A slow tune played through the ballroom, only a few couples now out on the floor. The reception had ended up lasting longer than they originally intended but luckily for Owen the owner of the hall was his friend and no one else was booked in the hall that day. Thus, a good number of people from the wedding remained cleaning out the bar, sitting scattered among the tables, and a few dancing out on the floor.
"Mr. Harper?" Katie said turning his attention back to the woman in his arms.
"What are you thinking?"
Owen laughed. "Trying to analyze me?"
She smiled and shrugged, "just asking."
Owen sighed, turning them slowly to the quiet music. "Nothing, just… can't believe we're still here."
Katie laughed, the sound of her voice drowning out everything else to Owen's senses but her. Her hands tightly gripped his back, one sliding slowly up and down the fabric of his tux.
"It is our wedding day, Owen," she said, "it should last as long as we want it to."
Owen chuckled. "An 'It's our day kind' of thing?"
"Exactly," Katie replied with a nod. "Plus, you look so good in that tux."
"You should talk," he said. "You are absolutely beautiful tonight."
"I would hope I could pull it off on my wedding day."
She scoffed slightly, touched their noses together briefly. "Are you being romantic, Mr. Harper?"
"Just telling the truth, Mrs. Harper."
She pressed her lips to his, a hand sliding up to stroke his hair. Softly she sighed into the kiss and twisted the ring on his finger with her one hand. He chuckled against her lips.
"It's forever now, Owen," she said pressing their foreheads together. "You and I are married. We're really married!"
Katie's eyes were, and Owen couldn't even believe he was thinking it, sparkling. She looked like a goddness, the sun, a perfect star, or any other gorgeous thing one could think of! In truth he didn't care about cheesy descriptions or anything else. Right then he could think of absolutely nothing else but how amazing their lives together would be. He could not wait to start.
Owen looked up from the autopsy report scrolling down his computer screen to regard the young woman in his doorway.
"The specimen has arrived."
Owen put his pen down on his desk. "And it is?"
"New species, sent over by our request from Glasgow."
"That far? It had better be worth a look this time. I don't want any more reports of new species brought to us which turn out to just be genetic mutations. The satellite offices need to do their jobs as well."
"Yes, sir," she replied automatically then stepped forward holding out the plastic clipboard with the information attached.
Owen took it from her hand and waved her out. Leaning back briefly in his chair, Owen rubbed a hand over his eyes. Opening them again he glanced at the clock, 4:12. He was ready to head home and be done with this place for the day. Owen glanced quickly at the picture of Katie sitting on the corner of his desk under the lamp. He stared for a moment then tore his eyes away.
Shaking his head and sitting up straight, Owen looked quickly over the few pages of information which the girl had given him. Then Owen picked up his audio recorder and stepped out of his office. Walking down the white halls of Torchwood 1, Owen took the first elevator down two levels to the medical holding cells. Entering lab three he crossed into the viewing area and stopped behind the glass next to two of his attending doctors.
"So?" he said, turning on his recorder and looking down at the report.
"The creature has an exoskeleton," said the woman to his left. "It appears to have a heightened sense of hearing. We've taken some blood samples, transparent in color, which have been sent to the archives and the analysis lab."
"It is currently under some sedatives," the doctor to his right continued, "but our normal inoculation did not seem to be enough to completely knock it out." He paused, "and it looks like a grasshopper."
"Dr. Chase?" Owen said curtly.
"Sorry, sir," Chase replied, stood up straighter then continued. "There is no current record of the species in the data base though we are having the older records checked just in case."
Harper… they call you Harper…
Owen blinked in surprise then looked up through the glass at the alien. The other two doctors with him did not seem to have heard the voice. Dr. Chase was taking notes from the vitals monitor while Dr. Marion to his left occasionally glanced at the creature while jotting down things on her clipboard.
Please, release me…
Owen stared back out at the insect-like alien in the small holding cell behind the glass. It was definitely looking right at him. He stepped slightly to one side then the other. The large eyes on the top of the creature's head followed his movement.
You can let me go…Harper…
"Why are there no indications on this report about the species ability to communicate?" Owen snapped turning to look at the other two.
"Sir?" Dr. Marion asked, giving him a puzzled look.
"It can't sir," Dr. Chase said looking just as confused.
The two doctors stared at him. Owen turned back and forth between them, refusing to accept it.
I cannot stay here… please…
Owen grit his teeth and shut his eyes.
"It hasn't tried…" Owen opened his eyes and looked at Dr. Chase as he spoke. "It hasn't tried to communicate so far at least. We aren't even sure if it's sentient."
Please, release me, I am not a threat…
Owen lips formed a tight line. He did not reply to either of them. The other two doctors continued to stare at him as if unsure as to whether they were in trouble or not. Owen gazed out through the glass at the creature before him. For a moment he felt a sort of sadness for the thing trapped like an animal in the zoo. Maybe he could… Then an image of Katie flashed in his mind, dead on the table, tentacles reaching from her brain, that man in the long coat and his fist clenched.
"So, no record at all of this species?" Owen said, straightening up.
Please, no, you cannot…
"Well," Owen continued quickly trying to drown out the voice in his head, "then we must perform an autopsy to further understand its physiology."
"Conduct the standard tests of life and then euthanize the creature. When that's done, get me and I will perform the autopsy."
Behind the glass, the specimen began to fight and thumb against the walls trying to break free. Chase and Marion both jumped, staring at the specimen in surprise. Owen turned away as if he did not hear and walked from the room, practically slamming the door behind him.
It was just an alien, a creature, nothing that bared any sympathy or deviation from the standard procedure. Its very existence on the planet was a threat to human life. Owen had no pity for it and what its kind did to real people. Aliens like it destroyed innocent lives and deserved nothing.
"So," Owen said with what he hoped was a confident look
"So?" Tosh replied looking at the door.
Owen opened the door letting Tosh walk through first. She laughed a little as she walked in, glancing at him once. Owen grinned back then stepped into the restaurant.
"Two," Owen said before the hostess could ask.
The woman smiled handing two menus to the waiter to her right. The man nodded at the two of them.
"If you'll follow me."
They walked through the restaurant, weaving past the dining patrons until they arrived at an empty table. The waiter pulled out Tosh's chair as Owen sat down in his across the small circular table from her. He was quite glad they'd been put by the window. Somehow he felt Tosh would appreciate the people watching. The waiter handed them their menus, told them the specials, poured two glasses of water, then left them to their decision making.
"So," Owen cleared his throat, "here we are."
Tosh laughed quietly, an edge of nerves in the noise. "Yes, so it seems."
They both smiled awkwardly, a clear gap in the conversation lengthening on, then looked down at their menus. Owen couldn't think of what to talk about.
He didn't know why but he was nervous. Really, this was Tosh. He saw her almost every single day! This shouldn't be so difficult. It was just a date. He'd been on plenty before and with a lot of women far more attractive than Tosh. Somehow though all his usual moves did not seem like the kind of things to do for a woman like Tosh. He felt a bit at sea.
"So, uh, what are you getting?" Tosh asked, clearly trying to ignite some sort of conversation.
"Uh…" Owen scanned the menu quickly picking something at random. "The swordfish."
Tosh made a face quickly before she schooled her features. "Oh… oh, well, swordfish then."
"Yeah…" Owen replied lamely staring at the description of the swordfish and thinking that he really did not like swordfish.
"I can't seem to decide between chicken or fish myself."
Dear God this was the most awkward date in history. Owen shook his head and put his menu down on top of the plate in front of him.
"Ok, this is silly."
Tosh looked up at him in surprise. An expression of panic crossed over her face quickly before Owen waved a hand at her.
"It's just a date, right?" he shrugged his shoulders. "It's not like it's the most difficult thing we've ever done."
Tosh laughed, a sound this time of easing tension and nodded. "No, we certainly have seen worse."
"Oh, they're not so bad," Owen said thinking of a few well placed scars.
Tosh grinned then after beat said, "Captain John Hart."
"Captain Jack Harness!" Owen countered.
They both burst out laughing attracting a few annoyed glances from the tables around them. Owen gave them all a good glare before turning back to Tosh. She was looking at him with one of those stares she sometimes did. He knew it meant she was pondering something rather hard but damned if he knew what it was. Then she sat up straight, opened her menu for just a second, then closed it again.
"Chicken primavera," she said decisively.
Owen laughed once. "See," he said, "we can do this date thing."
"Swordfish?" she asked incredulously.
They both began laughing again.
"I think I'll pass on that."
Tosh nodded with a 'duh' expression. "No one likes swordfish."
At first Owen had thought going on a date with Tosh would be a one and done thing to get it out of her system, have a good time one night. Now… Now he thought about it maybe he was wrong.
Gwen was here again.
Every few weeks she drove by the power plant. Sometimes she would stop, sometimes get out, other times she just went by slowly. Often Gwen stopped her car, looked out at the area for a few minutes then drove on again like the place was just a quick stop at the store on the way to work. She was the only one he ever saw.
Tosh never came nor Jack or Ianto. He didn't know for sure but something told Owen the reason at least Tosh never came was because she was dead. He didn't know for sure though so he tried to hope she was fine, tried to imagine her happy, laughing, smiling, cracking some ridiculous computer code. Owen wished he could know for sure though.
Today turned out to be a day Gwen stopped and got out of her car. It broke his heart every time she did this. Well, it would have broken his heart if he still had one. The state he was in now hardly precluded any such phrases about broken hearts or pain in his head or anything involving a body. He'd lost that too.
Yet… yet he was here and it still hurt somewhere to see her grieve for him.
Gwen walked toward what remained of the abandoned plant. A tall fence encircled it now so no one could get within a certain amount of meters of the structure. So Gwen stepped carefully through the dirt until she came up to the fence. She threaded her fingers in the chain and peered in as if looking for someone on the other side.
Owen wasn't exactly sure how it was that he saw Gwen as she looked through then stooped to place a flower at the base of the fence. Yet he could see her as if he were standing on the roof or floating above.
'This is not my grave!' Owen snapped at her though no sound carried.
"Owen…" Gwen whispered as she stood up again.
'There must be somewhere better you can remember me,' Owen muttered.
The first time Owen realized he still existed among the world of the living he screamed. He screamed for he didn't know how long in terror, in anger, in excitement, it wasn't clear. What became clear to him was the fact that he still existed. He had no form, no body, no way to communicate with anyone it seemed. Yet he was thinking; he was reacting; he was there. In some way or another Owen, the sense of self, memories, personality, everything that made him who he really was remained.
Then Gwen visited for the first time. He'd tired everything to get her to notice him, shouted in his spirit-like form, tried to move objects, touch her, at least get closer, make some sort of wind, but nothing happened. He couldn't do anything but be there, watch.
"Oh, Owen," Gwen said again with a small choke in her voice.
Clearly this was one of her more melancholy visits. Perhaps she was recalling some of the good times in their illicit affair or the fun times around the hub. It was good to see that he'd mattered to someone; good to know he was remembered.
'Miss you too, Gwen,' he said once again, hoping just a little that it would reach her.
In reality, however, he couldn't talk to her nor could he leave this place. He stayed stuck at the plant, stuck where he'd died for the second time.
Gwen glanced once more around her then turned and walked back toward her car. Owen thought about yelling, calling her name, trying to run after her but there was no point. He'd tried it all before.
Maybe this was hell.
"Sarah," Jack shouted across the hub, "its 8:00. Why are you still here?"
Owen came up from the autopsy room and stood behind her chair.
"Yeah, don't you have some party to go to?"
"Just give me one second…" she muttered as she stared at the computer screen in front of her.
Jack came up along side Owen and turned the girls chair around. Sarah, however, did not turn with it so her upper half stayed facing the computer screen, her hands typing away. Jack grasped her hands and turned her around properly.
"Jack!" she whined.
"It's New Years Eve!" He said, bringing his face close to hers. "Get out of here and go enjoy the night."
"But I've almost finished mapping the-"
"It'll still be there tomorrow when you come in even though I told you and Paul to take the day off."
Owen stifled a laugh and Sarah sputtered. Owen picked up her purse from the couch and handed it to Jack who handed it to Sarah.
"This is an intervention," Jack said firmly, "go home and give Clarissa a big New Years kiss for me."
Sarah huffed as she stood up then smiled. "You wish."
"That I do."
"All right, all right," Owen said, pretending to hold Jack back. "Now go on before he can't restrain himself any longer."
Sarah sighed. "Fine but I will be in tomorrow. Happy New Years."
"Happy New Years," the two men said together.
Owen sat down in Sarah's chair as Jack walked back into his office. Owen stared up at the ceiling then twirled the chair around a few times. As he heard Jack exit his office, Owen stopped and looked over. Jack held a bottle and two glasses in his hands.
"You just want me to hold it again?"
"Humor me," Jack said handing him the glass.
Owen snorted and took it. Jack poured a small amount of the brown liquid into each glass. They clinked glasses and Jack downed the liquid while Owen just watched him.
"So," Jack said, "how many years is it now?"
"Oh, I don't know," Owen replied standing up and moving to sit on the blue couch. "I stopped counting after fifty."
"No, you didn't," Jack said sitting down in the chair Owen just vacated.
After a beat Owen said, "Sixty-seven," glancing around the hub, "sixty-seven years since I died."
Jack just nodded. The two of them had reached the point where there was so much they didn't need to say out loud. They'd been together so long it was almost as if they were married. They'd held Torchwood together through the 456 and the return of the Cybermen not to mention countless weevil surprises, lost aliens, and at least one pair of honeymooners. They'd been forced to rebuild the hub once as well as Cardiff more times than ever should have been necessary. They'd watched so many friends grow and die.
"What do you think Gwen would say?" Jack asked bringing Owen back.
"I know what Rhys would say," Owen pointed at Jack with the hand holding the glass, "He'd have killed you just to kill you again when you came back."
Jack laughed. "He was always a fighter."
"Just like Gwen."
"And just like Sarah," Jack added pointing vaguely to the door she'd gone through.
"A Williams family trait perhaps?"
"Well, Bethan wasn't so bad," Jack mused.
Owen scoffed. "That would be because Rhys made sure to keep his darling daughter as far away from here as possible. We hardly saw her till she was twenty!"
Jack just shrugged. "True."
"Gwen never got to see Sarah…" Owen said quietly thinking back to the day they lost Gwen.
Gwen had lived until her forty-second birthday, staying with Torchwood until the end when an explosion tore her to bits. Only after Gwen died did Rhys then begin to let his daughter really know what her mother had done at her job.
"Still," Jack continued sitting up, "we know that Gwen would be glad to have someone with a bit of heart in this place making sure you and I don't brood constantly."
"We do not brood," Owen countered.
They looked at each other, looked at the bottle on the desk beside Jack and just laughed.
"Reminisce," Jack conceded.
Owen nodded. It surprised Owen regularly that he was now reaching the point where he would be as old as Jack had been when Owen first met him. His life, or whatever this was, had not run out yet. He had a few more holes now which made sure he always wore long pants and long sleeves. It didn't matter so much though. Owen didn't leave the hub much anymore. The others made jokes, except for Jack, about him being a shut in. Owen seemed to understand now how Jack must have always felt around them.
"Stop it," Jack said.
Owen blinked and looked at him. He didn't bother to say 'stop what' because he already knew the whole back and forth of that conversation.
"Sorry," Owen said, "New Years tends to bring it out."
Jack nodded. "I know what you mean, so many friends to remember."
"Tosh and Ianto …" Owen muttered. "I can't believe it's been so long since…"
"Peggy and Tegan," Jack said.
"Morgen, David, Tessa… sometimes they just blur together."
Jack scoffed. "You have no idea."
Owen just raised an eyebrow and Jack crossed his arms with a shrug.
"Ok, some idea."
Standing up from the couch, Owen walked over to stand by Jack and held out his glass. Jack put his empty glass down, took Owen's, and finished the drink.
"At least someone's here to remember them all, right?" Owen said, realizing his voice cracked slightly as he spoke.
Jack stood and put a hand on Owen's shoulder. "Two now, the immortals of Torchwood."
"One immortal and one zombie," Owen corrected.
Jack chuckled. "Never get tired of that?"
Owen walked away from Jack down toward the autopsy room. "No, I do not. I like having my own title."
"Happy New Year, Owen. Don't work all night."
Owen looked back at Jack from the top step. "I won't if you'll sleep; we know that it doesn't hurt when you do it. One of us should and you're the one that's able to."
Jack saluted. "Yes sir."
They both laughed and turned their separate ways. This night was just another in a line of years of this same night between them; who knew how many more ahead. Torchwood was a strange life to lead, even after one was dead, but Owen was going to keep on living it.