Characters: Owen; Ianto, Tosh, Gwen (Owen/Suzie and Owen/Gwen implied)
Challenge/Prompt: philosophy_20, 9. Orientation
Summary: Owen struggles to control Torchwood in Jack’s absence.
Author’s Notes: Look. A fic set when Jack’s gone that isn’t about the team sleeping together in their misery! Is the world coming to an end? But it does have lots of Owen-Ianto bickering cuz I can’t stop writing it. This is very and extremely random; the first line popped into my head and I just wrote.
Suzie always said that this job would be the death of him. But Suzie is the one in the drawer with her hair trailed through with ice and he is the one sitting here with a glass of Jack’s finest scotch, and a migraine. Somewhere along the line, Owen decides that this means he’s won. Though nothing that has happened recently could be classed as anything close to victory.
He doesn’t have time for this. And Suzie was wrong about a lot of things.
Jack is not back and days have rapidly become weeks. Owen is not a good leader – although he’s not bad and it’s not as though they have anyone better, is it – but he does like having a bigger desk and the chance to rifle through Jack’s secret bits of paper. Not because he understands half of what’s written on them, but simply because it’s nice not to have to ask Jack’s permission before thinking for himself.
They’ve pooled all their resources and knowledge, everything they know about Jack. It fits onto two pages of a Word document. In size fourteen font. They’ve not exactly awash with information, and Jack gone is just as much of an enigma as Jack here.
He always was a bastard.
When Owen walks into the Hub, Gwen is plucking her eyebrows while on hold to a company that they think might be selling assimilation devices disguised as tacky china dogs (Owen will say this for the aliens attempting to take over the world; they are getting increasingly creative). Tosh is yawning and surfing ebay, ostensibly looking for the missing weapons off that Kr’ayan mothership that crashed in Swansea last week, although Owen can see the other window she hastily minimised and suspects that she’s also bidding for shoes or motherboards or whatever it is that turns Toshiko Sato on.
Ianto, typically, is nowhere to be seen.
Gwen always wants to sit and talk through things in a rational fashion until they have explored every possible angle and also until half of Cardiff is about to fall into the Bay. Tosh takes instructions obediently enough, although they’re not quite on easy speaking terms, and Owen swears blind that she keeps sending him computer viruses, although she always feigns ignorance when he actually confronts her.
Ianto is less than useless these days. He bursts out laughing whenever Owen tries to order him around, seems to have lost his inherent sense of punctuality, and the Hub is slowly sinking into a pit of unfiled paperwork, unwashed mugs, and biscuit crumbs.
“I don’t know why Jack hasn’t fired you by now,” Owen tells them all one evening when the world isn’t trying to end and therefore he has time to pick holes in the team’s personalities.
“You could try firing us now,” Tosh suggests mildly, fingers dancing across the keyboard, writing a new code that will either speed up communications or crash the whole network.
“Yeah,” Gwen agrees, “Why don’t you fire us all Owen? Since you’re the boss now and everything.”
There’s a glint in her eye that Owen really doesn’t like.
“Although I don’t know who you’d call for backup,” Ianto remarks quietly.
“Yeah, load of good you are in a crisis,” Owen snaps, turning on their teaboy. “What could you do, come pour Kenco on the aliens?”
Ianto gives him a look.
“I don’t use Kenco, you twat,” he says with dignity, before turning and leaving.
Owen refuses point-blank to live in the Hub, because that’s only one step away from making up his own military title and swooshing about in a big coat pretending to be interesting. He doesn’t quite use those words when explaining to the team why he won’t live at their base, but Gwen says it’s perfectly understandable and Tosh says that she can connect the CCTV cameras to one of their laptops, so the Hub can be watched while they’re at home. Ianto has a you’re-betraying-Jack sort of look on his face, but Owen doesn’t see him volunteering to live 24/7 in a place with no windows and a perpetually cranky pterodactyl.
But Owen finds himself, late at night, sitting at the huge glass windows of his flat watching the Millennium Centre with binoculars, anxious not to miss a thing.
There was a time, an eternity ago now, when people called Owen ‘Dr Harper’, and not in a derogatory sense, and not as a come-on (well, hardly ever, anyway). He realises, one very boring afternoon when Ianto keeps deliberately getting his coffee wrong and Gwen and Tosh are too concerned with giggling and throwing things at each other to actually fill out their paperwork, that he misses being respected. Not that he was ever that respected, it has to be said, and it’s probably just as well that Jack’s the only one who knows the exact details of how Owen lost his last job and wound up working for Torchwood in the first place. It’s even better that Jack is missing and therefore probably dead and the secret will never get out.
It’s not a story that shows Owen in the best light and he likes to think that he’s grown as a human being in the last few years. Or maybe not.
“I get that you loved Jack, or whatever your weird little brain thinks is love, but it’s time to stop moping,” Owen tells Ianto on a Tuesday afternoon, “You’re taking this too far.”
“I’m taking it too far?” Ianto looks amused. “I have three words for you, Owen: You, Diane, Weevil.”
Owen has his fist clenched in the front of Ianto’s shirt before he even knows what’s happening.
“You don’t want to do that,” Ianto says calmly, a little smirk on his lips.
“Why not?” Owen asks.
“Because you’re the boss now, and beating up your employees isn’t exactly ethical.”
“What, have you got a union or something?” Owen enquires dryly. “‘Subservient Teaboys United’?”
“No, but I’m not above shooting you again,” Ianto points out.
“You’re definitely fired if you do that,” Owen informs him, but he lets go of Ianto’s shirt anyway.
There’s blood on Tosh’s hands and she’s screaming and Owen shouts at her to get down, but there’s too much noise, metallic shrieking and the crackling of fire, and this is someone’s cock-up somewhere along the line (it’s probably his; that’s always the downside of being in charge). Two members of the public are already dead and Owen can’t think straight but there are swooping white shapes in the sky, they’re extremely dangerous aliens and they need to be contained or killed.
He crouches behind a car, broken window glass crunching under his boots, he’s got a bloody big gun from the armoury and this has got to end. He’s not Jack. He can’t negotiate and he doesn’t know what to do.
Taking a breath, Owen fires upwards. Again and again. And the creatures explode in motes of white and then what looks – and smells – like Tip-Ex rains down on the street. Owen manages to get to his feet.
Tosh is shaking, pale and bloody. Jack would know what to say in this situation. But Owen doesn’t. So he just tosses her the keys to the SUV.
It’s weird, but Owen doesn’t sleep any more. One or two hours a night, then he always jerks himself awake. He used to pride himself on having a life, retaining something – however tawdry – outside of Torchwood. Now that’s gone. He hasn’t been drunk in weeks, hasn’t had sex since before Jack left – shit, that one’s depressing – and hasn’t been for a night out anywhere in longer than he cares to remember. Owen realises that he’s becoming as fixated with Torchwood as any of them; no social life, he hardly ever leaves the Hub, napping on the sofa and being woken up to Ianto wandering aimlessly around, or Tosh coming in late saying she couldn’t rest for worrying she hadn’t set the security encryption codes on the computers properly.
With Jack gone, none of them feel safe any more.
It is shameful, but Owen knows he chose a career in medicine because of the whole God-complex thing. Life and death in his hands, and the ability to tip the balance. Plus the pay was good – really, really good – and it’s always a sure-fire way of getting laid. I’m a doctor works every time. Of course, when trying to seduce someone, Owen always said he went into medicine to save people, although he’s never exactly been selfless. But he did used to like the feeling of seeing a patient recover and knowing it was because of him.
If he had just learned to keep his hands off the patients then he would probably still be working in a hospital now.
Gwen is drinking red wine and it’s late, but she has two glasses. Owen shrugs and accepts one.
“You don’t have to keep trying to be Jack,” she tells him quietly. “We all accept that you’re not.”
“If I don’t try then nothing will get done,” Owen points out. “You’re all bloody useless when you act like individuals.”
Gwen smiles sheepishly.
“Shouldn’t you be getting home to Rhys?” Owen asks.
“He left months ago,” Gwen says in a neutral tone, expression unreadable.
“Oh.” She’s never mentioned it. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re not.” Gwen can’t look at him, and reaches for the wine bottle in the awkward silence.
Owen wonders if Jack would have known what to say to make her feel better, but then he remembers the way that Gwen looked at Jack, and maybe she wouldn’t have ever said anything.
Tosh and Ianto are discussing whether Torchwood One has any vacancies, but apparently it’s still a pile of rubble and therefore not hiring anyone at this point in time. Tosh tentatively suggests Torchwood Two, but Ianto, in a calm tone that suggests it’s barely holding off hysteria, informs her that she shouldn’t work for Torchwood Two unless she wants to end up rather molested and very insane.
“Which makes it different from here, how?” Tosh asks. Ianto just shakes his head and Owen remembers that Ianto did work for Torchwood Two a few months before starting at Torchwood One. There are no records of how the time was spent.
Owen doesn’t alert either of them to his presence, carries on listening to them complain, and wonders why they don’t all just shut up shop completely.
The Prime Minister doesn’t like him, but Owen doesn’t really mind, because whenever he calls her up, it’s usually to either a) announce the world is due to end in about three hours and could UNIT please send down something big and explosive, or b) complain about the fact Torchwood isn’t being kept secret enough. He wouldn’t like him either, and he doesn’t have Jack’s natural charm to make the conversation any smoother. They have brief, bitter discussions that don’t lead anywhere satisfying on either side, and Owen thinks that maybe it’s only a matter of time before she takes the problem into her own hands and sends a replacement down to Cardiff.
Mail-order boss. Owen can’t bloody wait.
Sometimes, in the cool, edgy corners of the night, Owen misses Suzie. She was so fucked up and crazy that she made everyone else seem sane by comparison. It was sort of comforting, and besides, she had this smile that actually did make things better for short periods of time. He can still remember her vividly now, a year later, hand on his thigh, slightly drunk, whispering in his ear: this job is going to kill you, Dr Harper, and Owen would laugh and tell her that he could stay the course, she was underestimating him. And that would usually end in her teasing him about how skinny he is, segueing into a kiss, like they were a normal couple out for a drink. Not two co-workers from a secret government organisation who could barely tolerate each other’s company most of the time.
And then they found the Glove.
“If I’m really going to replace Harkness,” Owen decides, “I’m going to have to try to sleep with all of you.”
“Been there, done that,” she points out in such an offhand voice that Owen realises that that whole issue has resolved itself without either of them noticing it. Well. That’s a relief. Tosh flushes a rosy pink and mutters something about standards and ethics and looks so tormented for a moment that Owen almost wishes he’d kept his mouth shut.
“What about you, Ianto?” he asks, turning to where their receptionist is leant against the wall looking faintly bemused.
“You wish, Owen,” he replies with a satisfied smirk.
Ah well. No one can say he didn’t try.
They get less paranoid as time passes and Cardiff remains whole. People die, of course they do, and they administer Retcon like sweets some months, and there are some streets and buildings that fall down or burn down or are pushed down, but on the whole, they’re winning the battle to keep themselves and their city alive. It’s somewhere near miraculous.
Owen even gets an evening off, here and there. He starts seeing films again. He sleeps with women – and a couple of men – that he picks up in that bar near the Hub where they play nothing but Snow Patrol. He even gets into a barfight, then staggers back to the Hub, spitting blood, where he is given first aid by a concerned Tosh and a sniggering Ianto, who repairs the rip in Owen’s favourite shirt without even being asked.
Gwen helps him do the employee appraisals in September, working up the real ones that will be kept in the files here, and the far more positive ones that will be send to the government, convincing them that no one needs firing, regardless of the truth. Owen asks her if she wants to be second in command and she agrees. They even start scouring the internet to see if they can find someone worth hiring, make them a five-person team again.
Ianto gets his coffee right all the time now, and files without being asked, although he says he draws the line at calling Owen ‘sir’. Tosh seems to be a lot more cheerful, Owen’s computer doesn’t crash every few hours, and she can look him in the eye. It’s almost respect. It almost works.
Eighteen months after Jack’s disappearance, Owen is on the phone to the FBI, because they’re being unhelpful when it comes to setting up Torchwood Five (in California, because America seems to want to jump on the bandwagon), when Tosh comes running in, telling him that it’s urgent. Owen follows her into the Hub to find Ianto and Gwen watching CCTV footage from the Roald Dahl Plass with unashamed fascination. Owen finds out a minute later, when he notes the figure swishing along in a period 1940s military coat.
Gwen reaches out and squeezes Owen’s hand, like she understands. She probably does. Sod’s law demands that Jack return just as they all get the hang of functioning without him.