Author note: This story is sponsored by Ectoshine™ and the number forty two. Live long and prosper, Earthlings.
Disclaimer: No, Torchwood doesn't belong to me. Neither does Ectoshine™ for that matter, or Star Trek, of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... Several of the characters below do, however, belong to me, and I would appreciate it if you didn't attempt to imitate Russell T Davies and kill them off. Thanks.
Emrys Howard pulled up grass. There was mud on his knees, and his mother would most likely give him hell for that later, but for now he was content to pull up grass and terrorise snails: it was ever so funny when they popped.
A few feet away, his mother and father's voices drifted out into the garden, trailing over gravel and patio to reach Emrys's ears.
"I always knew there was something odd about them," said his mother.
"You think there's something odd about everyone, love," said his father.
Emrys heard his mother scoff. He plucked at a stalk, brushing the dirt clods off and aiming it into the sky, pretending it was a magic ray and he was shooting aliens.
"People knocking in the middle of the night?" said his mother. "That isn't right!"
"Well, it's hardly the Jenkins' fault, is it? If someone bangs on your door at two in the morning? Anyway, the people left soon after. We saw their car drive off."
"That's not the point, George. That's not the point."
"Bethan," his father said patiently.
"And then those soldiers this morning!"
Emrys's father sighed. Emrys bent further over the hole he had begun to dig. Earth flicked up into his face and he brushed it away, concentrating; trying not to listen.
"I'll bet it was that weird light thing that—"
"Are you going to tell me to leave it be?" asked Bethan.
Emrys held his breath. His father's answer could mean the difference between a chat and an argument, or what his mother called their 'little moments'.
Emrys hated his parents 'little moments'; he would lie awake with his pillow wrapped around his head, afraid to listen yet terrified not to.
Emrys stabbed the ground with the stick he'd stripped down.
Eventually, George said, "No."
Emrys smiled, his lips flecked with grit. Oh, mum would have a fit. He paused, something strange catching his eye in the ground. In bending over to try and see what it was, Emrys nearly tumbled.
"Em?" came his mother's voice. "What are you— Emrys Dylan Howard, you get inside this instant!"
Emrys stowed his find in his pocket, glancing up guiltily.
"George, do you see what he's done to himself? He's filthy!"
"Oh, let him be," said George. "He's a lad, it's only to be expected. You can't mollycoddle him."
"I can if I want to," Bethan hissed. Louder, she said, "Get in here, Em! This second!"
Even trudging as slowly as he could, Emrys still reached the back door too soon for his liking. His mother turned around from the sink wielding a dripping yellow cloth, and he flinched. This was not going to be good.
"You're on your own, kid," said his father, reaching down to pat Emrys's shoulder before fleeing the kitchen.
Dusk fell. Emrys sulked in the living room, uncomfortable in the clean, starchy clothes he'd been banished to. Keep them clean or suffer the consequences, his mother had said. It was the way her eye had twitched that made Emrys afraid to disobey her. People who twitched like that would probably explode if provoked too much.
Emrys didn't want to see his mother explode. Honest, he didn't.
Alright, maybe he did a little. That was why he'd already shucked the stiff white shirt she'd made him wear, and why it sat in a crumpled heap behind the sofa. With any luck she would find it only after he'd gone to bed, and would therefore be less inclined to kill him.
Emrys pulled out the object he had found in the garden out of his pocket and stared at it. It looked slightly like a blue runner bean. It wasn't normal, he could tell that. It sort of... It just...
It felt wrong.
Emrys fiddled with it, brushing it's azure surface and then finally resorting to throwing and catching it to relieve his boredom. No television till his other clothes were fully clean and dry, his mother had said. Emrys prayed for a freak firestorm while flipping the bean from palm to palm.
All of a sudden, a strange hot-cold sensation flooded his arms and legs, making everything go off balance. His head spun sickeningly and Emrys gasped, trying not to fall over, the bean gripped tightly in one hand. Through his dimming vision, Emrys just about saw his mother come through the door and stifle a shriek.
The next thing Emrys knew he was jolting awake, gasping for breath with cold sweat dripping down his forehead.
"Mum?" he whispered, afraid. The room was dark, filled with shapes that seemed to move as he looked around. "Dad?"
Emrys stood up and tried to stagger to the nearest light switch but his foot caught something on the floor and he tripped, landing heavily. Carpet burn to his elbows made Emrys hiss. His mother's slack face, illuminated by a passing car, made him howl.
That was when the front door burst open and men in dark uniforms, red hats a sharp contrast against the black, rushed inside. That was when Emrys's panic reached an all time high and he began to scream and scream. That was when a mask of some sort clamped over his mouth; when Emrys heard the sharp hissing sound that seemed to echo into blankness, non-stopping even as his consciousness fled.
In Cardiff bay, hidden beneath the Roald Dahl Plass, where tourists flock every day, lies Torchwood Three, a secret organisation that deals with aliens threats and keeps the tourists and inhabitants of Cardiff safe without them ever realising it.
Not exactly the fairest of jobs: live fast, die young, save the world in time for coffee and biscuits.
One of the main focal points of the Plass is the large water sculpture, a tower of reflective metal endlessly flooding downward. But if you go down further, you will find...
Perched at her computer desk, Gwen Cooper bit her lip. "Jack," she said. "You're not going to like this."
"You say that like you're so sure." Jack wandered up behind her. He placed his coffee mug on the desk before leaning over Gwen's shoulder. "What am I not going to like?"
"Oh no, they did not!"
Down in Torchwood's Archives, several floors below where Gwen and Jack blinked at her computer screen, Ianto Jones shifted another stack of manila folders and sighed. It was always the same: why did no one in this place understand the alphabet? With a mild tut-tut under his breath, Ianto pulled from the 'J' shelf a file bearing the legend 'Xynathe – A Brief Entomology'. He shook his head. It was always the same.
Ianto was halfway to standing, intent on reaching the shelf he had labelled 'X', when raised voices echoes through the Hub. His hand flew to the comm. device on his ear. "Jack? Gwen?"
Jack's voice crackled. "Ianto! Get the hell up here!"
Ianto didn't waste time asking questions; his legs had already begin to run. He burst into the Hub proper and stopped short, trying to identify the threat.
"Jack?" he ventured.
"Ianto!" Jack's head appeared from behind his desk. "Hey, you seen my coat?"
Ianto, it had to be said, felt a bit deflated. "You had me rush up here," he said patiently, "like there was an emergency."
"Keeping you on your toes," said Jack. "Good job. Now, seriously, we're moving out; have you seen my coat?"
Ianto pointed wordlessly to the back of Jack's office door, where the grey greatcoat hung, projecting its innocence in the entire affair. Jack narrowed his eyes.
"When you two are quite finished," said Gwen. She shrugged into her own jacket, gesturing for Ianto to get his own. "Ianto, we're going back to Whitechurch. Seems the redcaps at UNIT have been dogging our tracks."
"Right-o," said Ianto. He dug into his coat pocket, pulling out the SUV keys. "I'll drive?"
Jack walked past him and gave a dark chuckle before snatching the keys from Ianto's hand. "No way."
The front door opened. "Mr and Mrs Jenkins, hi," said Gwen. "Sorry to disturb you again, but could we just—"
Jack pulled her back. A vase shattered where Gwen's head had been. Behind them on the garden path, Ianto said, "They seem a bit put out."
"Ha, you think?" said Jack. He manoeuvred around Gwen and put on his friendliest smile before knocking smartly on the now shut door. When it opened again, his hand shot out to catch the next ballistic decoration. "Come on," he said jovially, shoving his foot into the doorway to stop Mr Jenkins closing it. "You want to keep a glass like this, it could be worth something someday."
Mrs Jenkins glared over her husband's shoulder. "It's from IKEA."
"Really?" said Jack. He appraised the glass for a moment before dropping it. "Shame."
"Look," said Mr Jenkins, exasperated. "What do you want?"
"We need to ask you a few questions," said Gwen, ducking under Jack's arm to join the Jenkins' in their hallway. Outside, Ianto punted small stones over the path and rubbed his hands against the chill.
"Again?" said Mrs Jenkins. "You asked enough last night! And then again with that fancy lot this morning!"
"Fancy lot?" Gwen repeated.
"Red hats, black jumpsuits," said Mr Jenkins, "barged their way in here six bloody ay-em, scared Veronica half to death!"
"Maybe not to death," said Veronica Jenkins.
"That's why I said half, poppet." Mr Jenkins turned back to Jack and Gwen's nonplussed expressions. He glanced over their shoulders to see where Ianto shivered. "Fine, you can come in, but you'd better have something good to say!"
"And wipe your feet," said Veronica. "On the mat, you big lummox!"
Jack looked up guiltily and Gwen bit back a smile. Ianto had no such qualms; he decided that he quite liked Veronica Jenkins.
The team of Torchwood Three squished themselves up onto a sofa that was most definitely too small for three people: Gwen was squirming, Ianto was attempting to remain composed; Jack was loving it. Mr Jenkins – Jim, he said to call him Jim – sat on the only other chair in the room. Veronica busied herself in the kitchen making teas.
"So," said Jim, "those fellas in the jump suits weren't with you?"
"Not as such," said Ianto, "no."
Veronica appeared in the doorway bearing a laden tray. "So then you didn't have anything to do with them that took the Howards's next door?"
In unison, Jack, Gwen and Ianto said, "What?"
Jim explained. Torchwood listened. Veronica butted in. Torchwood smiled. Jim explained some more. Torchwood frowned. Veronica pointed to the gap in the back garden fence, then Torchwood face-palmed.
"How did we miss that?" Gwen asked as they made their way into the Jenkins's garden and to the indicated hole.
"It was dark," said Jack, "don't beat yourself up about it."
"Who's beating anyone up?" muttered Ianto. "It's too cold for that."
Jack leaned into him. "I could warm you up," he whispered.
"Oi!" said Gwen. "Can we per-lease get on with this?"
"I love it when she's bossy," whispered Ianto.
"I know," Jack whispered back, "it's fantastic."
"Ahem!" Gwen rounded on them. "Right, Ianto, you go through the hole, see what you can find— Tell me you didn't just snigger," she told Jack.
"Who's sniggering?" Jack straightened up. "Awaiting your orders, ma'am."
"Good," said Gwen. "Right, that's better. So, as I was saying, Ianto you go through there—" She pointed, lest she initiate more snickering "—and me and Jack will go around the front, check out things on that end..."
Gwen looked at the pair of them. "You just can't help it, can you?" she said.
"Nope," said Jack, grinning as Ianto said, "Not really."