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Last Breath

Chapter Text

 

4 January 2009

 

“This makes no sense,” Owen was saying as the five members of Torchwood strode down the hospital’s hallway, and toward the exit.

Ianto had to agree.  What had been done to those two women wasn’t within their current frame of knowledge.  They needed to know more before what had done this claimed another victim.

“They're almost dehydrated and possibly brain-dead,” Owen went on, “and yet, somehow the two women are still with us.”

“So, some part of them has been taken elsewhere?” Jack surmised grimly. 

“Well, it sounds impossible when you put it that way,” Owen scoffed.

It did, but Ianto felt that Jack was onto something.  The dragon sensed that; they were missing something vital to their very existences.  He could feel the absence deep within his soul; his mother had been adamant about trusting the hearts of people, but he sensed there was nothing there to trust any longer.

“For the body to be alive,” Jack continued, “there must be a life force somewhere. Yet they've separated it, and stolen it.”

“Who has the power to do that?” Patrick asked.

“I don't know.” His mate wasn’t at all happy. “But we need to find out fast. Two people chosen at random. Who's next?”

That was the question, wasn’t it?  Whatever was causing this had to be stopped, but they didn’t have any place to start. The dragon only had his senses, and they weren’t telling him a damned thing.  It wasn’t the Rift…and it wasn’t magic…

Ianto stopped dead in his tracks, causing Rhys to almost bump into him.  There was a muffled curse as the Welshman halted.  The exclamation brought the rest of the team to a halt.  Jack’s face was confused as he turned.  “What?”

“I don’t have any proof,” the dragon answered, “but I’m beginning to wonder if somehow magic is combining with the residual energy at the Electro and it’s what’s behind all this.”

It made sense…at least it did to him.  He could see the other members of his team digesting his supposition, and judging from at least Jack’s expression he was buying into what Ianto was saying. 

“Is that possible?” Rhys asked.  Of anyone present, he would be the one to grasp the magical end of things, being from a somewhat magical background. 

Ianto shrugged.  “I have no idea, but then anything’s possible.”

“That’s something to explore,” Jack allowed.  “Right now, though, we should get back to the Hub.  I want to look at this film we got from the Electro.”

Ianto wasn’t really looking forward to that, but Jack needed to see it for himself.  Perhaps he’d notice something in it that would help.

And, he certainly hoped to get more of an explanation of just why his mate had been a part of some sort of circus.

 

***********

 

By the time they got back to the Hub, Toshiko had a projector set up in Jack’s office, a sheet pulled taut along one wall to use as a makeshift screen. 

Ianto had to admit just having that can of film in close proximity was making his teeth itch.  Now that he’d decided that it was some sort of bizarre mixing of magic and Rift energy causing that creepy sensation he could almost ignore it…almost.  It still bothered him but he was willing to put up with it for the time it took to get back to the base.

He handed it off to Toshiko, who threaded it through the sprockets on the ancient projector she’d dug up from the Archives…with Ianto’s permission, of course.  The dragon was very proprietary toward his Archives, and he trusted Toshiko not to make too much of a mess down there without him supervising.

The only one not present was Deborah, and Jack had told Toshiko not to call her in just yet.  Their PA was taking night classes at Cardiff University, and he hadn’t wanted to bother her until there was actually something for her to do.  Ianto agreed with him; there really wasn’t anything for Deborah to do and it hadn’t been necessary for her to come in just to hang around.

Rhys cut the lights once Toshiko was ready.  She flipped the projector on, and the team watched as Hope Street sprang into view.

It was as Ianto had remembered it; images of Hope Street as it had once been, bustling with people and cars that were now long gone. It brought a feeling of nostalgia, even though Ianto had not lived in Cardiff back then, and Ddraig Llyn had been a very different place from the city. 

That feeling didn’t last though, when the images from the travelling show appeared.

“I knew those two,” Jack commented as the clowns appeared.  “They argued day and night.”

Ianto glanced at his mate.  If he expected to see any sort of fondness for that time to be on Jack’s face, he was disappointed.  There was strain around those blue eyes, and a muscle flexed in the immortal’s jaw.

Then, as the high wire act left the screen…

“That is you!” Patrick accused.

Toshiko rewound the film.  And there was Jack again, in that improbable costume, with a gun at this temple. 

“Bloody hell,” Rhys swore.  “Just when I think I’ve seen everything…”

“I told you,” Patrick said smugly.

“You did stand up?” Toshiko teased.

“I never did stand up,” Jack denied, laughing.

“Okay then…a song and dance.” 

Considering Ianto had seen Jack do both, he could understand exactly why Toshiko would say that.

“I was sensational,” Jack smirked.

“What were you doing there, Jack?” Ianto enquired.

That earned him a somewhat shifty look from his mate.

“He was part of that freak show,” Owen laughed.

“Some things never change,” the immortal said dryly.

Owen looked back over his shoulder from where he was sitting.  “Are you being rude about me?”

No one answered; but then, no one really needed to.

The film had moved forward, this time showing the tattooed man flexing his arms.  “I love his leotard,” Patrick simpered.  That earned him a paper wad tossed at him by Rhys.

On the makeshift screen came a group shot of all the performers, waving toward the camera.

Jack stiffened.  From where Ianto was standing, he couldn’t help but miss his mate’s reaction.

“The Night Travellers,” Jack murmured.  “This is what I was afraid if.”

“The what?” Ianto asked.

Instead of answering, Jack said, “Roll that back, Toshiko.”

She did as he asked, and the group shot came back into view.

“So, they did exist,” Jack whispered.

“Did you work with these people?” Patrick was turned in his own seat, the better to look at Jack.

Jack shook his head.  “I didn't work with them.  I never knew anyone who did. They only performed in the dead of night. Anyway, it was just a tale that was around at that time…a ghost story. They came from out of the rain; that's how people described them.” 

He sounded off, as if he hadn’t wanted to admit what he just did.  Ianto couldn’t blame him, really; Jack hated talking about his past, and this case was bringing something back that he obviously didn’t want to dig up once more. 

The dragon wondered about these Night Travellers.  Had they been magical, and Jack hadn’t realised it?  His mate hadn’t really believed in magic until a short while ago, so how had his explained these obviously supernatural beings?  Because that was what they were, and Ianto suspected this was where the magic part of what was going on came from.  How had that old magic come to affect the Rift energy that had saturated the Electro?  What had that combination done that caused what had hurt those poor people in hospital?

Because there wasn’t a doubt on that in Ianto’s mind.  Whatever had been set loose from the Electro had affected those two women. 

“What did these Night Travellers do?” Rhys asked.

“Left a trail of damage and sorrow wherever they performed.” 

It was a cryptic answer, but Ianto didn’t call his mate on it.  Instead, he asked Toshiko to run the film back, chewing his fingernail as he watched once more.

“What is it?” she murmured.

“Not sure…” he answered honestly. 

There was something different about the images, and he had half an ear on what Patrick was now asking.  “That had to have been years ago, right?”

Jack shrugged.  “Eighty odd years. Then the travelling shows faded away. No one came to watch them and without an audience they died out…forgotten. Until all we have to remember them by were these film clips.”

He almost sounded sad, but the dragon couldn’t worry about that at that moment.  Because he now saw what his subconscious had been trying to tell him.

“Jack,” he interrupted the conversation going on around him.

It brought the team discussion to a halt, all staring at him in varying degrees of confusion. 

“This film.” He pointed at the screen.  “It's not the same one we saw at the cinema.”

“Of course it is,” Jack argued.  “You packed it up yourself.”

He had, but that didn’t deter the dragon in the slightest.  “No; things are different.”  He turned to Toshiko, standing by at the projector.  “Run it again please?”

She did so.

“It was easy to miss at first,” he explained.  “But after watching it again…” he faded out, watching carefully for the right moment. 

When he found it, he had Toshiko stop the film.  “There… there was a woman standing there in front of that water tank.”

The frozen image showed the tank…but the woman was gone.

“You’re right,” Rhys confirmed.

“Yeah,” Patrick agreed.  “She was wearing almost next to nothing.”

At Ianto’s prompting, Toshiko started the film once more.  As soon as he found what he was looking for, he had her stop it once more.

“And there was a man,” the American added, “wearing a top hat.  Some sort of barker maybe?”

“He was beckoning down toward us,” Rhys added.

There was a banner on the screen, but the man who’d been in front of it was no longer there.

“So, what are we saying?” Toshiko asked. “That two people from a piece of film have decided to go AWOL?”

That was exactly what they were saying.  Ianto recalled the two shadows that had passed him in the darkened theatre.  The scent of plastic, or iodine…of course, it had been the smell of old film, and he should have figured that out the moment he’d taken that reel of film out of its projector; when Jonathan Penn had mentioned smelling the same thing. 

“Somehow,” Ianto said absently, “the Rift and some sort of magic merged and created these walking pieces of film.” He felt, down in his very bones, that this was the right answer.

“Yeah,” his mate agreed. “Like you said back at the Electro…trapped in film forever. When they opened the cinema, it gave them a chance. When that kid ran the film, he let them loose.”

“They became physical.”  Toshiko looked vaguely horrified.  “Whatever magic these Night Travellers possessed…interacting with the residual Rift energy in that building…”

Jack’s face was sour.  Ianto knew it was a leftover reaction to his mate’s former disbelief in magic.  “We need to find out more about the havoc they caused in the past. We need evidence. Possible witnesses.”

“Research,” Rhys said, rubbing his hands together.  “After all this time…could be tricky.  Town and parish records?”

“Yes,” Ianto agreed.  “Newspapers as well.  Anything that might even relate back to what’s going on now.”

“As far back as you can,” Jack ordered. “We don't sleep till we find them. Toshiko, keep checking for sightings. There's got to be a way of tracing them.”  Toshiko nodded, acknowledging the order. “Rhys, with me…I need your local knowledge.”  With that, he swept out of the office.  Rhys followed, looking glad to be doing something.

“Should I be jealous?” Ianto teased as his mate left the office, attempting to bring a bit of Jack’s intentness back a bit.

Jack turned and winked at him. 

Mission accomplished then.

The dragon just shook his head, then headed toward his station to start his research.  He’d begin in the Archive records and then get have Toshiko get into the digital records of Cardiff itself.  Patrick could help him search those.