She is floating in the greyness. There is a fog surrounding her and a strange metallic, mechanical whisper in her mind. Someone is screaming. Loud. Agonized. It takes her a moment to realize that it’s her.
“Ianto! Help me!”
Pain. So much pain. She’s burning up, she’s blistering and bubbling with it, the agony licks across her flesh and into her muscles and it’s in her brain, in her bones. She wants to help him, but there’s so much pain, and all she can do is scream as he drags her through the burning rooms, past the flames whose heat she can’t feel through the agony. She can see the skin on his face blistering and red, the skin of his left arm is fused to the heated metal of her back.
She can’t stop screaming. She becomes pain. She becomes the shriek coming from her throat, follows it out of her mouth and disappears.
The grey is mostly comfortable. She feels like she’s in a padded room, or a bouncy castle, or a thick warm blanket on an autumn day. She feels no pain, nothing. But something inside makes her flinch, makes her curl into herself in her mind. Something is whispering. Something is here that should not be. Something that will hurt. And it talks.
The burning lessens on her skin. She’s somewhere new, somewhere familiar. Everything is metallic in her ears. She feels like she’s breathing through a screen, like something else has a hold on her lungs.
“Lisa?” A familiar voice. Her eyes flick to the left. Ianto looks frightened and worried and wary. His left arm is bandaged from wrist to shoulder. She opens her mouth and nothing comes out. It won’t let her speak. She fights it.
“Ianto.” He visibly relaxes. She wonders if she’s said anything aloud while she was in that fog, if she’s done anything but scream.
“Hey. I’m going to get you help.”
“Where am I?” The fear is back in his eyes, and something inside her laughs.
“Our flat. Are you okay?”
“Please make it stop. I just want it to stop. It hurts. Just kill me. Please just let me go.” His face turns into a grimace of pain and sadness and shock. Tears begin to run down his face, and he looks like he’s about to crumble. She shakes her head, the little movement she has. “I’m sorry. Everything is fuzzy.”
He strokes her forehead, blinking away more tears. “I’ll fix it. I promise I will. Do you want some medicine for the pain? A jab to put you to sleep?”
She nods this time. “You’re so good to me, Ianto.”
“I promised, you know.” She smiles. The thing inside sneers.
In the fog, she locks herself into one set of rooms. She can move freely about them, but with each step she takes she can feel something following her on the outside, scratching, clawing, staring.
In the fog, she lies down, and she sleeps. She dreams of running with or running from something that might be a very large black dog, but very clearly isn’t. She dreams of electricity arcing between two points for a very long time before one collapses and darkens and disappears. She dreams of dissonant tones of sound in the darkness, and something inside them watching, waiting.
She cries out in her sleep, in the fog, and in the flat.
“Where are you going?”
“You remember hearing about Captain Jack Harkness?”
“The American that the Director hated?”
“That very one. I’m going to try to get hired by him. It may be difficult. He’s stubborn.”
“But—Torchwood—” The thing inside stops her from protesting. Ianto hears anyway.
“Apparently, this one is different. The Captain’s had experience off-world, it seems. Others have said that Torchwood Cardiff is more lenient.”
“We’re going to Cardiff?”
“Yes. To find help.”
An audible swallow, a sniff. “I know. I’m sorry.”
She drifts. The whispers are louder now, but still she cannot understand them.
“I got in,” He tells her after a few weeks of nothing. He smiles at her, eyes full of hope. “I’ll get you settled in there tonight.”
He kisses her hard and brushes a hand across her cheek and then pumps her full of painkillers and sedatives. She is only dimly aware as she is loaded into the back of a lorry. The doors close and she fades.
There is something waiting for her. She cowers. It moves about the walls of the room. Whispers too close to her ear. She curls in the middle of the room and sobs. It claws at the walls. Metal whirrs. Red electric eyes stare at her. Cold.
She wakes slowly. Metal things are grasping at her mind, mercury tendrils press and writhe in her brain. She pushes them away. Something is heavy on her stomach. She raises her head.
He wakes. “Oh. Sorry. I fell asleep. I was waiting for you to wake up.”
“Where are we?”
“In the Torchwood Cardiff Hub. You’re in the basement. You have to stay hidden. I don’t think they’re going to help you. But I’ll find someone, and we’ll heal you. And then we can go away somewhere, and it’ll be all right.”
She tries to smile. It’s hard, for some reason. “Thank you, Ianto. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I promised, Lisa. I want you to get better.”
He’s wearing a suit. A red shirt and black and red tie. It looks good on him. A comm unit curls around his left ear. He seems a bit ragged.
“I’m working as their butler, I guess. Teaboy. I get them coffee, clean up, navigate from here, things like that.”
“You’re wasted here. You can do so much more.”
“I have to stay off the radar. What if they find you?”
“Okay. Okay. Thank you.”
“Ianto?” A voice sounds from the comm.
“Coming.” He kisses her gently. “I have to go. The Captain’s calling. I love you.”
There are times when it feels like she’s under for days, weeks. Maybe she is. Sometimes it is black darkness, close enough to sleep that she feels nearly at peace. There’s still something there, but it’s further back, and she doesn’t think it can get her. Much of the time it’s still just grey fog. And still something is there. It grins at her. She can feel its metallic teeth gnawing at the walls. She can hear the iron voice at her ear. She spends too much time in the fog. It makes her tremble and shiver and cower.
She knows something’s different in the grey. There are things she can’t find anymore, things she can’t remember. She doesn’t know what joy is any longer. She can’t see wonder, except for the sort of odd, knowing fascination when she looks towards her own manipulated, cybernetic body. The thing is laughing at her.
Ianto only comes sporadically now. She knows how busy he is, how that team up there has him doing everything from cleaning and serving coffee to sorting out the archives to feeding the captive aliens (and something inside her cringes at that) to acting as autopsy assistant. Still, he’s loyal as ever. He kisses her gently, touches her, calls her names of endearment she hasn’t heard in years. He reads to her. Poetry, mostly, some novels as well. His voice washes over her and she clings to it like a lifeline, feeling a little more as it pushes back that thing inside.
Some days are good for her, some are bad. On bad days, the metallic thing inside is clawing at her frantically, and the pain is nearly unbearable, and even Ianto’s sweet voice and soft touches can’t help, so she begs to go back to sleep, or begs to be killed.
The good days, she is as close to happy as she can get now that the sensation of “happiness” seems to have a definition missing, seems to be out of reach. There is minimal pain, and Ianto’s voice and touch are like nectar. She gives him as much of a smile as she can manage.
Sometimes he’ll add things to the machines surrounding her. A heart monitor joins the respiratory machine and IV drips. She has been surrounded by beeps and whistles and steaming whooshes for so long she can’t remember anything else, it seems.
The day he comes to tell that he found someone to help is a good day, thankfully. She smiles at him, bigger than before, and thanks him profusely.
He simply kisses her. “I love you. It’s my job. I want to help you.”
Things above are getting crazy, Ianto says when he comes down a few days later. A new girl has arrived. They have to lay low in case she decides to explore, but that doctor he told her about is still going to come help. The pain has gotten worse, and he changes the dose of painkillers.
She spends the next few weeks in the fog. It eats at her and she can barely hold it back. The walls are thin like paper now, and she can see its red electric eyes staring at her through the fragile barrier. She screams and cowers and it giggles high and mechanic, like the midi voice that talked back to her on so many computers at Torchwood London.
She wants to fight. She needs to. She needs to get out to be with Ianto, to love Ianto, to keep Ianto safe. She can’t let it take her. She can’t let it through.
When she wakes again, someone is touching her; some strange voice is speaking in accents she cannot recognize. It is not Ianto, and it is not good and it is not something she wants. She listens to him speaking. The metal is tickling in her brain.
“You took parts from a Cyber conversion unit and modified them into a life support for her? How did you know what to do?”
“I told him.” She wonders just how much of her actually wants to speak, and how much is the thing that she can feel clenching at her.
“I thought you were resting,” Ianto sounds worried as he takes her hand. “You should be resting. How’s the pain? Are the new doses working?”
“A little.” She loves him, so much. He’s so loyal. He’d make such a good Cyberman, he’s so competent, so willing to put aside his own needs for those of another—The thoughts come out of nowhere and she jerks away from them with a groan. “Is this him?”
“I promised, didn’t I?”
She runs far away from the thing as it grasps at her ankles. “And you always keep your promises.”
He smiles at her, and she knows it’s worth it, just to see him happy again. She misses his smile, his real smile. She can see the worry behind his eyes and sometimes it scares her. Other times it annoys her. Other times she feels nothing, and that terrifies her.
“I would like to ask her some questions,” The doctor steps forward. “My name is Dr. Tanizaki. I specialise in Cybernetics. Your friend, Mr. Jones—”
No. This is wrong. He is not her friend. She loves him. He loves her. He would not do this if he didn’t love her. He has to know. She can see the way the doctor is looking at her, the way he looks at Ianto.
“My boyfriend.” Ianto seems relieved.
“Yes. He asked me to come.”
“We agreed, together.” That was her, when they made the decision. The thing had not been around.
They go through a short round of questions. The last thing she remembers. Pain. Burning. Agony. Ianto’s fear. The smell of scorched flesh and heated metal. The sound of flames too big to be put out. The thing advances on her as she stumbles.
She is put under again after a kiss from Ianto. She runs. She runs and runs and the thing behind her laughs. It catches at her ankles.
The thing speaks first. “Why aren’t I connected?”
“You’re alive!” Ianto kisses her. “He kept you alive!”
Happiness breaks through at last. She looks towards the strange doctor. “Thank you.”
“This is only the start,” he responds.
Suddenly, Ianto’s frantic. Something’s happening. The others are coming back. They want to put her back on the stretcher. She wants to walk. It doesn’t matter, things are happening too fast. She walks, limping beside the doctor.
“I’m alive,” she says to Ianto. It says it, too. It grins and licks its lips. It locks metal claws around her ankles and pulls.
She gets down to the door to the lower levels and her feet disappear. Ianto catches them, then, and she uses him as support to walk. Her feet are gone. She can’t let them know.
Ianto lets go. He would make such a good Cyberman. She would love to upgrade him, to be with him. To be one. Her knees. “As soon as they’re gone, I’ll be down.”
She nods and he runs. They’re halfway there. Her lower body is gone. The little doctor is hobbled under her tall frame and metal weight.
“Take it slowly,” he says to her as they enter the chamber. Her chest goes dark. “You’re still very weak.”
He puts hands on her waist. Her neck disappears. He turns her. She cowers in a corner of her mind. The thing grasps her memories and pockets them. It downloads them and scrolls through and knows. Her head is gone. Nose, mouth, ears, darkened and vanished. She is nothing. Only her eyes are left. She cowers and watches. He looks up.
She will make him one of them. He is wrong. He needs help. He is a danger that can be neutralized through conversion. She takes him by the throat. He will be upgraded.