"Is it…human?" asked Gwen, tentatively.
"Maybe a few centuries ago," Owen replied. He stared distractedly at the monitor by the autopsy table that kept telling him the same thing over and over again. He followed the wire that led from the computer back to the skull where he'd taped it. The yellowed bones grinned up at the physician, which wasn't exactly new to Owen at this point in his career. But there was still something about this particular skull that made him a trifle uneasy.
"What do you think all of these are?" the policewoman inquired, tracing a finger over one of the several markings that decorated the skull's surface. She quickly pulled back the questioning digit before Owen had a chance to slap it off.
"Tosh's running a search on 'em now," the physician said, unhooking the machine. In fact, Tosh had been running the search for nearly two hours now and had so far come up with nothing of interest. A human skull wasn't the most unusual thing to ever come through the Rift and Owen preferred it over a rabid Weevil or some alien device that looked like a pen, but would most likely relieve someone of their internal organs. Still, the question remained where the skull came from….and why it looked the way it did.
"Maybe it is alien," Gwen suggested, this time picking up the skull. It felt oddly heavy in her hands. "Some sort of alien that looks like us but have carvings in their bones instead?"
Owen snorted. "I'll put that down along with Jack's theory it's a Raxacoricofallapatorian party favor and Ianto's that it's a vampire's paper weight."
It was a moderately slow day at the Hub and Torchwood devoted the rest of the afternoon trying to gather more information on the strange artifact. But by the next day there were nine different sightings of Weevils that had to be dealt with and by Jack's orders, the skull was securely archived away in the basement.
Bob was determined to give Harry an earful when the wizard finally came to fetch him. Of all the irritating, blundering, careless mistakes for his former pupil to make. The ghost had warned him time again and time again about the dangers of poor pronunciation when doing a spell and did Harry pay attention? Of course not. Hence now he was stuck in some damp basement in Wales of all places.
When the necromancer deemed it safe that no one was lurking around, he materialized out to explore. The location of his skull, however, left him precious little to look at. Mainly he could read some of the other folders nestled in the rusting cabinets where he'd been placed. And he had plenty of lime-stained walls to stare at. Every once in awhile, a young man in a suit would come down to do some filing, an activity that Bob found about as interesting to observe as watching mold grow. Still, he did concede that the archiving system was quite orderly and made a few mental suggestions to give to Harry on how the wizard might benefit in introducing alphabetization to his own files at the office, rather than just shoving random papers in his drawers. It would make tax season so much simpler.
On the third day of his unwanted stay, Bob was perusing through and snorting derisively at the woefully undereducated notes written by a Captain Jack Harkness on an encounter he'd apparently had with creatures he'd labeled as "Faeries." The ghost was itching back a desire to somehow correct the information jotted when he heard her.
At first Bob moved to return to his skull, thinking someone was approaching his location when he realized the voice was coming from behind the wall where the cabinets were pressed up against. From his initial wandering, the ghost knew only a large, empty storage room lay past that area. Judging from the dust that had accumulated there, it hadn't been used in awhile. But when the spirit moved through and carefully peered in, he saw a young woman standing in the middle of room. Or what had once been a young woman as it was obvious from the wound on her head that she was dead.
She didn't notice the other spirit right away, her eyes wandering unfocused as she silently paced. "It's seventeen pounds fifty, then," she muttered. "I just want to go now. I've got other deliveries to make. Seventeen pounds fifty, please." When she rotated around the room a second time, her eyes seemed to register the new presence. Instead of being startled, a look of eager anticipation came over her. "Hiya," she said. "Can you pay me? I need to be going. It's late."
Bob stared at the blood-caked scar that ran across her forehead and gave her a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry to say I cannot, young lady," he said, quietly as he stepped through into the room completely. The sight of him coming through the wall seemed to jolt the other spirit from where her thoughts had been. A confused frown quirked her mouth, as if she was trying to recall something.
"It…doesn't matter, does it?" she said, carefully. "I…the money. It doesn't matter because…I'm dead?" She looked at Bob as if he could verify that for her.
The necromancer gave a slow nod. "Yes, I'm afraid so."
"I think I forgot," she replied, nervously.
"How long have you been here?"
"I…can't remember. No one's talked to me in awhile. No one seems to see me. Are you dead as well?" she asked almost casually.
Bob gave her a small smile. "Yes, I am."
"Oh." She looked around again, her gaze falling to somewhere in the middle of the room. She stared at the empty floor and squinted as if trying to see something that was a little out of focus. "I used to be afraid of ghosts." She shivered slightly. "You won't tell him where I am, will you? I mean, I wanted someone to talk to, but he's a bit frightening."
"He's angry about something, I think," she said in a near whisper. "He hasn't talked to me in awhile, but I don't want to see him again."
The necromancer wondered how many ghosts were floating around in the basement. He hadn't sensed anything since arriving, but then again, he hadn't sensed this girl either until just now. Before he could assure her of anything, however, she broke off her contemplation of the floor and was looking at him. Her expression again was expectant with a smile that was a little blank. "Think you could pay for the pizzas?" she asked. "I've got to be off and I'm sure Ianto'll pay you back," she added earnestly.
Bob discreetly cleared his throat. It was a little unusual for spirits to be this disoriented about their situation. But there were a few cases where ghosts had trouble keeping track of the fact they were now dead. Usually, in these cases the death was unusually traumatic and judging by the ugly wound on her forehead, this girl's probably hadn't been very pleasant at all. "Young lady-"
"Annie," she supplied, looking pleased that it came to her so easily.
"Pleasure. My name is Bob."
"About the pizzas, Bob…"
"Annie, do you remember what we just talked about earlier?" asked the necromancer, gently.
Lying on the ground, gasping, Harry patted himself on the back for thinking ahead with his timing. It was close to 2am on a Tuesday and there was no one out this late to notice the heaving man, curled up near what Harry guessed was a man made waterfall. He hated transportation spells. Even when traveling a mile or so, it took the wind out of him. And having to move from Chicago to Cardiff felt like someone had taken a hammer to his lungs. Plus, he now realized he'd lost a shoe along the way.
When it felt like he could move without kissing cement again, the wizard got to his feet with the aide of his hockey stick and pulled the tracking crystal from his jacket pocket. The glowing shard hung straight down from the leather cord, not even wavering when a blast of icy wind hit Harry, telling the wizard that Bob was underground somewhere.
"Lassio," Harry intoned, ordering the crystal show him a route to get to where Bob would be.
The crystal shot downward, nearly dragging Harry down to the ground with it. It made a small clinking sound when it connected with the floor, unable to move any further. The wizard heaved a sigh. "Stupid thing," he muttered. "I can't drill through the ground. Alerient Lassio!" he barked, modifying his command.
This time, the shard pulled Harry forward, leading him away from the water tower toward a dilapidated looking door. It was expectedly locked, but opened without protest when Harry gripped and twisted the handle. Judging from the brochures and colorful maps stacked on the desk inside, the wizard guessed it was some sort of tourist information office. Only it was the most unfriendly, aggressively off putting office he'd ever seen in his life. This was supposed to encourage tourists to check out the town? Harry shook his head. The Welsh were weird people.
The glowing crystal tugged at Harry's hand again, pulling him toward another door by the desk. There wasn't a handle on it, but the wizard merely pressed a hand to it and it gave way easily as the first one. Harry nudged it open with his shoeless foot and walked through. He managed one step before he felt the very familiar sensation of a gun barrel pressed against his temple.
"Hi, there," said a cheerful, very American sounding voice. "Lost?"
"I'm…looking to do some sightseeing?" Harry managed to get out, not moving his head an inch lest the guy was trigger happy. There was an appreciative chuckle at the crack, but the gun remained where it was. "Uh, look. I'm not here to cause any trouble, but I think you have something that belongs to me."
Normally, a tall dark handsome stranger wandering into his place at 2am was something Jack would put down on his Win List. But seeing as how his place was also technically the secret lair of a covert organization, it wouldn't really do to turn this security breach into a social moment. Sometimes being a member of Torchwood was a pain.
But after hours worth of interrogation, a stint in a cell, a demonstration with a hockey stick and several shorted out computers later, Jack saw fit to bring up the skull from the bowels of the archives. Harry Dresden, the self-professed wizard and who'd spent the last hour trying to prove his claim blew out a breath of relief when he saw the skull in Jack's hand.
The captain barely set it down on the boardroom table when it seemed to catch fire for a brief moment. He nearly went for his gun again when suddenly there was another man standing in the room with them.
"Claora AULTA!" the white-haired man bellowed at Harry upon seeing him.
From his seat, Harry seemed to shrink into himself with a wince. "I'm sorry! I thought I had it right! It sounded just like that."
"Only a man with so monstrously a tin ear as yours could ever think 'ailta' sounds like 'aulta,' " Bob seethed. "Do you have any idea of the excruciating purgatory I have been in for the past four days? It is like the sewer system of the early Romans down there!"
"Bob, I'm sorry," Harry said, profusely. "I'm really, really, beyond all words sorry and I swear it'll nev-"
"Whoa, hey!" Jack exclaimed, cutting into Harry's apologies. "Who the hell is this?" he demanded, pointing at the still glowering ghost.
The wizard rubbed at his eyes, trying to keep a headache at bay. "This is Bob, he's a ghost. I, uh…lost him a few days ago. I messed up a spell. Bob, this is-"
"Yes, Harry, I know," the ghost cut in, impatiently. "Captain Jack Harkness. I've seen your signatures all over the files you keep in the basement. And by the way, those were goblin hybrids you encountered back in April, not faeries," he added with a severe look. "Do some careful research if you and your team insist on getting involved in otherworldly elements, won't you?"
Jack stared at the spirit for a beat. "Not exactly a friendly ghost, are you?" he said.
"He lectures when he's annoyed," Harry answered with a smirk. "Which is a lot." At the glare Bob gave him, however, the wizard looked soberly chastised again. "Look, Captain, thanks for holding onto him for me and sorry for the trouble. We'll just get going now if it's all the same to you."
Before Jack could reply, Bob quickly interjected. "Actually, Harry. I think there's a little matter of business that the captain might be interested in knowing about. As it does concern his," the ghost cast a glance around, searching for the right word. "Establishment," he finally chose. He focused again on Jack's questioning stare. "I am not the only ghost here, Captain Harkness."
If this was any sort of con, it was probably the most unusual con Jack had ever seen. And having spent most of his life in the business that was saying something. He was willing to keep an open mind about it but as he led Harry with the skull in tow down to the archives, Jack kept his weapon within easy grasping range if needed and kept his eyes focused on the wizard. Which wasn't all that much of a challenge or a burden, really.
"You know, I've traveled a lot in my time and I've never met anyone who claimed they were a wizard," said Jack, conversationally as they winded through the dripping corridors.
"Well, we kind of keep it on the down low," Harry replied.
"Except when he's advertising it in the Yellow Pages," Bob supplied dryly.
"Yeah, thanks Bob."
In the poor light, Jack grinned. He was starting to like the ghost, caustic as he was or maybe because of it. Plus, Bob gave Ianto a run for his money in looking good in a suit. Not many people could pull off an ascot with that much style.
"She's in through there," Bob said, gesturing toward a door at the far end of the hall. The grin on Jack's face dropped off. It was the storage room. The one that had housed a secret that had nearly killed his team.
"What does this ghost look like?" Jack asked, grimly.
"Her name is Annie," Bob answered. "You'll recognize her by the jagged wound across her forehead," he added with a deliberately flippant tone.
Jack looked sharply over to the white-haired spirit and saw pale eyes staring back at him. The gaze wasn't exactly accusatory, but there was something cold in it. "Her death was an accident," Jack stated, feeling the need to explain. "A member of my team made a mistake and she got caught in it." The ghost didn't reply, but didn't break his stare either.
"Any ideas why she's still here, Bob?" Harry asked, deftly interrupting the growing tension.
"She seems a little confused as to her current state. A particularly violent death can do that. Her mind keeps wandering from understanding she has passed on to clinging to her old life. She continues to ask that someone pay her for delivering pizzas so that she can leave."
"Okay, so…I'm thinking just a standard Nohvus exorcism should do it. That sound right to you?"
As the wizard and his ghost continued to talk shop, Jack's mind started to wander as to what the spirit of Annie lingering meant. Were there other souls still lurking in the Hub? Most of the deaths related to Torchwood happened away from their offices, out on the field. But there had been a few over the years. He'd said before once that ghosts were everywhere. And it was up to them to just live with it. A ghost sighting wasn't exactly new to Torchwood, but this was the first time one was so close to home. And so closely tied to them and the necessary actions they'd performed. If Annie had stayed for this amount of time, maybe Lisa had as well. At least the human part of her.
Suddenly, Jack was incredibly glad he hadn't called the rest of the team in when he'd caught Harry breaking into the Hub. He didn't think Ianto was ready to revisit all of this just yet.
"Okay, here we go," Harry announced once they reached the door. He moved aside to let Jack unlock the storage room. Upon entering, the wizard didn't notice anything in particular. He couldn't sense a spirit, nor could he see one. But unlike Bob, whose soul was cursed and tied down to the living world, most ghosts floated and wandered. And very easily they could go unnoticed by even a wizard if they wanted.
"I don't see her, do you?" Harry asked the spirit next to him.
"Not yet, no."
Taking in a deep breath, Harry let it out and closed his eyes. Jack half expected him to start chanting an "Oommm" but instead the wizard just stood silently still. The captain glanced over at Bob who was politely ignoring his presence.
Jack cleared his throat. "Is he-"
"Shh," Bob hushed him without looking over.
More silence slid by before Harry opened his eyes and took a startled step back. "Jeez!" he hissed. "Man, you scared me," he said to the empty space in front of him.
Not seeing anything else in the room other that the wizard and the ghost, Jack started to rethink the whole scam theory when he noticed the air in front of Harry change. Or a minute, it seemed like colored fog was wafting in the space. But soon the tendrils seemed to darken and fill out until there was a very solid-looking image before them.
It was Annie.
Ann Maureen Braithwaite, age 20. Daughter of Clive and Joanne Braithwaite. No siblings, Jack mentally listed off to himself from the file he'd read about her when Torchwood had to come up with an explanation for her death. Lived at home with her parents. Student at Open University in Wales. Chosen subject…
Jack stopped himself, telling his brain this wasn't doing anything. Remembering her life before it ended didn't change or fix anything.
Annie was staring at Harry with large eyes. Her hair the deranged mess and her scar just as bloody as Jack remembered. The only difference seemed to be that the multiple gunshot wounds they'd put into her were missing. He thought to ask Harry why that was, but the wizard seemed to be busy giving Annie a reassuring smile.
"It's really late," Annie said, her accent a thick Welsh one and so different than the one she had when Jack had last heard her speak as Lisa. "If someone could pay me for the pizzas, I'll be off."
"Annie, right?" Harry said, kindly. "That's some dedication to the job you've got there."
The girl frowned. "I can't be sacked from it. I need the money. I start University next month and my Mam's doing a second job as it is with the bills."
"Annie, do you remember me?" Bob asked, taking a step forward.
The smaller ghost turned to him before a smile spread across her face. "Bob, sure. You talked to me when…oh…right." The smile dropped off. "I…think I forgot again."
"Don't worry about it," said Harry at the apologetic look Annie was giving him. "It's been kinda rough for you, I know. Being lost down here."
"I really should go," said Annie, faintly. "It's late."
Harry nodded. "Okay. I can help you with that. Just close your eyes."
Annie did as she was told and Jack could hear the wizard muttering something under his breath that he couldn't quite make out. When it started happening, it wasn't like the way it was with Eugene where he'd actually moved upward and away. Annie was just fading in degrees. First the colors of her leeched away and then her features seemed to blur along with her outline. She barely seemed to notice she was disappearing, only keeping her eyes closed until Harry finished the incantation and there was only the faintest trace of her left.
Jack thought he saw her open what was left of her eyes again, but he couldn't be sure. A scratching whisper of a sound came from her, like wind across dead leaves. "He's not going to follow me, is he?" she rasped. Harry frowned at the question.
"I know he's just angry," Annie's nearly gone form said. "But he does scare me with-"
And then she was gone.
Harry did a more thorough search of the basement and found nothing. But as he told Jack, ghosts were not the most easily traceable beings if they didn't want to be.
"But if you have any trouble you can always call me," Harry offered, handing over a well worn business card.
In thanks for his efforts, Jack bought the wizard a first class ticket back to Chicago, along with sparing him a dose of Ret-con. Without explicitly saying so, the two seemed to agree upon keeping each other respective identities a secret.
It was nearly dawn by the time Harry Dresden left the Hub with Bob's skull safely returned to him. Jack glanced at his watch and estimated it would be about three hours before everyone else would start trickling in. Thank god he didn't actually need sleep. Turning Harry's card over in his hand, he pushed it into his pocket as he wandered back down to the basement.
There was a chance that no one would notice the skull being missing from the archives as there wouldn't be a reason Jack would ever ask for it to be brought back up. Ianto might notice if he ever happened to file something in the same cabinet and see it missing. It would probably be better if he came up with an explanation to give now rather than later. But what exactly could Jack say?
Turns out the skull housed a centuries old ghost. And it belonged to a wizard. He came to get it back last night. Exorcised a ghost for us too. Nice guy. Killer smile.
No, he would need to work on that. He had a few hours.
Jack returned to the storage room where he'd witnessed the peaceful passing on of Annie Braithwaite. The room was quiet when he walked in. The air was still and only the faint sound of the generator whirling could be heard. Annie's exorcism had been kinder and gentler than her death and a part of Jack hoped it somehow cleansed the area a little. Even if she had had to wait until someone noticed her.
"Sorry it took so long," he said to the empty air where he'd last seen Annie. "Better late than never."
Jack turned to go. And out of the corner of his eye, he saw him.
It was a brief flash. A grey suit, stained with blood. A face mangled by metal with a silver bolt where his left eye should have been. The remaining human eye glittered at Jack from the fleshy mess, rolling in rage. His lips were curled back in a half sneer, half scream as a barrage of foreign words that Jack half acknowledged as Japanese cut through the air in a howl.
By the time Jack spun around to face him, there was nothing there.