Characters: Ianto, Lisa.
Summary: Ianto can’t help wondering what would have happened if he’d just done things differently.
Word Count: 1765
Written For: Prompt 031 – The Road Not Taken at fandomweekly.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. They belong to the BBC.
It had been two months since the execution of the Cyberwoman masquerading as Lisa, two months since all Ianto’s hopes of saving the woman he loved were shattered, and one month since he’d been allowed to return to work, keenly aware of the scrutiny he was under, and of the distrust the rest of the team felt towards him. He didn’t blame them for the way they felt; he’d betrayed them, it was no more than he deserved. Guilt weighed on him, so heavily sometimes it almost blotted out the grief entirely, but the bitter truth was he’d lost Lisa at Canary Wharf a good nine months ago. All those months of hiding her, protecting her, caring for her, had only served to delay the inevitable. What else could he have done though? He’d believed she could be helped; he hadn’t known, or hadn’t wanted to know, that she was already too far gone.
So here he was, down in the archives again, half hiding from the team, half getting on with the never-ending task of sorting, organising, and cataloguing the sundry items stored in the subterranean labyrinth of rooms and passageways. It was a distraction, better than doing nothing, but it still left him way too much time to think, going over and over the last few months, analysing all possible courses of action, scrutinising the choices he’d made, as if that could make any difference at all now.
What else could he have done? He plucked the next item off the shelf, turning it over in his hands, wondering what it was. As with so much of what was stored in this section, there was no label. It had either fallen off and been lost, or never been there in the first place.
Now that he thought about it, there’d been plenty of things he could have done differently, things that might have led to a better outcome for Lisa. He’d known from the start that something wasn’t right with the ghost shifts, everyone with any sense must have known; he should have got out before everything went to Hell in a handbasket, should have taken Lisa with him. Maybe if he had, she’d still be alive.
The morning of the battle he’d almost suggested they skive off work, throw the camping gear in the car, and get out of the city for a long weekend. Ms Hartman would have no doubt been less than pleased with them, but he should have just said to Hell with the consequences. The ‘ghosts’ gave him the creeps; maybe there wouldn’t have been any out in the countryside. Why hadn’t he done that? Looking back, he couldn’t remember. All he knew was that he and Lisa had gone to work as usual, and his whole world had been ripped apart. That day had been the beginning of the end.
His hands tightened reflexively on the unidentified object he was still holding.
Something went ‘BIP’ and he looked down; the bluish globe cradled in his hands was now lit from within and he found he couldn’t move, couldn’t look away… He should have been alarmed, he had no idea what this thing was, but he felt nothing, no emotion whatsoever, not even curiosity, and then it was like he was falling, down into the light, deeper and deeper, as if it were a bottomless pit.
“Ianto? Earth to Ianto! Are you going to stand there staring into the mirror all day?” Lisa teased. “You’d better not; Mr. Gregory will have your hide.”
Ianto pulled himself out of his thoughts with a disparaging snort. “Mr Gregory has delusions of his own importance. Bet you I could do his job far better than he does; I already do most of it.”
“So you keep telling me. Come on, you’d better hurry up or we’ll be late.”
The impulse hit him with a weird sense of déjà vu, like he’d been here before, maybe in another life, but before he could grasp onto it the feeling slipped away, leaving behind a sudden, overwhelming conviction. He spun towards his girlfriend, standing in the bathroom doorway. “Let’s not go to work, Lise. We can call in sick, just this once. Everyone knows we were out last night celebrating your birthday; they’ll figure we’re just hungover.”
“Ianto!” Lisa sounded half shocked, half amused, and Ianto felt a desperate urge to convince her that he wasn’t joking.
“I mean it, Lise. Everybody else does it, so why shouldn’t we?”
Lisa leaned against the doorframe, smiling fondly. “I’ve been telling you that for months but you’re always the one who says no, too worried about getting into trouble with the boss lady. Sometimes I think you must be a workaholic.”
The déjà vu feeling niggled at him again, and he almost changed his mind, almost said that yeah, it was probably a bad idea, just a passing whim, forget he said anything, but he got a grip on himself. What could it hurt to skip one day of work? He and Lisa hardly ever took time off, they had plenty of sick days saved up. “Not today; I mean it. Come on, Lise, we’ll throw some things in the car, get out of London, breathe fresh air for a change. It’ll be fun. A little extra birthday treat.”
Laughing, Lisa sashayed into the bathroom and kissed him. “Okay, okay, you don’t have to twist my arm. I’ll make the call while you change out of that suit. I’ll say we’ve got food poisoning from some dodgy kebabs. They’ll believe that.”
Thirty minutes later they were off, slipping out of London with the radio tuned to their favourite station, heading towards the coast; Southampton maybe, or even as far as Bournemouth. It was perfect whether for a day at the beach.
Barely an hour out of London an emergency news bulletin came on; Canary Wharf was under some kind of attack, metal monsters were everywhere, and it wasn’t just restricted to London. Reports were coming in from every major city in the country, maybe even the world; the metal men were everywhere!
“Oh my God!” Lisa grabbed at Ianto’s arm, her fingernails digging in painfully. “Ianto, turn around; we have to go back!”
Ianto shook her off, fighting the steering wheel as the car swerved sharply, narrowly avoiding going off the road. “And do what, Lisa? Get ourselves killed along with everyone else? We’re not field agents! There’s nothing we can do; it would be two against hundreds! We have to keep going, find somewhere to hide out. We’ll get on the motorway, head for Torchwood Three in Cardiff. Maybe they can help. At the very least they’ll have weapons. We don’t even have our guns!”
Lisa pulled herself together. “No, you’re right, if we went back it would be suicide, but… Torchwood Three is too small. What we need is the army, or UNIT.”
“They’ll already be mobilising; if the news reports aren’t exaggerating, a threat of this size… My God, Lisa, it could be a full-scale invasion! Torchwood Three’s our best bet. We just need to keep away from cities until we reach Cardiff. It’ll be okay.” Ianto let go of the steering wheel with one hand to briefly squeeze her knee, shot her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “We’ll get through this, as long as we keep our heads and don’t panic.”
Cardiff was only about three hours from London but first they had to reach the motorway, which meant following smaller roads and hitting the M4 outside Reading. Three hours’ driving saw them bypassing Bristol on their way to the Severn Bridge, their destination almost in sight, but there was a problem.
“Shit, we’re running low on petrol, the gauge is practically on empty; we need to stop and fill up.”
“But we’re so close!” Lisa protested.
“Fat lot of good it’ll do us if we run out halfway across the bridge. Be a heck of a long walk. We’ll have to take the next exit and hope we can find a filling station.”
In the end that was their downfall; so near and yet so far. The petrol station’s sign said it was open, but it appeared deserted. Lisa made straight for the restrooms, and Ianto was just removing the car’s petrol cap when he heard her terrified scream.
Dropping everything, he ran, round the back of the building and through a half open door, where he found Lisa strapped to a massive, ugly metal machine. Its instruments were already tearing into her smooth flesh, blood spurting, spattering the walls and floor, so obscenely bright beneath the flickering fluorescent lights that it didn’t seem real, more like a scene from a cheap slasher movie.
“Lisa!” Ianto threw himself at the machine, started tearing at the straps holding her down, desperate to free her, but it was no use.
Then clanking footsteps sounded behind him, and a metallic voice intoned, “Delete!”
He swung around just as the robot fired its weapon…
Dazzling white light filled Ianto’s vision, so bright that for several moments he was blinded, and when his vision cleared enough for him to see his surroundings, instead of the back room of the petrol station he found himself standing in the archives at Torchwood Three again, watching the light slowly fade away inside the globe he still held in his hands.
Ianto let out a shuddering breath; it hadn’t been real, just some kind of vision, or perhaps a glimpse into an alternate reality. He blinked tears from his eyes. So now he knew; even if they hadn’t gone to work that morning Lisa would still have suffered the same fate, torn apart on a cyber conversion unit.
“And I’d be dead too. Would that be better or worse?” He didn’t know.
He set the device back on the shelf, shaking his head, and wiped his eyes with his sleeve, not caring what that might do to his suit. In all probability, there wasn’t anything he could have done to change what happened to Lisa, and by trying he might only have made things worse. Sometimes there was simply no way of escaping fate, and strangely that made him feel a little better, one less thing for him to feel guilty about.
The past was fixed, unalterable; he’d just have to accept that, try to atone for his mistakes, and move on.
“I miss you, Lisa, I love you, and I’m so sorry. I’ll never forget you.”
Time to start over; the first step was always the hardest.