Sam Tyler and Rhys Williams have some unexpected encounters and lots of people learn more than they ever wanted to know about the nature of reality...
Whatever some people might think, Rhys isn't stupid. He knows what's going on.
Well, no, to tell the absolute truth he hasn't got a clue. But he knows that something is going on, so he should get points for that, shouldn't he? Phone calls at all times of the day and night, long hours--crazy long hours, even for a committed job like the police; aren't there rules and regulations about that sort of thing, these days?--overly bright smiles when she says that everything's fine, of course it is, and excuses, excuses, excuses. When she's tossing and turning all night, keeping him up, it's because of work. When she doesn't come home until stupid o'clock in the morning--if she makes it home at all--it's because of work. When she doesn't even want to cuddle because she's too tired or bruised, it's because of work.
Work. Right. Of course it is.
Gwen suddenly stops walking, and Rhys spins round and stares into the window of the shop in front of him--nothing suspicious here, just a perfectly innocent bit of window shopping. His eyes focus and he realises too late that it's a lingerie shop he's found himself outside of. Perfect. Now he looks like a pervert as well as a stalker.
He bites his lip and reaches up a hand to scratch his head, using it as cover to sneak another look at Gwen. She's ahead of him by thirty yards or so, yammering into that fancy phone of hers that never leaves her side. Luckily, it looks like the conversation is taking all her attention and not leaving any left over for worrying about whether she's being followed. He lets out the breath he'd been holding.
It catches in his throat when a hand falls on his shoulder. 'Hi there,' says a warm, American-accented voice in his ear. 'Help you with something?'
Rhys jumps, taking a half-step backwards and nearly falling over his own feet. 'No, no, all fine, thanks, just looking.' Gwen's moving off again, the phone still jammed to her ear, and he tries to follow.
The owner of the hand doesn't move it from Rhys's shoulder. Belatedly, Rhys realises that this doesn't really look like a lingerie sales assistant. He's not an expert in corporate fashion, but he doesn't think that great swirling military coats are standard issue for shop workers. Especially not when they swirl at just the right angle to unveil very real-looking guns. They might have a zero-tolerance shoplifting policy in Cardiff town centre but he doesn't think that extends to arming the staff.
'It's Rhys, right?'
Rhys blinks and looks up. The voice and the smile are both as casual and comforting as a pair of slippers, but Rhys can't help his gaze being drawn back to the gun. The stranger follows his gaze and the smile widens. 'I should probably introduce myself. Captain Jack Harkness, at your service.' He even bows slightly, but that hand feels like an iron clamp on Rhys's shoulder.
Rhys lets out the breath he'd forgotten he was holding. Of course. It all falls into place now. 'Right,' he says. 'The famous Jack. I've heard about you.'
That doesn't get him any particular reaction. There's something about this man that suggests people having heard about him is the natural state of things. Unfortunately in this case it's not really true; Rhys has overheard the name Jack in hurried conversations that mostly seemed to be in code--the villain they've nicknamed 'Weevil' sounds like a particularly nasty piece of work--and it seems like this is the man in charge, but that's about the limit of his information.
The hand is pushing down, manoeuvring him around. 'Why don't we go somewhere a bit nicer and get to know each other?'
Rhys stiffens and flicks a look over his shoulder, but Gwen is already out of sight. He relaxes, and shrugs. Well, why not? Surveillance obviously isn't his strong point, and this looks like it might be the best shot at some information he's likely to get.
'Okay,' he says. 'You're buying.'
Jack gives him a big, appreciative smile and the hand lifts, only to come back down, with the whole arm this time, around him. Rhys is squeezed once, hard, and then released.
'Let's go,' Jack says, and strides off without a backwards look. The coat swirls some more, making Rhys think of those shampoo adverts where carefully directed breezes fan out models' shiny curtains of hair around their shoulders. Rhys lifts his arms up, looking down at his own just-hanging-there jacket--the weather never conspires to make him look good-- then gives himself a little shake. This is a serious mission he's on, he has to stay focused. He hurries to catch up.
He follows Jack away from the main street and into a dark little pub, and how is it that Rhys has lived here all his adult life and never seen this place before, and yet Jack walks in like he owns it, and gets treated like it too? Rhys simmers quietly as the barmaid ignores at least two other people conspicuously waiting in order to bring Jack a large glass of water without being asked. She looks at Rhys and says, 'Pint?'
He scowls at her--it feels necessary, to balance out Jack's 100-watt smile--and feels like ordering a port and lemon or something, just to try and get back some sense of control. In the end, though, he just nods and says, 'Pint.' He sits at an unwiped table and slams the untouched drink down, letting it slop over the side of the glass. He's supposed to be the local here, the one at home, so why does he suddenly feel like such an outsider?
Not, of course, that it's actually all that sudden. It dawns on him that he's been feeling like an outsider in his own life for a while now.
Jack pulls out the chair opposite and sits down, giving Rhys a slow and very obvious once-over as he does it. Rhys lifts his chin and stares back, trying to resist the urge to suck in his gut. He might not be a black ops commando, Delta Force or whatever the fuck this guy is, but he's not going to be intimidated.
'So,' he says, folding his arms, ' you're the one keeping my Gwen out all night, are you?'
He's pleased with how it comes out: calm, not aggressive, but with an undercurrent of warning to it. It makes him sound like a man who knows what's going on, and who isn't going to stand for it. Not quite a threat, but definitely a challenge.
Jack doesn't say anything, just looks back at him with a half-smile on his lips and an expression in his eyes that Rhys can't read. He can't help thinking he's being catalogued and assessed, and maybe found wanting. He leans back in his chair, trying to look confident and at ease. It's a struggle. He has to fight the sudden urge to get up, walk away and forget all about it. Welcome Gwen back from wherever she goes with cocoa and a cuddle and a 'did you have nice day at the office, dear?' Take what he's given, take it at face value. It's not that bad a life, is it?
He swallows, trying to work up some saliva in a mouth gone desert-dry. When he was seven years old, he'd gone on a family holiday to Torquay. He'd gone swimming, just a little kid with an inflated sense of his own ability, and got out of his depth. He's never forgotten how it felt when he put his foot down and found nothing there.
Looking at Jack right now gives him a strangely similar feeling.
What exactly has he blundered himself into, here? What has Gwen got into?
That thought both steadies and unnerves him in equal measure. He doesn't care any more if she's having an affair. He hopes she is; hopes that when he's lying in bed in the middle of the night on his own, that she's romping around in someone else's bedroom and not out on the streets with guns and this strangely terrifying man.
Jack leans forward, and it takes everything that Rhys has not to flinch. 'What exactly are you asking?' he says in a low, measured voice.
Rhys takes a breath, but he's saved from having to work that out when Jack gets a call. An expression that could be irritation, concern or both flashes across his face and he holds up a finger to Rhys in a 'wait' gesture. He turns slightly away, one hand up to his ear. 'Go ahead, Tosh,' he says, then, 'When?'
He listens for a few more seconds, and his eyes flick to the door. It's a move Rhys has seen a lot of, lately. He knows what it means. He's up out of his seat as soon as Jack is.
'I've got to go,' Jack says. 'I'm sorry.' His tone is all business, very final.
Rhys shakes his head. 'I've had enough of Gwen running out on me all the time, I'm not having it from you as well, now.'
Jack takes a step forward, one hand going to Rhys's upper arm. Rhys cuts him off before he can speak. 'Is she safe?'
Jack blinks. 'What?'
'Gwen. You asked me what I want to know. That's it. All this, whatever it is that you do. Is she safe?'
There's a long pause while Jack seems to be searching his face. What he's looking for and whether or not he finds it, Rhys isn't sure, but at least he answers.
'No,' he says.
Rhys lets out a long, slow breath, and nods. He'd thought he was looking for the truth, but now he's not so convinced of that. Maybe the reason Gwen found it so easy to lie to him was because he didn't really want honesty at all.
'But she knows what she's doing,' Jack says, and his voice is gentler now.
Rhys laughs, and it sounds a little shaky. 'I'm glad someone does.'
Jack smiles, and squeezes his shoulder. 'It'll all work out. Trust me.'
Oh, and doesn't Rhys wish he could do just that? He understands it a bit better now, can see the attraction of this kind of life. Of this kind of man. Jack Harkness has a kind of gravitational pull about him, even Rhys can feel it. He can't blame Gwen, not really. He should have known cocoa and CSI would never be enough for her.
'I'm sorry,' says Jack, and he sounds it this time. 'But I really have to go. Maybe we can--' he breaks off, staring at a point over Rhys's shoulder. Rhys turns round to check what he's looking at, and sees a tall man in a pinstripe suit standing in the doorway of the pub. There's a big grin on his face.
'Hello, Jack,' he says, bouncing on the soles of his feet. 'Good to see you again. Did you know you've got weevils?'
'Yes, thank you,' says Jack, and there's an odd tone to his voice. Rhys watches him walk towards the stranger and raise a hand to his face. There's a long pause and Rhys can practically hear the electricity crackling between them. Most of the pub are staring now, but neither man shows any sign of being aware of anything but each other. Rhys shuffles his feet, feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic but equally unable to tear his eyes away.
The kiss, when it comes, feels like a relief; breaking the almost unbearable tension. He darts a look at the barmaid, who shrugs. 'You get used to Jack,' she says.
Somehow, Rhys doubts that.
After what seems like half an hour at least, the kiss finally breaks. Pinstripe Suit beams hugely and opens his mouth to speak, but before he can say anything Jack draws an arm back and throws a straight, solid punch right in his face. He stumbles backwards, knocks over a table and ends up on his arse on the stained carpet. He wiggles his jaw slowly from side to side, and wipes a speck of blood from his lip. 'Well,' he says, climbing to his feet and brushing his jacket down, 'I suppose that was fair. A bit on the cliched side, but undeniably fair.'
'Damn right it was fair,' says Jack, and his hands are still balled into fists by his side. 'Where have you been?'
The stranger puts his head on one side and seems to be counting. 'Alderon 3, the Canyoris Nebula, the Amazon rainforest in the tenth--'
Jack holds up his hand. 'I wasn't asking for an itinerary, and you know it.'
'I do, I do. I'm sorry.' He looks up, putting his hands in his pockets. 'I didn't know, Jack. That you were, you know, there. Not until you were already gone again. I tried to track you, but--' he pauses. 'You blend, these days. It wasn't easy. And then there were--other things.' He stops again, and seems to have trouble swallowing. 'Rose. She, she--'
'I know.' Jack runs a hand through his hair. 'I have--sources of information. I know what happened.' He takes a deep breath. 'So why are you here? Now?'
The stranger lifts his head and smiles, recovering his equilibrium. It looks like it costs him. 'I thought you might be interested in an adventure.'
Jack raises his eyebrows. 'An adventure.'
The smile widens and looks more genuine. 'Yep. A bona fide adventure. With vampires. C'mon, what's not to love? You can bring your friend.' He beams at Rhys.
Jack looks at Rhys and blinks, as if he'd forgotten about him. 'Um, I think maybe that's not such a good idea.'
Rhys takes a step towards the stranger. 'Who are you? And did you just say vampires?'
He finds his hand grabbed, gripped and pumped energetically. 'I'm the Doctor. I'm sure Jack must have told you all about me.'
'Well, no.' Rhys darts a look at Jack. 'Actually we haven't known each other very long, and--'
The Doctor grins. 'Jack always was a quick worker. Yes, I did say vampires. Fascinating creatures. Would you like to meet one?'
'Splendid, splendid. Shall we go, then?'
'Wait, wait,' says Jack. 'Maybe we ought to just slow things down a minute.'
The Doctor turns back, looking impatient and shifting his weight from foot to foot. Jack, there's a whole new alternate reality out there, just waiting to be explored. What are we waiting for?'
Rhys looks from the Doctor to Jack. 'Alternate what?'
Jack gives the Doctor a look that Rhys can't read, and goes to the bar. He comes back with a shot of whisky, which he hands to Rhys. 'You might need this,' he says.
Rhys frowns at both it and Jack. 'Why?'
'Outside this pub is a blue police box. It's called the TARDIS, and that stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. It's a space ship, and a time machine. Humanity is not alone in the universe, and all the things that you only half remember or have dismissed as the result of drugs or an overworked mind, or whatever other excuse you come up with, are real. Aliens, particularly. The Doctor isn't human. And quite honestly, I'm not too sure about me.'
'Right,' Rhys says, and knocks back the drink.
Jack lays a hand on his shoulder. 'The reason Gwen has been--well, the way she has, is that she knows all this. She works for me, in an organisation called Torchwood. It is Special Ops, in a way--just not quite in the way she allowed you to assume.'
Rhys stares into the glass. 'Gwen. My Gwen. Chasing aliens.' He begins to laugh. 'I thought she was having an affair.'
'I know. I'm sorry, Rhys.'
Something in Jack's tone makes Rhys look up. 'Why? What for?'
'Because come tomorrow, you're probably going to be thinking that again.'
Rhys shakes his head. 'No. Not now. I get it, now. I understand. We can--'
He breaks off, seeing Jack's face. 'What?'
'You won't understand. You won't remember.'
Rhys stares at him, then down at the glass in his hand. There's a thin white residue in the bottom of it. 'You son of a bitch,' he says wonderingly. 'What did you do to me?'
'We call it RetCon. It's effective, but harmless. I'll see that you get home, and you'll wake up in the morning just thinking you had a heavy night on the beer. I'm sorry,' he says again.
'Jack,' says the Doctor, and there's a reproving note to the way he says the name. 'Is that really necessary?'
'Yes, it is. It's for his own safety. And don't give me that look.'
'There's no point in arguing, I've made my decision.'
'No,' says Rhys, backing up. 'You might have but I bloody well haven't.' He looks around, and his gaze settles on the ashtray on a nearby table. It looks like it hasn't been emptied since the pub was built.
He grabs it, and tips the contents into Jack's pint of water. He swills it around, holds it up to Jack and gives him a grin that's really just a baring of teeth. 'Cheers.'
He tips his head back and swallows the contents of the glass in one go, ashy liquid dribbling out of the side of his mouth and down his shirt. He hears a noise come from his throat that's somewhere between a cough, a hiccup and a moan, doubles over and vomits explosively onto the sticky carpet.
There's a long moment of silence, finally broken by the sound of applause. Rhys groans and slowly straightens up again, to see the Doctor clapping with an amused look on his face. 'Good for you,' he says. 'Make sure you get it all out of your system before we get inside the TARDIS, though, okay?'
Jack throws up his hands. 'Fine,' he says. 'I give up.'
Rhys grins, feeling triumphant if still more than a little queasy. He spits out the remains of a cigarette butt into the glass, and the barmaid appears at his shoulder. 'That's it,' she says. 'My patience has limits, Jack Harkness, even for you. Out, of all you. You're barred.'
'That'll be our cue, then,' says the Doctor, still grinning. He turns towards the door, then stops and swings back. 'Oh, while I think of it, something that I really need first.' He pauses, looking from Jack to Rhys. 'Would either of you happen to have a set of Buffy DVDs?'
Jack stares at him. 'You want what?'
'Buffy DVDs. You know, Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Very good show, I'm told. Or videos will do. Although... no, I think I cannibalised the video player when we broke down on Karabrathian that time. Yeah, DVDs would better.' The Doctor nods and looks at him expectantly.
Jack pats his pockets. 'That's a shame, because it looks like I left my DVDs at home today. Weapons, computing and communication I can do, but TV shows? I'm fresh out.'
'I've got some,' Rhys says.
They both turn to look at him. 'I loved Buffy,' he says. 'It was my favourite programme. I've got it all the DVDs, the novels, everything. It was the best thing on television, I watched it all the time.'
The Doctor grabs his arm, eyes gleaming. 'Is that so? Bit of an expert then, are you?'
Rhys shrugs. 'Gwen always used to take the piss, say I could go on Mastermind and have it as my specialist subject. She never got into it, not really, but I loved it.'
The Doctor breaks into the biggest grin Rhys has ever seen. 'Fantastic. Right, let's go.'
Jack holds up his hands. 'Go where? Doctor, what is all this?'
'No time,' the Doctor says, dragging Rhys towards the door. 'I'll explain when we get there.'
The Doctor claps Rhys on the back. 'Sunnydale,' he says.