Characters: Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness.
Word Count: 3474
Summary: Ianto Jones is living a perfectly ordinary life until he finds himself being haunted.
Written For: Challenge # 17.06: Weird & Hilarious: Book Titles at fffc, and my genprompt_bingo Wild Card square, using Ghosts and Hauntings.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Posting as a two-parter because this one ended up loooong and you all know how finicky LJ can be.
Ianto Jones was a perfectly ordinary man, living a perfectly ordinary life, until the day he discovered he had a rather out of the ordinary problem. For some reason he couldn’t even begin to fathom, he was being haunted.
He’d always thought ghosts were basically the spirits of deceased people who had formed such a strong attachment to a particular place that they were unable to move on after they died. If that had been the case with this particular ghost, Ianto could have dealt with it by the simple expedient of just avoiding the place it was haunting, but no; his ghost had to be an awkward one with no fixed abode. It followed him everywhere; any time of the day or night, wherever he was and whatever he might be doing, he’d look up and there it would be, grinning broadly at him as if to say, “Ha! Found you!”
While it was an interesting if disconcerting novelty to begin with, after a while, to put it mildly, it started to become downright inconvenient. There he was, trying to go about his normal, everyday life, but now seemingly out of nowhere, this ghost had attached itself to him. Worse, the ghost didn’t seem to be aware of the fact that it was no longer alive.
Ianto might have been inclined to believe it was indeed a real, living, breathing human being, except that there were several things about it that proved otherwise. First of all, it was completely silent; no matter what it did, it never made the slightest sound that Ianto could detect. Secondly, it could appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. Surely both of those were ghostly traits. On top of that, as far he could tell, nobody else could see it; in fact, other people had an unfortunate tendency to walk straight through it, which was a disturbing sight to say the least. As if that weren’t evidence enough to persuade him of the apparition’s true nature, over the past few weeks Ianto had discovered that if he focussed his eyes exactly right, the ghost was just insubstantial enough that he could see through it. That was… strange, but he supposed it was to be expected. Ghosts weren’t renowned for being solid, after all. It stood to reason; if they were solid then they wouldn’t be ghosts, would they?
Ianto considered himself to be a sensible, down-to-earth, and above all, logical person; he was generally well equipped to deal with any situation he might be confronted with, but this one had him stumped. How was he going to convince this ghost that it was dead and that it really should be considering moving on to the next plane of existence, going towards the light, or whatever?
The whole situation struck him as bizarre; dealing with ghosts was outside his experience and he wasn’t even sure where to begin, but he knew he couldn’t go on like this indefinitely. He was going to have to do something about it. After giving the matter some serious thought over a period of several days, he finally came to the conclusion that maybe a trip to the library was in order. Surely they would have a few books on ghosts and the paranormal, wouldn’t they? Admittedly his local was only a small branch library, but still, if they didn’t have what he needed, maybe they could order it for him from the main branch in Cardiff. Or maybe to save time he should just go straight to the main branch himself and cut out the middleman. That would probably be more sensible.
Decision made, he abandoned any other plans he might have had for the day and headed for the bus stop, got on the first bus into town, flashed his pass at the driver, and sank into the nearest empty aisle seat, settling in for the journey. As the bus pulled away, he thought back to the first time he’d seen what he’d come to think of as his ghost.
He’d been sitting by himself one afternoon in an almost empty coffee shop, reading a book and sipping cautiously at his still slightly too hot drink. The coffee wasn’t as good as he could have made himself, but it was good enough to be reasonably palatable, and several orders of magnitude better than anything he’d found elsewhere in town. It always surprised him that the shop didn’t seem to get many customers, but maybe that was because he never happened to drop in during their busy times.
Something had made him look up from his book, and he’d nearly jumped out of his skin when he’d realised there was a man sitting directly across the table from him. Ianto had immediately wondered two things; firstly, why the man had chosen to sit at his table when there were so many empty tables available, and secondly, how he’d managed to sit down so quietly that Ianto hadn’t even noticed his arrival.
After a few moments of studying the other man, he’d found a third thing to wonder about. Why did his silent companion look so sad? He was staring into a half-empty coffee cup, looking like his world had ended, and in retrospect, Ianto decided it probably had. The man was a ghost after all, which naturally implied that he must have died somehow, probably in a traumatic manner; surely he had every reason to be upset about that, although unlike most of the ghosts Ianto had heard about, this one looked perfectly fine, uninjured, and healthier than any dead person had a right to look. In fact if he hadn’t looked so sad, he would have been quite good looking. No, scrap that; he would have been devastatingly gorgeous. In spite of his sad expression, Ianto had been forced to admit to himself that he found the stranger very attractive.
Although the two of them were sitting down, Ianto estimated his mysterious companion to be approximately six feet tall, the same height as Ianto himself. The ghost, however, was noticeably broader across the shoulders. He was perhaps in his early to mid thirties, had a thick mop of brown hair that flopped casually over his forehead, a chiselled jaw, a dimpled chin, a wide, full-lipped mouth that looked like it was made for smiling, and expressive blue eyes, which at that moment were shadowed by deep sorrow. Ianto’s heart went out to the man. Nobody so handsome should ever have to look so heartbroken.
Still, the man was a stranger, and it wouldn’t have been good manners to intrude on his sorrow, so Ianto had dropped his gaze to his book again, and when he’d glanced up a moment later, the man, complete with his cup of coffee, was gone as if he’d never been there.
At the time, Ianto had wondered if he’d imagined the whole thing, but from that moment on, he’d started to see the mystery man everywhere; sitting on the bench at the bus stop, leaning on the railing near the Plas looking out to sea, walking through the park, hands in the pockets of the long, blue-grey coat he always seemed to be wearing… That was another strange thing about the man; he was always dressed exactly the same, in clothes that harked back to the Second World War. In fact it was the anachronistic clothing that had first started Ianto wondering whether the man might be a ghost.
A week or so after his first encounter with the mystery man, Ianto was back at his table in the coffee shop, reading his book, and when he happened to glance up, the man was once again sitting across from him. This time was slightly different though; instead of staring fixedly into his coffee cup, he was looking directly at Ianto, squinting slightly as if he was trying to make out something he couldn’t quite see. Ianto smiled politely.
The man didn’t respond, just rubbed his eyes, and with his elbows resting on the table, leant further forward, tilting his head to one side and then the other. After a moment, his shoulders drooped and he put his head in his hands, the picture of abject misery. Ianto sighed. Although he could see the ghost clearly enough, it was becoming obvious that the ghost couldn’t see him, or hear him for that matter, and a few minutes later, although Ianto never saw him move, his table companion was simply… gone.
Ianto wasn’t sure how much time passed after that encounter. He continued to see the ghost everywhere he went; in the chip shop, in the pub, outside what used to be a tourist information office on Mermaid Quay… In Ianto’s opinion, it was a stupid place to put one really; how were tourists ever supposed to find it tucked away down there? No wonder it had closed.
Eventually, after maybe a week or two, he found himself back at the coffee shop, once again sitting at the same table. He was minding his own business, nose buried in his book, and drinking his coffee, when between one heartbeat and the next the ghost was suddenly right there, in the seat across from him, as if he’d been there the whole time. Looking as sad as ever, he was sipping from his cup and as always, he seemed completely unaware of Ianto’s presence.
“We really have to stop meeting like this,” Ianto commented under his breath. He forced a smile. “Do you come here often, or just when I’m here?”
The ghost didn’t respond, just lowered his ghost coffee cup towards its ghost saucer, and on impulse, Ianto slammed his book down on the table, making it rock slightly. Across from him, the ghost jerked back, half dropping his cup, which landed soundlessly on the saucer, and he stared across the table, squinting in the same manner he had the last time.
“Hello!” Ianto gave a little wave. “I’m Ianto Jones; what’s your name?”
Blue eyes suddenly snapped wide and the handsome face paled. The man’s lips moved, he was obviously saying something, but whatever it was, Ianto couldn’t hear a word of it. Which shouldn’t really have been surprising, because the man was a ghost, and how much sound could you expect to get from insubstantial vocal chords? Always assuming ghosts still had such things, which didn’t seem likely. Why would they bother with all the fiddly little bits inside when they didn’t need them? Still, Ianto was fairly certain the ghost could at least see him now. That was interesting. Even as he watched, the shocked expression on the ghost’s face transformed into a wide, astonished, delighted smile. It was the first time Ianto had ever seen the ghost look anything but miserable; happiness suited him far better, and Ianto found himself smiling back, feeling quite pleased with himself.
That feeling hadn’t lasted long, because as it had turned out, that was the day Ianto’s ghost problems had really begun. Before, his encounters with the ghost had seemed random and coincidental, but from that day onwards, the ghost appeared to be actively seeking him out, and there didn’t seem to be a damn thing Ianto could do about it. Being stalked by a ghost was hardly something he could report to the police. Well, not without having them send for the men in white coats to haul him away to Providence Park.
“It’s your own fault, Ianto Jones,” he remembered grumbling to himself one night on his way home from the pub, the ghost walking beside him in perfect step, smiling happily at him, mouth moving, obviously speaking to him even though he couldn’t hear a word it was saying. “You wanted to see if you could attract your ghost’s attention, and you succeeded. Congratulations. Now it looks like you’re stuck with him.”
How long ago had that been? A month? Two? More? Ianto was no longer sure. The ghost wasn’t with him all the time, but since that first smile, not a day had gone by when it hadn’t found him at least once, and usually several times. Sometimes it followed him around for hours, other times it just popped in for a few minutes here and there before vanishing again. Maybe he could have lived with that, but recently he’d started waking up in the middle of the night to find the ghost standing by his bed watching him sleep, or worse, lying down beside him, which to Ianto’s mind was taking the whole stalking thing a bit too far.
Then just this morning, he’d stepped out of the shower, naked, and been confronted by a very smug looking ghost leering at him as it looked him up and down appreciatively. That had been the final straw. Ianto had blushed all over; couldn’t he even have a bit of privacy in his own locked bathroom? He’d had enough, which was why he was on the bus now, going to the Cardiff public library to look for a book on what to do when a ghost with voyeuristic tendencies becomes obsessed with you.
He glanced towards the side window to see where he was and really wasn’t particularly surprised to realise his ghost had found him once again and was sitting in the seat beside him, smiling brightly, as if he thought Ianto was taking him out somewhere nice. Ianto rolled his eyes and slumped down in his seat. Why’d the ghost have to pick him? Why couldn’t it have attached itself to someone else? He already knew the answer to that of course; it was the story of his life, and the same reason he’d got himself arrested for shoplifting when he was in his teens. “Because I’m an idiot who acts on impulse without considering the consequences, that’s why.” He faced front again and waited patiently for the bus to arrive at his stop.
As it turned out, the main branch of the Cardiff public library had a fairly good section on the paranormal, and it didn’t take Ianto long to find what he was after. Judging by its title, the book was exactly what he needed, so plucking it off the shelf, Ianto took it to the automated issue desk, checked it out, and headed home again, the ghost trailing silently along behind him. He thought he’d lost it when he stepped off the bus at his stop and realised it hadn’t followed him, but when he opened the door to his cosy, one-bedroom bachelor flat, there was the ghost, sitting on his sofa, patiently waiting for him.
Ianto kicked off his shoes, hung up his coat, made himself a coffee, and then sinking onto the opposite end of the sofa from the ghost, he took the book out of his bag.
‘People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to do About It.’ To Ianto, the title looked very reassuring. It told him he wasn’t the first person this had happened to, and that it was something that could be fixed. He was about to open the book to the first page when he realised the ghost had moved and was now sitting right next to him, peering curiously at the book. In fact it wasn’t just sitting beside him; they were overlapping slightly. Ianto turned towards the ghost, intending to tell it to keep out of his personal space, and his personal person, not that he really expected that to do any good since the ghost wasn’t able to hear him any better than he could hear it, but the words died in his mouth, because…
The ghost’s eyes were wide and worried; he was pointing at the book in Ianto’s hands, shaking his head frantically, and for once the meaning was clear: Don’t open it.
“Why not? You follow me everywhere, invade my privacy, I can’t have anything resembling a normal life with you around… Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t read this book and do whatever it takes to get rid of you!” Ianto looked the ghost straight in the eye, determined he wouldn’t be the one to back down.
He wasn’t sure whether the ghost somehow understood what he’d said or not, but suddenly it jumped to its feet and stood right in front of him. Which was where the coffee table was, proving to Ianto once and for all, as if proof were still needed, that the man before him was indeed a ghost, since its legs and the lower part of its coat vanished through the table top and reappeared underneath.
Yes, he bent down to check, peering underneath the low table. It wasn’t as if he saw someone standing in the middle of a piece of furniture every day.
When he straightened up again, the ghost was beckoning to him. Ianto frowned. “You want me to follow you?”
Again the beckoning gesture, more urgent this time. Ianto chewed his bottom lip for a moment, then sighed. Coming to a decision, he stood up, putting the book on his coffee table. It would still be there when he got back. At least he hoped it would be. He also hoped that following the ghost wouldn’t mean he was compounding the earlier mistake he’d made of getting it to notice him. He supposed even ghosts must get lonely and welcome a bit of company; he just wished this one hadn’t gone so far over the top.
“Okay, fine, just let me put my shoes and coat back on.”
The ghost waited impatiently, shuffling from foot to foot until Ianto was finally ready and picked up his keys. As he made for the door, Ianto glanced away from the ghost for a second, checking his wallet and phone were in his pocket, just in case he needed them. When he looked up again, the ghost had vanished. He rolled his eyes; it must have gone through the solid wood ahead of him. Opening the door, he let himself out and sure enough, there was his ghost, waiting for him on the landing.
“It’s alright for you,” Ianto grumbled. “I can’t just walk through things the way you do. Where are we going?” There was no answer of course; the ghost simply beckoned him forward, and with a shrug, Ianto followed. There didn’t seem to be anything else he could do.
Afterwards, Ianto found he couldn’t really remember any details of the journey he and the ghost took together; when he tried, it was as if he was grasping at smoke. It seemed to have taken no time at all, and yet from the position of the sun, hours had passed, perhaps even as much as half a day. The only things he could remember clearly were the broad back and flaring coat moving ahead of him, and the way the man he followed kept looking back over his shoulder as if to make sure Ianto was still there. He thought he had some vague recollections of being on a bus, or maybe a train, and yet he didn’t recall buying a ticket or showing his travel card. However they’d accomplished it, when the ghost finally stopped in front of an unfamiliar building, Ianto was more than a little startled to realise he was no longer in Cardiff. He might not recognise the building, but he knew the skyline across the river.
“How the hell did we get to London?” he asked, knowing he wouldn’t get an answer but needing to say the words anyway.
The ghost beckoned him once more and swept onwards towards an open door into the building. Ianto followed closely, starting to worry that he might get lost and never find his way back home if he didn’t stick close to his guide. Inside, he dived into the elevator behind his ghost and stood beside him all the way down to some sub-basement level, then kept close behind him again along corridors lit with fluorescent strip lights. The floors were tiled, but only one set of footsteps sounded against them. It was always like that when he and the ghost walked anywhere together, so it didn’t bother him.
Turning a corner towards a set of double doors at the end of yet another long corridor, a man coming the other way held the door open for them, giving a deferential little nod as they passed into the room beyond. An attractive dark-skinned woman was in the room, and she looked up from her clipboard with a small, sad smile. Without a word, she reached for the handle of one of the metal drawers that lined one wall, pulling it open as Ianto followed his ghost across the floor to stand beside it.