Perry moved fast, grabbing Ianto as he fell to the hard ground. "Ianto? Talk to me."
Ianto moved his lips, but they were cold, everything was cold. "See how bad it is."
Perry and Lois helped him to the ground. Perry unfastened his coat, but paused. Lois had seen him naked, and didn't hesitate. Waistcoat, shirt, everything moved aside under her quick touch. The expressions on both their faces told him enough, even before he saw the blood on Lois's hands.
"We have to stop the bleeding," Perry said, shrugging off the remnants of his own jacket and wadding it into a large ball. The material wouldn't absorb, wouldn't hold, but the gesture was kind.
"I'll walk," Ianto said.
"It's miles. You won't ... " Perry trailed off. He'd served during the war. He'd seen wounds like this before.
The pain was getting worse, radiating through his abdomen, throbbing with his heartbeat. Ianto bit back a shout.
"Go for help," Lois said. "If you can't go back to position, get to the base. If you can commandeer a jeep, bring it here. Take the gun and the torch."
"Keep the gun," Perry countered. "They're mad. Protect yourself."
Ianto noticed dully that he was no longer involved with the conversation. He cleared his throat. "Lois, go with him." They both turned. "Perry's specs are gone and you'll have a better chance together. Come back for me when you can."
Perry looked at Lois and shook his head. "I can see well enough. Stay with him." That was a good sign, Ianto thought as pain shuddered through him. Had they agreed, he would have known there was no hope. Perry thought there was a chance Ianto would still be alive when he got back. Small favours.
The shallow light they had dimmed further, or perhaps that was just him. He watched Lois bend in and press a kiss to Perry's cheek for luck. Ianto closed his eyes.
Johnson couldn't say for certain if the UNIT soldiers holding her were back in their right minds. The pair kept whispering to each other, whisper whisper whisper, clutching their weapons. Johnson's own weapon had been confiscated. They were in the midst of a bloody invasion, again, and here she was being held by incompetent fools who thought she was an alien or abetting the aliens.
Recalling the time she herself did this to the Torchwood team did not improve her mood.
"I'm not an alien. When the orange lemurs stop talking to you, release me."
"Quiet." The soldier - Boskin? Something like that, she couldn't make out the nametag - gestured at her with his gun.
Johnson grumbled to herself. Then she began working on getting free.
Lois checked her watch. Perry had been gone for twenty minutes. Had he been ambushed back at the rendezvous point? Did he have to go all the way to the base? She had no way to tell unless the comms returned. She touched her ear to static again. No help there.
From time to time, she heard more gunfire.
She was no doctor. How much blood could a person lose before it was too much? How could she tell if something vital was lacerated without prodding into bits that would bleed more? All she had on hand for pain was paracetamol, and she was afraid to give even that to Ianto, not remembering if it acted as a blood thinner.
His eyes were closed again.
"Hey, wake up." She shook him as gently as possible. "You need to stay conscious. Perry will be here soon, and we'll all go back to the base together. Rupesh and Martha can fuss over you. You'll like that."
His lips twitched into a smile. He opened his eyes, barely.
"The road is a mile from here."
She almost hadn't heard him. "What?"
"The road. It's about a mile away. You'd have to stay away from the others, but it shouldn't take you more than half an hour to reach it. You ought to go."
"It's cold out there and Perry took the only torch. I'll get lost. You're stuck with me, I'm afraid." But now that he'd planted the idea, she found herself considering. With Perry gone, she could leave Ianto and strike out for the base. No-one would blame her. She could claim he'd already died. By the time any potential rescuers found him, he certainly would have, especially if she pulled away what bindings they'd cobbled together over his wound.
And wasn't that the easiest means to her goal? Strike at Torchwood's vulnerable spot, then swoop in for the kill. Mr Gloucester would approve the decision. Johnson wouldn't hesitate. Rupesh was a doctor, and Lois was sure he'd have already started walking.
In the dim light, Ianto was as pale as a corpse.
Lois heard another gunshot nearby. She sat down beside Ianto on his good side, leaning against him for warmth. "Since we're about to die anyway," she said with as much levity as she could muster, "who were the aliens? In the training, I mean. Johnson's been acting suspicious, and that Blickman fellow." She shoved his shoulder until he looked at her.
His breath was shallow. "There aren't any aliens."
"What do you mean? You said there were."
"It's a trust exercise. Gwen came up with it. Could you work with someone, even knowing they might be out to destroy you? Jack thought it was brilliant. I think he likes putting one over on UNIT. Don't tell." His eyes closed again as he spoke.
"But there were aliens on the ship."
"UNIT did those. Everyone's card said human. I made them myself."
From outside, she could hear movement, too large for humans, too small for a vehicle. The pungent smell of cedar burst into her nose. She immediately covered her face. How long until the hallucinogen took effect?
Lois grabbed the gun from where she'd set it. She only had a minute, if that.
She wasn't officially trained for field work, wasn't considered a full operative, was not even qualified per Torchwood standards on a firearm. Gwen gave her lessons whenever possible, but Lois had eavesdropped when she'd confided to Jack and Ianto that Lois was "absolutely hopeless, the poor lamb." Lois had nodded with a satisfied smile and moved away; the hardest physical task about her assignment had been pretending to be bad with a gun, whilst showing slight improvement over time to allay suspicions she was in fact faking the whole thing.
"Wait here," she breathed, and ducked out of the copse.
Her eyes told her the alien was large and billowy, her disorientation told her it was emitting fumes that made her head swim. The creature loomed into view, into the space in front of her, filling her whole world.
Lois fired three times into its centre.
The alien dropped. As she watched, she saw it change forms, first into a lion, then into the bizarrely mangled body of a man she'd killed two years ago. She staggered back, head swinging wildly, not seeing anyone else, not knowing what she'd see if she did spy them.
The gun in her hand shifted like a snake.
Lois ducked her head under the lush purple hanging curtains enveloping the copse, and carefully set the gun down. There was a clown leaning up against one tree, bright red clothes, pale white face with a downturned mouth. She stumbled over next to him, and sat, and waited for the visions to clear.
"Stay awake," she said, hearing her voice gong like a huge old church bell.
Well before Perry reached the fallback position, he knew he couldn't go near. Hallucinating men and women with weapons plus aliens meant the night was alive with shouts and shots, and it was possible only tonight's thick fog would prevent more people from being killed.
Overhead he heard the helicopters before the searchlights pierced through the night. UNIT had sent reinforcements. Perry hoped they didn't get it into their heads to bomb the whole place.
The next time Jack brought up training, Perry had detailed plans on where he was going to tell him to stuff the idea.
Time to flag someone down.
Martha's brain had cleared. She didn't have time to wonder what would happen with this exposure, if it would kill her, if it would hurt her baby. She and her mother were far from their previous position, and soldiers scrambled everywhere. Many of them were clearly still seeing visions.
"All right," she said. "Mum, be careful. We're going to collect people. I need to see who's injured."
There'd been a woman with a shrapnel wound on her leg, lost now in the confusion and the icy fog. Martha grabbed the arm of the first person she saw. "Lieutenant, tell me what you're looking at right now."
The woman let out a little scream, and Martha nodded. "Mum, take her, make her sit down until it passes." Very carefully, Martha disarmed the lieutenant and then wondered where she could put the gun. Mum took the woman's wrist and guided her to a flat spot, talking in a quiet, soothing voice.
Martha turned when she heard a groan. Two more soldiers limped together into sight, leaning on each other. "Show me," she said, and one helped shift his friend to her. "He's been shot."
"Ma'am, it's a madhouse."
"I can see that." They half-carried the more injured man over to where Francine waited. "Mum, I need you to gather up more of the crazy people. If they look like they might shoot you, leave them and run."
"If we can bring them out of the gas and disarm them peacefully, they won't shoot each other or us. Please, Mum."
"I'll go with you," said the other soldier, Boyle. He was injured, but it didn't look bad.
Another explosion came from the area of the ship, a smaller one this time. She saw her mother shudder, then walk off determinedly towards a staggering form in the fog as Boyle followed.
Martha turned to her patient. "Let's get those trousers off. You should be glad Captain Harkness isn't here to say that."
The wound was clean, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw it wasn't as bad as she feared. "We'll get you patched up."
Her mother and Boyle brought more people to her position, and the lieutenant began to help them when his head had cleared. Colonel Fielding joined her, brought in by her mother holding his elbow while he raged at giant orcas.
"Martha," Mum said quietly, as the Colonel came to and started issuing orders, "this is dangerous. People are shooting each other, and there are aliens on the loose. You need to go back to the base."
"I'm needed here." She indicated her next patient, who'd been struck in the face with the butt of someone's rifle. In the distance, she could hear what she hoped were reinforcements coming through the fog. They would have been alerted once they knew communications were lost.
"You have been exposed to alien toxins, not to mention that machine earlier. Can you think about your child for once?"
Martha ignored her. She cracked the cold pack and handed it to the man beside her. "Hold this against your face for twenty minutes. Don't hold it longer than that or you'll injure yourself more."
"Mum, this is my job. This is what I do. If I don't do my job, someone could die tonight. Yes, I worry. But these people are somebody's children too."
Mum didn't look convinced. She had that same sad face when she'd seen Martha walk away from her with the Doctor.
Martha said, "You're here to watch us work, right? So watch. See what I do."
A sharp noise startled her awake. Gwen jerked, caught, trapped!
Her vision and head cleared, and she realised she was wrapped up in her sleeping bag. The sharp noise was someone's fist rapping on the car window. Someone wearing a Heddlu uniform. Gwen smiled uneasily and rolled down the window.
"Sorry, hi," she said. "I've got permission to be here."
The constable raised his eyebrows. "This that Torchwood stakeout, then?"
"Thought so. You lot responsible for the broken window?"
Window? Oh yes, the one the Jelly Monster had smashed. "Not exactly. Look, I'm on a case now," she said, coaxing him to go away.
"Terrorists going to take over the church in the wee hours?"
"Could be." She glanced over to her scanner, but the output for the past six hours hadn't changed a jot. "Did you need something?"
"I know you Torchwood people think you can park anywhere, but as a matter of fact, this car park is supposed to be cleared for the sweepers tonight, my cousin works at that shop you broke and had to lose two days of work, and I can't think of anything I'd like to do better right now than issue you a citation."
No sign of anything Rift-related, no calls from back at the Hub, no check-ins from Jack. Rhys would likely appreciate her coming to bed. "All right. Let me get this put away."
He watched her climb out of the sleeping bag and stow it in the boot, and waited until she drove off.
Bloody wild goose chase anyway.
Cold seeped from the ground into Ianto's body, leached away all warmth and thought. His right side had been a stabbing ache, and now it was a dull, constant throb. His nerves were shutting down, and his system would follow. Were it not for Lois's warmth, created by her coat thrown over them both, and her insistence that he keep talking, he'd likely have gone into shock already. Even with her there, he knew it wouldn't be long.
Selfishly, he was glad. He didn't want to die alone.
Three different times now, he'd mentally begun composing his goodbye to Jack, but hadn't said the words out loud. He couldn't bring himself to make someone else carry that message for him. Tosh had recorded her goodbye. He'd put off doing the same. Now he wished he'd tried.
All his letters began with, "I'm sorry for leaving you. I would have stayed with you until the end of my life." Except, he supposed, he had.
"Come on," Lois said, no longer even faking the cheerful tone. "Connery or Roger Moore."
"Connery." It took a long time to think, to breathe. "Always go with the classic."
Outside their little shelter, there were voices. Not more aliens, then.
"Wait here." As if he could go anywhere.
Lois scooted out from under the coat and picked up the gun. Ianto closed his eyes again, listening.
"Found one!" More footsteps, these running. "Dead. Can't tell, looks like it's been shot."
"Right. We'll load it up and take it back."
They didn't sound mad, at least not more mad than anyone else in their line of work. He heard Lois crackle the branches as she stepped out and immediately said, "Wait! I'm not an alien. I'm with Torchwood."
"Yes, miss, but please put down the gun."
"I'm going to set it at my feet. We couldn't be too careful. Everyone's been exposed to some kind of gas."
"That's right, miss. We're from the base."
A moment passed. Suddenly, Ianto was certain Lois was going to leave without him, leave him here to die in the cold all alone.
"I'm glad you came. My supervisor has been injured and he needs medical attention."
"We can give you a ride back, but miss, the Captain will be up and about any time."
"Not that supervisor."
There was a sudden flurry of feet, and Ianto's eyes came open to see Sergeant Trent rushing inside, face gone pale as snow. "How bad is it?" He immediately reached for Ianto's wound, and Ianto could barely think, or move, and was too tired to speak, but he tried to roll away from the touch.
"Come on, come on. Lauder, give me a hand!"
Despite Ianto's weak protests, another UNIT soldier joined Trent, and together, they lifted him from where he leaned against the cold tree. The movement jerked the bright, hot pain back alive all down his side. Ianto screamed as the fabric tugged away from where it had stuck to him with his own tacky blood.
He couldn't see anything in the darkness, face pressed against someone's jacket, and he was laid on the backseat of whatever vehicle they'd brought, cocooned in blessed warmth. The seat fabric smelled of vinyl, of old leather, and gun oil. One of the soldiers got into the back with him.
I would have stayed with you.
He passed out as the car lurched into motion.
The searchlights made the fog less impenetrable. Jack couldn't find a single familiar face, but made his way to where he could see the large stationary lights set up. If his people had escaped, they'd be with UNIT working on a plan. His comm was down, and his mobile was broken or jammed. No way to contact everyone, no way to know who was still alive. He had to trust them to do their jobs.
"Colonel!" he yelled, when Fielding came into view. "What's the status?"
"It's not the Brix."
"Yeah. It's Manteans. I got that. Are they contained?"
"We think they're within the perimeter. We don't have a clear count on their numbers."
"You saw them?" asked a major, standing at the Colonel's shoulder. Jack had the impression the guy had been the one to give the order to shoot him.
"No. Manteans always travel in groups of five. They're not threatening."
"Captain, we have multiple wounded, some of whom may not survive, and nearly a dozen people missing." Fielding's face was grave. Jack gave a quick look around, but saw none of his team. None of his realteam, he thought, war games be damned.
"Have any of my people been injured?"
"No-one's come in," said a new voice. Rupesh stepped out of the fog. "Martha and I are triaging, and sending the wounded back to base."
"So much for being dead," Jack said.
Rupesh nodded at the blood all over Jack's clothes. "You should talk."
A jeep approached, coming to a stop too close to their position. Jack felt a short, sharp sick feeling as Trent got out from one side, and Lois emerged from the other. "Doctor," she said, "we need you right now."
Rupesh jogged over, Jack at his heels. "Are you all right?"
"Back seat," Trent said. There was a soldier in the back, leaning over a still body. The soldier moved out of the way for Rupesh to climb in. Jack heard the sharp hiss of breath before he saw.
His Webley was warm in his hand as he pressed the barrel against Trent's lousy head. "You have two seconds to say goodbye." Jack's vision swam, too many hours of pain, too many reminders of the last time.
His blood pounded in his ears, blocking out nearly all sound. Rupesh's voice did get through: "I need a driver. We have to get him back to the base immediately." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lois lean in to say something to Rupesh, who jerked suddenly. Was she there when Ianto had been hurt? Maybe she'd told the doctor something helpful. Please let her have said something helpful. Rupesh got into the back seat with Ianto and shut the door.
The soldier who'd been in the back looked between Jack and Trent, then ducked into the driver's seat. The jeep screeched out, probably jarring the passengers, probably making everything worse. A helicopter would be faster, the trip to the base would take too long, and Jack was rooted here like a tree, unable even to say he needed to go with them, needed to be there.
He could do this.
"One," Jack said. "Two."
He smelled cedar.
"Captain!" Lois shouted, but she was a little voice, and far away.
"Jack!" Perry, out of breath as though he'd been running, stepped beside him. "You're hallucinating. Put your gun down."
"I'm not hallucinating." The smell grew stronger. Around him, personnel hurried into gas masks. Now therewere memories he didn't need.
"I didn't shoot him," Trent said. "Ask them."
"Sure you didn't."
Perry said, "Sir, there was stray gunfire. Someone shooting at shadows. It could have been any one of us."
"Not you." Jack didn't waver his arm, but he stared at Perry. "It's never you." Jack's lover was shot, but Perry was fine. Jack's son was sent back into the past to die, but Perry got to live a whole new life in the future. It wasn't fair.
"The night's not over yet," Perry said. "Please put the gun down."
Black-purple sparkles formed in front of his eyes, and Jack dropped his arm. Lois was already backing away from some horror only she could see.
The Manteans came. Jack felt a mad giggle start somewhere inside. Oh, the stories he could tell, would tell.
High again. Hm.
Around him, he heard guns cocking, like the clicking of cameras. "They're not hostile," Jack said. "Frankly, as space-faring species go, they're pretty mellow. They probably don't even notice we're here."
He was drawn into a memory from 1969. Lucia and Eirin had been creeped out by a case, some dirtbag from Barry who was infusing sweets with an alien aphrodisiac. Lucia had eaten one, though they captured and dealt with said dirtbag before he could hurt her. After, Jack and Eirin had taken her home, and they'd dug into Eirin's private stash, and the three of them spent the next several hours pleasantly stoned.
Another gun clicked, bringing him back to the present. The present wasn't better. The Master stood in front of him, smiling tightly.
"Get down!" He watched the statues around him fall, pulled to the ground by other statues. Hands like ropes tugged him down, and he fell to his knees as popping corn burst in his ears. His own hands were like giant woollen mittens, covering the sound. Three large clouds crumpled like collapsed pastry puffs. Jack crawled up onto his knees, and back to his feet.
Another form approached him, a horror out of his bad dreams: a covered face; a little boy asking for his mummy; a private spasming as the mustard gas ate his nerves.
"Here." The form held up a mask, and the voice was kind. He couldn't hear, couldn't listen. Hands moved up, pressed the mask over his face, he would suffocate, he'd suffocated to death so much. "Breathe." The hands held his chest and side as Jack gasped into the mask.
Other forms he couldn't make out changed the faces of the monsters around him. The Master's face merged with little Jamie's, became an aurochs, became ...
Jack closed his eyes and breathed deep.
The Manteans were dead. Three of them lay around him like fallen logs. At several paces, he saw the UNIT soldiers and Johnson lower their weapons. Beside him, Martha stood wearing a gas mask. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah. We didn't have to shoot. Manteans are peaceful." Or were. Welcome to Earth, where we shoot first.
"Captain," said Fielding from under his mask, "they had released a biological weapon."
"No." His head had cleared with the rapid dissolution of the toxin from his bloodstream. "It's their respiratory system. Works on humans like LSD. It wasn't their fault. The explosions too." He looked around. "What about the other two? Maybe we can still salvage this." They could explain what had happened. It wasn't the first time the Manteans would have run into a bad reaction.
"Sir?" said Lois, her timid voice muffled by the mask. "A fourth one is dead."
Jack sighed. Four of five Manteans gone, and the last wandering out there in the darkness?
"We need to track down the last one and not shoot it." Breathing better now, Jack took quick inventory. He recognised his own people despite their masks. The UNIT guys could be anyone. "Perry, I need you to figure out a way to track the Manteans."
"On it." Perry went to his knees beside one of the bodies, a monitor in his hands.
"Johnson, gather troops. No more than three, people with gas masks. We want them as backup in case things get bad, but a big group is just going to run into trouble."
Johnson immediately began giving orders to the soldiers beside her, gesturing who should stay and who would come with them.
"Martha ... "
"You don't give me orders currently. I'm coming with you."
Jack nodded. Fighting with her about the matter was dead last on his list of things to do tonight.
"I'm coming, too," Trent said.
"Sir!" Lois's shout sounded strange through her mask. She pointed to a place in the fog, and now Jack could hear the screams.
They broke into a quick trot, not a full-out pelting run as Jack would were it not dark and foggy and easy to get lost or hurt. That lasted as long as it took for the first gunshot to fire. Jack broke into a sprint, and fell face-first into bracken for his trouble. A hand reached out to help him up. Perry. Together they hurried towards the noise, the dark closing in. Where had the damn helicopters gone?
They were lost.
Jack swore loudly as he stopped. Footsteps gathered around him. Perry was still beside him. Martha and Trent materialised out of the darkness together, and after a moment, Lois. "You should have stayed back."
"You didn't say."
Perry looked around. "Where's Johnson?"
Jack followed his gaze, but the fog was thick and the dark barely showed the people around him. "Hopefully keeping her men from shooting anyone. Johnson!"
There was no answer.
"Everybody stick together."
They formed a small bunch, walking more carefully in the direction they'd last heard the shots. Martha walked beside him, huffing. "Are you okay?"
"I need more exercise," she said. "What about you? Are you going to be all right?" Her question gentled at the end, and her voice lowered so that only Jack could hear her. Her hand slipped into his.
"Ask me tomorrow."
"I know all the doctors back at the base. Ianto's in the best hands he could be."
If he'd made it back to the base in time. If there was anything that could be done for him when he arrived. Should the worst happen, he'd slip away and Jack wouldn't even be there to hold him and say goodbye.
A gunshot rang out ahead of them, and then another shout. This one Jack could recognise: Francine.
Martha forgot her intention not to run. As she dropped Jack's hand, she yelled, "Mum! Where are you?"
Her mother was supposed to be back with the rest at the regroup point. She was supposed to be safe, or safer than this. But Martha hadn't seen her in a while, she realised with horror. Martha had been tending the wounded, and Mum had gone to collect more of those poor idiots wandering off behind the blue tigers.
"Let me go right now." Mum wasn't shouting now. Her voice had gone low and filled with steel.
More UNIT soldiers appeared out of the fog, these not in masks and clearly still hallucinating. One of them held her mother's arm in a tight grip. Hodges, was it? In the dark, their faces were hard to make out.
Another had a gun pointed at her.
Martha stopped up short and held out her hands in as non-threatening a fashion as she could. "Let her go."
Behind her, Jack and the rest came to a stop. The unmasked soldiers were terrified, staring at them in disgust. Martha reminded herself that they were seeing monsters, visions in dark masks.
"Mum, do you recognise me?"
"Of course." Mum's gas mask muffled her voice, but her mind seemed clear.
"Stop it!" yelled the soldier holding her mother's arm. "Stop talking!"
"You're hallucinating," Jack said. "The Manteans emit a kind of gas that reacts badly with humans."
"Quiet, alien," said one of his friends, pointing her own weapon at Jack. Martha thought her name was Fitzgerald. She didn't recognise the third.
Trent said, "The gas is making you see things. Captain Harkness isn't an alien. None of us are. Please let Mrs Jones go."
Mum tilted her head.
Perry leaned closer to Jack. "I have a signal on the last Mantean." The scanner in his hand beeped quietly to itself. "It's coming this way."
Jack said in a calm voice, "We're about to have company. It's an alien but it's not one of the bad guys either. Put your guns down." He held up his hands in a placating manner. One of the soldiers lowered his weapon. The one holding Mum relaxed his grip but held on.
Martha heard the crackle of the branches behind them, and turned, expecting the alien.
Johnson and three UNIT soldiers in masks came in out of the fog, guns raised and pointed at the soldiers holding her mother. The unmasked soldiers raised their guns again. Mum flinched.
Jack raised his arms and walked directly between the two groups, looking back and forth to make eye (or mask) contact with both, forcing himself as the target. After a moment, Trent did the same. Martha saw movement: Lois's hand falling to her side, where she had a gun of her own. Perry ignored all of them, face stuck in his scanner, lips moving to himself as he read whatever it told him.
"Hey!" said Jack, as Martha said quietly, "Don't. That's the last thing we need." Lois nodded and moved her hand.
"Put down your weapons!" shouted one of the men with Johnson.
Jack turned around, keeping everyone's attention on him. "Lower your weapons and stand down, all of you." In a lower voice, he said, "I really don't want anyone else I care about to get shot tonight."
"I told you he was an alien," said Fitzgerald. "We shot him dead, now there's another one."
Trent said, "That doesn't make him an alien. I've shot him dead a dozen times." Mum jerked in Hodges's grip. Johnson lowered her gun, and gestured for the others to do the same.
Martha stepped towards them. "It's all right. You'll feel better once you put your masks on."
Fitzgerald kept her gun trained on Jack. Trent approached her, as Martha went to her mother. "Please," said Trent. "You can stand down now." He reached out and took the gun.
Martha held out her hand to Hodges. He pulled back, tugging her mother with him. Martha waited.
He let go.
Mum stepped away quickly, standing beside Martha.
Martha heard the Mantean moments before she saw it: massive and vaguely luminous, stalks that could be eyes set in a ring around its head - 360 degree vision, amazing! - and a tripedal gait on short but nimble legs. She hadn't been able to take a good look at the other aliens before, and regretted that terribly. The Manteans were beautiful, like whales or elephants, great intelligent beings.
Four of them were already dead.
"How do we communicate with them?"
Jack asked Perry, "Can you reset that to broadcast ultrasonically?" Perry didn't reply, hands moving over the instrument.
"It doesn't translate," he said, but handed the scanner to Jack.
"I can." Jack placed his wrist strap against the scanner, and spoke towards it. "Hello, guest."
The Mantean stopped, and while it did not turn, Martha had the strong impression most of the eyes were pointed where Jack stood.
"This is a Level Five planet under the Shadow Proclamation." He paused, presumably waiting for the words to translate. "This civilisation has not met your species before."
"Apologies," said a voice from the vicinity of Perry's scanner. "Our vessel took damage."
Jack said, "Our species has an allergy to yours. Our people reacted to you badly." He paused, and said, "The other Manteans have died. Greatest apologies." He bit off the last words, "It was an accident."
Mum squeezed her arm.
Gwen overslept. When she woke, the clock read half past nine, and the adrenalin pushed her out of bed before her head reset. Yes, she was running late. However, the others weren't at the Hub, she'd been on stakeout half the night, and any alarms would have alerted her here.
As she dressed, she dialled Rhys's mobile. "You didn't reset the alarm," she said, instead of "Hello."
"You were exhausted," he replied. So it'd been intentional. "I checked your little boxes before I left. Nothing's going on, and I won't tell your boss you went in late."
"I love you."
"Love you too."
She rechecked the monitors anyway, but he'd been right. She took the time to fix herself eggs and toast and eat them in front of the television. Just as she popped the last bite into her mouth, she heard the familiar shrill beep of the Rift alert.
With traffic and no SUV, it took her twenty minutes to reach the site. Nothing came over the police channels, so she didn't expect a need to march into an investigation, nor were there any deaths yet reported. She held out hope, and wouldn't call the others until she knew for certain what had happened.
When she arrived on the scene, Church Street was just as quiet as it had been last night.
Gwen parked, then rechecked all her meters. There'd been a Rift spike, a positive one, twenty-two minutes ago exactly at this spot. She readied her gun, then covered it with her coat as she stepped out of her car. The cold snap continued, with a butter yellow sun giving only the faintest warmth. The wind had picked up.
As Gwen checked out the site, she heard a soft sobbing sound. Her footsteps hurried, hand at her side in case of trouble.
A little girl sat shivering at the gate to the stone wall of the churchyard. Gwen smiled pleasantly and approached. "Hello, dear. Are you all right?" No adults were nearby, unless her parents had stepped into a shop, but the girl couldn't have been more than five years old.
The girl shied from her: stranger danger. Gwen said, "It's all right. I'm with the police. My name's Gwen. What's yours?"
The child's voice was a hoarse, raspy cough.
They'd returned to the base, sullen and silent. The bodies of the Manteans would be given back to the survivor rather than examined by the UNIT exobiologists. Once repairs were made to its ship, it would leave, a lonely traveller who'd lost everything on what should have been a simple stop. Reports would be written, the regular annals of an alien meeting with the addendum of an altercation. Lois helped Corporal de la Paz distribute the reams of physical paperwork while he made sure the electronic versions went where they were required.
A number of UNIT personnel had been injured, some critically. Lois waited for word about them, about Ianto. Jack spent the time debriefing everyone with Colonel Fielding. She expected him to make excuses to go to the medical facility, but she never saw him leave.
There was an early, quiet breakfast in the mess. She choked down some terrible coffee, only prodded at the soggy bacon.
Johnson joined her after her own debriefing. They were left alone at their table. "You said something to Patanjali at the site before he drove off."
Lois played with her mug. "I gave him some advice."
"What advice?" Johnson had insisted several times in the past few weeks that she needed advance knowledge before the plan went into motion. Lois wondered why, wondered if she herself was being spied on. Today, she was too tired to care.
"I told him that if he let Jones die, I'd have his head mounted." She had not used the word 'head.'
Johnson's frown deepened. "This is our opportunity."
"No killing. Not unless it's absolutely necessary." She took the last, bitter swallow of her coffee, and went to wait for news.
"I know you."
Francine had waited until Martha was settled and working in the medical area, until Jack was busy with the Colonel and the alien, until the mad rush had calmed to a dull roar. The man who'd come looking for her with Martha and the rest, the one whose voice she'd known behind the mask, she knew his name. She'd waited, and then she'd gone looking for him.
"Yes, ma'am." He stood at ease, making eye contact rather than glancing away in shame.
"And you remember who I am."
"Captain Harkness said his magical pills don't work on everyone."
Francine nodded. Jack had spent hours locked away mixing chemicals together on that first strange day, and he'd offered the concoction to Francine and her family. "You don't have to remember," he'd said. "You can put it away forever, forget the whole year." Francine had declined.
"Ma'am, if it means anything to you, I'm deeply sorry about everything I did that year." Old wounds crawled under his skin, nightmares she was all too familiar with herself.
She let out a hurt little laugh. "I'm sorry, too. I helped him, you know. Saxon. He sent his people to me, told me he could help me protect Martha from her dangerous new friend. I believed him. If I hadn't helped him, there's a chance none of it would have happened."
The year aboard the ship, the pain her children had suffered, and even now the trials Martha put upon herself, how could she not lay the blame at her own feet? Wasn't that why she'd agreed to helping the alien-fighting organisations on this visit? Not just to see Martha, not just to do a favour for Jack, but to make amends of her own?
She closed her eyes.
Every time Martha endangered herself, every action she took that put her own child at risk, Francine saw her own mistakes, heard the whispers in her ears, remembered what she herself had done. She couldn't lock Martha and Tish and Leo into a safe box, couldn't protect them, no matter how she wanted to, no matter what she tried, and when she'd tried her best, the worst had happened.
She felt a hand on her arm, and opened her eyes again. "Ma'am? It wasn't you. It wasn't just you. He fooled us all, and we all played our parts, didn't we?"
Sergeant Trent had his gun. Francine had her Judas whispers. Jack had forced the TARDIS into the future where Saxon got his start. They all carried their burdens, and their blame.
Francine placed her hand over his. "We did."
They could only rewrite so much of the past. The burden lay in choosing to go on. She smiled at him, if bitterly. "Tell me about your daughter."
Antiseptic stung his noise first. He heard the sounds of monitors softly beeping to themselves. Ianto had spent an unknown amount of time in a half-waking grogginess punctuated with bright light and featureless forms drifting through what sightline he did have. He tried to move his head, found it was bound with tubes.
An icepick of horror shoved through the mist in his mind: the conversion machines, the Cybermen, he was going to be turned ...
When he woke again, the lights weren't as piercing, and he could identify the noises as hospital noises. He turned his head, eyes swimming. He saw a dark form in one corner of the room that solidified into hands, arms, a face. Jack sat, holding a book, intent on his quiet reading and oblivious to Ianto's somewhat muzzy stare, until he faded back into greys and then into nothing.
Ianto woke, and it was dark in the room, all the overhead lights off, just a small lamp and the lights from the machines. Voices came from outside his door, with words he couldn't understand. Boots on a hard floor clacked over to him. He turned his head. Jack watched him carefully. Behind him, figures in white drifted like smoke.
"Hey," said Jack, brushing his knuckles against the back of Ianto's hand. "Welcome back."
"Hey." His voice cracked and broke, dry from the oxygen.
"Do you remember what happened?"
Ianto tried to nod, and failed. "We were all hallucinating." The short sentence wore him out, and he wanted to rest, but he needed to know. "How's everyone?"
"Everyone's fine. Everything's going to be fine." Even in this state, Ianto could read the lie.
"Our people are okay. Lois shot an alien. Apparently Gwen's training is finally paying off. Gwen says hello, by the way. She found a Rift returnee while we were gone."
"Been busy." What was Jack not saying? Ianto couldn't find the energy to ask.
"Yeah. Gone for three days and she's running the place."
Ianto fell back asleep to the feel of Jack's hand touching his.
When next he woke, he was lucid, and the room was again lit. A nurse came in, and then Rupesh, checking his vitals. "You got very lucky," he said. "The bullet passed right through you. A few millimetres to the left and it would have hit your large intestine. You lost a lot of blood, and need to take things easy for awhile, but you should be up and about soon enough."
"When can I go home?"
"Normally, I'd say not for a couple of days at least." An expression flashed through Rupesh's eyes and was gone. Torchwood's medical facility included the best gunshot treatments in this part of the galaxy, but telling that to UNIT was not part of their cooperative agreement. "As it is, if no complications develop, you and I will be taking a leisurely drive back to Cardiff sometime tomorrow. I can treat you at the Hub, or if you're on the mend, at your flat."
"The others are headed out this morning."
"Oh." He lay back again, and wondered what day it was.
Jack came to visit once the medical pros had pronounced him okay. "Good morning. How are you feeling?"
"Sore. Bit perforated."
Jack laughed, but with a painful line in his face that Ianto hated to see. "Been there."
"Jack, what's going on?"
"I'm going to take the others back to Cardiff. Rupesh says he'll discharge you tomorrow if the surgeons say it's okay."
"There's something wrong." He couldn't manage stern. He settled for still.
Jack opened his mouth, and then hesitated, walked to the door of Ianto's room, and closed it. No locks. Privacy, though. He came back to the bed, sat on the edge, and held Ianto's hand. "It's not as bad as it could be."
"All but one of the Manteans. One of the UNIT biologists from your team. Henderson. It was friendly fire. Some others got banged up. We did nothave a good outing."
The deaths were pressing on his mind, but there was something else. "How's Martha?"
"She's fine. Her mother's fine, though she's really not happy about Martha working for UNIT now that she knows exactly what that means."
"There's no 'but' for now. For now, we go our separate ways with UNIT. We can worry about everything else later." The report on the cross-training exercise wasn't going to be flattering. They might yet end up with a fight over sovereignty. Why should the Crown keep funding a fuckup little outfit in Cardiff that couldn't even handle a landing right? "By the way, I offered the Glasgow job to Sergeant Trent. He's thinking it over."
"Are you serious?"
"I can't Retcon him, and I want him where I can see him while not keeping him underfoot. And I owe him."
"All right." He'd been sitting, but was sliding. Ianto tried to scoot up to a more dignified position. Jack helped. Ianto grunted with pain but managed. "Thanks."
"Take it easy while you recover. I'm pulling you off active duty for the next week, longer if Rupesh says so. Light work for the rest of the month, don't argue." Jack played with the edges of Ianto's pillow. "And when you're better, I want you to think about retiring."
Ianto had too many painkillers in his system to be upset. For months, Jack had been pushing Ianto away from this life and the dangers involved. Pushing back had become second nature. "I've already thought about it."
"Oh?" Jack's face drew into a sweet little frown. "You hadn't said."
"I'm handing in my resignation on my thirtieth birthday."
Jack folded his arms. "You are?"
"Yes. Gwen's going to tender hers the same day."
"Well. Good. I'm glad you both have a plan."
"I'm going to buy a farm up north. Gwen's going to buy the next plot over."
"Cosy." His tone had edged into 'annoyed'.
"Her idea. I told her my thought, and she decided to join me. You know I'm terrible at saying 'no' to that sort of thing." He was drifting again, the latest dose of meds working through his bloodstream. "She's going to learn to spin straw into gold."
Jack's eyebrows went up.
"I am going to raise unicorns," Ianto said.
"I don't get it."
"It's our joke. It's our stupid joke."
Gwen wanted in on the silly dream because she needed something to fight for when the real future was too hard to see. She'd never leave Torchwood, not by choice, not when there was one more soul out there to help. But imagining she could go helped her make it through the day. Ianto wanted to pretend he had a say in his own life, wanted to set before himself an impossible reward for achieving what he suspected was a highly unlikely goal. Make believe helped them both cope.
"She and I aren't going to retire, Jack. We're not going to leave. We're with you until the end." He was going to fall asleep again or, much worse, start blubbering.
Jack took his hand again, and kissed him. Ianto pulled away, his breath had to be awful, but Jack smiled around the kiss and deepened it. His eyes stayed open, watching Ianto as their mouths, much more in tune than their brains at times like these, moved together softly, tongues and teeth and Jack's nimble lips.
Jack ended the kiss with another, placed on Ianto's nose precisely the way he hated and Jack loved.
"Make me one promise," Jack said. "Swear on something important."
"I swear," Ianto said, not sure what the promise was, nor what the drugs would make him say. Lisa. He'd swear on Lisa. "What?"
"Promise me that when you go, when you retire to your farm and raise your unicorns ... " He stopped. "Unicorns? Really?"
"I like horses. Mam took us riding when I was little. Unicorns can't be much different." It had made sense at the time.
"When you retire to your farm," Jack squeezed him again, "take me with you?" There was a soft hopefulness about him, a longing that warmed Ianto's heart. Make believe could be shared.
As always, my three favourite words are "I liked this."
To check out the art associated with this story, please go to madbottoms DOT livejournal DOT com.
The next story in this series is "Into Gethsemane."