Day 7

Title: Day 7
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Torchwood
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: canon
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Every autumn, a virus attacks the Torchwood Hub.
Notes: Started for Weekly Hatching Bunny 203 (fandom). Finished for my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2017-18 project project for Anonymous.

Day 1:

And tonight we’ll have the first frost of the year. So make sure you check your pipes and cover those gardens because it’s going to be cold out there!

 “No kidding.” Gwen shivered as she pulled her car into her parking spot and turned it off. With it went the radio and the heater. She wished she’d checked the weather report before leaving home because then she would have thought to grab her jacket, gloves, and a scarf. It had been such a long, hot summer that this sudden cold front had taken her—like everyone else in Cardiff—completely unawares.

The invisible lift was on the opposite side of the building. Since the tourist office entrance was closer, she made straight for that as soon as she left her car. Expecting the office to be empty or at least only manned by Ianto, she burst in the door with a loud declaration of how cold she was, accompanied by a shiver and an “Oh!” She nearly ran right into a stack of boxes and a delivery man with dolly.

Ianto sighed. He sounded frustrated and it was a bit early in the day already to be that frustrated. Automatically, she checked her phone to make sure she hadn’t missed any calls from Jack or messages from anyone about an impending emergency. “Sorry,” she said when Ianto had signed the clipboard and the delivery man had gone. “What all this then?”

 “Supplies,” Ianto replied. He whipped out a box cutter and stabbed the closest of the brown cardboard boxes. He dragged the blade along it, splicing the thing open. Ianto began pulling out its contents, double-checking with the packing list on the desk in front of him. Gwen watched and counted, as box after box of tissues were extracted and piled so high on the desk that they would have towered over Ianto if he hadn’t begun a second stack. Then came all manner of medicines—cold pills and pain killers, vapor rubs and nasal sprays.

 “Ah, you feeling all right, Ianto?” she asked warily.

 “Right now I am,” he replied flatly. Then he looked up at her. “This is your first autumn with us, isn’t it?” She nodded and he seemed to soften a bit, right before her eyes.  “Right. Sorry. But you’re in for a world of fun.” He handed her a tissue box, then went back to checking things off his list.

It sounded like she was going to have to drag the explanation out of Jack.

Gwen marched into Jack’s office, where he was pouring through charts of some sort. “Jack, what’s all this about?”

“Hmm?” He didn’t look up, hadn’t really heard her.

“Ianto’s getting a delivery of—”

Jack looked up, “Where’s your bag?”

“My what?”

“Bag. Suitcase. Didn’t you pack one?”

Irritated now, Gwen resisted the urge to put her hands on her hips and insist he tell her everything from the beginning. “I didn’t know I was supposed to.”

Jack jumped to his feet and took hold of her arm, wheeling her around and pulling her out of the office. He stood at the railing, shouting down to the others in the Hub. “Quick! Everyone stop you’re doing and listen. Has anyone started sneezing yet, or do we still have time?”

Ianto stood just inside the door, clipboard in hand. Owen looked up at them from the infirmary, surrounded by bags and more boxes. And Tosh, over at her work station, had the back of her hand pressed to her nose. “Ihtchii! Htchii!

With a sigh, Jack closed his eyes. Suddenly, the Hub went into lockdown mode. “Bless you, Toshiko,” Jack said, and then he turned to Gwen. “Well, I guess that answers that question.”

Gwen looked at the flashing lights and the very closed door. “You know, that’s so far from an answer I don’t even know where to start. What’s going on here? Why are we on lockdown?”

Jack opened his eyes and looked down at Owen, who was doing his best to avoid looking up at Jack. “Owen! You were supposed to tell her.”

“No way. Nothing doing. I told you last time that I’m not going to be the one to explain to anyone else that we have a highly contagious and entirely inescapable alien cold virus hit us for two weeks every autumn.”

“I think you just did,” smirked Jack. He turned to Gwen. “Sorry. You’re stuck here.”

“Two weeks?”

“That’s the average. A couple years back, it was four. Damn virus refused to let go. We’ve got to stay quarantined in here until twenty four hours after the last sneeze.”

“Don’t worry,” Ianto put in, slicing open a cardboard box, pulling out some cans of vegetables, beans, and spam. “We have an extra toothbrush around here somewhere.”

“Call Reese,” Jack told her. “Tell him some emergency came up and you won’t be home for a few weeks. And do it quickly before you start sneezing.”

Gwen hardly understood a thing, but she did know that if she sounded sick, Reese would insist she come home rather than go off on a work trip. Even as she dialed his mobile, she felt a little tickle in her nose. She hurried through leaving a voice mail, scrubbing her knuckle at her nose a few times as she spoke. When she hung up, she turned to jack. “Now you’re going to explain… and I’m going to sit down. My head hurts.”


Day 2:

It might be Gwen’s only option, but the couch in Torchwood Hub was a much better couch for sitting on than for sleeping on. She felt stiff and achy and miserable and wasn’t even sure she could blame the couch for all of that. But considering Tosh was sleeping at her workstation and Owen in the Infirmary, she felt lucky to get the couch. Tosh had informed her confidentially that it was where Ianto slept last autumn when they’d been suffering from this bug, but no one said anything this year about Ianto sleeping in Jack’s bed. Gwen wasn’t surprised; talking about their personal relationships was not what Torchwood folks did best—or did at all, for that matter. But Gwen did envy him, especially when she woke up feeling like hell.

When she shuffled her way over to the kitchen, Ianto was already there with two teakettles on the stove. His nose was just about as red as hers was, and he looked exhausted.

“Did Jack keep you up all night sneezing?” Gwen asked, folding herself into one of the chairs and leaning on the table for support.

Ianto shook his head. “This virus only affects, er, humans in this way. Jack doesn’t get ill, but he is a carrier, apparently. So he’s got to be quarantined along with the rest of us.” Ianto dropped the volume of his voice, as if Jack might be listening in. “Honestly, sometimes I feel a bit self-conscious, sneezing and coughing in front of him. He keeps trying to tell me it’s fine; I can sneeze as much as I have to and he’ll never catch it. All the same…” Ianto pulled his handkerchief from his pocket.

All the same, he had to be proper, polite Ianto. Gwen would have expected nothing less from him.

“Owen’s spent year after year trying to figure out what it is about Jack that keeps this virus from latching onto him. He’ll be… he’ll… excuse me a second. I have to…” He turned to the side, unfolded the handkerchief, and folded it over his nose. “hah-IHTChmphhhh! Ihshmphhh!” He wiped his nose, wincing slightly. “Not especially a good sign for my nose to be so sore already, is it?”

Gwen stretched her leg out under the table and pushed the chair across from her out. “Sit,” she told him.

Ianto shook his head and went back to the stove. He poured two cups of tea and brought them over to the table before sitting down.


Day 4:

Half-curled on the couch, Gwen rolled over onto her other side. She couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. No, that wasn’t it exactly. She’d been sleeping there all day and now she just couldn’t sleep any more.

She hauled herself up and decided to see what was happening elsewhere in the Hub. The workstations were deserted, but she heard noise and followed it to the kitchen area. Toshiko and Owen sat at the table with cards spread out on the table between them, laughing over something. Tosh looked over at her, a guilty expression on her face. “Were we being too loud?”

Gwen shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep.” She rubbed at her nose and buried as much of her face as she could in the sleeve of the too-large sweatshirt she’d borrowed. “ahh-Chihhh! Sniff!” She waved her hand at the table. “So… what do you have going on here?”

“We can’t sleep either. So we decided to play poker,” Owen explained. His voice was deeper than normal. He pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. “I’m betting with tissue packs and Tosh has cough drops. The Paracetamol tablets aren’t spoken for yet.”

Gwen smiled and pulled out a chair. “Well, then. Deal me in.”


Day 7:

Standing in the greenhouse, breathing in the warm, humid air helped Gwen’s breathing. And soaking in the rays from the grow lights was about as close to being outside as she could get right now. She loved the sensation, but she couldn’t stay in there all day. Reluctantly, she emerged, the warm air of the Hub feeling cool in comparison against her face, making her sneeze; no one blessed her. She wasn’t expecting it, but it did make her aware that there was no one around her who would say it. In fact, it felt like there was no one around at all. The Hub was definitely still on lockdown, so she knew they had to be around somewhere. She wondered what everyone else was up to.

Gwen hadn’t heard it so quiet in the Hub in days.  She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing; all she knew was she felt a bit unsettled. To go from constant company to silence was unnerving. With a tissue box under her arm, she made the rounds throughout the place, as if she were back on the police force.

Owen was stretched out on one of his exam tables with several blankets tangled and swirled around him. He hugged a giant but almost empty bottle of Nyquil to his chest. Toshiko was curled under her desk in a nest of pillows and fleece, a sheet draped over the front of the desk to give her some privacy, though Gwen could still see her in there. She didn’t see Ianto in his usual spots, so she headed to Jack’s office to see if their fearless leader was around. Gwen was still a little bitter about him not getting ill like the rest of them. But it was hard to be mad at him when she found him in bed, curled around a shivering and sniffling Ianto. Jack held him close, rubbing his hands up and down Ianto’s back, stroking his white t-shirt and his dark hair. It was sweet and intimate, and Gwen smiled at the sight. But she also knew enough to duck out before she sneezed and gave herself away.

She wandered around a little longer, feeling restless from being cooped up all this time and maybe a little on edge from the extra caffeine in all the tea she’d had to drink. She missed being out there, saving people from weevils or aliens or whatever the mission was. Fighting off an unfightable cold wasn’t nearly as exciting. And staring at these same walls all day and all night was really starting to get to her. She couldn’t even call Reese to complain, because he’d hear the congestion in her voice for sure and know something was up.

She grabbed a blanket from the couch and swirled it around herself before plopping down on the lift. She knew it wouldn’t rise, but sitting so close to an exit made her feel hopeful that this would eventually end.


Day 8:

“Visual confirmation of the suspect,” Tosh said, her finger tapping one of her monitors. “He’s heading west. No, now northwest. No… he’s… h’itchi!” She shook her head, sniffling lightly. “He’s on Heathwood road.”

“Right,” Jack agreed. “Owen, are you done with that autopsy yet?”

Owen rolled his eyes. His voice was deep, soft, and scratchy. It was also dripping with irritation. “You can’t call it that. If I can’t touch the body, I don’t think it can actually be called an autopsy.”


“Nearly done,” he said. “Couple more things I want to check, but I’m sending the wound analysis to Gwen now.”

“Got it.” Gwen studied the reconstructions from all angles. This was definitely not a normal, manmade weapon. Not unless humans had invented close-range plasma blasters in the past seven days when they’d been quarantined. They’d guessed as much from the beginning; it was too much of a coincidence for a murder to take place at the exact coordinates and exact moment as rift activity and not have the two linked. She would have liked to have been out there, chasing down the suspect in person, being able to immediately confiscate the weapon, whatever it was. But they were doing the best they could from afar. “Confirmation of alien tech.”

“That’s a go,” Jack told Ianto, who already had the phone in his hand. They all held their breath for a minute while Ianto was connected. “This is Torchwood,” he said finally. “We’ve got a…” His face immediately fell and he gestured wildly to Jack to take the phone. “A… a murder… sus…” Cradling the receiver between ear and shoulder, Ianto dragged his handkerchief out of his pocket with his other hand.

Jack sprinted over, snatching the phone just as Ianto snapped forward to sneeze, dislodging the receiver anyway. “This is Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood. A murder suspect is heading north or northwest on Heathwood in Birchgrove on foot with an experimental weapon prototype. He’s highly dangerous; do not approach unless he has been disarmed.”

Ihshhmphhhh! IhChshmphhh! Ih ih ihhh-HShmphhh!

Jack stroked Ianto’s back. “Thank you, Sergeant. Please hold it in the vault until we’re able to retrieve it.” He hung up the phone. “Good work, team.”

Tosh was still watching her monitors, not wanting to lose sight of the suspect until he was in police custody. Owen was looking through the last of the reports at his workstation. Gwen was searching through 999 calls within the last thirty minutes to make sure it had only been the one victim. And Jack was still rubbing Ianto’s back.

ihhhh ihhhCHIHTchmph!

“Bless you,” Jack murmured softly. “Do you need to go back to bed?”

Ianto started to lean instinctively into Jack, but then pulled back. He nodded, keeping a professional distance in the presence of the rest of the team.

“Okay. You head over, and I’ll be there to tuck you in as soon as this guy is apprehended. You have enough clean handkerchiefs?”

Ianto nodded again, swayed a little as he turned, and headed off without another word toward Jack’s office and bedroom.  


Day 11:
“Open up.”

Gwen just glared at Owen.

“Yes, I know I’ve taken your temperature three times a day for the past… past… ehhh-Kttgshhh!” He sneezed into the sleeve of his lab coat, into the crook of his arm. Gwen supposed it didn’t matter; they were all ill with the same thing anyway. But she appreciated him not sneezing in her face. “But I have to take it again.”

Resignedly, she obeyed his order and opened her mouth.

He stuck the thermometer in and they both waited for the beep indicating it had found her temperature. When it finally did, Owen recorded it in the spreadsheet on his tablet.

Then Owen sunk down onto the couch beside her.

“Hey! This is my spot!” Gwen protested.

Owen slumped against her, shaking a little with coughs. “Just a couple minutes? I’m worn out,” he wheezed.

“Did you find a cure for this yet?”

He shook his head and then rested his cheek on her shoulder.

“Well, then you can’t be that exhausted, can you?”

ehhh… ehhKshooo! Kehshooo! Ehshhooo!” Owen rocked forward with each.

Gwen sighed and handed him one of her tissues. “All right, you can sit here. But just until you get your energy back. Got it?” If just walking around the hub from one of them to the other had sapped what little energy he had, it wasn’t as though she could make him get up and go back to the infirmary.

He rubbed his cheek into her shoulder in gratitude and promptly fell asleep. Gwen closed her eyes and repeated Reese’s name to herself.


Day 14:

Jack was seated on the couch to Gwen’s right, rubbing his palm in circles on her back. It was comforting but wasn’t helping her coughing.

Gwen couldn’t stop coughing. The back of her throat was raw and scratchy and every cough just made it worse. She sat hunched over on the edge of the couch, hoping a more horizontal position would make it easier to cough up what was irritating her. But so far, the method hadn’t worked.

Owen settled down on the couch on her left with a microwaved heat pack. He pressed it to her neck and chest. And though that also felt wonderful, she still coughed.

There were tears in her eyes, and she shook from the force of each cough. Her chest and throat hurt so badly she just wanted it to stop. And she was even starting to feel a little lightheaded from it all, unable to breathe normally.

Ianto came over, a cup of steaming tea in one hand for her and a handkerchief for himself in the other. She tried to inhale the steam, but she couldn’t. She felt it against her chin and cheeks as Ianto squatted down in front of her with the teacup. But she couldn’t stop coughing long enough to take even one sip of the hot liquid that would surely soothe her throat.

Frustrated and unable to express it, Gwen just closed her eyes and coughed.

Toshiko appeared in front of them with a small jar clutched in her hands. She unscrewed the top and held the jar right up to Gwen’s face.

Gwen made a face at the strong scent, realizing suddenly that she could smell it. It was pungent and medicinal. And the tiny tickle in Gwen’s runny nose disappeared almost at once like magic. Or science. Or something. Anything. Gwen didn’t care what. She just knew that, for a moment, she had stopped coughing.

“Thadk you,” Gwen managed, taking advantage of the ability to talk instead of cough though not knowing how long that was going to last.

Jack plopped a tissue box onto her lap while Owen helped her sit up a little. She blew her nose and tried to control her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Slow… slow and careful. She could feel her nose run, and she blew it again, not wanting post-nasal drip to trigger another coughing fit.

Then she looked around at them all. “A bit ebbarrassed that took the whole teab.”

“We’ve faced a lot worse,” Jack told her, rubbing her back again.


Day 15:

She didn’t have to sneeze. Nope. Not her. Not one sneeze. It had been two weeks with this bug and sixteen hours already since the last one of them had sneezed. If they could just hold off for another eight hours, quarantine would be over and they could finally leave. Today was the day. She wasn’t going to be the one to ruin this for them.

Even if her nose did feel a little ticklish still. But a couple rubs at it made the tickle go right away. It was just a residual tickle, she was sure. It didn’t mean she was still ill. It just meant her nose was irritated after two weeks of sneezing. It didn’t mean she needed to sneeze now.

Although she had to admit it would probably feel better if she did. Just a quick, little release and her nose wouldn’t tickle at all. That would be it.

But then they’d have to restart the countdown clock. And she wanted out of this place more than she wanted to feel the relief a good sneeze would bring. Even if her nose was tickling more now.

She wasn’t going to do it. Even if the urge to sneeze increased, she wasn’t going to sneeze. Even if it made her breath hitch and nose itch and eyes water. She wasn’t going to let herself sneeze. She wasn’t going to be the one to ruin this for everyone. Whatever it took, she was going to keep herself from sneezing.

Ih-CHOO! Ihhh-IhhChumphhhh! HIHChhmphhhh!” Everyone looked in the direction of Jack’s office. Ianto’s sad voice called out, “Sorry!”

As Owen sighed and reset the clock, Gwen couldn’t take it anymore. Even though she was pinching her nose, she felt the tell-tale prickle in her nostrils and the gasp catch in her chest. “HSHhhetttt!” she sneezed, snapping forward.

Owen glanced her way and reset the clock again.

“Dod’t bother,” she told him. “I… ahh-Chihhh! I still dod’t feel well.” She retreated back to the couch, curling up in the blankets there.

She could hear Ianto sneezing again in jack’s bedroom. And she heard Owen clear his throat a few times. Tosh rubbed at her nose.

Gwen had no idea when this virus would finally run its course. She hoped it was soon, but she knew now it wouldn’t be today.