding her torso down with one hand and yanking the waistband down over her hip with the other, dodging her kicks.
The air is cool against her skin, as is Owen's brief touch, but it doesn't hurt any more. The skin isn't even broken. Owen frowns, snaps the elastic as he pulls her pants back up, touches the reddish stain suspiciously then lifting his hand up to his nose to sniff. Ianto's dragging himself out of the pool in Tosh's periphery, still weeping; they all ignore him, eyes on Owen's fingers.
"Tosh, love," Owen says, delivering his diagnosis; "You appear to be bleeding borscht."
Ianto avoids her for the next week and a half. He does it well; for the first two days Tosh doesn't even catch the slightest glimpse of him, but on the morning of the third day she wakes up where she's fallen asleep--on the autopsy's examination table, this time--with a steaming cup of coffee positioned within her line of sight on the surgical equipment tray. No one else gets an espresso served to them outside of the usual lunch hour. Gwen and Owen don't have opportunity to heckle her about it though; they're too busy doing avoiding of their own following her--all right, she’ll admit it: Violent Outburst. Owen's been slightly more subdued and slightly more suspicious during his occasional conversations with Tosh, Gwen's just been slightly more suspicious.
By the tenth day after the Incident With The Missing Fuel Cylinders, Tosh has been plied with so much coffee that the smell of it actually triggers a feeling of smugness rather than rage. As if detecting this in the particular way Tosh's nostrils twitch as she holds her nose over the languid drift of fragrant steam, Ianto emerges from the shadows of the Hub looking extremely sheepish, and more than a little wary.
Tosh sighs, takes a last whiff of the coffee that's still too hot to drink, and sets it down on the crate next to her. They've brought a considerable number of the borscht tube crates up from the bunker, stacked around outside Tosh's personal retreat, a long-defunct server room. At Tosh’s direction, Gwen had build practically an entire new room with bricks of thirty-year-old beet soup, expanding Tosh’s domain. Really, the power Tosh wields thanks to Gwen being intimidated by her--albeit temporarily--has gone to her head.
Tosh doesn't apologise. Ianto looks like he's going to, looks like that’s what he's handing over to Tosh: a solid apology. Tosh takes it. It's a cube a little bigger than half a loaf of bread, surprisingly heavy in her hands and made of some unidentifiable material--too dense to be clear, but translucent and very pale, hard scraps of something compressed together into this perfect shape.
"It's the fuel cylinders," Ianto says cautiously, taking the calculated risk of sitting down on one of the crates himself, albeit out of Tosh's reach.
Tosh frowns and turns the cube over in her hands again. Ianto gives a grimace of his own, ducking his head and rubbing his hand against the bared back of his neck. He doesn't meet her gaze. "I didn't know it was fuel, Tosh, you have to believe me. If I had, I'd've never… Even though I was a bit--" He cuts himself off abruptly.
"A bit…?" Tosh prompts, too intrigued at how the crates of fuel to keep the Hub's electricity burning--for decades, at least--had been somehow converted into this block of something to be angry.
"I was a bit ratted, actually," Ianto confesses. He licks his lips nervously before continuing in a rush. "AndIthoughtitwaspersonallubricant."
Tosh blinks. "You… what?"
Ianto's shoulders are up by his ears, like he's got half-way into a shrug and can't quite find his way out of it. "You know Jack," he says by way of explanation, refusing to repeat himself. "And what else he had in storage down there. It was quite a reasonable assumption to make, I thought."
"When was this?" Tosh asks, and Ianto's shoulders drop, as if in relief.
"After," he says. "After he left. Before the call from the Prime Minster came in, when Owen said we could have that time off." It's almost defensive, as if he's anticipating outrage that he was undertaking such activities whilst on the clock.
It's beginning to make more sense, and Tosh doesn't push it any further, backing off in deference of Ianto's intense and obvious flush of embarrassment. She's not Gwen, after all. And there are better things to inquire after.
"But what happened to it?"
"Oh," Ianto blinks rapidly, train of thought diverted. "I put it through the Matter Compressor."
"The… what?" A brush of irritation returns; she's not used to being this clueless about things.
"I'm not supposed to know about it. Or… Well. Jack knows I know about it, but it's not exactly in my job description." Unsurprising; most of Ianto's expertise and subsequent inherent value to the team isn't exactly documented on paper. "It doesn't really compress matter so much, that's a bit of a misnomer, it doesn't even work on that level of base matter, it just… Really, it just rearranges the parts of whatever you put into it--takes out the negative space and forces all the distinct elements of it together. So the bits that were sort-of joined or marginally touching are now… completely together."
Ianto makes an ineffectual gesture in an attempt to illustrate, then frowns at the ungainly explanation. It's obvious he's still eager to appease her, so she nods to indicate her understanding.
"So it doesn't remove anything," she says. "Except that which isn't really there in the first place."
Ianto nods slowly. "I suppose. Yes."
"So this," she gesticulates a little with the cube. "Is essentially a concentrated dose of generator fuel… Can we break bits of it off?" She goes to tap the corner of it against the ground experimentally and Ianto dives forward and grabs her wrist, halting the motion. His face is abruptly very pale.
"No," he says firmly. "It's not possible, the way it's compressed; the relationship between the parts now are more like a vacuum than anything else, but if that's just a concentrated mass of our back-up fuel…"
Tosh catches on, freezes with the cube in her first, looks at it. "Then using this all at once would be like setting off a bomb." A very big bomb. A bomb big enough to turn Cardiff into a very big crater, at least.
Ianto has sunk fully onto the floor now, at her feet. He passes a limp hand over his forehead. "I was going to incinerate it," he says weakly. "That's generally what we use the compressor for. To compact rubbish, make it easier to store and transport before we burn it." He laughs shakily. "I thought I'd rather like to keep this one as a souvenir, though." He looks at Tosh from under his fingers. "Thought I'd rather like to throw it at Jack when he got back. Very hard."
Tosh can't help the laugh that shoots out of her at that, though the shaky feeling just under her ribs seems to mimic the relief and vague horror practically rolling off Ianto in waves. She can't quite tell if it's because they were a drunken, vengeful impulse away from being ground zero, of if it's because she's just realised that Ianto thinks Jack is coming back.
Tosh grips the cube in both hands, though not too tightly. "I think we should put this somewhere very safe," she says, and Ianto nods solemnly in agreement.
"Where Owen can't get it."
Tosh silently agrees. Though what she says is, "You had access to the emergency stores all along?"
Finally Ianto stops looking sheepish. "There's very little in this Hub I don't have access to, Tosh," he says, almost primly, and Tosh resists the urge to roll her eyes. Or make the obvious joke. The latter's more difficult than the former; someone's got to fill Jack's shoes, after all.
Instead, she looks at him sharply. "I haven't forgiven you yet, you know," she informs him, and in response he looks suitably cowed. "We've still only got less than a month left on our current stores."
If they still had the emergency fuel, their reliance upon a self-contained power supply would be a blessing more than a curse. The Hub has always run on its own power supply, preserving it from the whims of blackouts that affected the rest of the city, but also isolating it from the grid in a way that made them invisible. Whoever was out there right now, they wouldn't be finding Torchwood Three by following the trail of any inexplicable power drains.
Of course, unless they found a solution to the fuel problem, there would ultimately be very little of Torchwood Three to be found.
"Where is the teaboy, anyway?" Owen asks later, tone mildly distracted as he fiddles with their translation device; Tosh has just finished telling him the highly-edited version of why the urge had suddenly come over her to throttle Ianto. Once she and Ianto had obviously made amends Owen had gone back to his usual pestering-for-entertainment, but now the story's out--sans Ianto's motivations, because she's not Owen, after all--Owen's surprisingly accepting. Quite satisfied with her explanation, actually. Confessing her motivations for attempting to drown Ianto, Tosh feels like Owen's just inducted her into some sort of elite club.
Owen swears and smacks the device in his hand with the heel of his palm. Tosh winces as the device belches unhappily in his hand, not for the first time. They sit in silence for a little longer as Owen continues to fuss over its settings, Tosh's legs swinging idly again as she sits on the edge of the examination table.
At length, Owen breaks the silence with a heavy sigh, discarding the device once more on the table. "God, the Himalayas were less boring than this," he moans. "At least there was snow to piss on!"
Tosh makes a face, picks up the device from where he's tossed it next to her, pretends she doesn't see the smirk of victory Owen immediately and ineptly hides. She fiddles with the tuning dials briefly before handing it back with a look of admonishment. Owen re-focuses the scanning beam at the aluminium tube on the table, and after the moment the device gives a victorious blip.
"Did it work?"
He waves a free hand at her without looking, expression puzzled at first as he reads the output before he abruptly throws his head back and crows. "Vodka!"
Tosh's upper body actually recoils a little in startlement. "What?"
"Vodka! It says fucking 'vodka'! I can't believe this, Tosh. This is brilliant!"
"But it's not vodka," she feels compelled to point out, already bracing herself for playing into the butt of a potential joke. If it were vodka, no doubt they'd all be as cheerful as Owen is right now. Perpetually. But it's quite undoubtedly borscht.
"I know, Tosh, that's the point," he says, then sets the device down to brandish the tube at her. "This tube is from the Soviet space program. 1975, if I'm not mistaken." He waggles it closer to her face. "They labelled it vodka as a joke. No idea what the hell it's doing here, though. They shouldn’t have produced more than a hundred, at most."
The fact that Owen seems to share her affinity for space food does not pass Tosh by. In fact it settles, rather more pleasantly than the borscht has, in the pit of her belly. She resists the urge to hug her arms about it and kick her legs.
"Then why are there so many of them?" She takes the tube from him to examine it more closely, then frowns. She grabs another from the nearby crate, holds both of them next to each other.
They're identical. Not just in the way that they wear the same label, or even that the ink on those labels share the same dye lot. But in the way that both tubes are slightly age-battered in exactly the same way. Same chips in the ink in the same places, same faint dents in the aluminium at the same points on the tube. She swears.
"What?" Owen shuffles closer.
"They're… Borscht clones," she says, for immediate lack of a better word. "Duplicates. They're all copies of the same tube."
"You think Jack cloned a thousand tubes of beet soup?"
Tosh shrugs, as if to indicate that that was as likely as anything else they could come up with.
"But if they’re all copies… Where's the duplicator now?"
Good question. If they had a duplicator, they wouldn't have to survive on borscht. Or worry about the pterodactyl eating them when they ran out of road kill.
"You're still hoarding the last of your biscuits, aren’t you?" Tosh asks, and Owen's eyes narrow in possessive suspicion.
"Yes," he says. "Not living off this shite for the rest of my life.” He tosses one of the tubes carelessly back into the crate. “Need to break it up a little."
"Good," Tosh says firmly. "Don't eat them all. I'm going to find the duplicator, so we'd better still have something left to duplicate that isn't beet soup."
"I'll put aside a set of scrubs as well, then," Owen says decisively, and Tosh pauses where she's just boosted herself off the table again. She raises an eyebrow.
"What?" Owen says, tossing both tubes of the soup back into their crate and raising an eyebrow of his own, looking back at her over his shoulder. If Tosh didn't know better--and she does, she really, really does--she'd think he was trying to be coy. "Can't have me walking around naked, can we?"
"You're right." Tosh rolls her eyes as the moment--what little of it there was--is well and truly broken. Might as well get in her own dig while the opportunity's popped its head up. "The world certainly isn't ready for that. And considering that your cast-offs go into the hazmat chute, I'll certainly requisition the duplication of a countless number of outfits for your personal use." Owen blinks a few times. "For the good of humanity and all that."
Owen's expression has shifted into a mix of surprised and wounded. Tosh doesn't feel guilty about it. If she's learnt anything from her forced isolation with the rest of the team, it's that turnabout is fair play, every time.
She turns again as she reaches the top of the stairs to the gallery. "And don't think I don't know that you're hoarding loo paper as well," she says, waving a finger at him even though he keeps his back turned. "You'd better set aside a roll of that or we'll just see how much good is in humanity after all."
Ianto is markedly absent. It's not inexplicable; now that she's got a purpose again Tosh herself has been spending less time drifting about the main Hub with the others. The only thing to break up the days is Gwen's activity schedule, with the rest of the team going through varying stages of boredom that either lends itself to submitting to Gwen's whims or being violently irritated by them.
Amusingly, Owen takes to the team-building exercises more than any of them (bar Gwen, of course), though Tosh suspects this is either because Owen likes to be around to observe the minor spats that inevitably break out when Gwen tries to exert her control, or because he's trying to get into Gwen's pants. The again that follows that thought isn't as bitter or hopeless as it used to be, Tosh likes to think she's moved on but when it comes down to it, it just doesn't ping on her caring radar much at all these days. She's still interested in Owen, yes--she can't imagine there'll be a time that she isn't, in some way--but really. There are more pressing existential crises to have than one that concerns a long-term crush on a colleague.
Besides, Tosh thinks it might not be so bad if Owen succeeds in his unsubtle attempts to woo Gwen away from the absent Rhys. At least then someone will be having sex. Perhaps that alone would be enough to dispel some of the ambient tension that seems to infuse the Hub perpetually and is near-constantly on the edge of Tosh's mind, driving her just a little more crazy.
Most of the activities on Gwen's list had been struck through as accomplished, with few of them underlined for repeats in the schedule. Owen's personal favourite--Pelvic Floor Exercise Workshop--has been both struck through (by Gwen; cancelled due to lack of attendance, because Tosh… Just, no) and underlined (Owen had set up a deck chair and everything); while they'd decided en masse that some activities, as successful as they had been, simply oughtn't be repeated. (Owen had been startlingly good at the "Meal Presentation-slash-Ice Carving" session, wielding his bone saw on the blocks of frozen borscht with awe-inspiring precision. Frozen, the beet soup was somewhat more palatable despite the lewd shapes Owen had carved it into, and though most of them had snuck off to their own corners to savour it, their lips remained a telling shade of vivid magenta for a few days subsequent.)
Gwen had personally underlined her favourite team-building activity of hand sewing, despite the fact that its first instance had ended in tears--Ianto's, to be more precise. He'd escaped as soon as she suggested it but that hadn't stopped her from claiming pieces of the suit he hadn’t then been wearing--"There are so many pieces of it, after all, that's far more items of clothing per-capita than the rest of us have; it's only fair to share them around." The resulting garment had turned out downright Frankenstinean, and not only because the only sewing equipment at hand were in fact more pilfered surgical instruments.
It hadn't stopped Ianto from wearing it. Gwen had hacked the sleeves off his shirt at the elbow, unstitched the seams that had made them into their natural tubular shape, flattened them out and sewn the ragged edges to the edge of the shirt's collar. Gwen had called it a "post-modern riff on the Elizabethan collar (for pets)", but to Tosh what it resembled most was a demented cape. It only fluttered when he was trying to escape someone (Owen) or something (Gwen's List, which by this point had gained a capital L). Very rarely did he achieve the velocity for it to actually flap or, heaven forbid, billow.
Tosh finds herself unable to withhold respect for the persistent wear Ianto gets out of the shirt, and the dignity with which he wears it. Even if the effect is undermined a little by the fact that he's currently wearing one of Gwen's tee-shirts under it. The tee-shirt, in fact, is the weakest part of Ianto's current ensemble. He just doesn't have the figure to carry off the 80s-retro baggy tee, cut to slouch suggestively against Gwen's curves, but at a loss with Ianto's rationed leanness, draping right over his hips with nary even a speed-bump to halt it before mid-thigh, sagging more at the neck line and chest than it really ought. The capped sleeves, at least, are mildly flattering. And at least it isn't decorated with huge neon text, either. Gwen had only experimented with that phase once before Jack had reminded her that Torchwood was in fact outside the government, beyond the police, and above the United Nations and therefore unable to align itself with ideological slogans such as "CHOOSE LIFE". Privately, Tosh suspected it had very little to do with political alignment and more to do with some personal beef of Jack’s with WHAM!
Ianto clears his throat mildly, and Tosh's gaze returns to his face. His cheeks are a little flushed, and he blinks rapidly, smile only mildly uncomfortable.
"Tosh!" he says pleasantly enough, then waits expectantly.
Tosh flicks her gaze over his shoulder to the Matter Compressor. Taking in the blinking lights on its interface and data refreshing over and over on its tiny screen, she feels her eyes narrow in suspicion.
"What are you doing?" she asks without preamble, trying to brush by him to get a closer look at the display. She gets alongside his shoulder--nose height, actually--before an olfactory wave so strong it's almost solid makes her stumble back again. "Oh my god," she says involuntarily, her hand flying up to hold against her nose and mouth. She looks up again into his face, her sense of alarm increasing, and this close she can see that in accompaniment to the less-than-savoury smell currently wafting off him he's not entirely clean.
Ianto notes her reaction and in response his posture becomes more crestfallen, and although in ordinary circumstances such a display would have her breaking out the subtle gestures of sympathy, this time she's brooking no quarter. She's not had problems with co-workers' body odour before, but this is beyond the pale. "What the hell is going on?"
"I'm sorry, Tosh," Ianto says. "I wanted it to be a surprise." This does not in any way alleviate the rising panic; Ianto in addition to surprise is not a formula that has had any positive outcome during her time at Torchwood. He steps aside at last as the Compressor dings, almost microwave-like, and she comes face-to-face with the results of his latest devious machinations.
It's a cube. Another fucking cube. She picks it up from the Compressor's output tray between her thumb and forefinger. It's smaller than the Lube Cube was, about the size of half a brick but a bit heavier than that; very hard and very brown.
"It's our new fuel." Ianto looks mildly embarrassed--as he should, she still has her free hand covering her nose, though he's considerately now standing a few paces away--but also somewhat pleased with himself.
"What is it?" she asks, though she already suspects--
"Waste," Ianto says proudly, then when Tosh immediately swings back her arm to fling the block away from her, an action with very little thought-- "No, no--not human waste. Myfanwy's."
Tosh pauses in her movement and Ianto babbles on. "Well I have to muck her out anyway, and usually I incinerate it but I thought this time--well, more primitive civilisations have been burning yak dung and bullock dung and all kinds of waste for millennia as fuel, they even used it to build their houses--"
She rather thinks that Ianto's leaving out some of the more pertinent developments in the evolution of human self-sufficiency, but nonetheless she's beginning to catch on. "I take it you undertook a chemical analysis of the waste before you decided to compress it?"
Ianto nods, finally starting to do himself some favours with the list of notable components he reels off after her question, and Tosh has to admit that she is impressed. Though not enough to breathe through her nose yet.
"It's quite combustible," he says in conclusion, and then, more hesitantly, "I think a cube per week ought to keep us going perpetually. And Myfanwy produces more than that." He gestures towards the compressed cube that Tosh is holding. It feels quite sanitary, actually, utterly dry and not a whiff of scent. "In fact, we could even stockpile." He says the last with such relish that she's hard pressed not to roll her eyes. His tone is so eager, though, she diverts the urge into an appraising smile his way. His shoulders slump a little, in relief this time.
In the generator room, the ozone scent of the moving metal parts overwhelms the smell of pterodactyl faeces enough that she's able to stand somewhat closer to Ianto again, and they both crow with glee at the sudden surge of heat when the brick is dispensed into the fuel receptacle, their shoulders knocking. The moment is somewhat primal, she has to admit, and makes note to strike through 'cave painting' on Gwen's List, the activity abruptly a little too close to home. And not even metaphorically speaking.
"So," Ianto says when the roar of the machine has died down again to the sleek sounds of well-oiled pistons moving rhythmically. "Am I forgiven?"
She sways a little as if to bump shoulders with him before thinking better of it; mainly due to the state of his clothes. She’s not quite yet willing to give over, but feeling generous enough for a bit of praise. "You'll know when," she says, waggling her eyebrows at him experimentally before turning to go and tell the others the good news.
"I've figured it out," Owen announces. "Oi, Tosh," he says when she doesn't immediately switch her full attention from her computer to him. Or any of her attention at all, really. "I said, I've figured it out."
She sighs heavily, not ceasing her rapid tabbing through the archives' suggested results from yet another search for the duplicating device. "You've figured what out," she says blandly, not even bothering to phrase it as a question, knowing that Owen just needs some kind of response in order to continue with the Starring Dr. Owen Harper script he's written up for the occasion.
"What we can do with all those socks." He moves about until he's crammed against the railing that her computer's backed up against, squeezing himself into her line of sight.
Tosh takes a deep breath, removes her hands from the keyboard, takes off her glasses, folds them, places them on the desk. She waits expectantly.
"We need to make a porn film."
Tosh picks up her glasses, brings the monitors back into focus, rapidly identifies where she's up to and begins tabbing again.
"Hear me out, Toshiko," Owen says, jiggling earnestly a bit and making her monitors shake. She stops their movement by pressing the palm of her hand against the edge of one, refusing to look at Owen again. "It's perfect. We've got all the white socks to wear, and all those condoms, and the bloody disco ball--"
"It's not a disco ball," she says automatically. "It's a--"
"A hyper-detection sphere for blah blah blah, I know," he says with her, waving his hand impatiently. "It's almost like he set it up for us."
She looks at him over the tops of her glasses. "Since when have you been inclined to do what Jack wants?" she asks, but he ignores her--clearly not part of the script--instead tapping his chin with his fingers and looking up off into the Hub as if deep in thought.
"All that's missing is the lube…" he muses, as if genuinely puzzled at its lack. Tosh grimaces at the abrupt reminder of the Lube Cube, and of the similarities between Owen's line of thinking and Ianto's. Men, she huffs mentally; not entirely fairly, she knows, but enjoying the brief flare of superiority it results in.
"Jack's quarters," she finds herself saying, fingers tapping away again in autopilot as her eyes flit through the pages of results. "Army chest, beneath the bed, second along, red cross stamp on the lid."
She refuses to be embarrassed when she realises that Owen's staring at her in silence. She returns his gaze frankly, chin tipping up a little in defiance. "What? You haven't been down there? Tell me you haven't gone through every single part of that office you can get your hands on. Or is it my recall of inventory you find problematic?”
"That's not the point, Tosh," Owen says, but is not forthcoming as to what the point in fact is.
"You're right," she says. "The point is, we're not making a porn film. I'm not making a porn film." She flaps her hand at him, fumbling with the other to locate a pen on her desk, scribbling down notes from the screen into a notepad. "Go ask the others."
Owen looks crestfallen, and Tosh feels herself involuntarily pitying him a little. Old habits and all. "I can operate the CCTV for it from here, if you like," she begins, and Owen's practically pouting now.
"Doesn't matter," he says. "They already said no. I thought that if you said yes, you might be able to convince them…"
Tosh snorts. "Hardly," she says, then hops off her chair, smoothing down her skirt automatically before tearing the top sheet off her notepad. "Where are they, then?" she asks, then hurriedly adds, "Not that I'm going to help you with this."
"Gwen's pairing the socks," Owen gestures in the direction of the bunker, where the majority of the useless supplies still remain. "Ianto's in the work lab, doing some home improvement or something just as boring." He sounds more dejected than scathing about it. Tosh pats him on the shoulder a couple of times before heading in the direction of the lab.
Ianto's hunched over the light-table, slightly smoking soldering iron in one hand and bundle of wires in the other, but he straightens with the rapidity of a jack-in-the-box when she enters the room.
"Tosh!" he exclaims with the same pleased enthusiasm he does every time. Frankly, she preferred it when he greeted her with a coffee at her elbow, disappearing again just as rapidly--and silently--into the Hub like a butler-shaped shadow.
He is fully decked out in a suit today, which gives her a degree of comfort. Although the waistcoat is unbuttoned and tie holding his hair out of his eyes back like a bohemian scarf, knotted at the back of his neck. He and Owen both manage to remain clean-shaven; but although Owen's willing to let Ianto have at him with Jack's straight razor, neither are willing to let Gwen near them with the scissors. Tosh doesn't blame them, though she thinks she carries off the shaggy look with a little more dignity.
While on Owen it seems to oscillating between--yes--70s porn star and cave man, with Ianto's changeable wardrobe it seems a toss up between boho and beat poet. Steampunk boho beat poet today, maybe; he's got one of the magnifying devices strapped to his face, which ordinarily might look quite impressively high-tech but had in actual fact been recently repaired with parts cannibalised from their sole, now deceased, electric razor. She's relieved when he pulls it off and his right eye goes back to its ordinary size again.
"Happy to see me?" she says brightly, hesitantly humorous, preparing to butter him up for assistance in navigating the archives for a potential hit on their duplicating device.
He smiles almost shyly in response. "Of course. I was hoping, actually, that you might be able to help me with this." He gestures to the mess of wires and gears on the table before him, and Tosh finds herself automatically intrigued by the tangle of technology.
"Trade you," she says, already pulling up a stool at his elbow as he shifts over. She hands him her scribbled notes. "Help me find this duplicator and I'll help you build your--?"
Ianto's grinning at her, their faces rather close together as they cram close together on the stools over the project. "Jetpack," he says.
Tosh breathes in through her nose sharply at the sudden prod to wakefulness by the soft voice. She doesn’t open her eyes, though, still mostly under and not willing to be up again so quickly quite yet. Sleep still buffers her from the world around, though the bubble’s rapidly thinning; gradually she can feel the broken springs of the sofa digging into her hip, smell the not-quite-rightness deeply infused in the cushions, feel the cooling drool glueing her face to said cushions.
She opens her eyes. Gwen beams at her from inches away. Her face is sideways--well, Tosh’s must be, she supposes she’s still lying down--and it makes the gap in Gwen’s teeth look like a dark hyphen in the middle of Tosh’s field of vision. It flashes white in the after-image when she screws her eyes shut again; her reflexes have given up being wasted on such things as being woken by lack of personal space a long time ago.
A waft of cool air hits her face, followed by Gwen saying her name again--voice slipping into irritating sweetness--and something tickle’s Tosh’s nose. She bats it away, and when the sensation returns with barely a pause she resigns herself to the fact that she’s stuck in the Hub, has been for some months, will probably be for some months more and she is going to fucking kill Gwen.
The swearing helps, even when it’s only internal. She saves it up for special-ish occasions, dreads the day that it’ll lose its weightiness. Tosh sits up, then opens her eyes. Gwen is still staring at her, still smiling, crouched in front of her on the ground before the sofa, holding a sheaf of coloured paper.
“There you are,” Gwen says happily. She wafts the paper in Tosh’s direction again. “Thought I’d put you on bouquet duty, if that’s all right.”
It’s not even a question, and Tosh just looks at her blankly. Gwen tips her head almost coquettishly, reaches behind her ear and twirls--oh. That’s a flower she’s got tucked behind it, little more than a scrunched in-and-out concertina of paper, its stem a ball point pen. It appears to be trying to communicate its desperation to Tosh through the random scrawls it’s leaving on Gwen’s neck.
Tosh nods, hoping it’ll make Gwen go away, at least, and her hopes aren’t unfounded. Gwen rises with some grace and swishes away after giving Tosh one last smile.
Tosh stares. Gwen is wearing a dress. A white dress. A dress made of… Yes, okay: a dress made of men’s white socks. A sweeping neck (and back) line; a full, draping skirt; what appears to be the beginnings of a bustle.
Tosh continues staring as Gwen trails over to where Owen’s perched up on a railing. Owen’s wearing a bridal veil--or perhaps a trail, hard to tell with its askew positioning--also made out of socks. He meets Tosh’s gaze with a bland, expressionless one of his own. He’s also got a flower of his own--it flops sadly on the end of a pen as he rolls it around between his teeth.
Tosh turns to the pile of coloured paper in her lap and discovers they’re requisition forms. Pink for medical supplies, mint green for stationery, buttery yellow for electronic hardware and powder blue for… Prophylactics and other forms of contraception. She sighs and drops her head back against the back of the sofa, then frowns and reaches up a tentative hand. The side of her head doesn’t feel quite right; ear too cold, her hair not falling as it ought and a tugging pinch on her scalp. Her hand alights cautiously and the pinch increases briefly when she shakes her head. The hair on the other side of her head--the side she was lying on--still brushes reassuringly against her cheek; it seems just the one side has been braided while she wasn’t conscious.
The lack of re-appropriated socks indicates that she’s not intended to be a member of the bridal party. For that, at least, she’s grateful.
Tosh starts folding the paper. “You make a lovely bride, Gwen,” she offers as she’s tying up the centre of the flower bud with the dental floss Gwen’s left on the arm of the sofa. Gwen twirls in response, and the skirt of the dress flares out--quite impressively, actually.
“We’re having a stag night,” Owen offers, still chewing. His wide mouth is faintly tinged with blue, and from the way that the colour’s also trickling down his chin, Tosh identifies it as ink rather than hypothermia. “Sex for all.”
“Hen night,” Gwen corrects distractedly, though whether she is ignoring or pointedly not correcting the latter part of the statement, Tosh can’t tell.
“Sod off,” Owen says, twitching a little to deliberately throw Gwen off as she fiddles with a needle and thread in the veil near his ear, attaching yet another sock. Maybe it’s a train more than a veil, unless Gwen’s planning on cutting eye holes in it. “I only agreed to do this if I could be the best man, not the bloody maid of honour.”
“You’ll always be the best man to me, Owen,” Tosh says without thinking, then feels a bit sick in a hopeless sort of way. She keeps her head down, adds another flower to the stack, is grateful that the braid pulls her hair up and away from her face on the side that’s not facing Owen. When she glances up again, though, Owen’s still looking at her, grinning.
“Not that there’s any competition, eh, Tosh?” he says, and it’s quite obvious that he’s forgoing the opportunity to flirt with her in order to yet again slight Ianto.
Gwen’s picked up on it too, it seems. “I wish he’d pop his head out,” she says, and twists to look over her back to where the dress trails on the floor. “I need my hems done again. And a page b--Ianto!”
Ianto’s standing at the other end of the sofa, expression somber and entirely inscrutable as he observes them. Tosh feels reflexively guilty, even though it’s not like she was engaging in Owen’s latest round of ‘let’s-mock-the-teaboy,-even-in-absentia’, but, well… Sometimes she just feels guilty for liking Owen. (Sometimes she feels an entirely different kind of guilty for liking Ianto but she really isn’t thinking about that much at all, certainly not.)
Ianto’s gaze is on her now, and to make herself feel better, at least, she holds out the latest pen-stemmed request for the purchase of prophylactics she’s just folded. He stares at it, long enough for her to become slightly embarrassed, suddenly self-conscious about her half-braided hair, the traces of drool on her cheek, the pile of paper flowers on the sofa next to her.
Ianto blinks, takes the flower. Feeds the pen into a buttonhole on his waistcoat. When he looks up again his face has tightened up a bit, jaw working and eyes very serious as he looks at her. “Tosh--”
“Ian-to!” Gwen trills, and Tosh turns at the sound of her skirts swish-swishing along the concrete floor. “Could you come here for a second, love, I just need you to--Oh my god!”
Gwen and Owen exclaim simultaneously as Tosh gives out a shout of her own, an instant after a very sudden, very unexpected noise and blast of air that flings Tosh’s sheets of paper into the air. And Ianto’s not there any more. A faint scent of burnt coffee permeates the air.
“What the fuck!” Owen shouts, no longer perched on the edge of the rail but stomping around in front of it. “What the fuck! What the fucking fuck was that?!” The trail’s torn from his head in his vehement gesticulations, flopping around like a flag of surrender where it clings to his arm.
In contrast, Gwen’s standing still as a statue. A very surprised statue. A statue staring directly upward, jaw dropped wide open.
“That,” Tosh says, more than a little awed herself, despite her prior knowledge--though, she’ll have to admit, she hadn’t really expected that demonstration. “Was a jetpack.”
“A jetpack?! A fucking jetpack?! Where the fuck did he get a fucking jetpack!?” Owen finally stills as well, peering up into the Hub’s heights, dim around the water tower. “And what the fuck is that smell?”
“Coffee,” Tosh says. “It runs on coffee grounds.”
“Fucking hell,” Owen says again with feeling, finally calming into the quieter stages of shock. “Bloody fucking hell.”
Two hours later Ianto emerges from the corridor that leads to the lift-stairs-ladder trail up to Myfanwy’s eyrie. He’s walking rather slowly, dragging a somewhat-battered and obviously very full sack behind him. It’s also a rather pungent sack. Thankfully, he leaves it above the stairs that lead further down into the Hub and makes his slightly wobbly way towards where Owen and Tosh are sitting on the sofa. Gwen is standing, still staring upward, a few steps away.
“Well,” Ianto says. “That went rather well, I’d say.” He smiles weakly; this close his face is a bit paler than usual, and there’s a smear of blood at the corner of his hairline.
Owen swears and stands up, shoving at Ianto’s shoulder until Ianto slouches enough for Owen to get a look at his head. To Tosh at that moment they look like nothing other than a pair of apes; Ianto submitting in feigned disconsolance while Owen grooms with a scowl.
“Think I need to work on the landing,” Ianto explains to her. “Well, think I need to--land.” He looks a little sheepish, waves a hand vaguely upward to gesture to his head without getting in Owen’s way. “I sort of… Hit the roof.”
Owen snorts, only a little meanly. “Bloody Astroboy.”
Tosh’s spirits tentatively rise again when they start feeding the generator in earnest; though they’ve still had no luck locating the inferred duplicator, she’s not spending so much time sleeping on the sofa any more. Myfanwy is an excellent source of natural fuel, and has her quantities right and everything; she produces about as much in a week as takes eight days to burn.
Although, Ianto tends to jet his way up there more than once a week. One doesn’t need to be a sociologist to comprehend the epic struggle that plays out between Owen and Ianto whenever the latter appears with the pack strapped to his back. Honestly, they really are not much better than a pair of apes, their agitation constantly feeding off each other in the battle for dominance and ownership of the new toy. It’s a catch-22, almost--the more Owen tries for it, the more Ianto uses it to escape, the more Owen is tempted…
(And it’s a not battle without casualties: in a twist that kept Tosh and Gwen going for several hours, Ianto had appeared wearing the post-modern riff on the Elizabethan collar (for pets) in an attempt to hide the jetpack from Owen’s view, but to no avail. Owen had simply made a successful grab for it and Ianto’s simultaneous take off had been been in no way hindered; with a tearing sound that could still be heard over the burst of combustion, the ruined cape was left dangling in Owen’s fist while Ianto continued upward.
And they hadn’t expected him to reappear any time soon after that anyway; despite Tosh’s assistance in building in a sort of aerodynamic rudder to help control the trajectory of the pack, it’s still only a one-way device--up--and its pilot inevitably faces the long walk back down from the eyrie after making such a speedy exit. Even so, it was a little longer than usual that time, and Ianto appearing more bedraggled than the slow descent usually caused, more ragged at the edges than being unexpectedly bare-chestedness provides leeway for--and, actually, a little damp, too.
“She groomed me,” he’d said in a faint voice, and Owen hadn’t fought to have a go of the jetpack since.)
They slip into a lull of boredom that Tosh fears is more stagnation than anything else, though at the very least each other’s company becomes incrementally more bearable. Things are changing between them--oh, who’s she fooling, of course they’ve changed, it’s been bloody months down here with no one else--but she feels like her emotional response to it all has plateaued in a way. She’s reached a state of cohabitational zen.
The only one of them who doesn’t seemed to have achieved such a state is Gwen, something made more obvious now that Tosh’s automatic reaction to their personalities rubbing up against each other isn’t irritation. Torchwood really is all Tosh has had to keep her going day-to-day for a long while before the lockdown, so reaching a communal balance with her fellow team-mates is practically utopic in a way. But bloody Jack had to go and hire Gwen--Gwen with a live-in boyfriend, a bloody fiance, who is most likely (and there is very little doubt about it in Tosh’s mind) dead.
“Come on, then,” Owen says eventually, having petted Gwen’s hair to the point that’s she practically comatose against his shoulder. Tosh is loitering in the galley below, feeling enough pity for Gwen to be guiltily nearby, though it’s not enough to overcome the intense awkwardness of trying to offer the other woman any kind of comfort. She’s never been good at that sort of thing, whereas sometimes Owen’s rare bedside manner makes an appearance alongside a genuine charm, coalescing into something not quite as sleazy or acerbic as he ordinarily is. “Hen night.”
“Stag,” Gwen mumbles, and sniffs wetly. Owen doesn’t even flinch at the sound, even though she’s practically buried in his shoulder. Lacking in medical training, Tosh grimaces on his behalf.
“Both,” he says, and pats Gwen’s head one last time before he stands. His eyes seek out Tosh’s immediately. “Give us a hand, will you, Tosh?”
It’s not as if they can go out on a pub crawl or anything and even Owen’s home-made booze experiment is yet to bear fruit, so it’s inevitable that the pleasure of it ends up in the preparation. Owen breaks out the bone saw again--inappropriate borscht ice lollies made suddenly appropriate by the context--and Ianto brews and freezes a batch of industrial-strength coffee in ice cube trays. They’d run out of milk within the first week, and in an exemplary demonstration of the ripple effect, the sugar had been all used up not long after that. It’s quite palatable to crunch up ice blocks of espresso, though, and in lieu of alcohol (though Owen informs Tosh that that’s only a matter of time) the caffeine provides them with a certain buzz.
Gwen and Tosh get halfway through the decorations--paper flowers sprouting from the back of the sofa, beneath the sofa, and stuck within numerous miscellaneous stationery holders--when Owen walks up from the autopsy bay again. They’ve all dressed for the occasion, but Owen has foregone his current pair of beet-stained scrubs for… socks. It’s one long continuous strip of them, Tosh realises, and recalls Owen actually participating in Gwen’s sewing workshop. The strip’s wound all around Owen’s torso and shoulders like a mummy’s bandages.
In their current caffeinated state this is, of course, hilarious; even moreso when Gwen grabs a toe that’s sticking out of a knot and yanks Owen down onto the sofa, and Tosh can barely breathe she’s laughing so hard. Gwen herself is dressed as close to the nines as she can get; dapper in one of Ianto’s waistcoats and matching trousers, and while the tailored cut hangs off her frame intriguingly while she’s standing, when she’s wriggling around beneath an similarly squirming Owen, the intrigue is forsaken for… Well, Tosh is fairly sure she just saw a nipple.
She’s fairly sure Owen just saw it too; he flails his legs a little more, taking advantage of Gwen’s laughter to shake him into a more comfortable position practically on top of her, then turns to Tosh. She’s within reach, right there on the sofa, and he grips her wrist and raises an eyebrow, grinning lasciviously. Tosh abruptly stops laughing, though her diaphragm still pulls and pushes the air violently in and out of her lungs. Then she realises that Gwen’s actually attempting to unwrap the sock-bandage, and--
Tosh lurches upward, legs kicking with very little dignity as she attempts to stand too abruptly for the cut of her pencil skirt. There’s a sharp pain in her side, a stitch from breathing, laughing too hard. Gwen’s still giggling, Owen’s still looking at Tosh with a kind of good-natured openness while wriggling his body around to aid Gwen’s unwrapping.
Tosh closes her eyes, shakes her head briefly as if to clear it. “I’m not drunk enough for this,” she informs the Hub at large, and walks away quickly, heels clicking on the concrete floor.
Ianto looks surprised to see her, and she imagine her expression is somewhat similar--she didn’t expect to find him in the bunker, certainly not with several inflated condoms floating around his feet. His expression shifts to one of concentration as he empties the end of a lungful into the one still at his mouth, then ties it off. He holds it up. “Hen night, and all,” he says by way of explanation. “I thought…”
The moment is supremely awkward. She nods to stop him talking and he obliges, looking embarrassed. As he should, for god’s sake, what the hell does he think he’s doing? What the hell are they all doing? She feels angry and her face is hot, there’s no air moving in the ordinarily dry-aired bunker, though Ianto’s self-conscious shifting from foot-to-foot moves the ballooned condoms around; one bumps against her ankle and she kicks it viciously.
Ianto shifts again. “Tosh--”
She grabs the stupid saggy neck of Gwen’s stupid tee-shirt and yanks him down and forward. Their teeth clack painfully, but even after she’s tilted her head and pushed forward in a more deliberate way, his eyes are still screwed up tight.
“What’s the matter?” she says, giving him a shove to break the kiss instead of pulling back herself. She’s still feeling awkward and a little angry, but the heat rising to her face is flushing down her chest and into her belly as well. Ianto steps back at her approach, then they both startle as he steps on one of the condom-balloons and it bursts loudly, then uneven footing and movement of shock sending him to the floor, landing on his rump and the heels of his hands flung out behind him.
“Nothing,” he stutters as she drops down onto him as well, her landing somewhat more dignified in its controlled forcefulness, as if she’s a very skilled professional wrestler. His eyes are wide and he’s panting as hard as she is, body shifting around minutely beneath her like he’s trying to be still. She yanks her skirt up away from her knees until it transforms from restrictive to convenient, letting her legs widen to straddle his chest a little more comfortably. His hands follow the stiff fabric as it slides along the outside of her thighs until she kneels further forward, pinning his arms alongside his head then grinding down without further ceremony.
The noises he makes are helpless and gratifying, and feel absolutely brilliant between her legs, making the muscles in her calves and thighs cramp up even as her back manages to arch in ways that pop her vertebrae into more pleasant configurations. Eventually, though, the impetus to get her knickers off outweighs the lovely heat of his breath and blunt pressure of teeth through the fabric, and there’s only so much he can do with his chin, after all.
In fact, her clothes are entirely restrictive; she takes her weight off his arms and chest to draw back again, sitting back on his chest while she struggles with her--well, it’s his shirt, really, the cape-thing wrapped around her chest once and a half and tied closed. It binds her breasts down somewhat but it’s a nice change from the lack of variety of bra or no-bra, and means she doesn’t have to worry about matching with her knickers. She struggles with the knots then sighs with relief when it finally loosens enough for her to shove the band of cotton down to sag around her waist, and finally her lungs are able to inflate properly, nipples tightening as she pushes her chest out. The air against her bare skin is more pleasantly cool now in comparison to the binding fabric, and the increase in oxygen goes straight to her head.
Ianto’s looking up at her, pupils blown and face very red, mouth still open. Tosh finds it somewhat gratifying but doesn’t want to think about it too much right now. In fact she wants to think significantly less, thank you very much, so she leans forward to grab his wrists--his eyes widen and fix on her chest as she does--and shoves his hands onto her breasts.
“Oh… God,” he says, sounding weakly grateful and apparently quite eager to follow her unspoken instructions, palms hot against the sharp points of her nipples. She makes a noise of approval and presses her splayed hips down again against his sternum, then attempts to reach a nearby crate without severing any of their contact.
Eventually she makes it, hissing through her teeth as the plastic edge of the crate of it digs into her wrist; she reaches in and snags one of the foil packets, withdraws back and goes to tear it open between her teeth--
“Wait,” Ianto gasps. “Wait!” He sounds abruptly desperate, and not in a good way, Tosh feels a jolt of anxiety despite the fact that his hands are still kneading distractingly and hips pushing up--oh god, could she have judged this so wrong?
“Check--” Ianto says, the harshness of his breathing under her weight still breaking up his words. “Check the expiry!”
She struggles to focus on the tiny print, and-- Dammit, Jack.
“Best before 08-88,” she reads aloud.
Ianto groans, flinging a forearm up to cover his eyes. “The blue packaging,” he says. “Top of the second stack from the back wall.”
She ponders just getting up and leaving--pulling her skirt down again, attempting to yank up the cannibalised shirt--but they’re both here now, and besides, she doesn’t want to stop. “Don’t move,” she orders as she clambers to her feet again, taking the opportunity to kick off her shoes. And her knickers.
Ianto happily obeys.
The main area of the Hub is like a ghost town. Tumbleweeds of dental floss drift across the floor, and the remnants of Owen’s outfit flutters where it’s strewn across a long length of walkway railings like celebratory bunting. Tosh’s footsteps echo through the empty space, accompaniment to the low, threatening hush of the water running down the tower. The rhythmic click… click… click of her heels is interrupted when her shoe slips briefly; she scowls and looks down, lifting her foot up from the dark red puddle pooling dramatically on the concrete. She shakes her foot in distaste. Bloody borscht.
“All right then, Tosh?”
She whips around, managing to avoid stepping in the pool of defrosted soup again and thus managing the sudden movement with some dignity. Gwen’s standing at the other end of the walkway, looking not at all regretful, hungover or even mildly adulterous. She looks quite collected, actually, standing there with her bare feet planted apart, hands in Ianto’s trouser pockets and elbows akimbo, chin up as she watches Tosh.
Tosh finds herself mirroring the pose, though planting hands on her hips instead due to the lack of pockets. “Gwen.”
Gwen takes a measured step forward. “That my shirt you’re wearing?” she asks in a tone of mild inquiry.
Tosh doesn’t break eye contact to look down, instead matching Gwen’s slow progress towards her. “I believe it is,” she says, affecting barely-sincere surprise.
Gwen’s close enough that Tosh can see the reddish beet stains around the corners of her mouth, the faint streaks of sleep near her temple. The arm holes of the waistcoat Gwen’s wearing gape well below the tufts of dark hair in her underarms, displaying the tender skin of Gwen’s sides. Gwen’s breasts are slung out below the waistcoat’s modest, masculine neckline, clearly braless as her nipples poke accusingly toward Tosh behind the sturdy pinstripe.
“Hope you didn’t have to kill Ianto to get it,” Gwen says, smiling a little as Tosh looks up into her face, scrutinising while keeping her own expression neutral. “I think that one’s his favourite.”
“Did you want it back, then?” Tosh asks, a little more viciousness in her tone than she’d expected, and her hands go to the hem of the shirt, begin to pull it upward.
Gwen’s smile is mildly perplexed, and there’s absolutely nothing else behind it. “Not at all,” she says. “Of course you’re welcome to… I only meant…”
“Keep going, then!”
Tosh’s hands jerk away immediately and she and Gwen step abruptly apart in unintended synchronicity. Owen’s head is sticking up from the lower level of the autopsy bay, meerkat-like. His hair is ridiculous, and as Tosh watches, his mouth pulls into an over-stated moue of disappointment.
“I said don’t stop,” he says, eyeing Tosh’s hands at the bottom hem of the tee-shirt significantly.
Tosh crosses her arms over her chest automatically and Owen sighs heavily, disappearing again as he descends the stairs. “You lot never let me have any fun.”
Gwen pokes her tongue out in his direction despite his turned back, then turns back to Tosh, tugging a little on Tosh’s elbow until her folded arms are loosened enough for Gwen to wriggle her hand in, linking their arms. She begins to stroll away, giving Tosh no choice but to walk along with her.
“Come on then,” Gwen says as Tosh puts in a token protest by walking half a pace slower. Oblivious to the petty reasons behind Tosh’s tardiness, Gwen pats her hand. “Step into my office,” she says with a flourish as they arrive at the door to the conference room.
“Owen’s second in command, you know,” Tosh informs her, though it’s not as if Owen’s been exerting the rights his rank affords him. Heaven forbid he actually attempt to command them. Or, as Tosh reflects on their most recent exchange with him, that they respond to his commands with anything other than amusement or mild disgust.
“Of course he is, sweetheart,” Gwen says, actually managing to not sound condescending; it’s as if Tosh is immune to her now, Gwen’s somewhat more irritating habits are no more damaging than a kitten batting at the hem’s of Tosh’s trousers. If Tosh had any trousers with her in the Hub. Maybe she’d have to borrow Ianto’s.
Ianto is in the conference room, sitting tucked in at the table with both hands wrapped around a steaming mug. He looks up when the door swings open, and Tosh catches the flash of panic that flits over his face when he sees her; she has to look away quickly. When she glances back up at him fleetingly through her lashes, he’s staring down into his coffee, faintly pink to the tips of his ears.
There’s another mug sitting at the head of the table and Gwen releases Tosh to make a beeline for it, sinking into the chair and thrusting her face into the steam’s trajectory immediately.
“Ooh, Ianto,” she says dreamily. “You’re good, aren’t you?”
Ianto shifts in his chair awkwardly, his colour heightening, though Tosh feels uncomfortably certain that the reason is less from the vague suggestiveness of Gwen's tone and more because Tosh herself is still loitering inside the doorway.
Ianto looks up abruptly, meeting Tosh's gaze with hopeful determination. "Sorry, Tosh," he says. "I didn't realise you were joining us. I haven't made… I mean, would you like…?" He holds out his cup to her and Tosh blinks rapidly, mouth watering involuntarily as the scent of coffee wafts closer towards her. "You can have mine," Ianto says, gaze flitting sideways and away from hers again, and oh, it's supremely ridiculous, it's not like this particular morning after even merits this much embarrassment, certainly she's had worse nights and she won't deny that she's feeling much, much better than she has for a while, and yet--
Well, he's just so proper. And she is as well, she supposes, at least at work, and they are perpetually at work now, and oh god, has she just gone and buggered this up? At least Jack was completely shameless, there’s no way he and Ianto’s relationship--or whatever it was--could function otherwise, if neither of them was willing to leer at the other the next morning in order to dispel the impropriety of whatever had occurred the night before.
Ianto has lowered the coffee cup again, his gaze down on the table and well away from her now, and Tosh's cheeks feel just as hot as his appear to be. He keeps one hand on the mug, the other pulling at the neck of the shirt he's wearing--half a suit of scrubs, looks like--as if he's looking for a tie to smooth down.
"You can have some of mine, Tosh!" Gwen says cheerfully though her body language--as she clutches at her mug possessively with both hands--speaks otherwise.
Tosh looks up to meet Gwen in the eye, at least, and smiles in a way that she hopes appears grateful. "Thank you, Gwen," she says. "But it's quite all right.” She takes another breath. “I'll be off, then. Best leave you two to it."
Tosh glances at Ianto again, stomach twisting a little in worry, but he looks up to nod at her before she goes, his lips pressed together and curving in a faint shadow of a smile. She returns the expression grimly, then beats a rapid retreat, hearing Gwen’s voice begin as soon as the door shuts behind her, just too quiet for Tosh to parse actual words. Tosh grimaces. Maybe Gwen’s not so oblivious after all.
Despite her intentions to retreat to her server room and not leave it or talk to anyone else until the Hub ceases the lockdown and allows her to leave and never return again, she finds herself back in the autopsy bay.
This is, she rationalises, all Owen’s fault, after all.
“Wotcha,” he says when he sees her, and she’s ninety per cent certain he’s joking around. His hair is still ridiculous, somehow looking a week more unwashed than it had last night, sticking in every which direction. “Have a good night, then?”
He’s turned away from the vat of moonshine, leaning against the bench and observing her with a smirk. Not big enough a smirk to indicate that he knows--that he knows that she had sex with Ianto on the floor of the bunker, look, there’s no point in dancing around the subject in her own head--just that he’s bored, he’s sleazy, he’s Owen. There’s a treacherous surge in her chest. She folds her arms over it in reprimand.
“Did you have a good night, Owen?”
He shrugs lazily. “Was all right, I suppose,” he says. “Not much of a party once you ran off, though,” he says, having the gall to sound mildly accusatory about it.
Tosh resists the urge to stamp her foot and snort, for all that Owen’s blithe obliviousness is a red flag in her vision. “Well, it certainly looked like you didn’t need any help from me,” she says instead. “And, as I said previously, I’ve no intention of making any blue movies with you.”
Owen looks stunned for a moment, then laughs. Tosh gives in to the urge to scowl.
“Tosh,” he says at length, still chuckling. “Love. Would that you had been operating the CCTV last night. You could have put the bloody Benny Hill theme to it.”
Tosh’s eyebrows shoot up, feeling self-conscious and defensive on Gwen’s behalf despite herself.
Owen gesticulates. “Much to my disappointment, we did not actually fuck. Rhys being the slightly-doughy ghost in the corner of the room, as per bloody usual.”
“But she was undressing you,” Tosh insists.
“Well,” Owen says, eyes drifting upward as he drums his fingers against his chin in a studied pose of reminiscence. “We were a bit naked.”
“So, you were naked--”
“Just a bit naked, I said.”
“--And you what… Ran around the Hub in fast motion for a while?”
Owen contemplates this for a moment before nodding decisively. “Sounds about like it.”
He doesn’t actually look all that disappointed. Tosh might find that in itself suspicious, except she’s certain he’d be gloating a lot more were he actually lying.
“Seems like you were right, Tosh,” he concludes. “I think we all need to be a bit more drunk if any of us are going to get our rocks off.”
She can’t prevent the surge of heat the rushes to her face at that, and Owen actually does a double-take, which would be absolutely hilarious were the circumstances any different. As it is, she strides stiffly past him in a pitiful attempt at nonchalance, showing him her back as she seizes the stick he uses to stir his concoction and pokes at the clear liquid without purpose.
“Ooh, hello,” Owen says from behind her, voice low and intrigued as if he’s just turned over a rock and found something particularly fascinating scurrying about in panic.
The unwelcome metaphor makes her feel abruptly maudlin, and she abandons the stick to the vat and turns to walk back up the stairs. Unfortunately, after the brief sound of splashing as Owen retrieves the stick again, he trots up to walk beside her.
“Am I meant to infer from your involuntary physiological response that someone actually did manage to have sex last night?”
God, she’ll never trust his bedside manner again, let alone let herself be reassured or--heaven forbid--turned on by it.
“Tosh,” Owen says.
Tosh keeps walking, refusing to acknowledge him.
She wants to lose him but isn’t certain that storming into her room will necessary facilitate that, and she isn’t ready to test the sanctity of that space just at the moment, so she finds herself doubling back along a walkway and retracing her steps back around the Hub at a slightly faster pace. Owen about-faces without pause and continues to follow her.
“The bride-to-be and I were both up here,” he says, and she doesn’t like where this line of inquiry is going.
“Leave it, Owen.”
He takes her warning as encouragement.
“And you were here, but then you ran off somewhere, and--hold up--and Astroboy was…” he stops abruptly, obviously reaching realisation, and she spins around to give him a hard glare.
“Oh my god, Tosh,” he says, sounding like he’s relishing every word. “You shagged him! You shagged the bloody teaboy!”
She’s getting tired of feeling awkward about it, so she decides not to any more. Not that it’s any of Owen’s bloody business anyway; what makes him think that now he has the right to know what goes on in her pants?
He ignores the thrust of her chin, the fact that she’s still standing there glaring at him.
“Oh my god,” he says again, positively gleeful. “How did you manage it, then? Did you have to fill out a requisition form for his bits first? Did he take off his tie while you, you know--did it?” He squeezes his eyes closed and clenches his fists, waving them around by his shoulders in joy. “Blimey, I’m surprised there wasn’t some kind of nerd shockwave throughout all of Cardiff when you came.”
He pauses for a moment, meets her eyes again, still smirking in delight at himself and affecting a tone of not-so-neutral inquiry. “You did come, didn’t y--”
He’s looking right at her and he still doesn’t see the punch coming. He’s just standing one moment and on the floor the next, flat on his back and staring upward in shock, mouth wide open.
Tosh shakes her hand out, knuckles smarting, and turns on her heel, taking only a couple of steps before she stops again. Halfway along the walkway in front of her the conference room door stands open, Gwen and Ianto both staring at her with matching looks of shock on their faces. She shakes herself mentally and keeps walking, right past them without stopping.
She does stop and wait, once she’s around a corner and into a corridor, out of sight of the main Hub and feeling instantly better for it. Ianto comes up behind her, looks at her with wide eyes. “Thank you,” he says.
Oh god. If he thanks her for the sex, she might just throw another punch; remembering the last time--and the first, though really, just the one time was enough for a lifetime--that had happened. All right, everything seemed more overwhelmingly portentous in high school, but still.
“For what?” she asks cautiously, still unsure if she wants to hear the answer but feeling better already at the fact that he’s actually able to meet her eyes properly, his expression soft rather than nervous.
All right, still a little embarrassed. He rubs his hand against the back of his neck. “For, um. Defending my honour.”
She laughs, briefly but genuinely. “All in a day’s work,” she quips, relieved and somewhat pleased. “Now, if you don’t mind…” She takes a few more steps away from him and he smiles back, doesn’t follow her as she goes.
She nearly has a bloody heart attack when she turns around from the final cabinet in the B aisle to see Owen standing there, ghostly in his white scrubs.
“Sorry, Tosh,” he says easily as she tries to force the frenetic pounding in her chest back into a steady rhythm. He eyes the clutch of her hand against the edge of the cabinet and grins. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Liar,” Tosh says without venom, and makes herself let go of the furniture.
Despite the fact that she wasn’t expecting to see him down in the Archives, his presence is not unwelcome, and as if sensing that he’s not about to be punched in the near future, Owen shuffles forward. Coincidentally it’s at the same time she goes to step past him, and Tosh tilts her body to both avoid the slow-motion collision and diffuse the awkward intensity of standing so close to him face-on.
“Um,” Tosh says. This close Owen doesn’t smell as nice as she imagined, but still less unpleasant than she expected.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the main Hub, I’ve finished the Bs, so I thought I might…” She trails off, both her hands still held up as she points uselessly in the direction she’d planned on heading, both index fingers extended.
Owen looks a little disappointed. “I came down to help you find that duplicator thing.” He looks around, puzzled. “Shouldn’t it be in the Ds?”
Tosh sighs, genuinely long-suffering. “That’s where I started. Where we started. Ianto was helping me, that’s where we went first; and then to C and R… Then to Jack’s secret stash, then the ‘unknown’ trolley…” She stops again, mouth twisting into a frown. “We gave up before, but I’m starting again.”
“Going through everything this time, I take it.”
She nods. “Not like we’re running short on time or anything,” she says morosely, hit again by the truth and the unknown all wrapped up in the bland statement.
Owen doesn’t seem to be feeling the same kind of existential angst over that stale realisation; in fact, he grins and takes a step back, spreading his arms out a little with an expectant look on his face.
“Well!” he announces.
Tosh takes a step back of her own. “Well?”
“I’m at your disposal, Tosh! Put me to work!”
Her eyes narrow, not so much in suspicion--Owen’s heart is in the right place, she knows it, she’s always known it--but at a loss as to how to respond to that offer. She and Ianto had spent many hours painstakingly searching for duplicators, cloning devices and replicators; they’d had plenty of time to converse. Given their surroundings, much of Ianto’s side of the conversation had been concerned with relating his varied experiences of cleaning up after their colleagues’ filing habits.
A few anecdotes starring Owen still stand fast in her memory due to the sheer weight of Ianto’s exasperation while relating them; she’s not sure he would ever forgive her if she let Owen loose in the Archives. But… Well, Owen just looks so hopeful. He must be really, desperately bored if he’s eager to spend time in the Archives of all places; she knows he’s not so imaginative that this is part of a plot he’s conspiring against Ianto. After all, the Jetpack Fiasco was more cause for conniving and Owen had at worst resorted to being overly grabby.
“Well,” she says again, buying herself time, and then some: she steps forward again and slips an arm through the crook of his, continuing to walk and lead him forward at a stroll. “We’ll have to make a plan of attack. Can’t just dive in blind, after all.”
“‘Course not,” he says agreeably, matching her leisurely pace.
He keeps hold of her arm until they emerge into the main Hub area and Tosh extricates herself a little awkwardly, giving Owen a hesitant smile. The lights are dimming; it’s getting onto night time above them and the timer Tosh set up for the lighting is consoling their circadian rhythms.
“Shall we reconvene in the morning, then?” she asks. “Jack’s office?”
He squints over to the office in question. “Might have to make it the conference room, Tosh, I think Gwen’s squatting in there tonight and we know how much she likes being woken up before noon.”
Tosh frowns a little--Owen’s right, Gwen is no where to be seen in the main Hub area, and her usual haunt of the sofa is notably bereft of occupants. Come to think of it, Ianto’s not in attendance either, and while she’d usually assume from that that he’d be in the Archives somewhere, she can refute that assumption in that she was just down there herself, and there was no sign of him. Certainly not at his usual place by her elbow, which he occupied whenever they seemed to be in the vicinity of each other.
Owen’s watching her expectantly.
She makes herself smile again. “Conference room it is, then,” she says. “Oh-nine-hundred.”
He snaps his heels together and gives a sloppy salute, a sarcastic gesture that seems more companionable than mocking.
Tosh finds herself mildly surprised at how little chaos Owen leaves in his wake in the Archives. Ianto wasn’t generally prone to exaggeration; though Tosh might consider that to be the case if Owen were just a little sloppy. Anticipating it, she’d been firm and detailed in her directions, but Owen merely carries out her commands without batting an eyelid.
It’s a comfortable rhythm they get into, making their way through the interminable aisles of hanging files and containment units, and where Tosh loses time getting sidetracked by the occasional interest-piquing item, Owen makes up for it in his dogged methodical approach.
They don’t talk much, often out of comfortable speaking distance anyway by the different paces at which they progress, but Tosh finds herself enjoying the company nonetheless. Being down here is like being on the job again, both of them with a purpose and a healthy dedication to it. After several months of quiet days there’s not a lull in sight, no shift in mood that demands Tosh try to make small talk or socialise. And no opportunity for Owen to do so either; if she’s honest with herself she’ll admit that it’s at times that boredom demands small talk or socialisation that Owen can be at his most vicious.
She almost doesn’t want to find the duplicator. It helps that she has no idea what it might look like, or--seeing as it isn’t in any of the obvious places--what it might have been categorised and filed as. She’s trying to keep the knowledge that if this search fails she’ll have to go through mission reports to determine whether it had been simply destroyed at one point, no longer in existence, pushed to the back of her mind.
The calm of hard-earned exhaustion is broken one day, however, when she returns to her favoured sleeping quarters to discover that her extension is gone. Well, ‘extension’ is what she liked to call it herself; in reality the clear plastic crates of borscht and socks that formed additional walls around outside her doorway have been removed.
Her initial urge is to call out for Ianto or Gwen, but something stops her. Certainly she hasn’t seen them around much recently, but she’s not been present in the main Hub herself for most of their artificial daylight hours.
Tosh’s body still feels pleasantly loose with physical exhaustion but her mind is buzzing with intrigue and--all right then--more than a little indignation. She prowls silently toward the kitchen, expecting perhaps that the tubes of soup had been relocated in that vicinity--that would make sense, after all--but not a single crate greets her. After making the silent rounds of a few more obvious places, she takes a breath and heads toward where a considerable wattage of ambient light still beams out of Jack’s doorway.
She steps onto the porch without announcing herself. Gwen is sitting at Jack’s desk, chair tucked right in with her sternum pressed flush against the edge of it. Her arms are splayed out in front of her, palms flat against the scarred wood of the cleared-off surface, and her head’s tilted down as if in concentration.
“No,” she says intently. “No, no--wait--almost there--” There’s a scuffling sound from beneath the desk, and Gwen gasps. “Yes! There!”
Tosh clears her throat and Gwen looks up. The scuffling sound stops. Gwen leans back from the desk, tilting back entirely unselfconsciously, making Jack’s chair creak. Ianto pops out from under the desk by Gwen’s thighs, looking tousled and flushed, not to mention somewhat dusty. Tosh feels her eyes narrow.
Gwen smiles at her. “There you are!” she says cheerily.
She ignores Ianto as he stands, awkwardly turning away from the door to reach across the desk and tug up a cord from a gap where the desk top just misses meeting the back.
“Ianto’s just helping me set up my computer.”
“What?” Tosh asks, genuinely confused. “What’s wrong with Jack’s station?”
“Oh, nothing,” Gwen says lightly. “Only, well--it’s Jack’s, isn’t it? Doesn’t have all my files and things on it.”
Tosh raises an eyebrow. Gwen’s never had to know that in fact there are no ‘files and things’ on her machine, that in actual fact all their data resides on Torchwood Three’s servers, called upon by each station via the Hub’s secure internal network.
Ianto, however, does know this. Which is probably why he’s scrupulously avoiding meeting Tosh’s gaze right now.
“More comfortable in here for you, is it?” Tosh asks, making herself wring the causticness out of the question before it makes its way out of her mouth. After all, it is comfortable in Jack’s office, and Gwen has no less right to be in there than Tosh herself does--and has been, on several occasions.
“Oh, yes,” Gwen says. “And it makes more sense, really.”
An alert message pops up in the periphery of Tosh’s mind, but she dismisses it for the moment in favour of more pressing matters. She debates whether or not to give in to the urge to put her hands on her hips. On the one hand, it could appear petulant but on the other, she really needs to take advantage of dominant body language where she can.
Her hands grip her hipbones. “What happened to our supplies?”
“Which supplies would that be, then?”
Tosh presses her lips together. “The crates of rations.” She shifts a little, resting more of her weight on one foot than the other. “And socks,” she says, after a short pause.
“Oh, Ianto and I relocated them--thought it’d be best to put them somewhere more centrally accessible.”
Ianto glances briefly to Tosh, offering her a quick smile before looking down again to the tangle of wires he’s fed up from beneath the desk.
“Where might that be, then?”
Gwen nods towards another part of the office--a part that Tosh hasn’t failed to notice is quite obviously devoid of crates. Tosh walks forward, curiosity overcoming her stubbornness, and then Ianto is abruptly grabbing her upper arm and hauling her backwards, only a few steps past the desk itself.
“Watch your step,” he says, offering her the same tentative smile before letting go and stepping away again. Tosh looks down to see the trapdoor that leads to Jack’s quarters has been left open. She frowns, leans forward--feeling precarious despite the few paces away from the manhole she’s been pulled back to. She can’t see the floor of Jack’s quarters any more, or his bed, or any of the other sparse items that had furnished the subterranean space because the cosy hideout is filled to the brim with crates, neatly stacked atop each other.
“There,” Gwen says softly, and her voice is so abruptly close behind that Tosh jerks upwards and back, her balance threatened. “Much more accessible now, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she meets Gwen’s gaze, only a few handspans away, and gives a tight smile. “I suppose it is.”
Owen’s not in the first two places she looks, but when she strides into the third most-likely place, the employee bathrooms, she’s satisfied to see the door to the end cubicle is closed. Her heels cease their adamant pounding against the tiles as she comes to a stop.
“Owen?” she calls, making sure out of an unshakeable sense of paranoia, an instinct that’s got her through a countless number of potentially humiliating social situations over the years.
“Tosh,” Owen’s voice calls out shortly. “Yes.”
She takes a few more clacking steps before leaning back against the basins, folding her arms over her chest. “You’ll never believe… Gwen! I just walked in on her moving into Jack’s office, if you’ll believe it.”
Owen makes a brief, wordless noise that Tosh take as acknowledgement and encouragement to continue.
“And she’s gone and got Ianto to move all our rations into Jack’s quarters, honestly, I’d never think that he’d agree to such a move. I’m convinced she’s up to something.” She takes a couple more steps towards Owen’s cubicle, leaning her shoulders against the wall at the end of the bathroom alongside it. “I think she means to overthrow you.”
“Overthrow…?” Owen says, a few moments into her significant pause, with just a hint of breathlessness, almost as if it never occurred to him.
She frowns. “Yes, of course, you’re second in command after all, if anyone should be setting up house in Jack’s office it’s you, not her, even if…”
Owen makes another little noise and Tosh halts her tirade.
“Owen? Are you all right in there?” She unfolds her arms and steps away from the wall.
Owen laughs breathlessly. “Tosh,” he says, voice strained and inscrutable. “I’m having a… A moment, here.”
“Oh my god,” she says, concern surging in her chest. Surely the idea of Gwen taking control hasn’t affected him that much? “Are you all right? Do you need help? What’s wrong?” She teeters a little on her heels as she bends her knees down into a crouch.
“Uhm… Ahh… Maybe, not so much--”
Tosh plants her hand on the floor to steady her balance and tilts her head to look through the gap where the cubicle door doesn’t quite meet the floor. The sense of embarrassment warring with her concern retires in relief as she sees that the position of his feet don’t indicate that he’s sitting on the toilet. Rather, he seems to be standing, facing the wall, weight balanced forward on the balls of his feet.
“Tosh,” he says again, voice pleading. “A little privacy, please?”
Oh. “Oh!” she exclaims, jerking upright again, the embarrassment flooding back and heating her face rapidly enough to make her feel a little dizzy. “I’ll, oh, of course--I--”
“‘preciate it,” Owen says with audible relief, and she beats a hasty retreat.
“Thing is, Tosh,” Owen says the next day, continuing the conversation whilst most graciously not mentioning its original circumstances, “If Gwen wants to take the lead, then I’m not really all that bothered.”
He ignores her appalled look as she turns from the cabinet drawer she’s leafing through. He’s leaning over the cabinets that divide and define their aisles, looking thoughtful.
“I mean, it’s not like we’re out in the field or anything. She’s not going to order us to hold hands and kumbaya around a weevil or something. What harm can it do?”
“There’s a lot of very complex and very sensitive equipment in the Hub,” Tosh begins.
“And you’re the only person in this base who knows how any of it works.”
Tosh frowns, conceding the point and trying to hide just how pleased the acknowledgement makes her.
“Face it, Tosh, PC Cooper is harmless. If she’s fancying herself the captain, executive assistant and all, then so be it.” He slouches a little more onto the cabinet with his shoulder propped suggestively, as if he’s leaning against a bar.
God, she misses alcohol.
“Better than staging wedding parties now, innit?”
Tosh smiles despite herself. “I suppose you’re right.”
“You know I am.” He winks and she ducks her head briefly to hide the flush in her cheeks.
She’s feeling less confident a couple of weeks later, however, after another fruitless day of sifting through yet another unyielding consonant.
“This is ridiculous,” she announces.
“I know, but we might as well make the most of it, don’t you think? I mean, you said it’d probably wear off within twenty-four hours, so why not--”
“Not that,” Tosh says irritably, and Owen’s monkey-like and (alarmingly) prehensile tail--the product of an ill-advised tea break wherein he’d rested his behind against an open filing drawer containing a transmogrifying device--droops. “This, this whole thing.” She waves her hands about shortly. “It’s not here. Jack only came down here whenever he wanted a shag anyway; something as important--and clearly as used as the duplicator has got to be up in his office somewhere.”
She looks at Owen then, prepared to eye-roll at the shagging being the only thing he took from her speech, but frowns when she sees his slightly perplexed, slightly hurt expression. “With Ianto,” she clarifies slowly. “Our archivist?”
“Oh! Right.” Inexplicably his temporary tail perks up. It had been dragging slowly back and forth along the concrete floor behind his heels; now it starts rattling up and down the metal fronts of the file cabinets at hip-height. The sound sets her teeth on edge; she has to turn away from him.
“I’m going to talk to Gwen,” she announces decisively.
“I’ll come with you.”
“No--really Owen, it’s not necessary at all.” She’s already almost half-way to the door, a pale rectangle of halogen light ahead of her. It’s just out of range of the last of the down-lights that intermittently cup the grainy atmosphere of a gelatin plate photograph against the gritty floor along the aisles. She throws a brief smile behind her. “Best I give it a go alone.”
She pauses at the door. Owen’s not moved from his position near a cabinet, a solitary human figure amidst the building blocks of alien knowledge and retro-clinical lighting, his tail curled out like a dejected question mark. She wonders if he can even see her expression from here; his own face looks blank of feeling, but then the flat gash of his mouth often means that things like concentration, distaste and satisfaction manifest all the same, and his eyes are in shadow.
“Girl talk and all that,” she calls out one last time, despising the phrase but feeling compelled to offer Owen one final excuse before she dashes out the door.
Predictably, Gwen is in Jack’s office, though somewhat unusually Tosh passes Ianto going in the opposite direction on her way out of the Archives. Guiltily, she doesn’t tell him about Owen’s tail; perhaps the shock of it will be enough to drive the indignation of finding Owen down there out of his head. Or perhaps witnessing Owen’s misfortune will be interpreted as a comeuppance significant enough for Ianto to feel more vindicated than outraged at the invasion.
Tosh sees Gwen’s backside first; Gwen’s bent practically double as she affixes rosettes of paper to the lower part of the wall behind the desk with a hot glue gun. Tosh knows it’s a hot glue gun because she can smell the glue; otherwise it looks like another improvised monster of a tool, far from the sleek modernity Tosh enforces in their usual tech. Clearly it’s another product of Ianto’s workbench, and as she gets closer Tosh even sees a braided ribbon of silk, colours strikingly resembling the blue-gray stripe of one of Ianto’s ties, tied in a bow to the handle of it.
Gwen’s humming something under her breath, flexing her knees a little in the rhythm of it, her rear bouncing and swaying faintly with the movement. Tosh waits; it’s only another moment or two before Gwen straightens.
“Hello love,” Gwen says when she sees her, face flushed, no doubt from being below her knees for at least the past three minutes that Tosh has been observing. Gwen shakes her head a little, unsticking long strands of dark hair from her cheek, then brings the glue gun up to face height and pouting as she blows imaginary smoke from the mouth of its muzzle. She cocks her hips. “What brings you to this neck of the woods?”
Tosh blinks, makes herself refocus back up to Gwen’s eyes. “Owen and I have been spending some time going through the Archives,” she begins, but finds herself unsure, really, of how to continue. They all know about the duplicator, of course, but Tosh had somehow neglected to let anyone but Owen know that she had resumed the search for it. Though it would have made more sense to involve Ianto. She’s struck abruptly with a surge of panic; Ianto heading down to the Archives, surely Owen wouldn’t tell him what they were down there for, what they were looking for?
No, Owen wouldn’t, if only for the sake of messing with Ianto. He’d be more likely to tell Ianto that he and Tosh had been retreating to the Archives for illicit trysts…
Gwen smiles, kindly and a little coyly. “Oh, Tosh,” she says. “Like that is it?”
“No,” Tosh stutters, and finds the conversation diverted without her even trying. Instead she flits her gaze about the office, trying to see it afresh; there must be some hint, some clue somewhere as to the location--or fate--of the duplicating device.
Her eyes dart back to Gwen’s face as Gwen reaches forward to brush a swath of hair from in front of Tosh’s eyes, tucking it back. Her hand remains there, fingers toying with the soft hair immediately behind Tosh’s ear.
“It’s all right,” Gwen says, voice sinking into a confessional whisper. “I’ve had him too, you know.” She pauses, as if for dramatic effect. “Bit of a disappointment, isn’t it?”
Tosh isn’t sure what her expression is right now; torn between embarrassment in having this conversation with Gwen at all and disbelief that Gwen’s so blatantly lying. Has she forgotten that Tosh, during Gwen’s adulterous phase, had been in possession of an alien device that had let her read minds? It’s hard to concentrate, though, with the brush of Gwen’s fingers are cool against the shell of Tosh’s ear, and the barely-there scrape of fingernail as Gwen carefully removes Tosh’s glasses makes Tosh shiver.
“Not like,” Gwen says, her breath puffing over Tosh’s hot face, and she’s close enough now that Tosh’s gaze has to dart from eye to eye to keep eye contact. “Well, you know…”
Gwen’s lips are soft and yielding where Tosh is sure hers are chapped; it’s been a long time since either of them have worn any lippy but Gwen must have licked her lips in anticipation of this. The thought makes Tosh’s chin surge forward and her mouth fill with saliva. Their teeth don’t even clash, Gwen’s jaw tips open as well and Tosh’s tongue instinctually darts in--the inside of Gwen’s mouth is cool and very slick, like their spit has different consistencies--then Gwen closes her lips Tosh’s tongue as she draws it back again, mouthing at Tosh’s lower lip briefly before Tosh manages to disengage.
The tip of Gwen’s nose nudges against her cheek and Tosh finds herself angling her head again to draw the contact into a caress, the liquid of Gwen’s mouth almost inadvertently brushing against her own lips again and clinging.
"Gwen," Tosh says, then again, stronger, “Gwen.” She plants her hand in the middle of Gwen's chest--well, a bit above the middle, avoiding as much contact with Gwen's heaving bosom as possible--trying to keep her mouth out of reach, though she can’t help instinctually licking her own lips as their contact is broken again. Gwen finally pulls back, allowing the distance. Her ribcage expands and deflates rapidly under Tosh's hands, and her lips are glossy with spit.
"You don't want to do this," Tosh says firmly. "What about Rhys?"
It's a touchy subject, one that Tosh, Owen and Ianto have all come to an unspoken agreement to avoid, at least in earshot of Gwen. It's a risk to bring him up now, but desperate times and all of that.
Gwen chews on her lower lip--not helping Tosh’s concentration at all--and sighs. "He…" she begins shakily. "He'd want me to." She glances back up at Tosh, her expression begging a mutual admiration of the nobility of the absent--and most likely deceased--man.
"He'd want you to go on without him?" Tosh prompts gently, trying to ignore how close they still are, unable to calm her breathing enough that each inhalation doesn’t brush her breasts faintly against Gwen’s own. "Carry on, find someone new?"
"No," Gwen looks a bit confused, but not distressed, thank god. "He'd want me to shag another woman."
Tosh feels one of her eyebrows lift. The situation calls for more gravity, she knows, but she just can't prevent it, it's like a muscle spasm. Gwen tries to push forward again and Tosh locks her elbow, forcibly maintaining the distance; preventing herself as much as Gwen from re-sealing the kiss. Time for another tack.
"But you don't want to," Tosh reasons. "You don't want to be unfaithful to him, do you?" Knowing, yes, in more graphic detail than she'd ever want to Gwen and Owen's brief fling, but also knowing that Gwen's clung to the moral high ground Jack had always placed her on with the ferocity of a zealot since the lockdown.
Gwen laughs a little; Tosh has the sneaking suspicion that Gwen thinks the sound is seductive. "It's not cheating unless it's with another bloke," she explains.
Tosh's eyebrow goes down again, as if it's reached its maximum capacity and the surge override has automatically engaged.
Her mouth twists wryly. "I suppose," she says, more to herself than to Gwen--god, certainly not to Gwen. Tosh’s heart is still racing, not slowed down a whit since the thrill of first contact and she thinks it might have the right idea after all. She uses the hand already on Gwen's chest to grip the low neck of Gwen’s shirt, dragging her forward again, then using the leverage to shove Gwen down into Jack's desk chair.
Neither of them are as bulky as Jack; they both manage to occupy the chair at the same time, though it does creak a little alarmingly, shooting Tosh's heart rate up another several notches. Arbitrarily the observation makes her think of Owen and his never-straying stethoscope, and she yanks Gwen's shirt up with more force than necessarily, abruptly and ridiculously turned on. Gwen sprawls obligingly under Tosh's straddling thighs, making appreciative noises when Tosh leans forward to put her mouth against Gwen's throat.
Not being able to shut her brain off during sex is nothing new, and Tosh finds herself wondering how many people have had sex in this chair. Ianto, she reflects, is probably at the end of a long line of predecessors--or maybe not even at the end, given how Gwen and Jack were around each other. Owen and Jack had some kind of strange push-pull power play going on that she wasn't sure was conducive to sex (though undoubtedly, Jack would be open to trying, at least), and though she herself had slept many times in this chair since the lockdown, this is the first time she’s actually going to sleep with someone in it.
Gwen's skin doesn't taste much like anything but skin; last time had been Mary's intensely chemical perfume (not alien pheromones but Debenhams’ perfume counter, Tosh had recognised it) and the bland smear of makeup against her tongue. It doesn't feel like anything but skin either, but rather like Tosh is touching herself; no stubble to abrade, just Gwen's pulse fluttering beneath the surface. It's the opposite of strange, even though the body beneath her is so different from the one that was there before it. With Mary she hadn't known how to come to terms with that familiarity, with the fact that it turned her on; she seemed to be having no such crises this time. It was like riding a bike, really. Or riding something definitely-not-a-bike. She breathes in deeply, Gwen smells delicious.
Tosh leans back again to give herself room to access the fly of Gwen's jeans, then stops. "What?"
Gwen is slumped back in the chair, shirt rumpled up above her breasts, legs spread and arms resting leisurely on the arms of the chair. She looks up at Tosh expectantly. "What?" she echoes in a lighter tone.
Tosh sits up straighter, taking her hands off Gwen. "Are you just going to sit there, then?"
"I--Aren't you going to ravish me?"
Tosh blinks. "Ravish you." She crosses her arms over her sternum; her heartbeat butts up against her forearms like a wheedling kitten.
Gwen nods, and continues to appear blithely unembarrassed. "Ianto said…"
"Ianto." Tosh's tone is blandly unimpressed.
"…That you ravished him."
"I… What?” Tosh leans back further, re-adjusting her centre of gravity as she dismounts Gwen's sprawling thighs, straightening her skirt again once she's standing.
Ianto had been rather passive, but… She can recognise it now: he'd been pursuing her, for weeks. And he hadn't complained about it or anything. Actually--judging from Gwen's anticipatory flush--he certainly hadn't complained about it.
Tosh straightens her shoulders a little, pointing her nose to the air. "So you just lie there, is that it? Not an active participant."
And since when had Gwen and Ianto become confidantes? Probably around the same time they started sharing clothes, Tosh reflects. Certainly since they started playing boss-and-personal-assistant up here in Jack’s territory.
For the first time, Gwen begins to look a little uncomfortable. "Well, I'm not exactly gay, Tosh," she begins.
"Right," Tosh says, snatching up her specs from the desk. "I'll be off then."
Jack's office door had been ripped off in an altercation some time around the second month, so she doesn't even have the satisfaction of slamming it closed behind her. She's not angry, she's really not, just a little… frustrated, irritated, pleased with herself. Distracted and ready to proceed directly to the privacy of her own defunct server room.
She hardly notices Owen at first, standing a few steps just shy of Jack's porch, but his expression flags her attention.
"Owen? Are you all right?"
He shifts his gaze from the open door to her, then back and forth again, blinking rapidly, eyes wide. "Tosh," he says, sounding a bit broken. "I--"
The continuation of that thought does not appear to be forthcoming, and Owen's shell-shocked gaze of wonderment is starting to make her uncomfortable in a way that's diffusing her current, somewhat more pleasant discomfort. She claps him on the shoulder awkwardly before hurrying on.
“I know what you’re doing.”
Tosh curses and her startled jolt spills the sheaf of papers out of her hands. Ianto’s frown deepens; standing in the shadows like that with his chin up and hands straight by his sides, he’s never more looked the part of the murderous (not to mention obsessive-compulsive) butler.
She composes her own expression behind the brief shield of her hand as it brushes her hair back. Ianto’s own hair is looking suspiciously coiffed, and, frustratingly, it makes her feel even more off-centre and unkempt. “What I’m doing?”
Ianto steps forward, finally into the full light of the halogen bulb. He crouches down and gathers the papers from the dropped file. “You’re looking for the duplicator,” he says.
His tone makes her jaw clench. It’s not that he’s ridiculing her, not at all; more that he’s using the bland politeness of impartialness when previously… well. As he stands up again, a couple of paces away from her, she realises in a surge that she misses him. Which is ridiculous, of course, they’re still stuck in this hole in the ground together as they have been for months, but right at this moment he’s not showing the same support, the same--all right, she’ll admit it--devotion that she’d come to rely on the first time they searched for this Holy Grail of a device.
Even if the attention had felt a bit claustrophobic at the time. The sex had been quite fun, after all.
“It doesn’t matter now, anyway,” he says, and Tosh blinks rapidly, realises that she’s been eyeing him speculatively. He doesn’t seem bothered, if he even noticed at all, chin still held up and--wait, behind that mask of complacent servitude is he excited?
“Why?” she asks suspiciously, not willing to let her gaze wander off his face for a second, but having to when he turns away from her.
Ianto looks back over his shoulder. “Come with me.”
“The morgue?” she says in confusion when she sees where he’s leading her. She hasn’t been down here for a long time, and the sight of the huge wall of drawers reminds her involuntarily of Owen’s early suggestion that they resort to cannibalism; her throat spasms closed.
“Come on,” Ianto says, walking the few steps back to where she’s stopped and taking her hand. His enthusiasm is more obvious now, though his grip is gentle.
“But what is it?”
“Just a minute.” They come to a halt in front of the drawers and Ianto lets go of her hand to produce what looks suspiciously like one of her PDAs--with the addition of unauthorised modifications--out of his pocket.
She opens her mouth to speak but he shushes her before she can even take a breath.
“Just… Wait.” He concentrates fiercely on the PDA, thumbs pressing buttons and stroking dials in rapid succession.
Tosh gives a gasp of surprise as one of the drawers near her gives off a sudden hiss of dry ice but Ianto doesn’t delay, shoving the PDA back in his pocket and grasping the drawer handle that’s suddenly appeared with both hands, hauling it open.
“Oh my god,” Tosh says when the air clears enough that there’s no way she can mistake who it is in the drawer. “Oh, my god!”
Ianto simply grins triumphantly, one hand still gripping the handle of the drawer and the other resting on the clear perspex that keeps the cryo-chamber sealed, right over Jack’s chest.
She snatches the PDA from his pocket, unable to repress a scowl at the soldered-on mods but navigating it easily enough nonetheless. “He’s been in there for over one hundred years!”
“Look at his clothes,” Ianto says, not seeming surprised in the least at her revelation, and he moves his hand to allow her to peer in closer, nose nearly against the perspex. Ianto’s right, she’s not surprised to note; Jack’s greatcoat isn’t the same one she’s familiar with, slightly different-hued and different consistency in the pill, buttons dull, individually-produced brass and shirt clearly hand-made.
“He’s from the past?”
“It’s our Jack,” Ianto says without a hint of doubt.
“But what’s he doing here?”
“Maybe…” Ianto rests both forearms on the perspex. “Maybe this is the only way he could come back to us.”
Tosh wishes she felt the same conviction. She fiddles with the PDA, checking the settings and commands Ianto had orchestrated to get the drawer open in the first place, unsurprised to find it was a secure lock, and an encrypted call name. Set to a timer, not even executive access to its associated files. The fluttering of her heart sinks lower to her belly.
“I got the drawer open but couldn’t find a way to break the seal, usually both will disengage with the time lock but I thought maybe you could find out how to--”
“Ianto,” Tosh interrupts, getting depressingly more convinced by the second. “Does Gwen know about this?”
Ianto frowns in confusion, shakes his head. “She wouldn’t know how to disengage it, I came straight to you after I found him.”
Tosh rests her palms flat on the front of the drawer. “Good. Don’t tell her. I’ll find a way to re-encrypt the locks on the drawer and--”
“No, Tosh,” he says, perplexed but still clearly determined. “We have to wake him up.”
“Ianto,” she says again, and puts her hand on his shoulder. The residual excitement is still widening his eyes even as his mouth is pulled into a distressed frown; all the more alarming for the sincerity of the sanity in it, nothing like Gwen’s escapism of weeks past. “It’s not our Jack. You saw the security settings yourself. The fact that he’s here at all was beyond confidential.”
“But, with the timelines--”
“Why hasn’t the time lock disengaged yet, then?”
She sees the denial in his face and tightens her grip instinctually but he shrugs it off easily, spinning on his heel and walking away from her with rapid, tight, steps.
“Ianto!” she calls after him, feeling even more miserable herself, then--shit! “Ianto, wait!”
She starts to run and hears his pace pick up speed as well when her heels start clacking against the dank concrete. He clears the stairs two at a time, widening the distance between them even as she curses and hitches up her skirt to lengthen her stride.
He still makes it to Jack’s office well ahead of her; when she clears the doorway he’s standing with his knuckles resting on the desk and other hand on his hip, failing entirely to appear collected as he continues to pant. Gwen’s standing up behind Jack’s desk, eyes and mouth and face wide open in excitement.
“What are we waiting for, then?” she says, looking to Tosh. “Let’s wake him up!”
Tosh narrows her eyes at Ianto and stalks forward at a more measured pace. “We’re not waking him up.”
“Waking who up?”
Tosh doesn’t look behind her, but Gwen looks over her shoulder.
“Jack!” Gwen tells Owen gleefully. “Ianto found him in a cryo drawer!”
“Oh, bloody hell,” Owen says, and Tosh is relieved that he’s not immediately as enthused as the other two, but not entirely sure she trusts the anticipation for conflict that’s in his tone, either. “That’s all we bloody need!”
“He must have gone back in time with the Doctor,” Ianto explains, clearly for Gwen’s benefit, though he doesn’t break eye contact with Tosh. “The Doctor must have left him there. He couldn’t know about it before now because it would cross his own timeline. He couldn’t revive until now. Now that he’s gone, he can come--”
“Why wasn’t the time lock set to release moments after he left, then?” Tosh advances towards the desk; Ianto straightens, shoulders squared as he stands by Gwen. “We certainly could have used some guidance and leadership before now--”
“Maybe he’s testing us,” Gwen says.
“He’s not a bloody god, Gwen!” Tosh shouts, throwing her hands in the air. Even though he fancies that he is, sometimes, she doesn’t say aloud, though the ever-unspoken thoughts of herself in a UNIT solitary confinement cell and then talking, drinking, working, living at Jack’s whim only serve to rile her further.
“Look,” Gwen says, her tone so soothing she’s practically cooing. It makes Tosh’s teeth hurt. “There’s no need to fight about it. We’re a team. Let’s cast a vote.”
Tosh rolls her eyes, but Owen’s already talking. “All right, who’s in favour of defrosting the Captain?”
Gwen and Ianto raise their hands.
“And who would rather put him back in the fridge, thereby avoiding a paradox that’ll tear a bloody great gash in the fabric of space and time?”
Tosh lifts her hand, meeting Owen’s gaze and conveying her silent approval at his blunt phrasing. It’s true after all. Probably.
“It’s a tie,” Gwen says unnecessarily, as if she’s surprised.
“We need him,” Ianto blurts.
“Oh, come on,” Owen says baldly from behind her, his own voice raised a few decibels more than usual. “He’s the last thing we bloody well need! He’s the one who left us here. He abandoned us!”
“Not to mention--” Tosh doesn’t get a chance to finish because Ianto’s abruptly grabbing the PDA out of her pocket, and though her reflexes are fast enough to grab back for it immediately and she finds herself grappling uselessly at Ianto’s chest while he holds the device at arm’s length, far out of her reach. She hurls her weight against him anew and he teeters, then--
--The boom of Ianto’s voice rings in Tosh’s ears and abruptly Ianto’s pushing turns into pulling as Gwen vaults over the desk and runs for the door in one unbroken movement--
--she twists to face them again as one of Ianto’s hands grips Tosh’s wrist in restraint and the other tosses the PDA over Tosh’s head into Gwen’s waiting grasp.
Enraged at both the restraint and the deception, Tosh slams her heel down with fury-fueled accuracy into Ianto’s foot. He lets her go with a wordless shout of pain that makes Gwen skitter to a halt. Before she’s had a chance to process the instinct, Tosh calculates and responds to the fact that Gwen’s out of immediate grabbing distance by instead grabbing the nearest thing within reach--a paperweight from Jack’s desk--and hurling it towards Gwen with a shriek.
Tosh sees Gwen flinch out of the way of the projectile but then all she can see is a brilliant flash of white that sends her reeling back against Ianto’s chest. Moments later Gwen screams--delayed bloody reaction, Tosh thinks, sense of betrayal intact despite the shock of confusion--and then all bitterness is overwhelmed by a sense of urgent terror as Gwen says, “Oh my god, Owen!”
Tosh is by his side in an instant, dropping to her knees by his prone body and relief flooding her as he groans. Tosh helps him turn over onto his back with a hand on his shoulder, Gwen kneeling and guiding his head back onto her thighs.
Gwen taps his cheek lightly with the palm of her hand. “Owen? Owen!”
“Oi, leave off, woman,” Owen groans. Ianto swears sharply, withdrawing from where he was hovering at Tosh’s shoulder; the voice didn’t come from the Owen before them but from behind them. Tosh sees Owen’s eyes widen as he looks over her shoulder and the back of her neck prickles before she whips her head around--
“You’ve got to be fucking joking,” Owen says, standing behind her, one hand palming his forehead above his squint, the other clutching at Ianto’s waistcoat for balance.
Tosh turns back to the Owen on the floor--the expressions of both Owens are exactly the same, and the surreality of it only increases when the standing Owen stumbles around so they’re both in her frame of vision.
Both. Both Owens. Two of them. She feels dizzy.
Gwen’s chanting a warbly mantra of “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod--” and Ianto’s clutching at the standing Owen just the same way as Tosh seems to have a death grip on the one still on the floor. He brushes off the hold, now, grimacing and slapping Gwen’s hands away as he struggles to sit upright.
“Well, Tosh,” he says, breaking eye contact with his double to meet her gaze. “Looks like we found that duplicator.”
The other Owen shoves Ianto off as well, bracing one hand on his knee and leaning down to haul the other Owen to his feet. They look each other up and down for a moment, then, as if the mind-boggling weirdness of the whole scenario has been processed and dealt away to the appropriate compartment in their respective--or not-so-respective--heads, they both turn back to the remaining three.
“Seeing as there’s two of me now, I think we should re-cast the vote,” says the Owen on the left. The Owen on the right nods in decisive agreement.
“Now, wait just a minute,” Gwen starts, clambering to her feet with a wince of her own.
“I vote we leave Captain TV Dinner in the freezer,” both Owens say simultaneously, same pitch, intonation, everything. It makes Tosh’s eardrums throb oddly.
The Owens frown at each other. “And so do I,” they say in unison.
Still on the floor, Tosh spies both the PDA and paperweight--duplicator--by Gwen’s feet; she lurches forward to drag them towards her, clutching them to her chest and refusing to use her hands to aid her rising to her feet. Both Owens roll their eyes, one reaches out and hauls her up by the elbow.
“Right then,” she says, still unable to look directly at the pair of them, yet unable to keep her gaze away entirely for very long. “Now that that’s settled, I’ll be taking this back.” She brushes at the scuffs on the PDA with the sleeve of her jacket, then sets her lips together, makes herself look up at the Owens with determination. “Come on then. Best we do some scans on you two.”
“I’m still me,” both Owens say with identical whiny inflection, but follow without further complaint.
“A DVD player,” Ianto says.
“There’s already a DVD player in every computer.”
“All right then, DVDs.” Ianto doodles idly on the half-filled notepad: 007. “The entire Bond back catalogue.”
“Ianto, Ianto, Ianto,” Owen drawls. “Isn’t Sean Connery just about old enough to be your grandfather?”
Ianto glances up with a smirk. “More of a Craig man, myself.”
Owen scoffs, his teasing at a dead end when Ianto refuses to show the least bit of embarrassment.
“I think you’d make a fabulous Bond girl, Ianto,” Tosh informs him with an impulsive eyebrow waggle; he responds with a wink.
“I always rather fancied being a villain, actually,” he confesses. “More sexual tension.”
Tosh laughs in delight, and Owen’s snort is mostly amused.
“Gwen?” Ianto prompts.
“Tampons,” Gwen announces. Tosh groans in agreement.
Owen looks appalled. “What? You mean you’ve not…”
“No, Owen, we did not have a never-ending supply.” Tosh shares a sympathetic glance with Gwen. “Nor the drugs nor natural ability to--” she waves a hand vaguely below her waist “--shut it all down. Even the cheap tampons from the dispensers in the ladies’ rooms ran out after the first few months.”
“Then what… You’ve… What’ve you been using?”
“Well, Gwen is actually a very accomplished seamstress,” Tosh begins matter-of-factly. “And we do have an awful lot of socks. Those sports ones are quite absorbent.” A thought occurs to her and she turns again to Gwen. “Though, we could incinerate them instead of washing them, now we’ve got the duplicator.”
She hadn’t thought it was possible for Owen’s delicate sensibilities to be offended even more, but his horrified expression tells her otherwise.
“Christ,” Gwen says, exasperated. “They haven’t been manufacturing disposable ‘hygiene products’ since menstruation began, Owen. Did you miss that part of medical school? You are a doctor, aren’t you?”
“It’s different,” Owen waffles. “It’s… you.”
“Go on, then,” Tosh says, taking pity on him. “Change the subject. It’s your turn.”
Owen idly crumbles the remains of his dry biscuit. “Sugar,” he says.
“I’m sure if we pulled the coffee machine out we’d find at least one grain,” Ianto says. “It wouldn’t take that long to duplicate enough of them to put a teaspoon in your tea.”
Owen looks like he’s actually considering it; Ianto adds another note to his list. “Tosh?”
“Well, seeing as we’re well beyond ‘what we should duplicate’ and well into ‘what I wish we had’… A comfortable bloody pillow.” She’s tired of sleeping on her rolled-up sweatshirt. Even if she’s been able to duplicate a few more of them to have one on dedicated pillow-duty, now. The others murmur in agreement, and they drift in wistful silence for a while.
Ianto breaks it. “Jack,” he says, not looking up this time. “I know you’re right, Tosh,” he says, quick on the tail of it. He looks miserable. Tosh feels a surge of sympathy, and a pang of her own. She does miss Jack.
Gwen rolls her chair closer in order to rub the back of Ianto’s neck. “What if…” she says. “What if we duplicate him? We could keep one in the drawer and unfreeze the other.”
Ianto’s expression shifts from dejectedness to confusion. “Not sure that’d prevent the paradox so much as exacerbate it, Gwen,” he says slowly. “Although, with two Jacks…”
He tilts his head to meet her gaze side-on, their expressions strikingly similar as they give it consideration before the moment is broken and they look away again.
Gwen sighs wistfully. “I suppose you’re right.” She nudges his shoulder with hers, then slides her hand around his shoulders to hook her elbow against his nape. “You lot are all so clever,” she says, fiddling with his hair. “What would I do without you, hey?”
Ianto meets Tosh’s eyes across the table and Tosh presses her lips together so as not to laugh.
“You’d probably have started your own tribe with the pterodactyl by now,” Owen suggests.
Gwen pulls a face. “Hardly,” she says. “I’m more of a Janet girl, myself.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Owen says, jabbing a finger in her direction. “She’s mine, so keep your hands off.”
“What’s all this, then?” the second Owen--or really, the Owen in mint-green scrubs; both had objected to the inference of hierarchy in declaring them consecutive and settled on the compromise of telling them apart through different-coloured scrubs--strolls into the conference room. He’s not looking at them, though, seeming to refer to the bottle he’s carrying in his hands. It’s thick-glassed, clearly alien in origin, and the liquid inside is a murky, cloudy brown. Tosh is sure that the last time she saw it it was empty.
Ianto groans. “I told you not to touch that until it’s ready.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I told him, then.” Ianto jabs his finger towards the Owen still sitting at the table. The Owen in question smirks.
“What is it?” Tosh asks, intrigued.
Ianto stands and takes the bottle from mint-scrubs Owen. “It’s ginger ale,” he says. “It’s not ready yet.”
“Ginger? Where the bloody hell did you get ginger?!”
Ianto sends a reproachful look in mint-scrubs Owen’s direction. He never seems to adjust to the fact that he needs to tell Owen everything twice, something both Owens seem to take great pleasure in.
“Well, it’s not ginger, exactly,” Ianto says, observing as white-scrubs Owen drags the bottle across the table and unstoppers it to take a whiff. “I made it from the rhizomes I found growing in Owen’s laundry hamper.”
Owen jerks back, eyes watering; mint-scrubs Owen winces in sympathy. “Bloody hell, mate, I can tell!”
Ianto shrugs unapologetically. “You’re the one who wanted ‘lashings of ginger ale’.”
“What?” Gwen says, startled.
White-scrubs Owen glares at Ianto; mint-scrubs Owen glares at white-scrubs Owen.
“Never figured you for a Blyton fan, Owen,” Tosh says, highly amused.
White-scrubs Owen shrugs morosely. “Well, we are the bloody famous five now, you know,” he grumbles, then pushes the bottle back towards Ianto. “Thanks for nothing, Timmy.”
“I suppose that makes you Dick, then,” Ianto replies without missing a beat.
“Do you two need a moment?” Tosh inquires, tone pointedly neutral. On second thoughts; “You three, even?” She won’t deny that the mental image is not unappealing. All three men eye each other then look away rapidly.
“Go on,” mint-scrubs Owen says, bracing his hands on the table and slouching forward into Ianto’s personal space; white-scrubs Owen looks both amused and mortified. “You’ve done everyone else in this room, haven’t you? Bar him.” He jerks a thumb in his clone’s direction.
Tosh flushes, mainly in sympathy of Ianto’s exposure, though she notes with a degree of indignation that Gwen’s not exactly denying it. Ianto’s shoulders are very stiff. If looks could kill, they’d be down to one Owen again.
“Come on, Astroboy,” mint-scrubs Owen forges on. “Hey, now we’ve got that duplicator, I could have clean clothes again! Proper ones!”
Relaxing incrementally at the change in subject, Ianto neatly prints ‘CLOTHES’ at the end of his list. “You’d have to wash them first to be able to actually duplicate clean ones,” he informs Owen matter-of-factly.
“You’re right,” white-scrubs Owen says, fingers drumming against his chin as he and mint-scrubs share a calculating stare. White-scrubs looks back to Ianto. “Trade you laundry duty for a blowjob?” he suggests guilelessly.
Ianto stands abruptly and leaves, the frail atmosphere of camaraderie in the room exchanged for one of vague discomfort. Gwen sighs.
“Well, go on, then,” white-scrubs Owen says to mint-. “Follow him.”
“I think that was a ‘no’,” Gwen points out irritably, then leans across the table and smacks Owen across the crown of his head. To his credit, he doesn’t even bother trying to dodge. Mint-scrubs Owen smirks and exits nonetheless.
Tosh sighs and retrieves Ianto’s abandoned list. It’s short and to the point. Not unlike Owen. “I’ll get started on this, then.”
“I’ll help,” the remaining Owen says, popping up from his seat as if there’s a spring in it.
“It’s quite all right,” she says with a polite smile, still smarting a little at the abrupt way Owen--Owens--had killed the mood. “I’ll take care of it.”
He looks a little crestfallen.
“You should probably go rescue your twin,” she suggests kindly, and he doesn’t perk up, but still nods and leaves the room.
It’s even more awkward with only she and Gwen left. They give each other tight smiles, then Tosh leaves Gwen in the conference room with the massive pile of duplicated biscuits, off to seek out the last of the loo paper.
Tosh hadn’t realised just how tense they all were until abruptly, they were all quite relaxed.
Gwen seemed happy to watch over the Hub benevolently from Jack’s office, so long as Tosh was willing to occasionally duplicate a batch of the expired Mars Bar she’d found in a compartment of Jack’s desk.
Tosh herself was kept occupied by the duplicating device, at first calibrating the settings and rigging up a way to recharge its power supply, and then happily duplicating all manner of food, clothing and technology the others brought to her.
And, the roll-on effect of that: Owen and Ianto (and Owen) were bickering considerably less than they had been, easily soothed when there’s no need to tussle over a single item; the duplicator means there’s always enough. For everyone.
“Tosh!” She looks up, frowning as she casts her gaze about to find the source of the call. “Over here!”
Finally she locates Owen--white-scrubs--waving madly from a bit of scaffolding near Myfanwy’s eyrie. He doesn’t seem to be in distress, though with the way he’s standing up on the railings and leaning forward alarmingly, he appears to be in possession of some urgency.
“Watch this!” He braces himself against some of the higher railings, looks across and then rapidly back at her. “Are you watching?”
“Yes, I’m watching,” she calls back, impatient, making very sure not to look away, planting her hands upon her hips.
Her heart lurches and a gasp escapes as Owen leaps from the scaffolding; he doesn’t fall, though, there’s the put…put…put-put-putput! of an engine--more than one--revving and he abruptly shoots upward mid-way through his fall, faint trail of exhaust behind him. He’s not alone, she realises as she lets out the breath she was holding and lets her focus widen; two other figures dart and flop about the Hub’s stratosphere like rag dolls tied to fireworks. Myfanwy swoops down and up again, muddling the clearly choreographed ribbons of their exhaust.
The pterodactyl keens in distaste as the three land in a stumble on the wide lip of her perch.
“Were you watching that?” Ianto’s voice drifts down very faintly from above. “Did you see?”
“Yes, I saw,” she shouts back. “Very good.” She can’t affect a tone of disinterest, not when duplicating the jetpack had no doubt prevented an inevitable world war three over the prototype, something that she felt sure had been brewing, confirmed when it was one of the first things Owen had demanded be copied.
By the time the three of them have made their slow way back down the stairs to the lower levels though, the Owens have set Ianto off again. His knuckles are white around the shoulder straps of his jetpack and he scowls, face inflamed, before storming off without so much as greeting her.
She folds her arms over her chest and gives both Owens a pointed stare. They retaliate with identical expressions of feigned innocence.
“You have to admit Tosh, that was bloody brilliant.”
“Yes, it certainly looked like the three of you put a lot of work into it.” She emphasises the figure, their self-satisfied glee fades a little.
“Oh, come on Tosh, there’s no need be like that.”
“Funny, I was about to tell you the same thing.” She’s not sure why the Owens seem to listen to her, lately. Perhaps, with two of him around, her behaviour’s been automatically adjusting itself--shoring up its defences, as it were, against the amplification of his personality. Which is probably the same reason she’s feeling slightly more protective of Ianto as well. And less likely to sympathise with Owen, on just about anything--he’s always got himself to go crawling back to, after all.
“Oi, that was brilliant,” Gwen giggles from behind her. “Here you go, then.”
A broken-off bit of Mars Bar sheds crumbs of stale, whitened chocolate as it flies through the air; white-scrubs Owen perks up and jerks his chin up and forward, catching the morsel easily in his mouth and chomping it down with a grin.
“Hey, now,” Gwen says suspiciously, coming abreast of Tosh and folding her arms as well before freeing a hand to point at one of the Owens. “I thought I taught the green one that trick!”
The Owens look at each other sheepishly. “Yeah, about that,” mint-scrubs Owen says. “You didn’t really think we stuck to the same colours each day, did you?”
“Because, well,” white-scrubs Owen takes up. “It’s much more fun this way. And variety is the spice of life, innit?”
Tosh had had her suspicions. Gwen seems quite put out, though. “Now that’s not bloody fair,” she says.
“Hey, you lot swap clothes all the time--”
“How are we meant to tell you apart?”
White-scrubs Owen throws his hands up in exasperation. “Tell who apart, Gwen?” he asks, the frustration in his voice genuine. “We’re the same bloody person!”
“Only you know some things that he doesn’t.”
“Only the stuff that’s happened since we were duplicated. Everything else is just the same. Same Owen. Same everything.”
“Depends which school of philosophy you ascribe to, I suppose,” Tosh interjects.
“Well, they’re my bodies, so I get to decide which one it is.” The other Owen nods his head in firm agreement.
“Especially if it means you get to mess us about while you’re at it,” Tosh observes dryly.
A wounded expression flits over mint-scrubs Owen’s face, white-scrubs Owen has already turned to face away in disinterest. “It’s not like that, Tosh,” mint-scrubs Owen says. “You’ve got it wrong.”
“Whatever!” white-scrubs Owen says, bordering on a shout, and stalks off.
The duplicator is nothing like the resurrection glove. There’s nothing malicious about it in and of itself, and it’s not controlling Tosh in any way, shape or form. Tosh is just controlling by nature. And the duplicator gives her control where before she had almost none.
Of course, there was a kind of freedom in having no control over her circumstances and environment; now she finds herself waking in the middle of the night, brain flipped on again like a light switch, as if she hadn’t managed to quiet it enough to slip into exhausted sleep only a couple of hours previous. As if uninterrupted, the list of inventory scrolls through her mind, sure yet again that she’s missing something, that there is more she could duplicate.
What if they consume, wear out or destroy something before she has a chance to create a backup of it? With the duplicator they can exist down here perpetually. If she hasn’t duplicated something, then once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Tosh sits up on her camp bed and swings her legs around to plant her feet on the floor. The concrete’s cold, but the pair of slippers Gwen had made her out of multiple socks are still standing where she took them off not that long ago. Tosh slips her feet into them, wriggling her toes against the squishy insides, and pads out of the room.
The Hub is dark in a mellow kind of way, the shadows communicating a cavernous freedom clad in wet stone rather than a suffocating claustrophobia. Perhaps it’s the faint blue lights from the scattering of sleeping technology that causes it, or the negative ions from the water still running down the tower. Tosh thinks she could navigate the Hub perfectly well even if she were blind, although maybe not so much at the moment; the main area is cluttered with stacks of duplicated crates, computers, mountains of clothes and--a little further away from the rest--bricks of compressed pterodactyl dung.
Soap. There had been liquid, industrial-strength sanitation cleanser for the first month or so, and Ianto had foraged a single, half-used bar of sandalwood-scented soap from Jack’s quarters after that. Tosh always suspected he’d been holding out on them on it up until that point, but then again he had brought it to her, it’s not like they caught him in the act of keeping it all to himself.
She knew each tile in the showers as well as she knew the rest of the Hub, and she knew without a doubt that there was a chip of that solitary sandalwood bar stuck in a corner of grout beneath the faucets of the second-to-last shower head. She’d idly stroked at it with her toe a few times, trying to get it to dislodge and disintegrate down the drain.
She grabs a chisel--better use than a toe, in this case--and heads downwards towards the employee washrooms, already imagining the masses of creamy sandalwood-scented soap she’ll be able to produce from that single sliver. She’s had enough of stepping out of the shower and feeling merely almost-clean.
Preoccupied with the path of her own thoughts, she doesn’t hear the sound of running water until pushing open the door results in a sudden waft of steam over her face. Her mouth automatically opens to simultaneously call out an apology and alert the bather to her presence, but the sound of voices makes her hesitate.
It’s not like any of them have any privacy left to invade, Tosh rationalises as she carefully eases the door open a little further, willing the cool air in the empty corridor behind her to draw out more steam and increase her visibility.
It’s the Owens. Tosh knows from experience that when there are multiple people using multiple showers, one tends to need to raise one’s voice to converse over the slap of water on tiles and across the modest distance between participants. The murmured volume of their voices now, however, suggest that both Owens are standing under the same generous cascade of water. The humid air fills her lungs almost intimately as Tosh holds her breath.
They’re pressed close together. There’s not much sexual about it, even though… Well, they’re naked, of course, and there’s not a gap between them as they press together face-to-face. Owen’s body--his bodies, they’re identical--was lean to begin with; he always tried to butch it up with shitkicking boots and battered jeans and bomber jackets, but after so many months living on beet soup he’s as stripped-down as the rest of them, not quite skeletal but almost adolescent in the skinny stretch of his limbs. The water plasters his hair down, though, carves into relief the adult broadness of his jaw as one of the Owens tugs the other’s head more directly under the spray, hands coming up to rub against his scalp. Their eyes are closed as they speak to each other, too softly for her to hear, their skin inflamed by the hot water, bodies linked together under the spray.
She withdraws before the sound curling under her tongue can come out and alert them to her presence. There’s a tangled knot of something in her solar plexus, loose threads of it pulled tight with heat in her groin even as it tickles and tugs in her chest; a conflict of guilt at witnessing something so intimate and at the same time a familiar longing--she wants that. She wants that. More clearer now than ever that it’s not something Owen would ever give her. Or maybe not just her, but to anyone.
She goes back to her room via the corner of the Hub they’ve moved all the computer workstations to, tapping the space bar briefly to wake up her monitors before cueing up the CCTV records. She clicks back on the washroom timeline until she sees both Owens enter the room, then highlights it until the present and hits ‘delete’. Sighing, she stands again and turns to--
One hand clutching at the back of the chair in front of her and the other splayed against her chest, Tosh pants at the apparition before her, trying not to have a heart attack, pass out, or all of the above.
“Tosh? You all right up there?” calls Owen’s voice from below.
Tosh blinks rapidly, loosening her grip on the chair back as her mind comes to terms with what’s in front of her eyes. “All right,” she agrees shakily. “Nothing to worry about.”
Forcibly lowering her hands, she takes a few steps forward. She hadn’t seen him before, hidden in a pocket of shadow by his office porch, but the bright blue light from Tosh’s woken monitor now illuminates him eerily.
Much like an action figure treasured by its nerdy owner, Jack’s still in his cryo-packaging, the perspex case presenting his frozen body on display where someone’s propped it up by the door, even as the monitoring unit blinks comfortingly above his head. She makes herself touch the chilly surface of it, keen to forcibly dispel the instinctual terror of turning and seeing him looming there, pale and corpse-like.
It partially works; the adrenaline still rushing through her system exacerbates both the spike of sadness and sense of fond amusement--at Jack, certainly, not at whoever decided that this he was better suited here than his drawer in the morgue. And, she will admit--there is a degree of comfort in having him watch over the Hub, if only symbolically.
Either that or a wicked delight in knowing that they can do anything right here under his nose and there’s nothing he can do about it.
Tosh is still awake when she hears Gwen scream. Initially she assumes it the proof to her hypothesis--that it’s Ianto who’s responsible for the pointed positioning of Jack’s cryo-chamber--but when Gwen’s screaming doesn’t stop she finds herself running towards the sound.
“Gwen!” Ianto’s shouting as Tosh skitters into the main Hub. “Gwen! Take my hand!”
He’s on his hands and knees, leaning precariously forward over the Rift pool, one hand braced on the rim and the other outstretched. Gwen’s in the pool, but--
It doesn’t make sense. Tosh has been in that pool and it’s barely deep enough to drown someone lying down in it, let alone--
Gwen surfaces again, splashing and shrieking, flailing towards Ianto’s hand before something drags her well under again.
“Gwen!” Tosh shouts. Ianto shoots a desperate glance towards her at the sound of her voice, and she bursts into motion again, dropping on the ground by Ianto as Gwen resurfaces. Tosh grabs Ianto’s belt on either side of his hips, angling her body at a counter-point to his. She digs her heels into a grate closer to the pool and holds on fast as Gwen’s fingers smack and slip against Ianto’s.
“That’s it,” Ianto says, his voice shockingly firm. “Almost there, come on--!”
Tosh slides her hands around his waist and locks her knees as there’s an abrupt jerk and he’s almost pulled into the pool; with her help he re-establishes his balance and with their combined effort they drag Gwen out of the water.
Gwen collapses on top of Ianto as their momentum carries them crashing well back from the edge. She’s gasping and sobbing into his neck; he clutches her hair and stares over her shoulder at Tosh, wide-eyed. Tosh crab-crawls further back from the pool as a scaled, black tentacle lolls out of the water and slaps onto the concrete, inches from where they were.
“What the hell was that?!” Belatedly, Owen appears, one at the stairs leading from the autopsy bay and another near the stairs that lead to Myfanwy’s eyrie. “What the fuck just happened?”
Ianto’s managed to sit up, arms still wrapped tight around Gwen. His sleeves are soaked up past his elbows, and Tosh feels almost nauseous at the thought of what might have happened if she hadn’t heard Gwen screaming. Or if she had, and had just decided not to investigate after all. She swallows, hard.
“Tosh, where the bloody hell are our Rift Monitors?” Owen’s tone is like having a bucket of icy water thrown over her, like having Jack displeased with her. She’s shivering. It’s not like she forgot that they were living right on top of a rift in space and time, it’s just that--
“The Suppressor,” she says. “It didn’t--I thought--”
They watch as Owen strides towards a bank of computers, yanks out handfuls of cords, pulls them forcefully out of their coiled dormancy and drags them back toward the pool. Without ceremony he tosses the ends into the water, Tosh automatically flings an arm up over her eyes as a crackling fills the air and sparks leap from the water toward the tower. There’s the sound of violent splashing, and drops of water cascade down on them before everything stops.
Tosh lowers her arm. Owen’s standing up by the computers, hand on the lowered emergency power-cut lever. Tosh’s nose is assaulted by the aggressive fumes of hot vinegar and burning kelp.
“I suppose I just shut the Suppressor off as well, then?” Owen snarls. He’s cruel a lot of the time but it’s not hard to tell that this time it’s because he’s genuinely angry. The second Owen is yanking the cords out of the sockets, the computers, then pulling the other ends out of the pool. His voice echoes in the unnerving silence of the Hub without the humming of computers, kept company by the soft lapping of the water and their panting breaths. “Not that it seemed to be doing much good anyway.”
Tosh struggles to her feet as he shoves the power lever back up, stumbling over to her computer as it immediately begins to boot itself back up again, flickering to life where the screens closer to the pool remain blank. The Owen nearest comes to stand at her shoulder, and she taps her password in blind as she watches the other Owen crouch down by Gwen.
The Hub’s characteristic desktop reveals itself after a breathless moment, and Tosh clicks rapidly to navigate to the logs, bypassing the executive summary and going directly for the raw data, squinting and leaning in towards the screen--god knows what happened to her specs--to scrutinise the lines of text.
“Something overloaded the Suppressor,” she says at length.
“Well, I could have told you that,” Owen mutters behind her, still a steely sting of anger in his voice.
“It wasn’t unexpected,” she retorts, giving him a brief but pointed look over her shoulder. “It’s part of the documentation that comes with the emergency protocols. We suppress Rift activity when we’re in no position to respond to it, but it’s like--”
“Over-filling a bottle,” Owen says. “Keeping the tap running until it just overflows--”
“A tap running champagne,” she elaborates. “And then shaking the bottle with only your thumb over the top.”
“Your thumbs are pretty small anyway, Tosh,” Owen says, and Tosh finds a tiny bit of the tension loosening its hold on her shoulders. “What about the Monitors? Surely we should have been alerted?”
Tosh clicks away from the report window to another, holding her breath as it takes moments longer than usual; not necessarily a bad sign as the network runs automatic diagnostics following the power cut.
“I diverted the alerts to Jack’s station,” she says as her eyes scan over the Monitor’s settings, remembering abruptly. “When we first moved the computers around. It was our base of operations.”
“And Jack’s station was dismantled.” Gwen’s voice is calm but with an unmistakeable undertone of distressed guilt, she’s standing at Tosh’s other shoulders with her arms clutched over her chest. Tosh recognises the pose--feet planted wide and folded arms shouting no-bullshit--but Gwen’s hair’s still wet and her face several shades paler than it usually is, even after however-many months without sunlight. “It’s my fault.”
Tosh swallows, looks down and away; by the Rift pool Ianto and mint-scrubs Owen are hauling the tentacled creature out of the water. It looks odd--not that she’s ever seen one before, but there’s no doubt there something not-quite-right about it beyond that. Owen kicks it over and she sees that the peculiar asymmetrical structure of it isn’t biological but because only part of the creature’s corpse is there. One side of it is just one massive wound, as if it’d been chopped in half by a very large, very sharp knife.
“The Rift must have opened right in the pool,” Tosh says with sudden realisation. “That’s why it was so deep. It was… It was still open?”
“Well, it’s not now, is it?” Owen asks rhetorically.
Tosh checks the Monitor anyway. “No,” she says. “Alert system now activated on all stations and portable devices,” she adds without prompting.
“That’s not the end of it, then?” If anything, Gwen sounds calmer than she did five minutes ago.
“I’m afraid not,” Tosh says.
“So, there are people out there,” Gwen says slowly, her voice trembling a little as it rises in volume; she pauses to swallow and jab vaguely upward with her thumb. “At risk of things coming through the Rift and grabbing them while we hide down here?”
“Not exactly. The Suppressor’s down here with us, it makes sense that this is where the overflow will start to happen. Has started to happen,” Tosh corrects.
“Best we duplicate some more weapons, Tosh,” Owen suggests soberly, then claps his hands once loudly, rubbing his palms together. He starts to leave the computer bay.
“Where are you off to now, then?”
“The autopsy bay,” he says, as if it’s obvious. “‘Bout time I got to have some fun around here. Besides, I’m looking forward to working with an assistant who knows what I want before I even have to say it.”
“Oi,” says the other Owen from below, half-way to the autopsy bay himself. His scrubs are already discoloured by the creature’s inky discharge; Ianto is leaving footprints of it as he leans his weight against the trolley that the corpse is mostly hanging off in order to propel it forward. “You’re my assistant.”
“In your dreams,” Owen says cheerfully, jogging down to slap his clone on the shoulder, and they trot down the stairs together.
They all start carrying their sidearms again, though the next couple of times the Rift decides to deposit things in their laps, firepower isn’t necessary.
Tosh is down in the bunker when she hears an unfamiliar sound from the hall outside the open door. Heart racing, she sets down the lid of the crate as quietly as she can before padding back to the door and cautiously sticking her head out.
Not more than a few metres away from the doorway, Myfanwy returns Tosh’s startled gaze with a perplexed look of her own, her massive head tilted on its side to focus a single eye in Tosh’s direction. Tosh jerks instinctually back into the room, looks around. Then, careful not to make any sudden moves, steps out again, confirming that it’s only the outside of the room that’s changed. Changed into Myfanwy’s eyrie, apparently.
Myfanwy creaks in her throat again, beak only cracking open an inch to allow the sound some further acoustics, then tilts her head in the opposite direction, swinging away from Tosh.
“Tosh?” Ianto’s standing on the far side of the pterodactyl, looking even more confused. “Is that…?”
“The bunker,” Tosh says, pleased by the calmness of her own tone. It’s not even the entire bunker, actually, just the doorway of it, appeared in the wall. Behind which she knows is solid concrete veined with defunct plumbing. Tosh is queasily glad she wasn’t in the middle of walking through the doorway when… whatever occurred, occurred. As they watch, the door flickers briefly, then disappears, leaving unbroken wall yet again.
“I suppose we’d best see if it’s gone back to where it was,” Ianto says, impressively blasé.
Tosh has a brief lurch of panic as she considers that it might not have gone back to where it was, quickly superseded by the comforting knowledge that really, they had enough duplicated non-expired condoms in the main Hub that they should never need to resort to using the ones dated 1973.
Ianto finishes tossing what looks very familiarly like duplicated road kill into Myfanwy’s gullet before coming abreast of where Tosh is waiting and offering her his crooked arm. She threads her hand through and they make their way along the gantry that leads from the eyrie to the stairs.
Ianto is wearing the latest of Gwen’s tailored creations, a long, almost blanket-like cloak that he seems often wrapped up in, though it hangs back over his shoulders today, brushing against Tosh’s bare ankles as they walk. It’s not an unpleasant sensation; the garment is comprised of a single silk tie painstakingly washed (Ianto), exceedingly duplicated (Tosh) and sewed together in strips (Gwen).
The jetpack it covers makes him look vaguely hunchbacked, although overall Tosh does think it an improvement on the previous capelet that had last been sighted as her bustier. She feels a pang of regret upon recalling it; the remaining scraps of it beyond a rescue that would make it worthy of duplication. She’s already had the forethought to prevent such a fate for this one; there are at least ten clones of it piled up in the main area of the Hub with the rest of their abundance of clothes.
When they finally emerge below, both Owens are loitering about with a nonchalance so transparent it’s like looking at his smirks through cling film.
“Janet’s got a friend,” he announces, clearly unable to even wait for them to ask after his smugness.
The other Owen picks up where the first left off. “Gwen nearly shat herself when it appeared, but we subdued it even without any spray.”
Gwen appears, looking a little less collected--but not distraught, at least--flushed and tousled and pleased.
“The weevil was high,” she informs Tosh and Ianto without ceremony, ignoring Owens’ subsequent scowl. She runs down towards them. “As a kite. And it appeared right in the vaults anyway.”
Gwen pauses, as if for effect, holding her breath and looking at them all in turn for a brief moment, continuing an instant before Owen can complain about the imminent change of subject. “But that’s not all that appeared. You’ve got to see this.”
They’d cleared the crates out of Jack’s hidey hole shortly after recovering the duplicator, no need to hoard when they could simply clone themselves a veritable cornucopia. Back to its minimalist furnishing scheme, they’re all able to clamber down the ladder and into the hollowed-out space with little crowding.
“That’s never been there before,” Ianto says after they’ve stood there gaping for several long moments. The awe in his voice reflects the timbre of the speechlessness from the rest of them, yet seems pitifully inadequate in comparison to the hazy particles of gold that are drifting softly from the smear of light daubed on the dingy wall by Jack’s long-abandoned bed.
Yet that description does not do it justice, Tosh’s mind struggles to come up with adequate representation. To call it a smear is almost an insult; it’s almost larger than the bed itself and spreads out from a single vein of brightness as if painted there with the casual brush stroke of a master artist. The wavering tendrils of it, blurred in her vision by the sheer brilliance of the particles, stretch out languidly from the wall in their gentle dance as if tasting the air, then abruptly her lungs are full and tight with it as it washes over them all in a wave.
She’s not sure how long it lasts and can’t find it within her to care, even as the air clears enough again for her to see the gold-limned shapes of her team-mates around her, similarly gasping for breath. Her heart is pounding and she swears she can almost hear theirs as well; without even looking she can sense the Owens drawing close together nearby, the accidental brush of movement against her makes her heart surge up against her breastbone.
“I think… Oh god,” Ianto gasps. “I think we need to get… Get out of here.”
Tosh nods, and the ends of her hair tickles against her throat, making her shudder. Bending her limbs to climb up the ladder again is exquisite stretch and ache, and she realises as she stumbles out of Jack’s hidey hole and back into the only-slightly clearer air of the main Hub that the thrumming, pounding beat shaking her body isn’t just coming from inside of her, but rather it’s music.
Blinking rapidly does nothing to dispel the multiplying beams of silver light that glide through the golden haze, and Tosh teeters a little--grit from the cool concrete grinding deliciously against the soles of her bare feet--as she looks up. The disco ball is descending from above with a slow, benevolent grace, spinning slowly and reflecting the haze, scattering kisses of light around the Hub that land and slip over their bodies.
Tosh closes her eyes in bliss and swears she can still feel the light moving over her like a physical caress; when she opens them again the hyper-detection sphere for plant-based airborne pheromone enhancement particles has ceased its descent, rotating lazily above where Gwen and Ianto have come to a halt also--or, thereabouts. They stumble against each other on unsteady legs, Ianto’s hands gripping the bare skin of Gwen’s waist below her rucked-up shirt, Gwen’s hand thrust into Ianto’s trousers. Ianto’s mouth is wet and red against the side of Gwen’s neck, Tosh gets only a glimpse of it before the two surge into movement again, bodies pressed together and turning about each other in a somnambulistic dance before they fall sideways. Their bodies don’t tense to catch themselves, instead sinking against the welcoming pile of dark red silk, Ianto’s litter of tie-cloaks rustling in a seductive whisper, sound echoed by the golden shimmer of the air as their movements intensify.
Tosh tries to step forward but is abruptly halted by the press of an open mouth against the skin behind her ear. The unexpected sensation of heat and wetness draws her body up onto tip toes and another body behind her catches the movement; Owen’s chest against the arch of her shoulder blades, Owen’s boney shoulder underneath her tipped-back head. Another mouth fastens low on her throat and she grips Owen’s hair with a fierce fist as the other Owen’s hands slide around her body to cup and squeeze her breasts.
Her balance held, she reaches up her other hand blindly, finding the side of the other Owen’s neck and scraping her nails lightly down the taut muscle. He moans in response, a pleasant vibration, and pushes his hips forward; she can feel his hard-on digging against her buttock. Her name in his mouth is a heavy sigh with the barest bit of tongue action on either side of it, thrilling against her wet skin. She can’t tell them apart when they’re both pressed in behind her and suspects she wouldn’t be able to anyway, with the brush of their bare chests electric against her bare arms.
Ianto and Gwen tumble on the silk-cushioned ground only a few paces ahead of her, nearly naked now, their bodies alluring through the dark, blurred veil of Tosh’s eyelashes, light clinging to them. Another surge of heat from her belly steals her breath at the sight, endless waves of it now, and she feels torn between the sensations being bestowed from behind her and the visible promise of what lies ahead.
Struggling to maintain at the very least some of her brain’s advanced problem-solving capabilities, she drops her hand from Owen’s neck and instead uses it to grip the elastic waistband of his scrubs, elbow bending to dig into his belly, pushing him back enough to dislodge his grip on her breasts. She wobbles a little as she stands on her own, maintaining her grip on the other Owen’s hair as she determinedly walks forward, tugging both of them along behind her.
It’s much better when she’s horizontal, and the silk much better against her bare side once the Owen behind her has helped her wriggle out of her skirt and teeshirt. She’s even able to kick her knickers off her ankles before Owen’s fingers delve between her legs, setting off trembling pulses of pleasure as they pinch and rub against her swollen flesh.
Gwen, on her back beside Tosh, looks about as flushed as Tosh feels, and is just as conveniently naked, so Tosh allows the rocking of her body to sprawl her further forward and over Gwen’s body.
Gwen doesn’t object; rather she slides a knee over Tosh’s thigh, encouraging its press up between her legs, and the stutter of her hips tilts an arch into her back that makes her breasts move deliciously. Tosh bites at the tempting flesh and the way it yields makes her open up her jaw and tongue it harder. Ianto is close as well, mouthing at Gwen’s other breast and Tosh can see the glint of his eyes through his half-closed lashes, see the faint stubble on his chin rasping against the pores in the skin of Gwen’s chest. Tosh can smell him; her mouth floods with saliva. She buries her fingers in his hair, clasping the back of his head and pressing it forward, forcing his face hard against Gwen’s skin; he makes a muffled grunt of pleasure and she scratches her nails approvingly against his scalp.
Tosh can also see one of the Owens over Ianto’s shoulder, and the sheer delight of being able to not only feel him behind her but see him in front of her is something she had not anticipated. The pleasure of both visual and physical stimulation is enhanced by a sense of self-satisfaction; she’d not been wrong, the sight of Ianto and Owen together is indeed rather appealing. Ianto’s managed to insinuate a hand in where Tosh’s thigh grinds between Gwen’s legs, and Tosh can feel the flex of the delicate bones in the back of his hand when he crooks his fingers rhythmically.
There’s the sharp sound of a smack; Gwen’s hand has flailed out to hit the side of Ianto’s thigh as he nudges his hips in behind hers. The sudden movement disturbs the golden particles moving languidly through the air around them, they spiral about more urgently as Gwen digs her fingers in.
Gwen’s mouth is open as she moans; Tosh is sure she’d feel a flutter of embarrassment on Gwen’s behalf if the sound--and the sight--of it were not so arousing. Tosh crushes Ianto’s hand against her with a firm press of her knee then leans forward to capture Gwen’s gasp with a kiss. Their chests press together, the friction of Gwen’s sweaty skin dragging against Tosh’s nipples and one of Gwen’s is poking Tosh right back, encouraging her to force her hand in the hot space between then and grip it, roll it between her fingertips. Gwen jerks in response; Tosh hears Owen groan behind her, the sound echoed in a different pitch and length by Ianto. Tosh looks up to see the other Owen gnawing on Ianto’s shoulder, hands out of sight but lean muscles in his biceps flexing below his gilded skin, and then she’s distracted by the nudge of Gwen’s elbow into her belly, then the thrilling slip of Gwen’s fingers against her clit.
The sound of a condom wrapper being ripped open occurs in stereo as Tosh hears it close by her ear behind her and sees the Owen in front of her tear the plastic with his teeth at the same time. The kiss between her and Gwen gets sloppier, Gwen’s spit over Tosh’s chin and cheeks and Gwen’s lips are loose, tongue firm as Owen’s dick slips between her thighs, hot against the delicate skin, then Owen’s hand is angling Tosh’s leg up further and his dick drives into her, intense pressure that she returns with the fierce grip of her body. It’s paired with the muddled sense of triumph, the emotion a brief stab of clarity amidst the delectable, golden chaos that her mind is careening into with the momentum that’s building between their bodies.
It feels like even her mind is aflame with it as they all move in tandem, Owen sharp and hot behind her and inside her, Gwen slipping with sweat against her front, the whole length of her body and waves of heat coming even from Ianto, his face flushed and hair slicked to his forehead. It’s almost like she can see it, a shimmer of gold that clings to all of their bodies and thrums for a few inches around them, like an aura. She can see it even when she closes her eyes.
The voice penetrates the comfortable darkness Tosh is happily swaddled in, and it’s pleasantly familiar but at the same time currently unwelcome. She turns her head further into its resting place, hiding her frown against the warm, vaguely sticky skin beneath her.
“Of all the damn times…” The voice is closer now, and Tosh finds herself unwillingly drawn further toward wakefulness. As her consciousness re-establishes its hold she becomes aware of several things: that she’s naked; that she’s sandwiched between two other naked--breathing, warm and slightly damp--bodies; that her body is permeated by aches and pains that, while they feel like a mildly pleasant reminder of some enjoyable activity now, may not feel so welcome once she tries to move again; and that the person speaking is, in fact--
Her eyes fly open and she sees she’s not the only one to have made this particularly startling discovery. Ianto’s sitting bolt upright nearby, his expression one of shock; even his hair looks astounded. Tosh’s head whips around to follow Ianto’s gaze and finds the subject of Ianto’s exclamation: Jack is crouched a few feet away, coat draped around him with its hem dragging in the drifts of vaguely-metallic dust covering the floor, elbows resting on his knees and hands hanging loose between them.
He gives her a smile that looks vaguely pained. “Hello Tosh,” he says. “Ianto.”
Ianto scrambles to his knees then bends again to fumble for something to cover his nudity; one of the Owens groans in protest as Ianto yanks one of the cloaks from beneath him and wraps it around his body, tucking it up under his armpits like a towel. Tosh tries to follow suit but finds it takes a few moments longer to detangle herself from the other Owen and Gwen, though her progress is aided when her struggles rouse them both.
“Jack!” Gwen says, nearly exactly the same intonation as Ianto only a few octaves higher. She grabs the edge of Tosh’s covering cloak and hides herself under it; Tosh shifts a little closer to allow her to share it more equally.
Jack watches this with the expression of a man whose Christmases have all come at once only to discover that all his presents are coal. “Gwen,” he says in calm greeting.
“What are you… Where did you… Oh my god! You’re back!” Tosh hopes that Gwen doesn’t decide to leap forward into Jack’s arms; she’d most likely end up taking the cloak with her and Tosh isn’t quite ready to relinquish her modesty just yet. Especially as the nearest possible replacement cloak is definitely harbouring a wet spot.
Neither of the Owens bother with a cloak of their own, unperturbed by their own nudity. “Jack,” they say, one with a hint of wary suspicion and the other pointedly neutral to the point of icy.
Jack raises an eyebrow. “Owen,” he says, nodding at them in turn. “Owen.”
“Sir.” Ianto’s managed to rise to his feet, wincing, and Jack stands to meet him. Ianto still looks wrecked, even though most of him is covered; he has reddened scratch marks over his throat and chest, hair ridiculous, face blotchy and flaky with dried spit. He has a condom wrapper stuck to his cheek. Jack picks it off delicately between thumb and forefinger, smiling fondly.
“You’re… Are you--? You’re back.” Ianto is uncharacteristically frazzled. Which, Tosh supposes, is to be expected. She’s not feeling entirely composed herself, right now.
Jack’s smile turns pained again. “Not… Necessarily. No, wait. No. No, no, I’m not. I’m not back.” Jack gesticulates meaninglessly, his hands finishing up in his hair. He tugs it briefly, then lets his hands drop by his sides again. “This is wrong, this is all wrong.”
Ianto’s expression changes and Jack’s hands rise again, reaching out then hovering just above Ianto’s shoulders. “No, not--that. Not this.” Jack’s smile turns wide and genuine, heartbreaking in its familiarity. “This,” he says, opening his arms to encompass the five of them in various states of undress and recline. “This is the opposite of wrong. This is fantastic.”
“But?” one of the Owens prompts, feigning boredom, clearly half-heartedly.
“But I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be--” He jerks his thumb back over his shoulder and Tosh has a sudden flood of realisation when she sees the cryo chamber still propped up by Jack’s office, empty and ajar.
With silent agreement, she and Gwen both stand. It abruptly makes it more awkward to be naked underneath the same garment, and Tosh tenses when Gwen’s bare hip unavoidably brushes her own. Jack’s gaze moves to them. His eyes take on that wet, eager look, almost like a cartoon character.
“You guys,” he says. “You’re gorgeous.” His eyes move hungrily over all of them. “All of you. All of you. Oh boy, I can’t tell you how much I wish circumstances were different right now.”
“What, that you’d defrosted a couple of hours ago instead?” The Owens are sharing a cloak of their own, now, their shape beneath the drape of it like a set of conjoined twins.
“Well, that too,” Jack concedes. “Though I was… kinda… defrosted a bit. Not long after the cryo unit started to malfunction.” He looks discomfited by the recollection. “I could see what was going on,” he explains. “But it took a bit longer for the seal to recognise the change in internal temperature and automatically disengage.” He tugs at the front of his trousers with a grimace, utterly shameless and, Tosh suspects, without suggestive intent.
“We’ll need to put you back, then?” she asks, because she’d known as soon as Ianto had pulled his drawer out in the morgue and she’d seen the readout from the PDA. Seeing him now, awake and alive and clearly madly in love with them doesn’t make it any easier, but it doesn’t make her any less right about it, either.
“Lovely Toshiko,” Jack says. “Clever, sexy Toshiko.” He sighs heavily and full of wist, his gaze returning to her face. “Either that or risk a paradox,” he says. “And trust me, you don’t--don’t--want another one of those this year.”
“Another one?” Ianto leaps upon the hint.
Jack presses his lips together pointedly, meeting Ianto’s gaze without shirking.
“So, you just climb back in again, is that it?”
“Well. I might just…” Jack waves a hand around his groin in explanation. “Clean up a bit first. Not as kinky as you might think, snap freezing the family jewels in their own juices. Though there was this one time, on this planet that was just one big ice cap, they had this particular practice that involved glaciers that they called…”
“Come on, then,” Ianto sighs, tucking his cloak more securely under his arms and stepping forward. “Can I touch you, then?” he asks with uncharacteristic boldness. Then again, Tosh isn’t sure she can really make that kind of judgement any more, considering the events immediately preceding this one.
Jack takes Ianto’s arm. “You’re not too tired, then? Usually such a concentrated dose of extra-terrestrial psychotropic sex pollen is enough to put even the most virile stud out of action for at least a day… Not that I’m speaking from experience, of course…”
“Not that kind of touching,” Ianto says, disapproving with a faint hint of disappointment. “Just that I’d rather not cause the implosion of the universe if it’s all the same to you, Sir. And I can’t believe you just used the word ’stud’ in conversation…” Ianto’s admonishments fade out of earshot as he and Jack make their way towards the employee bathrooms.
Gwen ducks abruptly out from under Tosh’s cloak, snatching up one of her own and whipping it around her shoulders with barely a pause. She gives Tosh a strained, hopeful smile which Tosh returns, hoping she doesn’t look quite as shellshocked as Gwen does. Gwen turns, tucking her hair behind her ear--a tiny modicum of order amidst its tangled chaos--and makes her way towards Jack’s office at nearly a run, bare feet tiptoeing rapidly across the concrete.
“We all had sex.”
Tosh turns at Owen’s stunned, softly-spoken statement. He looks as if the revelation has just run up and hit him on the head. The other Owen is back on the ground, sitting with his knees up and elbows propped on them, face in his hands. Tosh is glad yet again that she had the foresight to duplicate so many of the tie-cloaks; another one of them is pooled in Owen’s lap, now. Hopefully there’s a clean one left to copy anew, Tosh isn’t sure any of the soiled ones can be saved through laundering.
“We really did it, we all had sex.”
Tosh remembers. With a great deal of clarity.
Cringing a little at the still-sticky places on her body that tug at her skin when she walks, she makes her way to the empty cryo unit. Knotting the cloak at her throat, she stretches on tip toes to reach the top where the unit’s control panel resides, running her fingers along it until she feels the chip slot and coinciding eject button. Unexpectedly, the button works; the unit must really be dead if there was no prompt or lock or even alarm in response to her ejection request.
“What are you doing?” One of the Owens is standing on the other side of the unit, watching her actions with vague confusion.
“I,” she says, brandishing the chip and lowering back onto her heels. “Am going to fix this before the universe explodes.” She raises an eyebrow, meeting his gaze, keeping her lids half lowered and suggestion heavy in her tone. “Again.”
There’s a pause, long enough for her to begin to worry that she’s misjudged it, that flirting with someone you’ve just had sex with under the influence of alien plant-based airborne pheromone enhancement particles isn’t something that--
“Saucy, Tosh,” Owen says, grinning. “I like it.”
Tosh turns back to the unit, smiling. “I gathered.”
“What are you up to, then?”
Tosh looks up from the work bench, blinking rapidly as she tries to readjust her focus before remembering her glasses and tipping her chin down to peer over the top of them. Ianto’s smiling at her, affection and polite enquiry both clear on his face.
She smiles back and gestures at the broken husk of the hyper-detection sphere, cracked open on the table. “I thought it’d be obvious.”
“Mind if I sit in?”
“Not at all.”
Ianto settles himself on a stool opposite, propping his legs up on the foot rail of another and cracking open the spine of a book. They sit in companionable silence for an unmeasured length of time, and then Tosh makes a small noise of surprise.
Ianto looks up. “Hmm?”
“Well, that’s not exactly what I was expecting to find.”
He puts his book down, pages splayed open, and leans over the table to peer at her work. “What’s not?”
“That.” Tosh points out the bundle of unexpected technology amidst the familiar circuits and sensors of a hyper-detection unit. “It’s a transmitter,” she explains. “And--” She moves aside a snarl of wires delicately with her pliers, like a surgeon moving around internal organs. The device she reveals is somewhat less alien than its surrounding anatomy.
“A CCTV camera?”
Tosh nods shortly, then sets down the pliers to pick up her PDA. She fiddles with the settings, then runs the narrowly-calibrated diagnostic beam over the transmitter.
She hums briefly in confirmation. “I thought as much. It was transmitting at the same frequency that interfered with the cryo unit. Well,” she corrects, immediately on the tail of it. “Sort of.”
“It was a combination of frequencies--almost a particular filter of them. Transmitted from this,” she gestures to the guts of the sphere again. “And Jack’s wrist strap.”
“So, what you’re saying is,” Ianto says slowly, though sounding not at all surprised. “That the hyper-detection sphere for plant-based airborne pheromone enhancement particles was transmitting data--possibly CCTV footage--directly to Jack’s wrist strap?”
Tosh nods in confirmation.
“And the wrist strap’s reception of said data interfered with the functioning of the cryo unit?”
“In as many words, yes.”
Ianto frowns, looks down at the table. “So, it was the proximity to the sphere that cause the overload of the cryo unit…”
“Ianto, no,” she says, and he looks up at her again. “It doesn’t work like that. This is… This is alien technology--well, except for the CCTV, of course. The sphere would have transmitted to the wrist strap no matter where Jack was. In fact--” She taps lightly at the screen of the PDA with the tip of her finger. “According to the outgoing records of the transmitter, the data was received by two straps.”
“It… What? So that means--”
“There’s another Jack out there. Somewhere on Earth.” She smiles at him, waiting until he returns it before she continues. “Our Jack. And he was no doubt happy to receive that particular missive.”
“Of course,” Ianto rolls his eyes, but he’s clearly pleased. “Considering he’s probably the one who set all of that up.” He gestures to the remains of the sphere, then says in addendum, “Though not the Rift activity that caused it in the first place.”
Tosh grins her understanding. “No doubt. He was always one to live in hope.” She lets the silence settle again pleasantly as they watch each other, then reaches out to rest her hand over his. “We were right to put him back in cryo, Ianto,” she says softly.
Ianto ducks his head again, but doesn’t withdraw his hand. He chews on his lower lip briefly. The leanness of his features has aged his physical appearance, but sometimes she remembers just how young he is. She squeezes his fingers.
“I know that,” he says. “He said so himself, didn’t he?” Ianto pauses for a long moment. “And he’ll come back. How would he end up frozen in the bloody morgue if he hadn’t already come back for it to happen?”
“Exactly.” She gives his hand a brief pat before drawing away and picking up her tools again.
He settles back across the table and she glances up to watch him pick up his book. She squints. The cover is unfamiliar, hard to read from the angle he’s got it tilted at. Books are one of the few things that yield no benefits from being duplicated; they’d all already read the small collection of them before they even found the duplicator.
“I haven’t seen that one before,” she says eventually, curiosity overwhelming her. “Where did you find it?”
He looks up, eyebrows lifted in question, then looks down at the book. “Oh,” he says. “It was in with Jack’s things. I found it when we were moving those crates out of his quarters.” He helpfully tilts it up to display the cover.
What To Expect when you’re XY-pecting it says in large, purple-shadowed font, the text taking up most of the cover. There’s a small cartoon at the foot of the title; a baby examining its own umbilical cord with a look of great perplexity.
“A self-help book on male pregnancy.”
Ianto looks aghast. “Oh, god no. No!” he laughs nervously. “Certainly not.”
“Ah,” she says, not quite sure where to take the conversation after that. The silence is only mildly awkward, and she gazes back down at her work. She hears the rustle of pages across the table, the sound of Ianto cracking the spine again; a habit that ordinarily would set her teeth on edge but now just one of many she’s become placidly accustomed to.
“Shame,” she offers at last, chewing the inside of her cheek until Ianto looks up again, clearly confused. She quirks the corner of her mouth calculatedly. “You and I would make a lovely baby, I think.” She continues indulgently as understanding dawns over his features. “Gorgeous, intelligent, maker of excellent coffee…”
He laughs out loud, actually throwing his head back and mouth wide open. “In possession of a truly frightening sense of humour,” he adds, and she grins.
“Just as long as you’re the one carrying it,” she reminds him.
“What’s so funny?” They both look up, Ianto still chortling, as one of the Owens--mint-scrubs, today--wanders into the room.
“I just found out that Ianto’s not carrying my baby,” Tosh explains helpfully.
Owen stops literally mid-stride, looking abruptly terrified. His gaze darts between Ianto and Tosh rapidly, finally settling on Ianto. “You’re not…”
“No!” Ianto says, louder this time. “No. It’s not even possible, Owen, for god’s sake…” He looks more exasperated than irritated, though. It makes the amusement in Tosh’s belly roll about pleasantly, like a kitten getting comfortable.
“Well--!” Owen says. “Rift in bloody… space and time, all right! Besides, there are things about Jack’s anatomy that might just make you think--”
“All right, that’s enough of that,” Ianto says, cutting him off. He waves the book pointedly in Owen’s direction. “You can read this next, then.” He narrows his eyes. “And give me advance warning when you decide to do dramatic readings of it so I can make sure I’m elsewhere.”
Owen salutes sloppily, already distracted by Tosh’s work. “Oi, is that a CCTV?” he asks, peering. “I ought to have bloody well known, first the Beegees and now this.”
“Did you find out how he got the music transmitted to the PA system as well, then?” Ianto asks, reminded.
Tosh shakes her head. “It was already in there; the sphere was triggered by the particles and music triggered by the activation of the sphere.”
“Disco ball,” Owen corrects. “Let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s a disco ball.”
Tosh ignores him. “The CCTV was picking up sound as well,” she continues. “Transmitting it to the wrist strap.”
“How do you think it even plays video and sound?” Ianto asks, frowning. “I’ve never even heard it so much as beep.”
Tosh shrugs. “It must do, somehow. Jack’s the one who set the whole system up, after all.” She gives a wistful frown of her own. “I wish I could get a closer look at that thing.”
“Well, he’s back in the freezer now,” Owen says helpfully. “You could always nab it off him then put it back, he’d be none the wiser.”
“Wouldn’t feel right,” Tosh says.
“Where’s Gwen?” Ianto changes the subject, idly rocking the empty stool back and forward with his foot.
Owen shrugs, then provides an answer anyway. “She’s with me,” he says. “Still combing the Hub.”
Ianto’s eyes narrow. “Not literally?”
A day or so after Jack had defrosted and been re-frozen the concentrated Rift activity had flared up again, manifesting in a sudden sprouting of fur along the hand rails around the autopsy bay’s gallery. Gwen had used it to practice style cuts with such skill that the Owens had actually agreed to let her cut their hair by the time the fur vanished again a few days later. Fortunately, Owens’ faith was well-placed, and although they now sport a somewhat less shaggy coif, both Owens are still absolutely identical. Tosh has come to terms with not being able to tell them apart, though; now she doesn’t even feel like she wants to.
“No, not literally,” Owen says, unfazed by the question. “They’re still chasing down that spike.”
“Squiggle,” Ianto corrects. He’s right, of course; it was more of a squiggle on the Monitor’s graph than an actual spike, something quite perplexing and entirely unfamiliar. And barely traceable. But certainly in the Hub.
As if on cue, Owen’s voice calls out, just audible but the disgruntlement clear as a bell. “Where are you lot?”
“In here!” Owen shouts back. Tosh winces at the volume.
“Get the fuck out here, would you?”
They find white-scrubs Owen glowering in the autopsy bay, and Tosh’s good mood is jerked out from under her feet like a rug when she sees the pool of blood at his feet.
“What happened?” she asks, horrified. There’s just so much of it. “Is Gwen all right? Where is she?”
“The Rift happened,” Owen says, not at all helpfully.
Gwen’s subdued voice comes from somewhere out of sight. “It’s all right,” she says. “I’m here. It starts up here.”
Silently, Tosh, Ianto and Owen make their way around to where Gwen’s standing, in the pocket of the Hub where Tosh and Owen’s desks usually reside. There’s a much smaller puddle of blood nearby, then a trail of it smeared across the concrete, like something--or someone--has dragged themselves or been dragged along. It smears, obscenely red against white tile, down each one of the stairs, coming to a macabre end at the foot of the examination table.
“I’ll get the cleaning things,” Ianto says, sounding sick.
“The Rift giveth, so does the Rift taketh away,” mint-scrubs Owen says, arguing against it. He has a point, the fur had gone away on its own, as had the second weevil (Brad) and a small copse of trees that had sprouted in the employee bathrooms (ironically, also fir). But his heart clearly isn’t in it. Ianto leaves.
Tosh can’t blame him, either of them--Ianto or Owen. It’s been a long time since violence has been such a confronting part of their daily lives, and this is such unmistakeable evidence of suffering that she feels a bit shaken herself.
“Something alien, do you think?” Gwen asks, her tone one of mild inquiry though it’s clear she’s not entirely calm.
“Doesn’t look like it.” Mint-scrubs Owen makes his way down the stairs while Tosh stays with Gwen, as far back as she can get from it without absenting herself as Ianto had done. Owen avoids standing in any of it, stepping away from the trail as soon as he can when he gets down into the bay. He rummages in one of the medical drawers while white-scrubs Owen watches on.
Obviously finding what he was looking for, mint-scrubs Owen straightens again, brandishing a handheld device. He scowls in his doppelganger’s direction. “Surprised you didn’t do this yourself.”
The other Owen shrugs. “Why should I, when you’re so much better at it?”
Mint-scrubs huffs in dismissal and drops to a crouch, waving the device slowly over the pool at its darkest point. “It’s human,” he says at length, squinting at the display. “It’s--” his free hand slaps against the floor abruptly as he loses his balance, tilting over.
“It’s what?” the other Owen asks impatiently.
Mint-scrubs Owen licks his lips and glances up at him. “Human,” he says, standing and putting his back to Gwen and Tosh. White-scrubs Owen watches his face, and his expression goes blank. “It’s human. That’s all I can tell.”
“Where’s the bloody teaboy?” white-scrubs Owen says, wheeling away as mint-scrubs continues to fiddle with the device, braced against the examination table. “Can’t be that hard to find a fucking mop and bucket!” He kicks at a drawer, irritation clearly blown out of proportion.
Gwen’s hand finds Tosh’s, and Tosh squeezes it back.
“Come on, then,” Tosh makes herself say. “Maybe the bloody teaboy’s off making some tea.”
He’s not; they pass him hauling his mop and bucket on their way to the kitchenette, but Tosh makes the tea anyway, piling sugar into Owens’, the multitude of tiny, identical crystals dissolving almost instantaneously in the amber liquid.
“It might be from something that’s already happened,” Gwen says later, crammed on the sofa between Tosh and Ianto. There’s room to spare, but they’re sitting close nonetheless. “It’s a Rift in time as well as space, after all.” She looks at Tosh expectantly.
Tosh shrugs, in no mood to be clever. “Nothing I can remember. Suzie’s the only one who’s… Since I’ve been here, at least.”
Ianto shakes his head as Gwen turns her gaze on him. “Tosh has been here longer than me,” he explains. “But Torchwood is a violent place.” He rubs Gwen’s knee, though his words are far less comforting than he intends. “It could have been years ago.”
“It could be the future,” Tosh says, then hurriedly, “Years in the future. Decades. Centuries, even.”
They sip their coffee in silence, watching the Owens try to increase velocity by clinging to each other as they ignite both jetpacks at once. Invariably, they surge upward then drift slowly back to the ground, which Tosh supposes is still a better outcome then having to walk down from the eyrie every time.
Then all the lights go out. Tosh barely has time to register the sound of all their background machinery whirring down as well, and the sound of Owens oomphing as they hit the ground blind, before one of them is shouting her name irritably.
“All right, all right,” she says, bracing her hands on Ianto and Gwen’s knees to push herself up out of the sofa. There’s a crank torch by her computer, she knows it, and Tosh finds her way there by touch. When she turns the beam back around behind her, all four of them are standing there watching her with varying degrees of nervousness, squinting unflatteringly in the cool torchlight.
“I’ll come with you,” Ianto says.
“Me too,” Gwen adds quickly, trotting forward to stand close enough that her arm brushes against Tosh’s with every breath.
Tosh flicks her beam in the direction of the Owens. “You should stay here,” she says, leaving it up to Owen’s own interpretation.
“I will,” one volunteers, slouching out of the beam of light; moments later there’s the sound of him falling onto the sofa. “How hard can it be?”
She waits for the remaining Owen to join them, then starts walking in downward direction, keeping the light pointed helpfully at the floor, illuminating their path to the backup generator.
“Systems, you think?” Owen asks, just louder than a whisper. “Or has the generator finally given up on us?”
“It’s not even been a year, Owen,” Tosh says back, keeping her voice similarly muted. “No, I think it might just be another case of--”
“Actually, we’ve been having generator problems all evening. I was down there checking it earlier. Couple of bits of cabling have come loose.”
Ianto’s voice rings out, much louder than their soft conversation, and Tosh swings the torch around, beam of light seeking out the source of the sound as if of its own volition. Ianto’s standing on one of the gantries but it’s not their Ianto; he looks… he looks so young. He doesn’t even flinch at the beam of light illuminating his pale face, doesn’t even seem to be aware of it at all. His dark suit is pristine, expression avidly blank.
“Let me have another look,” he adds, then turns and walks out of the beam. Tosh jerks it over in order to follow him, but can’t locate him again, no matter how much she darts it around.
Ianto’s breath is very loud behind her; in fact she can feel all three of her companions breathing, standing very close.
“Bloody hell,” Owen whispers.
“Can we turn the lights back on now, please,” Gwen pleads, and Tosh doesn’t protest when someone grabs the back of her shirt and keeps a grip on it as they keep walking, now accompanied with the sounds of them continually bumping into each other without complaint.
Through unspoken agreement they get increasingly quieter the further into the depths of the Hub they progress, so when the screaming starts all four of them startle as one. Gwen gives a shout of her own, just as abruptly quieted, and Tosh can feel at least two hands clutching her now. The beam of light is shaky as she drags it slowly along the damp brickwork around them, coming to settle on a heavy double-door at the end of that particular corridor.
“Don’t,” Ianto begs. “Don’t open it, Tosh, please--”
“It’s all right,” she finds herself saying, though her heart feels lodged in her throat, but the screaming cuts out before she can continue. “Keep going,” she says determinedly, breaking their long and frozen pause.
She keeps the torch directed away from the door as they pass it, but she can hear through the solid metal the unmistakeable sound of mechanic ventilation, reminding her of hospital ICUs and science fiction films.
The sound fades once they’ve passed and she takes a long, shaky breath of her own. Not far now, and she can find out what the bloody hell is going on with the backup generator. If it’s broken permanently, she’s not sure how they’ll--
She shuts down that trajectory of thought; best not to think about that eventuality just yet.
The door to the generator room is closed, which is unexpected, but they can hardly stand out here until it opens on their own, especially not since they’ve come this far. Tosh can feel the others hold their breath behind her as she reaches out to push it open--
“Kinky. You know, hopefully I’m not coming across as too worldly for you most decorous of ladies, but usually this kind of bondage works better if there’s a reward at the end.”
Tosh’s hand freezes above the door handle, captured like a photograph in the beam of light.
“Check for exsanguination, evisceration, electrocution and decapitation,” a woman’s voice says, clearly not in answer to Jack’s unmistakeable suggestiveness, her tone bland and almost bored as she reels off the macabre set of words like it’s a shopping list.
“Strangulation?” a different woman answers.
“I’m pretty sure that one at least requires a safe word, especially if you’re going to--hey!”
Tosh shoves the door open on autopilot at the sudden shift in Jack’s tone from nervous sleaze to genuine distress, but Jack’s not there. No one’s there. Just the machinic lump of a beast that is the generator, single orange light on it blinking desultorily.
“Did you… Did you recognise either of those voices?” Gwen sounds as distressed as Tosh feels at what they’ve just overheard.
“Sounded a bit too bloody insane for my taste in women,” Owen says, not quite managing the usual tone of confident disinterest that characterises his sarcasm.
“Sounded like Torchwood,” Ianto says, morbid but subdued.
“He can’t die,” Gwen says as if she’s just realised it. “That could have been… How long as he been here?”
Tosh doesn’t wait for an answer, suspects she’d have to have her torch directed at Ianto to get an approximation of one anyway. She strides forward rapidly to the generator’s control panel. Owen’s there moments later, taking the torch from her and holding it helpfully above the panel, leaving her with both hands free to examine it.
“It couldn’t be the future, could it?” Gwen asks, her voice strained. “Jack practically is Torchwood, there’s no way he’d let anyone--”
“Gwen,” Tosh says sharply, feeling a little distraught at the thought of Torchwood when she’s no longer a part of it, one that might become that. “Shut up.”
Gwen obeys and Tosh works for a few minutes in blessed silence before giving a sigh of immense relief.
“It shut down to protect itself against a surge,” she says at length, flattening her hands against the display to stroke her palms against it, almost affectionately. “Just needs booting up again.”
“But it’s a generator,” Owen says. “Shouldn’t the power surges be coming from it?”
Tosh frowns. “Well, yes,” she says. “Therein lies the problem. I’ll dump the logs from it and take it back upstairs to analyse properly.” She finishes the reboot sequence on the control panel, and is taking out her PDA when the fluorescent lights above their heads flicker back to life.
“About time,” the other Owen says when they re-emerge with palpable relief back into the main area of the Hub without further incident. “It was bloody madness up here. I saw Suzie!”
Tosh exchanges an uncomfortable glance with Ianto and Gwen, no desire to relive their own experiences and hoping that the Owen who had accompanied them felt the same.
“And this other thing appeared,” Owen continues, trotting down the stairs towards them. “Near the Rift manipulator. You’ve got to see it.”
There’s a tear in the air by the Rift manipulator. There’s really no other way to describe it; the air sort of wobbles and bends in a long, gaping rip. Tosh’s eyes water looking at the edges of it, like she’s struggling not to look away, but looking into the centre of it is more unnerving. It’s like she can see right through it to the manipulator but it’s wrong. Just glimpses of it, then the vision distorts and Tosh has to look away.
“The future, perhaps?” Ianto says in a hushed voice, offering an answer to their unasked question.
Tosh pulls out her PDA again, cueing up the portable Rift monitoring program and pointing it in the direction of the wrongness. In response, the PDA makes a rude noise.
“I’d say that looks like a squiggle to me,” one of the Owens says, peering over her shoulder at the graphed activity on the screen.
The other Rift activity doesn’t so much slow once the Squiggle has manifested itself, rather merely concentrate itself in the nearer vicinity. Tosh sets up a base of operations just outside of its radius, dragging her computer desk over with the help of the Owens, who grumble extensively at being forced even that close to it.
If anything, Rift activity increases. The silver lining of this is that after only a few more cases of unsettling deja vu, the time-bending it throws up are too far in the past and future to even hope to recognise. And the volume of the activity is such that anything else that winks into existence barely has time to look around and register its surroundings before the Rift sucks it out of existence again.
The monitoring devices Tosh has set up record this input and report back to her that the level of Rift energy is gradually increasing. Whether it’s seeping out of the Squiggle or if the rapid-fire deposits and withdrawals of all sorts of manifestations are leaving some kind of residue in their wake, it’s not as easy to tell.
Either way, it’s not good; the air around the Hub practically hums with it. Tosh has concerns as to whether actual structural integrity of their base can stand up to it, and she suspects that the increasing, invisible pressure of it is slowly driving the others mad.
“Well, what are we bloody waiting for, then?” one of the Owens demands when she shares her findings and predictions with the rest of the team. Without further ado he whips out the pistol hanging at his hip--and when did scrubs and a gun belt become a combination that doesn’t merit the bat of an eye, Tosh wants to know--aims at the Squiggle and fires.
“Owen, no--!” she starts, already too late, but at least she and the others--other Owen included--are startled enough by the sudden action that they all automatically drop down as soon as the weapon’s brandished.
Owen’s aim is true but the Squiggle is still in constant movement; the bullet hits a blurry edge of it then bloody well ricochets, coming back toward them and hitting the only member of the team that has remained standing in the moments since the gun was made an appearance.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” chants the other Owen, white-scrubs, scrambling over to where mint-rapidly-staining-red-scrubs Owen curls on his back on the floor. “Hold still, you bloody idiot!”
“Not a bloody idiot. It fucking hurts!”
The green scrubs shirt is hauled up and over Owen’s head to the tune of much complaining; white-scrubs Owen presses down and runs his hands over his double’s chest, locating the wound on his side, welling blood on the point of one protruding rib.
“It’s not serious,” white-scrubs says after examining it for a moment longer. The relief is palpable in his voice, and he leans back onto his heels, scrubbing a bloodied hand over his face. “Just a graze.” He struggles to his feet, then pokes at the half-naked Owen still rolling about on the floor with the toe of his shoe. “Stop whining and get up, will you? You’re making us look bad.”
Tosh is still on the floor herself. She feels like she’s about to cry, and finds her hand is clutched at her own neckline. Ianto and Gwen seem to reflect her expression of mingled fright and relief.
“Ahh… Fuck you!” The Owen on the floor hisses, clutching at his side. “Stings… You don’t get to--bloody judge me--you, you judgemaker!” he spits, clearly searching for words and failing as he hisses through the pain.
The uninjured Owen rolls his eyes. “I’m not sticking around for this,” he says, and turns to walk away. “I’ll be down here with the first aid kit!” he shouts pointedly over his shoulder.
Ianto helps Owen to stand.
“Thanks mate,” Owen says breathlessly, either ignoring or impervious to Ianto’s grimace of regret as Owen pats a bloodied handprint against the side of Ianto’s jaw in gratitude. He hisses in through his teeth again. “Ooh, that fucker.”
“Hang on,” Gwen says as Ianto and Owen follow the first Owen down into the autopsy bay. “Can you see that? I can see right bloody through it!”
Tosh stands by Gwen and peers in the same direction. She’s right, the Squiggle is clearer--or perhaps wider--and Tosh can see right through it, see--
“Is that the Rift Manipulator?” Gwen asks softly, voice vibrating with worry. “It looks… wrong.”
Gwen is right. Tosh can no longer excuse the peculiarity of the vision as the energy providing a distorting lens through which they’re viewing their own Manipulator.
“It’s a window,” Tosh says in realisation, even as the Squiggle undulates and the Manipulator they can see through it blurs out of view.
“A window?” Gwen asks, turning to look at Tosh instead. “To what?”
Tosh shakes her head as if to clear it. “Another place,” she says. “Or, if that is our Rift Manipulator--perhaps another time.” She swallows.
“Maybe it’s a doorway,” Gwen suggests. “Well, it makes more sense,” she continues when Tosh looks at her askance. “There’s energy coming through it, isn’t there?”
Tosh frowns. “Well, I’m not sure if the energy is coming from what’s on the other side, or if it’s coming from the rip itself…”
Gwen tosses her head a little, pursing out her lower lip to puff a strand of hair off her face. “It’s a doorway, torn in space and time, by the Rift,” she says decisively; and then, more contemplative, “Think it works both ways?”
Anything they throw at it is bounced right back by the force of the energy surrounding it. Things thrown at the centre--and successfully hit it, considering its constant state of movement--seem to drift at a slower velocity inward before popping out again, like the energy around the clearest part of the portal is made up of high-pressure jelly.
Owen’s suggestion of shooting it again is vetoed instantly, but with Ianto happily sourcing her materials, Tosh is able to rig a harpoon of sorts. The darts are wooden and comparatively fragile; they’ll shatter rather than rebound if they hit a tougher edge of it. The small sensor taped to the head of it is connected to a long, trailing cord--harpoon indeed--that will hopefully transmit data from inside the portal and back through to them. Wireless transmission is out of the question; it barely works simply in the Squiggle’s vicinity.
The first time Tosh tries it the dart hits the edge and shatters. She’d had the foresight to whittle only one prototype and duplicate it, so it’s not as if it’s a tragic waste of materials, but still; the sensor requires re-calibrating, knocked out by the impact, and then re-attaching to the new dart and testing yet again.
The second time Tosh tries it the dart hits the edge and shatters. She’d been almost expecting it the first time, but the second--knowing how much painstaking work of re-calibration is ahead of her before she can try again--she swears, quietly but viciously.
The third time Tosh tries it the dart hits the edge and shatters. She’s not entirely unconvinced that the Squiggle’s radius has increased and she’s now stuck in a time loop; though there is all that work ahead of her. She swears again. Loudly and viciously.
“Let me have a go, then,” one of the Owens says.
Tosh tapes the sensor back onto the dart at the end of the now much-streamlined re-calibration process, then lifts her hands briefly, palm-up, to indicate he might as well go ahead.
The next ten minutes are spent watching the Owens bicker over just how to aim it and just when to squeeze the release--
“No, wait until it wobbles in that direction, then squeeze on the count of two--”
“On the count of bloody two? Why not three!? Why not point-oh-bloody-five?”
“Look, do you want this to work or not? When it wobbles that way, no, not that way--look, when it does the hula move, the hula move!”
--the harpoon even exchanging hands once or twice, though never violently enough for Tosh to feel the need to intervene in order to avoid more bloodshed.
“Thank you.” Tosh picks a biscuit out of the upturned Viking helmet Ianto’s offering in her direction. She’s not sure just when the helmet had come through the Rift, though she does have a very vivid memory of arriving in the Hub one morning to find Jack wearing it and very little else. She assumes Ianto has disinfected it since then; he is that sort of fellow after all.
Ianto tucks the helmet back under his arm and falls into place beside her, munching thoughtfully as one of the Owens smacks the other around the ear.
“Back!” mint-scrubs says at last, brandishing the harpoon at his double. “Back!”
White-scrubs obliges, hands held up in the universal gesture for “all right, keep your knickers on”, and mint-scrubs Owen turns, takes a deep breath and fires.
The dart shatters on the wobbly edge of the Squiggle that somewhat resembles a hula dancer’s hip.
Owen actually falls to his knees, fists raised to the sky, cry of despair on his lips.
“All right,” Gwen says, marching onto the scene. “Give it here.”
Obligingly Tosh re-calibrates, tapes and duplicates, then hands Gwen the harpoon.
Ianto bites into another biscuit. One of the Owens starts humming the Mission Impossible theme. The other Owen pinches him. Gwen fires.
The dart sails in a graceful arc through the clearest part of the portal, slowing a little as it hits the jelly-like resistance, then disappearing from view. They all hold their breath; the wire drifts and tugs a little, dragging sluggishly along the floor as if moved by tidal currents, but it doesn’t sever or whip back.
Gwen walks back to Tosh’s impromptu work bench, setting the harpoon back down. She brushes her hands together briskly. “All right then, Tosh?”
Tosh gives her a sharp nod in return. “Thanks Gwen.”
Ianto holds out the helmet, and Gwen smiles her thanks as she takes a biscuit. “Ooh, Ianto!” she says, slightly muffled as her lips turn in to hold the crumbling biscuit in her mouth. “You’ve outdone yourself. Where on earth did you get ginger snaps?”
“Homemade,” Ianto replies shortly through his mouthful.
Despite the tangibility of the wires, the Rift energy surrounding the Squiggle still interferes with the transmission of the data through the sensors, and by the time Tosh has finished filtering and programming and set the monitors on to recording, she finds that the Hub is dim around her. Someone’s brought one of the lamps from Jack’s office to illuminate her workspace--something she’s belatedly grateful for, though her eyes still burn dryly from staring at the screens for so long. When she turns away from the computer, the change in pressure and sound from the invasive subliminal frequency of the Squiggle to the gentler respiration of the sleeping Hub is almost palpable.
Or maybe it’s just the tension of her neck and shoulders popping and releasing as she moves again after so long, sending fresh blood rushing around her brain and inner ear. Arching her back, she laces the fingers of both hands together and pushes them up above her head, feeling the pleasant pops of her shoulders and spine. She muffles a low groan, inadvertently turning it into a yawn.
Her arms drop and head whips back around as the computer bleats urgently for her attention again but she has barely a moment to register the unexpected results displaying on the screen before it flickers out--not just the program but the screen itself, leaving a discoloured after-image flashing in her vision as she strains to see in front of her in sudden confusion… The lamp has gone out again, along with the rest of the sleep-conducive ambient lighting in the Hub.
In the sudden cessation of all other sound--with not even the others around to swear and complain about it--the Squiggle’s unheimlich hum seems even more pronounced and insistent, and suddenly Tosh is unable to get perspective on it as it wraps around her in the dark.
She holds her breath, straining for any other sound but she’s alone. She fumbles in the dark for the torch she knows is on the workbench nearby, struck by a sudden panic that it won’t work, that the Rift energy has permeated every circuit, fuse and gear around her.
Tosh thumbs the switch shakily and the beam of light appears in response, cutting through the dense gloom like a solid lifeline connecting her to the gritty floor a few feet in front of her. She barely registers her journey from Rift Manipulator to generator room, feeling at all times as if she’s cresting on a wave of oppressive darkness, afraid to turn around because she’s sure she’d find nothing but overwhelming dark behind her.
The orange light blinking on the generator is like the lamp of a lighthouse. Tosh silently praises all who might be listening that crank torches and watch batteries--one of which is powering the miniature beacon shining out for her now--were impervious to the surge.
Owen’s not there to hold it for her this time, so Tosh carefully props the torch up on the massive machine and rests her hands for a moment in the light now cast over the lifeless control panel. She’s come down without her PDA, she realises, but if it’s as simple as it was last time then all she’ll need to do is check the circuits again and reboot--
--something kicks her like a draught horse, and the impact of hitting the wall is somehow less than the force that sent her flying there in the first place. Her body’s numb at first, she doesn’t even register sliding to the floor.
Her existence has been narrowed like the focus of a lens; she’s a human brain trapped in an immovable doll’s body. Her ears are ringing and the lights might be flickering around her or she may be going creatively blind, at any rate the diagnostic running on her senses is ceased abruptly as priority is given to the fact that she can’t breathe, a realisation coupled with the surge of intense, crushing pain through her chest.
When Tosh wakes up again everything’s a bit odd. There’s not a part of her body that doesn’t hurt and yet despite the clamouring attention of all her nerve endings, she still can’t move.
She’s alive, though. She can feel the shallow breaths puffing automatically through her nose, spearing cool puffs of air against the back of her throat. Even though she can’t see anything her balance is shot; she might be upside-down for all she can tell.
“Is anybody there?”
Tosh can feel herself blinking but the action doesn’t bring about any more visibility. The silence around her is hollow, empty; the voice embodies its despair so much that Tosh isn’t sure she’s heard it at all until the second time it sounds.
“Please,” it begs--a woman’s voice, wretched and taut with pain. “Ianto. Someone. Anyone…”
The silence goes on long enough for the echoes die out. “Can anybody hear me?”
Tosh squeezes her eyes closed. It hurts to swallow, so she just focuses on her breathing past the tightness in her throat; in, out…
“Tosh. Can you hear me? Tosh.”
The hand patting her cheek is unmistakably Owen’s; cool and just slightly not-gentle-enough. Soft light bleeds in through Tosh’s barely-open eyes. She musters a groan, and it’s enough to stop Owen’s persistent tapping.
“That’s more like it. Right lot of trouble you are.” The reprimand, half-hearted to begin with, takes on overtones of kindness. “Don’t try and move just yet, Astroboy’s figured out a way to get you back to the Hub… Yes she’s awake, now stop faffing about and bring that bloody thing over here!”
The last is directed away from her, Owen’s voice echoing briefly; they’re still in the generator room. Tosh struggles to open her eyes properly, to focus. Owen’s hovering right over her and it’s a blatant invasion of her personal space. Irritated, she tries to shove him off but the attempted movement results in a shock of pain, and a gasp sucked in through her teeth.
“Don’t be a bloody idiot, Tosh.” Owen sounds pissed off. Tosh feels distantly proud of this fact. Then he manoevres her body in such a way that she barely feels any pain at all, and she feels a little guilty for annoying him. Not much, though.
“Now,” he says. “Trust me, this’ll make the trip back much more pleasant. You’ll just feel a little prick…”
Before Tosh can offer a retort to that, Gwen’s face is coming into slow focus in front of her.
“All right, love?”
Tosh feels numb again, and a little confused, but not all that worried about it. Gwen withdraws from her field of vision and Tosh’s surrounds gradually infringe on her awareness as well. White tile. Metal railings. She’s in the autopsy bay.
She tries to move and finds that she can; aware enough now that the knowledge floods her with relief. Her chest feels like she’s been trod on by something with an extremely large foot, and her head thrums with a deep ache. She clutches it as she painstakingly moves the lower half of her body around, one hand bracing her movement and the other pressing against her temple as she swings her legs out over the edge of the examination table.
“Wait a minute,” Gwen says, gently chiding; a tone for which Tosh currently has no tolerance. “Owen said--”
“Blast Owen,” Tosh mutters, knowing it’s unfair--he is a doctor, after all--but resenting the rather recent gap in her recollection wherein she knows she was transported and arranged and examined while her consciousness wasn’t exactly present.
“But he said--your ribs--”
When Gwen realises that Tosh is ignoring her, she thankfully doesn’t persist in her protestations, just trots after her--not very far, Tosh has only made it up the first couple of stairs--and subtly slides a hand under her elbow to assist. Tosh makes it as far as the sofa before dropping down with a wince. Someone certainly trod on her chest, then decided to fix it by fastening iron bands around it. Too tightly. Probably Owen, he always seems to prescribe the ‘I’ll make you regret you were ever hurt’ school of healing.
Gwen perches on the edge next to Tosh with her hands pressed, prayer-like, between her knees. She watches Tosh worriedly.
It only takes a few minutes for Tosh to regain her breath. She feels immensely better just from being out of the autopsy bay; ordinarily she quite likes being in Owen’s domain, but being helpless and hurt in it is not so pleasant. She’s witnessed too many vivisections and autopsies for helplessness and injury to have any positive associations for her in that space.
Speaking of which… “What…?”
“You were electrocuted,” Gwen says, making it obvious that she’d been waiting for the question. “By the generator.”
Tosh frowns. “An electric shock,” she corrects.
“A fault,” Owen says, stomping towards them, his mouth drawn into an intimidating scowl. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Tosh bristles, so far beyond the point where such aggressive posturing from Owen can make her cringe and simper. “Your bedside manner could do with some work, Doctor Harper,” she says, coolly sarcastic.
“When you get a doctorate in medicine, Doctor Sato, then I’ll look into that advice,” Owen snaps back. “Show me your hands.”
Puzzled, she holds them out, palm up. Owen crouches on the floor before her, taking them both in his, running his thumbs over them. Instinctively her fingers try to curl up against the sensation, more ticklish than usual.
“Gwen. Bekaran scanner,” Owen instructs, and Gwen pushes up off the sofa without a word. Owen doesn’t even look up, hands moving from Tosh’s wrists to her ribs. “Does that hurt?”
“A little bit,” Tosh says, finding as she says it that it’s true. “Why? What’s going on?”
Gwen returns at a jog, passing the scanner down to Owen then resuming her seat on the sofa, a foot or so closer to Tosh.
“You shouldn’t be up and about,” Owen says. “I mean, you really shouldn’t.” He runs the scanner slowly through the air above her torso, observing the readout solemnly.
“It really did give you quite a zap, Tosh,” he says at last. “Enough force to send you into the wall. But I think…” He holds the scanner above her fists for a moment, until she obligingly opens her hands again. “The burns on your hands had healed before we even got there.”
Tosh’s breath catches in her throat and her headache abruptly pounds assertively against the base of her skull.
“I had to knock you out just to get you back upstairs without aggravating your cracked ribs, and now here you are, walking about on your own.”
Tosh wants to make a quip to follow up that one, but she can’t seem to wet her throat enough. “So, what are you saying?” she manages at last. “Do you think I’m… Am I like…?” It’s almost too hard to bear thinking about.
Owen’s expression is sombre. “It’s not a hypothesis I’m willing to test,” he says firmly. “But between you and I…” He lifts up his scrubs shirt at the side to reveal a reddened patch of skin--an almost-healed wound.
The graze from the ill-advised gunshot. Only it should be only a day old. Tosh stares.
Owen drops the hem of his shirt again, grimacing uncomfortably. “I just thought it was… I don’t know.” He shrugs, not looking her in the eye. “I thought it might be something left over from the duplicator. Assumed it meant I was the duplicate.”
His hair’s surprisingly fluffy under the tender skin of Tosh’s hand, and she’s reached out to him before she could even think about it but she’s not pulling back now. She slides her grip down to the back of his neck, gives it a squeeze. “Neither of you is the duplicate,” she says, repeating back to him what he’s had to tell them many times. “You’re both just Owen.”
He gives her a wry smile. “Well, I know that now…” he says.
“So, what’s causing it, then?” Gwen interjects.
Tosh’s focus snaps back. Her head’s clearing already, the dull ache a different kind of tension with only a sprinkling of concussed fuzziness. She shifts her balance again, finding that it’s already easier than it was to clamber off the examination table. Gwen helps without being asked, though Tosh barely needs it; the unobtrusive weight of Gwen’s arm around her waist is welcome comfort right now.
“Where’s Ianto? And Owen?” Tosh asks, recalling Ianto’s presence earlier.
Owen stands as well. “Those two are off somewhere,” he says. “They’re probably down by the Manipulator. I’ve told them…” Owen shakes his head in exasperation. “Ianto!” he shouts.
“All right,” Ianto says breathlessly a few moments later, ascending from a set of stairs nearby. He stops short when he sees them, frowns with immense confusion. “How did you…?”
They start to walk towards him, heading in the direction he’d come from. “How did we what?”
He looks behind him, then back at them, blinking rapidly. “How did you get up here so quickly? Tosh--” He steps forward, concern flooding his features. “Are you all right? What happened?”
“She got bloody thrown into a wall, you idiot,” Owen says, patience down to null.
Ianto scowls at him. “I know that, but you were… You were all right. You were just… down there…” He trails off, anxiety widening his eyes and tightening his brow.
“Where’s the other me, then?” Owen asks brusquely.
“Up here,” the Owen in question appears in Jack’s doorway, looking somewhat pale. “There you all are. Where the bloody hell did you go?”
“We were here. The whole time,” Gwen says slowly.
“How did you get past me?” Ianto asks, wide eyes fixed on the Owen walking down towards them.
“What the hell are you talking about? You vanished up here and didn’t come back, I came to find you.”
“Where’s my PDA?” Tosh cuts off the suspiciously circular re-cap.
Ianto shifts guiltily. “I was using it to analyse the surge in the generator,” he says. “It’s over…” He gestures vaguely in the direction of his workroom.
“Go and get it,” the Owen nearest Tosh orders Ianto. “And you, stay with him!” He jabs a finger at his double to punctuate the point, turning away from the immediate shift of the other Owen’s expression into something like relief.
Ianto’s waiting for them when they get down to where Tosh’s workbenches still slouch about in front of the Squiggle.
“That was quick,” Tosh says, stepping away from Gwen’s support. “You did find it, didn’t you?”
Ianto turns around. “Tosh!” he says, expression changing from inquiry to relief. “You’re… You’re all right.”
“Yes,” she says impatiently, wanting her PDA. “Where is it?”
Ianto frowns. “Where’s what?”
“And where the bloody hell is Owen?” Owen asks, irritation clearly rising. “I just told you two to stick together, for fuck’s sake!”
Ianto scowls, folding his arms over his chest. “Stop messing about, Owen,” he says. “It doesn’t work on days when I can tell you apart.”
“Ianto!” Owen’s voice calls from the main Hub, echoing down from above.
Ianto’s head jerks to follow the call. “Bloody hell, I told him the coffee was in that bloody store room downstairs, what does he think he’s doing up there?” Ianto strides past them and ascends to the main area of the Hub, taking the stairs two at a time as they watch him go.
“Here it is, Tosh,” Ianto says from behind them, and Tosh whips around, Gwen and Owen mirroring the action.
“What?” the other Owen says, folding his hands over his chest and affecting a sullen slouch where he’s standing next to Ianto.
Ianto just waggles the PDA a bit where he’s holding it out, eyebrow raised in question. “You are all right, aren’t you?” he asks curiously.
Tosh strides forward and snatches it from him. “Nobody,” she orders, pointing her finger at all four of them in turn, firm despite the fact that it feels like her head is spinning. “Nobody move.”
Owen opens his mouth, expression telegraphing his obnoxious intent before he can even draw breath, and Tosh jabs her finger a bit more pointedly in his direction. “And not a word,” she says. “Or I will demonstrate in graphic detail just how incorrect that hypothesis is.”
His expression turns into one of confusion. “Hey?”
“Are you onto something, Tosh?” the other Owen says eagerly from behind her.
“Yes,” she answers shortly. “Shut up.”
Tosh stares down at the PDA as it takes readings from each of the team, and then sends the data to the workstation set up nearby. The sensor inside the Squiggle is still picking up data, and the weight in her throat sinks lower as she scans her eyes over the summary of the last twelve hours since Gwen fired it through that it’s been receiving.
“Right,” she says at length. The others still haven’t moved from their positions, she’s pleased--and a little self-conscious--to note. “So. We’re not immortal,” she directs to one of the Owens. “It’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“No, it’s time. Time is what it is. It’s sort of been… Passing differently. Just slightly differently, for each of us; possibly for all of us here in the Hub in comparison to what it’s like up there.” She points upwards to indicate Cardiff--and the rest of the world--outside.
“So, it’s been… Longer for them? Or not as long?” Gwen sounds understandably distressed.
“Hard to tell,” Tosh says, looking down again. “And really, who’s to say that time isn’t relative? Regardless of any external influence, there’s a school of thought that posits that each individual experiences time in a unique way--that when it feels like time is dragging for me, it is actually going slower for me--”
“I’m going to smack you in a minute,” Owen says. “And by that I mean my experience of a minute. Spit it out, for fuck’s sake!”
“That’s why we healed so fast,” Tosh says. “Time is moving differently here in the Hub, at least since the Suppressor started to overflow.”
Owen rubs a hand over his face. Gwen looks worried, but in a less angry way.
“So, we’ll either age unnaturally quickly, or the Hub will age around us while we all stay the same?” Ianto clarifies.
“Possibly… All of the above,” Tosh says soberly.
“And it’s the Rift energy that’s causing it?”
Tosh shakes her head, looking back at the constantly-scrolling results feeding in from the sensor. “Sort of,” she says. “It’s the Manipulator. The one from the other side.”
“Someone’s manipulating our Rift, through the Rift?”
“It’s… Hard to tell. I think the initial Rift surges in the Hub were the cause of the Suppressor, but with this… thing,” --she refuses to call it ‘the Squiggle’ out loud-- “A surge might have opened it in the first place, but it’s the Manipulator on the other side that’s keeping it open.” She shrugs. “As I said, it’s hard to tell just how manipulated these new manipulations are… But it’s not good.”
“Well, we can see that,” one of the Owens bites out. The other one is busy distractedly gnawing on the knuckles of his own clenched fist. “Question is, what the bloody hell are we going to do about it?”
“We have to close the rip,” Ianto says.
“With what? Your sewing kit?” Owen wheels around from Ianto to Gwen. “Your sewing kit?”
“We have to destroy the Manipulator on the other side,” the other Owen speaks up at last. He looks at them all in turn. “There’s no point in just trying to stop it when there could be people on the other side just waiting to start it up again.” None of them venture to speculate on just who those people might be; Tosh’s mind shies away from the thought that it may be a future Torchwood, reaching back in time to torment them.
“So, what, we fire a missile through there?” Gwen asks, a bit of confidence returning to her tone now that the diagnostic stage is complete and decisions have to be made. Decisions that involve explosions.
Tosh shakes her head. “Too dangerous. I think…” She takes a breath. “The surge that hit our generator last night--or whenever it was--was a direct result of this Manipulator. The Rift energy between it and us amplifies it, I think.” She looks up, making eye contact with them all briefly. “And I’m not willing to blow up the Hub.”
“I’ll do it,” one of the Owens says, stepping up closer to them, shoulder brushing against his double’s. “I’ll go through and shut it off, sever the connection. Then blow it up.”
“Owen, you can’t,” Gwen protests, voicing Tosh’s own distress.
“How are you even going to get to the other Manipulator?” Ianto reasons, sounding similarly upset. “Fire yourself out of a cannon?”
“Jetpack,” Owen responds, baring his teeth at Ianto in a savagely self-satisfied grin.
“Owen,” Tosh says at last, when she feels like she can speak without embarrassing herself. “You can’t.”
The Owen in question shrugs. The gesture might usually be accompanied by hands raised in a gesture that dismisses responsibility, but one of his hands is currently sharing a fierce grip with his double’s. “It makes sense,” he says. “There’s two of me, after all. One to spare.”
The other Owen smiles shakily, but still doesn’t speak. The pair look at each other for a long moment, a living mirror image. Tosh is speechless.
“You’ve got explosives, don’t you Tosh?” the second Owen asks at length, turning back to her.
Things happen very quickly after that. Tosh isn’t sure if it’s because being this close to the Squiggle renders her experience of time near-incomprehensible, or if on some level she’s already trying to absent herself from the situation. If the latter then the subconscious avoidance is frustrating; she struggles to absorb as much of Owen’s presence as possible, while at the same time its abruptly-limited supply is slipping through her fingers.
She still clutching at it when they’re all standing in a small semi-circle just outside the Squiggle’s radius. Owen stands at their centre, identifiable now through the armour he’s wearing; a pair of Gwen’s jeans, Tosh’s teeshirt, one of the tie-cloaks (hopefully laundered, though Tosh isn’t sure he’d complain if it wasn’t). He looks odd, not wearing scrubs, but more like himself rather than less. More Owen in theirs than if he’d worn his own clothes, long since abandoned. His smirk seems more well-founded. The Lube Cube is strapped to his chest so as not to fall astray during his short flight, and one of the jetpacks is strapped to his back.
“All right then, you lot,” he says with an air of determined finality.
Gwen surges forward first, flinging her arms around Owen’s neck then pulling back to press a fierce kiss against his mouth, brief as a punch. “Thank you,” she says. Owen pats her bottom quickly before she pulls away, and she gives him a watery smile in response.
“Owen,” Ianto says somberly, shifting from foot to foot a few paces away, eyes searching Owen’s face.
“Teaboy,” Owen says, and lifts his arms up. Tosh is sure he’s only half taking the piss, but Ianto steps forward quickly and Owen’s oof of surprised impact is cut off when Ianto grips his face and brings their mouths together, sustaining it for a considerable amount longer than Gwen had.
Owen’s grinning when they pull apart, the same self-assured, self-amused smirk as ever. “Oh, I know how this goes,” he says, clearly pleased with himself. “You give me a snog and then I run off into another dimension, isn’t it?”
“I hate you,” Ianto says without venom.
“I hate you too,” Owen returns fondly, and then he’s looking at Tosh.
She can’t make herself step forward, she can’t even tell if she’s smiling or not; her face feels numb. Owen’s not smiling either, though.
“Buck up,” he says. “It’s not like you’ll be without me. There’ll always be him.” He jerks his thumb in the direction of the other Owen, still observing silently, without breaking eye contact with her.
“It’s not like that,” Tosh says, unable to articulate just what it is like, at least not verbally.
“Greedy, Tosh,” he says. “Can’t be happy with just one of me.”
She clings to him, arms locked tight around his shoulders, welcoming the breathless ache that comes when he squeezes around her still-sore ribs a little too tightly. His mouth’s trembling under hers when she kisses him, and she realises that he’s frightened. She pulls back to look into his eyes but he continues the separation further--she’s not ready, not yet--giving her one last squeeze before turning away to meet his double.
“So long,” he says, and both Owens reach out without any hesitation, gripping each other’s hands.
“And thanks for all the handjobs?” the remaining Owen says.
They grin at each other then step forward, embracing tightly. Their brief kiss is loud and ostentatious.
“Well,” Owen says, stepping back again at last. “I’m not really one for tearful goodbyes, so that’s enough of that.” He turns without further ado, striding purposefully towards the Squiggle, stepping over the unmarked perimeter of the energy’s radius without a pause.
“Do it,” the remaining Owen says in agreement, “Now,” and the next instant the jetpack huffs to life and then Owen’s gone, faint scent of burnt coffee in his wake.
The Squiggle undulates and Tosh can’t see through the blur; they all stand silent and unmoving until it abruptly closes like a tear in reverse, re-sealing, and a moment later the remaining distortion winks out of existence. The sudden cessation of Rift energy alters the pressure in the air tangibly; she feels her ears pop almost painfully and then there’s nothing but the suddenly crisp-sounding hum of the Hub’s computers and life-support systems, carrying on as usual.
“Well,” Owen says lightly after a further long stretch of silence. “That was awkward.”
“Oh my god,” Gwen says, immense revulsion clear in her tone, as if her lip curling and nose scrunching didn’t make it obvious enough. “Oh my god! That’s… that’s!”
Ianto steps hurriedly out of the kitchenette, looking askance in her direction. He’s carrying another two mugs, one in each hand. “It’s not that bad, is it?” he asks worriedly.
“No, no,” Gwen says, turning to him. “Not this, this is…” She lifts up her own mug and licks the magenta moustache from her upper lip. “This is lovely. The sugar really masks the flavour of the… well, of the borscht, and when it’s heated up you barely even remember what it’s supposed to be!”
Tosh is sure that’s meant as a compliment, and is slightly baffled when Ianto seems to take it as such, smiling cheerfully as he makes his way towards them. He hands Tosh one of the mugs when he gets to her and she takes it gratefully. Against all odds, it actually looks sort of appetising, and the heated ceramic quite pleasantly warms her hand. If she wasn’t currently holding her nose with the other hand, Tosh is sure that the steam rising from the mug would also be quite pleasant.
“Oh, god,” Ianto says as well, clapping hand over his own mouth and nose so that the next part is somewhat muffled. “That is rank. What is it?”
“No need to make such a show about it,” Owen says in disgruntlement. Crossing his arms grumpily over his chest only serves to dislodge further stench-infused particles from the leather jacket he’s wearing, and as one, Gwen, Ianto and Tosh simultaneously lean back.
“Careful, Owen,” Ianto says nasally. “Myfanwy won’t even need the barbecue sauce, you smell enough like road kill as it is.”
“Yes, well if someone had cleaned it when I asked, we wouldn’t be in this situation now, would we?”
Ianto hadn’t always been this unflappable in the face of such statements, but right now he’s quite effortlessly unflapped. Tosh keeps waiting for the other Owen to step in and up the ante, but each time she does all her anticipation results in is a painful stab of remembrance.
“Maybe he’s trying to attract a mate,” Tosh finds herself saying, as if filling that unspoken, unexpected gap.
Owen scowls in her direction, looking inexplicably hurt. “You lot are the ones who are trying,” he mutters sulkily.
“Oh, come on,” Gwen says magnanimously. “Take that thing off and come here, then.”
Owen sniffs, shrugging the fragrant jacket off and onto the floor before slinking in their direction. Unfortunately some of the scent seems to have lingered on the scrubs shirt he’s wearing beneath it. Despite exchanging some watery-eyed looks between them, Tosh, Gwen and Ianto shuffle about a bit to make room for Owen on the sofa.
Owen makes eyes at Gwen’s mug and Ianto sighs heavily. “You said you ‘didn’t want any of that bleeding rot’,” he says in response to Owen’s self-pitying expression.
“Wait a minute,” Tosh says as Ianto sighs again and goes to stand. She gestures at the mug Ianto’s about to hand off to Owen. “Pop it on the floor, there.”
She waits until Ianto’s stood well back from the mug of borschtnog, then points the duplicator at it. She twiddles the settings until the beam encapsulates the mug only and triggers it, closing her eyes briefly as the flash of white light bursts in her vision. When she opens them again there are two mugs.
She sets the duplicator down in her lap again and Ianto steps forward, picking up both mugs. He grimaces at one of them, hands it to Owen; Owen clasps it gratefully.
“Here,” Owen says gleefully, wriggling about to make room for Ianto on the sofa again and subsequently knocking Tosh’s elbow enough to slosh her own mug. “It’s cold! New setting, Tosh?”
“Of course,” she lies, free hand dropping to her lap to clutch reflexively at the device.
“You should have put it in one of the morgue trays like I told you,” Ianto says, not unkindly, and Tosh is briefly confused until she realises he’s addressing Owen.
“Sorry, didn’t realise there was a dry cleaner set up shop in there.”
“Sorry, didn’t realise that you didn’t realise the revolution refrigeration has had on storing perishables in the last century.”
“It’s not made of bacon.”
“Try telling that to her,” Ianto says, casting his eyes upward as Myfanwy kreels high above them.
Owen eyes his jacket nervously where it’s lying in a heap on the floor, not-quite far away enough to be out of olfactory range. If they were in a cartoon, squiggly grey lines of smelliness would be emanating from it right now. He slumps.
“I’m not even touching it until you’ve got it in a containment unit first,” Ianto says at length.
Owen perks up; Tosh is fairly certain his surprise is genuine.
“And find me a hazmat suit!” Ianto yells after him as he skips towards Jack’s office and the armoury. “Honestly,” Ianto says in soft exasperation once Owen’s out of sight, shaking his head but refusing to meet her and Gwen’s gaze, tipping the mug up as an excuse to hide his face.
Tosh takes another sip herself, hiding her own smile around the lip of the mug.
“Mmm,” Gwen hums contemplatively. “Foot rubs.”
“Really?” Tosh has heard tell many times that they’re quite enjoyable, but she can’t even stand the thought of pedicures, herself. A stranger, that up close and personal with her feet? Not bloody likely.
“Mmhmm. Rhys gave the most amazing foot rubs…” Gwen trails off into a sigh, long-suffering but completely uncontrived. Her breath stirs some of Tosh’s hair to tickle along her cheek, such is their proximity as they lie staring at the ceiling of Jack’s office; the heat of Gwen’s skin brings with it the faint scent of sandalwood.
Tosh pushes herself up to a sitting position and shuffles around until she’s facing the other direction. Scooting backward, she answers Gwen’s quizzical look by pulling one of Gwen’s feet into her lap.
“Tosh,” Gwen says, rapt. “Ooh. That wasn’t a hint.”
“I know,” Tosh says serenely. Gwen’s toes wiggle above the grip of her hand. The soles of her already-bare feet are dark from the grime of the Hub’s concrete floors, but Tosh doesn’t mind. She doesn’t think there’s a single grain of dirt in the Hub that she isn’t already familiar with. And there’s certainly parts of Gwen that she’s much more familiar with.
Gwen groans as Tosh digs her thumb into the ball of her foot. Her toes curl and Tosh pushes them straight again with her fingertips. The cracked skin around Gwen’s heels catch in the weave of Tosh’s jogging bottoms, making faint crackling sounds as they snap minuscule fibres of cotton.
“I miss wine,” Tosh confesses after a comfortable silence, wherein Gwen throws her forearm over her eyes in bliss. Tosh idly watches Gwen’s breasts rise and fall as Gwen breathes steadily. “I used to love a glass of red in the evening when I got home. And another one with dinner,” she continues after a brief pause. “And one before bed.”
Gwen giggles lazily. “Oh, god yes,” she says, but Tosh can’t tell if it’s in agreement or if because she’s relentlessly kneading Gwen’s arch. Tosh draws her other foot into her lap and squeezes both feet simultaneously before focusing her attention on the second one.
“I call shenanigans.”
Tosh looks up at Owen’s voice; Gwen tilts her head back to glance under her forearm, upside-down. Owen grins at them both in turn.
“Why wasn’t I notified?”
“These are unscheduled shenanigans,” Gwen explains, shifting her arm to her forehead to keep her gaze on him as he walks around behind Tosh.
Owen drags Jack’s chair over and sits down behind Tosh, hand coming to rest at the base of her neck and fingers pushing up to drag along her scalp from nape to crown. She holds her breath as goosebumps break out all over her body, spine arching briefly and shivering into a more pleasant alignment. Gwen snorts in amusement, lifting one of her feet to rest on one of Owen’s knees, toes scrunching against his kneecap lazily.
“You’re like a pack of monkeys,” Ianto’s voice says, rich with amusement, and Tosh opens her eyes half-mast, to see him standing in the doorway, pleased when Owen doesn’t stop. Her hair must look a mess, though she can’t find it within herself to care a whit. Ianto’s propped up with his shoulder against the door frame and one leg crossed idly over the other. “This a new team-building exercise, then?”
“Nngh,” Gwen says, taking credit.
“Tribe of monkeys,” Owen corrects.
Tosh blinks, eyelids sticky as Owen’s fingertips rub small circles. “I thought it was troop?”
“Circus,” Ianto counters with self-assured finality. “Speaking of which, Owen, you’ll find your clothes drying down in the autopsy bay. Though some were beyond repair.” He digs his hand into a trouser pocket, fishing out a small item and tossing it to Owen.
Owen catches it and Tosh tilts her head back curiously, eyeing it as he turns it between his fingers. It’s a small, multi-coloured cube, the shape indicative of the Matter Compressor.
“Those are the leftovers,” Ianto explains. “Merry Christmas.”
“Is it Christmas?” Gwen asks, befuddled. She pulls her forearm away to scrutinise Ianto directly.
Ianto shrugs, expression blank. “No idea,” he says. “I don’t think the atomic clock’s even accurate still with all that time business from the bizarro Manipulator.”
“Cheers mate,” Owen says and Ianto shrugs again, offering them all a brief smile before turning out the door again. “Oi,” Owen says quickly. “Wait!”
Ianto stops to look back over his shoulder, then turns around rapidly to catch the projectile Owen’s tossing in his direction. He looks at it with mild confusion. It’s a silver hip flask, styled like it’s just been pulled out of a private detective’s pocket in a noir film. “This is Jack’s?”
“It’s mine now,” Owen says in return. He slaps his hands down on his own knees, leaning his weight forward and watching Ianto eagerly. “Go on, then.”
Ianto shoots Owen a puzzled glance then unscrews the top. Cautiously he holds it under his nose and then abruptly jerks his head back and the flask forward at the same time, face screwing up comically. The look he sends Owen’s way is considerably uncertain, but when Owen waves his hand in encouragement to continue, Ianto hesitantly tips the flask to his lips.
“Fucking hell,” he gasps when he lowers it again. “That’s… What is that?”
“That, my friend,” Owen says, rising and stepping over Gwen and Tosh, coming to stand by Ianto and taking the flask out of his hands again. “Is my opus.”
Ianto makes a face, more contrived than the one of physical shock mere moments before. “Well, I’m not sure we’d want to be drinking that,” he says. “At least not unless it’s sterilised first.”
Owen smacks him lightly about the head. “Brat,” he says, unoffended.
“Moonshine?” Tosh dumps Gwen’s foot out of her lap, bracing herself on the seat behind her to struggle to her feet. Owen holds out the flask. He doesn’t warn her to be careful, which she appreciates, even though the first swig feels like it strips the lining from her throat and goes on to use it as tinder in the lighting of a small chemical fire in her stomach.
“Fucking hell,” she gasps sincerely, then eyes the diminutive flask. Really, Jack; she expected more. Something bigger on the inside, at least. “Is there more?”
“Oh, yes,” Owen says, putting an arm each around Tosh and Ianto’s shoulders and leading them away at a saunter. The sleeve of his leather jacket creaks at the back of her neck pleasantly.
“Hold up!” Gwen calls from behind them. “I’m coming too!”
It’s not the fault of the atomic clock that they lose time after that. It may have something to do with the fact that apparently sugared borscht turns out to be an excellent mixer, perhaps combined with the fact that with or without the blessing of said atomic clock, they decide to declare it a year since lockdown, and therefore an anniversary that merits celebration.
“Maybe we should duplicate the entire bathtub,” Tosh suggests later, slumped against Owen’s side. She struggles to draw her legs up under her on the sofa, leaning more of her weight on him.
He doesn’t seem to mind, though he does waggle his own legs a little as if in acknowledgement of her presence, making Gwen send up a disapproving look when he disturbs her head’s resting place against the inside of his knee. She can’t sustain it for long, eyes crossing and head wobbling on its neck.
“The… Bathtub?” Gwen asks in confusion as she turns back to Ianto, who is in turn sitting between her legs, or slumped more like it, draped over one of her bent-up knees. The plaits she’s braided throughout his hair appear to have become progressively less ordered in accordance with the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed. Ianto doesn’t seem to mind, just as Gwen doesn’t seem to mind the drool soaking through the knee of her jeans.
“Mmph,” Tosh waves a hand in the air and Owen doesn’t even startle when it lands again, dangerously close to his crotch. Purely accidentally, though it’s not difficult when he’s all temptingly sprawled out like that.
“Where my opus has been brewing,” Owen adds, as if Tosh’s explanation wasn’t perfectly coherent. She pinches him in retaliation, making his thigh muscle jerk.
Gwen frowns and laboriously leans forward again in order to look back over her shoulder at them. “But we don’t have a bathtub. Just that trolley thing you were having a bath in the other day, Owen.”
Tosh’s body gives a little jerk of its own as that statement sinks in, making her suddenly very tense, if not much more sober. “What?”
“The one in the autopsy bay,” Gwen extrapolates.
Tosh pulls very slowly away from Owen’s warm body; both to give him a chance to explain that Gwen’s not saying what Tosh thinks she is, and also so she doesn’t fall off the sofa. (It had been hard enough to get back on it the first two times.)
“You mean… That’s not…” An expression of horror is dawning over Gwen’s features as she processes Tosh’s appalled expression. “Owen!”
“What?” he asks blithely, though the shiftiness of his gaze suggests he feels at least a tiny pang of remorse.
“It’s not an actual bathtub!” Tosh finds her gaze drawn to the empty mugs scattered around them, and the huge, mostly-empty jug of pinkish, translucent liquid languishing innocently nearby. She feels a surge of nausea.
“Don’t know what you’re complaining about, you were licking me before!” Owen defends, and involuntarily Tosh does see his point. “Besides, I was disinfecting myself,” he continues. He’s looking at Tosh imploringly, an expression Tosh struggles to find a response to.
On the floor, Ianto groans and draws his knees up to his belly. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Gwen gives a sympathetic frown and pats Ianto’s head. “Not an actual disinfectant,” she challenges Owen, coming to Tosh’s rescue.
“Ever heard of rubbing alcohol?” Owen shoots back.
“Owen! That’s poison!”
“Who’s the doctor here?”
“Fucking doctor,” Ianto mutters, face pressed against Gwen’s leg.
“Well, thanks a bloody lot, Teaboy--”
“Not you,” Ianto flops a hand in the air without lifting his head. “Him. The Doctor.”
Ah. Tosh had forgotten that Ianto was a maudlin drunk. It has been a long time, after all.
“I met him, once,” she says lightly, trying to steer the conversation into more cheerful anecdote territory, hoping the change of subject will likewise settle her stomach.
From the eager look on Gwen’s face, it appears to be working. “Really, Tosh?”
Tosh nods. “Not long after Owen started here. He was hungover--” She pats Owen’s thigh and he has the good grace to at least look a little sheepish. Which doesn’t come across as entirely genuine when he’s currently so drunk he can barely stir. “--So I pretended to be a doctor--well, a medical doctor--on a call UNIT put through to examine this alien body that had turned up. Well, crashed into the Thames, more like.”
“Space pig,” Owen says sombrely.
Tosh nods. “Space pig.”
“I saw him once too,” Ianto says, and Tosh’s heart sinks, knowing from Ianto’s tone what’s coming before he even says it. “Canary Wharf. That’s what he does--swans in, saves the day, swans out again in his bloody police box.”
If Tosh hadn’t read all the same files on the Doctor as Ianto had, she’d be somewhat confused right now. Gwen certainly looks somewhat perplexed, and Ianto’s general manner doesn’t exactly discourage the interpretation that he’s drunkenly ranting.
“Only this time,” Ianto continues, struggling to sit up and groping about for his mug. He takes a liberal swig and grimaces, face loose and expressive. “He’s just swanned off again with Jack. Makes you wonder.” He blurrily moves his gaze along each of them in turn. “If he’s out there saving the day right now, or if he just stopped by to save Jack and now he’s left us all to burn again.”
Tosh’s good mood is officially dead.
“Fucking Doctor,” Owen agrees morosely, finishing off his own cup, and then Gwen’s crawled over to the jug and wobbles back over to charge their glasses. Well, mugs. They crowd around for it, Ianto resting part against the sofa and half up on Tosh’s lap, Gwen sprawled into Owen’s legs. The combined weight of their bodies presses Tosh and Owen’s legs tighter against each other where they press alongside, and she feels the answering flex of Owen’s thigh muscle when she half-heartedly twitches her leg.
Gwen sets the jug down again and returns with her mug raised; they all lift theirs in return and crash them together as if they’re magnetic. “To the fucking Doctor!” she declares.
“The fucking Doctor!” they echo, and Tosh laughs and half-chokes around her mouthful of bitter, beet-flavoured disinfecting alcohol, feeling Ianto’s body jerk against her legs as he snorts into his mug in response. She nudges him in admonishment with her knee and he wobbles and tips back onto the floor; surely she didn’t push him that hard but everything is wobbling all of a sudden and maybe she drunk that last mouthful too fast--
--only that shouldn’t have anything to do with the sudden rattling and shuddering of the Hub around them.
Gwen cries out as something falls and shatters; Owen shouts Tosh’s name in her ear and she finds his hand and grabs a fierce hold of it, not even having the chance to turn around and look at him before--
Stepping inside the tourist office is a welcome relief, even if she’s not actually home just yet. The familiar setting is close enough, especially in comparison to the antagonism bubbling under the surface in the closed atmosphere of the SUV from the airport back to the Plass.
The door slams open and Tosh is too tired to repress a flinch. The loud noises continue as Owen swears behind her and throws something down onto the floorboards: equipment, it seems, and his kit. His leather jacket makes a splatting sound as it hits the floor.
“You should put that in a morgue tray,” Ianto deadpans. Tosh gets a brief glimpse of the pale twilight sky over his shoulder before he closes the door again behind him. His expression is schooled, just as much a tightly-controlled front as the suit he’s managed to keep groomed and ordered throughout far-too-many hours in transit. He walks right past her and reaches over the desk to trigger the secret door; she starts guiltily at not having done that herself--really--and the feeling increases when Ianto won’t even acknowledge her apologetic gaze.
“Think I’ll just leave it here instead,” Owen says brashly, and Tosh desperately wonders how his anger over the incident on the mountain can still be providing enough fuel for his constant antagonising.
Ianto doesn’t even look at him, but snags the jacket up with one finger nonetheless, though only after Owen has stomped through the door ahead of him.
“Ianto,” Tosh says. She’s tired enough that she almost lays a hand on his shoulder, but the solid, tailored line of his back tenses further when she takes a step closer. She doesn’t follow when he steps away, crouching down to pick up the rest of Owen’s kit. “Can I help with anything?”
He shakes his head, finally shooting a brief smile in her direction. “Gwen’s--”
“Got it,” Gwen clatters in through the door, flushed and laden-down with equipment. Tosh hurries over to take some of it off her hands and Gwen smiles gratefully and a little desperately. It’s not hard to tell that she’s just as eager to get out of there as Tosh is; of course she is, with even more reason to get home.
“Lock up, could you Tosh?” Ianto’s voice has softened a tiny amount, and he meets her gaze with a tired smile as he takes the armful of equipment from her, Owen’s kit already slung over his shoulder. At this rate, Tosh deduces he’ll be over Jack leaving by about the mid-twenty-third century.
She scurries behind the desk and taps at the space bar to bring the tourist office computer to life again, quickly keying in the commands to lock the outer door and set the perimeter alarms in place. She leaves the program running; they’ll be up and out in less than half an hour, she figures, all finally on their separate ways after too many days of living in each other’s pockets. Their personal baggage slumps in a misshapen pile by the door, awaiting collection on their--hopefully imminent--way out again.
Gwen and Ianto are waiting for her in the antechamber, standing silent and tired, and Owen’s leaning his forehead against the wall by the lift a little further down.
Finally the lift arrives and they all crowd in, the smell of damp equipment and unwashed bodies somehow tiredly comfortable in Tosh’s nostrils as the doors close jerkily. The lift knocks them all against each other briefly as it begins its shuddering journey downward, but they’re all too tired to complain as they regain their balance and personal space as quickly as possible.
There’s an alert klaxon ringing out insistently when the cog door rolls out in front of them, and Ianto moves swiftly to Gwen’s work station as if he isn’t just as tired as the rest of them. The sudden silencing of the alarm leaves Tosh’s ears ringing.
“Not looking,” Owen says firmly, hauling his gear towards the autopsy bay and giving Ianto a wide radius.
“I think you’d better,” Ianto says in a tone that has all of them drawing forward, regardless of exhaustion. He taps a few keys, brings the video feed up to fill the screen.
It’s the feed of a television programme, split-screen with a newsreader sitting on the left and footage playing over and over on the right--a man in a suit being vaporized by a hovering sphere.
PRESIDENT ASSASSINATED BY ALIENS IN BRITISH AIRSPACE, the ticker across the bottom reads, and Tosh finds that her hand is covering her open mouth in shock.
“What happened?” Owen asks, horrified, the fact that he doesn’t even have a quip prepared testament to the gravity of the situation. “We were only gone for a week!”
“Jack!” Gwen cries weakly as the feed on the right side of the screen changes to show Jack running forward, only to be shot down by--the Prime Minister?
Ianto’s hand jerks spasmodically, pressing down inadvertently on the space bar and abruptly turning off the mute; the sound of a brash American accent filling the Hub like a verbalisation of the ticker.
“SEVERAL OTHER PASSENGERS ABOARD THE VALIANT WERE SLAIN BY THE TOCLAFANE, WHO APPEARED TO BE WORKING IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER, BEFORE UNIT WAS ABLE TO SUBDUE THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS…”
“I’m going home to Rhys,” Gwen says, still sounding a little faint, walking toward the invisible lift and pulling her mobile out at the same time, before she’s even finished talking.
Ianto taps the sound back off but sinks down onto Gwen’s chair nonetheless, gaze not shifting from the screen.
“Come on, Tosh.” Owen drags a hand over his face, briefly pulling flat the bags under his eyes and making his mouth even more frog-like as his palm rubs over his chin.
Even with the past seven days in far too close quarters for her liking, Tosh doesn’t think she’ll ever get tired of Owen’s face. A spot of warmth heats in her belly, soothing some of the useless panic. She might even be able to relax enough to sleep after all.
“I’ll give you a ride home?”
She smiles in response, and they leave the Hub together. They take the lift too, leaning against each other for balance without verbal acknowledgement, and Tosh breathes the cool air in deeply as they rise to the familiar, open emptiness of the Plass.
“Welcome home, eh?” Owen says lightly against the silvery sound of rushing water behind them. Silently, Tosh agrees.