Word Count: 3938
Summary: Jack, Ianto and Gwen investigate strange energy readings out in the Welsh countryside...
Prompt: Nine prompts from half the gang at the last night of Barrowman's panto this year... Cataclysm; You can't go, you licked my chin!; pink fluffy unicorns; Barrowplague; Castell Coch; dinner date; stopwatch; turnip; Accidental!Naked!Jack
Oh, and if you want to see the Castle (the same way I did...) check it out: Virtual "tour" for the win. (:
(What do you mean, it's been 18 months almost to the day since I last posted fic? Um. I was washing my hair?)
The SUV skidded to a halt in a spray of gravel outside the castle.
“Did you ever actually take a driving test?” Ianto asked, relaxing his death grip on the passenger door.
“And put down my date of birth?” Jack said, raising his eyebrows. “I have a licence somewhere. Bought it in the 1890s sometime.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” Ianto said, and Gwen sighed in the back seat.
“Can you two stop bickering for five minutes and get on with this?”
She got out while they exchanged sheepish glances, and opened up the boot.
“Scanners and standard,” Jack ordered, as he and Ianto joined her. “We’re only looking for the energy source, nothing special. Try not to shoot unless it’s life or death, Cadw get fussy about bullet holes in their historic buildings. Ianto, bring the box.”
Ianto rolled his eyes and picked up the specialised containment cell.
They turned to face Castell Coch, Jack checking his wriststrap, Gwen checking her scanner, and Ianto checking his stopwatch. Jack glanced over at him.
“I have licences for lots of other things, too,” he said casually, a smirk in his voice. “Maybe I’ll show you sometime.”
“One minute twelve,” Ianto declared, clicking the stopwatch, and looked up to Jack’s confused look, and Gwen’s exasperated one. “Sorry.”
He reset the stopwatch and tucked it into his inside jacket pocket, ticking away ready for Jack’s next pass at him.
“When you two are quite finished,” Gwen said, holding up her scanner, “the energy source is definitely inside.”
They followed her up the drawbridge, where she dug out the lock picking device and pressed it to the big red doors. She checked her scanner while they were waiting.
“There’s more than one source,” she told them. “There’s another two. No, just two altogether now. The other one just faded out. And the next one’s getting smaller.”
Jack frowned at his wriststrap while they waited. “I’m getting two lifesigns now. And it’s not the staff. They’ve all gone home. I’m getting one healthy body putting out plenty of energy – sound like anyone we know, Ianto?”
Ianto quietly checked his stopwatch as Jack winked at him. He reset it and put it away again, murmuring, “One fifty-two,” under his breath as Jack checked with Gwen’s scanner and continued.
“– and one unhappy body corresponding with one faded energy source.”
“Radioactive aliens?” Ianto sighed. “Shall I go and get the net?”
“Medkit might be better,” Jack said quietly, passing up the opportunity for bondage innuendo.
Ianto took that as a sign that the prospect of dead aliens was getting to Jack, and gave his hand a quick squeeze as the lock pick beeped and the door clicked open. Gwen took hold of the handle and Jack pulled away from Ianto, readying his gun, back to the other door. Ianto moved out of the potential line of fire, and Jack nodded to Gwen.
She pulled the door open.
Jack whirled through the doorway in a flurry of coat, leaping out into the walled courtyard, ready for anything.
The lurid pink horse in the middle gave a startled squeal and reared, wheeling about and racing to the far end of the courtyard. As Jack stared, with Gwen and Ianto now peering around the sides of the door, the horse stopped, eyeing them nervously, and backed into one of the little alcoves along the far wall, shifting anxiously from hoof to hoof.
“Is it just me or does that thing have a horn?” Ianto asked quietly.
“So do the others,” Gwen said, pointing, as they both came forward to join Jack.
In the centre of the courtyard, three more bright pink horse-like creatures lay, two of them slumped and unmoving, one curled up with its legs tucked under it, head drooping, emitting an occasional wheezy squeak.
“It’s dying,” Gwen said sadly, and started forward, one hand extended. “Hello there. What’s wrong with you, then, eh?”
“Gwen, no!” Jack yelled, and lunged forward, knocking her aside as the unicorn charged with a scream of fury. As it skidded to a halt and turned back, he whipped his coat off and spun on his heel, sweeping the coat over the unicorn’s head like a matador’s cape as it came racing back towards them.
The unicorn came to an abrupt stop again, shrieking, and shook its head until the impaled coat came free and it could see again. It turned, and fixed its gaze on Ianto by the doorway, then let out an ear-splitting scream and charged again.
Ianto bolted for the stairs, leaping up three, then over the rail as soon as the unicorn had missed and was turning. He hit the ground and headed for the back wall, and Jack dashed past him, right into the unicorn’s path, waving his arms and yelling. The unicorn veered right after him, and Gwen tried in turn to distract it, but this time it wouldn’t be deterred, horn down and thundering after Jack.
Jack tried to dodge aside, but the unicorn turned its head and skewered him, punching straight through him from side to side with barely a pause to scrape between his vertebrae. He let out half a scream and went limp, dragging the unicorn’s horn down to the ground. The unicorn struggled to pull free, tossing its head, and ripped out of Jack’s body, tearing his shirt open and staining it with blood and spinal fluid.
Its horn got stuck in the back of Jack’s braces.
Ianto and Gwen edged closer, Ianto holding Jack’s coat ready to throw over its head, considering the benefits of wrestling it to the ground. The unicorn kept struggling, ripping Jack’s shirt and trousers and skin to shreds, trying to stamp and bite at the thing holding it captive.
Ianto and Gwen were a few feet away when Jack’s braces came away from the bottom clasp. The unicorn reared, shrieking, and they fell back hurriedly as it turned to face them. Ianto ended up near the door again, while Gwen was at the far end, with no exit.
“Do we kill it?” Ianto yelled. “It killed Jack!”
“Everything kills Jack,” Gwen yelled back. “We’ve killed Jack! These could be the last of their species!”
“It’s not going to do much bloody good if there’s only two of them,” Ianto called, and the unicorn charged at Gwen. “Keep it busy while I get back to the SUV!”
“How much choice do I have?” Gwen screamed, doubling back to take advantage of the unicorn’s slower turning speed.
“I’ll be right back,” Ianto shouted, throwing Jack’s coat to the floor for her to pick up and use if she could. He raced away while the unicorn was occupied, taking it as a good sign that he could hear Gwen screaming his name (and certain choice slurs on his parentage) all the way back to the car. As long as she was screaming, she wasn’t dead yet.
He loaded up with stuff from the car and headed back. Leaving Jack’s spare clothes and the medkit just outside the main entrance, he glanced quickly around the doorway to see the situation.
Jack was still dead, Gwen was still alive, and the unicorn was still angry. From the glints of metal and plastic among the mossy cobbles, he surmised she’d managed to put the unicorn off charging at her by throwing her phone and keys at it. Now the creature was shifting on its feet, snorting and shrieking, but not quite daring to lunge for her.
He crept in quietly, tranquilliser gun tucked into his belt, readying the net launcher. Five more steps and he’d be in range. Four. Three.
Jack gasped and sat up at the unicorn’s feet.
The unicorn shrieked, reared, and turned.
Ianto fired the net gun and missed, the unicorn charging straight under the flying net. He went for the tranquillisers, backing up desperately, but his first shot just made the creature angrier.
Enraged, the unicorn leapt forward, covering the distance between them in the time it took Ianto to stumble back and hit the closed door. Before he could dive to the side and through the open doorway, he was slammed back against the wood as the unicorn’s horn punched into his chest like a hammer blow.
Through the sudden white blaze of pain, he could hear Jack screaming.
The unicorn pulled away with a triumphant squeal, and he slid to the ground, struggling to breathe.
For a second there was nothing but pain, then Jack skidded to his knees beside him, pulling him onto his lap, hands cradling his head and tentatively exploring his chest.
“Ianto, please. Please, don’t.”
Ianto dragged in a breath, and gasped, “Hurts.”
Behind Jack, Gwen managed to reload the net gun and take another shot at the unicorn. It went down with a furious scream, struggling desperately.
Jack gingerly moved Ianto’s jacket aside to get to the wound. It clinked.
Frowning, Jack dug a hand in his pocket and pulled out a handful of stopwatch. Some of the panic faded from his face, and he pulled Ianto’s shirt open, fingers exploring the injury carefully.
Ianto flinched, struggling to lift his head and see. Blood obscured most of it, but his chest around it was already black with bruises, and every breath was agony.
“Could be worse,” Jack promised him. “I love that watch. You’ve definitely broken a few ribs, though, so try and breathe lightly.”
“Figured that... myself,” Ianto gasped, and Jack kissed him quickly, then laid him down again. “Medkit, be right back. Gwen! Ambulance, now please.”
“Right on it,” Gwen called back, busy tranquillising the struggling unicorn.
Ianto turned his head to watch Jack go, distantly, dizzily amused by the fact that Jack was down to his belt and just a strip of his trousers, hanging on by the belt loops. He ran his fingers over his chest too, finding the horn’s wound. It hurt like hell, and although he wanted to trust Jack’s judgement, he knew Jack wasn’t above trying to shield him from the truth if it was bad news, and there seemed to be a lot more blood now than there had been a few minutes ago.
He heard Gwen swear, and looked over to see her picking up the pieces of her broken phone. She scrabbled among the tattered rags of Jack’s trousers, and found his in pieces too, stamped apart by the angry beast.
Jack came running back with the medkit, took one look, and dropped beside Ianto, rummaging in Ianto’s trouser pockets for his phone.
Ianto fought to hold back a cough that ended up a splutter, ripping at his chest and flecking his lips with spittle. He tried to lift a hand to wipe his mouth, but Jack got there first, lifting away one fingertip stained with blood.
Ianto blinked at him, and dragged in a painful breath.
“Don’t try to speak,” Jack ordered, taking his phone and shoving the medkit at Gwen. “Painkillers, good stuff. Ianto, you’re gonna be fine, we just need to get you out of here. Don’t worry.”
He glared at the phone as it failed to connect, and tried to dial again, then told them, “Gonna get signal outside, don’t move.”
Ianto rolled his eyes as Gwen administered a hefty dose of pain medication. “Thinking of... a jog.”
“I told you not to talk!” Jack yelled over his shoulder as he sprinted from the courtyard.
Ianto spluttered wheezily again, more when Gwen tried, carefully, to help him into a better position. After a couple of seconds of sheer, blazing agony, the painkillers kicked in and cut it off. He blinked, managing to breathe a little easier, and turned his head when Gwen let out a startled gasp.
The squeaky, ill little unicorn had dragged itself over to them, nuzzling now at Gwen’s cheek, careful to keep its horn out of the way. She stroked its neck cautiously.
“What are you after, then? You want some painkillers too?”
The unicorn licked her neck and shuffled closer to Ianto, laying its head gently on his chest.
Even through the industrial-strength painkillers, he felt that, with a rush of white heat through his whole body, robbing him of what little breath he had and making his scream entirely soundless.
“No, no, no,” Gwen yelped, and tried to pull the unicorn away, even as it started crying glittering tears. “Get off, you stupid thing, you’re hurting him.”
The heat flooded on out of him, leaving him shuddering and in a cold sweat. He gasped in a breath, then did it again because it felt so good.
Gwen was still trying to pull the unicorn away, so he reached up and took hold of her hand to stop her. The unicorn’s head on his chest should probably still hurt, but he was floating happily on drugs now, so he didn’t mind it. In any case he could breathe freely now it was there, so he wasn’t about to let it go.
Gwen started to speak, but she shushed her, taking her hand to pat the unicorn’s nose.
“I feel great,” he declared, taking another deep breath to prove it, and smiling. “You leave my friend alone.”
“Lightweight,” Gwen grumbled, and the unicorn raised its head, licking Ianto’s face and making him giggle, giving Gwen the chance to take another look at his chest wound.
She couldn’t find it. Even the bruising had calmed to lighter purples and greens instead of that awful, sick black.
Jack burst back in, snapping, “I can’t get through. SUV, now.”
Ianto raised both hands in a delighted, expansive gesture from his position on the floor, unicorn still giving him friendly licks.
“Jack! You came back! Unicorns, right. Unicorns cry. Right. Gwen, tell him.”
“He’s healed,” Gwen said bluntly. “The unicorn cried on him and now he’s fine. Oh, God, did I really just say that?”
Jack stared at Ianto for a second, sitting up now, with both arms around the unicorn’s neck, giggling as it licked his face like a puppy.
“What,” Jack said loudly, “I turn my back for five minutes and you’re getting friendly with the aliens?”
Ianto looked up at him with vague dismay, and Jack marched over to kneel beside the unicorn and check his chest. After a moment, he shoved the unicorn out of the way and took hold of Ianto, one arm around his back and his other hand taking firm control of Ianto’s head.
“Shut up,” he told the squeaking unicorn. “I saw him first.”
Ianto beamed at him, and got as far as, “I lo-” before Jack cut him off with a thoroughly distracting kiss.
They finally surfaced for air some time later, when Gwen cleared her throat pointedly.
“We still have this lot to deal with,” she reminded them. “Preferably before the other one wakes up. And you really need to put some clothes on.”
Jack sighed, but let go of Ianto and went to get his spare clothes from outside the door.
“That was fun,” Ianto said dizzily, and went back to hugging his unicorn.
“So I figure I know what these are,” Jack said, heading back in with new trousers on and his shirt half buttoned. “Now we can stop panicking. Let me check.”
He knelt beside the unicorn Ianto was holding, and scanned it with his wriststrap.
“Yep. There’s an identity chip in here. Zoo transport. She’s a breed of Lartha. In case you were wondering, her name’s Macy.”
“Hello, Macy,” Ianto said happily, burying his face in the Lartha’s neck. “Can we keep her?”
Jack stared at him for a second, while Gwen tried not to laugh.
“You and pink sparkly unicorns, Ianto, really? I never had you pegged.”
“Can we?” Ianto pleaded, dreamy. “She’d like the beacons. She can spend all summer running about in the sunshine and dancing on rainbows, and we can bring her indoors and keep her all warm and happy in winter.”
Jack stroked his hair. “We can keep them for a little while, but I’ll have to send a message out to the zookeepers. They’re probably on the way back anyway. Lartha are a protected species, you see. These ones have only been put ashore to stop an outbreak of Barrowplague among the whole herd.”
“Of what?” Gwen asked, giving Macy the unicorn a worried look.
“It only affects Lartha,” Jack said quickly. “It’s why they moved the herds in the first place.”
Gwen frowned at him, and he sighed.
“You’ve seen what they can do already. All breeds of Lartha have the same regenerative abilities. Their blood, their tears, pretty much anything will heal most injuries for most humanoid or mammal-like species out there. I’ve seen some before.”
“And you didn’t recognise them?” Gwen said archly, looking down at the bright pink animal.
“Would you recognise an Alsatian after seeing a Chihuahua? The ones I saw were about a foot high with a tiny little growth on their foreheads.” Jack raised his eyebrows. “And they were brown. Anyway. Lartha come from Hrenn. The Hrennese built up their whole society around the Lartha. They had a lot of trouble maintaining the population when it got out how useful Lartha blood could be. The Shadow Proclamation stepped in and outlawed pretty much anything that might pose a threat to the Lartha, made it illegal to transport them anywhere, and stepped up protections against poachers. A few years after that, plague hit the herds. They reckoned it was spread into the conservation areas by the food barrows, hence Barrowplague. Survival rate was abysmal. It triggered a cataclysm for the Hrennese. Wrecked their economy, shattered their society, drove millions to suicide, ripped the heart out of Hrennese culture. It took them over a century to recover.”
“If this happened so long ago,” Gwen said, patting the wheezing Lartha, whose fluffy coat Ianto was stroking in rapt fascination, “what are they doing here?”
“It was a long time ago for me,” Jack said quietly. “Somewhere out there, it’s happening right now. They’ve reversed the transportation laws. Macy and her friends are part of an attempt to set up Lartha herds on other planets, away from the plague. Try and save a species that could save everybody else.”
“Will it work?” Gwen asked, and Jack looked away.
Gwen looked down at the Lartha, running her fingers through Macy’s mane.
Jack sighed, and patted her hand. “It works. Not as well as they hoped, but it does work. This lot’s keepers will be back for them before long. Our sedated friend over there is clearly immune to a little Barrowplague, and if Macy isn’t dead yet she stands a fair chance of pulling through. I’m gonna need you to go to the nearest farm and get a double horsebox and sack of turnips. There’s cash in my wallet somewhere. Flash your ID around. Be back in an hour or less.”
“While you’re at it, do you want to tell me how to drive, too?” Gwen stood and dusted her knees down, and went to fetch Jack’s wallet from the rags on the cobbles.
“Accelerator’s the pedal on the right,” Jack called after her, with a grin, and she gave him a succinct hand gesture in return.
Jack turned back to Ianto, who was now cuddling the Lartha and quietly singing, “Macy, Macy, give me your answer do.”
Jack watched him for a moment, then kissed his hair and put his arm around Ianto’s shoulders.
“You’re cute when you’re high.”
“I think Macy likes me,” Ianto told him, sounding halfway normal again, then spoiled it by leaning down to make a fuss of the Lartha, crooning, “Yes you do, don’t you? Yes, you do...”
Jack laughed and hugged him, and settled down to wait for Gwen.
By the time she returned, Ianto was dreamily telling Jack all about his school days and his first kiss, and Macy the Lartha had perked up considerably, looking around and making occasional wobbly attempts to get her hooves under her. Gwen brought over a bulging sack, and presented it to Jack.
“Your horse box is outside,” she said, as he reached in and pulled out a turnip, handing it to Ianto when Macy gave an excited little squeak and started twisting to try and find the source of that delicious new smell.
“Here you go,” Ianto told her, and a delighted smile spread across his face as Macy started eating from his hand.
“Nice work,” Jack told Gwen. “We’ll let Macy eat something then pack up. Can you check on the other one?”
Gwen nodded and did so, while Ianto joyfully fed the Lartha another couple of turnips and had his face licked gratefully in return.
Jack stroked his hair and got up, going to help Gwen make use of the ropes from the car and hobble the other Lartha.
“Where are we going to put Macy?” Ianto called. “I don’t think she’ll like the cells. And Janet might try to eat her. Do you think she’d like to go for rides?”
“Janet? No chance,” Jack called back, and Ianto blinked at him, utterly lost.
“Sorry,” Jack said. “No, best not to ride a Lartha. Anyway, we can’t hang on to them for long. Their keepers’ll be back soon to see if they can rejoin the others yet. Maybe a few days. Maybe tomorrow.”
A blinding bright light snapped on above them.
“Or maybe now,” Gwen suggested.
Jack quickly helped her take the hobbles back off the sedated Lartha, which was now starting to come round. As soon as they were clear, the Lartha dematerialised.
Jack went over to Ianto, and gently tried to unwind his arms from the Lartha’s neck.
“Macy has to go now, Ianto. Come on. Time to say goodbye.”
Ianto clung to the Lartha, with an agonised wail. “You can’t go! You licked my chin!”
Jack knelt down beside him, rubbing his back soothingly. “Macy’s gonna be with the rest of her friends, Ianto. It wouldn’t be fair to keep her here alone. Let her go, and as soon as we’ve got you sobered up I’ll take you for dinner. Deal?”
Ianto gave him a sideways look with one eye, still hugging the Lartha’s neck to him, face buried in its fur.
“She’ll be happy there, I promise,” Jack told him, and gently took his hands from the Lartha.
It turned and licked Ianto’s cheek, and he pulled a hand free to pat its nose, saying sadly, “Bye, Macy.”
Jack helped him stand and step back, and Macy got to her feet too, then squeaked at them all and vanished. The bright light above them cut out, and they turned to find that even the two dead Lartha were gone.
“They took the turnips, too,” Gwen pointed out, gathering up the net gun, tranquillisers, and what useful bits she could find of her phone. “Waste not, want not, I suppose.”
Ianto sighed, and leaned heavily against Jack, head on his shoulder, Jack hanging onto his belt to hold him up.
“You promised me dinner.”
“When you’re sober,” Jack agreed, and Ianto let him draw one arm over his shoulders to take his weight.
“I need a new stopwatch, too.”
“You got it,” Jack promised. “And while I’m at it, I’ll buy you some My Little Pony.”
“You need to stop using me as an excuse,” Ianto told him, and started giggling.
Jack shook his head, smiling. He took his wounded coat from Gwen, draped it over the shoulder not occupied by Ianto, and led the way back to the car.