|The Faintest Restless Rustling Ran All Through
Author: Nancy Brown PM
The haunting of the Hub. Part of my fake third season.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Horror - Jack H. & Ianto J. - Words: 5,861 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 4 - Published: 10-04-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6373069
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Gwen, Lois, Johnson, Rhiannon, references to past canon characters
Warnings: mild description of off-screen torture, mention of past child abuse
Spoilers: up through COE (characters only)
Betas: dreamscapemusic and fide_et_spe did a lightning job on this, and have my deepest thanks
Summary: The haunting of the Hub.
Author's Note: This is a standalone story taking place in an alternate third season where Lois and Johnson have come to work for Torchwood Cardiff. Happy Halloween!
Gwen smelled perfume, just the faintest odour in the air. It followed her as she walked in for the day, with a smile or a wave as she passed the various locals who worked at or lived near Mermaid Quay. Caryl worked at the Tesco Express and was good for a chat, and Delwin had retired from the docks ten years ago but came here almost every day because he missed the bay, and Bethan brought her granddaughter Arial on nice days to feed the seagulls. Gwen offered each a quick nod this morning, distracted by the smell she detected even over the fish and the salty air, something floral, something comforting that brought a smile to her face. It blew in through the door with her, through the Hub and up the stairs to Jack's office, and was finally gone. As she went over reports with him, she kept moving, this way and then that, almost without thinking about it, to find that breath of air. Jack commented on her preoccupation, and Gwen tossed it off with an effort.
The perfume didn't come back, but at the end of the day, as she slipped into bed beside Rhys, she finally placed the smell. Her Gran, the scent she'd always worn.
Funny, she thought, and went to sleep.
Lois often wrote her reports while providing a pleasant face for the Tourist Centre. She'd long ago perfected her perky manner, and just the right tone of helpfulness that also indicated the person asking her for assistance should toddle off now that she'd given them directions. Sometimes she played music in the background, sometimes she preferred to sing quietly under her breath all day, her own small way of fighting against despair.
Today she hummed, the tune coming to her suddenly and the words unfamiliar. She repeated bits idly, the way she did when she couldn't remember why she knew a song but hoped the rest would fall out soon.
"Uncle Tomas," she said, as Ianto handed her the mid-morning round of coffees.
He turned. "Where?"
"No, I just remembered. He used to sing to me. I've had the song in my head all morning and couldn't think why." She thanked him for the coffee, and as she went back to work, the melody shook loose in her head, and she sang quietly, caught in a warm memory of strong arms and lullabies.
Jack was elbows-deep in paperwork when he recalled with perfect clarity just how rich a laugh Lucia had, how it shook through every timbre. She didn't laugh often, and as they knew each other longer, far less in his presence, but when they first met and he charmed her with his stories and his affectations and his obvious desire, she'd laughed all the time.
A few minutes later, he could not stop thinking about the sound of his mother, sobbing.
Rhiannon had insisted on meeting him for lunch, and finally, he couldn't dissuade her any longer. He suggested a café on the quay, close enough that he could run back to work quickly if there was an issue, just far enough that she wouldn't want to walk all the way back with him when they were done.
She chatted about the children, about the new job Johnny was looking into today, about Susan and Sarah and all her friends who had once been his friends. Ianto made what he hoped were appropriate noises at the right places until the food arrived.
"Do you need help?" Rhi asked, as he carefully arranged his arm.
"I've been able to feed myself since I was two, thanks."
"When's the cast coming off?"
"Dr. Lin says it'll be another couple of weeks at least." Their new doctor didn't trust himself to use the bone regenerator, despite Owen's notes, so Ianto was stuck healing the old-fashioned way.
He tucked into his meal, hoping that a full mouth would keep her from asking too many questions.
"How are you, Ianto?" Her food was untouched. She kept looking at his arm.
"Fine." He took another bite. "I do have to get back to work soon."
"Didn't you say Jack works with you?"
He nodded. Jack had met his family at Mica's birthday, which would have been awkward and weird except that Jack's personality was a force of nature and he'd enchanted them all instead.
"And you said you broke your arm folding maps?"
"I told you, I was loading a box up high and fell off the chair. Bloody embarrassing." He took a drink, and tried not to think about the alien that would have killed him had Gwen not shot it.
"You'd tell me if there was anything wrong, wouldn't you? You know you can tell me anything."
He stifled his laugh. "I know," he managed, and put on a kind face. "I'll be more careful around chairs. I promise."
She didn't smile. She dropped her voice, eyes flickering over to the next table as if afraid they'd overhear. "It's just that, you come over, and suddenly there's this new … man … in your life, and you've got a broken arm. I worry about you."
Oh. Several emotions fought for dominance. He was annoyed at Rhiannon for still thinking of him as her baby brother who needed to be looked after constantly. He loved her for doing it. He was angry on Jack's behalf. He was sad because this wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation.
Ianto lowered his voice to match hers. "It wasn't him. I swear to God, it wasn't." His mouth went to frame the words "Jack would never hurt me" and then he recalled the click of the gun's safety and the cold steel against the back of his head. "He feels guilty because he wasn't there. That's all." And that at least was the truth.
Her smile returned, a bit relieved, and the conversation turned to Jack, pleasant lies on how they'd first met and harder truths that, yes, this had been going on for some time and he just hadn't known what to call it at first, much less how to explain to her. But they chatted, and he enjoyed her company, something he'd never thought possible when they were younger, and he found himself lingering when it was time to go.
As he waved goodbye and headed to the Tourist Centre entrance, his thoughts circled back to why she'd needed to ask, and the happy feeling faded. They'd both lied about bruises from time to time, back in the day.
Every step was slower than the previous one. Ianto remembered the casual things as the hardest to get past. Too many quiet, cutting remarks - never as good at rugby as the other boys though he practised every day until he gave up in disgust, never good enough marks from school and since he wasn't using his brain he ought to shut his trap about uni, never good enough - replaying in his head, over and over. And when nothing was right, when Dad's work had been too debasing, when Ianto forgot that getting lippy got him nowhere, well, he was just clumsy, he told the teachers at school, told his few mates, and he counted the slow days until he could leave forever.
"Going to cry again, you fuckin' baby?"
There was a hand on his shoulder. Ianto whirled around, cast clutched defensively against his chest, other hand ready to block or punch.
"Hey!" said Jack, stepping back carefully. "You okay?"
Ianto's heart raced.
Johnson shot the wall.
"Okay," Jack said, looking around the conference room table. "Who's seen or heard something weird?"
"How weird?" asked Alex.
"Old memories," said Gwen. "Things dredged up that you'd forgotten. I smelled my Gran's perfume."
"I keep hearing music in my head," Lois said.
All heads swivelled to Johnson, who crossed her arms. "It was nothing."
Jack said, with a lot more patience than most people gave him credit for, "What was the nothing you thought you saw?"
Johnson frowned. "An old … Someone I used to know."
Gwen smiled at Alex encouragingly. He shrugged. "I've been thinking about my mother, but next week is the anniversary of when she died."
Ianto said, "Did you think she was there with you?" Alex paused, and then nodded.
Jack said, "I've been getting flashes all day, and trust me, none of you want to meet my ghosts."
"These aren't ghosts," said Johnson.
"I agree," said Jack. "Ghosts don't exist. I've been dead enough times to know. We've got a few possibilities."
Lois asked, "Didn't Torchwood London have a hand in those ghosts a few years ago?"
Ianto said, a bit loudly, "They did, but all that equipment was destroyed." He looked at Jack. "Completely destroyed." Gwen patted his hand sympathetically, and he pulled away.
Jack said, "We've dealt with psychic phenomena before, usually as a result of alien tech." They were too far from CERN to be revisiting that trouble, but it was something to consider.
Gwen said, "Something we picked up recently?"
"Could be," said Jack.
Ianto said, "I'll go through the recent acquisitions."
Johnson said, "This might be prelude to an attack. If it's not the ghosts from before, someone else could be trying something similar." Realising a suggestion was also required, she offered, "I'll see if the Rift is spitting anything."
Alex said, "I'll check for airborne toxins. We could be hallucinating. I'll also want to do some quick brain scans to see if there's something we can identify in our heads physically."
Gwen said, "Can I make the suggestion that we not rule out that this is a true psychic phenomenon?"
The others looked at her, Ianto and Lois kindly, Jack and Johnson with significantly less patience, Alex with the same mild confusion he tended to wear anytime he wasn't digging into a corpse.
She sighed, reading the annoyed expressions first. "My family has a history. I don't want to call it clairvoyance, but my grandmother and a few others had a bit of a talent. Knowing things. Hearing them." She gave a little smile. "Gran always told me what my grandfather thought about things I did, even though he died when I was a baby. She talked to him. My aunt always used to know before someone would get ill, or die."
Jack folded his arms. "Confirmation bias. People who claim to have ESP notice when they're right and forget when they're wrong. It's been proven."
"And my Gran?"
Alex said, "Classic sign of schizophrenia, also an inheritable trait."
Gwen frowned, but she didn't continue to argue.
"All right," Jack said. "Everyone check into things. If you find something, tell me. If you start seeing or hearing or smelling something, also tell me. And as a precaution, I want all of you to hand over your firearms to Ianto so he can lock them up. Really don't want anyone getting shot because someone thinks they're a ghost."
"I wouldn't have hit anyone else," Johnson said irritably. "I hit the one I was aiming for."
Lois said, "The one who wasn't there?"
Of course, this was Johnson. If she aimed for something that wasn't there, she still would have hit it dead between the eyes.
Ianto waited for him in the corridor after the meeting, when the rest had gone.
Jack said, "What's on your mind?"
Jack shrugged. "That's what the experts say. Why?"
"I was simply curious how you explain away your friend with the tarot cards."
Jack had been thinking about her, too, but he'd decided her race must be time-sensitive telepaths, probably aided by tech in the cards. "I have a very good explanation for that, actually. If you'd like to join me in my office … "
"Busy." But he smiled as he went towards the Archives, and he added, "Tell me later."
An hour into the search, Ianto admitted defeat. Nothing among the tech they'd found in the last three months could account for what they were experiencing. While the Rift had thrown them plenty of flotsam of the "angry and/or drunk and/or hungry aliens" variety, the technological jetsam had been light, and everything had been catalogued via cross-reference and Jack's memory.
Twice as he'd been checking, he'd felt the softest stroke of fingertips on the back of his neck, the way Lisa had always announced her presence. Both times he'd shut his eyes tightly until the feeling faded. The last time he'd thought he'd seen her unhappy spirit, they'd been tricked into opening the Rift, and if this was another gambit to release some hell-demon-alien-monster-thing, Ianto refused to be fooled a second time.
He made his way upstairs. Alex was in the med bay, reading over something. "Any luck?" Ianto asked.
"Not so far. If there's something in the air, it's not detectable by any tech we've got."
"There's nothing in the Archives, either." He sighed and picked up the doctor's empty coffee mug. "Refill?"
"That'd be great, thanks. It's really good today. Is that a new blend?"
The words were barely out of his mouth when they looked at each other. Ianto said, "I'll bring it down."
"Bring the water you've been using, too."
Gwen looked over some older reports, trying to dig through her own memories to see if something turned up. This wasn't like the shadows shown them by the Ghost Machine, didn't feel like the fantasies Bilis Manger dreamed up for them, but she kept looking.
"God, Cooper. How many people have you killed?"
"Look at what you've done. You've been killing people since your first day. You murdered hundreds with that Abaddon mess. They called me the serial killer, but we both know who's got the higher body count, don't we?"
She looked around the Hub. Ianto and Alex were busy with something. Johnson was nowhere to be seen. Lois was up at the Tourist Centre. Gwen wasn't alone, but it would do.
"Go away, Suzie," she said through gritted teeth.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? But I'm always watching you. Someone has to catalogue your sins."
Gwen got up from her chair and went to join Ianto and Alex. Real voices had to drown out the ghosts. Didn't they?
Suzie chuckled in her ear.
The good news was, it wasn't the coffee or the water.
The bad news was, it wasn't the coffee or the water.
Lois sat bolt upright, head whipping around. She was alone. That didn't stop the cruel tone of the voice. She remembered this voice, remembered the cold look in his eyes as he'd died. She generally regretted deaths, but in his case, she'd made a firm exception in the pleasure she still took from knowing he was in the ground.
"They know what you are. They're playing you along. When the time is right, they'll put you against a wall and kill you slowly."
Heart pounding and holding down a scream, Lois thumbed her comm. "Going out for a few minutes. Does anyone need anything from the shops?"
"They're already planning it. They'll tie you in place and slit open your skin. He'll take a nice, sharp knife, sliding down the curves of your arms, over your belly."
She was already outside as the chorus of "No"s greeted her, and Lois ran, trying to appear to onlookers as though she was in a hurry to get somewhere rather than running from the intricate descriptions of how her co-workers intended to degrade and destroy her body.
She was no more composed by the time she reached the Tesco's, but her shuddering had almost stopped, and she made an excuse and bought a few frivolous items for the pantry, and tried to still the panic that was only slowly ebbing as the voice faded.
"Rift alert," said Johnson, getting up from her station smoothly.
Gwen said, "I don't … " The alarm sounded, just as Lois opened the cog door, shopping bags in her hands.
"I saw the spike coming. Cathays Park."
Jack was already out of his office and down the stairs. "Load up, kids."
Johnson said, "Can we have our guns back now?"
Jack frowned. Gwen saw his thoughts ticking over, the possibility that one of them would see a ghost and accidentally shoot someone, the bigger possibility that without their weapons someone would get killed.
"Yeah. Ianto, open the safe." As Ianto went to the lockbox, Jack said, "One, everyone stays in eye line. No running off, even to get the bad guy. If you start seeing or hearing anything strange, you report it."
Ianto handed out the guns to Gwen, Johnson, and the doctor. Jack hadn't surrendered his, Gwen noticed. But that was Jack. Lois wasn't cleared on firearms yet, and Jack refused to let Ianto into the field until his arm was completely healed, so they would stay behind to monitor.
Acknowledging this, Jack turned to the pair of them. "That goes for you two, as well. Anything weird, you're on the comm."
Johnson headed towards the car. "Weirder than interdimensional rifts, psychotic aliens … "
Gwen continued, "Intergalactic sex toys, messages from the space police … "
Ianto said, "Don't forget the space pig."
"There was a space pig?" Alex asked, and then they were out the door.
The rift spit out half a dozen Forelli refugees. They were gaseous creatures, sentient but in a fashion that barely intersected with human understanding. The team had to get the Forelli to notice them, and then communicate. Lois fed a story of a gas leak to the press and the police, while Ianto scrambled through file after file, looking for the algorithm to make the translation program say what they needed so he could send it to Jack.
"They're floating into the street," Jack said casually. "Gwen is standing in front of one of them, waving her arms. It's possible they think she's a tree."
"Still looking," Ianto said.
"Johnson, put it down. The bullets would go right through them."
Alex said, "What about some sort of net? Maybe a tarpaulin?"
"Good idea." The two men made noises like they were getting the tarp out of the SUV's boot, while Ianto kept looking.
"Over here. It's in this file."
Ianto went to the file and pulled it up. The Forelli language algorithm slotted into the translation program and began spitting out greetings. "Sending the translation now."
He sat back. Then he blinked. He turned slowly, but no-one was there. Yet he'd distinctly heard Toshiko's voice, and the file was where she'd told him. Lois was out of the room, so he felt only a little silly when he said aloud, "Tosh?"
There was no reply, and Ianto let out a breath. It was silly. It was nothing.
"Look at the monitor!"
His eyes shot to the screen, where another Rift event was suddenly looming. "Spike coming! Negative! Get out of there!"
He heard shouts over the comm. A few tense minutes passed, as everyone checked in. "That was fast," said Jack. "They figured out they were on the wrong planet, and called up a return trip."
"Thanks for catching that," said Gwen. "I wouldn't want to end up on a planet full of gasbags."
"Yeah," Ianto said. He closed the comm and looked around again. "Thanks, Tosh."
"What if Gwen's right? What if it is real?"
The team had returned from the brief invasion of the gas aliens and Jack had just let Ianto take his coat. It was unwieldy with his arm, but Jack had noticed how little rituals eased Ianto's badly-hidden nerves, especially when he continued to be left behind while the rest went into the field. Jack was good with glib words and bad with soothing ones, so they resorted to gestures like this, mutual comforts that didn't require words at all.
"We've encountered unexplained psychic phenomena before." This had the cadence of something Ianto had rehearsed to himself. "While we typically assume extraterrestrial origin, we haven't always found that to be the case. What if what we're experiencing is an actual occurrence?"
"You think the ghosts might be real." Jack had been grateful that none of his team were affected while in the field. The gratitude was turning out to be short-lived.
"First, we've been through this before. There weren't any ghosts then, and there aren't now. Spirits don't live on after death. There's nothing. Personal experience talking here."
"Yours isn't the only experience, Jack. You don't stay dead." Ianto put on one of his making-a-joke-now-so-you-don't-notice-I'm-u
pset-at-this-again smiles. "No time for haunting anyone."
"Ghosts. No such thing." He felt a headache starting between his eyes. While he wouldn't say he relied on Ianto to be the voice of reason, Jack could normally count on him to back up what Jack said without argument. That wasn't the healthiest aspect of their relationship, but hell, they'd built this nameless thing they had entirely out of damaged parts anyway, so Jack was just grateful it all worked somehow.
"I heard Tosh."
"She told me where to find the files we needed, and she told me to check the Rift monitor. If she hadn't, I wouldn't have known to warn you in time." His face had gone soft and young, like an adolescent who'd unexpectedly heard sleigh bells on the roof and was completely rethinking his position on Father Christmas. Jack really hated playing the part of the Grinch.
"It wasn't her. You know that. Something is messing with our heads." He placed a gentle hand on Ianto's shoulder, and this time, there was no sudden pulling away. "We'll figure out what it is. Tell me you're with me on this."
"It was her."
The stubbornness was annoying, but more annoying were the sounds at the edge of Jack's hearing. Voices, distinct and clear, arguing over the disposition of some half-stoned Hoix they'd picked up. Alice thought they ought to kill it, but Charles was arguing that study might be in order. Jack shook his head, pushing out the voices, but now he heard Gerald and Harriet, in their endless quarrelling that really needed to end with a shag, and had.
Ianto hadn't lost his determined pout, but it was joined with concern.
"They're not ghosts!" Jack said loudly, his voice echoing to drown out the noises. Meg was saying something, right next to his ear, about the lyrical nature of the language Jack was working on with her today, though everyone had already cracked their codeword "linguistics" a while back.
Ianto touched his ear. "Alex, please get up here right now." Alex, but it was the wrong Alex, Jack was overwhelmed now with the noises of voices pressing in on him, every ghost of every person he'd ever known who'd walked these floors and died for this job.
"It's all right," Ianto said, holding Jack's shoulders and guiding him to a seat, but his voice was crowded out by too many others. Footsteps joined them, and Alex was pinching open Jack's eyes and shining a bright light.
From a far distance away, he could see Ianto twitching, brushing something he couldn't see away from his neck over and over. Alex set down his tools, turned around and said to the clear air: "Not right now, Mother. Please. I'm working."
Ianto looked at a point beside Jack, and a warm smile grew on his face. "I'll make a note of that, thank you."
"Where were you?" Phil asked, accusing, and Jack couldn't answer.
There was a scream from elsewhere in the Hub which Jack couldn't tell was real or one of the voices that sounded so real in his ears. Ianto and Alex stumbled out of his office, and Jack stood to follow them.
The voices stopped. Jack almost fell over the edge of the stairs as he sagged in relief. Below him, Alex had outraced Ianto to where Gwen was sobbing in her chair, and was checking her over swiftly.
"I'm not hurt," she said, through wracking sobs. "It was Owen. I heard him, and he was so sad." Ianto touched her gingerly, and she petted his hand to comfort herself.
"You didn't scream?" Alex asked.
Ianto and Jack glanced over to where Johnson sat at her own station, trembling and impassive. She looked back. "What?" she said, defiantly.
The cog door opened, and Lois came in. "Let me guess," said Jack. "You just had a big brush with your ghosts."
She nodded. "But not as big as everyone else's." She pulled up a monitor and they all read the headline scrolling by on the news: "Miracle at Norwegian Church Arts Centre."
Gwen wore her most open, expressive smile, encouraging the poor man to talk to her.
"I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen her myself. My own dear mother," he said, shaking his bemused head. "And Carl," he nodded to his friend who was still standing enraptured a few feet away, "he said he heard his grandmother singing to him."
Patrons of the arts, and tourists on a day trip, all had met suddenly with ghosts from their pasts, and had the expected mix of delight and horror at revisiting with lost loved ones.
"He's dead," said the next person Gwen interviewed, a woman, shaking. "I have to keep telling myself that. He can't come back. He can't hurt us again."
"This place used to be a real church. It's a miracle if ever I saw one."
"My Genna … "
"Like he was right there."
"But the stories are. This is spreading."
They walked back and met with the others, who were coming the other way.
Ianto said, "Everyone has reported the same kinds of incidents, but they only lasted a few moments."
Alex said, "Except around where we are. People reported severe symptoms that lasted."
Lois handed Gwen her clipboard. Locations and times observed were written in Lois's neat hand. Gwen said, "It moved."
Jack took the clipboard. "All right. We're dealing with something that can move." He looked behind them to the church, and ahead to the Plass. "And something that can stay put for a while." He glanced down at the paper coffee cups they all carried. "We have an alien, or a human with something alien. A patron of the arts centre. He or she takes a stroll afterwards, stops by the café for a snack, and then goes walking on." He raised an eyebrow. "Plausible?"
Gwen wanted to hold onto the idea of spirits - her Gran at least, Suzie could stay dead - but the evidence was in front of her. "Plausible."
Johnson said, "Then we should be able to track its progress."
"How?" Lois asked.
"Follow the screams."
Delwin chatted with Glynnis as they walked together in the cool autumn air. He was happy for the warmth of the coffee cup in his hand, for the soft tinkle of her voice.
"I missed you, you know," he said.
"I used to think about going on walks with you every day after we were doddering old pensioners, coming down here. I wish … " His eyes went funny, not with tears, not for a man, it wasn't seemly. Glynnis had passed quietly, and he'd mourned her, and now she was back, and that was a gift from God. He patted his pocket, and the glittery bracelet he'd found, just lying there on the beach two days ago. One quick twist of the clasp, and he could have Glynnis back whenever he wanted.
"Watch out," she said, and he came to an ambling halt as the light changed and traffic roared by. Around him, sometimes he heard gasps or sobbing. He clucked as one of the cars speeding away from him crashed into a light pole. People these days.
"Drivers ought to be more careful," he said, and he crossed the road when it was safe, Glynnis chatting happily about the nice weather they were having.
Two streets later, he was stopped up abruptly by a tall bloke, American, with a grim smile and a vintage coat. Delwin had seen him around the quay before, usually accompanied with his friends. The other regulars said they were a rough crowd, but good enough if you got to know them. One of the American's friends joined him, a local lad by the sound of his voice, and Delwin thought he'd seen him at that tatty little tourist place once or twice. The bracelet was theirs, they said, when he reluctantly pulled it from his pocket, knowing they'd take it.
They did let Delwin say goodbye to Glynnis before they took the bracelet, and the local fellow even held Delwin's cup for him so he could press his lips to the hands he could almost feel. As he showed them the clasp, and the American turned off the bracelet, he felt Glynnis slip from him like a mist. He knew she was happy now, and that was a comfort as he watched the men walk away.
He took a long drink of his coffee, warm and soothing on a crisp day like this.
"Psychic amplifier." Jack looked at Ianto, expecting a rhyme or similar, but Ianto just looked at the deactivated bracelet on the table. "You smell your dad's cologne, or hear a scrap of music that reminds you of your old sweetheart, and this baby takes that memory and makes it seem like they're really there. And once you think you're hearing ghosts, you start conjuring up more in a feedback loop."
He glanced around the conference room table. "We got lucky on this one. Imagine if our friend Delwin had taken it to an airport." He looked over to Alex. "What's the tally?"
"Only minor injuries. I can trace five car accidents to where he would have been, nothing life-threatening."
Jack nodded. "Like I said, lucky."
Gwen said, "It felt so real."
"We got a concentrated dose. He likes to hang out right outside our door." A lot of the people who worked in the buildings around them had reported the same intense experiences over the last few days. Had they just gone outside and paid attention, they probably could have cracked this yesterday. Gwen was beating herself up over it, since she did make an effort to get to know people, but no-one had died. It could have been a lot worse.
They finished the meeting with new business. Jack loitered afterwards, as Ianto collected the bracelet to tag it "Not for Use" and to lock it away. He hadn't said much during the entire meeting, and as soon as the lock clicked, Jack asked, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Just feeling stupid."
"Don't do that." Jack didn't hear the voices anymore, but he could remember how intense they were. "We were all affected."
"I know. I think I just wanted to see Tosh so much that I let myself believe it was her." He rubbed the back of his neck again. "Stupid."
"I miss her, too."
"Sometimes I forget that you've known everyone who's ever worked here. You have a lot more ghosts than I do."
Jack shrugged. "It's not a competition. I knew them, and some of them I liked, and a few I loved, and I miss them all."
"Yeah," Ianto said. "Jack, how did she tell me where to look?"
"You already knew. Your subconscious was giving you clues, and the bracelet made you think Tosh was telling you."
Ianto nodded, and Jack hoped that was the end of this.
"Anyway," Jack said, "I'm about to declare things dead for the day. Let's go home. This will all look much better from the other side of some rest."
"Sounds good. Go tell them, I'll finish up here."
Jack gave him a quick peck and went to call the end of the workday.
When he was alone, Ianto unlocked the box silently and held the bracelet again. It would be so easy to reactivate, feel Lisa's gentle fingers easing the pain away, hear Tosh's beloved voice one more time. It would only take a moment, and Ianto was weak when temptation called. Had it been all in his own head? Or had the artefact enabled everyone, for a moment, to summon back for just a short time the souls of the dead? Jack seemed certain. Ianto wasn't. He hadn't known where the file was. He hadn't been paying attention to the monitor when the Rift spiked.
He ran one finger over the crushed gems that made up one surface.
"Don't." Tosh's voice was clear in the empty room: sad, and a bit resigned, and also ready to rest.
Ianto nodded, because he couldn't speak. He placed the bracelet back where it belonged, and he locked the box, and he would not think about the fact that he hadn't touched the clasp.
A/N: The next story in this series is called "Be All My Sins Remembered," part of the tw_bigbang, to be posted 10/5/2010. Watch this space.