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Crowned with Consolation

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The Tourist Information Centre was locked when Martha arrived. However, the key she had kept from her last secondment to Torchwood, months ago, still worked, as did her UNIT access codes, so she let herself in, rolling her eyes at the blare of the klaxxon announcing her presence. Despite all the racket, no-one materialized to greet her, and even the pteranodon merely made a disgruntled noise from the comfort of her roost.

“Of course I caught them out on a call,” Martha muttered to herself.  She was about to log in to the nearest computer and check the reports when she saw the tattered photograph clipped to the side of the monitor and her hands stilled.  She couldn’t guess how it had gotten so damaged, but someone -- Gwen, she was certain -- had taken pains to smooth out the creases and tape a torn corner.

It must have been a singular photo, because she couldn’t imagine Owen, who had been a perpetual motion machine, sitting still long enough to pose for many.  His smirk even looked slightly blurred, as though he couldn’t alight quite long enough for the camera to capture him.  The picture was centered on Owen, naturally; his brash, attention-grabbing confidence would hardly allow for anything else.  Tosh was at the edge of the frame as though unsure of her welcome, almost hiding behind the sweep of her hair.  Her smile, however, was warm and conspiratorial, like she was about to share the best kind of secret -- one Martha had never had the chance to learn.

Martha didn’t know how long she stood there before the proximity alarm jolted her back to herself.  She keyed in her login information and brought up the security feeds, watching as the diminished team piled out of that ostentatious SUV and trooped through the car park, Gwen and Ianto clearly bickering while Jack trailed behind them, hands tucked into the pockets of his greatcoat.  Waiting for them to make their way up to the main level, Martha took the opportunity to collect herself, blinking away the moisture that had flooded her eyes and firming her chin enough to paint on a smile.

Ianto was the first to emerge into the atrium, and he stopped short when he saw her, already running toward him. Gwen bumped into his back just as Martha practically tackled Ianto in an embrace, and she heard the air whoosh out of his lungs, but couldn’t bring herself to feel too badly about it. “What--” Gwen squawked, but then Ianto’s arms closed around Martha and he managed a surprised laugh. A moment later they were rocked by another collision as Gwen threw herself into their hug, whooping happy greetings, and Martha wrapped an arm around the other woman, squeezing tightly.

They separated, gasping and laughing, when Jack pointedly cleared his throat.  He had hung back from the shared embrace, but now he opened his arms wide.  “Do I get one, too?” he asked with a dazzling grin.

Martha gave him her warmest smile.  “Of course you do,” she answered, stepping in and letting his waiting arms enfold her.  She tucked her head under his chin, ear pressed against the eternal beat of his heart; when he spoke, she experienced the words more as a rumble in his chest than the sound of his voice.

“Oh, Martha Jones, I’m so glad you’re here.”

*

Jack shooed the three of them out to supper while he monitored the equipment at the Hub, pulling rank to quash Gwen and Ianto’s protests.  “Go, take Martha out,” he insisted.  “You can bring me take-away afterward.  That’s an order!”

Gwen shook her head over her lamb vindaloo.  “He does that all the time, turns it into Captain’s orders if we try to make him take care of himself like a person.”

“Jack’s trying to take care of us,” Ianto chided, but his tight voice and pinched expression told Martha this argument was not new.  “If it helps him get through--”

“Just because he can come back to life, he forgets how resilient normal humans are!” Gwen interrupted shrilly.  She caught herself and darted a quick glance around the restaurant, but the other patrons all seemed absorbed in their own conversations.  “And just because he can come back to life,” she continued more quietly, “he forgets that he’s just as human and fragile as anyone else.”

Ianto sighed and pushed a grain of saffron rice around with his fork.  “If it helps him get through the day,” he said again, “can’t we just let him take care of us?”

The question hung uncomfortably in the air, Ianto’s eyes downcast while Gwen’s lips thinned.

“I know you both do little things to take care of him, too,” Martha said diplomatically, throwing herself on the grenade.  “And, here, now we can all gang up on him.  It’ll be three against one, plus I’m outside his command structure.”  Both Ianto and Gwen looked relieved, so she went on, “We’ll have him eating his vegetables and taking his vitamins in no time!”

Gwen laughed outright at that, and even Ianto cracked a smile.  Martha counted it as a win.

Walking back across the Plass, Gwen’s steps dragged slower and slower until she finally came to a halt next to a railing overlooking the bay. “Can we... Can we not go back in yet?” she asked hesitantly when Martha and Ianto turned to her. “Let’s just stay out here for a few minutes longer.”

Martha bit her lip and nodded, and Ianto said, “All right, let’s,” and set the bag of take-away for Jack down on a bench. Gwen leaned her forearms on the railing, turning her face into the brisk salt breeze coming off the water, and they took positions on either side of her, Martha linking arms with Gwen and pressing close. For several long minutes, they watched the setting sun paint the southern sky pink and orange.

“It just seems so quiet and empty down there, sometimes,” Gwen finally said, her voice thick.  Martha squeezed her arm and glanced over, but the other woman was still squinting into the distance, her freckled nose wrinkled slightly.

On Gwen’s other side, Ianto ducked his head and took her hand, grasping tightly enough that Martha could see both of their knuckles whiten.  “I know,” he said, sounding choked.

Gwen’s shoulders began to shake, and Martha wrapped her quickly in a hug.  “I miss them so much,” she gasped around hiccuping sobs.

“I know, I know, it’s all right,” Martha soothed, holding her and petting her wind-tangled hair.  Gwen clung to her with one arm and hid her face.  Ianto stood stoically by their side, blinking rapidly against the convenient excuse of the wind, but he and Gwen maintained their fierce grip, and when Martha leaned slightly into him, he leaned back.

*

Jack took one look at Gwen’s tear-stained face and Ianto’s red-rimmed eyes and declared that the Rift looked to be quiet for the night, they should knock off early and rest.  Gwen sighed shakily, but seemed happy enough to go home to Rhys; she gathered her things and brushed good-night kisses on all of their cheeks.  Martha pretended not to see when she stroked a finger against the photograph of Owen and Tosh with heartbreaking fondness.

Ianto took a bit more convincing.

“I can stay, it’s fine,” he insisted, almost pleading, and Martha pretended not to notice this, as well.

Jack linked his hands at the small of Ianto’s back, tugging him close and pressing their foreheads together.  “Hey.  It’s okay.  Go home, have a beer, watch a movie, get some sleep.  Relax a little, you could use it.  Anyway, I want to have Martha to myself a while,” he drawled, pitching his voice so she couldn’t miss the grin in it.

“Still engaged, Jack,” she called back teasingly.

“So we can catch up!” he insisted, all innocence, and she heard Ianto chuckle despite himself.  “So,” Jack continued, dropping his voice so that whatever he said next was for Ianto’s ears alone.

Martha busied herself checking the readouts of Rift activity, getting reacquainted with the meanings of various spikes and troughs of particle fluctuations.  When she hazarded another look, they were separating from a kiss, Ianto nodding and pulling away.  He went to Martha to bid her good-night and went easily when she pulled him into another hug.  “Don’t worry, I won’t let him stay up past his bedtime,” she promised, and was rewarded with a grin.

“Thank you,” he said earnestly, clasping her hands.

Alone now with Jack, the Hub seemed vast and empty, and all at once Martha understood Gwen’s earlier reluctance to go in.  Without the warmth and bustle of the team around him, he seemed to haunt the space like a ghost.

“So,” he said seriously, the weight of the world settling on his shoulders, “how are my people?”

Martha sighed.  “Grieving, Jack,” she said, “but they’re living.  They’ll make it through all right, I think.”  She watched with a shrewd eye as he nodded and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and began to pace.  “They worry about you,” she offered.

“We worry about each other,” he retorted, hackles rising.

“They think you’re not taking care of yourself.”

“It doesn’t matter, nothing can happen to me!  It’s my job to take care of them!” Jack snapped, and slammed his hands down on Gwen’s workstation.  Her pens rattled in their cup and the photo slipped from its clip and fell onto the keyboard.  All the fight flowed out of him abruptly, and when Martha laid her hand tentatively on his back, he sagged into her touch.  “It’s my job to take care of them,” he repeated in a near-whisper.  He picked up the abused photograph with reverent hands and returned it to its place on the side of the computer monitor.  “I’ve already failed so many times,” he said miserably, gaze fixed on Owen and Tosh’s smiling faces as Martha rubbed his back.  “I can’t fail Ianto and Gwen, too.  I have to take care of them.”

“You can only take care of others if you keep yourself in a fit state, first,” Martha said, reasonably.  “And doesn’t it count as taking care of them if they don’t feel like they have to worry about you?”

He draped his arm over her shoulders with a watery smile.  “See, this is exactly why I called you.  You’re so smart, Doctor Jones.”

“Yes, I am,” she agreed, with a brief squeeze around his waist.  “Now, come on, I thought we were going to catch up?  And your biryani is getting cold.”

They talked for hours, ending with the full story of what had happened with John Hart and Jack’s brother.  Martha had read the official reports, but it was all so much worse hearing it from Jack himself.  She gripped his shaking hands as he related the horror of being buried for millennia and the anguish of being denied Gray’s forgiveness, and let him weep into her shoulder like a child with his grief for Owen and Tosh, and his guilt for being too late to save them.

Exhausted and all cried out, Jack cupped Martha’s face in his hands and wiped away her own tears with the pads of his thumbs.  “And here you are, Martha Jones, saving me again.”

“Well, what else is the End of the World Survivors Club for?” she returned with a smile.  “I’ll put it on your tab.”

Jack gave a delighted laugh and kissed her forehead.  “You know where to find me when you need to collect.  Now, I’d better clean this up, or Ianto will make me drink Starbucks for a week,” he said, pushing himself off the sofa with a groan.

“I’ll get it,” Martha said.  “In fact, I’ll take a turn babysitting the Rift tonight.  No, Jack,” she insisted when he opened his mouth to object, “Ianto and Gwen aren’t the only ones who could use the night off.  I’m going to stay here and keep watch over space and time, and you’re going to go to Ianto and spend the night aboveground for once, and you’re going to get some sleep.  Doctor’s orders.”

Jack shook his head, but he was smiling.  “This is exactly why I called you, so I guess I can’t argue.”  She watched as he stepped onto the lift platform and resettled that overdramatic coat on his shoulders.  He paused, about to key the activation code into his wrist computer, and caught her gaze, his blue eyes intense.  “I mean it, Martha.  I’m so glad you’re here.”

She nodded solemnly.  “I know, Jack.  Now go, get out of here,” she said, making shooing motions with her hands.

He laughed as the machinery ground into motion and pushed him up toward the night.  “You’re putting this on my tab, too, right?”

“You bet I am!” she called up to him.

At last, the lift came to a halt high above her, sealing to the other, ordinary paving stones on the Plass, and Martha was left alone with the splash of water and the hum of the computers.  She surveyed the empty Hub and sighed.  There was a lot of healing to do here, and UNIT could only afford to give her a week in Cardiff before they needed her back on her own projects.  Still -- she had made a start.