“Don’t you ever get freak occurrences?”
Jack looked up, surprised, at the dark-haired woman sitting on the other side of the desk. “What?”
“I said, don’t you ever get freak occurrences? Accidents of nature? An alien murderer that you don’t catch?”
He raised an eyebrow, pushing the file he was reading away from him. “Gwen, it’s 5:30. Shouldn’t you be going home to your husband now?”
“Jack, it’s 5:30. Shouldn’t you be shagging an alien somewhere by now? Answer the question,” Gwen responded, caricaturing his tone and rolling her eyes.
Jack sighed over-dramatically before standing up and walking over to a filing cabinet in the corner of his office. “Here. The things we can’t solve. Torchwood started this a long time ago, and they’ve been showing up ever since. You can look if you want, but if ten generations of Torchwood can’t figure it out, I’m not sure you could.”
Gwen narrowed her eyes at her boss, before walking over and opening the cabinet. Challenge accepted. “Can I read them?”
“Sure. You can bring them home if you want, just don’t lose them or let Rhys see them. Those are more valuable than your entire flat.” He shrugged.
Gwen took the file, turning it over in her hands. “Right. No pressure, though.” She joked, waving half-heartedly as she left the room. “‘Night, Jack.”
By the time she got home, she could tell that Rhys had been busy. The simmering pot on the stove and the smell of tomato sauce seconded that, and she smiled. “Gwen! Is that you?” she heard Rhys call from the kitchen. “No, it’s the other person who has a key for the flat,” she responded, grinning as he came out of the kitchen, kissing her quickly. “Is that pasta I smell? My, it’s almost like you know what you’re doing!” Rhys turned around, sticking his tongue out childishly. “Oi, I do know what I’m doing! I deal with the flat when you’re running around with bloody Torchwood, don’t I?”
Gwen giggled in response, shrugging off her jacket and putting the file by the door. She wanted to read it, but it could wait.
Their dinners were one of Gwen’s favourite parts of the day. Rhys would tell her about his day, who came to Harwood’s, how Daf was doing. In return, Gwen would tell him about Torchwood, how they had encountered a new kind of alien, how Jack had flirted with everyone they had encountered, how Ianto would roll his eyes when he thought that nobody would see him. She’d watch Rhys’ eyes light up and his brow furrow as he undoubtedly worried about her. It was one of the few solid things in her life, one of the few places where she could laugh, and smile, and joke and love without the imminent fear of danger and death.
“What’s that?” Rhys asked, mouth full of pasta. Gwen raised a teasing eyebrow at her husband, before turning around and seeing what he was gesturing at - the file, laying on the ground. Gwen shrugged, twirling some spaghetti with her fork. “Work stuff,” she mumbled, suddenly reluctant to share the details. “What about work stuff? Or is it too high-profile that you can’t tell a lowly commoner such as myself?”
“It’s just…stuff. Paperwork. Stuff you wouldn’t be interested in, Rhys.”
Rhys raised an eyebrow, clearly sceptical, but not saying anything. Gwen shivered, the room suddenly seeming a few degrees colder.
Rhys was already in bed when she got out of the shower; eyes closed as he slowly drifted off to sleep. Gwen smiled softly, the tension from dinner fading away as she looked at her husband. Slowly leaning over, she pressed a quick kiss to his hairline, brushing away a few strands of hair that were drifting over his forehead. She silently left the room, retrieving the file before she sat down at the desk, shaking her head as if she could shake away her fatigue. Trying not to disrupt Rhys, she opened the file with tentative fingers. Right away, she saw that Jack hadn’t been joking about the age of some of these cases. The sheets of paper were few and old, the pages yellowing and brittle underneath her fingers. Gwen frowned, clicking on a lamp and placing the papers out on the desk in front of her. They appeared to be completely disorganized, with no apparent order. Sentences dropping off at the end of pages, water damage, the list went on and on. Jesus, Gwen thought, how did Torchwood get anything done before Ianto?
Slowly, Gwen started to put the pieces together. There were four cases, all in all, each deeply detailed. A teenage girl who had been killed in 1900, her death report written in such excruciating detail that Gwen retched. A young man who had died after being attacked by a Weevil. An elderly couple who were brutally murdered in their bed, most of the page splattered with water, looking like a gust of wind could shatter it. Gwen sighed, rubbing her eyes harshly. These files weren’t just badly kept and disorganized, they were full with obscure facts about the people’s lives and references to media and people she knew nothing about. Probably old members of Torchwood, she reasoned to herself, flipping the page over.
Half an hour later, she was still sitting at the desk, her eyelids sliding shut every time she glimpsed away from the paper, the words swimming under her eyes. But try as she might, she couldn’t wrench her eyes away from the files, especially the one with the teen girl. Lily. Her name was Lily. Lily Jones. Something about it mesmerized her. Maybe the fact that these people, these creatures were never caught. But it also felt like she was intruding on something deeply intimate. These were people’s lives. That young girl, she had lived, once. She had hoped, she had dreamed, she hadn’t even finished high school. There were adventures she could have gone on. There were things she could have seen. People she could have loved. There was an entire universe waiting to unfold for Lily Jones, and it had been snatched away from her. Gwen didn’t notice the tears until she saw one hit the polished table under her, and then they came faster, silent sobs shaking her body as she cried over a girl long dead.
“Gwen? Gwen? Love, it’s nine thirty.”
Gwen raised a hand to push away the voice, groaning. Rhys, however, wasn’t taking it - he grabbed her hand and pulled, forcing her to raise her head. “Gwen, get up. Torchwood called.”
Gwen bolted up, neck cracking painfully. “Oh, shit,” she mumbled, suddenly wide awake. Sprinting to the bathroom, she combed her hair, not paying attention to the mascara smudges underneath her eyes. “Rhys, Rhys, where’s my telephone? I’ve got to go.”
Rhys stuck his head in the bathroom, raising an eyebrow at the sight of his dishevelled wife. “On the coffee table. It probably doesn’t matter, love. Being late isn’t the end of the world.”
Gwen shook her head, her long hair sweeping over her shoulders. “No, Rhys. Torchwood never phones. Something is wrong.” Frantically grabbing a new pair of jeans and a sweater, she ran into the bathroom, changing quickly, and brushing her teeth. Grabbing her jacket with one hand, she haphazardly shoved the papers back into their file, muttering under her breath. “Rhys, sorry to rush out on you, but I’ve got to go now.” She rushed out, kissing him quickly before pocketing her phone and leaving.
“I’m so sorry I’m late.”
“Where the hell have you been?” Owen snapped, looking up from his computer. “There’s been a murder.”
Gwen flushed with embarrassment, looking down at her feet. “I was. . . busy. What happened?”
Tosh flashed her a kinder glance, smiling softly. “Two hours ago, we logged a surge of Rift energy. Half an hour ago, we found a woman’s corpse. Going by the autopsy, she’d be…”
“Roughly twenty. The wounds are about an hour old, which means she was likely killed around the same time that the rift energy was tracked.” Owen cut in, still scowling slightly, but with that smug air he used when showing off his knowledge. Gwen nodded, dropping her coat and files on a chair. “Jesus, you’re finishing each other’s sentences. So, whatever alien it was jumped through the Rift, killed the woman, and then…?”
“That’s what we don’t know,” Jack added, strolling through the open door, hands shoved into his pockets. “Hey, Gwen. Nice to see that you’re not dead.” Gwen frowned, tilting her head in confusion. “What do you mean? Wouldn’t we be able to track it? Residual Rift energy and all that?”
Tosh shook her head. “No. The traces of energy just . . . stop. The last trace of energy we found was on the woman. We have no idea what the alien is - I’m running DNA scans on the woman, to see if we can pick anything up.”
Jack frowned. “It’s chaos. We’ve got your old buddies in the force breathing down our necks again, and we have no leads. None.”
“Isn’t there anything we could do? Could we tell anything from the woman’s body?”
“We’ve tried all that. There’s not much left of her body, anyway,” Ianto interjected, passing Gwen a cup of coffee, which she gratefully accepted. “Why, what happened?”
Tosh blanched slightly. “You can look if you like, but it’s not pretty.”
Owen led the way to the autopsy room, putrid-smelling as always. “Are you sure you want to look?”
Gwen scowled. “Owen, I’m not a child. I work here, for god’s sake, I think I can handle a bit of gore - oh god.”
She turned away to retch.
The girl’s body was horribly mangled, one leg facing the wrong way, open, exposed flesh fading to brown with oxidized blood. Clumps of neon orange hair were matted with blood, and her features were frozen into a look of terror. She must have spent her last moments screaming in agony, Gwen thought. But, the most horrifying of all, there was a large hole in her stomach, perfectly circular, which went neatly to the spine. All of her internal organs were missing. Gwen looked up at Owen, her eyes full of tears. “What could have done this?” Owen shrugged in response. “I don’t know. We’ve never seen anything like this before.” he soothed, awkwardly wrapping an arm around his trembling colleague.
Gwen’s eyes widened in understanding. A million thoughts running through her head, she wrenched herself out of Owen’s embrace, running out of the autopsy room and back to the computers.
Torchwood had no leads. They had no idea what kind of alien had done this - to be more specific, they’d never seen, or heard of anything like this before.
But she had.
“Gwen! Gwen, are you all right?” Jack asked, holding an arm out to stop her. Gwen ran straight into his arm, slightly frenzied. Jack frowned. “Was it the body?” He asked, concerned. When Gwen made no motion to pay attention, he grabbed onto her shoulders, and she looked up at him. “Lily.”
“Lily - let me go, Jack - Lily Jones.” She spat, running over to her desk and grabbing the folder. Frantically searching through the papers, no longer caring about how delicate they were, Gwen grabbed the pages related to her, thrusting them at Jack.
“Gwen, what are you doing?” Tosh asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. Gwen, however, was staring up at Jack, her eyes filled with an emotion that Toshiko couldn’t identify. Jack, slowly, looked up from the paper, his mouth a rather comical ‘o’ of shock. “What is it?” Owen asked, walking over to the trio, Ianto following behind him.
“Lily Jones. Died in 1900, when she was fourteen. She’s one of Torchwood’s unsolved.” Jack replied, his voice hollow with shock.
Owen shook his head, not understanding. “What does she have to do with anything?”
Jack opened his mouth to reply, but Gwen didn’t need to. The words were etched into her mind, burning into her memory.
In a perfect circle hollowed out in her stomach, all of Miss Jones’ central organs were missing. The hole was roughly twenty-five centimetres in diameter, and the skin around it was jagged, as if it had been snipped from the outside in.
The team fell silent for a long minute, the weight of that implication weighing them down. Looking around, Gwen could see the finality settle in each of their faces, before everyone started speaking at once. “But that’s… impossible, right? I mean, anything that murdered the chick in 1900 must be long dead by now,” said Owen
“Lily,” Gwen replied, his comment pulling her out of her reverie. “Her name was Lily, and she was fourteen. Have some respect for once in your life, Harper.”
“First of all,” Jack added, cutting off Owen’s next remark, “We don’t know if whatever killed these two was the same thing -”
“I need to do more research on this,” murmured Tosh, almost to herself. “There was no rift energy… maybe the readings were incorrect? No, that never happens…”
“I’ll go check the archives,” said Ianto, trying to cut between Gwen and Owen’s increasingly hostile discussion.
“All right, time!” Jack called, making a ‘t’ with his hands, and for once, the team fell silent. “Right. What do we know about the - this - victim?”
“Her name was Alwen Lewis,” Tosh said. “She was just about to begin her second year in the English Program at Cardiff University.”
“Her favourite colour was orange, she wanted to start a rock band, and she drank her coffee black.”
“... Owen, what the hell?”
“Ah, Gwen Elizabeth Cooper, welcome to the wonderful and strange world of sharing personal information with strangers.”
When Gwen’s expression didn’t waver, Ianto decided to step in. “We found her on Facebook.”
“Right, anyway. Gwen, you read Lily’s file more recently than any of us. Did it say anything personal about her?”
Gwen shook her head, dark hair falling into her eyes. “It was really factual. Her name was Lily Elizabeth Jones, she was born on October 9th, 1886, and she died somewhere in mid-September, 1900.”
Tosh frowned. “Is that it? No interests, family information, anything?” Gwen shook her head, and Jack sighed before answering. “Those files are a bloody nightmare. There should be more in my office - the ones in there were the case overviews. Ianto, Tosh, could you -”
“Already on it, sir,” Ianto replied, cutting him off. The pair left, and Jack turned back to Gwen and Owen.
“Gwen, I need you to go visit the site. Those idiots in uniforms - oh, sorry - the police gave us the body, so we’ll need to take a look at the crime scene. Owen, see if there’s anything you can tell us based on the body - any biological matter, or whatnot.”
Owen saluted, turning neatly on his heel and marching back into the morgue. Gwen watched him go, rolling her eyes, before turning back to Jack. “What is it?”
Jack’s shoulders tensed ever so slightly before he turned back to face her. “What’s what?” he replied, “You should head out before your old co-workers muck up the scene too badly.”
Gwen narrowed her eyes. “You have no idea, do you?” She smiled, a bizarre mix between mocking and relieved. “You don’t know what to do.”
“No, Gwen,” he sighed, shoulders deflating, “I don’t. I’ve been alive for thousands of years, and I have no idea what killed her, or how to deal with what’s going on now.”
Gwen’s eyes widened a little at his admission. Although she had suspected it was the truth, it was strange to hear him admit it - Jack normally liked to have everything closed off into nice little boxes. “Is that all?” She asked, trying to coach anything else from him. She couldn’t explain it, but she had that semi-familiar gut instinct that there was more than what meets the eye. It was an instinct that she had learned to listen to, especially in her line of work.
For a long moment, she thought that Jack was going to ignore her. But, eventually, he shook his head. “Just go to the site,” he continued, “I’ll pull everyone together to talk later, okay?”
Gwen considered arguing, telling her boss just where he could stick that not-answer, before reason got the best of her.
“Fine.” She snapped, neatly turning on her heel and leaving the base. Alone on the floor, Jack frowned to himself, fear alight in his eyes. The kind of fear that freezes you from the inside, paralysing you as it throbs with a bright pain that no human can bear. “Gwen,” he murmured to himself, “what have you done?”