Summary: In which Torchwood Cardiff plays tag, there are robot dragonflies, and Jack tries to define that emotion between tearing your hair out in rage and laughing like crazy. Y'know. THAT one.
Disclaimer: I figured that Doctor Who/Torchwood was the crossover waiting to happen that I really wanted to see. And then it went and HAPPENED (in the 'Stolen Earth' episodes), and I was, like, SQUEEEEEE! No kidding. Aloud. In front of my family. Really 'squee'. Really. (…) Yeah, I know. So the BBC got there first. But if I owned them, it totally would have happened sooner. Which is why I don't own Doctor Who or Torchwood. Do the logic.
Warning: Jack Harkness gets a special shiny warning sticker all his own. (I personally think they should print one for Owen, too.) This is Torchwood, so there is language. But only where they'd put it. Spoilers for "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" on one front, and through "Last of the Time Lords" on the other.
Author's Note: My school's Literary Magazine once held a competition on the theme 'tag'. This was the first thing I thought of. Which I suppose tells you a lot about me. Even if I hadn't been one of the editors (who don't compete), it's totally unprintable (we have a 'no obvious fanfiction' policy), but…
ON WITH THE SHOW!
snipe hunt: noun: An elaborate practical joke in which an unsuspecting person takes part in a bogus hunt for a snipe, typically being left alone in the dark with instructions not to move until the snipe appears.
Heaving a sigh of muted frustration, Gwen prodded her pillow into a different shape for the forty-seventh time that night and turned over in bed to stare at the clock. Four-thirty in the morning, and she could swear that she hadn't gotten to sleep all night.
She lay there for a while trying to enjoy the peace and quiet, but when it was broken by the faint sound of her morning-jogger neighbor's alarm clock blaring, quickly overlaid by Rhys' gentle snoring, she gave up. Moving carefully so as not to wake Rhys, she pulled on a bathrobe left hanging on the door handle and left the bedroom.
Alone in the kitchen with only a few lights on, Gwen munched on a slice of buttered bread and swung her bare feet back and forth, trying to deny the fact that she was as bored out here as she'd been in there, and that she was putting off the inevitable.
Slice of bread in hand, she crept back through the bedroom to reach the closet. She grabbed a few articles of clothing at random, reluctant to turn on the small light, and departed with her spoils back into the lit portion of the apartment.
Several minutes later, dressed in clothes that didn't clash too badly and her favorite black jacket, Gwen dashed off a note to Rhys—gone to work early to catch up, love you—and clomped down the stairs to her car.
Someone was usually at Torchwood; in theory, the Hub was never left unmanned and unattended. In practice, Jack was almost always there, almost as if he had never mysteriously vanished off the face of the Earth, and Owen was as likely as Tosh to be working on some new project. She was never exactly sure when Ianto got to work—except that by the time she got there in the morning, Jack and Owen were usually trading barbs over who was going to get the next fresh pot of coffee. They were always accusing each other of stealing entire carafes to drink and not returning them. (Ianto, being possibly the only provably sane member of Torchwood Three, generally bypassed the finger-pointing and just found the missing carafes.)
As she drove toward the City Centre, Gwen flirted with the idea of extracting the privileged information of Jack's birthday from him, buying him a coffeemaker of his very, very own, and writing "Radioactive! Do Not Touch! This Means You Owen!" on it in permanent glowing red ink. It was shaping up to be a really good plan right up until the point where she had to find out when Jack's birthday was, the likelihood of her getting a straight answer being somewhere between zero and the square root of negative one. She also didn't have any permanent glowing red ink. And if she did manage to acquire some, permanent glowing red ink sounded exactly like something very likely to get permanently borrowed by one of her teammates, probably without her knowledge.
And probably used in a way she didn't want it to be…so nix the permanent glowing red ink idea.
The roads were fairly empty as she drove, pavement stained orange by the red streetlights overhead. A few cars inhabited her mirrors, but it was nothing compared to the way the streets would back up several hours later. Gwen occasionally got caught in that traffic, and then had to take potshots back at anyone who thought it was funny to pretend that the world had somehow ended for lack of her presence at Torchwood.
It was probably a combination of the thought that such an incident had happened just last week (being late, not the world ending…well, that week) and that there was no one else in view at that moment that dragged the thrust of Gwen's attention from the road ahead. She was abruptly brought back to the present by an impact that shook the car and a nasty crunch from beneath her front wheels.
Stepping on the brakes and gasping in shock, Gwen brought the car to a quick stop. She'd just hit something! A million nasty possibilities rushed through her mind, each more disastrous than the last, from a fallen branch in the road to a late-night drunk, veering through various extraterrestrial possibilities on the way. Owen had once told her that three in the morning was the most dangerous time to be on the road, because by then, all the pubs and clubs had emptied out and the intoxicated, exhausted, or drugged evictees were on the move. Admittedly, it was later than that, but still…
She peered in her wing mirror, tucking her long hair back behind her ears and still feeling a little short of breath, not to mention horribly guilty. Nothing behind her…so either it had been uninjured enough to run away or it had been thrown off the street. And the front of her car still looked intact, so it probably hadn't been very big or heavy.
Or it—whatever 'it' was—could be under her car.
Gwen cracked the door open nervously. "Are you okay?" she called into the early morning.
There was no response. A few retiring crickets chirped briefly, perhaps cut off by the waking birds.
"Is anyone there?" What if it was somebody's pet? Would Owen object to sewing up some hurt cat she'd been stupid enough to run over?
Gaining confidence with the lack of response, Gwen was just getting out of her car to check that nothing had gotten caught in the wheels when a clattering noise stopped her cold. Actually, she jumped back into the car and closed the door. Tightly. And hung onto the handle just in case something tried to wrench it open.
When nothing exploded or tried to shred her car, she swallowed her caution and left the sanctuary of the driver's seat again. And when the rattle repeated itself, she followed the noise to the back of the car.
"Okay…" said Gwen to nobody in particular, looking down at the partly-crushed thing behind her car, "that's weird."
"Jack!" Gwen called as the last set of doors grated open and she entered the Hub. "Jack, are you here?"
It was growing harder and harder to remember the trepidation she had felt upon seeing this place for the first time, an emotion that had been a mix between strangling fear, dread, and outright wonder. Although it was still an awe-inspiring sight, the interior of the Hub was now reassuring rather than terrifying, a place she felt safe and in good company, where she belonged and was useful rather than an intruder.
Up above, their resident pterodactyl screeched sleepily, invisible in the low lighting that the Hub was sometimes left at overnight. A lamp was burning in Jack's office, but it cast no silhouette that would indicate the captain was at work in there. Most of Tosh's three-dimensional network of computers seemed to be on standby, although there were a couple of displays that were left on more or less perpetually. The water tower above wouldn't be turned on again for another few hours, but the sound of running water was a round-the-clock presence in Torchwood. A faint odor, a mix of pizza, coffee, and electric power, permeated the room, cutting through even the strange smells that sometimes issued from Owen's lab.
"Anyone here?" she tried again when her first calls elicited no reply.
"Is that for me?"
Gwen looked up to see Jack Harkness, who had appeared on the walkway with no fanfare (Ianto had disabled the intercom last time Jack had rigged a blaze of trumpets, and gotten Tosh to password-protect it until it turned out they needed the PA system) and absolutely no indication of how he had gotten there, strolling down towards her with his thumbs lazily tucked in his suspender straps, looking as if he had been awake and fresh all night, which he might have been.
"Actually, it is," she responded as flippantly as he'd asked, proffering the shoebox she'd pulled out of the boot of her car. "Careful, though, I'm not sure if it bites."
One of Jack's eyebrows went up, intrigued. "Not sure I've ever gotten biting shoes before," he tossed off, relieving her of the box and adding, as he peeked under one corner of the lid, "Bitten shoes, now, that I've done…say…"
He trailed off as he examined the box's new contents. "That's not a shoe," he concluded finally.
"One possibility scratched off the list, then," Gwen commented. She suited actions to words by scrubbing the remnants of her last assignment off a whiteboard, writing SHOE on it with a dry-erase marker, and drawing a neat line through it. Having dragged part of Jack's attention away from the shoebox with her antics, she brandished the marker at him and said, "Next?"
"Edible!" Gwen wrote it on the board and scratched it out.
"Well, probably. Where did you find this? I'd say where on Earth, but…"
Gwen wrote NATIVE TO EARTH and struck it out to buy herself time. "I was coming to work early today," she explained. "It sort of flew under my car."
"Ah," said Jack. "I was wondering if it was supposed to look like this."
"The tire marks aren't supposed to be there."
"Ah," Jack repeated, and toted the shoebox and its occupant in circles as he thought. His meditation was interrupted by a sudden burst of sound and movement from the box. "Hey!" he yelped, and crammed the lid back on, dropping the shoebox onto the nearest desk (Owen's, triggering a cascade of files and other miscellanea). He hurriedly sealed the lid in place with a paperweight.
"Still alive," he observed as he waded out of the sea of papers currently making friends with the floor. "Oops." This last gem concerning said papers.
"Maybe he won't notice," Gwen consoled him. Owen had been known to use several dozen adjacent square feet of floor as filing space in the past.
"Not if he's still half asleep when he comes in," Jack pointed out, pulling his cell phone out of his pants pocket and poking at the keyboard. "I'll call Tosh and Ianto, too. Why don't you go find a cage for this thing? I don't want it finding out it can punch through cardboard."
Venturing into the best-explored parts of the Archives, Gwen shouted back, "Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll run over some too!"
Somewhere behind her, Jack chuckled until a very grouchy Owen picked up the phone. Then he chuckled some more just to piss the unhappy young doctor off.
No one was very happy about being dragged out of bed before sunrise, but they all dutifully trooped in, some more willingly than others.
"Ianto!" Jack shouted as the young Welshman descended into the Hub. "It bit me!" He pointed pathetically at the new espresso machine.
Ianto rolled his eyes, took the machine away from him, and got it working in less than thirty seconds, Jack watching suspiciously over his shoulder all the while. "But that's what I did," he complained as the machine began to brew.
"Obviously not," Ianto retorted, and left Jack to wait threateningly for the coffee to brew in favor of staring at Gwen's discovery, now ensconced in a cat carrier and occupying pride of place on the floor by the base of the water tower.
Owen growled back at the doors as he made his way into the building, snatched a cup of coffee from the placidly brewing machine a split second before Jack could claim it, dumped several packs of sugar into it, and spewed the better part of a mouthful all over the floor when he caught sight of the thing in the cat carrier.
He gulped the rest of it down at top speed while running to get several different scanners from the medbay. Without noticing the migrating papers, even when he tripped over one.
Tosh was still trying to drag a brush through her short hair when she came downstairs. She accepted a mug of steaming tea gratefully from Gwen, who'd just been handed the freshly made cup by Ianto, and stuffed the brush back into her tote bag, which promptly got dumped onto her computer chair as she hurried over for a glance at the latest mystery marvel.
Owen popped back out from the lab, deposited the Bekaren deep-tissue scanner and several other devices next to the cat carrier, and pointedly added INTACT to Gwen's whiteboard. Gwen scowled at him and snatched the marker back, considering drawing a big black frown on his face. The permanent glowing red ink got put back on the shopping list.
"Play nice, kids," Jack admonished mockingly. "Okay! Good morning, everyone; Gwen found this earlier this morning and thought we'd be interested; I guess we are."
"Do we know what it is?" Tosh asked, kneeling on the floor to peer between the bars of the cage.
"Not in so many words. What does it look like?"
"It's a robot," said Ianto.
"It's a cyborg," corrected Tosh.
"It's a dragonfly," Owen corrected them both.
"Or D) all of the above," wrapped up Jack. "Fantastic, I could have told you that. I need to know if it's broken beyond repair, if it's dangerous and shouldn't be repaired, and if there are more. I also want to know if it's sentient, because if it is, we probably shouldn't be keeping it in a cat cage."
"A dog cage at least," said Owen, who was ignored. "Or the cells. Why are my files on the floor?"
"Right, let's get to work, people," Jack clapped his hands once. "We don't know if it bites, so if you've got to handle it, as I see Owen is just dying to do, use heavy gloves."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Owen grumbled, snatching the gloves that Jack had used to transfer it from shoebox to cat cage. "Dibs."
By mid-morning, Torchwood had come to the following conclusions:
As the Person in Charge of Naming Things, Ianto had dubbed it a "dragonbot".
Jack had occupied himself with the Rift activity charts, and concluded that this dragonbot had come through the Rift no earlier than three days ago and definitely more than an hour ago. He'd also stated that he didn't recognize it personally, nor could he or Ianto find any mention of it in the Torchwood files.
Gwen searched through the Internet and other networks, including the news sites and police reports, and had come up with nothing. No one else had seen these things recently, or if they had, no one was talking about it.
Between the two of them, Owen and Tosh had confirmed that the dragonbot was a cyborg—part artificial machinery, part biological organism.
Tosh had also translated some of the surviving markings on the dragonbot's metal exterior. They had read, as far as she could determine, "three of five". "A serial number, not a ratio or a fraction," she'd added, writing 3/5 on Gwen's whiteboard.
"So there are four more out there, assuming they all came through," said Jack thoughtfully, propping one boot on his desk and examining one of the images showing the reconstructed symbols that Tosh had printed out for him.
"We haven't been able to work out what they're for yet," Tosh informed him, twirling a stylus back and forth between her fingers. "But this one doesn't have any obvious weaponry installed, or at least any weaponry that I can make out."
"Well, it looks like we might be getting a few more samples in for you to study in the next few days. Think you could get more data out of an intact one?"
"See if you can find a way to track it and its buddies, then," Jack dismissed her. She passed Owen in the doorway as she left, giving him a small shy smile.
"It's healing itself," Owen announced bluntly.
"The robotic parts as well?"
"Well, no. Or if they are, the process isn't quite as fast," Owen explained. "But the injuries are mostly to the organic segments, and those are healing themselves fairly quickly."
"I want to be sure it's not dangerous it starts flying around." Jack pointed a pen at him.
"I don't think it is. No poison sacs, no particularly sharp claws, no teeth. It might knock the wind out of you if it hit you in the stomach at full throttle, but otherwise, nah. No threat."
"All right," Jack decided. "Let it get up and running, but I want it contained, understand? I don't want to come back from a potty break to find it buzzing the pterodactyl. Or anyone else."
"No problem," Owen shot back, and left.
"Jack?" Tosh called from her desk. "Come look at this!"
In a matter of moments, everyone else had crowded around to see, stepping around the cat cage, which was both empty, since its resident was now occupying an isolation module in the infirmary, and being periodically splashed by the now-activated water tower.
"Look at this," said Tosh to the team, pointing at a scan of the dragonbot which showed its artificial parts. "I think this is its power source."
'This' was a hexagonal unit that, on the scan, seemed to float in midair, surrounded by the metallic lattice that made up its skeleton and most of its wings. On the monitor, it was pulsing faintly, increasing in gradations to a bright light, and then sliding back down the scale to near-invisibility, more like a wheel spinning than a heartbeat, not on-off-on-off but all the stages in between.
"I've isolated the frequency it's running on, too," she continued, replacing the original image with a graph on which curves darted up and down, pulsing. "It's really high-energy, not like anything we normally use."
Jack studied it for a minute. "Can you detect that from a distance?" he asked thoughtfully.
"One moment," she assured him, and typed a few commands into her system. A second later, a radar screen popped up. The beam swept around until it encountered, apparently, the dragonbot, which appeared as a blip.
"Just one, though."
"Well, yes, but I can expand the radius."
"Try it. Let me know what you find," Jack ordered. He waved everyone else away as Tosh began altering the program.
Lunch was cut short when Tosh announced that she could detect the customized dragonbot power sources—but irregularly. She'd been very frustrated for a while when signals appeared briefly on her monitor before disappearing, but finally figured out that the other dragonbots might be rotating through several different frequencies. As the only one she recognized was the frequency their damaged one was using, she could only spot them when they were on that one.
"Okay…" said Owen skeptically, chewing on a pen cap since any pizza was out of reach, "so why isn't this one doing that?"
Ianto looked up from clearing away the worst of the pizza wreckage. "Maybe to save power? It doesn't exactly have much to spare."
"Could be," Owen admitted reluctantly. "Thanks much, Gwen."
"Anyway!" Jack interrupted before his team could get too distracted. "Tosh, download that scanning program to the SUV, okay? You and Owen are going to drive around and get another one that isn't broken. Which reminds me—Ianto! Do we have something like a really big, strong butterfly net?"
"I'm sure I can find something, sir."
"Ianto," whined the Captain, "you don't have to call me sir…get several. You and Gwen are staying here in case a dragonbot turns up nearby."
"What about you?"
He grinned at Gwen. "I'm going to go sit on the roof. With a stun gun."
"Surprise…" muttered Owen.
Ianto didn't find a butterfly net, but he did find a box full of seashell-shaped, very familiar devices.
"Oh, no," said Gwen, who had poor memories of her first work day at Torchwood, and didn't want to be reminded.
"Oh, yes!" said Jack. "Perfect, Ianto!" He pocketed two of the portable energy cages that they'd used to capture the purple gaseous alien sex fiend about a year ago. "See you later, guys." With a cocky wave that turned into a salute halfway, he hopped up onto the lift and triggered it via his wristband, ascending to the pavement above.
"Guess that's our cue. C'mon, Tosh, let's go consume some nonrenewable resources. Ianto," Owen called over the balcony as Tosh collected another couple of cages from the box, "where are the damn keys?"
"They're on Jack's desk."
"Got 'em! Bye!"
"Owen," Ianto didn't raise his voice often, so everyone had learned to recognize the dry sarcasm he utilized instead. "No more mud."
Owen stuck his fingers in his ears and bit back a wince when the teeth of the keys scraped his skin. "Can't hear you, mate. Don't know what you're talking about."
Ianto bit back a sigh, and Gwen patted his hand. "You know, you could always just run it through an ordinary car wash," she suggested over the sound of the multiple doors closing.
"Sometimes I do," the young Welshman confessed. "But not when someone's plastered mud all over the interior."
Gwen bit her lip, nodded sympathetically, and tried to suppress the sinking feeling that she'd tracked quite a lot of mud into the SUV recently.
Tosh's program transferred to the big black Torchwood SUV perfectly. It took only about ten minutes to run another dragonbot down at a small restaurant built on a pier over the Bay.
"This isn't the droid you're looking for," Owen announced to a pair of gawky teenage waiters who were wiping down tables after the lunch rush. They stared at him. Then they stared some more at Tosh, who had snatched the dragonbot by its thorax when the energy field used itself up, and was currently stuffing it into another cat carrier.
"Wicked cool, man," one of them finally said.
"Awesome robot," the other one added. "It's yours?"
"Yeah…" Owen drawled. "Programming got a bit…ya know…"
"Bring it back when you've got it working, yeah?"
"Sure thing," Owen lied, and followed Tosh out of the restaurant, back to the car.
He caught up with her as she was stowing the box in the trunk. It was buzzing fiercely, but gave no warning signs of being about to rip its way out of the plastic container and attack them. "No probs, huh?" He lounged against the back of the car and gave her one of his cheesy Owen grins.
She smiled back at him and nodded, suddenly quiet.
Well, Owen wasn't about to let her lack of feedback stop him. "OK. Back to the Hub, then?" he inquired, swinging back into the driver's seat. "Or what?"
In the back seat, which she had all to herself for a change, the programmer tapped at the built-in computers, frowning slightly. "Just a second…Owen, look at this."
He twisted around in the seat to look at the screen she'd moved towards him. Wincing at the strain on his back, he squinted at the screen. "Is that another dragonbot thing?"
Tosh scowled at the screen, where a brightly blinking light was moving leisurely around a map of bayside Cardiff. "No, it's not."
Owen huffed a laugh. "So, what is it, then?"
"I have no idea," Tosh admitted. "But it's fairly close. Maybe a bit closer to the Hub than to us, but then, we're not far away anyway."
"So call Gwen and Ianto, ask if they can see it."
Her fingers flew across the keyboards. "Calling them now…"
"Tosh?" Gwen picked up at the Hub. "Are you seeing what we're seeing?"
"If you're seeing a power reading that's definitely close and moving," Tosh confirmed over the phone.
"Yeah, we are. What is it?"
Tosh still didn't know. "When did it appear?"
"About five minutes ago," the other woman reported. "Just popped up out of nowhere. And Ianto says—"
"—that all the Rift readings have been quiet, at least since the dragonbots came through."
"A reading like that definitely isn't native to Earth," Tosh warned. "We're heading your way now."
"We are?" Owen's voice came through in the background. "All right, all right." The sound of the SUV starting up was clearly audible.
"I'll call Jack, let him know what's going on," Gwen decided. "We'll meet you outside in five minutes, maybe try to get our eyes on whatever this is if it's visibly alien."
Tosh acknowledged and closed the connection as Ianto hurried to grab the appropriate gear.
Up very high over a sheer drop on an extended beam at a currently inactive construction site, Jack looked out over Cardiff and fidgeted. For the last couple of days, he'd felt as if he was being watched. And not by someone he could see. A night ago, he'd tried to make a joke out of it, strutting and preening and narrating an egotistical monologue to his semi-imaginary audience. It hadn't stayed funny for very long, and he'd turned to threatening empty air for a while before shoving it to the back of his mind and trying to get some sleep.
Now he was sitting several hundred feet up in the air as if this would enable him to see…something.
And yes, he would catch any dragonbots he happened to see on his rooftop patrol, but he thought that would be pretty unlikely. The one Gwen had run over had been pretty low-flying—she'd run over it, hadn't she? No reason to assume that the others were any different.
Jack figured that his team—his wonderful, wonderful team—could handle a handful of semi-robotic toy bugs without him standing over them. They were that good, he knew. He had chosen them well, and he loved them all dearly. Some a bit more than others, okay, but they were his team. He'd turned down the chance he'd spent over a hundred years waiting for in order to stay with them…
His phone rang, jolting him out of his disjointed musings but not off the beam. He'd lost the habit of jumping in surprise after a few nasty falls that he never wanted to re…live…again.
Well. Anyway. Jack tapped his earpiece.
"Jack," a musical Welsh accent greeted him—he never got tired of that accent—"it's Gwen."
"Hey, Gwen Cooper, how's it going?" He grinned at her as if she could see him, knowing she could hear it in his voice. "Catch all the bugs already?"
"No," she corrected him. "Owen and Tosh have got one, but there's something come up on the scanner. A high-energy blip, close by, and moving around the streets. Nobody knows what it is."
"Huh," said Jack eloquently. "It just appeared?"
"You'd half expect it to go poof!" He imagined her throwing up her hands in description. "Owen and Tosh are driving back to follow it around the roads, and Ianto and I are going to follow it on foot."
"All right, I'll meet you there," Jack promised, getting to his feet and making his way back along the beam. "Be very careful until you know what it is."
"We'll watch out, Jack," Gwen assured him. "See you in a few minutes."
He ran into Gwen and Ianto as they rounded a corner, heading towards him.
"Tosh says that way," she pointed, indicating a new street.
"Any news on what it might be?" Jack inquired as they trotted down this road.
"No idea, except she's ruled out any explosives that we've seen before."
Jack pulled a face. "There are a lot of explosives you guys haven't seen before."
"How many are small and portable and would flash on Tosh's sensors?"
"Lots. But fair point."
A few seconds later, Tosh called Jack's mobile. "Jack? You with Ianto and Gwen?"
"They're right here," Jack replied. A bit more concrete sped by on either side of the group.
"We'll pick you up in a second. Take the next left."
Once they'd all piled into the SUV—Jack took the shotgun seat when a pointed look failed to evict Owen from the driver's side—Tosh brought up a map on the computer screens. "It stopped moving two minutes ago. Owen, turn left again. Jack, do you recognize the energy signature?"
Jack peered at the information and reached out to move the screen to a better angle. "Nah," he admitted finally. "But I agree it probably won't explode any time soon. Too precise, see?"
"Yeah"; "Uh huh", lied Gwen and Ianto.
A minute more of driving brought them to a curiosity shop that, from the looks of it, had been boarded shut around 1940 and never reopened. "In there?" Jack asked, scanning the building for any sign of forced entry. "Doesn't look like anyone's been in there for a while."
"Maybe whatever was carrying it can walk through walls," Gwen suggested, trying to be helpful.
"Oh joy. Hope we don't have to shoot it, then. I left my phaser in my other coat."
Tosh was consulting her computer screen again. "The readings are definitely coming from in there," she confirmed. "And Jack? I've been trying to find some CCTV footage of the route it took."
"Nothing. It's either invisible to electronic visual surveillance, completely invisible, or very good."
"All right, then, people, let's go. Try not to breathe too deeply; there's going to be a hell of a lot of dust in there."
"Maybe we should have brought gas masks," Owen suggested.
An interestingly indescribable expression crossed Jack's face. "Nah, how about maybe not."
No one asked him to explain. They were too busy looking for another entrance that wouldn't involve crowbars and hard labor.
Ianto was the one who found it, behind a couple of trash cans in the alleyway. "Over here! This has been opened recently. Wasn't relocked, either."
The small door opened surprisingly quietly. Drawing his gun and a torch, Jack went first, sweeping the light over shelves and boxes. His team followed him quietly. As the best shots, Gwen and Owen had their guns drawn, covering him. Tosh waved a handheld scanner through the dust motes, while Ianto bore an industrial-strength torch that turned ordinary ancient souvenirs into looming monstrosities.
Apart from their footsteps, breathing, and the muted noises of Tosh's scanner, there were no noises. Certainly not of something moving around, trying to stay hidden. The three with guns stayed alert, just in case their mysterious technology-bearer decided that attacking was the better part of valor.
"Over here," Tosh said quietly, following her scanner. Owen, Gwen, and Ianto went with her, while Jack watched everything else.
"Jack?" Owen said after a few seconds had elapsed.
"It's for you."
"What?" He turned around to find his team staring at a cleared patch on the floor. Well, mostly cleared; it was free of furniture, objects, and dust. Chalked on the floor was a neatly written, very simple message.
Tag! You're it!
The words were accompanied by a palm-size, gently pulsing object that sparkled faintly blue. Jack nudged it softly with a boot while he thought about the words—and was very relieved when it didn't explode. In fact, it didn't do anything. It just sparkled some more.
"It's pretty," commented Tosh.
"So who's picked you to play with, Jack?" Gwen asked. "Do you know…"
Jack shook his head. "Not off-hand…although…" He trailed off.
The assembled forces of Torchwood Three looked at him expectantly.
A moment later, Jack holstered his gun. "Ladies and gentlemen and Owen," he declaimed, "what is the purpose of a game of tag?"
"To catch the other person—or people," said Owen, in a tone that strongly suggested that Jack was going to regret the 'and Owen' bit.
"Or, if you're the chased, to get away," Ianto added.
"Or," suggested Gwen, "to get back to base."
Jack stared at her.
Gwen stared at him.
"Fuck," said Jack.
Quite a few things got knocked over as Torchwood raced after Captain Jack Harkness, who jammed the keys into the SUV's ignition as if carrying a grudge.
"Jack!" Gwen yelled as she pulled the door closed against the car's rapidly increasing motion. "What? What's going on? Slow down you're gonna kill us!"
The SUV bumped off a curb as Jack muttered doubtless vile things under his breath and stomped on the gas.
"I think I know this sense of humor," he announced once he'd worked through the initial bout of swearing and the others had abandoned all hope of ever getting out of this car alive, or without killing some hapless Cardiff citizen. "And it is a sense of humor, regardless of the fact that it lacks both sense and humor." These last two points were articulated by angry one-handed stabs at the windshield. "And if I'm right…of all the people I don't want loose in the Hub…" He trailed off into oaths again.
Everyone else looked at each other and shrugged as eloquently as possible while gripping walls, seats, and door handles and trying to wedge themselves into corners.
"We locked all the entrances when we left, Jack," Ianto tried to reason. "The Hub's secure."
"Yep, and they're very nice locks, Ianto. I saw most of them put in myself. And it's not going to do one little bit of good. Go faster!" This last at the SUV.
"Jack!" Gwen demanded. "Who is it?"
Through lips that weren't sure whether he wanted to be snarling or smiling, Jack gritted out, "A very old friend of mine. He's very, very clever and very, very dangerous, and has absolutely no love for Torchwood."
In the corner of his visual cortex that wasn't reserved for thoughts like oh god pedestrian, Jack could see his team trade worried looks amongst themselves. He didn't blame them—the last 'old friend' he'd brought home had nearly killed them all.
More importantly, Jack could still, in the dark hours of the night, see those eyes glaring a mixture of disgust and fury at him, that voice—you work for Torchwood—accusing him. But…
"The good news is that he is my friend, and I trust him completely, although not to refrain from digging up everything we have down there and dropping it off the catwalk to see if it bounces. Also, I vouched for you guys to him, so he probably won't burn the place to the ground without getting the measure of us first."
This did not appear to reassure anyone.
In what was no doubt record time, the big black car skidded to a halt in front of the regular entrance to the underground base, which was disguised as a decrepit guide book shop for tourists. Jack barely paused to put the parking brake on before jumping out and lunging at the door.
From the car, the rest of the Torchwood team watched as Jack tried a variety of methods of opening the door, ranging from pressing buttons on his wristband to a physical key and then wrenching the handle around. When this failed, he kicked the door. Hard. It made a nice sound, but it didn't open.
"Why?" Jack yelled at the door, with the sinking feeling that the answer was: "Because!" He could almost hear him. He sounded overly pleased with his own cleverness. Per usual.
Behind him, Ianto orchestrated clearing everyone out of the car. "I'll drive up to the invisible lift, and if that doesn't work, I'll check the garage entrance," he suggested, taking the driver's seat. Once he had departed, the other three focused on Jack, who was pacing in a tight circle trotting out some new swearwords in a cascade of words apparently unbroken by the need to breathe. There was a strong feeling, among Owen, Tosh, and Gwen, of what do we do now?
It was Owen who asked. "So, now what, Jack?"
Jack was saved from having to admit that he didn't have a plan—being locked in the Hub was one thing, and had been, but being locked out was another—by his cell phone ringing. Without missing a beat, he snatched it from his pocket, jabbed at the keyboard, and began yelling into his earpiece at full volume.
"You think you're so funny!"
Whatever the person on the other end of the line responded with, the other three didn't hear. He apparently wasn't shouting, and their ears were still ringing. They each independently decided to back away and let Jack handle this.
"All right, whatever your point is, you've made it, now let me back into my own base!"
Pause. Jack's teeth grinding were clearly audible.
"Stay off the computers!"
"Yeah? I just bet you can. Well, why don't you let me in so I can see you too?"
Jack was uncomfortably aware of his team's eyes on him, and suppressed the urge to give them an apologetic, no-I've-got-this-under-control, completely fake smile.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he shouted into his phone.
A second later: "What? Hey!"
Whether seated on the pavement or lounging against walls, Jack's team winced in unison when he started shouting oaths and stomping again. Grimacing, Owen jerked a thumb over his shoulder and they all moved to a safe distance.
"Now what?" Tosh asked when she could hear herself speak over the tempest venting itself not too far away.
"Well," judged Owen, "Jack doesn't seem too worried about the world ending or mass slaughter of Cardiff or anything. I remember shouting at that at some mates who stole my car once."
Gwen snorted. "Sounds like a hell of a story."
"Don't think so, luv. It gets kind of tedious during the many, many parts when we all have another drink."
"Actually," she amended, "I don't think I want to hear this story."
"Good, 'cause I don't think I remember most of it too clearly."
Ianto rejoined them about five minutes later, after they'd moved to more comfortable seats some ways away and Owen had told the story anyway.
"Completely sealed," he reported, "and none of the overrides worked. They aren't broken, just not responding. How's it going up here?"
That question rather answered itself, as the wind shifted towards them, briefly making part of Jack's increasingly irate monologue audible.
"…seventy-six purple weasels will jump up and down on your head for the rest of the week singing old bad fifties pop songs at the top of their lungs in high-pitched voices—"
There was a pause, presumably for breath, before Jack resumed with, "off key! And then…!"
Mercifully, the wind shifted back at that point.
"Never mind," said Ianto hastily.
Actually, yelling felt pretty good—he didn't get to do it often, had to be in control, responsible—but now Jack was running out of creative threats. And he could still hear occasional bursts of laughter in the background, beneath the sound of his voice echoing through the Hub's PA system and erratic sounds that definitely added up to 'meddling'. He really hoped that the Doctor's admittedly short attention span ran out before his vocabulary did.
"You still there?" came over his phone. "So you are."
"Are you even listening?" Jack roared in return.
"Yep. Weasels. What does this do?"
At this point, he wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. He settled for a gasp of air that fell somewhere between the two. "I don't know," he admitted.
"You'd better come and look at it then."
"In case you've forgotten," Jack drawled into his earpiece, "the doors are locked. You should know—you made them that way."
"Are you sure?"
Jack lunged at the door. It gave way under his hands immediately. Managing to turn his fall into the room into a sprawl over the countertop in front of him, he slapped at the switch that opened the nearest set of doors, jabbed briefly at his wristband to open all the doors in his path before he collided with them, and took off at a dead run down the corridor.
"Shit, here we go again," said Owen.
The rest of Jack's team made it down into the Hub just in time to see Jack launch himself in a flying tackle at what appeared to be, at first glance, a tall, slender, youngish man who seemed to be laughing like crazy.
So was Jack.
A few seconds later, once everyone's feet were firmly on the floor again and the stranger had accepted a slightly saner hug and adroitly dodged a kiss, Jack worked his way around to asking, "What are you doing here? Besides driving me insane."
"I can't come and visit?"
"A warning would have been nice!"
"That's no fun," the other man pronounced with authority before slipping out from Jack's embrace and bouncing over to his baffled team. "Hello!" he greeted them cheerfully—but with a touch of wariness hidden underneath.
Jack was trying to regain control of the situation by taking charge of introductions. "Everyone, this is the Doctor. I may have mentioned him once or twice. Doctor, my new Torchwood—Gwen Cooper, Toshiko Sato, Owen Harper, and that's Ianto Jones."
The Doctor's eyes darted over all of them in turn, flitting from one to the next before fixing on Tosh. "I know you!" he said, one hand darting up to run through his hair—not for the first time, either, from the look of him. "Give me a second…oh! I know! Albion Hospital! Yes?"
Tosh blinked a couple of times, so off-balance that all she could do was answer honestly. "I was there a few years ago, yes. Jack sent me there to—" She was interrupted.
"—examine a faked pig-alien with strange technology in its brain?"
"That's right—but I don't remember you."
He brushed that aside. "You don't recognize me—I told you it was a mermaid."
Tosh evidently remembered. She stared at him analytically. "I do remember him. You are not him."
"Yes, I am. New shape, that's all." Moving on—he spun on one heel to face Ianto, who was looking somewhat worried and had just opened his mouth. "Yes? Ianto—right?"
"That's right—what are you doing here?"
Evidently hearing more than just the words, the Doctor rocked back on his heels, giving Ianto the full once-over. "Ooh," he said a second later, "someone's been telling tales out of school. Jack!"
Torchwood's fearless leader put his hands up defensively, backpedaling. "Not me, I swear! Ianto actually reads our files—and we've got something resembling a set of encyclopedias on you."
"All lies," the Doctor proclaimed, "except for the bit about the werewolf. Probably. Actually, Ianto Jones, I just came to see what Jack was up to."
"And he's got a hundred years or so of that to make up—so best start now, huh, Doc?"
The time traveler scowled at Jack, although over the abbreviation of his name or the accusation wasn't clear, and changed the subject again. "Why do you have a broken toy bug in a cage?"
"It flew under my car this morning," Gwen told him. "It's a toy?"
"Uh huh. Completely harmless, unless you try burning it, in which case it'll probably explode, but a lot of things will do that. Also, it might fly away and set other things on fire, which is definitely not harmless at all. Unless you deactivate it first, but they really don't like that…"
Correctly assessing that this might go on for a while, Jack stepped in, catching his arm to get his attention. "Doctor? Can I talk to my team for a few minutes?"
One eyebrow went up, and Jack found himself on the sharp end of one of those looks that went straight through him, saw everything he wasn't saying, and enjoyed a private laugh at his expense. "Sure. Is that meant to be a Rift Manipulator?"
"Meant to be? —yes. Yes, it is. And yes, you can go look at it, because you of all people are least likely to turn it on and start playing with the switch."
"Gotcha," the Doctor acknowledged casually, and clattered across the room to open the column of tangled metal, glowing faintly orange as always. They could still faintly hear him talking to himself in little bits of questions and spontaneous amazement.
"Jack?" said Gwen, because the man had gotten too stuck on watching his friend to actually talk to them.
"Right." Jack dragged himself back to what he was supposed to be doing. "Well, the good news is, if he didn't like what was going on here, we'd know about it by now. He's really only playing."
"Playing," said Owen skeptically, casting a look over Jack's shoulder towards the Rift Manipulator. The Doctor was happily sitting on the floor tinkering with it. Or possibly taking it apart to ensure it could never be used again. It was difficult to tell, but then they'd never been able to properly use it anyway. "Jack, the damage he could do—"
"Could, but probably won't." It was not totally reassuring, and their expressions reflected that. Jack sighed.
"Look, what you're worrying about is, in short, is he dangerous, am I right?"
Nods all around.
"And my answer is: Dangerous? Of course he's dangerous! So am I. So are you. But he's not a threat, as long as we haven't done anything exceptionally stupid lately." Jack paused briefly and turned around. "Have we?"
The Doctor was evidently listening, even though Jack wasn't speaking very loudly. "I dunno," he responded distractedly, "have you?"
"Guess not," Jack concluded. "Look. He has the attention span of an amnesiac goldfish and the energy of a hummingbird on crystal meth…but if you piss him off, you're going to end up as a pathetic little smudge on the ground. And if you've managed to piss him off that badly, then you deserve it, so I will personally come and jump up and down on the smudge. And then I will buy him a drink."
"Jack?" the Doctor called, strolling back towards them. "That's never gonna work right, you know that? 'Course, I'm not sure I want you lot using the Rift that directly."
"Nope, neither do I, really. Thank you for not breaking it."
"Who said I didn't?"
Jack ignored that. "Okay, people, chat's over. Owen, go get that other dragonbot out of the SUV, Tosh, get set up to find the other frequencies they operate on, call me if you need me, but otherwise, I've been saying I'm going to buy the Doctor a drink for about a hundred and forty years now, so I'm going to. And possibly hit him for making me shout like that. OK? Right, good."
And he would have dragged them both off there and then had not the Doctor dug his heels in and refused to move. "Hold on a second, Jack. I'm not going anywhere—and neither are you—till you assure Ianto here that I'm neither going to attack him nor steal you. And until you do that, I'm going to explore every drawer in your desk, even the hidden one. Both of them."
"Hey!" Jack protested as he found his grip on the Doctor's hand abruptly vanish—and the Time Lord himself quickly vanishing as well, albeit towards Jack's office. "Oh, I know, my turn to say this—Doctor!"
Already up the stairwell, the Doctor leaned over the balcony and looked down curiously at him.
Jack leveled the Authoritative Index Finger of Doom in his general direction and intoned in a British accent, "Stop it…"
"And comments like that, all," the Doctor retorted to anyone in earshot, which generally meant everyone, "are why I don't stop to talk to Jack very often!"
"I don't get it," said Gwen.
"He says that to me all the time," Jack explained, grinning. "Fair's fair…at least, as fair as things get when you're dealing with the Doctor. He tends to win. Because he doesn't tell anyone else the rules, and then cheats. Ianto? C'mere a second."
It took a few minutes to assure Ianto that Jack really wasn't going to run off with his time-travelling friend and dump them all, mainly because of Gwen's comment that "he's a bit nice, though, bet you would do 'im if he'd let you", which came embarrassingly close to the truth. Not that Jack was ever going to admit that. Not sober, at least.
Between that conversation, and Owen and Tosh wanting the car keys, which had gone missing again, so they could go after the other dragonbots, and the original run-over one deciding it was healed enough to try flying around again, and catching it anew before it woke up the pterodactyl, it was almost ten minutes before Jack could get loose from his team and up to his office. Which was more than enough time for the Doctor to get bored with Jack's desk and start going through the safe.
Or, as it may be, vanish completely.
"Definitely weasels," said Jack. "Seventy-seven of them. Seventy-eight."
Afterword: The scary thing is not that this was originally a Yu Yu Hakusho story. (Anyone out there familiar with that?) The really scary thing is that it's involved the Doctor from the beginning. Yeah…really. So! Now that I've traumatized you people who know what YYH is…some thoughts about writing Torchwood. One: Language, language, language. Man, I don't even say 'damn' if I don't have to! I have to have fallen down the stairs (or been attacked by the creature from the Black Lagoon…or maybe a Dalek…) before I start cursing! Two: Owen. I'm sorry. I never really bonded with the guy. Three: Cardiff. Never been there. Don't know my way around. That's why I like writing Star Trek (because I do know my way around). Four: …see rant numero dos.
Rant Numero Dos! So, this took me way longer to write than I thought, for one very simple reason. Specifically…it's really hard to write Torchwood when one has just now discovered the infinite fun of The X-Files (I know; I'm always years behind on cool stuff) and just has to watch them all. Yes, all nine seasons of it. Right now. Not much Torchwood gets watched. (But the plus side of watching X-Files on DVD years after it ran? You don't have to wait EIGHT AND A BIT YEARS for SOME otherwise perfectly clever PEOPLE to notice the 'TRUTH' that's RIGHT UNDER THEIR NOSES… (Le'letha has been having a truly insane amount of fun being a shipper. Obviously. Emphasis on the insane.)
Thanks To: Mom, for not throwing Torchwood out the window after a couple of episodes (after "Out of Time", I was so sure she was going to toss it—and me close behind, for buying it!); my brother, for putting up with random rants about this story, I hope he reads it someday; and Cinnamon, Leah, and Carla, who sat on my bed and watched me type this…well, hogged my bed, tried to walk on my keyboard, watched the mouse, slept, and purred while I typed it. And, most importantly, all the fun-fun people collectively behind Torchwood and Doctor Who. Especially our mad-fun actors and the genius of Russell T. Davies.