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“There’s nothing interesting about a stroke.” House tapped his pencil against the table and waited to see which frown Cameron would give him this time. “Where would you find a feathered snake?”
“What?” Chase moved closer to try and get a better view of the crossword, so House hid it under the table.
“Teotihuacan,” replied Cameron. “Now can we get back to the case?”
House pretended to scribble in the answer. “Tay-oh-teeee, nope, doesn’t fit.”
“Then you misspelled it. I thought you spoke Spanish.” She put her hand out. “Let me see.”
“Nice try.” House rolled up the paper and swung it away from Cameron straight into Chase’s face. Chase blinked, more surprised than upset, before he snatched it and ran for the relative safety of the coffee machine. “Hey! It’s bad manners to steal from a cripple.”
“It’s also bad manners to steal from a colleague.”
“Not if he has a funny accent.”
Cameron rolled her eyes. “The man she strangled was named Ianto Jones, but she called him ‘Jack.’”
“You spoke to her friends? But none of them have cancer!”
“Maybe I actually care.”
“And Foreman’s black! Wow, we’re discovering so many new things about each other today. Your turn, Chase; care to share who you slept with last night?”
“I didn’t sleep with anyone!”
The coffee machine hissed. House got up and took the mug as soon as it finished filling. “Your shirt is rumpled, which means you didn’t iron it when you did the laundry, which means you’ve been stashing clothes at somebody’s house, which would be where you spent last night. Also, you--“ House paused, then started sniffing Chase’s hair.
“Not content with just smelling Cameron?” Foreman said.
House snapped his fingers. “Of course!” He paced over to Cameron, inhaled deeply, and slammed his cane onto the table, causing everyone to start. “Caught!”
Cameron drew herself up. “Are you suggesting--”
“People lie. Shampoo doesn’t.”
“Can we get back to the case?”
“There is no case. Mental confusion is common in stroke patients. Her clot was close to the limbic system, between the parietal and occipital lobes; it screws up her vision and her memories. The location also explains the loss of motor control.”
“She picked up her coworker and threw him five feet!”
“The paranoia and sudden anger suggests her brain was already suffering oxygen deprivation in her emotional centers, triggering a panic attack, which stimulates the adrenal glands.”
“Still doesn’t explain why an otherwise healthy young woman would get a stroke.”
“Might as well ask Wilson why cute little bald children are always hanging around his office. She has essential hypertension, there’s your etiology. Group of Keanu Reeves wannabes from England, right?”
“Same thing, those foreigners. They probably stuff their arteries with ‘chips,’ and who knows what their genes look like? Maybe she snores, which is what I’ll be doing if this conversation continues any longer.”
Handing Chase the emptied mug, House returned to his office. Cameron approached the whiteboard, and without looking back, House yelled, “No touching the markers without daddy’s permission.” The door slammed shut.
Cameron turned back to her fellows. “Come on, you two don’t think there’s something to this case?”
Chase shrugged. “House isn’t interested, nothing we can do.”
“If you’re right,” Foreman said, “she’ll present with more symptoms. Just wait.”
Gwen’s breathing was so slow and shallow, Toshiko Sato kept glancing at the EKG to reassure herself she was still alive. The sun’s descent had brought a thick silence down upon the room. The doctors said the surgery had gone as well as could be expected, but Gwen was still unconscious and brain damage was likely. Jack had remained by her side the whole day, head bowed over her still body. Owen sat in the corner, keeping an equally constant, though more withdrawn, vigil.
The door slid open and Ianto entered with coffee. Tosh didn’t question how he’d gotten home-brewed beans; she had learned to accept that minor miracles happened when he was around. It was a small comfort now, but she was grateful nevertheless, and she gave him what she hoped was a reassured smile when she received her mug. His expression remained neutral.
Tosh wished she could do something for him. She knew he was feeling guilty about Gwen’s condition. She had seen the look in his eyes whenever Jack smiled at Gwen, or whenever the two were close together. She had noticed the small mannerisms--a twitch of the finger when he greeted Gwen, a tightness in his shoulders when he handed her a cup of what Tosh kept expecting to turn out to be Tesco instant--that grew more or less conspicuous depending on how tired Ianto was that day. And she couldn’t blame him; they all knew Jack’s reputation when it came to relationships, and try as he might, there was no way Ianto could think Jack loved him. Cared about him, yes, but enough to spend the rest of their lives together? Probably not.
Ianto’s misgivings had grown worse after Jack’s disappearance, for obvious reasons. Everyone had figured out long ago that the hand Jack kept belonged to the enigmatic Doctor, whose capture Jack had made clear was no longer part of their charter. And out in forgotten Cardiff, with Torchwood One gone, his word was law.
Tosh had met the Doctor once, during the Slitheen invasion of London and 10 Downing Street. In retrospect, after all the things she’d seen, it was strange remembering how terrified she had been of a simple augmented pig, but the Doctor had stormed in at the head of a squad of soldiers, claiming UNIT authority, and uncovered the “alien” for what it really was: a hoax, albeit one perpetrated by real aliens. And while she was still processing this revelation, the Doctor disappeared as suddenly as he’d shown up, and only the strange and haunting vworp vworp sound of vanishing alien technology told her he’d left for good.
He showed up again with Jack and a woman named Martha Jones one week after Jack disappeared. Since the TARDIS materialized by the Hub, the CCTV caught everything, and there was nothing Jack could do to deny it. The Doctor didn’t look the same as when Tosh met him; in fact, she would never have realized it was him had Ianto not told them. Apparently, Ianto met him during the Battle of Canary Wharf, and though Tosh had no logs to prove it--Ianto had long ago figured out how to stay one step ahead of her when it came to security, probably a habit acquired from back when he was hiding Lisa--she suspected there’d been one more meeting.
Ianto pulled up a seat beside Jack. “Captain?”
Jack’s voice was hushed and hoarse. “Yes, Ianto.”
“None of the hospital staff I’ve talked to report any strange sightings or events.”
At first, Tosh wondered what Ianto was thinking, ignoring Gwen’s plight, but then she realized Jack would expect her to do her job as well. She pulled out her handheld.
“Tosh?” Jack asked.
“Scanning now, Jack.” Torchwood Three had developed a more advanced technique based on Jack’s wristband for locating alien objects by isolating signals emanating from non-terrestrial technologies. The artifact they were hunting, however, seemed to emit no signal whatsoever, and as such, they’d had to fall back on scanning for microwave radiation from the energy it picked up during its passage through the Rift. They were lucky the radiation readings were high enough to detect at all, but this had been no normal passage. The last time the Rift dropped anything significantly outside of Cardiff had been when Owen ripped it open to bring her and Jack back from 1941. There had been no such disastrous attempt with the Rift manipulator this time, which was actually more disturbing than reassuring.
Rows and rows of numbers flooded her display before it generated a 3D image of Princeton-Plainsboro along with a color-chart for radiation intensity in various sections of the building. She shook her head. “There’s radiation all over the place; not only is the hospital’s equipment creating interference, the device has been here so long it’s got tracks everywhere. I can’t think of any way to pinpoint it any further.”
Jack grimaced. “Then looks like Ianto’s method is the best shot we’ve got: back to using our good old-fashioned eyes.”
“Yes, sir.” Ianto stood and motioned for Tosh to follow him. As they approached the door, however, she saw a familiar doctor coming down the hall. She smiled at them and Ianto stepped back to let her in.
“Doctor Cameron,” he greeted her.
Jack looked up. “I hope you have good news for us.”
Cameron flipped through Gwen’s files. “Her condition’s stable; that’s good. I did speak to Dr. House, and he’s reviewing the details of her case now. We’ll hopefully hear something from him soon. Now, we barely had time to exchange names earlier, so I need to know, who’s married or related to her?”
“Uh, none of us.” Jack paused. “We’re her co-workers.”
“Anyone I can contact?”
“She has a boyfriend back home.”
“If they’re not married, he has no authority to make medical decisions for her while she’s incapacitated.”
“Will she stay that way for long?” Jack asked sharply.
Cameron flinched, then said, “Hopefully not.” Jack looked ready to begin an interrogation, so she quickly added, “What about family? Parents? Siblings?”
Jack shut his mouth and looked thoughtful. Ianto stepped forward, “No siblings. Her mother and father live in Cardiff…” he glanced over and noticed Jack digging through his coat pockets, so he continued, “…but they’re in no state to travel.”
“Exactly,” Jack flourished a piece of paper at Cameron. “That’s why, traveling overseas and all, she decided to name me her medical proxy in case of emergency. I’m her boss, see, and we’re very close… but not like that.”
Cameron’s eyebrows went up at the last statement, but she took the paper, which was blank, and examined it. She handed it back. “Well, looks like everything is in order, Mr. Harkness.”
“Please, call me Jack.”
Tosh mouthed, Psychic paper? at Ianto, who just raised an eyebrow at her, as though asking, Are you really surprised?
“Well, Jack, has Gwen’s family had a history of stroke, high blood pressure, or similar illnesses?”
“No,” Ianto replied. Cameron turned to face him. “Her grandparents are all still alive, and she has a large extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. She lost an aunt on her father’s side in a fire when she was twelve, and a great-uncle died of lung cancer, but he was a heavy smoker all his life.”
He circled back behind Jack and pulled his laptop out of his bag. “Here, if you’ll lend me a printer, I can get you all of her medical files.” Cameron clearly didn’t know how to interpret this revelation. Ianto shrugged. “It’s part of my job, making sure nothing interferes with theirs.”
“Has she acted differently lately or complained of pain or numbness?” Cameron asked.
“Yeah,” Owen said. “She’s been getting headaches for a few months now, and she drops things sometimes. I thought she was just being clumsy; it happens you know.”
“Do you know if she or her boyfriend has had an affair in the past two years?”
“How is that medically relevant to a stroke?” Owen demanded.
Ianto shot Jack a significant look.
“Unless... STDs? Syphilis? Really?” Owen shook his head. “She had a bloody stroke!”
Jack returned Ianto’s look.
“Not all her symptoms are from the stroke,” Cameron said. “Hypertension, while unfortunate in a woman her age, is not unheard of. However, she had an embolic stroke, a blood clot from traveling debris, and symptoms such as headache and muscle weakness wouldn’t present over the long-term unless they point toward another condition.”
“So you’re saying she has two potentially fatal diseases that have nothing to do with each other?”
“I’m saying something is wrong with her and withholding medically relevant information may cause her death!”
“You’re going down a completely absurd path.”
“And how would you know?”
“Perhaps I should introduce myself fully, Dr. Cameron. I am Doctor Owen Harper, at your service.”
“Well, Doctor Harper, Dr. House only takes cases other physicians can’t diagnose. Now would someone please answer my question?”
“Dr. House? Gregory House?”
“Have you not been listening to a word I’ve said?”
“Sorry, princess, no. But I’ve heard of House. Sure, he hates patients, but he never loses the opportunity to accuse them of being in a loveless relationship. So where is he, huh? Or are you bluffing?”
“Can it!” Jack snapped. “Yes, Gwen’s been having an affair. With Doctor Harper. So, Owen, will you stop pestering her and answer her questions, or do you want Gwen dead?”
Silence fell as Owen stared at Jack, then dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry. Dr. Cameron, can we speak privately?”
Cameron nodded and guided him out of the room. Ianto shut the door behind them.
“She was lying,” he said.
“I know,” replied Jack.
Tosh’s eyes widened. “About what?”
“About House taking the case.”
“Then why did you let her question Owen?”
“Because if she’s trying so hard to find out what’s wrong, there’s still a chance House might take Gwen’s case. Ianto’s asked around; they say House is the best doctor here, or anywhere, and I’m not going to say no to that sort of expertise. Now get going. We’re wasting time here, and Gwen’s life isn’t the only one in danger.”
Owen followed Cameron into the hospital labs where she sat him beside a row of microscopes. He hoped that wouldn’t be indicative of the rest of the interview.
“So you were intimate with Gwen.”
Well, so much for that hope. “What, are we in grade school now?”
“No, I mean, did you spend a lot of time with her? Have you had a chance to observe her daily habits? Do you recall any changes in routine or behavior in the past few weeks or months, apart from the headaches and the loss of coordination?”
Cameron tapped her fingers against the counter. When no additional response seemed forthcoming, she said, “That’s it? ‘No’?”
“What else do you want me to say? It’s not like we were dating; we just do it for the release, for a little bit of escape from the daily stress, like fuck buddies, you know, or…” he trailed off, shaking his head. “No, not fuck buddies, more like--“
“I’m glad you’re so discriminating when it comes to having affairs.”
“Who died and made you Virgin Queen of the Catholic schoolgirls?”
“How many women have you slept with?”
“Oh god. Here, let me get my list. And just the women?”
“All sexual partners.”
“Oooh, all sexual partners. Sorry, your majesty, Jack and Tosh are the alien shaggers.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Cameron snapped. “You’re cracking jokes while your friend lies on the verge of death!”
“Bloody Americans, think they know everything,” Owen muttered.
“This has nothing to do with me!” Owen rose with such force his chair went flying across the room. He swept one arm along the counter, smashing the microscopes together and flinging them to crash against the wall. Cameron cringed and ran for the phone, but he tripped her and she went sprawling across the floor. He leapt onto her and pinned her to the ground. “What the fuck do you want from me? What do you want to hear? You want to know that the last co-worker I shagged blew her brains out after murdering three people? You want to hear that the last woman I loved would rather fly a plane into oblivion than spend the rest of her life with me? You want to hear that Gwen’s just a rebound shag I don’t give a fuck about and if she dies and it’s my fault, I won’t care because I’m a cold-hearted bastard and believing that can make you feel superior? Because let me tell you, Dr. Cameron, you know shit about my life. You don’t know who we are or what we go through to do our jobs and save millions of ingrates like you while anyone we’ve ever cared about dies and we can’t do a thing to stop it, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t give a damn about your opinion of me and if I refuse to take one more condescending word from you.
“I’ve met people like you. It’s easy to stay noble when you’ve got nothing to live for. You run around, always looking for causes to uphold, people to order around, weaklings to protect, because you can’t stand being by yourself, you couldn’t survive if it was just you, sitting in the dark, in the silence, living with the beating of your own heart and the creeping emptiness of your own thoughts. You’re afraid to look into your own soul and face the fact that despite everything you’ve done, all the lives you’ve saved, you don’t know what you’re doing; you’re scared, you’re lost, you’re alone, and no matter how many broken hearts you mend, there’s no one who’ll do the same for you.”
Their faces mere centimeters apart, he could feel her ragged breath upon his cheek and the strain of her muscles against his weight. Her eyes were wide, though he couldn’t read any emotions beyond the stunned shock. Shit, shit, he thought. Now I’ve done it.
He quickly got up and retreated to the other end of the room. Damn it! He tried recalling all the words that had flooded out of him, trying to decide if any of them were damning enough that he’d have to retcon her. He blamed this on the others: Jack and how he could do no wrong in the eyes of the team, how he could abandon them, threaten them, run off with Torchwood’s number one enemy, and in the end, they all still begged for his approval; Tosh and her neediness, her sudden swings from earnestly wanting to help to being cold and distant, as though she’d never pined after him, keeping pictures of him stashed all over her apartment; Ianto and his superiority, Ianto who should’ve been on the receiving end of his tirade rather than poor Dr. Cameron, who sometimes looked at Owen as though he was something the dog dragged in, and even though Owen outranked him, Owen knew Ianto had become far more indispensable to the team. And Gwen, even when she was dying, he couldn’t help but blame her for his problems. Guilty sex was great, but only if the guilty part could be put off until he was gone. It wasn’t the same, it wasn’t even enjoyable any more, yet the two of them clung to it like a rock in an ever-changing sea. What did that say about them? Moreover, what did it say about him? He didn’t feel guilty for making Gwen miserable; he was too wrapped up in his own obsession, in what could have been with Diane.
“I’m sorry,” Cameron said.
He grimaced, a downward twist of one side of his lips, “I’m the one who should be apologizing. I shouldn’t have lost my temper, and I definitely shouldn’t have touched you.”
She looked disheveled, and her lab coat had caught against the counter as she fell, tearing a long gash in the right side. She made no effort to tidy herself up. Instead, she pulled up two chairs and this time, chose to sit down rather than stand over him. He joined her, and she gave him a cautious smile.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
“We’re not allowed to talk about our jobs. Confidential, special ops.”
“You already have. Sounds like police work. Plenty you can talk about without disclosing anything you shouldn’t. Lie if you must.” She laughed bitterly. “Everyone lies.”
“There you go again, trying to mend my heart.”
“You get something back for whatever you give.”
“You believe that?”
She smiled, but the wrinkles around her eyes weren’t laugh lines. “A little. Is it that much to hope someone will give back?”
“It is if you keep everyone at a distance.”
She hesitated, then pulled her chair closer. “Fine, we’ll play it your way.”
The nurse’s name was Brenda. The name Brenda derived from Brandon, which was Gaelic for “little raven.” Ravens grew up to pluck out people’s eyes.
“We’re just looking for the cafeteria,” Ianto said.
“Cafeteria’s downstairs. On the first floor. Where cafeterias are usually found.”
“We got lost.”
“There’s a directory on the wall.”
“We couldn’t find the lifts.”
“They’re right behind you.”
“Right, so we’ll be on our way then.”
“Yes you will.”
Ianto waited. Brenda waited. Tosh re-scanned Brenda for the fiftieth time; both of them were hoping the artifact was on her so they’d have an excuse to jump her, but alas, they were disappointed yet again. And clearly, she had no intention of letting them out of her sight unless it was to the sound of lift music.
The doors opened.
“Ah. The lift’s here.”
“Yes it is.”
“We’ll just be stepping in then.”
“Yes you will.”
“It was nice meeting you.”
“I’m sure. What was your name?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“For security purposes.”
“Ah.” Ianto nodded sympathetically. “Security’s very important. It’s what you have security guards for.”
“What security guards?” Tosh asked.
“Exactly. Run, Yvonne!” Ianto dashed off to the left. He winced, wondering why “Yvonne” was the first alias to come to mind.
“What?” Tosh said. “Who’s Yv-- oh. Hey, let go of me!”
Ianto turned the corner. Back by the lifts, he heard Brenda’s voice: “I’ve got a thermometer. Don’t make me use it.”
“What can you do with a thermom-- oh. Oh! Ow, ow, ow, I’m going, I’m going!”
Convinced that Brenda would materialize any instant amidst a burst of smoke, Ianto dodged into a nearby room. The lights were off, and he’d assumed it was unoccupied, but when he entered, he saw there was in fact a patient unconscious on the bed. Beside him sat a brusque-looking man with a cane and very nice blue eyes. He was eating a Reuben sandwich.
“Oh, hello, I’m sorry, I must have the wrong room.”
The man stared at him. “You’re the guy who went kerplowy through the glass in the lobby.”
“Uh, yes,” Ianto replied, wondering whether this would make him an easier target for Brenda. “And you would be…”
“Dr. House,” a voice said from behind him. Ianto jumped before he realized the voice was male and therefore definitely not Lillith of the Windy Hospital Gowns. “I’m Dr. James Wilson, and you must be Ianto Jones. Cameron’s spoken of you.”
“Yeah, he’s the wuss who got beaten up by a girl,” House said. “And his tie is ugly like yours.”
“Are you lost?” Wilson asked.
House whacked Wilson in the knee with his cane, though not very hard since the other doctor didn’t even wince. “No flirting. You’ll make me jealous.”
Ianto and Wilson both blinked uncomprehendingly at him, then decided to ignore the comment.
“Are you his doctors, then?” Ianto asked, indicating the sleeping man.
“No, this is coma guy,” House said, turning on the television. “He makes for excellent lunch company, and the nurses always clean up after us. They’re so much more meticulous than the cafeteria staff.”
“I, uh, I think I’ll be going,” Ianto said, peering out the window for signs of Brenda. When the coast seemed clear, he dodged out. As the door closed behind him, he definitely heard House say, “See? Wuss.”
That was when he realized his handheld was beeping like crazy. That was also when he heard Brenda say, “There he is!”
He turned to see two security guards running toward him, and he set off in the opposite direction. As he ran, the beeping grew even stronger until he reached a coat rack. He saw a passing nurse.
“Excuse me, ma’am, what’s this for?”
She stared at him. “It’s for hanging coats.”
“No, I mean, whose coats?” He eyed the approaching security guards and guessed he had about ten more seconds.
“Patients, doctors.” She leaned over and whispered confidentially, “Brenda’s been cracking down on staff dress code.”
“Figures. Well, good talking to you, got to go!” Ianto repositioned the coat rack and dashed off again. Two seconds later, the security guards crashed into the rack. Clothes went flying, and the nurse screamed as the three of them went down in a mass of light spring jacket wear. That was unfortunate; she seemed quite nice.
Ianto was adequately rewarded for his efforts when he found Jack waiting to greet him on the second floor. This would have been quite unremarkable except that every once in a while, Jack’s greetings involved breathless kissing and scandalized elderly patients frantically hobbling away on walkers. This was one of those occasions.
“I thought you’d be with Gwen,” Ianto told Jack once his mouth was unoccupied.
“Tosh is with her now. After hearing her story, I figured I’d better check up on you, make sure you’re not getting into brawls with security guards; you should never fight without backup.”
Ianto smiled. “Or at least a good old-fashioned stun gun.”
“I’m going to have to examine you, make sure you’re safe and sound and all in one piece.”
“Not in public.”
“Prude.” Jack grabbed his hand, guiding him down the hallway and into one of the exam rooms. His intuition proved better than Ianto’s, as the room turned out to be indeed unoccupied.
“Security’s going to be after me,” Ianto said.
“Oh well, the thing about security is they always notice your most distinguishing feature, so rule number one is make sure that feature is one you can change.” Jack started undoing Ianto’s tie.
“I thought rule number one was never press that big red button.”
“That only applies to Sycorax.”
“Uh, well, sir…” His waistcoat went flying across the room, which was quite a distracting thing for a waistcoat to do.
“I’d say cute’s your most obvious feature, but we can’t really change that.” Jack grinned. “So the next option would be your suit.” He started in on the shirt.
Ianto took a deep breath and pushed Jack’s hands away. “I got an elevated radiation reading upstairs by a coat rack. It belongs to the staff, but I didn’t have time to check it, what with the security guards after me and all. You’re going to have to do it. It’s by the oncology wing.”
“Killjoy.” Jack pouted.
As Jack turned to go, Ianto grabbed his hand. “You’re not mad?” he asked.
“About Gwen. You know, what I said to her.”
Jack considered this. “What are you willing to do to make up for it?”
“All right, all right,” he raised his hands in placation. “Honestly, it was something that needed to be said, though I’ll admit that waiting to do it right before she stroked was in bad taste.”
“And I understand why you did it.”
Ianto looked down at his feet and felt his cheeks redden. “Is it that obvious? Tosh hasn’t said anything to you, has she?”
“Have you told her anything I should know?”
“Well, no, but she gives me funny looks sometimes.”
Jack sighed. “How on Earth do other bosses run things? I mean, how do normal organizations ever get anything done?”
Ianto burst out laughing. Jack pretended to look wounded. “That’s uncalled for, making fun of a time traveler. I’m taking your tie as punishment.”
Ianto was still snickering when Jack left, but when the door closed and he was sure Jack had gone, he rushed to his waistcoat to check the pocket and make sure the transmitter hadn’t been damaged.
The Doctor had not stayed long in Cardiff; barely twenty-four hours, and he was gone again. Enough time to answer a few questions, establish who he was, what he did, why he was Torchwood’s number one enemy--Queen Victoria must have had incredible presence of mind to resist the Doctor’s charming demeanor--and he was off again to the stars. He clearly did not remember Ianto from Torchwood One; after all, they had merely passed each other in the halls, one running to save a woman Ianto later learned was named Rose, the other running to save a woman Ianto later learned was already dead.
“Ianto Jones; I’ve heard a lot about you,” the Doctor said, shaking his hand as Jack introduced them. Ianto had been pleasantly surprised, but not enough so to miss the brief flash of misgiving in Jack’s expression. Worried about how the part-time shag will misinterpret those words. Ianto felt he should be angry at Jack, or jealous, or something, but he wasn’t, and that bothered him, because he didn’t know why.
The fountain whispered as he stepped out toward the TARDIS. The Doctor was already at the door, key in hand, but he spoke without looking. “Hello, Ianto.”
“I want to speak with you.”
The Doctor nodded, and they walked in silence toward the Millennium Centre. The Doctor found a bench and took a seat. Ianto just followed his lead.
“I didn’t lie,” the Doctor said. “If I did, how could I guess you planned to intercept me? How would I know enough about you to understand what you’re thinking?”
“Jack likes to tell stories. You know about all of us, not just me.”
“Don’t miss a thing, do you, Ianto Jones?” The Doctor rapped him on the forehead. “Except where love blinds you.”
“I’m not in love.”
“Funny. Jack says the same thing.” The Doctor studied Ianto, then offered his toothy grin, so similar to Jack’s. “Ah, and the eyes give away the lie.”
“What does it matter to you? You two are the same, two immortals, always traveling, always running, always changing companions.” Ianto spat out the word, as though it were a curse.
“Which is why he won’t let go of the thought of me, even now when he knows I can’t cure his immortality, as if life was something that needed to be cured. But you see, Ianto Jones, what he loves is an idea, an outlet for his own frustrations, someone he thinks understands what he’s going through. But that’s the child in him, screaming for somebody to take care of him. One day, he’ll return to his senses, learn to love again, true love for someone who truly exists. And that isn’t me, because I may be next to immortal, but I’m fleeting. One moment I’m here, and the next…” The Doctor extended his arms and separated them slowly, tracing out the shape of a dissipating cloud. Ianto could almost see the TARDIS fading into nothingness. “I don’t linger, Ianto. There are no consequences to my actions, and for that, I must pay a price. Jack is smart, and time may yet make him wise. Perhaps my example will teach him to avoid my mistakes.”
The silence stretched for who knew how long. Ianto could check the CCTV logs and know precisely, but there was no need to. Finally, he said, “Why are you telling me this?”
The Doctor smiled again, always the same smile, but the eyes gave away the lie. “I’m over a thousand years old. Do you know how old the universe is?”
It was a question without an answer, or so Ianto thought. With that, the conversation was over, and all that remained was goodbye. The Doctor left him a device which would call him should Ianto activate it. He said it was for Jack, but Jack would never take it; he was still waiting for the Doctor to come and save him. Torchwood needed a line of communication to the Doctor. Ianto asked why him. The Doctor just shook his hand. I’ve heard a lot about you. Ianto promised he would never use it unless there was great need, and the Doctor’s eyes just twinkled as he said, “I know.”
Toshiko was typing when he returned to Gwen’s room. Ianto sat beside her and watched as she worked out a new program to sort through the various frequencies of radiation that permeated the hospital. Minutes ticked by, punctuated by the occasional growl of frustration from Tosh’s throat. After an hour, Ianto stood to stretch his legs. As he paced past the window, he glanced to where he’d parked their car, more out of habit than the expectation that it would be gone. His heart skipped a beat when he saw that there was, indeed, no car there.
She let out a yelp and jumped. “What is it?”
He quickly scanned the parking lot and saw flashing yellow lights at the intersection leading into the hospital. “Our car’s being towed! Stay here!”
“No, I can handle it!” Tosh cast a dirty look at the reams of paper she’d crumpled up over the past hour. “You stay with Gwen.”
She was out the door before he could protest. It was unlike her to leave a project, no matter how difficult, but then, the sterile atmosphere of the hospital was enough to fray anyone’s nerves. Ianto shook his head and settled down again. He was going through her calculations when he heard a moan. His eyes widened as he turned to the bed.
Gwen’s eyes fluttered open. “Rhys?” she called faintly.
Ianto took her hand. “Gwen, it’s me.”
Gwen slowly focused on him. “Ianto. Oh, it’s so good to see you. It was so… I was so…” Gwen rubbed her forehead. “What happened?”
“The doctors say you had a stroke.”
“A stroke? Me? But I’m--” She blinked, tilting her head quizzically. “Ianto? Ianto! Oh my god, Ianto, help me, I’m so scared! I’m so scared!”
Ianto tightened his grip and leaned closer. “Gwen? Look at me, focus on me! What’s wrong? What’s happening?”
“Oh, I’m so scared, the darkness, the--” Suddenly, her back arched, and she screamed. “Oh my god, I can’t see!”
“Somebody help!” Ianto shouted. Nurses rushed in as she began trembling. She let go of his hand, her arms flailing wildly.
“Ianto! Help me!” she screamed. But before the nurses could do anything, the episode was over and she went limp, breathing heavily. Ianto let out a sigh of relief, but then he saw that the panic had not faded from her features.
“Gwen, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t see color,” she whispered. “Everything’s black and white! I can’t, I can’t see…”
Jack had never been fond of looking for things the hard way--with his eyes. It seemed an unnecessary waste of energy, but seeing as they had very little choice...
A couple hours of fruitless searching found him somewhere in the Oncology wing without the slightest clue how to get back to Gwen's room. There was also no trace of an overturned coat rack, or a coat rack of any sort. Every bit of the hospital looked the same, all glass and contemporary architecture, and he'd been concentrating on his search instead of where he was headed.
Frustrated with himself, he cast around for someone to ask directions from, but everyone in the immediate vicinity looked like they were extremely busy or in a lot of pain. He tried approaching a nurse, but she glared at him before he'd barely opened his mouth and said, "You aren't supposed to be here unless you're a doctor or a patient. Scram." A little shaken--since when had women not tripped over themselves to help him?--he did as he was told.
As he turned the corner into another hall, he almost ran right into someone. The someone turned out to be a slightly harassed-looking middle-aged man, who upon further inspection turned out to be extremely handsome. Mentally, Jack grinned.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going," said the man, looking apologetic.
Jack gave him a winning smile. "No, it was entirely my fault. I'm Captain Jack Harkness, by the way. Nice to meet you." He held out his hand. The man smiled back and grasped his hand, shaking it firmly.
"Doctor James Wilson. Nice to meet you too."
Never one to miss an opportunity, Jack used his current plight to strike up a conversation. "I seem to have gotten myself lost. Do you think you could show me the way back to my friend's room?" he asked.
"Of course. Do you know the room number?"
"Er…" Jack realized he didn't have the faintest clue and cursed his lack of attention. Dr. Wilson noticed and gave him a sympathetic grin.
"Never mind, then. What's his name? I can look it up."
“Her name’s Gwen Cooper,” Jack told him. He didn’t bother to hide the fact that he was staring at the doctor's rear end as he turned to a nearby computer. A minute or so of quick typing was all it took to discover the room’s elusive address.
"Room 232," Wilson said, turning back to Jack. "I'll lead you there, make sure you don't get lost trying to find it." Jack was pretty sure he could find it, but he saw no reason to avoid talking to a handsome man.
"Thanks. And by the way, you have a very nice ass." Jack could see the exact moment that registered. Wilson did a massive double-take and paused, gaping.
"Um, thanks. I guess," he mumbled, then started walking again, this time a little faster. It was pretty obvious that Wilson thought he was messing with him. Jack jogged a little to catch up.
"No, really, I find you very attractive." Jack could hear the gears turning in Wilson's head as the other man tried to figure out what he was up to.
"Uh," Wilson contributed. Jack tried not to be too unimpressed by the way he handled these sorts of situations. The rest of the trip was spent in silence as Jack continued to check Wilson out as blatantly as he could and Wilson continued to try to pretend he didn't notice. It wasn't long before they reached room 232, and Jack was relieved to find the area somewhat familiar.
"Here we are, then," Wilson said. He was obviously also relieved, probably because the walk had been extremely awkward for him.
"So, you want to get lunch sometime?" Jack asked, grinning at Wilson.
"Oh. I'm sorry, but I, uh, already have someone I eat lunch with here," he said uncomfortably. "Anyway," he continued, "I really should be getting back to work. So, uh, hope your friend gets better. Bye." Then he turned and walked away at a pace that had to be a little faster than his normal gait.
"See you around!" Jack called after him. Wilson turned a corner. Damn, Jack thought, and entered the room.
Owen was silent as Cameron drew the blood samples. “I’ll have the labs test Gwen too, of course, but since I’m not the attending right now, I’d rather check yours ahead of time, just in case,” she explained.
Owen nodded, still a little shaken. She didn’t blame him. Truth was, she had ended up doing more speaking than Owen. He knew all the right words to say, all the right buttons to push, to keep her distracted and talking about her own problems. She had to admit, it felt therapeutic to confide to a complete stranger what she’d never in a million years say to anyone else. After all, who else could she talk to? She was hardly inclined to trust Foreman, Chase was, well, Chase, and House would just scoff and psychoanalyze her some more.
What little she had gleaned from Owen, though, was worth baring some of her own soul for. Like Rome, the man’s pain had not risen in a day; it was layer upon layer of self-deception and loss and confusion, tangled knots of love and hate. She wanted to know more; she wanted to know why, and she wanted to cure him. Maybe House was right about her, but she didn’t need House’s approval to live her own life. On the job, she deferred to him, but in her own time, she was his superior.
“You’re being protective again,” Owen said. “Stop it if you ever want me to shag you.”
“I have no intention of dancing with you.”
“Don’t play American on me. You know what I’m talking about.”
“Maybe.” She jabbed him with another needle. “Last one.”
Owen grunted. “Yeah, I know.”
“Well, Doctor Harper, since you seem to know everything, do you mind telling me why you’re so afraid to talk about yourself?”
“I’m holding out for a better deal.”
“I’ve already told you all my deepest, darkest secrets. Well, most of them.”
“You never admitted you want to shag your boss.” He grinned when she blinked. “Hey, don’t take it personally. Where I work, you have to watch out for these sorts of things.”
“Well, now you know all my deepest, darkest secrets.”
“Women’s secrets are boring. Their kisses are far more interesting.”
She laughed. “Does anyone fall for that, doctor?”
“Well,” he leaned forward, “I guess it’s time we found out.”
The door slammed open. Owen leapt to his feet, his forearm swinging perilously close to the needle still in her hand. She turned to see Owen’s boss rush in, his military coat swirling in the draft.
“Dr. Cameron, you’ll want to come quick,” he said.
“Gwen’s awake. She’s lost her color vision.”
“That’s one possible effect of the stroke.”
A cane pushed Jack Harkness aside as House strode into the room. “Ah, but she lost it after she woke, a fact you might have found out if you actually took time to talk to the patient.”
Cameron gaped. House gave her that intense stare that made her feel like he was sifting through her brain.
“You don’t look half so pretty with your mouth open,” he said. “I expected you to be more pleased. I’m taking the case.”
To Chapter 2: Three Kisses
Back to Prologue: Sex (with Owen) Kills
Summary: A dangerous alien artifact that came through the Cardiff Rift is lurking somewhere in the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. So is the Torchwood team, because Tosh and Ianto need to find it while avoiding Evil Nurse Brenda, Jack needs to stop hitting on Wilson while searching for the artifact, and Owen needs to keep punching out Cameron to convince House to take Gwen’s case. Oh yeah, and Gwen’s on the verge of death after beating up Ianto and stroking in the hospital lobby. No more coffee for her.