Title: War Games (1/4)
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Gwen, Martha, Lois, Francine, Johnson, Patanjali, OCs
Pairings: Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, Martha/Tom
Warnings: violence, spoilers up through COE (characters only), character death (mostly Jack)
Betas: sariagray and bookwormsarah did tremendous work getting this to coherency, and I thank them. All remaining errors are mine alone.
Notes: Set in a fake third season in which Lois Habiba, Agent Johnson, and Rupesh Patanjali have joined Torchwood. No familiarity with other stories in this series is necessary. Written for tw_bigbang.
Art for this fic can be found at madbottoms DOT livejournal DOT com SLASH 53381 DOT html and SLASH 53563 DOT html
The day had started around three in the morning. Even Jack had been asleep, waking Ianto from time to time with half-grunted snores which he swore he never made. The Rift alarm dragged them from bed and into yesterday's clothes. Ianto drove while Jack roused the team from their own beds (or at least from someone's beds - this wasTorchwood). All but Lois met at the location of the most recent sighting at Church and King streets. The gelatinous monstrosity had left a slime trail Ianto could tell would be a pain in the arse to scrub later.
They trapped the alien from three sides up against an estate agent's window along Cardiff Road. There was no traffic at this time of the day, thank goodness. No-one but the team and the very few intoxicated late-nighters who'd been the ones to call the police saw the creature crash through the front glass window of Thomas & Rose. The bright blue sign above the door was briefly eclipsed by goo as Johnson, tired of waiting for the order, shot the Jelly Monster. By the time they'd finished cleanup operations, Jack declared an early breakfast for the team. Ianto phoned Lois with their orders and warned her that there would be a large dry cleaning run today.
All of which was why, at ten past four in the afternoon, Ianto was back at the flat, cursing himself for not having finished the packing list he'd intended to write last night. They would only be gone for three days, socks and pants were accounted for, but the small luxuries of shampoo, razors, and the obscure hair products Jack liked to clutter the bathroom counter with were still waiting to be packed. Had Ianto written the damned list, instead of getting distracted by the way Jack gnawed absently at a hangnail, finger sliding in and out of his mouth, just enough light in the room to glisten and show how wet that lucky finger was ...
Ianto shook his head. Distracted.
They had one suitcase between them, and a garment bag. Rhiannon had taken to pressing him at every opportunity about "where his relationship with Jack was." (Johnny, in a rare bout of male commiseration with his brother-in-law, chalked it up to her watching relationship advice programmes.) This was a nice change from her pressing him about why he sported so many unusual bruises, with her eyes taking in Jack's unblemished face beside him, but the overall embarrassment factor hadn't wavered.
Where was his relationship with Jack? One flat, with Jack's name joining his on the lease when it came time to renew. One car, with Jack's in storage. One suitcase, with their socks and underwear neatly stowed until it came time for Jack to open it tomorrow morning and scatter their things everywhere. One garment bag, because wrinkled clothing made a bad impression, and God forbid they not impress the twits at UNIT. One small carrier bag, which Ianto knew was missing one if not several items he would kick himself for leaving.
"Ianto, pet," came Gwen's voice in his ear. "Are you going to be back soon?"
"I'm walking out the door now." He took one more look in the bathroom and snatched both cans of deodorant. There were limits to how good even Jack smelled when he'd been exerting himself.
Nothing was left on that oughtn't be. The one lonely plant they kept (a cutting taken from the forested spot where the Botanists had visited - "for luck," Jack had said) was watered. If he had left something, they would have to make do. It was a military base, not the middle of the ocean.
"On my way."
When he returned to the Hub, it was nearly five, their scheduled time of departure. He loaded the bags directly from his car into the SUV. Everything together would be a tight fit, and Ianto considered talking Jack into taking a second vehicle. As he made his way in from the garage, he heard his colleagues working on a similar attempt.
"Honestly, sir," Lois said in her reasonable voice, the 'nursery school teacher dealing with a sweet but intransigent toddler' voice, "I should stay here. Gwen is far more suited to a field mission than I am."
Rupesh put his own foot in. "I ought to stay as well. I've got that backlog to work on, plus the alien from last night."
Jack's arms were folded. "You're both going. Gwen is staying. If the Rift spits out anything while we're gone, she's better equipped to deal with it than either of you. I'm seriously considering bringing Gwen along anyway. We should have the whole team."
"Leave me out of this." Gwen sat at her workstation glancing at police reports. "I'm getting a working holiday away from all of you. I'll bring Rhys down here to help me redecorate while you're gone."
"We could use more chrome," Ianto said, joining the conversation. "Give the place a modern look. The whole ironworks and abandoned train platform motif is a bit dated."
"Hey," Jack said, rounding on him. "I likethe ironworks and abandoned platform motif. I helped put it together. It's very homey."
Johnson said, "Only if you're one of those abysmal steampunk people. Are we ready?" Perry's face took on a familiar expression of incomprehension at the word 'steampunk.' Ianto made a mental note to find him a book. Perry would enjoy the subject, and Ianto liked opportunities to be nice to him, especially as Jack tended towards the brusque when dealing with their new tech.
Jack turned back to Gwen, gesturing Lois and Rupesh vaguely towards the garage. "You know the rules. No parties, no loud music, no handing the planet over to anyone with tentacles, scales, or extra heads."
Ianto said, "The feeding schedule is in the kitchen. Janet's been off her food this week, so don't worry if she rejects it. I'll get to the mess when we're back."
Gwen stood to peck them both on the cheek. "Go on. Call me when you get there so I know you didn't shoot anyone in the car, and give Martha my love."
"But ... " Lois tried once more.
"The last one in the car has to ride on my lap." That got her out the door without another peep.
Poor Lois. Her field experience was practically non-existent, and Ianto knew he hadn't helped matters when he'd told her about his own first mission away from the base. Still, forewarned was forearmed, and UNIT soldiers were unlikely to want Torchwood for elevenses. Well, not until after the training was completed.
He ought to tell her to try not to look delicious.
After two long hours filled with Jack's attempts at jolly car games, they arrived at the base. January had come with snow, and the view outside the window as they'd driven had been unspeakably sad in the way that winter could be, glazing fields and trees in grubby white. The SUV was warm, packed with people, but as they opened the doors, frosty air nipped inside, freezing them as they disembarked.
Lois hated winter.
"I'll help you with the bags." Ianto's smile was pleasant but tight. He didn't want to be here, either.
A soldier, good-looking but bland, led them to the building where they'd be bunking for the next few nights. Technically, it was Lois's task as general support to unload the car and see that everyone's belongings made it to the correct rooms, but she appreciated the assistance. Ianto hefted the enormous bag Rupesh had packed into the room he would be sharing with Perry. Something clanked when the bag hit the floor, and they both winced.
"He does know he has to sign out when removing technology from the Hub," Ianto said. Lois was more concerned about whattheir doctor had brought. She had informed him and Agent Johnson about her new orders, but Rupesh was more reckless than she liked. Johnson was patient, and would wait for Lois to give the word. Rupesh might decide to carry the orders out on his own volition.
Had she managed to convince Captain Harkness to allow her to stay alone, she could have easily turned over the systems to her true supervisor, and arranged for Jack, Gwen and Ianto to be taken into custody upon their return from UNIT. The coup would have been simple and bloodless. Mr Gloucester had given her carte blanche in destroying the team; Lois preferred detaining them until they could come to a proper trial for their crimes. She had to ready the three of them for capture at once, she knew, but not at the Hub, not when they had access to their weapons.
She brought Perry's small suitcase into the room while Ianto took his and Jack's bags into their quarters across the corridor. Sneaking a glance, she swallowed her smile when she noticed their room held the same two narrow beds the others did. UNIT guest quarters weren't designed to be cosy. Ianto hauled the last two equipment bags into his room, and then applied Torchwood's own lock to the outside of the door, a device with over a billion possible combinations. So much for not taking technology.
Their guide led them to the mess, where Perry, Johnson and Rupesh already stood in line with trays. Lois took her tray, then almost put it back again when she saw the food. Ianto didn't make a face but the tight smile had returned. They joined the others at a row of uncomfortable chairs against a metal table. Johnson and Perry were digging in with determination.
"I think I'm a vegetarian again," said Rupesh, gaping at his plate in disgust.
Ianto wore a matching expression. "I may join you."
Lois was aware of the observation by the others in the mess. Some stares were friendly, others bored, but she didn't need any psychic training to pick up on the underlying hostility. The five of them stood out in their civilian clothes. UNIT and Torchwood weren't sibling agencies, although their work overlapped, nor were they kissing cousins, no matter what Jack said. If they were like family, it was the distant sort of relation where multiple generations hadn't spoken because of what Cousin Vicky said about Our Doctor, never mind when Uncle Alastair failed to lift a finger whilst Auntie Yvonne was knocking holes in the walls and letting the vermin inside.
Ianto said, "I don't suppose the local pizzeria will deliver this far out?"
"I'll take the car," Rupesh said. "Surely one can't be more than twenty or thirty miles away."
"It's not that bad," Johnson said, before taking a large bite of something brownish and gooey. Lois stared at it on her fork.
Perry sat across from her, watching her eyes. "It's easiest if you don't chew. Wash each bite down with your drink." He demonstrated. "Go on."
Ianto and Rupesh observed her closely, letting Lois be the guinea pig. She took a small piece, swallowed, and sputtered down a gulp of water after. "Oh, that's awful." She drank more. It was terrible, but not, when the taste faded, as terrible as it could have been. Johnson chewed her own food slowly.
"Ah, suppertime!" Jack's voice boomed easily through the mess hall, drawing attention away from the team and squarely onto himself. At his side, Lois saw Dr Jones roll her eyes affectionately.
As they readied their trays, Lois managed a few more bites of the horrible food, feeling more than just the bad meat curdling in her stomach. She had known what her task was the day she accepted the assignment to infiltrate Torchwood. She'd forged her relationships with the other members of the team with a mind towards reporting on their activities and determining if Torchwood posed a threat to the people of Great Britain. Martha Jones had come to work for Torchwood briefly during Lois's tenure, and Lois had come to like her. Unfortunately, Martha and her husband and sister had embroiled themselves in an illegal plot last month. Now the three of them were on the same targeted list for arrest and prosecution.
Martha sat next to her, tray empty except for a banana. Fruit hadn't been available when Lois had gone through the line minutes before. Jack sat across from Martha, his own plate holding an extra helping of brown glop, which he scooped onto his fork and chewed noisily. "Just like Mother used to make."
"It's good to see you," Martha said, nodding around the table. She unpeeled her banana and, without even glancing at Jack's suddenly interested expression, broke it into bite-sized pieces before she popped a bit into her mouth.
"How are you feeling?" Lois asked. Gwen would already have Martha deep in a conversation about every aspect of her pregnancy, but Gwen wasn't here.
"Enormous. Nothing fits anymore, and it's only going to get worse."
Jack said around a bite of his food, "Well, you look gorgeous."
"You'd say that if I was blue with tentacles." They shared a laugh, which echoed down the table.
"You would look fantastic with tentacles," Jack said.
Rupesh said, "You're not eating?"
"I ate before you arrived. My blood glucose levels mean I have to eat every two hours. I'm going to be the size of a house by June." Her tone was joking, but she'd dropped eye contact.
"We're being tested," Jack said around his glass. His voice was low, carrying only to their group. "The real food was an hour ago. This is dog food." He took another bite.
Lois set down her fork. Ianto said, "Jack?"
"I've eaten worse. It won't kill you."
Martha gave a short nod, confirming his words. It wasn't poisonous, just intentionally nasty. Also, she wasn't eating it.
Rupesh took one more look at his plate, then pushed it away. Ianto took an unhappy bite, following Jack's lead. Before she could decide, Lois heard a noise, and turned to see Johnson scraping the last of the sauce from her plate.
"I'm getting seconds," she announced, loud enough for the neighbouring tables to hear, and went back for more as the rest stared.
Just the smell from the dog food had sent Martha's stomach into nausea territory. She hadn't found out about the prank in time to warn anyone except Jack, and she didn't dare to show solidarity with the Torchwood team by eating the terrible stuff. The banana helped with her queasiness, as did small sips of water. At least she had her own quarters, and she planned on resting as soon as tonight's meeting was finished.
As they got up from the table, most of the team still hungry, Martha murmured to Jack, "So did you knowJohnson's are bigger than yours?"
"I wouldn't say 'bigger'." Jack mock-frowned back before drawing a friendly arm around her.
The UNIT team selected for the training mission had already gathered in the briefing room and stood at attention. Another slight: implying Torchwood was slow and behind schedule. Martha was in a bad position between the two agencies. She worked for UNIT, and thus her first loyalty had to be to them. Jack was like family, though, and she'd worked enough for Torchwood to feel like a member of the team. Never mind that any snippy comments about "those idiots in Cardiff" tended to be spoken while looking her way and daring objections.
Jack ignored it all, acting as grimly pleased as if presented with second-hand toys. He strode to the front of the room and stuck out his hand. "Captain Jack Harkness. You must be Colonel Fielding."
The Colonel took the proffered hand after a moment's pause. "Captain. I apologise for not having met you when you arrived. Has your team settled in?"
"We have, thank you. I was happy to see UNIT's hospitality hasn't diminished since our last cooperative visit. That was top of the line Pedigree. Our pet dinosaur loves the stuff."
A quick mutter went through the room, almost too quiet to hear. Myfanwy was in Martha's reports, which didn't mean anyone had read them. The Colonel's face twitched.
"Why don't you introduce your team to the men?"
"Why don't I?" Jack turned to where his team waited, where only Perry and Johnson stood at something close to attention. "Ianto Jones and Kathryn Johnson, field agents. Our medic, Dr Rupesh Patanjali." Rupesh attempted a friendly smile and failed. "Perry Fletcher, our tech expert. Lois Habiba, general support." Lois was wide-eyed, and Martha felt a stab of pity. She was an admin, and ought to be back at the Hub, not traipsing around UNIT playing war games.
The Colonel led Jack to the front of the line-up for UNIT's group. "The men and women we picked for this training are at the tops of their respective fields." He didn't introduce anyone, but Jack nodded as he passed. "Our weapons experts each have a perfect or near-perfect record in marksmanship, and all our technicians have received advanced training in cutting-edge technologies, both human and extraterrestrial. UNIT's exobiologists study every lifeform Earth has encountered."
The Colonel gave a deliberate glance back to the Torchwood team. "The personnel files you submitted didn't include your team's qualifications. What degrees does your technologist have?"
Jack's expression never wavered. "Perry's more a hands-on kinda guy."
"Yes. Perhaps his 'hands-on' approach could be demonstrated for our team?"
"Later." Jack had said Perry's background was none of UNIT's business, and Martha had chosen to honour that decision.
"I notice Agent Cooper, whom your records indicate was trained with the local police force, is not in attendance."
"Someone has to mind the store. You can't bring everyone." Still the same smile.
"No, but you did bring two secretaries. I'm sure there's a reason." Colonel Fielding did not use the exact same inflections he would have had he said the word 'prostitutes' instead, but it was close.
"Yes." Jack refused to elaborate. The Colonel tried and failed to hide his annoyance at the lack of response. This round went to Jack, who turned back to the soldiers and continued the inspection as if there had been no interruption. "Good. Good. Soldier, what're your qualifications?"
The young lieutenant he'd paused in front of saluted. Hollins, Martha thought. In a firm voice, she said, "Sir. Certified expert on all known human, Sontaran, and Sycorax projectile weapons."
"Ever encounter a Lidellian phase blaster?
"Not yet, sir."
"Avoid them. They jam." He moved on, nodding appreciatively at the better-looking soldiers. Martha had made a point to give Torchwood a copy of UNIT's harassment policies in advance. Ianto had sent her flowers two days later.
Jack stopped in front of a sergeant. His smile dropped. "No."
"Excuse me?" said the Colonel.
"Not this guy. Sergeant Trent, is it?" Jack made an exaggerated look at the nametag, but something about the way he pronounced the name suggested he already knew. "He's off the team."
Colonel Fielding asked, "Is there a reason?"
"Sir," said Trent. "I'll stand down."
"Not unless the Captain gives me a reason why."
Jack's eyes never left Trent's face. "He knows why. The sergeant goes, or we're done."
"We've been planning this for months, Captain."
"I don't care, Colonel."
"Do we get to disallow some of your team?"
Jack turned away on one heel. "Kids, we're going home. Lois, get the bags. Ianto, make sure the car is ready to go and that they didn't steal our sparkplugs. Johnson, if anyone tries to stop us from leaving, shoot them." He was already to the door. Lois hesitated, but Ianto was a step behind Jack, and the rest followed, with Johnson taking up the rear position.
Martha stayed put, fighting the urge to laugh at the pop-eyed horror on Colonel Fielding's face. "Harkness, get back here."
"Rupesh, we're current on our shots, but everyone will want a booster after this." Jack touched his earpiece. "Gwen, we're headed back. Make sure you've cleared the beer out of the swimming pool."
The laugh was winning.
Jack paused. "Colonel?"
"The sergeant will be taken off the team."
"Thank you." He watched until Trent had saluted the Colonel and left the room. "Shall we continue?"
The Colonel growled his way through the rest of the inspection, and then everyone took their seats, Torchwood in one corner of the room, the UNIT personnel distinctly in another, Martha as ever in the middle.
"So," Jack said. "War games. It sounds like fun, right? We all go out into the field and pretend to shoot aliens, and call it training." He offered a friendly grin, which none of the UNIT soldiers returned. "It's not. As anyone who's been up against an alien menace and survived it can tell you, the real situations you'll run into have nothing to do with anything you can practise for. How many of you were present for the Sontaran incident last year?"
Four hands went up. One of them was Martha's.
"How many of you lost someone you knew?" Several more hands went into the air.
"We were locked inside our own base as soon as the ATMOS fumes started rolling out. By the time we got the doors open, the sky was on fire. Sometimes, you can't plan ahead."
Jack took a seat, sitting with a wide, easy stance in a chair not designed for lounging. The Colonel went to the front. "Our day begins at 0800 hours tomorrow. We'll be conducting several cross-training exercises and one large exercise. You will be assigned to one of three teams, which will be announced in the morning. Some of you will be aliens masquerading as humans. If you're an alien, your goal is to successfully capture a particular piece of technology whilst not being found out. If you're human, your goal is to find and capture the infiltrators and protect the technology at all costs. To keep everything impartial, we'll also have two civilian observers on-site." At the word 'civilian,' there were several frowns. "Any questions?"
A hand went up in the front. "Sir, where are the observers?"
"They'll be joining us in the morning. Anything else?"
Johnson was next. "When we capture the alien team, what do we do with them?"
"The human teams will tag the aliens and will need to contain them by posting their own guards." Martha had offered the tagging system she'd seen on her own very first off-world trip: a Sharpie. Colonel Fielding hadn't been impressed. "Anything else?" There was nothing. "Dismissed."
Ianto waited until he'd shut the door and activated the small scrambler he'd packed to jam any surveillance in their room. Jack sat on the edge of one of the narrow beds, bouncing up and down as Ianto hung their coats in the empty wardrobe.
"Remind me," Ianto said. "Was one of the goals to antagonise UNIT while we're here?"
"I call it a side benefit rather than a goal."
"They're mad that we have to do this. They don't like me, they don't like our methods. If Fielding wants to make this into a pissing contest, I can reach a lot farther."
"Those of us in the middle getting wet aren't as happy."
Jack frowned. "I'm going to keep the rest of you safe. Don't worry about it."
"You pay me to worry."
"And you're worried now because?"
"Why did you kick that man off the UNIT team?" He sat on the other bed.
"I've run into him before. I don't trust him, and I don't want him near my people."
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not tonight. Can I tell you the story another time?" Just another Jack secret, then. Probably an ex. Jack ran into enough of those for Ianto to be happy skipping the details.
"Of course." A change of subject would help, he decided. "Ready to call Gwen?"
Jack tapped his ear. "Gwen? You miss us?"
"Have they kicked you out yet?"
"Wait until breakfast."
"Don't antagonise them, Jack. We need their help."
Ianto said, "That's what I told him."
"Ianto, keep a tight leash on him."
"Speaking of leashes ... " Jack said.
"We weren't," said Gwen. "I've been noticing some unusual Rift activity near where we found our squishy friend last night. I'm going to keep an eye on it, and probably ask Rhys to help me check out the site in the daylight."
"Be careful. If you see anything out of the ordinary, call us. We can be back there in a couple of hours."
"By which point it will have eaten Cardiff."
"Gwen ... "
"I'll call if there's trouble. I promise."
Jack's face got that pained, worried look. They were too far away to offer help. Jack hated splitting the team for this reason, but here they were.
"Ianto, tell him to stop worrying. Have fun on your holiday."
"It's not a holiday," Jack said. "It's a vital training exercise. Ask anyone."
"Good night,"Gwen replied and clicked off.
Jack took out his earpiece and set it on the small desk, followed by his wrist strap. At home, this was his ritual, symbolically setting aside Torchwood time and slipping into their time. Ianto's tie would come off, their shoes would go by the door. Within the walls of their flat, they were just two blokes snatching mouthfuls of normality between disasters.
Jack had replaced all the cheap pots and pans in the kitchen with good cast iron and steel, and he was teaching Ianto how to cook. Ianto had reorganised his shelves to accommodate Jack's growing DVD collection, and he was expanding Jack's music and film knowledge to media released after the middle of last century. At work, Jack was his employer, involved with making life-or-death decisions that Ianto followed every day. At home, Ianto's landlady left wedding magazines in the foyer that she said her grandson and his young man had found ever so useful in planning their ceremony. Ianto was both mortified and touched, and he scooted the magazines out of sight whenever possible.
"So," said Jack. "We're cut loose for the evening. Just you, me," he bounced on the bed again, "and these uncomfortable single-man bunks. Remind you of old times?"
Jack grabbed his arm and tugged him onto his lap for a simple kiss. "What do you say we make use of one of the semi-private showers?"
"Not worried you might be fraternising with the enemy? My team could be the aliens. You'd never know until we ate your kidneys for our tea."
Jack wrapped his arms around Ianto. "I'll risk it." He went in for another kiss, which Ianto broke.
"Um. Before this goes any further, I remembered what I forgot to pack."
There was a knock at the door. Lois looked up from the novel she was reading. Johnson already had her hand casually on her gun as she said, "Come in."
The door cracked open. Rupesh and Perry stood outside. "Are you occupied?"
"Not really," Lois said, and set the book down as they came in. These rooms didn't have much in the way of seating. Rupesh sat himself at the end of Johnson's bed without asking. Perry remained standing.
"It's too early to sleep," Rupesh said. "I thought we'd be occupied the full time."
"What are you reading?" Perry asked, craning his neck to see the spine of Lois's book. The novel was a trashy romance she'd picked up on a whim. Embarrassed, she flipped it over.
"Nothing. Did you bring anything good?" Perry was a bookworm. Lois rarely liked any of what he had, but books were a subject that got him talking. People who talked were useful, and distracted. She made a quick glance at Johnson while Perry went on about something he was reading with rocket ships.
"I have a pack of cards," Johnson said abruptly. "In my other bag. It's still in the car."
Lois took out the spare keys to the SUV. "Perry, could I ask you to be a dear?"
"Of course." He smiled, and it hurt, a little. He was always so eager to please. "What does it look like?"
"Black. Small." Johnson was making this up, and her imagination wasn't on par with the least well-written romance novel. "In the boot."
"All right. I'll be back in a moment."
Rupesh opened his mouth as soon as the door closed, but Johnson held up her hand. "We're almost certainly being observed by someone."
He paused, then turned to Lois, speaking each word carefully. "Did you know what the war games were going to be?"
"No. I tried asking, but Ianto said this was his project. I'm in the dark." Not that it mattered, she thought grimly. This was just postponing the inevitable, not preventing anything.
Reading her mind, Johnson said, "Regarding projects, when do you anticipate working on yours? Since we have unexpected free time."
"Not now. I don't have all the materials I need gathered in one place. I'll work on it back at the Hub."
Rupesh blustered in, "Now would be ideal."
Johnson said, "You could do the prep work here." She looked at the door, and gave a nod indicating the room across the corridor. "Not all accidents happen at home, and the war games are going to be dangerous." Johnson wasn't as married to the ideas of 'bloodless' or 'capture,' though she'd take them when available. If Lois gave up the idea of capture, she could easily arrange something while they were out in the woods. Nothing would take down the Captain for long, but if Ianto were to be killed in an apparent accident, Jack would be distraught. It would be simple to take him and Gwen down when they returned to Cardiff. Dr Jones might meet with an accident of her own, possibly the same one, terribly tragic, and Lois could call in the arrest at the funeral, when surely not even Jack Harkness would have a weapon ready.
Just the thought made her ill. The eager look on Rupesh's face didn't help.
She couldn't push this off indefinitely. Two weeks had passed since she'd been given her orders, and Mr Gloucester would want to see results.
"If the opportunity presents itself," she said. "I'll see what I can do."
Their heads whipped around to the knock at the doorframe. "That was fast," Johnson said. "Come in."
To Lois's surprise, Jack bounded into the room. "Are we disturbing anything sordid? Please say yes."
Her heart slammed in her chest. Had they been eavesdropping? Did they know the plan?
But Jack's grin was his "I'm naughty, don't you know?" smile, and he was followed inside by Ianto wearing his "Seriously, this is my life" face. They didn't know.
"You caught us," Johnson said, throwing her legs over the edge of the bed to set her feet on the hard floor. She was still wearing her boots. "The three of us were about to have mad, passionate sex."
Jack turned to Ianto. "I told you. Pay up."
Ianto ignored him. "We're bored. Jack brought cards."
"I always bring a pack of cards. You never know how much downtime you're going to have on these things."
"When he suggests strip poker, say no."
"Fantastic," Johnson said, and elbowed Rupesh until he helped swing the room's small desk between the two beds to act as a table.
"We need more seats," Jack said, looking around the room. "If we're all sitting next to each other, we'll see the cards."
"Just don't cheat," said Johnson.
"Nah, too hard."
Perry returned before they were completely settled. "I didn't find the bag, but I found this." He held a squat black cool box Lois remembered from the boot. Ianto leapt up from his seat.
"Oh, perfect. I forgot we packed this." He opened it up and parcelled out the makings for sandwiches. The bread had gone soggy, and the only choices were ham, pastrami, or cheese, but after the brief dinner they'd eaten, everything was delicious.
Jack was about to make an objection, but Ianto handed him a slapped-together sandwich. "It's your favourite. Eat."
They played originally for crisps until they were all eaten, and then for imaginary money.
No-one took Jack up on the strip poker, even when he offered up clothing pieces of his own as extra collateral. The well-worn red cards slapped against each other, slid across the table, were huddled against noses like grannies did, yielding up their faint pasteboard smell. Rupesh only won one hand, when everyone else folded at the first bet. Perry and Ianto were decent players, though they were sitting side by side and seemed to be sneaking looks off each other's hands. Lois won twice just paying attention to which one was peeking when, and making her bets accordingly.
An hour later, Johnson was up a thousand pounds thanks to a bluff on a pair of twos, then Jack took the lead with a series of improbable hands. Lois was sure he cheated, but couldn't prove it, and hoped the six hundred pounds she ended up in the hole remained imaginary. Still, Jack kept the conversation moving, bringing in Perry who was shy, and Lois who was pretending to be. He was a terrible manager, she had months of reports backing up that observation, but he was good with people. Everyone lit up around him when he smiled, wanting to please him. She felt it too, gnawing inside herself like a curse.
"Okay, bedtime for good little girls and boys," Jack announced, tossing down his last hand.
"It's only ten o'clock," Rupesh said. "We don't finish work until now some nights."
"Tomorrow's going to come early. Teams to meet, aliens to fight. Sweet dreams, everyone." He ushered the rest of the men out of the room with him, leaving Lois and Johnson alone.
"It wouldn't be difficult," Johnson said, as if the intervening hours hadn't occurred. "The Captain doesn't trust me, but he does trust you. So do Jones and Cooper. You can use that. Give me the word in advance."
"The word is 'wait,'" Lois said, and readied herself for bed although she wasn't going to be able to sleep anytime soon.
Rhys couldn't beg off work this morning, which was just as well. Although Gwen enjoyed having him nearby, she could not prevent her feeling of relief when he was well away from Torchwood business and Torchwood danger. As she swept over the pavement with her handheld scanner, recording the fluctuations in Rift energy, she was also relieved he didn't see how boring her job could be, giant jellies notwithstanding.
Two girls, perhaps nineteen years old, stopped to watch her. Gwen nodded at them.
"Making a movie?"
Gwen blinked, but the girl who'd asked gave a hopeful smile.
"Scouting for locations. Good guess." She made a show of holding the scanner like a camera.
"I told you," the girl said to her mate, poking her with an elbow. "What's it going to be, then? Something romantic?"
Gwen remembered the film Rhys had been watching last night. "Sorry, no. Science fiction epic. Lots of aliens." She was struck with inspiration. "We've been filming in other locations around the city already. You might have seen our work." BBC Wales filmed around the city at times; Jack still crowed about one programme they'd aired where, if you paused just right, an actual Weevil stood in the back of one scene.
"No way," said the second girl, glancing around in case a hidden film star might pop out of the street.
"I've seen them," said the first girl authoritatively. "Just last week, I told you, I saw that man chasing the big weird thing down off Cranbrook Street."
"You never said."
Last week. Last week. Oh God, last week with the fucking space kangaroos. "Tall bloke, good looking? May have tried to chat you up?"
"Good looking, yeah." The girl grinned. "I thought he looked famous."
The scanner beeped. Gwen ignored the girls for a moment while she compared the readings to what they saw earlier. The fluctuations were stabilising, but not going down. A few sites around the area had permanent levels of Rift activity, like that one place in Bute Park. No new steady locations had formed since the alien Botanists had left, just the regular spikes. She wasn't sure she liked the idea of seeing more hotspots on the rise.
"So who is he?"
"Hm?" Gwen looked up. The girls were still watching her, eager for celebrity gossip.
"He's famous, right? That man I saw?"
"Oh yes," Gwen said. "He's a star."
She made a note to add this site to their regularly-monitored locations. Hopefully there weren't more jellies on the way.
Martha woke to the sound of her mobile ringing, and bleary-eyed she tried to shut off her alarm before she realised it wasn't set. "Hello?"
"I woke you. Sorry."
Her mouth spread into a loopy smile. "It's okay. My boyfriend's still asleep."
Tom's laugh carried over the line. "I know you'll be busy. I just wanted to say good morning, and I love you."
"Good morning. I love you, too." She rolled to a sitting position. That was getting harder every day. "What are you doing today?"
"Nothing exciting. I'm working eight to eight. I have a meeting at three with the Directors."
"It's no alien invasion, but we make our own fun." He hesitated. "Tish called. I told her you were busy with UNIT. You may want to phone her to see what she wanted."
Martha checked the time. It could wait. Her sister was calling almost every day to ask how Martha was feeling, if the baby had moved, or just to chat. They'd always been close, but now Tish was present in a way she hadn't been, even after that bloody missing year. Martha didn't want to come out and ask if she was upset her younger sister was married and going to have a baby before she did.
"I'll call tonight."
With a final exchange of "I love yous," they rang off. Martha crawled out of bed, went through her morning routine, and headed to the mess.
She chose a light breakfast from the spread, much better than what had been available last night, and took a seat with her colleague Dr Simmons. This gave her a vantage point to the door as UNIT and Torchwood personnel staggered in towards the coffee urn, as well as easy access to the bathroom if her stomach acted up again.
After breakfast, the teams met up in the conference room. Ianto carried in the packets, which he and Lois handed out while Jack spoke.
"Inside your packet, you'll find your team and if you're a human or an alien pretending to be a human. You'll need to work with the other members of your team to discover the identities of any infiltrators and detain them, and save the artefact."
Ianto produced the "artefact" from his case, and a laugh shot around the room at the sight of a bog roll spray-painted silver.
Jack waited for quiet before continuing. "If you're an alien, you need to make contact with the other aliens without alerting suspicion, steal the artefact, and bring it to the alien meeting site by tomorrow evening at nine PM. The aliens are a de facto team of their own."
A hand went up. "Yeah?"
"Captain, won't the Torchwood team have the advantage of knowing who the aliens are?"
"There isn't a Torchwood team. Two Torchwood members are on each team, and only Mr Jones and I know who the aliens are. We're not telling."
Martha privately thought she might be able to do something about that. She slid open her own packet: Gold Team, human. There was an additional handwritten note. "Martha, you and Rupesh will function as medics for all three teams."The note was signed with a smiley face.
Jack said, "You'll score points for your teams by performing well in the training exercises and by winning the simulation. If your team has the most points by the end of the game, all team members receive a week's paid holiday." He glanced at Colonel Fielding, who nodded.
No voices broke out, but Martha could see the sudden interest in the room. Holidays were regulated at UNIT, and nearly impossible to come by at Torchwood.
Colonel Fielding explained the rest of the training exercises. UNIT personnel not involved with the mission had simulated an alien crash site, which everyone would "investigate" after lunch. Meanwhile, both groups would engage in cross-training with their counterparts to compare and coordinate systems. That was of course polite speak for "spy on each other's methods," but since everyone in the room knew that, it didn't count as a lie.
"As Captain Harkness said, points will be given for good work. Our civilian observers will assign the points." The door opened. The first person who walked in was a man Martha didn't know.
The second was her mother.