"Do it again," John said, from around a mouthful of borscht. The artificial lights flickered and blinked, struggling against the gloom outside and not really succeeding. John's skin looked slightly green, although that might have been the aeroplane breakfast making itself known.
"Raxacoricofallapatorius," Mickey repeated.
"Ooh, that's good. Do it again!" John let the spoon fall back into the borscht and picked up the label-less vodka bottle from between his knees to pour them both a shot. Mickey raised his eyebrows.
"It's ten in the morning, John."
"Do it again!" John gestured with the top of the bottle.
Mickey sighed and put down his greasy, limp, McDonald's burger. "I'm beginning to understand why Ianto hates you so much."
"He doesn't hate me for my boundless joie de vive," John said sagely, downing a shot of eye-watering vodka without so much as a flinch, "he hates me because I'm beautiful." He poured a second shot. "Also, I fucked his boyfriend." John stared into space with a distant expression as a heavy truck ground and barked down the road outside, toying with his next vodka shot, and added dreamily, "a lot."
"I don't want to know," Mickey said for maybe the millionth time since meeting Captain John Hart.
They'd arrived in Anadyr two hours ago, leaving Ianto to check them into the hotel while John satisfied his apparently endless craving for local foodstuffs (he'd spent the flight annoying everyone in the vicinity by eating plantain chips and dried sea urchin as loudly as a dog chewing coal) and neat spirits. Mickey was still unimpressed with this inauspicious start to their career as Torchwood Three-B – a title which he wasn't happy with him and to which John was flatly refusing to answer – and he couldn't work out whether the mission itself or the team was the more ludicrous; at Heathrow, preparing for the first leg of their journey, people had stared, and it wasn't even as if K-9 or the BFG had been with them there, as they were being shipped as cargo.
"We're not exactly the most inconspicuous group," Mickey had muttered as John started making eyes at a teenage girl – all elbows and shyness – in WHSmiths.
"If you just look at this like a rock band we look perfectly normal," John insisted, smiling at the girl like a shark smiles at a lost seal pup.
"Stop that," Mickey growled. He wasn't exactly convinced; John might have looked like some 1960s rock star, but Mickey was acutely aware that he himself looked a lot less glamorous, more like the ugly one out of a boy band, and if Ianto was a popstar he was clearly moonlighting from the opera – possibly after having his house burnt down, judging by his expression.
"Alright," John smirked, apparently reading his mind, "I'm the big fucking rockstar," he redistributed his weight from one foot to the other, deliberately poking his hips out, "and you two are … bodyguard and manager. Bodyguard and mmmanager."
"Which is which?" Mickey asked. He knew immediately he was going to regret it, but at least John wasn't disturbing the shit out of him by perving on thirteen-year-olds anymore. There was a limit to how Rolling Stones someone could be before Mickey started wanting to be sick in his mouth.
John rolled his eyes. "Which one of you is wearing the suit, fuckhead?"
Mickey sighed. "I'm going to have to sit in the middle, aren't I?"
John shrugged. "Or you could try to explain to the stewardess why my manager just choked me to death half-way through The Bridges of Madison County."
"Believe me if they're showing that it's not you I'm going to be choking," Ianto snapped, and Mickey started, unaware that he'd even been in earshot. Ianto's little Alfred Pennyworth impression was unnerving him already.
Receiving their first proper mission hadn't been much more of an edifying and adult experience:
"There have been increased reports of werewolf activity and human fatalities in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug," Gwen said, handing a folder wrapped in multicoloured elastic bands to Ianto, not to Mickey. Even though Mickey was standing right by the desk and it would have been easier and was she actually going to acknowledge his presence at all? Apparently not.
Gwen was holding a cup of Jones-brewed coffee with determination – probably because it was the last she was going to get for quite some time, and she looked a little pale, a little tired, and a little plumper than usual.
"Werewolves," Mickey said, trying to avoid any intonation whatsoever.
Gwen gave him an I Don't Make This Shit Up, I Just Report It look and Mickey almost felt sorry for her. On the other hand, he was going to Siberia and she was staying in Cardiff with her husband, and with Jack and Martha, and with an entire arsenal of alien weapons and a cooperative and even occasionally friendly police force. He didn't feel that sorry for her.
"'Werewolf' can apply to any one of three hundred and seventy-eight shape-changing species known to have visited the Sol System, Master," K-9 beeped helpfully.
"Thank you, K-9," Mickey groaned. "That really narrows down how to deal with this."
"Sarcasm noted, Master."
"We can get you to Anadyr," Gwen continued, looking even more green around the gills, "you need to meet up with a biologist called … called … ugh, it's in the file. She's from Chechnya or somewhere like that, they've had a whole team of international scientists out at Lake … why are all these places unpronounceable? Lake El'gygytgyn. Ow, my throat." She took a sip of the coffee. "It's all in there. Some of her team were killed by the … the you know what."
"Werewolves," Mickey finished, trying not to sound too incredulous. "Right. Um. Where's … where's John?"
"Being forcibly restrained from the armoury," Martha said, entering with her own coffee and a pen stuck in her hair. "He's trying to convince Jack he needs every single ceramic weapon we have to get through airport security, and Jack's trying to explain that John doesn't need any weapons, and I don't know who's going to win, but there's probably going to be some broken glass in a minute."
Sitting in a cheap café in Anadyr, Mickey still wasn't sure who'd won: the geom wasn't in evidence, but John had this way of appearing to be armed to the teeth when he was wearing a bath-towel. Mickey had tried to avoid the Hub showers after that.
"So," Mickey pushed his burger away across the table-top. He'd thought he'd be happy to go back to junk food after all that time with activism and veganism on the run with Jake, but either his tastebuds had changed or MacDonald's had; it tasted disgusting and sat in his stomach like a lead weight. "We need to make contact with this Dr. … Dr. … Zakharov, find out exactly what happened to the rest of her team."
He realised John probably wasn't listening. There was a fruit machine in the corner, with unfamiliar Cyrillic characters flashing on achingly familiar bright plastic buttons as they lit up from behind, and John was eyeing it with palpable avarice.
"So I was thinking of sending Ianto to do that," Mickey went on, "since he's the most approachable of us, and maybe I should – "
"Can he speak Russian?"
"Oh, you are listening."
"I'm always listening," John said, still transfixed by the fruit machine. "I hear every single word that drops out of your mouth, especially if that word is 'Ianto'."
"You're seriously fucking creepy," Mickey growled.
"He doesn't, by the way," John put his foot on the chair opposite him. "And I do." There was a ten-ruble coin in John's hand now, spinning up and down the line of his knuckles like a giddy child on the waltzers.
"I'm not sending you to talk to her on your own," Mickey shuddered. "We need her alive and not pressing charges. We'll have to all go." A thought occurred to him as John started flipping the coin in a calculatedly infuriating fashion. "How do you know she doesn't speak English, anyway?"
The door opened. The café owner didn't bother to look up, but Mickey and John's heads snapped around like the crack of a cattle whip.
It was, of course, Ianto. He looked faintly ridiculous with a thermal survival jacket in green and grey over his suit, but less so than John had in the enormous fur coat that was now draped awkwardly over the back of his plastic chair like an Eskimo's duvet. Mickey's own red survival jacket hung more easily down the back of his chair; he gave Ianto an enquiring look, but Ianto ignored him – something of a theme was beginning to emerge there – and made a beeline for the tiny counter.
Watching Ianto attempting to order coffee in signs and very broken Russian (with a very clear "кофе" audible amongst the confusion) was so entertaining that for a moment neither John nor Mickey thought to mention that the old woman in the Cats sweatshirt spoke pretty decent English, or at least understood it; when he finally had his steaming paper cup Ianto sat down as far away from John as he could get without actually sitting at a different table altogether.
"I've left a message with her landlady," Ianto said abruptly. He sipped his coffee and pulled an eloquent face.
"Already?" Mickey was a little surprised. He hadn't even known they knew where the doctor was staying in Anadyr; Ianto had hogged the folder for the entire flight to Beijing, the stopover at Beijing, the flight to Vladistok, the stopover in Vladistok, and the flight to Anadyr. Mickey had been getting quite annoyed by the end of the journey, and not least because he'd had to sit in the middle every bloody time while John chatted up the stewardesses, stewards, and other passengers with varying success.
"No sense in wasting time," Ianto said primly. He clearly meant 'the sooner we can get this done the sooner I can go home'.
"So we just wait around the hotel until she gets back to us?" Mickey sighed. He'd been hoping they could get on with proving they were an adequate team right off the bat.
About twenty minutes later he was sat on a single bed in a room of three of them, as John paced around the room complaining about the lack of a minibar – in the face of the bottle of vodka poking out of his coat pocket like a mast – and Ianto rather clumsily hit the communications dial on the wristpiece that had previously been John's. He was intrigued to see that bad connections had the same effect on a visual transmission as an audio one – Anadyr must have been a black spot for the frequencies the Vortex Manipulator communications band used; Jack and the foot or so of Hub background that they could see around him as he projected at half-size into the hotel room kept jumping and spitting into fizzy pale blue nothingness.
"Is everything alright back there?" Ianto asked as soon as Jack came into focus. Mickey got the distinct impression he'd rather that John and Mickey were elsewhere for this conversation; the set of Ianto's shoulders was quite hostile.
"Very quiet," Jack assured him. "Even the - crack, fizz - considering training pro- fizzpop - progress, okay? No trouble?" He slid back into focus as if he was coming from two different parts of the room at once.
"I'm not happy with this bloody name," John interrupted from the windowsill. He sounded downright affronted. "Torchwood Three-B? We sound like a school. Or a pencil. It's ridiculous. We're an elite investigative team, we need an elite name!"
"You're not going to start making a fuss about that again, are you?" Mickey groaned, putting a hand over his own eyes. "Not now."
"We're not Torchwood," John persisted. "I don't see why we have to just be some annexed subclause to Torchwood. We're not even Torchwood Five! We're just Jack's fucking appendage!"
"We are Torchwood," Ianto corrected icily.
"You might be, Eye-Candy, but I'm not." John strode over to his enormous shaggy bearskin coat, lying across one of the beds like a recently-slaughtered animal, and popped the vodka bottle out of the pocket like a pea from a pod. "I'm not wanking about Russia under the 'Torchwood' banner."
"We could have a code name, I suppose, but we're wasting ti-" Mickey began. Unsurprisingly, everyone ignored him. Again.
"Excalibur was a good name," John insisted, apparently addressing Jack to the exclusion of everyone else. "I don't know why you didn't just go with that. I mean, listen to it. Excalibur! Or Torchwood. Ridiculous."
"Because Excalibur was a Time Agency potential subdivision and this isn't and you stole all the Excalibur funding anyway," Jack snapped, smacking the desk. The projection jumped violently. "Will one of you shut him up and tell me - fizzbanghiss - contact yet?"
Mickey exchanged a pained look with Ianto. "C'mon, John, we can argue about this later, it's not important."
"I've left a message for Dr. Zakharov with her landlady," Ianto repeated, "but her landlady hasn't seen her for a week so I don't know how soon – "
The image of Jack vanished abruptly as Mickey's cell phone rang. Mickey blinked. "I didn't know this int – "
Ianto snatched the phone out of his hands and hit 'speaker'. "привет?"
"Hello," said a rough alto voice rendered strange by the phone's tinny speaker capability. "Your accent is shitty, Ianto Jones." She pronounced 'Ianto' as 'Yanntoo', but no one commented on that. "This is Irana Zakharov. You are interested in what happened to my research team." She did not phrase it as a question.
"Your landlady lied to me," Ianto muttered.
"She lies to everyone for me. It costs money." Irana was economical with her syllables, biting them off as if to conserve air. "You want to see where we were working, you will need a helicopter. Can you fly, Ianto Jones?"
Ianto looked at Mickey. Mickey made a 'so-so' motion with his hand. His take-offs and landings were a bit sticky, he knew, but he could keep control while in the air and plot a fairly accurate course when necessary. Funny, all these things he'd learnt when there was someone around who believed he already knew how to do them. With a pained frown, Ianto turned his gaze on John.
"Who, me? Of course I can fly a bloody helicopter," John said, wiping the mouth of his vodka with the palm of his hand. Mickey wondered what that was supposed to achieve, the disinfection of his palm on the alcohol, or the spreading of germs onto the glass. "When do we start?"
"Would you mind sobering up first?" Ianto asked acidly.
On the phone, Irana Zakharov barked a short, half-humourless laugh that sounded like cigarettes and a garrotte had gone into its making. "He will be a good enough pilot as he is. Our last pilot was a drunk too."
"What happened to him?" Mickey asked, because if the answer was 'he crashed into a mountain while drunk', he wasn't getting in the helicopter until John had had two cold showers and a kick in the nuts.
"She was eaten by wolves, in the end," Irana said. There was something like dark, dry amusement in her voice. Mickey had hear a little about the infamously black sense of humour that was supposedly typical in Russians; he wondered if it was so with Chechens too, and what kind of offense Irana might take at the comparison.
"Where should we meet you?" Ianto asked, motioning for Mickey and John to shush despite them not actually saying anything at this point. "And when?"
Irana gave them an address, and a time. "Bring food supplies, and first aid. The rest will still be there, in the trailers." She sounded almost bored. "There are no thieves at Lake El'gygytgyn, only wolves, and sometimes elk. Lost elk."
The call cut out abruptly, and John swigged from his vodka bottle again. "She sounds like a real party animal."
"Shut up," said Mickey at almost the same time as Ianto. He looked at John's ridiculous boots, and Ianto's carefully polished black brogues. "You … might want to wear different shoes."
The helicopter pad turned out to be an empty lot surrounded by a gappy chainlink fence and some dead plants among the breize blocks that littered the place. A lone cat washed itself indolently on a small pile of rubble and barely stopped to look at them as they approached; the H on the crumbling tarmac seemed to have been painted on by hand, by someone with Parkinson's and a limited supply of light grey paint.
The helicopter itself didn't look like it had any business ever taking to the air. It looked like it had been built by Leonardo da Vinci out of vintage car parts and chewing gum and hope; there was a faded red hammer and sickle on the tail attesting to its age.
"That's us, is it?" Ianto asked, shouldering a heavy ruck-sack full of dried rations and fresh water in iodine-cleaned bottles.
"Looks like it," Mickey sighed. John bounded over, clanking – he'd refused to change his boots, and his concession to 'bring supplies' amounted to stuffing so many bottles of vodka into the pockets of his enormous bearskin coat that he sounded like a milkfloat on collection day – and Ianto examined the threatening off-white skies with a blank face.
"We're all going to die," he said flatly.
"Probably," Mickey agreed.
"The circus is here," the raspy alto voice greeted them as its owner stepped out from behind the nose of the helicopter. She had evidently gone to the Jack Harkness and John Hart School of Dramatic Entrances. Dr Irana Zakharov was tall, taller than John, roughly the same height as Ianto, and she was beautiful only in the way that a knife might be; her face was sharp and hard, her lips thin, and her shock-blue eyes were like ice spears, cold and piercing. She certainly looked like the kind of woman who could fend off a wolf attack in the frozen wilderness – not so much slim as wiry, and she stood as if she'd been taught to walk by a drill sergeant. "How drunk is your pilot?"
"Comfortably," John grinned. "Captain John Hart." He ratcheted his grin up a few notches, but did not salute. Jack, Mickey though, would have saluted.
"Captain of what?"
"Oh, this and that." John offered her his vodka. Mickey was expecting her to decline – she looked like she might – but Irana took an impressive chug from the bottle and passed it back to him without so much as a flicker on her face.
"Flying in this is not pleasant," Irana explained. "You should drink. It will cushion you a little. Not much."
"I like you," John said, scrambling into the pilot's seat with the open bottle swinging from his from his left hand. "I like her," he informed Mickey. "We need to meet more women like her."
"No," Ianto muttered, "you need to be segregated from humanity for humanity's good."
"Give me your bags," Irana said, kicking the side door open with considerable force. They climbed inside. It smelt quite overpoweringly of fuel, with a backdrop of chickens, and – no doubt thanks to John – home-distilled vodka.
Mickey tried to make himself comfortable as the helicopter's engine began, louder than the gates of Hades slamming shut, and Ianto said over the roar, "Tell us what happened, doctor …"
Irana put a finger to her lips and pointed towards the roof – with a lurch and a bump the ancient machine left the ground and started to climb into the skies. "Who do you people represent?" she asked curtly, before Ianto could repeat his question. "I tried to explain to the authorities in Anadyr, they did not take an interest. Wolves eat people all the time, especially out there."
"We come from Torchwood – " Ianto began.
"No we don't," John shouted from the front. Mickey wasn't wholly surprised to discover that the man's hearing was a lot better than he had been pretending it was.
"Pay no attention to him," Mickey advised.
"What are Torchwood?" Irana glanced briefly at Mickey, which was about all the recognition he'd had from anyone in quite some time. It was Ianto who answered, although thankfully not with any of Jack's usual and highly embarrassing, 'outside the government' spiel: Mickey didn't think Irana would be impressed by that. Or indeed by anything short of a live volcano erupting inside the helicopter.
"We investigate events like this," Ianto said tactfully. He looked about as relaxed as a man can with bits of Soviet machinery jabbing into his back. "Things which are not very normal … things that don't come with a logical explanation."
"There is a very logical explanation," Irana suggested. "I hallucinated. They were just wolves. Shock caused a false memory to form."
Mickey frowned at her. She didn't appear to believe what she was saying herself, either. "Do you think that's likely?"
The woman replied with a thin smile. Her eyes stabbed at him like blue bayonets. "No. I am not shocked by wolves. I have seen them eat the bodies of people before." She settled back on the uneven wall. "Fifteen years ago I watched them feed on the bodies of Russian soldiers, and rejoiced. Now I am older, and I know the world is bigger than two countries, but I remember those animals. And these animals at Lake El'gygytgyn, they were not wolves."
Mickey stared at her in the deafening thunder of the helicopter's bowels, mentally translating the things she hadn't said. It was easy to see her with an automatic weapon, although strangely not unsettling. He was pretty sure those soldiers hadn't gone to the wolves willingly, perhaps not even dead, but that was none of their business. They were here to find whatever alien beings were hunting in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and to send them away from the earth by any means necessary.
He risked a glance at Ianto, who had - really - just whipped out a notebook and made a note of this. "Assuming that we can trust your memory of events, then – what happened?"
Irana closed her eyes and said almost sleepily, "We had been out at the lake for only a week. We were to monitor levels of blue-green algae, to see if they were on the increase – Lake El'gygytgyn is almost free of – "
"Yawn," John interrupted from the front.
" – we were to be there for several months," Irana went on, acknowledging his interruption without acknowledging. "It was night, we had been drinking of course, and we were soon to go to sleep, when the noises started."
"What noises?" Mickey tried to alleviate the pressure on his spine and back muscles by leaning on his ruck-sack, but it was full of tines. He was rapidly starting to think that Ianto might well be the softest thing in the back of the helicopter.
"You realise we're going to have to fly all night in this rust bucket?" John complained from the pilot's seat. "It's going so slowly I can't even believe it stays in the fucking air."
"Russia is a big country," Irana said.
"I know, but if you at least had a fushion-powered wave-coll-"
"Would you mind shutting up?" Mickey growled.
"Charming," John muttered, taking a pull on his vodka. "This has almost run out," he complained, "I've only got two more. There'd better be some more at these trailers of yours or I'm going to be in a bad mood."
"There will be some," Irana assured him. "But I had to burn the rest to keep the animals away from me." She turned back to Ianto and Mickey. "The noises from outside, they sounded like perhaps something had got into our storage bins. As leader of the expedition, I was to go out and see; I took a torch and my shotgun, I stepped outside, there was nothing by the storage bins."
Mickey tried to settle himself against the tins of food in the hope that their smooth sides would be less awkward against his back.
"I went to make sure they were secure, something hit me in the back, very hard, and I lost my torch, my shotgun. I called for help," she sighed. "I got up just in time to see Jing Yuhao from Beijing University become two halves of a corpse. The animals, they were dark, stayed in the shadows – it was as if the shadows were with them, this was otherwise a very bright night, a … a fat moon, not quite full – I don't know the English for this –"
"Gibbous," Ianto said under his breath.
" – I could not see them clearly, only what they did. When you arrive you will see, there is nowhere for shadows to come from."
"How did you escape?" Mickey asked, because asking what they did seemed like a step too far. Irana looked at the back of John's seat for a long time.
"I hid in the lake. The water there is cold, but not was not frozen then. It is cold enough to kill in minutes, so I must have only been in there for seconds. It felt longer." She shuddered. It looked eerie on her, as if a robot had just cried, or a statue chuckled to itself. "I climbed out, I burnt all our emergency firewood, I burnt the vodka, I burnt the coverings for the bins, to warm myself and to make a signal to the animals that they should not come near." Irana dragged her gaze away from the back of the seat and looked at Mickey with the kind of stare he'd only ever seen on combatants before. "When the dawn came I found my torch. I found my shotgun. I packed our supplies, and I began to walk. It took nearly two weeks to find a village."
Ianto cleared his throat awkwardly. "And you didn't get to see what they looked like?"
"They were in darkness, all the time," Irana said distantly. "But I know they were not wolves."
She smiled the ghost of a knife-wound smile. "In the morning, even the clothes my team had been wearing were gone. I have seen wolves eat human bodies before, Ianto Jones." She closed her eyes again. "Those were not wolves."
Mickey dozed for most of the flight, and woke up in pain; opposite him Irana's eyes were open, and she sat with her hands dangling from the wrists between her raised knees, in perfect silence.
He sat up. John was talking, though in such a low voice that Mickey couldn't work out what he was saying. Ianto's voice, however, was clear. All he was saying was, "Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP. Shut. Up," over and over and over.
"What?" Mickey mumbled, brushing sleep from his eyes.
"We're here," John said, much louder and more clearly. "Or we're where the lovely doctor says the trailers are and – " he broke off. Mickey could only assume he was drinking more of his rocket fuel, " – there are two down there. They might be different ones, of course."
Irana got to her feet in one go, and leaned over the seat. "Yes," she said. "This is right. Land."
"Somehow I didn't think it was going to be somewhere else," John drawled.
Letting John land a helicopter made primarily of rust while reeking of spirits ranked quite high on the list of "stupidest things Mickey has done in his life so far", and it was appropriately painful and loud. By the time he got his feet back on the solid, icy-crunchy, almost grassless ground again, Mickey thought he'd developed a permanent phobia of flying, and several grey hairs.
As he took his bag down from the helicopter and looked about him, Mickey realized just how sarcastic John had been being; there was nothing but nothing as far as the eye could see, with a sodding great lake in it and a lot of wind. Right out in the distance, across the lake, there was some sort of mechanical tower thing, like an oil rig but tiny, and white.
"Americans," Irana said, following his gaze. "Drilling for samples. They are not here at the moment. There will be only us in the trailers."
Wind tore across the empty landscape and tugged at her sandy-blonde hair. Ianto swung his ruck-sack onto his shoulders, and without another word the four of them cross the windswept, desolate ground between helicopter and trailers.
"Here," Irana said, pointing to the two black plastic bins sunk into deep holes. They were encircled with a number of metal tent pegs, which must have been holding down the tarpaulin that had covered them. "This is where they knocked me down." She led them on to the door of one of the two trailers. "The wind and rain chase away all tracks. Tomorrow our footprints will be invisible."
The observation struck Mickey as inexplicably morbid.
Inside the trailer was surprisingly similar to a mobile home he'd stayed in on holiday with his Nan once, although without the postcards of Harlan Bay blue-takked to the walls and cupboards, or the flower-print curtains that had apparently been made in the 1970s. Mickey put his bag down with a sigh of relief – even in that short walk over, even with the thick hood of his coat raised, his ears had begun to sting with the chill of the wind.
"The other trailer is our field laboratory," Irana said, sitting on something that could only be called a sofa by the very charitably-minded. "We share with the Americans, with other research teams."
"We're going to have to sort this thing out before anyone else gets eaten," Ianto concluded.
"How?" John asked, sounding grumpy. He'd managed to find something to chew, and he hadn't removed his bearskin. "I wasn't allowed a gun. Not even a little one! Not even a knife. Mickey's power tool penis replacement is back at the hotel. The little robot dog with the silly voice … is back at the hotel. All we have is a shotgun, my incredible good looks, and no information." He slumped against a wall. "Team Useless are here to fail to save the day."
"Er, do you mind?" Mickey sighed.
"I'm the designated pessimist," Mickey pointed out.
"We can always check the area for traces … hair … residue from injuries," Ianto said, putting his coat hood back up with a look that bordered on resignation. "Come on."
"Alright. I'll take the area around the storage bins, you do the bit the other side of the scorch marks. John?"
"Other side of the trailers. Perhaps that's where they were hiding." Mickey put his hands over his face. "And give me some of that bloody vodka."
"I thought you said you didn't drink anymore?" Ianto said in a low voice as Mick put his coat back on.
"It's either that or freeze. I can make an exception," Mickey held out his hand across the room in a pincher shape and with a sour expression John dug a bottle of vodka from one of his many and capacious pockets.
They spent the rest of the daylight hours going over the area with a fine-toothed comb. Even as he worked, stooped over in the harsh winds, having to dart inside every hour to prevent frostbite from getting a grip on his naked fingers, Mickey was mentally penning his report. It consisted largely of: "Discovered nothing but new horizons on how cold and bored it is possible to get."
By the time the light began to fade all any of them had was a sample of earth stained with possibly-blood, which Ianto had scooped up outside the line of scorched earth, and he'd said several times it was probably boiled sap from the firewood or something. Even the ashes were gone, borne away by the wind in the month-long interval since Irana's desperate stand against the creatures in the darkness.
"We can at least scan that," Mickey said, as they removed their coats in the relative warmth of the trailer, and Ianto raised his eyebrows at the little plastic bag, "with the whatjacallit."
"Vortex Manipulator," John said, picking his teeth.
Ianto touched a couple of buttons on the wide leather strap at his wrist, hesitant, and frowned. Nothing happened. He tried again. "It's not … there's no response from anything. It's not even lighting up."
"Um, yeah." John looked uncomfortable. "There were one or two places on my old travels where it got a bit blocked … wouldn't start … fluctuations in the ionosphere or something."
"Or something?" Mickey demanded.
"I was a field agent, not a technician!" John protested, "I don't know how the bloody thing operates, I just used it!"
"Story of my life," Mickey muttered, disgruntled.
"So we're stuck out here with no way of communicating with Cardiff?" Ianto said in a faint voice. His face could have been the encyclopedia illustration for 'aghast'. "What do we do now?"
Irana, who had been watching the conversation from one of the doorways, inscrutable and silent, said, "Wait for them to come back."
"The animals?" Mickey was starting to think that John's vodka was a perfectly reasonable response to a perfectly impossible situation.
"If they don't come tonight, they will come tomorrow night. They can see the helicopter. They know there is prey for them." She picked up a clear bottle from beneath an empty Karibou bag and added, "in the meantime …"
"More vodka?" Ianto groaned.
"This is samogon," Irana corrected. "One of my graduate students brought it with him from Kiev. His uncle distills it. It is … very warming."
Mickey hung back. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to be hunting werewolves drunk."
"It's a fucking stupid one to try hunting them sober," John said, already dusting off a plastic mug with a kind of feverish eagerness.
It was dark, and the wind howled, but that was all. They ate packet soup, crisp bread, and tinned peaches, and John told them an anecdote about trying to smuggle opium into Singapore. Ianto called him a liar and several other names, his cheeks aglow with the flames of the samogon.
"You're beautiful when you're angry," John informed him, taking another shot of the eye-watering moonshine.
"What … what is between those two?" Irana asked Mickey quietly as Ianto called John something ferocious but so incoherent that Mickey couldn't tell if it was English, Welsh, Russian, or gibberish. Catching Mickey's expression she added, quite sympathetically, "Long story, perhaps?"
"Very short. Very predictable," Mickey sighed. John was waving a mug of samogon under Ianto's nose. Ianto looked queasy.
Irana didn't tell them much about herself, beyond having travelled to America to get her doctorate; instead she told Torchwood's Away Team about the significance of Lake El'gygytgyn, why the Americans had been drilling there.
"Not for oil. Hard to believe, but true," Irana said. Though their 'meal' was over, no one had moved from the tiny table. "This lake is very old – you see on maps that it is very round, too. That is because it was formed by a meteor crash, millions of years ago."
As one man the team sat up and began to pay much closer attention.
"Most lakes have been covered by glaciers, this far north. Further south, wildlife and men stir up the sediments. But here, so far from everywhere, the mud lies undisturbed. For millions of years, there are records for those who can interpret them. That is why the American scientists drill out here." Irana put the lid back on the samogon bottle almost off-handedly. "To tell the world how it has heated up and cooled down in the past. If these changes now are unusual, or usual."
"What," John said in a bored slur, "does this shit have to do with werewolves?"
"Maybe they've been here all along," Mickey suggested.
"What could live out here?" Irana said, ignoring John entirely and fixing Mickey with her intense stare. Whereas earlier this had made him feel as if she was burning him alive with her eyes, Mickey found the samogon had achieved the impossible and softened Irana's gaze to bearability. "There is barely any vegetation, no large mammals, no small mammals. Only three species of fish in the whole lake."
Mickey struggled for words – John had kidnapped the remainder of the murderously potent samogon, and Ianto appeared to have gone to sleep, his head on his folded forearms, making him look too young for his suit – and managed, "I've seen creatures that … don't need the same food as … as us. Things that – "
Irana stood up abruptly. "Come on."
"What?" Mickey peered up at her.
"Come with me," Irana said, heading for the partition door. John snickered, and Mickey kicked him under the table before getting up to follow her. "Torchwood," Irana said, pronouncing it correctly but misplacing the stresses. She shut the partition door behind them, and Mickey saw the two narrow beds, pushed together, and through the samogon fog he understood. "It is a stupid name," Irana said. "Your friend is right."
"He's not my friend," Mickey said hastily.
Irana snorted. "He will be. You are alone." It was not a question.
"And drunk." Mickey thought it was only fair to point this out, although it was fairly obvious.
"So am I." She removed her sweater the same way she walked – mechanically, with a tinge of the military, her movements suggesting somehow something feral. "We are only drunk in short bursts, Mickey Smith. We are always alone."
This is fucking horrible, Mickey thought wretchedly. Stop talking like that..
"You see the truth in that," Irana said baldly. She unlaced her boots as Mickey stood, undecided, his throat working. "Do not deny that you do."
"I do," said Mickey, and he kissed her.
Though Irana was all angles and ice to look at, she was very warm to touch, flushed with strong Ukrainian spirits, a volcano under thick ice. She kissed like she was devouring him, but her hands remained flat and still on the bed.
The business of undressing each other was like some sort of circus act, they were both wearing so many layers. But eventually Mickey was naked and shivering, and Irana was naked and apparently not shivering, though her skin was a landscape of tiny goosebumps, and her nipple was in his mouth, and her hands were ragged and sure on his back …
In the next room Ianto woke with a start to find himself curled up like a toddler on the 'sofa' with no memory of how he'd got there, and a very dry mouth. "What's happening?"
"They are very selfishly having sex without me," John grumbled, on his back on the floor, hugging the mostly-empty samogon bottle to his chest like an errant child. "And now I'm too drunk to fuck you either. I knew I should never have come out here. Excitement and adventure my perfectly-formed arse. All there is out here is the audio track to the live sex show in there and a howling fucking gale. I should have gone to Haiti – "
"Shut up," Ianto groaned, pressing the heels of both hands to his eyes. "Oh god shut up. There had better be a werewolf, then I can feed you to it and it'll die of an upset stomach." He made a whimpering noise in his throat.
"Haiti," John repeated. "I could have been in Haiti." He staggered to his feet, wrapped himself in his bearskin, and lay down again, his teeth chattering slightly. "Fucking Haiti."
… Mickey's back muscles gleamed with cold sweat as the light of an almost-full moon crept around the ill-fitting blinds and wept through the chill air; Irana's short, uneven nails drew red scrapes along the sides of his spine, and her thighs – all sinew and tenseness – squeezed his pelvis like a vice as her legs crossed over his arse. He blinked sweat from his eyes, and their coarse, harsh breaths kept a beat which the wailing winds undermined constantly.
Two hours later John woke up, groaned, "Fucking Haiti, fucking wind, fucking Jack, fucking bloody fucking Russia," and staggered off to unroll a sleeping bag. After a moment's hesitation with the purple-and-black slug of fabric dangling from his hands and his bearskin draped over his shoulders, he unzipped it, tossed it blanket-like over Ianto's twitching and shivering body, and lay back down on the floor, wrapped in his coat once more. He finished the samogon. "Fucking samogon, too," John muttered, and he went back to sleep.
The wind bellowed, and Mickey grunted, and Irana hissed between clenched teeth, and John began to snore gently, like a tipsy housewife.
"Why don't you have a hangover, you bastard?" Mickey whispered, his head drooping delicately into his hands as he hunched over the little table. Ianto sat opposite him, a mirror image of post-samogon pain; Mickey had woken up at dawn to find himself naked and the coldest he had ever been in his life except for the parts of him that touched Irana's bare, warm back. He'd thought, somehow, that she wouldn't appreciate him snuggling up for warmth, and so he'd thrown his clothes on, thrown a spare blanket from one of the other beds over her, and promptly bolted for the trailer door to throw up.
John, however, was looking sprightly and bright-eyed as a park squirrel (although like the rest of them he did smell a bit of the bitter tang of alcoholic sweat dried on the skin).
"Fifty-first century man, I am," John said, helping himself to some packet noodles from Ianto's bag and regarding them without much enthusiasm. "I have all kinds of handy implants." He smirked back over his shoulder at Mickey, showing all his teeth like a frightened dog. John stood up and more or less danced to the tiny gas stove balanced on top of two blue canisters. "Metabolic, pheromones, secretions, stamina … you name them, I've got them …"
"But not one to stop you from going grey and getting crows' feet," Ianto muttered, keeping his head very still. Mickey tried to laugh – he wanted to – but it hurt too, too much.
John slammed a cupboard door at random, and snickered as both of the afflicted groaned and whined. "No," he said, brandishing a saucepan, "we're not all as lucky as Jack."
The partition door creaked open and Irana stood bleary but dressed and combed the doorway's open maw. "Are you making breakfast?"
"How?" Ianto groaned, "how can you eat after last night?"
"If you do not eat, the effects take longer to go away," Irana said simply. "Also, you will freeze."
"I'm not cooking everyone's breakfast, it's not my job," John protested. "He - " he pointed the saucepan accusingly at Ianto's currently very pale face, "is the skivvy. I'm the big weapons and wit man. And the sex appeal."
"And I'm the one in charge," Mickey said in the ghost of a growl, "and I say make the fucking breakfast and do it quietly."
John's approximation of 'quietly' involved a lot of sotto voce swearing and complaints, and several 'accidental' bangs of doors and pans, but they were eventually handed plain noodles in bad grace and red plastic bowls, and left to pick at them in relative peace.
"They didn't come last night?" Ianto asked in a slightly more Land of the Living voice when he'd finished his unorthodox and untasty breakfast, and washed it down with 'pretty terrible' coffee. "I didn't hear – "
"Someone came," John snickered, and Mickey threw him a look of impatient disgust.
"Grow up," he suggested. "Please."
Outside the windows it was almost dusk-dark with huge thick clouds the colour of charcoal-and-ashes, and Mickey watched them gather like seagulls over discarded chips with a sense of ill-defined trepidation. "I think we're stuck inside for the time being."
Irana shook her head. "I am going to the lake to take more samples. The old ones will no longer be good. If I am to be here, I should be here and working." She finished her own coffee with a great deal more enjoyment than Ianto had shown over his. "You three will help me."
"I'm allergic to Arctic rain," John put in. "It makes me come up in goosebumps. That's not natural. Also, hard work makes me sneeze."
"If it rains we come in," Irana assured him. "But it may not. The clouds here are liars, prick-teasers; often they do not rain at all until they reach the mountains, even when they are growling all the way there."
Despite this reassurance, the day went on threatening a storm as they worked; the winds which had been so steady in their abuse of Mickey's poor ears turned fitful and scattered and almost warm, and beneath the ominous clouds the air was soupy and electric and everyone's tempers grew frayed. Not least Irana's: the playful winds ruffled the lake and messed around with her equipment, and she was frequently reduced to a hail of what Mickey assumed were swear-words. He knew nothing of Chechen, or for that matter of Russian, but from the vehemence and the expression on her face he felt sure Irana wasn't restricting herself to 'oh bother this weather'.
They lunched frugally, returned to a different part of the shore, and started again.
"If not wolves," Mickey asked at one stage, "what do you think they were?"
Irana shrugged. She didn't seem interested in answering him. "Is that not your job?"
"Yes, but – "
"Be quiet and hold the line. Still. Still. Hold it still." She swore again and brushed her hair off her forehead. The irrational weather, or perhaps her annoyance, had caused her to break out in an improbable sweat – Mickey could see it gleaming among the pale fine hairs on her upper lip.
"Maybe they come from the lake," Ianto suggested. As one man, Team B, Torchwood's fearless Global Investigation Division, took a few steps back from the deep cold waters.
"Ridiculous," Irana said. "There is nothing for large predators to eat in there. Come back and hold the line still." She seemed impatient, although whether it was with them or the adverse weather conditions Mickey could only guess. Either way, her vowels were abrupt and her tones more clipped than an obsessive's newspaper. "Three species of small fish," she said decisively. "What would it eat?"
"Your research team, for a start," John said, not far enough under his breath to go unheard, "and then us."
With the sky like a painter's water jar it was hard to work out when dusk was coming, but it was 5pm by Mickey's watch when Irana finally gave up in exasperation, muttering under her breath in a mixture of languages.
You couldn't help liking someone that devoted to saving in the world in her own way, Mickey thought. It didn't hurt that she was clearly made of sterner stuff than most women – he'd have thought 'most women he'd met', but Mickey was lucky in that respect: there had been his Nan, who was tougher than an iron railing made from coffin nails, then there had been Jackie and … and Rose … and then Gwen and Martha had appeared in his life too. And now there was Irana. Mickey had a whole lifetime of meeting impressive women.
It was after they had finished poking disconsolately at their 'dinner' – in the making of which they discovered that none of the four of them could credibly be called a cook without radically redefining the word – that Irana made a sudden jerky movement, turned her ear to face the window, and said with a hunted look, "Did you hear that?"
"No," John said, trying to wrest one of the remaining vodka bottles from Ianto, who was hanging on like grim Welsh death, his legs braced around his chair and his expression quite steely.
"You – are - not - drinking – any – more – " Ianto grunted as John yanked on the base of the bottle.
"Hear what?" Mickey asked, throwing himself sideways to avoid John's flailing elbows.
"There it is again," Irana said, her voice little more than a hoarse whisper. She half-rose from her seat and moved towards the door in a sort of half-crouching walk that completely eradicated any lingering doubts Mickey might have had about his idea that she was ex-military.
Mickey looked at the others. They shook their heads. "We don't hear – "
"Shh." Irana grabbed the shotgun from by the door, and settled the torch in her other hand. "I am coming to get you, Night Creature," she said, reaching for the door-handle.
"Wait," Mickey said, putting on his coat at speed. "I'm coming with you. We don't want a repeat – you need someone to watch your back – "
She opened the door and stepped through it into the whirling winds and the near-total darkness (the moon was hidden by thick clouds, only a discolouration of these layers in a coin-shaped blur of sky betraying its position), and looked back at him with her eyebrows raised. "Watch my back, then."
Mickey stepped out into the cold, and John's indignant, "Shut the fucking door!" was drowned out by the slam as he closed the door behind him, obliterating the precise skyscraper of light that had fallen, yellow and welcoming, over the uneven ground when it stood open.
Now there was darkness so complete that Mickey felt disoriented, as though he'd been blindfolded and shoved into an empty room; there were no stars, the moon was eaten up by clouds, and this profound blackness surrounded him like a physical object. Mickey could smell the plastic and oils and the evidence of their stay clear on the cold air, and he almost choked on the chill entering his lungs.
If she answered he didn't hear her. Mickey swallowed his panic and too much saliva, and listened for her breathing, for her footsteps, and – his heart in his mouth – for whatever it was she'd heard that had brought her out here, out into this all-enveloping night.
There was something breathing in the darkness, and Mickey really, really hoped that it was just Irana ignoring him and listening for whatever it was she thought she'd heard.
The blow that hit the back of his neck was so hard that for one terrifying moment Mickey's only thought was: This is it. I've broken my neck. I'm dead. This is it. But that wasn't it – he staggered forwards onto his knees and up again, and another blow scooped him off his feet like a ragdoll and smashed him into the side of the trailer.
Dizzy and sore, Mickey banged on the trailer wall, shouted, "IT'S FUCKING OUT HERE," and scrambled for the door. Something whipped into his shins and deposited him back on his face, pain lancing up from his wrists as his hands half-broke the fall. He could still see nothing, hear nothing but the racing of his heart and the distant-seeming thumps as John and Ianto hurried for the trailer door. For possibly the first time in his life, Mickey wished to whatever gods were out there that John had managed to arm himself.
It occurred to him that Irana was probably dead, which meant they'd already failed.
The immediacy of this thought was somewhat dulled by the thundering, adrenaline-heightened racing of his poor abused heart, and the dreadful thought came that even if he got away from the bloody werewolf … shadow … thing that was hunting him, his heart might very well fuck itself up anyway, leave him dead with twisted hands and a glazed stare as Ianto and John bickered him back to some too-far-off Russian hospital.
He had no idea where he was in relation to the trailer door. The only reason Mickey could work out where the hell was the ground was because he was standing on it again, his wrists burning and his breath painful with the icy air coming in great feverish gulps. What could Irana have heard, that night or the first time it came, that would have brought her from the trailer? There was a dreadful silence – he couldn't hear the rest of the team, couldn't hear anything but his heart and his breath and the wind and the emptiness under the shrouded moon.
Where the hell is it?
Mickey nearly cried out when an arm, strong and narrow and apparently muscled with electric cables, snaked out of the darkness around his neck and yanked him backward into the lee of the trailer. "Irana?" he hissed once the choke-hold of fear had left him alone with the choke-hold of her already-familiar forearm, her elbow crooked around his throat just slightly too tight. "It's out here."
"I know," she said. She sounded calm, but infused with energy, and Mickey could feel her heart beating against his back. She smelled wild, and her arm was hot in the freezing night. Despite the mortal terror, despite the possibility of a heart-attack, despite everything that had just occurred in those small eventful seconds after stepping out of the trailer, part of Mickey was slightly, very slightly, turned on by the proximity of her and the height and the heat of the moment.
She tightened her elbow around his throat. "Shh."
There was a bang, more like something being hit than a gun being fired, and Mickey heard John's voice, a whisper carried on the inconstant winds, as clear as if it was in his ear: "Are you trying to get us both killed, Eye-Candy?"
Irana's arm was making it difficult to breathe.
"We need to warn – " Mickey whispered, his Adam's apple caught against her bones.
"The first thing that changes," Irana hissed, her hand hot and comforting against the back of his head as her arm half-suffocated him, "is your eyesight."
"Shhh. Everything becomes clear. Light is not an issue; if there is any at all, it is like a floodlight. I can see everything," Irana's mouth was directly beside his ear, her lips almost touching the inner ridges, her breath wet and scalding on the blood vessels running shallow beneath his skin. "Then, of course, I can hear, too. I can hear your blood moving. I can hear the apparatus Ianto Jones is wearing, as it struggles to find a signal. I can hear that coat on John Hart's back rubbing against his jacket. I will not pretend I can hear your thoughts, Mickey Smith, but I can guess what they are."
"You …" Mickey began.
"Us," Irana said. "You are about to express shock."
"You killed your research team," Mickey got the words out with difficulty. He tried to pry Irana's arm away from his throat, but it was like trying to lift a girder three times his weight – he couldn't even make it budge enough to get air into his lungs, and only succeeded in trapping his fingers against this neck.
"We," Irana corrected. The wind raced past them, but nothing seemed to hit. Mickey guessed they must be in the relatively protected area between the two trailers, the L-shape of nothingness that kept calm only when the winds didn't rush at it from the east. "We killed them."
"We?" Mickey wanted to ask more, although not as much as he wanted to break the grip around her throat, not as much as he wanted to be somewhere else, and not as much as he wanted for his chest to stop feeling like it was collapsing in on itself.
"We," Irana murmured. "The human element and the Other thing. The two of us in symbiosis, here. We feed together, we think together, and we will mate together as soon as there is a chance." She tugged her arm tighter and Mickey briefly saw flashes of turquoise blue in the corners of his vision as the oxygen to his brain spiked lower than before. "We killed the research team. We killed the Americans on the other side of the lake. We called up on your organisation."
Words welled up in Mickey's throat, but the elbow wouldn't let them through.
"And you came," Irana murmured, "of course you came. The human element said it had not heard of you before, but that this was how humans behaved; give them a mystery and they will come. The Other, it had heard of you. Of your Captain. Everyone has heard of your silly, strutting Captain. We are all of us curious – what will happen if we enter into symbiosis with an indestructible body?"
Mickey tried to swallow.
"Not just us," Irana continued, her voice soft and warm and kind in his ear, "but all those like us. Parasites. Symbiotic races. Form-takers. Body-stealers. Mimics, DNA-harvesters, anyone who is limited by the lifespan of their host or imprinter. We are all of us curious, we are all of us coming for our chance to see what we can make of an unkillable man. We had thought he might come here, but he has sent you."
Mickey's fingers were no longer in his internal map of his body, and his heart felt too big.
"But this is not so bad," Irana conceded. "The other two, we have nothing to offer them. They are healthy. But your heart is weak. Your body is strong, your mind is capable, your life might otherwise be long, if your heart was safeguarded. We will render it perfect. We will give you an acceptable human lifespan. We will give you until you have wandered ninety, ninety-one years, and we will give you a mate, and a purpose. You will give us Jack Harkness, and you will have your life, and your happiness, and you will belong."
"Nnn," Mickey managed. The "O" was too much – the muscles around his mouth were growing too disobedient to allow it to open now.
"Just accept, Mickey," Irana said, her voice harsher. "The Other took me away from war. It took me away from laying out bodies in the snow. It gave me strength and stamina and the chance to become who I am now. It saved me from a soldier's death, it gave me this; now I am a doctor, now I am never alone, I am never afraid." The honeyed tones returned to her voice as she added, "it will not hurt. You will be happy."
"Nnn," Mickey grunted, the skin on his face feeling stretched out of face by pooling blood.
There was a bang so loud that he went temporarily deaf, and Irana relaxed her grip on his throat.
He didn't stop to find out what had happened, or even to get his bearings; Mickey ran blindly away from her, his feet stumbling on the unseen ground, his fingers shooting with sharp little pains as the blood returned to them and their numbness subsided. He ran, and even when water so cold it was like stab wounds flew up from around his boots, Mickey did not stop running.
Instead he launched himself forwards into the unspeakable cold and tried to push downwards through it, away from the wind, away from the beguiling sound of Irana's voice upon it.
The temperature of the water hit him like a sackful of needles. Almost immediately his chest began to burn, his fingers ached then vanished from his sensory radar again, and took his ears with them, and his head – his head hurt so much – his head – Mickey tried to push on downwards, only conscious that something might drag his angles, pull him back out of the lake, that, that, that, that, that this was what being dead must feel like, this indescribable cold, this, this, this, this pain, this cold pain, this, this, this –
It was his arms that were caught in a strong grip. Both arms, extended to their fullest, but now Mickey was too chill to do anything to fight it.
"Straight to the fucking helicopter – " he heard as his head broke the surface of the water, but it took a while for the words to make sense. A gust of wind caught him in the ear, and his clothes clung to him and added a good hundred pounds of sodden, freezing weight, and he was shaking uncontrollably, and John and Ianto pulled like freight trains, trying to lever him back onto the shore.
"Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh," Mickey shuddered, desperately grappling for the 'air' part of the word as his arm nearly slipped out of John's grasp. "Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh - " he fell forwards onto the ground, shaking so violently that his jaw bounced.
"Getting out of here right the fuck now," John insisted.
And then there was a screeching sound, and a thump, and Ianto wasn't standing up anymore.
And there was a thump, and another screech, and Mickey heard John say, "Oh, fuck you - "
And then when he tried to recall later how he, on the border of hypothermia and unable to think properly, had half-carried Ianto – bleeding from the stomach and numb with shock – back to the helicopter in the darkness, with John just out there, somewhere, doing something, and somewhere out there in the night, Irana …
Things only became clear when the sun came up, and he was in the air. Ianto was stretched out on his back, unconscious, the front of his coat black with blood, his face the colour of arsenic salts. John, missing his bearskin, sat in the pilot's seat, muttering, "I fucking liked that coat," and Mickey had finally stopped shaking. He didn't remember putting on dry clothes, but he was wearing them (the trousers were too short and slightly too tight around the waist to be comfortable) all the same.
He wobbled upright. The shaking had stopped, but he still felt as though all the strength had been drained from him with a straw, as though he'd gone to give blood and given too much – Mickey looked back at Ianto, whose chest was barely moving, and quashed that comparison with a guilty start.
"Oh, you're awake, you lazy fucker," John grumbled. "You can take over flying in a bit, I can't take much more of this shitty Soviet rubbish."
"I've only ever flown a Cybus 5.74, and they don't have those in this reality," Mickey mumbled. "Hadn't thought of that." His head felt as though all the skin on it had been removed; the air that touched his skin was warmer than anything he'd encountered at the lakeside, but it made him flinch all the same.
"Brilliant," John drawled, kicking something. "Brilliant."
"Did you …" Mickey couldn't find the right words. "Did she … have … was she …"
"Are you going to say something or are you going to stand there like a fucked CD-player?" John growled. There was a scratch, not a deep one, running from the end of his eyebrow to his nape, and under the black-dried blood there were hairs stuck, short and dark brown and fluffy.
"Did you kill her?" Mickey managed at last, the sentence catching rough on his tonsils.
John shrugged. "I shot at where I thought she was," he said. "In case you missed it, it was dark out there."
"We have to finish this," Mickey said in a numb voice. "She wants Jack."
"Everyone wants Jack," John said sullenly. There was something under the petulance that Mickey didn't want to go within a thousand miles of. "I do, Eye-Candy does, you probably would do if you'd give up this pathetic sexual dichotomy bullshit your century indulges in, Martha does, Gwen does … what's new?" It didn't matter that he'd said 'what's new?' instead of 'but who wants us?', because Mickey could hear it anyway.
"She wants … it wants … to infect him with something."
"Alright, alright," John sighed.
"Get us to a hospital," Mickey mumbled, sinking back onto the floor again before he could stop himself. "Get Ianto to a hospital."
"What the fuck do you think I'm trying to do?" John snapped.
Two days later, Mickey went to visit Ianto.
The hospital was tiny, and had cost a fortune, but Torchwood appeared to have surprising financial resources as well as a number of interesting contacts gleaned from UNIT. He'd been kept away from the private room by efficient and slightly scary nurses, and by the insistence of Ianto's doctor that Mickey himself needed medical attention and a lot of food; John had been waylaid first by the siren call of vodka runners, drug runners, and someone running some form of gambling syndicate, a small but interesting core of prostitutes, and later by other matters.
He had not yet found a replacement for his coat and seemed quite put out by this.
Mickey sat down next to Ianto's bed. It looked far, far more comfortable than any of the hospital beds he'd dozed next to before, and instead of a miserable plastic chair there was a leather armchair, shedding horsehair, which looked significantly older than the entire history of Communism. It was like sinking into a cloud that squeaked and smelt a little of cow.
"I'm in a hospital," Ianto observed when he woke.
"Yup," Mickey said.
"Did we … find it?" Ianto asked, examining the line that ran into the back of his hand. "How long ago was … how long have I been here?"
"A couple of days." Mickey found conversation was still exhausting him. Words had resonance they hadn't carried before. "You're going to have to stay a bit longer. Your stomach's okay, though. They said … Doctor Soloviev said you were lucky. Lost a lot of blood but didn't pierce anything, any organs."
"Oh, I feel so very lucky," Ianto said drily. "Just stitches, then?"
"Quite a lot of stitches," Mickey amended, trying out a smile. He wasn't sure it went well; his face didn't seem designed for smiling at the moment. It ached when he tried to lift the sides of his mouth.
"Are you okay?"
"All I did was fall in a lake," Mickey said, stretching awkwardly. Ianto still looked very pale, and due to the surprising size of the bed, quite shrunken.
"You know that's not what I meant," Ianto said quietly. "And where's … you-know-who?"
"He's gone to … uh," Mickey looked at his own knees for a while. "He's gone to do something that I, that I can't." He'll be back soon, I think." He didn't need to look up to check whether Ianto caught what he meant. Ianto was clever, Ianto would figure it out.
"Are you okay?" Ianto asked again, in a much more serious tone of voice.
"I will be." It was more of a hope than a promise, but it was there. "I need your help – I haven't got any idea how to work this – " he pulled Ianto's – well, John's, originally – wristband from his pocket and showed it to him. " – and I need to get in contact with Jack and let him know how things are going."
Back at the hotel room, Mickey sat with the wristband in his hands and said, "Stabilise the signal, I don't want to have to tell him anything twice, okay. I'm not sure I can."
"Attempting to stabilise signal, Master," K-9 beeped. The surge of relief Mickey had felt on returning to find the little robot on stand-by in the corner of the room was almost shameful; knowing that he'd missed K-9 as much as he'd have missed a flesh-and-blood colleague (in fact more, if the colleague in question was John) was slightly worrying, although in the grand scheme of things he had to worry about missing a robot dog a little too much was pretty far down the list.
"Jack," Mickey said as soon as the head of Torchwood Three came into focus.
"Where's everyone else?" Jack asked immediately.
"Ianto's in hospital – he's okay, he just needs to stay there a bit longer – and John's off … doing our dirty work, I think is how I'd put it." Mickey found the words getting stuck in his throat again. "But we did what we came here to do. Sort of."
"Any word on the werewolves?"
"Some sort of alien symbiosis with … with one of the missing research team," Mickey sighed. "I don't know which species. I've got … K-9's going to run a scan on a few things, we'll get back to you on that – "
"Just include it in your report."
"Don't go thinking just because you're living a jet-set lifestyle you're not going to have to write reports, Mickey Smith," Jack grinned. "And lots of them. Leadership –" he held up a piece of paper with a look of despair, "is 95% paperwork and 5% exasperation."
"You're not going to enjoy reading them," Mickey warned. "I'm dyslexic."
"I never enjoy reading them," Jack sighed. "It's paperwork! I hate paperwork." He drummed his fingers on the intangible projection of his desk-top. "You finished up everything there?"
"More or less. John will be back in a few days."
"And Ianto's in hospital?" Jack added.
"He's okay," Mickey said hastily. "He's mostly okay. Just some stitches. He'll be fine." He patted K-9 absently.
"Tell him – " Jack frowned into space. "Never mind. How soon can you three be on a plane again?"
Mickey stared. "I don't know. The end of the week, probably."
"Good, there's something you're going to need to take a look at in Panama."
"In Panama? Look, when you said 'back on a plane', I thought you meant coming back to Cardiff – Ianto can't get into any more fights, he'll pull his stitches and … I dunno, half-disembowel himself."
Jack sighed. "Get a flight to Shanghai. There's a cruise ship leaving in a week that's heading for Panama via hundreds of tiny little islands, by the time you get there everyone should be well enough to deal with anything. You had better be, anyway."
Mickey gaped. "That'll take weeks."
"… this thing in Panama isn't urgent, then?"
"Oh it … is, but there's …" Jack picked something up from the desk just out of Mickey's line of sight and examined it with an expression of irritation. "It's just there's an element of Time involved. So yes, you can take two months to get to Panama and arrive there Just In Time."
Mickey closed his eyes. "Well, I suppose John'll be happy." He reached for the dial on the wristband and stopped. "What was it you wanted me to say to Ianto?"
"Nothing, nothing," Jack frowned, clearly distracted.
"Are you sure? Because – "
"Mickey, shut up, I have things that need dealing with here." Jack looked exasperated. "Write up the report. Get the flight. Call us when you get to Panama." He switched off, and Mickey was left staring at the space where he'd been, staring through it without any focus.
"Panama," he said aloud. "Alright."