At first he can rationalise it. After all, they've been busy lately, and he hasn't got laid in longer than he'd like. And you'd have to be deaf and blind not to find Jack Harkness attractive. When you're not getting sex as often as you want, and there's this hot bloke who keeps flirting with you...well. Can't help but let your mind wander a bit, right?
Owen's straight. Fact of life, that. And if any other bloke had come onto him like that he'd have been looking for his teeth in the gutter. But the clincher was, it wasn't some other bloke - it was Jack. Jack, who flirted in the same way that normal people drew breath and seemed genuinely mystified by the whole business of monogamy and sexual labels. 'Cause another fact of life was that Jack flirted indiscriminately with everything in a ten yard radius. It was just one of those things about Torchwood, the bog-standard working day: play with alien tech, save the world, be sexually harassed by the boss.
After a while you stopped even noticing.
Until suddenly you did.
It had been a fairly standard day at Torchwood - stray weevil, mysterious flying object that turned out to just be your average meteorite, argument with the local coppers, more background sexual harassment...not necessarily in that order. The weevil had taken an impressively sized chunk out of Gwen's arm.
"Hold still, will ya?" Owen snapped, trying to keep pressure on the wound and unwrap the bandages and point his penlight at her arm and not get her blood all over him all at the same time, which would have been difficult enough even if they hadn't been in the back of the jeep.
"Well I can't help it if the bloody car's moving, can I?" Gwen grated out through clenched teeth; "S'the car that's bouncing around all over the place, not me!"
"I blame whoever taught Jack to drive," Tosh said calmly, leaning round the back of her seat to take the bandages from Owen.
"Hey! I resent that." Jack managed to continue looking righteously offended even after they rattled over another pothole. Tosh rolled her eyes and handed the now-unwrapped bandages back to Owen.
"Cheers, sweetheart," he said, muffled by the penlight held between his teeth. It wasn't the neatest job, what with the crappy country roads and Jack's driving - which wasn't actually that bad, it was just fun to wind him up - but it would keep her going until they got back to the Hub and he could make a proper go of it.
"There, you're fine," he said, tucking the penlight into his back pocket.
"Really?" she replied acidly; "Funny that, I could have sworn there was a bloody great chunk out of my arm."
"I'm no doctor," Jack added, glancing back at them; "But I'm fairly certain the blood is supposed to be on the inside."
"Yeah yeah, do a fuckin' top-notch patch job and see the thanks you get," Owen grumbled. "Ungrateful lot."
"We'll thank you properly later," Jack replied in a tone that dripped sex, giving him a positively filthy wink in the rear-view mirror.
Owen ignored him. And he definitely ignored the hot-and-cold shivers that voice sent chasing up and down his spine.
When they got back to the Hub, Ianto had gone home - what was it, three in the morning? - but a pot of fresh coffee had been left waiting for them. Jack made straight for the coffee. Tosh rubbed a weary hand across her face and said that she was going home as well, and Owen took Gwen to get her arm seen to properly.
In the end she needed seventeen stitches, and despite Owen's best efforts she still managed to bleed all over him. Too tired to even be sarcastic about it he ordered her to go and sleep. Then he went to find the change of clothes he was sure he had stashed somewhere.
It was always bloody cold in the Hub. Owen stripped off as quickly as humanly possible and ranted to himself at length about the fact that they had incredible alien technology but no central heating. "Fucking freezing bloody floors..." he muttered, pulling his jeans on.
"Hey, you took my advice."
Owen didn't jump six feet in the air and shriek like an adolescent girl in a crap horror film, but it was a close thing. Instead he finished zipping up his jeans, told his libido to shut the fuck up because he refused to be turned on by the thought of his boss watching him strip, and only then did he turn around.
"What're you on about?" he said indifferently, somehow overcoming the instinct to dive for the shirt lying abandoned on the floor.
"You have been working on your abs." Jack grinned and left as silently as he'd came.
Owen was straight. Straight as a bloody ruler, right? So he did what any normal bloke does when he fancies a shag and went to a bar to chat up some nice piece of skirt: someone pretty, willing, and above all female.
The one that caught his eye was tall for a woman, a bouncy brunette with blue eyes and an easy smile. She gave a coy little smirk as he slid onto the stool beside her, and he grinned - alien sex pheromones or not, he could still pull when he wanted to.
"Buy you a drink?" he asked.
"Vodka and coke," she replied promptly. "Carol."
They danced around each other for maybe half an hour before she suggested they went back to her place for a more private drink. He agreed that this was an excellent idea.
She was all over him in the taxi, and though superficially he responded, part of him was wondering what the hell was going on. A bloody gorgeous woman was taking him home...good, right? His mind was right there with him, but his body seemed to have other ideas.
The taxi rattled to a halt outside a block of flats and Carol fumbled in her handbag for an elusive purse. After an interval just long enough to be embarrassing, Owen fished a twenty out of his back pocket and handed it to the driver.
"Keep the change mate," he said, hopping out. The driver nodded and drove off again. A chilly breeze whispered down the deserted street, sending empty wrappers dancing in the sickly orange glow of the streetlights.
"That was right nice of you," Carol said. She staggered in her heels and caught his arm for support.
"Hey, that's just the kind of guy I am."
"I'll have to thank you properly..." she breathed, all suggestive smiles and the smell of too much alcohol, and something in the back of his mind gave the words a too-familiar flirtatious tone and an American accent. And wasn't it just fucking typical of his fucked-up excuse for a life that of all things that's what has his cock sitting up and taking notice.
Later, he buries moans and cries in her lavender-scented pillows, because the walls are thin and he doesn't want to disturb the neighbours. Because he's just that considerate sort of bloke.
It's definitely not because he doesn't want to face whose name might come out.
The city was still pitch black and silent when Owen was woken by the shrill sound of his phone going off. Carol groaned and buried her head under the pillow. He rolled out of bed and groped on the floor for his jacket, trying to find the damn thing and shut it up. Emerging victorious, he raised the phone to his ear.
"You've got twenty seconds to convince me not to hang up and go back to sleep," he said bluntly. The clock on the bedside table said 3:41 - if this was anything less than a full-scale alien invasion then Torchwood could kiss his arse.
"And you've got fifteen minutes to get to the Hub and get working," Jack replied, sounding far more awake and alert than anyone had a right to at not even four in the morning. "We've got a bit of a crisis on our hands."
"Just a bit? Sounds like a nice change of pace."
"Get over here, Owen," Jack ordered; "Now." Owen opened his mouth to retort, but the line had already gone dead.
He gathered his clothes up from the floor, chair, dresser (...was that his sock on top of the wardrobe? He had no idea how it'd gotten up there...) and dressed at top speed. Carol watched him blearily from a nest of quilts as he ducked in towards her dresser to check for lipstick marks.
"Not leavin' at this time, are you?" she asked, voice slurred with sleep and an impending hangover.
"Got to go into work," he replied. He sat down on the edge of the bed to tie his shoelaces. "Emergency. See you 'round." He patted his pockets - keys, phone, wallet, all present and correct - and left.
He paused for a moment with his car keys in his hand before remembering that he'd arrived in a taxi. Bollocks. And naturally he was on completely the wrong side of Cardiff. He set off down the street at a purposeful jog. Solely to warm himself against the chilly night air, of course - it had nothing to do with a desire not to bring the collective wrath of his colleagues down on his head.
It was in fact twenty minutes later that he finally made it in, but as Tosh was just behind him he figured he'd probably be okay. Whatever the problem was, he sincerely hoped it could be dealt with inside the Hub: the ominous clouds overhead were starting to give way to rain.
With the thoughtless ease of long familiarity they slid into their workstations. "What's the crisis?" Gwen asked, stifling a yawn in her sleeve.
"Tosh, show us atmospheric surveillance for the last half hour," Jack said. There was a brief silence as she obeyed. "There. 3:35am - unidentified craft enters Earth's atmosphere."
"It's coming in far too fast," Tosh said, bringing up energy readouts and arcs of descent; "A crash landing?"
"Yes. 3:37, emergency systems lock onto the nearest major energy source - in this case the Rift - and direct the ship towards it. Several smaller objects break away, probably escape pods. 3:38 - the ship crashes just off the coast, and the escape pods end up scattered all over Cardiff."
"So what's the plan?" Gwen asked.
Jack stared at the screen for a while. "Right then," he said eventually; "Tosh, I need the ship identified as quickly as possible. Gwen, talk to the coastguard, get them to make sure no-one goes near the crash site. And...who has the biggest car?"
"Owen, I think," Ianto said.
Owen shrugged. "Not got it with me. I walked in."
"Then go pick it up," Jack ordered, "Ianto, prep the SUV."
Owen had never been more grateful that he only lived on the other side of the bay. At a steady trot he made it inside five minutes, his car just where he'd left it the previous day. It was raining steadily as he climbed into the relative warmth of the car and started the engine - he stared gloomily out at the dismal weather. Just their luck that a crisis which had to be dealt with outdoors would come up on a night like this.
He pulled up in front of the Milennium Centre in time to see the SUV moving off with Gwen at the wheel and Ianto in the passenger seat. Jack, lingering in the relative shelter of the overhanging roof, turned to look expectantly at him. Owen leaned across to push open the passenger-side door and waited for Jack to climb in before driving off again.
"Nice night for it," Owen said sarcastically.
"Don't knock it," Jack replied; "The fewer people out tonight, the better."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. So where am I going anyway?"
"Take the next right," Tosh's voice came over the headset; "After that you'll go straight for about three hundred yards, then take the third exit off the roundabout."
"And then what?" Owen asked, dutifully turning into the street on their right.
"We've identified the ship as a Kethani vessel..."
"Keth'haani," Jack corrected the pronunciation absently, a neutral vowel in the middle of the word and the 'a' drawn out a beat longer. "That's the problem with only ever seeing it written down."
"Well however you say it, the point is that they're small and fairly harmless. You're looking for an egg-shaped pod; about the size of an armchair, probably a bronze colour. The aliens themselves are...vaguely humanoid, but the archive pictures make me think 'insect': segmented body, compound eyes..."
Owen rolled his eyes. "As long as it's not trying to kill me, I don't care if it looks like the bastard child of a cockroach and a 'Spurs fan."
"'Fairly harmless' my fucking arse," Owen groused.
"Oh come on, she was just scared," Jack said. The insect-like creature in the back seat made a low-pitched chittering sound, and he glanced up at the rear-view mirror. "See? She even apologised. It wasn't her fault - you startled her."
"Well forgive me for not realising that Tosh's definition of 'harmless' includes six-inch razor-sharp talons and a nervous disposition."
"Stop whining, you're fine."
"I'm no doctor," Owen said sardonically; "But I'm fairly certain the blood is supposed to be on the inside."
Jack just grinned.
It was almost six a-m and still pissing down. Owen was freezing cold, soaked to the skin, exhausted, and bleeding profusely from two long deep gashes running across his chest and left shoulder. The shirt was probably past saving. And perversely, insanely... he felt great.
He'd almost forgotten the jittery, grinning high that followed hours spent actually doing something productive - for once having a clear, achievable goal. No-one's life was in danger, the world wasn't about to end, and the alien invaders du jour were friendly enough, if somewhat jumpy.
They parked outside in the pouring rain and quickly escorted their latest guest inside. She joined the other Keth'haani in the Hub in a brief, joyful flurry of clicks and whistles.
"How many's that then?" Owen asked, rubbing absently at the makeshift bandage round his chest.
"This one makes...eight," Tosh said, "There only were nine pods. Gwen and Ianto are headed to pick up the last one."
"Alright." Jack nodded thoughtfully. "Our visitors can stay here. Once Gwen and Ianto get back you can all go home and get a few hours' sleep. We'll deal with the ship in the morning...commandeer a boat to dredge it up..."
"Well I'm gonna go patch meself up properly," Owen said, heading for the autopsy room.
"Need a hand?" Tosh asked.
"Nah, I'll be fine."
After fifteen minutes of struggles, copious swearing, and the realisation that stitching your own shoulder one-handed while injured wasn't really possible, Owen finally gave in to the silently amused gaze fixed on him from the doorway and allowed Jack to take the needle and thread from him.
The local anaesthetic dulled the world around him to a pleasantly distant buzz. He was too tired to care that he was going to have to clean his own blood off of the autopsy table later, too tired to care that he was dripping rainwater onto the floor, too tired to keep track of the number of stitches creeping down across his chest.
He was beyond caring that his eyes had drifted shut, beyond noticing the faint smile on his lips, and certainly far too for gone to pretend that Jack's warm, capable hands didn't feel good against his bare skin.
"This is the fuckin' life, eh?" he murmured; half sleepy, half sarcastic. And damned if that soft laugh wasn't the best thing he'd heard all night.
Owen woke at three o'clock in the afternoon, still wearing the clothes he'd had on a lifetime ago when he picked up some bird called Carol in a pub.
They were stained with blood now: the dark, rusty red his own, and the yellowish, oily substance that of the two Keth'haani who'd been injured in the crash. The shirt was shredded beyond repair. Fortunately it had all dried in before he'd made it to the bedroom and passed out face-down on top of the covers. He hadn't even managed to take his shoes off.
His mobile phone was showing one missed call and two text messages. The call was from his mother. One of the texts was from Tosh, asking if he was okay, and the other was from Jack, telling him to be at work by five. He considered going back to sleep, but he felt filthy and desperately needed a piss. And coffee. And something to eat. He stripped off and wandered into the bathroom, leaving a trail of dirty clothes behind him.
Five minutes later he was no longer in immediate danger of bladder explosion, and had remembered twenty seconds too late that he probably shouldn't have let his stitches get wet.
He stood in front of the mirror afterwards and counted them. Bloodstained bandages lay abandoned on the tiled floor. Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight. Thirty-eight stitches and a ruined shirt to show for his efforts. He'd liked that shirt. Mind you, he was rather fonder of his skin, but scars were a guaranteed lady-magnet. Tattered clothing was not.
A fingertip absently traced the little raised bumps of the twin rows of stitches. Owen grinned. Not a bad job for an amateur.
A search of the kitchen revealed an out-of-date Pot Noodle, half a loaf of bread, a Mars Bar, and a slightly mouldy orange. And a box of cornflakes which, on closer inspection, turned out to be empty. Owen tried to remember the last time he'd actually cooked something. After a few minutes he gave up and checked to see if the expiry date on the Pot Noodle was recent enough to chance eating it.
Three weeks ago. No, better not - the day would probably be all hands on deck again, and working for Torchwood was hard enough even without the added complication of food poisoning. The bread was still good. Toast was within even his abilities. There was a good reason why he lived on takeaway pizza.
By the time he was clean, fed, and felt reasonably human again, it was a quarter to five. With a certain degree of resignation he dressed and headed for work.
He arrived at the Hub to find his team-mates in a state of loosely-controlled chaos. Well, he corrected himself absently, more than usual, anyway. He didn't even make it to his desk before Tosh pushed a box of files into his arms, physically turned him back in the direction he'd just come, and told him to take the box to the SUV. Before he could object she was off again, unloading another stack on a slightly bemused-looking Gwen. In the background Jack was arguing with someone over the phone.
"What the ever loving fuck is going on?" Owen asked.
"Alright boy and girls, the boat's waiting for us," Jack said, pulling on his coat as he emerged from his office; "Load up the SUV and let's go."
"Ever noticed how every time you think this job can't get any more mental, it does anyway?"
Gwen gave a breathless laugh of agreement and let the box she was carrying drop to the ground. She wiped a hand across her face, sweating and exhausted, and slumped against the wall beside Owen. Ianto had conveniently contrived to be terribly busy elsewhere, the lucky bastard.
"Any idea what they're on about?" she asked, waving a hand towards where Jack and Tosh were involved in a spirited discussion with the Keth'haani head mechanic. The novelty value of listening to Jack attempt to mimic the clicks and whistles they communicated in had long since worn off. Especially after it had become apparent who was going to be doing all the heavy lifting.
"Not a bloody clue," Owen said. "Remind me why we're doing this?"
"'We' being Torchwood are doing this because the quickest and easiest way to deal with it is to fix their ship and send them on their way," Gwen replied; "And 'we' being you and me are fetching and carrying because unlike us, Jack and Tosh have a clue how to work a spaceship."
"That doesn't mean they can't do their own bloody fetching and carrying."
"We need a union. Someone to complain to about this sort of thing."
Owen gave a weary nod and stifled a yawn. "Union" was one of those words like "impossible" and "day off" which were surgically excised from your vocabulary when you joined Torchwood. It really was weird, the things you could come to accept as normal.
Gwen nudged him. "Looks like they're having some problems."
"Still? We've been at this for hours."
But sure enough, rapid-fire conversation and faintly worrying hand gestures were being directed at an innocuous-looking piece of equipment. Gwen and Owen wandered over for a closer look. The component in question was a cylinder about four feet long, with a dull grey sheen and wires trailing from the end. A complicated argument was in progress - Owen and Gwen exchanged blank looks as phrases like "linear magnetic field gradient" and "radiofrequency oscillation" flew right over their heads - between Tosh and two Keth'haani, with Jack translating and occasionally joining in the argument himself.
"You catch any of that?" Owen asked.
"Not even the bits in English," Gwen replied. "Tosh, what's going on?"
"We can't fit the atmospheric stabiliser," Tosh said, looking worried. Behind her Jack took over the conversation.
"That thing there?" Owen leaned in for a better look at it.
"Yes. It's in perfect working order, but it can only operate in an oscillating magnetic field, and the electromagnetic housing was completely destroyed in the crash."
"Is it important?" Gwen was also peering curiously at the stabiliser.
"They can't take off without it."
"Oh," Gwen said. "Do you have much else to do?"
"Not really," Tosh shrugged; "It's all minor things. The ship is more or less spaceworthy, it just can't take off."
"How does it work?"
Tosh looked a little embarrassed. She rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. "I'm...not exactly sure: their explanation wasn't terribly helpful. Or maybe that was just Jack's translation. But as far as I can tell, the magnetic field aligns the atoms inside it, and then a secondary perpendicular oscillating field pushes a proportion of the protons out of alignment. The gravity of any nearby body affects the drift slightly, and then instruments inside interpret that to work out how to compensate for the gravity well."
Owen paused in his examination of the stabiliser and gave Tosh an odd look. "What, you mean like an MRI?" Tosh blinked, nonplussed, and Jack broke off mid-sentence to turn around and join in staring at him. He hesitated for a moment, but continued; "That's pretty much how an MRI works, right? Pushing protons out of alignment and then measuring the drift?"
"He's right!" Tosh said, her eyes bright with suppressed glee. "An MRI would produce exactly the sort of field we need, it would definitely be accurate enough, and the stabiliser could even be fitted inside it!"
"...and where are we supposed to get one?" Jack asked pointedly.
"Any hospital would have one."
Gwen cleared her throat; "Doesn't the hospital...need one, though?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"It can't be that difficult to work it." Jack's eyes were narrowed in a thoughtful, calculating expression which invariably meant trouble for someone.
"Much as it pains me to be the voice of reason, I think we've just hit a new low," Owen said sardonically. "Are we actually thinking about stealing diagnostic equipment from the NHS? That's bad even by our standards."
"Would you feel better if it was BUPA?" Tosh asked with a swift grin.
"This is probably the most unethical thing I've ever done." Owen tapped the syringe and carefully pressed the plunger to remove any air bubbles. He glared at the contents as though they personally were responsible for the situation. "Yeah, okay, so shooting people falls pretty damn far outside the Hippocratic Oath. But this..."
"Would it help if I said 'please'?" Jack asked with an entirely insincere air of helpfulness.
"Don't you start," Owen snapped. "This was your idea. You'd better be right about this."
"Not bloody likely! I'm deliberately injecting a co-worker with a lethal toxin so we can steal an MRI from a hospital. There are no words for how wrong that is."
Jack rolled up his sleeve, baring the skin for the injection. "Just get on with it. It'll be fine."
"Yeah, you say that now," Owen muttered, syringe held between his teeth as he tied a tourniquet to make the veins stand out. "In fifteen minutes you'll be cursing the day I was born. This is going to hurt, Jack."
"I figured that bit out by myself," Jack said. "Don't worry. It'll work."
Owen sighed and slid the needle into his arm with practiced ease, hitting the vein first time. Jack hissed as the venom burned and stung beneath his skin. Owen waited a moment before nodding to a slightly panicky-looking Tosh, who raised her phone to her ear.
"It's ringing..." she said. "Ah, hello, 999? We need an ambulance..."
"How're you feeling?" Owen asked quietly.
"Tingling a bit," Jack said, rubbing at his cheek; "Feverish. Nauseous. Is it supposed to work this fast?"
"It was a concentrated dose. You should expect dizziness, muscle spasms, and breathing problems by the time the ambulance gets here."
"...you should come as quickly as possible, I think he's in a bad way..."
"What happens next?"
"You'll have more and more difficulty breathing as fluid accumulates in your lungs. Chest pain and a headache should be next, and decreased mental function over the next few hours. If it's any consolation, you-" Owen's voice cracked. He took a breath and tried again. "You'll have been unconscious for a while by the time it finally kills you."
"...no, I really have to go. Thank you. Goodbye."
"Well that's all right then," Jack said with an attempt at a grin. It didn't work out like he probably meant it to.
"The ambulance is on its way." Tosh was biting her lip nervously. "Five to ten minutes, they said." Her hands trembled as she slid her phone back into her pocket.
"You two should go," Jack murmured, "There'll be too many questions if you're here when the ambulance arrives." His eyes were starting to lose focus; a feverish flush to his skin, breathing fast and shallow.
"We can wait a bit longer," Owen said firmly. Tosh gave a short, jerky nod.
Jack laughed, shaky and breathless. "Fine. But I won't be pleased if I come to and find out you've messed this up. I'm not doing this more than once."
"They might twig if the same bloke dies on the table twice in one week," Owen muttered.
"Don't worry," Tosh managed a smile; "The plan is...fairly foolproof. As long as you get an MRI - and with so many neurological symptoms you will - nothing can go wrong."
"Don't say that!" Owen groaned; "Talk about tempting fate..."
They waited, three more shadows in another Cardiff night. At least it had stopped raining, Owen thought idly. Things were bad enough without being cold and wet as well. As it was, before long Jack was only managing to stay upright by leaning against a wall, and Tosh and Owen were growing increasingly nervous.
"What's taking that bloody ambulance so long?"
"They said five to ten minutes. It's not even that yet." She cast a glance up the street. "I'm going to go and start up the SUV. Don't be too long, Owen. And Jack...good luck." With that she hurried off down the street, disappearing round the corner.
"This had better work," Owen said. A siren wailed in the distance - they didn't have long.
"It had better." He looked away, his eyes fastening onto an unremarkable patch of ground in sheer self-defence. "This is the second time I've killed you. I don't think I can do it again."
"Hey." Jack's hand was far too hot against his cheek, already burning up from the inside out. Owen met his gaze reluctantly.
"Don't say you'll be fine. That's bollocks and you know it."
Jack inclined his head, conceding the point. "Fair enough. But just remember this was my idea, okay?" By that point he was swaying on the spot, dizzy and disoriented, but the smile he gave was genuine enough. His hand curled around the back of Owen's neck, and he leaned in to press a kiss against his lips, swift and impulsive. "Now get the hell out of here before the ambulance shows up and people start asking awkward questions."
"Yes sir," Owen said with a mocking salute, silently telling himself that his racing pulse and the tremors running through him were due solely to nervousness about the plan. He kept his head down and his hands in his pockets as he walked away. The siren was drawing closer.
"How is he?" Tosh asked, watching Owen climb into the driver's seat with an unreadable expression on her face.
"Slowly dying. Next stupid question?"
Tosh was silent for a moment. She drummed her fingers on the dashboard and asked quietly; "Is this going to work?"
"Yeah," he replied with a confidence he didn't feel, concentrating on the road so he didn't have to meet her eyes. "Yeah, it'll work."
The atmosphere in the Hub was one of tense anticipation. Though there wasn't much to do at that specific moment, none of them were willing to go home. No-one had even suggested it.
"How long is this going to take?" Ianto asked.
"Depends," Owen said with a shrug; "Bodyweight, metabolism... Best guess, about an hour left. We'll probably see something soon. Surprised we haven't already, actually. Tosh, want to tell the class what happens next?"
"I've been working on the shielding technology from Beth's implants," Tosh said. She'd been staring at the fluctuating vitals readout on the computer screen without even blinking for a good twenty minutes. "It should be undetectable, but when it picks up the electromagnetic field, it'll give off a charge which will fry the MRI machine."
"...don't we want a working one?" Gwen sounded tired and confused.
"Oh, it's temporary. But by the time it recovers they'll have sent for a replacement, which we'll intercept. That could take anything up to a few weeks. In the meantime, all we have to do is get Jack out of the hospital morgue before they do an autopsy."
The computer gave a loud, incongruously cheerful beep, and four heads whipped round in the direction of the noise. Tosh's fingers flew across the keyboard. "That's it!" she said with a delighted grin; "It worked!"
The tension snapped like an overstretched elastic band and suddenly everyone was laughing in relief, releasing breaths they hadn't even known they were holding.
"I think that calls for a celebratory drink," Ianto said.
"Damn straight," Owen approved. He spared a glance for the increasingly erratic vital signs on the monitor. "Better make it fast, though. Pretty soon we're going to have a corpse to rescue."
After many long years of experience and practice, there was almost no outward sign of the transition from cadaver to consciousness. A sharp intake of breath; a brief, convulsive shudder; and Jack opened his eyes.
"Ugh. I think I just found a new contender for my list of 'most unpleasant ways to die'," he told the ceiling of the autopsy room. "Not as bad as radiation poisoning, but definitely above electrocution."
"Vitals are strong, no trace of the toxin left," Owen said; "And do I even want to know when and why you got radiation poisoning?"
"No, you really don't. Did it work?"
"Yes," Tosh said from the doorway. "The hospital has already sent for a replacement, which is due to arrive on..." She checked her clipboard. "...Monday. I've changed the arrangements so it gets sent to a warehouse we're temporarily renting."
"Good girl." Jack sat up and swung his legs off of the table. "What time is it?"
"Almost two in the morning," Ianto replied, from somewhere behind Tosh.
"Well if that's everything, I'm going home," Gwen said, coming into view with her coat in her hand. "It's been a long day, and I don't plan on leaving my bed for anything less than the end of the world."
"That's the best plan anyone's come up with all night," Owen said. He smirked at her; "Fancy some company?"
"Oh, sod off," she said without any real bite. The smile teasing at the corners of her lips gave her away. She pulled her coat on and waved over her shoulder as she headed for the stairs; "Night, everyone."
Tosh paused in the act of setting up the rift monitors to warn them of any problems. "Did you drive in today?"
"No, Rhys gave me a lift."
"Then hang on a second and I'll give you a ride home." She powered down the non-essential systems and picked up her own jacket. "There we go. Good night boys. Coming, Gwen?"
After the sounds of the gate rolling back had ceased, it was uncannily quiet in the Hub. Myfanwy's soft cries drifted down from her nest high above, and footsteps could be heard out by the water tower. The low vibrations of the Rift Manipulator hummed through the walls and floors like a heartbeat. Owen told Jack to go lurk elsewhere on the grounds that he was making his autopsy room look untidy.
Alone with the cold metal instruments and the silent ghosts of the countless bodies that had passed though the room, Owen leaned his head back against the tiled wall and let the heartbeat of the Hub run through him. His eyes drifted shut. Suzie was right about this place, he thought. It gets inside you, changes the way you see everything. It's not a job. It's a way of life.
In the distance, muffled almost as though coming through water, he heard the doors grinding open again. Ianto going home, probably.
They were playing host to nine stranded aliens, his chest ached from the thirty-eight stitches dancing across it, and barely three hours ago he'd killed his boss. Again. It said so much about his life that this was just another day.
Quiet footsteps by the doorway. He could feel himself being watched, but didn't open his eyes.
"Not going home?" Jack said.
Owen shrugged. "Not yet." Truthfully he didn't know why he hadn't just gone home and slept for a few days. Everyone else had the sense to get the hell out while they had the chance. He pushed off from the wall and reached for where his jacket was hanging over the railing. "Too wired to sleep. I'm gonna go for a drink."
"Fancy some company?"
Owen looked up sharply, and suddenly felt very exposed under the intent, deliberate gaze fixed on him. He recognised the offer for exactly what it was, caught the deliberate echo of his words to Gwen earlier, knew precisely where the night would lead if he said yes. And he couldn't summon up the energy to care overly. After all, they hunted aliens for a living, had an immortal boss, and saved the world on what seemed like a semi-weekly basis: why in the name of hell was he wasting time worrying about this?
"Alright then," he said.