Fandom: Torchwood [Doctor Who]
Characters: Martha [Owen]; Jack, Ianto, Mickey, Gwen
Challenge/Prompt: fanfic100, 032. Sunset
Word Count: 3340
Copyright: Title is from Half The Fun by Snow Patrol.
Summary: Martha thinks about telling him that she’s only joined Torchwood because it’s slightly less sociopathic than UNIT, and then realises that Jack probably already knows.
Author’s Notes: Well, Miss Osterhagen Regrets was my version of Martha getting to Torchwood in a reasonably positive way. This is the not positive version, with everyone having breakdowns and stuff (can you guess I’m depressed as hell?), though I’ll admit that it damn near killed me to break up Martha and Tom, ‘cause I do love them. Spoilers for Exit Wounds and Journey’s End, and then my own speculation for series 3 of TW.
Half the fun of it is that I can’t keep up
And I lose my breath
And what’s worse is I don’t think I’m the first.
– Snow Patrol
She doesn’t cry until Tom tells her that she can keep the ring, that he’d rather she held on to it. He doesn’t want it languishing in a drawer and it’s not like he’s going to give it to anyone else. Not second-hand.
Then, she can’t stop sobbing.
Ianto is in the tourist information bureau when Martha walks in, eyes fixed on the computer screen, left hand clutching a steaming mug. It’s entirely possible that the man has some sort of problem (namely, his symbiotic relationship with hot drinks), but Martha presumes that Owen brought it up on more than one occasion and Ianto probably has it under control. Or it’s at least better than any other compulsion he could have.
“Miss Jones,” Ianto says, smirking at her in that we-have-the-same-surname way that normally amuses her, but today she’s just plain tired.
“You could just call me Martha,” she replies, just the ok side of terse.
“I could,” Ianto agrees, reaching under the desk for the button that opens the wall behind him. UNIT didn’t bother with all this smoke-and-mirrors stuff, they didn’t care for cheap sci-fi rip-offs. Then again, UNIT were psychopaths who tried to persuade her to pull the world to pieces, so Martha’s not sure that they should win this imaginary contest just because they had slightly less cheesy décor. Martha scrapes up a smile for Ianto, because none of this is his fault, and he nods like he understands. He probably does.
“Welcome,” he murmurs a little hesitantly, like he’s embarrassed to be saying it but is determined to get it out anyway.
Martha squeezes his shoulder on the way past. “Thanks,” she whispers.
She walks into the narrow brick corridor and listens to the wall slam shut behind her. She knows from previous experience that it’s a good eight-minute walk down to the Hub, and as she begins the trek, her low-heeled sensible shoes clicking on the concrete floor, Martha wonders how many others have trudged down here simply because they ran out of options.
And this is only her first day.
“…This will be your workstation,” Jack finishes, almost proudly. He flings an expansive arm over the clean, empty metal desk, a computer and four screens blinking away at her with blue-tinted Torchwood screensavers. “Feel free to do what you want to it; you know, get yourself some in and out-trays, some pens, maybe one of those weird little desk toys that people seem to like.”
Martha smiles obediently, though her stomach lurches because her first thought is: but this is Owen’s workstation. Of course it isn’t Owen’s any more; Owen is gone. Martha is Owen now.
“It’s nice,” she murmurs, just for something to say. “There’s a nice view of, um… the coffee-machine.”
Jack smiles. “I’m glad you’re here, Martha,” he tells her, sounding serious and earnest. “I think it’ll be good, you being here. For all of us.”
Martha thinks about telling him that she’s only joined Torchwood because it’s slightly less sociopathic than UNIT, and then realises that Jack probably already knows. The trick is in them both pretending that it isn’t the case.
“Yeah,” she agrees, doing her best to sound sincere. There’s a new chair sitting in front of the workstation; probably Ianto’s work. He understands the fact that she couldn’t use Owen’s chair. Martha sinks down, as her knees threaten to give way. She’s faced the end of the world – several times – and the end of the universe – only once, but it was enough – and she’s maybe even seen The Immortal Jack Harkness die forever; but just getting through today seems more than she can stand.
“It’ll get better,” Jack promises; a hand on her shoulder and a brittle, toothy smile.
Martha can’t tell if he’s lying; she never could.
The last time she sat in this lab-cum-autopsy-room, Owen Harper was sitting beside her, grinning in all his zombie glory, a mixture of terrified and bemused. A couple of days earlier, Martha was going to perform his autopsy on the very table she’s perched on now.
The walls are as white as Ianto can get them, though they’ve got that grey tinge that everything down here has – like after a while the grime just doesn’t wash off any more – and there’s a weird purplish smudge in one place that’s probably some kind of indelible intestines.
“I don’t know what I’ve got myself into,” she admits in a whisper, wondering how many security cameras are capturing her moment of uncertainty and from how many angles. UNIT was paranoid; Torchwood is voyeuristic. It’s possible that neither one is better.
Closing her eyes, she feels Owen’s hands against her shoulders. Bitten off more than you could chew, he laughs, though it’s not entirely cruel; more rueful. Though you’ve got what you wanted, now, haven’t you?
Martha wants to turn and snap at him: this isn’t what I wanted, I told you, but when she opens her eyes he’s gone.
“The Torchwood intranet takes some getting used to,” Ianto explains, leaning over Martha and pointing at her computer screen. This close, he smells of the aftershave that Martha swears Owen used to wear, though of course she won’t call Ianto up on it; and also of coffee, because the man spends most of his time welded to that machine. Stress relief or some kind of compulsion; Martha doesn’t want to know. “I think the only person who knew all its ins-and-outs was Tosh, and, well…”
About twice an hour, the losses are called back up again. It’s exhausting, like picking the scab off a wound repeatedly even though you know it’s going to scar worse because you did. No one is willing to let Owen and Tosh just go.
“I’m sure I’ll figure it out,” Martha tells him, attempting to sound bright instead of resigned. This isn’t a mistake because she had no choice; but nonetheless she kind of wishes that she wasn’t here.
“You need to change your password,” Ianto tells her, pressing a series of keys and bringing up a dialogue box.
“Sure.” Martha waits until Ianto has wandered off, before hesitating over her keyboard. Passwords used to be easy – silly words and birthdays and things – but she can’t help thinking that this one needs to mean more than that.
After another moment’s thought, she types in: osterhagen. The system prompts her to include some capital letters and numbers and things but Martha doesn’t. She thinks it’s the most sensible password she could have, under the circumstances; at least it’ll remind her why she’s here.
Gwen and the newly-appointed Mickey Smith have been out Weevil-catching in a shopping centre; apparently it was Mickey’s first time, and although they bring the Weevil back fine – to be closed up in the cells and then God knows what Martha is expected to do with it – Mickey’s cheek is wet with blood.
Martha hustles him into the autopsy room while Ianto has fun with Weevil-repelling spray and a certain amount of faintly worrying growling. Mickey offers her a smile, and then winces. Martha cleans him up and gives him three stitches.
“Hey,” Mickey says eventually.
“Hey,” she replies.
Both of them are aware that they’re here because it was here or nowhere; Martha presumes that’s how everyone gets to Torchwood, though of course she’ll need to do some research to back up that theory.
“I was thinking of calling you,” Mickey admits. “Telling you to find a job anywhere but Torchwood.”
“I tried a job anywhere but Torchwood,” Martha replies, “It isn’t any better anywhere else.”
Mickey’s lips twitch. “That’s why I didn’t call.”
For the sake of being organised or something, Martha starts rearranging the autopsy room so she can find everything when she needs it. Owen’s system is distinctly untidy and the team’s attempts to patch themselves up in the months after his proper death have made it even messier.
In the back of one drawer, Martha finds a few post-its stuck carefully together. She reads the top one; the handwriting on it is neat and loopy and can’t belong to anyone but Ianto.
I feel I should probably apologise to you about the whole shooting thing.
On the post-it underneath is Owen’s ugly scrawl: Well, you’re only two months late. Though that was a pretty shitty apology.
It wasn’t an actual apology. I just thought I should mention that I’m aware there should be an apology.
Owen’s handwriting is even messier on the next note: You need to get out more.
Ianto’s reply seems to have coffee smudged on it: Are you offering?
Only if you offer to kiss my gunshot wound better.
Martha raises an eyebrow. The reply from Ianto is crumpled: You’re disgusting.
The last note is from Owen: …That’s not a ‘no’.
Martha smiles slightly, sticking the notes back together in the right order and putting them back in the drawer. She wonders if she should be curious as to why Owen kept them, and then decides that, given what she already knows about Torchwood, she probably doesn’t want to know the answer.
“You’re not wearing your ring,” Gwen observes.
Jack didn’t notice, and he’s the one who’s meant to be propositioning everyone. Martha sighs softly, and scrapes up a half-smile.
“No,” she agrees.
Gwen pulls her over to the sofa. Ianto is down in the cells with Mickey, teaching him whatever it is team members need to know about Weevils. Jack is in his office on the phone to the government. Tosh and Owen are – dead, right, of course.
“What happened?” Gwen asks, face a picture of compassion. Martha contemplates not telling her, but she’s got to tell someone eventually, and it might as well be Gwen.
“He couldn’t do it any more,” Martha sighs. “Tom did his best, he really did, but… I was asking such a lot.” Gwen stays silent, just looking at her. Martha swallows. “It was hard on him,” she continues. “Saying goodbye to me in the morning and not knowing if he’d ever see me again. And whatever happened, he knew I’d be right in the middle of it.”
“It’s hard,” Gwen murmurs. She’d know, of course: her marriage is in tatters, though she claims that it isn’t; Martha can see the tightness in the edges of her mouth, the way she ignores Rhys’ phonecalls, and the looks Jack shoots her, like he can’t work out whether to be pleased or angry.
“I stupidly told him about Torchwood,” Martha admits. “About what happened to Tosh and Owen. I wasn’t thinking; I just thought he deserved the truth about my life. When I told him I wanted to transfer here… Tom couldn’t handle it. Said he didn’t want to marry me just to watch me die.”
Torchwood’s high turnover rate upsets everyone, of course; they just try not to think about it.
“I’m sorry, love,” Gwen murmurs, pulling Martha close. Martha doesn’t particularly want the contact, not from anyone, but she accepts it anyway, because she’s got nothing else.
I’d have solved this by now, Owen singsongs, wearing a labcoat decorated with badges like he’s still about fifteen, arms folded, unimpressed, over his chest. Martha ignores him, prodding the alien laid open on the autopsy table. She’s come to realise that Owen doesn’t want to leave this lab, though whether Martha’s imagining him here because she’s tired and she doesn’t want to be stuck here alone, or whether some trace of him, caught by the Rift or that Glove, is still lingering, she doesn’t know. It’s possible that she doesn’t want to know.
No, you wouldn’t, Martha mentally snaps back, refusing to turn because he won’t be there and Jack will probably regret hiring her if she starts talking to herself, You’d be too busy annoying everyone in the vicinity and drinking too much coffee. You might solve it eventually.
Owen laughs. I’m good at my job.
You were good at it, Martha thinks, a little more viciously than she means, You’re just dead, now.
And whose fault is that?
Martha’s hand trembles on the scalpel, but she doesn’t entertain the thought any longer, and Owen dissipates. She tells herself that she’s relieved.
In a box of bandages, Martha finds another post-it, this time from Gwen. You, me, the SUV, half an hour?
Oh dear, Gwen, she thinks, and then considers this. Oh dear, Owen.
Ianto comes down with a cappuccino for her, expression carefully blank as though the sight of her in what was once Owen’s lab kind of hurts.
“Did Owen sleep with everyone?” Martha asks, holding up the post-it.
Ianto smiles slightly, putting her coffee down on one of the workbenches.
“Pretty much,” he tells her.
“Did you ever sleep with him?” she enquires, and for a split-second they’re back to bordering on the avant-garde again. Back when the world was smaller and more manageable and Owen wasn’t randomly dead.
Ianto shrugs; he doesn’t seem to be trying to be evasive. “Probably?” he suggests.
Martha raises an incredulous eyebrow. “You don’t remember?”
“You’ll understand,” Ianto informs her with a smile that is equal parts amused and sad. “One day, you’ll understand.”
Martha thinks that she already does understand; she just really really doesn’t want to.
Tom’s email comes one night, a simple line of words that has Martha clutching at her chest like she can’t breathe.
I miss you.
It’s not an apology; it’s definitely not an acceptance of what she’ll always do because the Doctor ensured she’d never be able to do otherwise. But it’s nice.
I miss you too, she writes back.
Martha doesn’t expect a reply and doesn’t get one; for a few minutes, she’s unbearably lonely.
Then the monitors start screaming and the Rift spits up an alien and she turns away from her life with something that’s close to relief.
“Did you know Tosh?” Mickey asks her over morning coffee. Martha hasn’t slept in… many hours, and her eyes are gritty. She shrugs.
“Not well, but yeah. Why?”
Mickey looks sheepish. “I’m not her,” he says simply. “And I think it bothers the others. Not Jack, I mean, he knows me and stuff, but… Ianto and Gwen. It bothers them.”
“We all need time,” Martha tells him firmly.
Mickey laughs a little bitterly. “We don’t have time,” he points out.
Martha thinks about this. “I’m not Owen,” she says at last. “I’m not Owen and it’ll probably never stop hurting but it’ll be easier, and then we’ll die and the replacements will have to play this game all over again.”
“I like your optimism,” Mickey grins.
“We don’t have optimism,” Martha mumbles into her coffee mug. “Not any more. We just have this.”
Mickey turns back to his computers, hand shaking a little on his own drink. But it’s not like he had a choice either.
I’d have shagged you, Owen informs her crudely at four in the morning.
Martha is in the cold showers on level minus five; there are weird greenish marks on the walls that look like they’re left over from the last time someone tried to scrub alien entrails off themselves, and she is getting a little tired of her imagination making Owen plague her.
I had Tom, she all but snaps.
Oh, ‘cause that matters. Owen is amused but of course he doesn’t have emotions; he’s not real any more, after all.
It mattered. Martha gets shampoo in her eyes. You just wanted to collect the whole team. Some sort of… weird sexual scavenger hunt.
Owen starts laughing and Martha joins in without meaning to. She dreads to think what this looks like on CCTV, and then decides that if Jack has CCTV cameras in the showers then he’s… no, what is she thinking? Of course Jack has CCTV cameras in the showers.
You’d have given in eventually. Owen seems sure of himself.
Tom… Martha’s argument crumples but something new occurs to her. I’d still have Tom if you hadn’t died.
Maybe. Owen’s eyes glitter in a way that Martha doesn’t like, and she reminds herself that, still, this isn’t real.
“I don’t want you near the Weevils,” Jack orders.
Martha doesn’t understand – surely as team doctor it’s kind of her job to get up close and personal with the alien species they have captive – and tells him as such. She won’t let herself be cowed; not yet, anyway.
“Owen was too close to the Weevils,” Jack replies shortly. “He was conducting experiments… I don’t know what he was doing to them.”
Martha ignores the obvious innuendo there – because the day that she doesn’t is the day she’s got herself so far into the Torchwood mindset that she’ll have to kill herself – and glares at Jack.
“So you think I’m going to brainwash them?” she demands. “You think I can’t control myself around alien creatures, I’ll want to use them as guinea pigs?” She scowls. “Have you even met me?”
“You’ve been with UNIT a year,” Jack replies shortly. “And I’m not taking any chances.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
But Martha doesn’t get a reply, and Jack is the one to leave.
Later, Gwen offers her a feeble smile and a shrug. “Your first proper argument with Jack,” she says quietly. “Congratulations, Martha Jones, you’re really one of us now.”
Martha isn’t comforted.
“Jack lies,” Ianto informs her, coming in with afternoon tea and a half-smile.
“About what?” Martha asks dryly, because it’s really not new news; as far as she can tell Jack never tells the truth if an imaginary story will waste more time and confuse everyone.
“It doesn’t get easier,” Ianto shrugs. “It doesn’t ever get easier; you just learn more ways to pretend that it doesn’t matter.”
“You’re a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” Martha murmurs, grinning at him.
Ianto smiles back. “Owen used to say that,” he tells her. “Tosh just used to agree with me.”
“I’m here,” Martha says. “I’m here and apparently that’s not going to change. You don’t need to tell me any more horror stories.”
Ianto just shakes his head, walking back up the stairs, leaving her to the quiet. Martha contemplates emailing Tom, but once again there’s nothing to say, and upstairs the artefact Mickey and Gwen have been investigating implodes, filling the world with noise and blocking out the doubts in her head.
How did you bear it? Martha asks Owen, or, at least, her imaginary version of Owen who is either hanging around because she feels out of her depth or because she’s going completely and utterly insane. One of the two. At Torchwood, Martha doubts that insanity actually matters that much, and anyway, it’s practically the catch-22 situation; how could you tell if anyone was mad here?
Owen just laughs, and he’s dead and gone like the myriad of other people in drawers stretching away into apparent eternity in the morgue.
You’re going to be ok, Martha Jones, he tells her.
You can’t know that, Martha all but snaps.
Of course I can. It’s too late for you, sweetheart; Torchwood’s getting inside you.
She sighs, angry and sad, but of course it’s true. You can’t work here for long without feeling that familiar cold sinking in; underneath the permanent fear and the aching loss of whatever drove you here, there’s the eventual feeling that nothing at all matters.
I don’t want Torchwood to get inside me, Martha murmurs quietly.
It’s already begun, Owen grins. She shuts her eyes and Owen pushes a lock of hair off her forehead. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.
I think you should leave, Martha decides firmly.
You don’t need me any more, Owen agrees. Any day now and you’ll fit right in here.
Martha doesn’t want to fit right in here, but she’s seeing the changes in Mickey already, which implies that she’s changing too. She opens her eyes, and she’s alone. Of course she is.
Nothing ever really changes.