The Brigadier chased after Jack as he headed to the car outside, coat billowing and hair still dripping from the shower. "You need to slow down. Wait for backup." Alistair argued desperately, futilely.
Jack spun round to face him, car keys in his hand. "Backup? From who? We're practically the only field team left in Torchwood, and you know how long it takes UNIT to agree to help us. My people'd be dead long before the General had finished arguing with Geneva."
Alistair winced; he hadn't realised quite how badly-off Torchwood was these days, and he was pretty sure Jack hadn't actually meant to tell him. That was the sort of thing that was normally covered by their 'do not discuss' pact. And Jack was right about UNIT too. He hated it when Jack was right.
There was only one option left. He wasn't going to let Jack go off on his own – he couldn't even do that if Jack was fully healthy. Friendship counted for something after all, and a lifetime of duty counted for even more. Wondering exactly when he'd lost his mind, he said "Alright, but I'm driving. You still look like you'd fall over in a stiff breeze." He saw Jack open his mouth to argue, knowing that Jack didn't want him to come, and knowing equally well that Jack would die on his own, and added sharply. "I can still call UNIT you know. I'm sure they'd love an excuse to detain you. Get all the latest Torchwood information."
Jack took a deep breath and, with a scowl, threw him the car keys. He let his smirk hide the fact that he wasn't at all sure if this was a good idea. Here he was, at the age of seventy-four preparing to go into battle again.
Someone coughed behind him. Ah. He slowly turned to confront Doris standing in the doorway, arms folded. He i knew /i that Jack was smirking now. "I need to go." he said, gruffly, hoping she would understand.
"I know." she said simply. Bless her. She held his coat out to him and he took it, registering the weight of his gun in the pocket. "Be safe." Her eyes flicker past him, to Jack. "Both of you." He kissed her then, in a way that was probably undignified at their age.
"I'll be back in time for dinner." he promised, breathlessly.
She just nodded, and pulled away from him. Of course, they both knew she'd heard it all before, just as they both knew he always meant it at the time. He watched as she stepped back inside and closed the door. Then he turned away, and didn't look back.
Sliding into the driver's seat, he studied the strange instruments attached haphazardly to the dashboard, and throughout the rest of the vehicle. He was pretty sure that, whatever the adverts claimed, automobile technology hadn't advanced this far.
"Was any of this car actually made on Earth?" he asked dryly.
Jack, reaching into the backseat for one of the inexplicable devices, just grinned.
"Arming the earth against the future indeed." the Brigadier muttered. "I think you lot just like playing with things you don't understand."
After a couple of false starts, he was able to ease the behemoth out of the drive. Jack made no comment, fortunately, and the Brigadier soon got caught up in the task of keeping the car moving in a straight line.
"Fuck." Hearing Jack swear, the Brigadier looked round, taking his eyes off the road for a couple of perilous seconds. "The tracking system on the SUV computer is offline."
"That'll be the hills." the Brigadier said absently, easing the car back onto the right side of the road. "We don't even get channel five."
"But this thing was built for Wales!" Jack whined.
"Wrong sort of hills?" Alistair offered. "What were you trying to do?"
He heard the sound of Jack tossing the scanner-thing back onto the back seat, and settling back into the seat, with a small grunt of pain. "We've got a way to track where everyone is, by homing in on the signal from our mobiles, or headsets. Except it won't work"
"Useful." He ignored the frustration in Jack's voice for the moment. So many situations he could remember when he would have killed for that technology. So many situations when maybe he wouldn't have had to kill if he'd had that technology.
Jack snarled and banged his fist against the car door. "It would be useful, yes." Perhaps he should have let Jack drive. It would have given him something to do besides worry. But he made it a rule not to let a man get behind the wheel of a car before he was reasonably sure he could walk in a straight line.
"Alright Captain, let's talk scenarios here; what do we know?" He already knew they didn't know anything, but idle speculation was better than sitting in a car for two hours with Jack in this mood.
"Something or someone has Ianto. Might have the rest of the team as well, no way of knowing. Alien, from what you said. Speaks English, so that rules out our resident weevil population. Didn't just shoot immediately so that rules out . . . a lot of people. You said the voice was a little too perfect, so they're probably using a translation program."
"Best case scenario?" he asked, crisply
"Ianto's already been rescued by the others, and they're back at the Hub, drinking coffee and bitching. Unlikely."
"Worst case scenario?" he asked, wishing he didn't have to.
"Hostile aliens have taken over the Hub, are torturing my team and have opened the Rift." Jack's voice was bleak. It was obvious that this possibility had occurred to him, many times before.
"The Rift?" he asked, looking for some sort of distraction.
"Bit difficult to explain . . . .think of it as an energy gateway that shouldn't be opened under any circumstances."
Bingo. Starting an argument was a way of passing any journey fraught with tension. "You mean like a doorway between our world and one inhabited with Cybermen? Or a prison ship full of Daleks?"
He heard Jack's sharp intake of breath, and felt the glare that came his way. "Yes. Or, say a hole to the molten core of the Earth." Jack said, sweetly.
Ouch. It was Alistair's turn to wince. They passed the next twenty minutes bringing up every occasion on which their respective organisations had come close to destroying the planet. God, with defenders like them, Earth didn't need any invaders.
Finally, Jack gave up, and after twenty seconds of sulking, went back to fiddling with the scanner. After a couple of minutes he gave a crow of delight.
"What have you got, Captain?" the Brigadier asked quickly.
"Looks like they're on the edge of town . . . .just a minute . . . according to the street plan, it's some sort of construction site . . . wait . . . " He swore loudly. "All the signals are within a square foot." He threw the scanner down in apparent disgust.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, either they decided to have an orgy at ten in the morning, or someone took their mobiles off them." Out of the corner of his eye, the Brigadier could see Jack rubbing at the dressing on his head. He hoped it would hold. "Wonder if they'd agree to let me implant tracking devices in them." Jack muttered. "We picked up a surgical tool the other week, would do it in a couple of seconds."
The Brigadier made a show of considering it. Actually, he wasn't totally convinced it was a bad idea. "Shouldn't think so. Probably some sort of human rights issue."
"Yeah. Isn't everything these days?"
"Perhaps if you did it while they were asleep." he suggested lips twitching.
"Good idea. I'll give it a try." Jack sounded a little distracted so the Brigadier risked taking his eyes off the road again, and looked over just in time to see Jack pull a couple of pairs of sunglasses out of the glove compartment with a look of triumph. "Here. Put these on."
He did as Jack asked before he asked why. He was rewarded with a long-suffering look. "We're about to turn in to the sun. I don't want us to hit anything."
"Then why are you wearing a pair." he asked suspiciously.
"We're driving a black car packed with alien technology on an urgent rescue mission and you're asking why I'm wearing sunglasses? You need to watch more films, Alistair."
And Jack was grinning, the Brigadier knew that without looking, that particular grin that meant that he was hiding something. "Jack, if you're not up to this, I need to know now."
"Just got a bit of a headache. Think it was the whiskey." Right. It was the whiskey, not the head wound. Of course. Old soldiers never die, but they never learn when to quit either. "Look, just keep heading down the motorway to Cardiff, and I'll navigate from there, ok?"
"Understood." It wasn't like there was much choice.
They drove in silence for a time. Alistair found himself wondering if any of this technology could pick up Radio Four. Jack was playing with yet another of the – possibly alien – devices that littered the backseat.
"Great." This device too, got thrown back, as though it was junk. "When this is over, I'm going to have a long chat about which procedures we can ignore, and which we can't. It might take a few weeks. We can hang one of those signs on the edge of the Rift, saying Closed for Staff Training."
"What's up?" The Brigadier was jarred out of his contemplation of the tragedy of missing the i Archers /i omnibus.
"They didn't leave a record on the computer of where they were going, and why."
"Who'd normally do that." he asked, already sure of the answer. Jack knew as much about delegating as he did.
"Well, I would. But they should have thought of it. I can't always be there."
Silence again. And Alistair knew what was coming, because it was what he would be thinking, if their roles were reversed.
"I should have been there." There it was. Jack continued in a low, anguished voice. "What the hell was I doing, running away just because . . . running from the truth. Ianto was right, I am a coward."
'Your Ianto doesn't know you very well.' Alistair thought, privately. But there were more important matters right now. "You were right the first time, Captain – you can't always be there."
"But if I'd been there . . . " But if I'd been there, it would have been better. But if I'd been quicker this one wouldn't have died. But if I'd been clever we could have saved everyone. He knew, as Jack did, that train of thought led nowhere, except sleepless nights and empty whisky bottles.
He interrupted quickly. "Your team . . . are they any good?"
Jack answered, sounding puzzled. "They're the best. A little odd, but I'd trust them with my life."
'Oh yes, and how much is that worth?' Alistair thought to himself. Out loud he asked "Then what makes you think, Captain, that they'd have done anything other than send you home, looking like you do?"
Jack exhaled, shakily. "You're right. Sorry, I'm being a twat."
The Brigadier snorted. "Did you just say twat? Dear god, you really are going native."
"You know what they say, when in Rome, do the Romans." The Brigadier decided to avoid talking to Jack for a while.
They passed a road sign. Cardiff, twenty miles.
"Do we have a plan?" the Brigadier found himself asking.
"Reconnoitre, shoot anything hostile, save my people."
Alistair nodded. "Great plan." A seventy-four year old, and a man with concussion off to save the day. Didn't matter what their plan was, they were fucked anyway. At least they were wearing sunglasses.