Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip

"waiting for a dream", torchwood, owen/martha

title: waiting for a dream
fandom: torchwood
pairing: owen/martha
challenge/prompt: philosophy_20 #4. inertia and fanfic100, 020. colourless
rating: pg-15
word count: 8778 (according to ms word)
genre: gen/het
spoilers: 2x08 a day in the death (kind of a tie-in)
copyright: waiting for a dream by rufus wainwright
summary: owen doesn't want it to be easy.
author’s notes: oh, the effort it took to make sure there were no speechmarks or capital letters in this. deliberately, not ‘cause i’m illiterate or anything. thought it might fit in with the disorientation i’m trying to insert here. i certainly feel disorientated! but i am really really fucking proud of this.

.waiting for the present to pass.

- the holes in your medical history are impressive, martha says. did you put them there?

owen shrugs, sitting on the autopsy table in his jeans. he knows that it is childish and stupid and ridiculous, but he doesn't want to talk to her. not when she's got fucking everything and he's got the coffee machine and a lump of metal still lodged somewhere in his chest where a lump of metal has no right to be.

- fine, martha replies, a twinge of annoyance or maybe guilt in her voice - it's impossible to tell which. ignore me. it's not going to make this any easier.

that's ok. owen doesn't want it to be easy. nothing about his li- his existence is easy, so this shouldn't be.

martha is examining him; pre-existing physical conditions. marks, scars, all that jazz. he knows she's touching him, fingers on his skin, but it evokes nothing. his nerves gave up the fight a long time ago, it's like living behind a sheet of glass. without the living part.

- where did you get these? martha murmurs, half to herself as she's obviously realised owen is going to be mutinously quiet for the next few hours. her hand travels over the bitemarks on his chest, and he remembers how badly he wanted to be dead when that weevil was chewing on his flesh.

maybe, if he'd caused his own death, jack would have left well alone. left him to the dark and the hush, not this fucking stupid compromise where no one gets what they want.

gunshot scars - count 'em, there are two. not including the highly depressing crater in his chest, red and open and owen kind of wants to find something to store in there, like a tube of smarties or a handkerchief. because it’s not like this situation is fucking weird or traumatising enough.

- tell me, martha pushes. tell me what they all mean.

her fingers run over his hip, steady, professional, and he wishes he could tell if they were warm or cool. owen grabs her wrist, and he's holding too tight.

- i was doctor owen harper, he says very carefully, so obnoxious even the teaboy felt the need to shoot me, so desperate that sometimes i fought weevils to feel alive. his fingers tighten. are you entertained yet?

martha swallows.

- you're hurting my wrist, is all that she says.

owen lets go, and tries to sigh, but there's no breath in him, and no sound comes out.

.waiting for a dream to last.

a flatline wails in his ears. a straight, green line on the heart monitor to the left of his head.

there's something fucking disconcerting about listening to your own flatline, but owen is already getting bored of it. the continuous note that simply re-affirms what he already knows.

right now, he should be itchy. cold, since he's only in his jeans and the autopsy room is notoriously drafy. he should be feeling the ice coolness from the metal table sliding up through the denim and into his legs. he should be able to feel his boxer shorts, his jeans, the air against his fingertips. the pads taped to his chest should feel annoying, slightly plastic-y. his skin should be broken out in goosebumps, a reaction to the chilly air.

instead, there's nothing. it's like being shut in a dream, or a box, seeing and sensing but never feeling, and it would hurt, but, oh yeah, he can't feel pain any more.

he doesn't want to continue to exist like this. it seems inconceivable that he could be in for another thirty years of this. trapped in a shell that's becoming increasingly heavy and useless.

- tell me about the tests, owen says.

it has been days since he ate or slept or breathed or did any of that sort of thing. somehow, though, he is sat here, upright and blinking even though he doesn't produce tears any more.

- you're the subject, martha replies distractedly. she's making notes on a clipboard while a monitor hooked up to him demonstrates all the ways vital signs are conspicuously absent.

- i'm also a doctor, owen points out. i might as well find out what you've thought up. or does unit have some kind of protocol for situations like this, things to do when you meet the walking dead, something like that?

martha turns away, putting her notes aside, and then turns back to peel the sticky pads of the monitors from his chest. they make ripping noises, like cellotape, but owen doesn't feel a thing.

martha can't look at him.

- seems a bit stupid, owen remarks, not having a protocol, things like this must happen from time to time.

- there is a protocol, martha says so quietly she’s nearly inaudible, still not looking at him.

- what is it? owen asks, voice too sharp.

she coughs - ooh, he's going to miss coughing, sooner or later - and finally meets his gaze.

- put the undead person in cryogenic stasis until a way to kill them permanently can be found, she admits.

- oh.

there's uncomfortable silence while martha switches off the machines, and finally owen decides to give her a break.

- ok, he says, do what you want to me. just don't stick needles in me too much, i don't really feel like walking around looking like a sieve.

martha finally cracks a smile.

.you are not my lover; and you never will be.

the coffee mug should be burning his hand, but it isn't. he doesn't burn any more. the ceramic is almost definitely warm, but owen can't feel it.

this is the third time owen has brought round coffee for them all today, and it's getting easier. he thinks that the machine is starting to get used to him, it has a new master now, and this time he didn't break a single espresso cup. and ianto smiled at him after taking a sip from his latte, which sort of suggests that owen is getting better at this.

which is shit, because he doesn't want to be good at it.

- are you sick of me yet? he asks martha. she's sat at a computer and is putting her findings in; oh look, he's a scientific investigation.

she sighs.

- i'm not sick of you, she says.

- i'd rather be hated than pitied, he tells her. i don't want you to pity me.

- ok.

she keeps typing, not turning around, and owen puts her coffee mug down beside her. cappuccino, chocolate sprinkles.

- coffee, he says, stating the obvious. he's tired of dancing around the words he can't bring himself to say.

- thank you.

owen puts his tea tray down and looks over her shoulder. his hand on her back makes martha flinch, which is weird, 'cause he can't even feel her labcoat.

- you scared enough yet? he enquires, trying to sound grimly amused rather than desperately unhappy. things are bad enough without the dead boy going all emo on the team.

- i'm not scared of you.

that, at least, seems to be a certainty.

- we weren't designed for both life and death, owen says, something always gets lost when you try and combine them. he continues, quieter, i think it might have been me.

martha doesn't say anything; there's nothing she can say, somehow owen seems to have the ultimate conversation stopper.

- it's still new, she murmurs after a while, reaching around and taking his hand. it still needs getting used to, owen. we'll all work out where you fit.

owen pulls away.

- i don't fit because i'm not meant to fit, he snaps. i'm dead and somehow that means i'm delegated to teaboy and no one knows how to look me in the eye.

at least she doesn't try to deny it. instead, martha takes a sip from her cup, teeth clinking on the ceramic.

- this is good coffee, she offers at last.

owen laughs hollowly.

- at least i'm doing something right.

.‘cause you’ve never done anything to hurt me.

he likes scalpels.

the way the light shines off them, the sharpness of the blade, sharp enough to slice through human and alien skin, to reveal the things they all try so hard to keep hidden. perhaps he's becoming a psychopath, now he's so dead that nothing can horrify him any more.

- you should put that down, martha says. her voice shivers a little, like she's determined not to be scared, but is nonetheless concerned.

- it doesn't matter, owen replies, flicking it over in his hand. i'll just sit here while you try and prove one way or the other that i'm crazed and dangerous and worthless.

- that's not what i'm trying to do, martha insists, i'm trying to make everything work out for you.

owen isn't sure that he wants things to work out. he's tired, so tired, and it's not as though he can lie down and wait for it to go away. dying, as it turns out, isn't one of those things you can sleep off.

- i want to leave, he says.

- you can't, martha replies, i've got to finish these tests. then we can re-instate you and it will all be fine.

- none of it will be fine. how can it be fucking fine, martha?

owen gets up, still flicking the scalpel over in his hand.

- where are you going? martha asks.

owen ignores her, walking up the stairs. he doesn’t know where he’s going or what he’s going to do when he gets there, but he can’t stay here. at the top of the stairs, he pauses, looks down at her.

- maybe i should just shove this scalpel through my hand, he suggests. since i'm no fucking good anyway.

martha stares up at him from the well of the autopsy room, determined even if it is beginning to look as though owen's lost his mind. owen definitely thinks he's lost his mind, or maybe circumstances tore it from him.

- that's going to hurt you a lot more than it'll hurt me, she tells him. your hand won't heal, you know.

owen feels himself laughing and he is sick and tired and it doesn't matter because jack will never let any of them go, will he? not when you get right down to it.

- actually, i've got no functioning nerve endings, so it won't hurt me at all, love.

martha visibly grits her teeth.

- please, she says, voice firm. please don't.

owen rests the point of the scalpel against his palm and wonders if he'll be able to pluck up the courage to push. he vomited after his first autopsy, you know, peeling back the skin of a man who had been awake and talking and breathing until he wasn't. bones and muscle and they're all like that underneath, in the end.

the scalpel falls to the concrete, bouncing down the stairs. martha bends to pick it up, fingers tight around it as though to make sure owen won't try to hurt himself again.

- i don't think i can do this, he says weakly.

.there’s a fire in the priory and it’s ruining this cocktail party.

martha runs a scanner over him, and it makes little beeping noises. she frowns slightly.

- what? owen demands, all pretence at niceties gone. he's scared shitless, and he wants to know everything, absolutely everything.

- the energy, martha explains, and there's still confusion on her face. the energy you absorbed.

- what about it? owen asks. it's dissipating, isn't it?

this has to end sometime, it has to.

- the rate it's dissipating at has slowed down drastically, martha explains. it really could last decades.

owen buries his head in his hands.

- owen? martha asks, and his shoulders are shaking and there are no tears. his eyes are dry, completely, depressingly dry, and for some reason this upsets him even more.

- owen.

- i can't... he murmurs, and tries to pull himself together. it doesn't really work.

- talk to me, martha orders, hands on his shoulders and he can barely feel them.

- i can't pretend that it doesn't mean anything, he whispers, because it means fucking everything. i'm stuck like this and i've got nothing. half the time, i want to cry, i want to throw up-

- from what jack told me, you can still vomit, martha offers gently.

owen takes a breath that he doesn't need but which sort of helps anyway, and raises his head.

- yeah, but if i do projectile spewing in the hub, ianto will cut my cock off.

martha offers him the tiniest of amused smirks. - it's not like you're doing anything with it, she points out.

- oh, no, owen says, dragging a smile up from somewhere even though his chest still feels oddly tight. i'm nowhere near that desperate yet.

martha is standing too close, fingers spread on his bare skin and a few days ago, oh, he would’ve taken complete advantage. but it's a wasted opportunity because he's worthless to everyone now.

the smile slides away. and martha wraps her arms around him in a hug that he can barely feel.

- i'm sorry, she whispers.

owen should tell her that it wasn't her fault. that none of this is her fault, and he doesn't blame her.

he should; but he won't.

.yesterday i heard they cloned a baby.

- it all comes down to coping mechanisms, owen says.

- it does? asks martha. she has a small hammer and wants to test his reflexes.

- yes, owen replies, i don't have any.

- i see how that could be a problem, martha agrees. which knee do you want me to start with?

owen shrugs. - just don't bruise me. i don't fancy wandering about with purple kneecaps forever.

martha laughs, and taps his right knee. nothing happens. she tries the left, and once again it appears his reflexes are just another thing to add to list of stuff that has gone awol since he died. it's not depressing any more, it just figures.

- i don't know, owen says, if it's more or less traumatising being a doctor while this is all going on.

martha shakes her head. - at least you're used to being around dead bodies, she suggests.

- so's everyone else here, owen reminds her, ianto is practically morgue boy or something.

there's a pause that goes on too long.

- you know, if he'd just-

- you don't want to wish this on ianto, martha tells him. you know you wouldn't wish this on anyone.

- no. owen makes a face. i need better coping mechanisms.

martha makes a couple more notes on the file, and then sits down on a stool in front of him.

- well, how do you normally deal with things? she asks.

- i go out and get pissed and shag inappropriate people, generally. owen thinks for a moment. in med school, i used to smoke.

- you made it through medical school and you still smoked? martha asks incredulously.

- yes, because it was lung cancer that got me in the end, wasn't it? owen snaps. oh, wait.

- so that's what you do, martha continues, ignoring him, you get drunk and have sex.

- sometimes, i used to pick fights with ianto, owen suggests. though he did shoot me through the shoulder once.

- ianto? martha stares at him. why would-

- i was trying to cause an apocalypse at the time, owen admits. he was fairly justified in shooting me.

martha says nothing for a long moment, obviously trying to fit that into her head.

- so, she begins eventually, we have getting drunk, having sex, or picking fights with your co-workers.

- see? owen says. i told you i needed new coping mechanisms.

.now can i finally sleep with me.

the glove fell to pieces when owen shot it, so no one's examining it. no one's trying to work out just why he's hanging around.

- you all said that something like this had happened before, martha suggests.

owen is sprawled out on the sofa, trying to work out if he can tell the difference between it and the cold, hard table in the autopsy room. to a certain extent, he can, but his senses are all over the bloody place.

- yeah, with suzie, owen says, and wishes he hadn't, because he doesn't want to discuss suzie. he never has.

- tell me about suzie, martha says.

- it's not going to help, owen mumbles, putting an arm over his eyes.

- indulge me, martha replies. and he can't deny her anything.

- suzie broke, he says quietly. i don't know if she was always like that, 'cause she was pretty lost when i got here, or if torchwood just ground her down, but she fell apart. and then we found this glove, bit like the one jack used on me, and it brought people back from the dead for two minutes at a time. i don't know what jack was thinking, because suzie was so fucking unstable by the time we found it that she shouldn't have been put in charge of anything, but anyway, she was the one leading the experiments. it only responded to her, anyway, and she got hooked on trying to bring things back to life, making the resurrection time longer.

he can't continue; he doesn't know how to.

- please, martha says softly, and a pressure on his arm tells him she's touching it as a futile gesture of support, what happened next?

- she wanted to step up the game, stop experimenting on dead animals and the like. owen swallows. she persuaded jack to let her use it on murdered people, see if it worked on them. he laughs, bitter, cold, they've rehashed the betrayal a dozen times and it never gets easier. turns out that she was going out and killing people so she'd have suitable test subjects. jack found out, and... suzie shot herself.

- jesus, martha murmurs, bloody jesus.

- that isn't where it ends, owen continues, and his voice is getting kind of sing-song but it's always been a touchy subject. i mean, it should have ended there, but then, right, these people start dying, torn apart with 'torchwood' daubed above their bodies in their own blood. and all of them connected to suzie.

- what did you do? martha asks, eyes wide, and owen knows that she's seen things no one should see but she can still be horrified. which is just as well, at least she’s still human.

- we resurrected her. turns out, if you do it right, the glove restores your life by sucking the lifeforce out of the person using the glove. suzie got stronger and stronger while gwen faded. owen swallows. it was a trap she'd set up, he continues, nearly got away with it too. she just wanted to live, the cost didn't fucking matter any more.

- no wonder gwen was so scared, martha murmurs.

- i wouldn't know, owen remarks. it's weird, thinking of things happening while he was dead. stupid twats used to say that being dead was like being in the next room, and he supposes that this is a little bit like coming back from the next room to find a whole heap of post-its, with while you were out... messages on them.

- she was frightened, martha says. insisted that we couldn't use the other glove.

- she might have had a point, owen mutters. since it's worked out so well and everything. he thinks about it for a moment. - maybe if i'd sucked out gwen's lifeforce i'd be having a better quality of existence right now.

- i thought you liked gwen, martha says neutrally.

- 'course i do, owen replies brightly, shagged her a few times, she's perfectly reasonable when she's not having a boyfriend crisis.

- i thought she'd been with rhys for ages, martha says, since before she got here.

- she has. owen shrugs. torchwood isn't just a place, it's a state of mind. everything becomes possible. he laughs dryly. and i bet you can't wait to get the hell out of here.

- come on, martha says with a smile, refusing to reply, let's get back to the tests.

.diving through the rising waves of night.

sitting alone while waiting for martha to come back with whatever device she wants to test on him next, owen taps cold fingers on his ribcage. well, not so much cold as room temperature. at least the others don't seem to be demanding coffee; he thinks he'd crack if they treated him the same way they all treated ianto. it's not his opinion they want; it's the mugs on the tray. owen wonders if maybe he should apologise for his behaviour earlier, but he already knows he won't.

the hole in his chest is nastily conspicuous and there was no exit wound, which means there's still a bullet lodged inside him, which is sort of disturbing. there are lots of other things about this situation that are disturbing, and possibly more disturbing than that, but it's still not exactly a good thing. the skin is puckered and damaged from where it broke open; the bullet pushed it all out of place. through his lungs, into his heart, and ianto offered him his shirt in a plastic biohazard bag. it was supposed to be incinerated, but ianto must understand the certain level of self-indulgent misery that comes with being dead and not staying down, because now he's got his bloodstained shirt shoved in a drawer at home. large brown patches, and even though owen knows exactly how much blood the human body contains, it was still a bit too fucking much to see all the stuff that poured out of him on ripped material.

owen's fingers explore the ruptured skin of the wound, and then, although he knows he probably shouldn't, he slides a finger inside. follows the bullet trajectory into his body, and feels his internal organs.

- holy shitting fuck, he mutters. if he's stuck in this corpse for the next conceivable while, he should know it inside-out - literally, as the case may be - but there's still something a little odd, sitting there wiggling his finger around inside his chest. - that's my heart, he whispers, i'm touching my own fucking heart.

- that's not healthy, martha says, walking in, and somehow managing to keep a horrified expression from her face.

- yes, doctor jones, whatever shall i do if get gangrene? he asks.

- i meant emotionally healthy, she says.

- i'm walking around dead, owen informs her. i don't think that i can get more fucked up.

- you seem to be giving it a good go anyway, martha says.

- hey, owen remarks, shrugging, i'm just trying out my new party trick. it'll go down a treat, don't you think?

- what, 'stick your finger in my gunshot wound'? martha asks, with a slightly incredulous expression.

- at least i'll stand out, owen tells her. he pulls his finger out of his chest, feeling oddly relieved even though he's telling himself that he's ok with all this. he's got to be ok with all of this, he has no choice.

martha is just watching him, her expression a cross between horrified and upset and amused, which owen feels sort of sums today up anyway.

- wanna stick your finger in my gunshot wound? he offers, in an attempt to fill the silence.

- your pick-up lines could use some work, martha smiles, stepping forward. and no, i wouldn't, i think that would be a pretty bad idea, don't you?

- might be entertainingly kinky, owen suggests.

- it won't be.

- come on, how many times are you going to be propositioned by a talking corpse?

- that's not actually going to sway me, martha informs him with a small smile. it's just plain disturbing. sorry, owen, but it is.

- yeah, i've kind of noticed that.

he tries to smile and it must come off wrong because the next thing he knows martha has her arms around him and is hugging him tight. it's sweet that she's trying and owen is sort of grateful but contact doesn't matter as much as it used to. owen hugs her back anyway, burying his face in her neck, forcing himself to inhale because...

- oh fucking, pissing shit, he mutters.

- what? martha asks urgently, voice a little muffled.

- i think, owen informs her, i've lost my sense of smell.

martha sighs.

- i'll add it to the list, is all she says. owen is sort of grateful.

.keeping a reflection of you in hindsight.

jack, who has a happy eternal well of life and can also eat and drink and shag along with the best of them, thinks that he'd be better off with daytime tv.

daytime tv is mostly made up of stupid twats who you'd actually murder if you met them in real life trying to buy houses in areas that they know nothing about, or else trying to sell off the antiques their grandmother left them in a desperate attempt to get petty cash. oh, and neighbours at lunchtime. other people's lunchtime, anyway.

jeremy kyle talks to dreadful people with even more dreadful problems, all of them shagging their neighbours and hitting back at abusive boyfriends and owen thinks that the whole weevil-baiting thing was probably more humane than this is.

that's not to say he couldn't have an entire show to himself anyway. you know, i'm clinically dead and yet half my co-workers still seem to want to shag me anyway.

his phone rings and he doesn't reply because he doesn't have anything he wants to say. finally, martha's voice issues from his answering machine.

- you need to come back, she says.

owen turns the television up louder and louder and louder, but all he can hear is white noise.

.but in turning back the brackish waters will not reflect you.

- you’re all wet, martha observes.

owen resists the urge to make a sarcastic comment because he really is soaked to the skin. his shoes make miserable squelching noises and he'll probably have to throw his jeans away, no matter how jack may feel about them.

- i fell in the bay, he says, a little nonsensically.

martha seems to understand, which is worrying in and of itself. owen is completely crazy, after all. he doesn’t want to tip her over the edge too.

- for how long? she asks.

- about half an hour, owen replies. well, it was more than that, thirty-five minutes and a few seconds and he was screaming so loud that no one could hear him at all.

- what was it like?

like drowning, only i can't, can i? and then it was like being in a bloody big goldfish bowl, going round and round and waiting for something to change. but nothing did, so i got out.

- quiet, he says eventually, it was quiet.

martha studies his face for a moment.

- i'll get you a towel, she says softly. no more tests 'til you dry off.

owen waits until she's gone before hacking up an indelicate mouthful of probably polluted water into an empty coffee mug.

this really isn't funny any more.

.after you have turned the colour black of death or something like that.

martha stands between his thighs, shining a torch into his eyes, even though it's pretty obvious his pupils are being determinedly non-reactive to light.

- going to look for a pulse next? owen asks, a little impatiently. 'cause that could be a pretty damn long treasure hunt, love.

martha scowls, turning the torch off and laying it next to his thigh on the table.

- we have no idea what's normal for you, she says. you don't breathe and yet you seem to be talking anyway. we need to investigate all the angles.

- trying to blind me isn't going to do anything but make me cranky, owen replies a little too acidly, and we know how well things go when i get cranky.

- yes, martha replies softly, ianto's still cleaning up broken espresso mugs.

she hasn't moved away, there's something fascinated in her eyes and owen is a little tired of being the one-man freak show.

- what's next? he asks. what new delights await me? are you going to start hacking my limbs off and see what happens then?

- shut up, martha murmurs.

owen realises what's happening here and damn, this is surreal.

- tell me: are you curious? he asks quietly. as a woman? as a doctor? as an alien catcher? as a friend? is it morbid curiosity? or is it ‘cause you’re human? it's the mortality thing, isn't it?

her cheek is under his fingers and he doesn't know if it's soft or warm but it's there anyway.

- i bet you've been wondering since i first sat up and got off the table what it's like to kiss a dead man who'll kiss back. or is it just the guilt talking?

martha laughs quietly, but she's leaning ever so slightly into his fingers.

- i don't know, she tells him.

- this isn't a really fucking unorthodox test, is it?

martha leans up and owen's curious too. just a little. enough to lean into her, feel where her mouth opens slightly where his touches it.

owen thinks that it's a good kiss, dead or not. martha doesn't pull away shrieking, which is a start, her eyes close and so owen obediently closes his. the sensation is strange, dulled, but not entirely horrible. not as bad as he thought it might be.
she pulls away, breathless - has it been that long? owen could go on for eternity, but then he'll never have to take a breath - and laughs, leaning her forehead against his.

- if that was a test, owen tells her, i think we may have failed.

- it wasn't that bad, martha says. it was... different.

- that's 'cause i'm a corpse, owen points out. if you prick me, i don't bleed.

they're clinging to each other like they've been drowning or something, and if someone comes to check on them it's going to look really damn incriminating.

- you've got a boyfriend, owen reminds her quietly.

martha steps away, and even if he can't feel texture, owen misses the pressure of her body anyway. it's all about learning to adapt, when you get right down to it.

- yeah, well, you're dead, she replies.

owen considers this. - does that mean you won?

- it's not a competition.

it sort of is. as far as owen's concerned, it is. it always will be.

.there’s a fire in the priory and it’s ruining this cocktail party.

out of the autopsy room, into yet another room with no windows and an array of computer equipment. still, he feels a little better sitting on an actual chair while martha tests him, as opposed to lying around on the autopsy table.

then something occurs to him.

- i'm a zombie, owen says, feeling surprised in spite of himself. martha is running scans and he is bored of sitting still and watching patches of colour dance across the computer screen, revealing brain activity. so apparently he's still thinking; give the boy a gold star.

- what? martha turns.

- i'm a zombie, owen repeats. i mean, i'm not shuffle-y and maggot-y... do you think i'll get maggot-y? 'cause that would be fairly bad.

- you don't seem to be decaying, martha tells him. a giggle escapes before she can stop it, and she sits beside him on another chair. oh, this is so bloody weird. i mean, i know weird, i've done weird, but this is... this is a new one on me.

- you and me both, darling, owen replies.

martha is quiet for a long moment, before she says: so, we're flirting again?

- i'm trying to flirt, owen replies with a smile that feels kind of crooked. i mean, i'm quite charming, for a zombie. i'll almost definitely ask before ripping your head open and trying to eat your brain.

- oh, martha says. well, that's good.

- it only seems fair, owen tells her. come to think of it, do zombies actually eat brains?
- jack probably knows, martha murmurs.

- jack's probably shagged one of them, owen points out.

they both start laughing before they can stop themselves.

- oh, jesus, owen mumbles.

- it's ok, martha tells him, a little hysterical - she has every right, after all, this is fucking strange even by torchwood standards - if he propositions you, i'm sure you can eat his brain.

owen rolls his eyes. - don’t bloody tempt me.

.yesterday i heard the plague is coming once again to find me.

- i'm starting to feel like a guinea pig, owen says, as martha walks in, carrying a cardboard box. is that for me to live in? all you need is some straw and i'll be all set.

- you don't sleep or eat, martha replies neutrally, so you don't really need the straw, do you?

owen is resigned. - what are we doing now, then?

- touch test, martha informs him. let's see how your sensory perception is.

- non-existent, owen replies. i don't have any, do i?

- well, martha replies, we should investigate it anyway.

she puts a cardboard box down.

- ianto and tosh helped me find some things, she explains. we're going to take it back to basics.

she holds up a striped tie that looks suspiciously like the one ianto was wearing earlier.

- going to ask me to pin a tail on a donkey? owen asks dryly.

martha laughs, stepping forward and tying the strip of silk around his eyes, knotting it tightly behind his head.

- martha jones, owen says appreciatively, that labcoat hides remarkable depths of kinkiness. and ianto is going to kill you if we cause any damage to his precious bloody tie.

- i'll try and keep my hands off your cold, dead body, martha tells him lightly. it's not very technical, but i'm going to give you some objects, see you if can identify them, see how they feel to you now your body reacts differently.

owen nods, to show he understands. he doesn't like not being able to see, it's a little like being in the dark again, but he's not going to break down again in front of martha. she's seen him weak and psychotic enough over the last couple of days.

- you aren't going to give me anything sharp, are you? he asks.

he can practically hear martha rolling her eyes.

- yes, because it's perfectly all right to break your own fingers in the name of proving a point, but god forbid i so much as scratch you.

something is placed into his hands. owen turns it over and over. admittedly, his right hand is wrapped up safe in a bandage because of his earlier stupidity, but his fingertips still brush hopefully over the surface.

- what does it feel like? martha asks.

owen doesn't know why he was hoping for anything different.

- it doesn't, he replies, a little bitterly. it's like i'm wearing gloves or something. i know it's there, but i can't feel if it's hot or cold, rough or smooth, or any of that. it's just... there.

- i'm so sorry, martha murmurs eventually.

owen rotates the object one more time, and finds the handle.

- it's a coffee mug, isn't it, he says heavily. he runs his thumb down the side, and it slides without resistance. that'll be the ceramic. he puts beside him. what's next then?

- i don't know if there's any point in continuing, martha tells him.

- just give me something else, he demands. she might be willing to give up, but he's too fucking scared to.

the object is heavier this time. owen can feel resistance as he skims his good fingertips along the side, finally finding a corner.

- i'm not even going to ask where you guys got a brick from, he says. i don't think i want to know.

martha takes it from him, drops something smaller into his palm. small, and slippery. owen squeezes it, and it slides straight out of his hand, onto the floor.

- ice cube, he tells her. you'd want to test my sense of heat sensors, and you wouldn't give me anything that would burn, so cold it is.

- and you couldn't feel it? martha asks.

owen catches his lower lip between his teeth.

- no, he admits quietly. i couldn't. not the cold, not the wet, not anything.

- we're stopping now, martha tells him. we can't continue, there isn't any point.

owen reaches forward, finds something in front of him. could be a chair, could be a box, but it gasps, which makes it martha. it is scary, that a person feels the same to him as an inanimate object; it's amazing how you take touch for granted until it sods off on you.

- what are you doing? martha asks. she sounds a little breathless.

- one last chance, owen tells her. just give me this.

she curves, he finds, and then he finds a point that's hard, that he can push against and it doesn't yield. - that's your hip, he murmurs, and another slide of his fingers finds what he thinks is the hem of her shirt. he slides his hand under it, and martha inhales sharply.

- you're cold, she says.

- you don't say, he mutters. shush.

his thumb finds her navel, and he names it before dragging his hand a little higher. another curve of bone.

- vertebral ribs, owen says, and counts up the next hard ridges. vertebro-costal ribs, he adds, but he can't keep counting upwards because something gets in the way.

- that's your bra, he tells her.

martha laughs, and he can feel the vibrations shudder against his palm. - do you not have a medical name for it? she asks him.

his fingertips skim over the wire, and he can't feel the heat of her body. there's a pang of loss again, deep in his stomach.

- can't even tell if it's lacy, he mutters.

- it's not, martha replies, and her voice is trembling. i am working owen, it's comfort over style all the way.

her breast fits perfectly into his hand, but he feels nothing at all. no physical reaction on his side, and, under his hand, there's no difference between her bra and the skin above it.

later, it's going to be hard to pretend that this was in any way a scientific experiment.

martha swallows audibly. - owen, you have to stop, she says.

he presses his thumb down a little and the vibrations of her heartbeat meet his hand.

- your heart's pounding, he says.

it's been days since he felt a heartbeat.

- owen. martha's voice wavers. please, stop.

he willingly slides his hand out from under her shirt, and fumbles with the tie around his head. he can't untie the knot with only one hand, and a sound of frustration escapes him. martha helps him, pulling the blindfold away, and he doesn't even need to blink against the light because his pupils don't react any more.

- i'm taking this back to ianto, martha says, vaguely waving the tie. she can't look at him.

- too far? owen asks.

- much too far, martha replies, voice tight.

she leaves him alone, slamming the door too loudly. there’s a battered sofa in the corner of the room, and he walks over to it, lies down, and closes his eyes.

.there’s a fire in the priory and an ogre in the oval office.

- owen!

he opens his eyes.

- what?

martha rubs her hand across her face; owen notices that she looks tired. it's got to be wearing, the push and pull, the increasingly depressing discoveries.

- i thought... she begins lamely.

- that i was dead? owen asks, a little sharply.

- yeah, something like that. martha's mouth smiles weakly. it doesn't matter.

she walks around the room, flicking the switches on all the monitors, shutting them off.

- for what it's worth, i'm sorry, owen tells her.

- it's all right, martha replies. you're not exactly in your right mind at the moment, are you? you're scared, and it can't be easy.

owen sits up.

- you don't have to be this understanding, he offers. if it were me, i'd be angry.

- i'm going to tell jack that you're fine for duty, martha says, coming to sit beside him on the sofa. and then i'm going to go home.

owen nods. he can't exactly blame her. - so we're ok?

martha gives him a genuine smile. - we're ok, she assures him.

the silence is a little awkward, which is to be expected. martha looks a little troubled.

- you might as well spit it out, owen says, we've obviously run out of boundaries.

- i was just wondering, martha murmurs, if there's anyone you ought to call. your family or something. shouldn't you tell them you're... dead?

owen laughs hollowly. - yeah, 'cause that'll go down so damn well.

- but won't-

- i'm not you, owen cuts her off. look, i'm an only child, my mum kicked me out the minute i turned sixteen, i haven't spoken to her in the last eleven years, except for the obligatory fuck you, i did it anyway phonecall when i got my medical degree. haven't seen my dad since i was five. there's no one to tell.

he hates the way martha is looking at him, so he stares at his hands instead of her.

- don't you dare pity me, he murmurs.

martha sighs.

- is there anyone you want to tell? she asks.

owen shrugs. - nah. torchwood isn't exactly great for making friends or bonding with anyone.

there's a pause.

- tosh wants to help you, martha says carefully.

- she doesn't bloody know where to start, owen replies. it sounds more bitter than he means it to.

- she says she loves you, martha points out. her tone is almost deliberately neutral. she's said it a lot.

- yeah. owen laughs, and he shouldn't say this, but he will. i really should've seen this coming, actually. tosh is a lovely woman but she's the bloody kiss of death. she fell for mary, right, who turned out to be a psychopathic alien murderer, so jack had her incinerated. and then she had this thing for tommy, and you don't want to know what happened to him. so i should've picked up on the fact i was in for a swift and painful death the minute i agreed to go out for a drink with her.

martha is staring at him with wide eyes.

- the others are right, she says, sounding amused, you really are an insensitive bastard.

owen can't exactly deny it, though he has been trying to be more empathetic recently, and it's depressing that the team haven't noticed.

- i've got every fucking right, he says, and i've also got a point. torchwood 'romance' never pays off.

martha tilts her head thoughtfully to one side.

- tell me about jack and ianto, she says.

owen would rather not, but he kind of owes her.

- ianto gets all touchy and trigger-happy if you refer to him as jack's part-time shag, but if you've seen the way jack looks at gwen... owen shakes his head slightly, it's easier to pretend not to notice that. he continues: it's all very complicated and isn't going to end well.

- ... but gwen's marrying rhys.

- who gives a fuck? once torchwood is under your skin, things like that don't really matter.

martha frowns, looking uncomfortable.

- the sexual tension in here is suffocating sometimes, owen adds.

- just as well you don't breathe any more then, martha smiles.

.once again we all will be so broken.

- what would you have done? martha asks.

it's late, really late, and martha's run out of things to do to him. which is probably just as well, because it’s getting increasingly soul-destroying.

- how would you have lived your last few days, she continues, if you'd known you were going to die?

jesus, this is morbid. owen decides to indulge her anyway.

- i'd've had more sex, he tells her. martha gives him a look. what? i'm a bloke.

- really? that's it? you'd have had more sex?

- i'd definitely have had sex with you, owen tells her, and oops, a note of seriousness has entered his voice and that wasn't supposed to happen. especially after his actions earlier; he should leave the poor girl alone.

- i wouldn't have given in, martha says, amusement fading from her eyes. i do have a boyfriend, you know.

she doesn't get it.

- that really doesn't matter, owen replies. you'd have done it anyway. everyone always does.

martha is scowling. - the world isn't like torchwood, you know, she snaps. you all think that you can screw around with who you want and do what you like, but that really isn't how it all works.

- i know. owen tries for a smile but it doesn't feel right. why do you think i love it so much here?

- you hate it here, martha murmurs.

he did hate it here once, but that was a long time ago and he made his peace with it. it took getting fired and threatened with retcon to figure that out, but at least he did.

- no, i don't, owen replies. it's just... i've been here a long time. not like ianto, he's been working here since he learned to read, i swear, but... i've been here so long that i don't know what it's like outside. i don't think i'd know where to start.

martha's answering smile is a little twisted, and doesn't reach her eyes.

- i should go and type up your report, she says, turning away from him yet again.

.now can i finally sleep again.

ianto seems to want owen to stay the fuck away from the coffee machine now that martha has announced him fit for active duty again - though owen really isn't sure if he is fit for active duty, or if she'd just feel like a bitch if she consigned him to the hub after the surreal rollercoaster today has been. still, he manages to make a cup of coffee and carry it down to the autopsy room, where they sit side by side on the table and don't say anything.

- i've told you everything, he says, including things i never meant to tell anyone. so i think it's time you did some sharing, sweetheart.

martha gives a slightly sheepish smile, but nods.

- ask away.

- how do you and jack know each other? owen enquires. and don't fob me off with those weird little in-jokes, just bloody tell me. i hope i've earned that much.

martha watches steam rise off her coffee, and smiles a little.

- ok, she says finally. i don't know if he wants it spread about...

- ever heard the phrase 'dead men tell no tales'? owen asks. 'cause i can do that.

martha grins. - all right. what do you know about the doctor?

owen shrugs. - alien bloke, travels around in a spaceship disguised as a phonebox, changes his appearance when he dies, reason torchwood got set up in the first place.

martha nods. - well, i was travelling with him for a while. and jack travelled with him before that, i think that's part of the reason that he can't die. he came and found us, leapt onto the tardis - that's the spaceship - and managed to cling on right through the time vortex. pushed us right to the end of the universe.

owen thinks about this. - if i'm really bloody unlucky, i could be around for that, he says.

- it could happen, martha agrees. anyway, at the end of the world we accidentally re-awakened another time lord, like the doctor. he called himself the master, and he took the tardis and travelled back in time to now. called himself harold saxon. remember him?

owen stares. - just a bit, he says. the bloke sent us off on a fucking wild goosechase to the himalayas, when we got back he was dead.

- we lived through a year that didn't happen, martha says. saxon got elected prime minister, and then took over the whole world. he killed millions of people and was all set to invade the universe.

- and then what? owen asks. suddenly, his own existence is starting to look a little less fucked-up.

- i saved the world, martha admits, a smile unlike any he's seen on her unfurling over her mouth. i travelled through the destruction and i helped save the world.

- that's got to look good on your cv, owen says, no wonder unit let you right in.

- time got turned back, martha tells him, leaning against his shoulder a little, the year didn't happen after all. jack returned to you guys, i went back and got my medical degree, the doctor is still travelling.

owen nods. it explains a lot, and at least now he knows.

- i think i'll miss you, he tells her, leaning back against martha's shoulder.

- i know i'll miss you, she replies, hand closing around his.

- do me a favour, ok? owen turns to her with a wicked, crooked smile. accidentally call my name out while you're with your boyfriend, yeah?

- you are very sleazy, martha informs him with a grin. i think it's just as well for you that you're dead and you've saved my life a few times, otherwise i might hate you.

- join the fucking club, owen says. actually, come to think of it, i bet ianto's started some kind of owen-harper-is-the-scum-of-the-universe cult thing, you should ask him.

martha squeezes his hand, and owen squeezes back.

- tell me what to do, he murmurs. tell me what to do next. 'cause the last few days i've been in stasis but now i think there's probably going to have to be some kind of moving on thing now.

- you're looking for something, martha says.

- i don't know what it is, owen mumbles.

- but you will, martha says. after a moment, she adds: let me know when you find it.

- going to check up on the patient? owen asks, with a smirk.

- i'll ring you every week, martha informs him firmly.

- until the week i stop picking up.

- morbid bastard, martha tells him.

- borderline necrophiliac, he replies.

he could say don't go, but it won't make any difference.

- i should move, she says, i need to pack. charge my hotel bill to torchwood, that sort of thing.

- yeah. owen reluctantly lets go of her hand. he bites his lip. i can't thank you. i don't know how to.

martha gets off the table and stands in front of him. she kisses him one more time before she leaves; it's still nice, it's still numb, it's still not nearly as good as it should be. he’ll have to get used to it.

- it's ok, she whispers, i know.

- hey, he says, as she turns to go, promise me it’ll be ok.

- it’ll be ok, martha says obediently, i promise.

- you’re a fucking liar, he tells her.

martha just laughs.

- cheer up, she orders, it might never happen.

- it already happened, owen points out.

- well then, martha says, what are you sitting around here bitching for?

owen finally grins back, and means it.

Tags: challenge: fanfic100, challenge: philosophy_20, character: martha jones, character: owen harper, pairing: jack harkness/ianto jones, pairing: owen harper/martha jones, pairing: owen/gwen, pairing: owen/tosh, tv show: torchwood, type: gen, type: het
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