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All I want for Christmas is Doctor-on-Ca
FESTIVE TITLE BITCH#S YO: FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES (GIMME A HAND)
RECIPIENT# WHO HAD BETTER BE GRATEFUL BECAUSE I SPENT TIME THAT I COULD HAVE BEEN ###KING #RITING THIS SHIT: ############## AND ###### AND ####### AND ############ AND ########### AND ######## AND ############ AND ########## AND ######## AND ###### AND ############## AND ########### AND ############## AND ########## AND ######## AND ########## AND ############### AND ############ AND ############## AND ########## AND ########### AND ####### AND ##########.
SUMM#RY: S#E TIT#E. B#T#HES Y#.
BETA: EXTENDING MY ####### TO ####### FOR BEING A R#ALLY HOT ####.
RATING: #####
WARNING: IM#A R#ALLY CRAP #RITER AN# YOU#R# ALOT MUCH BETTER THEN #E.
SPOILERS: #ESUS ###### PEOPLE ### JUST ABOUT THE TORCHWOOD TEAM TOSHIKO NOT ###KING EGGNOG.
DISCLAIMER: THEY'RE ### MINE. EXCEPT WHEN THEY'RE ###. IN MAH ##S.
Y#U WANT ######'S NOTES?: YOU C#N WAI# F#R TH#M.





=#=#=


Quadruple Scrabble is not a game for the faint of heart or feeble of mind. Nor is it a game for folks with families, places to be, things to do, or late night television to watch, but Toshiko bargains -- if she can keep one eye on the telly screen and another on her computer screens at least seventy per cent of the time, Jack will forgive her for knocking him flat.

She may even get him to throw chips around in a tantrum without consequence, if she turns up the dial on her concentration and remembers to count twice before laying down a word. Jack's no Owen, but he can be childish. Tonight, she'll see just how childish.

It's the least she can do.

"Tell me, Toshiko," Jack says easily, inquiring within casual conversation's Goldilocks zone for once, "how you got around to collecting four Scrabble boards." He taps a chip to his lips, and Tosh watches it carefully.

"That board's yours." She points to be helpful. "The peeling one."

Jack drops his ankle from his knee and hovers over the grid of boards on the floor, half-filled in half a day. "Not mine," he replies, more a stretching sigh than a pair of words. Fourteen points.

"I found it here." Twenty.

"Yeah, well." Tap-tap-tap. Jack absently nibbles his chip. It might be a |Q|. If it is, only two downfacing |K|s remain in the draw pile, and that spells trouble for Tosh's prized Hitchhi_ersguidetothega_laxy.

"It's been nine minutes since my last turn," Tosh updates. Across the Hub, on a battered telly beside the arms display, a high strung gopher of a man prattles about the Mars landing. Who plans a probe landing for Christmas Eve? Scientists without personal lives, that's who. Fitting. "Ten more, and I'll introduce penalties."

"Hey Tosh?" Jack's eyes flick across to her flatscreens. He seems apprehensive. Is he asking permission? For what?

"You don't have to look it up this time," Tosh clips. "I'll believe you."

Jack doesn't answer, just returns to slowly scanning the board.

If Jack's allowed to use both the technological and biological databases to support his word choices, it's only fair for Tosh to supplement her vocabulary with proper titles. And names. They agreed upon this hours ago. Fei_enbaum, shelved atop the plaid cushion, separates Tosh from her opponent. So many vowels, so little value, even with the potential octuple word score. She keeps it for sentimentality's sake.

Jack is silent and still, lost in either concentration or fantasy, which is frustrating. They already laid the rules out. Tosh sips from her pina colada (she didn't trust the egg nog), and places it beside her ankle. She's growing impatient. If she stays impatient, she'll wind up drunk.

She kicks her drink over at a puff in her ear, and is too concerned with protecting the game board to fully register the shape of the air at first: "You have a cunt."

Toshiko swings, landing Owen one in the upper arm. He dumps an industrial-sized roll of paper towel into her lap. She rips off a wad, places the roll aside, and gets to sopping, unamused. Very unamused. Highly, sniggeringly unamused, betraying herself in secret. She's done a lot of that, this past year.

Jack has laughed loudly behind his hand, and Owen misinterprets Tosh's reluctance to do the same as a misunderstanding. "There," Owen says, pointing a taut arm at her thick stronghold of Scrabble chip walls. "See - You -" He climbs over the coffee table that Jack moved to its position blocking off the med suite walkway. "Next." He sits on the table to watch the game, elbows to knees, beer perched in lanky fingers. "Tuesday."

"Thank you," Tosh says. "I'll be sure to play it as soon as my IQ drops seventy points."

From some nowhere-spot on the table behind the arm of the settee, Owen retrieves a beer to match his own and uncaps it with a single-handed swoop of a thumb and a battered keyring opener. Owen is a beercrobat. "Better get started, then," he says, handing it to her. "It's nearly Christmas. How's your etymology?" He asks the question as though Toshiko is recovering from a cold, his caring as substantial as a tissue.

Tosh is beating Jack threefold at Scrabble. She points this out by glancing at the scoresheet. "How do you think?"

"Don't you know what Christmas is all about?" Owen asks.

Jack huffs distantly.

"I do," Tosh says. The equinox. Saints. Crusades. Copycat gods. Symbols sold to the bloodiest bidders. Snowballs with stones in their middles. Cold hard candy. "Not sure etymology plays a starring role."

"It's about getting messed up before Kris shows up." Owen shows off his watch. "You're running out of time," he says, tapping the watch face with the glass lip of his beer. "Pitiful Kris-mess you are, so far." He gets up and semicircles the board, his head twisted to read upside down, and looks over Jack's shoulder at his pieces. "Raxa-cor-corico -- wha -- phallus -- glorious? Is that what you're going for? You're sick."

"It's a work in progress." Jack's voice is flat. "Learn to spell."

In the upper right quarter, Arkannis, Blathereen, Darwin and Tarsius cross Ataleoftwocities. From the tail end of Arkannis, Dawkins carries Bekaran through the middle and tops with a tight net of Dogon, Gloobi and Hawking. Hm. Beercrobat. Eighteen points. Tosh has it, but for the second |E|. Maybe if she uses it in a sentence Jack will allow her to play it, and after a few more turns...

If Jack ever takes his turn. He's still distant, wholly uninvolved. So much for his self-proclaimed status as gallant rescuer. Tosh is in dire need. She leans into his line of sight. Is that water or vodka in his hovering glass? How many times has it emptied by now? "Jack?"

"Yeah. Uh, question for you," he says, placing an |S| in the upper-rightmost corner of their playing field.

In response to a grinning face-wiggle from Owen, Tosh sips from her new drink. "I'm all answers," she replies. Confidence tastes like confidence. Nice of Owen to spread his obscenely gratuitous wealth.

'We've received a signal from Guinevere One. The Mars landing would seem to be an unqualified success,' says the bearded gopher on the telly. Owen rolls his eyes in exaggerated time with his bottle's neck, whoop-de-doo.

"Do you believe in fate?" Jack wonders, turning belatedly to Tosh, chasing the words with his face.

Owen splutters at Tosh's other side, reclaiming his seat on the table. "You call that a come on? Come on."

'Yes, we... had a bit of a scare... Guinevere seemed to fall off the scope, but ih-ih-iht was just a blip...'

"I'm totally serious." Jack remains anything but defensive.

"Come ons are serious business," Owen agrees. "My point is that you're bankrupt."

A word from the telly repeats in Tosh's head, blip. Hmm. She checks Jack for instructions, finds none, and inspects her left monitor. The UNIT orbit map looks... normal. A little blurry so far away, but normal.

Jack places a |Y| below the |S|. "That's not the kind of fate I'm talking about, Owen." Half his mouth smirks. "Not today."

Tosh smiles at her knees. "I believe in the consequences of probability," she answers.

"I like that," Jack approves. "I really like that."

'O-only disappeared fffor a few seconds, she's fine, now, a-absolutely fine, w-we're getting first pictures transmitted live any minute now... I'd better get back to it, thanks.'

"A blip," Jack says. He's still chewing intermittently on that little block of wood, ignoring Owen and staring through Tosh the way he stared through the game board, finding his own words inside her. It's as though he knows that she already knows what he's about to say, and she had better catch up. "Exploding Santa robots in London, and teeny wisps of energy from some single as-yet-unpinpointed point, also in London."

Tosh lifts her glasses from their spot folded over the collar of her mauve sweater, and fits her face into them.

"Out of our jurisdiction. Ask Suze, she'll back me up," Owen argues. Tosh, for one, would be happy to ask Suzie, were Suzie happy to come in to work as ordered.

"Now..." Jack slices through Owen's whinging.

"Speaking of 'now,' that's exactly the time I was expecting to be sucking down shots from between a stripper's tits."

"... a blip."

"It's been a wonderful lesson in disappointment, Jack, and I don't think I've thanked you yet."

Tosh would share in Owen's holiday woe, but she's never really had the guts to go to a strip club herself. So she technically does share it, she just hardly notices because it's perpetual. Why don't you... you know, take me with you? I've never seen... well. It would be a great opportunity for you to show off. Right, Tosh. Maybe some day. Some time next year, or the year after that, if he's still alive.

Jack's look is telling her to get moving to her workstation, so she obeys, but she brings her beer with her and places it beside her Owen-screwed rubix cube. It's still Christmas, after all, and Owen has a point. A small one. Tosh digs full handed with both palms, up to her elbows in numbers, codes, rules layered with antischematics and modifiers, and barely hears Owen scream over the music in her head.

'Coming live, from the depths of space, on Christmas morning: BLOUOOUURRRGGGHHHHHHH.'

The sound Owen makes is very similar in key and tone to the one echoing over from the news feed, albeit higher in pitch. Tosh finds him banishing the tail end of a shudder from his neck, gaping a disgusted maw-maw face at the telly and ignoring the olive beer splotch down the centre of his lime polo.

Jack places a |C| on the board and studies it carefully, waiting for it to tell him something.

That monster on the screen looks like a living fossil. A slimy living fossil, bellowing a final cry before sinking back into the La Brea Telly Static Pits. Tosh shakes Owen's shudder from her own neck, raises her bottle to toast the newly hyperactive newscaster, and chugs.

"WAY out of our jurisdiction," Owen says. "Forget it, I'm not going anywhere."

"You'll go wherever I need you to go," Jack croons to the game board, clicking an |O| into place with flick from his thumb, "because that's how it goes."

"The little ones follow the big ones," Tosh bubbles out, "And vice versa." Beer gut instinct. She's the opposite of a beercrobat.

Jack laughs long and hard, and somewhere in the middle of it, tells Tosh he loves her. It's not the sort of declaration that means anything, it's just a moment, and it's already gone.

=#=#=

Ianto buries his face in the double-thick fleece of Lisa's collar -- not fleece, can't be. It's the belly hair of a pink unicorn, boiled in fabric softener for three centuries, but with an even more sickeningly sanguine backstory. "How many Care Bears do you think your mother skinned to make this?"

"Might've been teletubbies." Lisa wipes at her plate lazily, carrying crumbs away under a waterfall. In an excuse to press up behind her, Ianto rolls her housecoat sleeves to her elbows, protecting one, then the other, from her unnecessary volunteer work. "I think, oh... Twenty six. At least." She qualifies, "They shrink in the wash." She props the plate up in the dishrack, and it glitters beneath the old light fixture, whose flat pane is stained golden with years of someone else's cigarette smoke.

Ianto has been told not to clean it because it makes Lisa think of candlelight, so Ianto tries not to think about it at all. Not like this is his condo or anything, not anymore. "Why are you washing my dishes?"

"Dishes yours," Lisa sings, swirling suds over the edge of a stout glass. "Messes mine and mum's."

"And the eccentricity, that's your dad's?"

"He was a taxidermist. Specialized in Care Bears. You tell me."

Christmas has always been a time for getting away with things, and a half hour past one, the date is fully cemented. "I would have liked to meet him."

Lisa plunks the glass upside-down in the rack and plucks up the first of two wine flutes. Breathing in scentless smells of tinsel, faint lilac and mint from her shoulder, Ianto tries to read the cord lines drawn between the wrists and knuckles of Lisa's washing hands. "Me too," she finally says, and she doesn't say it like it hurts at all, which makes it a sort of deflection.

If anyone can beat her at that game, Ianto can. He squeezes festively-packaged dish soap -- so that's where the mint came from -- onto his pilfered sponge and takes over, whether she likes it or not. He presses the threat of a bite to the side of her neck -- so that's where the lilac came from -- whether she likes it or not, and if her hips don't lie, she likes it a lot.

From the bedroom-den, a newscaster says something about extraterrestrials. Ianto drops a saucer. Lisa grabs Ianto's hands, and he slips from them easily. "No, don't," she pleads while he rinses off. "Don't, not today." His kiss to the hair at her nape is an assurance, but she sighs anyway, slouching.

Ianto jogs to the telly's white glow, his bare feet making tumbleweeds of strewn wrapping.

A brown, gnarled mask hangs in a rectangle to the right of the newscaster's head. All Ianto needs is a single word, 'hoax,' to convince him to switch it off. 'Students' helps too. Not tonight is right. He still unplugs the land line, just in case, and sets both their mobiles to vibrate.

=#=#=

One monitor for UNIT and one reserved for the military hang like watching eyes with glowing planet pupils above Tosh's two others, upon which she scrolls. Sometimes the lower screens take up residence in her mind, times like now, when she sees their outputs before her retinas register them. She could go like this for hours. Sometimes she does. It's calming, a conversation between her soul and the cool, indisputable rigors of logic, a joy to get lost in. Occasionally Owen mentions "work." Tosh forgets what that is when she's meditating.

Mars has a ship, but not a Martian ship, Jack insists, 'They never are.' Five thousand miles above the surface of the planet but leaving it, closing in on Earth, and why should anyone be surprised? 'If they're sending messages, we're trying to translate them, and if we're trying to translate them, we've got programs working on that, and if we've got programs working on that, you're going to find them.'

Tosh is shaving the edges off her fifteenth firewall gateway when Suzie squeals into the Hub. "You're here," Tosh mumbles at her hands, not disappointed, no, not at all. Owen promised her a holiday neck rub, and Tosh didn't complain about workplace harassment, and the deal sealed by that just fell to pieces.

"You're late," Jack shouts from his office. There it is, the barking no one missed.

"Late?" Suzie laughs, pulling off her jacket with great difficulty, fighting with it but smiling. "What is it, four a.m.? I'm early, Jack, excruciatingly so." She throws her jacket onto her workstation, and it falls to the floor, bringing a heavy metalworker's glove with it. She doesn't bother to pick it up. "Consider yourself lucky."

"Never said I don't." Jack leans on his doorframe. It wasn't an angry-bark, apparently. He meanders back to the settee, counting without reason on fingers he pats on his thigh, a habit no one but Tosh has likely ever noticed.

Owen hasn't moved from his table seat but to gather bottles from his medical storage cooler. A cluster has sprouted like a patch of grass beside his feet. He toasts Suzie with the one that still has liquid in it and makes light of what everyone already knows: "You're drunk."

"I am!" Suzie's smile is wide and manic. "I very much am!"

And she sprints.

Oh, she most definitely very much is.

She lands smack in Jack's lap, catching herself with an arm behind his shoulders. He accepts the blow of her bony arse to his thighs with an exaggerated Ooof. "I met the most amazing man," Suzie divulges in a very loud just-between-you-and-me voice. "He's..." she looks up in search of words, the wrong place -- fragments of them are scattered all over the floor now, game over. "He's amazing."

"Did you get his number?" Jack asks, because obviously, he wants it.

Suzie makes a drunken thinking face, then a drunken disappointed face, and one of Jack's hands dangles mistletoe above them. "Good," he says.

"Ohh, how sweet!" Suzie isn't too drunk to be sarcastic. "You carried this around with you all month waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of me, didn't you?" She snatches it from his hand, balls her fist around it, and throws it at Tosh. "Here," she says, and Tosh fumble-fumble-catches. "Protect this from the resident face rapist. It sure isn't going to work on me, but you might get some use out of it."

Toshiko darkly considers incinerating it, but it's actually real mistletoe, which she hasn't even seen before in this world of molded plastics and spray scent. Her skirt has no pockets, so she pushes the ribbon-tied branch into the top of her tall boot.

Jack heaves a dramatic play-sigh. "Do you have to ruin everything?"

"You misunderstand my meaning," Suzie says, kicking out a leg with nicer boots than Tosh's, "What I'm saying is --" She roughly grabs Jack's chin and turns his face to the side, holding it there in self defense, "I don't need it!" Her gigantic showy kiss to his cheek is loud and sucky and more like a punch than a snog. "Now, business. What's new? Why've I been dragged here via seventeen voicemail messages and about seven hundred texts?"

"Aliens," Owen says, pacing before the med ledge with a new beer in his hand.

Suzie rolls her eyes. "Really."

"Really," Tosh says. "Aliens."

"I asked what was new. Aside from your boots. Did I mention I like your new boots, Tosh? They're lovely."

"Thank you," Tosh says, very tiny.

Jack picks Suzie up around the back and under the knees, and dumps her (he could have been more careless about it, technically) onto the sofa cushion beside him. He picks up one of the scrabble boards, the one he won't admit is his for some reason, and tips it to slide the pieces onto the floor. He pecks at the pile of chips, gathering a smaller one in his hand. Across the centre square, sacrificing value for effect, he finishes spelling out his word.

|S||Y||C||O||R||A||X|

Fifteen points. No bonuses.

"Why, Jack," Suzie says, a fanned hand to her chest, "I had no idea you liked Shakespeare."

=#=#=

Lisa practically had her new underclothes on before she got them out of the box. Not underclothes, lingerie. This number should never be worn under anything -- it's a red bra and panty set, lined with understated white fluff, courtesy of Victoria's Secret. Ianto knows how to shop. He bought this part as a joke, and will never tell her it was just as expensive as the ring dangling from the clasp.

He already let her take the ring off it herself, and he'll also let her put it on her own finger -- her right hand -- herself. It's not a special ring or anything. Rather elementary school, in fact, but he couldn't really help it. "Claddagh!" Lisa says, ta-daah!, holding it out to admire it down the length of her arm. "You aren't Irish."

"Little bit," Ianto replies. "Father's mother's mother's side. No, it's not an antique."

Lisa moves to where Ianto sits on the edge of the bed and bends down to kiss him, but he takes her shoulders, holding her there while he leans back. The cleavage is mountainous. Mountainous. "Hold on, hold on."

Lisa giggles, shoves forward, falls, pins him, and smothers him in it.

=#=#=

"I've got it," Tosh informs the group. She does so quietly, because Owen and Suzie are dancing, and Jack is watching and laughing, and she doesn't really care if they hear her.

Jack hears her. He puts his hand on her shoulder and she can tell he's trying to read the screen, trying to decipher languages even he doesn't understand. "You've got what?"

"They've got a stream set up -- UNIT and the military and Torchwood One. Between them. I've tapped in to the translation program, but it isn't working yet. It's very garbled. I can't be sure, but it might be getting clearer. We'll just have to wait."

"Good work," Jack congratulates. "Wanna get out of here?"

Tosh isn't sure how he means that. She doesn't want to go home, if that's what he's asking, and she hopes he isn't because won't that protest make her look like a loser. She shrugs, bouncing his hand.

"We need food," he clarifies. "Bready things to soak up the booze. It's gonna be a long night."

"I think I have some at home." Home is fine, if Tosh gets to come back.

"Owen, with Tosh. Get some air, clear your head. No more beer."

When Tosh turns, she finds that Jack already had Owen's jacket in his hand. He throws it at Owen just as Owen moves to rip it away from him. "Thanks, dad," Owen grumbles. Jack ruffles his hair. Owen ducks out of the way, heading toward the cog without looking back. He's had nearly a case of beer, and he isn't staggering in the slightest.

Tosh checks her screen one more time while getting up, and stops, frozen. "Jack."

"Yeah?"

"It's working."

The shuffle of Owen's feet dies, and Suzie, who kept on spinning in Owen's absence, stills. The whole Hub is still, gigantic and silent. It's too much silence for Tosh to fill on her own.

"'Cattle,'" Jack starts, then reads run-on, accepting the lack of punctuation, "'you belong to us to the sycorax we own you we now possess your land your minerals your precious stones your women you will surrender or they will die.' Now isn't that just an eloquent masterpiece of holiday cheer."

"'In AD 2006 war was beginning,'" Owen complements from his place in front of the cog. "'What happen? Somebody set up us the bomb.' It's a fucking Uni prank, guys, it's official. Somebody set up me and Tosh a cab."

"'Sycorax strong,'" Tosh continues reading, pulling her own jacket over her shoulders.

"'All your base are belong to us,'" Owen calls into the tunnel beyond the cog.

"'Sycorax mighty,'" Jack says.

"'You are on the way to destruction.'" Owen has passed the threshold by now, heading to the elevator, with the Hub's main doorway acting as a loudspeaker. "'You have no chance to survive make your time.'"

Suzie cranes around Tosh's shoulder, her neck inhumanly long in Tosh's peripheral, and finishes, "'Sycorax rock'?"

"'For great justice!'" Owen shouts. "I'm in the damned elevator. Tosh, where the fuck are you?"

Tosh skitters after him. "Merry Christmas to you too," she says.

Owen replies, "Whatever," and shuts them in the elevator with a finger to a button. They walk the upper passageway in silence and pass through the dark dust-blanketed tourist office without a sneeze between them, for once. Some cover. If anyone ever breaks in, it'll be totally blown.

The air smells like the bay, unfrozen, but cold and crisp with the humidity and the windchill. "We're going to my place," Tosh says as they walk, clunking the boards, passing under the ramp from the aquabus station. "For snacks. Jack's orders."

"Good thing, unless you relish three-year-old marachino cherries."

"The colouring sounds seasonal, at least."

"Yeah, good point, maybe we should head to mine." Owen points out across the quay. "I forgot to decorate the loo bowl."

Tosh smiles and searches the water for mermaids. Occasional ripples glint in pairs in the moonlight, and Tosh is momentarily perplexed by her own tendency to see eyes everywhere. "I have a full-sized tree," she says.

"Of course you do," Owen mumbles, a step ahead as they turn onto the Plass.

"In a box at the back of the closet." The sky is clear. Orion shines, the nebula a tiny white puff inside its lower half. Tosh can only see it because she already knows it's there. She imagines it glowing in bright golds, peaches and pinks, like it does in photos.

"I'll never forget the day I realized the colours in deep space pictures aren't real," Tosh says as they pass between lit pillars wound with garish ribbon. Decapitated candy-canes. "I was twelve. Other kids lost Santa Claus. I lost that."

"Spare me the sap, will you?"

On the occasions cabs need calling, Jack orders them to the parking indent in front of the Milennium Center, so that's where they stop to loiter. Tosh watches Owen puff heat into his hands, her own hands itching to retrieve the mistletoe tucked into her boot. It's Owen's fault. He gave her the confidence. Tosh lunges at her calf, nearly drops the crumpled mass of leaves, and holds it over their heads. Owen raises an eyebrow at her. "Really, Tosh?"

Tosh smirks. "I know I'm not a stripper. Sorry."

"Alien invaders are watching," Owen says, overtly contemplating. Tosh stamps her foot, and Owen adds, "Said you belong to them, now. They might blow me up for this."

"It's worth the risk," Tosh challenges. Definitely not her own confidence.

Owen aims for the corner of her mouth, and since he seems to have given all his confidence away, she turns into the kiss and takes what she wants.

She won't be needing another snog for a very long time.

=#=#=

It takes fifty three digits to get to the head of Torchwood One. Jack lifts his heels to his desk, cradling his cordless between ear and shoulder. Fifty. Three. Half of them are probably just in place to make sure everyone knows how important she is.

"Hartman. Slightly busy," Yvonne answers over a hum of voices that even sounds choked with ties.

"I had to give up my rotary phone because of you," Jack greets. Yvonne rustles and mumbles in his ear, instructing another minion. "I loved that thing." She can't hear him, so he'll keep going until she does. "How's my favourite bleached nude beach bum? Saw you soaking it up last week. Oh, vanity."

"Excuse me? It's been bloody cold out, in case you didn't notice."

"That's how I knew it was you." Jack smiles so she'll hear it. "You're always so perky."

"Screw off, Harkness. I've got a five-point converging Klaxian beam to assemble. Either send help or waste someone else's time." She grunts, lifting or pulling or pushing something.

"Don't break a nail," Jack warns. "Wouldn't want to hear about you retaliating on another pretty face."

"Still bitter, are you?"

"I remember it fondly." Jack considers launching into a detailed reminiscence just to prove how nostalgic he can be, but he can't afford the hang-up. Or getting his number blocked. "How's Harriet?"

"From the sound of it, about as frazzled as I am. And you're as butter-smooth as ever. Is it safe to assume she left you out?"

"Again."

"Be thankful you're such a small potato."

"I've been flowering at the back of the cupboard," Jack retorts. "Four strong, now."

Yvonne laughs at him. Flat-out laughs at him. "You want flowers? Make it to three hundred."

"You want help? Make me an offer."

"We don't need your help. I wasn't asking, I was complaining. We'll have these buggers blown out of the sky by sunrise."

Jack doesn't quite trust Yvonne to pull this off unsupervized. "You get mighty shaky under pressure," he slips, smoothing the words along the air with his hand. He knows this from experience, and she knows exactly what he's talking about.

"What pressure?" Yvonne asks, the words sneaking across the line like poison, delicious poison.

"Mine."

"Then I suggest you leave it to me," Yvonne says coolly. "I trust no hands more completely than my own."

She cuts off the call.

Jack nips at the phone antenna, tonguing the bud and grinning into the middle-distance.

God, yeah.

He leans over in his seat, finds Suzie's workstation devoid of Suzie, and gets up to work on the shoulder-groove in his door frame. She's sprawled herself out on Owen's desk, with Owen's keyboard, mouse and crisp bag collection shoved to the side, her head in her folded arms. Jack pokes her to see if he can get her to snore. No such luck. She's dead drunk. Damn it. He was planning to bring her with him.

Jack checks Tosh's screen, shaking the mouse to get rid of the screensaver. Nearly seven, and no further communications have come from Earth's jolly new guests. He takes Tosh's stool, sips at his holiday water (it has a mint sprig in the bottom), and waits.

He waits an hour. He is very patient. He wishes Harriet had chosen to send her responses through the same gateway the translator uses, for information's sake. For his sake. Jack has a Time Lord to catch, and he's all out of butterfly nets. Half a conversation had better be enough to definitively find out whether or not the man is here.

He rereads the last transmission, commiting it to memory.

'... your women you will surrender or they will die.' Who's they? The women? Why kill all the women, especially if you've already decided you own them? Have Harriet and Yvonne not noticed this part, or what? "Selective blindness," Jack confides in his own onyx reflection, "a sure sign of a true leader."

=#=#=

Ianto wakes up to a wom. What is that, the mobile vibrating? He smacks a hand over to the nightstand and grabs it, keeping his eyes shut. He'll wait until the voicemail picks up.

Wom, wom. Wom.

The mobile does not vibrate in time with the sound, but blue light, a flicker he can't blame on the new sun shining through the curtains, does. He drops the mobile and opens his eyes. Was it Lisa's moble he heard? Set to ring with... light? Ridiculous. Wom wom, behind him. He cringes, and rolls over.

Lisa sleeps peacefully, as sleeping people do, features goldened in the fresh dawn light. Might have been a dream. Probably was a dream. There's nothing like a job at Torchwood to give a man weird dreams. Ianto cups her cheek with his hand, brushing a thumb across her lips, and weighs his options -- wake her up for round four, or wake her up with round four?

Wom.

An arc of light travels up Lisa's face to the top of her head, through his hand. He whips it back, then realizes he hasn't been shocked, and touches her again. Now this will make a reliable footnote on her pending compensation plea. Work-related stress. Ianto should place one too. "Yo," he whispers, desperate to find humour in the nonsensical. "Lisa. Wake up and tell me this isn't happening."

The light arcs up through Ianto's hand three more times, wom wom wom, and Lisa stirs. Her eyes open, looking at nothing. She throws off the covers, revealing her morning glory to the light of day, and stands.

Not today. Please, not today.

"Lisa."

She's being chillingly robotic.

"Lisa."

Even if she is completely and pleasantly naked.

"Lisa?"

Alright, perhaps more chilling for that fact, as she is heading for the door.

Ianto remembers to blink, grabs his jimjam bottoms from beside the bed, and pulls them on. She's jimmying at the lock, oh God, he had no idea she was a sleepwalker, if that's what this even is. Mere sleepwalking leaves the lightshow unaccounted for. "If this is some new sheme for calling the grunts in on their days off..." but of course it isn't, but Ianto's trying, he's trying. He snatches up Lisa's undergarments and the fluffy Care Bear house coat from her mother.

There must be some way to snap her out of this. Ianto wedges himself between Lisa and the door just as she, or whatever it is that posesses her, figures out the deadbolt. "I hate your new haircut," he says.

No response, she's just staring at the door past his shoulder -- and rubbing up against him disturbingly. Disturbing because it's so pleasant, tits-to-chest-hair, groin-to-groin, and the morning wood is not going away. "Those denims from your sweet sixteen?" They're her favourite. "They triple the size of your arse."

Nothing, that is, nothing but her knee between his legs, and her constant attempts at moving forward. Ianto hooks the seasonal bra around her chest to save them both, and moves her arms -- they resist, but feebly -- through the shoulder straps. Ianto must delve deeper. He slips the housecoat over her shoulders, guides her arms through the sleeves, and ties both the inner and outer belts very tightly.

Ianto must summon something not so shallow, something to seriously offend. He puts his mouth to Lisa's ear and tries, "I think Rene Decartes made sense."

Lisa knees him in the groin.

A better reaction than he was hoping for, he laments through searing pain as he rolls on the carpet. The door opens and Lisa's gone, she's gone but she's still not herself so he's crawling after her, reaching toward her, staggering to his feet and pretending these testicles aren't his, they're someone else's, they've gone to a land far, far away.

In the hall, Ianto catches only a glimpse of Lisa's robe before she's swept up in a growing crowd of likeminded sleepwalkers. Once Ianto can take all of his own weight onto his feet again, he becomes similarly swept up in a growing crowd of likeminded panicked people. He would ask them what's going on, but they're all asking one another the same thing, and no crowd of Londoners is at all likely to notice a Welshman anyway.

He's lost her. No, no, he's lost her. He fights the flow of the crowd back to his door and slams it behind him. He'll find her later, she's a big pink cotton ball, hard to miss. He can get a handle on what's happening, and what do to, once he's had time to think.

=#=#=

The cog rolls open to enraged -- or, wait, is that horrified? -- shouting from Jack: "Hurry up! Run! Get in here! Close the door!"

Tosh follows orders with excuses tumbling out before she has a chance to look around. "I'm sorry, Jack! I'm sorry! We stayed for a film, thought there would be no harm, we --"

"OWEN! CLOSE THE DOOR!" Jack is struggling with Suzie, wrestling with her, behind her, his arms hooked through her elbows. And Suzie? She's wholly expressionless, her face a betrayal of her swiftly fighting body. Her legs kick up, roundhousing in the air, nearling knocking Jack into the Hub pool while she shows off the crotch of a bright red-and-green pair of panties.

Owen clicks the barred door shut softly. "Jack. Elaborate." His voice is anitcipatory, his words slow and sober. "Please. This can only get better."

Tosh places her groceries (crisps, hors doeurves with cream, oreo cookies, a jar of mint-chocolate spread, a loaf of bread) by her feet. The cog rolls back again. Once it wedges fully into place, Jack lets Suzie go. She moves straight to the cage, slipping between Owen and Tosh without a nod to either of them, and reaches through the bars, swiping mindlessly forward.

"I think it's ... our guests," Jack says, catching his breath through a hissing grimace. "They're... well, they must be. They're here. Then this."

"Post hoc ergo propter hoc," Tosh corrects him, rushing up grated steps. "I'll pull up the CCTV feeds and anything else I can find in support and in contest."

"No. Owen, you grab the CCTV. Tosh, find out what was on that Mars probe. They must be using something on the Mars probe. If they were here before, we would have noticed. Sycorax don't know how to operate covertly."

"And we do?" Owen asks, but Jack isn't listening. Jack runs to his office, leaves it with handcuffs spinning in his fingers, and returns to Suzie. The click of the one cuff to her wrist, the chain clinking at the bars, and the other to her other wrist, snaps the very real danger of the situation into place.

Jack takes Suzie's face tenderly between his hands, peering into her eyes in search of whomever might be there. He appears to come up empty. Tosh turns back to her monitors. Jack calls, "Owen? What's out there? Women? All of them? Wait, no, Tosh is --"

"Right," Owen replies curiously over the sound of Tosh's furious tappity-tappity fingers. "No, it's everyone. Well. Every kind of one. It's... kids, and parents, but only some of them. No obvious age or gender divide. They're just wandering through the streets."

Tosh finds a list. It's a long list. There's no time to read it to herself before reading it aloud. "The seeds of seven common crops. Water. Oil --"

"Owen. Cross-reference the crops with what we ate today."

"I have no idea what you people ate today! What am I, your bloody nanny?"

Jack holds up his finger, then points at Tosh to cue her, and she turns away as he starts stroking through Suzie's curls. "An etching of the Vitruvian man. Seven classical music selections -- Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, etcetera -- plus a song from Snow Patrol, if you can believe it. The complete works of Proust and Wilde on micro --"

"Good taste," Jack says, then motions to Tosh to continue. She can tell he didn't really mean to interrupt, he's just being earnest. Owen stands at Suzie's side by now, preparing to draw blood with quick hands.

"Copies of a few dinosaur fossils, letters from schoolchildren in England, Ireland and Scotland, as well as --"

"Good taste." Owen snickers, hurrying by Tosh and into his lab. There's no one here to be offended by that one. So sad for him.

"As well as, finally, blood," Tosh finishes. "That's the last thing. One phial of human blood."

"Type?" Jack asks.

"A-positive."

"Owen, what's Suzie's blood type?" Jack sounds like he already knows the answer. It's getting to be quite a habit.

"A-positive," Tosh repeats, dreadfully. "I'm AB-positive. Owen is B-negative. Jack, yours is unrecorded." That reminds her -- she's been meaning to find out whether Owen is willing to bet a fiver against Jack carrying B-positive.

Jack quirks his forehead at her. "How do you know all that?"

"It's a... cultural thing," Tosh excuses, aware that she sounds a bit of a freak. "In Japan. Like horoscopes."

"Whatever weirdo, you're strange but correct," Owen calls from the lab. "We may well have found our answer. Buggered as to what we'll do with that, though. I'm a damn good doctor, but not good enough to toy with full transfusions. May as well see if killing her outright helps first."

"Tosh, get your coat back on. It's time for a road trip." Jack does the same, retrieving his from the rack in his office, struggling into the sleeves like he needs help. "Doctor Harper, you stay here to tend to Ms. Costello. Do whatever you can." He leans toward the med bay. "Watch her. Don't let her hurt herself. Cure her if you can. I trust you."

Tosh looks over the rail to find Owen saluting sloppily from beside his sink. He catches her eye and winks at her, and she leaves him drying his hands.

"Wanna take the scenic route?" Jack asks (will he ever stop calling it that?), gesturing in a gentlemanly fashion toward the new lift platform. Jack had it installed a couple months ago, disguising the construction amid 'unrelated' repairs to the Plass, and thus far, Tosh has been apprehensive about using it.

"No guard rails," she says. "No thanks."

"One problem. Suzie's blocking the other way." Suzie's wrists link the gated door to its frame. Great. "I was only pretending to be polite."

"As always," Tosh mumbles, retrieving her laptop and one of her three grocery bags, the one with the cream puffs. She avoids looking at Suzie -- the woman just isn't right.

Jack holds Tosh's elbow all the way up to the Plass. Jack is not a guard rail, but perhaps the next best thing, and the closeness is nice. "I hope it was a boring movie," he says as the ceiling rushes past their heads. "I'm driving -- I'll get us there in ninety minutes -- but that doesn't mean you'll have time to sleep."

"We... took a nap, yes." Tosh awoke with Owen's head on her chest, crushing painfully. Christmas is over as far as she's concerned. One of the best on record, to date. "Sorry," she adds. The platform chunks into place under their feet.

"No, it's good news. I meant what I said. Wait over there." Jack nods to the far side of the Millennium Centre, and runs off in the other direction. When is he going to show the rest of them where he parks the SUV?

The Plass is filling with people in pajamas. Half of them are zombies. The other half follows the zombies, fretting. Whatever it is, Tosh decides, weaving between a frightened mother and her zoned-out children, it had better not be contagious.

The SUV pulls up, screeching to a halt, before Tosh gets to the spot. She jumps into the passenger side, shutting the door after Jack pulls away. One thumb to the bottom of the wheel (he's not a ten-and-two type), Jack fishes an earpiece from his pocket, a showy black banana with a hook at one end. "Put it on. Talk to Owen. I need to know about transmissions and news reports. Just keep talking, okay?"

Tosh hooks it into her ear. Jack hits on the horn, and it doesn't scare the Christmas morning zombies, but it does terrify their caregivers enough to drag them out of the way. He weaves and dodges and blares, leaving Tosh to scramble three times at her seatbelt before she finally succeeds in fastening it. Only when they get onto more open road, out of the city centre, heading for the country, does Tosh realize she lacks a rather relevant piece of information.

"Jack?"

"What?" He slouches in his seat, still barely touching the wheel, and wipes a sleeve across his forehead.

"Where are we going?"

"London. We're going to London. You get hold of Owen yet?"

Oh, right. Whoops. Tosh feels for a button, finding it just to the right of where she expected to. She's only used one of these a few times before. "Owen? Are you there?"

"Good thing I thought to find this. Jack, excuse me for putting my hands in your drawers. If the desk files molestation charges, I hope they'll be overturned."

Tosh smiles into her fingertips and says, "He can't hear you. I'm the only one on-line. How..." She isn't sure what to ask. "How are... things?"

"The walkers are turning out all over the world, first world, anyway. Suzie's fine, same as when you left. I've padded the cuffs. Tell Jack I expected better of him."

"Owen thinks you ought to have fuzzy handcuffs," Tosh translates.

"I do. I just don't share them with you guys. Any relevant news?"

"The effect is worldwide," Tosh offers.

And so it continues, with Tosh relaying news reports (a whole third of the population is affected, only some of the news stations know about the blood bit, the PM might make an appearance) when Jack isn't trying to reach someone unnamed via Tosh's mobile, trying and trying and failing repeatedly, with ever-growing frustration. He finally hands it back to her after ten minutes of tense silence. "Everything's down," he says. "Network's overloaded."

=#=#=

Ianto catches up via the telly. Never should have turned it off. Not today. Work is unreachable -- so much for his first hypothesis. In fact, everyone is unreachable. The damned operator is unreachable, and emergencey services are hopeless.

He might have to do something about this himself. Or he would, were he not just as hopeless, and Lisa's out there, wandering out of sight. He wrings sweaty hands and gets up from the bed to look out the window. Droves wander the streets. A few dots start up a fire escape. No sign of Lisa. The fire escape thing is disconcerting.

'It seems people are climbing toward rooftops everywhere this morning.'

'Oh, Denise, are you really surprised? They say human beings are notorious lemmings.'

Laughter.

'Looking for reindeer tracks, perhaps?'

'They'll be disappointed to find Father Chrismas is long gone to the other side of the world by now, won't th --'


Ianto turns off the box.

Lemmings.

Shit.

Ianto tumbles through his one-man condo, collecting treasures -- his laptop, Lisa's camera, no film but that's not what he wants it for, both mobiles, a roll of wire, pliers and cutters from the ramshackle cardboard 'toolbox' under the kitchen sink. He stuffs everything that fits into the pockets of his own unsatisfyingly unfluffy housecoat, and runs.

=#=#=

Toshiko pulls her laptop onto her lap and wedges her way through a gap in the satellite feeds. Now they're in London, she might have better luck. Jack is back to weaving and honking, which makes typing rather difficult. "Any Internet connection I manage to get will probably be too slow to be worth the trouble," she says.

"Lucky we've got dibs on our own pathway." Jack wedges his earpiece -- he gets the special looking one, that figures -- onto the side of his head, and asks Owen, "Translations. Any more messages?"

"Jesus, Jack, I'm juggling eight different --"

"So put them down and get to Tosh's workstation."

A heavy sigh crackles into Tosh's ear. "Suzie's got her brain taken over and you want --"

"Yes. I do."

"There's nothing new. PM's up on the telly for the Christmas Message, though, and ..." Owen pauses to listen, then laughs hard. "Oh boy, Royal Family on the roof, love her. She's got to have set that one up in advance. Who writes the cue cards over there? Shake his hand for me."

"I've only heard good things," Jack says, fond in a way that suggests he knows more than anyone else. Nothing changed, there.

"Hey, what -- now she's on about ... What the -- telling the whole world she doesn't know what to do? What the fuck is wrong with her? That's no way to lead a country! Harriet Jones, this doctor says to pull the Queen back down and maybe if you smash your heads together hard enough you'll find a brain cell and what's with this other doctor anyway, Doctor W--"

"Don't."

"Don't what, Jack? We're fucking doomed, I think she made that pretty obvious, and I want some fucking answers! This is TOTALLY UNACCEPTA --"

"Just don't." Jack seems caught somewhere between despair and a fit of giggles.

"On the other hand, it'll be a while before this goes live to the networks. Bet they'll edit most of it out."

"The Queen's message is always live," Tosh says.

Owen laughs. "Yeah, sure Toshiko, and that little dot the weatherman follows Christmas Eve isn't photoshopped into the radar."

Jack makes a hard left, throwing Tosh against the door. The seatbelt cuts into her neck. A woman falls in a puddle and gets back onto her feet, unbothered by the filthy water staining her velco trainers.

=#=#=

Ianto has never been sure whether it's a good or bad thing to live just across the way from work. He checks the roof of his own building first, scanning the backs of heads, trying to discern sleepwalkers from the people caring for them, searching for pink. The skyscrapers of Canary Wharf are towering glass giants in front, and he can feel the emptiness of the space behind -- he doesn't bother turning to acknowledge the Thames.

There she is.

She stands out like candyfloss at a funeral.

The people are lining up, and she's following them. Ianto takes her around the middle just as she gets to the edge of the roof and tries pulling her back, but she fights. If she fights too hard she'll send them both over, so he relents, waiting for her next pull, waiting to either save her life or die with her.

Murmurs rise around him. Ianto's co-tenants are still trying to get their loved ones' attention, talking into unrecognizing faces. What is wrong with theses idiots? "They could fall! Grab hold, for God's sake!"

Very few people hear Ianto, or care what he has to say.

Maybe Ianto is deluded, and the loved ones are merely liked ones.

Happy Christmas.

Ianto scans all the way up the glass tower of Torchwood One, hoping feebly to somehow catch someone's eye (Not Hartman, she never has the time), anyone's eye, anyone who might recognize them, but what's the use? If the whole world's gone to shit, it's every man for himself and the one he cares about. Torchwood must be busiest of all.

Ianto buries his nose in the double-thick fluff of Lisa's collar, searching for mint, for tinsel, for lilac, and tightens his hold, every nerve waiting for sensory input, the slightest shift of gravity. Any minute now, horrors. Any minute. The Reuters building is a runt, but it's still a long way down.

Down, down, down, a black behemoth of a vehicle screams along the South Collonade. It just misses a slow pedestrian, a man with a walker -- Ianto can barely tell -- and comes to a halt before One's side door. Well, one of many side doors, but this one stands out because it's the one Ianto passes through each morning.

A tiny figure exits the passenger side, and an only slightly less tiny one billows around from the driver's side. It looks important, moves like it's important. It throws itself across the sidewalk at the building, thrusting and jittering at the door.

Important people are a rare commodity right now. Ianto tugs the sleeve of the man beside him, a fat, balding fellow dressed up like Hugh Hefner. "Take her arm. If anything happens, yell. I'll be right behind you." Ianto shows the man what to do with his eyes, and the man hesitates.

"I'm Harold," says the man. Good to know. "She might pull me down."

"Ianto Jones. She's a third your weight. Please."

Harold takes Lisa's elbow, and Ianto stares at him, gluing the importance of his instructions on to old Harold's face, before letting go.

He sits down with crossed legs, pulls the laptop open in front of him, and takes all his treasures from his pockets, laying them out beside it. Wire? Pliers? What's he expect to do with them? What was he thinking? Ianto isn't the sort to make riggings of matchsticks and chewing gum, but then, maybe he was telling himself something, a gesture to his future self: he isn't powerless, here. He can do something about this.

Two mobile phones. He only needs one, and the laptop. This is simple.

Codes, passwords, mouseclick patterns in day-to-day perfect succession give familiar access to the Torchwood One gateway. These are the tools he needs, the monitoring programs, applications that tap into the city's humdrum and find peaks in the buzz. Usually it's a hiccup, a flurry in the network located around an important event, a car accident, sometimes a theatre opening night, but once in a while, just rarely, a piece of alien tech.

Ianto works in the retrieval department. He finds fusses. Lisa works on the same floor. She draws maps to them.

He sets up a search for all mobiles in use in a three mile radius. Seven, eight, nine thousand. He cancels the search, shrinks the radius, and leans over the edge beside Lisa's ankle. Those two dots are still there, still trying to get into One, and -- he squints, he can't tell -- if they're smart, they're not trying to use their mobiles.

Important people, for all their misgivings, do tend to be smart.

One mile radius. Still in the thousands. Ianto cancels the search, and searches the application settings with his own eyes instead. He's not done this before, never needed to because never before was there such an emergency, and screw the 'help' section, he hasn't met a helpful one in his life --

Mobile > Invert parameters.

Aha.

Mobile > invert parameters > field > in use.

Mobile > Invert parameters > field > not in use.

Ianto minimizes the radius as much as possible and refreshes the search. Four, five, six, seven results. Search complete.

=#=#=

"Open up!" Jack bangs on the door. Tosh can feel his panic welling up in her, and she doesn't even know what it's about. Well, not specificially. She surveys around the door for video cameras, jumping over pane after pane of glass. Eyes could be everywhere, hidden behind them. She waves her arm around. A few people, toothpick figures at the top of the nearest building, wave back.

"What the hell?" Jack smacks the glass door again. "Where is everyone?"

"Up there, I'd bet. Or at the top of the tower. The rest could be busy."

Jack takes his gun from his hip. "Which first, butt or bullet? Your pick."

Tosh feels her eyes grow. This is not the best idea, but she can't think of anything better. "B - butt," she says, the safer of the two.

Jack bangs away at the glass, and Tosh flinches with every blow. It's not working. Probably bulletproof, as well. Is all the Torchwood One glass bulletproof? The whole building? Probably, with their luck, her luck.

Her mobile vibrates in her jacket pocket, a low buzz against her hip, and Jack doesn't hear it, too busy is he bashing away and pleading with inanimate objects. She flips the top. The caller's number is blocked. "Hello?"

"Is there a ####### --"

It's a man's voice. Tosh squints as though it will help her hear over the offensive quantity of static. "Excuse me?"

"Is #### a ### #### ###. With you. #### ##### a man #### you?"

Tosh puts her finger to her other ear, finds the earpiece in it, and takes it out. "Yes, why --"

"Tosh, who are you talking to? You got through? Gimme the phone, gimme the..."

"### ### ## the line. Put him. Can you #### me? On the --"

Jack steals the mobile from Tosh's hand. "Yvonne, where the hell are you?"


=#=#=

CONT#NUES H#RE.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
amand_r
Dec. 31st, 2009 06:18 am (UTC)
♥ ###### ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ## ♥ ####
lawsontl
Dec. 31st, 2009 06:50 am (UTC)
You have my attention...
solsticezero
Dec. 31st, 2009 07:51 am (UTC)
Anon,

A list, in chronological order, of the reasons I love you, part the first:

1. Owen quoting All Your Base from memory.

2. "I'll never forget the day I realized the colours in deep space pictures aren't real," Tosh says as they pass between lit pillars wound with garish ribbon. Decapitated candy-canes. "I was twelve. Other kids lost Santa Claus. I lost that." (Incidentally, you've just killed Santa Claus. But I suppose I should have known that they weren't real. Feels a bit silly to have thought otherwise, just like with Santa Claus.)

3. The Owen/Tosh kiss is entirely my headcanon now. That is how it happened, yes.

4. She's being chillingly robotic.

5. "Post hoc ergo propter hoc," (Tosh, you know your Latin logical fallacies get me all hot and bothered.)

6. SONG FROM SNOW PATROL ON GUINEVERE ONE.

7. She stands out like candyfloss at a funeral.

Part the second imminent. Moving on.

kel_reiley
Jan. 4th, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
Wire? Pliers? What's he expect to do with them? What was he thinking? Ianto isn't the sort to make riggings of matchsticks and chewing gum, but then, maybe he was telling himself something, a gesture to his future self: he isn't powerless, here. He can do something about this.

love how he's all macguyver, but then not :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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