Characters: Ianto, Jack, Eleventh Doctor, Clara.
Spoilers: Set after Stolen Earth / Journey’s End.
Summary: Ianto takes an unexpected trip and becomes stranded a very long way from home.
Word Count: 3619
Written For: Challenge 62 – Bright at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
The stars in the night sky were brighter and more numerous than Ianto had ever seen before. Part of him wanted to believe that was just because he was far away from the light pollution generated by the urban sprawl of Cardiff, far even from any farms, or roads where the glow of headlights would cut a path through the darkness, but…
The logical part of his brain wouldn’t accept that comforting lie; the constellations overhead weren’t the familiar ones he remembered from his childhood obsession with astronomy. Besides, five minutes ago it was mid-afternoon on a bright and sunny spring day, and he was in the car park at Asda, talking to Jack on the phone, asking his lover if there was anything he wanted him to pick up. Now it was night. That could only mean one thing.
Ianto looked down at his phone, still clutched in his hand, useless now. Looked like Jack wouldn’t be getting his chocolate biscuits after all. They’d been cut off in mid conversation; he wondered if any of the other shoppers had seen him vanish in a brilliant flash of golden light. If they had, they’d probably dismiss it as the glare of sunlight catching the wing mirror of a passing car, or something equally mundane.
On the bright side, despite it being nighttime here, it wasn’t particularly cold. Cooler than it had been in Cardiff, and yet still quite comfortable. He’d been standing here for several minutes, but was still alive and not in any noticeable distress, so the air was breathable for humans. He wished he had his field kit with him though; it had been right there in the boot of his car. No, on second thoughts, what he really wished was that he hadn’t decided to stop at Asda on his way back from that Rift retrieval to grab a few things. Then he wouldn’t have been snatched up by a negative Rift spike and dumped on an unfamiliar planet. He had no way of knowing whether he’d travelled into the past or the future, or was simply misplaced in space.
Misplaced. Ianto gave a rueful chuckle. Put down in the wrong place and forgotten about; yes, that about summed up his situation. By now, Jack and the rest of the team would be aware of what had happened, not that it would do any of them any good. Jack’s Vortex Manipulator didn’t work, thanks to the Doctor, so even if he and Tosh could figure out the coordinates Ianto had been sent to, there wasn’t likely to be a rescue mission anytime soon, if ever.
So, looked like he’d be stuck here for a while. If that was the case, then there were things he needed to do: find shelter, drinkable water, and food, for a start. Shelter was the most important right now; he had no idea if there were carnivorous creatures about, hunting for their supper. Food could wait until morning, but he needed somewhere safe to set up camp, some kind of defensible position. Tomorrow he should make weapons of some sort too, just in case.
He blinked; his surroundings were becoming easier to see, and it wasn’t just because his eyes were adjusting to the dark. It was getting noticeably lighter, and yet he didn’t think it was dawn; turning, he saw that the moon was rising, or more accurately, the moons. There were three of them, one a little bigger than earth’s, the other two about half the size, or more likely just further away. None of them were full, but even so they reflected the light of the planet’s sun with a brightness greater than a full moon on earth. That was good; it meant he’d be able to see where he was putting his feet, much better than blundering across unfamiliar terrain in the darkness and risking serious injury.
Way off in the distance he could now see what looked like trees, a wooded area of some description. Turning slowly, he spotted another patch of possible woodland, much closer, maybe only half a mile or so, and he set off towards it, treading carefully on the undulating, grassy ground. If nothing better presented itself, at least he could climb a tree; that had to be safer than being on the ground, didn’t it? Unless all the predators turned out to be arboreal… Well, no use worrying about that possibility for the moment. He’d find out soon enough.
It took him about twenty minutes to reach the trees, which were similar in shape to those found on earth, and he wandered in amongst them, looking for one that could be climbed, but not too easily. If there were ground-based predators about, he’d rather they had to work hard to reach him, it might put them off even trying, the effort not worth the rewards.
The trees looked silver in the moonlight, broad trunked and with widely spreading branches that tangled together far above, creating a canopy that would provide protection from any inclement weather. Their leaves were broader than Ianto’s hand, about ten inches long and leathery, glossy on their upper surfaces and downy underneath, and they grew in thick clusters along the branches and twigs.
Ianto felt comfortable among the trees and wended his way between their widely spaced trunks until he found one further apart from its neighbours. Its branches started a couple of feet above his head, and he had to jump to get his arms around the lowest one, then pull himself up, walking his feet up the trunk, a method he’d used many times before. It didn’t take him long to climb up to a point where three broad branches met, creating a reasonably comfortable niche where he could settle in for what remained of the night. Well used to sleeping whenever and wherever he could, Ianto wedged himself securely in the fork so he wouldn’t fall out, and soon drifted off, dreaming of Jack and home, so very far away.
The morning dawned bright and clear, and Ianto was relieved to find there was only one sun. It was similar to earth’s and gave out the kind of warmth Cardiff got in early summer on a good year, when the sun actually managed to fight its way through the ever present Welsh clouds. That was another stroke of luck as it meant he was less likely to get sunburned, providing he was sensible.
Nothing had tried to eat him during the night, which was yet another point in the planet’s favour. It didn’t mean there weren’t any predators to worry about, so he’d still have to be careful, but he’d survived his first night, and that made him feel cautiously optimistic of his chances. Lowering himself from his tree, he set off in search of water and food.
A week later, Ianto had settled in as well as could be expected. He’d found a freshwater spring feeding into a series of progressively deeper pools, which allowed him water for drinking, washing clothes, and bathing. There were also fish-like creatures and weird crustaceans in the water that could be caught with a bit of ingenuity, and tasted pretty good when cooked over his fire pit. Between those, several varieties of wild fruit that the native birds liked, and the occasional large ground bird resembling a vivid purple pheasant, he was managing to keep himself fed. He’d even found a nice little cave a few minutes’ walk from the spring, and although it still needed a bit of work, it was already starting to look quite homey.
All in all, he’d been a lot more fortunate in where he’d been dumped than most of those taken by the Rift who found their way back to Cardiff. If it weren’t for the fact that he was completely alone and stranded with no obvious means of returning home, it might have been quite a pleasant interlude. As it was, he didn’t have much time to feel lonely, too busy hunting for food, gathering dry purple grasses and ferny leaves for bedding, and fixing up his cave, including blocking most of the entrance with rocks so it would stay dry inside in bad weather. So far, it had remained warm with only the occasional light shower of rain, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
The rest of his time was spent making weapons for hunting; spears, a rudimentary bow and arrows, a net for catching fish… although his gun was fully loaded, he wanted to save it for emergencies, like being attacked by something deadly, as he only had one spare clip. It would be foolish to waste bullets when there were other ways for him to catch food.
Three months or so into his enforced ‘vacation’, Ianto was frying eggs for breakfast on a flat rock at the edge of his fire pit. It was apparently the breeding season for a lot of the ground birds, and their eggs made a tasty addition to his diet, as long as he was careful to select freshly laid ones. He’d soon discovered it was easy to tell which would be the best for eating, since they started out pale lilac when they were first laid, and turned a deeper shade of purple as the young birds inside them matured.
Most of the things on this plant were various shades of purple or blue, or brown, Ianto thought wryly. He’d never imagined he would miss greenery so much. Even the trees had silvery purple trunks and lavender coloured leaves.
Eggs cooked, he scooped them into a crustacean shell that served as his plate, and ate them with his spoon, made from another, much smaller shell. He washed breakfast down with water from the spring, cleaned his dishes, and sat back down beside his fire to consider what needed to be done that day, all the while longing for a cup of coffee. The caffeine withdrawal had not been pleasant and even after several weeks without, he still found himself craving his favourite drink, especially at breakfast time.
He was deep in thought, trying to decide whether he wanted fish or fowl for dinner that evening, when he became aware of a strange noise that sounded vaguely familiar. At first he thought it was just the wind blowing through gaps between the nearby rocks, but then he realised the air was still; there was no wind. That was when he remembered where he’d heard the sound before.
Jumping to his feet, Ianto took off running, heading in the direction the sound was coming from. It had carried quite a distance on the still air, and he worried that he might be too late, but when he skidded to a halt at the edge of a small clearing among the purple trees and saw what was standing in the middle, he almost cheered. Hurrying through the ever-present knee-high violet grass, he reached the blue box, walked around to the door and knocked briskly. Disappointingly, there was no answer, and when he tried the door he found it locked. Nobody appeared to be home.
Ianto scanned the ground in front of the TARDIS; his sharp eyes, honed from stalking his dinner, soon picked out a faint trail through the grass. Whoever had been inside had obviously gone that way, so he followed at an easy jog, knowing he couldn’t be far behind them. Sure enough, less than ten minutes later he heard voices up ahead, human voices, speaking English. Picking up his pace a bit, he left the meandering trail and made directly for where the voices were coming from, slowing to a walk as he got close, not wanting to startle anyone.
“Hello!” he called, stepping out from among some shrubs and waving cheerily at the two people a short distance away.
The lanky man in the tweed suit and bowtie frowned and ran a hand through his unruly hair. “Oh, hello, what’re you doing here? I thought this planet was uninhabited.” He pulled a device from his pocket and pointed it at Ianto as he approached. It made a whirring noise. “You’re human!”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “I know I am, and you’re the Doctor.”
“Wait a minute, how did you know that?”
“I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m Ianto Jones.”
The frown deepened. “Where have I heard that name before?”
“I’m a friend of Jack’s. We sort of met when you used the Cardiff Rift to tow the earth back into place a few months ago. Well, a few months from my perspective; no doubt it’s been a lot longer for you. As I recall you had a different face back then.”
The Doctor’s face lit up with a bright, friendly smile. “Now I remember! Small universe! Nice to see you again, Mr Jones! The beard threw me a bit, I don’t remember you having one before.” He offered his hand and Ianto shook it. “You’re rather a long way from home aren’t you?”
“Am I? I honestly have no idea. Little known fact; the Rift goes both ways. Most of the time it just drops things on Cardiff, but sometimes it takes things, or people. I was at the supermarket, then the next thing I knew, I was here.”
“Yes, I suppose so. A bit inconvenient though. I wonder if I might trouble you for a lift home? Cardiff in 2010 preferably, as soon as possible after April tenth would be good. I’m sure Jack must be wondering what happened to me.”
“Of course, no problem, happy to help! Any friend of Jack’s. Oh, where are my manners? Ianto Jones, meet Clara Oswald.”
“Pleasure to meet you.” Ianto offered his hand. “Sorry I look a bit of a sight.” He gestured at his scruffy beard and less than pristine clothes. “I’m usually a lot tidier, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to take a trip. It’s not like the Rift gives you time to go home and pack. It just snatches you without warning.”
“You seem to be doing alright for a castaway. How long have you been stranded here?”
“Not long, somewhere around three months I suppose. All things considered, it’s not a bad place to be stranded. Might I ask what made you visit this particular planet?”
“Oh, we didn’t come here on purpose. We were supposed to be going to Snarkle for the Festival of Night, but the TARDIS brought us here instead. She does that sometimes,” Clara explained.
“Yes, I need to have a look at her guidance circuits, must be a loose wire somewhere,” the Doctor grumbled. “Half the time we don’t get where we’re going.”
“Maybe instead of taking you where you want to go, she takes you where she thinks you need to go,” Ianto suggested. “Jack tells me she’s very intelligent. After all, who knows how long I would have been stranded here if you hadn’t shown up today?”
“Well, yes, perhaps.” The Doctor clapped his hands together and bounced on the balls of his feet, beaming at Ianto. “So, now we’ve found you, shall we go?”
“I just need to stop at my camp first, collect a few things and put the fire out.”
“You left a fire burning?” The Doctor looked worriedly around at the dry grasses.
“My fire pit is very safe,” Ianto assured him. “I’m an experienced camper. Good thing really, under the circumstances.”
“Oh. Well, lead the way then, Mr Jones.”
Ianto did as he was told, and half an hour later they arrived at his camp.
“Nice spot for a camp,” the Doctor said, looking around approvingly.
“Thank you. I thought so,” Ianto replied, skirting the rock-lined pit where his fire smouldered, the ground around it kept clear of anything flammable. He ducked into his cave to collect his suit jacket, gun, and a few other personal items, then returned to the fire and doused it with water from the spring before covering the sodden embers with loose soil.
“That should do it.” Ianto picked up his small bundle of belongings again. “Right, I think I have everything. Shall we go?”
“By all means! Ah, which way to the TARDIS?” The Doctor turned in a circle, trying to get his bearings.
Ianto pointed. “That way.” He paused a minute, taking a last look at the place that had been his home for the past twelve weeks. “I’ll be glad to get back to civilisation, but at the same time, I think I’ll miss this place. It’s very peaceful. Ah well, can’t have everything.” Shrugging, he turned and walked away without a backward glance. He was going home!
The trip in the TARDIS ended up being quite short. The Doctor had suggested that they all go travelling for a bit before heading back to earth, but Ianto had declined. Three months away from Jack was more than enough for him, and besides, who knew what kind of mess the team had managed to turn the Hub into during his absence? The Doctor pointing out that the TARDIS was a time machine failed to sway him. All he wanted was to get home, kiss Jack, and make himself a longed for mug of coffee. However, he did jump at the chance to shower, shave, and change into clean clothes, borrowing underwear, jeans and a t-shirt from Jack’s old room so he would at least look, and smell, presentable.
In no time at all, or at least that’s how it seemed to Ianto, the TARDIS had set down on the invisible lift, gradually materialising the way it always did.
“So, when exactly are we?” Ianto asked the Doctor, knowing from Jack’s stories that the Time Lord’s timekeeping wasn’t always as accurate as it should be. Despite not wearing a suit, he looked and felt much more like his usual self now.
“A week after you left, April seventeenth, 2010,” the Doctor told him with brisk satisfaction. “Nicely done, old girl.” He patted the console proudly.
Almost before the time rotor had come to a complete stop, there was a loud hammering on the door, and a familiar voice yelling, “Doctor! Let me in! I need your help!”
Ianto smiled; he’d know that voice anywhere. Striding to the door, he flung it open.
Jack blinked in astonishment. “Ianto? Ianto!” His sudden smile was so blindingly bright Ianto was nearly dazzled. “You came back!”
“Of course I did, twpsyn,” he said, smiling fondly, just managing to get the words out before Jack pulled him into an almost bone-crushing hug. “Jack, can’t breathe, you’re breaking my ribs!” he wheezed out.
“Sorry, sorry!” Jack pulled back, only to plant a kiss on Ianto that took what was left of his breath away, not releasing him until his legs started to buckle. “I thought I’d never see you again!” Before he could catch his breath, Ianto was having the stuffing hugged out of him once more.
“I’ve only been gone a week,” he mumbled through a mouthful of Jack’s coat. “I dread to think how you’d behave if I’d been gone longer.”
“Where did you go?” Jack asked, still clinging like a limpet.
“The Rift dropped me off on a quite pleasant, very purple planet with fat purple birds, weird purple fish things, three moons, no people, and no coffee. The weather was nice though, warmer than here. Sorry I didn’t get your chocolate biscuits.”
“Doesn’t matter, as long as I’ve got you, nothing else matters.”
“That’s nice. Do you think you could let go of me for a minute?”
Jack shook his head firmly. “No. I’m never letting you go again.”
“That should make life interesting.” Ianto managed to turn his head. “Doctor, Clara, thank you for the lift. It was nice meeting you both.” Reaching out with one hand, he patted the wall of the TARDIS. “Thank you for coming to the rescue, very much appreciated.”
A bright golden glow suffused the interior of the TARDIS and something brushed softly against Ianto’s mind.
“She likes you,” Jack said. “She has very good taste.”
“I like her too. She’s amazing.”
Clara bustled over. “Here are your things.” She handed Ianto his bundled up suit. That was going to need a good clean and some TLC, but it would wait until tomorrow. “Looked like you might have a bit of trouble fetching them yourself. Is he always like this?”
“More or less.” Ianto took the bundle. “Thanks. I hope you get to the Festival of Night this time, it sounds interesting.”
“You could have come with us.”
“I know, but I’ve had enough adventures on other worlds for the time being. I do wish we’d had more time to talk though.”
“Me too, but who knows, maybe we’ll meet again sometime.”
“Maybe we will. I’ll look forward to it.” That was all Ianto had time for before Jack dragged him bodily out of the TARDIS. “Goodbye!” Ianto waved his bundled up suit as the TARDIS door shut behind him. The distinctive wheezing, groaning sound started up again and the time and space machine faded out of sight, leaving Ianto and Jack standing alone beside the water tower.
The Cardiff sunshine wasn’t as bright as Ianto had become accustomed to on the other planet, and there were quite a lot of clouds in the sky. Everywhere smelled of traffic fumes and chips, ozone and sea salt, rather than the clean, unpolluted air he’d been breathing for the past three months. Ianto smiled; it didn’t matter. Over and above everything else, Jack’s pheromones tickled his nose, and he breathed the familiar scent in gratefully. It was the scent of home.