Title: Untwist My Knotted Mind
Pairings/Characters: Owen, Diane, Jack, Ianto
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers for Out Of Time and Adrift
Summary: He looks at the frightened woman beside him and can see no trace of the strength and ferocity he fell in love with. Now it’s his turn to help fix her.
Author's Note: Written for that-thing-from-that-place, who wanted Owen finding out about Flat Holm when Diane comes back out of the Rift damaged. This fic was meant to be about 1,000 words. Obviously, it got away from me. Thank you to writinstuff for such lovely speed beta-ing!
Owen is bent over an alien corpse, his last one for the day. He just wants to finish up so he can play video games until the next invasion happens. Some beeping starts up at Tosh’s computer and he ignores it; Jack will get it. He really just wants this autopsy over with. He wants to go out and pick up a bird or just get drunk and pretend he’s not lonely.
Jack comes bounding into the middle of the Hub a moment later. “Owen, Ianto, with me.”
“She and Tosh are out finishing the Saeronii case cover-up.” Jack jerks his head toward the cog door. “Let’s go.”
Owen sighs, throwing down his scalpel and tossing a plastic sheet over the corpse. So much for finishing up.
He’s stuck in the back of the SUV as Ianto examines his scanner, directing Jack to the spot where the Rift spat out whatever it may be.
“What is it?” Jack asks.
“I don’t know. The signal’s not that strong, so it’s smallish. I think I’ll be able to tell once we’re closer.”
They’re soon in a field near the airbase, the wind whipping at their coats. Owen thinks of a time like this, months ago, when he’d been almost happy and then lost it. Ianto turns in a circle, staring down at his PDA. There’s a line of untamed trees on one side, and he points toward it, still staring downward. They follow his black back as he marches across the scrubby grass.
“Ianto? Where is it?” Jack is a step behind the Welshman, trying to peer over his shoulder.
Ianto stops, so abruptly that Jack walks into him. He presses a button on the scanner and squints at it. His shoulders slump. “Oh.”
Ianto shows Jack the scanner. “The readings look human.”
Jack shakes his head, expression full of tired sadness. “Oh, no. I was hoping it would—”
“That may not be the case, sir.”
“It probably is. It usually is. Let’s get it over with.”
Owen frowns. They’re talking in code, in secret. He doesn’t like to be kept in the dark. They trudge on and he follows until they’re twenty metres from the treeline. A shape is huddled there, its head down.
“Do we need our guns?” Owen asks.
“Stun gun, maybe. Depends on what’s happened to them. Leave it for now.”
The wind is cold across the field and Owen wonders whether that person out there is feeling it, is frightened by it. They step closer, silent now, automatically inclined not to startle.
As they get nearer, they can see that the person is a woman, her brown hair matted and covering her face, her clothes dirty and tattered. She hears them coming and shifts, flinching back.
Owen feels his breath leave him like he’s been punched. “Oh god,” His legs feel weak. The sounds around him have whited out; everything’s been pared down to tunnel vision on her. “Diane.”
He runs to her before Jack or Ianto can catch him. She’s shaking and thin, dirty, scraped. She stares up at him, eyes terrified, wider than they had been even in his vision of her before he’d opened the Rift. He stops, inches away from her. He can feel himself trembling, the bottom dropping out of his stomach. His body feels like static. He crouches down, tentative, like he’s approaching a wild animal.
“Diane?” he whispers again. There’s barely a spark of recognition in her eyes, but when he reaches a shaking hand out to her, her own trembling fingers reach out and grab it, gripping fiercely. Owen bites back his tears. Diane isn’t so restrained. She presses her face into his jacket as sobs wrack her body.
“Can she speak?” Jack asks gently. He and Ianto have approached slowly. Their faces are solemn; Jack looks tired.
“She hasn’t said a word yet.” He pets her matted hair with the hand that isn’t being clung to like a life preserve. Swallowing the lump growing in his throat, he looks up at Jack. “What happened to her? What do we do?”
Jack sighs. It sounds like regret. “We find out how bad she is. We take her somewhere safe. Ianto, go get a blanket for her, will you?”
“No, it’s okay.” Owen moves Diane away enough for him to wriggle out of his jacket and wrap it around her shoulders. He begins shivering from the wind immediately, but he doesn’t care because it’s Diane and she’s here but god, what’s happened to her?
Getting back to the car is an awkward shuffle; Diane won’t move away from Owen, and Owen doesn’t want her walking backward, so they walk sideways. Jack and Ianto flank them like guards. In the SUV, Diane huddles in a corner in the back seat. Owen sits beside her, keeping up a steady flow of random words and comforting sounds. Ianto and Jack pretend not to hear. Owen is grateful; he’s not sure what he might be admitting right now, the words are too distant for him to hear.
“Where are we going?” Owen asks when Jack doesn’t take the turn that would take them back to the Hub.
Jack sighs again, his face grim. “I wasn’t planning on telling you this but,” he glances in the mirror at Diane hunched in the seat. “I have to. The Rift goes both ways, Owen.”
“You mean like it takes people and puts them somewhere out—in space?”
“Yes,” Ianto answers. “And sometimes it brings them back. But it brings them back…damaged.”
“How long has it been doing this?”
“Since before I got to Torchwood.” Jack replies. “When I joined, they were keeping the victims of the Rift in the vaults on the lower levels.” He shudders, face wrinkling in remembered disgust. “In squalor. It was awful. So I created Flat Holm.”
“It’s an island out in the Bristol Channel,” Ianto explains. “Used to be a military bunker, now it’s ours. There’s a facility on it that houses the victims of the Rift. We’ve got caretakers there. It keeps them safe and comfortable if they can’t go back out into society again.”
“And usually they can’t.” Jack adds.
“How do you know about this, Ianto?”
“I do the paperwork. Hard not to know about something that large.”
“So you’re taking Diane there?” Owen watches the woman who had once been so strong and bright, so much better than he, cowering in the seat. Sadness grips his heart, and he just wants to curl up beside her and cry.
“Yes. She can stay there and be safe.”
Owen doesn’t reply. He remembers how hard he fell in love with Diane. He thought she could fix him. He loved her so much, so fast. He remembers buying that red dress, her face when she’d pulled it out of the bag, how he’d not known how to respond to her reaction until she kissed him. He remembers dancing with her in the deserted carpark, the delight on her face. He was so happy, just being with her. She made him feel better than he’d felt in years. He remembers how terrified he was of being in love, and how sure she was. He could never blame her for leaving, though. The Sky Gypsy was as much her name as the plane’s, and he knew he couldn’t have held her down if he tried. Still, it had broken him and there had been no one to put him back together. He looks at the frightened woman beside him and can see no trace of the strength and ferocity he fell in love with. Now it’s his turn to help fix her.
The journey by ferry is easy; Diane spends the trip curled beside Owen. He holds her, trying to brush out her matted hair with his fingers, and wonders what she experienced that took away her spark, her voice, her life. He wants to cling to her like she’s clinging to him and hold her until she’s herself again. But he knows that won’t work. And that makes him ache.
They follow Jack off the boat and across the island, down a steep path. A cluster of concrete shelters poke out of the ground, and Jack leads the way into one of them.
“You keep them in underground bunkers?” Owen hisses.
“The facility’s housing is the bunkers, yes. They were already here, and it’s easiest. Any random citizens can’t just wander across one of the victims of the Rift.” Jack stops, pressing his thumb against a comm. button on the wall. “Jack Harkness. Access code 101824591. We have a new arrival.”
A door in the wall slides open. A plump black woman wearing red scrubs greets them with a small smile. “Hello, Captain. Hello, Ianto.”
“Owen, this is Helen. She runs the facility on Flat Holm.” Owen nods at her, still too overwhelmed to speak.
They follow Helen into the passageway. It’s dark, and badly in need of paint. Owen aches as he realizes that people live down here, in these dark corridors. As they pass down the hall, Owen notices doors with little chalk name signs hanging on them. Bedrooms. Another glance and he sees a little rec room full of people. No one is speaking. Everything feels off-kilter in here. A scream sounds faintly and Diane jumps. They follow Helen into an office and she sits behind the desk and picks up a pen, pulling a form from a drawer. The others remain standing.
“Diane Holmes. Born nineteen twenty-seven. Age twenty-six. Flew through a transcendental portal from nineteen fifty-three a few months ago and remained unharmed. Was taken by the Rift a week after her arrival in the present. Found this afternoon at fourteen hundred forty hours.” Jack’s words are clipped and efficient.
“Do you know what sort of damage she suffered?”
“No, we came straight here. It was easiest.”
“I’ll call Sylvia to do it. Sylvia is our doctor,” she offers to Owen.
“I’m a doctor,” Owen answers. “I can do it.”
“No.” Jack’s hand comes to rest on Owen’s shoulder. “You can’t.”
“Why not? I’m a doctor. I’ve dealt with this sort of stuff before.”
Jack’s expression is sympathetic and full of apology. “Because you love her, Owen. It’s going to cloud your judgement and it’s going to hurt you. And you shouldn’t have to be the first one to see it.”
Owen deflates. He knows Jack’s words are true, despite how much he hates them. He doesn’t know what sort of trauma Diane might have suffered, but it would break him to be the one to discover it. Helen calls for Sylvia and they wait. Sylvia is a woman of about forty with mousey brown hair and glasses. She, like the other staff they’ve seen, wears red scrubs.
“Owen, they’re going to have to sedate her to do the exam. It’s just a precaution; we’ve had bad accidents before.”
Owen nods tiredly. He holds out a hand. “Let me do it.”
At the nod from Jack, Sylvia hands him the needle. Owen palms it and quickly finds a vein in Diane’s too-thin arms, sliding it in and pressing the plunger. He presses a kiss to Diane’s temple as she slumps against him. Sylvia pulls a gurney into the room from the hallway and takes Diane away. Owen sags against the wall.
“Jesus christ.” He rubs at the prickle behind his eyes. His entire body aches in a way that has nothing to do with physical exertion.
“Yeah, it’s a lot to take in all at once,” Jack sounds sympathetic. “I know it’s hard.”
“No, just—her. I hoped one day she’d come back. Just not like this. Never like this.” He straightens up, ready for a confrontation. “Don’t think I’m not coming here as much as possible.”
“You can come with Ianto every Monday when he does supply runs. That sound good?”
“Yeah, all right.”
Jack turns to Helen, who’s been sitting silently at the desk. “You’d better write Doctor Owen Harper in as a regular visitor. Torchwood access code 565204839. He’ll probably just be coming over with Ianto during the supply visits, but you know, just in case.” Jack nods to Owen, who gives him a small smile in return. He’s grateful for Jack’s silent permission to visit whenever he feels the need.
Owen sighs again. “This is mad.”
“Owen.” Jack’s face is serious, his Leader face. “You can’t tell Tosh or Gwen about this, all right?”
“Why not, then?”
“Tosh has too much on her plate already. And Gwen, well, she’ll only try to make this place better, and this is the best we can do. She’ll get hurt by it.”
“Oh, and we don’t want poor bloody Gwen Cooper getting hurt now, do we?” Owen sneers, his distress expressing itself in his usual sarcastic defence.
“Owen. You wouldn’t want to learn about this place if you didn’t have to. I know it.”
Owen looks down at his shoes. No, he wouldn’t. He’d hate to know of Flat Holm if he wasn’t desperate to help Diane. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
“Good. Now do you promise me you won’t tell them?”
“Yeah, all right, I promise.”
“Good.” Owen settles back against the wall, and Jack unfolds his arms and leans partly on Helen’s desk.
There isn’t a proper waiting room, so they end up lounging against the walls of the office while Helen goes off to work with patients or whatever it is she does. The doctor part of Owen is curious about the operation of this place. The rest of him doesn’t want to know. Just seeing this place in the shallowest sense of the word is enough for him. He’s terrified of getting involved with the inner workings, seeing others that may be like Diane, or worse. He knows it’ll happen, though. It’s inevitable. It’s who he is.
It feels like hours until Sylvia comes back into the room. She stands before them, her eyes weary from bitter familiarity with such awful sights. “She’s one of the less damaged ones, Captain. She’s suffered minor physical damage in the way of a broken arm and foot and some scarring on her arms, torso, and neck, but other than that, she’s physically okay. Mentally, though, we cannot tell for certain yet. She’s asleep in room 15G, if you’d like to go see her.”
“We’ll do that. Thank you, Sylvia.” She nods and backs out of the room. Jack beckons Ianto and Owen to follow.
Diane looks pale and weak in the little bed with the slate grey sheets. She’s been dressed in light blue scrubs. Her face has been cleaned. Her hair is still in clumps, and Owen fumbles in the little bedside table for a brush. He sits gently beside her on the bed and strokes a hand across her forehead before picking up a section of long brown hair and running the brush through the tangled mess.
“She’ll probably wake up in about twenty minutes. The sedative is pretty short-acting.” Jack explains. “We’ll be outside. I need to speak with Helen about other patients, anyway.”
“Thanks—” Owen’s voice cracks and dies, and he swallows to wet his throat. “Thank you, Jack.”
“You’re welcome, Owen. And I’m sorry.”
He sits at Diane’s side, watching the slight movement of her face. He wonders what she remembers of her past, what she remembers of whatever happened to her out there when the Rift stole her away. He smoothes away the frown of a nightmare and murmurs soft reassurances in her ear. A few moments later, she stirs more definitively, and he shuffles backward so he’s not looming over her.
She doesn’t speak when she comes awake, slowly at first, as if she’s back at home. But then she starts awake, her eyes darting about, hands clutching and searching around her. Owen holds out a hand the way he’d done earlier. She clutches on to it.
“Diane. It’s all right. You’re safe.” She whimpers softly, and he scoots closer to her on the bed. She presses her face against his side, sighing as her cheek rubs against the soft, worn material of his shirt. He pets her hair. “It’s all right Diane. I don’t know if you can speak, but don’t try, not yet. You’re back on Earth, and you’re safe. There are people here who are going to be taking care of you. No one’s going to hurt you. You don’t have to be scared anymore.”
She doesn’t respond except to press her face more firmly against his shirt. He feels his eyes start to burn, a sob pressing against the back of his throat, tensing against his chest. He takes a few slow breaths, pushing away the inevitable disintegration, and begins to speak gently to the woman clinging to him.
He talks for a long time. He tells her how Emma is doing. He tells her happier stories about his experiences since she left, stories about Jack’s antics or silly tricks he’d played on Ianto. He strokes her hair as he talks, and she squeezes his hand in time with his movements. It’s his only indication that she’s even present. After a long while, the squeezes slow, and her breathing comes in soft little puffs against his arm. She’s fallen asleep again, and he lowers her gently back to the bed and kisses her forehead, tucking the blanket up under her chin. Then he goes out to find Jack and Ianto.
He spends the first half of the boat ride back dry-heaving over the side as Ianto rubs his back, and the second half down in the cabin of the boat, his head in his hands. When he gets back to his flat, he lines up all the bottles of alcohol he owns, and systematically begins to drink his way through his collection. He’s only down a bottle and a half of beer when Ianto knocks on the door.
“What do you want?” Owen grumbles, but he leaves the door open and wanders back to the sofa. Ianto is watching him warily as he closes the door. Owen’s brain is just fuzzy enough not to care about the cautious expression.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Jack put you up to this?”
“Owen, Jack stopped ‘putting me up to things’ when I told him to fuck off after he tried to get me to rub elbows with Archie from Two. I’m here because I was worried about you. I wanted to see if you were all right.”
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re in the middle of a breakdown.”
“Damn right I am,” Owen chooses a whiskey bottle and raises it in salute. He doesn’t bother with a glass. “The woman I loved flew away from me and then came back like—like that. I think I’m entitled to quite the breakdown. Now, leave me alone unless you intend to join me.”
Ianto, to Owen’s surprise, sits down beside him and picks up the unused glass, holding it out. Owen shrugs and pours some of the whiskey from his bottle into Ianto’s glass.
“I suppose you are entitled. Just don’t make it last too long. You’re coming back with me in a couple of days when I do a proper supply run.”
“I just never expected to see something like that. I never expected that the Rift could do that. She’s just…dead inside. It’s like something’s taken her away.”
“Something has. The Rift did. It’s up to you to try and get her back.”
“And what if I can’t?”
Ianto shrugs. “Keep trying. I did.”
Owen wonders if they’re all bloody mad to have such faith in the broken down shells of the people they love, but this is Torchwood, and that’s what this job is made of.
He goes with Ianto to the island every Monday, and sometimes by himself on other days. He feels split apart every time; the pain of seeing Diane so twisted and hurt always slashed through by the joy of seeing Diane alive. But she never speaks, and he does all the idle talking while she nestles against his side, squeezing his hand. And he wonders if she’ll ever get better. It feels repetitive and futile, and he thinks sometimes that he’s lost her completely. It feels too familiar, feels far too much like Katie.
Some days are better than others. Some days she is obviously aware, giving him a small quirk of lips that could pass for a smile, her hand warm in his. Some days, though, she curls into a ball at the head of her bed and squeezes his hand until he feels like it’s about to break, whimpering softly even as he whispers against her hair.
Some days, she’s terrified of him, so scared that she screams when she sees him, scrambles into corners and cowers. Those days, he backs out of the room and closes the door as gently as he can. Then he slams out of the claustrophobic little bunker and paces about the island until Ianto is ready to leave. Some days, she looks up at him and there is no recognition whatsoever in her eyes. She sits beside him and lets him pet her hair, but she doesn’t cling to him, and she doesn’t move. Those days, he stays with her until Ianto wants to leave. Then he sits on the bed in the cabin of the boat and stares up at the ceiling. He hates that Ianto can tell when it’s a bad day. He hates that he can do nothing to help the woman he loves. He feels helpless and hopeless and tired those days, even when Ianto offers to take him out to a bar to get pissed.
It’s been a bad day, and Owen is sitting in the cabin with his hands fisted in his hair, breathing hard. He doesn’t look up when Ianto climbs down the stairs and sits beside him.
“Is she still not talking?”
Owen hits his thigh with a fist. “Not talking, barely even moving. Sometimes I wonder if she even recognizes me.”
“Why don’t you bring her something?”
“What do you mean?”
“Bring her something she might recognize. Something of yours, or maybe something from her time. I don’t know. Maybe seeing something that’s familiar or has sentimental value will help her.”
Owen sighs, not particularly convinced. “Maybe.”
He goes home that night and stares dejectedly out of his big windows towards the city. It feels like it was only weeks ago that he was dancing on top of a carpark with Diane, but at the same time, it feels like he’s aged a thousand years. The rock-bottom grief he’d felt at her loss, and now the sinking feeling of failure he’s feeling at being unable to help her weigh on his shoulders like boulders. He’s quietly terrified that she’ll always be an empty shell, lost inside herself, that he’ll never see the woman he loves shine through. He’s terrified that he’ll be loving a statue of stone.
But the next week, he’s standing on the pier with a brown paper bag under one arm. When Ianto arrives and sees the package, he nods once, approving. They say nothing as they board the little ferry to the island. Owen is wrapped up in hopes and doubts and regrets. Ianto puts a hand on his shoulder as they watch the waves, and Owen doesn’t shrug it off. Ianto gives it a squeeze before he moves away. He mumbles “Good luck” as they step onto the island. Owen thinks he’s going to need it.
“Diane?” Owen steps through her doorway and peers round the little alcove. Diane is sitting up, alert. She has a picture book in her lap, and Owen wonders if one of the staff had been trying to read to her. She looks at him and her lips quirk in a smile. A good day, then. Hope tries to smother the doubt inside him.
“I’ve brought some things for you. Hang on.” He unbuttons his jacket and reaches into his shirt, pulling a white silk scarf from beneath the layers. It doesn’t smell like her anymore, it smells like him. He wore it for weeks after she left, until her smell wore away and the sight of it made his eyes prickle dangerously. He wraps it loosely around her neck. “You wore this when we met. Remember? You gave it to me when you left. You told me you’d be taking our memories with you. I think this was you giving memories to me.”
She stares up at him, eyes bright and glittering. He sits down on the bed beside her and she wraps a hand around his arm, leaning her head on his shoulder. He coos and pets her head and then scoots towards the bedside table to open the paper bag.
The dress spills out of the bag like a shining red waterfall. He slides it across his lap and into hers. Gently, he prises her fingers from his arm and presses them against the smooth crimson fabric. Her grip clenches round the silk. She lifts the dress to her face and breathes in.
“Remember this? We danced under the stars on Christmas Eve, remember? We toasted to chance meetings. You looked beautiful.”
Her eyes open wide, and for a moment he thinks he’s hurt her somehow, but she turns to him, and there’s some presence there in her gaze that wasn’t before. She blinks, her eyes filling with tears. Her mouth opens, but only a pathetic little creak comes out.
“It’s all right,” he whispers, staring into her face. He brushes her hair back from her face, looking into her eyes, trying to keep her there. “It’s all right. Take your time, darling.”
Tears are shining in her eyes, but there is more colour in her face than he’s seen, and she looks alive. Her hands shake as she places the dress back in her lap and reaches for him. Her hands grip his with warm vigour, and he squeezes back. “Owen?”
Owen wants to cry, he wants to scream with joy. Instead he just whispers, “Yeah, it’s me.”
“Hello.” She smiles at him, stronger now. He grins, tears blurring his vision.