I would like to thank you for bothering to read my story. If I could trouble you a bit more for feedback, I'd be ever so grateful! ^_^
Spoiler warnings for 1X04 (Cyberwoman), 1X05 (Small Worlds), 1X06 (Countrycide), and 2x12 (Fragments).
Hopefully I'll be able to get the next chapter out a lot more quickly than this one. God will'n and the creek don't rise. *sheepish*
[HERE AND NOW (I): Intersection]
[THEN AND THERE (I): Memoria]
[HERE AND NOW (II): Sweeter Than]
[THEN AND THERE (II): Each Small Piece]
Certain For the Dead 5/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
HERE AND NOW III: Ex Parte
Owen Harper no longer wakes as he once did, awareness spiraling out from the seat of intellect, into his limbs and extremities, and finally to the world around his stirring form. Instead, he wakes like a soldier in a foxhole; a reluctant sleeper in hostile territory. And isn't that what the whole world is, now? To say nothing of his bed, the contents of which are first to come to his groggy attention. Since Katie's death, the doctor has shared his bed with scores of partners. The wide, red-swathed mattress has been battlefield and anesthetic room; he has sucked and stroked and touched and petted before his high, night-darkened windows. Always, he fixes his eyes on the far line of the bridge over the quay for that critical moment, thinking desperately, 'This is a view Katie has never seen'.
Morning-afters are even less pretty.
As he comes to consciousness now, Owen is aware of two things-- the firm, smooth swell of flesh under his hand, and the incessant, tinny whine of his mobile. The phone is in the pocket of his jeans, somewhere halfway across the room. Perception and memory come back, but they don't override self-preservation. He is cautious, movements slow and planned as he rises, carefully removing his hand from the curve of Gwen Cooper's pale behind. She is all white skin and dark hair, arms akimbo as she lets out a heavy sigh of deep sleep. As she settles, Owen takes in the small, perpetual frown marring her features. 'She even pouts in her dreams!' he thinks, and stifles the urge to laugh. The mobile is still going-- no ringtone, just the harsh, insistent ring set for one caller and one caller only. He doesn't have to glance at the LCD screen to know it reads TORCHWOOD. Instead, he picks up the tangle of jeans and underwear wholesale, jogging down the hall. Naked on the stairwell, he fumbles and finally flips the phone open, muttering.
"What in fuck's sake do you *want*, Harkness?" he half-snarls. There hadn't been barest of light on the horizon, and a quick glance at the clock above the telly tells him its just shy of four am. "You said we had the bloody day off!" Even now, Owen's mind shies from the events of the past forty-eight hours, working at odd angels and tangents to avoid the thought of Brecon Beacons. His heart and stomach lurch together, and its like fresh swath of blood along his organs. Like the heat that rises from infected flesh.
"Owen." Just like that, Jack's voice cuts across the line-- somehow, it bypasses Owen's brain and halts the complaint already forming on his tongue. "I need to know what you gave Ianto last night."
Disgusted, Owen shakes his drawers free of his jeans, turning them rightside out and pulling on both in turn. "Whaddaya *mean*?" the doctor asks, perplexed. "I gave everyone a lot of things last night-- I was practically running my own snodd'n A&E! I gave Tosh and Ianto locals so I could do the stitches, tetanus shots, took blood for testing--"
"The pills!" Jack says matching and trumping Owen's aggravated tone. "I need to know what pills you gave him. He said he asked you to cut down the dosage because they made him ill."
"What, teaboy's a little woozy, so he wants to blame me?! They were sedatives, Jack. We all needed them, for god's sake."
There's a pause, brief but pregnant, in which Owen has just enough time to regret using his own derogatory little pet name for Jones. Even that small pang of trauma-inspired camaraderie can do nothing to prepare him to the utter chill that comes over the line.
"Harper." It's the merciless hand of winter, that voice-- as hard and comforting as the marble they use for tombs. "The names. of the. drugs."
"They were sleep aids and painkillers," Owen says, hating the way his voice sounds like that of a boy finally spitting something out to the headmaster. "I'm a *doctor*, Jack-- the only thing of any note was the Anthoxopam. That's--"
At what point does freezing become fire? Jack's voice is flat and oh-so-cold, past zero and into the land of sunless, dark moons. "The drug designed by Torchwood One." The sound of a deep breath, "That fascist bitch."
"What do you mean?" He's raking a hand through his hair now, throwing himself down on the sofa and staring, sightlessly, up at his own unremarkable white ceiling. "It's the perfect pharmaceutical, Jack. It doesn't interact with any other medication, no matter what the patient is taking; it builds up antibodies against three different non-terrestrial viruses. Hell, the prime minister has been looking into releasing it as a cure for the common cold!"
"Goddamn it, if I'd known you had that poison here, I would have destroyed it myself."
"It was in the stores when I joined up! Ianto's the one who gave me the files on it when I asked what it was!" Owen says, feeling less the schoolboy now. No, he was down to defensive child, bewildered and groping. Finally, the conversation penetrates past his intellectual assurance and the layers of his personal feelings (traitor traitor polite little sod) towards Ianto Jones. "Do you need me there? Is he alright?"
"He will be," Jack says. ('Marble,' Owen thinks again, and shivers without realizing it.) "Don't worry. Enjoy your day off."
Just a click and then the dial tone. Owen stays still on the couch, head tilted back against the armrest as he stares at the now silent phone.
"Oh, sure," he mutters. "'At ease, soldier,'" he mocks Jack's accent. "'Smoke 'em if you got 'em." Still groggy and more than a little punchy from the emotional conversation, Owen drifts, flicking the cellphone open and shut. Ianto Jones. Clean shaven, perfectly pressed, turned out like some perfect little butler and all the while seething, feeding and cosseting a monster right underneath their feet. 'I's crossed and 'T's dotted and, oh, did I mention I'm keeping my homicidal cyborg girlfriend in your basement? Of course not! And what was it all for?
"A week's suspension, and the Captain still trying to fondle his wrists and make love to his coffee," Owen informs the blank television screen, tossing the mobile onto the low table. "Christ on a crutch." He glances at the clock again, weighing the effort of moving against the sweet relief of a beer. It's these dark, quiet hours he hates the most; even the air feels quiet and still, slowing the mad whirl at the center of his mind.
Once he used these hours to study-- put the telly on mute and let the flickering light flash over his textbooks while Katie slept peaceful (dead) and unfettered by his side. Or they quizzed each other, drinking endless rounds of soda as they blinked and rubbed at their eyes, trying to prepare for their practicals. In these predawn hours, it does not matter that Katie never set foot in this apartment, or in the city of Cardiff at all. The safety of the sleek and impersonal decor (so different from their cozy London flat) dissolves; he can picture her here, and she haunts him. His eyes are closed before he realizes it, and now there's nothing for it. If he opens them again, he'll see her, perched on the arm of the sofa in that gaudy pink shirt she liked to sleep in. 'Real men date forensic anthropologists'-- that one always had tickled her so. And oh, it's merciless, it's completely unfair, but he can almost feel the over-washed fabric beneath his fingers, as if you can grab hold and pull Katie (it's sense memory, ya big bugger-all, just memory) close. He'll feel her slight hips and firm breasts-- Gwen's had been too small, they'd left room in his hands-- she'll tell him it's okay, baby, open your eyes.
"It's not, and I'm not," Owen says aloud. He wants Brecon Beacons now; longs for the moldering houses and gutted monsters with the faces of men. Fear is easy, anger too. The Beacons were awful, a lucid nightmare, but nothing will ever be as poisonous as the hope he will someday wake up and Katie will be okay.
"Don't you think that's how he feels?" Katie asks in his mind. That quiet voice, her pillow-talk one, stretching between them more intimate than skin-on-skin. Attached to this echo is a frighteningly detailed image of Ianto, sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest in the dark debris of the Hub. Rocking there in his expensive trousers, soaking in dirty water and bits of his own girlfriend's flesh. And Jack said, "You have to shoot her. Shoot her, Ianto, before I do it for you." He can almost feel Katie's arms around him, now, light yet real. Her touch is comforting, but her words are not. "
"I think," says this ghost, this malfunctioning cluster of neurons in Dr. Harper's masochistic brain. "I think you hate Ianto because you're so much alike."
"That's it!" Owen says, barely restraining himself from shouting. "Self-analysis is not healthy! Self-understanding is not healthy!" He shoots up from the sofa, making a beeline for the relative safety of the kitchen. The little digital clock on the microwave mocks him with its late-night numbers, but the beer is right there, it's handy in the cupboard. Stored right at eye-level, for the budding alcoholic Owen's been playing at. The snap of the can opening is satisfyingly loud in the stillness, Owen chugs and feels it rush towards his empty stomach. Oh well, what the hell. He should probably be able to write off his beer consumption as a work-related expense.
(Ianto, frowning at him, insisting drinks purchased while staking out clubs for their literally illegal alien are not covered in the supply budget.)
"And all the while, she was down there." The cyberwoman (Lisa), waiting, recharging. That spore, lodged in the soft tissue of Katie's brain, feeding and growing, stealing her away even before her body died. This just doesn't seem to be Owen's night.
Wouldn't you have done the same for me?" asks Katie. He pictures her leaning against the counter, chin in her hands. Those dark-brown eyes and her too-narrow chin."If you had known? If you had the chance?" Oh, it's pitch-perfect, but it's *not* Katie, because she would never ask that question. Owen finishes the beer, knocking it into the sink, and opens another. He's torturing himself-- he must be-- because only his own memories could conjure Katie so well. The smell of beer is thick in his nostrils, but there's something else there too, now. Hot house flowers; overwhelming and red even in the olfactory sense.
"Here's a better question," Owen argues with himself. "How about, 'Why does Hartman's wonder-drug, the pride of Torchwood One, make our little Jonesy-boy so sick?'" Not a question he would have bothered over too much, save in a strictly professional sense. Might have mulled over it when he returned to work, accepted whatever Jack passed it off as. Now, however, it's a thorn in his paw, and he'll pick until it bleeds, because it's a puzzle. Because Katie wore peach blossom perfume, nothing like these exotic, phantom blooms.
"Anthoxopam is perfect. Perfect enough for parliament, perfect enough for Hartman-- which is saying something." And the Jack he'd spoken to on the phone had been livid-- no give, no laughter, no compromise. A ranting Jack was just an indulgent drama queen, making a scene to get his point across. It was a quiet Jack was the dangerous one; Captain Harkness, with no trace of the friendly Boss. The kind of man who smiled at an eater of human flesh, and asked if it wanted to help him brush up on his torture.
For a long time, Owen considers these things, chewing his lip and occasionally sipping from what is now his third can of beer. He turns them over in his mind, the way a child does with blocks, picturing all the ways they might fit together. What pieces might be missing. The sun begins to barely brush the horizon with false dawn, and Owen ruminates on his safely academic puzzle, while Gwen lays in his bed upstairs, sleeping off her guilt. In her flat across town, Tosh wakes up screaming-- turns her head swiftly into the pillow so as not to wake the neighbors. She's left her bedroom lights on all night, unable to bear the thought of waking and not being able to identify her surroundings in the dark. And Jack, panicked and unable to admit the full extent of it to himself, sweeps pill bottles off their perches in a cascade of destruction. Owen's autopsy bay is littered with multicolored capsules; Ianto Jones lies on the sofa in the Captain's office, breathing shallowly and dreaming of Jack saying no no no.
Full dawn will come. Gwen will rise, finding herself alone, and gather her things. Owen will see her in the stairwell and think, for one insane and grotesque moment, 'Why is Katie wearing Gwen's clothes?'. They'll murmur vaguely to each other, and Rhys Williams will wake up to find that Gwen has made him breakfast-- all the fixings-- while he was sleeping. Blinking and guilty, Toshiko will call her grandmother's cellphone with a rerouted number, and listen to the older woman's voice on the recording, never leaving a message at all.
There will be four cans of beer in Owen's dry sink-- dead soldiers, as they sometimes say. There will be rose petals, too, the vibrant red of those just picked, laying near the drain. They won't be there when he wakes again, of course, but that doesn't matter. His dreams will be of Katie, asking him if he would not have done the same for her, and he will not under why she's laughing.
The damage has already been done.
(and remember, leading scientists now believe feedback to be more powerful than nuclear energy! ^_~)