Owen tightened his grip on the steering wheel as he pressed the gas pedal to the floor. Though well in excess of a hundred miles per hour, the car hugged the country curves like it was born to it. Good to see there was still some truth in advertising.
He was on a bloody fool’s errand that had less than no chance of success, but still he drove. If he didn’t at least try… Maybe he’d be lucky enough to crash into a tree and none of it would matter. Not that he was eager to top himself, mind you, but it would sort things nicely.
The whole mess was entirely Jack’s fault, with the way he kept pushing Gwen to have a normal life. And Jack knew better than the rest of them just how fucked up Torchwood made you. Fucked up enough that normal was impossible. But he kept on her to go home to her boyfriend and make time for a life outside Torchwood, all the while dragging her deeper into the mess around them. It was no wonder she’d snapped in the end. No one could live up to those kinds of expectations. No one.
Things might have been fine if Jack had never disappeared. Or if he had disappeared and never come back. But he did disappear, and he did come back, and expected everything to continue like he’d never gone on walkabout in the first place. The rub of it was there was no going back to the way things were. They’d all learned to get on without him. But to do that, they’d all become even more entrenched in Torchwood. Especially Gwen. And Owen knew for a fact that she had actually been relieved by that. She’d told him as much. No more need to balance Torchwood with life because Torchwood was life.
But Jack came back and wanted things the way they ever bloody were.
So not two weeks after his return, Gwen was back with Rhys and looking more like death warmed over than when Suzie had been sucking the life out of her. Owen couldn’t decide who he pitied more, Gwen for getting shoved back into her tight wire balancing act or Rhys for getting dragged back in with her. Probably, Rhys, the poor sod. Love didn’t really encourage you to do the right thing for yourself, or for those around you. Owen had learned that lesson the hard way. Well, no, if he’d learned the lesson, he wouldn’t be currently driving at break-neck speeds to a church in the middle of bloody fucking nowhere to talk some sense into Gwen.
There were only a few cars in the parking lot as Owen pulled up, spraying gravel every which way as he brought the car to a full stop. It was either a very good sign or a very bad one. He was really hoping for the former.
Inside the church, he was greeted by a short, perky brunette. “Are you here for the bride or the groom?”
“Bride,” he said. “Actually, I was wondering if I could pop in and wish her a bit of luck before the do. That alright?”
The girl looked at him like he had just made her day. “God, would you? Brides are supposed to be nervous and all, but Gwen’s setting a new record for jitters. And she’s always been so unflappable. Though maybe it has something to do with the acc—”
“Great, thanks,” he said, cutting off the girl’s babble. “Where can I find her?”
“Back that way and to the right,” she motioned past him, not seeming the least put out about being cut off.
“Brilliant.” Owen headed off.
Reaching the door, he hesitated, wondering if maybe it wouldn’t be better to leave well enough alone. Then he shook it off. He’d come this far, no sense in turning back now. He knocked.
“Come in,” was the muffled reply.
He took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped inside.
Gwen didn’t turn around, just continued fussing with her hair.
Shutting the door gently, Owen stood there, silently watching as she pushed pins into the twist of hair behind her head. She was fucking gorgeous. The off-white dress was the perfect match for her pale, freckled skin which was shown of in abundance with the strapless, low-backed top.
The moment was broken by a muttered, “Shit,” as she started to pull the pins out of her hair, tossing them carelessly away until her hair tumbled back down. Sighing, she turned. “Sorry,” she said with an apologetic smile. “Can I help you?”
There wasn’t even a hint of recognition from her.
Bloody fucking Retcon.
She was waiting patiently for his answer.
“I, um…” Owen realized he really hadn’t much thought this through. Well, much beyond getting to the church before Gwen made the huge mistake she wasn’t fully aware she was making.
“The loo’s the next door,” she said helpfully.
“Not looking for the loo,” he replied, taking a couple of steps into the room.
“Then why are you here?”
I’m here to fix Jack’s cock up, he wanted to say. Keep you from cocking things up further.
Instead, he asked, “Are you happy?”
He expected a short laugh and a “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
He didn’t expect the frown or for her brows to draw together the way that they did when she was trying to suss something out. And he really didn’t expect the simple, “No,” she uttered in response.
“Then why are you doing this?”
She shrugged and turned back to the mirror. “It’s all I have left,” she said quietly.
He wanted to shake her. “That’s no reason to go through with this.”
“Isn’t it?” She peered back at him. “I’ve lost two years of my memory. Rhys is the only thing remotely familiar. And he’s been there for me. Why shouldn’t I go through with this?”
“Because it’s a lie, Gwen. Deep down you know that.”
She started fussing with her hair again. “Maybe I do. But there’s nothing else for me.”
He tried a different tact. “That’s not very fair to Rhys, is it?”
“No. He’s in love with you and probably so damned grateful that you’re back in his life he’ll go along with anything to keep you from leaving again.”
“He’s not like that.”
From what little he knew of Rhys Williams, Owen had to admit she was right. Rhys was a good man. Good men didn’t sink so low. Owen was glad that he wasn’t a good man.
“Gwen, sweetheart, one day you’re going to wake up and you’re going to realized how incredibly fucked up your life has become. And you’re going to hate yourself for dragging Rhys down with you.”
“I don’t know how we knew each other,” her voice took on a hint of steel, “but whoever I used to be, I’m not that girl anymore.”
“The girl I knew wouldn’t do anything so cowardly,” he spat. “So maybe it’s a good thing that you don’t remember.”
“I think you need to leave.”
“Yeah, maybe I should.” Should leave her to it. She had been Retconned, but she was still a big girl. And it wasn’t like she’d ever cared for his help before, anyway.
Instead of turning around and walking out the door, Owen crossed the room to Gwen. He grabbed her by the upper arms and hauled her up off the bench.
“If you want to make a mess of your life, that’s fine by me. But you should at least realize how big of a mess you’re making.”
He kissed her hard, cutting off her cry of surprise as he delved in, taking possession of her mouth. God, she tasted even sweeter than he remembered.
He was dead certain she was going to shove him away; that was the expected reaction after all. Strange bloke snogs you, you shove him on his ass. But when surprise faded, he found her pressing close and wresting control of the kiss from him with the almost desperate hunger she always seemed to have when they came together. He let go of her arms to get a better hold of her, left hand slipping into her dark, luxurious hair and his right settling at the fine curve of her waist. He was aware of Gwen’s hands gliding up along his shoulders and back through his hair, winding in, holding him in place as she explored his mouth.
It had been too fucking long. There’d been a couple times in those months when Jack was missing that they’d nearly taken up with each other again, but things were still to raw for both of them and some disaster or another would inevitably interrupt them. Then Jack returned and that was the end of that.
Finally they pulled apart, the need for air necessitating it. Gwen stared up at him, hazel eyes wide as they took him in.
“Leave it to you to go the unconventional route, Owen,” she said.
He smirked. “You have to admit, it’s better than Suzie’s.” She shivered. “Sorry,” he apologized.
She surprised him when she smiled. “I’ll take your method over Suzie’s any day.” The smile faded as she stepped out of his embrace. “God, I feel like such a fool. I should have figured out what Jack was doing.”
Owen shook his head. “You were too upset. He could have mixed the Retcon right in front of you and you still wouldn’t have known.”
Gwen’s eyes didn’t meet his. “I think he might have.”
That was news. “Are you telling me that you wanted to forget?”
Her head shot up. “No! Christ, once was more than enough. I thought I was going mad that first time after I met you lot. Kept getting flashes of things, especially Suzie’s damned knife, but none of it made any sense.” She laughed. It was a short bitter sound. “What did I know of mad? That was only a few days. Jack took years from me this time.”
She was taking this better than he expected. Though she was probably so relieved to no longer have Swiss cheese for a memory that any other emotions were shoved to the side. Which was why he was hesitant to tell her the rest.
Of course, she read him like a book. “What aren’t you telling me, Owen?”
“You weren’t the only one Jack Retconned.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“He mucked about with Rhys’ memory, too.”
“He did what?” she asked, the words very slow and very deliberate.
“Didn’t you ever wonder why Rhys was so willing to get back with you?”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, he didn’t. That’s too—no.”
“Ianto let it slip this morning.”
Gwen sat down heavily on the bench. “Fuck.”
He crouched down in front of her. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
“I should have known,” she sighed. “The signs were all there, now that I think about it. But things were so crazy when Jack got back, and, god, I don’t think I slept more than a few hours for weeks after he returned. Then when things did settle, he started in on getting back together with Rhys and I was so exhausted that a reminder of normal didn’t seem half bad. Anything to get a bit of peace.” She seemed more interested in smoothing out the folds in her dress than continuing for a moment. “After that it got out of control and Jack wouldn’t let up and Rhys wouldn’t let up and…Finally, enough was enough. I went in to Jack that day to tell him to back the hell off. He doesn’t stick his nose in anyone else’s lives, does he?”
“I think he figured I was a lost cause from the start. And I’d wager good money Toshiko scares him a little. As for Ianto,” he considered it for a moment, “Ianto’s definitely go his own agenda going.”
“That’s not a surprise,” Gwen said wryly. “Which means it’s just me.”
“The rest of us should have jumped in sooner to keep Jack from singling you out like that.”
“Why? I was the new girl. I know you weren’t exactly keen on having me there. Nor were the others. It was too soon after Suzie.”
Yeah, it had been too soon. But that had been Jack’s fault, not Gwen’s. “It still doesn’t excuse things,” he told her.
“I didn’t make things easy, either,” she said. “But it’s done. Though now I have to figure out how to sort Rhys. Do you think there’s a limit to how many times you can break someone’s heart?”
“I wish there was.”
Gwen reached out and cupped his cheek. “Thank you.”
Owen enjoyed the warmth of her touch. “I was expecting you to hate me.”
“For giving me back my memories? Hardly,” she dismissed. “Even if your method of doing it a bit suspect.”
“You weren’t complaining.”
She smiled fondly. “No. And I’m still not.”
They were interrupted by a solid knock at the door.
“Gwen, love, five minute warning.” It was Rhys. So much for things going well. Poor bugger sounded on top of the world. Gwen, on the other hand, looked anything but.
“Can’t exactly go through with this now, can I?” she said.
“Only if you want to live a lie,” Owen said honestly.
“Had enough of lies for awhile, thanks.” Taking a breath, she stood and walked over to the door. Owen wondered if maybe he shouldn’t hide, but Gwen didn’t give him any time to move as she open the door and said, “Rhys, I think we need to have a chat.”
Rhys’ gaze went past her and landed on Owen. But instead of anger, the man’s face only showed resignation. “You’ve remembered finally, have you?”
While he couldn’t see her face, Owen had a feeling Gwen was as shocked as he was by this turn of events.
“Can I come the rest of the way in?” Rhys asked. “I don’t much care to air our business with the rest of the church overhearing.”
She stepped silently out of the way, then shut the door behind Rhys.
Owen stood as Rhys crossed over to him. “You’re Owen Harper, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Owen replied uncertainly. Christ, he’d forgotten how much bigger Rhys was than him, not that he’d ever met the bloke face to face. While Rhys was alive and aware of it, that was.
“Don’t worry, I got over the urge to kill you a long while ago.”
“Well, that’s good.” Owen fought the urge to step back. He’d had run ins with one too many cheated-on partners not to be a bit leery.
“Besides, it wouldn’t be much of a fight,” Rhys informed him with a smile. There was nothing cold or cruel in it, but it wasn’t completely friendly either. He turned away from Owen to address Gwen, “I’m sorry, Gwen, I really should have put a stop to this a lot sooner but you seemed happy enough.”
“You remember everything?” Gwen asked.
Rhys nodded. “All came back to me the day Captain Harkness brought you home from your accident.”
She leaned back against the door, staring at him. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You remembered naught from the past two years, what could I say?” Rhys sounded truly sorry for that. “And I assumed it would wear off eventually. It did for me. Both times.”
Which explained how Rhys knew who Owen was and what he had been to Gwen. Gwen had confessed to Owen her little venture with Retcon on a stakeout one night, shortly after Jack hightailed it out of the Hub. It had led to a considerable row between them with Owen accusing Gwen of following in Suzie’s footsteps. They didn’t speak to each other for nearly a week after that, using Ianto and Tosh as intermediaries.
“I’m so sorry, Rhys,” Gwen said.
“So am I,” Rhys said. He joined her at the door. “I shouldn’t have let things get to this point, but it seemed to make you happy. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope things would work out between us.”
Owen respected Rhys for that. The man was as human as the rest of them, it was good to know.
“You’d better get going,” Rhys told her. “I’ll make your excuses.”
“That’s not fair, Rhys,” Gwen protested. “I’ve as much to do with this as you.”
But Rhys wouldn’t hear of it. “Just let me do this one last thing for you, alright?”
Gwen stared at him for a moment, then nodded and stepped out of the way. “Thank you.”
“We had a good run of it,” Rhys told her. Then he turned to look at Owen. “Watch out for her, yeah?”
“When she’ll let me,” Owen replied.
That earned him a smile from Rhys. “Give me a minute or two to get everyone together, then head out.”
And with that, Rhys left them.
Owen waited a moment before joining her at the door and asking, “What’s the plan?”
“Would it be better to pay Jack a visit before or after you get me horribly pissed?”
“This is going to be on my tab, is it?”
“You bet it is. You owe me.”
He supposed he did. “I’d vote before. You have much better aim when you’re sober.”
“Good point.” She started out the door, then turned back and held out her hand. “I’m driving, by the way.”
Tempting as it was to argue, Owen thought better of it and handed his keys over. “Just go easy on her.”
“Maybe.” She grinned, leaving him to follow.
Things had turned out far better than he hoped. It was a good thing he managed not to hit a tree after all.