Everything seemed normal. Or at least as normal as it GOT in the Hub of Torchwood - a secret organisation that monitored alien activity on Earth. Jack was on the telephone to Whitehall, giving the Minister for Defence what Owen colourfully described as ‘a bollocking’ for not passing on to Torchwood the details of an alien landing in Gloucestershire that U.N.I.T. had dealt with.
“I don’t care if the alien was in fifty separate pieces from the impact and no longer a threat to the Human race. WE need to know about it. We need those pieces to examine. For all you know this is an alien that travels disassembled to throw you off guard…. No, I’m not being flippant. I wouldn’t rule it out. When you’ve seen as many weird things as I have…”
Owen listened to Jack’s half of the conversation at the door for a moment before turning to Toshiko. At her desk there were eight different computer screens running eight different programmes at the same time. One of them, he noted, was playing the five minute film he had made up of her ultrasound yesterday. She glanced at it every so often and smiled.
“If I could rig up a live broadcast you’d be watching Tosh junior all day,” he said.
“You can’t, can you?” she asked.
“Not unless you want to lie down in my lab all day with probes on your bump,” he answered. “The baby is FINE. And so are you. Make sure you sit up right on that chair, though. Minimise the stress on your back.” As she sat he made a minor adjustment to the chair so that it better supported her and the extra weight she was carrying.
“Yes, Doctor Owen,” she replied and smiled. Owen could be a complete bastard most of the time, but he had been her rock in these trying months. He was the only doctor she COULD trust to look after her and the baby. She had never gone to any other. She couldn’t bear the thought of explaining to a stranger that she was an unmarried mother who had no idea who the father was. She preferred to go to Owen, who knew that the baby had no biological father because it was conceived by parthenogenesis.
“Ok,” he said and turned to look at Gwen as she worked at her own computer terminal. “So, Gwenny, Tosh is happy. How about you and me working on increasing the world population as well?”
Gwen’s reply was thoroughly unbecoming to a lady, but she didn’t take him seriously. She and Tosh had both come to the conclusion that he made those sort of comments from time to time just to balance out the times when he was sweet and generous and sensitive to others. He had to remind everyone he was STILL an obnoxious sexist pig as well.
“Where are the lovers today?” he asked glancing at the internal CCTV. Unusually, Alun and Ianto were in separate places. Ianto was in the archive and Alun was in the tourist office. Neither looked especially happy. “What’s with them?”
“Leave them alone,” Gwen warned. “I don’t know what’s up, but Alun got in about twenty minutes before Ianto, and they’ve hardly spoken to each other since.”
“LEAVE it, Owen. Let them be,” Gwen repeated. “Whatever it is, they’ll sort it out between them. It’s none of our business.”
“Yes, miss,” Owen answered her and strode off to his laboratory to try out a drug developed from alien technology on his rats. If he was right, it was a safe, natural serotonin blocker that could be used without side effects by people who needed to stay awake for long hours. NHS doctors, long haul airline pilots, 24 hour party people…
Jack finished making the Minister of Defence feel like an office junior and turned back to what he was doing before the phone call. He picked up the small object that was in a large package on his desk. It looked like a smooth, muddy brown rock such as you might find on a beach or a river bed, worn smooth by the water. But according to Torchwood’s man in Glasgow – also known as Torchwood Two - it was a powerful alien artefact.
That or their man in Glasgow had finally lost what marbles he ever had. One of these days, he thought, they really should properly re-staff the Glasgow office and get some work done up there. Aliens didn’t just invade South Wales and the Home Counties, after all.
He dropped the pebble back in the box again and set it aside as Alun came in with coffee.
“Thanks,” Jack said and smiled warmly at him. “Hey, are you ok?”
“I’m….” Alun looked at Jack and suddenly burst into tears. Jack wasn’t the sort of man who thought crying was just for girls, but he was stunned, all the same, by the depth of Alun’s grief. He stood and came to his side. He pressed him down into a seat and went to close the door and pull down the blinds before moving another chair to sit near enough to Alun to give him what comfort it was possible to offer to a man who was crying like a child whose favourite toy had been stolen by the neighbourhood bully.
“Take your time,.” Jack said. “Tell me all about it.” He gave a soft laugh. “If not because I’m a soft-hearted and sensitive soul who only needs a pink dress and a handbag to be a daytime TV agony aunt, then because I’m a nosy bastard who wants the gossip before anyone else.”
Alun laughed a little as Jack intended him to do and reached out his hand to take the mansize tissue offered. He wiped his eyes and blew his nose and dropped the used tissue in the wastebin. Jack pushed the box closer and he used up several more before he was ready to talk.
“It’s… Ianto,” Alun said. “He… last night… He got a phone call. It was a woman, called Beth. She… I don’t know... she had some kind of personal problem, and Ianto told her he’d be around right away. He told me not to wait up, but I did. Only he didn’t come home. He was with her all night and this morning… he came to work from her place. And… I can smell a woman’s perfume on his shirt and…. And… and I KNOW what he looks like when he’s had sex all night.”
“Yeah, so do I,” Jack said. “That blush he has when anyone looks at him, as if he thinks they’re scanning his brain to get all the juicy detail. But listen… Beth. She’s…”
“His ex, yeah.” Alun sobbed. “The one before me…”
“Actually, I think she was the one before ME,” Jack corrected him. “And between and after. Beth has always been sort of on and off with Ianto. He likes her a lot, but a serious relationship with a woman we’ve had to Retcon was never going to sit well with his commitment to Torchwood. She fell for some other bloke and I think it was a relief for him in a way. But… Alun, even if he DID revive an old flame last night, you and him… you’re made for each other. Try to forgive him. Don’t let this spoil what you have.”
“But what if he would rather be with her? I know he wasn’t really… Before you he wasn’t… He was straight…”
“Labels!” Jack sighed. “Gay, straight, bi, yours, mine… Death do we part, happy ever after! These are what screw most people up. You and Ianto have a good thing going. Just… love him to bits, and if Beth or anyone else wants to borrow him, then… I don’t know… you can always call me.!”
Alun looked at him through tear-reddened and glassy eyes.
“You’re… not my type,” he managed to say.
“Call me anyway. As an agony aunt, nosy bastard, or just as a friend. Everyone needs one of those.”
Alun smiled another watery smile and leaned forward to allow Jack to hug him. It wasn’t a response to his come on, but just a way of saying thanks for being there, for understanding. Even so it set Jack’s heart .racing and without thinking about the consequences he turned his head and kissed him on the lips.
Alun didn’t respond to the kiss either way. He didn’t have time. The door burst open with such force that one of the glass panes shattered. Jack looked up to see Ianto standing over them both and that was all he saw before he was sent flying by a fist that smashed straight into his face with all the power of a very angry and jealous man behind it. As he hit the floor he saw Ianto grab Alun and begin beating him with his fists, kicking and shouting at him. Alun tried to run from him, slipping on the broken glass and bumping against the door frame. Gwen and Toshiko both stood up from their workstations, shocked by the sudden outburst. Both of them screamed at Ianto to stop hurting Alun, who was so stunned by such violence from his lover that he didn’t even try to fight back.
“Please STOP!” Toshiko cried as Gwen tried to get behind Ianto and restrain him the way she had been taught in the police. He wrenched away from her and lunged once again at Alun as he retreated away from him.
“What the fuck is going on?” yelled Owen as he ran up the stairs from his laboratory/medical room/mortuary. He screamed out loud as Ianto pushed Alun hard, sending him cannoning against Toshiko, who was slammed into the railing before she lost her footing and fell down the steps Owen was coming up. He bore the brunt of her fall and gathered her safely in his arms but she cried still as if she was hurt.
Finally Gwen managed to get Ianto under her control. She pushed him against the railing and handcuffed him behind his back. He was quieter now, but the rage seethed inside him. His eyes were mad with anger like a man possessed.
“I’ll handle him,” Jack said behind her. He was surprisingly gentle with Ianto as he took hold of him, even though his nose was still bleeding and his mouth bruised from Ianto’s attack on him. “Come on,” he said to him. “An hour or so in the padded cell will do you good. Gwen, you look after Alun, first aid kit under my desk drawer. Owen…”
Owen was already carrying Toshiko down the stairs to his medical room, holding her tightly and comforting her with reassuring words.
Ianto walked at Jack’s prompting, but he seemed almost as if he was not aware he was doing so. He was almost sleepwalking, his eyes unfocussed. He was becoming gradually quieter, but he was far from over whatever had taken hold of him. He looked as if he was under the influence of some kind of drug.
Which would at least explain what had happened. Because if there was no chemical reason, Jack was at a loss to explain it. He had seen people behaving violently under the influence of drink and/or drugs. He had seen them beating each other to a pulp, glassing each other in the face with broken bottles, pulling knives or worse on people who had been friends until a moment before.
Yes, he knew Ianto wasn’t the wimp he looked most of the time. He remembered with bitter sadness the time when Lisa had gone on her murderous rampage and Ianto’s suppressed anger had broken out. Mostly it had been aimed at him, and he had suffered the physical blows as well as the harsh words that somehow hurt more and for much longer. But that had been a specific and extraordinary occasion. He had been a seething pot of emotions that had boiled over and caught up everyone in range. But for the most time, Ianto was a gentle man, and the last thing he expected of him was a violent attack on Alun of all people.
Ianto attacking Alun! It made no sense. If Alun had attacked HIM, after his infidelity with Beth, it would make sense. It was nearly impossible to imagine, but it DID make sense. This didn’t.
He reached the padded cell and held onto Ianto with one hand while he quickly tapped in the security code that opened it. He stepped inside. The cell was cool and quiet, soundproofed and cut off from the other cells. There was a tiny camera near the roof but everything else, floor, walls, ceiling, the back of the flush fitting door, was soft foam covered in a fabric that a prisoner with nothing that could be used to cut would not be able to break through.
“I’m going to release the cuffs now,” he said. “Because I don’t want to leave you like this. So… please Ianto, catch onto yourself.”
He released the cuffs. Ianto knelt on the cushioned floor and looked up at Jack. He still seemed unfocussed and his mouth was twisted strangely.
He meant to leave him in the cell, but something made him stay. He knelt beside Ianto and reached his arm around his neck, holding his head up so that he could look at his maddened eyes and search for the sanity inside somewhere.
“Where are you, Ianto?” he asked. “Because I know this isn’t you. I know you would never do what you did to me, let alone to Alun. You would care about Tosh being hurt in the crossfire. Something is driving you. Something in your blood, or…. I don’t know. Alien parasite. That can happen. And that’s ok. We can help. We’re your friends and we won’t let you down. I won’t let you down, Ianto. Just fight it, whatever it is. Fight it off and come back to us. Come back to me.”
He looked into Ianto’s eyes and felt the futility of it all. He felt so alone in the silent, cut off room. So far from everything that mattered to him. He turned and stumbled towards the door, and saw that it was closed. He panicked, because he couldn’t remember how to open it from the inside. It wasn’t MEANT to be opened from the inside, of course. But there WAS a way. He used to know it.
He sank down, his back to the door, and he cried. He felt so small and insignificant, and alone in the universe. The big, great universe with its teeming billions of beings, all that life. And there wasn’t ONE being that cared enough for him to want to stay by his side. He was lonely, so heartbreakingly lonely that he didn’t know how he could go on, day after day.
Ianto felt as if he was emerging from under deep, dark water. He had that same sense of panic that comes from near drowning. The last time he had felt like that was when Lisa had thrown him so hard he thought she had killed him. He had felt the same, like he was rising to the surface, and when he opened his eyes, Jack was holding him. Cradling him like a baby, keeping him safe. He had fallen a little in love with him in that moment, even though there was still so much rage and pain in them both that had to be resolved.
Jack wasn’t holding him now. But he heard his voice somewhere near. He opened his eyes and looked around the padded cell, silent except for Jack’s heart-wrenching tears and the seemingly random words he was saying.
“I can’t stay here. Don’t belong. I need to go home. Doctor, you could take me home. Come back for me. Please come back. Take me home, Doctor.”
“I think we ALL need a doctor,” Ianto said as he knelt by his side and saw his unseeing eyes focussed on some time and place other than this one. He looked around. The cell had a camera somewhere. The others would know they were in trouble, surely?
“Help, Owen, Alun… anyone. Please help.”
As far as Gwen could see, Alun didn’t have any broken bones. He was bruised and battered and he was devastated by the violence of Ianto’s attack on him. But he would live.
“I don’t think he was in his right mind,” Gwen assured him as she gently cleaned the blood from his face. “You mustn’t blame him. There is something wrong and I’m sure Jack will work out what it is.”
Alun nodded and watched quietly as Gwen opened another vacuum packed antiseptic wipe and applied it to his cheek. She was a pretty woman, and so very kind. He looked at her face, a gentle, elfin face, framed by black hair. And he couldn’t turn away. Her face was the only thing he could see even when he did. He turned back and looked closer. He reached out to touch her, and she didn’t stop him.
Toshiko lay on the examination table. It had long ago ceased to worry her that this was the place where Owen dissected bodies, not all of them Human. It was also a functioning medical centre and her own private ante-natal clinic.
“Does that hurt?” he asked as he pressed in various places on her stomach. “Any tenderness?”
“A little.” she answered. “Where I fell against the railing. It’s not too bad. Just bruising, I think. But I can’t feel the baby kicking. What if….”
“You didn’t fall that hard,” he assured her. “Babies ARE quite resilient. The womb is their personal bouncy castle. I am sure there’s nothing to worry about….” He pulled a stethoscope onto his ears, a rare thing when usually he dealt with dead people, and bent over to listen carefully. “There, nothing to worry about. There’s a good, strong heartbeat, still. And….” He smiled as widely as she did as he felt the kick. “There you go. She was just having a nap. All our grown up stupidity bored her to sleep. She’s just fine. I’d best do an internal, though. Just check everything’s ok…”
He pulled on a pair of thin, latex gloves and Toshiko tried to relax. Internal examinations were never going to be her favourite part of being pregnant. And it was the one thing she didn’t like going to Owen for. When she had to work alongside him afterwards it felt a bit embarrassing. But, to his credit, he was always professional about it and never humiliated her even when he was being an unprofessional twat at other times.
“Just lie back,” he told her gently. “Lie back and think of Torchwood.”
“I think of Torchwood all the time!” she answered. “Why would I relax and do that?”
Later when she thought about it, and tried to work it out, she wondered at what point a necessary part of his medical examination became something else, became a sensual caress on the inside of her thigh, hands unencumbered by surgical gloves exploring the contours of her body, soft breath touching her flesh as he moved closer, moved over her, saying her name in a low croon that set the hairs on the back of her neck on end and made her shiver with excitement. All she knew was that she hadn’t stopped him. She had liked it, felt good about it. WANTED it.
Then she seemed to wake up, and it was a waking up like from the middle of a good dream, and at first she didn’t WANT to wake up. But she was suddenly filled with the realisation of how wrong it was to be letting him touch her that way.
“Owen, stop,” she said. “NO. You can’t. I can’t. It’s not…”
Then she saw his eyes, and knew that he wasn’t responsible for what he was doing. His eyes were glazed over and unfocussed, just as Ianto’s had been. Except it wasn’t rage and fury that drove him, but sexual desire, lust.
Owen, for all his faults, would have taken no for an answer in this situation, she was sure of that. But Owen under the influence of whatever weirdness had come over Ianto earlier and, she thought, had come over her, too, very briefly, was another matter. He wasn’t listening to her. He didn’t respond to her. He kept on climbing up on the table, covering her with his body, pressing himself between her thighs.
She might be pregnant, but she still had her wits. She brought her knee up sharp and hard against his groin in the time honoured way. It hurt a LOT. It hurt enough to snap him out of whatever it was. She saw the difference in his eyes. Suddenly they WERE Owen’s eyes and Owen looked at her in horror as he realised what he had been about to do.
“Oh, fucking hell!” he cried out as he backed off away from her. “Oh, Tosh. I…. I…” He turned and ran up the stairs. Slowly, Toshiko climbed off the table, adjusting her clothes and followed him. She found him sitting at his workstation, his head in his hands.
“No, no, no,” he was saying. “No, I couldn’t have… something so crass and unprofessional. No. Not in a million years.”
“I believe you, Owen,” she told him gently. “I don’t think it WAS you doing it. And I don’t blame you.”
“Tosh…” Owen looked up at her. “Oh shit, I am so sorry.”
“It IS all right,” she assured him. “But…” She looked around. The Hub was empty. “Owen, where is everyone?”
“I…” Owen looked around, too. Then he reached for the internal camera display. He flicked through a dozen or so views of the corridors beneath the central Hub until he came to the one in the padded cell. They both saw Ianto kneeling on the ground, cradling Jack in his arms as if he was hurt in some way, and clearly calling out for help.
“You stay here,” Owen told Toshiko. See if you can locate Alun and Gwen.” Then he dashed off towards the cells.
What the hell was going on here? They all seemed to be under some kind of spell, behaving totally out of character.
Well, he thought, if he was honest, not TOTALLY out of character. The idea of giving Toshiko one while she was lying helpless on his examination table HAD crossed his mind more than once. Even pregnant she was a hot looking woman. And he was a man who appreciated that sort of hotness. But he had always pushed it down, reminding himself that he WAS also a professional doctor and that was the most unprofessional and unethical thing he could do. In a million years he would not have acted on that impulse of his own volition.
“I wouldn’t, Tosh, honest,” he whispered to himself as he realised he could never be her doctor again after this. And he had liked caring for her through her pregnancy. He spent most of his days with the dead, sometimes the gruesomely dead. To have been a part of a LIFE instead, a new life, growing daily, had been wonderful.
And it was all gone in a few minutes of madness.
He reached the padded cell, unlocked it with the key code and stepped inside. He looked at Ianto warily, considering what he had done to Alun earlier. Christ, that felt like it happened DAYS ago, not just a little under an hour. But Ianto was not acting violently now. He looked perfectly normal. It was Jack who wasn’t.
“Who the hell is this ‘doctor’ he keeps calling for?” Owen asked. “Or does he mean he NEEDS a doctor?”
“No, it’s somebody who he knows as ‘Doctor’ as if that’s his name. And… and it is a HE. But… well, it’s Jack so that’s no surprise, I suppose. He keeps asking this doctor to take him home. He’s… He’s homesick. He wants to go home.”
Owen looked at Jack as Ianto cradled him in his arms. He was in the same unfocused state as Ianto had been earlier. He clearly didn’t know either of them were there. And he was crying and saying names out loud. They seemed to be people he knew as a child, back HOME. Wherever that was.
I suppose we always wondered,” Ianto said. “He must HAVE a home. He’s flesh and blood. He was BORN somewhere. He was a child once, with parents, friends. But I’ve never seen a picture of him as a boy. I’ve seen Gwen and Tosh’s family photos. I’ve even seen one of you as a baby, Owen. But never him. It always seemed as if he appeared on this Earth at the age of 40, with no family background, just a whole collection of sad memories. But… inside, somewhere… There is an ordinary life that he once led. And he… he wants to go back to it.”
“We need to snap him out of it. Alun and Gwen are missing and this nuttiness seems to be spreading.”
“What do you mean, Alun and Gwen are missing?” The response had a strange echo to it. Owen realised that was because Ianto and Jack had both said the same thing at the same moment. Jack, suddenly awake, looked around at them both then scrambled to his feet. Ianto and Owen stood, too.
“Are you all right, boss?” Owen asked.
“I… think so,” he answered. “I’m… I don’t know. It’s like being hungover but without the headache. But… never mind me. What about Alun and Gwen?”
“We couldn’t find them,” Owen answered as Jack began to stride purposefully out of the cell. Owen looked at Ianto and then the two of them followed, running to catch up with him. Jack had a way of walking that looked like a walk, but to most other people was a brisk jog. He covered a lot of ground very quickly with it.
“It’s ok,” Toshiko called as they reached the Hub. She was standing by Jack’s office door and looking, there was only one word for it, bemused. “I’ve found them.”
“Where?” Jack asked. Toshiko didn’t say anything else. She just nodded towards the office. Jack went inside. He walked around his desk and looked at the open entrance to his ‘lair’, the place where he slept, when he slept. He turned away as he saw Ianto at the door. But the sounds coming from down there spoke volumes. There was nothing he could do to hide it.
“Are they…” Ianto, who had reacted with violence to a simple cuddle between Jack and Alun responded to Alun and Gwen having very loud and very energetic sex in Jack’s bed with surprising calm. “But…”
“Let’s just say that he’s even,” Jack told Ianto. “For your fling with Beth.”
“That was…” Ianto tried to say something, but Jack shook his head. Beth was another story for another day.
“Alun’s never been with a woman before,” he said instead.
“Our Gwenny’s not a bad choice to lose his virginity with,” Owen replied. Jack wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to give him a dressing down for that comment. He decided to ignore it.
“Boardroom, now, everyone,” he said. “And when they join us, nobody says anything. Not a look, not a snigger, Owen Harper. Not a knowing wink. Understand.”
“Understood, boss,” Owen, Ianto and Toshiko all said.
“I mean it, Owen,” Jack added. “I’m serious, deadly serious.”
“UNDERSTOOD,” Owen answered even more emphatically. He looked at Toshiko. She wasn’t looking at him. Was it because she didn’t WANT to look at him or because she just happened to be looking the other way?
She sat next to him in the boardroom, at least. But she didn’t say anything. Then again, none of them said anything. They sat quietly, looking at the polished table, at the pictures on the walls, anything but each other.
Finally, Alun and Gwen came up to the boardroom. Everyone looked at them. There was something about their clothes, a sort of hurried look, as if they had put them on quickly.
Nobody looked them in the eye.
“Ok,” Jack said to them. “I won’t give you demerits for lateness, THIS one time. Alun, sit down there.” He pointed to the seat next to Ianto. “Gwen, you sit down next to me and take the minutes.”
There wasn’t actually a pen or paper to take minutes with. He never intended her to do any such thing. But he wanted to separate them, simply because it stopped them looking so embarrassed.
“Ok, first of all,” he said. “I want to make one thing clear. Whatever went on in the past couple of hours, none of us were responsible for. Nobody is to blame. NOBODY led anyone else on. Nobody started it. Nobody is going to hold anything that happened against anyone else. Is that fully understood?”
“Yes, boss,” they all said one by one. He looked at Alun and Ianto. They looked at each other, then Ianto reached out his hand to Alun under the table. Their fingers entwined, grasping each other tightly. Alun turned and looked at Ianto. Neither spoke, but their eyes said ‘I forgive you’, and ‘I’m sorry’ very loudly.
Tosh looked at them and reached out her hand towards Owen’s, flat down on the table top. Her slender hand covered his for just long enough for him to know she didn’t blame him for anything. He swallowed hard and managed to smile at her.
“Ok,” Jack said. “Now we’re all friends again. Let’s try to work out what the FUCK happened.”
“It HAS to be hormonal,” Owen said. “It was… well, we all reacted emotionally in one way or another. Mostly the other. Which I think proves what a bunch of sex maniacs we all are. But… it started with Alun. I mean, no man cries like that in his boss’s office. Not normally, anyway. He was affected first. He was pissed off with Ianto and whatever this is enhanced the mood until he broke down. Ianto…”
“Owen’s right,” Ianto cut in. “I… I’ve always wondered if Jack would… Jack, sorry boss, but you know how it is. You’re the biggest sex maniac of us all. And I always sort of expected you to make a move for Alun. Just for the fun of it. Just because you’re a fantastic looking bloke with sexual magnetism coming out of every pore and you CAN. And I knew I would be jealous if you did. But… when I saw you and him…” He looked at Jack’s bruised face and the marks all over Alun’s face and body. “It wasn’t me. The jealousy just seemed to drive me. I didn’t mean to…”
“I don’t know what came over me, later,” Alun said. “Gwen…”
“Don’t ask me, either. I can’t actually REMEMBER most of it. One minute I was bathing your wounds. The next…”
“Alun, you were settling a lingering doubt about your sexual orientation,” Jack told him. “The nagging little demon inside that said ‘What if I am actually STRAIGHT.’ Gwen, you just had a touch of Florence Nightingale syndrome. For a little while you were in love with your patient.”
“It fixes on urges that we would usually suppress,” Owen added. “Ianto suppresses his jealousy, usually. Alun his doubts. Gwenny suppresses the secret nymphomaniac inside. Me… I’m a professional. When I examine a woman as a patient I don’t think about her sexually. Those urges are kept in check. Because I’m a civilised Human being and I don’t… I just don’t.”
“I didn’t try to stop him at first,” Toshiko said. “Does that mean I have a suppressed desire to have sex with Owen on the dissecting table?”
“That’s a variation on the Florence Nightingale one,” Jack answered. “A patient having sexual thoughts about a doctor. But don’t analyse it too much. That’s what I mean about no recriminations. We’re all flesh and blood. We all have desires. We are civilised Human beings, so we keep those desires under control. It sets us apart from cavemen and psychopaths. But something made us lose our control and act on our instincts and not our intelligence. And that’s what we have to work out now. And… and we do it right here in the Hub. Nobody sets foot out of it until we know what’s going on. Whether it’s a virus, a parasite, something to do with physical contact or something in the air. Whatever it is, we don’t let it spread to the general population of Cardiff. It’s bad enough we have people either bonking or bottling each other on a Friday night. We don’t need them doing it the rest of the time.”
“I’ll monitor the air in the Hub,” Toshiko said. “I can look back over the last few hours and see if there were any obvious changes.” She stood up looking cool and professional again, with an assignment to carry out.
“I’ll take blood samples from everyone, if that’s ok,” Owen announced. “See if there is anything still in there.”
“I’ll check to see if this kind of thing has occurred anywhere else,” Gwen said. “If there’s been an office anywhere where people started acting strange.”
“Alun and I will get rid of the glass and fix the door to your office,” Ianto volunteered. “I can’t think of anything else we could be doing. And if you want us to stay away from the public then we should leave the outer office shut for now.”
“Good thinking,” Jack said. “And seeing as there’s nothing else for me to do until we know more, I’LL make the coffee.”
Jack did just that. He brought a cup each to Gwen, Toshiko and Owen, then told Alun and Ianto they could take a coffee break. They were removing the broken glass fragments from the door and seemed to be content about it. They sat on the office floor and drank their coffee and seemed to be living in a world with a population of two again. Jack took his own coffee to his desk and sat there looking at a memo from the Ministry of Defence about UFO sightings in Scotland. Looking rather than reading. His mind was too full of other things to concentrate on a boring document like that.
“Alun,” Ianto said. “About Beth… I… You should know the truth. I can’t lie to you. Last night, she was upset because she had broken up with the guy from work that she left me for. It started out with her just wanting to talk. But she needed something else, too. She needed to know that she wasn’t the rubbish he had made her feel. She needed to feel wanted. And… And she’s a sweet woman and I was glad to fulfil that need for her. I don’t love you any less, Alun. I still want… You’re the one I love and want to be with. And I’ll make it up to you. I’ll make love to you till you can’t stand up if you’ll let me. If you’ll forgive me. I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry for hurting you. It’s ok for Jack to play fast and loose with love. But me… I’m ready to be a one man-man.”
“So am I,” Alun answered. “I… if I concentrate I can remember… having sex with Gwen. It was hot. She was fantastic. And I felt so good. But… I’d rather be with you.”
“We’re both a pair of muppets,” Ianto said as he reached and embraced his lover and claimed a kiss from him.
“On your own time, boys,” Jack told them and they looked around as if they had forgotten he was there. Ianto stood and approached him.
“Boss… I…” he began. “When it got you… the things you were saying…”
“I wasn’t myself. Whatever it was, we all got caught up in it one way or another. Just think yourself lucky it got me differently. The two of us alone in that padded cell. Comfy floor. You could have had something else for Alun to be jealous of.”
“But Jack, it seems to me that’s the thing. You WERE yourself. You were MORE yourself than you usually are. Your mask slipped. You let something of the real you out.”
“Well.. if I did… that’s the point isn’t it. This thing gets under our skins and takes hold of what we usually suppress because we’re civilised beings not brute beasts. I… I’d prefer it if you didn’t repeat anything you heard.”
“Goes without saying,” Ianto assured him. “But I wondered. We’ve all read the 1879 Royal Charter that founded Torchwood. Queen Victoria’s special dispensation. It specifically mentioned a Doctor. And… I was at Canary Wharf, remember. When it was destroyed. There was a Doctor there, too. Is he the one…?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jack answered. “No recriminations. No questions.”
Ianto looked at Jack and knew that the mask was up again. The things he had revealed about himself in his ramblings about home and his desire to return there were all locked away again. He and Alun carried on fixing the door. Jack went back to his paperwork. Something very much like normality reigned for a long while.
When Ianto looked up again Jack had stopped doing paperwork and was staring at the box that had been sitting on his desk all along.
“Boss?” He didn’t respond. “Jack… Captain?” Ianto stepped closer. Alun did, too. “Something wrong?”
“I’m not sure,” he said at last. “This pebble. It looks… SMALLER than it was before. And it’s a different colour. Lighter. I wonder….” He looked up. “Boardroom again. The others should have some results by now. Let’s pool ideas. I’ll be with you in five minutes.”
He reached for the telephone. A few minutes later he went up to the boardroom, bringing the pebble in its box with him. He put it down on the table in front of him.
“I just checked with our man in Glasgow. When he SENT this rock to us, it was eight inches round and weighed 6lbs. Notice the amount of postage on it. Somehow in the course of its journey it has reduced in size…”
“Oh!” Gwen was almost jumping off her seat in excitement. She had thought the information she had gleaned was useless, but in fact it seemed to be the key. “Jack… I found a police report. The sorting office in Glasgow. There was a RIOT there two days ago. Workers fighting each other. When the police got there it was all quiet but people were bruised and bleeding. They all claimed not to remember anything so they were booked for wasting police time and the Post Office are holding their own internal investigation.”
“Two days ago?” Jack looked at the postmark. “Yep. That was when it was posted. Apparently it has a history. It was originally owned by a man called MacDonnell who murdered his wife and son and then turned the gun on himself. Tosh, if you could swing that monitor around there, you’ll see a picture of it when Mr MacDonnell owned it. He told his brother he paid £150 for it on Ebay – a genuine alien rock.” Everyone sniggered at that. “Yeah, I know. A fool and his money. But in this case, he actually GOT a genuine alien rock. If it IS a rock. Torchwood Glasgow reckons it’s some kind of living substance. But his research facility amounts to a microscope, a hand held telescope and a couple of star charts. Anyway, the police passed it to him and he didn’t know any more about it. So he sent it to us for further examination. Only the dozy sod forgot to put a letter explaining all that in the package.”
“And he sent it through the ordinary post.” Gwen noted. “That man needs retiring, ASAP!”
“So you reckon this rock is giving off some kind of energy that diminishes itself each time and makes people act weird.” Ianto reached out to touch it and then changed his mind.
“That’s about the size of it.”
“It ties in with what I found,” Toshiko said. “The air in the Hub contains minute traces of a substance not unlike that found in hallucinogenic drugs. It’s dissipating now at a rate that suggests earlier it was WAY stronger. Can’t get anything definite because I wasn’t monitoring specifically for those substances until it was already reducing.”
“Same story with our blood,” Owen added. “We all show traces of raised levels of adrenaline, endomorphines, you name it. Not all at the same level, though. Tosh’s is lowest and mine not as high as anyone else’s. Alun, Ianto and Jack are the highest.”
“I sorted the mail when I got in this morning,” Alun said. “I handled the package. So did Ianto. He brought it through and left it on your desk. And of course, you opened it.”
“I’m thinking Tosh was affected less because she’s already hormone city with the baby,” Owen guessed. “And… maybe because I was in close proximity to her… That’s why we were LESS affected. I woke up before I did anything we would REALLY regret. Ianto and Alun were both uptight about their lover’s tiff. So it affected them more.”
“The first guy who had it murdered his wife and kid?” Ianto looked again at the picture of the late Mr. MacDonnell with his alien artefact. “We got off lucky.”
“Every time it latches onto somebody, every time it sends them into a frenzy of emotional excess, it draws off some of its own energy.” Jack pondered the idea.
“So if we take it for a stroll uptown on a Friday night it would probably reduce itself to a pea, problem solved.” Owen suggested.
For a moment Jack thought that might be a good idea. Then he, too, caught a glimpse of Mr MacDonnell’s picture and looked at Alun and Ianto, remembering what it had done to two people who adored each other.
“No,” he said. “It ENHANCES emotions. We’d have a punch up turning into a killing spree, people who didn’t pull killing themselves in a fit of depression, snogs down the alley turning into rape. This thing doesn’t leave the Hub. We deal with it here.”
“It wasn’t all bad,” Gwen said. “Me and Alun… what I DO remember of it was REALLY nice.” She smiled warmly at Alun and he blushed sweetly and looked away at his own lover. “It WAS nice. And if we weren’t the wrong couple… If it was me and Rhys just enjoying each other like that, it’d be FANTASTIC.”
“Well you’re not taking it home to use as a marital aid,” Jack assured her.
“Besides, it probably won’t work,” Owen added. “We’ve all been normal since we came to our senses. I think it probably only works once.”
“So what do we do with it? We DAREN’T expose it to anyone else.”
“If there were more people working in the hub, it’d be ok,” Tosh said. “We could just ask for volunteers. Then…” She stopped speaking. She turned and reached for a computer terminal. The others waited until she had finished typing. On screen was a PDF file of a journal kept by a Torchwood employee pre-word processors. Jack turned to another screen and accessed the same file.
“1952!” he said. And he wondered for a moment why he didn’t remember. Of course. 1951 and 1952 he hadn’t been there. The identity he had adopted then was called up for National Service, and although he could have got dispensation as a Torchwood employee he chose not to. Something about the military life always attracted him.
He pulled himself mentally back to the point. In 1952, when the Hub had at least fifty people working for it, they had been ‘infected’ by an alien artefact that induced uncontrollable anger and other negative emotions. It had been like an infection that spread. Every Torchwood agent who went home to their families at the end of the day spread it to them. They in turn spread it at their work, and in a very short time there was rioting in Cardiff city centre. Eventually the 1952 crew had found a solution and people snapped back to normal. The ‘mood pebble’ was archived and life went on.
“There was another of these things?” He looked around. Ianto was already looking up the archive log number from the journal entry. He called it to Alun who was on his feet straight away.
Minutes later he returned with a locked metal box. Jack opened it and they all looked at the apparently ordinary looking stone inside.
“It’s a stone,” Owen said. “If I hadn’t… If we all hadn’t experienced it, I’d swear the 1952 team and the Glasgow office were both in on some sort of joke.”
“No,” Gwen exclaimed. “Look. It’s… surely it’s glowing?”
“They both are.”
“Here…” Toshiko reached into both boxes and picked up the two pebbles. She held them in her two hands. “They… yes. I can feel them, both. I feel… Oh….”
“Toshi, you shouldn’t. They’ll hurt you,” Owen begged her. “Tosh…”
“No, it’s all right,” she answered. “I think I understand.” She brought her two hands closer together and the glow increased. She held her hands over the computer keyboard nearest to her and data started to fill the screen rapidly.
“It showing star co-ordinates, where they’ve been before they came to Earth,” Jack said as he read the alien language on the screen. “It’s their history. They… they’re travellers in space. They travel in pairs. They feed of each other. One feeds off the emotions of the other, then vice versa. They sustain each other that way. The stronger the emotion, the better. It’s an endless cycle, giving to each other. Genuine symbiosis. But they were lost, separated. And they were frightened and angry. They must have fallen to Earth in different locations. One was found in 1952 near Cardiff, and its anger and frustration caused the whole city to riot. Lucky Cardiff was a smaller place then, more self-contained, without the M4 and the airport or it could have spread much further. The other landed in Scotland and it seems as if its effects were more limited. But just as dangerous.”
“Jack, look,” Toshiko said. “They’re both getting bigger.”
Everyone looked. The stones in her hands were not only glowing, but they were growing.
“They’re feeding off your emotional reactions,” Owen said. “Put them down, Tosh. It’s dangerous. They’ll hurt you.”
“No, I don’t think they will,” she answered. “Because I’m the same as they are.”
“What Jack said about the symbiosis isn’t QUITE right. It’s not so much a symbiosis as a parasitical relationship. But in a good way. Like pregnancy. The baby feeds off me. But I don’t get anything back from it, except love. The stone found in Cardiff. It… it was a taker. It took. It FED on all the emotion. The Scottish one. It was a giver. It GIVES to the other one. It’s a parent. All that energy it wasted was meant to be given to its child. It almost had nothing left. And the child… dormant in the archive all this time. Now they’re together, the parent is feeding the child. Now it isn’t lost and grieving it isn’t dangerous. It isn’t reacting to negative emotions. It’s reacting to me. It’s channelling my emotions, the hormone city Owen mentioned. All my good feelings about being a parent. And instead of being let out catastrophically they’re being used to nourish the child. That’s what was wrong with both of them. They were separated. The child just panicked and tried to create the emotional ‘food’ it needed but didn’t know how to channel it and caused all those problems. Small children don’t know how to feed themselves. The parent had it all stored up but had no child to give it to. Either way, when humans got in the way it was disaster.”
“So what do we do with them?” Ianto asked. “Do I put them back in the archive together or…”
“No,” Toshiko answered as she put them both into the cardboard box that the parent had been sent in. “No, that would be cruel. I’ll look after them. They can sit on my desk. They’ll be fine as long as the parent can soak up enough of the background emotions of this place and channel it to the child. We’ll be fine. Maybe there’ll be less tension around here. Excess emotions will be channelled.”
“We’ll try it,” Jack said. “On top of needing a crèche facility soon now we’re an alien mother and baby unit?” He paused and smiled. “All we need is for Myfanwy to lay an egg and the Hub is completely domestic.”