Disclaimer: All characters and situations owned by the BBC and Paramount
Timeline: After "End of Days" for Torchwood (which means after "The Sound of Drums" for Dr. Who), during season 6 for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Author's note: Written for the Multiverse 2007 ficathon. The request (by Astrogirl) had simply been for Garak and Torchwood; the result, I'm afraid, is something of a triple crossover.
Thanks to: Kathy for beta-reading.
Just a few hours before the world ended, they got lucky.
After a few days traipsing through the bloody Himalayas, with nothing to show for it but blistering feet, Owen started to believe they were on a wild goose chase. Normally, he'd have been the first to complain, to argue they should just go back to Cardiff. It wouldn't have been difficult to convince the others, either, not with Ianto imagining Jack returning the moment they stopped waiting for him, Gwen imagining the same thing while doing her usual guilt trip about Rhys, and Toshiko not about to go against the majority.
"It looks like the…incident that started in Cardiff still has some fallout," the government official who had originally demanded to talk to Jack had said, and Owen thought he knew what that meant. All the people from different times hadn't disappeared; somewhere, there were still some living remnants of the past stranded. Because he had opened the Rift.
He remembered the plague victims, that smell pervading the sterilized hospital air, and imagined some carrier walking through the mountains in India or Bengladesh, spreading death. Didn't have to be the plague, could be so many things; the variety of historic diseases was infinite.
So Owen kept looking.
It was better than sitting around in the Hub and waiting for Jack to return anyway.
When Tosh came across the story about a grey-skinned, horribly deformed man, Owen hoped it would turn out to be a Weevil, but it wasn't a very strong hope. Some variation of leprosy, more likely. Consequently, finding the man in question brought a sense of relief, first and foremost.
"That's an alien," Gwen said, eyes wide.
"Thanks, PC Obvious," Owen replied automatically, but his heart wasn't in it; the relief was already fading. The grey-skinned individual, who vaguely resembled a lizard with his ridges, smiled at them, which was less reassuring than a drawn weapon and a good old fashioned "take me to your leader" would have been. He had very bright blue eyes. Next to Owen, Tosh held herself rigidly. Given how her last alien encounter went, one couldn't blame her.
"You know," said the alien in perfect English, "I'd love to believe this is all an elaborate prank of Dr. Bashir's, and that this holo simulation will end soon, because its charm has started to fade, but somehow, I rather doubt it."
The alien was called Garak ("plain and simple," he said, and Owen decided to check him for pheromones and/or hypnotic powers as soon as possible), claimed to be from the future and after hearing about the Rift in Cardiff was ready to come with them, wishing to return to his own time.
"There is no guarantee," Owen said, trying not to think of Diane in her air plane and failing, as usual. "You could end up anywhere."
"True," Garak conceded, "but frankly, Earth at the start of your 21st century has lost its charm. At least in this region."
Considering it would be impossible to take Garak with them on a normal flight, they tried to contact the government official who had sent them on their mission to begin with. Previously, there had been too much interference whenever they attempted to contact anyone but each other, and Tosh had blamed the mountains and the lack of nearby servers, but now they actually got a connection.
"Jack tried to reach us," Tosh said, biting her lips. "And there's a message from a woman named Vivienne Rook."
Ianto looked stricken. Gwen tried to call Jack back at once, but was met with the same static noises they got all the other times they tried this, so they decided to play the message instead, which had nothing to do with Jack and was about Harold Saxon, the new PM, whom Mrs. Rook seemed to believe was some kind of fake with sinister, if unspecified intentions.
"This is all terribly interesting," Garak said, "but didn't you intend to organize transportation?"
"Saxon sent us here," Ianto said, his face white. "The woman who told us there was Rift debris in the Himalayas works in the Ministry of Defense."
"Well, there was," Owen snapped. This was all starting to feel a bit too familiar. The bullet wound from the last time Ianto had thought there was a set up was healing pretty well, but he felt it keenly in the cold. "Come on. Even if Saxon faked some of his CV…"
"I've got a signed copy of his novel," Gwen blurted out, and they all looked at her. Saxon's novel "Kiss me, kill me" had headed the bestseller lists despite withering reviews calling it "an unholy marriage of Jackie Collins and Ian Fleming" and the trashiest thing ever. She blushed. "Anyway, I met him at the book signing. He seemed… really nice."
"That settles it," Owen said, despite having intended to vote for Saxon and having his own signed copy of "Kiss me, kill me". "He must be up to no good. Tosh, maybe you can get the news now there's some reception?"
It took some fiddling, but eventually Tosh secured a good enough reception for them to check on BBC World, which showed the clip of Saxon announcing alien contact, again and again, and pointed to the official 8:00 am time. Given the difference in time zones, that meant they'd be able to watch it live soon.
"Toclafane," Garak repeated, sounding interested. "Not a species I've come across before. But I am reasonably sure they are not the ones you people are supposed to make first contact with. Hm."
"Which species is?" Tosh asked. "Yours?"
For some reason, this idea seemed to amuse Garak. "Oh no," he said. "Really, no."
"Jack always said to be ready," Ianto commented. "That the 21st century was where it all started. And now we're here in the middle of nowhere and can't do a thing."
For some reason, Owen heard this as an accusation.
"We all agreed to come here. And Jack ran away. You saw the security footage just as well as we did. If he really knew there'd be alien contact soon, he shouldn't have left," he returned, and wondered why this made him so angry. It wasn't like he was in the Jack Harkness fan club the way Ianto and Gwen were, and Tosh, too, for good measure. But just before he left, Jack had done something Owen still didn't know how to deal with, and now he might never get the chance to ask Jack why.
You screw up on a monumental scale, you kill someone, you get punished, that was self evident, and Owen had done both. Had expected the punishment when he had stepped up after Jack's return from the literal dead. What he hadn't expected was to be embraced and forgiven. It didn't make any sense, and crying on the shoulder of Jack bloody Harkness didn't make sense, either, and yet that moment stayed with him, and he knew he'd never be rid of it if Jack had ditched them for good and got himself killed in some government conspiracy.
"Anyway," Owen continued, turning to Garak, "what are the chances that you show up by coincidence just when another species does? What are you, some advance guard?"
"Perhaps they didn't choose to be here, either," Garak replied mildly, "and came through this rift of yours as well."
His blue gaze was cool and measuring, and there was a subtle emphasis on "this rift of yours" that didn't escape Owen. Either Garak had made some educated guesses, which meant he was smart enough to be really dangerous, or he knew more than he should, which made him dangerous, too.
Or maybe Owen was just paranoid. He was willing to admit that was a possibility as well.
They spent the rest of the time waiting for the broadcast in silent hostility, except for Gwen, who used it to call Rhys and told him nothing important, as usual. Then the American President started his speech, and ended up evaporated only a minute or so later. They all crouched in disbelief around Tosh's laptop, staring at the flickering images of Harold Saxon, the spheres and some man trying to strike up a private conversation with Saxon in the middle of this. Then Gwen made a muffled sound. There was Jack, unmistakably Jack, getting shot by Saxon who said "and the best is, I get to kill him again."
Owen remembered firing, firing again, the complete stillness of Jack's body and Jack getting up again afterwards. He wanted to throw up.
"Look," Tosh whispered. She had turned away from the spectacle on screen, and now pointed upwards. "Look."
Garak became their leader more or less by default. What all of them wanted to do once they were able to move and think again in a way that wasn't purely dictated by panic was to check on everyone they knew, make sure they were safe, then come up with a plan to rescue Jack. Unfortunately, that was i all /i they could agree on; anything else, from the order of contacts to methods of getting back to Britain to who was supposed to be in charge now was the cause of distraught arguments until the alien stepped in, told them children on his home planet were better organized, and made a couple of suggestions that were undeniably sensible and, as it turned out, effective. Besides, none of them had history with him; there were no old resentments or buried affections adding subtext to every order. Owen did ask why Garak bothered to help them at all.
"For one thing," Garak said, "several key events of my personal history, not to mention my life, are dependent on humanity being around in two hundred years, as a smug and powerful member of an entirely sanctimonious Federation. Not as an occupied planet guarded by metal balls. Even if I managed to get to this Rift of yours without you and left this time before your planet's history is back to what it should be, I would probably find myself erased from history, and I am rather attached to my life."
Self interest sounded like a reliable motive, so Owen nodded and asked: "And for another?"
" Experience," Garak replied, which presumably meant he had it and they didn't, or that his experience told him events would go a certain way. He didn't elaborate, and Owen didn't ask; nor did anyone else, at that point. They were too busy trying to understand what had happened to the world.
Someone named Martha Jones contacted them through Jack's frequency and filled in some gaps, in haste, ending with the admonishment not to use this channel again because it was likely to get intercepted. The dead bodies they encountered in the first larger town they came to spoke for themselves. All the telephone networks had broken down during the first day of the attack, and once they worked again, it was clear every single government on Earth had surrendered. It wasn't like there had been much of a choice. All civilian means of transportation were still down, though.
"Occupations need a functioning infrastructure," Garak said. "Trust me on this. It'll be restored."
It was something to hope for, as hope became increasingly rare. Contacting families and friends back at home was out, not after what Martha Jones had said about hers and drawing attention. Rescuing Jack looked like it depended on getting on the Valiant and getting out again without being captured or shot in the process, by some miraculous means of transportation that wouldn't get shot down by the Toclafane before it even reached the Valiant.
"Jack would do it for us," Gwen insisted.
"Yeah, well, Jack's immortal," Owen said.
"You'd say that," Ianto replied, and Owen, who privately went through several rescue scenarios on a regular basis in his mind because that beat wondering whether the Toclafane had come through the Rift, even if this Master person hadn't, was about to make a heated reply but got cut off by Tosh who had worked with Garak on accessing and hacking into anything that could be connected to the Valiant. It looked like the Japanese had tried to launch something against the Valiant. Tosh looked like she couldn't decide whether she was proud or afraid. She had been born in England, but she still had family in Japan. Garak sighed.
"No wonder you people hit it off so well with the Bajorans," he said.
"You don't think shooting down that bastard on his UNIT carrier is a good plan?" Owen challenged.
"Only if it actually works," Garak said. "Otherwise, it's a futile and stupid gesture. Unfortunately, percentages… ah."
There was a new broadcast from the Valiant. Saxon, no, the Master, standing there, sadly shaking his head.
"It seems you didn't attend carefully," he said with a mock sigh. "Ah well. So much for Samurai movies and really bad karaoke."
It went on for two days. Two days, only two days, and there was no more Japan. Tosh was different afterwards; they all were. There weren't any arguments left in them. Garak pointed out that if they really wanted to do something about either their planet or Jack, long term infiltration and espionage was the only viable option, not direct and immediate attacks. There were no protests. It occurred to Owen that just a short while ago he'd have been all for an immediate attack, precisely because it was likely to get him killed, but now he looked at Gwen and Tosh sitting next to each other, Gwen holding Tosh, thought of the corpses the Toclafane had left in the first larger town they had entered, thought of the pictures of Japan burning and knew none of them were free to die unless they actually accomplished something through it.
On the plus side, they all had several fake identities with them, which should make the whole infiltration idea easier. On the down side, given that Saxon had gone to the trouble of sending them away from Britain at the time of his takeover, he probably had each on them on file, so one could only hope he'd no longer bother to look those files up, given his technological superiority and complete rule of this world. Garak, of course, could never pass for a human anyway, except with a wig and sunglasses at a distance. He'd have to remain in India, with all of them reporting in when they could. Remaining together was out of the question; as a team, they would be spotted at once. Each of them would have to go on a separate mission.
"There will be collaborators after these demonstrations," Garak said. "And whatever he wants this planet for, he'll need those. Applying directly for a job on the Valiant is out of the question, of course, but you should be able to make yourself useful enough to get noticed by whichever administration he's going to use."
Ianto saw it before anyone else did.
"Making ourselves useful. Would that include acting against other humans?" he asked flatly.
"Yes," Garak said. "Being an undercover agent isn't glamorous heroism, children. Not if you want to survive and be effective. It usually involves fawning around people you despise, selling out people you like and doing absolutely anything to reach your goal."
"Sounds like you know what you're talking about," Gwen said in a cool voice, but Owen, who knew her by now, was aware this wasn't a protest. Gwen had an iron streak of ruthless pragmatism in her idealistic outlook.
"I always do," Garak said without missing a beat, and went on about occupations, and which kind of collaborators occupying forces cultivated beyond short-term benefits. The fact this particular occupying force consisted of metal spheres, a humanoid alien called the Master and an unknowable number of human minions made not all of his observations applicable, but in the end, they all managed to "make themselves useful". Being a doctor, and one who could prove his qualification with a fake name meant Owen was the first to get a permit to travel within the subcontinent; between refugees and people put to work in what people quickly took to calling "the steel fields", there was an endless need for medics.
He once had told Gwen, only partly joking, that working for Torchwood meant he didn't have to put up with living patients and didn't need bedside manners, which made it so ideal. Well, there was no need for bedside manners now, either. Not with people trying to survive on the most basic level. The first time he operated without anaesthetics made him puke afterwards. The second time allowed him to notice the gunshot wound meant the guy he operated on probably had gone up against the security forces.
First, do no harm.
Owen remembered the Hippocratic Oath. He remembered it very clearly. He also remembered firing at Jack Harkness without the slightest clue this would not kill Jack permanently. He remembered opening the Rift, and he still suspected that was where the Toclafane had come from.
First, do no harm.
He reported his patient the moment the man could walk again, then told the guy to run. He saw him get caught and shot. Two days later, Owen got told he could apply for a transfer from India to zone 1, aka Great Britain. When he visited Garak before leaving, he found the alien busy with endlessly replaying the footage of the original Toclafane appearance on Toshiko's laptop.
"Looks like you're right about the type of people wanted in occupations," Owen said with a bitter taste in his mouth. Unfortunately, getting drunk was out. Alcohol had become a luxury, and quintessential for what passed for medical procedures now, and he couldn't bring himself to waste it. Amazing, the kind of taboos the human psyche came up with. Handing over people to their execution, yes; wasting alcohol that could cleanse, no.
"Good," Garak said distractly. Owen wanted to hit him, but he knew too well Garak wasn't the real object of his anger.
"I might," Garak said, "have been wrong about the type of occupation, though."
Garak replayed the footage again; the American President getting pulverized, Saxon shooting Jack, Saxon talking to that man in the pin-striped suit and turning him into some kind of dotard.
"That man," Garak said, "is in the background of every newscast the Master has made since."
"You think he's pulling the strings and the Master is just the front man?" Owen asked, trying to understand what the point of this was.
Garak shook his head. "Oh, no. Quite the contrary. But I do think this is all done for his benefit, which means you might have both a bigger problem and a quite different solution to that problem than I had originally thought."
"Genocide on a global scale isn't a fucking problem," Owen hissed. "Cut the euphemisms. What the hell are you talking about?"
"Your planet isn't occupied because if its natural resources," Garak said. "Not even because someone with far superior means thinks it's fun to play global dictator, though he obviously enjoys that. No. The whole thing appears to be a spectacle for an audience of one."
Owen stared at him. "So the Master is a complete lunatic. Congratulations. Psychonalysis was my weakest subject, and I could have told you that after the original broadcast."
"Even complete lunatics want something," Garak explained patiently. "The trick is to figure out what. In this case, the whole subjugation of your species is really secondary. It's the means, not the ultimate goal. As I said, it's all a spectacle for a specific audience. He does it to break this man. And there you have your solution."
"What I'm having is a slow day. It comes from selling out my people, I guess. Because I still don't know what the hell you mean."
"Take his audience away," Garak said, "and he'll lose interest in your planet at once."
This actually was starting to make sense. If one accepted Garak was right about the Master. Owen looked at the broadcast replay, at the man he once knew as Harold Saxon saying "Doctor, we meet at last" with a beaming smile.
"If one of us manages to get on the Valiant, it should be either to break out Jack or to kill the Master," he said doubtfully. "You could be wrong about this."
"I could be. But according to Ms Jones killing the Master would be utterly pointless, considering he comes from a species that regenerates. And I thought we had agreed there was no way to free your gallant Captain unless the Master is removed first. Now I rather doubt the Master would let a new arrival anywhere near himself anyway. But you might get close enough to kill this Doctor."
On screen, the young man in the striped suit turned old again.
"Not with a gun, of course," Garak said. "I doubt any human except for security forces will be allowed to carry weapons on that vessel. But you're a doctor, Owen. You know there are far more discreet methods to kill someone."
For a while, Owen said nothing. He thought about asking why Garak was so sure he'd be the first to manage getting on the Valiant. After all, Gwen and Ianto were both trying to get accepted by the security forces, one in India, one in Indochina, and Tosh was doing her best getting hired as a programmer at the new weapons manufacturing plants.
He didn't wonder why Garak had pinged him as a killer. Owen wasn't religious, but he had never forgotten his experience with the ghost machine, with hunting down the man who had murdered a girl named Lizzie years ago and knowing, staring at him, that they were alike in some way that made him as sick as the memories of that man's victim. It was like sharing some invisible mark, and calling it the mark of Cain was as good a term as any.
Garak shared it, too.
"If he doesn't lose his audience," Garak continued at last, "I doubt the Master will ever leave your planet. Not even if the whole population rises up against him, not even if we find a way to interfere with his control of the Toclafane. And if he does leave for greener pastures, it will be after Earth is reduced to an empty rock."
"No," Owen said abruptly. "No, he won't."
In the end, Ianto was the first to make it on board the Valiant. Owen heard of it through Tosh when returning to India; at that point, camps everywhere had been established and being able to travel meant without any question you were a collaborator.
"Or Martha Jones," Tosh said. "Guess you've heard the legend."
Owen had, but he didn't feel like talking about it. If Martha Jones really knew of a way to kill the Master, she wouldn't have said it would be pointless the one time she had spoken with them.
"So, Ianto," he said instead.
"On board the Valiant," Tosh confirmed. "Even the Valiant has to reload fuel. I saw his new ID on the manifest."
Once upon a time, Owen would have made a quip about Ianto going from tea boy to gas boy, but now he didn't feel like that, either.
"I hope he sticks to the plan and doesn't rush to liberate your Captain instead," Garak observed.
"Why, didn't he buy into your Master-losing-audience theory?" Owen asked with a touch of his former sarcasm. "I wonder why."
It wasn't that he disbelieved it himself. It was as good an explanation as any, and they really needed straws to grasp at, but it still all hinged on one alien accurately analyzing another from a couple of newsclips and the rushed explanation of a stranger who now was turning into something of a myth.
Or maybe he just wanted to believe in a future that had Ianto pull off some stunt freeing Jack rather than one that had him killing the old man known as the Doctor. Which probably meant the latter would come true.
"Garak," Tosh asked suddenly, "what were you in the past – one of the occupiers, one of the people in the camps, or a collaborator, or a spy?"
He just smiled his enigmatic smile.
"My dear, you present all of these as mutually exclusive alternatives."
And they had thought Jack was being secretive.
"I just want to know," Tosh said, "whether it's possible to go back. After."
That wasn't a question Owen had been wondering about. If he did manage to make it onto the Valiant, he would die, no matter whether he'd succeeded or not; there would be no personal after for him. Unless Ianto managed to not just to free Jack but get rid of the Master somehow, and it was strange to think of this as something to be feared as much as hoped for. He didn't want an after. He just wanted to know the Earth was safe again and maybe as an added bonus that the Toclafane hadn't come through the Rift and thus weren't his fault.
"You can never go back," Garak replied, and for once, his voice was free of irony and utterly serious. He left it at that. A few hours later Tosh managed to hack into the communication channels on board the Valiant again and found out someone had tried to blow the entire carrier up by mixing something into the fuel, but had been discovered in time.
"He's dead, then," Owen said, and somehow the disbelief in his voice sounded like the most unreal thing of all to him. He and Ianto had never been friends, not really, even excepting all the arguments that started the day Jack and Tosh had vanished into the past. It was just that Ianto was part of Before, and damn, blowing up the freaking carrier was a far better idea than some elaborate poison plot, and it should have worked, and why on earth hadn't Jack taken bloody Ianto with him when he sprinted off and left them anyway?
"We don't know that," Tosh whispered.
"You should go back," Garak said, not unkind, just very matter-of-factly. "As long as you can still travel. There'll probably be more background checks now."
There were, but it seemed Owen's background still held up. He could even make the detours to Wales without being intercepted by anything other than routine patrols. And then, one day, came the chance he had been waiting for. The Master's consort, Lucy Saxon, needed a physician with proven loyalties.
Before he was allowed on board the Valiant, he was strip searched. He didn't have any weapons; he did have his medkit, which contained medicine that was available for doctors of proven loyalty, including something as everyday as aspirin, which was a luxury item these days. Having passed the examination, he was led to Lucy Saxon's quarters; not, he noted, the Master's, but then he hadn't expected that. He had seen her in the background of that footage Garak had replayed so endlessly, looking delighted, dancing, even, but the woman in front of him had eyes as dead as those of many workers in the camps. She was far better nourished, obviously, and wore a stunning gown, but there was no life in her, no gloating, not even spoiled boredom. She answered his questions in a coherent and to the point manner, but never said more than strictly necessary. There was a bruise on her neck, but otherwise, she was in prime physical condition, which made it surprising that she had asked for a doctor to begin with. Or maybe she hadn't.
In the life Before, Owen would have made a pass at her and would probably have been slapped down. Right now, he wondered whether they were both corpses to be, going through the motions. He hadn't thought it possible to feel pity for Lucy Saxon; not for the woman who danced at the end of the world, and lived at the side of the man who bled their world dry. And yet for some reason, he wanted to help her. Maybe it was because the way she had styled her hair reminded him of Diane or maybe it was because it didn't matter one way or the other, but he left her some of the retcon he had smuggled with the precious aspirin. If she ever got around to taking it, she would forget the last years of her life had ever happened.
After finishing his examination, he made a polite request to see the Master and wasn't as surprised as he would have been before meeting Lucy Saxon that it was granted. The only thing that did surprise him was that the man looked and sounded unchanged from the way he had two years ago when signing his book. Somehow, one expected a visible, audible difference.
"Dr. Harper," the Master said, instead of using Owen's pseudonym. "How nice of you to make housecalls."
He paused, evidently expecting Owen to be shocked his identity had been discovered.
"Well, you wouldn't have requested me if I didn't," Owen said. Lucy Saxon was nowhere near interested enough in her own welfare anymore to ask for a physician. The Master had probably done some research after Ianto's attempt to blow the carrier up and had been in a mood to play games.
"I must say, as far as dashing plans to save the world go, your late colleague was a bit more inventive. Don't you have at least an angry speech prepared?"
"I'm not here to rescue anyone," Owen said. "Or blow anything up. The only reason why I'm here is because I still have something to settle with Jack Harkness, and you have him under lock and key, so…" He shrugged.
The Master didn't look convinced in the least, but he did look vaguely amused.
"Do go on."
"He forgave me," Owen said, and something in the Master's eyes flared and became focused. Since there was no sarcastic riposte, Owen continued:
"If you kill someone, even temporarily, you want a lot of things. You don't want to be forgiven. Especially not by someone who thinks he's the world's designated saviour. No idea what you've been doing with him up here, but I bet it's just been feeding into his martyr complex. He really gets off on that."
"Hm," said the Master. By now, Owen dared to hope he was on the right track. And that Garak had not been wrong, either.
"He thinks he saved me," Owen said and put all the vicious anger and frustration he'd ever felt into his words. "He's really into this second chance thing. You want to hurt him? Let me talk to him. Tell him what has become of me, of the entire team. I want to see his face when he realizes."
"Hm," the Master said again. "And this touching reunion would undoubtedly take place with the two of you alone?"
Owen shook his head.
"It can take place wherever you want it to take place," he said. "Just as long as I get to say what I have to say and don't hear him forgiving me ever again."
The silence that followed his words grew thick with possible futures. He thought about Garak's analysis, he thought about what he had seen in Wales and clung to it with all the belief he had left.
"Never let it be said I'm averse to someone else's dramatics," the Master said at last. "And they should have an audience. Yes. A special one. It's always good to see what becomes of the protégés of one's protégés, isn't it?"
The Master's idea of a proper venue turned out to be the main conference room Owen recognized from the tv footage. There were plenty of guards, not counting those surrounding Jack when Jack was brought into the room, shackled. The Master stood on top of the stairs of the higher level, arms folded, watching with a slight smile. There was no question of going anywhere near him or Jack. But then, that had never been the plan.
Spotting the doghouse and the old man in the wheelchair, still wearing a striped suit, just as he was in that endlessly replayed clip where he had changed from youth into age as the Master pointed some instrument at him, Owen didn't give him another look. He'd only get one shot at this, and if the Master figured it out in time – well, there was no point in contemplating failure now. Not when the last minutes of his life were ticking away.
"If it's not the Messiah himself," Owen said, looking at Jack. The last time he had seen Jack in person, not on security cameras, running away from the Hub, or getting shot on international tv, Jack had still been pale, recent death written all over him. Three days of it. Like something not quite human. Now he looked dirty, angry, and intensely alive.
"Owen," he said, in a clipped voice, and Owen wondered whether he was imagining the note of judgement. Probably not. While talking, he took a few steps in Jack's direction, found one of the guards aiming a disapproving weapon at him, and stepped back, not to his original position, but close to the Doctor in the wheelchair.
"You should have let me die with the Weevils. I told you I didn't want to be rescued, but no. Captain Jack Harkness is the only one allowed to decide whether he should live or die, right? Except, wait, he can't. But he can kick you out or take you back, just as he pleases. Or crowning his act of forgiveness by buggering off just as the world falls to pieces. We all fucked up when opening the Rift, Jack, but at least we didn't run away afterwards!"
Just one step more. Jack didn't react, and Owen found he didn't have to fake anger anymore.
"Still feel like forgiving me, Jack? You know what I did with my life in this world? What we all did? This!"
And with that, he plunged the needle he had prepared while attending to Lucy Saxon into the Doctor's frail, bent shoulder. The guards aimed their rifles but looked at the Master, given that they couldn't fire without hitting the Doctor; Jack yelled "no!" and the Master stared at Owen in disbelief, but not anywhere near the amount of shock he should have shown if Garak was right. Then he laughed.
"Well," he said, not to Owen, but to the old man next to him, "seems I get to witness one of your regenerations, at last."
The Doctor blinked, then looked at the Master with mild surprise.
"Who are you?" he asked. And finally, the Master's face showed dawning concern. He snapped his fingers, and the guards flung Owen towards the stairs.
"What is this?" the Master asked harshly.
"Complete loss of memory," Owen replied. He could have just was well replied "dumb luck", because going by the Master's use of the word "regeneration", Garak's original plan would not have worked. Nobody had told them the Doctor was of the same species and couldn't die. The reason why Owen had modified the plan had been because of something else altogether. It was really too late in the game for it to matter, but he was just sick of being responsible for deaths, and it had occurred to him the result Garak had hoped for could be achieved in another way. Thank you, retcon. He had given the Doctor the full dose.
"He can't remember a thing anymore," Owen whispered. "Who he is. Who you are. What you do, and why it should matter. Not a thing."
"No," the Master said, actually jumping down the stairs and running to the chair where the old man sat, looking befuddled and mildly disconcerted, but nothing more. Garak was right, Owen thought, and didn't have time to think anything else as one of the guards, somewhat belatedly, decided to get pro-active and fired his gun at him.
He was a better shot than Ianto had been, half a year ago; Owen could tell. There was a sharp sensation in his chest, not nearly as painful as he had expected it to be. Jack was saying something, but the Master was talking to the Doctor at the same time, talking and talking and talking, and his voice drowned out everything else.
"I used the machine again, Jack," Owen said, because he found it mattered to him that Jack would know. "The ghost machine. It was still in the Hub, they didn't take it. I've seen the future."
He'd seen Jack and Gwen talking in a restored Cardiff that looked as if there never had been a Toclafane attack, he wanted to add, and that it had proved to him all of this would be successful, that there was a point, that the Master and the Toclafane would be gone, but there was blood in his mouth, and he couldn't say anything anymore.
My mother always said it would take death to shut me up, Owen thought, and died.
"…so you see," Garak said, "I have the solution to your problem. If you solve mine."
The human face on the view screen in front of him had less humanity in it than the holo characters Dr. Bashir used to play with. If anything, it reminded him of the Founders. Ah, well. There were psychopaths with delusions of godhood in any universe.
But at least he wouldn't have to put up with this version for much longer.
"You know, a Cardassian on Earth is easy to find," the Master said, not bothering to add the obvious: once found, he could torture the antidote out of Garak, if such a thing existed.
"Yes," Garak said, not bothering to inform the Master about the device in his head which made torture rather a pointless exercise.
The Master tilted his head. "Why not," he murmured. "One ride to the Rift, coming up."
He really had to be in a hurry to get his Doctor back. Of course, Garak could empathize with attachments towards doctors, and it was always good to be proven right in one's analysis. Something of a pity about Owen Harper, perhaps, but it was the man's own fault for complicating matters and coming up involuntarily with something that gave Garak leverage. Six months on Earth under a lunatic were more than enough. For a while, it had seemed as if he had no other choice than involving himself in someone else's fight, but then he had used his own photographic memory and the records of pre-invasion history the charming Toshiko could access for him, and had realized he had not just travelled back in time; he had ended up in a different timeline, a parallel universe altogether. This Earth had not experienced the Eugenic Wars that would later cause Dr. Bashir such trouble through the laws they created, and they should have happened several years before this already. If this was a parallel universe, however, Garak's own existence would not be affected by anything that happened here. It was just a matter of returning to his own time and universe, and this, too, was a matter of some urgency. Garak had originally come to Earth to get debriefed by Starfleet Command in the middle of the Dominion War when the temporal shift stranding him had occurred. He didn't want to imagine what might have happened on Cardassia by now.
One had to have one's priorities. Parallel worlds and their safety certainly weren't one of them. Though they offered some interesting stories. Each member of the Torchwood team had told him many things, and Gwen in particular had gone on quite a lot about that drug they all carried with them, retcon. It hadn't been difficult to get her to leave him a sample. Being familiar with drugs affecting memory as he was due to his old profession, it had been an intellectual exercise to come up with an antidote, something to pass away the time in the endless months of living like a hermit in the mountains. As with most intellectual exercises, this one turned out to be unexpectedly useful.
After finishing the conversation, Garak stepped outside his shelter. For someone who disliked small rooms, the last months had been quite a trial; for a Cardassian who despised the cold, it had been even worse. And yet, it couldn't be denied that there was something magnificent about this doomed landscape, he reflected, raising his hand, and watching the sun colouring the mountains red as he waited for his ride.