Challenge/Prompt: philosophy_20, #5 Syzygy
Word Count: 3012
Genre: Pre-femslash [het]
Summary: “We’re aftershocks.”
Author’s Notes: You know when your brain comes up with really, really weird thoughts at like, two-thirty in the morning just before you fall asleep? And then you remember them when you’re awake, and think what the hell, I’ll do it anyway? And… yeah. Let’s pair up the dead girlfriends. Spoilers for Fragments and Cyberwoman. And written really oddly. As per usual. I’m not sure I’m expecting anyone to read this!
Blood runs through our veins;
That’s where our similarity ends.
“You’re not the only one whose girlfriend got killed by Torchwood,” Owen offers Ianto one afternoon. Ianto is still tight-mouthed, and not inclined to forgiveness. Or maybe it’s Jack who won’t give in, and Ianto is playing with penitence. No one’s sure. No one’s going to ask; that, at least, is certain.
“Right.” Ianto’s voice is a monotone, a dial tone, flat and expressionless.
Maybe Owen is trying to sit Ianto down and share stories of blood. Maybe he’s trying to be compassionate, maybe he just wants to talk to someone. Ianto’s not letting him in; is it too soon?
“Her name was Katie,” Owen sighs, bitterness, turning away. He won’t offer again; and Ianto won’t ask.
She is blonde, and wears a hat. She looks thin, waif-like, wrapped in a warm-looking jumper.
When Lisa turns her head, her surroundings attempt to crawl away from her. It’s peripheral, whatever this is. She died in two bodies; she thinks this is her original. It stung twice over.
“Yes,” she says, and hears her voice. Her voice, with no parasite of metal in it. Robot no longer. Her mind feels empty. She wonders if Ianto misses her, if he’s noticed she’s left. She doesn’t know how she got here.
“Thought so.” The blonde woman is the only thing unblurred here; almost too sharp, Lisa’s eyes hurt.
“What’s going on?” she stumbles out. Her voice scrapes her throat, oozes over her teeth. She feels naked without the synthesiser.
“Oh.” The woman smiles. “That’s the tricky part.”
It was scary, at first.
Rolling over in bed one morning to gaze at the face of the man she loved, and realising that she didn’t know his name. Getting up to rifle in the pockets of last night’s trousers, pinstripes, to find his driver’s license.
Owen, right. He was a doctor. Her mum didn’t like him much, but for Katie’s sake she never said it aloud.
She shook her head, forgetting the lapse. She went to make coffee, the teaspoon tinkling against the mugs. Blue. Bought together in Ikea, a hot Saturday afternoon.
Lisa’s recent memories begin with blades.
They don’t end with them.
“Katie’s in a drawer.” Owen’s voice isn’t phrasing a question. A fact.
“She is.” Jack’s fingers steeple. The edge of his smile curls up without mirth. It looks pinned there, and Owen wants to drag it off, fold it up, leave Jack Harkness naked without his safety belt of bemusement.
“Lisa’s in a drawer too.”
“Yes.” Jack nods. “Are you going somewhere with this?”
Owen considers tidy-minded, scowls flatly. “You keep broken hearts in drawers,” he remarks. It’s the only time he’ll ever say it and he’ll deny it, later.
Jack shrugs, without replying.
“We’re aftershocks,” the woman explains.
It’s all very bright here, even if Lisa can’t focus on anything. It’s like trying to hold mercury in your hands, watch it run down your fingers, quick!
“I don’t care,” she decides. Reconsiders. “Where are we?”
It’s not a reply, Lisa knows this, her mouth tightens. Thinks Delete, and her fingertips crackle superfluously. Not any more, that seems certain.
“After what?” Without the metal, it just sounds pathetic. Lisa never wanted to be pathetic.
Lisa can’t feel metal on her hands, wonders if she has feet again. Toes. Varnish. Oh, those days. Sandals in summer.
“I’m Katie,” the clarification finally comes. “We’re both dead.”
Lisa had gathered that part.
Tumour and we’re still getting married all fell out in a similar line of dialogue and it felt like a bad movie, the ones made in America and shown on Channel Five on weekday afternoons. Katie’s breath caught.
The kind thing to do would have been to let Owen go. But he was – is – a stubborn bastard and Katie couldn’t remember the words any more. Most words were gone, like a synaptic game of free association had gone horribly wrong somewhere. She was falling in her thoughts, without articulation, without definition.
“Not my hair,” she managed, as though that was the only thing she cared about, they had to shave parts of it off to get at her brain, and the wedding photographs – chronically awful.
Owen laughed softly, promised flowers and a veil, kissed her wet cheeks. He said he’d be there when she woke up. She watched him walk out the room, people in white coats surrounding her, and wondered who the nice young man was, why his eyes were so sad.
The last thing she can recall thinking because it was of course the last thing she thought.
“We’re not anywhere and so we’re everywhere,” Katie says, and it sounds like she just enjoys stringing words together because none of this makes any sense. “Cup of tea?”
That bit does. Lisa agrees.
Within Ianto’s hearing, three days after the Fairies, Jack tells Owen to stop glaring at him.
“I didn’t kill Katie.”
Ianto’s private well of blame seems to have endless resources for everyone, but he’s evasive about how much poison each person is allotted. It’s possible he’ll never forgive. It’s possible he’s got the right to hold the grudge. Blood on his favourite suit.
“You didn’t save her either,” Owen remarks, voice would-be-casual.
No one says that things don’t look good for Rhys. It would be nice to think that not all loved ones have to end.
“I was a Cyberman,” Lisa tells Katie, pastel pink mug between her palms. Her surroundings stick oddly but the earl grey seems real enough. Not that Lisa is entirely sure that she’s real. There was a pizza girl. Her head was too tight. Anyway. “Do you remember them?”
“After my time,” Katie replies. “I’ve been down a while. What was it like?”
“…Not cold,” Lisa decides at last. “It should have been.”
The hesitation in her tone is half a question that no one can answer, and she was a Cyberman for a while. A year, Ianto’s hands on her cheeks. Let’s get you safe. Oh, he was a pretty idiot. She still loved him when her mind converted to binary.
“I had an alien in my brain,” Katie explains, lightly, a story she’s told before. Who to? She doesn’t take the hat off. “It took my memories. What do you remember?”
Lisa wants to laugh; it stings. “Less than I should do.”
“Which drawer is Lisa in?” Ianto pushes, and Jack merely looks tired. Owen is in the morgue, arms folded across his chest. He’s fucking Gwen – oh, and their faces hurt from the complete lack of surprise – and so that means guilt. Again. Katie who was his, and who isn’t anyone’s now. He was a different man then, she wouldn’t love him now. It seems like a paradox or a self-fulfilling prophecy that he won’t discuss in greater detail.
“You never told me where Katie was,” Owen adds. There’s an empty grave, it took him months to find that out. Empty bodies are liabilities, though. Best to keep them under lock and key.
“I like that you’re under the impression I’ll tell you,” Jack remarks, bemused. He has a point that neither Owen nor Ianto will acknowledge; they have their own grief, their own anger, and no space alongside it for anything else. “Happy searching, boys.”
The looks of despair are too earnest to be comical.
“Machines take time to die out,” Katie elaborates. “Aliens live longer than people do. We have to wait out lifespans.”
“Is this what this is?” Lisa doesn’t want her eyes open, her head is pounding. Nothing is logical, and the pieces of her that remain a hard-drive want logic. Want a simple code.
“I don’t think death is anything special,” Katie suggests. “And we don’t get to die out completely until we’re done here. Wound down.”
Clockwork toys, thinks Lisa, wind me up and watch me go. Watch me kill. She did that, and more. There was a doctor from Japan. He was probably a mistake, but she only wanted to help. Cybermen don’t have bloodlust; machines don’t crave anything, except more power. Both varieties. Mistakes are made.
“I still feel part machine,” she confesses.
Katie shrugs. “You don’t look it.”
Lisa can’t see herself too clearly; when she tries to look her head feels like it’s going to fall off her neck and she’s too tired, really, for this. She doesn’t feel metal, though. Which would mean more if she could feel anything at all.
“…So I wait.”
Katie’s smile is smooth, practised, tired. “Yes.”
Losing threads of conversations mid-way, and Owen wanted a reason for the semaphore over the morning papers. He was love; oh. Oh.
Katie got used to forgetting herself, scribbling her identity on coloured notes to stick around the flat when he was at work. Five letters, a dot above the i. Eye. He never got used to it, which was sad. And she pretended to keep fighting for his sake. Well, his sake and the fear, because you don’t need to recall anything to stay afraid.
My head isn’t my head. There’s no space for me any more. So where do I go?
It would have been easier on them both to crumble earlier, or to force him out of her life when the first signs of faded recollection began. But Katie had no way of knowing that it was an alien growing in her brain – except at night she could hear something singing. Hear without her ears and the tune was strange and the words weren’t words. And sometimes there were migraines – her brain bursting around the creature – and the humming of what she now knows was a lullaby.
Ianto’s eyes were wet with tears and if Lisa had still been Lisa she’d have told him to leave her there because it was too late. Only she wasn’t quite Lisa any more and the words clung to her throat, tight, to the inside, and refused to say themselves. The spark wanted to survive.
She was afraid. Afraid and foolish and Ianto was no better, crimson splashed against his cheek. She flinched as the jagged edges slid from her skin, but more for show. Nerve endings? No need for nerve endings. No. Cybermen do not feel. They just like to think they do, to distinguish themselves.
Mainly, all they have left is thinking. A brain and bones squeezed into a metal eggshell. Just don’t try to crack it; the yolk is bitter.
“Am I a ghost?” Lisa asks. The tea is warm in her throat, which implies she has a throat. And she thinks she is sitting down. Thinks.
“Nowhere near as melodramatic,” Katie smiles. Her eyes are bright, her cheeks flushed. She adjusts the hat slightly, and Lisa wonders what it hides. She glances down, and finds she is wearing gloves, purple ones. Perhaps it’s safe to assume she’s wearing a hat too. A balaclava, maybe. “We’re just… the remains.”
Remains. Shades. Aftershocks. Lisa feels emptier, at each word. Thin, stretched.
“How do you know so much?” Anger; she remembers anger.
“There was someone here before you.” Katie doesn’t elaborate. Lisa wonders if perhaps there will be people after her. And how long it takes to fade completely.
“Did you die here?” she enquires.
Katie shakes her head, a shred of laughter. Lisa remembers what it was to laugh, though she has not managed a laugh in a long time. She thinks it would hurt, if she tried now. Sombre and soft, she will remain.
“My body is here,” she replies. “Two along and three up from yours.”
Lisa thinks which body but does not ask.
“You might as well start getting over it,” Jack says, and whether he’s addressing Ianto or Owen remains probably intentionally ambiguous. It has been two weeks for Ianto. Three years for Owen. Brutal shock renders them both still angry.
“Fuck off, Harkness.”
Katie would like Gwen, though not Gwen with her legs open in Owen’s bed. Owen doesn’t even like Gwen with her legs open in his bed and he invited her there. She is not the first; not the last.
“You got anything to say?” Jack is addressing Ianto now, Ianto who is dusting with a fierce expression on his face as though afraid of tears or bile or screaming. Possible violence. He’s not the first to think himself capable of killing Jack Harkness.
“No.” Sullen? Truthful? Tired? Ianto leaves himself open to interpretation as ever. At first, it was in an attempt to keep Lisa safe. Now he is merely used to it.
“They’ll still be dead tomorrow,” Jack reminds them.
It’s cold comfort.
“The world isn’t out of reach,” Katie says. “We’re in a sort of… different plane of existence.”
They had planes of existence at Torchwood One. There were few things they didn’t have at Torchwood One. That was the problem.
“Separated and drifting away.” Lisa says it without much thinking about the words, Katie smiles wanly.
“To all intents and purposes.”
“For how long? No, no, don’t answer that.”
Lisa lived in a basement and Deleted flies in her free time. Crackles of sparks, and the electricity fluctuated, though of course everything fluctuates the electricity at Torchwood and Ianto was so sincere. She can no longer recall if she humoured him or if she adored him. Life has a different quality when half your brain is running on robotics; strings of 0s and 1s and the spaces for cables in her back.
It was not an existence, but she thinks she was waiting. She was not waiting. The Cyberman was. Sooner or later, Ianto would slip.
One bolt, one loose wire. Something would give.
“Would repenting help?”
“Bloody hell, of course not.”
“It gets easier?” Ianto asks Owen. Quietly. He has stitches in his chin because human beings tried to eat him alive. Down past the teeth, squish in the stomach. His eyes flutter shut.
“It gets easier to ignore,” Owen responds, flat. The last time he’ll offer empathy or advice. Already, he’s folding Katie closed again, shoving her away into the niche of his mind where she stays and does not go out. She would not like him now. His martyr, and fuck how he loved her.
Ianto nods, brief. He has a martyr too but she is unpure, dark eyes in his mind and clumsy lobotomies that don’t leave his dreams. He won’t discuss her; there is no one to discuss her with.
He’ll fold her up too. She’ll get simpler with time.
Katie promises sensation. She’s the only thing that seems semi-solid, and Lisa thinks that the problem could lie in the fact she and Katie are really the only things here, and she no longer asks where here is because it is not going to warrant an answer. There is no answer to give.
Her hand closes over Lisa’s; even though Lisa’s have gloves over each finger to hide where the metal isn’t, she can feel the pressure. She couldn’t feel Ianto, never felt Ianto. Never told him. Never saw the point.
“This is too real,” she decides, on a sigh.
“It isn’t real enough,” Katie counters. “You’ll figure that out.”
She doesn’t let go. Lisa likes the pretence at human contact. If that’s what this is. If they’re still human enough to play at it.
Love is qualitative, quantitive. And it fades first. It is not a form of energy, it does not cling on.
“I thought at least she’d haunt me,” Ianto mutters.
Owen doesn’t reply, Jack ignores the words. It’s all the same game; watch Torchwood take. Tosh is flushed pale, her lover in the Sun. It’s not a summer euphemism; she is in the Sun. Jack won’t take responsibility. Jack doesn’t take responsibility. Oh, look, your girlfriend died. Me? Me, no. Never. Couldn’t have been me. Oh, really, was it?
They all hope some piece will stay behind. It doesn’t.
Ianto will be relieved when Bilis Manger clambers into his head.
“Just you and me,” Katie doesn’t croon. She states. This isn’t a seduction. “Just you and me. Until.”
Until is as good a statement as any. It makes good sense. There’s no next, no after. Just until.
“Will I get used to it?” Lisa asks.
Katie laughs. Not an answer. Possibly the answer is worse than damnation. Worse than anything.
Her mouth skims Lisa’s cheek. It’s not a promise. It’s the want for someone else, the want for this space to be less empty. This is their penance? A roomful of surgeons on the ground, bloody footprints in the basement. And then, oh, and then the waiting.
“It’s possible I’m mad,” Lisa decides. Maybe she can open her eyes and she’ll be back in her room, locks on the outside, Ianto’s tears dropping on her face. His vow. Jesus, with hindsight it was all a little messy.
“Of course you’re mad,” Katie pushes, voice trembled with amusement. Her hand still cradled in Lisa’s, the pieces that are left. “And if I take my hat off, most of my head is gone.”
Lisa suspects that most of her head is gone too; balaclava, she was right. Someone’s idea of tidying them up.
“I don’t understand,” she decides. Her shoulder presses contentedly against Katie’s, and comprehension is unnecessary in the long run. It won’t get her out. Katie laughs, leaning her head so her hair tickles Lisa’s cheek.
“It’s ok,” she says, “We’ll just stay here and wait for Beth.”
Lisa frowns. “Beth?”
“Different plane of existence. Different chronology. You’ll get used to it. You’ll have to.”
Lisa has got used to any number of things over the last few years. She’s sure she can manage this.
Katie opened her eyes to find a new shade of light and a bitter taste of tin.
“Oh,” she murmured.
“Oh indeed,” the other voice said.
And so she began.