It has been a really, really long time since I wrote anything, and even longer since I wrote this. It's been sitting on my hard drove for nearly two years, waiting for another round of Reel_Torchwood and for me to do something about it. After all that time, I hope it's worth the wait.
Something jolted Ianto from his sleep, and he smacked his elbow against the wall of the cave as he started upright. He rubbed it and peered out, realising that he'd slept for far longer than he'd intended to. It was already nearly dark, and the air was heavy with the heat of a long day. Jack was still sitting at the entrance to the cave, so Ianto dragged himself down and sat next to him, pressing his knee against Jack's. "Sorry I slept so long," he muttered. "I must have been out for hours. Have you slept at all?"
"No." Jack barely glanced at him before turning his attention back to the shadowed darkness. "It's only been a couple of hours - check your watch."
Ianto did so and shrugged. "Long since broken. I don't know why I still carry it."
"Habit, I suppose. It's barely afternoon, anyway." He squeezed Ianto's leg and stood up. "But as it's dark, we should get going."
"Not until you've eaten something." Ianto went back to his bag and dug through it. "We only have that Magenbrot. I know you're not a fan, but you have to eat something."
"I'm not hungry." He sighed when Ianto held it out anyway and accepted it. "I don't think I'll ever be hungry for Magenbrot."
Ianto laughed quietly. "Tell me about it. I never thought I'd miss my cooking. First thing we do when we get back to Cardiff, if it's still there, is go to that Chinese buffet, and I'm going to eat everything."
"Ianto..." Jack trailed off, and got up to cup the back of his neck and kiss him instead. "That sounds good."
He leaned against Jack and tried to read the look that had crossed Jack's face for just a second before he crushed it. Such open hopelessness and despair hadn't been meant for Ianto's eyes. All he could do was hold Jack tighter for the moment he allowed it and follow like he always did.
# # #
The air was eerily still around them, hot, heavy and dry, and filled with the feel of laughter that carried over the roar of the bikes. Shadows danced under the trees around them despite the lack of breeze. Rick pulled his bike out of the convoy to the side of the road until Orlando and Martin caught up with him, and he could pull back in alongside them. The engines were too loud for conversation, but the look they shared told him that they had seen the shadows as well.
Up ahead, hovering alongside King Kiron, The Doctor was looking around with delighted interest, completely unconcerned by the eerie weight in the air. He had a map spread across the handlebars of his motorbike and was poring over it, dragging his fingers across the paper and tugging it straight to be able to see better.
The next corner brought them to the edge of the woods, where the road widened and ran between solid posts that had supported the fence. They had been destroyed by the passing army, hacked into misshapen lumps, and their chains taken for use as weapons or to be melted down. The road itself was cracked and broken, gouged by weapons and ripped up as if by a storm. They rode over the damage carefully, more watchful than ever now that they were out in the open and approaching the UNIT fort of Avgerinos.
What had once been a hulking threat on the landscape now lay broken and shattered, a single tall, windowless tower rising above ruined walls and collapsed buildings. As they drew closer they could see slabs of concrete lying cracked on top of each other creating deep shadows and echoing spaces, with twists of steel jabbing towards the sky and reaching towards them. The bike's engines seemed like screams in this devastation, and one-by-one the riders turned them off and dismounted, carrying on in silence into what had been the courtyard.
A merry laugh cut through the atmosphere like lightening, and they wheeled around to face it. Tosh and Owen waved at them from on top of a concrete block, where they were sitting on a picnic blanket and picking at a spread of cold meats, cheeses and bread. "Welcome to Avgerinos," Owen called. "Please join the housewarming party."
"We've been fighting, and you're sitting here having a picnic?" Martin exploded. "I don't..."
"We just finished and got here before you," Tosh told him, rolling her eyes. "There's plenty for everyone."
"Never mind that." Rick put his bike on the side stand and hurried over to them, helping Tosh down and hugging her. "We were so worried about you."
"The feeling was mutual." She hugged him back, tightening her fingers in his worn jumper. "Meliai told us what was happening."
The others had gathered close now, and Tosh stepped back to include them in her explanation. "Meliai is the Goddess of the forest. This used to be her land, and she has reclaimed it. She is waiting for us."
Rick turned to look in the direction Tosh indicated, and spotted the Doctor watching them. He stepped towards him and glared. "You knew."
"I suspected," the Doctor corrected him. He spread his hands to indicate their surroundings. "Besides, it's all okay now."
He looked around at the shattered walls and mounds of rubble. "Yes, Doctor."
"Hello down there!" The voice boomed off the ruins, distorted by the megaphone, and they all looked up at the tower. The top level had been a guard room, with a balcony so that they could look out over the courtyard and watch for escapees. The glass was shattered and the railings bent and twisted now, but the grinning figure leaned over without fear and waved down at them. "Doctor, can you hear me?"
"Oh, not again."
"Mister Master," the air shrieked, and in the blink of an eye they were surrounded by dancing figures of light and shadow. The soldiers backed away from them and raised their weapons, whilst the UNIT troops stood their ground with wary, weary eyes. Only Tosh and Owen were unconcerned, Tosh even holding her hand out for one tiny figure to land on it and dance on her fingers. "The Timelord dances on."
"These are the Dryads," Tosh explained, turning her hand over for the one dancing on her fingers. "They are Meliai's people. They did what you see around you, but they can't touch the Master."
"Too strong, too guarded," a willowy figure stepped out of the wheeling, dancing lights. Her hair was long and scattered with flowers, and she was naked save for a drape of grassy-green fabric that did nothing to hide her brown, mottled skin. "I am Meliai, and this is my place, but he is the lord of time and even here I cannot reach to him."
"Yes, well. I can, so if you all wait here, I'll go and deal with him." The Doctor squared his shoulders and turned his back on them, walking towards the tower. Rick looked at Tosh, Owen, Orlando and Martin, shrugged, and followed him.
"Coo-ee, Doctor." The Master leaned over further and waved down at them. "It's been a long time, hasn't it? Well, not for me. It's been so long for you..."
"What do you want, Master?" He tucked his hands into the pockets of his jacket and rocked back on his heels. "You're trapped up there, you know. Your protections will hold until you leave the building, and then the Dryads will get you. You can't leave, and you can't stay. The Lashimi won't be pleased with you for picking such a small-scale war and uniting their enemies. People are starting to stand up at last."
"Oh, you're so boring now." He pulled a tablet from his pocket and peered at it, even as he kept hold of the megaphone. "Why did you have to regenerate? Oh, wait... That was me, wasn't it?"
"Come down," the Doctor yelled, still managing to sound weary and bored about it. "Come down, I'll take you to my TARDIS; the offer's always open."
"And I'll be your pet? No thanks - that's what you have the freak for. How is he, anyway? Still screaming at night?" He looked past the Doctor, to Tosh and Owen. "I do miss dear Jack."
Tosh hissed and Rick reached out for her shoulder. "Doctor, can we wrap this up now? He's not going to come down, so let's leave him there."
"Not yet," he told them, and then raised his voice again. "What about Lucy? Is she up there with you?"
"Darling Lucy, always coming back to me." He reached back and tugged the frightened woman to the edge of the balcony, ignoring her screams and attempts to get away from him. "That's what I call love."
"Let her go! She doesn't deserve this."
"Oh, but I like Lucy." He turned his gaze on her and she stilled, swaying in a gust of breeze. "She's so obedient."
"So let her go!" The Doctor ran his hand through his hair and stabbed a finger up at them. "What you're doing is wrong."
"Is it?" He pulled Lucy closer again, pressing the tablet against her back and grinning down at them. A moment later he yelled out, and the horrified watchers averted their eyes as the pair tumbled, with Lucy wrapped tight around him, to the foot of the tower.
Rick averted his eyes, but he couldn't close his ears against the sickening noise. Next to him, Tosh choked, and he reached out to wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. Just wasn't expecting that." She extricated herself from him and looked over at the Doctor. "Should we..."
"Let's make sure he's dead first," Martin muttered.
They picked their way through the rubble, staying a respectable distance behind the Doctor. When he stopped and dropped his gaze, though, Rick, Martin and Tosh went past him, forcing down the bile when they got too close. Tosh hung back, leaving Martin and Rick to search their bodies, retrieving a few broken pieces of tech from the Master and a familiar ring from Lucy, and then to cover them with blankets from their packs. "We'll have to bury them here," Rick pointed out eventually. "Or build a pyre. We can't leave them here, and we can't take them with us either."
"We'll ask the Doctor what he recommends." Martin brushed his hands off and turned back to the group, pausing in his turn. "Tosh, what have you got there?"
"I don't know." Rick followed his gaze and saw Tosh looking at a flat tablet, turning it over and over. "It's like a tablet computer of some sort, but I can't figure out..." she stiffened suddenly, until the Doctor snatched it out of her hands and tucked it into his pocket. "Doctor?"
"It's nothing," he lied. "Just... just a thing. It doesn't matter."
They looked at each other, but the Doctor was striding past them, ignoring them, and they knew that answers would come later, if they came at all.
# # #
They stopped once more, when Ianto couldn't go on any further, and Jack at least hid his frustration. Andrea, on the other hand, complained bitterly, and settled down into a sulk when Jack insisted that they stop for him. Ianto had drifted off to the soundtrack of her mutterings, with his head in Jack's lap and Jack's fingers in his hair.
Andrea was gone when he woke, and Jack had shifted beside him and was now stretched out on his back, fast asleep. He looked relaxed for the first time in too long, and something clenched at Ianto's heart, something that made him want to lie down next to Jack and never get up.
He dragged himself away against the impulse, and got up carefully so that he could stretch his legs without waking Jack. The fissure in the cliff that they had hidden in led out onto the wave cut platform that ran down to the water's edge, and Ianto intended to go down to the water to clean his face - as much as was possible in the now-polluted sea.
Andrea was at the water's edge, trailing her fingers through the scum and scrabbling at the rocks. She hadn't noticed Ianto's emergence, so he was content to ignore her as long as she was ignoring him. Jack was right that they needed her, but he hoped that they could leave her behind when they reached the tunnel.
She was muttering to herself, as usual, and still seemed oblivious to him. His blood boiled when he got close enough to understand her - there was no mistaking her bitter invective and gleeful scheming.
"You monster," he hissed, starling her from her rant. She yelped and scrambled back form him along the water's edge. "How long have you been planning? How long have you been sitting there fawning over Jack and planning to kill us? I knew all along you couldn't be trusted!"
He dove for her and caught hold of her arm, dragging her back towards the cliff and Jack whilst she screamed and scratched at his face. Jack's voice rang out, clear and sharp in the stillness. "Ianto! What the hell?"
"I heard her plotting," he told him fiercely, then yelped as she bit his arm. "She's a monster."
"Ianto, no." Jack hurried over and caught her, gathering her up in his arms and checking her over. She cowered like a frightened child, but smirked over her shoulder at Ianto. "She's just a kid."
"Ianto hates me," she whimpered pitifully, and he turned away in scorn. "Only want to help, only want to go home. Ianto's mean."
"Hey, it's okay," Jack reassured her quietly, rubbing her back. "He doesn't mean it, I promise."
"Jack, trust me..."
"I do." He released Andrea and let her hide behind his legs whilst he turned to face Ianto. "But you're wrong this time. You're paranoid, and that's understandable and it's my fault, but that's all it is. You're expecting betrayal and so you see it." He crossed the short distance between them and cupped Ianto's cheek, bringing him back to meet his eyes. "Trust me, please? We can't do this without her."
He closed his eyes and nodded. "Always."
Jack kissed his forehead, then his lips. "Thank you." He turned back to Andrea and held his hand out. "Safe, I promise. Alright?"
She nodded and slipped her hand into his, and Jack had turned to Ianto with a smile when she smirked again, showing off sharp, broken teeth.
# # #
Owen glared at the wall and shoved his pillow into a more comfortable position again. The rumbling snores around the room grated on his nerves, and Tosh's tossing and turning wasn't helping at all. He closed his eyes, but before long it had become too much and he rolled onto his other side to glare at her instead. "Can't you lie still?"
She was facing away from him, and he saw her shoulders hunch under the blanket. "Sorry," she whispered. "I can't sleep."
"Partly." She curled her fingers around the blanket. "I keep thinking about that thing the Master had. I was so close to figuring it out, and now I..." she blushed and hid her face under the pillow. "It's silly."
"We're used to it, Tosh." Owen propped himself up on his elbows and looked around the room. It seemed like everyone but them was asleep, and the Doctor had left his jacket behind when he'd wandered off to do whatever he was doing. "Why don't you see if he's left it? It can't hurt," he added, when she looked unsure. "Worst-case scenario, you can't get it to work."
Glancing over her shoulder, Tosh got up and picked her way carefully between the rows of sleeping soldiers to the door, where the Doctor's coat hung from a hook. For a moment she looked disappointed, and Owen assumed that the Doctor had taken the tablet with him, but then she brightened up again and turned back to him, walking with more confidence and the tablet pressed against her chest. "I got it," she breathed when she got back to him. "I don't think he's tried to use it."
Owen sat up to watch her work, offering a torch to make it easier. She drew her blanket over her shoulders to shield the light from the rest of the room and rested the tablet on her lap, curling over it and running her fingers over it, checking every centimetre. It dragged on, and Owen settled down to sleep again, now that she was focused and still.
He was just drifting off on a fog of exhaustion, thoughts muddied and slow, when a wrenching scream shattered the atmosphere. The blanket was suddenly constricting, and he had to fight it off to get into a sitting position. Tosh was writhing on the floor, the tablet glowing brightly in her hands, eyes wide and staring as she whimpered.
The door burst open and Rick and the Doctor ran in. Owen dived for Tosh, wrapping the blanket around the tablet to pull it out of her hands and tucking it away under his pillow before the Doctor arrived and caught Tosh. He eased her back onto her bed and brushed her hair off her face, resting his fingers against her temples and leaning towards her with his eyes closed. For long moments he held her there, leaning over her, and everyone around them seemed frozen in position, but then he pulled back and looked down at her with disappointment and worry in his eyes, and Owen finally felt able to move to pull Tosh up into his arms and hold her.
"Owen, give me the tablet," the Doctor told him, reaching out to tuck Tosh's hair behind her ear. "And then bring her out to the mess hall."
Tosh was badly shaken by whatever had happened, and it was a while before she was steady enough to be able to walk. Owen could feel the eyes of the room on them as they stepped over and around people, and he wrapped his arm tighter around her to keep guiding her through. The Doctor had taken the tablet, still wrapped in the blanket, through to the mess hall with him, leaving them to pull themselves together.
Out in the hall, the remains of the meal had long since been cleared, and Rick, Martin and Orlando sat at one table, with King Kiron pacing the gangway between them and the Doctor standing at the window, looking out into the darkness. Tosh avoided their eyes as she sat down, and drew the blanket more tightly around herself. The silence hung heavy over them until Orlando cleared his throat. "So what is the device, Doctor? Why is it so dangerous?"
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair and looked around at them. "It's a communication device, designed to bridge the distance between the Lashimi and enable the psychic link between them - normally they need to be able to touch each other to communicate fully, but one of these can act as a physical connection. The Master must have been using this to communicate with them."
"So it created a psychic link with me?"
"It forced a psychic link with you," the Doctor corrected her. "Your mind isn't designed for that type of communication, so it had to force its way into your mind."
"What will it have got from her?" Rick asked.
"Not a lot." He turned to pace, gesticulating as he talked. "That sort of forced connection is clumsy. It connects to what it can find, and that's usually pain. Maybe concern for people you care about, fear, anger... it would have needed much longer to extract anything of importance."
"I saw... I saw darkness. People enslaved. And a ship, flying high above the Earth." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "They were... they were turning to the stars."
"The Valiant." The Doctor came to crouch in front of her and took her hands. "Did you see anything else? Anything that would tell us where they are?"
"I don't know!" She turned her face away. "There was desert... just sand."
"Marsam." They looked up at Rick. "Marsam is the closest UNIT base to their position. UNIT would send the Valiant to support it if it were attacked."
"And if they took the Valiant, no one would be able to stand in their path." The Doctor wheeled around and approached Rick. "You have heard the stories of the sands? Come to Marsam by the singing road. Marsam will need us."
Rick nodded and looked over at Tosh. "And what about everyone else?"
"Tosh and I will go to Marsam now. I need to make sure that they know what faces them. Marsam will need all of you." He returned to Tosh and kissed her forehead. "Sleep longer. We leave at dawn."