In the first few weeks of being dead, Owen learnt more about his colleagues than he had managed in four years. That, he supposed, was what making coffee and taking out the bins did to a person.
Ianto kept a picture of Lisa stashed in every drawer of his desk.
Gwen had already bought herself a baby book, and her wedding planner was a hundred pages thick.
Tosh was learning Mandarin. She printed word-lists off the computer, when she thought no-one else was around.
He'd never really looked at such things before this; never taken the time, as he had done in that prison cell, to reach out and touch the world.
Viewed now, with the detached disinterest of an outsider, it seemed both magnificent and absurd, and he often imagined that Jack felt the same way. After all, despite virtually living in the Hub (Owen had the sneaking suspicion that he had in fact been doing so, early on), Jack kept almost all his personal possessions hidden somewhere distant. Perhaps they were long gone, or had never existed; Owen could only guess at that bit. That wasn't to say that Jack's office was uncluttered- it wasn't. Books and knick-knacks and funny bits of rock lined every surface, picking up dust and coffee stains. But somehow it all felt like a facade; like an elaborate set-piece for a play, in which no actor was fully invested. It presented one particular Jack Harkness to the world, not the full, many-sided picture.
The Jack of the office was well-read, and old-fashioned, and a little bemused by the whole process of leadership, finding it rather quaint, even if it was something he did well.
On the furthermost wall were three large posters, all in a line, each emblazoned with the crown of King George and beginning with:
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
And then, beneath that:
KEEP CALM AND CARRY GUNS
KEEP CALM AND FAKE A BRITISH ACCENT
Immortality, it seemed, cultivated a particular breed of humour.
As things stood, the greatest test of Owen's fortitude came from the inactivity; not just of his bodily systems, but also of his workday. The adrenaline rushes and frantic world-saving manoeuvres were almost a rare occurrence of late – which was not helped by the fact that his adrenal gland had shut down along with everything else. Boredom was hard to fend off; without the need to sleep, or even break for lunch, the passing of time could feel very sluggish indeed. Owen polished every inch of the office until his bloodless hands were grey with dust; visited the archives and put all the paperwork of the last fifty years in order. Perversely enough, monotony was also comforting. It stopped him from thinking too much- which, since thinking was one of the few things he was still able to do, had proved a welcome change. Jack, perhaps in recognition of a fellow insomniac, kept supplying him with more small odds and ends to sort, with the result that Owen frequently found himself pulling sixty-hour shifts without so much as a trip to the shops. In the duller moments, he sometimes wondered whether dead people still had the right to decent working hours. He added the query to his ever-growing list of 'things to ask Jack, if I can find the nerve'; bucked up, kept calm, and carried on.
Around him, the world continued to change.
The first time he became consciously aware of the slow swing towards new ground, it was one o'clock in the morning. The rest of the team had headed out Weevil hunting following reports of wild animals roaming loose in a nearby shopping mall. Owen had offered to come along, just to show the whole pack of them who was boss, humans as well as Weevils- but the suggestion had been declined, and he wasn't altogether surprised. Though he might now be able to stare the damn things into submission, the spectacle brought up unpleasant memories for everyone, and at this moment the fewer opportunities he was given to make his colleagues feel uncomfortable, the better.
So he powered the place down, wandered from shadow to shadow in a half-hearted fashion, and tried to think of something to do next. Not even an organisation like Torchwood had escaped the relentless advance of bureaucracy, but Tosh took care to keep all the required electronic reports up-to-date; and anyway, touch-typing was a bitch these days. That left more redundant archiving, or good solid manual labour.
Owen was just weighing up the pros and cons involved in mucking out a pterodactyl, when the door clanked open.
Even in the half-darkness of the Hub, and from a distance, the blood was hard to miss. Jack was drenched in it, palms and throat encrusted, the blue of his shirt purple-black and sodden from the neck down.
"Oh, fuck." Owen grabbed his bag and jogged over to where his boss was now leaning, slid half-way to the floor with his eyes closed. "Where are you-?"
"No. No, I'm not. I was." The captain held out a hand to be helped up, his other arm braced against the wall for support. "Managed to drop the spray-can giving chase. Weevil saw his chance, went straight for the jugular." He groaned. "Dammit, that's the fifth shirt this month."
Owen was trying to open the medical kit one-handed, silently cursing the uselessness of his broken fingers. The clasp gave at last, and he stepped back as Jack flopped onto the nearby sofa.
"Right, so...what do I do?"
Jack rubbed at his eyes with balled fists. "Coffee would be good. Something to eat, too. Think I lost a lot of blood."
"Oh, you think?" Owen pulled out three sachets of antiseptic wipes, and passed them over. "Here. Get that stuff off your face. I'll- put the coffee on."
It was Thursday, and their usual bus route to the supermarket had been closed over the weekend, which meant that nobody had bothered to go shopping for more than the most basic supplies in almost ten days. The contents of the one fridge allocated for food and drink consisted of three Chinese takeaway cartons, half a bottle of milk and an opened tin of anchovies; Ianto had recently discovered that Myfanwy would do most anything demanded of her so long as there was anchovy paste involved. Owen took out the milk and, as an afterthought, grabbed a tin of assorted biscuits from its place on the countertop. Back in the central Hub, Jack had got through five wipes already, and only his hands and wrists looked anywhere near clean. He had removed his shirt, and was now picking damp leaves from the collar, with his usual unselfconscious ease.
"Where're the others?"
"Girls have a clean-up operation. Weevil got away, went straight back to the sewers, but a bunch of students from the university must have heard the noise. Time I woke up, some blonde kid was giving me the kiss of life." The familiar grin was rather spoiled by the trails of congealing blood that still spidered from his mouth. "Didn't even get his number."
Refraining to mention that the students were lucky not to have been ripped to shreds, Owen managed to locate an antique jar of instant coffee in the back of his desk drawer; he certainly wasn't touching that bloody machine of Ianto's again in a hurry. The thought sparked a train of association, and he asked, aloud:
"And Ianto? How come tea-boy isn't busy crying over your sorry corpse?"
The question was edged with more bitterness than he'd intended, and for a moment he almost regretted it. The old him, the live him, wouldn't have cared; would have carried right on, hurling out words as missiles, as pre-emptive strikes against inevitable rejection. But death had made him fragile in more ways than one; open to other people's injury now, not just his own.
When words were the only weapons you still trusted yourself to handle, you learnt to choose your enemies more carefully.
Emotions mattered more now, too; and here he had to admit that he was envious. Jack's connection with Ianto may have started off at sexual attraction, but in recent months it had grown stronger than any Owen had seen since he joined Torchwood; certainly more solid than any he had formed, either with his colleagues or with the outside world.
True, they'd all clustered around him and held his hand while he died, but he sincerely doubted anyone would bother if he managed it, as Jack did, on an almost weekly basis.
If Jack noticed any outward pang of conscience on Owen's face, he gave no sign of it; merely started combing the blackening clumps of gore from his hair with one hand.
"Rhiannon's little girl's had appendicitis since yesterday night, they were in and out of hospital all day."
The kettle finished boiling, and Owen poured it, reaching for a spoon. "Now, obviously my taste-buds aren't what they used to be, but that smells okay. And who the hell is Rhiannon?"
A wary look, intensely old and just as regretful, flitted across Jack's face, for one brief moment.
"Doesn't matter." He took a sip of coffee, grimaced, and sat back. "Anyway, I sent Ianto home. He was..."
"You say 'dead on his feet', I will kill you. Again." Owen prised open the tin of biscuits. "Found these."
His boss took one in each hand; Owen took note of the crimson stains beneath Jack's fingernails, and suddenly felt very glad that he no longer needed to eat. Half-way through his third Jammie Dodger Owen closed the lid again, tucking the box under one arm. Jack glared.
"One of us has just re-grown a pharynx, you know."
"Exactly. Don't want to overtax it." Owen raised Jack's coffee cup absently to his own mouth, then paused and put it back down. Some of life's habits were hard to break.
His biscuits finished, Jack started buttoning the ruined shirt, humming faintly under his breath.
"Okay. Thanks for the clean-up, Owen. I should- probably get back to work."
He got to his feet with a slight stagger, but kept the smile in place, stretching out both hands towards his audience.
"There we go."
Owen sighed. "Great, and...what are you going to do about the bloody great hole? And the bloody... load of blood?"
Pausing in the doorway, Jack appeared to consider this for the first time. Then his expression cleared. "I'm gonna bring back turtleneck sweaters. Be a trendsetter."
"In a trench coat. Good luck with that." Owen swung both legs onto the newly-vacated sofa, and frowned as he noticed the fresh bloodstains now darkening its faux leather cushions. "Buggered if I'm clearing that up."
After five minutes he went to fetch a bucket and sponge.
If he couldn't die properly, he could at least kill time. It wasn't much, but it was something; and for now, at least, it would do.