After lunch, everyone went back to their work, Owen doing things around the autopsy bay while keeping a close eye on Ianto’s body, Tosh studying the device, Gwen checking the computer database for any similar occurrences, and Jack being Ianto’s hands for a search through the files that had yet to be digitised, following the archivist’s instructions on which folders to extract from the cabinets for study. It was frustrating for Ianto, being unable to do anything himself.
“Someone else will have to feed Myfanwy and the inmates until I’m back to normal.” Ianto refused to consider the possibility that whatever had happened to him might not be reversible. The thought of being a ghost for the rest of his life was unbearable, and what would happen to him when his body eventually aged and died?
“Don’t worry.” Jack smiled at him. “We’ll all help, you just have to tell us what to do. I’ll feed Myf, Owen can take care of the Weevils, they’re used to him so they shouldn’t give him any trouble. Gwen can be responsible for feeding the team. We’ll manage until a solution is found; in the meantime, just try to stay positive. I wish I could give you a hug.”
“Me too,” Ianto admitted, “but I’d rather you didn’t try while I’m like this.”
“Yeah, I’m usually up for trying new things, but I really don’t want to know what it feels like to pass through a ghost.”
Ianto shuddered. “Trust me, you wouldn’t like it.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Time ticked slowly past, afternoon becoming evening, and yet no one showed any signs of leaving. The inmates got fed, Gwen ordered pizza and fetched more coffee for the team, Tosh continued to work on the device.
“While I appreciate everyone’s efforts, shouldn’t you all go home?” Ianto asked when eight o’clock rolled around.
“I’m a doctor, your body’s my responsibility while you’re not in it,” Owen said firmly. “I can kip on the sofa if necessary, but I’m stayin’ just in case I’m needed.”
“Owen, I didn’t know you cared!” Ianto smirked.
“I’m not leaving until I’ve figured out what this is and how it works.” Tosh prodded the silver hexagon, frowning at it before turning back to her screens.
Ianto looked over at Jack where he was leaning on the railings outside his office.
“Don’t look at me; I live here so I’m already home,” Jack told him.
“What about you, Gwen?” Ianto turned to the last member of the team. “Didn’t you mention that you and Rhys had plans for this evening?
“I could cancel. Rhys would understand.”
“There’s nothing you can really do here though,” Ianto pointed out, “and at least if you go home there’ll be one member of the team tomorrow who’s got some sleep and can keep their eyes open.”
Gwen sighed; Ianto had a point. “Well, alright, but only if you all promise to call me if you need me for anything.” She picked up her coat and her bag. “Goodnight all, I’ll see you in the morning.”
The cog door closed behind Gwen, and then there were four.
Well, three, a vacant body, and a ghost.
It was getting on towards midnight. Owen was asleep on the sofa while Jack and Ianto stood watching over Ianto’s body from the gallery around the autopsy bay. The machines monitoring his physical condition were beeping steadily and reassuringly, and if it weren’t for the various wires attached to him, and the IV tube, to outside eyes it would have seemed that Ianto was merely sleeping. For Ianto, seeing himself like this was a strange experience, completely different from looking in a mirror, or at a photograph.
“It’s odd seeing my body separate from the rest of me. I know it’s me, but it looks wrong somehow. I should get my hair cut; it’s getting untidy.”
“I like it a bit longer,” Jack protested. “Better for running my fingers through.”
Ianto glanced at his lover and smiled. “Is that so? Well, maybe I’ll wait a while then. Wouldn’t want to spoil all your fun.”
“You’re too kind.”
“I know. The sacrifices I make to keep you happy.”
“I keep you happy too, don’t I?”
Before Ianto could reply, they were interrupted by a flurry of movement behind them.
“Guys, I think I’ve worked it out!” Tosh bounded over from her workstation clutching the mystery device in one hand. She sounded excited.
“You know what that thing is?” Ianto raised one eyebrow, not quite daring to hope just yet.
“It appears to be designed to contain the consciousness, the essence, of a person in long-term cryo-storage, probably during long space voyages. Dropping it on your head must have activated it, but because you weren’t hooked up to it properly, instead of being stored in the device, you sort of bounced off. All I need to do is find a way of sucking you into it, like you should have been in the first place, and then I should be able to download you back into your body!”
“You make it sound so simple.” Ianto’s voice was as dry as the Sahara. Then his eyes widened in horror as a thought struck him. “Please don’t tell me you have to hit me over the head with that thing again.” He looked warily at the hexagon in Tosh’s hand. “I’m probably going to have a headache as it is.”
“No you won’t,” Owen scowled indignantly, joining them. Tosh’s excited voice had woken him, and he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, yawning and stretching the kinks from his back. The battered old sofa wasn’t the best place to sleep. “I’m an experienced Doctor, not some rookie; I’ve been givin’ you painkillers through your IV line.”
“Oh, that’s alright then, feel free to conk me on the head as much as you like since it won’t hurt!” Ianto truly was a master of sarcasm.
Tosh giggled. “No need for that,” she assured him. “I’m sure I can come up with a better method. Besides, first you need to be in here,” she tapped the consciousness container, as Ianto decided to call it.
“How are you going to do that?”
“Not quite sure yet, but I’m working on it.” Tosh wandered back towards her desk, a thoughtful expression on her face.
“See?” Jack beamed. “Told you there was no need to worry, I knew Tosh would come through for you.”
“I’m not out of the woods yet,” Ianto replied; it was still much too soon to get his hopes up.
It took Tosh another hour and a half, plus some help from Jack, to build an interface out of tech scavenged from the archives that would be capable of downloading Ianto into his body, then almost another half hour to construct a grid to capture Ianto’s ‘essence’ and funnel it through the consciousness container. Tosh had decided it would be safer to do everything in one go, suck Ianto into the container then zap him straight out into his body.
“I don’t want to risk you getting stuck in storage mode indefinitely. It might be set to store a person’s consciousness for a predetermined length of time, say the duration of the space flight it was created for. Better to just override the storage capability completely and simply use it as a conduit.”
She hooked up the device to Ianto’s head by means of a kind of skullcap she’d taken from another device, set the hexagon on the rolling tray table Owen used for his medical instruments, and spread out a latticework of wiring on the floor to one side of the table.
“I don’t like the idea of doing this without testing it first.” Jack sounded worried.
“As I’m the only one in this situation, I’m the only person it can be tested on, Jack,” Ianto pointed out. “Either it’ll work or it won’t.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Then it’s back to the drawing board.”
“You could get trapped, or sent somewhere else, or completely scrambled! It might even kill you!”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Ianto commented wryly. “That makes me feel so much better about doing this.”
Jack had the grace to apologise. “Sorry. I just can’t help worrying about everything that could go wrong.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Ianto shrugged ghostly shoulders. “You didn’t say anything I wasn’t already thinking. Right, Tosh, where do you want me?”
“If you could hover just above the grid? Upright is fine.”
Ianto ‘walked’ across the tiles a couple of centimetres off the ground. He could have just drifted, but he preferred to maintain the illusion that everything was more or less normal, even if his colleagues could see right through him. Positioning himself over Tosh’s grid, he smiled tightly at his friend. “Ready when you are.”
“Owen, how is Ianto’s body?” Tosh glanced across at the medic.
“No change; vitals stable, all readings normal.”
“You’d better stand by with the crash cart, just in case.”
“Already set up.” Owen nodded towards a nearby equipment stand.
“Good. Step back a few paces, I don’t want either of you accidentally getting your essence sucked out and downloaded into Ianto.”
Jack smirked. “We do that all the time, it’s very enjoyable.”
Tosh blushed and Ianto rolled his eyes. “Jack, there’s a time and a place for innuendo; this is neither.”
“I was just trying to lighten the mood a bit.” Jack moved back away from the autopsy table and the equipment surrounding it as Owen did the same across from him.
“I appreciate the thought, but we need to focus on the task at hand, namely putting me back in my body.”
“Ready, Ianto?” Tosh asked, doing a final check on her equipment.
“As I’ll ever be!” Ianto tried to smile and sound upbeat, but inside, if ghosts could be said to have an inside, he was quaking in his shiny ghost shoes.
Tosh flicked several switches, checked the readouts on a series of dials, and pulled a lever.
A tingling sensation spread through Ianto, which was a weird experience due to his absence of a physical form, and then he seemed to be shrinking his eye-line getting lower and lower. He looked down to see that everything below his waist had already been sucked in by Tosh’s grid. In moments, all that was left was a disembodied and oddly stretched-looking head, then the grid sucked that in too. For Ianto, everything around him ceased to exist for a timeless moment before acutely uncomfortable waves of pins and needles started to race through his body. He opened his eyes, grimacing and squirming.
“Teaboy? Ianto? You okay there?”
Ianto squinted up at Owen, who was leaning over him; the Hub lights were too bright, he felt as though he were just waking up after a long sleep and his eyes needed to adjust to the light. He flung up one arm to shield them, or at least he tried to; the movement was sluggish, and his body felt ridiculously heavy.
“Fine, except it feels like there’s a swarm of ants crawling all over and inside me, and the lights are hurting my eyes.”
“Sorry. Jack, lower the lights a bit will you?”
The dazzling light dimmed to a more bearable level and Owen started to run a battery of tests, taking Ianto’s pulse and blood pressure, listening to his heart, shining a light in his eyes, which seemed especially unfair under the circumstances. All the time, the medic was firing questions at Ianto: Name, age, date and place of birth. “Do you know where you are?”
“In the Hub’s autopsy bay.”
“Do you remember what happened to you?”
“A seagull dropped alien tech on my head, and I’ve spent the last fourteen hours or so as a disembodied spirit. That’s probably why my body feels so heavy, I was getting used to being weightless.”
“How’s your head?” Owen prodded experimentally at the lump.
“OW! Sore, dammit!”
“Close your eyes.”
“Just do it.”
“Fine.” Ianto reluctantly complied.
“Can you feel this?” A sharp prick to Ianto’s arm.
“And this?” A prick to his leg.
“How about this?”
“No, you didn’t do anything.”
“Well spotted. Hold still while I scan you. Tosh, can you unhook him?”
A background humming noise he’d been only dimly aware of abruptly cut off and Ianto felt gentle hands removing something from his head. His body strangely felt less weighty with it gone. He flexed his fingers, chasing the crawling sensation out of his hands.
“Thought I told you to keep still,” Owen complained.
“Haven’t you finished the scan yet?”
“Hold your horses! I only just started it, had to wait until Tosh’s equipment was out of the way.”
“Well hurry it up, will you?”
“What’s your rush?”
“I’m starving; I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast! There’s a tuna salad sandwich in the fridge with my name on it, a lemon brioche bun too, and I really need a coffee.”
Owen finished his scan, compared it to previous biometric scans of Ianto, and nodded in satisfaction. “Everything looks fine. Nice work, Tosh! Teaboy and his body successfully reunited.” He turned back to Ianto. “You can get up now, and I’ll have a coffee if you’re makin’ some.”
“I suppose I do owe you for your dedication in looking after my body. Coffee, Tosh?”
“No, thank you Ianto, I’d better not at this time of night or I won’t get any sleep.” Tosh was busily clearing up the storage device and its cobbled together attachments. “I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea though, if it’s no trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” Ianto assured her. “It’s the least I can do to repay you for all your hard work. Thank you.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
“Oi, don’t I get any thanks?”
“You’re getting coffee, what more do you want? Although I suppose I could give you a kiss too, if you insist.” Ianto took a step towards Owen, who hastily backed away.
“No, on second thought, the coffee will be fine. You’re gettin’ as bad as lover boy.”
Jack, who had been trying to work his way around all the machinery the other two were shifting, finally gave up and just climbed over the recently vacated autopsy table to envelop Ianto in a tight hug, nearly lifting his lover off his feet in his enthusiasm. “You’re solid again!”
“And very relieved to be, I can tell you. Hello Jack, I suppose you’ll be wanting coffee too?”
“It can wait; some things are more important. Welcome back.” He drew Ianto into a long, deep kiss.
“It’s very good to be back, Sir,” Ianto smirked, when Jack finally released his lips. “Being incorporeal was an interesting experience, but I definitely prefer having a physical body.”
“I definitely prefer you with a body too,” Jack grinned, squeezing Ianto’s arse.
Owen groaned and covered his eyes. “Looks like we can forget about hot drinks until tomorrow,” he told Tosh. “Jack’s not going to let go of the Teaboy for the foreseeable future.”
“I think you’re right,” Tosh giggled, hastily gathering her things. “Perhaps we should leave them to… get reacquainted.”
“Nicely put. Come on; I’ll drive you home.”
“Thanks, Owen.” Tosh followed Owen through the cog door, which rolled closed behind them.
Ianto and Jack were so busy with each other they never even noticed their friends had gone.