Work Header

Digita1 Gir1

Work Text:

Torchwood Female Characters Are Awesome

Banner by [info]alt_universe_me

Spots darken the edges of her mirror, eating away at the reflection. It's an antique, which is just another word for "old," like most of the items in this hideaway cottage. She stares at the spots where the silver has oxidised, wondering whose this mirror was, whose this room. How many women sat in this chair before her, primping their hair and powdering their faces? How many could have ever seen her looking back?

The spots only hold her for so long. Lisa's eyes hit her own reflection, and dart away again.


Silver tarnishes, steel rusts, women wrinkle and grow old.

Behind her in the reflection, the door creaks open. It's painted white, and it sticks in the humidity of the unexpectedly warm weather. Late autumn ought to be damp and chilly, but this year is closing with heat. Climate change, she thinks. It's a killer.

"Breakfast is ready," Ianto says, coming to stand behind her in the mirror. She watches his face grow as he approaches, and then cut off as he stands too close, a body without a head behind her, hand coming to rest on her left shoulder, the good shoulder. "Good morning." He bends in for a kiss, also on her left side.

Now Lisa sees his face again, feels the scratch of his new beard against her cheek. They are both changing the way they look, one piece at a time.

"Good morning," she says, turning to him, meeting his lips for the second kiss. No rush, no desperation, they have all the time in the world for each other, and now it's time for breakfast, not for sex. He used to wrap one hand around the back of her neck when they kissed this way, resting foreheads together, delighting in each other's breath and the soft slide of lips. He doesn't touch her neck any more. She misses it, although not enough to complain.

"Just let me brush my hair, and I'll be along."

He nods. "All right. I'll keep yours warm." He leaves the door open as he exits. From the kitchen, the smells of porridge and bacon drift lazily into their bedroom. Ianto is an indifferent cook on the woodburning stove, but Lisa is an indifferent eater just lately returned to the idea of food.

She picks up her hairbrush. She'd kept her hair under the metal, not growing or changing, not losing the relaxer although almost a year has passed since she last saw the inside of a beauty salon. In the time since her headgear was removed, her hair hasn't grown or altered in any way. Had that been one of the many injections scarring her arms? Will the strands start falling out, leaving her bald?

She hasn't lost a single hair, either, not even to the swipe of her brush.

She runs the brush through now, feeling the tug, the sensations of the bristles. Parts of her skin have lost sensation: many places on her legs and torso where the metal used to cover can sense pressure and heat, but can't feel fingertips or feathers, or cool air blown across. Her scalp can feel. It's a different kind of pleasure, but she'll take it.

Not all the cyber components could be removed. As she stands, she feels the minute grind of the gears that have replaced her knees. A Cyberman would have processes in place to keep her joints and components lubricated; Lisa has to pay attention herself.

As she carefully walks to the stairs, she pictures the Tin Woodsman and his oilcan. That'll be her one day, rusted in place. But her hair will be fantastic.

"That's a good smile," Ianto says, bringing her a covered plate. Steam rises from her food as he removes the cover. Perfect.

"Just thinking."

"Something funny?" There's a catch in his voice. There often is. When Dr. Tanizaki first began her modifications, he accidentally activated the Cyberman components. She'd managed to keep those thoughts, that entity, from overtaking her, but it kept scrabbling for control. If Ianto's friend Toshiko hadn't written the worm program to rewrite the code from inside, if his other friends hadn't helped restrain her whilst the reprogramming took hold and allowed Lisa to fight back on her own terms, she wouldn't be here. It would wear her body as a costume, and perhaps it would even now be enslaving the people of the Earth. During the struggle, the Cyberman took control more than once, and she knows Ianto worries deep down that someday, it will try again.

She knows where he keeps his gun. She wishes she was certain he'll fire.

"Oh, going all 'Wizard of Oz' again. Will you still love me when I'm rusted stiff beside a tree?"

He laughs, and the worry line vanishes for now. "I certainly will."

After breakfast, he begins his hike down the road to his car. Lisa goes for a walk. She's supposed to keep up with her physiotherapy, go through the proper sequence of movements to bring her own muscles back into play. Ianto nags when she doesn't want to, when she cringes at the prospect of painful movements for which she sees no real purpose. Her body is only half hers. The other half can be maintained by a mechanic. She'll care for the rest with exercise.

The grounds at the cottage are not maintained, and have gone to meadow, landscaped four times a year by a local man with a tractor. He came out last week, and met Ianto whilst Lisa stayed inside, watching him through net curtains.

She doesn't want to be the mad wife in the attic, the monster locked away. When Ianto came back in, he found her sobbing, the sounds masked by the roar of the tractor's engine. She made herself watch until the man was finished, made herself breathe in what she could of the stinking exhaust, blended with the smells of the last grass and the leaves. This was the most modern machine allowed within a mile of the cottage, and she savoured it.

With the sticky weather, the dried, dead stems of the cut grass cling to her long green skirt, and crunch under her metal boots. She no longer sounds like a hydraulic jack when she walks, but she remembers running lightly across a field once, playing chase with Darrah and Ger. Darrah and Ger were going out. Lisa and Ianto had not yet admitted they were a couple, but if she reaches back, Lisa can feel the way Ianto wrapped his arms around her waist as he brought her to the ground, both of them laughing so hard they couldn't breathe. Darrah snapped photos all day. Ianto still has them.

It's a good memory, one spoiled by flashes of Darrah, bound by metal straps and screaming. They never found Ger.

Lisa hurries her steps to outrace the thoughts, begins running, her boots thumping hard against the ground. Her heart isn't human anymore, beats with a horrible regularity whether she's sitting or running or making love. The thought of hurting her body makes her slow, makes her stop. She looks behind herself, can see the disturbed grass where she ran, and in places, clods of dirt broken by her sharp, pounding feet.

She brushes at her skirt, and the grass falls. She continues her walk, forcing herself to go slowly, and to think about better topics.

She has a puzzle back at the cottage. She plays with variables in her head while she crosses a small rise, and thinks she has the answer as she heads back home. The printout is on the desk, and Lisa rereads it, then pulls out a fresh sheet of paper. Her biro skitters over the paper, not a quarter as fast as she could type. She used to wonder how the old scientists and mathematicians could stand the maddening slowness of pen or pencil scratching against paper, when she could have complex multi-dimensional equations free-floating in a virtual environment to manipulate.

Now she manipulates them in her head. She was always bright, but the cyber implants left permanent marks in her brain as well as on her body.

As she writes the next line, her eyes are drawn to the sleek body of the biro. It's disposable, retractable, with a spring and hook inside. Instead of numbers and variables, she pictures unwinding the spring into a perfect line, a wire. There's metal in the house: hinges, silverware, and reluctantly, one clock slowly ticking the seconds of her allowed life. Lisa's mind manipulates them, comes up with simple and then complex machines.

Her left hand draws into a fist. Her right hand continues to do her work. She is permitted to work, to be useful, to be helpful. To be alive.

She remembers to eat mid-afternoon, bread with cheese and ham from the cold pantry. It's a miracle Jack knew about this place, out here in the country, ten miles past Tredegar. Jack says the property belongs to a family he knows, though no owners have ever come to see the two strangers living in their home. Jack says it's fine, a perfect little cottage without electricity nor any other machines, where he can keep someone who is not technically a prisoner, and can let her be of use, one sheet of paper at a time. Jack says many things, he is a liar and a shaper of lies, but his words mean Lisa is permitted to live, so she accepts what Jack says and the back of her mind ticks over each word with the hands of the clock: patience, penance, purpose, palace, pauper, payment, peace.

When the daylight fails, she lights the oil lamp with a wooden match, lights candles in dishes she sets around the sitting room. There's a warm, pleasing glow she always tries to arrange so Ianto walks home to a brightly lit beacon. He loves the candles, he says, loves knowing she's there in the pool of light waiting.

She cooks supper for herself. When she picks off the carbon, it's not bad, and she enjoys the heat in the cooling night.

Ianto doesn't come home.

Torchwood keeps unusual hours, did so even back in London when she could lie to her parents about the plum position she had at that new firm. Cardiff isn't London, and manages with five people what couldn't always be contained with eight hundred. Ianto comes home early or late or not at all, and weekends are suggestions. She's accustomed to curling herself in a quilt on the sofa, nodding off to sleep as she waits for the door to open, for him to come inside and take her to bed.

Morning comes, stabbing orange light through the curtains. Lisa feels the gears in her knees as she rises from her uncomfortable sleep. It takes her the better part of an hour to heat water for a bath over the stove. She misses showers, and envies Ianto, who takes his at the Hub.

Without another assignment, she has little to occupy her mind. Another walk leaves her anxious rather than relaxed. She was never one for housework, but the floor hasn't been scrubbed in some time. Brushes and mops in the cupboard do the simple work, as she can't push away the schematics in her mind of reactive sensors to determine dirt load and floor terrain and automatic bristle mechanisms. She's mid-design for the gyroscopic stabilisers before she can close down that line of thinking.

The floor is clean when she's finished, but she spends the rest of the day with the devil in her mind whispering that an hour with a Roomba and a screwdriver, and she could remove the top atomic layer of the wood.

The clock ticks.

Ianto doesn't come home to the candles again.

When she wakes in her blanket, alone in the dim light of a cloudy morning, Lisa is afraid.

He can't call her, and if he could have come home, he would have, she's certain. The one thread she clings to is that, if Ianto is dead, someone will come to the cottage to tell her, probably Jack. If Jack is alive. If any of them are. If Torchwood Cardiff hasn't fallen to the same curse as Torchwood London, bodies everywhere, and blood.

The clock marks out her day by seconds: wonder, worry, whisper, widow, wait.

She waits until nightfall. A turtleneck and long skirt cover most of her metal. She can do nothing for the thud of her feet, nor for the steel that makes her weigh over one hundred kilos.

She begins to walk down the road with the best oil lamp giving a small, insufficient light to her path. Her eyes were never upgraded, and she is blind past the brightness of the fire in her hand until she adjusts the lid to direct the glow better. Gravel and dirt crunch beneath her boots. In the undergrowth to both sides of the road, she hears the rustle of animals and insects. She was frightened of spiders and mice in her old life, a remnant from a horrible little flat she once shared with two mates. Part of her still trembles at the thought of scrabbling little toes, climbing her legs and up her skirt, and unbidden, the designs for a super-efficient mousetrap fill her thoughts. She lets herself consider springs and sensors as she walks to the place where Ianto's car is kept.

The car is gone. She's unsurprised. Lisa considers and dismisses the notion that he has left her, that he has given up on the ridiculous shamble of a life out in the country for safety and sanity. It would be better for Ianto if he did, so she knows he never will.

Another half mile brings her to the main road. It's not late enough for there to be no traffic, but she doesn't flag someone down for almost an hour: four cars pass her before that, only one slowing down.

The man who does stop gives her a wide, pleasant smile, and Lisa knows that if he tries to hurt her in any way, she has the strength to break his neck without difficulty. She also knows that will put paid to her chances at parole and rehabilitation, that at best she will find herself in a cell, and more likely, Jack will make good on his promise to shoot her himself.

"Hello, pet," he says, opening the door. "Need a ride?"

Lisa runs through calculations in her mind: percentages, statistics, human nature. This is the angled beauty of the human mind, this is the pressure to snap a human spine.

She smiles back. "Thanks, yes." The oil lamp will be impossible to explain. She extinguishes it and leaves the lamp at the edge of the road.

"Where're you headed?"

"Into town." A lie slots neatly into place inside her head. "I was visiting my sister, but her bastard of a boyfriend took off with her car and my mobile's dead."

His name is Jim, he doesn't try to hurt her. Despite her best efforts, he sees the shine of the metal on her legs as she steps into the car. "Got a brace, eh? My cousin has one." He launches into a tale of childhood escapades, and a girl who reached a bit too far. As he talks, Lisa eases into his style of speech. It's been weeks since she's heard any other voice but Ianto's, and before her transformation, it was months.

She misses other people. Back in London, she always had mates, always knew where the party was, or who to phone for a chat. But his car has a satnav which makes her hands itch for a look, and the same technology that makes the modern world run means she cannot be part of the human race ever again. Outside her window, she watches the lights glow alive in darkness, and she rejoices, and she weeps inside as well.

Jim drops her off at a cash point. He offers to wait, but Lisa waves him off. He insists she take down his mobile number, when she "discovers" she left her phone with her "sister."

"Are you sure you don't need anything?" he asks, aiming to be a knight in shining armour. The thing that she used to be notes fifteen different ways to kill him.

"No. Thank you." She smiles.

When he is out of sight and she is unobserved, she takes stock of the cash point, and within thirty seconds, she convinces it to give her two hundred pounds. She can do nothing about the CCTV watching her face, but she needs money. Even if she stole a car, she isn't sure she could convince her legs to operate the pedals.

She pays the taxi driver in advance, and sits back, listening to the woman chat about local politics all the way to Cardiff.

The night at the cottage was always dark regardless of how many candles and lamps she lit, but Cardiff is a glittering jewel of buildings and cars. Her pulse quickened at the machines in Tredegar, but now Lisa thrums with electrical grids, power stations, intricate interlocks and thought-quick wireless signals. Her senses must have dulled out in the dark; this is overwhelming, intense, and pleasurable.

A little whine escapes her as the cab drives by an electronic store, artificial lights inside setting the displays of goods in the windows aflame to her eager eyes.

"You alright, love?" asks the driver, concern tinting her very human voice.

"I'll be fine," says Lisa. "The Millennium Centre, please."

The cab pulls to a smooth stop. Lisa gives the driver an extra tip, and staggers out into the throbbing electrical night.

She's been here before, lived here for months, but still it takes her time to find the way down to the Tourist Information Centre. Her boots thump on the wooden boards of the quay. There are cameras everywhere. Surely they know she is coming. When she reaches the door, it's locked.

Lisa purses her lips unhappily. She hasn't let herself think she is being ridiculous, that she will be in the way if Torchwood is dealing with a crisis. She doesn't have a phone, or a car, or any way of knowing if her lover is alive. This has been her only option. They must understand.

She knocks.

When there is no answer after the third time, she carefully breaks the handle and goes inside.

The office is softly lit with a lamp, giving no more light than the candles and oil. Lisa has been in this room only twice, never at night, and she reinterprets the information in her memory: the low light suits Ianto, pleases him.

Ianto isn't here. The camera is. She looks directly into it. "He didn't come home."

She waits. Fifteen slow minutes tick by, marked by the clock. It's newer than the one at the cottage, and still old-fashioned. Ianto appreciates old-fashioned. She adds the datum to the mosaic in her mind, a complex sketch she thought she already knew. Details in the room build the pattern, from the beaded curtain to the yellowing postcards, dark-panelled walls made darker still with ancient pipe-smoke, and a so-quaint-it's-cliché fake sword display on one wall amongst the maps and flags. This is an old place, not in time but demeanour, scratched and etched slowly around a central core of ennui over decades. This is the space of a little old man who's worn a groove in the floor of his shop, and all the stranger, it fits Ianto like a leather glove.

"Sorry, we're closed," says a woman's voice from nowhere. It's not Toshiko or Gwen. Ianto hasn't told her of anyone new. "Come back tomorrow." Lisa finds the speaker on Ianto's desk. She talks to the camera.

"Where's Ianto?"

"He's not here. He went home."

Plausible. Unlikely. She may have passed him in the dark. He may have come to the house and not found her there. He would come back to find her here. She left a message.

"I'll wait."

"You should go."

"Is he dead?" She goes over probabilities. Torchwood has a 97% death rate.

The speaker goes silent, but Lisa feels the camera watching her. His computer is here, she can access the Mainframe or reroute the system, although Tosh surely has already accounted for that possibility and will have put in a firewall specifically designed to keep Lisa out in case of disaster. The silence grows, filled with uncertainty.

Lisa lifts the edge of her green skirt, and shows her metal legs.

"What areyou?" Curiosity can be kind or cruel. The voice speaks with the same inquisitiveness as an entomologist discovering a new species of fly: interest, excitement, and the threat of the poison and pin.

"Is he dead?" Her own voice is weary.


Relief floods her. Her limbs, her human limbs, unclench and release her. She sits heavily in his chair. "Is he down there in the Hub with you? Can I talk to him?"

"Let me see your hands." Lisa frowns in confusion and holds out her arms for inspection. She's scarred under her sleeves, and over the shoulder that was recovered, and across her breasts. She only shows her hands now but feels the nakedness under the rest. "Never mind."

"Where is he?"

"Safe." Lisa doesn't believe the hidden woman. The voice continues, "We've had a problem. The Hub is locked down. No-one can get in or out." There's a quiet, almost obscene chuckle. "So you see, you will have to come back tomorrow unless you can find a way inside."

"Why can't you unlock it?"

"I left the key outside." There's a dreamy quality to her words. Lisa becomes aware that she is dealing with someone not completely sane: an alien, perhaps, trapped in the Hub with the team. The Hub will lock down when facing an internal threat, in order to keep the world safe. Jack told her that once, a plexiglass wall between them as she sat in her cell and waited for him to decide if she would live or die. He told her a story of when the Hub had to be locked, and everyone left inside had been killed by the escaped creature, which perished soon after. Lisa still has nightmares of fire and steel and blood, and maybe that was why he opened the cell door.

"Where's Jack?"

"There's a funny thing. I shot him through the head, and he didn't die. I shot him again, and sure enough, he's still alive. I've killed him four times and he keeps coming back. Repetition is the key to proper data collection, you know."

Data floods her now, snatches of conversation, details about Jack's history (she and Ianto pored over what records they could find when he needed a way in, but there was so little to be found) and every story Ianto shared over supper the nights he came home. Jack cannot die. Ianto knows that he cannot die on some level, although she isn't certain that he understands what he knows.

Time crawls by without a tick and the voice says, "You're the Cyberman." There's amusement, and delight.

"I was."

"I had to pull up the records. Fascinating reading. You're supposed to be contained in a non-technological facility an hour away from here. Why are you on the doorstep?"

"Ianto didn't come home."

"You escaped?"

"I took a cab." She hesitates. "I broke a cash point in Tredegar. I'll have to tell Jack."

"Jack's dead right now. You'll have to tell him later."

This is the maddest conversation Lisa has ever had. Jesus. "When will the Hub unlock?"

"Hours from now, unfortunately. I was hoping to be well away. What can you do?" She sounds like a woman late on the road for a holiday. "I'll have to finish my work here first."

"If I let you out, will you release the others?" As she speaks, Lisa knows the team are in the cells, Jack is dead, unknown for the rest. If this is an alien, releasing her into the wild may be a terrible bargain for the lives of Ianto and his friends, but Lisa will worry about that later.

"If you help me bypass the lockdown, I'll free Ianto." It is exactly what Lisa wants, and she regrets her earlier references to him although if her words have kept him interesting and therefore alive, she will not regret them much.

"What about the rest?"

"One or none."

"I'll help you. How do I find your key?"

"I need a book."

"I'll get it for you."

Out in the city lights, she is once again overwhelmed by the sense of electrical presence, and Lisa is assaulted by memories and ideas she knows are not her own. The thing inside her is gone, it has to be gone, the schematics in her brain are ghosts of ideas it left behind when Torchwood ripped the robot out of her mind. Surely she is stronger than a ghost.

The second book shop she tries is still open, and it hums with wireless. She finds a copy of Emily Dickinson. The proprietor appears to be one of those stuffy little men cut out from a picture book: neither tall nor short, yellowing and papery skin, a fringe of grey hair ringing his bald head. He employs two teenagers, a boy and a girl of equal age, a visible piercing each, and a familiar expression on their faces of young people who want to go anywhere else and haven't yet been ground down by the knowledge that they never will. Lisa shares a look with the proprietor over the top of his newspaper as the girl rings up her purchase. She politely wishes the girl luck with her art classes.

"How'd you know?" Her piercing is at her nose, a small silver stud.

"I'm a good guesser." She takes the book and discards the receipt. Fear hurries her steps, creaking over the wooden boards as she rushes back to the Tourist Centre. As she enters the dimly-lit space again, she feels the gentle power of the lamp, of the camera and speaker.

The lamp and camera have power. They are on a different circuit than the rest of the Hub.

Lisa tilts her head, and she thinks. She sets the book down on the desk, making certain the ISBN is not facing where the camera can see it. Then she approaches the camera, reaches up, and with a sharp jerk, she breaks the lens.

The desk is wooden, not exactly old-fashioned, but not especially modern-looking. Inside, she finds the backup power conduits. Her whole body tingles as she begins to work, feeling the potential running through the dormant wires. Rerouting the power from the circuits up into the Hub takes only minutes, which crawl by as she waits for the alien to notice the camera is out.

As Lisa is making the final connections, the speaker comes to life. "The camera is malfunctioning. Did you find the book?"

If she doesn't answer, the alien may not know she's there. She continues working.

"I can hear you. Tell me what you're doing."

The last connection is made. She stays quiet.

"Talk to me, robot girl, or I'll shoot him."

If she breaks the lockdown, she may release the alien. If she doesn't release the lockdown, the alien will certainly kill Ianto and his friends. Mathematically speaking, the rest of the world supersedes the lives of the Torchwood staff, and Lisa herself signed the same documents agreeing to lay down her own life in defence of the Earth. Choosing them is not logical. The part of her brain whose pathways have been overwritten tells her so.

Forfeit, failure, future, focus!

Lisa presses the button to activate the secret door. She takes the ludicrous sword from the wall, lightweight and imported from China, and she wishes she had a gun. As an afterthought she shoves the book into a desk drawer, and finds Ianto's spare torch. Once through the door, she pulls it closed behind her, though without the proper lock, it will open easily.

The rewired electricity doesn't extend down the corridor. The torch makes a small light in front of her unfamiliar steps, which echo with the metal striking the stone and concrete. Subtlety is not possible.

She is stopped by the cogwheel, held immutably in place. The battery in her torch will not suffice to operate it. The strength in her arms, when braced by her much stronger legs against the wall, is just enough to crack the door open, screaming in its metal frame.

She enters the Hub with her stupid sword, and her hope that she hasn't made things worse.

It's not an alien. It's a woman, dark curls held away from her face, and eyes that pierce in the sullen emergency lighting. Lisa feels she ought to recognise her. "Hello, robot girl," says the woman.

Ianto's face is bruised. Later, he must tell her the full story, but now his mouth is tightly closed, and his expression is clear: he doesn't want Lisa here, not near the madwoman, not in danger, frightened for her although he's the one with the gun to his head.

"A sword? Honestly?" The woman smirks. "That's just sad. This is a bad folk song: the girl with the sword come to rescue her unfaithful lover."

His face freezes, and Lisa's mind sorts through a thousand small details from past nights, from the words at the edges of his stories, to the scent of the skin on his neck. The analytical part of her brain has known for weeks. The rest of her can deal with it later.

"The door is open," Lisa says. "You can let him go. You can let them all go."

"I don't see why," says Suzie. The name slots solidly into place, as if it should have always been there. Suzie died, but Suzie says Jack died, and Lisa is listed amongst the dead. Death and Torchwood are themselves faithless lovers. "I need more time. I'm almost complete."

The hand not holding the gun makes a fist.

There's a moan, at the very edge of Lisa's hearing. Without moving, with barely a turn of her eyes, she sees a form slumped over on the ratty old sofa. Gwen. She's injured. Has Suzie shot her as well?

Lisa says, "I'm giving you the chance to walk out of here unharmed."

"No time." Even in the dim lighting, Suzie's face gains more colour, as if she is coming to life before Lisa's eyes. "I want to live. I want to be real again. Surely you understand. Torchwood destroyed both of us. We could help each other."

Whether it's a ploy or a true seduction, Lisa can't tell. Suzie's breath is coming quickly, her body flush with some strange energy Lisa cannot sense. More stories come back to her, bedtime stories when Lisa was still in the basement and desperate for any distraction. Suzie is brilliant, Suzie could help her, Suzie is a dangerous sparkling gem who will kill to achieve her goal, and Lisa's thoughts clear as simply as that.

There's a sudden noise off to the left, attracting Suzie's attention. Lisa brings her sword up, and the gun swings away from Ianto. The first bullet catches her on the metal shoulder, thudding into her like a hammer with a dull PING. Her hand turns to ice, and she drops the sword from lifeless fingers. Suzie won't be stupid enough to miss again, and Lisa throws the torch at Suzie's face with the other hand, as Ianto rushes into Lisa, pushing them both out of the way of the next two shots.

The fourth shot comes from behind them, strikes Suzie in the neck. She turns. Jack stands there with his gun, blood all over him, and a thunderstorm on his face.

Suzie smiles.

He shoots again, and she falls to the ground.

Around her, Lisa can hear running footsteps. Owen has gone to Gwen's side and his face is grim. She can hear Suzie laugh as Jack shoots her over and over, and she mutters about connections, about how she's all that's left of Gwen now.

Another shot rings out, metallic and strange, and their faces turn to Tosh. Some sort of metallic hand is in pieces at her feet.

Suzie has gone still, and Gwen is gasping, and Lisa is very, very tired.

There are about to be a lot of questions, but the first is from Ianto, as they help each other to their feet, and he strokes her face, away from her aching shoulder. "What are you doing here?"

There is only one answer. There has only ever been the one answer.

"You didn't come home."

The other questions, when they come, aren't difficult or accusing like Lisa expected. As it turns out, the team is far angrier with Jack and his not-staying-dead trick, and to a lesser extent with Gwen, for knowing and not letting on. Gwen isn't the only one who fell for Suzie's lies until they'd been captured as neatly as fish in a net, so the blame goes round, and round again, and by the time it's Lisa's turn, they've exhausted their bile on one another. Owen checks her shoulder, feeds her a painkiller, and scratches up a "thank you" from the corroded remnants of his own conscience.

Lisa spends her time waiting, not locked up but also not permitted near the servers. She rests on the sofa, ignoring the bloodstains, and she watches Ianto as he moves between them, fetching coffee and cleaning up the mess of Suzie's body. He doesn't meet her eyes while he works.

He does start to follow when Jack calls Lisa into his office, but Jack holds up one hand. "Just her."

"Anything that involves Lisa involves me." Ianto's firm expression dissolves into fear. "Please."

"We're just going to talk." Jack's expression is kinder than Lisa expects, directed at Ianto as Jack closes his door. More data, more details. She is an indulgence, her life and freedom bought by whatever it is Ianto has with Jack, repayment for services she does not wish to consider being rendered.

"It's not like that," Jack says, reading her face if not her mind. "Sit down."

The last time she sat here, Ianto did come in with her as Jack explained the terms of what they would consider her parole, and laid out before them the details of the new life Lisa would live, must live, if she in fact intended to continue to live. She has broken all those rules, except the one.

"Did you kill anyone?"

"No. I stole some money from a cash point. I broke the lock on the Tourist Centre door. I've rewired the front door." Around her, she can feel the flying information in the air, can almost read it. Jack must know what she is sensing as she confesses her sins to a man who shot someone in front of her an hour ago.

"You shouldn't have come back."

Hot words fly into her mouth, but his hand is up again, and Lisa is grateful, not for the hand, but for the very human anger coursing through her, something which she didn't feel at all tonight until right now. "You shouldn't have come, but if you hadn't, we'd be in worse trouble, and Gwen would probably be dead. So thanks. You really helped us."

The anger quenches in something like pride. Jack's always been the flirty type, even as she was recovering from her surgeries, but she understands why a supportive word from him, or a smile, can get anyone to go out and fight against mind-shattering threats for no other recognition. It's his gift.

"Are you going to execute me?"

Jack sits back in his chair. He watches her, explores her face as thoroughly as if using a brush, and again she wonders if he's a bit psychic. Ianto told her about Tosh's pendant, and that he was never given it to store away. Perhaps Jack has the necklace under his shirt.

"I'd rather not. You've been helpful with the equations Tosh sends, you helped us tonight. Ianto'd shoot me if I hurt you, although as everyone just found out," he rolls his eyes, "that's more of a temporary inconvenience than a permanent thing."

"Are you sleeping with him?"

He doesn't drop his gaze. "It's not about you." He's lying, but she finds she doesn't care. Jack is territorial, but not about his lovers. More surprising, Lisa is discovering that neither is she. The part of her brain which has suspected for weeks is content Ianto comes home to her every night that the world isn't ending. She wishes he'd talked to her about the affair before now, but they will talk tonight, and they will write new rules, assuming she walks out of here alive.

"How much of what you did tonight was the machine taking control?"

He doesn't want to execute her, but he will. Interesting. And unnecessary.

"None. I used what I needed from it. If you have that pendant, listen to my thoughts and you'll know I'm telling the truth."

"You're part alien, Lisa. You're dangerous." He's not talking to her, not really. Jack is warring within himself over things Lisa cannot understand. "I can't have you running around Cardiff violating your parole any time you think it's a good idea."

"Then find me a way to stay in contact with you. I don't mind the cottage." Something in his face goes hard at the implied ingratitude, and she angles for softness in her reply. "It's lovely and quaint, and just right for the two of us, and thank you for finding exactly what we needed." It works: he relaxes. Is this what Ianto does? Does he tell Jack what he needs to hear when he needs to hear it? "I'll abide by your rules, but give me something."

"A house and your freedom aren't enough?"


She sits. She holds her hands still in her lap. Outside the office, she can hear the others scurrying around, straightening up the mess Suzie made, dealing with their prisoner in the cells, getting Gwen set to rights, and above all else, covering their tracks. She herself is a track that by all rights ought to be covered over and forgotten, another of Torchwood's failures, just like the body Ianto is wheeling down to the morgue under a crumpled white sheet. She watches Jack watching him through the window.

The machines whirr around them in a parody of a heartbeat: simple, secret, safety, soldier, sinner, sword.

The case is simple matte black and polished plastic that pretends to be chrome. If she squints, and holds the box just so, she can see her reflection in the chipped coating. It's the oldest model Jack could find, powered by four thick D-cell batteries. When Lisa isn't careful, her thoughts go over the wires inside, the speakers, the transmitter, but it's always a brief flash. She returns her focus to her equations, or she lights the candles, and puts it out of her mind.

Twice a day, occasionally three times, a voice breaks out of the box: "Coffee Boy to Digital Girl. Anyone home?" She laughs every time. The flat, tinny CB radio makes him sound like he himself is standing inside the little box, shouting through cupped hands that he'll be home late, that the world isn't ending, that he loves her. Sometimes one of the others will say hello, or Toshiko will have a question about her notes, or Jack will hop on to say something naughty. Sometimes she gets signals from passing drivers, broadcasting from miles away, and she listens until they are out of range again.

The fake sword makes an excellent antenna.

The End