Set days after the end of Sleeper
It's Not All Bad Out There
Sometimes the Torchwood team found it really hard to pick themselves up and start again after an alien encounter. This was one of those times. Two days after the death – suicide? - of Beth Halloran and the defeat of Cell 114 everyone was feeling down.
The worst affected was Gwen Cooper. She had liked Beth, had worked with her closely and admired her courage in holding on to her humanity and helping them defeat the other members of the Cell. Seeing her shot down had hurt and, despite her brave words to Jack Harkness afterwards, Gwen was not at all sure they would be able to defeat the Cell if – when - it tried again.
Of the others, Jack Harkness was beating himself up for forcing Beth to see what she really was and realising, belatedly, that he had gone too far. On this occasion, he had been right but it could so easily have been the wrong call. Owen Harper was working hard to analyse the bio-weaponry they'd extracted from the members of the Cell and to come up with a reliable defence against it. He wasn't having much success. Toshiko Sato was working equally as hard to ensure that the Cell's transmissions would be spotted early, annoyed with herself for not realising earlier they could send out false readings. Ianto Jones was quiet and withdrawn, aware of how close the Cell had come to obtaining nuclear warheads and annihilating life on Earth. He also couldn't get the last of the duct tape off the SUV's wing mirror and it was driving him up the wall.
All of them felt that only the shit of the universe landed on Cardiff.
That changed at two thirty in the afternoon of the third day after Beth's death. Ianto was the first to see the alert on the PC and brought it to the attention of Jack as he was the one who had initiated the program. "Jack, you'll want to see this." Ianto walked round Jack's desk and opened the screen on the PC behind him.
Jack swung round in his chair. "What is it?"
"An alert you set up for a particular combination of transmissions." Ianto tapped the keys and then stepped back. "There."
Jack looked at the screen and a slow grin spread over his face. "Dolly," he murmured softly, "it's Dolly."
Ianto looked over enquiringly, eyebrows raised. "Dolly?"
"Yeah, good old Dolly." Jack was suddenly all action, standing up and grabbing Ianto round the waist. "We're going to go see Dolly." He plonked a wet kiss on the Welshman's nose and moved on, out of the office. "Hey, kids!" he called, "we're going out in an hour. Tosh, set up the remote alerts."
"Where we going?" came from the Medical Bay where Owen was working. "More shit hit the fan?"
"Nope," laughed Jack, rubbing his hands together, "just a little field trip."
"That's what you said before you dragged off the Brecon Beacons and nearly got us killed," said Toshiko, unusually acerbic.
"Hey, it's nothing like that," said Jack, offended. "Trust me, huh?"
"He said that last time too," put in Gwen from her slightly more remote desk.
"Just get ready to move out," snapped Jack, his good mood evaporating. "Ianto, bring me all the paperclips and pencils you have in stock."
"Paperclips and pencils. All of them. My office. Now." Jack strode back into his office wondering why he was bothering.
With a shrug of his shoulders, Ianto went to the stationery cupboard and gathered together all the paperclips and pencils he could find. There were quite a few as they got through loads of each; he thought Owen was selling them. Putting them all in a large box he walked back to Jack's office and deposited it on the desk. "Paperclips and pencils," he announced.
Jack looked in the box and quickly counted them; forty odd boxes each containing a hundred paperclips and a dozen or so boxes of pencils. "This all you got?" he asked, looking up at Ianto.
"There's another stash downstairs," he answered, convinced Jack had gone bonkers.
"Get them. We'll take them as well." When Ianto remained where he was, wondering whether he should call Owen, Jack said, "Now, Ianto."
Shrugging again, the Welshman went off to his secondary stationery store in the tunnels and brought up his reserve supply. He put them beside the box on Jack's desk.
"Thanks," acknowledged Jack. He stood up and began transferring the paperclips to small evidence bags, putting about fifty in each bag before sealing it up. "What are you looking at?" he asked when he noticed Ianto standing watching him.
"You. Are you all right, Jack?"
"I'm fine. Could do with a few more bags."
Deciding he should humour his boss, Ianto went back to the stationery cupboard again and got more evidence bags. He placed these on Jack's desk and left. The madness might be contagious.
At three thirty on the dot, Jack appeared from his office in his greatcoat. The pockets were bulging with the evidence bags and pencils. He handed out some of the remaining bags to the others, they each got fifty, and made them put them in pockets and handbags. The pencils and the last of the paperclips were in a messenger bag which Jack had over his shoulder.
"What is this about?" complained Owen, putting the bags in the pockets of his leather jacket and jeans. "You know this is really weird, don't you?"
"You'll thank me later," replied Jack. "Ianto, put them in your pockets."
"They'll spoil the cut of my suit," the man complained, standing helplessly with both hands full of the small bags.
"Here," suggested Toshiko, holding out a small leather bag, "use this." Ianto took it and stowed his paperclips in the bag which reminded him of the one containing his travel shaving kit.
"Right, now let's go." Jack grinned them again and led the way to the garage and the SUV. They piled in, Gwen up front with Jack and the others crammed into the back seat. As Jack manoeuvred out of the garage, he said, "Tosh, I need you to latch on to the transmission in file 45/7/a/08 and direct me in. I know it's north of the M4 but not exactly where."
"Okay." Tosh exchanged a 'Let's humour him' glance with her companions and opened the file. Doing her magic, she pinpointed a general location. "It's coming from around Castell Coch."
"Okay. Keep monitoring as we get closer." Jack drove on through the busy afternoon traffic, past the Castle and the university buildings and into the suburbs. He reached the M4 in around fifteen minutes and took the road leading to the fairytale castle in the woods.
"So what's this castle then?" asked Owen, scrunched between Ianto and Toshiko, paperclips poking into his arse. He was peering out of the windscreen where he could just see the top of a round tower and conical roof. "Looks French."
"How long have you lived in Cardiff?" asked Gwen, turning in her seat to look at him accusingly. "Don't you ever go and visit these places?"
"Nah, not interested. It's just a load of old rubble. Anyway, when did you go?"
"I went with the school …" she began.
"Hah, knew it! You haven't been for years!" He sat back, a satisfied smirk on his face.
"Well, at least I've been! And it's not rubble. It was rebuilt in Victorian times, there's no rubble anywhere."
"Actually, the rooms are very beautiful. The Drawing Room has these wonderful murals of animals and birds." Toshiko looked up to see everyone, except Jack who was driving, staring at her. "What?"
"You've been to this place?" demanded Owen.
"Yes, I've visited it a few times. The setting is lovely." She turned back to the screen in front of her. "Jack, don't go to the castle. Head for Pentyrch," she spelt it out, "on the left."
"Got it." Jack turned off the main road and hurtled down small B-roads, the vehicle almost touching the hedges on either side. Ianto grabbed hold of the arm rest and braced himself, convinced Jack would be unable to stop if he met a car coming the other way. His colleagues did the same, holding on to whatever they could reach.
"Slow down!" yelled Gwen, making sure her seat belt was properly secured.
"Why?" he queried, throwing a glance in her direction.
"Keep your eyes on the road!!" she shrieked.
"Load of wusses," he replied, not slowing down but he did watch the road again.
"No," said Owen laconically, "it's just when you crash this bloody thing we'll be dead!"
"True," murmured Jack, slowing slightly, "don't want that. Think of the clearing up I'd have to do." The others glared at him.
"Jack, the signal comes from just up ahead," said Toshiko, holding on grimly to the keyboard in front of her. "On the right, maybe 200 metres."
Jack slowed further and looked over the hedges on the right. They were in farmland with fields on that side of the road. A little ahead, he saw a greenish glow and grinned. "There he is." Going even slower, Jack saw an open gate and drove through, bumping over the uneven ground, heading for the glow.
"What is that?" asked Gwen, her hand straying to her bag where she's stowed her gun.
She looked at him then back at her colleagues who looked as mystified as she was. "Dolly?" she queried.
"Uh huh." Jack stopped the SUV and undid his seat belt. "Come on," he said, jumping out of the vehicle.
The others followed more slowly, eyes trained on the column of green light that rose from the ground a couple of metres in front of them. It was taller than Jack and Ianto but not by much. Jack strode towards it, unconcerned, his Webley still in its holster. The others had their weapons in their hands and were approaching warily. Jack turned round and saw what they were doing.
"Put the guns away, it's not dangerous." He waited until they had – reluctantly – done as he said. "Good. Now, let's go in." He turned back to the light and walked up to it, the others a pace or two behind him and still wary.
Owen saw that the light shimmered, turning from light to dark green with all shades in between. He was peering closer when it expanded and encased him. "Shit!" he cried, making to step back but he was surrounded; there was no way out. He felt a gut-wrenching upwards pull and the breath was sucked out of him. Only seconds later, he gasped in air, floundering as the light dissipated.
"Relax," said Jack from next to him. "It's okay."
Owen looked round, still gasping, and saw his colleagues doing the same. Only Jack seemed immune. As his breathing returned to normal, Owen saw they were no longer in a field; they were in a structure, a room, made of metal. "What the fuck happened? Where are we?"
"You were teleported," said Jack as if that sort of thing was commonplace, which to him it was. "We're on Dolly's ship."
"Ship?" queried Gwen. "What kind of ship?"
"Spaceship, of course," Jack replied. "Come on." He led them across the small room and pressed his hand to a dark patch on the wall. Turning he grinned at them, "You're going to love this."
Ianto was far from sure what was going on. He discretely pinched himself, not sure whether to be relieved or not when it hurt. So, he reasoned, he was awake and, with the rest of the team, had been teleported to an alien spaceship. Oh, goody. He felt a hand on his arm and jumped then realised it was Toshiko. Smiling sheepishly, he took the hand in his deciding it was preferable to face whatever lay beyond the door with someone beside him.
A round hole seeped into existence in the wall and a fanged reptilian face appeared. "Vot?" it said.
"Five to come in," said Jack confidently.
The face moved, looking Jack up and down and then around at the others clustered together behind him. "Umans?"
"That's right. Tell Fexdollyoppisum that Captain Jack Harkness is here."
The face shrank back, in fear or horror or maybe both. "Arkness?" it whispered.
"In the flesh." Jack grinned but not with amusement. This was the Jack who had a reputation amongst other life forms, a reputation for making them do what he wanted or suffer the consequences. The face disappeared and the hole in the wall resealed itself.
"Jack, what was that?" Gwen ventured up to stand next to him, her hand was inside her bag, resting on the gun.
"A Belp. Keep clear of its fangs, they're poisonous." He said this matter-of-factly, barely concerned. Gwen glanced back at the others and saw they were as uneasy as her.
Part of the wall swished up and Jack strode through into an enormous, bright room. The others followed him, not because they wanted to enter but because they didn't want to be left behind. Their senses were assailed by noise and colour and smell, none of which they could readily identify. The room appeared to be full of life forms, aliens the team had never seen before and could never have imagined, who walked, crawled or slid among various sized booths and stalls. Out of this melee, a fat alien about two foot tall emerged. It was dressed in a flowing purple cloak over a black jumpsuit. It was the ugliest thing Toshiko had ever seen and she clung on even tighter to Ianto's hand, pressing herself close to his body.
"Jacques, you come tell me to move?" it asked in a vaguely French accent. "Torchwood after old Fexdollyoppisum again?"
"No, we're here to sample the delights of your market. As long as you're gone by morning planet side, I have no problem with you being here, Dolly." He smiled, a genuine smile, at the alien which was slowly levitating until the two were at eye-level.
"Then I delighted see you. But there is fee." The alien's face contorted alarmingly and Gwen gripped her pistol tighter.
"No problem. How much you charging these days?"
"Two, each." Dolly looked them over, a bit like a spider would a fly it was about to invite into its web.
"That's a bit steep. Four, for all of us."
The alien made a strange gurgling sound which Ianto decided was a laugh. It sounded more like water going down a drain. "Eight."
"You hard man, Jacques. Seven."
"Four." Jack reached into a coat pocket and pulled out four pencils, holding them up in front of the alien's face. "Best quality." Dolly's tongue flashed out, like a snake's, and would have whipped the pencils away but Jack was too quick. "Oh, no you don't. I want the bracelets first."
Suddenly, a new Belp appeared and held out five slim bracelets. Jack took them, slipped one on his own wrist and passed the others one each. Owen put his on and was disconcerted when it moulded itself to his wrist. Jack handed over the pencils to Dolly who stuffed one in its mouth, sucking on it like a lollipop, and secreting the others somewhere on its person. It made a sort of moaning, groaning sound as it licked.
"Right, kids, let's go get a drink!"
The drink was thick and yellow, like a milkshake in consistency. Toshiko lifted it to her nose and smelt it before taking the smallest sip. The liquid stayed on her tongue for the briefest of seconds and a burst of flavours exploded in her mouth. "Wow!" she said, looking at the drink.
"Like it?" asked Jack, sitting beside her and sipping his own drink, a hyper-vodka.
"I don't know." She took another sip and the flavours were there again but this time she was expecting them and was able to savour them. "Yes, I think I do." She grinned at him, still amazed at this new experience and suddenly enjoying it.
"Good. What about the rest of you? Drinks okay?"
Jack looked round at the others. They were in a semi-circular booth on an upper level of the spaceship. The room was smaller than the one below and quieter though it was still full of aliens, most of them sitting in booths like theirs. Jack was in the middle of the booth with Gwen and Toshiko on either side of him and Owen and Ianto on the girls' other side. All had drinks in front of them.
"This is bloody good," said Owen, swigging back more of his hyper-vodka. He felt quite at home in this place; a bar was a bar whether in Mermaid Quay, Hackney or on a spaceship. Owen liked bars.
"Go careful with that," warned Jack, "it's four times as strong as a normal vodka. Gwen?"
"Not sure about this one," she said. Her drink was similar to Toshiko's but orange. "What is this place, Jack?" she asked again, hoping this time Jack would answer her.
She sighed. "Not very helpful, Jack."
"No," he laughed, "that's what it's called. Dolly's Place." He looked over and caught Ianto's eye; the Welshman was tasting his vermouth martini. "Well, what's the verdict?" he asked.
"Very nice, thank you." Ianto put the glass down and looked at Jack. "But I'm with Gwen, what's going on?"
Jack looked at them all again and saw them waiting for explanations. "Okay. Dolly, Fexdollyoppisum to be strictly correct, owns this spaceship. It's a combination bar, restaurant, brothel and market. He sells anything to anybody. Highly illegal, of course, so he keeps on the move. Hops from planet to planet and keeps out of the jurisdiction of planetary law enforcement or just nips off before they twig he's in the vicinity. He doesn't come to Earth often; Torchwood warned him off back in the thirties and he's scared of what we'd do to him if he lingers too long."
"By Torchwood, you mean you warned him off," said Ianto, more as statement than as a question.
"Yeah. That's how he knows me. I always thought it was stupid to send him away but I was just a foot soldier back then. Dolly doesn't do anyone any harm and he's cute enough to keep away from towns and cities, always opening the door in remote areas." He looked at them again, his face serious. "I brought you here because I wanted you to see something fun for a change. It's not all monsters wanting to steal nuclear warheads and blow up the world. Sometimes, it's just a single businessman wanting to make money by giving us a good time. It's not all bad out there."
Gwen glanced round at the others then spoke for them all. "Thanks, Jack." She raised her glass and they clinked them together before drinking. It was a great idea and now she knew what was going on, Gwen relaxed and started to enjoy her surroundings. She recognised none of the aliens but they weren't trying to kill her and for that she was more than grateful.
"What's with the pencils?" asked Owen. He was very mellow, having nearly finished his drink.
"Ah, Dolly comes from a planet with no wood or carbon so a combination of the two is a delicacy. One pencil is like a pound of caviar to his people." Jack grinned at them. "And before you ask, steel is accepted as currency. These drinks," he waved a hand to indicate those on the table, "cost two paperclips each."
Owen took out one of the bags of paperclips stuffed in a pocket. "So this little lot would buy me twenty five drinks?" He grinned and gestured to the waiter – waitress? - he wasn't sure of the gender. "Another round, mate, quick as you can." The thin, pink alien hurried off.
"Bags I don't have to carry him home," said Ianto dryly as Owen tossed back the last of his drink.
"How do they understand us?" asked Toshiko, ignoring the filthy look Owen threw at Ianto. She took another drink and decided she did like it, there were definite fruity flavours.
"The bracelets," explained Jack. "They have a translator built in." Toshiko looked at the slim band, considering how best to get it off and analyse it. "Don't, Tosh," warned Jack. "Take it off and you're fair game for anyone, with it on you're Dolly's guest and he has to protect you."
"I could understand Dolly before we got the bracelets," pointed out Ianto.
"That was me. I used my vortex manipulator to create a small 'field of understanding'. Can only do it for a few minutes at a time." He watched as the server returned with a tray of fresh drinks, set them down on the table and waited to be paid. "Owen, pay the man."
Owen opened a bag of paperclips and threw them on the table. The server quickly scooped up ten and put them in a pouch at his waist before departing. "Cheers, everyone," Owen said as he picked up his drink and took a hefty slug.
They stayed in the bar for another ten minutes. The drinks were swapped around as each tasted them. All liked the vermouth martini and Ianto loved the yellow milkshake-like drink. The orange one that Gwen had had originally did not go down so well, though Jack liked it enough to finish it when no one else wanted to. The hyper-vodkas were too strong for Toshiko and Ianto but Gwen liked it and finished Jack's. Owen liked them all.
"Jack, you keep saying we're on a spaceship," began Gwen, "but frankly we could be anywhere. Could be a club in Cardiff."
"Like clubs in Cardiff have Newoks and Ambriglians and all the rest," scoffed Jack.
"Maybe not quite like them," she admitted, "but you know what I mean. I want to see some stars."
"Okay, I'll show you stars. Let's go to the viewing platform." They left the booth and walked up a spiral staircase to a mezzanine level that ran all round the room. Here there was more seating and one of two private rooms. Jack led them up more stairs and through a door to a quiet, darkened area. "Stars," he said throwing an arm out dramatically.
Gwen and Toshiko rushed to one of the large circular windows and stared out at Earth and its Moon below them. They showed brilliantly against the black background sprinkled with stars. Owen followed more slowly, and a little unsteadily, but was equally awestruck as he looked out.
Jack put an arm round Ianto's waist and steered him to the opposite side of the viewing platform and another window. He pressed a button which magnified the vista before them. "See that, Ianto," he said softly, "that's Mars. In centuries to come, it's going to be teeming with life as humans colonise it. There will be cities and giant factories built there but now it's just a lump of rock. And beyond it, that huge planet there in the distance is Jupiter." He magnified the view again. "Humans will settle there too, in a joint development with the Teel."
"It's beautiful," murmured Ianto, staring out. The view was familiar from the many computer generated images he had seen on TV and in the cinema and yet it was unfamiliar because this was real. "How could you give all this up?" he asked quietly. "How could you leave this behind and stay on Earth?"
"Earth has its compensations," Jack breathed in Ianto's ear. "I'll have all that out there again, one day, but there are no handsome Welshmen there, not yet. Right now, I'm more than content where I am." Ianto turned and the two kissed softly.
"Oh my God," said Toshiko beside them. Ianto pulled back but when he looked across he saw that she was not looking at him and Jack. She was staring out at the magnified view. "Is that …" she found she couldn't complete the question.
"That's Jupiter," said Jack, reluctantly releasing Ianto who walked over to see the view from the other side of the platform.
They stayed on the platform for another half an hour, drinking in the fantastic views. Finally, they could take in no more and had to turn away, to look at the mundane and the ordinary. Going downstairs, Jack led them through the bar back down to the level on which they had entered. The noise, smells and colours assailed their senses again and they stood to one side as they got used to it all.
"This is the main level," said Jack. "All the merchants have stalls or booths displaying their wares. They sell everything you can think off, can imagine and then some. You can look at anything you want but ask the merchant before picking things up; sometimes touching seals the deal and I don't want you to end up with a Sontaran nose picker! Prices vary but paperclips are good for most things. Haggle, the merchants expect it. There shouldn't be anything dangerous but, to be on the safe side, don't eat anything. Don't sell anything of your own either. Other than that, kids, go shop!"
"You said something about a brothel?" queried Owen.
"God, you are so predicable," said Gwen scathingly.
"Next floor down, Owen, but be careful. A shag'll cost around fifty paperclips." Owen patted his pockets, enough there for a good night. "All of you, go have a good time. Let's meet back in the bar upstairs in two hours. If you need more paperclips, come find me. And use your comms if you get in trouble."
Owen went off on his own straight away, the hyper-vodkas had boosted his confidence or made him foolhardy. Either way, he was happy to wander round the booths and stalls looking at the merchandise. He stopped at one booth and marvelled at the assorted implements; he had no idea what they were or how to use them. He stretched out a hand but remembered Jack's advice in time.
"Okay if I pick this one up?" he asked of the squat, rubbery and grey alien manning the booth.
"Sure." The voice sounded American.
The doctor picked up the rectangular item. It was around five centimetres long and incredibly thin. Owen's brain said it should be delicate, fragile, but hefting it he realised it was very robust. "What is this?" he asked, turning it over.
"Drallen probe." The alien moved closer, sensing a sale. "That will make any being talk, Drallen or otherwise, just put it under the skin and they'll be singing like a canary."
"How does it work?" Owen was turning the probe over and over in his hands.
"I'll show you." The stall holder took it and placed it on the back of Owen's hand. A small barb emerged from one end and latched onto the skin, burrowing underneath it. Owen watched fascinated, amazed it didn't hurt. "Now, how much money you got?"
"Forty nine and a bit bags of paperclips, each containing fifty." The words were out to Owen's mouth before he realised and he pulled back his hand, extricating himself from the barb. Damn, worse thing in the world was to tell a seller how much money you were carrying.
"Works well, right? Yours for fifty." The alien held out the probe invitingly and Owen was tempted, it would come in useful in so many ways and not just at work.
"Too much. Ten," he counter-offered affected to look uninterested.
"For you, forty five."
"I may be able to justify twenty."
"How about we just say forty?" The alien smiled, or at least that's what Owen assumed the contortion of its face was meant to convey.
"Okay." Owen counted out the paperclips and handed them over. The probe was put in a net-like contraption and hung around his wrist. "Cheers," he said and walked on his way.
In another part of the market, Toshiko and Gwen had just separated from Jack and Ianto. The girls had been nervous at first but once Jack had helped them buy some jewellery they were more confident. They trawled the stalls, taking careful note of what was available before deciding to buy. Toshiko spent sixty paperclips on two storage devices, similar to a memory stick but with twenty times the capacity, and another hundred on a globe that did nothing but look beautiful.
Gwen splashed out two hundred and fifty paperclips on a sexy top. It seemed to be made of a material similar to their wristbands because when she tried it on it moulded itself to her body, accentuating her curves. The reaction she got from passing shoppers when she emerged from the changing area to show Toshiko was enough to persuade her to buy. Both girls bought small hand warmers to go inside their gloves on cold winter days.
They arrived at a stall bedecked in lengths of material of all colours and shades which shimmered and shone in fascinating ways. The material was thin, almost transparent in places, and incredibly soft.
"What are these used for?" asked Toshiko fingering a piece that was blue shot through with green.
"To adorn beautiful bodies like yours," the stall holder, a humanoid woman, said. "Try it." She emerged from behind the counter and expertly tied the material around Toshiko's neck, tying it in an elaborate knot. She held up a mirror. Toshiko was impressed.
"That really suits you, Tosh," said Gwen. She was looking at a red piece and experimented with it round her own neck.
"Red is your colour," said Toshiko, going back to admiring herself in the mirror. She stepped aside to let Gwen look at her own reflection. "How much are these?"
"Normally, it would be forty but for you pretty girls? Let's say thirty."
"How about ten?" countered Gwen having decided to buy.
"I have to make a profit! You'd be robbing me." The alien looked forlorn but Gwen was not convinced.
"All right, fifteen."
The stall holder shook her head. "You drive a hard bargain. I could go to twenty five, maybe."
"No, twenty five is my lowest offer." The alien held out a hand for the return of her goods.
After a quick glance at Toshiko, Gwen admitted defeat. Her heart wasn't in it anyway, they were talking about paperclips after all. "Okay, twenty five." The girls handed over the 'money' and kept what they regarded as scarves.
Jack was having a terrible time; Ianto would not buy anything! The older man had led him from stall to stall and dangled innumerable items of exotic origin in front of him but the Welshman refused to be tempted.
"For God's sake, Ianto, there must be something you want!"
"I don't need anything, Jack."
"I didn't say 'need', I said 'want'. That jacket looked great on you and matched the colour of your eyes. If you won't buy it for yourself, then buy it for me. I liked seeing you in it."
"I'd never wear it, Jack, you know that. It'd be like those clothes you buy on holiday and which never look the same when you get them back home." He was idly rifling through a tray of small metal items. "What are these?" he asked, trying to divert Jack.
"When people go on pilgrimage to various sacred sites around the galaxy they buy these things." He looked though the collection. "This one's from Cortellia and … oh." He stopped speaking, holding up a small, square badge.
"What's that one?" Ianto peered at it, noticing the depiction of a beach with sea in the background.
"It's from my home planet," said Jack wonderingly. He hadn't thought of home for years and years, had buried the memories really deep, and here, within weeks of John mentioning Gray, was another reminder.
"Is it?" asked Ianto, taking it from Jack's unresisting hands. He turned it over and saw some letters etched into the surface. "Trellum Four," he read. "That's the name of the planet?" He looked at Jack who nodded. "How much is this?" Ianto asked the stall holder.
"Let's see." The gruff, rough male Newok took a quick look. "That one? You can have it for two." He clearly didn't regard it highly.
Ianto handed over the 'money', not bothering to haggle. This small thing came from Jack's past and he wanted it. He carefully wrapped it in his handkerchief and placed it in his suit pocket. He smiled at Jack. "There, I've bought something. Happy now?"
Jack shook his head. "You are so strange, Ianto Jones. Of all the wonders laid out before you, you buy a silly lump of metal."
"It's something to remind me of you," he said without thinking. When Jack's face fell he could have kicked himself. "I'm sorry, Jack," he said immediately, "I didn't mean it like that." He stepped closer, ignoring the crowds around them. "I want to keep it with me so I can touch it and think of you. Maybe I could have it made into a wrist band, like yours."
"I'm not leaving again, Ianto. I'll never leave you." Jack stared into the other man's eyes, trying to make him believe.
"I know, cariad, I know." Ianto kissed Jack briefly, wanting to reassure him. "Isn't it about time you bought something?" he suggested.
"Yeah, I suppose." Jack was not convinced that Ianto truly believed him, it was obviously going to take a while before he was forgiven for leaving to go with The Doctor. He took Ianto's hand and they started on another round of the stalls.
The two hours were up, passing by in a kaleidoscope of colour and noise, and Toshiko and Gwen were in a booth in the bar, the first to arrive for their rendezvous. They ordered drinks – vermouth martini for Toshiko and a hyper-vodka for Gwen and they relaxed, easing tired feet and watching the people move around them. A couple of Slitheen passed by, did a double take and walked over to the booth.
"Hi there," said the largest. "How much?" He was about to slide into the booth when Gwen stuck her hand out.
"These seats are taken," she said loudly, not in the least intimidated by the large aliens.
"You are taken?" snarled the alien. "Huh, then do not advertise!" He stalked off, his smaller companion trailing behind him.
"What was that all about?" asked Toshiko, keeping a wary eye on their retreating backs. She carefully eased off her shoes, wishing she hadn't worn such high heels today.
"No idea." Gwen took another drink, really enjoying the taste.
The girls waited for the others to join them and more aliens approached and made to sit down. Toshiko was growing alarmed, feeling a little vulnerable, but Gwen was getting annoyed and was more and more rude as time passed. Both were secretly relieved when Jack and Ianto appeared and settled in the seats beside them.
"I don't believe it, Ianto. Honestly, of all the things you could buy!" Jack gritted his teeth in disgust. "Hey," he called to a passed server, "vermouth martini and a fakshah." He put his own purchases on the table and grunted when Ianto placed a large round tub beside them.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Gwen, getting quietly mellow.
"This." Jack picked up Ianto's tub. "I take him round the market, lots of gorgeous things to buy, and he gets this. Bleach!" He put it down in disgust.
Ianto was unmoved. "The guy guaranteed it would remove that duct tape that you put on the SUV."
"Honestly, can you believe it?!" he shrugged in exasperation at the two girls who were giggling. "Tell me you two bought something better than that."
The two showed him their purchases and he calmed down; at least they had bought sensibly. When he saw the scarves round their necks he started to say something then thought better of it. The drinks arrived and they drank with pleasure, all four agreeing that Dolly's Place was a great location for a relaxing time. When Owen didn't appear after another quarter of an hour, Jack started to get worried. Of them all, it was the doctor who was most likely to get himself into trouble.
"Where's Owen?" he said, looking round at the door. "Any of you see him after he left us downstairs?"
"No. I assume he went down to that brothel. Did you have to mention it?" asked Gwen, wondering if another drink would be wise.
"Didn't think," Jack admitted. He opened his wrist band and pressed a few buttons. "According to this he's on the floor below and moving."
"On his way to join us," suggested Ianto calmly. He had come to conclusion that Owen, like Jack, was one of those people who always landed on their feet. There was just no point in worrying about him.
"Maybe." Jack watched the display and was relieved when Owen did indeed appear to be coming nearer. After a couple of minutes he looked round at the door and groaned. "What the hell's he done?" he muttered. Coming towards them was Owen, flanked by two Belp and following Dolly. He looked cocky as ever but his escort were far from pleased.
"Jacques, you take him away." Dolly stopped by the booth, levitating to just above the table. "I no want him here."
"Yeah, yeah, no problem. He's my responsibility and I'll take care of him," assured Jack, glaring at the doctor. "He'll be in my custody."
"Good." Dolly snapped his fingers and the Belp moved back, leaving Owen free to slide into the booth next to Ianto. "He upset girls, want bad things."
The rest of the Torchwood team looked at Owen, wondering just what he had wanted to do with the prostitutes. Owen raised his eyebrows, "It's not what you think," he said defiantly. "Seems kissing is off the menu."
Dolly threw up his hands in horror. "See what I mean, Jacques!? He bad man."
"I'm sorry, Dolly, really I am. Here, take these to make up for the insult to your girls, with my sincere apologies." Jack held out twenty pencils and saw Dolly's face take on an eager and grasping look. A hand shot out and took the offering.
"Okay but you responsible." Dolly and the Belp left and the others in the bar, who had been gawking, went back to their drinks and conversations.
"God, all this over a kiss!" complained Owen, looking round for a server. "The shag wasn't that great anyway." He caught the eye of a server and waved him/her over. "Hyper-vodka," he ordered before looking round. "Anyone else?" They all opted for another drink and the order was placed. "Oh, Jack, you'll have to pay for these, I'm all out."
"Owen, you really are a piece of work," commented Jack, resigned to the man's quirks.
"I'll pay you back. I'm good for a few paperclips," he sniggered. As he spoke Owen was disentangling himself from his purchases which were all in the net-like carriers. He had quite a number. "Got a lot of good stuff here," he said proudly, placing them on the table.
"We bought some interesting items too," said Toshiko brightly. She fingered the scarf at her neck, hoping Owen might comment on it; when he did she wished he hadn't.
"Bloody hell, you two gone on the game!?" He laughed loudly, rocking back and forth.
"Owen …" began Jack, but it had no effect on the doctor.
"What are you talking about?" demanded Gwen.
"Those scarf things. Prostitutes wear them to attract johns!"
He was laughing so hard he was having trouble getting his words out but the girls understood immediately. That was why the aliens had kept coming on to them, they had thought they were prostitutes! Toshiko pulled at her scarf, removed it and shoved it under the table on the seat; she was as red as Gwen's scarf. The Welshwoman thought about it doing the same but then decided against it.
"Fuck it," she said, "I like it and once we're off this ship no one will ever know what it means." She finished the last of the drink in front of her, wondering when Owen's order would arrive.
"Jack, why didn't you tell us?" hissed Toshiko, more embarrassed than she'd been in years.
"Because it suits you and you like it. Like Gwen says, no one on Earth would think anything else." He picked up the scarf, folded it neatly and handed it back to her. "I'd like to see you wear it again." He smiled encouragingly and she took the scarf.
"I'm not wearing it here," she said, "but you're right, I do like it." She placed it with the hand warmer, hiding it as much as she could.
The drinks arrived and they sat enjoying them. The purchases were taken out again and admired. Jack was pleased that, as well as personal items, all his team had got something to help with their work, even if one of those items was bleach! Jack himself showed them the blue jacket he had bought for Ianto, against his wishes, and it was much admired.
Checking the time, Jack asked, "What do you want to do now? It's coming up to nine o'clock. We could eat, take one last look round the market or go home."
"I'd love to try the food," ventured Toshiko when no one else responded. "Would there be something we'd like?"
"Yeah, no problem there. What about the rest of you?"
"I could eat something," agreed Ianto. Gwen nodded her head in agreement and then stopped abruptly, feeling very woozy.
"All right by me," said Owen.
"Okay. Let's go to the restaurant."
They picked up all their belongings and walked through to the back of the bar where an archway opened onto a semi-circular area dotted with tables. Jack spoke to the maitre d' and, with the help of four pencils, secured them a table by the window. The others followed him to the table their eyes glued to the view; outside Earth in all her glory was spinning below. Jack smiled as he watched them stare out at the stars, enjoying their reactions to space.
"That's beautiful," said Ianto in Jack's ear, "almost better than before." He sighed and placed a hand on Jack's where it rested on the table. "Thank you for showing me this."
"My pleasure." They exchanged a smile.
"Look, there's Europe," pointed out Toshiko sitting on Ianto's other side with her head pressed against the window. "You can just see the UK." Her face shone as she turned to look round at the others. Owen and Gwen were equally impressed but more blasé. After their time on the viewing platform, they found it hard to enthuse any more about the sight of their planet. Like so many other tourists, once they had seen the natural or manmade wonder it quickly lost its appeal.
Jack ordered for them, a fish and vegetable dish, and when it arrived they all tucked in. None of them asked what it was, not wanting to know, and Jack didn't tell them. In fact, it was one he remembered from his youth; fish had been the staple food on Trellum Four. A dessert of blue and red fruit followed. With the food, they drank a crisp, white wine and finished with a round of liqueurs.
"That was an amazing meal," pronounced Owen, finishing his drink.
"Umm, lovely," agreed Gwen, lost in a haze of alcohol.
"Time we got going," pronounced Jack gesturing for the bill. When it arrived he grimaced and put forty bags of paperclips down. He had forgotten how high a margin Dolly charged for food eaten here but it had been worth it. The bags were removed and the five Torchwood members got to their feet, Gwen just a bit unsteadily. Throwing a handful of pencils on the table as a tip, Jack ushered the others out of the restaurant, a hand under Gwen's elbow to steady her.
They wandered back, through the bar and down to the market level; they looked at a couple of stalls as they passed but didn't buy anything. At the door, the Belp removed the wristbands and they were about to leave when Dolly appeared.
"Jacques, you leaving?"
"Yep. Thanks for the hospitality, Dolly, we've had a great time." He leant close, "But make sure you're gone before sunrise over Wales." His voice left no doubt about what would happen if the ship had not left orbit.
"No problem." Dolly remained watching as the team went through the door and into the entrance room. "Good riddance," he said after the door had closed and went back to running his business.
The teleport down to Earth was as violent as going up. They staggered on landing and Gwen threw up spectacularly.
"Yeuck!" Owen exclaimed, jumping backwards. "That is disgusting!"
"Like you've never done it," commented Ianto, taking a deep breath to quieten his own stomach. He saw the SUV in the distance and, taking Jack's parcels as well as his own, started to walk towards it.
Jack knelt by Gwen who was on her hands and knees groaning. "Tosh, could you take these?" He held out Gwen's purchases. "I'll bring Gwen in a minute."
"Sure." Toshiko took the various packages and balanced them in her arms, taking care not to drop anything as she stumbled over the uneven ground to the vehicle.
Owen was standing nearby, swearing fluently as he wiped his shoes, removing the tiny splatters of vomit he had been unable to avoid. "These smell," he moaned, staring daggers at Gwen.
"Stop complaining and help me get her up," said Jack. "Gwen, come on, up you come." He gently pulled her to her feet and a reluctant Owen finally came to his assistance on the other side of her. With her between the two men, they walked slowly to join the others.
The drive back into Cardiff was completed mostly in silence. Gwen was in the front again, beside Jack. She had her head out of the open window trying to fight off the nausea that came over her in waves. Jack drove slowly and smoothly to help her. In the back seat, the other three were quiet. Toshiko had checked the Rift, grateful it had been inert during their absence. Now she was asleep, her head resting on Ianto's shoulder. Ianto was also asleep, his head against the back of the seat, mouth open. Owen looked out of the window, awake but unwilling to talk. He kept the window closed knowing that if Gwen was sick again it would otherwise blow into his face.
Jack drew up outside Toshiko's flat first. "Tosh, come on. You're home." He had the passenger door open and was shaking her lightly. "Leave your purchases here. I want to check them over before you take them out of the base."
She nodded wearily and walked up to the lobby door, yawning, with Jack beside her. Before she went in she turned and impulsively hugged Jack. "Thank you, Jack, thank you so much. I had a wonderful time."
"My pleasure," he said, smiling down at her. "You okay?" He held the door open for her.
"I'm fine. Good night."
"Night." She waved at the others and then walked to the lift. Jack closed the door and got back into the SUV.
Owen was next to be dropped off. "Jack, that was a great evening, thanks," said the doctor just before he got out of the vehicle.
"Glad you enjoyed it. Don't be late in tomorrow." Jack watched as the man walked up to the converted warehouse and disappeared inside. "Gwen next, I think." He glanced across to see she was asleep with her head on the door. He eased her upright and shut the window part way.
At Gwen's place, Jack and Ianto had a quick discussion about how best to deliver her back to Rhys. Jack had only met the man once, briefly, when he'd been chasing a Weevil; Ianto had only helped carry him, unconscious, to the Hub after Gwen had stunned him just before they'd opened the Rift and let Abaddon through. The men decided on caution and woke Gwen up sufficiently for her to stand and walked her to the outer door, using her keys to open it and then the door to her flat. They pushed her into the flat and ran, slamming the door behind them, hoping it would look like she had got rat-arsed and managed to get home alone. As they drove away in the SUV, both men were laughing at their schoolboy antics. Ianto peered back and saw the light in Gwen's flat come on, she'd be all right.
"So, Ianto. You want me to drop you at your place?"
"No, I'll come back to the Hub. I seem to have woken up all of a sudden." He smiled across at Jack from his place in the front seat. "Besides, you'll need help getting all the parcels in." There were a lot of parcels. None of team had bought much individually but when it was all piled on the back seat of the vehicle, as it now was, it looked impressive.
"Thanks." Jack waited a moment and then added, "That the only reason you coming back?" He hoped Ianto would want to stay the night. They had slept together since he'd come back from his jaunt with The Doctor but only a couple of times.
"No." Jack smiled. "I want to get that duct tape off," went on Ianto dead-pan, knowing the reaction he would get.
It was two o'clock in the morning and Gwen was sat at her dining table; her head throbbed and her mouth tasted foul. Rhys was in bed. He had helped her to the bathroom where she'd thrown up again and got her to drink lots of water. Then he had left her to sober up on her own; he had to work the next day.
Outside the window, Gwen looked over the rooftops and up to the star-sprinkled sky. The view wasn't great – too much light pollution – but she could see those stars, those planets, twinkling in the night sky. She had been up there, among the stars. She had seen and spoken to aliens, had traded with them and sat next to them drinking and eating. She had seen Earth and the other planets in the Solar System from the stars. It had been incredible.
Gwen picked up her mobile and speed dialled Jack. He didn't sleep so she didn't hesitate regardless of the time.
"Gwen? You okay?" came Jack's voice.
"I feel bloody awful, Jack, head throbbing and mouth like a sewer, But that's not why I called."
Jack chuckled. "How can I help?"
"I just wanted to say … thank you. It was fantastic, really fantastic."
"So you believe me now? Believe that it's not all bad out there?"
"Yeah, Jack, I believe. Goodnight."
Jack put the mobile back on the bedside table and smiled to himself. He closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep to the accompaniment of Ianto's light snoring.
Please let me know what you think of this - I adore reviews.