Ianto had never found Torchwood’s archives creepy, unlike some of his colleagues did. They were spread out over several levels, a veritable maze of passageways and rooms, and they weren’t terribly well lit, meaning they were full of shadows and dark corners, but that had never bothered him. He knew exactly what was in those shadows: shelf units, stacks of cardboard boxes, wooden crates, filing cabinets, even an occasional stepladder for reaching the highest shelves. Vast though they were, the archives and their contents were largely a known quantity by now, and after spending so much time working down there over the last few years they felt comfortably familiar to him, even homely.
At least, that was how they normally felt. Tonight something seemed off, in a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
It wasn’t the first time he’d come down here late at night, lighting his way through the darker sections with his ever-present torch. Nor was it the first time he’d been in this particular section, although it wasn’t an area he’d spent a lot of time in.
It was better organised than most of the archives’ many rooms had been when Jack had first put him in charge of sorting them out, since it was where the personal effects of previous agents had been kept after their deaths, until Torchwood had turned an old warehouse into a more convenient storage facility. Other sections of the archives had been in far greater need of his attentions so he’d largely focused on them, figuring this set of rooms were low priority and unlikely to contain anything that might cause problems.
Now that he’d managed to get the door at the far end unlocked, however, this passageway provided a handy shortcut to the rooms he was currently in the process of reorganising, and he was down here now because he’d left his laptop behind when he’d returned to the man Hub just after noon to order lunch for the team. He’d intended to come back down here and continue his sorting and cataloguing after he’d eaten, but the Rift had derailed his plans by keeping the whole team busy all afternoon and most of the evening. Some days were like that.
So here he was, just before midnight, slipping through a badly lit, rough-hewn passage deep in the archives, because there were no power points down here and his laptop battery would need to be recharged before he used it again tomorrow, Rift permitting.
The weird thing was, where he usually felt perfectly at home surrounded by the strange, wonderful, and sometimes utterly useless objects inflicted on Cardiff by the Rift, for some reason this time he felt nervous, even jumpy. He kept looking back over his shoulder like he half expected someone, or something, to be following him, which was ridiculous because the only other person in the Hub was Jack, who was up in his office signing off on the last of the day’s reports.
The rest of the team had left around ten, and the Hub’s residents, whom Ianto had fed earlier, were all present and correct. There was no vermin in Torchwood’s base thanks to some nifty alien tech that kept the rats and mice away… Intellectually, Ianto knew he was alone down here, and perfectly safe, just as he always was, because no one and nothing could get inside any part of the Hub without the security systems being triggered. So why did he feel as if he was being watched?
There were the sounds too, but not the familiar faint hum of electricity in the fluorescent tubes that lit this floor, the clicking and whooshing sounds of the ventilation system, or the rattling and banging pipes of the antiquated plumbing. He kept hearing faint whispering noises, like people talking just on the edge of his hearing, or the soft sounds of clothing rustling as someone walked. It was unsettling, bordering on eerie.
He walked faster, eager to collect his laptop and leave, but his footsteps drowned out the other sounds and instead of making him feel better that only made him more nervous, so he slowed down again, trying to tread lightly, straining his ears for those faint whispers of sound.
They were still there, and he gritted his teeth, mentally berating himself for getting spooked. He probably heard those sounds all the time when he was down here but had never consciously noticed them before. The only reason they were spooking him now was because it was late at night on October thirty-first, and while they’d all been enjoying a late coffee before heading home, the team had decided to get in the Halloween spirit by regaling each other with spooky stories.
“There’s nothing here now that wasn’t here earlier,” he muttered to himself. He’d meant to say the words in a loud, reassuring voice, but instead they came out as a tentative whisper. Any other time he might have laughed at himself, but not tonight. He breathed a sigh of relief as he turned a bend in the passageway and saw the door at the far end. The room he’d been working in earlier was only about fifty feet beyond that; he was almost there and then he could grab his laptop and be out of the archives in no more than ten minutes. Everything would be fine.
No sooner had those words crossed his mind than goosebumps popped up on his arms and a finger of ice ran down his spine as between one step and the next the temperature seemed to plummet. His breath steamed in front of him on the suddenly frigid air, then his torch flickered and went out.
There was still dim light coming from the widely spaced fixtures set in the ceiling of the passageway, but their illumination should have been reaching a lot further than it was; thick black shadows pooled between the small oases of light and Ianto swiftly slunk back to the last one he’d passed through, even though it took him further from his destination. It was infinitely preferable to remaining in the choking darkness, where anything could creep up on him and he’d never see it until it was too late. Glancing down at his wrist he checked his watch; the second hand was creeping towards midnight.
The whispering grew louder, filling his ears, although he still couldn’t make out words. It might have been the sound of a breeze from the ventilation system rushing through the corridors and doorways, except that the air was perfectly still and oddly heavy, as though waiting for something. Ianto waited too, scarcely breathing, a nameless, unreasoning dread swelling inside him. He was caught somewhere between fight and flight, but unable to commit to either.
Then, as he stared into the blackness ahead of him, figures began to coalesce as if out of air itself, moving unhurriedly but with purpose, fading in and out of view, most not much more than vaguely human-shaped shadows. They skirted the pools of light without appearing to be consciously avoiding them, more as if they simply happened not to be in their path.
Two paused, just a few yards ahead of him, a tall, slim man and a smaller woman. As Ianto stared at them their faces gradually came into focus and he recognised them: Gerald Carter and Harriet Derbyshire, two agents from back in the early twentieth century. They were talking in whispers, and then Harriet glanced over her shoulder, looking right through Ianto as if he wasn’t even there, before turning back to Gerald and reaching up to kiss him. As they parted, he touched her face tenderly, brushing a wisp of hair back, and then she turned, hurrying away without a backward glance, leaving Gerald staring after her with a look of such longing on his face that Ianto’s heart ached for them both.
Other figures drifted past him then, most little more than indistinct shapes, but some had faces and a few he could put names to, having seen their photos in their files. Alice Guppy and Emily Holroyd, running hand in hand, breathless laughter trailing from their lips. Greg Bishop, one of Jack’s former lovers, a faraway look on his face and a reluctant smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Alex Hopkins, Jack’s predecessor, a haunted, hopeless expression on his face and a gun held loosely in one hand as he made his way towards the stairs leading up to the Hub.
Ianto wasn’t sure how long he stood there watching them flitting about, some appearing to pass right through the doors that lined the passageway, or even through the solid rock walls. A few looked like they were floating above the ground, while others seemed to sink right through the floor and vanish from sight. All the while he kept still and silent as if frozen to the spot, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Not all of those he recognised were people he would have wanted to meet in life, never mind in death.
Finally, after what felt like hours, the last of the shadowy shapes melted away. Ianto jumped and almost dropped his torch when it came back on without warning. The temperature in the narrow corridor was gradually rising too and he realised he was shivering. He could still hear the faint whispering, just barely, but it was rapidly fading away, becoming lost among the familiar sounds of the archives.
Drawing a deep breath to steady his rattled nerves, Ianto walked quickly to the end of the corridor, let himself out through the door, closing it behind him, and went to fetch his laptop. He took the long way back up to the Hub though; there was no way he was going through that passageway again, not tonight, although he doubted he’d encounter the spirits again if he did.
“There you are! I was about to send out a search party,” Jack joked when Ianto appeared in his office doorway, laptop under one arm. “What kept you? I thought you said you’d be back before I finished my paperwork.”
Ianto glanced at the clock on the wall; it was just shy of twelve twenty.
“I wasn’t gone that long,” he said, setting the laptop down on Jack’s desk and plugging it in to charge. “Barely more than half an hour. It’s quite a distance to the lower levels where I was working. Lot of stairs and corridors.”
He wasn’t sure why he didn’t tell Jack what he’d seen. Maybe he didn’t want his lover to laugh at him, tease him for getting the creeps in his own archives. Or maybe he was more afraid he would be believed; he suspected that would almost be worse than being laughed at, somehow serving to make the whole experience more real. Right now, he could almost convince himself he’d merely been seeing things, hallucinating from tiredness. Whatever the reason, this was one experience he planned on keeping to himself, perhaps forever.
“Fancy coming back to my place for the night?” He didn’t think Torchwood’s ghosts would follow him home, but he didn’t particularly want to be alone tonight.
“Now there’s an offer I’m never going to refuse.” Jack grinned. “Your bed’s a lot more comfortable than mine.”
“That’s because my bed’s an actual bed, not an old army cot that’s on its last legs.”
Ianto didn’t look back as he and Jack made their way to Torchwood’s underground garage. He was almost sure there’d be nothing to see, but really, why take the chance?