A/N: Happy AU Week! This story takes part in 21 chapters, which is divided into seven "episodes," one of which will be posted each day of AU Week - if I can finish up the last ones by the end of the week, anyway. (In true Doctor Who style, there may be a Christmas "episode" coming up later on, and there may be another seven "episodes" come January. No promises.)
A chant of cold cold cold played in her head as she walked, but that was the epitome of an understatement. This night was far beyond the confines of "cold." It was enough to chill her to the bone, but not quite enough to turn the icy drizzle to soft flakes, accompanied by a harsh wind. Myka didn't think that she had ever been this cold in her entire life.
But it was November in Cardiff, and the weather was only to be expected. The past two nights had been equally dreary, and even before that, being out late was usually accompanied by a spot of rain and a freezing wind. Most of the city was wise enough to stay inside at such an hour. The weather was long familiar to them. When it came to this recent migrant from the States, however, the shiver that ran through her was not from the chill. She was new to these Cardiff nights, the Colorado cold of her youth long absent from her memory after years as a Secret Service agent in D.C., and on top of that, she had the active imagination of a reader. For someone like her, there was something romantic in the walk. Even as the curses flew from her lips when the wind picked up and even as she turned up the collar of her coat, wool heavy with rain, she couldn't help but feel delighted by the sheer misery of it.
Straight out of Dickens, she decided, stopping beneath a flickering streetlight to bend and press her hands beneath her thighs in a futile attempt to warm them. But a rainy walk home late at night was the only Dickensian thing in her life right now. Even an author known for such a penchant for torturing his characters could never have imagined a life as disoriented as hers, she thought, not without a touch of bitterness. Once more, just like every night she made the too-long walk from the police station to her apartment, her thoughts turned to the tumult of the past month. There was little room in her head lately to dwell on anything else.
Myka Bering was a woman of principle. She never slouched. She never slacked. She was a woman who set her mind to a goal and accomplished it, and anyone who interfered simply didn't stand a chance. When she had decided she should be serving at the White House, the world had followed along. She flew up the ladder until the top rung was nearly in her grasp, a brief and brilliant start to a career. Her future had unfolded before her—and it was a perfect, fulfilling future, the one she had dreamt of for as long as she could remember. She had faced struggles and tragedy, but finally, things had fallen into place.
Yet only recently, that future had been dashed.
"I'm here to extend an invitation to endless wonder," the mysterious woman had said, voice rising smoothly from the shadows of Myka's living room. There had been no debate. The invitation had been a command. In less than twelve hours, she had been on the plane to Cardiff, seated next to equally bewildered fellow agent Pete Lattimer.
An apartment was provided for them, outfitted with peeling wallpaper and unusually low ceilings that forced the tall Myka to duck when she moved from room to room. A manila folder had sat on the coffee table, and at Pete's prodding, Myka had opened it and read the top sheet aloud. They were to report for temporary duty at the local police station while things were settled. More information would be following shortly, the paper claimed. Myka had wadded it up and tossed it in the trash before stalking to her room and dropping onto the bed, which let loose a loud wheeze and cloud of dust when she first sat on it.
After days in Cardiff and countless calls to D.C. in an effort to be transferred back, she had resigned herself to the new location, and she was almost (almost) enjoying it. She had no idea what the United States government was doing sending agents to a small outpost in Cardiff, but there were worse places to be. She'd only left the United States once, and that had been a weekend spent with her parents and sister in the middle of a sweaty tour group in London. This was different. Her loud insistences to Pete on the plane that she detested traveling were washed away as she acclimated to the new culture. And, she supposed, having a job with significantly less stress helped too. The removal of pressure was a miracle cure for many an ailment, spiritual or physical, as she had discovered. Though a thorn still pricked at her heart, insisting this must be some form of punishment, Myka had gradually embraced the situation.
But the moment she'd decided she was adjusted, the strange woman had appeared once more. This time she had introduced herself as Mrs. Frederic, though Pete and Myka were both too busy staring at her open-mouthed and wondering how she had gotten in to the apartment to pay attention to her introduction. She'd smiled, inquired as to how they were enjoying Cardiff, and shot ahead without waiting for an answer.
"Now that you have been given time to settle, we must proceed," she had said. "You won't be spending much more time at the station. Torchwood needs you as soon as possible."
The staring had continued, Pete still agape, Myka's face contorting into a suspicious frown. She was familiar with every aspect of the Secret Service, an expert on both history and modern practice, and she had never heard of Torchwood before. Mrs. Frederic had offered only the briefest explanation of the Torchwood Institute, promising them that their work would be very important but that they would learn more when they reported for duty on Monday. Then she had vanished, as they'd discovered was her disconcerting habit.
That had been Friday evening. Now, it was Sunday night—no, she realized with a glance at her watch, it was Monday morning already. After only a painfully few hours of sleep, she and Pete would head to find out what exactly Torchwood was to merit having yanked them away from their lives in D.C. Some sort of special forces, she had determined, but it was hard to tell much more than that. There was no information online, and when she'd called her former supervisor to demand an explanation, he had been as oblivious about the organization as she was.
Myka sighed as she resolutely plowed through the rain. Her apartment had come into view and the romantic appeal of a rainy walk had worn off to leave only the unhappiness. Her squeaky, wobbly bed now sounded like a dream come true.
In the time it took Myka to cross the street towards her apartment, the weather shifted, changing in a single moment. The rain elevated from an unpleasant drizzle to an unbearable torrent, soft droplets turning into a mixture of rain and ice, and a sudden gust almost blew her off her feet. It had been cold before, but now it was absolutely freezing. She cried out as she staggered in the force of the wind. The sound was ripped away, inaudible in the storm.
If it had been midday, she could have looked up to see a swirl of black clouds gathering over the city, and she could have watched as the dark mass spread out across the sky. She could have stared in shock at the odd phenomenon and trembled in dismay.
But it was half past one and the sky was masked with night, so instead she kept her eyes fixed firmly on the building she struggled towards.
The door swung open with a shriek, rusty hinges howling along with the wind that pushed the door back against the wall. A bedraggled Myka pushed it shut, leaning there for a moment as she sucked in breaths of warm air. She stamped her feet on the ground, closing her eyes in relief as feeling returned to her digits. With a growing sense of warmth, she made her way up the stairs, a trail of dripping rainwater left behind her.
It was with great caution that she slid her key into the lock, and she closed the door behind her tenderly. She turned around, prepared to creep back to her room, when he spoke.
"Hey! It's late. Late-late. I thought you just meant normal-late."
Myka gasped and nearly stumbled. "Pete! What does that mea—I was trying not to wa—why are you awake? I told you to go to bed early." Her apologetic tone turned accusatory and she frowned at him as she tugged off her soaked coat.
He shrugged, sprawled out on the ratty couch with his feet hanging over the edge. "I wanted to make sure you got here okay. I don't want to have my partner vanish right before we dive into this 'endless wonder,' you know?"
She squinted at him in the darkness. Deciding it was well-intentioned, she smiled at him as she pushed limp wet curls out of her face. "Thank you for the thought. But we need to sleep. It's going to be an early morning."
"Geez, Mom," he sighed, clambering to his feet. He stuck his tongue out and her smile turned into a frown. "You look awful. Total mess," he added as he rose, and the remainder of her moment of fondness for him vanished.
"It's raining," she snapped. A several-mile walk in this weather did not leave her predisposed to kindness, and even on the best days, Pete had to press her buttons.
"Girl, you are rocking that drowning victim chic," he teased, grin flashing even in the dimly lit room. She made sure to shake her wet head as she walked past him, accompanied by a sharp-tongued admonishment that chic sounded ridiculous a noun, and she allowed herself a pleased smile as he groaned about the spray of cold water.
Half a month together and they still clashed more often than not. When they'd worked together in D.C., things had been similar. Myka wanted order and color-coded plans. Pete wanted to go with his gut. Myka wanted everything taken seriously. Pete wanted to make sure he never missed a chance for a laugh. Spending time together fully brought out the contrast. They'd spent the entire flight to Cardiff arguing as Pete tried to show Myka all of the strangest and funniest items in the SkyMall magazine. She'd been ready to strangle him with the cord of her headphones, or perhaps beat him over the head with the novel she had been trying to read. Arriving at the apartment had been just as bad. While Myka had looked around in dismay at their shabby quarters, Pete had crowed and jumped on the couch, ratcheting her headache up another notch. She'd claimed the largest bed in revenge and he'd proceeded to sulk about it for the rest of the day.
Nearly every day had included similar instances. They bickered constantly, the situation only exacerbated by close quarters. In the Secret Service, they'd interacted only when necessary. Here, sharing an apartment and work hours, it was harder to avoid conflict.
Yet he did things like wait up for her when she needed to stay late at the station. He was her closest—her only—friend in Cardiff, as absurd as it seemed to her. He was kind-hearted and perhaps not as foolish as he acted. And, she thought, glancing at him over her shoulder as she walked towards the bathroom and a hot shower, she would have to keep learning to live with him. Tomorrow came a new job. The job, whatever it was. He would have to learn to like color-coded plans, she decided. She was not doing things his way.
She slipped from her reverie as she entered the bathroom. Myka had never been so eager for a shower. She turned the water on the second she shut the door, letting it start to heat up as she peeled off her soaked clothing. Her shirt felt as flimsy as a rag; her jeans were leaden.
The water hissed as it hit her still-chilled skin. She turned her face up to the hot flow, delight coursing through her at the warmth. Myka always carried herself with great rigidity, and only in the safety of her shower did she let the tension run out of her and down the drain. Twisting and turning in the water occupied her, and the strange weather of earlier was forgotten as the water pounded down and lulled her into a deep comfort. It was only when her skin was flushed red with heat that she stepped out into the steamy room, lifting a towel from the rack to wrap around herself.
One hand holding the towel firm, she opened the door—and was greeted by Pete's eager face.
"Oh my God!" She pushed past him furiously, striding towards her room. Like clockwork, every time she had a kind thought towards Pete, he did something new and maddening. "Have you been there the whole time?"
"No, no! I just remembered I wanted to talk to you about tomorrow." He followed her, only thwarted when she slammed the door to her bedroom between them. It only slowed him for a second. "Can I come in?"
"Pete, I am dressing!"
He was persistent. "Can we talk through the door?"
Myka groaned, a baggy t-shirt half pulled over her head. "I want to sleep. I don't want to talk. We'll find everything out in the morning." Truth be told, she was as nervous about the next day as he was, but cornering her right after a shower was not the right way to win a conversation from Myka.
"I just want to discuss what's going down tomorrow! Where are we going? What are we doing? Why is everyone being so spooky about it?"
"Read the file," she told him, the same thing she had told him every day since they had arrived. As far as she could tell, Pete was not particularly fond of reading. It was infuriating for her, a child who had grown up in a bookstore, which only seemed to strengthen his resolve to avoid the file.
"But I don't want to, it's—"
"Pete!" She swung the door open, now fully clad in her pajamas. She smacked him with the damp towel, pleased with his exaggerated expression of pain and the subsequent loud complaint. "I don't know anything more about the Torchwood Institute than you do. All I know is that there's no way to get out of this, God knows I've tried. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen no matter what. So just try to sleep. Or at least be quiet while I sleep."
He pulled a face and she shut the door again. She waited, and when she heard his footsteps retreating down the hall, she sighed with relief and finally fell into the bed she had looked forward to all evening. Soon they would find out what Torchwood was and why they had been sent there. Soon, perhaps things would start to make sense. Now, however, it was time for a few meager hours of sleep.
Myka Bering closed her eyes and drifted off.
It would be the last normal night she would ever be able to remember.