It starts and ends with Bad Wolf.
He's on his last leg, finally ready to complete a job that rightfully should have been finished when that bloody bullet hit- in fact a solution that one Doctor Owen Harper had been slowly, passively inching towards for years - and in one instant, everything changes.
The room is dark, he can’t hear his own breathing, but he can hear Tosh’s - wet and desperate over the com, filling up the space, and he knows it’s all over. He’s done with screaming, and if he did one thing right with his death, it will be that he was strong in his last moments. Tosh deserves that at least, for all that they never had. He closes his eyes, and then in a singular instant, his world goes blinding bright, painfully bright with sheer light.
What the hell? He’s been through death, and this isn’t it. Confusion, and then panic start to fill him, and Owen opens his eyes, and sees her.
For an instant, he thinks he’s hallucinating. Blonde hair curling down her shoulders, pale skin, big lips curled into something that looks like amusement. But then he sees the sheer gold light shining from her eyes, burning like a fire from within her, and it pulses outwards, blinding him, filling the air.
“Who the hell are you.” Owen whispers. The girl, and he’s not really sure it is a girl, because there’s something in those golden eyes that speak of something older than they should be. The girl brings a single finger up to her lips in a fluid motion, silencing him. His mouth hangs open, unsure of what he was going to say.
Get out? How had she even made it in here?
And then the girl’s hand curls around his neck, and pulls him in close, and she is kissing him. She’s kissing him like a passionate lover, and it’s all Owen can do to passively kiss back for a moment. Suddenly, he is on fire. Bad Wolf’s lips are wet - his are chapped, but that doesn’t stop him from screaming into her mouth as she kisses him. Every one of his neurons are burning, life is being forced back into them, and he can hear sound, but it isn’t quite music. It’s an approximation, but much more, Owen can’t think -and he wreches himself backwards, out of the Wolf’s grip. She is staring at him, knowingly. Something is wrong. Something is finally right.
“What the bloody hell did you do to me!” Owen shouts. The Wolf, and it’ll be endlessly frustrating to him later that he doesn’t know how he knows, places a single finger on her lips, once more. He feels as if his chest has been carved out, and replaced with something of hers. She’s done something to him. He doesn’t know what it is, and that terrifies him.
She steps back, and disappears, as if vanishing into golden mist.
Then things really go to shit.
The reactor explodes, and Owen is set on fire once more. It’s hotter than anything he’s ever experienced, and logically, as a doctor, he knows how it should feel. Burning alive as well as having every cell in his body irradiated, flesh melting off his bone, leaving nothing, not even a skeleton, just ash. His neurons once more burn, even more excruciatingly, and Owen screams.
He screams and screams and screams.
The only consolation, if such a thing could exist, is that it is over very quickly.
Then, Owen Harper wakes up.
It’s a gradual thing, because he expects nothingness, and the first thing he feels is warm, like he’s laying in a comfortable bed, and this entire year has been nothing but a terrible dream.
And then, like an oncoming freight train of absolute shit, it all rushes back towards him, and he remembers. Tosh. Jack. The end of the world. More than that, he realizes he can smell ash, and taste blood, and all of this shouldn’t be possible, so he opens his eyes. The girl-the wolf has done something to him. He can feel an energy he can’t begin to describe deep within his bones. He looks up, and he can see the sky, so dark and foggy. Owen’s mind is racing fast and the edges of his vision are starting to blacken, and...
“Breathe, will you?” A soft female voice, london accented, interrupts. Owen forces air back into his disused lungs. The black fades. He just now notices the rubble strewn everywhere around him, remnants of the building he’d been in, he realizes. He shouldn’t be alive. Or - functioning. He shouldn’t even be just sitting there, in one dead piece. He looks up, and on one of the larger blocks of bricks, sits a girl. It’s the same girl as before, a young woman with bleach blonde hair, a dusty jacket, and she’s swinging her legs off the ground as if she were a small child, her smile seeming too large for her face.
“Who are you?” Owen asks, doing his best to both breathe, AND figure out why he suddenly once more needs to.
“I’m Rose.” The girl says, in a sing song voice. “The Bad Wolf. Well, not right now obviously, but occasionally.” She twirls a piece of blonde hair between her fingers, seemingly utterly amused with the situation.
“What the bloody hell are you going on about?” He snaps. “This can’t be happening. I shouldn’t exist, let alone be here. I was meant to be dead- meant to be more than dead. Incinerated. What have you done to me!?”
“I haven’t done anything. That was the wolf. I’m just here because she’s gone for the moment.” The girl mutters, rather crossly. Owen doesn’t care. Whatever kind of day she’s having, he’s obviously having a worse one.
“Who is she?” Owen asks.
“The wolf. Bad Wolf. Wooooo.” She wiggles her fingers. The girl is nutty, Owen decides. It’d be easier to confirm if he wasn’t absolutely freaking out. He can feel something - brick beneath his fingertips, hard and rough. Owen swallows, and there’s a low thrumming in his ears- a heartbeat. Somehow, he’s alive again.
“Alright. Alright. This can’t be happening.” Owen pukes on the ground next to him, barely able to make the effort to lean over.
The girl wrinkles her nose in disgust. “Look, no matter how many times you ask - I don’t know why the Wolf does was she does. It’s like being in the backseat of a sports car, with an unpredictable driver, yeah? But I do know she saved you for something, just like she did Jack.”
“She did this to J-Jack?” Owen Sputters. “Jack Harkness? Our Jack? What about Tosh? Ro-Robin, or whatever the bloody hell your name is, there was a girl I was on the line with, her name’s Tosh, is she safe?”
The girl met his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t know. The wolf only saved you.”
This time Owen’s head is swimming for a completely new reason, not because he’s not breathing, but because he’s once again not entirely sure that he wants to be.
“No. No. You’ve got to - you’ve got to get whatever the hell that being was, and go save Tosh. Tosh, got it, sod me. The girl I was on the line with, her name is Toshiko Sato, she works for Torchwood three, she has an entire life to live. Her!” Owen tries to get to his feet, but his hand-eye coordination is still shit. He collapses back onto the loose bricks, and it hurts like hell.
The girl waits patiently as Owen starts screaming. He starts with anger, the begs. He tries to offer his life for Tosh’s, promises Torchwood, the planet, anything and everything he can think of, to no avail. His chest feels like there’s still a gaping hole in it, but not the kind that was caused by a bullet wound. The girl just looks sad as he goes through every type of insult he knows.
“-Bitch. You utter bitch, filthy-” Owen Harper finally pauses for breath, and realizes that he has gone through all his material, and still feels even worse than before. He has gone after the girl’s mother, friends, intelligence and really anything else he could think of, and oh, he is creative, but the anger is dissipating finally. Owen recognizes shock for what it is, as it settles in like rigor mortis.
“Who the bloody hell are you, Rose?” He asks once more, hoarsely, setting back down onto the rocks.
The girl sighs. “I’ve been telling you. I can explain again, if you like. But buy a girl chips first, will you?” She hops to her feet, meeting his gaze steadily. There’s something to be said for lack of better options.
“Deal.” Owen grunts.
As it turns out, there’s a 24 hour chip shop about a block away.
They probably look crazy, entering a chip shop at 3:03 in the morning. Owen is covered in ash, and a bit of his own blood, and Rose looks like she stepped right out of the early 2000’s, and immediately raided several large gun shops. The single employee stares, but Owen slams down a big enough tip that the employee brings them chips while he does it.
“My name is Rose Tyler.” The girl begins, as they sit down. “I was whisked away by aliens when I was young, and I fell in love. I met a man with two hearts - and we had the world at our fingertips. We traveled so far and so fast, I thought it would never end, and he let himself believe it too.” Rose moaned, long and filthily. “I’d forgotten how good these tasted.” She popped another chip into her mouth.
Owen’s stomach also ached for food, but he couldn’t quite get himself to go out and take a chip. If he was wrong, and he was pretty sure he was alive, but if he was wrong, he’d never be rid of it. Just a chip, uncomfortably stuck down his throat, because involuntary body functions like peristalsis did not work while dead - stuck there forever. “That’s not much of an explanation at all.” Owen muttered. “You gonna get to the part where I’m somehow fucking breathing again, or are you going to prattle on about your love life all night?”
The girl looked affronted, and Owen had it in him to feel slightly guilty.
“Has anyone told you you’re a bit of git?” The girl asks.
“Many many people. More than just a bit of a git, actually.” Owen grins humorlessly. “Do go on.”
The girls talks some more. She begins with the doctor she was talking about before. An alien who was something called a time lord, and it’s about half way through her explanation that Owen realizes she’s talking about Jack’s doctor, the one he’s wanted to fix him.
“And that’s how we met Jack.” Rose continues. She talks about Jack and his schemes, and the sacrifice he’d ended up making. It all sounded so Jack-like, Owen believed her.
“He was a good bloke. When the wolf took over, all I could think about was saving ‘im, and my Doctor. So the Wolf did what I couldn’t, rather permanently. She’s not one for subtlety but she can do incredible things.”
“Like bringing a dead man back to life?” Owen interrupts. “And keeping him alive forever?”
“Yeah.” Rose looks vaguely uncomfortable, popping another chip into her mouth.
“Why me?” Owen asks. Why not Tosh? Rose shrugs. “Your important to Jack, s’all. That’s all the Wolf really told me. She doesn’t really use words, you know, only really rarely. Just images, and feelings.”
“Tosh is incredibly important to Jack.” Owen interrupts.
“I’m sorry.” Rose sighs.
“Bullshit.” Owen growls.
There’s a beat of silence, and Owen realizes, belatedly, that this is not how he’s going to bring Tosh back. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault.” He mutters, half meaning it.
“Listen.” Rose says. “‘Cuz I haven’t gotten to the other important bits, and the sun is almost up.”
Owen does end up listening. She spins tales of aliens and distant forgotten worlds, other dimensions and lost loves and owen can’t help it, he is transfixed. The girl in front of him is hundreds of years old, bonded to what seems to be a godlike being, and trapezes through the universe with frightening ease. She can’t die. She was looking for her doctor, not unlike Jack was. She found him, she says, and he left her with a copy, a universe away. She loves her doctor. Her existence is wrong, and she can’t ever be with him.
Familiar pangs of loss reverberate through Owen’s chest at that, sympathy as he thinks of another woman he could never be with. She’s gone through four bags of chips without stopping, when she makes him an offer.
“Look, I don’t know you, Owen Harper. But you were saved for a reason, and I may be wrong, but I’m usually not with people. You have a heart, underneath all that anger, and I’ve travelled alone for a very long time. I’d like a companion, someone to show the universe.” Rose is smiling again.
“What about Tosh? Can you make the wolf save her?” Owen asks.
Rose nods, slowly. “The wolf chooses where we go, but if you can get close enough, we’ll eventually be able to be back here just before the accident. It could work, Doctor Harper.”
Owen finally takes a chip,and nearly gags as the salty flavor overwhelms his disused mouth. He spits it back out onto the plate. “Y-you have yourself a deal.”
The wolf girl cracks a smile.
Doctor Owen Harper wonders, only once, if he should go back. He could, he knows. He could go back to Jack and Gwen and Ianto, who probably need him in the aftermath. But he can’t. He can’t look Jack in the eyes, and explain to him Tosh died. How he didn’t. He can’t go back to the bunker and see an empty space where Tosh used to sit, and think it’s fine.
Doing this, saving her, is the only way.
Owen watches news clips as they remove more of the rubble from the remains of the building. After what has happened, he knows that neither Ianto, Gwen or Jack would think to check the CCTV footage, and it’ll be a couple days before they realize even a dead man should have some sort of wreckage of a body. Still, Owen keeps his a hoodie up, and tries not to be in the sight of any cameras.
They stay in the chip shop for a couple more hours.
Rose talks about trivial things but Owen can barely find it in himself to reply, so he lets Rose prattle on. He sits, and pretends to listen, and tries desperately not to think about Tosh. It doesn’t work. It’s a relief when then the Bad Wolf returns.
Rose closes her eyes, and the wolf opens them, golden eyes, glowing golden air, the faint vestiges of song, filling the air. Bad Wolf doesn’t speak exactly, but she stares, and Owen fights the urge to cower. She exudes a danger that he can't describe. She threads her fingers into Owen’s jacket, and all at once the doctor forgets everything else.
“Now” he whispers, and they go.
He knows when he opens his eyes once more, they’re not in Cardiff anymore. It's like waking up on a mate's couch after getting black out drunk and not knowing what day it is. The ground beneath him is suddenly unsteady for a single moment, and then rock hard once more. Gold is bleeding from his surroundings, revealing the color underneath, and he sees cobbled streets. There's sound too, and it hits him like a brick wall. Beside him, he can still feel Rose's fingers in his jacket, and they tighten.
Rose gasps her way into consciousness, and it’s all Owen can do to prevent her from collapsing onto the street.
“Sorry. Sorry.” She mumbles. “It’s always a little hard to take control again.”
“S’ Alright.” He says, helping her back upright. “Where are we?” He pauses. “When are we?”
“Rome...I think. Yeah. Ancient Rome - look at the vendors, and that flag.” Sure enough, they were standing in a side of a semicircle of buildings, shops pressed in between the rounded architecture. A few flags, by the looks of them, hand died, flapped around in warm air. The people around them were dressed in various types of togas - and the odd mix of what sounded like french, spanish and german could be heard, Owen could hear the vowels melding together oddly.
“This is insane.” He tells Rose. She smiles mischievously.
“Oh, this is nothing. You want to go explore?”
Owen feels like the wind has been knocked from his chest. “Bloody hell. Yes.”
Rose grabs his hand and pulls, lightly, towards a gap in between the vendors. Owen follows her into a shaded approximation of a dark alley, which leads to another sun lit shop, this one selling what appears to be roman clothes. “Luckily, I’ve been here before, and we’re not the only aliens to ever visit this place. In fact, far from it. I know someone who can help us blend in a little better.” Rose explains as they walk. “For now, we jus’ gotta try and keep our heads down.”
They walk towards the back of the shop, which only has one other customer, seemingly immersed in a pile of red cloth. In the back is an older looking roman, a balding man who eyes them with familiarity and a vague distrust, which lessens as Rose drops a few gold coins in his hand. “volumus emere a paucis minuscula togas in super secundo, Mauricius” She says. The Roman, nods, and goes into what appears to be a back of his shop, before returning with several blue piles of cloth.
“Here.” Rose tosses him his own pile.
“You want me to strip down? Here?” He asks incredulously.
“No, dummy, there’s a closet right over there.” Owen feels pink tinge his cheeks, and walks over to closed off ‘closet’ that consisted of a couple sheets hung up. He strips down quickly, electing that he’s going to keep his boxer-briefs, roman times or not, he still needs that last bit of dignity. It occurs to him that if he could drink - and he can, that’s an odd thought - he should be a lot drunker given the way this day is happening. Is it still day? How long has it been since the explosion? He does feel the sluggishness that he remembers came with sleep, and his stomach is certainly growling, but that’s a matter for a little bit later.
A few moments he comes out of the sad excuse of a closet, and rose honest to god wolf whistles. “Not bad, for a skinny boy.”
“Hey! I’m not skinny. I’m in great shape!” Owen protests.
Rose rolls her eyes. “Alright. Let's go find something to eat, and then we can go to the coliseum. And don’t look at anything too long, like I said, there’s a higher population of aliens around here than you’d think.”
“Aliens? In ancient Rome?” Owen asks.
“And Aliens in Cardiff aren’t out of place?” She replies.
Owen couldn’t help it. He laughs at that. Rose giggles, bouncing on her feet..
“I don’t suppose we need to watch out for Weevil’s here, too?” He asks.
“Weevils?” Rose is leading them towards a row of more brightly covered stalls. “Like, the things with no hair, try to maul you, those type of Weevils?”
“Yeah.” Owen breathes.
Rose shakes her head. “I don’t think so. I mean, you can never guarantee, but I think we’re good. I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen a gladiator battle? Violent, really bloody, but something tells me, you like that kind of thing.”
Owen wonders what she sees in him, what she knows about him. She knows he’s torchwood, and she knows about Tosh, but other than that...probably not a lot. She’s not wrong. A gladiator fight sounds like something that’s right up his alley. Or it would have been, he thinks. Well, it can’t hurt to see all the sights, can it? And maybe there’ll be alcohol afterwards, and he can get good and properly drunk.
“Alright.” he acquiesced.
She takes up to the higher seats, from where they can’t see much, and Owen squints to make out the dusty pit. It’s midday, and the sun beats down on them, and he is glad that they aren’t wearing much. He can taste the tension in the air, and the crowd is already jeering and waving.
“It’s just starting.” Rose whispers. Owen nods. His limbs feel heavy.
A single heavy gong quiets the ground, and a single man standing over the pits shouts, a string of words, and suddenly the arena gates are opened, and 8 chariots coming from many different directions collide with a sickening crunch. There’s screaming from the crowd, and the riders of the chariots swing at each other, barely missing contact. The horses swing back around, and the chariots rush together once more. This time, there’s blood as a single rider is violently thrown forward, impaled on the long swords the riders carry.
He can smell the blood, and the barely contained chaos. Memories of another ring flit through his mind’s eye, this time not all the occupants human.
The gladiators clash once more, and he knows without fully seeing, that another one of them is dead. The crowd once again shouts in approval. Owen thinks he’s going to be sick.
“Lets go.” He tells Rose. She’s also got a strange expression on her face, but he doesn’t have time to process that now, he just needs to be away from where he is. He doesn’t stop to see if she’s following, he steps back down the steps, seemingly taking much more time to step down than they’d been to climb up.
He stumbles back into the open air market, back through the shops. He’s hyperventilating, and it occurs to him that he’s going back into shock. He forces himself to intake more air. Rose is calling to him again. He finds what he was looking for - a deserted corner, and that’s all it takes.
He curls up in the corner, wrapping his hands around his knees, burying his face in them as well.
“Hey. Owen? Just breathe, okay?” And there’s Rose, sitting down besides him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders. Jack had always been overly touchy feely, and while he had complained in the moment, he had always appreciated it in more ways than he could see. After months of not being able to feel anything, Owen unabashedly, unashamedly leans into her touch, taking all the warmth possible that he could. Tears stream down his face, and wow, he hadn’t been able to do that either, for months.
He hadn’t even been able to cry.
So he cries, into his knees, into Rose’s shoulder. She’s whispering softly, and he can’t protest, can’t do anything but cling to this strange woman whose given him back his life.
“It’s okay Owen.” She whispers. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have just taken you up there. You just got back, you need sleep, and food and rest and everythin’’” The former torchwood doctor nods.
Sleeping in the alleyway wasn’t the best play to sleep overall, but he couldn’t be bothered. He falls asleep on her shoulder, on the brick.
He wakes up in a soft bed, several worlds away.
“Thank you.” He croaks at Rose, who is still absentmindedly carding her fingers through his hair. He means it more than he ever has in his life he thinks, and he doesn’t know how he could possibly convey that.