Marion fell asleep almost before the car had left the environs of Cardiff on its way north to Liverpool. Lily fought the tiredness for a little longer, but before they reached the motorway she had fallen asleep, too. They leaned against each other in the back seat. Hillary, in the front passenger seat, looked around to make sure they were all right. There was a blanket tucked around them. They were comfortable enough.

“So... how DO you know Marion?” she asked the handsome Captain. He was in the driver’s seat by her side and at first had been studiously polite to her, but her Haollstromnian charms were starting to work on his resolve. “We were speculating, rather shamelessly, I must admit, since we know how devoted she is to her husband.”

“I’m... a friend of her son’s,” Jack Harkness replied.

“Marion doesn’t have a son.”

“I haven’t always lived on 20th century Earth.”

He considered that an explanation. Hillary took it as one. His air of deliberate mystery just made her more interested in him. Further questions yielded little about where he came from, if not this century and this planet, but she knew she had his attention and was pleased when he turned the conversation around to her, instead.

“So are you from the same planet Marion lives on – Gallifrey?” he asked.

“No,” Hillary answered. “I’m Haollstromnian.”

“Ah.” Jack Harkness smiled widely. “That explains why I’ve been having trouble concentrating on the road. You’re putting out those famous pheromones on me?”

“You’ve got some of your own,” Hillary replied. “I noticed as soon as you walked into that interview room. Even the Detective Sergeant was affected and he thinks he’s only interested in women. But you’re Human, so it must be implants. Or are you going to tell me it’s your natural charm?”

Jack laughed and didn’t answer that directly. But Hillary, who was used to having a sensual affect on people around her, flushed slightly.

“Mmm. I think you’ve got some natural charm, too. Otherwise implanted pheromones wouldn’t work on me.”

“You’re a gendermorph, aren’t you?” he asked, sliding the topic of the conversation back to her again.

“You know my species?”

“Like I said, I haven’t always lived in the 20th century.”

Hillary’s smile widened and she briefly morphed into her male form. Jack Harkness glanced appreciatively at him and then turned his attention back to the motorway ahead of them, just in time to avoid veering into the outside lane.

“Very nice, both ways. And I suppose that would explain the report about a man dressed in women’s clothing clobbering people down by the old docks.”

“He was trying to mug us. What was I supposed to do? Anyway... how come you have access to the police records?”

“Torchwood is beyond the government, above the law. So we like to tell people. Keeping an eye on the local plods is routine work. I was surprised when I saw Marion’s name flagged up in a police report from right there in Cardiff, though.”

“You were looking out for Marion?”

“It’s not my regular job – looking out for her. But she matters to me. A great deal. No, not in that way. Marion is...”

“The future mother of your friend. He must be a special friend.”

“Not that way with him, either,” Jack admitted. “But I owe him a lot. And looking after his mom when she’s in trouble is one way I can repay that debt.”

“That’s very sincere from somebody who uses artificial pheromones.”

Jack didn’t respond to that. Hillary thought she’d read him right, though. He was captivated by Marion’s charms, but not in a sensual way. It was more like a lifelong devotion to her health and well-being. And he had played his part well, so far. Nobody in the police station stood in their way when he escorted them out. In the car he had called his colleagues at the mysterious Torchwood organisation to tell them he was heading to Liverpool on an urgent matter and to request clear traffic all the way to the motorway. He got it, too. He had made several calls during the journey to make sure they were given priority all the way to Liverpool.

Which meant the driving was relatively easy and he could give at least part of his attention to the mutual flirting that was developing between them. It made an otherwise tedious journey in the grey, drizzly dawn enjoyable.

“We’ll stop here, and get some breakfast,” he said when they approached a service station an hour and a half into the journey and considerably well into the flirting game. “I know what’s happening up there is important, especially to Marion, but it won’t do any of you any good to be hungry, and I don’t think police canteen catering is up to much.”

He took Marion’s arm gallantly when they got out of the car, but he made sure Hillary walked the other side of him. Lily kept close to Marion.

“There’s still no answer from your friend,” Jack told them as they waited for their breakfast order to be brought to the table and he checked his messages. “My people have been trying. You think that’s unusual for him?”

“Yes,” Lily insisted. “Especially since Li was expecting us.”

“Then I’m going to assume his disappearance and the missing Chinese restaurant are linked. We solve one mystery, we solve the other.”

“How can a restaurant just go missing?” Marion wanted to know. “And why did we end up in Cardiff?”

“The city of Cardiff stands on a major rift in time and space,” Jack said, answering the second question first. “Nobody completely understands it, but my guess is that your malfunctioning time portal somehow connected with the rift and it opened up and deposited you in my neck of the woods. You landed in the remnants of Tiger Bay. In a couple of years all those derelict houses and broken down warehouses will be transformed into a bright new waterfront, with hotels and bistros, luxury apartments and what have you. But right now it’s the last place in the world three ladies ought to have been wandering, even if one of them is a gendermorph with a good right hook. As for the restaurant... I don’t know much, yet, except it’s something that falls into the Torchwood ballpark. The army have had the area under lockdown since yesterday morning. The people have been evacuated and the press are under D. Notice. I’m hoping to find out more when we get there – if not before.”

“We’ve been gone nearly a whole day,” Marion said. “We should have arrived in Liverpool yesterday morning. Kristoph will know we’re missing. He’ll be worried.”

It didn’t escape the attention of either of the other two women that Jack had looked a tiny bit uncomfortable when Kristoph was mentioned.

“Marion’s husband is a powerful man,” he said in explanation.

“He’ll be grateful to you for looking after us,” she assured him. “I know we weren’t MEANT to meet again after the last time. Kristoph was quite insistent about that. But I was so glad when you walked into that interview room. And when I tell him how you looked after us, he will be pleased.”

“I’ll vouch for him,” Hillary said. Marion looked at her friend and laughed softly.

“Hillary, behave. You’re still paired with Claudia Jean.”

“Doesn’t stop me having a little recreational activity,” she replied with a glance at Jack Harkness that was beyond flirting now and was an open suggestion. He actually looked a little disconcerted. Marion watched him curiously. Did it worry him to have a strong woman making the moves on him?

“Business before pleasure,” he said. “Torchwood business is too dangerous to mix the two. But afterwards... that sort of recreational activity is my speciality.”

Hillary flashed a smile at him. Marion and Lily both looked at her in a shocked way, then wondered why. After all, they knew very well that Haolstromians had a very relaxed attitude to relationships. Even though Hillary WAS paired with Claudia Jean at the moment, and they were raising a child together, both would enjoy what had been euphemistically called ‘recreational activity’ with others. And Jack Harkness was a very attractive and unattached man. Why shouldn’t they enjoy each other’s company if they chose to do so.

Except he was right. There was serious business to sort out, first. So he kept his flirting with Hillary low key as they set off back up the motorway. Hillary was satisfied. That kind of slow burning interest was capable of flaming hotly when the time was right.

When they reached the outskirts of Merseyside that Marion knew only too well she noticed that the traffic was clearly being controlled in their favour. Of course, she had seen Kristoph do that from time to time when they were driving on Earth. He found traffic lights irritating and influenced them. She wondered how Torchwood did it.

“It’s a more sophisticated version of the trick they did in the Italian Job,” Jack said when she asked. “The original one. Only we don’t cause so much trouble for everyone else.”

That explanation only made sense to Marion, of course. But she was the only one curious. Hillary was still only interested in knowing more about Jack Harkness, and Lily was increasingly anxious about Li. She asked every fifteen minutes if there was word from him.

There was none.

“You know, it’s possible he doesn’t trust us,” Jack pointed out. “Torchwood, I mean. He could be lying low. He IS an alien after all, and our job is to stop aliens getting a foothold on this planet.

“You’re about five hundred years late,” Marion told him. “Aliens have been settling here for generations, living ordinary lives and bothering nobody. Li is one of them. And I hope you don’t intend to cause him any trouble.”

“Any friend of yours is fine by me, Lady Marion of Gallifrey,” Jack replied. “You can count on that. Don’t worry. We’ll find him. And the other missing people.”

“What other missing people?” Hillary asked.

“The restaurant,” Jack reminded them. “It was mid-morning when it disappeared. There was a full staff of thirty people, plus we don’t know how many customers inside the building. Assuming the lunchtime rush hadn’t started, we’re guessing twenty or thirty souls who just wanted an egg roll and a cup of green tea for elevenses.”

“Why didn’t I think of that, before?” Marion asked herself out loud. “I know how busy the Welcome Friend is. I’ve eaten there so many times. I know all of the staff. When that silly policeman said the building was missing – I thought he meant – well, I’m not sure what he meant. And when you said it, I thought you meant just the building. It never occurred to me.... Oh, we’ve all been so selfish, thinking about Li, when we know just how capable he is of looking after himself, and there are so many other victims who must be so scared and confused, wherever they are.”

“And their families,” Lily added. “Li and I go to that restaurant all the time. I’ve talked to the waiters and the manager. I’ve seen pictures of their children. They must be so worried.”

“I was thinking about hotels,” Hillary admitted. “And... recreational activities. I’m sorry. It was selfish of me. Very selfish.”

“It’ll be all right,” Jack promised them with a reassuring tone. “Disappearing buildings, all in a day’s work for Torchwood, you know.”

And perhaps he was telling the truth about that. None of them were entirely sure. They didn’t dare test his assertion by asking how they usually got disappearing buildings back, or whether they got the people back safe and sound as well. The closer they got to Liverpool city centre and its small area called Chinatown, the quieter the three women were. They focussed on the tops of the two Cathedrals that bordered that area and tried not to think too much about what they might see when they got there.

What they saw first was a crowd of onlookers and an army cordon two streets away from where Chinatown officially began.

“They’re using the old unexploded WWII bomb ploy,” Jack said. “It’s corny but effective for clearing a whole neighbourhood.”

They were obviously expected. The crowd was pulled back and the barrier opened to allow their car through. Marion noticed a lot of camera flashes going off as they passed, but Jack reached for a device on the dashboard and promised that every single picture taken of the car would be very badly out of focus.

Inside the cordon there were police cars, an ambulance, and a fire tender on standby, even though there wasn’t a fire. But it was obvious that the army were in effective control. Marion noted that the men and women in uniform had a distinctive pale blue beret with an unusual cap badge.”

“U.N.I.T.,” Jack said. “They’re nearly as good as Torchwood at this kind of thing. We’re in good hands.”

There was a second security cordon before they reached Upper Duke Street. Here, large metal screens had been put up, as high as the surrounding buildings, to prevent anyone seeing what was going on inside. When Jack Harkness identified himself and his passengers, though, he was met with a crisp salute and another hastily raised barrier.

“Oh, sweet mother of chaos,” Lily gasped when they finally got out of the car and walked towards the street corner where the Welcome Friend restaurant was supposed to be. “Oh... even though you told us... I didn’t expect it to be so dreadful.”

Marion and Lily clung to each other in despair. Hillary, though she was less emotionally involved, having only eaten there a few times on her trips with Marion, was, nevertheless, a being who was acutely aware of the feelings of those around her, and there was so much grief here that it overwhelmed her.

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the person who was there at her side, and who held onto her, even when she lost control of her morphic field and wavered between a she and a he several times, was Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood.

Then Marion heard a sound that gladdened her heart. She turned towards the sound and the displaced air. Soldiers ran, their weapons ready, as a grey cabinet solidified and then disguised itself as a very large jade green Chinese Foe Dog statue. Jack Harkness called to the soldiers to stand to. They obeyed immediately. Marion gasped with relief as Kristoph stepped from a door that appeared in the statue. He rushed to embrace her. He embraced Lily, too, then both together. He looked around and saw that Hillary wasn’t in need of a hug from him just now. His eyes met the man who was fulfilling that need, and the expression on both their faces was grave and thoroughly professional.

“You’d better tell me everything you know, Captain,” Kristoph said to him.

“Yes sir,” Jack Harkness replied, saluting the one man here who he recognised as his superior.