Title: "The Cold Light of Morning"

Author: Aeshna

Spoilers: Major for 1x06, Countrycide

Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how many DVDs and toys I buy! Everything here belongs to RTD and to Auntie Beeb, who already has my licence fee.

Notes: This sprung from a curiosity as to what happened to a certain character in Countrycide, who played a brief-yet-important role and was then never seen again. Bunnies, of course, always attack at inconvenient times - sizeable chunks of this one were written on a Korean Air 747, somewhere over Russia, in the middle of the night, two days after the episode first aired. There I was, sprawled across a window row and trying to sleep, when Owen suddenly started nattering at me - thank heavens for my Psion5!

Many thanks to my wonderful betas, Mimarie and Jwaneeta - any remaining weirdnesses are all mine. Feedback of any variety is much appreciated but not compulsory - I'll post anyway! I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn...

The world was a study in blue at this time of day, the gradual progression of dawn smothering the stars and drawing out the shadows in a watercolour wash of cyan and indigo. The contrast of hills and trees and lightening sky was almost artistic, nature glorying in its stark and ancient majesty as it had for eons past and would for eons to come. The bird population, hidden in the foliage, greeted the new day with loud enthusiasm, their bright-edged songs competing against the rustle of wind-stirred leaves and the softer chirping of crickets.

Owen Harper glared at the trees and huddled further into his leather jacket. He hated the bloody countryside.

There was a flicker of light in the distance, blue on white on blue on grey as the dim line of the road was slowly picked out in pale beams and flashing sapphire, the sound of sirens swallowed by distance.b Owen watched the police and ambulances approach with no little sense of relief. "See that, inbreds?" he said, pitching his voice to carry over the avian cacophony. "It's your lucky day - you're getting a free ride to the big city. Don't think you're going to be seeing too fucking much of it, though..."

The only response to that was a low moan from one of the women - the villagers' bravado had faded as the reality of their situation sunk in and they'd found themselves the prey and not the predators. He'd spent most of the night alternating between patching up the damage that the bastards had inflicted - Ianto beaten bloody; Tosh teetering on the edge of tears and blind fury; Gwen shot and far shockier than she'd admit to; the boy, Kieran, a gibbering wreck - and trying to keep the yokels from imminent death, albeit grudgingly. Despite Jack's best efforts with the shotgun, there'd only been the one arterial bleed that had needed to be torniqueted tightly to staunch the flow - the cannibalistic git would likely lose the leg, but Owen really couldn't bring himself to care. Maybe the others could have it for a farewell dinner.

He'd half hoped that one of the prisoners would make a break for it, just to see what Jack's reaction would be, but they'd all seemed more than a little cowed by the American's angry and heavily-armed presence. Of course, being trussed up with their own blood-stained rope had probably slowed them down somewhat, so he was just going to have to hold out for septicaemia or kuru or something.

Owen's stomach twisted and growled, barely audible above the unholy racket the birds were making, a reminder that he hadn't eaten since that roadside -

He stopped that train of thought dead. Now he thought about it, one of the fuckers looked suspiciously like that bloke with the greasy van. Bollocks. Maybe hoping for kuru wasn't such a great idea after all...

A footstep scuffed behind him and Owen turned as Tosh appeared at his side, bruised and a little too bright around the eyes although she seemed to be hanging onto her composure a little better now. "You all right?"

"I've had better days," she said with a shaky smile that suddenly gave way to a wide yawn. "God, I am so ready for this one to be over with."

"You and me both." He chafed his hands together, pretending not to notice the blood that had dried into dark crescents beneath his nails. "Just when you think you've seen it all... Where'd Jack get to?"

"He went back in with Gwen." Tosh shrugged and wrapped her arms around herself. "She's still the new girl; you know, still finding where her break points are. He'll be talking her through them, same as he did for us when we were new."

"Right," said Owen, smothering a yawn of his own and refusing to acknowledge what felt uncomfortably like jealousy stirring in his gut. "Can't imagine getting pumped full of shotgun pellets helped her too much there. Ianto getting the SUV?"

"Yes." Tosh slid a glance towards him. "Good job he had the spare keys."

Owen rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't start that again!"

"Again? Owen, that is going to keep us going for months!" She smiled once more, and this time there was a touch of genuine humour to it in the moment before she turned towards the flashing lights that suddenly illuminated the shadowed lane. "Okay, looks like we're on..."

With the arrival of the police came purpose, something to do to keep them from thinking about what had almost happened, about what had happened. Owen wasn't certain who had finally thought to phone the emergency services - probably Gwen or Tosh, who'd been the most vocal on the 'Psycho Cannibals Have Rights Too' front despite having nearly ended up as boob-burgers - but there was both relief and satisfaction in being able to pass custody of the grubby shits over to someone else. He suspected it would take a damned sight more than a pine-scented dangly to clear their stink from the car seats, but so long as they weren't his car seats, he really couldn't give a stuff.

Somewhere in the midst of the head counting, Jack reappeared to drag away the villagers' leader, hauling him into the wreckage of the pub. Owen wondered if he'd decided to just finish the job after all, but no shots were forthcoming and then the plods were all over him and Tosh with questions and demands. It took ten minutes and several calls to ever-higher authorities back in Cardiff to convince them that yes, they were Torchwood; no, they weren't joking; yes, they really were handing them a pack of genuine home-grown backwoods cannibals; and that, if the South Wales Constabulary had any sense in their thick, pointy-headed skulls, they'd be getting this lot back to somewhere safely contained and with proper medical facilities as soon as they could - he seriously doubted that the buggers were up to date on their tetanus jabs and it probably wouldn't hurt to check them for hep as well. Possibly rabies.

Owen grinned as the police set to doing as they were told. If there was one thing that he really loved about working for Torchwood, it was being able to pull rank like that.

With the Hannibal Lecter-wannabes dealt with, he handed the shivering Kieran over to the ambulance crew - after what the kid had been through, he'd probably welcome an industrial-sized dose of retcon, but sadly he was going to be required as a witness. He'd probably feel a bit better after he'd sold his story - suitably edited to remove the mad Yank with the tractor and the pump-action nasty, of course - to the papers for some insane sum. The red-tops were just going to love this one, Owen could tell.

It was all pretty much done and dusted by the time Jack marched the limping patriarch back out and unceremoniously thrust him at a startled police officer. Grabbing the medical scanner that he'd finally located in the glove compartment, Owen left the car to join his team leader≈ only to be brought up short by Gwen stalking unsteadily out of the pub, her blue jacket darkly marked with blood and her eyes fixed resolutely down, ahead, anywhere but the faces of her concerned team mates. She brushed past them, towards the lane and apparent solitude.

"She all right?" Owen didn't much like the way that Gwen was clutching her injured side, but he knew better than to go after her when she had that look on her face. "She seems a bit -"

"Gwen's fine - she just got an answer she didn't want to hear. And not from me, for once." Jack frowned after her, then shook his head. "Strange. It's always the human ones that break them."

"Changed her mind, has she?" At Jack's inquisitive look, he added, "About letting you shoot the gits? I'd've let you have the fuckers. Though I guess handing them over to the plods means we don't have to waste time digging shallow graves out the back - we'd never fit them all in the SUV."

"I think the garden may already be full of previous dinner guests." Jack chuckled mirthlessly. "I'll make sure to bring a trailer next time."

"Nah, don't bother." Owen rubbed at his rope-burned wrists. "This way means I get to hit the showers, then the sack, all the sooner. And I fucking need that shower. And about six litres of industrial bleach to scrub the stink of those bastards off me."

"Might smell better than your usual taste in aftershave." Jack quirked a smile, then looked around as a car door slammed shut. "Everything been dealt with out here?"

"Yeah. Police have got the putrid people-eaters dealt with - warned them to stay out of nibbling range, but I guess we should keep an ear out for reports of any of those blue and yellow Battenbergs suddenly getting itself a jam filling." Owen gestured towards the police car as it pulled away, lights flashing urgently. "Got the paramedics to take a quick look at me, Tosh and Ianto - they agreed we're walking wounded, but we'll live. Gwen, I'd rather handle myself, back at the Hub: fewer bits of awkward bloody paperwork that way and, frankly, we've got better kit than A and E at the Cardiff RI."

The look Jack gave him at that was measured, almost calculating... but then he shrugged. "Do it. You're right - we're better equipped and we've left enough of a footprint with this one already." Jack cast a quick glance in the direction that Gwen had vanished in, then pushed his hands further into his pockets and turned to frown at the paramedics closing up the ambulance. "We'll do a final sweep once the amateurs have gone, then get ourselves back to civilisation and hot water."

"Now that," Owen stretched, feeling stiffening muscles complain anew, "has got to be the best bloody idea I've heard in the last twenty-four fucking hours."

The last of the police cars departed with a crunching of gravel and an abortive whine of sirens, leaving just the ambulance and the MPV that the SOCOs had brought. Owen could imagine the fun that those guys were going to have with this one - they'd be keeping their DNA labs busy for months trying to work out which bits belonged to which victim, given the number of corpses in varying states of dismemberment around the place. Which reminded him...

"So what happened in that cellar?" he asked quietly. "In the pub? You said you hit one of them."

Jack cast him a long, sidelong look, and for a second Owen thought that he was having one of his irritatingly enigmatic moments. But then he shrugged and turned his gaze back towards the departing vehicles. "Three shots, just like I said. Leg and gut."

Owen nodded, fiddling with the scanner. "It's just that I don't remember seeing injuries matching that description on any of the fucking Addams Family, not last night and not out here. I mean, I know things got a bit hairy in there, but -"

"First shot knocked him back down the stairs," Jack said, his eyes still fixed on the retreating taillights. "Wasn't pretty. I worked on him for a while, but, you know -" his lip curled in momentary amusement, "- I'm no doctor..."

"Right. Well, no great loss." There was a faint edge to Jack's words that made Owen wonder just what he meant by 'worked on' - likely nothing recognised by the BMA... not as a treatment, anyway. "Chatty, was he? You certainly seemed to know what you were about with that tractor."

Jack snorted. "Towards the end, yes. Are you sure you want to be having this conversation, Owen?"

"If you're worried about my precious Hippocratic principles being outraged, I think they got a bit distracted by the idea of getting turned into sausage meat." Owen hunched his shoulders to keep himself from shuddering at the memory of the cleaver at Ianto's throat. "Look, whatever you did down there, I'm fucking glad you did it. No skin off my nose if you strung the vicious git up by his bollocks and gave him a taste of his own fucking medicine."

"Nothing so elaborate, I assure you." Jack tilted his head back, looking up to where a crow had settled in one of the trees, no doubt drawn by the promise of blood and carrion. "He required some... persuasion, but he told me what I needed before he bled out."

"Right." Owen nodded, suddenly certain that he didn't want the details and that he was bloody glad that Jack was on his side. "Fuck, if they'd had us even a minute longer than they did..."

A hand settled on Owen's leather-clad shoulder, comfortingly solid. "They didn't."

"I know. Shit, I fucking know." He closed his eyes a moment, taking a deep breath. "But fuck it, if they'd managed to round you up as well, we'd have been well and truly -"

"They didn't." The hand withdrew, and Owen turned to see Jack flexing his fingers and looking back towards the drab grey buildings, his features unreadable. "They didn't. And believe me, I'm every bit as grateful for that as you are."

"Yeah." Owen shoved the scanner into a pocket and rubbed his hands together, trying to fend off the morning chill. "That's no fucking way to die, knowing you're going to be feeding the faces of those filthy bastards for the next three fucking months."

"At least," Jack said quietly, and there was something in the set of his jaw and the stillness of his expression that made Owen wonder what it was that he wasn't saying. He had no idea of Jack's background, of whether or not he'd seen anything like this before, and it felt a bit tactless to ask if there had once been another team who hadn't been so lucky... "Still," Jack continued briskly after a moment, "only food they'll be seeing from now on will be provided at Her Majesty's Pleasure." He flashed a sudden grin that didn't quite reach his eyes, and in tones of deepest irony added, "If that doesn't make them rue their ways, I don't know what will."

"Mmmm, institutional catering." Owen pulled a face, grateful for the sudden change of mood. "Speaking as someone who once spent far too much time eating in NHS canteens, I could almost pity the bastards." He paused. "Well, maybe not. Hope they fucking choke on their over-boiled cabbage."

Jack chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm going to check on the others. Be ready to move on my signal - with luck we should be out of here by midday."

"Midday, right." Owen scrubbed a hand across his face as Jack moved off towards Tosh and the SOCOs, feeling the rasp of stubble against his palm and wondering just how the hell the other man looked so bloody fresh when the rest of them were pale around the edges with exhaustion. But then, he didn't think he'd ever seen Jack so much as yawn...

Dark wings passed overhead, more crows lazily circling in to join the black shape already in the tree like the grisly camp followers of some ancient battle. Their discordant calls sounded both mournful and mocking to Owen's tired ears, a reminder that he was a fucking long way from civilisation and had come too bloody close to being dinner for something, feathered or otherwise. He was tired, he was filthy, he didn't want to even think about what was clinging to his shoes, and the day wasn't over yet.

Owen Harper glared at the trees once more, pulled the scanner from his pocket and set off after the injured Gwen. He bloody hated the fucking countryside.