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Last Breath

Chapter Text

 

4 January 2009

 

It was cold and rainy, but that didn’t bother Ianto much at all as he followed Rhys up Hope Street.

It might not have bothered him or the Welshman leading them, but their other teammate, Patrick, was grumbling all the way, complaining about being out in this sort of weather and in January, no less. 

Wales had been through a spate of warmer weather, although this time it wasn’t because of the Rift.  Still, it had been pissing down cold rain since that morning, and puddles had formed all along the street and water was getting into Ianto’s shoes.  He stifled a sigh at that, wishing he’d changed out of his dress shoes before coming out with Rhys and Patrick; he’d be walking around squeaking while they dried out.  At least his suit was covered by his wool coat, and he wouldn’t have to worry about that all too much.

It wasn’t that Ianto was vain. 

Okay, maybe he was.  Just a little.  Not at all like Jack, of course.

When Rhys had invited him and Patrick to the grand reopening of the Electro, Ianto had jumped at the chance.  Being a native of a small Welsh village that could have been considered majorly behind the times – the only reason his inn had had internet was that Ianto had gone and ordered the satellite dish and had it installed – going to a real cinema had been an exciting prospect.  Of course, he knew it was a throwback to earlier times, yet to the dragon it was new and he’d been looking forward to it.

Rhys had asked the entire team, but Toshiko had declined, in the middle of a project she didn’t want to leave.  Deborah had had classes that evening, and Owen had been sarcastic about the whole notion.  Ianto could tell that the medic’s comments had hurt Rhys’ feelings a little, but then that was Owen: he didn’t have a polite bone in his body.  He really didn’t know how Diane stood him sometimes, but then he only really ever saw her over the internet.  Maybe distance was the key.

As for Jack, a last-minute call from UNIT had kept him busy and in the office, and he’d insisted that Ianto go without him.  The dragon hadn’t had a problem with doing just that, knowing he’d see his mate at home later.  Besides, Ianto genuinely liked Rhys, and spending time outside of the Hub with him and Patrick wasn’t a hardship at all.  And gaining a new experience was a plus.

The rain was coming down in buckets as the three men made their way along Hope Street.  Rhys had had to park a bit aways from the historic theatre, the road filled with parked cars, their owners hoping to get close enough that they wouldn’t get too soaked on their way to wherever it was they were going.  Still, it made for an impressive sight of the theatre as they came up to the Electro, lit brightly and looking like something out of an old film itself.

Rhys came to a stop for a second, and his face was bright with happiness.  “I can’t believe it’s reopening,” he said, audible over the rainstorm.  His hair was plastered to his head, water dripping down his face, and he didn’t care.

“Let’s get in before we catch our deaths,” Patrick groused.  “I’m not waterproof like you Welsh are.”

Rhys bumped shoulders with the American and then started forward again, toward the beacon that was the Electro Cinema.  Ianto was impressed by the building’s stone façade; it was classic and old-fashioned next to the other, newer, structures along Hope Street.  It looked almost out of place, but that didn’t matter.  It made its charm all that much more apparent.

They weren’t the only ones out in the weather.  As they approached, a couple ran to the doors of the cinema and let themselves in.  Rhys barely caught the door before it completely closed, ushering his teammates inside.

The lobby was as impressive as the outside.  Deep red carpet absorbed the water that dripped onto it.  Matching red wallpaper with gilt accents lined the walls, as well as vintage posters for films Ianto hadn’t heard of but now wanted to see.  A ticket booth was just inside, and an older woman was within it, wearing an old-fashioned jacket with brass buttons in two rows up the front and a small matching hat, taking the money of those who’d come by for the opening.  She smiled at Rhys as he paid for both Ianto and Patrick’s admission, despite both of them complaining about it.

“I invited you, didn’t I,” he answered as he put his cash in the small metal tray that dipped under the glass window of the ticket booth.  “It’s only right I pay.”

There were photos up as well as the posters, showing how Hope Street had looked back during the theatre’s heyday.  There was also antique equipment as well; an enormous projector had pride of place near the doors leading into the theatre itself, and Rhys stopped to admire it.  “My Tad would bring me here on Saturdays,” he reminisced fondly.  “They showed kids’ films then.  It was just us boys, out for the day.”

“Too bad the concession booth isn’t open,” Patrick complained. “Someone ate the last of the pizza before I could get to it.”

Ianto dug his elbow rather hard into the American’s ribs.  “It’s supposed to be educational.”

“Ow,” Patrick exclaimed.  “You have the sharpest elbows.  Besides, I need an education…in movie theatre food.”

Rhys laughed at them both.  “Come on, then.”

Ianto of course knew the history of the Electro; he’d done a bit of research after Rhys had asked him to come along.  The Electro had been in business since the early Forties, and had been damaged in the Cardiff Blitz during World War Two.  After the war, it had been rebuilt, and had been open until the early Eighties, when it eventually closed its doors.  The building had been purchased only last year by David Penn and his wife, Faith, who had decided to reopen the old theatre and make it a sort of museum as well as show older movies to a new audience of young people. 

The dragon was already planning on becoming a regular of the place.

There had also been a history of Rift activity, although the place had been quiet for the last decade or so.  Even as Ianto stood there next to Rhys, he could feel those old echoes, the faintest touch of chill fog against his skin.  He hadn’t known about the activity when he’d said he’d come, but he’d keep an eye out for any sort of odd happenings that would signal a resurgence of activity.

But then, a lot of places in Cardiff had seen at least some activity.  It was the joy of living on a Rift in space and time.

“Good evening, gentlemen!”

All three turned at the greeting.  The man standing behind them was wearing a nice suit, smiling at them in a friendly manner.  He must have been in his 50’s, and Ianto thought he might have been the owner, David Penn.  When he welcomed them to the Electro and introduced himself, that assumption was confirmed.

“You’ve done a wonderful job with the old place,” Rhys commented.

Mister Penn beamed.  “Thank you for saying so, Sir.  Please enjoy your time here.”  He ducked his head, and then made his way toward the ticket booth.  Although he didn’t mean to eavesdrop, sharp dragon hearing caught Mr Penn saying something about their son, and the film.  He didn’t seem to be very happy at the son’s lateness.

As if called by his father’s irritation, a young man came barrelling through the double doors, a can of film tucked under his sodden coat.  He heard him apologise and then start to say something, but the elder Penn sent him off to the projection booth without listening.

The boy darted up a small set of stairs that were partially hidden behind yet another red curtain, and Ianto guessed that had to have been the way up to the projector room.

But there was something…a tang of some strange energy that followed that boy up those steps, faint against the traces of Rift energy that permeated the very brick of the building.  Ianto wanted to find out what it was, if it was something he carried or was a part of him, but Rhys was already heading into the theatre proper, Patrick chatting with him about movies he used to see with his Granddad Canton.

The dragon made a mental note to check it out later. 

The trio took seats near the back of the large theatre.  Red curtains draped the walls, matching the carpet and the cloth of the seats.  There was a small stage at the front, where an upright piano sat; an elderly man was sitting on the piano’s bench, waiting for some sort of cue.  Another curtain covered the screen the piano was in front of. 

The theatre itself wasn’t crowded, but then the rain might have kept people at home.  Still, Ianto figured it had to have been a nice turn-out.

“I might have to bring Deborah here,” Rhys said.  “Since they’re gonna be showing classic movies here instead of any of that blockbuster shit.  She’d probably enjoy it.”

Ianto figured he was correct.  Deborah had a love of the older movies, and no patience whatsoever with the big budget special effects extravaganzas that were more and more taking the place of smaller, more personal, films. The dragon really didn’t go to the cinema much himself, preferring to spend the time with Jack in their home, watching whatever DVDs they had on hand.  Ianto had discovered a love for spy movies, especially James Bond, and Jack was always indulging him.

Still, he thought he might also enjoy some of the black-and-white features that the Electro was going to specialise in.  He would definitely try to find the time to tag along.  Such things were always better with company.

In fact, this might make a nice date night activity for him and Jack.  His mate very much liked the older movies, having been in Cardiff long enough to have perhaps seen many of them in cinemas like this one.

The man and woman climbed the steps up to the stage.  They both looked pleased as punch, the man nodding to the piano player as they crossed the stage to stand in the centre.

For a split second, Ianto thought he heard music.

The dragon frowned.  It didn’t sound like anything from a piano; it was more along the lines of a pipe organ, and it was only a couple of notes before it ceased.  He glanced around, but couldn’t make out the source. 

That sensation he’d had in the lobby returned. 

It wasn’t anything Rift related, not that he could tell…but it was certainly reacting to the energy saturating the very foundations of the building.  Ianto’s senses were on alert, and while he didn’t want to disturb his teammates who were listening as David Penn introduced himself and his wife, explaining what he’d done to the old Electro and the plans he had for the future of the cinema.

“As proud owners of the Electro museum,” he ended, “it is our privilege to be able to show you how the cinema and Hope Street looked in days gone by.  And if you watch carefully, who knows? You may even see long-dead members of your family waiting in the cinema queue.”

That caused some giggling from the audience.

Mister Penn turned to the man at the piano.  “Bernard.”

Bernard began to play as Mr and Mrs Penn left the stage, and the curtain over the screen lifted.

The film began.

Despite his concern, Ianto felt himself transfixed by the flickering images on the screen.  There were images of Cardiff in days gone by, old cars and even the odd lorry cruising down Hope Street.  People in clothing that had been fashionable after the War were highlighted, and Ianto found himself smiling at the suits he saw, recalling them easily from his memory of that time.

It had been a simpler time, after World War Two.  So many men and boys had been killed in the fighting; even in Ddraig Llyn they’d felt the loss of far too many.  Ianto himself couldn’t go to war, since it would have been obvious that he was not quite human when given the physical.  The valley’s resident doctor had gotten him out of it by faking up a physical condition, and it had held up through much scrutiny by wartime officials. 

He’d done his part, though.  Ianto had saved and rationed and done what he could without actually leaving Ddraig Llyn.  And, when the war was over and they’d mourned their dead, he’d been able to sing a mourning song for the brave men and boys who’d left to fight for freedom and had never returned.

The dragon had been really enjoying the scenes of Hope Street, when they suddenly changed.

“Where’d Hope Street gone?” Rhys sounded vaguely outraged at the change in subject on the screen.

That was a good question, and apparently the owner of the cinema thought the same; he’d gotten up from where he’d been sitting and stormed out of the theatre, most likely to berate his son on the film currently being shown.

Ianto could understand it. 

The ghost-like images on the big screen were of various types of circus performers. 

There was a pair of clowns, pratfalling.

Two men, juggling fire.

A man with his body covered in tattoos.

Another man, large and brawny, lifting a barbell.

A woman, covered in a glittering shift, dancing in front of a water tank.

A moustachioed man in a top hat, beckoning the audience from in front of a banner.

Someone on a high wire, balancing with the use of a long pole.

“Wait,” Patrick exclaimed, “was that Jack?”

It had certainly looked like Jack to Ianto, up there larger-than-life on the screen.  He’d been wearing what resembled a safari outfit down to the widely flaring jodhpurs, standing in front of a crowd…with a gun at his temple. 

The image flickered, and suddenly the gun was under Jack’s chin, and he looked as if he were haranguing the people watching.

Then it was gone, replaced by another shot of the clowns.

As Ianto sat there, watching the edited film, he noticed that the sensation he’d had before was growing stronger.  It was now like an extremely unpleasant itching against his nerves and it was all the dragon could do not to scratch himself in response.  There was also an odd smell, something like plastic and iodine, and his nose twitched with it.

“Ianto!” Rhys hissed.  He made a gesture toward his face.

It took Ianto a few seconds to realise that his eyes had changed into their dragon aspect.

He quickly blinked them back to human normal, glad it was dark enough in the theatre that no one noticed.  That hardly ever happened, his not having control over his reactions like that.  “Something’s going on,” he whispered back, not wanting anyone to overhear.

“Is it the Rift?” Patrick asked.

It was a good guess, but Ianto didn’t think it was that easy.  He was about to say so when the film stopped, light from the projection booth over their heads vanishing and leaving the place in complete darkness. 

Ianto felt…well, he didn’t know what he felt, but it was as if something brushed past him in the dark.  He jerked and spun around, cursing now that he hadn’t kept his eyes at their sharpest, the best to peer through the blackness.

Still, he was able to catch a glimpse of a shadow…two shadows…pass along the curtained walls and out of the theatre.