Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by the BBC. Dialogue used from Ghost Machine, Combat, End of Days and Dead Man Walking.
Spoilers: Until Dead Man Walking
Acts of Salvation
Talking to Suzie, Owen once said he was drunk when Jack recruited him. Otherwise he wouldn't have said yes. It was one of Owen's more obvious lies, and Suzie saw through it at once, but there was a certain portion of truth in it. He was in a pub, and everyone bothering to pay attention thought he was drunk, given that Owen quite deliberately picked a fight with a guy twice his size by hitting on the man's uninterested girlfriend.
He was stone cold sober and hadn't even touched the beer he ordered yet. But he had been fired from his job earlier that day, and given the reason, chances were no hospital would hire him, no matter how brilliant Owen's academic credentials were. If he was lucky, he'd end up playing country doctor somewhere.
Jack intervened just when the outraged boyfriend was about to break Owen's nose. He managed to do it in style, like Jack always did, dashing hero to the rescue, and even managed to charm the girlfriend in the process, who eyed him with regret before Jack dragged Owen out of the pub, talking about how his little brother never had been good with alcohol.
"So when did your mother have a thing with my father?" Owen asked once they were outside in the cold London air. He felt strangely light-headed, not sure he was angry or glad that the day from hell wasn't going to end up with him unconscious in one way or the other. Jack regarded him thoughtfully.
"Who says it wasn't your mother and my father?" he said.
Owen shrugged. "My mother can't stand Americans," he returned, skipping over the fact she didn't like anyone, regardless of nationality. He had no idea what this stranger wanted from him, but it obviously had to be something other than playing along with jokes about being related.
"How about you?" Jack asked. "Any regional preferences?"
"Why?" Owen asked. On any other day, he'd have assumed by now Jack was hitting on him, but not today, and he just wasn't in the mood for guessing games.
"Because," Jack said, "I was wondering how you felt about working in Wales, Dr. Harper."
Later, Owen concluded that Jack must have gone through various likely candidates, doctors with no personal ties, good qualifications but some sort of drawbacks that ensured they wouldn't just go for better paid jobs in some private clinics, and probably had been following Owen for a while. Still later, he wondered whether he hadn't met Jack earlier, with Jack using retcon until he had spoken with other candidates and decided Owen was the best he could get. Or, phrased differently: the alternatives had been worse.
He never asked Jack. Jack might just tell him the truth.
Such an easy thing to say. "I'll kill you." "I want to kill you." "I'm so killing you for this." "This means murder." Such an easy thing, until you're invaded with memories not your own. Owen had often been angry, but he realized he hadn't really known what it meant to feel that kind of hatred, to truly want to end another human life, not until Ed Morgan. After the incident with the Ghost Machine, he didn't even need to sleep in order for the terror to come back, the pain and horror Lizzie had felt when Ed Morgan had raped and killed her. Meeting Morgan had added something else, because the crazy old man had looked at Owen as if they had something in common, as if Owen couldn't condemm him because they were alike in some sickening way.
Holding Morgan's knife, touching the old man's face with it the way Morgan had touched Lizzie's, Owen couldn't be sure this was wrong.
"What if I didn't stop?" Owen said. "Would I be sorry?"
Jack and Gwen were there, Jack kept repeating his name, yelling it, and Owen thought about how very fragile the human body was, how very easy to hurt, cripple and kill, even if you hadn't done dozens and dozens of autopsies. But he had not learned about the human body in order to kill. He had wanted to heal, hadn't he, once upon a time.
"I don't know," Owen said, because he truly didn't, not anymore.
"Owen," Jack said, and Owen stepped back from Ed Morgan and let Gwen take the knife from him. He felt sicker than ever. The memories were still there, and the sense of connection. Then Morgan attacked Gwen and ended up on the ground, bloody, and something in Owen kicked in and took over. He started to give Morgan chest compressions. They didn't have any effect. The blood on his hands felt just like the one on Ed Morgan's hands, all those decades ago.
Gwen started to cry, and Jack stepped towards her, taking the knife from her and embracing her. Over Gwen's shoulder, he looked at Owen, and Owen knew that Jack's arrival had saved him from finding out the answer to his question.
Somehow, it felt like a temporary reprieve.
Back when he was still treating patients that weren't the Torchwood crew or aliens, Owen had once patched up the survivor of a suicide attempt. She had responded to sensory stimulation, light, touch and sound, with tripled alacrity. It was a symptom of shock, and passed. Knowing that didn't help when Jack threw something on the table in the hospital room Owen had ended up in after being mauled by a Weevil in a cage. To Owen, the noise was ear-splitting. He glanced at the thing on the table. Green grapes. If there was a symbolism here, it eluded him.
"You shouldn't have," he told Jack. Jack looked at the grapes and raised an eyebrow.
"No, really, you shouldn't," Owen said. "I hate grapes."
Jack chuckled, and suddenly Owen felt a flash of something break through his numbness. Terrific. Not feeling anything anymore had been the point of the exercise. Apparantly he had to spell it out for Jack.
"I didn't want saving," he said, and Jack's amusement vanished like a paperthin veneer, leaving anger behind that felt as cold and acid as Owen's own.
"You want us to apologize?"
Jack sounded like a parent filled with disbelief at his offspring's stupidity. The arrogance was breathtaking, Owen decided, and he should know. He was pretty good with arrogance himself. But of course, he'd never match the master of the art, Jack bloody Harkness who kept intervening just long enough to keep one around but chose to ignore the mess afterwards every fucking time. Well, not today.
"For a few seconds in that cage, I felt totally at peace. And then you blunder in. Do you always know best, Jack? Is that what you believe?"
Jack didn't reply to that. Of course he didn't. Instead, he just said "want you back in work tomorrow," and left. Owen spent the night not thinking about Diane, or how sickening it had been watching Mark Lynch use the Weevils, or how going into the ring had in fact been both pointless and stupid, because if Jack hadn't arrived he probably wouldn't have died, either, not with his kind of luck. He'd have ended up crippled and drooling in a wheelchair. Yes, Jack was a real hero. So Owen spent the night thinking about how much he hated Jack Harkness.
He was back at work on the next morning.
Shooting Jack felt nothing like pressing the knife against Ed Morgan's skin. There was no sickening sense of kinship here, no memories of a dying girl. Yes, there was death everywhere, those plague victims at the hospital, and now Gwen's fiance whom Owen still hadn't met, and that image of Diane asking him for help. But mostly there was Jack, who had just sacked him a few hours before. And the truth was, without Torchwood, Owen was nothing. There was nothing else left in his life, and Jack couldn't take that way. Jack hadn't allowed him to die, and now that wasn't an option anyway, not with the world falling into pieces, not if there was some way to fix it.
"You're in charge, Owen?" Jack said, and the contempt in his voice was the final straw. "You've gotta have significantly bigger balls."
Owen shot. Shot again. And again. Gwen eventually took the gun from him, as she had taken the knife, but the world kept ending anyway, and then Jack came back from the dead and saved it, and died again. Gwen was the one who sat with his corpse, but they were all waiting, and not just for Gwen. Owen wondered whether she would belatedly arrest him once she had given up sitting at Jack's side. It would make sense; she was still a police officer, PC Cooper, and she and the others could testify to what Owen had done. They didn't have to mention Bilis Manger or the Rift, or Abaddon. It had been a human crime, hadn't it? And crime needed punishment.
Except that Jack came back to life, again. It was every medical student's fantasy, the abandoned patient, the certain corpse, the one everyone had given up on fixed and returning to the living, but as Jack stepped towards Owen, Owen understood this wasn't what was happening at all. He had done nothing to fix Jack; Owen was the true corpse in this scenario. "I forgive you," Jack said, and Owen knew these words did not undo pulling the trigger. What's done can never be undone. But they opened something in him, like a surgical cut, and he didn't realise he was crying until as much as he noticed the wetness of Jack's shirt and wondered whether Jack was bleeding again. Then he understood where the fluid was coming from.
Half an hour later, Jack had disappeared from the face of the Earth. Sometimes Owen wondered whether the cover story about mass hallucinations they kept telling everyone else wasn't, in fact, true, but even if it were, he got an answer to the question he had asked Ed Morgan and himself.
Now he had to live with it. And that was something.
So here they were again, in a pub, and Jack had just found him; of course he had. "Do you have any idea what you've done?" Owen hissed, pushing Jack against the wall, and it wasn't a genuine question. Jack, of all the people, had to know. Perhaps that was why Jack had done it to begin with. Later, in the cell, Jack told him he did it because he was hoping for a miracle, and Owen remembered opening the Rift, twice, wanting a miracle of his own, and death following after. They couldn't let that happen again.
It did, though. It did for twelve people. No resurrections for them, no second chances. Or third ones. Owen looked at Jack afterwards and for the first time wondered who had to die for Jack's second chance, for Jack to become the way Jack was now, because miracles always came with a price. Maybe Jack's entire time at Torchwood was Jack's way of evening the score. "I found my doctor," Jack had said when they had all asked him where he had been, but when Owen had asked "and did he fix you?", Jack had deflected the question with a joke, pure Jack-style. He had never replied.
Twelve dead people, and the knowledge of what it was like to die, the awareness that what they were now was deeply unnatural and never meant to be. That was what they shared now. Something else, too. Maybe Jack kept saving him not because Jack thought he knew best, or because Jack could, but because Jack needed someone to return the favour.
"I'm a doctor," Owen said, eyes never leaving Jack's face. "Just put me to work."