Spoilers: All of Children of Earth and scattered references to series one and two
Summary: Set three years after Children of Earth. Strange events force Jack to reconsider his opinion on the existence of ghosts along with his definition of impossible. Yep, you guessed it, more Children of Earth fix it fic.
It took a moment for that question to sink in. It took a few more for him to understand that Tosh was serious. Then the absolute joy – no, exaltation – crashed over him. He’d lost too many people in his life but it was Ianto’s loss that haunted him above all else and each of them pained him in different ways. Ianto’s loss, though, was something he dealt with every day for the past three years and doubtless would continue to feel for the rest of his existence. Most days it was like having a toothache, annoying but manageable, but some days it would flare up so bad that it was more like what Jack gathered amputees must feel when they felt like their lost limbs were still being torn from them.
“What do I have to do?” was his spoken answer. The ‘yes, oh god yes’ was implied but also blindingly obvious. Owen’s less than subtle eye rolling certainly told him that.
Tosh opened her mouth to answer that but she suddenly vanished before she could say anything. Jack looked over at Owen and found him trying to grasp onto the sides of his chair, fingers slipping through the wood. “Shit,” Owen rasped. “Tosh!” he hollered. “Here, you handle it!” With that Owen disappeared and Tosh reappeared, transparent face gleaming with something like sweat and taking in heaving, unnecessary, breaths as her hand clawed at her chest.
“You need to get Ianto’s body,” she forced out.
All that hope and joy collapsed in him. He hadn’t attended Ianto’s funeral but he knew what had become of his remains. “Tosh, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered. I can’t-“
Tosh shook her head. “He wasn’t cremated.” She gasped and he watched in frozen horror as Tosh dissolved into the upholstery. The last thing he heard from her was a cry of “UNIT!”
Jack waited a few moments, hoping for his friends to rally and reappear to explain to him that really he had not just heard Tosh imply that UNIT had Ianto’s body. That whatever remains had been given to Ianto’s family had not been him at all. Jack checked the clock on the wall, three in the morning. The desire to phone UNIT and demand an explanation for what he’d just heard was beyond tempting but he knew he had to find out exactly what had happened from the time he and Gwen had left the auditorium turned mortuary to the time that Ianto’s remains had been collected. Gwen had to have dealt with that, Gwen would have thought it her personal duty to do that.
He grabbed his phone and sent out a text message calling a nine a.m. meeting. He forwarded the same message to Martha and Rhys as well. Martha would be able to explain the UNIT end of things and Rhys would have been at the funeral as well. He needed another opinion aside from Gwen’s if only to make sure Gwen’s hormones or own grief hadn’t clouded the facts too much.
If what was implied was true, that UNIT had been stockpiling the Thames House Ninety Six, for the past three years, Jack had no problems going public and blowing the whole thing wide open. There was clearly no health risks with the bodies, Gwen wouldn’t have been allowed within twenty feet of him and Ianto if that had been the case. He had had little patience with government before the 456 mess and he had even less of it now. UNIT had been frustratingly absent during the whole mess and he was less than pleased with them as well, and both bodies were certainly terrified of him.
And they had every reason to be, Jack fumed. If they thought that a lowly vault was going to keep Ianto locked away from him, whether there really was a chance for him to come back or not, they had more than another thing coming to them.
More than another thing indeed.
- - -
The early call had been received by everyone at the exact moment it had been sent, they had all been trained well of course and all had arrived on time. All except Rhys that was. “You try finding a babysitter at three in the morning!” was his barely restrained explanation.
“Jack!” Tegan shouted from her spot on Gwen’s lap. Jack exchanged a quick wave with the doe eyed little girl before letting Gwen get back to trying to get her to eat and getting back to defending himself from an angry Rhys.
“You’re on my staff, Rhys,” he reminded him sharply.
“I’m on your reserve staff,” Rhys corrected just as sharply. “Not that I mind it or anything but I need the notice!”
“I agree,” piped in Martha, who was sitting at the opposite end of the table across from Jack. “I’m surprised UNIT let me go over here as easily as they did but we can’t always expect that.”
“I’d appreciate the notice,” Harry added, a mighty yawn mangling his speech. “I would have gone to bed quite a bit earlier had I known about this.”
Mel said nothing, merely rolled her eyes at the stream of complaints and waited for Jack to get to the point. She looked a bit tired herself but she, wisely, kept any complaints she had to herself.
“Would it make anyone feel better if I were to confirm to you that I am not insane?” Jack offered. Usually there would be a quip about whether or not he was sane to begin with but it seemed that he was working with a tough crowd today. It also took longer than he thought for someone to catch on.
The good doctor finally clued in. “So the thing I found in the archives worked?” he stuttered. “You mean you actually…”
“I had a nice chat with Toshiko Sato and Owen Harper last night.” He informed them while keeping his face serious. He didn’t want to give them any reason to think he was having them on. Despite this a few expressions of concern for his health and suspicions of a joke crossed everyone’s face for at least a few moments. He keeps his expression steady and then received a wonderful show of reactions.
Mel raised an eyebrow and nodded her head. She was waiting for the next move.
Harry was still silent while Gwen and Martha simply lost all muscular coordination in their faces, their lower jaws falling toward the table.
Rhys simply yelped. “Get out! Really?”
Tegan cooed happily and reached over to pat her father’s face. “Really!”
“Really, really,” Jack echoed with small laugh. The whole night seemed quite surreal to him, as if it had been a dream or a fantasy more than an actual event. It had probably been a mistake to go to sleep right away, things might have still seemed tangible to him had he not done so.
“How are they?” Gwen asked with wide and concerned eyes. “Are they okay? Are they safe?”
“They seemed perfectly fine to me,” Jack replied, finally taking his seat at the head of the table. “Owen’s sense of humour has not changed and Tosh is as long suffering and lovely as ever.”
Gwen nodded. She seemed relieved but Rhys seemed to sense something that Jack hadn’t. He grasped her hand tightly and even Tegan seemed to notice as she clutched her mother tightly and made some soothing cooing sound into Gwen’s breast.
“So is the world ending then?” That was Harry talking.
“Not at all actually,” Jack felt some sort of giddiness and knew there was a ridiculous grin crossing his face. “They say that they can send Ianto back. Back here. Back alive.” It was so odd, so surreal and so right to say those words.
There was collective gasp from everyone except Mel, who merely jerked her shoulders a bit in shock. “What do we need to do?” asked Martha.
“How is that even possible?” questioned Harry. “And why Ianto? Why not the both of them as well? Or anyone else for that matter?”
“I don’t know.” Those were questions that hadn’t really even occurred to him and, truthfully, he didn’t really care all that much. Ianto Jones was within his grasp and Jack would get him back. End of thought process. If Tosh and Owen could come back as well they would have said so. Owen definitely would have said something. “We didn’t exactly get that much time.”
“Are they going to come back?” asked Martha.
“I hope so,” Jack answered. He was trying to sound confident, and he thought he was doing rather well, but he was truly in unknown waters here. More so then he had ever been he guessed. He continued on anyway. “The only reason they left when they did was because they didn’t have the energy to stay physical any longer. Even with the amplifier’s help.”
“So how does this all work?” Rhys asked. “How long can they stay? Are they the only ones?” Had he paid attention to any of the previous conversation?
“Does it matter right now?” Mel countered. “We have no way of finding out those answers right now and I seem to recall a motion to assist Ianto Jones back into the land of the living being tabled, am I right?” Once she’d received a nod from everyone around the table she looked over at Jack. “What we need to deal with right now is not the what or the why but the how.”
“The how is rather up in the air right now,” Jack said. “All they had a chance to say was that we needed Ianto’s body.” He directed his attention to Gwen and Rhys. “He was cremated right?”
“Cremated,” Gwen confirmed. The hope was and joy was leaving her with all the speed that it had left him last night. “All the bodies at Thames House were cremated.”
“So you didn’t cremate him yourself,” Jack asked, leaping on the detail and anger already starting to cloud his words. “He was given to you?”
“In a tin,” Rhys specified with a disgusted shake of his head. “A bloody little tin with the number fourteen written on top of it and they knew his name when we came to ask for him.” This time it was Gwen who offered comfort, squeezing her husband’s hand while her own eyes reflected her anger at the situation. Jack, for a moment, was glad he hadn’t gone to collect Ianto’s remains himself. That would not have ended well.
“Too many people,” Martha said sadly in answer to everyone’s unspoken question. “They should have had his name on it though. All of those victims were government employees one way or another and it’s not as if they were unidentifiable…”
“Did you know anything about this, Martha?” Gwen cut in.
Martha bristled ever so slightly. “I was on my honeymoon at the time and had no way of getting back there when they called me. No one was sending any air traffic anywhere for any reason. Once I was back they didn’t see much point in dragging me in to something that was more or less taken care of.”
That statement removed a weight that Jack had not realised he’d been carrying. Martha would never, could never, lie to him. Not about this and not about anything. But some part of him had feared that she had.
“You alright, Jack?”
Jack ignored Harry, instead turning his attention to Martha and Gwen and telling her that UNIT had lied to them. UNIT and the government had lied to them all again. That UNIT had been hiding the bodies of the ninety six victims of the 456 attack at Thames House without the knowledge of their families for the past three years.
The reactions around the table were just as varied as the reactions to his announcement that he had had a chat with some friends who had been dead for four years. Rhys and Harry went bug eyed, Gwen and Mel’s faces darkened.
Martha looked confused. “Jack, the bodies were released. I oversaw a few of the later releases.”
“Are you sure?” Jack asked.
“Were they cremated?” Gwen asked. “I thought you said you weren’t involved.”
“Handing a crying relative a clipboard to sign and sitting there with bloody tin and saying ‘sorry for your loss’ does not count as being involved,” Martha bit out. “Public health precautions were why everyone was cremated,” she explained. “Whatever that virus was it wasn’t contagious or we wouldn’t have let anyone in there. The atmosphere was cleared more or less instantly after the last person to be affected breathed it in. We weren’t taking any chances though and the families understood that.” That last bit was definitely her trying to convince herself that the families understood.
“We did,” Gwen told her after a moment. She sighed deeply, shifted Tegan a little on her lap, and then went on. “I almost had to deal with a similar mess. Torchwood policy on agents killed in action and all that.”
A very familiar policy to everyone who had ever worked for Torchwood, Jack knew. There were still past agents’ corpses down in the basement who had survived the blast. Fifteen to be precise. One day every single one of the people sitting around this table would be stored there. Everyone was by default okay with it by signing the contract. Very few exceptions were made. Jack had personally conducted the only two. The fact that Ianto’s remains were not here told him that there had been a third conducted.
“Rhiannon was quite firm that Ianto was getting a funeral,” Gwen told the group in a sorrowful tone. “I told her Torchwood policy on the subject, and I knew by then that the morgue had mostly survived the blast, and she was hearing none of it.” Gwen sighed. “In a way I was relieved that he was cremated, that way I didn’t have to choose what to do with him. There’s no real policy about cremated remains after all…”
Jack walked over and grasped her shoulders, he would have taken her hands but they were occupied in keeping Tegan from climbing on to the table. “It’s not your fault,” he soothed, rubbing her shoulders gently. “You didn’t know and there was no reason for you to suspect.”
“Do we know for sure that Ianto’s body is still stashed in a locker somewhere?” Harry asked.
Jack tensed slightly at the implication and nodded. “Tosh was more than confident. While they were the first to admit that they’re not all knowing I’m willing to take her word on the subject.”
“Also,” Martha added quietly. “UNIT would very easily lie to one family for its own reasons. Ninety six is a stretch but one is not.”
Jack didn’t know which idea was more horrifying. That UNIT had lied to ninety six families or that UNIT had lied to one. If the latter was true the question of why became all the more important. Why wasn’t Ianto’s body released? Why were Gwen and Rhys lied to? Why was Torchwood never informed? What UNIT wanted him from him had to be done with by now. Also, technically speaking, Ianto’s body was Torchwood property and there were certain rules to be followed when UNIT wanted to ‘borrow’ Torchwood property.
What the hell was going on?
“I wonder,” Gwen mused. “What was in that tin then?”
Harry opened his mouth, clearly ready to give a list of ways that one could be led to believe they had their friend’s ashes but a quick shake of the head from Jack silenced him. Jack didn’t want to know and he was pretty sure that Gwen and Rhys didn’t want to know either.
Mel cleared her throat abruptly and announced five words that seemed to still the room into something beyond silence. “I’ll get him for you.”
Jack looked at Mel. Mel Telson, Torchwood technician and former serial cyber terrorist, stared back at him with a look beyond a simple wordless promise. It was a gaze that told him on no uncertain terms that she would succeed in her task. “We need him back,” Mel explained. “It’s not like UNIT will give him to us if we ask, they would have told us that they had him if that were the case. They were supposed to have told us in the first place if I’ve read the policies correctly.” Jack nodded, Mel continued. “So ‘repossession’ is necessary and I’m the logical choice. We can’t risk Martha doing it.” Martha’s noise of objection went unnoticed.
Harry looked over at her warily, making Mel stop to wait for his objection. “Mel, I’m not sure that’s…”
“You can’t do it!” Mel snapped. “You’ve never so much as shoplifted in your life!”
“What if I want to do it?” Jack challenged. It was well within his rights and a little voice within him really wanted the chance to play the hero and get it right this time.
Mel snorted, a disdainful sound that did a wonderful job of effectively silencing that voice into nonexistence. “Boss, you’re the first person they’d expect,” she said. There was a touch of apology and a dash of regret behind the assertive tones. “I acknowledge how you feel but we don’t need a hero here.”
“That’s what you think?”
“Subtly is not your strong point and that’s what we need for this. You have every right to barge in there and yell and make them hurt, but we can do that later not now.” He couldn’t argue with that. “Plus,” Mel continued. “Last I checked I was the resident expert on stealing things.”
“Cyber crime is different from normal every day stealing, Mel,” Harry lectured as if he were in fact the leading expert on such things. Gwen gave him a glare and Rhys was giving him the cut gesture, even Tegan was looking at him and shaking her head wildly. Harry either paid no mind or simply didn’t notice. “And I would think that stealing a body, a body at UNIT’s morgue, is different than stealing a TV.”
“How do you think I got a hold of a computer, Harry?” she shouted right in his face. Harry scooted his chair closer to Jack. “I can tell you right now that I didn’t buy them. Have you looked up the price of these computers?” she gestured toward her work station. “Most of those I brought with me to Torchwood and, like I said, I definitely didn’t buy them.” She gave Jack a pointed look. “You saw my set up, remember?”
Jack remembered. Mel had come under his attention for using an alien computer virus to hack into military bases and alter weapons settings. She’d been working as middle woman for a notorious arms dealer when their paths had crossed and her work station was filled with top of the line military and government computers along with the best public access computers money could buy.
Mel, despite her illegal activities, had not been a rich woman. There was only one way she’d obtained those.
“Okay,” he agreed. “Martha,” he asked. “Would you be willing to give her a hand with the planning stages at least? She’ll need a road map.”
“Gwen,” Jack continued. “You give them a hand as well, check out the CCTV, find out what the security is like and how best to get around it.”
“You gonna steal Ianto?” Tegan had decided to stand on her mother’s lap and turn so she was facing Jack, who was still standing behind Gwen’s chair.
Jack took Tegan’s little hand and moved a bit of her black hair out of her face. “Yes we are,” he told her solemnly. “But he’s ours, right?”
“Right!” Tegan agreed.
“Then it’s not stealing, is it then?”
Rhys raised an eyebrow at Tegan’s eager nod. “Are you going to explain to her that stealing is not always okay?” he demanded.
“I’m not her father.”
Tegan laughed her father’s laugh. Jack had to fight not to join her. Her father’s expression was certainly worthy of a good belly laugh.