It was a shitty evening at the end of a shitty day.
Owen snorted morosely. Why was he surprised exactly? His whole life was just shit really. With or without Torchwood. Although, he could admit to himself that while the things he saw and did in Torchwood were worse than anything else he'd seen or done in his life before he'd lost Katie, the purpose it gave him was worth the long hours, terror, isolation and inevitable nightmares.
But that didn't stop the general shittiness caused by those things from being felt. Which was why he was in a bar, drinking alone - without the intention of picking up a woman to shag for the night. Most nights he'd crave those ministrations, wanting something to help him feel alive and block out the horrors of whatever awful thing he'd seen or done that day, distracting himself with the ecstasy of an orgasm. But tonight, after dealing with the cleanup - after retconning a man who'd been forced to watch as his wife was violently raped and murdered by some alien species he couldn't identify and disposing of the victim's remains... he just wanted to get blackout drunk.
The worst thing, Owen decided later, was that he didn't even manage to get halfway as drunk as he would have liked before he found himself making poor decisions that would result in him getting into serious trouble later on. Oh, he wasn't the instigator of the situation and it wasn't really his fault, but his usual caustic comments and infuriating nature were not withheld as he managed to exacerbate the situation much further than it might have gone otherwise.
There was a generic bunch of drunk assholes getting pissed in the back of the crappy pub, becoming rowdier the more they drank. Owen had been ignoring them the whole evening since they came in, just like all the other maudlin solo-drinkers did, but their shouts and raucous laughter and the occasional sounds of breaking furniture were still grating on him. However, when he was roughly shoved aside from his place at the bar by a staggering, red-headed dickhead who had been sent over to order more drinks for the group, Owen didn't bother reigning in his tongue.
"Oi! You bloody wanker! Watch who you're shoving!" Owen spat, glaring at the much bigger asshole even as he pushed himself up from where he had crashed into another patron.
The bloody wanker in question blinked once in surprise, before his face twisted into something mean as his drunken mind thrived in stupid conflicts, "What are you gonna do 'bout it, Pipsqueak?"
As frustrated and angry as Owen was after that day, the sight of an aggressive arse threatening him after he shove him was enough to remove any possibility of Owen backing down in the name of conflict resolution. Like the man, he drew himself up to his full height and stepped away from the bar to face off with the posturing douche. He managed to grab his miraculously unspilled whiskey without looking and quickly downed it before placing it firmly back in its place, all without looking away from the man, in a move that he would have labelled 'sufficiently badass' had he been in the right state of mind to do so.
Later, Owen wouldn't be sure whether it was lucky or not that their little confrontation was interrupted, since the rest of the night would have gone very differently if it hadn't been. As it was...
"MAC! Where are you with our bloody beer!?" The shout came from one of the other tossers from the rowdy group, who Owen surmised to be their leader, judging from how - after one long second of glowering - the idiot before him growled and turned to order the beer for his mates. Owen glared after him for a moment, before his assuaged pride allowed him to let it go with a customary scowl, turning back to his spot on the bar and waving for another whiskey. His back to the rest of the room, he didn't see 'Mac' pause on his way back to his gang, a nasty glare twisting his features.
About three drinks later
Owen blankly gestured for the barman to pour him another drink, and looked up in vague, slightly annoyed, surprise when the older man didn't make a move. As soon as he saw that he had Owen's attention, he flicked his eyes over to where the rowdy group of dickheads were still at the back of the pub, before leaning down speaking lowly.
"That group over there; they're trouble and I reckon that fella who ran into you is planning on starting something with you soon, judging by the way he and his friends keep glancing over at you. I would really appreciate it if I didn't have to clean up after bar fight, and I think it would be best if you left now before they lose the last of their sense to their alcohol."
Owen hadn't noticed before now, but when he saw two of the dickheads look over at him with almost cruel anticipation, he realised that the barman was right and that it was only a matter of time before one of them made a move. Didn't mean he wasn't disgruntled at being told to leave when he was still that sober, but he could see where the barman was coming from and he had no desire to piss him off by refusing. Nor did he have a desire to get bashed by a bunch of drunk idiots.
"Fine. Whatever," he muttered, beginning to rise.
Apparently the barman noticed his discontent, because he did pour him another drink, "One for the road. I'm sorry about the inconvenience. Everything you've drunk tonight is on the house."
Owen nodded shortly, before grabbing his jacket and striding for the exit, not paying attention to the way the gang of idiots began to rise when they saw him do so, smirking and jostling each other as they followed the medic. The barman, wiping a glass with a cloth, frowned in worry before reaching for the pub's phone. He picked up the receiver, but after a moment he placed it back down. He didn't need that kind of attention at his pub.
It wasn't until he was halfway across the gravel that substituted for a car park that Owen noticed he was being followed. Call it a sixth sense, but his paranoia, built up by years working in an institute where just about anything could try to kill you, tickled at the sound of gravel under boots which sounded like a predator stalking its prey. Those dickheads from the pub, no doubt. Well, if there was anything that Owen wasn't, it was prey, and he was both drunk and pissed off enough to not bother with trying to diffuse the situation.
He stopped, turning around to face the six men who stood behind him.
"Really?" He sneered, "You tossers want to do this?"
He didn't really see a point in not aggravating the gang, since he already knew with a certainty that they were spoiling for a fight and nothing he said would deter them. As much as he had no desire to get beat up, if it was going to happen he was going to make it worth it and hand out a few bruises of his own. Maybe he'd be able to milk his injuries to Tosh and Gwen in the Hub tomorrow, if he was even able to get to work at all, that was.
One of the men - the leader who Owen had identified earlier - spoke up with an ugly, slurred voice, "Our friend, Mac here, he told us you slighted him, and, see, we tend to not let insults like that go unpunished. Do we boys?!" That last was addressed to the other five men, who called denials and chuckled evilly. He then turned back to Owen with a smirk, "See?"
Owen, being Owen, decided that even though he was about to have the shit beaten out of him he would count it a victory if he could make the head wanker lose his composure. Thus...
"What I see is that you're a typical twat with some very sensitive cronies," Owen made sure to say it in his usual acerbic tone, since the lack of reaction to the threat would be more infuriating. He was right, he saw, when the leader's face twisted slightly and flooded with a red that could be attributed to both anger and embarrassment. Behind him, his aforementioned cronies shifted in unsure restlessness.
"You little prick!" He snarled, stalking towards him with his fist already swinging.
Owen was either less drunk or better at holding his alcohol, which probably had something to do with his life at Torchwood where he had to 'sober up' within a second, because he easily dodged the wild fist and landed a few hits of his own, before two of the other idiots joined in, striking his torso and grabbing him while he was winded. Even as he growled, he could feel that the hold the two larger men had on his arms would be difficult to shake, and there were still three other dicks who hadn't done more than laugh and observe until now.
"Get off, you bloody wankers!" He almost displaced one of the men, but the other held firm until he recovered, gripping tighter as a result.
In front of him, the leader glared, still furious at his comments and by him dodging those first few strikes. But before the asshole could say anything, or move to begin the inevitable beat down Owen knew he was going to receive, Owen felt a tug on his right arm as the man holding it was unexpectedly ripped away and shoved so he collided with the head dick. The man on his left then let out a pained grunt before letting go, not having moved to defend himself in his surprise, and he too was roughly shoved away from Owen. Head snapping to his left, Owen's eyes caught on the proud, distinctive greatcoat he saw every day at work, standing beside him.
Naturally, as the asshole that he had never denied being, Owen's first thoughts were along the lines of, 'bloody Harkness bloody showing up to bloody save me again even though I didn't bloody ask for his bloody help,' because Owen would never allow his relief to become predominant - or especially known.
But after he'd gone through the paces and satisfied himself with his continued status as a twat, Owen found himself appreciating the backup of his stalwart captain. If there was one thing he would admit to himself that having Jack around was good for, it was a fight.
Of course, he could never say any of that aloud.
"You know, as much as I would love it to have six guys follow me out of a bar, even I'm finding this foreplay a little rough," the Captain announced, his voice laden with suggestion and an infuriating smirk that Owen could actually hear.
He rolled his eyes. Tosser, he thought, but it wasn't as annoyed as he'd like it to be.
Of course, the men before him didn't take it well, their faces and necks flushing red with anger and embarrassment at even the suggestion of homosexuality.
"Watch it, fag!" The one called 'Mac' called, "Or we'll teach you the same lesson we're gonna teach him!"
Oh, bloody hell. They were just giving Jack openings for innuendos. Sure enough...
"Sorry. Although I would undoubtedly enjoy grunting and wrestling with six strong men, me and my friend here have work tomorrow."
"Bastard!" Mac's snarling face flushed red as he charged at the Captain, who didn't have to do more than lean to the side and use his own strength against him, directing him back.
Jack, calmly standing still in the cold, night air, was a direct contrast to the heaving, blotchy man he'd just bested, "Why don't you six do the smart thing and go home? Forget about all this."
Despite the rational and soothing demeanor Jack created with his charm, the men didn't seem inclined to let go of their anger or their pride, "The smart thing for you to do to do would be to kneel down while we kill your boyfriend. Maybe then we'll show you some mercy, you fucking faggot!"
There was a buzzing, now, coming from the back of his head, and Owen, drunk, angry and impatient, reacted as he usually would when he was pissed off, "That's rich, from you sheep fuckers!"
The leader snarled in fury, "You cock-sucking little swine-!"
"There's nothing wrong with sucking cocks," Jack tried to buffer the anger, or at least drag it back to him, but no one paid him any attention. The buzzing in Owen's head was getting louder, almost a roar and he felt red rage splash across his vision - not at the insults, he'd heard worse after all, but at the whole situation, at the hostility of the stupid wankers, everything.
"Least I don't fuck my own sister!" Owen yelled, ignoring the hand that Jack used to try and calm him down.
"You little-!" The head douche cut himself off in his own anger, but the piece he pulled escalated the situation more than anything he could have said.
Jack moved so fluidly that Owen barely even noticed it when he immediately stepped between him and the gun, "Hold up, there's no need to go that far." His left hand was held up in a placating gesture, which also distracted from his right hand that was brushing his Webley. If it came to that, he'd have the gun up in a second. Owen, not thinking clearly and annoyed with Jack deciding to defend him when he hadn't asked for it, tried to move around him, but Jack's hand shot out and pulled him back with an iron grip that Owen was too drunk to fight properly.
Unfortunately, the idiot with the gun was not appeased by Jack's appeal.
"You think you're so smart, you little shit!? Not so tough now, are you!?" The hand holding the gun was unsteady, but not so that it was likely he'd miss if he pulled the trigger. The gun was too far away for Jack to safely make a grab for it, but close enough that he wouldn't miss if he shot. His cronies - the ones that weren't completely pissed - were starting to look a little anxious with the appearance of the weapon.
But Owen was too angry to process any of that clearly.
"You want to see how tough I am!?" Owen tried again to get past Jack, his eyes not leaving that of the wanker.
"Owen," Jack said, in a failed attempt to calm him.
"Fuck you!" The douche screamed.
"You inbred piece of shit!" Owen yelled, eyes blazing with rage that accompanied the roaring in his ears.
In that moment, the anger of both parties, which had been steadily intensifying, boiled over in a release that was oh so easy. Their eyes were still connected in a blaze of furious passion as they abandoned reason for the sake of angry hate.
And then it froze. The sound of the gun going off was like a bucket of cold water over Owen and he felt his mind clear. For that one moment, everything was still. Tranquil. A tableau.
And then it was over.
The Captain collapsed, a part-whispered, "Shit," gasping from him as he fell, like a ship sinking beneath the ocean or a plane dropping from the sky.
Wide-eyed, horrified and disbelieving, Owen dropped too, automatically.
"Shit, Derog! You killed him!"
"Come on, let's ditch!"
Owen didn't notice the men leave. He rolled Jack so he was properly on his back, tearing his coat and shirt away to see the damage.
But Jack was already violently coughing up blood.
Desperate, denying and scrabbling for a solution even though there wasn't one, Owen grabbed Jack's limp hands and pushed them on his wound (he knew it was a lost cause, deep down, though). It was too close to his heart and had already torn through a lung.
"Jack." His voice was sharp and urgent, but not panicked (never panicked), "Jack, Jack, stay awake."
Unable to speak, Jack's eyes slid closed. His body convulsed in hypovolemic shock.
"Jack!" Owen called. Jack's face was white and clammy, the blood standing out on his lips like rose petals in snow.
Jack shuddered once more, and then went still.
Owen, completely on autopilot, checked his pulse.
Nothing. There was nothing
He felt himself go numb.
Jack. The Captain. Captain Jack Harkness was dead.
FUCK! Fuck fuck fuck!
What the hell had he done!?
Owen wasn't usually one to accept responsibility when he could avoid it and he normally didn't embrace guilt, but right then? Right then, with his Captain dead on the ground because Owen was angry enough and stupid enough to provoke a dickhead with a gun, he felt it scour him. And he just sat there, beside the corpse of his boss while it's blood ran cold and the guilt ran it's course. He didn't even think about moving. Not yet.
He couldn't even bloody think at all.
How was he supposed to react? He would... No, he couldn't call the cops. Even though this didn't involve aliens, anything involving Torchwood personnel like this would have to be handled in-house. Involving the police in the murder of a Torchwood operative would mean exposing them too closely to the organisation. No, he'd have to call... Oh, God.
He'd have to do it. He'd have to deal with the... with Jack's...
Owen's eyes stung with tears. He growled at himself, blinking rapidly to dispel the reaction.
He had to call the others too. He had to tell them. They were all home for the night. Should he call them now, or wait until they got in...? No. No, he had to do it now, obviously. This wasn't the sort of thing you waited to do. Not the sort of surprise you spring on your co-workers when they get in in the morning. They had to know now - deserved to know now.
Jack wasn't... Jack hadn't been just their boss. Owen wasn't sure exactly how to define the relationship between them and Jack - even the individual ones, because Jack... everything was complicated. Because he was their boss and their Captain, as well as their friend and co-worker, and their teacher and their support and their love-interest and their... sometimes, very rarely, he was... it was almost like...
(He couldn't say it.)
It was complicated.
He knew Tosh saw Jack as something of a savior. Neither of them had ever disclosed how they met, and it had happened long before Owen was a part of the picture, but he saw the way Tosh looked at him. Admiration and respect (which weren't the same thing) and gratitude. There were enough hints dropped for Owen to guess that he had saved her from something. The fact that Tosh was willing to tease him and speak up when she thought he was in the wrong showed Owen that she hadn't put Jack on a pedestal, but she did defer to him when he insisted, trusting him despite her own judgment, and whenever he paid attention to her work or complimented her skills, there was always a quiet pride that shone in her eyes, pleased at making him proud.
Suzie... before she'd... well, just before, she had used to look at Jack as a support beam. Something steady that prevented herself and her life from collapsing upon itself. She'd been broken inside for a long, long time, in a way that Owen could comprehend but hadn't felt himself, and she had never been fixed, the closest she ever came to it had been through her work with Torchwood - with them and Jack. Jack, who had found her and given her a purpose and something close to hope. Jack who she had almost trusted. There had also been a desire there, Owen knew, but he had no idea if she had ever acted on it.
Gwen, despite her years as a cop, still thought of Jack as her hero. A fairy tale Prince Charming who swept her off her feet. A dashing, mysterious, handsome man - no doubt hiding tragedies for her to soothe. She was attracted to Jack, obviously, but Owen also believed that the Welshwoman thought him to be somewhat of a Beast, which she, Belle, had to teach kindness while they both fell in love with each other. It was why she always decided to get her opinion in, no matter the situation, and never hesitated to challenge orders. It was also why she tended to insist that she was the best one for the job when it came to getting answers from Jack or corralling him, because she believed herself to be the only one able to get him to open up.
To Ianto, Jack was an enigma. An enigma in his life that had caused him pain and threatened to kill him, but who had also freed him and forgiven him. By killing the Tea Boy's robot girlfriend and so utterly forcing him to understand what she had become, Jack had completely destroyed Ianto, but by doing so he had also saved him. Freed him, cleansed him of the cancerous part of him that needed to let go and get back in the game without the blind love towards something that would eventually decimate him. Owen knew that Ianto had hated Jack to start with, for killing the thing he loved most in the world, but he also knew that he had gotten over it and that he was probably confused about that. It wasn't a case of heart vs logic, but heart vs heart; his love for Lisa against what he deep down knew to be true - that thing was a monster and his girlfriend was already gone. Ianto had already forgiven Jack and was now working on forgiving himself, while also feeling attracted to Jack, as well as empathetic towards him. And the Welshman wasn't sure how or where that was going.
As for Owen himself... Owen wasn't sure. He supposed it was something similar to Suzie, although not quite, and he understood some of Ianto's confusion... to an extent that stopped firmly before attraction. It wasn't because of Katie, though. It was about power. Katie had been the one thing in his life that he had really loved. That he had had hope in. That he was content to spend forever with. And then, because of some alien, she was gone. And Jack Harkness had saved him - given him a purpose that forced him to keep pushing. And a part of him still hated him for it; for saving him and leaving him indebted to him. Because it gave him power over Owen, power that he had never let anyone have over him in his life. Not his mum or his dad, not any of his friends or teachers or girlfriends. Not anyone until Katie. He hated Jack for saving him and he hated himself for allowing him, and he spent every day reminding himself of it through his actions, because if he didn't, he'd break. If he didn't, he'd be grateful and he'd give more of himself and his hope to Torchwood, he'd open himself up and give too much; more than he could bare to lose.
Never give anyone more than you're prepared to lose. He'd learnt that lesson with Katie, and when she'd died, every part of himself that he'd given her died too. He couldn't go through that again. There wasn't enough of him left.
It was already feeling too similar. The numbness and guilt was too similar from the last time.
How could this have even happened!? Bloody Harkness, always the hero - how could he have survived all those years, all those missions, only to die outside a pub? It was a useless death! Why had he wasted his time saving Owen!? Why hadn't he just let him get himself killed!?
How was Owen's life supposed to pay for the death of Captain Jack Harkness?
Owen didn't believe in karma or plans, or any other shit like that, despite everything he'd seen. As far as he was concerned, shit happened and life wasn't fair. If it was, Owen's dad wouldn't have left and his mum would have loved him. Katie would still be alive. Jack wouldn't have died for him. If life was fair, he'd be the one dead.
But this still didn't make any sense. The man who Owen both hated and admired, who was an adversary, boss, captain and friend to him, who always kept going, who he and the others spent many hours trying to scrap together any information they could about him, who-
Jack's body inhaled sharply, his head rising for a moment before falling back to the ground, chest heaving gasping breaths and arms flailing.
It was instinctual and automatic and Owen didn't even notice himself do it, but his hand immediately flew to Jack's holster, drawing the Webley in a swift move and backing away, the pistol aimed unerringly at the... animated corpse.
Jack sat up gasping, still reeling from the usual pain and confusion that came when he resurrected. There was a rush of sensory information that translated into data in the microsecond he had to think (stars=night, grave=road?, blood=shot?stab?) before the circumstances of his death snapped back into his mind as they usually did. Grimacing slightly, Jack moved to get up before he heard the familiar click of his pistol and a hard, yet also strained, voice.
Owen saw the corpse move to get up and automatically cocked the pistol. Speaking slowly, in a low, clear and dangerous warning tone to try and compensate for the hysteria, confusion and panic that was beginning to run through him, Owen gave an order, his voice slow and as steady as he could make it, "Don't move. Stay exactly where you are."
Surprise and dread filled Jack - and maybe even a bit of sadness too - as he slowly, arms raised, twisted his torso towards the all-too familiar voice. Owen was standing a few feet away, gun trained on him and a steely glare that Jack sometimes saw on his face when directed towards the darker, more serious threats they encountered. Damn. Owen knew, and he wasn't reacting well. Even though he knew it was most likely useless, Jack began to try and placate him, hoping to at least have the chance to explain to Owen before all hope was lost and the other man set his opinion, "Owen-"
"Shut up," Owen snapped at the being, which was looking at him with a wariness that suggested it wanted to reason with him. His glare intensified, his tone harsh as he questioned, "What are you? Some kind of shapeshifter? Possession?" Owen couldn't stop the tiny spark of hope from igniting in him at the first thought. If this being was a shapeshifting alien of some kind, then Jack might still be alive - if the alien hadn't done anything to him. If it was possession, well, Jack would still be dead after he dealt with whatever it was that had taken over his body.
Jack couldn't stop the relief from flooding him at Owen's question - as well as trepidation. Owen thought that he was talking to a threat, not Jack himself, so the hostility wasn't directed towards him or his... condition. On the other hand, that meant the doctor didn't know his secret and he had no way of knowing how the other would react when he told him - which he would have to do now. Oh, Jack knew he could probably spin a tale about whatever 'possessed' him healing him after being shot and then fake an exorcism, but his instincts - the ones that he didn't ignore - told him that would be a mistake. For some reason he couldn't explain, Jack knew that it was time Owen found out.
Jack knew it would happen one day - every other Torchwood team he had been on had known, which had proved to be both a good thing and a bad thing in the past. He was always scared that it would be a bad thing, though. He'd had enough people find out in the past who had then used it as an excuse to dehumanise him, like Alice and Emily and countless others. Then there were the people, like Lucia, who hated and envied his curse. Or people like Angelo, who grew scared and betrayed him, thinking that it didn't matter in the end because there was no harm done - because there could never be any harm done to a man who cannot die.
And this was Owen, self-proclaimed twat, part of the team he had hand-picked. Owen, who had been so shattered by life when Jack met him, and seemed so callous, bitter and uncaring, but wasn't quite able to snuff out the last vestiges of his empathy. Owen, who was never afraid to make his displeasure known or question his instructions whenever Jack made a decision he didn't like.
Owen didn't move as the being closed its (Jack's?) eyes and sighed, before opening them again with a determined gleam, although he did take note of the fact that the being was very comfortably using the body. Whether that was a good thing or not, Owen was unclear, but it did reduce the likelihood of possession.
"It's me Owen - just me," the being spoke with Jack's voice and accent. "No one else is in here. And I'm not a shapeshifter or a chameleon - and yes, I know that's what a shapeshifter or a chameleon would say-"
"Bullshit," Owen immediately denied, gun unerring and voice still taut. "You were dead - fucking dead. Don't try telling me you weren't. There's no way you're human, so what are you?" Owen hesitated, before adding and hoping that the vulnerable hope in his voice would remain undetected, "Where's Jack? Is he still alive?"
Jack sighed, realising that this would be more difficult that he'd hoped and deciding to abandon any semblance of a script. What the hell, this was going to be a difficult conversation for him too, not just Owen. He muttered, "Believe me, the absolute last issue I have is staying alive."
Owen stepped forward in an attempt to appear more threatening, before once more demanding, "Who and what are you? And what are you doing wearing my Captain's face?"
Jack looked Owen directly in the eyes, speaking gently but firmly, "Captain Jack Harkness: dashing hero who enjoys rescues both princesses and princes. Director of Torchwood Three and your boss, Owen. I recruited you after your fiancee was killed by an alien. You and the rest of the team spend a significant amount of time trying to dig into my past and, congratulations, you just found out my party trick." Tone softening slightly, Jack reasoned, "Come one, Owen. Put down the gun and we can talk."
That... that sounded like Jack. Not just the words, but the tone of voice and posture as well. It was entirely too... not quite casual, but natural. Owen could feel himself wavering slightly, confusion and curiosity warring with the part of him that told him it would be idiotic to trust the potential threat.
The being (who was maybe Jack) must have seen his hesitation (bastard) because he continued, "Look, Owen," he closed his eyes and sighed, "what I'm going to tell you will seem like a lot, even by Torchwood's standards, but you know you want to hear it."
Jack opened his eyes again and steadily met the gaze of the young doctor, whose own eyes were showing a conglomeration of determination, conflict, curiosity, anger, wariness and even a little bit of fear. A moment passed as they looked at each other and Jack let his own face show rare a rare sort of seriousness that was reserved for when he let his guard down. Then the Webley lowered - although it was still in Owen's hands and ready to be used - and he heard Owen muttering with a scowl, "I can't believe I'm buying this crap." He then turned a glare on Jack, "You owe me one heck of an explanation for this, Harkness!"
The almost vacant bitterness of Jack's smile surprised Owen, "Don't I know it." Slowly - almost defeated - Jack rose to his feet, before abruptly turning away and walking over to the SUV. After a moment, Owen cursed, sticking the Webley in his belt, and followed him.
The slam of the car door as he climbed in the passenger seat jarred loudly in the relatively peaceful night. Still scowling, Owen looked to his right to see Jack staring out the windscreen, but the uncharacteristically tense, restless form of his Captain told him that Jack was looking into the past rather than looking away from now.
After a few seconds when the Captain still hadn't said anything, Owen finally lost his patience, "Well?"
Jack looked at him, the tense expression still on his face, and Owen thought that it was the most emotion he had seen from the Captain since they had found Lisa in the basement. Eventually he sighed, "You're right. I was dead."
It took Owen a moment to realise he'd spoken and then to process the words, before shock and confusion set in. Somehow, he had still expected another explanation and hadn't quite accepted what he had seen. "What-?"
"I was dead, but I came back," Jack cut him off. He then looked directly into his eyes, before calmly saying, "I can't stay dead, Owen."
Incredulity shot through Owen at the explanation, "What do you mean you can't stay dead?"
"I mean exactly that," was the impossible reply. "I've been shot, stabbed, poisoned, exsanguinated, impaled, choked, starved, drowned, blown up... Nothing sticks. I don't know why. I'm still waiting for the one guy who might be able to give me answers to show up," if Owen was feeling any less shocked, he might have pressed that last part, picking up on the almost hidden tone that revealed his vulnerability.
Having expected the other man to speak by now, Jack registered Owen's silence and eyed him in consideration, taking note of the fact that the doctor hadn't redrawn his weapon, although he was still staring at him in stupefaction, "You're taking this rather well."
Jack's comment brought Owen out of his cycle of thought, denial and wonder slipping away for the moment. He realised he was gaping a little and snapped his mouth closed with a snap, his features falling into a characteristic scowl. "How does someone 'take it well'?" He questioned sarcastically.
Jack shrugged at him, "Well, you haven't shot me yet."
Owen felt his expression morph into one of disbelief and snarkily asked, "That a common problem?"
But Jack's expression was considering, his eyes distant before he slowly nodded, "When they find out like this; yes."
Owen blinked, "What, when you tell them? Or when they...?"
"When they see first-hand. I very rarely tell people, but when I do their initial reaction is generally to assume I'm either lying or senile," Jack explained reasonably, and Owen just nodded vaguely.
"Hold on," the doctor's voice was stronger this time and more like his usual tone, "you said you don't know why you... What happened?"
Jack looked at him for a long moment before nodding to himself, "I'm really not sure about that myself. All I know is, one minute I'm backed into a corner and outnumbered in one of the worst possible ways and I swear they killed me, but then I wake up, feeling like... like my whole body has just been hauled across broken glass. I have no idea what happened, and since then nothing can keep me dead."
"You know nothing?" Owen repeated. Jack just shook his head helplessly. Owen took a moment to process that before he realised something, "When was this?"
Jack gave a humourless smirk, "For me? A long time ago."
Owen latched onto that, "For you?"
Jack looked at the young doctor, at the man under his command. He knew what he was looking for, an insight into who Jack was before Torchwood. He and the rest of the team had tried often enough to find answers. He thought about what would happen if he drew the curtain back a little further. What would the consequences be? If he told Owen this, he'd be telling him more than he'd ever told anyone about himself since he'd left the Time Agency all those years ago (all those years ahead, really). He knew he wouldn't have any guarantee that Owen would keep what he learned to himself, and it was entirely possible that whatever he said next would be relayed to the rest of the team. He trusted them - he trusted Owen - as members of his team, but could he trust them with this? With his past? He'd never given anyone in Torchwood more than a glimpse before. He'd never opened up about his past this way before and he couldn't deny that a large part of him was frightened at the possibility.
Sighing silently, Jack came to a decision.
"Yeah, it was a long time ago for me. But about 200 000 years in the future for the rest of the universe."
Owen froze, his mind catching on the phrase, '200 000 years.' His mind flashed, information from science fiction and Torchwood coagulating as he came to the most logical, insane, conclusion, but one that was suddenly seeming like the only answer.
"You're a time traveler," he stated with absolute certainty, despite the nature of the declaration.
Jack's lips quirked in a small smile, mild curiosity in his eyes inviting him to go on. To ensure he wasn't insane, Owen obliged.
"You're a time traveler from the future," he explained, staring at Jack with a slight challenge in his eyes. "That's why we don't know anything about you, where you're from, who you are. And how you know so much about the alien stuff that comes through the Rift," Owen paused, realising something else, "It also explains why you're so... well."
Jack smirked. "We're a lot less conservative in my millennium," he acknowledged.
Owen looked at him, "So I'm right? You're from the future?" He wasn't sure if he was expecting Jack to refute his conclusion or not. There was a beat before the Captain replied.
"I was born in the late fifty-first century," he confirmed, and Owen sat back in the seat. "I joined the Time Agency, worked with them for a few years before I left. Then I was a conman for a while, before I met up with a couple of other time travelers and got roped into saving the universe, which was where I died the first time. The- The people I was travelling with - the one who might have answers - left me there. Probably thought I was dead, which, fair enough. I spent a year on the Earth of that time, hoping he'd show up, before I eventually came here, trying to find him and my vortex manipulator broke. I've been waiting ever since."
"You think you're friends will show up through the Rift?" Owen asked skeptically.
Jack shook his head, "No, no. Torchwood is just... what I've been doing in the meantime. The way that he travels, well the Rift acts as a sort of fuel-point, so I know he'll show up eventually. At some point this century, in fact."
"Some point this century?" Owen asked in incredulity, "What, you're just going to hope he shows up at some point in the next ninety years? Or what if he shows up sooner? You're just going to swan off? After everything you've done and built here in Cardiff?" What gave Jack the right to leave them, the people he'd saved? Ow- the team needed him!
"I know it'll be this century. Owen, if he comes... he's the only one who can give me answers. I was only ever supposed to stay with Torchwood until he came back."
"But you're the leader of Torchwood!?"
"Only because I was the only one left! I couldn't very well leave the Rift unmanaged!"
"So what? He shows up and you leave with him? Is that it?"
"...I don't know," Jack's voice was low as he gazed out a window into something unfathomable and more than likely timeless. "I miss the stars, Owen. I miss him- them. I miss the freedom, travelling through space and time, meeting other people and cultures." He took a deep breath and Owen listened to his murmured, "I need answers. I need to know why I'm... and why he..."
That was when Owen realised just how human Jack was. He'd never deluded himself into thinking that Jack was infallible, but he'd never seen him look so lost. He thought about what Jack had said and for the first time wondered what it must be like for him to be essentially stranded in a time that was a distant past for him, waiting for a man to show up - who might not show up for years to come - so he could get answers.
"How long have you been waiting for him, Jack?" He asked in morbid curiosity, wondering how long the man beside him had already spent hoping that his friend would show up.
Owen's head whipped around in shock at the nonchalant answer. Jack gave him a smile that was tinged with bitterness, "Yeah, I can't die and I haven't aged since the first time. Plus, the manipulator was on the fritz when I was travelling so I overshot on the time and ended up in nineteenth-century Cardiff, rather than twenty-first century Cardiff."
"You've been waiting here for 130 years?" Owen asked in disbelief and a little bit of awe. He couldn't... even imagine...
Jack nodded again, "Yeah."
"You just watch the world go by," Owen commented.
"That's why I need to find him, so he can fix me."
And that... Owen understood. He loved living and enjoying the most out of life, but he also knew he wouldn't want to live forever, even if his body was eternally in its prime. He couldn't bare to exist that long with himself, let alone watching everyone else around him grow old and die.
He nodded in understanding.
"Has it been worth it? Waiting?"
Jack was still for a long moment and Owen knew he was running through his past, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. "Yeah. Yeah, it's been worth it. Not always, but... I guess it will be much clearer once I know I won't have to worry about going on forever. It's kinda cliched, but existence is much more fun when you know it's temporary."
Owen considered, and everything Jack had just told him, in silence for a long while. Jack sat beside him, not moving to drive away and his gaze was still distant, likely remembering parts of his past or thinking about the fact that Owen now knew his secret. It wasn't until about twenty minutes had passed that Owen was hit by another point, and he frowned.
"Why haven't you told the team any of this? I've worked for you for three years and to the best of my knowledge none of us know anything about you. And don't tell me we wouldn't believe it! I'll admit, I hadn't expected... well, any of this, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility when you work for Torchwood."
Jack looked at him, and Owen was unable to read anything in the older man's expression, "In all my years on Earth, Owen, this is the furthest I've ever opened up about my past to anyone. When you have a history as long as mine... it's safe to say that we do not want to be haunted by the skeletons in my closet, however unlikely it may seem that any would show up here."
"I get that, but what about the immortality thing? I thought you were a shapeshifter at first." Owen did understand some of what Jack wasn't telling him about wanting to keep his past to himself.
Jack swallowed and sighed, "You were always going to find out eventually. In fact, this team is the only one I've been on that didn't know about that, and I've been with Torchwood since 1899."
Owen did a double-take. 100 years. Jack had been in Torchwood for over 100 years. Bloody hell.
Jack continued speaking while Owen processed that, "Let's just say I have a lot of experience with people finding out about my condition and then deciding I don't need the same considerations or liberties as the 'real humans'."
Owen felt unease crawl through him even as he gave Jack a questioning glance, "What, they use you as canon fodder?"
"Canon fodder, threat... test subject," Owen's eyes widened and he shot a startled glance towards him at that last one, "sample. Not everyone was like that, though. Alex, my predecessor, he was a good man and he looked out for me if anyone who knew ever looked at me like a specimen rather than a person. But... I've also learnt the hard way that no matter how well you think you know someone, they can always surprise you with their capacity for kindness or cruelty."
"Test subject!?" Owen whispered in hoarse horror, "When was this?"
Jack smiled, "Emily Holroyd and Alice Guppy; the women who recruited me way back in 1899. It started with them testing the limits on what I could resurrect from, but soon moved to using unknown alien devices on me, just to see what they'd do. Then there were the weapons' development, drug and medication tests and... fine tuning the advanced interrogation techniques."
Oh God. What the fuck!? Owen could feel his hands beginning to tremble out of rage and disgust, which soon gave way to stricken sympathy as he thought about what that meant. What it meant to be immortal, but able to die and experience pain, and in the hands of people who looked at him as a commodity.
"Shit," Owen shook his head, "Shit. Jack, that's..."
"It's bad," Jack finished when Owen faltered. "I know. But it's not the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I'm not a victim, Owen. I've done worse to other people than anything they ever did to me."
Hearing that didn't reduce any of Owen's horror. He'd always known that Jack was a survivor, and he had known that to be a survivor the way that he was, you sometimes had to cut down others. He had personally guessed that Jack had previously been an agent in some American agency, and he wouldn't have been surprised to learn that he had been involved in interrogations or even torture. So with the admission that Jack was over 150 years old, Owen was not the least bit shocked to receive confirmation. It didn't affect who he was to Owen now, though, and it didn't lessen the anger and nausea he felt on his Captain's behalf.
"Why did you stay!?" Owen blurted.
Thankfully, Jack didn't need Owen to clarify what he was asking. The doctor was glad, because if he had to elaborate on that point, he'd end up showing a level of emotion that he desperately didn't want to bare. As it was, Owen wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to get away with saying he didn't care about anything again, at least not within the Captain's hearing.
"I'm not one to just sit around when there's a fight to be had, and protecting humanity from alien threats and aliens from human threats was something I was both capable and uniquely qualified for. Besides, I figured if my friends came back, Torchwood would be the first to know."
Owen shook his head in amazed incredulity. The idiot beside him was dehumanised for years by an organisation which he then decided to turn around and work for, just because they might be the first to know if his time travelling friends ever showed up. He had let go of being essentially tortured in favour of waiting for his friends.
Jack saw Owen's expression and decided it would be best not to press that point. It didn't really matter anyway.
"No wonder you keep your past so close to your chest," Owen said bitterly. Jack shot him an inquiring look and Owen felt the corners' of his lips twitch upwards in a smile that was as manufactured as it was sharp. "You put all your faith in your friends - who you haven't seen in one and a half centuries - so you ran out of faith to place in the rest of us."
The words by themselves could have easily been an attack on Jack for not placing enough trust in his team, but Jack knew Owen and he recognised that that wasn't it at all. Owen's harshness was directed at humanity in general and Torchwood specifically, in the fashion of a true cynic. With that in mind, as well as the realisation that this was something that Owen often laboured over - humanity's penchant for inexplicable cruelty - Jack responded directly.
"I could never put too much faith in my friends," Jack firmly believed this. "They've more than earned it, and I would wait a thousand years if I had to for them," Jack flinched, once again remembering the name he'd read on the list of the dead at the Battle of Canary Wharf, but he pulled himself together because what he had to say was important and Owen needed to hear it. "And I do have faith in you, Owen. You, the team and the rest of us humans. Sure, I've been burned in the past and I... take precautions against that, but not everyone is like that. Sometimes, humanity is disgusting - and I've seen more horrid things from the people I've been defending then I have from the 'alien threats' in the last 150 years - but sometimes it's beautiful. Yes, there's betrayal and heartbreak and torture and things worse than death, but there's also love and life and music and hope and... second chances," Jack's eyes turned distant, thinking of a time long past for him, "Some people are worth fighting for." Then his gaze returned to the present and he looked at Owen with a depth that he didn't often show, "And that means humanity as a whole is worth fighting for."
Owen shook his head, "If that were true then you wouldn't need to 'take precautions' with who you trust. Sure, not all of humanity sucks, but the parts that do by far overpower those that don't." Owen thought about his life and the things that he'd seen. His time with Katie hadn't always been perfect - he'd had too many issues and he'd always been an unrepentant asshole - but he'd loved her. Loved her more than life itself, as cliched as it was. Being with her had been the most blissful, euphoric feeling in the world. But losing her? That had hurt so much more. Because he'd lost more than just that joy, he'd lost his hope. The pain had by far outweighed the happiness.
And damn Jack for looking at him with those too-knowing eyes. What happened to that arrogant, immature wanker that he usually saw at work?
The one they had all accused of being an unfeeling monster. At one point or another. Oh.
"I have to take precautions, Owen, because I surround myself with the worst of us. It's my job to deal with the bad parts of humanity, and in order to protect the good parts, I more often than not have to isolate myself from them." Jack leaned closer to him, his eyes meeting his in a steady gaze, "Every day I lose a little more of my soul; become a little less human. Every day I make the hard choices - the choices that no one else will make, but that nonetheless need to be made - the choices like letting Jasmine go with the faeries without a fight. I make those choices, slowly become something unrecognisable, so that the rest of you don't become twisted by them - so that whatever goodness is left in the world can remain free and untainted. I make those choices - not in spite of the rest of you hating me for them - but so you can hate me for them. Because the light, the beauty, the joy - the hope... it's worth dying for, it's worth fighting for, and it's worth living this life for."
And oh, did that shake Owen up. Even as the intensity faded from Jack after his speech, Owen still felt trapped in the moment, hearing everything that was said and discovering a new perspective to the man who introduced him to the wonderful hellhole that was Torchwood.
"That's why you didn't say anything to us when we were pissed after Jasmine," Owen began in new realisation. "You didn't stay away to protect yourself from our being pissed at you... you did it to protect our ability to be angry at your choice in a no-win situation from reality."
Jack smiled, "Look at that, Dr Owen Harper willingly empathising with his enigmatic boss."
"Yeah well, it'd be kinda hard not to after..." Owen shook his head, unable to really finish that sentence accurately. There was silence for a few moments, before Jack's face slid into something that Owen would still have to classify as 'unreadable'.
"Hey Owen, I have to ask," Jack paused, making sure he had the doctor's attention. This... he wasn't sure if he really needed or just wanted the answer, but some part of him told him he needed to know and, what the hell, it was hardly the largest risk he'd taken that night. Besides, he was definitely curious about Owen's answer, "If I asked you retcon yourself - just forget tonight... would you?"
Owen met his gaze sharply, likely trying to figure out what he was really asking and what the correct answer was. There wasn't one, really, and Jack knew that even if Owen did figure it out, he would still say what he meant instead.
"No," he eventually answered. "No, I wouldn't. If you gave me a pill and told me to take it, I would, seeing as we both know you could find a way to get to me later anyway, but I wouldn't be happy about it. And if you were just asking me to take the pill, but I had the option of refusing?" Owen trailed off, and Jack observed him silently before finally nodding.
"OK," he took a breath, "OK. Why not?" He wouldn't force Owen to forget this. Things were going to be different.
"I won't tell the others either," Owen announced, surprising Jack, who had just accepted the idea of having his team knowing more about him than any of the previous teams he'd been a part of in his century at Torchwood. "Not unless it suddenly becomes entirely relevant to a case and I have to."
Jack looked at Owen skeptically, "Is that something you can actually promise?" Owen, understanding the question and not offended by his skepticism, nodded.
"Your life story's too shit for me to tell the others and have them believe me."
Jack cracked a grin at that, "True. You guys never believe my stories." The bloody wanker actually pouted. Owen rolled his eyes.
"That's because-" Owen suddenly paused in what he was saying, taking in Jack's mischievous grin and remembering everything he had learned about his Captain that night. "Damn. Now I don't know whether you've been telling the truth the entire time I've known you."
"'Unless he knew you wouldn't believe the truth even if he told it to you.'" Jack quoted, still grinning. Owen stared, and he let out a laugh. "What, you never wondered where Ted Elliot came up with Captain Jack Sparrow?"
Owen shook his head in silent denial before he recovered his voice, "No. No. No way. You have to be making that up. I'll buy the time-travelling and immortality, but..." He trailed off as Jack burst into laughter at the expression on his face. "Bullshit. Bull. Shit."
"Really, you're still doubting me?" Jack managed to get out between huffs of laughter.
Owen leveled him with an unimpressed stare, which really just set him off again, much to the doctor's annoyance. "I may have just witnessed your Jesus trick half an hour ago, but I still have limits on what I'll believe."
Jack blinked, having almost forgotten what had prompted the whole conversation in the first place. It seemed that Owen largely had too, because a questioning frown suddenly stole across his face.
"Hang on, why-? What were you even doing here?"
Jack shrugged, "Looking for you."
"Why? Thought I was going to go off the deep end?" Owen's tone was sharp.
Jack sent him a look that saw straight through him, "I was worried about you. You know why."
Owen swallowed and looked away. He did know why. Today's incident had hit him really hard, and he knew Jack was probably right to be worried. It wasn't just the thought of what that woman had gone through or the fact that the victim reminded him of Katie. It was the husband's utter brokenness before he'd been retconned. The all-too-familiar look in his eyes at the loss of the one person he loved before anything, the one person who made life seem wonderful rather than tragic. He didn't need a ghost machine to know what that felt like.
Owen wondered briefly if it wouldn't be better to forget; to wipe his memory of Katie, but he shook the thought away soon enough. No, Owen wasn't the sort of person to want the wizard to stay behind the curtain. The things he saw at Torchwood were horrid, but at least they were real. At least he wasn't existing oblivious to the cruel nature of the universe, protected only by the blissful veil of ignorance. His life may be miserable, but it was his life, and the painful memories were part of that and who he was.
"You're a part of my team, Owen. My team," Jack's voice continued as Owen thought. Jack's team - the people he recruited and saved, who he showed wonders and horrors. The damaged yet somehow idealistic people he protected while also teaching them how to defend themselves. The people he might one day leave in order to take care of his own needs. "You're all my responsibility. You're also all my friends."
Owen looked up. Friends. That was such a complicated topic for Owen, who had never excelled at making or keeping them, or ever really tried to do either. And yet, if any of the people in his life could bare the title, it would have to be them; Jack, Gwen, Tosh and even Ianto.
Owen wondered vaguely if it was that realisation that caused him to make his next uncharacteristically altruistic offer.
"That goes both ways, Jack," he announced before he even realised it, staring at the Captain hardly. "You're our responsibility too."
Jack gazed at him, clearly hearing what Owen was really saying. If you ever need us - if you ever need me...
Finally, he dipped his head in a nod.
There was silence if the SUV, but this time, instead of it being awkward, considering, tense or uncertain, it was companionable. Comfortable.
Finally, Jack decided to break it, throwing a grin in Owen's direction, "Come on, the night is still relatively young. There are much cheerier pubs we can go to now."
Owen looked at Jack, seeing his Captain's expression of happiness, for once not tinted by the wall of loneliness and secrets and pasts better off forgotten, and was unable to stop his own lips from sliding into a quick smile, unfettered by cynicism, "Yeah. Yeah, why not?"