Notes: This is set about a month after the epilogue of Damage Control, to which this is a sequel. You can probably enjoy this story without reading its predecessor, but you may be confused on a couple points. This is more plot-heavy (i.e., it actually has one) but it is still, essentially, about the characters, particularly the Doctor and Jack.
On Torchwood's secrecy: yes, it is supposed to be beyond top secret, but it is obvious from the show (and Doctor Who) that it is fairly well-known in its area of Wales, at least among the police force and UNIT. The good Captain, bless him, is not exactly one for being inconspicuous. CoE aside, under certain circumstances I can see an international crisis forcing Torchwood Three out of their slightly delusional belief of their own secrecy.
Getting on with it!
In which there is an alien plague, Dr. Charles Anderson is uncomfortable, and Captain Jack Harkness makes a suggestion he's been putting off.
Dr. Charles Anderson was having an absolutely terrible week. Not that he often had what would be called a good week – one rarely did, when they were divorced twice over and working for the United States' worst-kept secret – but this one had been particularly Bad.
Worldwide outbreaks of deadly alien plagues tended to do that.
Also, emergency meetings. He hated emergency meetings, or any meetings, for that matter, especially with all these military types. They always made Charles acutely aware of several uncomfortable facts, such as how pear-shaped he had become in recent years and his tendency to sweat when he was nervous.
It wasn't just him feeling the stress this time, though. Even the head of Torchwood, whom Charles remembered as being irritatingly put together during the last crisis he had met him in, was looking weary, and far older than his forty-some years. Vaguely, Charles wondered who he had lost, or was losing – a parent, a sibling, a lover? A child, even? There wasn't a person in the room who wasn't affected. His own sister was in the hospital at this very moment, fighting for her life. Her youngest – Charles' only niece, Lydia – had passed away last night. She had been only five years old.
"Our scientists are completely stumped," Harkness was saying. "We can slow it down, but we can't find a cure. It's not like anything we've seen before."
There was an air of defeat about the table. Harkness' words weren't new to anyone. They had all been hearing them from their own top scientists and not-so-secret organizations for the past three days. Charles could taste the despair in his own mouth. The amount of death that this would cause was beyond comprehension. It wouldn't mean the end of humanity – not everyone was susceptible – but fifty percent of the population . . . it was impossible to even grasp the scale of it.
"I know it seems hopeless," Harkness said, "but we're not beaten yet." He drew in a breath, bracing himself as if his next words would be difficult for him to say. Charles tried to listen, expecting some pep-talk about how humanity could recover from this, or perhaps some insane, last-ditch idea, doomed to failure but attempted all the same out of desperation. Instead, with his hands clenched on the chair in from of him and a look of pain creasing his usually unfazed face, Harkness stated, "We still have the Doctor."
The table erupted in a chorus of shock and recognition. Dozens of leaders were talking over each other, with mixtures of hope and alarm and anger, trying to make their questions and protests heard over the din. Charles was wracking his exhaustion-fogged brain, trying to remember how he knew that title . . . . Oh. Oh. Him. Suddenly the fragments of sentences which Charles managed to catch made a lot more sense.
"Why the hell didn't you – "
"How can we –"
". . . nothing but a fairytale!"
The room fell silent.
"Thank you," said Harkness, in quieter (but still strained) tones. "Let me explain. The Doctor, for those of you who aren't familiar, is one of Earth's best defenses. He's an alien, and a time traveler, and a genius." Harkness swallowed, and something shifted in his expression. His next words were as cold and harsh and uncompromising as steel. "He is not a weapon or a tool or a soldier. He is a person – and he might just be able to help us."
"Wait a moment," said Vice-President Johnson, leaning forward. The president himself was in an undisclosed location, having contracted the plague the night before. "I've heard of the Doctor. Wasn't he involved with President Winters' assassination?"
A murmur of agreement went around the table.
"He was there," Harkness conceded, his jaw tightening. "So was I. That doesn't make either of us responsible."
"But you said he's not human – how can we trust that he has Earth's interests in mind?" asked the French president, her voice perfectly reasonable and her face composed. To look at her, no one would suspect that her husband was in his last few hours of life. Only the slight thickening of her accent betrayed the strain she was under.
"He's earned our trust a thousand times over," snapped Harkness, with what Charles thought was unwarranted anger. After all, the Doctor was active mainly in Britain, and even there he was known primarily as an urban myth among UNIT recruits.
"Besides that, I don't see that we have much of a choice," stated General Bricker – temporary head of UNIT, promoted after the original commander fell in the first wave of the plague. "Much as I hate to admit it, the Doctor is the only option we have left. I assume, Captain Harkness, that you have some way of contacting him?"
"Yes. I didn't want to attempt it before because there are certain . . . complications involved which I'm not at liberty to explain, but I think that the situation is dire enough to warrant the risk."
"Yes, I think it is," agreed the French president dryly. "Unless there are any objections?"
There was another rumble around the table, but no one spoke out. Everyone here was terrified, grief-ridden, and exhausted – they were not going to refuse any token of hope offered them. If there was a way to stop this plague, or even to weaken it, they wouldn't give a damn if it came from the devil himself.
"Alright then," said Harkness. Strangely enough, there was no trace of enthusiasm or triumph in his manner – only grim determination, and something like resignation. "I'll need Torchwood's equipment, and so will he, so I'll –"
"Fly back to Wales, with Anderson," said Vice-President Johnson.
"What?" asked Harkness, looking startled.
"What?" echoed Charles, in slightly higher-pitched tones, jerking himself upright.
"This man is going to hold the fate of the planet is his hands; I want some of my people to be there when he does," stated Johnson firmly. "Dr. Anderson will fly with you to Torchwood, with one of his scientists. You can brief them on the way."
"And me," interjected Bricker. "All due respect, Mr. Vice-President, but this lies within UNIT jurisdiction."
"Very well," Johnson agreed, while Charles sputtered. "If that's not a problem for you, Captain Harkness?" He fixed the captain with a hard stare, one that said quite clearly 'I am the vice-president, soon to be president of the United States, and I am more than capable of making your life a living hell.' Harkness opened his mouth as if to protest, met his gaze, and closed it again. After a moment, he relented.
"Not a problem at all, sir," he said, with a smile which was all teeth and no warmth.
"Excellent. Dr. Anderson?"
Charles wanted desperately to protest, to say that he was just a scientist, he had only taken the administrative job because it came with a nice office and a pay raise; he was never supposed to be actually in charge of anything; it was just an unfortunate coincidence that all his military, political higher-ups had fallen victim to the plague –
He met Vice-President Johnson's eyes, and swallowed hard.
"I'll be glad to go, sir."
Charles shifted nervously in his seat. He didn't like air travel, luxurious and roomy though this particular plane was, and he didn't like having to sit here waiting for Harkness, particularly when he had General Bricker on one side of him and Dr. Tobias Spencer on the other.
Bricker was intimidating for very obvious reasons. He was a good foot taller than Charles and apparently built of pure muscle. His voice was loud and thunderous, and his face tended to range through several degrees of anger, arrogance, and disdain.
Physically, Spencer was the exact opposite. He was tiny and pale and young, but he was just damned creepy. He was too clever for anyone's good, so silent that you never knew where he was until he was right next to you, and he didn't blink often enough. He was brilliant, though, and completely unflappable, which was why Charles had chosen him for this particular assignment. Also, he was one of the few qualified scientists who weren't either sick, in quarantine, or with their families.
The hatch slid open, and Charles jumped (his caffeine-infused sleep deprivation had gone right through exhaustion and into jittery, hyper-sensitive alertness). It was Harkness, who stepped onto the plane with grim self-assurance . . . and faltered when he caught sight of Spencer.
"Captain Harkness," said Charles, standing awkwardly. "I don't believe you've met Dr. Tobias Spencer?" He turned back to Spencer, only to find him already standing. "Dr. Spencer, this is Captain Harkness, head of Torchwood."
"Good to meet you, Dr. Spencer," said Harkness, shaking Spencer's hand firmly
Spencer nodded silently in return, with a polite smile which didn't quite reach his wide, eerily blank green eyes. Even Harkness seemed a bit disconcerted by Spencer's gaze, and he eyed the young scientist oddly as he sat down.
"Right," he said, once they had taken off and the noise had died down to the constant roar of the engines. "I'll try to keep this brief so we can all get a couple hours' sleep before we touchdown. We don't know anything more about the plague than you do. It's an airborne virus of alien origin. Most of the deaths so far have been people who are already vulnerable, but we're getting the first reports of otherwise healthy patients succumbing. About half the population is susceptible, with no apparent discretion in–"
"Cut the crap, Harkness," snapped Bricker. Charles flinched, and Spencer's eyes flickered to him. "We all know about the plague. This briefing is about the Doctor."
"You work for UNIT," said Harkness coldly. "You have his files. From what I've seen, they're fairly complete."
Bricker bristled, though whether it was at the evasive answer or at the implication that Harkness had been in UNIT's files, Charles couldn't be sure.
"How do you plan to contact him?" Bricker demanded, and Charles was interested in the answer as well. From what he knew (which admittedly wasn't much), the Doctor was constantly on the move through time and space, with no discernable pattern and not even a consistent appearance.
"I plan to walk down the stairs and talk to him."
"What?" snarled Bricker angrily, while Charles gaped. Even Spencer looked startled, perking up and turning towards Harkness. "You mean to tell me that the Doctor is still in Torchwood?"
"Why the hell didn't you say that at the beginning?"
"I told you," said Harkness tensely, springing up and beginning to pace the length of the cabin, which suddenly seemed quite small and claustrophobic. "There were complications which I'm not at liberty to explain."
"Everyone on this plane has the highest clearance possible," snapped Bricker, leaping from his own seat. "As the head of UNIT, I order you to explain to us!"
"Torchwood is not under UNIT command," Harkness growled, rounding on the other man, eyes burning. "We are beyond the United Nations."
"Torchwood is five Welshmen with delusions of grandeur!" retorted Bricker, his face coloring and his voice rising to a roar.
"Torchwood is the reason that the Earth is still here to protect!"
Charles cleared his throat nervously. Three sets of eyes – one stormy blue; another furious grey; the last expressionless green – snapped to him.
"Ah, my apologies, gentlemen, but I believe that, um, maybe this, um, discussion could be, ah, postponed until . . . a later date? See . . ." He swallowed, feeling a cold sweat break out on his forehead. "I'm sure that we are all very, um, tired, and I expect that's, um, impairing our – our judgment . . . ." He trailed off, wringing his hands nervously. There were a few moments of tense silence.
"He's right," said Harkness at last, and Charles sagged with relief. "We're all exhausted; we're not thinking straight. I'm sure you'll get the answers you want when we land. In the meantime, we should try to get some sleep."
Harkness settled back into his own seat, and Bricker, after one last resentful glare, followed suit.
Charles sat back, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep.