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Life Less Ordinary (Episode 3)

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Ianto Jones was expecting the amazing. Something wonderful. A sight that would make the things he’d seen over his years working at Torchwood seem tame in comparison.

What he was not expecting was a dead planet and a dead ship that unsurprisingly smelled like death. The God-awful-smelling, creepy, and just-plain-no was exactly what he’d been wanting to avoid by leaving Torchwood to travel with The Doctor.

Of course, there was also the small issue of the biochip in his brain that meant every time he saw Captain Jack Harkness, the overwhelming urge to kill him invaded every cell of his body.

Since he and Jack had sort-of-actually been a couple—though Jack hated the word—the driving urge to kill him wasn’t the type of desire he was used to feeling around the charismatic man.

It was all thanks to an ancient race who called themselves the Timeless. They wanted to achieve immortality by existing outside of time, which should have been impossible. Probably. Maybe. The Doctor didn’t believe they could do it, but had a theory that if they somehow did achieve their ends, it could cause the fabric of reality to collapse.

Failing their ultimate goal of shifting outside of time, the Timeless had apparently decided to focus their efforts on Jack, because he was a fixed point in time and therefore immortal. To get to Jack, they’d tried to use him by implanting a biochip into his brain, which controlled his mind, hence the uncontrollable urge to kill Jack and keep killing him until he could hand the man he loved over to the Timeless.

Fortunately, The Doctor had found him and stopped the machine before the biochip had completed it’s programming, so it didn’t work as effectively as it otherwise would have. He only wanted to kill Jack some of the time, which he supposed was marginally better than wanting to kill him all of the time.

So he’d gone on the TARDIS with The Doctor to find some way to get the biochip removed from his head. It had seemed like the more sensible idea when compared to the option of staying at Torchwood in Cardiff and accidentally killing Jack over and over.

All jokes aside, he couldn’t have lived with the burden of it every day. He’d hurt Jack only the one time, but it had been enough. More than enough. Even knowing Jack would survive, revive and be fine, there was something infinitely disturbing about killing the person you loved, and it wasn’t an experience he wanted to repeat. Ever.

Which was how he and The Doctor had ended up here… wherever here was.

“This isn’t our destination.” The Doctor cast an annoyed glare over her shoulder at the TARDIS, like it was an actual person who would care about getting glared at.

“Well, that’s a relief,” he replied with a small smirk. “I was trying to come up with a diplomatic way of telling you I think we landed in hell.”

They were standing in what looked to be the control room of a huge, old spaceship. It was perched on top of a high-rise building in the middle of what had once been a technologically advanced city that looked like it had been in ruins for decades, if not hundreds of years. There was nothing out there but blue and black shadows. No colour, no life. Nothing moving anywhere.

“What happened here?” he asked as The Doctor turned and went back into the TARDIS.

“Civilizations rise and fall all the time. This place had its time, and that time has passed.” She went over to the control console. “The real question is, what brought us here?”

The Doctor focused on the screen, running some kind of scan.

“Can’t we just leave?” He wasn’t trying to be impatient or anything… Actually, he was definitely being impatient. They were supposed to be going somewhere to find a way to get the biochip out of his head, and they’d promised Jack no detours. This dead place was one heck of a detour.

“We could try, but the TARDIS might refuse. Or she might just bring us straight back again. Isn’t that right, sexy?”

He aimed a raised eyebrow in her direction. “You call your police box space ship sexy?”

The Doctor ran a fond hand over a section of the console. “Because she is. Now.” She did a lap around the instruments, adjusting a few things and then returning to the screen. “Just need to run a scan for anything at all out of the ordinary on a dead planet, then we can be on our way.”

A crackling noise sounded, like static on a speaker. Ianto glanced up, but couldn’t see where it was coming from.

“That shouldn’t be happening,” The Doctor murmured to herself. “And what is going on with you? You’re not making sense.”

“I assume you’re talking to the TARDIS,” Ianto drawled, crossing his arms. Anyone would think the ship was a person the way The Doctor treated it.

The Doctor cut him a look like a teacher schooling a student. “She understands. The TARDIS has a heart more complicated than you can imagine. She is a living being, and once told me she may not always take me where I want to go, but she’ll always take me where I need to go. We’re here for a reason.”

“She told you that?” he repeated sceptically.

The Doctor waved her hand, retuning her attention to the console screen. “One time her consciousness was transported into the body of this woman… you had to be there.”

“I’m pretty sure all of your stories should probably end that way.”

“What way?” She cut him a quick glance between typing on the keyboard.

You had to be there.”

She grinned. “Quite so, Mr Jones.”

The crackling sounded again, and The Doctor frowned, banging her hand against the side of the screen like that’d make it work better. A futuristic spaceship that needed to be thumped like an old faulty TV set. Comforting.

“What is that noise?” she muttered.

“Hello? Hello?” A female voice came through the crackling, not very clear at first, but becoming stronger as the static sound subsided. “Hello, is someone there?”

The Doctor quickly side-stepped to another section of the console and tapped some buttons. “We’re here, we can hear you!” she called back.

Ianto walked closer, glancing at the console screen, but whatever readings it displayed looked like gibberish to him.

“I need help—rescue—” The crackling increased again, distorting the end of her words. “I need someone.”

“We can help you.” The Doctor tried adjusting something else as the static drowned everything else out. “Just tell us where you are.”

“Ship.” There were other words, but they got lost, unintelligible through the crackling that turned into a whine until it cut out into complete silence.

“Are you still there?” The Doctor asked, looking up as if that would somehow give her answers. But there was no response save the silence that seemed sort of disturbing after all the noise.

“Right. Let’s get to it.” The Doctor shoved the console screen back into its usual place and practically skipped around to grab her coat. 

“Wait, where are you going?” He didn’t move from where he’d been standing, tracking her with his gaze.

“This is why we’re here. That girl—whoever she is—obviously sent some kind of distress signal that the TARDIS picked up. That’s how we ended up here.”

“And just like that, you’re going to swan off to find her?” he demanded, not quite able to keep the disbelief out of his voice.

The Doctor spun to face him, a hint of confusion in her features. “Well, yes. Why wouldn’t we?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s not a girl who needs rescuing. Maybe it’s a bloody big trap, with a neon sign flashing above it that says bloody big trap. Maybe we’re going not going to find a girl, but a bunch of aliens with tentacles for hands who say ha-ha you walked right into our bloody big trap.”

The Doctor arched a brow at him. “Well, Mr Jones, you’ve got the sass dialled all the way up to ten today, don’t you?”

He sighed, crossing the space between them. “Sorry, it just I’ve got a fair bit of experience when it comes to walking into traps and this one seems rather of obvious to me. Plus we promised Jack no detours.”

“This isn’t a detour. Call it a pit stop. We’ll get right on with going to get that biochip removed as soon as we make sure there’s not some poor girl stuck on this dead ship. Or a bunch of aliens with tentacles for hands luring unsuspecting passers-by into a bloody big trap.” She picked up his suit jacket from where he’d left it draped over the railing earlier and handed it to him. “Okay?”

“Okay.” He couldn’t help a smile as he took the jacket from her. Despite how dire the circumstances seemed, she had a knack for lightening the mood when the need arose. “But just to be on the safe side, I don’t suppose you’ve got a gun I can take?”

She frowned deeply at him. “I don’t do guns, Mr Jones. So no, I don’t have any just laying around for you to accessorise your suit with.”

“Of course. No guns. How silly of me.” He shrugged into his jacket and buttoned it as they stepped out of the TARDIS again, though everything looked the same as it had a few minutes ago. If there was anyone on this ship—girl or alien—they definitely weren’t here.

“So, what are we going to do, search the entire ship?” he asked, staying near the TARDIS as she went over to check out what he assumed had once been the controls of the vessel. “How big do you think it is?”

“Big,” she replied distractedly, pulling her sonic screwdriver out of her coat pocket and buzzing it across a few different things. “Big, but most definitely dead. No power source of any kind registering. So how was she communicating with us?”

“Maybe she’s not on the ship?” Probably not helpful, but it was a possibility.

The Doctor tapped her screwdriver against her chin. “If she’s not, that’s going to make finding her much more difficult. But the TARDIS landed here specifically. She has to be on board somewhere.”

She spun to face him, coat flaring out slightly as she put her screwdriver away again.

“Nothing for it. Might be dangerous, but we’ll have to go exploring.” She came back past him, a definite spring in her step.

“She says with oh-so-much excitement,” he muttered as he slipped his hands into his pockets and followed after her.

“Come now, don’t pretend like you have no sense of adventure. Imagine all the things we could find.”

“Oh, I’m imaging plenty. And most of them want to kill us.”

She cast him an exasperated look, stepping over some kind of cables as they left the control centre and went into a dark corridor. A little light shone from the grimy windows behind them, but deep into the corridor was pitch black.

“We need a torch or something,” he said, pausing a few steps in. “We won’t be able to see our hands in front of our faces by the looks of that. Do you have something on the TARDIS?”

She had her sonic screwdriver out again, the tip shining, but not providing much light.

“Second compartment on the left in the bottom of the console.”

“Give me a minute to go back and grab it.” He didn’t wait for her to reply, but jogged back toward the TARDIS. However, just as he reached for the blue, wood-panel door, a low buzzing started up, like appliances coming back to life when the electricity came back on after a black out. He paused, looking around as the ship’s consoles began pulsing with dull light.

“Doctor?”

A sudden noise like a door slamming had him spinning around. Some kind of panel had slid closed, blocking off the corridor where the Doctor had been waiting for him to return with the torch.

“Doctor!” He rushed over, looking for a handle or a button—anything to make it open again. But there was nothing that he could see, and it was made of solid metal. He couldn’t even see the Doctor on the other side.

“I’m okay, Ianto.” Her voice was muffled but clear enough through the barrier. “The lights are on now, so I can see. What’s going on in there?”

He glanced over his shoulder, various control panels flashing and blinking at him.

“I don’t know, but it looks like the ship is waking up or something.”

“Right, don’t touch anything. Especially things that flash or beep. Those ones will always get you into trouble.”

“Really wasn’t planning to.” He turned and put his back to the door, looking for something he might be able to use so he could maybe pry the panel open.

“It might take a few minutes, but my sonic screwdriver should get this open eventually.”

“Okay. Yep. I’ll just wait right here.” He swallowed, a small ripple of dread skittering across his skin like goose-bumps. There was something creepy about being locked on the other side of the door from The Doctor on a ship that had been dead, perched on a high-rise in some decimated ancient city. What if the ship moved and they went off the building?

“Not helping, Ianto. You’ve been in worse situations,” he told himself, cutting off that line of thinking. It would be fine. The Doctor would get that door open with her sonic screwdriver, then they could get back on the TARDIS and find some other way to work out if anyone was on the ship. One that didn’t include walking into a trap on purpose.

“Have you almost got it?” he called out. But there was no answer. “Doctor?”

When she still didn’t answer, he turned around, leaning his ear closer to the door. “Doctor, can you hear me?”

Nothing. No buzzing from the sonic screwdriver and no familiar voice calling out to him. “Doctor!”

Chapter Text

Either the door was jammed or the ship was somehow circumventing her sonic screwdriver. The Doctor muttered in frustration at the stubborn thing refusing to budge.

“Ianto, this is going to take a bit longer than I thought,” she called out, adjusting a setting on the screwdriver, and then trying again.

He didn’t answer, but it wasn’t like there was much he could say to that.

After another few long moments, it became apparent that in this instance, her screwdriver wasn’t helping one whit. Damn it, what in the world was happening on this ship that could circumvent her sonic screwdriver and mess with the TARDIS? A slight swell of unease crested within her before washing away again. It would be fine. She just had to get back into the control room.

“I can’t get the door open,” she said loudly. “I’m going to see if I can find another way in.”

She paused, tilting her head closer to the panel as she waited for him to answer, but she didn’t hear anything.

“Ianto?”

This time she held her breath, straining her ears. The silence was deafening.

“Ianto!” She banged on the door. “Are you alright in there?”

Nothing. No reply.

“Oh, that’s never good.” She spun and hurried down the corridor, rushing into the first room she came across. It seemed to be some kind of office, possibly the captain’s quarters or something. There was a kind of rectangle desk with a screen set into it, flicking with a dull light like the power wasn’t fully restored, lines scrolling in a downward pattern.

She stopped in front of it and tapped at the screen. Information appeared, flickering and jumping as she tried to read it. It appeared to be somewhat voiced automated so she leaned down a little.

“Door control override.” The screen went blank for a long moment. “Come on, you can do it, there’s still some life left in you yet.”

Crackling sounded—the same thing she’d heard in the TARDIS—and she straightened.

“Hello?” A muffled voice came through the white noise. It was the girl again.

“Yes, hello. Can you hear me this time?” She tapped at the screen impatiently, since it seemed to have frozen between two different information logs—communications and the door controls she’d been trying to access.

“I can hear you,” the girl replied, sounding relieved.

“Good. Now, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

“My name is Athena.” The way she answered, it was like she had to think about it for a moment. Or maybe wasn’t used to talking to people. How long had she been alone on this ship?

“Like the Greek goddess,” she said conversationally, trying to keep the girl talking while she simultaneously tried to get the door open to the control room. “Very impressive.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what—”

“Oh, of course. Ancient Earth thing. Even more ancient out here. Wherever here is.”

The crackling returned and she pulled her hands away from the screen, worried something she was doing might cut off communications again.

“Athena, I need you to tell me where you are. Quickly, now, we might not have much time before communications drop out again.”

“It’s a kind of server room, like the heart of the ship. Where the computer memory is stored.” More crackling, but the communications were holding. She started tapping at the screen keyboard again, trying to get the door controls to cooperate.

“Good. Good girl. As soon as I can get my companion out of the ship’s control room, we’re coming down to get you.”

“Someone else is with you? Up on the control bridge?” Athena asked, sounding almost excited.

“Yes, the doors closed between us and I’m just experiencing a slight delay in getting them open again. I’m sure he’s fine, though.”

He better be fine. Ianto Jones was so far proving to be a magnet for trouble… Not that she could really talk. And this damn computer. It was almost as if it was doing everything in it’s power to completely bamboozle her.

“Athena, do you know anything about this ship’s systems? It should be straight forward, but it’s just not.” She slapped her hand against the edge, nearly ready to give up and go find some vents to climb through. Assuming this ship had vents big enough for her to fit into. “If you can help me get the doors open, we can get down to you faster.”

The crackling returned, this time accompanied by a whine, and the girl didn’t answer.

“Athena?”

Silence. Again.

“I’m getting really sick of hearing nothing!” She yelled at the empty room.

She yanked her sonic screwdriver out, even though it hadn’t worked on the door itself. Scanning it over the screen, she managed to fix the display, so it showed clear information, but the controls still weren’t responding.

Giving up on the doors for a moment, she checked the ship layout and found where the server room was located, right at the centre of the ship, then scanned for life signs. Only two showed up; her and Ianto in the control room. Well, at least he was alive. But a hint of unease returned at the fact nothing was showing up in the server room. Maybe it was shielded or something. Or maybe it was a bloody big trap just like Ianto had predicted.

She put the worry aside and returned to the door controls. First, she had to get Ianto out of the control room. And of course the TARDIS was in there, so unless she could get inside, she wouldn’t be going anywhere. After another few fruitless moments, it became apparent that no matter what she did on this screen, the door wasn’t going to budge.

“Right. Old fashioned way it is.” She searched the room, opening draws and compartments until she found a small toolkit, before hurrying out of the office. When she arrived back at the door, she opened the satchel and laid it out on the floor.

“Ianto?” As she pulled out a couple of tools, she held her breath again, waiting for an answer, but frustratingly got nothing. She wasn’t the type to panic, but she was definitely feeling the pressure. Jack had made her promise no detours. If something happened to Ianto, she was fairly sure Jack Harkness would never forgive her. And forever was a long time to hold a grudge, especially since the two of them would live for centuries yet. She took one of the tools and jammed it into the side of the door’s control panel.

“I’ll have this open in no time, Ianto.” She didn’t know if he could hear her, but even carrying on a one-sided conversation seemed like a good idea. The same as when people were in a coma and the doctors said to talk. “Just don’t go anywhere.”

She imagined him rolling his eyes at that. Or replying with some kind of sarcastic comment.

When she got the outer panel free, she studied the wires and micro systems inside. Just as she detached the first wire to try re-routing some power, the static crackled again.

“Athena, is that you?” She detached another wire and used another tool to cut them both.

“I’m here. Not going anywhere right now.” There was a hint of amusement in the girl’s voice, but also nervous tension. “I can contact him, in the control room. Ianto, isn’t it?”

“Yes!” She paused to look up, though why was anyone’s guess. “Have you spoken to him? Is he okay? He didn’t answer when I called out to him.”

“He’s fine. Better than fine. He’s… amazing.” Athena breathed over the word like she was in awe.

“Okay,” The Doctor replied slowly. A bit weird, but the girl probably wasn’t used to company and Ianto probably did seem amazing. She supposed he was kind of gorgeous, and definitely charming— She shook her head to get her thoughts back on track. “Can you tell him I should have the door open any moment now?”

“And then you’ll bring him down to me?” Athena asked, anticipation clear in her voice.

“Um, yes.” She hesitated for a moment, Ianto’s words of bloody big trap circling through her head on repeat. Why was Athena so keen to meet him, and why hadn’t any life signs shown up in the server room?

There was definitely something about this situation she didn’t like. And she was going to get to the bottom of it just as soon as she got the damned door to the control room open.

“I’ll finally be able to leave,” Athena said, the static crackling over her words again, but not masking the emotion.

“How long have you been here alone?” She started stripping the cut wires to expose the sparky parts and then carefully twisted them together.

“I don’t know,” Athena answered, words fading out for a moment. “Too long.”

“And how did you get here, did your ship crash or something?” She was nearly done, just a few more adjustments. The static sound got louder again. “Athena?”

The girl didn’t answer. Communications must have dropped out again. Well, it wouldn’t matter now. As soon as got back into the control room, she and Ianto could work out what they were going to do about Athena—if there really was an Athena—and then get back to their real problem of getting the biochip removed from Ianto’s brain and stopping the Timeless before they used Jack to become immortal.

She lifted the outer-face of the control panel where it was dangling by the wires still attached to it and tapped on the screen.

“Open sesame! Always wanted to say that.” She tapped the screen, looking up to watch the door slide open. Except a shower of sparks popped and cascaded out of the exposed wires. “Oh, come on. Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

With a sigh, she pulled the wires apart and set about re-routing them again. “I will not be thwarted by a dusty old monolith of a ship that’s nothing but a glorified paper weight. Gigantic paperweight. But a paperweight nonetheless.”

The wires sparked, zapping her fingers. “Ouch! Yes, well I don’t like you either. Now behave.”

 

Chapter Text

Ianto had spent a frustratingly ridiculous amount of time tapping at the screen beside the door, trying to get the panel open. Something must have happened to The Doctor, she wouldn’t just go silent like that for no reason. He needed to get out and help her. Sure, she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. But he’d never been one to sit idly by and do nothing. If there was someone, something else on this ship, then he was going to stand beside her and face it, no matter how dangerous or terrifying it might be.

Except the sodding door wouldn’t budge, the screen kept blinking a red light at him no matter what he did to it. He slammed a fist against in in frustration and then pushed off from the wall. He jogged back into the TARDIS and then slowed to do a lap around the central control console. There had to be something in here that could help her. Something to blast through the doors? No, that wouldn’t do. If she was on the other side, she might get injured. Maybe a homing beacon? Like he could just press a button and the TARDIS would go to wherever The Doctor was? That seemed like a thing it should be able to do, especially if it was sentient like The Doctor had said.

Just one problem, he had no idea how anything on the ship worked. Maybe if he just… asked? Nicely. The Doctor had said she could understand.

“Great, now I’m the one treating the police box space ship like it’s an actual person,” he muttered to himself. He dragged a hand over his face, feeling kind of ridiculous. But there was nothing for it. He’d lose some dignity to help The Doctor.

“Hello? TARDIS?” He glanced up at the part that rotated around the ceiling. Lights pulsed, but there was no response. He’d really thought she—it—the ship would answer him. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m trying to help The Doctor. The door out there is locked and I need to get to her. I need you to help me.”

Static sounded and he actually jumped, because even though he’d been talking to the ship, he’d convinced himself it was a lost cause.

“Hello?” It wasn’t the TARDIS, it was the girl they’d been speaking to earlier, except this time her voice was clearer and seemed to be echoing, like it was coming from speakers within the TARDIS but also outside in the other ship’s control room.

“Yes, hello.” He tried not to let the impatience through in his voice, but he was still sceptical about whether the girl was actually a trap, especially now that he and The Doctor had been separated. And he wasn’t really interested in working it out until he’d found The Doctor.

“Are you in the ship’s control room?” the girl asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” he replied, looking over the TARDIS control console. He just needed something helpful. “A big red button with a label would be good about now.”

“Sorry, I can’t hear you properly,” the girl said, a hint of confusion in her tone.

“I wasn’t speaking to—never mind. Listen, I understand you need rescuing or something and I’d love to help, but I’m just a little occupied at the moment.” He braced both hands against the console, mind racing as he tried to work out what the heck he was going to do.

“You’re stuck? In the control room. She said you were stuck,” the girl answered.

“She? The Doctor?” He straightened, maybe this girl could help them before they helped her. “Did you speak to her?”

“Yes, she said you were in the control room.”

“The door closed between us and I can’t get it open. Don’t suppose you know anything about that?” He wasn’t accusing her exactly… okay, he kind of was. Definitely.

“Can you see the main ship controls?” The girl asked. “Its like a big long panel.”

He pushed off from the TARDIS console with a sharp exhale. The Doctor had told him not to touch anything. But that was before she’d gone silent. All bets were off. But he had to decide whether he was willing to risk both his and The Doctor’s safety and trust the girl. She could just as easily give him instructions to launch the ship into the nearest star and he’d have no idea until it was too late. Of course, killing them after luring them here seemed kind of redundant. No, if this was a trap, then whatever the girl needed them for, it was something else.

“Which is so not comforting,” he mumbled to himself. Working for Torchwood for so long meant he pretty much always went to worst-case-scenario first.

He left the TARDIS again and walked over to what he guessed were the main ship controls.

“Okay, I think I’m looking at the main controls,” he called out to the girl.

“Can I ask you something?” she said instead of telling him what t do next.

“Sure, why not.” His life was only on the line. Again. Nothing new there.

“What’s your name?” Her tone was almost shy.

“Ianto Jones. I’d say it’s lovely to meet you, but considering the circumstance—”

She laughed, the sound uncertain and kind of rusty, like she hadn’t done it for a long time. “Oh, I understand. Not the best of situations. I’m Athena.”

“Nice to make your acquaintance, Athena. And now that we’re on a first name basis, how do you feel about saving me like an old-fashioned damsel-in-distress. I don’t have the legs for a dress, but I’m sure I could pull off a convincing swoon if the situation called for it.”

“I like that you’re able to make a joke at a time like this.”

“It’s my default setting,” he murmured to himself, trying not to think of all the times he’d brushed painful things off with a joke or a sarcastic remark.

Static sounded, turning into a kind of whine, then there was silence.

“Athena?”

She didn’t answer and the resulting silence seemed more oppressive than ever. Maybe he was sceptical of her intentions, but having someone to talk to was definitely better than being reminded of how stuck he was right now. He studied the controls in front of him, weird looking buttons and switches as far as the eye could see, as well as a couple of screens pulsing with dull light.

“Yep, really need that big red button about now.”

He sighed to himself and debated how or what do to. It’d be easy enough to go all five-year-old and just randomly press buttons until something happened. But that was probably also the fastest way to complete ruin. Right now, they were only half-way there, and he wasn’t interested in completing the journey.

So, some how he had to work out what did what on here. Athena wouldn’t have told him to come over here unless there was a way to override the door controls… he hoped.

“Manual. There’s got to be a manual, right? I mean, we’re on a planet God knows where, some random century I can’t even identify and the people who lived here probably weren’t even human. But writing a manual would have to be a universal thing. Otherwise how does anyone ever assemble a cabinet?”

He stepped back from the controls and glanced around, looking for any kind of book or folder. It was probably a long shot, but at least he had something to do. And surely The Doctor was trying to get the doors open from the other side? Athena had said she’d talked to her, so maybe this room just had like a sound-proof setting that’d somehow been activated.

Yes, all perfectly reasonable explanations. So why didn’t he feel any better about any of it?

“Probably because this is still a trap,” he muttered, finding a recess and crouching down to search through it. There were all kinds of things in there he couldn’t identify. Some of them might have even been useful, but since he had no idea what they were, he dropped them aside to search deeper.

It was actually kind of funny. Part of the reason he’d taken on the arguably impossible and unenviable job of trying to organise the Torchwood archives had been his fascination with the alien items that fell through the rift. Now, here he stood on an alien ship, up to his armpits in alien stuff, and he was tossing it aside to look for a bloody manual that probably didn’t exist.

He didn’t find anything that looked like it might contain a manual, or even anything that might have a manual stored electronically. Too bad if the instructions were stored on the ship’s computer. If he wasn’t willing to guess his way into getting the doors open, then he wasn’t magically going to know how to accesses the ship’s logs.

Shifting over, he found another compartment, but as he started searching it, he was far less motivated because it was probably pointless and he really should start trying to come up with another plan.

The now-familiar static crackled and he dropped the cylinder thing he was holding to push to his feet.

“Ianto?” Athena was back. Well, her voice, anyway.

“Still here, standing in front of the control panel, right where you left me.”

“Sorry, I haven’t had to use the communication matrix for a long time. I’ve forgotten how most of it works.” She sounded frustrated by the fact, which actually made him feel a little better about things.

Yes, he was a terrible person, enjoying her annoyance. But to his mind, if she was aggravated about the spotty communications, then it made her more likely to be a girl in need of help and not the trap he’d been suspecting since they’d first heard her voice. No doubt it was completely illogical reasoning, but he’s gone way passed logic the moment he’d signed his name over to Torchwood One in London all those years ago.

“I hope all those things you’ve forgotten doesn’t include the door controls,” he finally replied.

“Oh, that reminds me,” she said like she was only just remembering something. “Your friend said she’s working to get the door open and hopes it’ll be any minute now. But you and I, Ianto, we’re going to make all the difference in here.”

There was an odd tone to her voice, like anticipation or excitement she was trying to hide. He supposed if she’d been trapped on this ship for a long time alone, this would all seem pretty thrilling. Mostly, he was just maddened about the whole thing. He and The Doctor were supposed to be off somewhere fixing his biochip by now.

“Okay, what do you need me to do?” he asked, stepping up to the panel.

“See the screens? They’re touch intuitive. If you press your hand on one, you should be able to direct your thoughts to whatever you want done.”

That was it? Sounded too easy. Like he just put his hand on the screen, thought doors open and all their problems would be fixed?

“Then what are all the buttons and switches for?” He tried to keep the suspicion out of his voice. Tried and failed.

“They’re like the backup. The ship is mostly flown through a kind of psychic link between the captain and the ship’s—I guess you’d call it like a mind. The buttons and switches are a failsafe so the ship can still be flown if something happens to the captain or the integrity of the ship is compromised.”

“This sounds like something out of a science fiction movie,” he muttered to himself.

He shifted over to the nearest screen and laid his hand flat on the surface. Surprisingly enough, it was warm and pliable, like living flesh, not cold glass and metal. The warmth seemed even more strange considering how cold and stale the air inside the ship was.

A buzzing started up under his palm, like a vine vibration that went into his hand and up his arm, sending goose-bumps chasing over his skin.

“Now that is weird,” he said as the warmth surged, flooding into his body.

“Concentrate, Ianto,” Athena said, almost admonishing.

“Sorry, it’s just not everyday I find myself fondling an alien space ship.”

He closed his eyes and let his mind fall silent, blanking his thoughts, which he guessed was the same thing as keeping his mind open. He had no idea, really, since he’d never had to do anything like this before. The vibrating warmth increased, lighting up his body, making his very cells come alive in a way they never had before.

“Whoa, that’s—”

“A lot, I know,” Athena replied. “But you’re doing great. Just another few seconds until…” Her words trailed off, and for a second he wondered whether communications had dropped out again.

“Another few seconds until what?”

A sudden jolt of energy zapped into him, making his body go rigid—white light, white noise, white hot, white everything. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything except ride the power of it. And suddenly his mind was vast and unhindered. He could see into forever, could feel the ebb and flow of the very universe itself.

It seemed to go on forever, but in reality, was probably only a handful of seconds. The whiteness vacuumed out of him just as violently as it had hit him. The warmth and vibrations were sucked away like a retreating tide. He exhaled a hard breath and yanked his hand back, cradling it against his chest as he sunk to his knees, his whole body shaking.

Behind him, he heard the clunk and groan of the door opening.

“Aha!” The Doctor exclaimed. “I knew you couldn’t hold out forever.”

“Ianto?” Athena’s voice sounded louder and clearer over the speakers. Actually, it’d sounded like she’d spoken directly into his mind. He was obviously just hearing things; his ears were ringing after whatever that had been.

“You could have warned me.” His voice came out rough and hoarse. And he was bloody freezing, like all his own warmth had been sucked out of his body along with the ship’s energy when it’d left him.

“Would you have gone through with it if I had?” The question had an almost innocent note of curiosity to it.

“Yes, actually, I would have.” A surge of anger bubbled up within him, giving some substance back to his limbs. He hated being manipulated. “Don’t lie to me again.”

“I didn’t—”

“And don’t play dumb when we both know you’re not.” He used the control panel next to him and climbed to his feet.

The Doctor came over, brow arched. “Am I interrupting something?”

“Just Athena and I getting to know one another a little better.” He brushed by her, heading for the TARDIS. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

“For?” she asked as they stepped through the blue wooden panel doors.

“Getting the doors open.” He went up the steps to the room where she had racks of clothing and searched until he found a tight-woven woollen coat in a dark grey, very similar to the one he had at home for cold winter days in Cardiff.

“How did you do that?” The Doctor crossed her arms, watching him shrug into the jacket.

“I interfaced with the ship’s system. Athena told me how to do it.”

A hint of worry edged into her expression. “That was probably a bad idea, Mr. Jones. Anything could have happened.”

“Anything did happen. I got the doors open.” He zipped up the jacket and then fastened closed the seam that covered the zipper, debating whether he wanted to look for a scarf as well. There seemed to be quite a long, striped colourful one hanging in the back there.

“Are you okay?”

He looked over at The Doctor as he crossed his arms, hunching into to coat and waiting for the warming-up part to start happening.

“Just a bit cold, that’s all. Come on.” He brushed by her and headed for the stairs to go back down.

“And where are we off to in such a hurry?”

“Going to find Athena.”

She leaned against the railing, looking down at him. “Now you’re all eager to go exploring through a dead ship for a girl we don’t even know exists? What happened to cynical-Ianto who thought it was a trap?”

“Oh, I’m still putting good money on it being a trap. But since neither of us are the type of person to leave without at least checking, we might as well get the walking into ridiculous heights of peril part over and done with.”

“Ridiculous heights of peril, you say?” The Doctor practically skipped down the steps to join him. “Why, Mr. Jones, you sure know how to treat a person right.”

“Don’t get used to it,” he replied dryly. “This is the kind of trouble I can only find sometimes. Around once a month, if we’re keeping tabs.”

“Well, best not to keep me waiting then.” She took his arm as they left the TARDIS again.

Any wonder Jack had been so taken with The Doctor. She could make things like walking into danger seem like fun. But the fact was, they couldn’t afford to get caught up in whatever was going on here, despite dropping into the middle of it. They had enough of their own trouble to sort out without taking on anyone else’s.

Chapter Text

The Doctor kept an eye on Ianto as they made their way deeper into the ship. He was a little pale, and still shivering every now and then. Yes, it was cold in the ship, but not that cold. Apart from the chill, he seemed fine, but if she’d been with him, she would never have let him near the ship interface, not with that biochip in his brain. There was no telling what could have happened.

It wasn’t worth telling him that now, however, not unless he started displaying any worrisome symptoms.

“I assume one of us knows where we’re going,” Ianto said in a low, quiet voice as they proceeded down the corridor. The lights were dim and flickered every now and then, threatening to go out, but holding for the time being.

Ianto was carrying a torch, but it wasn’t switched on and currently, he was holding it slightly out, like he was ready to use it as a weapon. She couldn’t blame him; the ship was decidedly creepy. Fine dust covered everything, even coating the cobwebs trailing down from corners and walls.

“Athena told me she’s in the server room, at the heart of the ship. We have to go inward and then down several levels.”

“Of course she is,” Ianto muttered darkly. The ship groaned, making both of them pause momentarily.

“Probably just settling,” she assured him, though it didn’t look like she’d convinced him of anything as they continued on.

They reached the end of the corridor, where there seemed to be some kind of lift. Ianto glanced up as the lights flickered again, worry crossing his features.

“If the lights go off, I can’t guarantee I won’t freak out.”

“Scared of the dark?” she asked without any judgement as she pulled out her sonic screwdriver and ran it over the panel beside the elevator doors.

“Never used to be.” He caught her gaze, shadows in his blue eyes. “But working for Torchwood for so many years, I’ve seen what hides in the dark. And a lot of the time, it wants to eat you.”

“I’m almost certain we’re alone on this ship. I scanned for life signs earlier. You and I were the only two that showed up.” She examined her sonic screwdriver, but the readings were a mess and didn’t make sense, same as everything had been since they’d landed on this ship.

“Only two of us,” Ianto repeated in a murmur. “So, Athena—”

“It’s possible that the server room is shielded, which is why she’s been hiding in there waiting for a rescue. But yes, otherwise the scan I ran only showed you and I.”

“Guess that’s a point for the probably-a-trap column of my tally,” he sighed, turning his attention to the screen beside the elevator where she’d started tapping the controls, but nothing was happening.

“What are you doing?” he asked, even though she thought it was obvious.

“Trying to get us on the lift. Easiest way down, unless you fancy spending twice as long to find some stairs to walk down.”

“Athena said the screens were touch intuitive.” He hustled her aside and reached out, but hesitated just before he touched the display. With a short exhale, he pressed his palm against it and almost immediately, a white light pulsed beneath his hand. A second later, the elevator doors cracked and then opened with a shower of dust trickling down.

“Well, it seems this ship likes you,” she commented as he took his hand off the screen.

“Yay!” he replied with deadpan excitement. “Lucky me.”

She sent him an exasperated look as they stepped on to the elevator.

“Four levels down,” she told him, nodding toward the screen.

He reached out and tapped the number four. The doors jerked close and then the lift jolted into motion. Not exactly smooth, but considering the ship could have been sitting here unused for decades of even hundreds of years, they were probably lucky it was working at all.

They went down three levels and the lift shuddered to a halt. Ianto frowned and pressed the four again, but instead the doors opened.

“Clearly you were wrong, this ship doesn’t like me at all.” He took half a step back, clicking on the flashlight and bringing it up to sweep across the darkened corridor. For some reason, the light in the lift was working, but it appeared there was not a single other illumination on this level.

Ianto reached over and tapped the screen a few more times, but nothing happened.

“Well, we’re only one level above.” She attempted to add a cheerful note to her voice, like walking through a pitch-black ship was no big deal. Truthfully, for all her years of life, she’d never been that fond of the dark herself. “Looks like we’ll have to find those stairs after all.”

“This just keeps getting better.” He set his shoulders, like he was getting ready to go into battle. “Remind me never to let the TARDIS pick our destination again.”

With cautious steps, they left the elevator. The doors stayed open, but the lights flickered, like the ship was actually tormenting them with the threat to leave them in complete darkness save the torch Ianto was carrying.

The air down here was even colder, their breaths making white clouds as they exhaled. Plus there was a certain unpleasant scent down here that was so thick she could almost taste it in the back of her throat.

Ianto coughed, almost gagging. “Christ, what is that smell? And why is it so bloody freezing? Should have grabbed that scarf.”

He flicked up the collar of his coat and then wrapped his free arm across his chest, the beam of light from the torch unsteady from his shivering.

“The environmentals are probably malfunctioning,” she replied distractedly, studying what she could see in the limited light cast by the torch.

It appeared some kind of fight or battle had taken place down here. There were scorch marks, dents, and holes in the walls like multiple kinds of ammo or weapons had been fired, as well as bits of unidentifiable broken things strewn across the floor.

Ianto had asked her what had happened to this planet when they’d first arrived and she’d dismissed it since it could have been any number of things—most of them inconsequential or incidental to them being here. But now she was beginning to wonder herself what had happened to the people who’d once lived here.

The passage widened and opened onto a pair of double blast doors big enough to drive a lorry through. One of them had half-closed and jammed at some point. The thick metal was twisted and bent out of shape, so that even if the doors had been able to close, they wouldn’t have sealed.

“It might just be the darkness talking, but I’m starting to get a really bad feeling about this,” Ianto said in a quiet, but tense voice.

“You’re not the only one,” she replied grimly.

“Oh great, that makes me feel so much better. If you’re worried, then we should probably already be running.”

They edged past the blast doors, which seemed to open into some sort of huge, cavernous cargo space. Ianto swept the torch upward and The Doctor tracked the beam of light as it reached the ceiling. It took her mind a second to register what her eyes were seeing—which definitely wasn’t the steel-beams of a ship’s inner hull—and when she did, she shot out a hand and grabbed Ianto’s coat to stop him from taking another step.

“Hey! Watch the goods—”

“Shush!” she hissed at him. Her heart was hammering as she fisted her hand where she held Ianto’s coat and pulled him along as she backed up.

“Don’t say a word. Don’t make any sudden movements. And for the love of God turn off that torch,” she breathed out the words at barely more than a whisper, steadily taking measured steps backwards.

“Sod that!” he returned in a furious whisper. “I am not turning off—”

“Then at least point it at the ground!”

He flicked it down so it was shining at the metal grate floor. At the very edges of the where the light reached, it picked out jumbled piles of dull white bones. Hundreds of them. Possibly thousands.

“Jesus.” Ianto’s voice was hoarse and he audibly swallowed after. He pointed the torch straight down so it illuminated their feet and nothing else.

“Remember what you said about the things in the dark wanting to eat us?” They’d reached the blast doors and she stumbled a little over an uneven section of flooring. Ianto grabbed her arm to steady her and then didn’t let her go.

“You know, I really don’t think I want to hear whatever you’ve got to say next,” he said in an uneven voice.

A skittering noise sounded and they both froze.

“I take it back. What the bloody hell is that?” A second skittering noise joined the first, echoing creepily in the large, cold empty space of the cargo hold.

“I know where we are,” she said, still whispering. “I know what planet this is and what happened to the people who lived here.”

They started backing up again, faster now.

“Right, well, the piles of bones are kind of self-explanatory.”

More skittering, increasing exponentially in numbers. Ianto slightly brought up the torch. Something moved, just out of the illumination’s range, but by the time he flicked the circle of light over, it was gone. Movement again on the peripheral of the torchlight, but no longer there when Ianto tried to find it. However, from the noise and the way it moved, there was no mistaking what was hiding in the shadows.

“What’s the plan?” Ianto asked as they hastily backed away from the damaged blast doors.

“We’re way past a plan saving us now. There’s only one thing left.”

“And what’s that?” His voice was hopeful like he thought she might have something she could pull out of her coat to save them. But with her sonic screwdriver not working properly since they’d arrived on this ship—like the TARDIS—it left her empty handed. 

“Instinct.”

“What?” He glanced down at her in confusion, brow creased.

“Instinct, Mr Jones. We do what we’re wired to do. And instinct says—” They’d reached an intersecting corridor. Ianto brought the flashlight up again, shining it over the blast doors, and it now looked like the metal was moving in a kind of weird undulating wave, the chatter of millions of tiny legs clicking against the bulkheads of the ship become a roar. “Run!”

Chapter Text

Ianto and The Doctor spun and sprinted down the corridor they’d walked along a few moments earlier. At the end, the light in the elevator flickered, while behind them came a wave of noise like straight out of a nightmare or horror movie.

They reached the lift, practically throwing themselves inside. Ianto pressed his palm to the screen, glancing up to see a solid wave of shadows rolling toward them along the walls and floor of the corridor.

“Come on, come on.” The rolling shadow was getting nearer. It’d be in the elevator and all over them in another few seconds. “Close. Close!”

The mass reached the edge of the light cast by the lift and he finally got a good look at what was making all the noise. And seeing them made it so, so much worse. They were a mere few steps away, swarming the walls and the floor, about to flood the lift.

Christ. Come on! Close! For the love of—” The doors jerked and snapped shut at the last second, trapping a few dozen spindly legs almost the length of his forearm. The lift dropped sharply before shuddering down. The legs rained down onto the floor, oozing an orange kind of goo.

Ianto shuffled backwards until he was leaning against the wall and sagged to brace his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath and waiting for his heart to stop pounding. “What the hell were they? Some kind of people-eating space-bugs? I hate bugs. Really hate them.”

The Doctor went over and crouched down next to the legs, reaching down to gingerly pick one up between two fingers. Some of the orange goo stayed stuck to the floor, but also still attached to the leg, creating a long string of glistening goop suspended between the two.

The lift stopped again, the screen showing they’d arrived on the fourth level. The doors didn’t open, and after what they’d just found on the floor above, he wasn’t exactly in a hurry to go anywhere.

“Not bugs exactly. They’re called anthocidae. Biomechanical insects created to combat several environmental problems. Both the bee and ant populations on this planet died out. Without bees and ants, the ecosystem went into a kind of cascade failure. Before it could completely collapse, some boffins who probably only left their lab once a year thought it would be a good idea to marry the required traits of both insects into one creature.”

“An insect that’s both a bee and an ant?” he clarified, straightening up. “And where does the part about them eating people come into it?”

She dropped the leg and pushed to her feet. “That part happened when they were in such a hurry to circumvent a catastrophic ecosystem disaster that they release the anthocidae without proper testing. They were designed to replicate instead of reproducing, but it meant they had to source both biological matter and hardware. Unfortunately for the people of this world, they were a little too good at replicating, and something went wrong in their programming; the more they replicated, the bigger they got. Plus, the anthocidae were more interested in replicating than taking on the functions of bees and ants. Within a few short weeks, the entire planet had succumbed to them.”

“Well, that’s suitably horrific.” Biomechnical insects the size of a small cat. He tried not to think too closely about exactly how terrifying it must have been for the people who’d lived here. The apocalypse arriving on millions of spindly, skittering legs. “Why didn’t they show up when you scanned for life signs?”

“Because despite their bio components, they’re not actually alive. They’re like little robot insects.”

“Oh great. Exactly what I always wanted to see; a swarm of flesh-eating robot bee-ants. Just when I got over having nightmares about alien wasps hatching inside of people.”

She arched a questioning eyebrow at him and started to open her mouth, but he held up a hand to stop her.

“Please, don’t ask.”

“You had to be there?” She added a small smile to the end of the words, like she knew now wasn’t the time to make jokes, but couldn’t help herself.

“You had to be there,” he repeated with mock seriousness. He blew out a long breath and ran a hand over his hair. “We need to work out what we’re going to do.”

She crossed her arms, a look of consideration settling over her features. “Oh, yes?”

For some reason he got the feeling she’d already made up her mind about what she was going to do, but was now waiting for him to give his thoughts on the matter. Like it was a test somehow.

“Honestly, I want to go straight back up to the TARDIS and get as far away from here as possible. But if there really is someone stranded— If Athena really is in the server room waiting for someone to rescue her…” Despite his fear of ending up with his bones stripped and scattered in a pile with all the other dead on this planet, there was no question, really. No debate to be had. He couldn’t leave while there was a chance someone needed help. Just occasionally, when death was a very real possibility, he really hated that about himself; the inability to walk away. He would have saved himself so much trouble in his life if he could have just walked away.

“I couldn’t live with myself if we left now. I’d always wonder. And probably feel guilty,” he finished in a low voice.

The Doctor nodded, as if she was both agreeing and satisfied with what he’d said.

“The more I get to know you, Ianto Jones, the more I can see why Jack never stood a chance.”

Her words surprised him, especially in wake of all the things Jack had told him when they’d been reunited. How Jack had been so desperate to get him back again, he’d even left Earth, unable to be there without him. He’d said I would have torn apart the very fabric of the universe if it’d meant getting you back.

For all the people Jack had known, all the people he’d loved over his long existence—his many, many lifetimes—Ianto couldn’t believe that he was more special than any others. The Doctor had said something similar to him the first day they’d met, not long after she’d brought him back from the virus the 456 had released in Thames House, but his head had been spinning and he hadn’t taken it in.

“But I’m not anyone. Just an ordinary bloke from Cardiff who ended up working at Torchwood in London and didn’t notice when his life went down the proverbial rabbit hole.”

The Doctor sent him a wide grin. “Everyone is someone, Mr Jones. And it just so happens that for Jack Harkness, you’re everything. I’ve known him a long time, and the side of him I observed when he was with you was the most real I’ve seen. Never underestimate the gift of finding someone you can completely be yourself around, without hiding the little imperfections we worry will ultimately drive people away.”

His heart skipped. He wanted it to be true, but—

His mind took him back to the events in the hours before he and Jack had gone to Thames House, unaware of what was waiting for them there.

“I think you’re overestimating Jack’s ability to share. I know he cares about me, but I barely know anything about him. I can’t even imagine how many secrets he’s carrying around. Since Lisa, I’ve never kept anything from him.” Maybe he’d fudge the truth about his childhood a little, but that had more to do with himself than anything else. “From the first time I kissed Jack, I knew exactly who he was. Who he is now, anyway. But who he was in the past…”

So much had happened, he hadn’t really had time to think about it. The—not betrayal. That wasn’t the right word. The distance he’d felt between them when Jack had admitted he’d willingly handed the 456 aliens twelve children in 1965. Like he was finally realising there was a cavern of time between them that he could never fully cross.

The Doctor glanced away from him, shadows in her gaze. “We’re all a sum of mistakes and triumphs and failures and successes. Of anger and foolishness and empathy and cleverness. When you’ve lived as long as Jack and I have—”

She finally looked back at him, gaze steady but weighted. “Does it really matter what he did ten years ago? Or fifty? Or even a hundred?”

He almost automatically said yes, it mattered, because didn’t all those things make a person? Didn’t all those memories and choices shape a personality? But as he stared back at The Doctor and some of the things Jack had told him about her came back to him, his thoughts shifted. The Doctor had regenerated, literally transformed into different versions of the same person. It wasn’t that the choices she’d made in her previous regerations didn’t form part of who she was now, but more that those things had become an untouchable history, and now she was free to make completely different choices.

Jack may not have regenerated, and he may have done things in the past that were regrettable. Hell, he would probably do things in the future that Ianto didn’t want to imagine, but right now, Jack was making small choices about who he was. He’d changed Torchwood after Canary Warf. He’d personally taken on the not-so-small responsibility of protecting the entire world from things that came through the rift. Since Ianto had known him, Jack had been a warrior, a leader, and a lover. He could be ruthless, and he could be selfish, but only because he didn’t always think things through, not from any malicious intent. He could be generous and completely selfless with those he cared about.

He was also the best thing that had ever happened to Ianto. Honestly, the way he loved Jack, sometimes it scared him in the quiet moments when he stopped to really think about it. He’d never imagined he could feel so completely consumed by another person. Like Jack had almost become a physical part of him—a limb he couldn’t afford to lose. Which was why he would always forgive Jack. Why he’d stood with Jack when occasionally the rest of the Torchwood team had turned against him. There’d only been that one time—when Bilis Manger had tricked them into opening the rift—that he’d gone against Jack, and he’d almost instantly regretted it.

“No,” he finally answered. “Whatever Jack did in the past, it won’t ever change the way I feel about him. I don’t need to know those things because I’m going to judge him, or think he should make amends for them. But I do worry about the things that haunt him. People say it helps to talk, to share the burden. I don’t know if I believe that, I’m not much of a talker. But I’d listen, if he wanted to tell me the darkest things that weigh down his conscience.”

“Have you ever told him that?” She raised an eyebrow, a hint of amusement in her features like she already knew the answer.

“Not in so many words.”

“Any words at all? Even one?”

Now she was just taunting him. He wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of an answer. Instead he set his hands on his hips and turned to look at the screen of the lift.

“What are the chances there’s another swarm of carnivorous robots waiting out there for us?”

The Doctor stepped up next to him and pointed her sonic screwdriver at the doors for a long moment, before checking the readings. “I can’t be sure because something on this ship has been interfering with my toys since we arrived, but even half-dead, my sonic screwdriver should be able to detect the frequency the anthocidae communicate on.”

“Why didn’t it before?”

She cut him a brief sideways glance. “Because whenever we stop, it’d take days if I ran a scan for all the frequencies of every robot and biomech and droid and AI—”

He held up a hand to stop her. “Okay, sorry, I understand. Too many possible variations.”

She pointed the sonic screwdriver up, leaving it to buzz for a moment, before looking at it. “It’s picking up the anthocidae on the level above us, but showing nothing in the corridor outside the lift.”

“Well then, let’s hurry before the little blighters find a way to get down here.”

He pressed his palm to the screen of the elevator, feeling the light, warm pulse of energy pass through him like it had the other two times he’d accessed the lift controls. After that first time—up in the control room when so much energy had ripped through his body—he didn’t know if he’d just gotten used to it, or operating the lift was a simpler function than overriding busted door controls. Whatever the case, it was still weird, like he could feel the size of the ship and sense it’s place in the universe. Like if he wanted to, he could stretch his senses out and— He didn’t know what, and didn’t really want to know. He just wanted to find out whether there really was an Athena on board this ship, get the biochip removed from his brain and then go back to not-so-boring old Cardiff. And if he never left the hub again, he might not be all that upset about it.

The lift doors whined open, and luckily the corridor was lit up, proving that at least in the immediate vicinity, there weren’t any biomechanical insects waiting to use their bodies to fuel their replication.

“We should move quickly.” The Doctor glanced around, using her sonic screwdriver to do another scan.

They left the lift at a jog and ventured even deeper into the ship.

“Should be just up ahead,” he said to her, but then didn’t know how he knew that. It was suddenly like he knew the ship’s layout. Like he’d walked these corridors a million times before and could have found his way with his eyes closed.

The Doctor glanced sharply at him, but didn’t say anything as the corridor intersected with several others, opening onto a kind of round atrium type area with an entirely separated room in the middle.

The walls appeared to be some kind of black glass or crystal, and as they slowly approached, a section slid open. Inside was a little different, the illumination of thousands of tiny blue-white glowing cables and wires snaking around the inside of the black glass. Once they’d stepped in, the section slid closed behind them. Despite the rest of the ship being dusty and obviously long misused, in here everything was shiny and clean like it’d been sharply polished by an expert every day.

“Athena?” he called out, stepping carefully, his shoes clicking on the shiny floor that reflected all the lights.

A figure edged out from behind some cables on the far side. She couldn’t have been more than twenty or twenty-one, human, with long dark hair and warm brown skin.

“Hello, there.” He eased forward, not wanting to scare her. If she’d been hiding on this ship from the anthocidae by herself for a long time, then who knew what state of mind she might be in.

“Hello, Ianto, we finally meet,” she replied, stepping out, not seeming the least bit intimidated or frightened. She smiled, her gaze running over him as they came closer to one another. “I saw you on the camera feeds, but you’re taller than I thought you’d be.”

She was shorter than him, only just making his shoulders, so she had her head titled back slightly, looking up at him. Something about her seemed so girl-next-door. He hadn’t really taken the time to wonder what she might look like—truthfully, he’d more than half expected this to be a trap. But if he had of speculated, she definitely wasn’t what he would have pictured.

He returned her smile. “If we’re being honest, I wasn’t sure what we were going to find, especially after the welcome party that was waiting on the floor above us.”

Before Athena could reply, The Doctor stepped up next to him and set her hand on his arm.

“Ianto, are you talking to Athena?”

He glanced at her in confusion. “Who else would I be talking to? I’m pretty sure there’s no one else in the server room.”

“That’s just it.” She glanced from him to take in the rest of the room. “There’s no one else here.”

“Except Athena,” he replied slowly, not sure what she was getting at.

The Doctor returned her attention to him, concern written across her features. “No, Ianto. There’s only you and me. If Athena is here, then I can’t see her.”

Chapter Text

The Doctor watched the confusion skipping across Ianto’s face as he glanced from her and then looked in front of himself like he could see someone standing there.

“She’s right here. How can you not see her?”

She brought up her sonic screwdriver and scanned for any kind of life forms. All kinds of energy readings registered, most of them off the scale, which wasn’t surprising considering they were standing at the heart of a powerful, technologically advanced ship, but she didn’t find any organic or sentient traces of life besides her and Ianto.

“I don’t know what to tell you, but there’s not anyone else here.” She slipped her sonic screwdriver away, running a concerned look over him. Was this something to do with the biochip? Was it malfunctioning somehow? It was probably past time they got off this ship and continued on with their original mission of finding a way to have the chip removed.

Ianto was still staring at the space in front of him, brow creased as though he was listening to someone speaking. After a moment he glanced back at The Doctor.

“Can you really not see her?”

She pressed her lips together, shaking her head. “Not only can’t I see her, but just like when I scanned for life signs before, nothing is showing up. I don’t know what to tell you, Ianto, but she’s not real.”

Ianto gave a sharp laugh. “Not real? Like she’s in my head? We both heard her on the speakers, and when I’m talking to her now, it’s the same voice.”

“The speakers!” She bounced on the spot in excitement. “Of course. Can she patch herself through the communications matrix like she did before?”

Ianto turned to look at the same empty spot.

“She’s going to try.”

“I never did get you name.” Athena’s voice sounded hollowly through the ship’s communications systems a second later.

“I’m The Doctor,” she answered, turning in a slow circle. “Athena, why can’t I see you? Why don’t you show up when I scan for life forms?”

There was a beat of silence, and for a moment, she didn’t think Athena was going to answer. She shared a glance with Ianto, who shrugged slightly and then looked back at the same spot as before, presumably where Athena was standing.

“I can’t tell you that. Not yet,” Athena finally answered, which set all kinds of alarm bells ringing in her head.

“Not yet? Why not?” There was something about this whole situation niggling at her. Why Ianto could see her and she couldn’t. Him interfacing with the ship matrix and being able to control the lift when she hadn’t been able to. The sonic screwdriver and TARDIS being all loopy. It had to be something to do with the ship itself.

“I just need a little more time,” Athena said quietly.

Ianto stepped away from her, closer to the middle of the room, presumably closer to Athena. “Time for what?”

“If I tell you…” Athena’s voice was hesitant, hiding something. And whatever it was, The Doctor got the feeling neither she nor Ianto were going to like it.

Shifting sideways slightly, she got closer to a screen scrolling with lines of information about the ship’s functions, most of them showing as offline or in error. As she studied it, looking for clues, the answer suddenly jumped out at her. Well, not the answer, because she still didn’t have a clue what was going on here. But it was something.

“Ianto.” She looked up as he glanced over his shoulder at her. “The ship.”

“What about it?”

“The ship is called the Athena.”

His brow creased, no doubt mirroring her own confusion as she tried to put the pieces together.

“But how can that— is it a coincidence or—” He started to turn, but there was a kind of electrical crackle. Blue-white bolts of energy arced out from the walls of the server room and struck Ianto, enveloping him.

Sparks flew, showering down around her. “Ianto!”

She started to leap forward, but the heat was almost intense enough to burn her. There was no way he was going to survive it. She staggered back again, bringing an arm up to shield her face.

His whole body had gone rigid, suspended as the energy crackled over his skin. But it didn’t look like it was burning him. With a shaking hand, she pulled out her sonic screwdriver, desperately flicking through the settings. There was one that could stop this, cancel out the energy flow. But which damn number?

Just when she thought she’d found it, the energy cut out as suddenly as it had started, leaving Ianto to collapse in a heap on the floor. She shoved her sonic screwdriver away in her coat and rushed over to him, landing hard on her knees.

Heart pounding frantically, she grabbed him by the shoulders and rolled him over, his body lax and heavy.

“Ianto?” She leaned down to listen near his mouth and nose, relieved when she felt the light brush of his breath against her cheek.

Shifting a little, she pulled him into her lap and then cupped his face in her palm. “Ianto? Can you hear me? Come on, now, wake up.”

He groaned and then sucked in a deeper breath.

“Oh, thank God.” Now her heart was skipping with relief. For a second there, she’d really thought he was done for.

He blinked open his eyes and stared up at her in confusion. “What happened?”

“Actually, I’m not really sure, but it looked spectacular from where I was standing.” Easy to make a joke about it now that she knew he was okay.

She helped him to his feet, noticing him glancing around.

“Is Athena still here?” She asked, not quite able to keep a hint of anger out of her voice. Whatever had just happened, Athena had almost definitely had something to do with it.

“She’s saying she’s sorry.” Ianto’s brow creased.

“Why can’t I hear her through the ship’s communications system any longer?” Actually, now that she’d taken the time to notice anything other than the fact Ianto was alive, the lights from the cables that’d been brightly reflecting off the shiny black glass had grown duller, pulsing weakly. And with each pulse, it became weaker and duller still.

“She says we need to get out of here. The ship is about to go completely dark.” Ianto turned to look at her. “And that the anthocidae have breached this level.”

“And Athena?” She had wanted to be rescued, which was what had brought them here in the first place. Except it had turned out there wasn’t anyone to rescue—not anyone physical, anyway.

“Apparently she’s coming with us.” There was a hint of hesitation to Ianto’s voice, like he wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but wasn’t prepared to tell Athena no.

The Doctor crossed her arms, because since Ianto was the only one who could see Athena and all scans she’d run hadn’t shown any kind of sentient life form—that she’d encountered before, anyway—she was rather interested to know how Athena was going to accomplish that.

Except before she could say anything, a muffled clatter sounded, like it was echoing all around them.

Ianto looked up, eyes wide. “It’s the anthocidae. They’re in the walls.”

“How do you know—”

“Not now. We need to go.” Ianto grabbed her arm and tugged her into motion. The panel they’d entered through slid open to let them out.

Along the corridor, the lights were blinking in and out. As they started forward, the lights above them would flare stronger while the ones ahead and behind would fade dimly, keeping them constantly illuminated like the ship was tracking them. The ship called Athena. Same as the girl.

“Oh! I’m an idiot!” She exclaimed as they approached the lift. “An idiot staring at the obvious!”

Ianto sent her a questioning look.

“It’s her, isn’t it? Why didn’t I realise sooner?”

They stepped into the lift and though neither of them touched anything, the doors slid shut and the elevator started going up.

“What’s her?” Ianto glanced to his opposite side, like he could still see Athena next to him.

“Athena. She’s the ship, isn’t she?”

Both Ianto’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “How would I know?”

“What’s she saying?”

Ianto’s lips pressed into a thin line as he listened to whatever Athena had to say, clearly not liking it.

“She’ll explain everything once we’re on the TARDIS.”

The Doctor crossed her arms, glaring at the spot where she thought Athena might be. Not that she minded helping people who genuinely needed it, but she definitely didn’t like being manipulated into it.

“I’ll let her come onto the TARDIS, but we’re not leaving until she tells us everything.”

Concern crossed Ianto’s face. “What about the anthocidae?”

“Nothing can get into the TARDIS, not unless I want it to,” she replied pointedly.

Ianto nodded as the lift arrived on the top level, opening onto the corridor leading to the control room where they’d left the TARDIS. The skittering sound in the walls was even louder up here, and long, thin cracks were appearing, as though the anthocidae were attempting to break or burrow through the steel.

They ran the length of the corridor, not stopping until they’d reached the TARDIS and slammed through the doors, hurriedly shutting and locking themselves in.

She took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, before turning to face Ianto who’d walked over to lean against the rounded central control console.

“Here we are then.” She held her arms out as she went to join him. “Time to hear the truth.”

Ianto’s expression was grim as he stared at her. “You were right, Athena is the ship.”

“And because you interfaced with the ship to override the door controls, that’s why you could see her and I couldn’t? How is she expecting us to rescue her when she’s actually a monolith of a ship that’s barely functioning? Are we supposed to transfer her main systems onto another matrix?”

“Something like that,” Ianto murmured distractedly, because he seemed to be listening again, his expression becoming more horrified by the moment.

The Doctor crossed over to stand closer to him, a surge of acidic worry flooding through her at the look on his face.

“Ianto, what is it? What is she saying?”

“She said she doesn’t need another matrix. She needs a person. A body. She wants to be human.” Ianto’s blue gaze cut across to collide with hers. “She needs me.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean you need me?” Ianto demanded as he stared at Athena. She was staring right back at him, regret on her face, but determination in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Ianto, but you can’t understand. I watched this entire planet die in a matter of days. I’ve spent decades alone.” Her expression wavered, as if she was actually going to cry. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? If she was the ship, how could she have emotions? “You weren’t the first to hear my distress beacon. Others came before you. They tried to transfer me to other matrix, to devices, to androids and robots, but none of it worked, and they all left again. The ones who weren’t killed by the anthocidae, anyway.”

“What’s she saying?” The Doctor asked, a hint of frustration in her voice. He could understand, it was annoying that The Doctor couldn’t see or hear this conversation. Surely, she’d know what to make of it.

“She’s telling me that we weren’t the first to try and help her.”

Athena glanced at The Doctor before continuing. “The last person who tried, her name was Frankie. She was so smart, some kind of genius. She told me there was no computer system complex enough that I could successfully survive on. The only thing that came close to my operating matrix was the human brain. One of her crew members, Danni, was willing to sacrifice herself for me, she had a degenerative brain disease, which I could have repaired once the process was complete. They set everything up so that my consciousness could write over Danni’s but before we could do the procedure—”

“The anthocidae got them,” he concluded when Athena broke off.

She nodded, seeming to gather herself. “When you arrived, I— I don’t know. I panicked. I thought no one would ever agree to have themselves re-written, to be taken over by a different consciousness. I’m sorry, Ianto, I didn’t want to hurt you, but I couldn’t watch another ship fly away without me.”

His stomach felt like it had rocks in it. “The process, the procedure to have your consciousness overwrite mine—”

“It’s already begun.” She dropped her gaze, sorrow and shame clear in her features and slumped posture. “I can’t undo it. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

The Doctor grabbed his shoulder, startling him, because he’d almost forgotten she was there. “Ianto, what’s happening? What was that about overwriting consciousness?”

He dragged a hand through his hair, mind spinning, unable to quite grasp the facts.

“Athena said her consciousness is going to overwrite mine, that’s how she’s going to leave. She’s going to become me. Or I’m going to become her.”

He swung a glance between the two of them, panic beginning to bleed into the edges of his mind. “But what does that mean? Will I just cease to exist? Will I still be in there somewhere, but buried deep in my own subconscious?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not happening. Not on my TARDIS.” Anger had hardened The Doctor’s features. She turned to the central console and started pushing buttons and flicking toggles. “Stand still, I’m going to scan you with the TARDIS systems.”

He crossed his arms, fury and tension humming through his body, like he wanted to scream, wanted to curse, wanted to run away. Damn it, this wasn’t supposed to happen. None of it. Not the 456 aliens, not him succumbing to the virus they’d released, not getting the biochip planted in his head, not having to jump nine years into Jack’s future to see him again, only to leave a mere few hours later. And now some ship’s computer was going to wipe his mind and take over his body? Fuck that.

“I’ve got her.” The Doctor announced. “She’s sentient, Ianto. Like the TARDIS, but not a form I’ve ever encountered before. My God, she’s amazing.”

“So she’s… real?” He wasn’t really sure what was the right word to apply in this situation.

“Yes, and all that time I thought something was interfering with my sonic screwdriver and the TARDIS itself, I was wrong. It was her. Her very being.”

“Okay, as fascinating as I’m sure this is, I have a small pressing problem of the fact she’s about to hijack my brain and take my body for a spin around the block. And I get the feeling it’s not just so she can pop down to the shops.”

“Right you are. Sorry. Let me just—” The Doctor fiddled with a few more things and then threw one last switch with a flourish. “Welcome to the world of the living, Athena.”

He glanced over at Athena as she stumbled into the railings of the TARIDS, momentarily losing her balance before straightening. He felt a shock-like echo of energy ripple through his body.

“What was that?” he asked as Athena straightened and shook her head, looking slightly dazed.

“That was me isolating Athena’s unique wavelength, feeding it through the TARDIS interface and re-routing some energy into the hard-light projector.”

“And what does that all mean to those of us who don’t speak Time Lord?” He watched The Doctor as she circled around the console to stand in front of Athena as if she could see her. Wait. The Doctor could see her!

“It means I made Athena into a real girl.” The Doctor reached up and poked Athena in the shoulder. “Well, as real as a hard-light projection can be.”

“Ow!” Athena rubbed her shoulder, but then her eyes widened. “I’m real?”

“In a manner of speaking. While you’re on the TARDIS, anyway.”

“So you’ve fixed things?” he clarified. “You’ve put her into the TARDIS?”

The Doctor glanced at him, her gaze weighted. “No, actually. The hard light projection is coming directly out of your mind. I just wanted to be able to see her so we could have this conversation face to face.”

“What conversation?” Athena asked, sounding worried. And considering the expression on The Doctor’s face, she should be. He might have only met her recently, but that particular set to her features told him that crossing The Doctor would be a bad, bad idea.

“Stop this. Stop it now. I’m sorry about what’s happened to you, but tricking us, stealing Ianto’s body, erasing his mind, it’s not the answer. Reverse whatever you’ve done to him. Right now.”

Athena shook her head, backing away from The Doctor. “I can’t. I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Athena. But if you won’t stop it, I will, no matter what I have to do.”

Athena kept backing away from The Doctor, and whether it was by accident or on purpose, she ended up coming in his direction, not stopping until her back came up against his chest. He set his hands on her shoulders, comforting her.

“Doctor, stop,” he said in a low voice. He could feel it all—her fear, her loneliness, her sadness, her desperation. Like they were his own emotions, crowding him, drowning him, breaking him. And the truth of the situation, like her thoughts were becoming his—and maybe they were.

“She can’t undo it. She doesn’t know how.”

Athena glanced up at him over her shoulder. When their eyes met, a ripple of energy passed through him and they somehow become one. She knew and felt everything of him, just as he knew and felt everything of her. A perfect harmonious balance. Two beings somehow occupying the same place in synchronization.

“I can’t undo it,” Athena said slowly. “But maybe I can stop it.”

“What do you mean?” The Doctor demanded, glancing between the two of them.

“We can stay like this. Both of us here together.” His statement sounded more like a question because he wasn’t sure if it could work.

“Maybe. I think. There’s a small chance that if we stop it, I’ll become nothing, neither in your mind nor in the ship’s matrix any longer.” Though she looked scared, Athena stared steadily at him. “If you agree to let me stay— Right this second, we’ve hit the tipping point. We’re both sharing your mind equally. If the procedure stops, then we might both survive.”

“That is not a permeant solution.” The Doctor warned. “Ianto, the human body wasn’t designed for something like this. And you’ve already got the biochip in your brain. Who knows what—”

“We don’t have another choice.” It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t what he wanted. But all of the alternatives were worse. For Athena, anyway. She wasn’t malicious, she hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone. She’d just wanted to survive, to escape. To not be alone anymore. And he could understand. He’d felt that way before in his life. She didn’t deserve to die when such a human thing like emotion had been driving her to desperate measures. “The process can’t be reversed, not in the few seconds we’ve got. We either let it complete and I’m gone, or we stop now and take the small chance that both Athena and I continue to exist.”

The Doctor made a frustrated noise, running both hands through her hair. But then she finally seemed to come to terms with it all. “Okay. But this is temporary. As soon as we can, we’re going to find Athena her own body or ship or something else that’s not you.”

“And I completely agree with you. But right now, can we focus on shutting down the transfer, because in another few minutes, there’ll be more of Athena than me in my head and then this whole thing will be for nothing.”

“How do we do it?” The Doctor asked, looking expectantly at Athena.

“The ship’s energy—my energy, you were right. Inside the ship it’s everywhere. Since we came into the TARDIS, the transfer slowed down to less than a trickle because it’s somewhat shielded in here. If we can cancel it out, cut it off—I don’t really know.”

“Will distance do it?” The Doctor had already spun to face the control console, firing up the engines.

“I honestly don’t know. Maybe not. Ianto’s link to the ship uses a kind of space-time ripple to—”

“Okay, then, distance won’t do it.” The Doctor interrupted before Athena could even finish explaining. “Energy. Sentient ship. Space-time ripple. Come on, there has to be a quick answer— Ah ha!”

She rounded the console, frantically throwing levers, causing the TARDIS to make a sound he’d never heard before. Steam and smoke hissed up from below them, the ship shuddering. Ianto wrapped one arm around Athena and reached out to clamp a hand on the nearby rail to steady them both.

“Doctor, what’s happening?” he called out over all the noise.

“Dimensional shift, Mr Jones,” she called back. “The TARDIS, its dimensionally transcendental, which is why it’s bigger on the inside than the outside—technically the interior and the exterior exist in different dimensions.”

“Okay,” he replied, even though she’d lost him at dimensionally transcendental.

“So I’m taking it a little further. I’m creating a small dimensional shift—just momentary, mind you, otherwise we could cause a dimensional ripple that would completely change the fabric of reality—because if you and Athena cease to exist in our own dimension for even just a millisecond—”

“Then the connection will be lost,” Athena finished excitedly. “The energy transfer will stop.”

“The two of you will stay exactly as you are.” The Doctor paused to stare at him, expression deadly serious. “If this is really what you want.”

He nodded, tightening his grip on Athena as the TARDIS shuddered again. She shifted in his arms, hugging him for a long moment.

“Thank you,” she whispered, though he barely heard her above the noise of the whatever The Doctor was doing to the TARDIS. It was more like he heard her voice in his head. And he could feel her gratitude, like it was his own. Like he was appreciative of himself. Which was kind of weird.

“Alright, here goes everything.” The Doctor threw one last lever and the TARDIS jerked, throwing them off balance, sending them all stumbling sideways. But it lasted less than a second before giving one last screech and falling silent.

“Is that it?” Athena asked as the two of them picked themselves up from the floor.

The Doctor threw an arm on the console, pulling herself and puffing a breath to blow a few strands of blond hair off her face. “That should be it.”

Athena closed her eyes. “It worked. The transfer has stopped. And I’m still here!”

She started laughing, and Ianto could feel her relief and joy flooding through him. He joined in her laughter, wrapping his arms around her and picking her up off her feet as he hugged her.

“You saved me,” she said, staring up at him in awe and admiration once he’d set her back down.

“We both did, The Doctor and I,” he replied, a little abashed. “But next time, maybe just ask.”

A scrabbling noise sounded, cutting off whatever she was about to say.

The Doctor surged to her feet, spinning the screen on the console around.

“It’s the anthocidae. They’re trying to get in. They’re trying to— Hey!” She clamped both hands on the screen, expression indignant and outraged. “Not the light on the top! Do you know how long it’ll take to repair?”

She slapped a hand down and the TARDIS jolted, whirring back to life, sounding more like it should this time.

“Welcome to the time vortex, sorry about the disintegration.” She gave a satisfied laugh that almost sounded maniacal.

“Remind me never to get on her bad side,” he murmured to Athena.

“You’re telling me. I was terrified before when she threatened to do whatever she had to so she could save you.” Athena looked up at him, her gaze considering as she studied him. “You must be very important to her.”

“Oh, no.” He held up both hands. “We’re not like that. She saved my life and now she feels like I’m her responsibility. Anyway, I belong to someone else. I had to leave him, back on Earth. It’s a long, complicated story.”

Athena closed her eyes, brow knitting like she was concentrating hard. A second later, she opened her eyes again and smile. “Yep, got it. Oh, he’s gorgeous. Lucky you!”

“What?” He had no idea what had just happened.

“I accessed all your memories of Jack.”

All my memories?” He could feel his cheeks getting warm.

“Well, it’s not like I can filter out the juicy parts.” She sent him a cheeky smile. “I’m glad I can’t though. He’s something else. Like, wow.”

“Seriously?” Yep, he was definitely blushing now.

She patted his arm. “Get used to it. Whatever is in your mind is in my mind and vice versa. Anything you want to know about me, just think back, like when you recall your own memories, and you’ll find it.”

He tested her theory, and then almost immediately wished he hadn’t as images flashed through his mind; people being torn to shreds by the anthocidae. The crew and passengers that Athena had cared for; her unable to do anything but watch on helpless as the people she’d viewed as family had died in fear and terror.

“Sorry,” she grimaced. “If I could keep those memories from you, I would.”

He wiped a hand over his eyes that had grown a little damp. “It’s fine. Not like my memories are all rainbows and unicorns.”

She grinned at him, though there was a sad edge to the expression. “Let’s focus on more immediate matters. Like that biochip of yours.”

He gave an unamused laugh. “Because that’ll cheer us right up.”

“It might, if I tell you I can help you with it.”

His heart tripped over itself, breath catching in surprise.

“You can do something about the biochip?” The Doctor asked in astonishment before he could get his brain to start working again.

Just like that. Had they really stumbled upon the answer so easily?

Chapter Text

The Doctor took the mug of coffee Ianto handed her and breathed in the rich scent. She’d never thought there could be a knack to making such a simple beverage, but she had to admit, since Ianto had joined her on the TARDIS, his coffee had quickly become one of her favourite things about him. She didn’t know what he did to it, but it was almost always perfect. Like hot, aromatic ambrosia.

He went to hand a cup to Athena but then paused. “Oh. I made you one, but I have no idea if you can actually drink it.”

Athena laughed, not the least bit concerned. “Neither do I!”

“She can drink it,” she answered for them. “While she’s inside the TARDIS, she’s as real as you and I. She’ll get tired, thirsty, or hungry just like any regular human.”

“Well, isn’t that something?” Athena eagerly took the cup from Ianto. “I watched the people on board eat and drink and always wondered what it was like. So many things I get to try for the first time!”

She took a noisy slurp and then her eyes widened. “Oh, golly gosh. This is amazing!”

The Doctor shared an amused look with Ianto as Athena gulped another large mouthful.

The girl was an interesting concoction of old-soul-knowledge and complete innocence. Though it was unfortunate that her survival had depended on sharing Ianto’s mind, she couldn’t begrudge Athena wanting to escape the dead planet and live a new life. If she’d had to destroy her to save Ianto, she would have done it. But now she was glad they’d found a temporary solution which would give them time to find a more permanent one that hopefully ended with Athena and Ianto successfully separated.

“So, you said something about being able to help with the biochip?” she prompted Athena once Ianto had sat down with his own coffee.

Athena nodded, lowering her mug to hold it between both hands. “Help, yes. I can’t fix it, not like I could have repaired the damage done to Danni’s degenerated brain tissue. The chip is physically part of you, made up of your own neural pathways and grey matter. But as long as I’m sharing your mind I can block it’s affects, intercept any compulsions it tries to exert over you.”

Ianto’s expression fell just a little. “So as soon as you and I separate, it’d have control over me again.”

“I’m sorry, Ianto,” she sent him a sad smile. “I know you’re looking for an easy answer, but the fact is, the biochip is very advanced and very complex. I hope you and The Doctor find a way to get it removed, but it might never happen. The people who put it there might be the only ones who can reverse it, and I know you can’t just go ask them.”

Ianto nodded and glanced away from Athena, his gaze betraying the way his heart was breaking. Giving up on getting the biochip removed meant Ianto giving up on ever being with the man he loved, and The Doctor could see it in Ianto’s expression; he’d rather die again than live and be forced apart from Jack.

“On the bright side,” she said, gaining Athena’s attention at least. “While we’ve got Athena with us, you can see Jack and not worry about killing him by accident.”

This didn’t seem to cheer Ianto up at all. In fact, it made him look unhappier. “I’d rather just get on with finding a way to get the chip removed.”

“And we will.” The Doctor finished her coffee and set the cup on the floor at her feet. “We’re on our way to meet someone who might be able to help us right now.”

Ianto nodded and bent to grab her empty cup, also taking Athena’s. He started to walk away, but then paused and turned back.

“What if we did go find them. The Timeless. I know it’s completely bonkers, but if they’re really the only ones who can reverse it, then why waste our time with anything else?”

The notion had crossed her mind, but it was way too risky, for so many reasons.

“It’s possible the Timeless are hoping we’ll do exactly that. Weren’t you just warning me a few hours ago about walking into a bloody big trap? Besides, it’s not just your own safety you’re risking. They’d probably use you to lure Jack out. And there’s Athena to think of now. If they torture you, what do you think will happen to her? Besides, I’d have to take you, and I can’t risk the Timeless getting their hands on me or the TARDIS. I can’t even begin to imagine what they’d do with us, but none of it would be good.”

Ianto sighed, a resigned expression crossing his face. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. Sorry.”

He didn’t wait for her to answer, but turned and continued toward the kitchen to put the dirty cups away.

“Do you really think you can find a way to fix it?” Athena asked once Ianto had disappeared.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. It only matters what I do about it,” she answered, turning her attention to the TARDIS console.

“It matters to him what you think,” Athena replied quietly. “Because if you don’t believe it, then how is he supposed to?”

She cut Athena an annoyed look, though it was laced with amusement. “You’re a little on the clever side, aren’t you?”

“Just a little,” Athena answered with a sly smile. “So tell me, do you believe you can find a way to fix him? You see, I’ve kind of become attached to him.”

The Doctor gave a quick laugh at Athena’s knowing look after she made the quip.

“Yes, that much is obvious.”

“Seriously, though. He has the biggest heart. And his loyalty runs deep and endless. I might be biased since I’m sharing his mind, but I don’t think there are many people in the universe like him.”

“On that we can most definitely agree.” The Doctor crossed her arms, considering Athena. It was hard to dislike her when she seemed to want nothing more than to help Ianto and had obviously deeply regretted her actions when she’d tried to steal Ianto’s mind and body.

“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s absolutely gorgeous,” Athena added with a cheeky grin. “I mean, those blue eyes. And when he smiles— You can’t take him out in the universe! You’ll have people falling in love with him left, right and centre.”

“You know I can hear you, right?” Ianto’s voice drifted back from the corridor leading to the TARDIS’s endless other rooms.

Athena’s smile widened, because obviously she had realized and had simply been teasing him. She started to reply, but suddenly the TARDIS lurched, the lights above them changing to flesh red as an alarm started to blare.

“What’s happening?” Athena shuffled over to grab a railing and hold herself steady.

“I don’t know.” She latched onto the console and studied the screen. “The TARDIS is acting like she’s under attack, but there’s no one out there.”

“Doctor! What’s going on?” Ianto stumbled out of the corridor, struggling to keep his footing as the TARDIS jerked crazily beneath them.

She didn’t answer, too busy running exterior and interior scans, trying to see what the TARDIS had picked up on, but unable to find anything.

There was a scrabbling noise above them and she glanced up just in time to see something drop to the deck at their feet.

They all froze, staring at the anthocidae as it skittered around to face them on its six spindly legs. It clicked its pincers together, while its behind wiggled, the bee-like stinger easily the width and length of her forearm. Get stuck by that, and it’d likely kill you from damage to vital organs before the venom did its thing.

A second anthocidae dropped, landing next to the first, and she risked a glance up to see another set of spiny legs coming through the tear in the ceiling.

“Doctor.”

She glanced over at Ianto who was holding Athena’s arm, the pair of them easing back toward the corridor.

“Go!” She slammed a hand on a specific button on the console, threw two switches, then yanked her sonic screwdriver out as she turned to sprint after Ianto and Athena, pointing the screwdriver at the blast door so it started closing before they’d even reached it. Ianto shoved Athena through first then skipped after her, dodging the panel as the gap shortened. At the last second, she squeezed through after them, barely avoiding getting squashed.

The anthocidae landed with a thunk against the closed door, scrabbling over the small glass panel. She ran her sonic screwdriver around the seams to make sure it sealed.

“How the hell did they get on board?” Ianto panted, tugging his vest straight.

“I don’t know. God only knows what kind of damage they’ve done to her.” She paced, mind spinning over the possibilities, and trying to work out what she was going to do before the creatures cannibalised the entire ship to replicate—them included.

“Won’t they just climb out the way they came in and come after us?” Athena asked.

She shook her head. “Not for a while I hope. I hermetically sealed the room—including the breach they created. It won’t stop them, but it’ll slow them down.”

“And in the meantime, we come up with a way to get rid of them,” Ianto concluded, looking at her expectantly.

If only it were so simple. “Yes. But we have a slight problem.”

Ianto rolled his eyes. “Why is there always a slight problem? Why, for once, can there be no problem and an easy solution?”

“Because, Mr Jones.” She smiled despite the dire state of affairs. The fact was, she could always say she’d been in worse situations. “Where would be the fun in that?”

Chapter Text

Surely one of these days Ianto was going to get used to the fact that The Doctor seemed to actually somewhat enjoy it when they found themselves in ridiculous amounts of danger. Just not on the days when biomechical insects that wanted to eat them had hitched a ride on the TARDIS and were only temporarily contained in the control room.

“Right then, what’s the slight problem and how do we fix it?” he asked The Doctor, forcing himself not to think about the creep factor. At least if he had something else to focus on it’d keep the urge to freak out at bay. Because not only was he feeling his own dread, he was also feeling Athena’s, and it was a hundred times stronger than his. She’d stood witness to what these creatures could do, and she was absolutely terrified of seeing it happen to him and The Doctor.

He reached over and took her hand, interlacing their fingers together, offering silent comfort and support. Her features might appear calm, but inside she was in turmoil.

“Since the anthocidae are sealed in the console room, we’re limited with what we can do. But, the TARDIS has archived all the different control rooms from every time it’s changed, and apparently some that don’t even exist yet, though I doubt she’ll let us find those. Plus, there were once secondary control rooms, except I think they were jettisoned and destroyed by my seventh or eighth regeneration. Hard to remember—”

“So, what you’re saying is we just need to find another control room,” Ianto interrupted before the ramble could go on any longer.

She sent him an exasperated look as if she didn’t appreciate being interrupted. “Yes, but what I’m trying to tell you is that they’re archives, not actual control rooms. We’ll be limited as to what we can do with them.”

“If we can do anything, it’ll be a start,” he muttered in return. “Which way?”

The Doctor glanced around and then pointed to the right. “That way. I think.”

She set off before he could reply, so he gently tugged Athena’s hand and followed after The Doctor, deeper into the TARDIS. He’d only seen a handful of rooms since he’d come on board; the kitchen, the huge closet and dressing room, and he’d walked past what looked to be some sort of library and sitting room, but not gone in. As they proceeded down the corridor, a lot of the doors were closed, leaving him with no idea what might be behind them. But some stood open; rooms that were like snap-shots out of time. A bedroom that looked like it’d been decorated in the 1960’s and never updated, some kind of Victorian parlour, and what he suspected might have resembled a gentlemen’s smoking room from the 1920’s. But what stopped him in his tracks was when he heard the gentle echoing slap of water and the next open doorway they passed revealed a cavernous room with a pool.

“You have a swimming pool?” When he stopped suddenly, Athena bumped into him.

The Doctor glanced over her shoulder, not pausing even though he and Athena had. “Of course, lots of things you can do with a pool.”

“Other than swimming?” He took one last glance at it before hurrying to catch up with her, still holding Athena’s hand.

“I spent a lot of time doing laps in that pool when Amy and Rory were on board because—” She gave an expansive shrug. “They were newlyweds. Though, in hindsight I should have banned all shenanigans whilst travelling in the time vortex. Of course, I could never have imagined River Song would be the result of that— Anyway, there’s been times it’s doubled as a bathroom. Once or twice I froze it and turned it into an ice rink. Oh! And one time I brewed bootleg beer in there. That was terribly entertaining.”

“I think I’m sorry I asked,” he mumbled at Athena, who smiled, though the expression was strained. He could feel her struggling to keep her fear at bay. “Don’t worry, we’ll get out of this in one piece. We always do.”

It was a white-lie because he didn’t know that for sure, and since her mind was as much his mind, she no doubt knew it too. But he could tell she appreciated the effort.

They continued on, taking corridor after corridor, even going down two flights of stairs. Ianto stopped looking into the rooms after the pool. There was just too much to see and now wasn’t the time to be expending the brain power on figuring out the totally outlandish dimension The Doctor lived in.

Finally, The Doctor made a sudden turn, her exclamation of “ah ha!” echoing back out before he and Athena had followed her in.

True to what she’d said, it was another control room, yet very different to the one they’d left behind. It was all white, much smaller, no rails, or levels or even any seats. And while it still had the central console in the middle, the clear tubing that usually stretched up to the roof was missing, along with half the instruments The Doctor always used.

“Not quite what I was expecting.” Actually, he wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting. Probably something similar to The Doctor’s current console room. This, however, was a shadow of that.

The Doctor had her sonic screwdriver out and was buzzing it over something or other on the console.

“I was going through a minimalist phase,” she replied distractedly. “Which really doesn’t help me now.”

She pushed back from the console and crossed her arms, expression drawn in deep thought. “The question is, do we spend time trying to find a secondary control room that might not exist, or even a more recent archived version of the console room with more controls, or do I make do with what we’ve got here?”

Another alarm started up, turning the white walls red with pulsing light. The Doctor glanced up, her brows lowering in a scowl.

“They’re getting through the hermetic seal faster than I thought they would.” She leaped back at the console and started flicking switches. “Nothing for it, we’ll have to make our stand here.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” he asked as The Doctor worked frantically, clamping her sonic screwdriver between her teeth as she toggled two separate sections on the control panel.

“Over there, on the other side.” She nodded her chin to indicate where she meant. “When I say, you need to pull that level. Athena, I need you to watch this screen and tell me when the levels all reach one hundred percent.”

“And what are we doing exactly?” Athena asked, moving to stand in front of the screen.

“I’m going to flood the console room with a special kind of radiation that should basically melt all of the anthocidae’s bio parts. It won’t kill them, but it’ll incapacitate them long enough to open the TARDIS doors and create a vacuum to suck them out. We’re still in the time vortex, so they’ll disintegrate as soon as they leave the TARDIS’s shield.”

“Right, brutal.” He caught The Doctor’s wary gaze. “Not to sound like a complete psychopath, but I like the sound of that.”

“Get to it then, we haven’t got long before they break through the hermetic seal.”

For the next few minutes, they worked quickly, The Doctor tossing orders at the two of them while she did twice as much, pulling out wires, making new connections, the buzz of her sonic screwdriver an almost constant resonance.

“The levels have all reached one hundred percent!” Athena exclaimed, gaining The Doctor’s attention from where she was crouched at the bottom of the console.

“That means we’re just about ready.” She pulled out a cable and stood to plug it into an empty spot on the control panel. After that, she went over next to Athena and tapped a button. The screen flickered and changed to show an inside view of the control room where four anthocidae were scrabbling around. They’d made a mess of things, chewing and slicing and breaking through all kinds of things. Some parts even looked melted, though he couldn’t imagine how they’d achieved that. He didn’t know how The Doctor was ever going to repair any of it.

“Those little beggars!” She shook her head angrily. “Look at the state of it. You mess with the TARDIS, then you’ve got it coming.”

She reached over and pulled a lever down. On the screen, the lights inside the console room flared a bright, almost blinding yellow. Screeching sounded, the noise almost unholy.

“Is that the anthocidae making that noise?” He grimaced, The Doctor and Athena doing the same.

“They’re not sentient, they’re more like droids. But they do feel pain,” Athena said. He could sense that she didn’t feel sorry for the creatures, though. Not after all they’d done. But she also wasn’t enjoying it. Mostly he got the notion she would just be relieved once the anthocidae were gone and she wouldn’t ever have to see them again.

The noise faded and a moment later, so did the light. On the deck, the four anthocidae were lying on their backs, legs twitching like they’d been hit with bug spray. Whatever biological matter they’d possessed had burned away, leaving them skeletal and shrivelled. But as they watched, one of them managed to flip over and start dragging its stiffened body along the floor.

“I think we only managed to make them more horrific-looking,” he said, trying not to shudder. “And probably piss them off.”

“Time to say goodbye.” The Doctor leaned over and pushed a button, causing the TARDIS doors to fling open on the screen. Next, she flipped a couple of switches and then looked expectantly at the screen, but nothing happened. A second anthocidae became mobile, the scratching sound of its metallic body grating as it slowly moved across the floor.

The Doctor flipped the switches back and forth a few times, expression becoming concerned.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as she yanked out her sonic screwdriver and pointed it at the switches.

“The vacuum isn’t working. They must have damaged some of the connections in the console room.”

“Is there something else we can do?”

She looked up at him, expression grim. “Not from here. The only way to fix it is—”

“What?” he demanded when she didn’t finish, but from the look on her face, he could already guess what she was going to say.

“Someone will have to go in there and activate the vacuum manually.”

Chapter Text

The Doctor glanced between Ianto and Athena. There was nothing else for it, she’d have to go in there. The anthocidae weren’t as incapacitated as she’d hoped, and she’d have to find a way to secure herself so she didn’t get sucked out of the TARDIS along with the biomechnical insects. That’d already happened to her once before, moments after she’d regenerated, and she wasn’t interested in ever repeating the experience.

“But if one of us goes in there, what’s to stop us from getting sucked out as well?” Ianto asked, his train of thoughts obviously following a similar path to hers.

“I’ll have to secure myself to something before I activate the vacuum.” She didn’t wait for Ianto to reply because she just knew he would argue against her doing it and there was no point. No way would she let him do it. Not only could she imagine exactly what Jack would have to say about it, but Ianto had already been put in enough danger without stepping into a room with four enraged anthocidae, only to activate a vacuum into the time vortex.

“Doctor! Wait!” He and Athena came after her.

Of course, they did. Neither of them seemed the type to sit back and just let things happen.

“You can’t go in there.” Ianto caught up with her to walk on one side, while Athena stepped up on her other side. “What if something happens to you?”

“I’ll regenerate.” She sounded calm about it, but dying and regenerating were about the last things she wanted to do today.

Ianto grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop. “Surely there’s another way. Something else we can try. I’m not going to just stand back and watch you walk in there.”

“Maybe there is another way. But we don’t have time to find it. The radiation didn’t slow them down as much as I thought it would. Who knows what kind of damage they’ve already done to the TARDIS? We have to get them out now, before they find some biological matter to repair themselves with.”

She gently tugged her arm from his grasp, breaking her gaze away from his stormy expression and resuming her run back up to the control room.

They were all puffing as they arrived outside the door she’d sealed with her sonic screwdriver earlier. She glanced through the small window to see all four anthocidae had become mobile again. One of them had even managed to drag itself up onto the console.

“Ianto, I need you to go into the kitchen. There should be a pair of handcuffs in one of the draws.”

He arched an eyebrow at her. “You keep handcuffs in the kitchen draws?”

“River left them there. It’s not what you— just go and get them,” she told him in exasperation.

“It’s not like you can talk,” Athena called after him “You and Jack have left all sorts of—”

“I can’t hear you!” Ianto called back, even though he obviously could.

Athena smiled at her, though she could see the strain around the edges. After everything the girl had been through, this had to be hard for her.

“How are you holding up?”

“Fine. But Doctor, I’ve been thinking—” She broke off, her nervous gaze darting away toward the closed door.

“What is it?”

“It should be me.” Athena returned her attention to her, but now her eyes were steady and her expression was almost eerily calm, devoid of emotion. “I should be the one to go in there.”

“Athena—”

“No, just hear me out.” She held up a hand and took a quick breath. “I’m a hard-light projection—no biological matter. They can’t use me to repair themselves. Even half dead, they could still tear you to shreds in a few seconds. And if they do that, they can replicate, then you’ll be dead and Ianto and I will be in even more danger. Plus, technically since I exist in Ianto’s mind, no matter what they do to me, I won’t actually die.”

From a clinical, logical point of view, it made complete sense. It was the better option. Yet she could also see how terrified of the creatures Athena was—and with good reason.

“Athena, I can’t ask you to do this.”

Athena shook her head. “You’re not asking. I’m offering. We both know it’s our only option.”

“What’s our only option?” Ianto asked, returning with the handcuffs.

Athena took a calming breath and turned to look up at him. “I’m going in. Not The Doctor.”

What?” Ianto’s expression slackened with shock. “Athena, you can’t—”

“I have to.” She reached out and set a hand on his arm reassuringly. “I can do this. You both saved me. Now it’s my turn to save you.”

“There’s one consideration you might not have taken into account,” The Doctor said slowly, but from the way Athena looked at her, it seemed maybe she had.

“Whatever happens to me, whatever I feel, so does Ianto,” Athena answered, sending Ianto an apologetic look.

“So if the anthocidae attack you—” Ianto’s voice held a grim note of resignation.

“If they hurt me, it’ll hurt you as well. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Ianto sent her a smile, though it had sharp edges and didn’t reach his eyes. “Well, it won’t kill me, so I guess it could be worse.”

“If we’re lucky, they won’t even bother with Athena since she’s not made up of biological matter,” she assured them, even though she didn’t know if that was true or not.

Athena held out a hand toward Ianto. “I need to make sure I don’t get sucked out of the ship, because that might actually kill you.”

Ianto reluctantly handed over the handcuffs. “Don’t do this because you feel like you owe us—owe me for what you did trying to save yourself. I don’t hold it against you, and I’m sure The Doctor doesn’t either. You don’t need to earn our forgiveness. I forgave you the moment I felt how lonely and desperate you were.”

She sent him a tremulous smile as she took the cuffs and held them against her chest. “I’m doing this because it’s the best of limited options. We all know there’s no other choice.”

As Ianto and Athena stared at each other for a long moment, almost like they were silently communicating—and who knew, maybe they were since they shared one mind—The Doctor turned and started running her sonic screwdriver over the edges of the door to unseal it.

It clicked free, gaining Athena’s attention and she turned, posture becoming tense as she stepped forward.

“When you get in there, cuff one wrist to the railing on the left of the seats, it’s closest to the control panel you need,” she instructed, pointing through the small window to show Athena where she meant. She spent another few seconds explaining the sequences of switches and toggles Athena need to activate, and was confident she wouldn’t need to repeat any of it. After all, until less than an hour ago, Athena had actually been a ship herself. She possibly understood the TARDIS systems just by looking at them.

Athena took a shallow breath and nodded. The Doctor shared a grim look with Ianto before reaching over and activating the door to open. Athena slipped through the gap before it’d even fully opened, so she quickly reversed the command and the door slid closed again.

Ianto came over to her side, his shoulder brushing hers as they both leaned in to look through the small window.

Athena ran over to the central console, while the anthocidae all seemed to go still, as if they didn’t know what to make of her, or were assessing whether she was a threat.

As she got to the chairs, she was clicking a cuff around her left wrist, ready to attach the other to the railing. When she turned her back, metal clinking lightly against metal as she secured the cuff around the railing, the anthocidae on the console came around, too close to the panel Athena needed to access.

She turned around, and flinched back when she saw the creature standing there, it’s pincers slowly opening and closing.

“Damn it, we shouldn’t have let her do this.” Ianto clenched his fist where his hand was resting against the door, before closing his eyes and leaning forward to rest his forehead against the glass. “She’s so bloody terrified, she can barely stand there.”

She set her hand on Ianto’s shoulder, not saying anything, because what could she say? If she or Ianto had gone in there, the anthocidae would have definitely attacked them for their biological matter by now.

Athena edged closer to the console and gingerly reached out. She flicked the first few switches carefully, snatching her hand back each time as if scared the anthocidae was going to jump on her. But it didn’t move, and she gained more confidence, going for speed instead of caution.

However, while she’d been distracted with the single anthocidae on the control console, she hadn’t noticed that the three others had slowly, but surely closed in around her. And they looked to be forming some kind of attack formation.

“Athena!” She thumped a hand on the glass, and Athena looked up.

Obviously deciding to take advantage of the distraction, one of the anthocidae on the floor lurched forward and clamped its pincers around her leg.

Athena screamed, and a second later, Ianto doubled over, reaching down to grip his leg, grunting in pain.

“Ianto?” She set a hand on his back, leaning down so she could see his face. Sweat had broken out on his brow and his face was pale.

“I’m fine, just make sure Athena can get through this.”

She straightened, hurriedly glancing through the window. Athena was on one knee, the other leg out straight, trying to kick the anthocidae off.

“Athena! I know it hurts and I know you’re scared, but you have to ignore it. Remember what you need to do. Athena!”

For a second she thought she wasn’t going to be able to get through to the younger woman, but then Athena stopped. For a long moment she hunched there, shaking, but then finally, she pushed to her feet and turned back to the console. Tears were running down her face, and she was biting her lower lip hard enough to draw blood—if she’d been human—but she went back to flicking the switches and then moved onto the toggles.

“That’s it! Almost there,” she encouraged, even as she watched the anthocidae on the control panel shift into a more hostile stance. If Athena noticed, she didn’t react, just sequenced the toggles without hesitation, like she’d been flying the TARDIS for years and could have done it in her sleep.

The anthocidae on the control panel suddenly launched itself, landing on her shoulder and stabbing its stinger into her side, right between two ribs.

This time, Athena didn’t scream, but Ianto did.

He collapsed to the floor next to her, clutching his side, writhing in pain. The Doctor glanced desperately at Athena. The latest attack had sent her down on her knees, but she was still determinedly reaching across the console, flicking the last few toggles with one hand, while trying to push the anthocidae off with the other hand.

The vacuum activated with a sudden roar of wind. The anthocidae on Athena’s shoulder was the first to get sucked out. She balled herself up against the powerful suction, but it was no use. It caught her and sent her slamming into the console, only stopping when she met the resistance of where she’d cuffed herself to the railing.

The Doctor dropped to the floor and wrapped her arms around Ianto, curled on his side, breaths sobbing in and out of his chest. She gathered him close, her own body aching at the sight of his pain until her vision was swimming with tears.

After another few long seconds, the vacuum shut off and Ianto went limp in her arms.

She looked down at his tear-streaked, pale face. “Ianto?”

He didn’t respond. The pain must have been too much and he’d passed out. She gently laid him on the floor and scrambled to her feet, hand shaking as she reached out to activate the door control.

Inside the control room was complete devastation, but the anthocidae were all gone. Athena was sitting on the floor between the console and the railing, hand suspended limply in the cuffs. As she approached, Athena looked up at her with wide, wild eyes.

“Are they gone? Did I do it?”

“You did it, we’re safe.” She crouched down and gently pushed the strands of hair off Athena’s face.

“Ianto?”

“He’s okay.” Or, he would be, at any rate.

She pulled her sonic screwdriver out of her coat and buzzed it on the cuff at Athena’s wrist, making it spring open. Once her hand was free, Athena climbed unsteadily to her feet, rubbing her wrist.

“And you’re sure they’ll be destroyed out there?”

“Nothing can withstand the time vortex outside of the TARDIS.” Well, nothing except Jack Harkness, apparently. But Athena didn’t need to know that.

Athena blew out a long breath and closed her eyes, some of the tension leaving her body. “They’re really gone. We’re okay.”

“We are, thanks to you,” she replied, causing Athena to open her eyes again. She reached out and took Athena’s hand. “You were brilliant.”

Athena gave a small, disbelieving laugh. “It certainly didn’t feel like it. Where’s Ianto?”

The Doctor grimaced. “The pain got a little much for him.”

“Oh, no.” Athena rushed past her, back toward the corridor where they’d left Ianto.

As they reached him, he was just rolling onto his side, groggily pushing himself up to sit. Athena went down next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders.

“Ianto, oh gosh, I’m so sorry.”

He shook his head. “If you tell me it worked and those bloody people eating space bugs are gone, then I won’t utter a single complaint.”

“They’re gone,” Athena assured him, rubbing his shoulder blades.

“Thank God.” Ianto passed a glance between them. “Then I guess I don’t need to tell you that I think my wrist is broken, my ribs feel busted and if I look down, I wouldn’t be surprised to find the lower half of my leg missing.”

“That’s funny.” Athena frowned at him in consideration. “I’m not feeling any pain any longer.”

Ianto’s face twisted with agony as he shifted. “I think I want a refund on this whole mind-share thing.”

“Come on, Mr Jones.” The Doctor stepped over to his opposite side, and between her and Athena, they helped him to his feet. “Full medical work up for you.”

“Oh good, just what I wanted to hear. Which one of you is going to be the naughty nurse?”

The Doctor sent him an exasperated look. “Clearly you’ve been spending too much time with Jack Harkness.”

“What’s a naughty nurse?” Athena interjected with unabashed curiosity.

Ianto glanced over at her, his expression pointed, but then grinning as Athena’s mouth dropped open.

“Well, isn’t that something?” Athena gave a scandalized laugh.

“You know, I think we’re going to have to set some ground rules about the two of you communicating silently, or whatever it is you’re up to,” The Doctor grumbled.

Truthfully, she didn’t mind, she was mostly feeling put out by the fact they were sharing something fascinating she’d never actually seen done before and wanted to know what it was like. Though the circumstances surrounding how it’d happened were unfortunate, she had to say, she was more than a little intrigued and enjoying the singularity of this new arrangement.

“We weren’t talking,” Ianto replied. “It’s more of a memory transfer kind of thing.”

“I definitely need to hear more about this.”

“Well, when I understand it myself, you’ll be the first to know,” Ianto returned in a dry voice as they reached the medical suite.

As they helped Ianto up on the bed, the TARDIS made a wooshing-wheezing noise as it powered down—sounding a little rougher than usual, no doubt because of whatever damage the anthocidae had inflicted. She’d already be repairing it, however. And hopefully this time, they’d landed at their intended destination. After the past few hours, she could definitely agree with Jack’s “no detours” rule.