Ace of Stars
John had never seen the woman before. He was certain of it. He'd have remembered her. For one thing, she was stunning. Her silky brown hair, threaded with silver at the temples, was pulled back into a functional ponytail. Fine lines were barely visible in her creamy skin. Her full, red lips were currently pulled into a frown, but he would bet they lit up a room when she smiled. Slim black jeans hugged her hips and disappeared into hard-worn biker boots. And a crimson blouse peeked out from under a fitted leather jacket. While he watched, she hung her black helmet on the handlebar of the motorcycle that she'd just ridden past the police tape and parked next to the gaping hole the street. Oh yeah, he'd know if met her before.
But none of that was what held his gaze once it had landed on her. No. It was her eyes.
"You're staring, John." Sherlock's voice, low in his ear.
"I know her." It wasn't true. And yet somehow it was.
"Really?" Sherlock joined in observing the woman, the explosives expert who'd arrived unannounced from Cardiff. He began muttering observations, beginning with the most obvious: her height, weight, age, marital status -- "Single, in case you're wondering, John." "I wasn't thanks." -- and moving on to the esoteric: Perivale dialect with intermittent French nuances, no university degree, history of arson.
"Arson? And now she's working for the government?" Then John remembered who he was talking to and let that point drop.
The woman was arguing with Lestrade a few yards away, close enough that they could make out a good portion of what was said. The four of them were the only people inside the taped off caution zone.
"Look," the woman said, her tone implying that she was near the end of her patience, "you can call anyone you want. Call UNIT. Call the bleeding queen, if you want. But ultimately you'll find my team and I have jurisdiction over this artefact."
"Artefact?" echoed Lestrade.
"Looks like Terileptilan tech, but we can't be sure until we run a full analysis. With luck, we can move it to the Hub and be out of your way today. Until we know for sure, you need to keep your people well back. Just because it's pretty doesn't mean it won't go boom."
"Terileptilan? And what team? I've never heard of you or this Torchwood Institute."
"Terileptils are space-faring reptiles, if you want the truth. I've never met them myself, and I can't say I'm sorry about that. My team are stuck in traffic. You face down Daleks and Cybermen and Slitheen, and it's an over-turned lorry on the A4 that trips you up." She shook her head at what she clearly saw as irony. "As for Torchwood, if you're lucky, you'll never hear of it again."
Lestrade's phone went off at that moment and without an apology to the woman, he answered it. "Lestrade." He was silent as he listened. His expression grew hard, and he shot some choice words at the caller before stepping away and lowering his voice.
"That'll be Mycroft," said Sherlock, with a tip of his chin towards Lestrade. He sidled over to listen to the DI's side of the conversation, leaving John on his own, which was just fine with John.
He approached the woman with a caution that had nothing to do with the possibly incendiary artefact embedded three feet deep in the broken London street.
"Excuse me," he said.
"Yeah?" She turned to him with brown eyes that had so clearly seen more than he could imagine that it made his breath catch in his throat. His Aunt Jo* had that same fathomless look in her pale blue eyes. Different and yet the same. Eyes that had seen not just stars, but galaxies, up close and personal.
"I'm sorry, but you seem familiar. Could we have met somewhere? I served in Afghanistan." He knew it wasn't right, but he had to start the conversation somewhere.
"Sorry, mate. I've travelled to a lot of wild places, but that's not one of them."
"You've travelled... You don't know a woman named Jo Grant, by any chance? She worked with UNIT in the 1970s."
"I'm not with UNIT, and that's a bit before my time," she said, wry but not offended.
John nodded. "Of course." He soldiered on, determined. "She knew a man once. She travelled with him. I think you might know him too."
Her demeanour changed subtly at his words. "Oh? Why d'you think that?"
"This may sound daft, or like a pick-up line, but it's not. Okay?"
At that, she quirked a half smile. Even that little bit of mirth made her face shine. "I'm a little disappointed, but okay."
"You have an air about you. Your eyes are--" He faltered. "You've seen amazing things, haven't you." It wasn't a question.
She shrugged a leather-clad shoulder, feigning a casualness that was belied in her sparkling eyes. "I've seen a lot of things. You do when you work with Torchwood."
"No. You saw things somewhere else. Somewhere...not on Earth."
She seemed to make a decision. "This woman, Jo Grant?"
"I've never heard of her, okay? But this man you mentioned? I knew him. He doesn't talk about the others. Maybe a hint dropped here or there, but never in detail. I think... I think it hurts him too much."
"Aunt Jo called him daft and brilliant. Arrogant. Clever."
She laughed. "Yeah. The Professor's all those. And goofy, and funny, and kind. At least, mine was. And lonely."
"Professor?" That wasn't the name Aunt Jo gave him.
"That's what I called him. Drove him nuts, but he got over it," she said with a chuckle. "Like I was going to do what he wanted all the time. I was such a teenaged little shit when we met."
"I've been at this a long time. Been making my own explosives since I was fourteen. Ever hear of Nitro-9?"
"Good. It's classified," she said with a grin. "So don't tell anyone, all right? Here comes your Detective Inspector. He looks about to spit acid, and believe me when I say I know what that looks like. Ah! And here's my team at last. Excuse me."
"Yeah. Sure." He looked over to the new arrivals who stood speaking with Lestrade at the tape's edge. A black woman in her mid-30s with an air of authority and younger black man with a military bearing. Even at this distance he could tell they were just like this explosives expert. He could see it in their eyes.
"Oy!" the woman called to them. "Martha, Mickey, get in here with the containment gear."
"On it!" the man called back, lugging a heavy black case past the fuming Lestrade.
The woman looked back at John. "You and your mate should get back. We're trained to deal with this stuff."
He took the leap. "Trained by the Doctor?"
"Every day we had with him, yeah." She looked suddenly wistful. "And there were never enough of them. Not for us, anyway. From what others tell me, I think there may be too many days for him." Her expression turned cheeky then. "Maybe that's why he's started lying about his age, eh?"
He nodded, understanding only a little, but that little was sufficient. "I didn't catch your name. I'm John Watson."
She smiled and the gloomy day was suddenly cheerful. She stuck out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, John. You can call me Ace. Now, you and your mates had best bug off."
He smiled back and shook hands. "Right. Nice to meet you, too." Wouldn't Aunt Jo be surprised next time he visited her?
*See Family Genius by methylviolet10b for this particular connection.