Harold Saxon's chances at election were looking better every day. Even an old skeptic like Owen Harper was starting to like the sound of Saxon's platform. Gwen, her well-trained police instincts tempered by Torchwood and the necessary suspension of disbelief, was not yet convinced, but she acknowledged the likely inevitability of Saxon becoming Prime Minister. Neither Toshiko nor Ianto said much, but they watched the news and read the news websites a bit more avidly.
The team had been struggling along without their leader, facing down various weevil outbreaks and a few minor incursions by mostly harmless aliens. But when the phone rang and it was the commander of UNIT for the region asking to speak to whoever was in charge in Jack's absence, Ianto handed the phone to Gwen without hesitation. He explained to her later that Owen's leadership style was to bully people into doing whatever he wanted them to do, not necessarily what needed to be done. Toshiko flat out refused to lead, and Ianto knew he would never be followed even if he were inclined to try. He further explained that she was organized, she communicated well, and everyone had grown to respect her. There was no question in Ianto's mind who was the true second in command after the missing Jack.
UNIT, seeing how the political wind in Great Britain was blowing, wanted to arrange a tour for Mr. Saxon of all the facilities either under the organization's control or affiliated with it. Torchwood Three fell into the second category for the time being, the commander told Gwen. She bridled at his tone of voice but kept her automatic acerbic response in check. She agreed to a time for the visit, negotiating more to keep her influence felt than because the first time suggested was truly inconvenient.
After exchanging standard polite farewells she hung up the phone gently. Making no effort to hide her words or her emotions, she counted to ten in loud Welsh, her voice growing louder with each number. At "deg," she lifted the receiver again, and slammed it into the cradle, the sound echoing across the Hub. Ianto and Toshiko exchanged glances, Owen growled wordlessly, and the curious pterodactyl made a brief appearance before disappearing into her nest high above the human portion of the Hub. Gwen swung to face the others.
"They want to fucking INSPECT this place!" she said angrily. "He says it's a courtesy visit so Saxon can get a better feel for what we do but you and I all know what the fuck this is, don't we? Jack's gone and UNIT is trying to move in and take over." She paused, grabbed for breath, then went on. "Let's clean this place up right now. We have until Thursday. I want them to come in and see just how well we're carrying on with Jack missing. I want them to see Torchwood as a well organized, well trained, fully operational organization with absolutely NO FUCKING NEED for UNIT's help of any sort. In fact, we might make UNIT ask US for help!"
In the moment of pure silence that followed her speech, Gwen briefly worried that she was sounding like an insane harridan. Her worries were for nothing, she realized, when the other three stood and applauded her.
They worked as if driven by the fires of Hell itself. By Wednesday afternoon, every inch of the Hub gleamed. Jack's desk was clean and neat, the first time ever. Gwen then refused to use Jack's desk, instead locking off the office and setting herself up at a desk Ianto had managed to locate in storage. It was similar to her usual work station, but larger and it looked managerial. She and Ianto tried it in several locations, finally placing it towards the back of the Hub, in a semi-concealed alcove where it would look like she was in a private cubicle or office, but which gave her complete access to all points within the Hub. Labels were updated throughout the archives section, and certain cabinets were moved so far back that even Toshiko, whose suspicions regarding UNIT Gwen would like explained someday, agreed they were probably safe from prying eyes. Owen revealed that he did actually own neat business casual attire, and he agreed to wear it for one day only. Even Tosh, who had initially said she wanted to be out of the Hub during the inspection, agreed to show up dressed for lab work, although she said that if anyone from UNIT tried to talk to her it might not be a pretty afternoon. Ianto hurriedly agreed to run interference for her should the need arise, and Gwen concluded that the reason for the problem wasn't as important as the fact that a solution had been found so quickly.
Thursday dawned grey and rainy. This was, after all, Cardiff. By unspoken agreement, all four of the Torchwood Three team showed up at the Hub extra early. Gwen had expected to be the first to arrive, but was only mildly surprised to smell coffee as soon as she walked in. What truly surprised her was finding Owen already holding a cup of coffee as he did another walk-through of the autopsy bay to be sure nothing was out of place. She noticed that under his lab coat he was wearing a clean, pressed shirt and clean, well tailored trousers. But no tie. Tosh walked in a minute behind Gwen, dressed in loose fitting grey slacks and a black shirt under a white lab coat. Until ten the four made sure the Hub looked as efficient and professional as possible. Owen commented, without sarcasm in his voice, that this was the best he'd ever seen the Hub look. Tosh agreed, adding that she'd been working here longer than Owen and she had never seen the facility look so "top drawer." Ianto gave it his highest praise, saying, "If this had been Torchwood London, the worst Hartman could have said was that we needed to confine Myfanwy better." (Hearing her name spoken, the pterodactyl swooped down, but upon realizing there was no fun to be had, she returned to what was commonly called the rafters, the high perch from which she usually observed goings-on in the Hub below her.)
At eleven fifty, Ianto checked his hair and tie, straightened his shoulders, and headed into the tourist information center to greet the visitors, who were due to arrive at noon. And less than one minute after noon, he called down to Gwen to let her know that the dignitaries had arrived, then he locked the public door to the center, flipped the sign in the window to "closed" and opened the hidden door. He lead the four UNIT officers, the smiling politician, and his distantly smiling wife into the Hub.
Gwen greeted them at the foot of the stairs. In a move guaranteed to put the UNIT commander's nose out of joint, she ignored him and turned her attention first to Saxon. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," she said, reaching past the highest ranking UNIT officer to grasp Saxon's hand. "I hope we can look forward to working well together in the future. And, is this Mrs. Saxon? It's a pleasure, madam."
Lucy Saxon looked momentarily confused, then she shook Gwen's hand warmly. "It's so rare for people to notice me," she said in tones that would have sounded confiding had not everyone in the room been able to hear her. "I fade to nothing next to Harry's brilliance."
Gwen clucked and assured Lucy Saxon that nothing could be further from the truth, echoed by a surprisingly pleasant Harold Saxon. Gwen had not expected a politician like Saxon to be so friendly, and she momentarily warmed to him. She returned his smile and then turned to the four UNIT officers. "Gwen Cooper, acting head of Torchwood Three in the absence of Captain Harkness. The Captain has taken a temporary leave to pursue some personal goals, but we've been managing fine without him. He's trained us very well."
The senior officer, an older man named Bellingham, scowled. "I'd like to know some details about Harkness' disappearance," he said gruffly.
Before Gwen could deliver the reply she had rehearsed, Saxon interrupted. "I'm sure the Captain's personal goals are just that, personal, and it does seem Miss Cooper is keeping things here well in hand." He indicated the clean and quiet Hub with a sweep of his hand. "Everything seems to be in place and functioning as it should."
Gwen breathed a little easier, smiling at the politician. "Thank you for understanding, Mr. Saxon," she said. "It's within the personnel parameters of Torchwood that our people have the option to take short term leaves of this sort. It's a demanding job we do, and sometimes stepping away for a time serves to strengthen us."
Saxon nodded soberly. "I fully concur. So, Miss Cooper, how about a tour?"
Only Tosh noticed how Gwen twitched slightly whenever Saxon called her "Miss Cooper." She thought that after this visit was over they might come up with a proper title for Gwen. Even PC Cooper sounded less awkward than Saxon's insistence on old fashioned titles. But Lucy Saxon tapped her husband on the shoulder and whispered something to him, and when he turned back to Gwen it was obvious that someone else had also recognized the issue.
"Oh, I AM sorry," Saxon said. "I should have asked for your title. I'm afraid I'm a little old school sometimes. Is there a form of address you would prefer, Miss...er...?" he held out his hand in query.
Ianto spoke up. "Her correct title is Vice Commander, Torchwood Three, but since that is a mouthful we generally call her Gwen or Ms. Cooper."
"Gwen is fine," she assured Saxon, as she smoothly picked up from Ianto. "Vice Commander is a bit long to say, and as we're usually responding to emergencies, the shorter the name we need to call out the better."
Saxon nodded, beaming at his wife. "You're so good to me, Lucy, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Gwen's smile never faltered but she noticed how peculiar the exchange between the two of them was. She was starting to think there was more to Saxon than met the eye and she wasn't sure she liked it. She glanced at Ianto, who stood behind everyone and even though his face remained placid she could see concern in his eyes. Unable to do anything about it right now, she shelved the feeling to discuss with the others later.
The tour began with a brief walk through the main Hub area. They stopped at Tosh's work station and Gwen saw that the other woman was nervous. Before anyone could say anything, however, Saxon had put one hand on Tosh's shoulder, the other on Gwen's. In a humorously conspiratorial tone, he asked, "Now, ladies, I've heard that your Captain Harkness is a handsome devil. Which one of you is he charming the most?"
Gwen and Tosh exchanged embarrassed glances. "Neither of us," Gwen said. "I've a fiance and .. and ... " She looked over at Tosh helplessly.
"Jack is certainly a handsome man but handsome men are not normally my type," Tosh replied convincingly, so seamlessly that Gwen believed her. She knew Tosh was secretly pining for Owen, but the only time she'd ever seen Tosh in any kind of relationship, it had been with Mary. An alien, yes, but a female alien.
Saxon had obviously accepted both women at their word. "I think that's admirable," he said. "Workplace relationships can be so ... messy, can't they?" He looked around the room for confirmation, pausing almost imperceptibly at both Owen's and Ianto's faces. Gwen saw no change in either man's face but something had apparently registered with Saxon because he nodded slightly, released Tosh's and her shoulders, and straightened. "Shall we continue the tour?" he asked.
They had started toward the autopsy bay when the rift alarm sounded. The four UNIT officers circled Harold and Lucy Saxon, all speaking in voices so soft as to be inaudible outside their circle. Gwen ignored them, turning to Tosh for details.
"Rift activity in ... in a cemetery north of here. Nothing large, apparently, just some small debris. One life form ... no, that faded out."
"Owen," Gwen snapped. "Take Tosh and go investigate. Call if you need us."
Owen leaped into action, tapping Tosh on the shoulder. Before either Saxon or the UNIT contingent could say a word, the two were out the door and running towards the SUV.
"While we wait, would you gentleman and Mrs. Saxon like some coffee? Tea? I believe we have some pastries in the kitchen area, don't we, Ianto?" Gwen said, pointing them toward the conference room.
"Oh, goodness, we don't want to inconvenience you or make your jobs more difficult," Saxon said. "We'll be on our way shortly although I think I would love a cup of coffee. It's chilly out there. Is it always this cold here?"
"Well, this IS Cardiff," one of the UNIT men said somewhat derisively.
"It is indeed," Ianto said, failing to hide his sarcastic tone. "I'll be right back with the coffee."
They engaged in awkward chit chat about good spots in Cardiff for Saxon to visit until Ianto returned with eight cups carefully balanced on a silver tray. He held the tray to Lucy and then Harold Saxon, then to the four UNIT officers, and then to Gwen before taking the last cup for himself and laying the tray against the wall.
Saxon, with his steaming cup, turned and saluted the locked and empty office above them. "To Captain Harkness, wherever he may be, may his personal goals be realized sooner rather than later."
Confused but not sure about what, Gwen raised her cup as well, followed by the UNIT members. She noticed that Ianto held back from the toast but thought better than to mention it.
After his first sip, Saxon's eyes widened. "This is excellent coffee, young man," he said to Ianto. "And prepared exactly to my taste. Yours, Lucy, is it good?" The woman nodded enthusiastically. Saxon grinned. "I think I can see at least one reason you're valued around here, Mr. Jones."
Ianto inclined his head slightly.
A few more sips of coffee and Saxon announced that it was time for him to leave. To Gwen he said, "Gwen...you did say I could call you that, right? I trust you and your team will continue to cooperate with UNIT as the need arises? Yes? Oh, good. I'm glad to know that nothing will cause friction between the two organizations. Times change, you know, and I believe both will be needed more rather than less. Now, then, come along, Lucy, General, we've given these people enough trouble today." As he left, he passed Ianto, and he paused to give the young man a careful look. "I should like to remember your coffee, Ianto Jones," he said. "I could use you someday. And not just for the coffee." He grinned quickly, winking as if to imply that it had just been a joke. But as he continued on his way out, both Gwen and Ianto watched him with chills traveling up their spines.
Once the door closed behind the group, Gwen held up her hand. She went to get a piece of equipment that had been on her desk, but Ianto held it up from behind his back. Together they swept the Hub, until they were confident that no listening devices had been left behind.
"There's something going on with that man," Gwen said. "Something I do not like."
"He knows where Jack is," Ianto said. When Gwen looked at him puzzled, he shrugged. "The way he made them change the subject, the way he spoke of him ... the way he looked at his office. The way he looked at each of us. Into each of us. He knows and it's not a good thing that he knows."
Before they could discuss it any further, the comm chimed and Tosh was reporting in on what they had found at the cemetery.