Title: Torchwood et la Bête
Prompt: Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast)
Pairing(s) Team, Jack/Ianto, Tosh/OC, references to Gwen/Rhys
Word Count: 53K (5 parts)
Warnings/Enticements: Some mild violence, a near death, romance, and a whole lot of colored lights
Spoilers: Anything is S1 is fair game as this takes place about mid S2
Summary: When the team is invited to France to assist in a UNIT investigation of unusual Rift Activity, they go with dreams of a quick mission and a chance for a little R & R. Instead they find a wall of roses, an alien, and a mystery. Really, you'd think they would know better by now, they are Torchwood after all, and *nothing* in their world is ever simple.
Disclaimer: "Torchwood" and its characters belong to RTD and the BBC. "La Belle et la Bête" and its characters belong to JC and Lopert Pictures. This is a work of fun and fiction, no infringement is implied or intended.
Author's Notes: Strangely enough I got this plot bunny the night before Reel_Torchwood was announced which meant of course that I simply could not pass up the opportunity to run with it. Had I know then that it was going to be a Vorpal Bunny, I might have run screaming back to Cardiff with the gang, but things seemed to have work out all right in the end.
Beta'd by the amazing and incredibly patient and geeky [info]temporal_witch , bless you hun!
If you have never seen Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bête", it is worth sitting through the black and white and subtitles because it is simply beautiful and it is the movie that gave Disney so very many ideas for their film.
Part One - The Rose
Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can bring drama to a family. They believe that the hands of a beast will smoke when he kills a victim, and that this beast will be shamed when confronted by compassion. They believe in a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and to bring us luck let me speak four truly magic words, childhood's Open Sesame:
Once upon a time...
Our story begins not so very long ago and not so very far away. Amongst the soft green hills of the Isle valley in Boudreaux, France, lies the ancient town of Perigueux. It was a town loved by the Gauls and the Romans for its fertility and proximity to the ocean. Crusaders called it home after their victories and their defeats, while Renaissance painters and sculptors walked its streets dreaming in conte. So many have found refuge and pleasure here that even aliens from other worlds come to Perigueux looking for safety out of the stars.
In the twilight of a spring evening a team of heroes are doing what they do best, tracking signs of alien life and that strange energy known as Rift Activity. The Captain of this intrepid crew, Jack Harkness, with Toshiko Sato, their brilliant scientist, by his side, are driving through the twilight led by a lilting Welsh voice and the rolling Rs of a nearly-native French speaker. The Welsh belongs to the team's youngest member and organizer extraordinaire, Ianto Jones, and the French to the team's contact in Perigueux, UNIT Special Services Agent Avenant desEtranger.
"Ok, now where?" Jack asked.
As they sped along the road out of town, they were passed by a handful of cars heading into town for the evening. With the last warm fingers of sunlight slipping away below the horizon, Jack flipped on the headlight of their borrowed SUV.
"Take your next turn," Avenant said over the comm system, the waves of his accent making every word sound like an impressionist painting in the darkness. "- Rue des Menestriers du Perigord. It should turn into a dirt road after about 1500 meters. The signal is somewhere along the dirt road."
"Got it. Rue des Menestriers du Perigord. Dirt road. Alien signal." Jack turned and flashed a smile to Tosh "At least the scenery is nice."
Tosh looked over at Jack and grinned back. "It's so different from Cardiff."
"I thought you liked Cardiff!"
"I do, but you know, it's nice to see other places once in a while." Tosh pointed to a street sign gleaming in the car's headlights. "There's the turnoff."
"Got it." Jack slowed the car and made the turn onto the new road. Tosh looked down at the scanner in her hands.
Tosh shook her head. "Nothing new."
Suburbs gave way to country as the road left the hubbub of city life behind. The trees grew larger, weaving branches overhead to create a tunnel of quiet solitude. The only light came from the beams of the SUV's headlights carving through the night before them.
The road under them shifted and Jack felt the change through the vehicle's tires. "We have dirt road."
"Good," Ianto said over the comm. "The signal is not far from your location."
"Or not." Tosh pointed out the front window of the vehicle. A wall of plant life loomed up out of the darkness, crossing the road in front of them. "It's a dead end." Tosh said.
Jack hit the brakes. "Damn."
"Can't be," Ianto said. "According to the map the road goes on for at least another 1000 meters."
"Not this way it doesn't." Jack looked through the side window at the area around them. The whole road was filled by a wall of foliage nearly fifteen feet high. "It's all overgrown. No way around it."
"There must be some mistake," Avenant growled in their ears.
"At least it's pretty mistake," Tosh said.
"A wall of roses," Jack added.
"Well, you did say you were going to bring me a dozen roses, sir," Ianto quipped.
"When did I say that?"
Ianto coughed discreetly.
"Oh," Jack said, a flash of memory warming his whole body. "Right."
"I will find the local ordinance maps. Perhaps the city planners created a re-route that has yet to make on to the national maps," Avenant said.
"Good. Tosh and I'll see if we can't find a way through the roses, and pick Ianto some while I'm here. Which would you prefer, red or pink?"
"Ah… Perhaps you should wait on the picking until we are certain that they are not the source of the Rift energy?"
Jack tapped off his com as he got out of the car and settled his greatcoat more comfortably across his shoulders. With the darkness, the temperature was dropping. Tosh joined him, buttoning up the front of her burgundy leather coat and pulling her scanner from the depths of a pocket. Together they approached the wall.
Scattered among the rich green leaves and wicked looking thorns were deep pink roses with shadow-black centers. In the growing darkness the colors were so dark that the flowers looked like someone had dipped each of them in blood and let them dry overnight.
"Apple," Tosh said with a wistful smile.
Jack nodded realizing she was right. The smell was spicy and rich, but under it all was a hint of apples. "Good nose."
Jack leaned in to a cluster of roses at shoulder height, drawn by the powerful scent and colors.
"What if they're… toxic or something?" Tosh shrugged.
"Relax, they're just roses." Jack nudged the center of the closest rose with his nose, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. "Mmmm."
"I thought you didn't like roses?"
"What?" Jack looked at her in surprise and then realized what she meant. "No. Well, not fairy roses. Normal ones I like just fine."
"Oh. So are you going to bring some back for Ianto?"
"Maybe." Jack grinned.
They walked along the wall looking for any sign of break or change. Jack pushed a branch out of Tosh's way and saw her smile, her eyes gone distant with some memory.
"So… how was dinner?"
"What?" Tosh asked, a blush creeping along her cheeks. Jack's grin grew wider. So he was right about where her thoughts had taken her. Good to know.
"Dinner? With our cute new UNIT boy, Avenant?"
"Jack! He'll hear you."
"Please! I put the comms on mute as soon as we got out of the car."
Tosh looked down at her scanner. "Rift energy is definitely coming from the other side of this wall, Jack. The signature is identical to the one UNIT has been monitoring for the last three weeks."
"Can you find us a way in?"
"Did he take you somewhere nice?"
Tosh looked up quickly then back to her scanner with a smile. "Yes. It was a little bistro along the river that friends of his have run for years. It was really very sweet."
She shrugged, but the smile stayed in her eyes. "It was nice."
"You like him, don't you?"
"I barely know him."
"You know him better than the rest of us do."
"Please!" Tosh fussed with the scarf at her neck, tugging sharply on one end. Jack wondered what she was really twisting with those slender fingers. Then she tossed the tasseled end over her shoulder and walked past him. "Email is hardly a way to get to know someone."
"Seems to be what all the cool kids are doing these days." Jack grinned. "Besides, it was your contact with him that got us invited to this little shindig. That counts for a lot in my book."
Jack caught up with Tosh and pulled on her arm to get her to look at him. "Enjoy yourself, Tosh. You deserve it."
Tosh smiled. "Thank you."
"And if he hurts you, I'll lock him in the lowest level of the morgue for the rest of eternity."
"Kidding!" Jack held up his hands in mock surrender.
Tosh's smile expanded and she laughed along with Jack.
They walked for a while in companionable silence, Tosh keeping her eyes on her scanner and Jack being the eyes for both of them in the physical world. He tugged her to one side, out of range of a low-hanging branch, and used the back of his long coat to push a particularly thorny patch of rose bush out of their way.
"There's a shift in the energy pattern a few meters this way." Tosh indicated along the wall of roses. They walked forward to a nearly hidden gate.
"That's my Tosh!" Jack taped his comm again. "Ianto, Avenant, we've found a gate through the rose wall. Tosh's readings indicate that the Rift energy is coming from the other side."
"Agreed," Ianto replied on the other end of the line. "Whatever came through the Rift landed about 800 meters from where you are standing. Do you want me to have Gwen and Owen meet you there?"
"No. Let them finish up in town. Tosh and I will do an initial scan, see what we can find and then meet you all back at the UNIT base."
"Very good, sir."
Jack turned back to watch Tosh massage her scanning program. Her skill and joy with electronics never ceased to delight him, and the fact that she put all that skill to use for Torchwood was like the sweetest frosting on the best cake. Jack grinned. Apparently France was making him as giddy and romantic as it was his team. Gwen had sworn that she wasn't leaving until she found the perfect gift to bring back to share with Rhys and even Owen had mumbled something about wanting to explore the local color. And he hadn't even sneered! Maybe they did need to take vacations more often.
A faint green glow pulled Jack's attention to the gate in front of them, lines of green light shimmering faintly across its surface. He looked back down over Tosh's shoulder and watched her intently tapping numbers and letters into the machine.
"Got it!" Tosh declared, and a moment later a brilliant flash of emerald green light filled the night starting at the center of the gate and spreading out along the length of rose wall. Jack threw up an arm to shield his eyes and noticed Tosh doing the same.
When the glow behind his eyelids faded, Jack opened his eyes. The gate was fully outlined in emerald green light.
"Jack, the gate's opening!"
As they watched, the gate swung silently outward. The light lines on the gate and along the wall faded, but didn't go out completely.
"Well…" Jack said.
"Yeah," Tosh agreed with a nervous giggle.
Jack stepped forward, drawing his Webley. He heard the soft slide of Tosh's gun coming out of its holster. He looked over as she stepped up beside him, gun in one hand, scanner in the other.
They stepped through the gate together and crossed into a completely different land.
Where the world outside the wall had been overgrown and nearly impassable, inside the wall was beautiful and nearly contained. Outside the wall, humanity had no say in the direction or choices that nature took. Inside, nature and humanity seemed to have found a balance. Here was a place of ordered beauty interwoven with controlled chaos.
"Oh!" Tosh said as she stepped on to a cobblestone pathway wide enough for ten large men.
The path was lined with trees that were taller than the wall of roses they had just passed, yet they had not seen them from the road. Jack reached a hand out to one thick gray trunk and looked up as far as his neck would tolerate and still couldn't see the where the canopy touched the sky.
Someone had taken pains to plant alternating ash and maples along what must have once served as a drive of some sort. Jack imagined that it would have been an impressive sight to see the silver bark of the ash trees interweaving with the darker brown of the maples, each tree heavy with bright green leaves. Now it was a different, wilder kind of beauty, as several varieties of oak, and even a few willows, competed with the ashes and maples for space along the road.
"There are no weeds in the stones," Tosh whispered.
Jack looked back over his shoulder at her. "Hm?"
"No weeds." She pointed to the stone at her feet that was dusty but uniformly gray in color. "Some of those trees have to be at least half a century old, Jack. There's no other way they could be that tall or that wide around. With that much growth, there should be weeds along this path. Actually, there shouldn't really be a road left at all."
Jack nodded and kept walking.
A quarter of a mile or more past the gate, Jack stopped and waited for Tosh to catch up with him. When she did, her face broke into a huge grin as she looked from the scene before her to Jack.
"Is that what I think it is?"
Just visible ahead of them, between the trees at the end of the drive was a large stone building with four circular turrets connected by a series of long crenellated walls.
"Yup." Jack tapped his ear piece. "Avenant… are you folks missing a castle?"
"A what?" Static hissed along the line.
"Large building. Stone fortifications, crenellations along the top of the walls. Couple of big towers at each corner."
"Do you mean a château?" Avenant asked.
"Castle, chateau, what's the difference?" Jack asked.
"French," Avenant said.
"Right." Jack rolled his eyes and smiled. Tosh grinned and turned back to the view of the castle. "Well, are you missing either one?
"Ah… yes, actually." Avenant's voice was lost in a burst of static. "A medieval château disappeared from this area about 500 years ago." Avenant paused. "Are you saying you found it?"
"It's beautiful," Tosh said just as her scanner pinged. "Jack! I'm getting multiple energy readings. Several from inside the castle and more from the somewhere on the left side of building off in the grounds."
"Okay, we split up. I'll take the outside area, you check inside. Nothing fancy, though; just a quick in and out to check what's there."
"Ianto, see if you can localize the readings, get us a better idea of what we are looking for."
"I'm on it."
Leaving Tosh to explore the inside of the castle, Jack headed around to the left, hugging the castle wall in the dark. He followed the curve of a turret crawling with ivy, and then continued past a side wall to a wide patio lined with fragrant orange trees. A broad set of steps led from the patio to a D-shaped pool and a second trellised patio heavy with wisteria that glowed like clusters of purple stars against its night-dark foliage.
Double checking the readings on his vortex manipulator, Jack ducked under a thick vine of wisteria and walked into the heart of the poolside patio. Long thin leaves crunched underfoot and a thick scent filled the air around him. He closed his eyes, drank in the fragrance and remembered Estelle's gardens.
No matter where they lived, Estelle managed to plant something somewhere. First in pots in the tiny flat they had shared before the war, and later in larger and larger bits of land as time and circumstances allowed. She would plant odd splashes of color in every direction and in any spot, no matter how unlikely. And the smells! Wisterias had been her favorite; she loved that such an explosion of color and scent could come from such a small flower, but there were always a half dozen or so antique roses scattered among the herbs and vegetables. No trumped up "modern" hybrids that didn't know how to produce a proper scent for her. Jack smiled, remembering Estelle brandishing a gardening catalogue at him in a rare moment of temper. Don't they understand what's important in roses! she had said. He'd taken her in his arms and hugged her like he used to, like his "father" used to, and kissed the top of her head. Nope, was all he said in response. She'd pushed at his arm, a punch of sorts: Oh you! But she'd laughed as she'd said it and relented. He'd sent her an Empress Josephine rose for her birthday that year. In his note he said the color reminded him of the pink in her cheeks when she laughed.
Jack bowed his head, sadness and joy mixing in his heart. Memories of Estelle always seemed to do that to him. There had not been enough time with her, and yet what time they'd had had been so filled with delight that she would be mad at him if he forgot those moments in his grief.
Resolutely opening his eyes, Jack noticed an odd shape among the bracken. He crouched to get a better look. It was a little smaller than his fist, and shaped like a child's letter block, but with softly rounded edges. It glowed faintly pink in the dim light. He tilted his head and the color shifted to deep green. When he tilted his head again, looking directly down over the cube, the glow shifted again, going so dark and colorless that it seemed to disappear into the shadows.
Jack brought his wrist up and flipped open the leather strap. He tapped a command, running a scan over the cube. When all signs pointed to the thing being harmless, he flipped the strapped closed and reached down to dislodge the cube and stood.
Under his fingers, Jack felt a raised design on one of the sides. He turned the cube over in his hands and held it up to see the image. There, glowing in the pink light that came from within the cube, was the image of a rose carved onto its surface.
"Well, what'd ya know!"
Grinning, Jack tapped the comm unit at his ear. "Hey Ianto! It seems I found you a rose after all!"
Static hissed back across the line.
Jack tossed the cubed into the air once, his worried eyes tracking its movement. He caught the cube as it descended towards his palm, slipped it into an inside pocket of his greatcoat as he tapped the unit at his ear again.
"Tosh, can you hear me?"
Silence replaced static in his ear.
Jack turned toward the castle but stopped as he came face to face with the strangest creature he had seen in a long time.
Before him stood a being whose head and neck looked for all the world like a large cat, but who wore the body and clothing of a man, and had the tail of a wolf thrashing angrily at his side. The vertically slit yellow eyes stared at Jack with clear intelligence even as they hinted at wildness, while the triangular wide-set ears kept swiveling, as if testing the air at each creak of tree and cry of night bird.
The creature's head and neck were covered in silky sable fur that held a hint of lighter stripes when he moved, but over his wrists the fur appeared coarser and lighter in color, like a timber wolf. The creature's hands were large and smooth with an iridescent shimmer to them, like scales of a snake. And each tensely-clenched finger ended in a finely-tipped claw. To top the whole thing off, the beast was wearing a costume that made Jack's RAF coat look positively ahead of the curve.
He was like something out of movie about knights and maidens - regal and strong, yet no more meant for this time than Jack was. The being wore a calf-length tunic that was decorated with a thick and richly embroidered collar. Jack caught hints of gemstones among the gold chase work. There was a suggestion of finely made leather boots under the tunic. And draped over the beast's shoulders was a long black velvet cloak, held in place with a gold pin in the shape of a rose.
"You dare to steal the Rose from me?" the creature demanded, stalking towards Jack. "Of all the things in my home, the Rose is the most precious. You could have taken anything else and I would have let you pass."
"No one calls me mister or sir! I am 'Beast' I have no other name."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Compliments and fancy words will not save you. The penalty for such a simple theft is death." Beast howled and charged at Jack.
"Stop!" Jack yelled, or tried to, as Beast knocked him to the ground, robbing him of breath and vision.
Jack kicked out blindly and heard Beast hiss as his booted foot connected with something above him. He kicked again and missed, but managed to roll out from under Beast's weight and get to his knees. He knelt in the dark, breathing heavily.
"Listen, I'm sorry…"
Beast howled again and ran snarling towards Jack. "You will die for your actions!"
Jack scrambled sideways and back into a dense wall of wisteria vines. He tugged on the closest vine, showering them both with lavender petals and heady fragrance. Beast didn't stop. He pulled the vine out of Jack's hand with one powerful arm and reached for Jack's neck with the other.
Praying to any being that might be on his side today, Jack punched at Beast's head, connecting hard enough to see the cat-like head rock backwards. Beast shook his head and snarled. Jack brought his fist up to punch again and Beast slashed towards him with the claws of his free hand. Jack saw the strike coming and tried to shift out of the way. The blade-sharp claws sliced down, tearing long parallel gashes through his coat and deep into his shoulder and chest.
Jack let out a gasp of surprise as Beast's claws pulled out of his skin and Beast's other hand released his neck. He dropped to the ground, struggling for air and confused by the odd flavor of the pain in his chest. Ice and fire burned along the gashes, radiating out in bands of alternating waves of heat and cold. Visions of home and places he had called home passed through his thoughts, pulling him back through time. The bedroom he'd shared with Gray in the family compound on the Boeshane Peninsula. His room in the TARDIS with its big soft bed and blue and copper walls that smelled of cinnamon. His cubby of a room in the Officers Quarters at Pembroke Dock RAF base. The large easy chair in Ianto's flat. It was like nothing he had felt before. He felt stretched and pulled, his body struggling to breath in the garden while his soul swam in comfort in a dozen other places from his memory.
He looked down, saw the blood turning his shirt and vest black and knew that Ianto was going to give him hell for ruining yet more clothes. He pressed a hand to the slash nearest his shoulder and felt bone slide under his fingers. Too many bits of him were exposed. Beast was right: he was going to die to pay the debt.
Jack coughed and felt blood in his lungs. His vision fading, he sank farther down onto the ground, sitting with a heavy thud as his legs gave out. He leaned into the wisteria vine that had caused him trouble and looked up. Beast was standing in front of him watching and for just a moment Jack could have sworn he saw sadness in those inhuman eyes.
Tosh watched Jack walk away around the side of the castle and took a quick centering breath. She checked her scanner, even though she already knew where she needed to go, and walked toward the massive wood and iron door that guarded the castle. Like so many things about this place, the door made Tosh feel tiny. Each of its seven wood beams must have come from a separate tree and the hammered iron pins and plates just added to the sense of weight that she felt looking at the door.
She reached a hand out to the knocker at the center of the door; it only seemed right to be polite first. She banged the iron ring against its plate three times, then waited for an answer. She laughed to herself; there wasn't going to be one, of course, because aliens never answered doors.
A sound from the other side of the door broke the silence around her. Tosh watched in surprise as the massive door opened.
"Hello?" Tosh called into the darkness. "Is anyone there?"
Sliding her gun back into her hand, Tosh stepped past the open door into the empty hallway. A candelabrum hung suspended in the air, its multitude of candles flaring into light as Tosh crossed the threshold and the door closed behind her.
She whirled around, looking for the source of the door's movement, but could see nothing and no one anywhere in the hallway with her. She checked her scanner for any signs of life in her area and found only herself.
"What is going on?" she whispered.
A second candelabrum flared to life a little way beyond the first, lighting up more of the hallway.
Tosh stepped up between the two candelabra and ran her scanner over them. The readings she was getting were very odd, similar to, but not quite the same as, the source readings that had led them to the castle in the first place. She shook her head, puzzled.
Looking more closely at the candelabra, she saw that each was actually held to the wall by a human, or at least human-looking, arm. Shoving her scanner back into a pocket, she reached one hand out to the nearest arm and gently ran a finger along its length. It felt cool, like marble, yet with the smoothness of polished metal. The arms gleamed like gold, enough so that they matched the actual candelabra they held.
Another candelabrum flared to life, this time across the hallway behind her. This was followed by a series of candelabra flaring to light all down the length of both sides of the long hallway.
Filled with light, the hallway sparkled with polished marble and gold. A rich blue carpet ran from the entryway to an arch at the end of the hall where two more large candelabra stood blazing with even more candles.
Tosh shook her head in wonder. She had never in her wildest dreams imagined being in a place like this, and yet here she was. It felt almost too amazing to take in.
Movement along the walls pulled Tosh's attention back to the reality of the moment. She turned to watch the arm nearest her release its candelabrum, which hung motionless in the air, unsupported by any means Tosh could see. The arm then pointed away from the door and down along the hallway towards the archway. Tosh turned and saw that the arm on the opposite side of the hall had done the same thing and its candelabrum was also hanging in the air of its own accord, while it pointed down the hall.
"I take it you want me to go that way?"
The arms didn't move. Nothing answered her, though at this point Tosh would not have been surprised if a talking clock appeared to lead her to dinner or some bizarre cabaret show.
"Ok. I get. I'll see what's in the next room," Tosh said, as much to hear herself, to hear any voice in the strangeness of this castle, as to let the odd creatures know that she had gotten their message.
On the other side of the arch was an echoing chamber with two enormous fireplaces, one on each end of the room. At one end a table had been set with linens in the same blue and gold from the hallway. Plates, silverware, and crystal glasses were set out for two diners. And platters of food filled every inch of the table. Two massive carved chairs were pushed up against the table, waiting for their occupants.
More arm-wielding candelabra sprouted from the wall near the table and two even odder ones whose arms and legs were carved with fur and claws and bits that were probably never from an earthly animal stood lighting the table opposite the fireplace.
Amazing carvings of human and animal heads gazed out at her from either side of fireplace's mantle, their eyes seeming to follow her as she wandered the room looking at various items. It was a disturbing feeling and Tosh noticed that she kept looking over at the carvings, watching for the movement of the eyes. She never saw them move, but she did mark which ones changed position the most - the feline ones - and which ones changed the least - the serpents. She didn't know what it meant, so she stored the information away for later.
Tosh took her scanner back out to test the food on the table. As she reached for one of the glasses, a hand let go of its candelabrum and picked up a pitcher from the table, poured a deep red wine into the glass she had been about to take, then offered her the glass.
"Um, thank you…?"
She sniffed at the wine. It smelled normal. She held the scanner over the top of the glass and checked the readings. Water, Ethyl Alcohol, Tannins, Acids, Polyphenols… all normal indicators for wine. But there was that odd extra signature that was almost, but not quite the same, as the Rift spike energy that had brought them to France. It was almost as though whatever was here in the castle was seeping into the wine.
She handed the glass back to the outstretched arm at the center of the table and tapped her ear piece. She had enough data to start passing some of it on to Jack. Once she did that, she could check on the signal she was getting from the upper level.
"Jack?" Static hissed across the line. "Jack, can you hear me?"
Tosh looked around the room, searching for a door that led to the side gardens. She found one that looked promising and started towards it, tapping her ear piece a second time as she went.
"Ianto? Avenant? Can anyone hear me?"
Silence was her only answer.
Following what must have been a servant's hallway, from the lack of elegant carpets and drapes, Tosh managed to find the kitchen and finally a door to the outside. She pulled up her scanner and checked the area for any sign of Jack. She'd warned him the comm units could be unreliable, but he didn't believe her. Still, he'd given her free reign with the tech for the team, so they all had locators in their phones which she could use even if the system was being blocked somehow.
She found Jack's signal coming from area only a few meters from where she was.
There was something with him. One of the alien signatures they had been looking for was directly on top of Jack's signal. She turned towards Jack and started to run.
Tosh skidded to a halt in a burst of dried leaves and fallen wisteria blossoms. She had a fleeting thought that it would have been a lovely entrance except that her Captain was on the ground, clearly in pain and there was a creature in medieval garb pawing through Jack's pockets.
Tosh raised her gun and stepped forward. "Leave him alone."
The creature turned and Tosh gasped, amazed. Its deep black fur glowed faintly in the first light of the moon. Its yellow eyes widened when it saw her and its tail whipped madly behind its back. It looked like something out of a dream or a fantasy and nothing like any alien Tosh had ever seen, or even anything Jack had ever teased them with.
"He does not die!" the creature snarled, and Tosh looked down at Jack in horror.
Tosh took a step toward Jack, and then made herself stop. She didn't know enough to get close to the alien yet. "What have you done!?"
"He stole from me, and for that he must die, yet he does not die!"
The alien looked from Tosh back down to Jack, who lay, with his eyes closed, twisted around on himself, as though he were trying to protect his body. Tosh could see dark stains on the shoulder of Jack's coat but no other signs of what had happened.
"Whatever he did, whatever he took, it would have been for a good reason," she tried to explain.
The creature whipped around, its cloak flying out behind him as it moved. "There can be no reason for what he has done. Take him away and be gone!"
"I can't. Our car… our vehicle is outside the walls. He can't walk; I'll need to call for help."
"No! There will be no more of your kind in my home." It reached into a pouch at its waist and pulled something out. Tosh could only see a violet glow coming through its clenched fingers. "Come here."
When Tosh did not move, the creature growled. "Come here. I will send you both away."
"You tried to kill him."
"Have you stolen from me?"
"Then I will not have to kill you as well. Come here and I will take you outside the walls."
Reluctantly Tosh holstered her gun and walked towards the creature.
"Touch his hand and mine at the same time," it instructed.
It growled its impatience. "Touch his hand." The creature pointed at Jack's hand where it lay against a wilting pile of wisteria petals.
Tosh crouched down and gently picked up Jack's hand. It was cold to her touch, something Jack never was, at least not since Abaddon, and wet with blood. She looked up at the creature and nodded. It reached a scaled hand down to her. She took a deep breath and placed her hand, and both their lives, in its.
The creature raised its other hand and the violet light expanded to fill the little covered patio, then everything was blackness and water.
Tosh was gliding through a warm ocean, floating along the tributary of a tropical delta and swept up in the tides of superheated emotions. Tears pressed against her eyes and grief engulfed her heart. She wanted to scream or weep or just be held until the universe ended. All she could do was hold on to the hands in hers, one burning with cold, the other burning with fire, and pray that they would surface.
The water receded. She felt cool earth under her knees and opened her eyes. They were outside the walls of the castle, a few feet from the SUV. She let go of Jack's hand to dig her fingers into the leaf-strewn ground. They really were outside the walls. Tosh opened her mouth in a silent cry of wonder and then stopped as she caught sight of the creature. It was weeping.
"Are you alright?"
It pulled its arm out of Tosh's hand and stepped away. "Go. Take him to die and leave me in peace. All of you, just leave me in peace!"
The creature raised the hand that held the violet glow, turned its back to Tosh, and vanished in a burst of light.
Tosh sighed and looked down at her hands. She opened the one that had held the creature's arm. Inside were bits of coarse gray fur and iridescent scales. She poked at the blood-slick mass for a moment, letting her mind turn over the elements and visualize entries in the Hub's database. Satisfied that she had enough visual evidence to at least start her thoughts on that task, she pulled a small bag out of her pocket, carefully tucked the material inside, sealed it, and placed it back in her pocket to give to Owen for his examination later.
Next she turned her attention to Jack. He was unconscious, but alive, which made no sense. Looking at his wounds, she would have expected him to have died and revived by now, but he hadn't. He was shivering with cold and sweating at the same time. She knew something was very wrong. She tugged his coat back on the wounded side so she could try to staunch the blood. She pulled off her scarf and wrapped it as tightly as she could around his chest and tied it off over his shoulder. Then she pulled his coat back up to keep him warm.
The comm unit in her ear crackled to life. "Jack! Tosh! Can you hear me?!"
"Ianto! Thank god! Yes! I can hear you, but Jack's been injured. I'm just getting him into the SUV now," she said, struggling to lift Jack and drag him to the passenger side door.
"We found the energy signal. It's alien, all right," she said, digging the keys out of Jack's pants pocket and unlocking the car with a click of the fob.
"The alien attacked him," she said after taking a moment to get Jack mostly to his feet and then into the seat. "He's bleeding. I've got it mostly stopped. I don't know how bad it is. But Ianto, something's not right. He's not awake. He's not talking at all. He's not dead, but he's not exactly alive either."
"How is that possible?"
She shook her head, looking at Jack. "I don't know. Just… just make sure Owen is there by the time we are, yeah?"
"Yeah. Will do. Thanks, Tosh."
"I'm on my way back to base now." She adjusted Jack in his seat and reached over to slide the seat belt home, then walked around to the driver's side and climbed in.
Tosh touched Jack's clammy check. "You just hang in there Jack, okay? I'll get you to Owen, but you hang in there for me? Please?"
Across town, the two final members of the intrepid searchers of alien artifacts and Rift energy, former Police Constable Gwen Cooper and Doctor Owen Harper, are exploring the strange findings around an ancient ruin, the Vesunna Musée Gallo-Romain. The two have found little to answer the questions that brought their team to France, but the sun has only just lost its battle with night, its final rays reflected in the museum's glass walls and painting the Roman stones in gold and orange light. As their teammates discovered, ancient ruins in this part of France rarely give the answers one expects, but they do give answers, if you know where to look.
"Getting anything?" Gwen asked, tugging her jacket closed. The inside of the museum was chilly, especially now that the sun was going down and had less power to warm her through all the glass around them. For some reason she had thought France would be warm all the time. Pure fancy, she supposed.
"Nothing," Owen said, looking up from his scanner. "You'd think that a place this old would hold on to Rift energy better than this."
"Well, Tosh did say it was a long shot."
"More like goose chase."
Gwen pointed to a section of the museum that displayed a collection of Roman glass and stoneware found at the dig site. "Let's try over there; might be the signal is coming from one of the pots in the case."
"UNIT said something about getting energy signatures from this area during the first week."
"I said, fine." Owen walked away grumbling in the direction of the pot shards.
"I'm just trying to be clear."
"Yeah, clear as mud."
"What's with you? You were all fine and happy this afternoon, and now you're broody as day old milk."
Gwen pulled on Owen's sleeve, forcing him to stop and look at her. "Don't give me that, Owen. I've worked with you long enough to know there's more going on with you than 'nothing'."
Owen looked down at the grated walkway and kicked an invisible rock. "I just… "
"I just always imagined bringing Katie here, you know."
"To the museum?"
Owen shook his head. "To France. She never wanted to do the whole Caribbean cruise thing for our honeymoon. The practical one, if you can imagine, my Katie. Just a week alone in a chateau together with nothing to do but drink wine, make love and watch the sun rise."
Gwen gripped Owen's arm. He had mentioned his fiancée Katie to her only once, nearly a year ago. They had been lying in bed together, just holding each other of all the odd things for them to do, not trying to screw each other's brains out for once. He'd whispered Katie's name and told Gwen how she had died and he'd nearly gone mad with loss and grief. And then he'd never mentioned her again. Gwen had known somehow that it was a precious secret and so she never brought Katie up either.
"Yet here you are," she said quietly.
"Here I am. With you."
Gwen flinched. Raw pain blazed in Owen's eyes for one heartbreaking moment and then was gone.
"Right. Nothing to be done but make the most of it. Care for a fuck? Or shall we just find this alien artifact and get back to UNIT for show and tell with Daddy?"
Gwen pulled away, stunned and burned once again by Owen's quicksilver shift of moods. She should know better than to fall into his sorrow; he always slammed the doors closed as soon as he realized they were open.
"Artifact," she answered gamely. "I'll save my fucking for Rhys, if you don't mind."
"Your loss, sweetheart. Oh, but then you knew that," Owen said, turning away and walking rapidly towards the table of glass and ceramic pots.
Gwen clenched her teeth and followed after him. When she reached the display table, Owen was already running the scanner over the objects and checking readings.
Gwen leaned in to whisper to him. "You can be a right bastard, you know that?"
"Part of my charm," he responded with a crooked grin.
Gwen started to say something else, but then hit him on the shoulder and hissed at him to put away the scanner when she saw a woman in a very fashionable cream business suit and Museum name tag walk towards them.
"The museum will be closing in a few minutes. I'm afraid I will have to ask you to make your way toward the exit."
She waved a manicured hand towards the glass-paneled front of the museum.
Gwen pulled out her wallet and opened it, showing both her Torchwood and her temporary UNIT IDs in one go. She sent Ianto a silent prayer for talking Jack into letting them carry both IDs while on foreign soil in case they got into more trouble than anyone, especially Jack, could get them out of. She doubted Torchwood carried quite as much weight in a museum in France as it did in the middle of downtown Cardiff.
"Gwen Cooper with Torchwood, Cardiff, on loan to UNIT. This is my partner, Doctor Owen Harper. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?"
"UNIT? Does this have something to do with the incident last month?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it does."
"Ah," the woman nodded. "I did not think we had seen the last of UNIT when they spoke with us that day."
"And you are?" Owen asked.
"Marie Christine Macé. I'm the curator of the museum."
"Were you here last month during the incident?" Gwen asked.
Marie nodded and tucked a loose strand of hair back into her chignon. Gwen suspected it was a nervous habit as the hair fell out again as soon as her fingers moved away from the back of her head.
"I realize that you've already told the police and UNIT everything," Gwen said, using her most friendly smile and best "nice copper" voice, "but if you could, it would help us to hear from you what happened."
"All right." Marie crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked over at the glass bottles on the display table. "It ended in this location, actually. There was a massive storm that night. Even though I know the building is completely sound and nothing could break the glass in the roof, the fury of this storm seemed enough to defy even Nouvel's careful planning."
"Nouvel?" Owen asked.
"The building's architect, Jean Nouvel," Marie replied. "He planned the space so that the ruins of the buildings could be seen from within the building and from without. That's why the roof and walls are all made of glass. It preserves the site but also allows us to show most of the exposed areas without risking damage to two thousand year old artifacts."
"And the storm damaged them?"
"No, but I was surprised when it did not. It was the worst storm we have had for as long as I can remember. Almost as bad as the legendary Prince's Storm," she said with a smile.
"What was that?"
"Oh, mostly an old children's tale whispered around campfires; you know how those things are. My Gran'mere used to tell it to me when I was child."
"Can't stand camping," Owen grumbled.
Marie smiled uncertainly but continued when Gwen nodded at her warmly.
"Oh… well, it was supposed to have been this mighty storm that tore through Périgueux around the time of the Crusades. The night lit up with magical colors and the thunder and rain lasted for five full days. When it was through, the whole village went out to see what damage had been done. In the center of a barren field they found two princes, lost and alone, nearly dead of the storm."
"And the storm a month ago - it had all these so-called magical colors in it as well?" Owen asked.
"No. But it was oddly magical; the clouds filled with lightning and stretched from one end of the window to the other. Does that make any sense to you?"
Gwen shook her head with her most reassuring smile. "I'm sure we'll figure it out. You said the incident ended here at this table?"
"Ah, yes. I had come into the main gallery to make certain that everything was all right and I noticed that something was missing from the display table."
"Well, that is part of the problem. The item was never fully identified before it was put on display. My predecessor thought it was a good example to show how something can end up in a dig site that does not belong to the actual period of the ruins. But beyond confirming that it was not Roman in origin, we had yet to study it or determine where it did belong."
"What did it look like?"
"It was about the size of your hand," she said, pointing to Owen's fingers closed around the pen he was using to take notes. "It was a square made of clear glass."
"Were there any markings on the square?"
"No, it was completely smooth, like sea-tumbled glass."
"That it?" Owen asked, sounding bored.
Marie shrugged. "As I said, my predecessor was the one who choose to put it on display, not I. How it came to be in the collection, and what it was even used for, and by whom, I have no idea. We had not yet established a plan to study it when it disappeared from the museum."
"I see," Owen said. "Well, thank you for your time."
Owen turned away and Gwen started to follow, but then turned back.
"You wouldn't by any chance have anything written up about that legend you mention - the one about the storm and the two princes?"
"Actually, I believe it was printed in a local history recently. If you do not mind waiting a moment, I think I may I have something about it in my office that you can have."
"Yes, please. That would be very helpful."
Marie nodded to Gwen and then to Owen and walked away into the quickly-darkening museum.
When Gwen looked back toward Owen she found him standing along the railing overlooking the exhibit. He looked like he was deep in thought, or more likely a memory, Gwen thought. She walked over to stand shoulder to shoulder beside him.
Night had finally taken hold outside the museum. Inside, massive halogen lamps were coming on over the exhibit, casting harsh white shadows along the exposed stone of the old Roman site. Gwen shivered. She liked ruins in the daylight but there was something unnerving about seeing them in this silent tomb at night. She knew it was not meant to be creepy, and after everything she'd seen in Torchwood it kind of surprised her that she found human ruins creepy at all, but still, there it was.
Owen snorted beside her and she turned to look at him, a question in her eyes.
"You and your bloody legends. You'd turn the whole planet into a legend if you could."
"Oi! Watch it, you!" she said, but she couldn't help but smile at him. The anger and bitterness from earlier was gone and her friend had come back from his private hell. "I'll have you know…"
Her words were cut off as Ianto's voice called to them over the comms.
They both reached up to tap their ear pieces. Gwen spoke first, Owen a moment behind her.
"We're here, Ianto."
"What's wrong, mate?"
"Jack's been injured," Ianto said in a rush. "Tosh says there's something odd about it, like he's dead but not."
"Damn! Where are they?" Owen asked, all doctor.
"Tosh is bringing him back to the UNIT base now. Should be here in twenty-one minutes."
Gwen saw the curator walking back towards them and nodded to Owen as she tapped the mute button on her ear piece and walked over to Marie.
"Here you are," Marie said, handing Gwen a sky blue piece of paper. "I hope that will be helpful."
"Yes, thanks very much. You've been a big help. I think we're done here."
Gwen looked over at Owen, who nodded.
"If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me." Marie handed Gwen her business card. They shook hands and then Marie stood back to let Owen and Gwen walk past her towards the museum's exit.
Gwen flipped her comm unit back on in time to hear Ianto and Owen finish their conversation.
"We're just done here and on our way. Have a medical unit on standby for me; I'll want to take a look at Jack as soon as they arrive."
"Already done," Ianto told them.
They were out the door and into the car in less than five minutes.
Twenty minutes later, Owen was pacing along the pier that housed the offices of UNIT's local base. The pier was on one of several small islets jutting into the River Isle as it ran through town. It didn't even have a street name, but Jack had joked to Owen that that only made it better for a secret base. Jack and his damn secrets! Owen nearly growled out loud, but settled for glaring at the gate that separated the pier from the access road instead.
Several members of the UNIT medical staff stood back near the building, far enough out of Owen's way to keep from being yelled at again, he assumed, but close enough to come when he bellowed. Gwen had opted to hover over Ianto, the poor sod, while he and Avenant coordinated with Tosh as she made her final approach to the base. This meant that everything was ready for him to work on Jack, except that Jack was still not on his exam table.
"They're here!" Ianto announced, pointing to the SUV just clearing past the gates.
Owen waited just long enough for Tosh to bring the car to a stop beside the base doors before he pulled open the passenger door.
"Jesus, Jack!" Owen said, pulling away Tosh's blood-soaked scarf. "What the hell attacked you?"
"Furry alien," Jack mumbled.
"What?" Gwen asked.
"The alien has fur," Tosh answered, coming around behind Gwen and Ianto. "He regained consciousness about halfway back. Started talking about the alien and other things, I think; I couldn't make out much of what he said."
"Help me get him on the gurney. I need to get him inside to get a good look at his injuries."
Ianto stepped past Gwen and took up a position on Owen's other side. Together they lifted Jack on to the waiting gurney.
Inside the exam room, Owen finally had room and light to work. He'd stripped off Jack's torn greatcoat and tossed it aside. Ianto would deal with it later, he knew. He pulled back the blood remains of Jack's waistcoat and button-down shirt and then cut away the equally bloodied undershirt. Owen wondered once again when this man would learn that there was such a thing as too many layers?
"Multiple contusions to his chest and shoulder. Three long cuts across his ribs. Damn, those are deep. Anyone else would be dead from blood loss, if nothing else. But not our Jack." Owen shook his head, dropped the sponge he had been using into the waste bin, grabbed another and wiped away more blood from Jack's wounds. "So why the hell aren't they closing up? He's usually more than halfway healed by this point."
Owen looked over at the projection screen to his right. A virtual x-ray showed where the cuts along the ribs had actually broken the bone and pierced one lung. He shook his head in amazement at the amount of damage Jack could sustain and keep going, the bloody idiot.
Pulling off his blood-covered gloves and exchanging them for fresh ones, he pointed to a piece of alien tech from his medical kit. They still hadn't given it a name, and he wasn't ready to ask Ianto to come up with one.
"Tosh, hand me the thingie there. I want to do a culture of this alien goo."
Tosh followed the direction of his outstretched hand perfectly but grabbed the wrong thing first. "No, the other one. Flat head, long nozzle."
She moved to the device just left of her first choice and looked up at him. He nodded. She smiled and handed it over to him.
"How long ago did you say this happened?" Owen asked as he scraped at the iridescent goo coating the edges of Jack's longest wound.
Ianto looked at his watch. "37.5 minutes ago now."
"Tosh, did you see the alien?" Gwen asked
"Yes. It's beautiful."
"My height," Jack huffed and tried to sit up.
"None of that Jack," Owen said, pushing Jack gently back down into the table. "You can tell us about the furry alien just as easily lying down as you can sitting up."
"How'd you know i'waz furry?" Jack asked, his words slurred by blood loss.
"You might have mentioned it," Owen said patiently.
"Oh." Jack closed his eyes. "Cold."
"It was cold? Or you're cold?"
Owen and Ianto exchanged a look. Jack was never cold.
"I will get a blanket from stores," Avenant said, turning to leave the room.
"We'll get you warmed up," Ianto assured Jack.
Owen looked back at the virtual scan of Jack on the screen. There was bruising along the back of Jack's skull, which was normal in someone who had just been through an accident or major fight, but more than a little unusual for Jack. Owen turned to Ianto and the girls.
"Keep him talking as long as you can. He might have a concussion, though that shouldn't be an issue with our Captain." Owen shook his head. "But just in case, let's assume the worst and follow protocol until I can get all my tests run, okay?"
"Right," Ianto agreed with a quick nod.
Tosh and Gwen both nodded.
"Jack, what else can you tell us about the alien?" Ianto asked.
Jack struggled to open his eyes, found Ianto, took his hand and smiled. "I got you a rose."
Owen hid a smile as Ianto actually blushed before plowing ahead.
"Thank you. Roses are lovely. The alien, Jack - what did it look like?"
"Tall. Bi-p… biped… "
Jack nodded and then winced. "Yeah."
Owen leaned in. "Does your head hurt?" He poked around where the bruise was on the scan. "Here?"
"What is it?" Ianto asked.
Owen didn't answer but continued with his explorations.
"What else can you tell us about the alien, Jack?" Gwen asked.
"Lots of fur, like a wolf or a cat. And a tail, I think I saw a tail. I like tails. Lovely things you can do with tails."
"Jack…" Ianto said, cutting off Jack's rambles.
"Never," Ianto smiled. "Did the alien say anything to you?"
"Was an'ry. Angry. At people stealing from him."
"Stealing what?" Tosh asked.
Jack shuddered and coughed. Owen checked Jack's oxygen levels and blanched. Something was definitely not right. "This cannot be happening."
"What is it? What's wrong?" Ianto asked, worry starting to show in his voice.
"He's not healing properly. If he would just die and regenerate everything would be fine. But as it is, he has a bloody hole in his lung, three cracked ribs, a concussion, and has lost more blood than should be possible. In anyone else, I would say he's dead. But since he's not, I don't know what to tell you!" Owen tossed his hands in the air in frustration. "What's worse, I don't know if operating on him will do any damn good!"
Gwen and Tosh each gasped.
"Yeah." Owen looked around the room and then bellowed. "Avenant, where the hell is that blanket?!"
"Here!" Avenant said running through the door and practically throwing the blanket at Owen
"About time." Owen, with help from Ianto, tucked the blanket around Jack and then hooked up an oxygen feed to see if that would do any good. Jack's coughing settled down but he'd slipped into a fevered half-sleep. They weren't going to get anything more out of him for a while.
"Ok, you lot - out!" Owen waved at the door. "I can't get any bloody work done with you lot hovering around. Go convene with your machines or something. I'll call you when you can come back and moon over Jack."
Avenant sat on a stool beside Tosh, feeling at loose ends. They were in the room the team had been given to use for their main office while they were on UNIT territory. It was a purely functional space, as were the majority of the spaces within the UNIT base, with several workstations boasting internet-accessible computers and additional terminals connected to UNIT's extensive database. According to Tosh, it was a nice change from their normal accommodations, which made Avenant wonder what the Torchwood Hub looked like if this barren space was considered nice.
Tosh leaned back in her chair with her eyes closed and sighed. The monitor in front of her blinked with a prompt, but clearly she had forgotten it or was trying to work out what she wanted to have the computer do for her this time. Avenant wanted to run his hand through Tosh's deep black hair - true black, not the reddish sable of his - and blade-straight compared to his soft curls. He imagined that her hair would feel as soft as a thousand silk threads. He wanted to brush all of that lusciousness aside and massage the tension out her neck. He clamped a firm grip on those thoughts. One dinner did not grant him such permissions yet. He forced his thoughts back to work and the business of solving mysteries with people he barely knew. He needed to get to know these Torchwood members to know how far he could trust them.
One desk over, Gwen was pushing herself slowly around in a circle with her foot. He wasn't entirely sure why, but the woman grated on him. She reminded Avenant of the stories people liked to tell about Napoleon with his brilliant flashes of strategy and leadership bound to blistering moments of overbearing chaos. He chided himself for this. Just as Napoleon was hardly everything his critics accused him of being, Gwen could not be everything her critics in UNIT named her. Bossy was so often a term used for women who led without fear, whereas a man might be called merely assertive or doing his job. Certainly she had done well enough with her teammates were concerned for them to both respect and care for her.
He looked over at Ianto, who stood leaning against the wall near the medical suite. He looked calm, nearly serene, but after only a day of working with the young man, Avenant was aware that there were deep layers to Ianto that he worked hard to hide. Avenant knew that if Ianto had not been so tired he would have been standing ramrod straight instead of looking for all the world like he was holding up the wall instead of the other way around. Given Ianto's reaction to both Jack's offer to bring him roses and Jack's injuries, it was clear that the rumors about a deep affection between Torchwood Three's enigmatic leader and its ruthlessly efficient archivist were true. Avenant had decided several hours ago that he liked Ianto and if he and the Captain were happy together, then all the better.
Ianto looked up from his examination of the floor tiles and caught Avenant's eyes. He raised an eyebrow in a silent question. Avenant smiled softly and shook his head. Ianto nodded and pushed away from the wall with a muffled sigh.
"Coffee?" Ianto asked to the room in general.
"Oh god, yes please!" Gwen said her head popping up and her whole demeanor changing at the sound of that one word. Avenant laughed. Another rumor proven true - these people really did run on coffee, Ianto's in particular.
"Yes, please, if you wouldn't mind, Ianto?" Tosh replied quietly.
Ianto smiled at Tosh and nodded. "Avenant?"
"Won't be long." Ianto walked through the room and out into hall that led to the kitchen a few doors down.
"So what do we know?" Gwen asked first.
"The Rift energy UNIT has been tracking is definitely coming from the somewhere on the castle grounds," Tosh replied, tapping the scanner that was transferring its data to the desktop terminal in front of her. "It has the greatest concentration of Rift activity and the highest number of Rift strikes in the whole area dating back five hundred years."
"Now isn't that interesting? Owen and I met with a curator at the Vesunna Museum who gave me this." Gwen pulled out a folded piece of bright blue paper. "It describes a legend that the locals call The Storm of the Two Princes that dates back about five hundred years and has remarkable similarities the storm that happened outside the museum last month."
"Which version?" Avenant asked. He knew of several about princes local to the area.
Gwen described the story the curator had told them at the museum. By the time she finished, Avenant was nodding.
"Ah, as I thought. That's a variant of another local story," Avenant said, and then dipped his head apologetically. "We are rather fond of the twin prince stories here in Perigueux."
"Its okay; so is Gwen," Ianto said, walking in with a tray of coffee-filled cups. He winked at his co-worker as he placed a cup of the steaming liquid in her outstretched hands.
"Thank you," Gwen said, hugging the coffee to her, ignoring the blush that had crept along her cheeks.
Avenant looked at Ianto for clarification. Ianto shook his head and nodded for him to continue as he handed him and Tosh their coffees before settling into one of the two armchairs in the room. Avenant shrugged. It was hard to understand humor between tightly-knit groups of people, and Torchwood was proving, for all their ragged appearance, to be very tightly-knit indeed.
"My friend's daughter did it as her school play last year. The short version goes something like this – there are supposed to be two princes, twin brothers who are orphaned when a great storm kills their parents. One of the brothers reacts very badly to the parents' death and becomes cold and evil, while the other becomes kind and good-hearted. Eventually they fight over their inheritance. During the fight they lose several gifts from their parents, which makes them fight all the harder. In the end, the good brother wins and locks the evil brother away so he can never harm anyone ever again."
"Pretty standard legendary stuff. What happened to the gifts from the parents?" Ianto asked.
"No one knows. Lots of local kids spend their holiday looking for them. They call it the Hunt for the Horse and Key."
"Those are supposed to be two of the gifts that went missing: a magical horse, a golden key, a pair of gloves…"
"Oh lord, not more gloves!" Gwen groaned.
Avenant looked at the Torchwood team. They were all laughing, and yet there was a tension under their laughter that he did not understand.
"Sorry, old joke…" Ianto said by way of explanation. "Was that all of the gifts?"
"Um…" Avenant said, hating the hesitation in his voice. He went on quickly, hoping none of the others noticed his discomfort in speaking about the keys. "No, there was one more, I think… oh yes, a mirror."
Owen pushed open the door to the room and flopped down in the nearest chair. He looked horrible. Avenant had noticed that Owen made the loudest racket about being angry with the Captain for getting hurt, but he was also deeply upset at the same time. It seemed to Avenant that this was more than a doctor's frustration that someone under his care was injured again. Clearly there was deep affection for the Captain under all of Owen's bluster.
"I have bad news and bad news. Jack is not dead."
"We knew that, Owen!" Gwen exclaimed.
"That is bad news?" Avenant asked, beyond puzzled by these people.
"Well, yes." Owen raised a placating hand to Gwen before turning to Avenant. "Um, sorry, it's complicated; just trust me when I say that the situation is not good."
Owen looked at Tosh and then found Ianto's eyes and held them.
"He seems to be stuck somewhere between living and dying. And to make matters worse, his body is behaving for all intents and purposes like it was as…" He looked at Avenant and then to Gwen and shrugged. "Well… normal as any of us. So he's feeling every lump, bump and scrape the alien gave him. And they are all healing at an appallingly slow rate, even for a normal person."
"So what does all that mean?" Ianto asked, sitting forward in his seat, his eyes tightly focused on the doctor.
"It means…" Owen paused and ran a hand through his hair, "that something in the alien's blood got into Jack and is confusing his body enough that it doesn't know how to heal itself."
"Shit," Ianto said.
"Yeah. That about sums it up."
Ianto burst out of his chair to pace in a small loop from his desk to the door that lead to the medical suite and back to the desk. "We have to go back. To the castle. Find out more about the alien and get it to heal Jack."
"And just how do you plan on doing that?" Avenant asked.
They were all silent for a long moment before Tosh offered, "We have the scans of the area. We have the Rift data…"
"I do not think you will be able to just go back and ask the alien for help. You saw what it did to your Captain." Avenant looked around the room at the Torchwood team and watched them close him out of their thoughts.
"Owen." Ianto walked over to Tosh's side, his tension transformed into concentration. "Can you get Tosh a biological analysis of the alien based on the blood and skin samples you got off Jack?"
"Don't see why not. What are you thinking?"
Ianto put a hand on Tosh's shoulder. "Could you use that to run a reference check on alien species in the Torchwood and UNIT databases?
Tosh's face lit up and she nodded her head rapidly. "Of course. If anyone has met this creature before then we should have a record of them."
"And if we do, then we will know better how to approach it," Gwen finished for her with a beatific smile.
"Exactly," Ianto nodded.
"And what do we do for your Captain in the meantime?"
"I," Owen said pointedly, "will keep an eye on Jack and make sure he sleeps while the rest of you work out some safe way to get a cure for Jack out of the alien. That is my job, after all, unless one of you lot graduated from medical school all of a sudden?"
They all shook their heads.
"That's what I thought." Owen pushed himself out of his chair and waved to Ianto. "All right then. In you go, tea boy. Ten minutes, nothing more, and then Jack needs to sleep. If his body can't heal the way it normally does, we're just going to have to do this the old fashioned way."