Title: These Are the Days (of miracle and wonder)
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Tosh, Owen, Suzie
Rating: R (language)
Summary: Farting aliens, dead civilisations, and a million memories: five days in the lives of the members of Torchwood Cardiff.
Beta: beesandbrews and queenfanfiction helped put this together, fide_et_spe brought it home.
AN: Written for tw_unpaired.
these are the days of miracle and wonder,
this is the long distance call,
the way the camera follows us in slow-mo,
the way we look to us all,
the way we look to a distant constellation
that's dying in the corner of the sky
these are the days of miracle and wonder,
and don't cry, baby, don't cry
- Paul Simon
Ianto swallowed his yelp but couldn't prevent the little jump as a hand was placed on his shoulder. He turned around to see Jack stepping back.
"Sorry," Jack said, not sounding sorry at all. He'd take any excuse to touch the staff; one or two details had come through the grapevine in London, regardless of what Ianto claimed. "I called your name but you were a million miles away."
"Oh. Sorry." He glanced down at the file in his hand. It was just another report from Torchwood London on an alien encounter, but he'd read the name of Rupert Davies and was lost in a memory of spending time with his friends. Rupert was dead, they all were dead, he held dead people's names in his hands and would file them away forever.
"And there's that look again."
"You keep saying that."
Ianto held up the folder with a false smile. "File from One, sir."
"Need to talk about it?" The question was open, but the body language was closed, and Ianto knew it was a perfunctory inquiry.
"No, sir." He turned back to the cabinet and sorted through the files of the dead.
Jack cleared his throat. Ianto slid the folder home, eyes catching on it one last time. "Sir?"
"Attention. Yours. Trying to get. Come upstairs."
Obediently, Ianto followed him. They had irregular meetings, and he was expected to attend in case they needed something fetched or served. He was learning.
They didn't gather in the conference room, but instead in the main level. "Tosh?" Jack prompted.
She gave a little smile. "We've been having trouble with the security protocols recently." Ianto kept a neutral expression on his face. If he was compromised, if this was merely a prelude to his execution … "I believe an outside source has been trying to hack in."
Jack folded his arms. "They didn't get in, right?"
"Of course not. But it's identified a few of the weaker spots in our grid, and I'm going to need to power down everything and reboot with a more secure program."
"Fantastic," said Owen. "Haven't had a good lockdown in a while."
Jack said, "Everybody grab your stuff. If there's a problem, we'll need to be out where we can deal with it."
Suzie said, "I'm staying here. I have that thing." She looked at Jack, who merely nodded.
"I'd like to stay, too," Ianto said.
"But … "
"It's a lockdown. We're either trapped inside for six hours, or outside for six hours."
"Honestly, sir, I'd prefer to take the time here. Catch up on some of the maintenance." He kept his voice steady, his smile polite and helpful. Best to be thought eager.
"Jones, stop arselicking and get your coat," Owen said. "It's a day off. We don't get those. Go home and organise your sock drawer."
"Relax," Tosh said. "Enjoy the time."
He tried once more. "Suzie's staying."
Suzie said, "Suzie's running an important experiment that might detonate if Suzie leaves it alone. Your mop will be just fine."
If he could make it downstairs, he could give Lisa a dose to get her through the lockdown, as long as he came back as soon as the lockdown ended. "Fine, I'll just gather my things. But let me check the generator one more time. Wouldn't want it to explode while we were out."
"Better when we're out than when we're in," said Owen, already walking out the door.
"Five minutes," said Jack.
Ianto nodded and hurried. He knew which corridors to avoid, which cameras he'd reset. The new one he'd installed played a perfect loop. Lisa was asleep in her chamber when he arrived out of breath. Good. He'd prefer she sleep through this entirely, not wonder where he'd gone or if he'd be back. Nervous fingers checked her drips and upped the sedative level. He'd have to requisition more tomorrow, and while Owen wasn't suspicious yet, he would be. Her antibiotics were also running low. The cybernetic implants had weakened her immune system, and with parts of her body now covered with metal instead of skin, she couldn't adequately fight infections on her own. Every microbe in this dank chamber was a danger, but he couldn't wrap her up in a bubble, couldn't keep her safe. He had to find a way to speed up the project.
He locked the door behind himself when he left. Lisa never woke.
"All clear?" Jack asked as Ianto emerged from the corridor.
"Should be, yeah." He was getting better at lying while looking people straight in the eye.
"Good. Go home, keep your phone on you in case we need anything."
He went home.
Suzie had a new toy.
She loved this place, with its never-ending supply of new technology to play with, and its equally never-ending encouragement to expand her knowledge base.
She hated this place, because every artefact she studied was a weapon, a nightmare, and every time she learned more, she relearned that life was fucking unfair.
She made a point of not watching Owen drag himself in late again. He'd showered and changed clothes from last night, but she knew the signs. He'd gone off looking for a shag and he'd found one, and it bloody well didn't matter to Suzie. She had her toy and she had the majority of her self-respect. She spared a glance over to Toshiko, who was watching Owen much more openly although she surely thought she was being subtle, and Suzie noted with grim amusement that the other woman had neither.
This particular toy appeared to be nuclear. Her Geiger counter had pattered like rain, so she'd switched to the Holarian device, which was more accurate and quieter.
The toy was from the aliens they sent packing this morning on that cruiser. Jack pronounced the name of their species with what sounded like a bad chest cold. She and Owen and Tosh had all tried it and got lost mid-cough. The new boy repeated the phrase perfectly, but Owen had pegged him as a suck-up trying to impress Jack, and Suzie agreed though she wouldn't admit to agreeing with Owen that the sky was blue just now.
She clicked on her recorder. "Device is metallic blue in colour, fifteen centimetres in length, conical. Controls are at the base."
Suzie began to press the first set of buttons. Immediately her work area filled with the scent of rotten citrus.
"Oh God," said Toshiko, covering her mouth and nose.
Owen stormed up, disgust on his face. "What the fuck is that?"
"Ah," Jack said, coming down the stairs, firmly holding his nose shut. "I told you they communicated through smells." His voice was muted and chopped.
"Fucking stink aliens."
Jack came up beside Suzie and flicked some more buttons. The odour changed to a more pleasant lilac scent. Jack uncovered his nose. "Sorry. This is 'hello.'"
"Christ," said Owen, stomping away again. Tosh turned back to her computer.
"Anything else I should know?" Suzie asked.
Jack shrugged. "Probably." He patted her on the shoulder. She tried not to shudder, then wondered why her skin was crawling. Jack touched everybody, it was just like breathing for him, and she'd long been accustomed to friendly pats and offhand kisses. New hires invariably thought he was coming on to them and the new boy already had that vaguely hunted look, wondering when the next grope would be.
As Jack moved away, she shivered again, finally placing a finger on her unease. The lilac scent was the same as the perfume her mother had always worn. Bile rose in Suzie's throat, and she swallowed it away. She pushed another button on the toy, not caring if she found dead fish or cat vomit. The odour switched to new grass, and she breathed in deeply.
The memories lingered long after the smell faded.
Funny, how his flat didn't feel like home. Ianto had rented it over the phone, choosing the first place he could find for what he could afford on the payout from Torchwood London. The possessions he didn't need for work or Lisa he'd left in boxes. What belongings he had of Lisa's were also boxed up, the personal items he hadn't given to her parents, photographs mostly, and mementoes of their fallen friends. He could take this chance to unpack, but what was the point? As soon as Lisa was well, they were going to flee the country together and never look back.
That at least he could plan from home. He booted up his rarely-used laptop, knowing Torchwood would probably still have his system under surveillance, and pulled up tourist websites for places he might like to go with Lisa someday. She loved to camp, he recalled fondly, loved the outdoors. He remembered her best this way: grinning in sunshine, out of breath from laughing in the simple joy at breathing fresh air. He searched for countries with warm beaches, old forests, places where they could pitch a tent and just exist for a while.
Two hours later, his mobile rang. Dusk had come without his realising it.
"Ianto," said the Captain's drawl. "Be outside in two minutes."
"We've got trouble. An unusual signal is pinging us. Since Suzie's busy, you're coming with the team to check it out."
"Um." He looked around. "Is that a good idea, sir?"
"Ninety seconds now."
Ianto grabbed his coat, slipped on his shoes, and hurried down the stairs. Sixty seconds later, the SUV screeched to a halt in front of his flat. A door flew open and he climbed in as the car jerked away, throwing him into the seat.
"There's a transmission coming in, with the highest point of focus a spot just outside of town. Might be an invasion force." Jack's face was set, Tosh's was worried, Owen's looked faintly bored.
"Invasion?" He tried not to sound nervous, and failed.
Owen said, "You lot at Torchwood London probably saw stuff like this all the time, yeah?"
"Oh sure. All the time."
It was a dry wind, blowing unexpectedly through Cardiff. Owen tasted deserts for a moment, and given the normal smells of traffic and the sea, this was strikingly out of the ordinary. "Harkness. What the hell?"
Jack glanced over, and Owen made an audible sniff. Jack paused. "That. By-product of their, um, digestion. Also a communications system." He turned back towards the group of spotted aliens huddled against the far building as Owen frowned. Alien farts. Fantastic. "Suzie, do you have that grenade ready?"
"Working on it." Suzie and Tosh bent over the tinkered-together gas grenade. Jack swore this stuff would put the aliens out harmlessly. "Here." Suzie placed the finished item in Jack's hand. Tosh stood back, eyes darting back and forth between them and the aliens.
Jack hefted the grenade. "Everybody down." He clicked it and threw, ducking to the ground as the device landed at the feet of the nearest alien.
Ten seconds later, Owen heard the distinct thumps of bodies hitting the street. Jack gave him the signal, and he hurried over, hunched under the dissipating gas, to check on the lifesigns of their odiferous prisoners. "They're alive."
"Good," said Jack, rising to his feet. "Bag 'em, bring 'em."
Suzie asked, "Where are we going to put them?"
Jack tapped that fancy wristwatch of his. "There's a cruiser coming through this part of space tomorrow. We'll book them a ride. They can sleep in the cells tonight."
Owen grumbled, helping to wrangle the heavy bodies into the SUV. Jack could be more of a help, but he'd already ducked around the corner to shine his charming-arse grin at the locals to assure them everything was hunky dory. Nothing to see here, folks. Those spots you saw were the beginnings of a rare but harmless disease, we'll just take them back to the hospital for observation, what a lovely perfume you're wearing. Owen had the patter memorised.
Of course Jack came back as the last alien was shoved into the boot. "Did you get their weapons?"
Owen shared a look with Suzie, but she had missed those, too. Jack shook his head, then reached in to disarm their prisoners. "Not really that bad," he said, showing them. "They use these lasers to cut paths through the jungle on their planet." Jack stowed the guns. "Let's go."
Suzie grabbed the front passenger seat, leaving Owen to stew in the back with Toshiko. He stared at the back of Jack's head, wondering for the millionth time how he knew about all this shit, jungle planets and gasses to knock out which aliens. Owen had his books from the previous doctors to hold his unenviable job, notes and diagrams and the little Tosh had scraped out of the wreckage of One's computer systems. But Jack, who talked constantly without ever saying any damn useful thing at all, had a memory full of tidbits and information about green-blooded Martians.
He never said how he knew, just went off into bullshit stories about shagging Weevils and worse. Probably got hit by some alien encyclopaedia ray, Owen figured. The arsekissing new guy must've used the same ray, or maybe the fucks at Torchwood London had forced all their employees to memorise every species of slimy alien ever encountered.
The wheels in Owen's head turned. "Tosh, fancy a pint down the pub after work?"
Tosh's head spun round so fast he thought he heard her vertebrae complain. "What? Sure. That'd be … "
"We'll drag Jones out too." Owen had the worst fucking time with the new boy's first name. "Suzie! Come with us?" Beside him, Tosh's expression changed.
"Not interested." He'd expected that. Bloody bitch had been ignoring him for a week.
"What?" Jack asked. "I don't get to come?"
"You don't drink. S'weird."
"Fine. See if I invite you out anywhere."
"You're not my type, Harkness."
Jack grinned, in complete denial. "Keep telling yourself that."
With the aliens stowed in the cells, it was only a few more hours to quitting time. Tosh wasn't as happy about going out as he'd thought she was, but she ended up coaxing Ianto to join them, even though he said he had to come back after to finish up.
"Jesus," Owen said, pushing the man out the door. "Jack's not going to sack you for not dusting twice a day."
"You never know," said Suzie. "Jack's peculiar. Good night, Jack!" She took her own way out.
Owen glanced over his shoulder to see Jack watching them leave, hands stuffed into his pockets. Creepy.
"So," he said, as soon as they had their table and their drinks. "What do you know about him?"
Ianto looked around and realised Owen was talking to him. "About whom?"
"Jack," said Owen. "He brought you on. You have to know something about him."
Ianto took a long pull from his lager. "Not really. Don't you?"
"He's so secretive," said Tosh, playing with her wine glass. "Didn't you hear any rumours back in London?"
"They didn't talk much about the Cardiff location." He glanced at them, possibly looking for affront. "Sorry. I think Director Hartman may have sworn about him once or twice over the loudspeaker, but it wasn't my area."
"Really nothing?" Tosh asked.
"Damn," Owen said. "There went that idea." He drained his pint, as the others watched. "Thanks for being no help at all." He left money at the table for his drink, and without a goodbye, left them sitting there. The night was young, he was young, surely there was a bird he could impress, and the further away he was from the two losers, the better his chances were.
A pretty blonde made eyes at him from the bar, and he veered closer until something about her face, her eyes, put him too much in mind of Katie. Owen's pulling smile, the one that said he wasn't interested but could be given the right woman so no desperation here, slipped from his face. He passed by the blonde, headed out to the next pub. A nice saucy redhead was a much better plan tonight, less chance of meeting up with the wrong memory.
The SUV ran stoplights with abandon, as the passengers were tossed around every corner. If they were headed to their imminent deaths, Jack was certainly eager to get there quickly. The scanner in Toshiko's hand directed them to the place where the signal was the strongest. "Here."
Ianto looked out the window, worried. He didn't see any ships on the reddened horizon, but instead of reassuring him, it made him worry that the aliens were simply invisible. The others got out and readied their guns. His was locked in the Hub. He never took it home, never took it out, and while Jack had promised him firearms training, that hadn't happened yet. "Pardon me."
"Bring the gear," Jack said. "If there's shooting, stay behind us."
"Right." He went to the boot and got out the standard gear bags, slinging them over his shoulders. Heart racing, he followed the other three as they walked determinedly towards a rise, their outlines barely visible against the sky.
Tosh's scanner began emitting a strange sound as they reached the top. The rest froze, looking around wildly for any sign of aliens, but there was nothing.
It was a slow day.
Jack had ordered them, in lieu of any unexpected interference from the Rift, to catch up on their own projects, clean-up work, and general maintenance. Owen had already complained twice because hadn't Jack just hired the new idiot for the cleaning and maintenance duties the rest of them didn't want? Having Jack casually fling a crumpled-up ball of paper at his head as an answer had not improved his mood, and when Suzie did the same thing ten minutes later with a smirk, he growled and hid in the autopsy bay, claiming he was surrounded by children.
Owen was easier to ignore when he was out of sight and only making the occasional annoying bang. Tosh's workstation was clean, her catch-up work was caught up, and she could devote her attention to a knotty problem with the security system. She'd been getting ghost readings for the past two days. The logs were clean. She'd scanned through the CCTV records in the Hub, and the only thing she'd seen remotely out of order was a slight tendency of one camera in the lower levels to go into slow motion at irregular intervals.
A cup of coffee appeared at her hand and she tried and failed to hide her startle. "Oh. Thank you. I didn't see you there." She gave the new man a little smile but didn't try his name, as she'd kept bungling it upon their introduction.
"You're welcome. What are you working on so intently?"
She turned back to the monitor. "Just checking the security protocols. We're having a glitch with one of the cameras in the lower levels."
Tosh pulled up the camera. "Here." It looked out on an empty corridor, and frankly, she thought it was a waste of resources.
Ianto - she needed to practise it out loud a few more times - tapped the screen. "I know where that is. I can swap it with a new camera this afternoon for you."
"That'd be lovely, thanks."
The lights dimmed. Tosh checked her system, but Mainframe hadn't been affected. From medical, Owen swore loudly. "Why does the fucking power keep dying?"
"It's not dying," said Suzie. "Not afraid of the dark, are you?"
Tosh frowned, watching them. They'd been sparring more than usual lately, and Owen had seemed extra sullen. She'd considered showing up at his flat with beer and a shoulder to lean on in the event of his break up with Suzie, but she hadn't got up the courage yet.
Owen stormed up the stairs to tussle with Suzie face to face, but saw Ianto standing with Tosh. "Oh, it's you. Why isn't the power working?"
Ianto glanced around the steady lights of the Hub. "Seems to be working fine."
Suzie said, "Did you miss the flicker a minute ago?"
He shrugged. "The new generator goes through a power cycle to keep the system functioning. Nothing to worry about."
Tosh went back to her work. She'd taken a good look at the new generator they'd inherited from the wreckage of Torchwood London. Alien-derived technology, of course, but uninteresting in function, she left the operation to the odd-jobs man, who seemed to convince it to run more or less smoothly.
Jack poked his head out of his office. "What's wrong with the generator?"
"Power cycle," said three voices in more or less unison.
"Right." He stepped out, coat already on. "I'll be back."
"Sir," said Ianto. "You have a conference call in fifteen minutes."
Tosh tuned them out. Odd-jobs man and also Jack's PA, which was fine by her. Their employer had a habit of missing calls and meetings, and annoying everyone else on the quasi-governmental food chain. More than once, their pay had been delayed because he'd lost the forms, and Toshiko had spent two bone-chilling days eavesdropping on hurried calls Jack had to field after UNIT demanded her return, citing too-irregular reports on her behaviour. Jack was brilliant in his own way, but he had a short attention span when it came to keeping Torchwood Cardiff running. He could use all the help he could get, in her opinion.
Lunch was interrupted by a call over the police radio: an explosion in Riverside. The four of them loaded into the SUV, Tosh taking what readings she could from the car. When they arrived, the scene was cordoned off. Jack pushed his way in anyway, but the readings said this was entirely terrestrial and likely teenagers.
Tosh stood by the shattered shop windows, pretending to take photographs. They'd leave soon, but Suzie always took the opportunity to work the "anti-terrorist task force" angle and was dropping loud hints about known cells in the area.
By the time they returned to the Hub, the remains of their lunch had been stored away, they had fresh coffee to drink, and the last of the mess from the past week had been swept up. Oh, and the old camera from the basement sat on Tosh's desk for a diagnostic, with the new one already in place.
Jack took the scanner out of Tosh's hands. His face changed, went as distant as the signal. "Oh."
"What is it?"
"It's not a transmission. Well, not a current one. It's from the Jaronnites."
Ianto looked at Toshiko, who appeared as mystified as he felt. Owen wasn't any more helpful, though he did ask, "Who?"
Jack listened for a moment, not responding. When he did, his voice was quiet, thoughtful. "They died out. Thousands of years ago, their sun went supernova. They didn't leave their star system in time. They sent out a message with all their world's knowledge, and it's just now reaching Earth. It's a goodbye. It's like a song, if you know how to listen."
He turned up the volume on the transmitter. Ianto had never heard anything like it, eerie and strange. Watching Jack's face, seeing his hand tap gently against his side, Ianto began to pick up the rhythm, if not the concepts. "What are they saying?"
"The names of some of their people, the great thinkers and poets. Reminders to hold the people you love close, just in case. That's some interesting equations in there," he said. He looked at Tosh. "I'll tell them to you later."
"Thanks." Her eyes were misting, listening to the sounds of a dying planet.
"Where were they?" Ianto asked, not wanting to be moved by the death song, but feeling the sorrow echoing through the years despite himself.
Jack took his hand, and Ianto almost flinched, but there was nothing to it, no flirting, no ulterior motives just this once. Jack pointed Ianto's finger at a far part of the sky. "Can you see? There are two stars close together. If the transmission is reaching us now, that means the light's coming."
The transmission cut off abruptly, and one of the two stars blossomed out like a chrysanthemum.
"They just died," said Tosh.
"No," Jack said. "They died millennia ago."
Owen went to the transmitter, and did something. Moments later, the sounds came back. A playback, Ianto realised. Nothing was left of the alien species except the last piece of music.
"It's wonderful," Tosh said, thickly. She was starting to cry. "And terrible."
"Yeah," said Jack, watching the dying star.
Ianto stood beside them, seeing the colours wash over that piece of sky. They'd known they were dying, they all died, friends and families and lovers. They died together in a hot, bright moment they couldn't escape, and they'd sent this remarkable song as the only testament to their memory. It was the most beautiful, amazing, awful thing he'd ever witnessed, sparkling above them.
Owen touched his ear. "Suze, wait 'till you see this. Star just went supernova. It's gorgeous." He glanced at Jack. "And kinda shitty. Bunch of aliens died. Anyway, look out your window."
"Still in lockdown, Owen. Take a picture." Suzie closed the line.
Owen rolled his eyes. "She always misses the good stuff."
The music cut off again, sad and strange as it was, and Jack silenced the scanner.
Jack watched them all come in the next morning. Owen had returned to his regular sour disposition. Suzie wasn't any better, sniping at anyone who mentioned yesterday. Tosh was thoughtful, fingers idly typing. Only Ianto seemed outside his normal persona, much brighter and happier than he'd been. Jack observed how he smiled at Toshiko as he brought her coffee, how he tried approaching Owen with friendly quips only to be brushed off.
The smile had dimmed by the time Jack's coffee arrived.
"You seemed pretty perky this morning. Now … "
Jack shrugged. "Less perk."
Ianto glanced out to where the others were. "They don't want to talk about it."
"About what we saw last night." His eyes lit up again. "That was amazing. It was … " He took a deep breath. "I don't know what it was."
"But it changed you."
"Yeah." His gaze came back from wherever he'd been. Then he did something strange, straightening up, dropping a calm face over the animation. Jack was sorry to see it go as Ianto said, "Sorry, sir. Just a little over-excited."
"Don't be." He took a long drink. It was, he had to admit, really good coffee. "Remember that feeling. Things around here aren't like in London. They get hairy fast."
Another expression crossed Ianto's face and was quickly shuttered. Things had got hairy in London extremely fast there at the end. Jack tried again. "What I mean is, we don't often see the wonders. Hold onto the ones you can. It makes the hard times a little less hard."
Ianto looked like he was going to say something, then simply went with, "Thanks," and scurried out. Jack watched him go, making a mental note to copy the song file and send it to the kid. Might do him some good.
He went back to his own report. He filled in what he could dredge up from his memory about the Jarronnites, writing down everything he knew. Their dying song would be recorded in other places by other species, translated and taught as it spread through the galaxy, glancing off other worlds, singing out into the void. 'We were here, do not forget us.' It was all they'd asked of the universe. Jack could give them that.
After a while, he turned on the recording from the scanner. He hummed along with the familiar music under his breath, thinking of his own past friends and lovers, faces he kept in his tin box, names he kept only in his heart. When he found the Doctor, when this crazy treadmill Jack had been running was finally turned off and he could finish out a human life, he'd write down the names, tell those stories, sing that last song. A glance out into the Hub, and he knew he had four more names to keep close until then.
'We were here. Don't forget.'
The music played on.
AN: My favourite words are "I liked this."