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Backstage Management (The Machiavellian Remix)

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January 1st, 2000, wasn't ever going to be anyone's favourite date, but nobody at Torchwood London had expected it to be as bad as that. At least, Yvonne Hartman thought, the bloody computers hadn't gone crazy the way most people had predicted, but then the alien tech Torchwood was using would have kept them safe either way.

It hadn't kept Torchwood Cardiff from imploding into full sale slaughter.

She recited the names of all dead operatives for the agent she had chosen to deal with the situation. Suzie Costello kept her face impassive, even when Yvonne got to the crux of the situation, the point which made Costello's assignment a potential suicide mission.

"We did receive a fax from Alex Hopkins," Yvonne said, "confessing to the murders and recommending Jack Harkness as his successor. But Hopkins is dead. So we have no way of knowing whether it was Hopkins who sent the fax, or whether Harkness faked it, killed everyone and set Hopkins up as the culprit so he could take over. Even if everything is on the level and Alex Hopkins did go crazy, the fact that he recommended Harkness to lead Torchwood Cardiff while simultaneously blowing everyone else's brains out isn't exactly inspiring confidence in his judgment. Nor is the fact Harkness already told us he considers himself independent now. Except for the part where we're still supposed to fund Torchwood Cardiff, of course."

"I see," Suzie Costello said, which was the kind of useful bland banality Yvonne would have uttered herself. However she felt about the situation, she kept it well covered. Then, surprisingly, she added a question. "So why don't you send a team that removes Harkness and takes over Torchwood Cardiff?"

Logical and pragmatic. Yes, this might just be the right woman for the job. "It's still an option," Yvonne said. "But Harkness is the only remaining member of Torchwood Cardiff and familiar with the Rift in a way it would take a new team years to learn. Years they might not have. It's an ongoing crisis down there." Jack Harkness was also immortal, more part of Torchwood's history than anyone else alive and an associate of the man who used to be Torchwood's prime target, but that information was strictly on a need-to-know level, and so far, Suzie Costello didn't need to know. "So we're going to play this carefully. For all his bluster, Harkness knows damn well he can't handle the Rift on his own, and if he puts his own team together, he'll have to train them from zero. At least one other operative who already knows what they're doing would help. Which is why he has indicated he'll accept whomever we'll send, as long as they're answerable to him."

"There's no way he'll not assume I'll be spying for you," Suzie said. It wasn't a question. Yvonne nodded.

"Naturally. But the man has an ego the size of this planet. He thinks he's charismatic enough to turn anyone. You'll tell him you're supposed to report on him from the get go, thus indicating potential rebelliousness and a challenge. He'll monitor all your phonecalls and emails, of course so we'll play out the increasingly intrigued agent and the dumb conservative boss, until he puts it to the test. Do whatever you have to in order to convince him he's really turning you. When you get the impression he's starting to buy it, send me your resignation from Torchwood One and declaration of membership of Torchwood Three, and make it sound as high-handed as possible. That's when your real assignment starts."

"Which is?"

"Find out what the hell happened," Yvonne said sharply. "If Harkness killed them, I want to know. We're not a charity organization, and you're expected to lay down your life for Queen and country, but we don't turn on our own, and we'll punish anyone who does. Besides, if he did it once, he'll do it again."

"Starting with me," Suzie said, and at last there was a bit colour in her voice and cheeks. It suited her. Yvonne had looked for someone smart and ruthless, but not so veteran and cold-blooded that Harkness would be unable to connect with her. His psych profile was clear on that point. He invariably needed to feel he was the cold blooded bastard in any team relationship, protecting the tattered remains of everyone else's emotional innocence, or he wasn't interested.

"Starting with you," Yvonne confirmed. "But you're a trained operative, and you'll go into the situation open-eyed, able to spot the warning signs. Besides, you won't be entirely without back-up. Once you're in and he begins to build a team of his own, we'll get you support."

"If I live that long," Suzie muttered, then straightened and looked at Yvonne, her previous calm expression restored. The colour in her cheeks remained, though. "And if I find that Hopkins really did kill the previous team and himself?"

"Then we still need an assessment of Jack Harkness as leader of Torchwood Three" Yvonne replied. "He can declare independence as much as he wants, as long as he still takes payment from the Crown, he's responsible to us. And if he can't do the job, well…" She opened her hands as if letting something fly into thin air. "We'll need someone to replace him. Preferably someone who at this point is familiar with the area."

It was the perfect bait for any ambitious agent worth their salt. A very risky assignment, but nobody whom Torchwood hired was immune to the thrill of adrenaline. The potential for promotion, though Suzie Costello, whose intelligence was rated very high in her profile, might be able to spot that Yvonne hadn't committed herself to a promise Suzie would take over from Jack Harkness, should he proven to be bad at his job. She had implied it, but no more. Still, for someone like Suzie Costello, who showed already signs of impatience with the sheer bureaucratic size of Torchwood London, the idea of being able to work in a small team instead, almost on her own, but still with access to everything Torchwood had offered in the first place, had to be irresistible.

"I see," Suzie said again, with the ends of her mouth curving into a tiny smile, and Yvonne nodded, satisfied. The younger woman rose. "I am curious about one more thing," she said. "You said Harkness has enough ego to assume he'll be able to turn me for real. Why is it that you're so sure he won't?"

The real answer to that one was that Suzie Costello's personal history ensured she would never trust male authority figures who had no sense of sexual boundaries, but bringing this up would be counter-productive. So Yvonne gave her a cool smile instead. "Like I said," she replied, "you'll have back-up."

***

Viewed from London, Suzie Costello's arrival in Cardiff and conversion to the charms of Captain Jack Harkness, complete with high handed resignation as ordered, went like clock-work. There was one more thing Yvonne needed to do in order to make it look entirely convincing. Harkness wasn't stupid. Ego or not, he had to be aware Torchwood One wouldn't let him go independent that easily, and if they took Suzie's supposed insubordination just lying down, he'd have to suspect her of faking. So Yvonne did what he'd regard as the logical next step if Suzie's conversion had been real; she went to the Home Office to cut him off from the Torchwood budget.

Actually, that was the part Yvonne secretly dreaded. She didn't have a very high opinion of John Frobisher, the Permanent Secretary responsible for coordination with the organizations devoted to deal with aliens, Torchwood and UNIT. Frobisher was dedicated enough, but in Yvonne's opinion, he had no spine, and so she was afraid that at the first sign of her anger, he'd cave, do exactly as she asked and cut Torchwood Cardiff off from their income. So she tried to make herself less intimidating by attempting casual conversation after entering his office. Dragging up some vague memory and looking at the photo of a woman he had on his desk, she said: "I hear congratulations are in order, Mr. Frobisher. To your marriage."

"Four years ago," he replied. Was that actually mild sarcasm? She couldn't be sure, as he continued, "but my wife and I did receive more recent happy news. She's expecting our second baby."

"Such a blessing, children," Yvonne said, who had none, and had no intention of changing this. "You're a very lucky man, Mr. Frobisher."

"I know," he said, and this time there was definitely no trace of anything but sincerity in his voice. "So, what can I do for you, Ms. Hartman?"

"I suppose you've heard what happened to our Cardiff branch?" she asked politely. If she had been genuine, she would have already made her demand, but Frobisher was a civil servant, not a profiler, and besides, he didn't know her very well.

"Yes," he said cautiously. "Terrible business. My sympathies."

"I was referring to Jack Harkness' unsanctioned assumption of leadership," she said coldly.

Frobisher coughed. "Hardly unsanctioned," he said. "Didn't Alex Hopkins promote him before he died?"

This was fascinating, and confirmed Yvonne's strategy. The only way Frobisher could know about Hopkins' fax was if Harkness had already contacted him, which meant Harkness had anticipated she would try to get to him financially. Which meant he believed Suzie.

"And doesn't a quadruple murderer's endorsement inspire confidence," Yvonne said drily. "Hopkins' actions are beside the point, though. Do you really want to allow Jack Harkness to basically run his own rogue agency, without accountability to anyone? You've met the man."

"Yes," Frobisher said, and came across as a little less grey and a little more interesting by sounding downright defensive on this point, "and I have every reason to believe he's a committed public servant."

"My word," Yvonne said, eyebrows raised. "You slept with him, didn't you? Is that what he has on you?"

That did it. Even bland civil servants had a core of anger somewhere, and sexual insults were a way to access it. Not that she was entirely insincere with her question. Frobisher wasn't exactly Harkness' type, so she doubted there was or had been a sexual relationship, but it was clear Harkness had something on Frobisher, otherwise this so orthodox man would be more inclined to side with the head of an organization than with the rogue leader of a damn near extinguished branch. A shared secret had to be there, but right now, that wasn't really her concern. Frobisher was radiating fury, which for John Frobisher meant he sat across the table, thin lipped, and pressed his intercom button.

"Bridget," he said when his secretary picked up, "the coffee for Ms. Hartman won't be necessary after all. She is in a hurry."

Then he turned to Yvonne again. "In the interest of further cooperation," he said, "we shall pretend you didn't forget yourself just now."

She wondered whether he would use that phrase if he called Jack Harkness to inform him of her visit. Yvonne Hartman was here, and she forgot herself. No, not likely. He might call Harkness to tell him his budget was safe, but he wouldn't go into details about their conversation. He wasn't the type.

Since her purpose in coming here was accomplished, Yvonne didn't waste any more time, either. "In the interest of further cooperation," she said, rising while adopting an injured tone, "I hope you won't regret the day you freed Jack Harkness from any control at all."

Suzie's cover was guaranteed. Now for the back-up.

****

 

"So Harkness doesn't suspect you?" Yvonne asked.

"Costello didn't, either," her contact said. "She thought Sato's shy girl manner was some kind of complicated cover story, and now that Harkness has brought a doctor in, she is suspicious of him as well. When I gave her the code words and asked for a report, she appeared to be genuinely surprised."

Yvonne frowned. "Generally I approve of paranoia in an agent," she commented. "But it should include actually guilty targets. If she really never suspected you, her judgment might be not as good as I thought, and in that case, her assessment of Harkness is worthless."

The back-up shrugged. "You don't have to rely on her judgment, Ma'am. She found a method to verify Harkness' account. Torchwood Three has located alien tech with the ability to restore the dead to life for a few minutes, and since Harkness had Alex Hopkins and the entire previous team stored in the cryogenic area… Quite an eerie experience, I don't mind saying. I was actually present for that. Hopkins confessed. His entire team blamed him, too."

Relief, sadness and even a bit of admiration welled up in Yvonne, though she made a mental note to make sure this life-restoring alien tech would need to be transferred to Torchwood One at some point. Still, good for Suzie to find it, and put it to practical use. Even better, while the loss of the old Torchwood Three team was still a tragedy, at least it was one with a definite ending, and they were dealing with Harkness as an annoyance, not as a serial killer on the loose. Given his immortality, the only thing left to do otherwise would have been to put him in a block of concrete and sink him into the sea, and given the man's previous track record, that probably would have ended up with him getting freed by a lovelorn whale.

"And her impression of Harkness as a team leader?"

There hadn't been any invasions that got past Cardiff so far, but then again, they might just have lucked out.

"He gets the job done, but she thinks he'll get bored with it, sooner or later, and that she'll be ready to replace him when he does."

We'll see about that, Yvonne thought. If the back-up hadn't boasted about Suzie's previous lack of suspicion, the young woman's instincts weren't always dead-on. Still, she was fulfilling her assignment, and deserved some credit for this. Why not leave her in hope Torchwood Three would be hers one day? At the very least, she would continue to be a good secret control mechanism for Jack Harkness.

"I see," Yvonne said out loud. "What about your own impressions?"

"Of Costello?"

"Of Jack Harkness."

The back-up hesitated, and blushed. Alarmed, Yvonne asked: "You didn't let him see you out of your mask, did you? I thought he didn't suspect you?"

"He doesn't," her agent said defensively. "And I haven't. I'm in full mask and get-up all the time in Cardiff. Even the Weevils have accepted me as one of their own. But. Well. He calls me Janet."

Deciding she really didn't want to know any more details, Yvonne wearily said: "In that case, we'll forego the rest of the report. I'll see you next month."

It wasn't as if she didn't have problems other than the state of Torchwood Cardiff to consider, after all. Now that the situation there looked to be relatively stable, Harkness' propensities not withstanding, it was time to go through the list of Doctor sightings again. The man hadn't been spotted for a while, and really was overdue to return. Torchwood would be ready.