[personal profile] sapotefiction

So this has been in my WIP folder since New Who season 1. I have decided that I am okay with it just being the middle part with none of the Tragic Ends which we all know happen by Season 4. I am making my own private WIP amnesty day in this here journal, so here is fic-I-would-have-made-more-of-but-I-liked-it-this-length number one.

Some say a fleet of ships
Fandom: Doctor Who
Pairing: Vivian Rook/Harriet Jones
Explicitness level: PG for implied kissing.
This final form wasn't beta'd, though [personal profile] phnelt did many beta readings of the draft when it was new and Folk answered lots of questions about British political life. Any errors are my own.


They met at a cocktail party.

Vivian Rook enjoyed cocktail parties. She was good at them. The fact that most people at cocktail parties were miserable, nervous, or drunk did not diminish her enjoyment in the slightest. Nervous people, plied with little snacks and forced to stand about in uncomfortable shoes, tended to blurt things. Vivian told herself that she didn't necessarily derive pleasure from the panicked look on the face of the junior undersecretary who had just let slip some rather intriguing implications about his boss's involvement in an off-the-books construction firm in Cardiff. Not at all, she thought as she tucked his trembling hand under her arm, and led him off towards the open bar. But there was a bit of the thrill of the hunt to it, she supposed, eyeing his pale face and estimating the exact number of minutes until he cracked and told her everything. She felt in her purse for her notebook, and allowed herself a moment of satisfaction.

She gazed out into the room with all the casual goodwill of a lion assessing a herd of wildebeasts. Her gaze skittered across the pallid politicians in their uncomfortable dress pants, and fetched up in a dark corner by the service exit.

"Now, we'll have a nice chat over here," she said, patting the undersecretary's hand. She noted that he was sweating. "Strictly off the record, don't you worry, and then you can go have some more of those little shrimp on skewers and no one will know that this conversation ever took place."

Drat. There was someone already in that corner. She felt for her press pass; these days, she usually didn't have any problems, but she remembered her early days doing the society beat - when she was twenty-eight, or so, just starting out - and a few run-ins with security guards had made her careful.

The fingers of her free hand found the plastic edges of her press pass, the shadowy figure turned, and Vivian found herself face-to-face with someone else's ID card.

"Harriet Jones, MP, Flydale North," a voice said.
"Yes," Vivian said, taken aback, "Quite." She shifted, trying to see around the ID card. "Vivian Rook, from the Sunday Mirror." She made a point of knowing MPs by name, but she wasn't surprised that this one had slipped her memory. From the top of her mousy brown head to the soles of her sensible shoes, everything about MP Harriet Jones was ordinary.

MP Jone's eyes fell on the pale-faced young man Vivian had by the arm. "Eric Caster", she said. "You work for the Lord Mayor."
He nodded uncomfortably.
And then, in a movement that Vivian could only liken to aikido, Eric Caster, key informant, had been swept from her side and was headed back to the canape table.
"I find I need another cup of coffee," Vivian heard Harriet say as she carried off Vivian's quarry. "I imagine you could use one. These night engagements are terribly draining, don't you think?" And then, as their voices faded, Vivian heard her say - "And I want to hear all about the Lord Mayor's projects in Cardiff, I have heard such interesting things -"

Vivian Rook did not think of herself as a woman easily fazed, but it was several long moments before she stopped staring after them.

Vivian Rook _worked_ in news, and she hadn't always worked in the gossipy world of national politics - though few enough people knew that. Veronica Roiters, fresh-faced foreign correspondent, had little enough connection with the bottle-blond Amazon who ruled the world of fundraising soirees - besides a pain down her left side, some damp mornings. Vivian Rook wore plunging necklines, but her skirts always came to the knee.

She knew from long experience, both personal and professional, exactly how short the attention span of the viewing public could be.

Still, she expected public interest in a spaceship hitting Big Ben to last longer than three weeks.

"ALIENS INVADE" screamed the headline, and then "Alien Invasion a Hoax, Declares Prime Minister," and then there were some essays on "Big Ben: Rebuilding a City's Image" in the Metro sections.

And that was the end of it.
"I can still get an interview with a security guard from the site," Vivian said to her editor, a terrible old man named Reeves.
"Drop it," he said, popping his gum. Vivian remembered, barely, when smoking had still been permissible in the newsroom. Compared to the gum, she found she missed it. "No public interest."
"A space ship hit Big Ben," she said, flatly, snapping her notebook shut.
He shrugged. "The twenty-four hour news cycle." he said. "Ask me in a year. We can do 'Big Ben Hoax: A Year Later.' It'll make at least page 5."

It was far from the first time that Vivian had followed a lead after being told not to. She called Jimmy Conway anyway. Forty-three, a London native, with three small children at home, Jimmy Conway had been just outside the tower when the ship hit, and had been in the hospital for a week recovering from his injuries.
When she introduced herself again at his bedside, she knew something was wrong.
"Vivian?" he said, and then "Are you a friend of the wife's?" His voice was completely blank, and she felt a chill settle in her stomach.
"It's about the Big Ben story," she said, "I'm a reporter, from the Mirror, we spoke on Thursday -"
"Oh, I've been telling everyone, I don't remember anything about that," he said. "Bump on the head, you know. The doctors are pleased at how I'm coming along. Who did you say?"

She convinced him to meet with her at a coffeeshop down the street from the office.
"I really don't remember," he said, when she'd talked him into at least sitting down and having a latte with her.
"You did three days ago," she said, pulling out her notebook. They'd spoken off the record, but she always took notes. "You described the running lights on the bottom of the spaceship the second before it hit."

Blue blue red, he'd told her over a pint in the pub three days before. Like morse code, and I just stood there staring. And then I had to run for it.
"Sorry," he said, pushing the notebook back across the table. "Are you sure it wasn't someone else? My name's not rare, you know. I went to school with three other James Conways."
She looked back into his honest, blank face, and the chill in her stomach went hard, like ice.

She started looking, after that. There was news footage of the people going into Downing Street, and there were names, and titles. It didn't take any time at all to check them in the database. Heads of state, university professors, a few anonymous faces from the Ministry of Intelligence.They had all been called to Downing Street. And they had all died there.

Her left leg gave a throb, and she remembered a small news office, hot, windowless, full of dust from the street, and the names and faces of the missing taped to the walls.

Except -
She rewound the tape.
Mousy brown hair, sensible suit. Harriet Jones, Flydale North, brandishing her ID card at the security guard. Vivian rewound it, just to be sure, and then rewound it again, and again.

Vivian Rook's office was large, and old, and had a window and a plant. No one came in unless she asked them in, and even then, they stayed put on the other side of the desk. She liked it that way. She had spent a long time getting here - and rebuilding a career from scratch after the age of twenty-eight - and she liked being able to lock her office door.

Still, on instinct, she printed out her files, and copied the video to disk, and put them in the briefcase that she carried everywhere with her. She waited a few days, and IT sent out an apologetic email about power surges, and hard drive failures, and she sent them a furious note in which she claimed that they'd destroyed all of her files. She even went so far as to yell at the IT supervisor in person, publically, in the cafeteria.

When she got back to her office, she noticed, with a nervous sense of vindication, that the video tapes were missing from her desk.

She didn't expect to see Harriet Jones again. Vivian was in the council building, looking for the plans for a power plant that some anonymous emails had indicated she should look into. "Never a dull moment," she said, breezing past the front receptionist, who was probably paid good money to keep her out of there.

Someone was already in the display room, and had the case open, and Vivian thought oh no you don't and tightened her hand around her press pass.

"Are you looking at the plans?" she said, pleasantly.
"Harriet Jones, MP," the other woman said, without looking up.
"Vivian Rook, Sunday -"
"Yes, I know," Harriet Jones said, absently. "here, look at this heat exchanger." She glanced up. "Have you got a camera?"
Vivian had a strange moment of dislocation, like the floor had titled sideways. Harriet Jone's eyes were perfectly brown, and her face was tired. She wore no makeup, and had the kind of dour political haircut the pressroom photographers liked to make jokes about.

She was the woman who had walked out of Downing Street alive.
"Yes," Vivian said, feeling in her bag, "Yes, I do-"
"I've forgotten mine, you see," Harriet looked back down at the blueprints. "There's no telling where this set of plans will be by tomorrow morning." She said it so straight-forwardly that Vivian felt a shock, a strange frission of relief.
"Things do seem to walk away lately," she said, cautiously. "Here, it's not a very new camera -"
"Thank you," Harriet Jones said, taking the camera. "Digital, I hope."

She trained the camera on the blueprints, and Vivian watched her for a minute, and then said, "Mrs. Jones, if you don't mind me asking -"
"Ms, please," the woman replied.
"Ms. Jones, how did you come to be so interested in the plans for a Welsh power plant? It's quite a ways from Flydale North."
Harriet Jones flipped to the next sheet of plans. "I'm afraid I can't comment on that, Ms. Rook."
"I'm not asking for a comment," Vivian replied, folding her arms. "Just that that's my camera you're using."
The other woman looked up, and then back down. "One of my constituents thought I might be interested." she said. "You?"
"An email." Vivian replied. "And a string of tragic deaths associated with the project." And then, the words coming out and she couldn't stop them - "This is not the first time I've seen you around the scene of a string of tragic deaths, Ms. Jones."
Harriet's hands froze on the camera. She lowered it carefully, and turned to face Vivian.
"Ms. Rook, I do not know you, or what your interest in this project is," she said, quietly, "but you must believe me when I say that I did everything in my power to save those people." She stepped forward. Vivian started back, but Harriet Jones reached out, and pressed the camera into her hands. Vivian was aware of the rough skin of her fingers, the slight chill of her palm. "I believe in the British press, Ms. Rook. Please prove my faith to be well-founded." She turned, and begin putting away the charts, carefully. "You will want to speak to an engineer about the containment system. And quietly, please." She turned, and wrapped her dull little coat around her narrow shoulders. "I feel I have quite enough strange accidents on my conscience."

And that was the last Vivian Rook saw of Harriet Jones - at least in person - for a very long time, though the Blaidd Drwg project caused her enough late nights in the office that she didn't see much of anyone. For some reason just after the story broke a very pregnant Welsh reporter appeared at her door with a suitcase and a letter of introduction and stayed in her guest room for a while. Against all professional instincts, Vivian asked her no questions.

---

It was a humid sort of day down by the waterfront, unpleasant for early spring, and yet here Vivian was, binoculars in hand, ambling along the riverwalk in her midday suit. She sighed, bracing her forearms against the railing along the water, and wondered again what in god's name had possessed her to grab up her notebook and come out on an anonymous tip.

The figure striding towards her, all frumpy suit and brown hair and determination, was eminently familiar, and Vivian felt a twinge of annoyance, and a flutter of something that was not annoyance at all. "Was it you then?" she said, raising her binoculars again and scanning the muddy brown waters. "The anonymous emails were a bit cloak-and-dagger, don't you think?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Harriet Jones leaned against the railing beside her, her arms crossed, her id card held idly in her hand. "We must be on the same mailing list. I traced mine back to a marine biologist in Liverpool, how far did you get?"
"Ten pages into a hundred-page report on algae behavior." Vivian replied. "I thought it was probably a crank, but there have been those disappearances -" She glanced over at MP Jones. "Aren't you in the middle of elections?"
Harriet narrowed her eyes, pushing her hair - the wind was picking up - out of her eyes with one hand. She was dressed conservatively - in charcoal gray, not particularly well-made, but Vivian thought, suddenly, that the color suited her. "Ms. Rook, it is strictly off the record when I say that campaigns are terribly tedious."
"Call me Vivian." Vivian said, raising her binoculars again, and "Does the water seem to be moving strangely, over by the bank there?" and then "Dear god, what is that?"
There was a stink of rotting seaweed, and a sound like a thousand boots squelching out of the mud.
"Algae." Harriet said, grabbing Vivian's arm, "I think it's alive." She glanced up and down the walkway; a band of tourists were gaping, pointing at the thing rearing itself up out of the river mud. "Give me a boost."
"What?" Vivian tore her eyes away from the mud-creature, which must be - she felt queasy - five metres tall by now, extruding limb by mucosial limb from the mud, the stench of river bottom heavy in the air.
"Up on the railing." Harriet had kicked off her shoes and was rummaging in her bag. Vivian glanced back at the creature, at Harriet, and held out her hands to steady the woman as she climbed up onto the first railing. Her hands registered the wool of Harriet's suit, the unexpected curve of her back, and Vivian glanced back at the mud creature and felt the bile of panic rise in her throat.
"Excuse me!" Harriet yelled, her voice carrying over the noise, "Harriet Jones, MP. I'm sorry, but there's been a chemical spill at the water processing plant, and we are ordering an emergency evacuation. Please remain calm and procede up to street level!"
"What?" Vivian said, her pulse roaring in her ears. The cluster of tourists started to move, their voices rising in panic; Harriet turned and put her id back in her bag.
"Did you read the appendix on chemical bonding in the xenolytic algae strands?" Harriet said, her arm still in her purse.
"I can't say I did. Harriet -" the many-legged creature was wavering now, the central blob that Vivian presumed was its head turning as if staring around itself -
"According to the article - " Harriet had found what she was looking for, and pulled a bottle of nail polish remover out of the bag, "the algae clusters had a very strong reaction to acetone. Now, when I throw this acetone solution at it, we can expect one of two reactions -"
"What? Why? Are we sure it's dangerous?"
"Did you read the section where a cluster of yellow algae the size of my hand skeletonized a lab rat in four point five seconds?" Harriet was back up on the railing, unscrewing the lid and dropping it back into her purse. "As I was saying, either we can expect the algae strands to disentangle, giving us time to find the proper authorities, or -"
Harriet Jones, MP, had a powerful overhand throw. The bottle hurtled right into the middle of the algae mass, splattering into pink plastic that dissolved as it impacted.
There was a roar that shook the ground under Vivian's feet, and the algae creature reared. "Or we're going to have to run." Harriet said, grabbing Vivian's hand. "Sorry."

Harriet had a streak of mud across her face - well, no, Harriet had a streak on her face that wasn't mud, and she was carrying one of her sensible pumps in her hand, the heel broken clean off. Vivian leaned against the wrought-iron fencing around the park, clutching her side, wondering if she'd ever catch her breath. Overhead, black helicopters circled, spraying a steady rain of dehydrating chemicals onto the stinking, inert mass of algae creature in the middle of the grass. The place was crawling with smartly-dressed, solemn-faced men and women in bluetooth headsets, and Vivian's stomach twisted at the thought of all those dull-eyed forgetful informants.
"So." the man in the trenchcoat at the gate said, "I think we can take it from here. Did you ladies see anything - "
Harriet opened her mouth, and Vivian stepped on her bare foot, hard. "Mad dog." she said, as brightly as she could manage. "Must have gotten in the mud down by the waterfront, terribly big dog. I certainly hope you've got it under control."
He stared at her. His eyes were very blue, and Harriet opened her mouth again, and Vivian grabbed her arm and pressed. "Well, we're off home." she said, "it's been a terribly eventful day. Considering the dog." She steered Harriet away, and said, low, "Just keep walking, don't look back," and Harriet said, "Yes, I know, but why?"
"My flat's near here," Vivian said, glancing around. "We'll go there."

Vivian had what she thought of as a spinster's kitchen - small, bright, arranged to suit no one but herself, and it was only since Blydd Drugg that she'd taken a second teacup out of the high cupboard with the good plates and put it next to the teapot. She'd already drawn the blinds, locked the door, unplugged the phone, and she was beginning to calm down, to think surely, in the center of London -

She took the biscuits she'd bought for Cathy - quite stale now - out of the cupboard, and set them by the teapot. Harriet had taken off her mud-spattered suit jacket and left it in the entryway, and was now in the front wash room, doubtlessly trying to clean up without getting mud on Vivian's guest towels. Vivian looked at the half-eaten pack of biscuits and wished she'd thought to buy more, or had some whole milk to go in the tea.

"Do you have a pair of shoes I could borrow?" Harriet asked from the doorway. "Mine are quite ruined." Her face was pink-scrubbed, her hair spiky. Vivian's jangling nerves made her more aware than she liked of the streak of undetected mud behind Harriet's ear, the line of her collarbone in the v of Vivian's loaned dressing gown, and of her bare legs, and of her feet on the parquet floor. Embarrassed, she turned back to the teapot, fussing with the spoons and saucers, and she heard Harriet sit down at the table behind her.
"What time is it?" Harriet asked.
"Quarter till five," Vivian said, turning around with the tray. "We just missed the evening traffic."
Harriet stared, and then started to laugh. It was a rough laugh, shoulders shaking, and Vivian sunk into the chair across from her and started to chuckle, feeling the aches and pains of running eight blocks from a mud monster start to release.
"It's true, isn't it?" Harriet said, finally, wiping her eyes. "By this point they've announced that it was a broken sewage main, and they're directing traffic around Hyde Park, and there's a terrible snarl out on the A4. People are honking and swearing and have no clue how close they came to being eaten by algae." She set down her handkerchief. "My god, that's terrifying."
Vivian nodded, sobered. She poured, carefully, and added milk, and set a stale shortbread on Harriet's saucer. "They aren't exactly being encouraged to notice, you now." she said, wrapping her hands around her chipped teacup. "I'm surprised you still remember what happened on Downing Street."
"Whatever do you mean?" Harriet took a bite of the shortbread and made a face.
Vivian told her about Jimmy Conway, and Harriet set the biscuit down.
"But that's terrifying." she said. "Do you have any idea who's doing it?"
Vivian looked down at Harriet's hand on the teacup; at Harriet straight and self-possessed in her spare dressing gown and bare feet. Vivian shook her head. "I have some ideas," she said, and then paused. "I've seen some things, I've got some files. I could show you."
Harriet took up her teacup, lifted it to her mouth. "I'm probably not supposed to know," she said wryly, taking a sip.
Vivian looked down, trying not to seem disappointed.
"Of course I'd prefer to." Harriet said, and Vivian looked back up. "But," she met Vivian's eyes and held them, "I must ask what you want from me."
Vivian smiled, hiding her nervousness, and took a sip of tea. "I want to know what happened at Downing Street," she said, and then, at Harriet's look, "Not today. But some day."
Harriet didn't break her gaze for a long moment, and then she tilted her head graciously. "There is an act of Parliament forbidding me from publishing that story, Ms. Rook."
"Vivian," Vivian said, "And I am prepared to keep your secrets, Ms. Jones."
There was a pause - a heavy pause. The carriage clock in the hallway dinged. A drop of water detached itself from Harriet Jone's wet hair and rolled down her neck and along her collarbone, and Vivian tightened her hands on her teacup.
Harriet smiled, then, and looked down at the table and took a sip of tea. "It would be a relief, I suppose," she said, half to herself. "I've written it down, of course, but who knows how long that will last-"

It was late; it had grown late, while they sat, and Vivian looked up at the wind that blew the still-bare branches of the tree on the street against the window. There was no shadow; she'd drawn the blinds and turned the lamps towards them the way she remembered, so that they sat in a bright bubble in the dark. She shivered.

When she looked back down, Harriet had taken her hand. It was a strange awkward gesture; Harriet's hands were square, and rough with winter. Vivian looked at their hands for a second, startled, and then she covered Harriet's hand with her own, and turned the other woman's hand over, and drew her fingers up the line of the wrist to the base of her thumb. When she looked up Harriet was watching her intently.
"We just survived a swamp monster attack," Vivian said, "and we're on the trail of a massive government conspiracy involving aliens."
"These things do happen," Harriet said, and smiled, and later Vivian would swear that it had been Harriet who leaned forward.

--

"Oh my god," Harriet said, sitting straight up and clutching the blanket to her chest. "I am literally in bed with the press."
Vivian blinked awake, groggy. The light coming in the windows was early-morning blue; she flung out an arm for her alarm clock, and was displeased at what she saw there. Then she looked back at Harriet. "Unless you've called a meeting while I was sleeping," she said muzzily, "It's still just me you're in bed with."
Harriet snorted. Vivian put out a hand, ran her palm up Harriet's tense arm, cupping the soft skin of her shoulder. "You could stay." she said, "I'm not due at the office til ten."
Harriet shook her head, rolled out of bed, and started pulling on the clothes on the floor. "I have a meeting at eight," she said, "I'll be late -" She looked down.
"Your clothes are hung up in the washroom," Vivian said, laying back down, pushing her hair out of her face with one palm and telling herself that she was too old to feel rejected as Harriet made a grab for her shoes and headed down the hall.
Harriet reappeared in the doorway, pulling her blouse on over her head, her shoes in one hand. "Would you have dinner with me this week?" she asked, and Vivian felt a smile break out across her face.
"It'll be hard to keep it quiet." she said, cautioning. "Everyone will think I've got some big impressive scoop."
"Everyone has already forgotten yesterday's swamp monster attack. I'm willing to risk it." Harriet toed on her shoes - no wait, they were Vivian's shoes, in fact, they were Vivian's plainest court shoes, the ones she thought were too dull to wear to interviews. She turned back; her mouth twisted a little. "I don't - I'm sure I don't have to ask you to be discreet about this."
Vivian lay back, stretched, enjoyed the way a flush crept up Harriet's cheeks when the sheet slipped. "Naturally." she said, smiling to take the sting out of the words. "It is mid-election."

--
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sapotefiction

August 2012

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