Notes: The full oneshot for #90 from 'Snapshots of Smiles'. Requested by WickedWitchoftheSE and Paraxenos. I apologise for any errors. I'm remarkably hung-over this evening.
Disclaimer: I do not own Torchwood and I am not making any profit from this work.
If I Should Die Before I Wake
"That is the...weirdest thing I've ever seen," Owen muttered.
Gwen and Tosh had to agree. The alien didn't look dangerous: in fact, it looked rather like something out of a bad 1950s sci-fi show. It was humanoid - which was always a nice start - but there all normality ended. Five large eyes blinked individually out of an egg-shaped head. There was no noticeable neck at all, and its mouth seemed to be situated roughly where the human breastbone would have been. It had no ears, and didn't react to voice or noise at all. And Owen had never seen a deaf alien before.
But alien or not, it was quite clearly panicking.
Jack had named it - Ceran, apparently - but had admitted that he knew nothing about them.
"Just pictures in books by the time I was a kid," he'd said. "They died out. They can't survive on their own."
"So this one's going to die?" Gwen had asked.
"Yeah," Jack had said. "If there aren't at least four others running around in close proximity. And we might have noticed that."
"If there were, it wouldn't be panicking so badly," Owen had pointed out logically, and Gwen had pulled her unhappy face that always appeared when one of their aliens was destined to die.
Now they were surrounding it, cornering it (roughly speaking) but, although it had moved away from them physically, it didn't seem to have noticed them on a sentient level.
"Ianto, tranqs," Jack murmured as the Ceran turned its large, creepy eyes to stare at him levelly.
The motion of Ianto loading the dart into the small rifle caused the Ceran's head to swing towards him, and it stilled.
So far, the thing had acted very much like a cat: continually moving, in one way or another, and the sudden freezing made everyone else freeze up too. Ianto slowed his motions as he pressed the dart into the loading chamber and raised the rifle to his shoulder. For a moment, the two of them locked eye contact - five on two - and the Ceran's face brightened momentarily, almost producing something resembling a smile.
And Ianto roared.
He staggered backwards, dropping the rifle, as though he'd been struck in the front of the head with a cricket bat. The alien let out a similar screech, clapping its 'hands' to its own head and shaking it violently as if trying to clear water from non-existent ears. Gwen snatched for the rifle, firing off the dart into the alien's shoulder as Owen aimed for Ianto, managed to get his arms around Ianto's shoulders and protect his head as the larger man collapsed to the floor.
"Tosh, medical kit, now!" he bellowed.
The moment they had the Ceran secured, Jack and Gwen moved to join Owen, but stopped when he gestured wildly and backed up from Ianto.
"Oh shit!" Gwen cried, as it became immediately apparent why Owen was moving away from his patient.
Ianto's shoulders shuddered violently before the motion rocked down his spine and caused his hips to buck at an angle that would have made him scream if he'd been conscious. His fingers - and presumably also his toes - twitched over the concrete in a bizarre dance as his eyes rolled in his head and, to everyone's alarm, a high keening started up in the back of his throat.
"Seizure," Owen snarled. "Which means it's probably done something to his brain. He's not got anything in his medical files about a history of seizures."
"None at all?" Gwen whispered. Her Mum had been prone to seizures, as had her best friend at primary school, but she'd never seen anybody's first seizure before.
"No," Owen said grimly, taking the medical kit from Tosh as she returned but not moving. "Even Ianto's not bloody stupid enough to go altering his medical records."
The seizure lasted roughly three minutes, and subsided as quickly as it had manifested itself, leaving the young man limp and unconscious on the dusty floor of the warehouse. Owen was on him as the last tremor faded from his limbs, prying back his eyelids and calling his name.
"Completely out of it," he reported, running his fingers over Ianto's scalp. "I can't find any physical injury, no physical reason for this...Jack? Care to help me out, here?"
"It looked like..." Jack began, then shook his head. "I'll call Torchwood Two when we get back, see if they've got the Ceran on file anywhere. I really don't know enough."
"What did it look like?" Owen pressed.
"Any other sodding species and I would say it attacked him telepathically," Jack snapped. "But I've never heard of a violent Ceran - ever. All the stories about them...they're like bloody space hippies."
Owen grunted, then sat back on his heels.
"Brain scans," he decided. "Scans, tests, and more tests. Jack, help me lift him. I can't do anything here. I need information on what it did, because otherwise..."
There was a long, awkward silence.
"Otherwise?" Tosh whispered.
"I suspect he's brain damaged," Owen said. "And if it's scrambled something in him, anything I do could make it much, much worse."
He was standing on a beach, one that he barely remembered, and certainly not with this clarity. It was empty now, though, and the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean washed into insignificant azure over the sand, and finally into a clear wash that made the sand shimmer darkly before retreating. There was a yellow sun in the sky, a French sun far hotter than its Welsh partner, but he couldn't feel the heat that he knew he should have done. The waves were white-crested, crowned by foam that had no substance, but caught the eye anyway - and yet, he couldn't feel the wind any more than he could the sun.
It didn't concern him much, though. There was no worry here, no room to fear or fuss. Just him and the endless beach - which couldn't have been so endless.
He knew it was a misplaced memory, and didn't think about what that might mean.
The Hub was a nest of activity after they returned. Tosh disappeared down to the cells with their Ceran friend, with the CCTV trained on them in case it tried it again. With Owen busy with Ianto, Tosh was the next best choice to study their new alien and try to find out what it had been doing.
This was practically impossible, Tosh soon found out, because it didn't make any discernable noise at all. There was nothing her translators could attach themselves to and, moreover, the Ceran didn't seem remotely interested in her. It found more entertainment in jabbing at the glass that separated it from Janet, their pet Weevil, and shrinking back when Janet returned the favour.
Jack had, as promised, gotten onto Torchwood Two immediately upon their return and got them to fax over everything they had about the Ceran. Which, he was informed, probably wasn't much more than Torchwood Three had. It was times like this that Jack almost missed Yvonne Hartman and her obsession with archiving everything they could find about every species in the universe, even plant life.
Owen had adopted Gwen for assistance in running tests on a completely unconscious Ianto. While Owen bustled about with various machines and scanners of both human and non-human origin, Gwen got Ianto efficiently stripped down to his shirt and trousers, and got a pillow for his head, because 'that'll be sore as hell when he wakes up'.
Nobody dared voice the opinion that Ianto still being unconscious was an incredibly bad thing.
He faintly decided that his mind was obviously doing something very important. He felt as if he'd been shuttled here, inside peaceful memories with no real significance, to keep him out of the way. And they changed and appeared so randomly that, had he been really visiting them, his age chances would have ripped him apart.
But for all the understanding, he wasn't concerned.
He was walking across the Plass now, but it was empty. He stood on the lift, but it didn't move, and he laughed quietly to himself. The world had frozen around him, and he was the last man standing.
And even he wasn't really here.
In the early afternoon, Jack called what was, essentially, a staff meeting. By this time, the Ceran was asleep and unresponsive in the cells, and Owen had run all the tests he could think of on Ianto, who was still very firmly unconscious.
"Owen," Jack said, the moment they were all sat around the table. "What's it done to him?"
"That's your call," Owen said. "Medically speaking, his brain looks like that of someone who's had a very nasty head injury. The initial pain was caused by four simultaneous sub-arachnoid haemorrhages. Bleeding on the brain, Jack," he added at the blank frown. "He's bloody lucky to have survived that to start with. I've only seen that once before, and it was minor. Ianto's bleeding was severe and would have been very, very painful."
"Has it stopped?"
"Yes," Owen said. "I've removed the clots with the singularity scalpel but I can't guarantee it's permanent until I know what the alien actually did. On top of that, he's suffering from swelling over the frontal lobes - again, this severe, I would have expected it to kill him. His vitals are insane, and keep fluctuating wildly."
Jack's hands gripped each other on the table, and the knuckles were white.
"Jack," Owen said, unusually gently. "I don't think there's anything I can do to help him. I've dealt with the bleeding as best I can, but unless I know what caused it, I could be meddling with other medical difficulties that I can't see."
"Like what?" Gwen asked.
"If it did attack him, what's it done?" Owen asked. "Just smacked him in the head, really hard? Or has it actually reached in there and snapped neurons? Has it moved functions entirely? Is his cortex now responsible for his eyesight, for example? I can't do anything if I don't know what's going on, because then I probably will kill him."
"Has that happened before?" Gwen blinked.
"Yes," Jack said shortly. "Torchwood Two lost an operative to brain functions being mixed up in the seventies."
He sounded like he was going to kill something. Or break a desk. Or even cry, which was possibly the scariest option of all.
"Can't you test his responses with brain scans?" Tosh frowned.
"Yeah, if he responded to anything," Owen said. "If his brain activity gets any lower, I'll have to pronounce him brain dead. There's next to no activity in there. To top it off, he's unresponsive to sound, touch, sight...I can't get a reaction out of him. He's comatose."
There was a heavy silence, during which nobody looked at each other, but stared at the wood as though it held the answers to their problem. All that was necessary now was a ticking clock, to round off the atmosphere that pressed down like a tangible weight.
"Well," Jack said after a moment, taking a deep breath as if steeling himself. "From what information Torchwood Two sent us, I think it tried to talk to Ianto. Communicate with him."
"How?" Gwen asked.
"Telepathically," Jack said. "They don't talk, they communicate entirely telepathically. And apparently in a way that the human brain is very unreceptive to."
"But why Ianto?" Gwen asked.
"Torchwood One insisted that all operatives above a certain level of security clearance passed a base level of psychic training. Ianto would certainly have had that clearance to work on the projects he did," Jack said. "It must have sensed that he was the one who could have communicated. He knows how, and we don't."
"But he couldn't," Gwen argued.
"The Ceran must not have known that," Jack shrugged. "It just knew that he had some level of psychic control and we didn't. I have a basic ability, but I've not been trained like he must have been, so it passed over me. And I've never trained any of you. He would have been the logical choice to talk to, essentially."
"So what'll we do with it?" Gwen asked.
"The files said all Ceran that Two ever encountered died within forty-eight hours. Theory is they can't be separated from their own kind," Jack shrugged. "Like I said, by the fifty-first century, they're long gone."
"Which doesn't help me deal with Ianto," Owen pointed out. "Why couldn't it communicate with him? What does their form of telepathy do?"
"I don't know!" Jack exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "They're not a species we're experienced with! We're in the dark about this, and..."
His voice cracked and he stopped talking.
"How many...have died because of the Ceran trying to...talk?" Tosh whispered eventually. "Is Ianto the only one, or...?"
"Three others," Jack said eventually. "And...all three...died."
"Oh God," Gwen murmured.
"But...they all died instantly," Jack said. "They were dead before anybody knew what had happened. The autopsies confirmed what killed them. So Ianto...he's not lost."
"He's lucky," Owen said dully.
Funny how it didn't seem lucky from that angle.
It seemed like he'd been walking through an empty Cardiff for a lifetime. It was a blank canvas, as if someone had ripped out the people and left their livelihoods behind. And yet, he couldn't go to places he didn't already know.
He found himself outside his first home in Cardiff. He'd been twelve when they came here. Faintly, he could hear the shouting from inside, but he didn't want to be a part of this memory.
Cardiff had seemed so empty back then, and it was empty now. And neither time it had been aliens.
By the next morning, the Ceran had died. Owen's concerns that the thing was connected to Ianto on a psychic level were dismissed as, after its peaceful death, Ianto's vitals didn't change.
He got no better, but, more importantly for Owen at this stage, he didn't get any worse.
His brain activity was still minimal, his body barely functioning enough to keep him alive. Owen had set up an oxygen mask and nutritional IVs that morning as Ianto showed no signs of stirring, and the rise and fall of his chest were shallow enough so as not to be seen from the autopsy bay railings.
With no more information available, all that there was left to do for Jack, Gwen and Tosh was to wait. Owen often hated his role as the team doctor, as it invariably meant having to both see and cause the suffering of his team-mates and friends, but now, at least, he had something to keep him busy.
What Owen really feared was either another seizure, or more bleeding. With Ianto's brain so screwed up, it was likely that either one would kill him before Owen knew what was going on. So he stuck to the confines of the autopsy bay, even if it was only to stare at the printouts of the scans until his own head ached.
Faintly, it came to him that there weren't this many churches in Cardiff. Cardiff's skyline had never been this dotted with spires and their accompanying graveyards.
He couldn't enter them, because he didn't know them, but he stared at their ghostly shapes every time he passed, and wondered exactly what his mind was trying to tell him.
Was he dying? Should he be praying? And what, really, was there to pray for?
Maybe he was already dead.
The beeping of the autopsy bay machines stayed perfectly regular for nine days. It became a horrifying background sound to get used to, like Myfanwy's screeching at mealtimes and the trickling of the water down the tower.
So when, on the tenth day, the rhythm changed, it was as though the place had been struck by lightning.
Almost as one, the three of them shot over to stare over the autopsy bay railings at Owen and his patient as Owen snatched for the readouts that the machine making the new noise was spewing out frantically.
"Brain activity is rising," he announced. "Swelling is reducing...Jesus Christ, rather fast..."
He scrambled for the Berkaran scanner, activating it with now familiar hands and peering at the images intently.
"He's talking," Tosh said.
"Swelling is reducing..." Owen muttered. "No sign of bleeding...I can't see any problems physically with this..."
"He's talking," Tosh repeated.
"Bloody hell, that's going down like a popped balloon, that isn't good for him either..."
"He's talking!" Tosh cried, actually pointing down into the bay at Ianto.
Sure enough, his mouth was moving slightly, like a man talking in his sleep.
Owen paused, lowered the scanner, and leaned close.
"Is he actually speaking?" Jack demanded, coming down the steps slowly, as if frightened his presence would stop their progress.
"Yes," Owen muttered. "Well. I think so. Gwen, can I get a translation here? He's speaking...what I think is Welsh."
In spite of the gravity of the situation, Gwen rolled her eyes and squeezed past Jack to get close. She had to push the oxygen mask aside, had to almost press her ear to Ianto's lips to hear him, which was kind of embarrassing, and she listened intently.
"He's talking," she breathed.
"Complete sentences? Logical ones? Not just rambling off words, or spouting ninth century poetry or something?" Owen quizzed, scribbling hastily in a notebook on the counter.
"Properly talking," Gwen agreed, still listening. "It sounds like he's talking to someone, though...maybe...oh."
Her face crumpled.
"What?" Jack asked quietly.
"I think he's praying," Gwen mumbled, her lip trembling dangerously.
She then turned and fled the bay, not wanting to hear Ianto's last prayers. That was something she wasn't ready for.
Ianto hadn't believed in God in a long time. He supposed he must have once - he was raised to, and he'd always done as he was told, once - but he didn't anymore, and he couldn't remember the last time that he had. Before he'd even left for London, and any remnants of faith had been shattered there.
So why the churches and their graveyards?
"Am I dead, then?" he asked, and his voice vanished in the air as if he didn't exist. He couldn't hear himself speak. "Do you want me to confess? Like purgatory? I'll need the eternity. There's a lot of things Mam's God wouldn't have liked. But it doesn't matter, does it? In the grand scheme of things. God: that's a joke now. You're just as insignificant as I am, in this world. Those aliens...they're out there too. Maybe You're an alien. Maybe You're on some other planet and laughing at Your jokes."
He turned from the church to find another, and again, and again, until he was surrounded by the redbrick walls and gaping windows.
"But if this is me, then I can go somewhere else," he said.
And the sand curled into his toes, warm from a French sun.
Ianto's soft Welsh murmuring rose and fell for two more days before he fell silent again. Owen's cheer had returned, though, as his patient's brain activity began to return full-force, until eventually Owen pronounced him to be in deep sleep as opposed to a full-on coma.
"I'm not going to try waking him up yet," he said. "I've drugged him to keep him under for a bit until his brain physically settles."
"What's that mean?" Jack asked suspiciously.
"He'll still be in a hell of a lot of pain," Owen said. "All those nerve fibres surrounded his brain have been set off and he won't be happy if I let him come round now. Give him a couple of days."
"But...he will wake up?"
"Unless his brain activity goes crazy again, yes."
For the first time in twelve days, the line of Jack's shoulders began to relax.
"I don't want to die," he told the light on the horizon.
Lights on the horizon don't tend to listen. It was a white light, which seemed disappointingly clichéd, and it grew bigger as it, he supposed, came towards him.
It came silently, and very slowly, and he had plenty of time to sit on the sand just above the clear wash of the tide and watch it approach.
"Don't make me die," he asked it quietly, before it swallowed him whole, and the white became everything he knew.
Fifteen days after the Ceran had tried to 'talk' to Ianto, Owen removed the drip pumping him full of sedatives.
"He'll take about half an hour, if he wakes up right away," he told Jack. "I don't expect he will, but he might."
Jack just nodded. Tosh and Gwen were out Weevil-hunting, but he had refused to be parted from Ianto now. He had taken up residence by the autopsy table that morning and refused to move, holding Ianto's hand and talking to him quietly.
Ianto had murmured a few more times, but still in Welsh, and Jack hoped it wasn't a bad sign. Surely it was a good thing that he seemed to have full speech control? Didn't brain damaged people usually lose that one?
Jack talked until he was hoarse, talked until he wasn't sure he could anymore, but he kept going.
And finally, the hand in his twitched.
And then squeezed.
The white was there for a thousand lifetimes when it popped.
Like a burst bulb in a dark room, he was faced with blackness so complete that he felt the weight of it pressing on his eyes.
He felt cold.
And finally, he heard a voice that wasn't his.
"Hello," Jack breathed, when hazy blue eyes met his own and lips quirked in a tiny smile beneath the oxygen mask. A hand came up to remove it, but Jack caught it and held it tight. "Leave it. Leave it alone," he urged.
"Nope, off it comes," Owen said, appearing like a wraith on Ianto's other side. "Do you remember what happened?"
Ianto nodded weakly, his eyes half-lidded and tired.
"It's been two weeks," Owen informed him. "You had some pretty nasty brain damage, and you'll probably still be a bit impaired, but you should make a full recovery. Your name, please?"
"Go fuck yourself, Owen," Ianto growled hoarsely. "And thanks," he added as an afterthought.
"Well, his brain isn't conciously fucked," Owen grinned. "You two get ten minutes to be sickeningly mushy while I set up the scanners and then I'm going to poke you, teaboy, until you feel like a corpse. Okay?"
"Okay," Ianto managed.
When Owen moved away, Jack caught Ianto's attention and frowned down at him.
"Where've you been?" he asked, half-jokingly, half-seriously, eyes trying to see beyond the glaze in Ianto's.
"A beach in France," Ianto murmured sleepily.
"You've never been to France," Jack pointed out, tucking the blanket around Ianto more firmly.
"I have now," Ianto said, eyes slipping closed. "Just want to sleep for a bit."
Jack let him, holding both his hands and leaning over the autopsy table a little awkwardly, but not prepared to move, and mulling over what Ianto had said in his own mind.
He didn't understand, and he suspected that he never would. But for once, he had no urge to understand at all.
"Sweet dreams, Yan," he murmured, ghosting a kiss over Ianto's cheek, before slowly releasing his hands and moving into professional mode. The team was a man down, after all.
And Ianto smiled in his sleep, dreaming of American voices on French sands.
"How can you remember somewhere you've never been?"
"I don't know. But here we are. Does it matter?"