Disclaimer: Torchwood belongs to Aunty Beeb, and M belongs to Ian Fleming's estate, or Cubby Broccoli's estate, or whoever actually owns the rights. It certainly isn't me, anyway.
The door to the Hub rolled back to allow Jack and Gwen to enter. They had only gone a few steps, however, when they stopped and stared at the sight before them.
Ianto Jones was fluffing cushions.
Now, this wasn't actually that unusual, it was part of Ianto's duties to keep the Hub tidy and he is a houseproud lad. But normally he reserved housekeeping for the early morning; before Gwen arrived and before Jack woke up. Owen had actually died in the firm belief that inter-dimensional pixies kept the Hub so spotless. Of course, once he was dead and no longer required sleep, that myth was quickly dispelled.
Ianto cleaning in the middle of the day was never a good sign; it normally indicated that he was highly agitated about something.
"Yan…" Gwen said. "What you doing, love?"
Ianto looked up, startled by her voice.
"Remember that surprise MI6 visit we found out about? Well, I just intercepted another email on their server; the visitor is M. And she'll be here in an hour," he explained before continuing fluffing.
"Seriously?" Gwen replied and gulped. Jack laughed and strode forward to grab Ianto by the shoulders, forcing the Welshman to stop fluffing and turn to face Jack.
"The place looks great. I'll be in my office, call me when she gets here," he added before heading to the stairs.
"But, Jack…M…" Gwen stammered.
"Don't worry, she's a pussycat!" Jack declared as he bounded up the stairs.
Exactly one hour and two minutes later, there was a polite cough at Jack's office door and he looked up from the file he was reading to see a slightly flustered Gwen.
"She's here. I showed her into the conference room and Ianto's making her tea," she said. Jack had already stood up and was pulling his braces up over his shirt.
"Then I'd better go make nice," he said with a wide, false smile and strode out of the office, Gwen scurrying to catch up.
"So, you know her then?" Gwen asked.
"Since before she was M. We worked together a few times back in the seventies, when she was an agent," Jack explained. He smiled again, genuine and warm this time, lost in thoughts of lazy summer days in Paris, and very cosy nights…
"Jack," Gwen said, snapping him back to the present. Her tone was half-amused, half-irritated, and Jack grinned apologetically for the lapse.
"She's one hell of a woman. One hell of an agent too," Jack said. They reached the conference room and Jack entered, followed closely by Gwen.
M was sat at the table, and Ianto was stood politely off to one side; if he was as nervous as Gwen, it didn't show. He had been as efficient as ever and provided a pot of tea, four cups (cups, not mugs, Jack noted and wondered idly where Ianto had been keeping the good china), and a plate of Hobnobs and chocolate digestives. Jack wouldn't have been surprised to see a doily, but Ianto seemed to have stopped short of that.
"M, what a delightful surprise! To what do we owe the pleasure?" Jack greeted as he entered the room. M looked up, her expression managing to be both stern and amused at the same time.
"I somehow doubt it's a surprise, Captain. We know Torchwood frequently hacks the Thames House server," she replied. "Dismiss your team; this conversation is for your ears only."
Jack bristled a little at being told what to do in his own HQ, but he nodded to Gwen and Ianto, who quickly left the room. Jack walked to the head of the table and sat down before picking up the pot and pouring the tea for them both. He didn't bother asking if she wanted milk, he remembered how she drank it and delicately lowered a slice of lemon into the tea.
"It really is good to see you, it's been too long. You haven't changed a bit," he said as he passed her the cup and then poured his own. M laughed.
"Jack, that was thirty years ago. I'm too old and too cynical to fall for your cheap flattery."
"Hey, my flattery's not cheap! You're still as beautiful as the day I met you," Jack said and reached out to stroke her cheek. She batted his hand away.
"Stop it," she admonished, but Jack could see the smile playing at the corner of her mouth and the mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
"Congratulations on becoming the first female M, by the way. I was so proud when I heard the news, although I always knew you'd do well," Jack said as he poured his own cup.
"I got your card, thank you. You could have visited," M replied. Jack looked up at her, gauging her; she looked sincere, but then she'd always been a good actress.
"Whitehall and I don't agree with each other," he replied. "Besides, I tended to avoid being within the same city as Yvonne Hartman as much as possible."
"You shouldn't speak ill of the dead, Jack. Despite your personal differences, Yvonne was a good administrator."
Jack didn't answer, he just sipped his tea. He thought that M had a fair idea as to what he thought of the departed Ms Hartman, and if he knew M as well as he thought he did, then she probably thought the same. She'd always been better at politics than Jack, which was probably why she'd reached the position of M.
The two sat drinking in companionable silence for a few minutes. Jack was wondering why M had come, but he wasn't going to ask or let her know how curious he was just yet.
"As pleasant as this is, Jack, there is a purpose to my visit other than to sample the delights of your tea," she said eventually.
"I didn't doubt it. The head of MI6 doesn't slum it in Cardiff without good reason," Jack replied. M looked him in the eye and Jack knew she was appraising him.
"There are concerns about Torchwood at the highest level. I have been asked to speak to you in order to address those concerns and assess if any further action is required. I am doing this as a courtesy, one director to another, on account of our long-standing acquaintance," she explained. Jack nodded in understanding and then leaned forward conspiratorially.
"So, now you've given me the company b-s, why are you here?"
"To give you a bollocking and check you're not completely out of control," M replied frankly. Cards on the table then, Jack was glad, he hated pussyfooting around. "You treat this team as your own personal army, Jack; even more so since that recent business with the Daleks. Don't misunderstand me; we all admire the work you've been doing. What Torchwood Cardiff has achieved since the fall of One is nothing short of remarkable. And we all appreciate that your…abilities and special relationship with the Doctor make you uniquely qualified to run Torchwood. But you cannot continue as though the rules don't apply to you. Despite what you may think, you are not above the Government; you are a part of it. There are protocols and procedures that you need to adhere to…"
"If I waited for protocol and procedure, the world would have ended five times over in the last year alone," Jack retorted. "Ma'am," he added as an afterthought.
"God, it's like talking to 007," M muttered.
"How is James?" Jack asked with a grin. It was amazing just how much innuendo he could pack into one simple question. M rolled her eyes before growing serious again.
"Jack, people in Whitehall are growing nervous. You know that they think it's the Rift that makes you immortal? That somehow you're controlling it? There are a lot of people anxious to get their hands on it and you," she said. Jack was about to interrupt with a lascivious comment, but M shot him down with a glare and continued. "All they're looking for is an excuse. You need to tread carefully, Jack. You may be immortal, but your team isn't."
"Is that a threat, M?"
"Of course not; it's friendly advice."
"Well, as a friend, does it look like I'm stockpiling alien tech and manipulating the Rift in a bid to take over the world? Because that's what they all think, isn't it?" Jack said, waving an arm to indicate the surroundings. M chuckled.
"I know that, but I'm one lonely voice in a growing clamour. You're so damned secretive…"
"We're Secret Service, aren't we? The clue's in the name."
"Yes, but the head of the branch isn't supposed to be a bloody enigma to the other heads. Does anyone other than me know the truth about you?" she admonished.
"Even my team doesn't know the whole truth," Jack admitted.
"Do I?" M asked, suddenly suspicious. Jack didn't reply, so she nodded, clearly taking his silence as an answer. "I thought not."
"You know more than anyone else," he said tenderly and reached out to her again. This time she let him and he ran his hand down her arm before taking her hand in his. He looked into her eyes and saw tender concern, almost motherly and it made him smile, warm and genuine. "How about if I promise to file my reports on time from now on?"
"It's no joke, Jack," she said, but her tone was softer and warmer now, and Jack could hear the note of affection in it. "Please, be careful, or UNIT oversight of Torchwood could be the least of your worries."
"Seriously? UNIT oversight? I'd like to see them try."
M pulled her hand away and sighed, exasperated and the moment of tenderness was gone.
"You see? This is exactly what I meant. Stop being so flippant, Jack. Now, why don't you get that Mr. Jones in here and he can give me the guided tour, so I can report back that I've seen everything and am satisfied with the way Torchwood is run," she instructed, once more the efficient and businesslike head of MI6.
"Yes ma'am," Jack said. He stood to call Ianto on the internal line, but paused as a thought occurred to him. "I suppose you're returning to London soon?"
"In the morning."
"Then, after your tour, we can climb down the ladder to my quarters; we can have a drink, reminisce, see where the evening takes us…" Jack left the suggestion hanging, the grin on his face leaving no doubt to his intentions. M seemed to think about it for a moment before replying.
"Don't be so ridiculous. I'm far too old to be climbing down hatches," she said. Jack was disappointed for a split second until he realised that the mischievous sparkle had returned. "We'll go back to my hotel."