An ice-cold raindrop struck Tosh's forehead as she got out of the van. She sighed and raised her gaze towards the grey, miserable sky. "I hope everyone brought raincoats."
Owen swore under his breath and then added, louder, "I'm not allowed to steal the van and drive back to Cardiff, am I?"
"No," Jack informed him cheerfully. He looked upwards as well, but Tosh saw a smile on his face, as though he was delighted to see the storm clouds which cluttered the sky. "Come on, it's not raining that much. You won't melt." He paused and shot Owen a thoughtful look. "Probably."
Owen muttered under his breath again, but this time Tosh couldn't make out the words. She caught the flicker of amusement in his eyes, though, and smiled as she pulled her raincoat out of her rucksack.
"So how far do we think it is to the crash site?" Gwen asked, shrugging into her raincoat as well and frowning at the dense stretch of forest that prevented the van from going any further.
"A little less than three kilometres," Jack said and started off without another word, the others hastily grabbing their gear and following him, most of them ignoring Owen's indignant, "Three kilometres in the rain?"
It was a small crater compared to some of the other crash sites they'd seen, and Tosh immediately busied herself with setting up her equipment to detect anything unusual as the others clustered around the edge of the crater.
Jack peered down into it and then grinned at the group. "So, who'd like to go see what's down there?"
Tosh shook her head at that, knowing not to take him seriously, and carefully continued setting up her equipment. Ianto moved to help her and offered her a quick, small smile as he deftly began unpacking one of her machines. She paused for a moment, long enough to smile back, and then resumed her work.
"Oh yes, we'll just go and have a look right now," Owen said with a snort, coming closer to the edge and looking suspiciously downwards. "I don't plan on getting radiation poisoning just because we couldn't wait a few minutes for Tosh to see if it's dangerous."
"No radiation," Tosh reported after a few minutes. "Definitely alien tech though, and—."
As soon as the words escaped her lips, Jack grinned and said, "Down the rabbit hole it is, then." Then he leapt into the crater, ignoring Gwen's startled protest and Ianto's call of, "Sir!"
Everyone looked down into the crater, where Jack crouched beside a glint of metal, the alien tech still mostly hidden beneath the upturned soil.
"Well, what is it?" Owen called impatiently after a moment of silence.
"It looks like—." Jack began, and then he swore, loudly and colorfully, and in a few languages Tosh suspected weren't even of Earth. "Get back." His voice was sharp and urgent, the force of his words propelling the group backwards before they knew what they were doing.
Jack scrambled from the crater, his knuckles white on his gun as he wheeled and fired four times into the crater. "It's a Gelanian retriever," he said tersely, all the humor gone from his face, and fired again.
"A Gelanian retriever? What in hell is that?" Owen demanded.
As though in answer, a loud humming filled the air and then a bright silver cube flew up to hover in front of them, undeterred by Jack firing one more time at it.
"Think of it as the Gelanian version of a bounty hunter," Jack said. "And I—." The cube glowed a brilliant orange, and Jack swore again. "I was afraid of that."
"Let me guess, sir," Ianto said dryly. "You somehow managed to annoy a Gelanian."
Jack shot him a half-amused, half-rueful look and then refocused on the retriever. "No chance at outrunning it, not with the van so far away. I'll be all right, so everyone just step back and let it—."
"Take you?" Gwen said, glaring at the retriever as though she could kill it by pure will-power, and as one the team formed a protective ring around Jack: Gwen on his left, Owen on his right, Tosh behind him, and Ianto in front of him, eying the retriever coldly. "Not bloody likely, Jack. We're going to—."
The orange glow shifted to a purplish-green and Jack said sharply, "Get down!" When they all ignored him, he grabbed Ianto's shoulder and snapped, "Move, damn it! I'll be fine."
"Somehow, sir, I doubt—." And then the purplish-green glow turned into a brilliant flash that swathed Tosh and left her skin prickling and her eyes as blind as a bat. She rubbed at them, trying to blink away the purplish-green spots.
"When did you all stop listening to me?" Jack asked, sounding aggrieved.
When her sight cleared, Tosh could practically see the frustration radiating off of him. He was still holding onto Ianto's shoulder, knuckles white, his other hand gripping the useless pistol. "I distinctly remember a lovely time in the past in which you all would listen when I told you to get down."
Tosh looked around, blinking at the cloudless blue sky and the fact that the crater, Gwen, and Owen were nowhere in sight. Equally unfortunate, the cube still hovered in front of them, now glowing a deep green. "Um, Jack?"
Jack glanced at her, expression still a little forbidding from his frustration, and she resisted the urge to flinch.
"What just happened?" she asked, waving a hand at the places where Owen and Gwen had once stood.
"The retriever is a device that searches out its intended target and then transports them to a spot the Gelanian has decided upon," Jack explained and put away his pistol. "Normally, it's an uninhabited planet that the captive can't escape from."
Tosh opened her mouth to ask if he truly meant an uninhabited planet, and then shut it and stared up at the two moons in the sky. "I see," she said, very faintly.
Some of the anger left Jack's face, replaced by a cool look of contemplation. His gaze flickered, taking in the thick woods surrounding them. "Luckily, the Gelanian I annoyed doesn't seem to be here yet, which gives us some time to prepare a trap."
There was silence for a moment, and then Ianto asked, "How did you get a Gelanian so angry with you, sir?"
Jack shrugged. "Apparently Gelanians consider smiling the gravest insult imaginable." As Tosh mentally sighed, because of course it would be something like that, Jack reached out and grabbed the Gelanian retriever. It didn't fight him, just remained passive and green in his hand. "The retriever will have alerted Retaam by now."
"And what will Retaam do, if he finds you here?" Tosh asked, tripping a little over the Gelanian's name.
"Oh, dissect me and sell my organs on the black market, probably," Jack said, suddenly cheerful again, as though imminent death was amusing rather than terrifying. He ignored Ianto and Tosh's expressions. "Beside having no sense of humor at all, Gelanians tend to enjoy making a profit any way they can."
Ianto took off his raincoat and raised an eyebrow. "So, how are we to prepare a trap for this Retaam?"
Jack was silent for another moment, assessing their surroundings once more, and said, "Here's how," and Ianto and Tosh listened as he told them his plan.
Despite Jack's plan — which was brilliant in its simplicity and which she privately thought seemed a bit too easy — Tosh couldn't help but shiver a little when the small Gelanian ship touched down and Retaam stepped out into the clearing where the cube was now buried.
Jack had mentioned that Gelanians were large, taller than he and Ianto combined; this one was no exception. His features, which vaguely resembled a puffer-fish, were a bright, unappealing yellow. Fiercely independent and suspicious of everyone, especially members of their own species, the Gelanian would be traveling alone, which made this plan much more likely to succeed, and as Tosh watched, no other Gelanians stalked out of the ship.
Retaam said something, the words a low, menacing croak. Tosh couldn't hope to understand it, but she suspected it was something along the lines of: "Don't think you can escape from me. I will burn this entire planet to ashes to find you," and shivered again.
Next to her, Ianto pressed a reassuring hand on her back, the light pressure warm and welcoming, and Tosh relaxed at the touch. He leaned into her, mouth almost brushing her ear as he whispered, "Are you all right?"
She turned a little to smile at him and show that she was fine, just a little nervous. His smile turned softer, a look she hasn't seen on his face since before Jack returned, when she and Ianto had huddled together for warmth after they had become separated from Gwen and Owen during their fruitless search in the Himalayas. It was a quiet, private look, really, one meant for they were alone, not on a planet who knows how far away from Earth. Still, Tosh felt herself flush, something like pleasure and longing clenching her stomach.
Forcing the warmth from her face, she returned the smile and then glanced back at Retaam, who had turned towards his ship and began to wave a tendril that was probably the Gelanian version of an arm at it.
It was then that the sound of Jack's pistol firing shattered the silence, and the Gelanian screeched, stumbling and then falling to the ground. Blue-black blood welled sluggishly to the area Jack had hit, an area which would temporarily paralyze Retaam's lower body. The Gelanian screeched loudly again as Jack appeared from behind the tree he'd been using as cover, though this sound mingled fury with pain.
Jack said something in the croaking language the Gelanian had used, his smile the widest Tosh's seen it since he returned from his trip with the Doctor. Ignoring the Gelanian's furious response, Jack turned towards where Ianto and Tosh were hiding and announced, "Retaam's decided to let us borrow his ship to get home."
Ianto stood, his hand falling away from Tosh's back as he brushed dirt and leaves from his pants. "How generous of him, sir," he remarked with just the slightest trace of sarcasm in his voice, and Jack grinned.
"Yes, well, everyone eventually succumbs to my charms," he said with a wink.
Ianto laughed and said with the same sarcastic tone, "Of course they do, sir." There was something else in his words as well, an undercurrent that Tosh didn't recognize, but one which Jack apparently did, because his eyes widened for a moment, and then his smile widened even more.
Tosh puzzled over the exchange. She'd assumed that Jack and Ianto had picked up right where they'd left off when Jack had disappeared, had in fact watched for any signs of a reconciliation. Not that she'd noticed the signs that they'd been together in the first place, but still, she'd seen how the shadows had finally faded from Ianto's eyes during the past few weeks.
That didn't explain Jack's surprise at Ianto's flirting— which Tosh supposed had been the tone she hadn't recognized. It wasn't the tone he'd used with her while they'd curled up together in a cave on Nanga Parbat; his voice then had been soft with affection and friendship, his kisses gentle and sweet. The question of how Jack and Ianto kissed, if it was gentle or hungry, forced itself to the front of her mind. She forced it away, because down that line of thinking lay madness.
"So, Tosh, how would you like to learn how to fly a Gelanian ship?" Jack asked. Tosh stared, jerked from her thoughts. When the question sunk in, she blinked at him, certain that he was joking. He raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"Oh," she said, tongue suddenly heavy and clumsy in her mouth. "Oh, that would be—." Words failed her, and she had to content herself with smiling to show her delight.
Jack offered her an elegant mock bow. "After you."
When she glanced at Ianto, he smiled and offered her his arm, and she walked into the ship like a queen.
The return trip would be much longer than the original one. Rather than a few seconds, it would take five days, trapped inside the small, cramped ship. Luckily, there was a machine inside — that Jack had described as "like that food machine on that science fiction show" and earned Ianto and Tosh's half-incredulous looks — which meant they wouldn't starve during the journey. There was also the food that Tosh had tucked away in her rucksack.
Besides which, Tosh couldn't really bring herself to be bothered about the lack of space. Jack was teaching her how to fly the ship, after all, which compensated for pretty much anything. With Jack beside her, watching her navigate, Ianto watching them both from across the room, she felt for the moment like the captain of the ship, the ruler of her own piece of the universe. In fact, if Jack and Ianto hadn't insisted on her sleeping in the Gelanian version of a bed, she probably would have slept in the control room.
The first night, with the ship on auto-pilot and heading towards the Milky Way, she couldn't help but flush as Jack sprawled out onto the bed, looking half-debauched just smiling up at them with only his undershirt and clean pair of pants covering his body.
"Feels almost like a water bed," he declared, then motioned for them to join him. There was a hint of suggestion in his voice, but then, even Jack yawning somehow managed to seem suggestive most days.
The bed was enormous, large enough that Tosh was half-surprised that Jack wasn't swallowed up by it even as Ianto smiled and said, "A water bed, sir?" He stood at the foot of the bed, shoes already off and the first three buttons undone on his shirt, exposing his undershirt. He got onto the bed as well, after neatly folding his shirt, and then it was only Tosh, hovering beside the bed as Jack and Ianto smiled at her.
She took a deep breath, suddenly self-conscious in her sleeveless shirt and pajama-pants. "So, a water bed," she said, and sank down onto the edge of the bed. It did shift under her much as a water bed would, and she smiled a little, forgetting her nervousness.
Jack and Ianto made room for her on the bed and she whispered, "Goodnight." Already, her body had realized it was horizontal and could sleep, her heavy eyelids beginning to flutter shut.
"Goodnight," she heard Ianto murmur back, and felt the brush of Jack's lips against her forehead. The last thing she knew, Ianto was spooned up against her back, silent and soothing, Jack's feet pressing against hers, wonderfully warm.
Tosh let herself drift away and dreamt of stars.