16 January 2011 @ 09:42 am
The Queen's Magicians: Eternal Silences (2/4)  

Title: Eternal Silences (2/4)
Author: Emma
Characters: Canonical Torchwood Three members… sort of.
Rating: Some chapters definitely not safe for work.
Disclaimer: Oh, please. If I owned them, would I let some of those idiots write the scripts? And if I were making any money off them, would I be where they could find me?
Summary: Someone is playing with life and death in Cardiff, and Doctor Owen Harper is fed up with it all
Author's Note: This is Meat. And it's nothing like it. Although there’s food involved…
Author's Note: The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread. Blaise Pascal
Author's Note: I know this is taking longer than usual. If things improve, as I have every hope they will, I'll be able to get back to a decent schedule. Right now, between my "promotion" and the health issues of some of the older members of my family, it's been a terrific zoo, and I don't mean it in a good way.

Part One is here

The cell phone on the bedside table laughed maniacally. Owen slapped at it but missed. The phone laughed again. Owen pushed himself up with a groan. He had stayed late at the hotel the day before, enjoying the breeze and the water and eating the most exquisite food, and had reluctantly dragged himself back to Cardiff late at night, planning to take advantage of Jack's generous offer and waste the day away doing nothing. Well, it was Torchwood. Emergencies guaranteed.

The madman laughed again and Owen cursed the day he had let Toshiko have his security codes.

“I'll take care of the problem, Owen,” he mimicked Tosh's sweet tone, “you're a technophobe and machines can sense it. Witch. I wonder what horror movie she got that damned ringtone from.” He snapped it up and stabbed at the answer button. “Yeah?”

“I'm sorry, Owen, but Jack wants you back right now.”

Ianto's strained tone made Owen sit up. “Who?”

There was a short silence and then Ianto snorted. “Nothing like that, you prat. Kathy and Andy brought something to our attention and Jack thinks you're going to have to be lead on this one.”

“All right. Let me take a quick shower and I'll be right there.”

As he showered, Owen reflected that he always learned more from what Ianto didn't say than from what he did. If the Bishop's Senior Investigator for the Dark Arts was involved, it was something that crossed the line between medicine and the spiritual realm. Seven years of Torchwood experience had taught him that those cases started at horrifying and worked their way to cataclysmic in a remarkably short period of time.

When he got to the Hub he found everyone gathered around the conference table. The usual good-natured banter was missing. Everyone clutched coffee mugs and looked tired and grim. Ianto was standing behind and to one side of Jack, so close that Jack could have leaned back and rested his head against Ianto's ribs; their right hands were linked and resting on Jack's shoulder. Owen felt a shiver crawl up his spine. Things were already on their way to cataclysmic.

As he reached the table, Andy looked up at him and sniffed like a bloodhound. “What the hell have you been doing with yourself, Owen? You stink.”

“Hey! I showered fifteen minutes ago!”

“Not that kind of stink. Old magic. There's old magic hanging all over you.”

Owen shrugged. “Well, about that.... I me this guy on the way back. Really weird.”

He told them about his encounter with the old man on the beach. When he had finished, Jack studied him until he squirmed. “And you're sure the word he used was garmhac?”

“As best as I can reproduce the sound. Why? What does it mean?”

“It's Irish for grandson. Kathy...?”

The Bishop's Investigator trained her Senses on Owen. It felt, he thought, like being scoured by fine sand. Now he understood why Kathy Swanson was both respected and feared.

“No, he's fine. Whatever it is, it is not demonic nor... unseelie.”

“All right. We'll set it in the back burner for now. Why don't you bring Owen up to speed?”

Owen slid into his usual seat. His mug was ready for him, as well as a small plate with assorted pastries. He waved his thanks at Ianto and poured himself some coffee from the large pot in the center of the table.

“Three weeks ago,” Kathy began, “Mrs. Rachel Mackie came to see me. She was in a full-blown panic. Her sister Mrs. Mary Williams had phoned her and invited her over for coffee and biscuits. Mrs. Mackie was very happy to get the call because Mrs. Williams had been severely depressed after the death of her oldest daughter, Dilys, and refused to see anyone. She rushed over to find music blaring and Mrs. Williams dancing. When Mrs. Mackie finally managed to get her sister back to some sort of coherence, Mrs. Williams told her she was celebrating Dilys's return. Mrs. Mackie thought her sister had lost her mind, but was forced to revise the theory when Mrs. Williams dragged her upstairs and she found Dilys sitting in bed watching television.” She held up a hand, forestalling Owen. “Dilys had been dead. There's absolutely no doubt about that. She died of bone cancer. Her doctor and her priest both signed the certificate. Mrs. Mackie was terrified, and rightfully so.”

“You went to see the girl?” Owen asked.

“And took Dilys's doctor with me. Mrs. Williams wasn't happy to see us, but she let us in. The Doctor managed to control himself enough to examine her thoroughly and certify that it was Dilys, then went outside and promptly sprayed the contents of his stomach all over Mrs. Williams's beautiful lawn. Dilys was moved to the Bishop's infirmary for observation. She's physically healthy. In fact, very healthy. Even her surgical scars are gone. But she's mute. According to Mrs. Williams, she hasn't spoken a word since her return.”

“And you're not willing to consider a miracle?” Owen asked curiously.

Kathy gave him a level look. “There have been four other cases since Dilys. All in Cardiff. In each case the... person... had someone who loved him or her with almost obsessive force.” She sighed. “We all say it. I'd do anything for him. But we wouldn't, not really. We wouldn't commit murder or sign away our souls. But there are some who would.”

She tossed back the last of her coffee and poured herself some more. “There's no sign of demonic intervention, but there's something really wrong with these poor souls. I have an awful feeling that they know it, too. Dilys sits there with a sorrowful look in her eyes, like someone remembering something that breaks her heart. The nurses say they all cry at night. Not out loud. Just tears rolling down their faces from under closed eyes.”

Suddenly nauseous, Owen pushed his plate away. “I still don't get why you need me, Jack. Another medical examination...”

“I don't want a medical examination. I want a Healer's examination.” Jack smiled at Owen, the kind of smile that made Owen brace himself. “You have a great deal of Talent, Owen, but you've leashed it with science, which is only right and proper in regular medical practice. But you're not in regular practice. Time to... integrate, for lack of a better word. You have been doing it unconsciously for at least nine months, you know.”

Owen started to object but Jack's confident gaze stopped him before he could say a word. He looked around the table and saw only the same confidence; Gwen and Tosh were grinning at him.

“You saved my life back then, with Elaine de Cussack,” Andy said quietly. “I was almost on the other side of the Veil. You pulled me back. Tosh thinks you did the same for Janet.”

Owen took a deep breath. “All right. Kathy?”

The Bishop's Investigator held up her keys. “Come on.”

The Bishop's palace was actually a compound occupying about a mile or so of space across the river from the Castle. The Abbey church faced the castle, simple and strong in its simplicity, with none of the soaring arches and massive stained glass windows of later architecture. Kathy continued past it and then turned into a narrow road that followed the precinct wall. At the far end, a gate faced a small park surrounded by Victorian townhouses. The gate arm swung up and the guard saluted as Kathy's small car zipped through without stopping. She pulled into the parking lot hard by the wall and parked in a space labeled with her name.

“Perks of the job?”

“More like Mother Katherine wants to make sure I can't refuse an invitation,” Kathy said, snickering a little. “Come this way. We'll go through the loading dock.”

They walked along a wide gravel path that was screened from view by a tall hedge. It ended in front of a set of garage-style doors. Next to them, a regular door with a keycard lock was propped open.

“Not much in terms of security, is there?” Owen asked.

“Not at this level. The pharmacy and the relic vault are tighter than the Castle's jewel room.”

She led the way out of the storage room and into the cloister proper. The infirmary occupied the first two floors of the building that faced the rear of the Cathedral. Although the palace had been thoroughly modernized, all the changes were behind the scenes. Outwardly the buildings had not changed since the thirteenth century, and all the rooms still opened to the cloister garden. Owen followed Kathy through the last door. The ward held six beds. Five of them were occupied. At the far end, a woman in a nursing sister's uniform sat behind a small desk.

Owen focused on the people on the beds. Three women, two men, ranging from teenage to late middle age. They sat or lay, immobile, eyes open but seemingly empty. Next to each, in what he realized were damn uncomfortable chairs, sat another person, probably a family member. Their eyes swiveled almost in unison to focus on the pair coming in through the door. Some looked resigned, others terrified. Only one was defiant.

“The woman looking like she'd like to fry us in oil is Mrs. Williams,” Kathy murmured. “Here comes sister Alis.”

The nun was taller than Owen, and, he thought wryly, considerably more imposing. She shook his hand briskly. “I am glad to see you, Doctor Harper. Maybe you can make sense of all of this. Heaven knows someone needs to.”

Owen put on a show of looking around, but he already knew who he wanted to examine first. The others were cool to his Senses, as if the bodies were not quite inhabited, or as if the intelligences that inhabited them were beyond his ability to understand. In contrast, Dilys was a fireball of human energy. There was a real person behind those eyes, trapped and terrified.

As he approached the bed Dilys's head swiveled and their eyes met. The image of a bird beating frantically against iron bars exploded in Owen's mind. He was vaguely aware of Mrs. Williams trying to step between them and of Sister Alys pulling her away. He dropped his shields, letting his Senses extend outwards into Dilys's body and mind. Kathy had been right. The body was completely healthy, but the mind was filled with fear and rage. If he wasn't careful, she could swamp him. His hands came up, almost as if to defend himself, but hers were there to grip his wrists. The touch burned.

“Send... back...” The croak brought a scream from Mrs. Williams and a gasp from Sister Alis. “Send... back.”

Owen twisted his wrists out of her grip, turning his palms so he could touch hers lightly. “You want to go back to where you were?”

The snap of her neck as she nodded made him wince. “Happy. Was... happy.”

The effort seemed to have taken all her energy and she collapsed into the bed. Mrs. Williams wrenched herself out of Sister Alis's hands and rushed to wet a cloth and wipe her daughter's unresponsive face.

“What did you do, Mrs. Williams?” Owen asked softly. “How did you bring her back?”

She kept her eyes averted. “I didn't do anything.”

“You did. You did something that brought your daughter back. Can't you see she's desperately unhappy? She doesn't want to be here.”

“She doesn't know what she's saying,” the voice was flat. “When she's better...”

“She won't get better. Her soul was yanked back into her body, but it has no anchor. Dilys is trapped in that... meat box you've made for her.”

“No!” Mrs. Williams dropped into the chair and started to rock, arms wrapped tightly around herself. “She's my baby and I won't let her go, I won't.”

A touch on his shoulder made Owen jump. He turned around to find a man standing behind him, tears pouring down his face. “It's... there are these guys. Brothers. Vic and Greg Cunnick. They have a warehouse in Splott. Foodstuffs, that sort of thing.” He shrugged. “Then they started doing... things. Miracles, maybe. Healing people. Word spread. Then they said they could... do this. Bring our dead back. There were some conditions, but they said they could... and I wanted Bethany back. We'd only been married one year when the car accident... and... I thought, why not? Cheat death. But Bethany's not here. You're right. It's just a meat box...”

He slid to his knees, weeping.
( Post a new comment )
wynkat[personal profile] wynkat on January 16th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, this is really powerful.

Sorry RL is being so "interesting" for you. I hope thing mellow out in good ways soon.
Merucha[personal profile] merucha on January 16th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is totally unexpected. I knew it was going to go in a strange direction, but I didn't connect it with Owen until I started writing it!
bethmccombs: Torchwood - Ianto Jones - Black[personal profile] bethmccombs on January 16th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Oh boy... oh boy... this is... messy. I can see it coming. *smile* Hope life lightens up soon. *hugs for that*
Merucha[personal profile] merucha on January 16th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
Messy. Yes. Definitely. *grins maniacally*
bethmccombs: Torchwood - Ianto Jones - Sepia[personal profile] bethmccombs on January 16th, 2011 08:31 pm (UTC)
Okay, now I'm worried... and you need to come help me wrap up this story!
milady_dragon[personal profile] milady_dragon on January 16th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
Wow. I feel so sorry for Dilys, being trapped like that. Hopefully they can send her back to where she was.

And I hope RL settles for you soon!
Merucha[personal profile] merucha on January 16th, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC)
I don't know yet what happens *wails* Owen is being close-mouthed... the git.
milady_dragon[personal profile] milady_dragon on January 16th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
Ya wanna I should smack the Owen muse upside the head for ya? *cracks knuckles*
http://fide_et_spe.livejournal.com/[identity profile] fide_et_spe.livejournal.com on January 16th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
What a great idea for Meat. I'm glad you left us with the reveal, now I'm really intrigued to see what they've exchanged for the lives.
Merucha[personal profile] merucha on January 16th, 2011 08:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This came out of left field, but *shrug* I follow instructions on this one!
cen_sceal: Cardiff Bay[personal profile] cen_sceal on January 16th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC)
This is a gem, I love Owen's snark :) This twist is really heartbreaking and a bit terrifying about how far grief people can go in grief. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this.

I hope RL calms down for you *hug*
Merucha[personal profile] merucha on January 16th, 2011 08:32 pm (UTC)
Owen always snarks -- and he's coming through very clearly, which he not always does for me. And yes, grief has a terrifying dimension, doesn't it?
a_lanart[personal profile] a_lanart on January 16th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
**hugs you with regards to RL**

So very glad to see more, I love the series and this is kind of creepy and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Merucha[personal profile] merucha on January 16th, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, it did turn creepy, didn't it? I wasn't planning to...
Midori[identity profile] midori-marmotte.livejournal.com on January 17th, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
Weeee, a new chapter! (Yes, I am really enthusiastic each time, because I love your AUs) thank you, and ... *sends good chocolaty waves to encourage further writing*
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ruadh[personal profile] ruadh on January 20th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)
Can't wait for more. :)
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rhianona: Arthur & Lancelot[personal profile] rhianona on January 22nd, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
I like seeing an Owen-centric "episode" and how you've changed "Meat" to this. Should be fun to see what else you come up with. :)
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