[fic] torchwood - the joy of cooking (or gwen and the big huge cooking fiasco) - pg13 - gwen, gen
(or Gwen and the Big Huge Cooking Fiasco)
Characters: Gwen (+ her mum, Ianto and Jack, briefly, mentions of team)
Rating: PG13 for language
Summary: In which Gwen sets fires and puts them out, both metaphorically and literally.
Notes: For amand_r in tw_femficfest. HOPE YOU LIKE IT. MANY THANKS to solsticezero who is the best beta ever. YOU CAN'T HAVE HER, SHE'S MINE. All cooking mistakes are things that have actually been done by people I know. Jack plays the part of Kaitlyn in this story. (And that's something I never thought I'd have to type.)
Gwen tapped her good foot as the phone against her ear rang once. Twice. Three times.
"Gwen, unless there's a weevil at the door to your flat--" Jack's voice had the fuzzy, distant quality that came from answering a mobile in the archives. That, combined with his obvious frustration, made it easy to guess what he was up to. Or, rather, what he hoped to be up to if he could get off the phone and get Ianto off instead.
"I'm just checking in," Gwen said, twirling a strand of hair around the fingers of her free hand. "If things are busy and you have something I can do from here--"
"Gwen," Jack said, sighing heavily. "Please. Enjoy your time off. If we absolutely need you, we'll give you a call, but barring that, put your foot up, watch some daytime teevee, and stop thinking about Torchwood for a few days, okay?"
"If you're sure--"
"Positive. Good bye, Gwen."
He hung up on her.
Gwen stared at the phone in her hand for a moment before sighing and dropping it onto the coffee table. She glared at her foot, which was indeed up and wrapped tightly in bandages. It could never be easy, could it? If she had broken her foot, recovery would have been a matter of seconds--Owen would have fired up the bone regenerator and she'd be walking like nothing happened by the end of the day. But no, of course she had to sprain her ankle. There was no cure for a sprain but to stay off of it until the swelling went down and, frankly, Gwen was starting to go a bit stir crazy.
Things would have been different if Rhys had been home. She imagined he would have pampered her a bit, the way she pampered him when he broke his toe last year. Of course, the annual Harwood's training seminar was going on for most of this week and Rhys was gone until Sunday. She had three more days of shit daytime telly, mediocre takeaway, and nothing to distract her from her all-encompassing boredom.
She picked up her mobile again, skimming through the contacts. She had already talked to Megan and Trina about dress fittings yesterday and really had no desire to talk to them again so soon. Her cousin Delia was studying in Australia and Gwen couldn't be bothered to calculate the time difference or pay the outlandish international calling fees. Andy and Sara were at work. If Jack's tone was anything to go by, Ianto was being molested in the archives. She didn't think she had anything to say to Tosh or Owen. Rhys promised to call her when he was done for the day.
She raised an eyebrow, her thumb hovering over the call button. Now. There was an idea.
It took her mother four rings to pick up.
"Mum!" Gwen said cheerfully. "How are you?"
"Gwen, is that you?" her mother asked. "Well, bless my soul! It's been an age! How are you, love?"
Gwen winced. It really had been an age. She was trying to be better about talking to her parents, especially with the wedding coming up, but Torchwood just made it... difficult. Difficult to find the time, difficult to find things to talk about, difficult to have the energy to sustain a conversation.
Well. She certainly had plenty of energy right now.
"I'm lovely," Gwen said. "Well. Not quite. I'm a bit laid up at the moment. I twisted my ankle at work and I'm on medical leave for a few days. Rhys is out of town, so I've been here on my lonesome."
"Oh, you poor dear!" her mum said. "None of your friends can come round?" Gwen tried to imagine Megan and Trina coming by and banished that thought quickly. Andy would probably laugh--so would Sara. Ianto actually had come over, first with takeaway and then yesterday with a movie, but the rift had a sick sense of humor and seemed to be going haywire now that they were a man down. He'd had to leave early both times, and if tonight managed to be quiet, she wouldn't blame him for wanting to spend it with Jack.
"Not really," she said. "Jobs and such. You know how it is. But I'm getting a bit of cabin fever at this point. I've no idea what to do all day."
"You know, I've not much planned this week," her mum said. "If you'd like--well, I'd hate to come charging into your life if you'd got things to do, but if you wanted a bit of company, I could have a bit of a visit? We could talk more about the menu and you can show me the flowers you're trying to decide between."
Gwen considered it. A few days with her mum might do her a world of good. It would give her a chance to catch up before the chaos of the wedding, and maybe even rekindle the close relationship they had before she'd moved to Cardiff and gotten busy with her own life.
"That would be brilliant, mum," she said, smiling. "It'll be nice to have a little girl time before the wedding."
"I've got a bit of cleaning up to do around here, and it would be best if I had something for your father's dinner, but I should get there around six or so, if that's all right?"
"That's fine! It'll give me some time to clean up," Gwen said.
"Oh, don't clean on account of your old mum, Gwen! I'll see you soon, darling."
Gwen listened to the click on the other end of the phone as she surveyed the mountains of empty mugs, dvd cases, and dirty plates that littered the part of the living room she had taken over in her convalescence. She didn't think she'd be taking her mother's advice about not cleaning.
It took Gwen roughly an hour to make the flat look presentable, wobbling around on crutches as she was. She was actually rather impressed with herself--normally it took a day of procrastination and whining to get that much done around the house. She supposed the threat of her mother's judgement was a motivator she needed to use more often, especially when Rhys started to get tetchy about the unwashed dishes.
Still, it was four hours until her mother's arrival and she was at a loss. She didn't trust herself to do laundry while hopping around one-footed and the state of daytime teevee hadn't changed in the past few hours. Lunch would probably be a good idea, though she was running out of leftovers. There was a lasagna that Rhys had made for her before he left, and she was planning on heating that up for dinner, but it wouldn't hurt to warm it now and take out a sliver. There'd still be plenty enough for dinner, even with her mum joining her. Rhys always made too much, to the frequent delight of her coworkers.
She turned on the oven and slid the casserole dish inside, before hobbling back to the couch to aimlessly channel surf. She missed being active. At this rate, she was going to gain a stone before the wedding and never fit into her dress.
She stopped on a gardening program as her phone buzzed from the side table.
"Hello," Ianto greeted her from the other end of the line. "It's me. How's your ankle?"
"It's been better," Gwen said. "I still can't quite walk on it."
"Don't push it," Ianto warned. "It will heal on its own. There's no sense trying to rush it--you'll only make it worse and be stuck out of the field for longer."
"You're no fun," Gwen said. "How's the Hub? I got the impression I was interrupting things earlier...?" She trailed off and left Ianto to fill in the blank. She didn't have to be bored to death to have a nice gossip, as skimpy as Ianto sometimes was with details.
"He very much wished that was the case," Ianto said. "I was dead on my feet and had a stack of work to do. But, work's done for now--it looks like we're going to have thirty-six hours of calm, so he's cut the cord, as it were, for the next day and a half. Well, professionally. We're actually at the shops, which is why I was calling. Is there anything I can bring you?"
"Nothing I can think of," Gwen said. "My mum's stopping by for a couple of days while Rhys is out of town."
"Oh, well that's good of her," Ianto said. In the background, she could hear the hubbub of the surrounding shoppers and muted conversations.
"Isn't it? It will be nice to spend some time with her before the wedding. And it means you're free to spend your thirty-six hours of freedom with Jack without feeling guilty that I'm all on my own. Well, until Jack rearranges your cupboards again and you show up at eight am glowering." She laughed silently at the exasperated sound Ianto made. She could hear his eyeroll over the line.
"He knows the rules," Ianto muttered.
"And when has that stopped him from breaking them?" Gwen asked.
If Ianto replied, she missed it, as the smell from the kitchen distracted her. It wasn't the smell of pleasantly bubbling lasagna, but something else. Something was burning?
"I'm sorry, love," she said, "I think I smell something burning?"
"You think?" Ianto asked. "Is the dishwasher running? Did you put anything on the stove and forget about it?"
"I put a lasagna in the oven, but it shouldn't be done yet," she said, attempting to pull herself up onto the crutches without dropping the phone. "Let me just--"
She dropped the phone and the crutches both when she saw the flames in the oven.
"Shit!" she exclaimed. She took one step and remembered her bad ankle, hissing and hopping the rest of the way on one foot. She grabbed the pot holders from the counter and opened the oven, pulling out the flaming casserole dish and noticing, for the first time, that there was a paper note taped to the top of the wax paper. She dropped the dish on the range and smothered the flames quickly with a dish towel, before taking a step back to assess the damage.
Ruined. The entire top of the lasagna was charred.
Belatedly, she remembered that she'd dropped the phone on Ianto, and hobbled back to it.
"--answer me, I'm getting Jack and I'm coming over there!" Ianto was saying, shouting, actually, and sounding rather frantic.
"It's okay," Gwen assured him, leaning against the counter. "I'm okay. Really. My dinner is burned to high heaven, but I'm fine."
"Thank god," Ianto said. Gwen heard the sigh of relief that floated out with his words. "Next time don't bloody tell me you smell something burning and then shout and disappear."
"Sorry," Gwen said. "I keep forgetting about the crutches. I saw the flames in the oven and--"
"But you're all right?" Ianto asked.
"I'm fine. I suppose the note on top caught fire--I'm not sure how but--yes, I'm fine. Hungry. But fine."
"Good," Ianto said. "Do you want me to bring something over?"
"No, no," she said. "Have your night in with Jack. I'll get a takeaway. Haven't had Chinese in a bit."
"If you're sure," Ianto said.
"I am. Have a nice night, love. Call me if the world's ending."
Gwen sighed and ended the call, slumping against the counter. There went lunch. And dinner, come to think of it. She'd have to come up with something else to get her mum. Chinese did sound good, or maybe a pizza, but she was looking forward to giving her something home cooked for a change. Sure, Gwen didn't make it herself, but it was made in her home and her mum didn't have to spend all afternoon preparing it herself.
Of course... Gwen could always... well, she hadn't had the best luck in the kitchen, but she was sure there was something she could handle. Rhys always said he was going to teach her to make pasta, after all. "Even you can't bollocks that up!" he would say. And she was rather sure there was a box of pasta and a jar of sauce in one of the cabinets.
Cautiously, she pushed herself off the breakfast nook and opened the cabinet door. Right there, on the first shelf, was a box of ziti and a jar of sauce. She looked at the back of the box and read the directions. Ten minutes in boiling water, drain, and serve. She could do that. She boiled water for tea all the time. Pasta and sauce from a jar might not have been fine cuisine, but it was food that her mother didn't have to make herself. Gwen knew she'd appreciate it. Plus, maybe Rhys would stop his little digs about her hopelessness in the kitchen when she told him about this.
She glanced at the clock--hours, yet, until her mother showed up. It wouldn't do to start cooking now--not if it was only going to take a few minutes. Better to wait until dinner was a bit closer if she didn't want the pasta going cold while she waited.
About quarter til five, Gwen put aside the photos of floral arrangements and fabric swatches and limped her way back to the kitchen. She'd seen Rhys do this a dozen times, and really, it couldn't be much harder than making tea. The water just boiled in a pot instead of a kettle, after all, and there was a bit more of it. She inspected the back of the ziti box again. It said that half a cup of dry pasta was one serving and the box contained eight servings. It didn't really look like eight servings. Did Rhys normally make a whole box when it was just the two of them?
She decided that leftovers were always good, especially if it came out particularly well. It would be nice to have some to give to Rhys, who was sure to be skeptical of her accomplishments.
That settled, she looked at the chart on the side. A whole box required 5 liters of water, so she first pulled out the bit pot that Rhys used for pasta and then hunted in the cabinets for a measuring cup. The only one she could find only went up to half a liter, but that was simple math--she'd just have to fill it ten times.
"This isn't difficult at all," she said to herself as she ran the tap, dutifully checking to make sure the cup was filled to the line before pouring it in the pot. With that accomplished, she only had to put on the burner and wait for it to boil. Satisfied with her progress so far, she went back to looking at her guest list.
Gwen was so engrossed in figuring out how to tier her mother's cousins Bronwyn and Maggie, that nearly twenty minutes went by before she remembered the pot on the stove.
"Shit!" she murmured as she hopped to her feet, trying to hurry to the kitchen on her crutches. Thankfully, everything seemed fine. Nothing had caught on fire and the water was bubbling steadily in the pot. Though it did appear that there was less of it then there had been when she started. Was that supposed to happen? The only way she could think to measure to be sure was to pour it back into the measuring cup, little by little, but that seemed... well, dangerous. And messy. Still, it was boiling, was the important bit, so she opened the box of pasta and poured it into the pot. The boiling ceased, and she frowned. The next instruction was "reduce heat to medium." Maybe it wasn't supposed to boil anymore?
Shrugging, she turned the burner to "medium" and set a timer for ten minutes. She didn't trust herself to leave the kitchen, so she gathered her guest list and seating chart and brought them to the breakfast nook, keeping an eye on the pasta as she moved names around on paper. She was quickly discovering that seating nearly anyone from Rhys' family with nearly anyone from her family would only end in disaster, and that was before she factored Torchwood into matters. The tables sat eight and they only just had enough rented to seat everyone--she could always stick some of her friends or Rhys' in the empty seats at the Torchwood table, but even that was likely to end awkwardly. Maybe she'd luck out and Tosh and Owen would meet someone before the date of the wedding. Of course, that would still leave her with two empty seats unless Ianto and Jack broke off the complicated mess that Ianto refused to define with the "r" word and, despite their veritable residence at the Hub, both managed to meet someone else before her wedding, and she certainly wouldn't wish that on--
The ringing timer distracted her from the seating dilemma, and she pushed the chart aside to turn off the timer. There was still a bit of water in the pan, so she once again began to go through the cupboards. She knew they had a large strainer somewhere, but she couldn't manage to find it. She gave up with a sigh, turning off the burner and staring at the pot. It couldn't be that difficult to pour the water out and into the sink without spilling pasta everywhere. She spied the lid to the pot and smiled. It would be like draining water out of a can of vegetables. She just needed to hold the lid to the top and pour.
As it turned out, that was easier in theory than it was in practice. The pot was heavy, especially since she was leaning most of her weight against the counter to avoid her bad foot. The lid wouldn't quite stay in place, and she alternated between closing it completely and being unable to pour any water out and leaving it too open and losing a handful of noodles. She managed it eventually, however, even if there was still a little water in the bottom of the pot. It would mix in with the tomato sauce. No one would ever notice.
She picked up a noodle and tossed it into her mouth. It crunched between her teeth.
She was rather sure it wasn't supposed to do that.
She grabbed the box and read it quickly, mentally checking off each step. She had boiled the water, added the pasta, cooked it for ten minutes... It was then that she noticed the parenthetical. "Ten minutes (or until tender)."
It certainly wasn't tender, but it wasn't a loss yet. She could just drop more water in and boil it some more. She tried to remember exactly how much water she had poured out, but she hadn't really been paying attention to the water, other than to ensure that it all came out. She chewed her lip and decided on another liter--the halfway point between what she started with and what she supposed she should have ended with. The pasta tasted about halfway cooked.
Of course, there was no helpful timer this time, so she stuck close to the stove, waiting impatiently for the water to heat back to a boil. The more the water heated, however, the harder it became to stir the pasta. In fact, it was all beginning to stick together in one big, starchy clump, no matter how fast she stirred.
"Fuck," she said, staring down at the clump of noodles in the pot. As much as she hated to admit it, it seemed that a pasta dinner just wasn't meant to be.
Gwen shut off the burner with a sigh. A glance at the microwave put the time at nearly half-past five. Just enough time to call in a takeaway and get it delivered, if she was lucky.
Her eyes strayed to the menus on the fridge just as her phone began to ring. She grabbed it from the breakfast nook and hit the "talk" button when she saw "Mum" on the screen.
"Hello," she said, forcing herself to remain cheerful in the face of two destroyed dinners. Her mum was probably calling to say she was early. It was probably a sign that her attempts at cooking just weren't meant to be.
"Hello, dear," her mother said. "I just wanted to let you know, I'm running a bit behind. I probably won't get there until six-thirty, seven. I'm just leaving now and traffic is abysmal. Would you like me to pick up supper on the way?"
Or, maybe this was a sign that she could succeed if she just pulled herself together and gave it her best effort in the time remaining.
"No, no," Gwen said. "I've got it in hand. You needn't worry about it."
"Oh, did Rhys leave something?"
"It's a surprise," Gwen said decisively. "You'll see. Have a safe trip!"
"If you say so, dear. I'll see you soon."
Once the call ended, Gwen made her way back to the refrigerator. She had an hour, now, plenty of time to find something else easy that she could throw together. There was sure to be something in the freezer--Rhys was always experimenting and freezing the results to finish later. She was rather sure there was--yes! She reached past the ice cream and frozen carrots and pulled out something wrapped in tinfoil. The bag was labeled "meatloaf" in Rhys' neat handwriting. He had thrown it together the other night and frozen it when Gwen got called out to a rift spike. Sure, it wasn't quite the same as making it from scratch, but it would be warm and homemade and something that her mother didn't have to make.
She needed something to go with it, though, something perhaps a little easier than the vegetables with garlic and sage that Rhys had made to go with it. Once again, she found herself shuffling through the cabinets, this time in search of a suitable side dish. Her eyes fell on a sack of potatoes. Her mum had always had a fondness for mashed potatoes. She couldn't imagine they were that difficult to make.
She hesitated. She hadn't thought the pasta would be difficult either, and look how that turned out.
She picked up her phone again, frowning. Rhys stilled hadn't called, so he was probably still in meetings. She couldn't call her mum for advice, obviously, but maybe....
She punched in the speed dial for Ianto's mobile.
"Yep," Ianto said once the call connected.
"Hello--wait," Gwen said, "is this a bad time?"
"Nope," Ianto said. "I'm doing the dishes. Himself is complaining loudly about the state of twenty-first century entertainment options. Do you need something?"
"Advice," Gwen admitted. "I'm making dinner for my mum."
"Sorry, Gwen," Ianto said. The background fuzz of running water stopped abruptly. "You're going to have to repeat yourself; I couldn't hear you over the tap. I thought you said you were going to make your mother dinner."
"I did," Gwen said.
All Gwen could hear was the distant, muted rumblings of the teevee, or possibly Jack.
"Right," Ianto said. "Seriously?"
Gwen frowned. "Come off it. I can cook."
"You set my drapes on fire," Ianto said. "They're over my sink and not my stove, so I'm still honestly a little confused as to how it happened in the first place."
"That was one mistake and I replaced those drapes," Gwen said. "Look, I'm just defrosting something Rhys already cooked, but I'd like to maybe mash some potatoes as well. I called for advice, not for you to make fun of me."
"Advice from me?" Ianto asked. "Why the bloody hell would you call me?"
"You know everything," Gwen protested. "Surely you know how to makes mashed potatoes. You've cooked for me before."
"I've made you cheese toasties," Ianto corrected. "I can do that. And, well, pasta. Anything from a box with clear directions, I suppose. I made chicken stir-fry for Lisa once without cocking it up too badly."
"What do you eat, then?" Gwen asked. "I mean, I know you don't live on takeaway."
"Erm... Jack cooks," Ianto said. "He's rather good. It doesn't always look good but... well, he's been on this planet for over a hundred years. He's picked up a few things."
Gwen sucked her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Can I talk to Jack, then?"
"You're mad," Ianto said. "Hold on."
Gwen tapped her fingers on the counter impatiently, eyes on the clock.
"Gwen! How's the foot?"
"How do you make mashed potatoes?" she asked.
Gwen sighed. "My mum is coming by in an hour. I need to know how to make mashed potatoes. Ianto is useless."
"Oh, I don't know about that. I can think of a few uses for him...."
"Jack," she snapped. "I've got an hour. Talk."
"Yes, ma'am," Jack said. "Okay, you're going to need like, two potatoes per person. Peel them and then cut them in half or quarters or something."
Gwen grabbed a pen and started jotting down Jack's directions on the back of a takeaway menu. "Quarters or halves? Which one?"
"It doesn't matter," Jack said. "Then, boil some water and throw them in for a while, until they're soft."
"How much water?" Gwen asked. "How long? How soft?"
"I don't know," Jack said. "Enough water to cover them. For like... ten minutes? Until you can put a fork in them without forcing it."
"Okay," Gwen said. "Then I just... mash them?"
"Yep," Jack said. "With butter and--oh, did you have cream? See, most people use milk, but if you put a little cream in with the butter while you're mashing them? Amazing."
"Right, right," Gwen said, "but milk is fine?"
"Well, milk is acceptable, but I don't--"
"Brilliant, thanks, Jack. I owe you. Tell Ianto good night for me, yeah?"
She hung up and looked at her hastily scribbled notes. She could handle that.
Peeling potatoes was not as easy as it looked, but she managed to get four of them relatively clean and in boiling water without wasting too much time. Satisfied, she turned to the meatloaf, still wrapped in foil. She unwrapped it and put it on a plate, sticking it in the microwave. She frowned at the various functions before hitting "defrost." That seemed the most straight-forward. The display blinked to life and the microwave started running, counting down from seven minutes.
As the microwave ran, Gwen took a moment to hobble around, cleaning up her mess. The potato skins and ruined pasta were binned and she managed to reach the nice dishes without having to pull out the stepladder, which she probably wouldn't have been able to climb anyway. Nice plates, the nice wine goblets--did they have any wine? She limped back into the living room, opening the door to the liquor cabinet. There was still a nice merlot that Daf had given them to celebrate their engagement. It didn't exactly go with the dinner, but it would be--
The hissing and whoosh from the stove had her on her feet again, hissing in pain as she put weight on her bad ankle. The popping from the microwave made her ignore the pain and hop one-footed into the kitchen. The water was boiling out of the pot and covering the stove.
"Oh, shit!" she shouted. She groped for pot holders and scalded her hand as she tried to push the pot back off of the flame. As soon as it was off the heat, the foaming ceased. She didn't have time to relax, however, as the popping from the microwave was getting louder. She turned towards it and swore again, louder. For the second time that day, her dinner was on fire.
"Shit shit shit!"
She slammed her finger on the "Stop" button and opened the door, blowing ineffectively on the flaming meatloaf. She grabbed a dishtowel to smother the flames, trying to avoid adding a burn to the scald already on the back of her hand. The flames diminished and puttered out, and only then did she realized what was wrong--there was a bit of foil still suck to the side of the meatloaf.
"Can't the universe please cut me a fucking break?" she shouted, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling in exhaustion.
When no answer was imminent, she sighed and hung her head. She wondered if it was too late to save the potatoes.
The potatoes were a crumbly, clumpy mess. The cupboards were bare, save for the box of pancake mix that was the source of Ianto's kitchen drape disaster.
The lasagna was burnt. The pasta was glue. The potatoes were disintegrated. The meatloaf blew up.
Gwen knew when to cut her losses.
The steps were a bit of a challenge with the crutches, but Gwen was getting better at them and she was running out of time. No time to make anything or get something delivered, but she could probably manage to pick up a takeaway and bring it home herself before her mother showed up. Warm and edible had won out over homemade, at least for the time being.
She wrestled herself into her jacket and managed to lock her flat and make her way down the stairs. Old Mr. Hennion from the second floor held open the door for her, and she called a thank-you over her shoulder as she hustled down the sidewalks as fast as she could manage. She was racing the clock, at this point. Thank god the hole-in-the-wall curry place two streets over had amazing food--she didn't think she could manage to get much farther and back before her mother showed up.
The crutches were a bit tricky on the rain-slick sidewalks, but it wasn't anything she couldn't handle with a little caution. She wasn't quite sure how she was going to get the bag back without a free hand, but she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.
She probably would have made it there and back with no problem if she hadn't stopped at the mouth of the alley to catch her breath.
And then heard the tell-tale whine of a disoriented Weevil.
Despite her training and experience, Gwen's first instinct was the close her eyes.
"It's a cat," she murmured under her breath. "It's a cold, wet tomcat looking for dinner."
The whine turned into a growl, and Gwen's eyes flew open.
She didn't have her weapon or even two good feet. Thankfully, there were no civilians around, but she didn't have her phone, either, and unless she made a run for it...
She glanced down the alley. Just the one, and it was looking confused, wandering around, scratching at the metal sewer grates. Sometimes the rain drove them out of the sewers, Jack said. Sometimes all they wanted was to get back.
She truly hoped that was the case tonight. A quick scan of the alley--there was a crowbar leaning against the wall next to the side door of the laundromat. She would definitely be able to get it if she could sprint, but she thought she at least had a fighting chance in her current condition, if she was very quiet. Across from the crowbar was a sewer grate that caught the run-off from the gutters along the side of the bakery. If she could open that grate with the crowbar and herd the Weevil towards it, she might escape this unscathed.
She silently leaned her crutches against the wall, her eyes not leaving the weevil. It was still in the back of the alley, smashing through the trash and whining. It just needed to stay there a bit longer.
She sighed softly in relief as her fingers closed around the edge of the crowbar. She pulled it close against her chest as she limped across the alley towards the sewer grate. If the weevil spooked now, she could always use it as a weapon. It was still rummaging in the trash, though, as she finally approached the grate. She slid the crowbar into one of the crevices along the side and pushed it up. Doing it silently wasn't the easiest task of her life--the thing was bloody heavy and she only had one foot to brace herself with. Still, it was up far enough to push aside, and she just needed to--
The grate slid off of the wet crowbar and slammed into the ground, the noise echoing through the alley. Gwen froze. So did the weevil. Her stomach rose into her throat as the weevil turned around and caught sight of her.
Instincts kicked in before Gwen could even take a breath to scream. She'd trained for this--hell, she'd been in nearly the exact same situation not four months ago while Jack was gone. A broken leg, an unconscious Tosh, and only a tire iron to defend the both of them until Owen and Ianto arrived. This time, she didn't even have to worry about defending anyone else.
Of course, this time she didn't have back-up on the way, either, but she didn't think about that. She didn't think about anything, actually, as she dove for her crutches, somehow landing on her good foot and keeping her balance. She didn't stop or try to get the crutches under her--she just swung them, using the momentum from her dive to add a little extra force as the weevil leapt at her. It was enough to knock the weevil back, but it regained its senses before Gwen had full use of hers. It was coming at her again already. She couldn't run.
She heft the crutches and took a deep breath, swinging them again as the weevil attacked. They were aluminum and dented, now, but they delivered the blow with enough strength to send the weevil stumbling back. It was nearly at the open grate. If she could just knock it another foot or so back--
It wasn't the smartest move she had ever made while working for Torchwood, but Torchwood was more about luck than smarts most days as it was. She took a steeling breath, held the dented crutches out in front of her, and took two running steps towards the weevil. Pain shot up her ankle and she choked on a scream, but it was enough, just enough, to throw the weevil off kilter, enough for him to trip over the crowbar and crash through the open sewer grate. Gwen bit back the pain and crawled across the dirty concrete, her fingers scrabbling over the grate until she managed to slide it back into place.
She collapsed against the wall as the clang of heavy metal-on-metal once again reverberated through the alleyway. She was dirty and sore and her heart was hammering so hard that she couldn't even hear, but she was alive.
Eventually, the blood rushing through her ears quieted to a manageable level. Her ankle was throbbing, but her other cuts and bruises weren't that bad and--much to her astonishment--her crutches were dinged and bent, but still mostly intact. They could get her back home, at least, where she could switch them out for the slippery wooden ones that were still in the hall closet from when Rhys broke his toe playing rugby.
She pulled herself up on the alley wall and managed to get the crutches underneath her. She tried not to think about the looks she was getting as she made her way back towards her flat, clothes filthy, hair in a disarray. She had no idea how she was going to explain this all to her mother. She didn't bother to explain it to Mr. Hennion, who was kind enough to get the door again on his way back out.
There were two messages on her phone when she finally struggled back into her flat. The first was from Jack--lengthy and filled with more potato tips. The second was from her mother, bemoaning the traffic and apologizing for being late. Her new estimation was 7pm. Gwen glanced at the clock--quarter to seven. She almost wept with relief.
The shower wasn't as long or as hot as she would have liked, but she came out feeling miles better than she had when she went in. One of Owen's questionably legal painkillers took away the throb in her ankle, and she was just readjusting the height on Rhys' old crutches when the buzzer for the front door went off.
"Gwen, love? It's me!"
Gwen picked up the phone to the front door and leaned on the buzzer.
"Come on up, mum," she said breathlessly, and limped back onto the sofa, collapsing with an exhausted groan. Her mother was knocking at the door to the flat all too soon, and it took all of Gwen's willpower to force herself to get up and open the door.
"Oh, darling, you look terrible!" her mother exclaimed. "You're right--cabin fever isn't agreeing with you at all!"
"Thanks, mum," Gwen muttered.
"Have you eaten anything at all today? You're so pale! We should have dinner--what was this big surprise of yours, anyway?"
"I..." Right. All of that and they still had to eat. Fuck. "I... thought I'd treat you to a night out," she said. "There's a lovely Italian a few streets away--they don't do takeaway, but the food is wonderful."
Her mother frowned.
"Are you sure it's wise to go out?" she asked. She gestured towards the newly adjusted wooden crutches leaning against the wall. "I wouldn't want you to get hurt with those."
Gwen glanced over her shoulder at the kitchen.
Turning back to her mother, she said, "Whatever is out there is infinitely less dangerous that what's in here. Believe me."
Her mother was still gaping in confusion when Gwen pulled her out of the flat and back down the stairs to the street.