Mauve and Dangerous
by Amy L. Hull
Written for pomkeygeekange in the LJ tw_femficfest 2011 challenge. Thanks to Bluemorpho and Nancy Brown for betas.
The fog seemed thicker, colder, and wetter even than that in London. Tosh tugged her scarf more tightly around her head. Her boots against the pavement echoed back from every surface, all the way down into the Hub.
It was always empty when she arrived now. Over a month had passed since Mary and she had yet to wake to her alarm.
If Owen and Gwen were paying attention to anything but each other they would have been interested to learn that Jack did not, in fact, sleep in his office. The Hub was downright eerie at four a.m., though. Tosh couldn't decide if she'd rather Jack were there, or if she preferred the lack of questions and "friendly advice" (useless platitudes, actually) that would almost certainly be forthcoming.
Worse, Jack might not even notice she was there.
Even Ianto, who had always slipped a cup of piping hot coffee onto her desk with a self-deprecating smile and a nod, rarely noticed her of late. Of course, half the time, he and Jack were...busy in Jack's office. Or the SUV.
Jack and Ianto. Owen and Gwen. Everyone was paired off but her, and she was, as usual, the odd one out. Maybe, if Suzie were still alive...and not evil...she could have taken up with Suzie. The woman had been stunningly beautiful, after all, and Mary had, if nothing else, shown her that sex with other women was pleasurable...exciting.
At the memory, tingles swept flowed down her shoulder blades and arms and spiralled between her belly and vulva.
Gwen's laughter arrived before her, and Owen was, of course, at her side. Tosh stared at them. Owen had one hand tucked into Gwen's back jeans pocket, and Gwen was leaning into his shoulder. He was even smiling.
No, if Suzie was alive, she'd be with Owen, not Tosh. Then Gwen would be with Rhys rather than exchanging lewd glances and comments with Owen. Would she have been hitting on Tosh, then? Or was she only willing to experiment with a woman if the woman was possessed by an alien sex fiend? Probably the latter. Anything to leave Tosh as the only one by herself.
No wonder Suzie hadn't been able to squelch the snide comment about Gwen taking Owen too. Gwen had Owen and Rhys. She'd even caught Jack's eye.
Well, to be fair, anything breathing caught Jack's eye.
Tosh shook her head. What the hell was wrong with her?
She scrolled through local incident reports and citizen complaints, checked Rift activity, and tweaked her correlational algorithm. The predictive pattern recognition software had been accurate on sixty percent of the most recent incidents. (Except that thing with Suzie, but who or what could have predicted "Late Co-Worker Turns Out to Be Homicidal Lunatic: Stages Spree Killing, Coup from Beyond the Grave"?)
Tosh chuckled to herself and turned to make sure she wasn't being observed.
Stupid thought. Of course she wasn't. When even Jack Harkness looked right through you, you knew you were either ugly, dead, or quite simply forgettable.
At the steps to autopsy, Owen and Gwen were making kissy noises at each other.
"No, you first."
"I did last time."
Tosh rolled her eyes. She wanted to be charitable. After Mary, Gwen had been the only one to extend so much as a gesture of forgiveness or compassion or...whatever it had been. The others hadn't spoken to her for days. Nevertheless, she contemplated buying headphones or earplugs, for at least the twentieth time this month. That and maybe some soap to wash her mind out with.
She pulled up a map of the city. Maybe the correlational algorithm could add a location likelihood subroutine to its prediction cycles. She typed new lines of code into the algorithm and ran the sequence again. She frowned and leaned forward, scrolled back, then added code for a graphic representation.
"That's odd," she murmured.
She tweaked the code and set the graphic display to show a colour-coded aerial view of Cardiff, then she ran the algorithm one more time.
A section of the city about ten blocks from the plaza was flashing a pinkish-lavender hue. Something was happening there. Or about to happen.
Of course, if she mentioned it, the others would just ask her if she was sure, and point out that the algorithm had, after all been wrong twice in the past nine days. (They would conveniently fail to mention that it had been right seventeen times. Sixteen if you didn't count that one with the sheep shit that was probably a coincidence. Damn funny to see Owen sneezing while shaking his left foot and waving his arms around, though. Ianto hadn't been able to stop laughing for the rest of the afternoon until Jack had sent him down to the Archives. Jack had, of course, conveniently disappeared shortly after that for a full two hours.)
She buttoned her jacket and wrapped her scarf around her neck with one hand while scribbling an address on a sticky note with the other.
As she turned to go, Ianto slid a coffee onto Gwen's desk.
"Oh, hi, Tosh," Gwen and Ianto said in unison, Welsh accents nearly harmonising, brows raised in surprise like she'd just arrived.
"Can I get you a coffee?" Ianto asked.
Jack appeared at the word "coffee" (or maybe just Ianto's voice) and Tosh practically growled as she shouldered past him and stalked out.
"What was that about?" Jack asked as the door slammed behind Tosh.
"Hey, coffee." Owen bounded up the steps from autopsy.
Ianto pointed. "It's over there. Help yourself."
Owen smirked but poured himself a cup. After a long drink he said, "Hey, was that Tosh?"
"Yeah," Ianto said.
"When did she get here?"
"She was here when we...I...got here." Gwen's gaze shifted from Owen as her pronouns slipped.
"Huh," Owen said into his coffee.
Jack had walked toward Tosh's workstation. His bum filled out his trousers nicely, and he was wearing the blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up and showing off his forearms. Jack pointed. "What's this?"
"Oh," Ianto stepped forward. "That's Tosh's new predictive pattern recognition software."
"I know that." Jack's hands went to his waist. It was a good pose, that one. "Speaking of, we've really got to work on a name for it. Make sure you get on that, Ianto." He wiggled an eyebrow and warmth like caramel flooded through Ianto's torso and downwards. Jack smiled at the side effect of his statement. "No, I mean this." He pointed to the flashing mauve section.
"That?" Ianto frowned and leaned closer.
Gwen moved to join them, then she shook her head. "It's near here."
"Well, it's flashing. That can't be good," Ianto said.
"And it's mauve."
Gwen's face was as blank as Ianto was sure his was. She spoke first. "What's important about mauve?"
"Universally recognised colour for danger." Jack nodded, clearly willing them to remember. They both shook their heads, and he rolled his eyes. "Earth's the exception. Ianto, remind me to have you make a sign."
"So, if it's an alert, should we, I don't know, do something about it?" Owen asked.
"Right. We'll need a map of that area and a list of possible concerns."
Ianto typed commands into the keyboard and the printer hummed. Ianto handed the pages to Jack.
"Temporal disturbance, energy disturbances, and rift activity, all converging. Ianto, get the SUV."
"On it," he said.
He had only taken two steps when the klaxon sounded and the lights dropped to emergency settings.
"No! No, no, no!" Jack launched himself toward the door but it clanged into place before he reached it. "Dammit!"
"Why did it do that?" Gwen cried.
"I don't know!" Jack shouted, slamming his palms against the door.
"Again?" Owen threw his hands up in the air. "The bloody computer locked us in and we're fucking trapped again?" He stomped toward autopsy. "Call me when you get it sorted."
"And how are we supposed to do that without Tosh?" Gwen retorted.
Ianto smiled tightly and picked up the pot. "Anyone want a coffee?"
The sun had burned off much of the fog, but the damp still clung to the chill in the air. Tosh pressed her hands deeper into her pockets as she crossed the cobblestones.
A girl in a white nightgown stepped in front of her.
Tosh gasped and took a step back. "You startled me!"
The girl did not move, but stood, expressionless, then tilted her head and sank to the pavement.
"Are you all right?" Tosh asked.
The girl touched a card on the sidewalk.
"It's awfully cold to be sitting there," Tosh tried again.
"This is you," the girl said, pointing to a card.
"You have lost so much, feel so alone," the girl's finger traced the path of a tear on the face of the woman on the card.
Tosh looked more closely. The woman's shoulders were slumped in the picture, and her fingers rested in a puddle from three spilled cups. Two other cups were behind the woman, who looked just like Tosh.
"Where did you get that?" she demanded.
"You are not as unloved as you think," the girl said, her tone and face nearly emotionless. She fingered another card. "The Devil will lose his power when his humanity is lost."
"What does that mean?" Tosh asked.
The girl handed her the card. Owen, naked and holding his erect penis, sat on a throne. He held a beer and sat by a table sporting a feast, and at his feet, three dark-haired women sat, staring at him adoringly and licking their lips. Tosh's cheeks flushed, hot against the cold air. "Where did-" she began, but the girl took the card from her and set it back down. On top of it, she laid another card, one depicting a skeleton peeked out of a greatcoat and carrying a scythe.
"You will understand when the time comes. Transformation is at hand." She pointed to another card. It showed a plain young man with a cap of brown hair failing to juggle five coins. He looked vaguely familiar, but Tosh couldn't place him. "There is peace to be found, and you will be there." She set a card perpendicular, this one with the same man in a boat being rowed by a cloaked ferryman with six swords slung over his shoulder. "You'll see the way home."
Tosh opened her mouth to say something. Closed it. Opened it again. What could she say to that?
There was a crash and she turned to look. When she looked back, the girl was gone. She shook her head and ran toward the first sound as another crash sounded.
"Have you found out why everything is locked down?" Owen called from where he was trying to pry open the door alongside Jack.
Gwen leaned into Ianto's side as he typed. "It looks like Tosh updated Mainframe after Suzie so it couldn't be used against us," Ianto said.
"Fat lot of good that's doing us!" Owen retorted, letting go of the door and leaning on the wall beside it. "It's no good. We're locked in."
"Maybe Detective Inspector Swanson could help again," Gwen offered.
"I don't think reading Emily Dickenson is going to get us out of this," Jack said.
"It's better than standing around doing nothing!" Gwen shouted back. "Tosh is out there, possibly in danger, do you really want us to sit around here and wait and just, I don't know, hope she's all right?"
"I didn't say-"
"She has a point," Ianto said. "Even if the Detective Inspector can't help us, maybe she can send some backup for Tosh. I mean, I think we can assume that Tosh went toward the mauve zone." He looked at the others, who stared blankly at him. "She must have seen it. It was on her computer?"
"But...it's Tosh," Owen said. "Don't you think she'd have told us? She would need our help, after all."
"Maybe she's tired of being treated as helpless."
Now everyone stared at Gwen.
"You know, you all...we have been pretty distant for the past month. I didn't even notice she was here when I got here."
"She betrayed the base." Jack glowered.
"So did Ianto!" Gwen glanced at Ianto. "Sorry."
Ianto decided the better part of getting laid was in keeping silent.
"She's right," Owen said, pointing, "and he did it for longer."
Looked like someone else wanted shagging rights.
"All right! That is enough!" Jack's raised finger curled into his fist. "Ianto, get her on speaker."
Tosh rounded a corner and there, in the middle of a street of row houses, was a mauve-ish blob that was roughly humanoid in shape. Well, humanoid if the narrowing of the blob at the top could count as a head and the eight extended protuberances could count as limbs. Tosh reached for her gun, but realised she'd left it in her drawer.
"Dammit!" she swore. Of course, she thought, a gun was unlikely to work against a huge mass of jelly.
The blob roared at a pitch that sounded rather like a terribly hoarse Myfanwy. It flung itself at a house. The entire house shuddered, turned mauve, then exploded. The roof flew off and landed in the street, crushing a small car and joining a trail of roofs in the street dripping with mauve glop.
Perhaps it was like a slug. Salt. She needed salt, Tosh thought. She looked around frantically, but the entire neighbourhood was residential, without a Tesco in sight.
Several people were running down the middle of the street screaming. A door on the nearest turquoise house flew open and a screaming woman wearing an honest-to-God bib apron ran out. She even waved her arms in the air like she was in a monster movie.
Of course, in fairness, the woman was technically in a monster movie, Tosh acknowledged. It was just a monster movie Tosh lived every day.
She looked up the street to where the mauve blob was oozing up the walk of another house, and she ran toward the just-abandoned turquoise house. She pulled open the cupboard doors, and the crash that signalled the demise of yet another house-and maybe automobile-sounded in unison with the third cabinet door slamming into the wall. It was that cabinet that had a bag of salt, and Tosh grabbed it and ran back out the door.
The blob, still mauve and still dangerous, was advancing on her and Tosh ran toward it, flinging handfuls of salt at it.
There was a little growl as the salt contacted it. Then it gave a growl that almost sounded curious. Was the thing sentient? Not everything that fell through the Rift was. Tosh threw another handful of salt and it made sounds like a satisfied pet-or muppet-feeding. It was almost like...a purr.
The colour shifted to lavender, then periwinkle, then back to mauve. The blob was at a standstill for a moment, wobbling. Then it quivered faster and turned a brighter pink. It started to make a squealing noise that Tosh thought sure would result in Myfanwy coming to play...or mate. She threw more salt at the thing.
The blob pulled into itself then started to gain height. It pulsated, growing larger with each pulse.
Tosh dropped the salt and was about ready to run. Then she saw it. A garden hose. If it didn't shrivel like a slug, perhaps it would dissolve. She ran to it, cranked handle on the spigot, and pulled the hose straight. She put her thumb over the end and the water spurted toward the blob, shouting like she was going into battle.
As the water hit it, the blog shuddered again, and water began flowing off it.
It looked like more water was hitting the pavement than could have come out of the hose, and, after a moment, Tosh realised that sections of the blob were slaking off and flowing into the street and down the drain.
The blob drew into itself until it was shaped like those ghost things in Pac-Man, until it was barely bigger than Tosh herself. Finally t contracted and appeared to turn suddenly inside out, exploding light pink glop onto everything.
Tosh felt like she'd been hit with a bucket of cold water. It went through her clothes-it was her favourite blue blouse, too-into her shoes, and up her nose.
She shook her head.
Chunks of hair stuck to her face. Both were covered in glop.
She dropped the hose and wiped the glop from her face, flinging it off her hands and onto the grass.
"Ugh." She shuddered.
Quiet had descended on the neighbourhood and some people were creeping out from behind trees. Tosh looked around and decided it was time to slip away. Jack always did so with a swagger, and she tried to imitate him.
She suspected she looked as much like a drowned alley cat as she felt. That was Torchwood, though.
She got out of sight before she even heard the first sirens wailing their way toward the destruction. It was time to get back and face the others. She wondered where they'd been; she'd figured they'd follow her after Mainframe alerted them, had half thought they'd even beat her there. Now the whole thing was over and there hadn't been a word. They'd probably think she'd gone off on her own to show them up.
Jack would probably be furious with her. Again.
She was still dripping mauve glop when she arrived back at the Hub. She'd never been more glad she kept extra clothes there.
When she got to the door, however, it was locked. She tapped at the keyboard on the tourist bureau desk. Nothing. She frowned at the screen, then typed another few commands. Nothing. Three more attempts. Nothing.
"Stupid thing!" She hit the keypad then pulled a goopy, collapsible screwdriver from her pocket, extended it, and took the keypad apart. Moments later she'd half-hotwired, half-hacked in and headed down to the Hub.
"Yes, again." Jack sounded annoyed.
"Say it for me just one more time?"
Was that Detective Inspector Swanson? What was she doing there?
Jack sounded like he was grinding his teeth. "We've locked ourselves in our secret base. Again. We're asking for your help. Again."
Laughter poured from the speaker phone.
Gwen looked embarrassed. Ianto looked longsuffering. Owen was just shaking his head.
Jack looked like he could spit nails. "Now would you please send someone to help our colleague? She could be in danger."
"Already done, Captain Harkness. Are you sure you wouldn't like us to read you some poetry?"
"We could get someone to read you some Robert Herrick this time. Or Marlowe. I hear that's more your speed."
"Goodbye." Jack pushed the button and the connection clicked closed.
"What was that about?" Tosh asked.
"Tosh!" cried three voices at once. Ianto just smiled.
They actually looked happy to see her.
"How'd you get back in?" Gwen asked, taking a step toward her.
"The keypad was jammed. I just opened it with my screwdriver and hotwired it."
"How come none of you thought of that?" Jack asked.
"What the hell happened to you?" Owen demanded.
Tosh looked at her blouse and pants, both clinging to her. "It was...a blob." She nodded and glop sloshed in her ears.
"A blob?" Ianto looked dubious.
"And you went after this on your own?" Jack demanded.
"I didn't mean to. I just needed some air and I thought... It won't happen again."
"But why were we locked in?" Gwen asked.
Tosh frowned. She walked over and peered at her workstation. "It looks like Mainframe took the data from the correlational algorithm on the predictive pattern software and deemed there to be a threat that was a danger to Torchwood."
"And was it?"
"Yes. It was mauve and dangerous," Tosh said seriously.
"Then Mainframe needs to get the message that we are to go out to get the dangerous creatures. That's sort of our job." Jack stepped into Tosh's personal space and looked down at her.
"I know. But I've been designing defence system for if the Hub comes under direct assault, something to buy us time to figure it out so we can respond. I think Mainframe merged the two programs, misunderstood the directive, and locked down the Hub for the external threat."
Jack narrowed his eyes.
"I'll fix it. I'll fix it." She looked around at the others. "But...everything turned out all right. Right?"
Ianto nodded. "Yes."
"Well, if you don't count us getting humiliated in front of Cardiff's finest." Owen shrugged then crossed his arms, muttering, "Again."
Ianto looked at Gwen's computer screen. "Everything's sorted except the six houses that lost their roofs. And the two cars the roofs landed on."
"Fixing the program," Tosh said quickly, trying to smile at Jack. "And I'll take it offline till I'm sure it works right."
"After," Jack said, grabbing her elbow before she could sit down, "you shower. You're not dangerous, but you're still mauve."
Robert Herrick wrote 17th century smut poetry ("Delight in Disorder," "Upon Julia's Clothes," etc.).
Fun tarot facts: The five of cups shows someone who doesn't notice what they still have while focusing on their losses. The Devil card is about the over-indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh. The Death card represents transformation. The five of coins/pentacles is overextending oneself and trying to do too much to get something not earned and being about to lose it all. The six of swords is just following a major period of unrest with the unrest in the past and heading to something new.