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.
One week later Mel Telson found herself outside UNIT’s London base reverting to habits that she’d promised Jack that she’d never go to again. As much fun as bringing down a government was through a keyboard, as much as she loved the sound of a panicked manager when he found his best computers all stolen without so much as a fingerprint left behind thrilled her, she’d made Jack Harkness a promise in that Belfast prison in exchange for her freedom. Jack had seen something in her, Mel still had no idea what that was, and had taken her into his team and was shaping her into something amazing. She owed Jack for that.
Perhaps that was why she was doing this and perhaps that was why Jack hadn’t really offered much resistance in her offer of grave robbing. She had never something as large as body before, let alone out of a stronghold such as UNIT, but she was always up for a challenge.
She had promised Jack she wouldn’t do anything illegal anymore, not without his say so. She had been addicted to her previous lifestyle, she knew that now. If she ever fell into that pattern again Jack had made it crystal clear that she’d be back rotting in that cell with no memory of Torchwood or the people were quickly becoming family to her.
That was why Mel knew that this would be different. Her heart was already racing and her fingers were itching to start breaking open that gate, twenty more minutes to go before she could do that. Six months ago she’d pull this job, leaving herself the lowest possible safety factor and minimal time, and be halfway to planning the next one by the time she was out. The thing that would save her was that this was not an adrenaline rush, which was all it really was aside from a cheap and fun way to get computers, this was far more important than that. Profoundly more simple as well.
Jack Harkness had saved her despite the fact that she was not worth saving. She wanted to prove to him that his faith was not misplaced. If the way to do that was to retrieve Jack’s boyfriend’s cold, dead body she would deliver it gift wrapped if she had the time.
- - -
Getting in had been child’s play. Knock out the guard, turn on that pen shaped device to shut off the CCTV, pray that Jack wired up the fake empty street scene correctly and keep powering though. Martha said the morgue kept a minimal staff at night. By minimal she meant maybe one night guard and one doctor and not too many human bodies. If Ianto was indeed down there he would be pretty easy to find. Mel really hoped Martha was right but wasn’t willing to bet anyone’s life on the idea that UNIT told Martha everything they told anyone else. The woman had quit the US division of UNIT to stay in London and to make frequent trips to Cardiff. Effectively she’d asked to be demoted at that raised anyone’s suspicions.
The morgue was in the basement of the UNIT hospital, nothing unusual there. The trick would be getting in and Mel had that covered. Torchwood contact lenses were good for many things, one of which being to project whatever the retina scan was looking for right back at it. These weren’t the camera ones, thankfully. She hated being observed.
The next thing was to get rid of the guard and get in the morgue, also not a problem. Mel knew her size spoke against her but she’d been in a few fist fights in her time. The guy, whom she could see pretty clearly from the tree she was hiding behind, looked just those teenagers she’d deal with whenever she’d robbed commercial computer stores. She never was too violent with these ones. She’d gotten pretty good at knocking out people in one go with one punch. Bruising was inevitable, unfortunately, but at least it usually looked like the guy had put up a good fight. Good chance for him to make up a story about what happened to his mates.
She raised the pen and swore she felt as well as heard the cameras shutting down and the tapping of Jack’s fingers on her keyboard back in Cardiff. She waited thirty seconds and then, as soon as the boy’s back was turned ran to shut him down.
Mel Telson was twenty five years old. She had seen and done many things in her life but everything seemed to pale in comparison to what caused her trip over her own feet and stare up from the ground in wonder and fear.
A well dressed man appeared behind the guard. Clothes weren’t something Mel typically paid any attention to but this man was looking quite sharp. Even more so considering that she was quite sure she was seeing a ghost. He appeared solid but she could see a bit of the bolted blast doors behind him and he was as pale as the moon hanging overhead.
Who the spectre was should have been obvious but she didn’t recognize him until he strode through the guard, turned to face him and shouted “BOO!” so loudly that Mel feared that the entire city had heard. The guard blinked at him in shock, either a question of a scream ready to break from behind his lips. The sound never made it though as the man pulled back his arm and, with one punch, sent the guard spiralling to the floor.
“Thought I’d save you some trouble,” the spectre explained as he made is way toward her. He shook out his hand and Mel wondered if a punch of that magnitude still hurt as badly to a ghost as it did to a living person.
Instead the first thing out of her mouth was “I thought you couldn’t manifest.”
“Not typically,” he agreed. “However it seems that I can crop up here with minimal difficulty. Probably because I technically am already here.” He sniffed and attempted to straighten out his vest. It refused to bow to his wishes. His purple silk tie was just as insubordinate. He sighed again. He was beginning to look very uncomfortable. Mel then remembered that this had been a man who had spent most of his life unnoticed and underappreciated; and she’d just done a wonderful job of underestimating him.
She made her way over to him as easily as she’d make her way toward any one else and she made sure to not break eye contact with him. “Mel Telson.” She held out her hand.
He regarded her hand with an expression somewhere between confusion and fear but eventually took it. The hand that grasped hers was cold as ice but she didn’t let her discomfort cross her face. “Jones,” he replied with a bit more force than necessary. Like he was trying to press his name into her brain with the power of his voice. “Ianto Jones.” He looked at her with a hint of caution. “But you already knew that didn’t you?”
Mel nodded. She felt the need to add that she was a Torchwood operative but she reckoned that Ianto already knew that or he wouldn’t have helped her. The next comment confirmed that.
“So the mission is to break in and walk out of here with my corpse is it?”
“Yep,” she confirmed with the same even, matter of fact, tone. “You’re Torchwood property. We’re repossessing you.”
Ianto snorted. It seemed to be one if disdain but Mel wasn’t sure if it actually was. “One of the many things I love about Torchwood,” he said. “You never really stop being a part of it.”
“I think there’s a clause to that effect in the contract.”
“I seem to remember that as well.” Ianto straightened. “Now, since I am still part of Torchwood, though I don’t really remember the last time Torchwood employed a ghost, shall we get on with the mission?”
Mel nodded. This was officially the oddest thing she’d ever taken part in.
- - -
The layout was exactly as Martha had described, not that Mel had doubted her. She found herself simply pretending not to know where anything was in order to give Ianto something to do. He was looking more alive, for lack of a better word, than he had since first appearing to her. He dispatched the doctor and other guard that Martha hadn’t known about, not even dreaming of allowing Mel to do anything herself. She had thought it was because he wanted her safe, which was probably true, but she soon learned that punches delivered by ghosts left no trace. The guards would have nothing to go on except saying they were punched by a dead man. They’d be lucky if they weren’t sent for evaluations.
The morgue was smaller than Mel was expecting even with Martha’s comment about UNIT not hoarding bodies in the basement. An examination area and the drawers themselves, nothing more special than that.
“Fourteen,” Ianto supplied as she moved toward the drawer labelled ‘1’.
That made sense. Mel grunted an acknowledgement and mentally kicked herself for her own stupidity as she worked on breaking the old fashioned key lock on the drawer door. It was strange though. The drawer did not feel cold at all, she could feel the chill in the room so the other ones had to be working properly but drawer fourteen felt just like a drawer. She really, really hoped that this was a recent development.
The lock opened and Mel wasted no time in opening the drawer and going for the zipper on the body bag. She needed to assess the damage and call for backup if needed. She was working under radio silence, as per her own request, but she had Jack that if anything got out of hand that she would call him. She certainly classified a less than preserved corpse as a good reason to break radio silence.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the body appeared to look just fine. Or at least as fine as a dead body was supposed to look. She was about to comment to the body’s former occupant how good he looked for a dead man when Ianto informed her that the drawer’s freezer unit had never been activated, that his body had been lying here at room temperature for just over three years.
Mel raised an eyebrow. “That’s impossible.” It was a ridiculous statement and she knew it. She saw the impossible everyday, she was chatting with it right now.
Ianto seemed to agree with her as he offered a slightly condescending shrug and pointed toward the computer in the examination area. “It’s all in there if you can get in.”
Mel took a seat and did just that. She heard Ianto whistle his approval from behind her. “I’ve hacked UNIT before,” she explained with some measure of pride.
“Nicely done,” Ianto complimented. “What’s that you’re doing now?”
“Signing you back over to Torchwood,” she replied as she typed. “I wasn’t joking about the repossession bit.”
With that done she pulled up the file folder labelled “Subject 14.” Hopefully Ianto was right and there would be some sort of explanation for the strange storage of Ianto’s body. The file outlined the protocol for all of the Thames House victims, scanning to see they weren’t still harbouring the virus, and Ianto was the only one that set the scanners off. It hadn’t been the virus, though. Something was regenerating inside of him and no one could figure out what it was. That was obvious by the difference between the photographs comparing the state of the corpse from 19 September 2009 to 23 September 2009. A scratch on his cheek had disappeared and he’d regained his colour. No life signs whatsoever though, and no explanation in the ensuing three years.
Mel removed a memory stick from her pocket and proceeded to copy all the files on “Subject 14” that she found. Harry was a numbskull but he was a good medical mind, he’d be able to find something. Martha Jones was an expert in alien physiology as well. With the two of them working together she had no doubt they’d find something that the other doctors had missed. Records showed that very little had been done with the case in the past year or so. It wasn’t threatening, just a curiosity, so they kept the body close by in case anything interesting every cropped up. It made perfect sense to Mel, it was something she probably would have done herself.
“At least that means no one is going to miss you too badly,” Mel quipped. No reply. She turned around in her chair to find herself alone. “Ianto?” she called. “You there?”
She heard something that sounded like Welshman shouting “hello!” down an elevator shaft. “Can’t see you!” she said loudly. “Or hear you too well either.”
Ianto appeared three minutes later. Had he been alive she imagined that he’d be sweating and calling for water. He was taking great heaving breaths and he seemed to be trying lean against the wall. He was losing his physical presence, she noticed, she could barely see him.
“It seems,” he rasped. “That this is easier but not effortless or limitless.” His blue eyes filled with regret and Mel felt compelled to hug him. She hated hugs.
“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him. She moved back to his body and zipped up the body bag. “I can get out from here.” She heaved the body over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry.
Ianto nodded his thanks. “One thing first,” he forced out. She wanted to tell him that it could wait. He was sagging to his knees now. Whatever he had to say could not be this important, could not be worth this pain.
“Tell…tell Jack…” he continued. “Tell him….” He stopped and he relaxed, sagging to the floor. “Stephen’s safe,” he finished in whisper and she watched him fade away into the tiles.
Mel stood there for some moments. It was as if the floor had swallowed him up. She stared at that spot in horror for several moments before her legs decided to move and carry her out of the building.
She had no idea who this Stephen character was but he was some one important. Some one incredibly important to Jack. That would be an awkward conversation.
- - -
Jack was waiting for her at the hub as was agreed. Everyone else had long gone back home but Jack waited. Again, not like she expected anything less. She did hope that Jack was doing something constructive with his time. Jack may be her boss but she had every intention of punching him in the face if she had any reason to suspect he had sat in the underground car park waiting for her, or if he’d been sitting in the office trying to find ways of spying on her heist anyway. Mel took great pride in the fact that if she wanted to remain unobserved that she always remained unobserved.
Jack was in the car park when she pulled in. She rolled down the window a crack and bolted the doors. “Before I open this door,” she warned. “I want you to swear on your mother’s grave that you did not just sit there and wait all night after you rigged the cameras.”
He laughed but Mel refused to even crack a smile. That smile was meant to disarm her, to make her less serious. She was too tired for that trick and too shaken. It wasn’t every day she stole a body out of UNIT, after all. The adrenaline was leaving her system and the impact of the appearance of Ianto Jones was beginning to hit her. It took longer than Mel would have expected for Jack to catch on. Eventually that million dollar smile fell from his face. “I was in the Hub catching up on paperwork most of the night I’ll have you know. I only came down here when the tracker told me you were back in Wales.”
“I’m sorry but the idea of you doing paperwork is a little hard to believe.”
“Eventually I have to do something to clean up my desk,” Jack grumbled. “Trust me it’s nowhere near done and I’ll probably be working on it well into the next century.” He sighed angrily and rubbed at his eyes. They were certainly red enough to suggest that he’d been crouched over a desk reading. Mel decided to believe him. She unlocked the door and slid out. Jack was right behind her as she opened the back door. They stared at the body bag for a few moments. Out of the corner of her eye Mel saw Jack’s face. It was the face of someone trying very hard to remain stoic but ripples of emotion continued to flow across his face. His eyes were unnaturally bright, his head was titled up slightly and he was biting the inside of his lower lip.
“Me or you?” she finally found the courage to ask.
“Me.” Jack reverently scooped up the body into his arms and began walking back up to the Hub. He looked like a pallbearer, a military man and a father all at once. He carried his burden as lovingly as if it was a small child but his demeanour was mournful as well as profoundly dutiful. It was funeral procession of sorts, a funeral that Jack had never found the courage to attend. He was making up for it now. Mel found herself falling into a slow march behind him all the way up to morgue.
“Don’t bother,” she pre-empted when they entered the morgue. The command to open up one of the free drawers fell silent behind Jack’s lips. “Get him up to the med bay, I’ll show you what I mean.”
Once they there Mel positioned herself on the other side of the examination table and managed to catch Jack’s eyes. They were glistening. She had never seen Jack Harkness cry and she wondered if tonight would prove to be a first for that as well. “You remember what he looked like when you last saw him, right?”
“Then prepare to be amazed.” She grasped the zipper and yanked it down displaying the earthly remains of Ianto Jones from the waist up.
There was a flash of pain behind the eyes but it was quickly overcome by shock, concern and a touch of revulsion. “What the hell?” he snapped. “What the…” He reached shaking hands to Ianto’s face to cup it between his hands. It was gesture of tenderness but also one of investigation. “He’s warm,” Jack reported. One hand moved to Ianto’s neck and waited. “No pulse though.” Jack blinked for a moment as though shocked at his own disappointment. “What happened to him?”
Mel shrugged and pulled out the memory stick. “They don’t know but they’ve certainly tried.” She pulled the stick away from Jack’s fingers and put it back in her pocket. “You’re not doing this tonight. We can give it to Harry and Martha tomorrow and maybe they can make sense of all this medical talk.”
Jack folded his arms and stared at Ianto again; one hand fell to dig out Ianto’s and held it. “I’m staying here,” he said, leaving the ‘with Ianto’ hanging in the air. Mel was not even going to try and talk him out of that. She did advise him to use one of the cots that Gwen had brought over instead of camping out on the floor or, God forbid, trying to squeeze onto that table with Ianto.
“I have a message for you.” It was only when Jack looked up at that she realised she’d spoken. “From Ianto,” she clarified.
Jack seemed to pale. “You saw him?”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “Apparently he could manifest there because that’s where his body was. He couldn’t stay long but he did what he could while he could.”
Jack’s smile was heart wrenching and he shut his eyes for a moment. “What did he say?”
Mel told him and watched as her boss fell apart. The feeling that lanced through her was the same one she’d felt when she’d watched her father break down at her mother’s funeral. Watching the leader, the rock, of any family unit cave was like watching the foundation of your home disappear. Jack was happy, it was good news after all so he had to be happy, but whatever had happened had been something that overshadowed whatever had happened to this Stephen person.
She didn’t like hugs but she made an exception in this case. She pulled him into her arms, gently pulling Ianto’s hand out of his to stop them from pulling him off the table. “He’s safe,” Mel reminded him again. “Whatever happened before he’s safe now. That’s all that should matter now.” This was incredibly awkward. She was horrible at comforting people. She hoped Jack remembered that.
“I know,” he admitted.
“Who was Stephen and what happened?” Mel asked before he could sink any lower. She fully expected Jack to say no or to change the subject or to order her home or something. Instead Jack pulled back, took a calming breath and pressed on.
“Stephen was my grandson,” Jack said lifelessly, as though he was merely reading a fact sheet. “I killed him to save millions of children from the 456.”
The shock rocked through Mel but she filed it away. She could feel it later. Right now all she needed to do was listen to him and trust his judgement. Had there been another way he certainly would have taken it. She had absolute faith in that.
“Go on,” she encouraged him.