Characters: Jack, Ianto, Gwen, Tosh [hints at Owen/Gwen and Owen/Tosh]
Challenge/Prompt: philosophy_20, #2. Loss
Word Count: 4607
Copyright: Title is a song by... God, who did it originally? I’ve only got the cover by The Feeling at the moment. Oh, right The Buggles. Ahem.
Spoilers: 2x06 Reset. & although I haven’t seen the rest of the series yet, this is set in an imaginary space of time after that story arc.
Summary: The team play around with grief, guilt and coping mechanisms.
Author’s Notes: I needed to write this, it was really cathartic! And I know I should have a better title, but what the hell. It sort of fits the really weird and random theme. It’s going to take a while for me to come to terms with canon, especially since I don't know all the details, but this is at least a start! And about half of this was typed straight into the entry box of this journal at about 1 a.m while I was down at my grandparents’, so please all keep your eyes open for typos.
I haven't seen 2x07 yet, but I know that this doesn't fit with canon, and I don't care.
When, finally, everything has calmed down, there is time to sit and breathe and acknowledge. Jack produces a bottle of really damn old scotch, Ianto considers fetching appropriate glasses and then just shoves mugs in their general direction, and the now depleted Team Torchwood sit down and mix guilt with staying as far away from actual blame as they can manage. It's a game they've all been playing for years, beating themselves up while ensuring they're a safe distance from the actual fault itself. Owen used to be the champion at this particular sport; it looks as though they'll need a new one. All of them are vying for the position, and only time will tell who wins.
"Gunshot," Gwen says finally, in a hollow voice. "After all the shit we've been through, and it's a fucking gunshot that takes him down."
Ianto makes a small sound that might even be amusement, or he could just be choking on a mouthful of alcohol.
"I thought we were getting into the habit of shoving Jack in the way whenever there was peril," he observes softly. It's true, you know; Jack is the one with the seemingly never-ending supply of alive, and therefore he is the one who is used as a human body shield. Not in this incidence though.
No one mentions that it was because he was making sure Martha was ok, mostly because Martha's a nice girl and it's not her fault, but also because if they go down that route they will never come back and words will get said that could open up a whole row of old wounds.
"Of all the times to play the hero," Gwen mumbles bitterly, spilling scotch on her shirt. "Of all the bloody times."
Tosh says nothing, but her hands are shaking.
Next time, 'cause you know that there will be a next time, look at what they do for a living, it could be any of them. 'Disposable' doesn't even begin to cover it.
"Owen," Jack shouts, storming out of his office with printouts clenched in his hand, "For God's sake, why do you never sign off on your reports? I've got all these empty dotted lines, what do you think that they're doing there? It's not-"
His memory kicks in a minute too late; Tosh looks peaky, seated at her workstation staring at him with horrified eyes, and Gwen puts her phone down mid-call. There's just silence, draining silence. No one's sure what to say, and there's a horrible chance the whole thing could just crumble right now.
"Give them here," Ianto says quietly, appearing from thin air as usual. Jack, for once in his abnormally long life, is lost for words, so he pushes the old reports at Ianto. The other man rests them on what used to be Owen's old workstation, and the girls draw closer and watch with interest as Ianto signs on every single dotted line, a casual scrawl that exactly matches Owen's signature. "That should do it," Ianto murmurs.
"Why-" Tosh begins.
"It was the only way to get the paperwork done, some days," Ianto tells her softly, tidying the papers back into an approximation of a neat pile and pushing them in Jack's direction.
"Thanks," Jack says quietly, taking the paperwork back.
Ianto nods, bland closed-lipped smile as ever, but his eyes are shining.
"You know what was crazy," Gwen says, winding a strand of dark hair almost compulsively around her fingers, "I wanted to tell Rhys."
Tosh has drunk too much coffee and she hasn't slept in three days.
"Tell him what?" she asks, though she suspects she already knows.
"You know. About me and Owen. And whatever the hell happened there." Gwen sighs, and there's something more than guilt going on there. "'Cause it didn't really mean anything, you know, when I told him that the man he met once a month ago died. He hugged me and said he was sorry, but... I wanted it to mean something, right? I wanted Owen's death to mean something when I told Rhys about it."
"You shouldn't tell Rhys," Tosh says decisively.
"I know." Gwen laughs, a sound that isn't amused and could easily be mistaken for a sob, "Fuck, I do know that I can't tell him. I just wanted... I just wanted someone to give a shit, 'cause no one but us cares about what happened, and I didn't even like Owen most of the time."
Tosh smiles, finally.
"Jack, I shot him."
"In the shoulder. You didn't kill him."
"I meant to. I fucking meant it at the time."
"But you didn't kill him."
"But I could have."
Tosh sighs, beer in her hand, sat with her back against the morgue drawers. She wonders if people cried over the team members shut into the cryogenics behind her, if anyone else sat around for hours at a time trying to find a way to cure death.
"I just hate to think of him lost," she says at last.
Gwen should be at home with Rhys but she's crosslegged on the floor, her own beer and dark circles under her eyes. It's three in the morning, and fuck knows where Jack is. Ianto is stretched out on Tosh's other side, arms folded behind his head, beer bottle next to his left elbow.
"He's not lost," Gwen says finally. "I don't know what happens next, but..."
"We know what happens, Suzie told us." Tosh hears the sharpness in her voice and wonders how she can stand to keep speaking, the words hurt as they come out. "There's nothing."
"Suzie lied about everything else," Ianto says at last, placid voice echoing a little in the cold hollowness of the morgue. "Who's to say she told the truth about that?"
Tosh nods, but she's shivering. Ianto sits up, slides off his suit jacket, and wraps it around her. It's warm and smells like coffee and aftershave and a little like dust, and she shuts her eyes when Ianto shifts to sit beside her, leaning her head against his shoulder.
"He's not lost," Gwen says at last. "We won't let him be."
Gwen walks in on a grey, wet morning to find Ianto standing in the middle of the Hub surrounded by flattened out cardboard boxes, plastic crates, and duct tape.
"What's happening?" she asks.
Tosh walks over, arms full of clip folders. She looks particularly sickened and drawn.
"We have to pack up Owen's belongings," she says dully.
"I have to pack up Owen's belongings," Ianto corrects her. "No one else needs to come with me. I didn't have any help for Suzie."
"I want to help," Gwen says, and there's a determined look on Tosh's face that implies she isn't going to back down in a hurry.
"Come on, we've got to get all those boxes into the SUV," Jack calls. "It's going to take all day if you don't hurry up."
Cardboard boxes aren't cathartic.
Even though absolutely everything is supposed to go into storage, a few things go missing.
Tosh takes some photographs, bent and abandoned in the back of a drawer but not forgotten. Gwen sneaks out a dark purple pillowcase, folded into the bottom of her shoulderbag. Ianto takes Owen's old university t-shirt, worn and faded. And Jack takes the gun he finds in the bedside table (the one that killed him, oh so many months ago).
It’s petty theft; taking pieces of a life that they all lost.
The next day, Ianto makes five cups of coffee. He stares at the one left on his tray for a long, long time and then pours it down the sink, meticulously washes out the mug, and disappears into the archives.
He doesn't come back for over an hour.
Gwen sifts through an old pile of forgotten paperwork left in the drawers of her desk. Ianto’s method of dealing with all this seems to be a compulsive need to alphabetise everything, combined with occasional desperate bouts of cleaning involving too much disinfectant. Though Gwen has never tried organisation as a coping mechanism, she can’t help but think that distraction in the form of mindless labour can’t hurt. Old reports, old files; she sorts them into date order, so they can be completed, signed off on, and passed to Ianto.
There’s a green post-it note stuck to the front of one of the files; an untidy biro scrawl that says: you, me, level five storage room, half an hour.
Before all this started, Gwen would’ve scrunched the note into a ball and binned it immediately, got rid of all the evidence of last year’s mistakes. Now, she smoothes the corner of the note where it got bent, and peels it carefully from the front of the cardboard file.
Pretending it never happened is no longer an option.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Tosh mutters, fingers dancing on computer keys but the expression on her face is kind of queasy. “It’s getting harder and harder to walk out there.”
“You don’t have a lot of choice,” Ianto tells her.
Gwen turns towards them, frowning. Tosh smiles weakly.
“If I give up and leave, I get retconned. Either I learn to live with the memories, or I can’t have them at all.”
“We need to find some sort of compromise,” Gwen says. “There must be some kind of middle ground somewhere.”
It’s not as all they haven’t all been looking.
It’s dark outside, and a Weevil is making miserable whistling sounds against the glass. Ianto stands and watches it, arms folded across his chest, shirtsleeves rolled up.
“What’s wrong with it?” Tosh asks curiously, coming down the stairs. Jack has been and gone; the Weevil is acting up again, but it doesn’t seem to be trying to chew anyone’s limbs off, so it’s not his problem.
“I don’t know,” Ianto responds, tone flat. He’s living solely on caffeine, and it’s really starting to show.
Tosh walks up to the glass. The Weevil shivers, but it doesn’t stop making the strange noise, and it doesn’t make any sign than it wants to attack her.
“I think it’s mourning,” she says in a tone of wonderment. “Look.”
“It’s plausible,” Ianto replies. Tosh walks over to stand next to him. “Owen always did have a weird relationship with the Weevils.”
They both laugh, without meaning to. After all, there’s nothing like implying that your dead co-worker was shagging the alien prisoners to create a break in the tension.
Gwen, before she walks into the Hub in the morning, adjusts the hang of her shirt to hide the Kevlar vest she’s wearing underneath her shirt. She doesn’t want the others to know how much this whole thing has scared her.
She needn’t bother. She’s not the only one.
“We’d arranged to go out for a drink, you know.”
“A few hours before Owen died. We finally agreed to give it a go.”
“Oh, Tosh, I’m sorry.”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter any more.”
“Of course it matters.”
“I can’t let it matter any more.”
“Is there anyone we should call?” Gwen asks. She feels guilty at only just thinking of this; but Torchwood is such a suffocating bubble that it’s hard to remember the world outside their microcosm. “Owen must have family, or something.”
“I sent his mother an email on Wednesday,” Ianto responds, hands wrapped around a mug of coffee.
This gets everyone staring at him, even Jack.
“You can’t tell her something like this through an email,” Tosh says; at the same time Jack says: “What did you tell her?”
Ianto sighs. He looks tired; it’s early afternoon and there’s hours of this ahead.
“I told her that her son had been killed in an accident, and if she wanted further details she could call me.”
“Has she?” Jack is frowning, but it doesn’t matter. Ianto knows how to keep a secret.
There’s a pause.
Gwen covers her mouth with her left hand. Tosh swallows audibly.
“Owen didn’t have a good relationship with his mother,” Ianto explains quietly. “She kicked him out when he was sixteen, they’ve hardly spoken since.”
“But he’s dead,” Tosh says.
“Maybe that’s all she wants to know,” Jack suggests.
“How do you know?” Gwen asks Ianto. He looks uncomfortable and doesn’t reply.
“That’s not in his file,” Jack adds. “Don’t tell me you two managed a civil conversation.”
Ianto rolls his eyes.
“If you must know, I spent my first Christmas here with him. Lisa was in a coma, he couldn’t go home. We got piss drunk, cried at all the specials on the TV, got into a punch up, and I woke up at three in the afternoon on Boxing Day on his sofa in his university t-shirt.” Ianto gets this little reminiscent smile. “His black eye lasted a week.”
“What did he do to you?” Gwen can’t resist asking.
“Fractured two of my ribs,” Ianto shrugs. “Same old same old.”
“So you emailed his mother,” Jack says, after a pause that lasts a little too long.
“So I emailed his mother.”
Ianto discovers at four in the morning down in the firing range that he can’t fire a gun any more. He tries, God he tries, hands shaking on the weapon, but it takes him so long to work up the nerve to pull the trigger, and when he finally does the sound pierces something inside him.
He shot Owen without a thought, it went through his shoulder but it could so easily have gone through his chest, and all it would have taken would have been a slightly different angle.
Foreshadowing, or maybe there was just something ultimately shootable about Owen Harper. Ianto drops his gun, hands shaking, and knows that he should be dealing better than this.
For a man who doesn’t drink, Jack has a lot of alcohol stashed in various places in his office. It’s late, and he breaks open a bottle of whisky with Gwen because she’s meant to be going home to Rhys, but she’s not.
“All the things we’ve survived,” she says quietly, “And it’s a bullet. Fired by a human. That’s all it took to take him down.”
“Suzie shot herself,” Jack says after a moment, swirling the alcohol around in his glass rather than look directly at Gwen. “Maybe it’s better that we’re killed by humans, rather than aliens.”
Gwen finishes her drink, teeth clinking on the glass.
“I don’t know,” she says at last. “I think it’s scarier, that it’s the people just like us who kill us. Sort of makes what we do every day seem a little superfluous.”
Jack nods, contemplating the bottle before putting the lid back on and returning it to one of the numerous drawers in his desk. He’s learned when to say ‘when’ through trial and error, if nothing else.
“The Second in Command position is waiting for you,” he murmurs finally. “When you’re ready to take it.”
Gwen nods. It takes her a moment to summon up a reply; her throat feels like it’s closing up, her stomach turning over.
“You should get home,” Jack tells her. “Immerse yourself in life.”
“You always say that,” Gwen replies, voice a little singsong. She isn’t drunk, but she’s not quite sober either.
“That’s ‘cause I know what happens if you don’t,” he points out, tone too serious though a smile is twisting his mouth. “Go on.”
When she’s finally left, he sighs, counts to three thousand and four, and takes the bottle back out again.
It wasn’t like this with Suzie.
No one’s exactly sure why.
Tosh carefully takes the photographs off her fridge door. She’d say that they were memories of happier times, but the truth is they’re not. They’re just parts of a time that hurt a little less.
They smile at the camera, damp grass surrounding them, Owen’s wearing a stupid hat and they were so new and naïve and they didn’t know, then, how it was all going to unfold.
She tucks the photographs into the last birthday card he sent her, an ambiguously dirty message inside and a biro scrawl. Tosh knows the price of clinging on, and she can’t do it anymore.
Decisively, before she loses her nerve, she tears the cardboard and paper into pieces, letting them fall between her fingers, fluttering into her bin.
“You bastard,” she whispers, tears dripping down her cheeks. “You bastard.”
There’s just the silence of her flat.
Gwen catches Ianto’s arm as he leans past her to retrieve a stray coffee mug.
“You’ve changed your aftershave,” she says.
“I’m entirely within my rights to,” he replies a little too defensively.
“That’s Owen’s favourite,” she responds flatly. Ianto opens his mouth to protest, but she cuts him off, saying: “I’d know, wouldn’t I?”
Ianto offers her that infuriating smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
“We all have our own ways of going mad,” he replies.
“Hasn’t Jack noticed?” Gwen can’t resist asking, though she doesn’t want to know the answer, she doesn’t.
Ianto shrugs. “I don’t think he minds.” His mouth twitches. “Like I said, we all go crazy in different ways.”
The question of how they’re supposed to function now is one none of them can answer. It is, Gwen decides, like someone yanking your arm off and then asking you to play the piano, while you’ve still got the blood running down your side and the shock is making you dizzy.
“That’s… graphic,” Tosh says.
“It’s true, though, isn’t it?”
“I’ve never played the piano,” Jack tells her. “That’s kind of funny actually. You’d think after a couple of centuries I’d pick up a musical instrument of some kind.”
Gwen turns pleadingly to Ianto. “You know what I mean, don’t you?”
“I’ve never had my arm pulled off,” Ianto replies neutrally. “I imagine I’d be too unconscious to play the piano, though if it were a simple tune I’m sure I could manage one-handed.”
“That’s taking the analogy to a whole new level,” Jack tells him.
“Did you have a particular tune in mind?” Tosh asks Gwen.
“You are all impossible!” Gwen exclaims, throwing up her hands.
For one split second, as they all grin infuriatingly at her, it’s like nothing at all has changed.
Jack’s always been bad at sleeping, but he hasn’t lain down and tried to get some rest since Owen fell bleeding onto the wet road.
He’s beginning to suspect he doesn’t even know where to start.
“You haven’t gone home,” Jack says, walking up to sit beside Tosh. It’s not that late, not yet, and she’s sitting beside the fountain and watching people walk past. It was like this when Mary died, and Tosh gets instant déjà vu.
“No,” she replies quietly. “Not yet.”
Jack shifts a little nearer. “Can I help at all? I can offer a pep talk, hug, blazing row, pity shag, free retcon, or all or any of the above in any combination you’d like.”
Tosh manages a smile. “I think I’ll pass.”
“Sure? I’m getting pretty good at providing all sorts of interesting forms of comfort.”
“You’re a bloody awful boss,” Tosh responds.
“Am I?” Jack looks resigned, but there’s hurt around his eyes.
“You should never have left,” Tosh tells him.
“I should never have come back,” Jack replies. “I’ve let you all down.”
Tosh leans her head against his shoulder.
“Maybe,” she says, “But that’s what we like about you. If you were infallible as well as immortal, we’d hate you.”
Jack wraps an arm around her.
“We can get through this,” he says.
Tosh closes her eyes.
“Besides,” she whispers, “We betrayed you first.”
“Jesus,” Gwen murmurs, putting down the phone, “The wedding, what am I going to do about the bloody wedding?”
“Yes,” Jack muses, “You’ll have to rearrange the seating chart.”
Gwen gives him a sharp look.
“That isn’t what I meant.”
“Owen would want you to go ahead,” Tosh says. She stumbles over the words a little, but they come out evenly enough anyway. “He wanted you and Rhys to work out, you know that.”
“And I’ll help you with the seating chart,” Ianto adds softly.
One day, hopefully, the fear will stop. Because if they all remain this terrified, this tentative, they might as well just give up now. They’re in no fit state to save Cardiff; they can’t even save themselves most days.
The archives are reassuring, in a quiet, ever so slightly dank kind of way. Gwen likes the way her footsteps echo on the cold floor as she walks down the corridor, looking for Ianto.
“In here,” he calls quietly, and Gwen obediently walks into a small room that she probably hasn’t been into before, though it’s hard to tell. It all looks the bloody same down here, and only Ianto seems to know exactly where everything is.
“What are you doing?” she asks, walking over to the table he’s sat at.
“Just updating some records,” he responds, without looking up. There’s a desk lamp casting a glow of white light across the wooden surface, and there’s a thick, slightly yellowed book open in front of Ianto. Gwen sits down and looks over his shoulder. On the left-hand page, there’s a black-and-white photograph of a woman; underneath, in a careful black copperplate script is written: Suzanne Marie Costello ~ 1974-2007. Glancing back at the photograph, Gwen realises with a start that it is Suzie; just looking younger, happier and healthier than she was in the last few days of her life.
“Torchwood’s administrative assistants have been keeping photographic records of the fallen since the organisation began,” Ianto tells her quietly. “This volume dates back to the end of the nineteenth century.”
There are slits cut into the blank right-hand page; Ianto carefully slots in a black and white photograph of Owen. It was obviously taken a couple of years ago, and Gwen swallows hard. Ianto uncaps a fountain pen carefully, and writes Owen Rufus Harper ~ 1980-2008 underneath.
Gwen and Ianto sit in silence and stare at the drying ink for a while.
“There are a lot of pages,” Gwen says at last. “A hell of a lot of pages.”
“Yes,” Ianto replies softly. “Yes, there are.”
Live fast, die young.
Die young, and in pain, and completely unready, and then be shut in a cold storage drawer forever and ever, amen.
Then all your colleagues will forget you and move on and they’ll all join you in drawers in under a decade anyway.
Torchwood doesn’t give you a pamphlet telling you this when you sign up, for some strange reason.
The morgue is cold and unfriendly and they end up in there anyway.
“I hate,” Tosh begins, and ok, she’s drunk, but then they all are to one degree or another, “I hate that he never gets a burial or a headstone or a plaque or anything.”
“None of us do,” Gwen mumbles; she’s spent more time in this morgue than anyone and Jack came back but Owen didn’t, “We’re just here in a bag and that’s that.”
“Well, I hate it.”
Ianto is playing with his tie, grey with deep blue stripes, and watching the two of them through narrowed eyes.
“We could always organise a jail break,” he suggests. “Jack would never have to know, it’s not like he ever opens these drawers or anything.”
There is a silence as they all contemplate unlocking the drawer, sneaking the cold, stiff white bag out of the Hub, finding somewhere quiet and digging a grave for their fallen colleague.
“I am not nearly drunk enough for that,” Gwen announces.
“I don’t think I ever will be,” Tosh adds.
Ianto shrugs. “It was only a suggestion.”
“Did you do it for Lisa?” Tosh asks him, voice all soft and sympathetic, even if her words are running together.
“No.” Ianto sighs. “I wanted to, but Jack never told me which drawer he put her in.”
“And you didn’t…” Gwen trails off, realisation sinking in.
“Would you like to help me look for her?” Ianto asks, waving a hand around the high walls full of bodies.
Tosh nods. “Point taken.”
An entire bottle of something Jack tried unsuccessfully to hide from them later, and things are more fractured but it’s getting easier to breathe.
“I’ll put money on me being next,” Tosh announces.
“You,” Gwen replies, eyes sliding in and out of focus, “Are bloody morbid.”
“We’re all going to die anyway,” Tosh points out. “And one of us has got to be next. There’s a one in three chance, and I think it’s going to be me.”
“Might be me,” Ianto suggests.
“Jack won’t let you die,” Gwen scoffs.
“I’d like to see him try and prevent it,” Ianto mutters.
“You’re not going to die, Tosh,” Gwen sighs. Even pissed out of her brain, she’s the one trying to diffuse the situation, smooth over the craziness. But she can’t.
Ianto sighs, banging his head against the drawer behind him.
“I bloody miss Suzie,” he murmurs, half to himself.
Tosh turns to him.
“Prime Minister’s not talking to us,” Jack announces the next morning.
“What have you done now?” Ianto asks, in a tired tone normally used by parents of particularly naughty children.
“He tried to send us a replacement,” Jack replies. “I may have called him a number of interesting things as a result.”
“We are going to need a replacement,” Gwen begins uncomfortably. “At some point, I mean.”
“I’m damn well recruiting them,” Jack tells them firmly. “I’m not having some kind of weird government spy coming in here.”
“I’m sure by the time I’ve made them a really good coffee, they’ve been introduced to the Weevils, and you’ve propositioned them a couple of times, they’ll feel right at home and throw in their lot with the rest of us,” Ianto tells him.
“It’s my team,” Jack says, “I’m perfectly capable of selecting the members.”
“I’m sure you are,” Ianto responds blandly.
There’s a pause as their facades slip right off.
“I feel sick,” Gwen says at last. “Is it always like this?”
“I miss him.”
“You know,” Ianto says one afternoon, sitting with Tosh underneath the autopsy table, both clinging onto hot mugs of coffee, “We should’ve taken him up on his offer.”
“Which one?” she asks doubtfully.
“The world was going to end, he said we should all have sex,” Ianto reminds her.
Tosh laughs. “I was going to take him up on it next time he offered.”
Ianto smiles back. “Well, so was I.”
There’s a pause.
“In all fairness,” Tosh begins, “We didn’t know he was going to die before there actually was a next time.”
Ianto shakes his head ruefully. “What were the odds?”
The Hub is quiet, and it is an afternoon.
“I’ve just remembered something,” Ianto says suddenly.
Gwen and Tosh obediently turn towards him.
“Well,” he says, “We’re Torchwood. We’re heartless bastards. We don’t give a shit about anyone at all.”
The two women stare at him.
“Is that going to help?” Tosh asks at last.
Ianto shrugs. “Well, we could give it a go.”
More or less, it works.
Well, actually, it doesn’t work, but no one’s willing to be the first to bring that fact up.
(And you know the worst part? Sooner or later, it’s going to happen again.)