Characters: Ianto, Jack, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, OC.
Summary: Just when Team Torchwood think they’ve seen everything, another weird alien shows up in Cardiff.
Word Count: 3082
Written For: Challenge 158: Drink at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Despite the fact that it wasn’t even ten-thirty in the morning, it had already been a busy day for Jack and Ianto. They’d just spent a gruelling couple of hours chasing a straying Weevil though the back streets and alleys of Splott before it eventually gave up and retreated back down into the sewers, and they felt just about done in. Weevils were a lot faster than they looked and this one had been craftier than most; Ianto suspected it had been laughing at them the whole time, thoroughly enjoying the game.
After all that it was hardly surprising they were hungry, thirsty, and just about ready to collapse, so instead of heading straight back to the Hub they stopped to pick up a mid-morning snack at a nearby coffee shop where the barista made a brew that while not quite up to Ianto’s standards was good enough to meet with his grudging approval. It didn’t hurt that the place also sold delicious pastries, baked on the premises; a shot of caffeine and a bite to eat was just what they needed to boost their flagging reserves of energy. Even immortals had to refuel from time to time; vortex energy could only do so much.
Ordering two strong black coffees to go, they scanned the pastry selection, mouths watering as they tried to decide what to have. Ianto finally settled on an apricot and almond Danish, while Jack, with his usual inability to pick just one, got an assortment; there must have been a dozen at least packed carefully into a couple of cardboard boxes. Laden with their refreshments, they were on their way back to the SUV when a Rift alert sounded on Jack’s wrist strap at the same moment that Tosh’s voice came through Ianto’s Bluetooth earpiece.
“Ianto, my computers just logged Rift activity up near the swimming pool in Splott; according to the readings I’m getting, whatever came through is alive. Should I send Gwen and Owen out or will you and Jack handle it?”
“We’re already in Splott, near the railway lines, so we can get there fastest,” Ianto told his friend, valiantly suppressing a sigh of resignation. It was typical of the Rift to dump something else on them when all they wanted to do was sit down and catch their breath, but regardless of what the Rift gifted them with, it was never a good idea to leave new arrivals just lying around. Animate or not, there was no telling what kind of trouble they might cause when left to their own devices. “Any idea what sort of creature we’re looking for?”
“Sorry, no CCTV at the coordinates, but I’ll set a search going through all the nearby cameras and see if I can pick up any images to run through the database.”
“Okay, thanks. Let me know if you find anything. I’ll check in once we’re on site.” Unlocking the SUV, tossing the bag containing his Danish on the dashboard and setting his untouched coffee in one of the vehicle’s cup holders, Ianto slid behind the wheel, leaving Jack to scramble into the passenger side, juggling coffee and pastry boxes. “Better buckle up, Jack.” Without waiting for his lover to comply, Ianto started the engine and peeled smoothly away from the kerb; there was an unidentified alien on the loose and going by prior experience, the sooner it was found and safely contained the better it would be for everyone.
Fortunately it was only a short hop to the Splott recreation ground where the swimming pool was located so chances were fair that their target wouldn’t have had time to go very far. Ianto found a place to park and jumped out of the SUV, leaving his Danish on the dashboard but plucking his coffee from the holder; he could manage without food for a while longer but he desperately needed a drink. It was still hot thanks to the Styrofoam cup, and he sipped at it cautiously as he and Jack strode towards the coordinates Tosh had sent them. Jack, having inhaled his drink plus two pastries on the drive over, was handling the scanner; by tracking the traces of Rift energy left behind by whatever mysterious alien they were looking for, it should help them locate their quarry no matter where it might be hiding.
As it turned out the scanner was hardly needed; the creature they were seeking wasn’t that difficult to find.
It was waddling slowly and laboriously along a path, pausing to sniff around the park benches, and craning up, trying to peer into the rubbish bins, although it was far too short to do so, being only eighteen or twenty inches tall. It had a squat, fuzzy, pale purple body vaguely resembling an inverted cone set atop two stumpy light green legs. Matching short, green arms stuck out, one on each side, ending in blobby, paw-like hands. It was the head that was really outlandish though, dominated as it was by a sort of flexible snout a bit like an elephant’s trunk, but flaring out at the end like the bell of a trumpet. Set close together above the snout was a pair of small, black eyes and from the top of the alien’s head drooped two purple antennae, terminating in fuzzy green bobbles.
“Well, what are you then?” Jack asked as they easily caught up to it.
Antennae perking up, the alien shuffled around to face them, peered a bit myopically at their knees for a moment, then slowly tilted its head back to gaze up at the pair of giants looming over it. Surprisingly it didn’t seem at all intimidated by them despite their size, merely regarding them with mild curiosity.
“Ever seen anything like it before?” Ianto asked, not taking his eyes off it as he sipped his coffee. The creature didn’t appear to be hostile, but he’d met enough aliens to know that appearances could be deceptive. For all they knew it could be venomous, or a ravening carnivore, or some form of shape-shifter.
“Not even remotely,” Jack assured him cheerfully. “Cute little thing, isn’t it?”
“Sentient life form or animal though?” That was the big question; what they did with it next would depend on the answer. If it was non-sentient they could just scoop it up, take it back to the Hub, and lock it in a cell while they figured out what to do with it. If, on the other hand, it was an intelligent being, they should probably try to communicate with it first, find out what, if anything, it wanted.
“NOM!” said the alien in a squeaky voice. “NOM NOM!”
Ianto blinked down at it. “Excuse me?”
“NOM!” The small being repeated, pointing a stubby arm in the direction of Ianto’s coffee cup, its snout twitching as it sniffed the air.
“I think it wants your coffee,” Jack said. “Maybe it’s thirsty.”
“We don’t even know what it is yet, let alone whether or not coffee might harm it,” Ianto protested.
“NOM!” the alien said again, pointing while bobbing eagerly on its short legs.
“Just give it your drink, Ianto.”
“Easy for you to say; you already drank yours.” Still, with a reluctant sigh Ianto relinquished the cup, stooping to hand it to the small creature…
…who promptly poured the coffee on the ground and ate the cup, the end of its snout practically vacuuming it up.
“Huh. I wasn’t expecting that.” Ianto scowled at Jack. “You owe me another coffee.”
Jack shrugged. “Guess it’s hungry rather than thirsty. How was I to know?”
“But Styrofoam? That’s not exactly a healthy diet, is it?”
“Our friend there seems to like it. Just because humans can’t eat it doesn’t mean no one can. Look at what Weevils eat.”
“I’d rather not, thank you; don’t want to lose my appetite,” Ianto grumbled, mourning his coffee and thinking of the Danish waiting for him back in the car.
“I’m just saying, every species has its dietary preferences, and they don’t always eat the things we’d consider edible.” Jack fished in a nearby bin for a Styrofoam takeaway container and offered it to the alien, who vacuumed it up hungrily.
“Nomnomnomnomnom!” it mumbled with evident relish.
“If that’s what it eats, I don’t think I want to know what it drinks,” Ianto muttered as Jack continued his rummaging. Noticing, he pulled a face at his lover’s antics. “Will you stop that? It’s disgusting! You don’t know where that stuff’s been!”
Jack glanced back over his shoulder. “We have a hungry alien to feed; where else am I gonna get Styrofoam? At least this way it’s good for something other than landfill.”
“I suppose, but still; other people’s rubbish?”
“It’s right here for the taking. Waste not, want not.”
“If you stink up the inside of the SUV with that stuff you’ll be the one cleaning it.”
Even that threat failed to dissuade Jack from continuing his search.
After another takeaway container and two more coffee cups, the alien seemed to have had enough to eat for now. It sat there on the path, blobby paws folded across what Ianto assumed was its stomach, and he got the impression that if it had been capable of doing so, it would’ve been smiling contentedly.
Jack addressed the alien. “Right, let’s get you back to our base, shall we?”
“Be careful,” Ianto warned as Jack went to pick the creature up. “We still don’t know if it might be dangerous.”
“Of course is isn’t! It’s a sentient, civilised being!”
“How’d you work that out?”
“It requested food.”
Ianto raised his eyes heavenwards; Jack was always telling the rest of the team not to jump to conclusions, but apparently it was fine when he did it himself. “It said ‘Nom’ Jack. That might be the only sound it can make.”
“But it pointed straight at your cup, and its hands are able to hold and manipulate objects.”
Ianto inclined his head in grudging acceptance of Jack’s reasoning. It was far from conclusive, but the alien wasn’t behaving like a wild creature. Then again, it could simply be someone’s trained pet; it was a bit too soon to be sure. He watched warily, hand resting on the stun gun in his pocket just in case it was needed, as Jack picked the alien up. Now that it was well fed it seemed drowsy. With any luck, if anyone saw them with it they’d assume it was a soft toy of some kind… Right, a grown man carrying a cuddly toy around with him in broad daylight; nothing suspicious about that! He strode ahead of Jack, hoping nobody would think they were together.
Once in the SUV, the alien sat on Jack’s lap all the way back to the Hub like a well-behaved toddler, gazing out the tinted windows at the passing scenery and occasionally pointing at things while Jack told it what they were.
“That’s a lamp post. That’s a lady with a dog, a spaniel by the looks of it. That’s a man riding a bicycle. That’s a police car. Those are traffic lights. Red means stop, and green means go.” That he didn’t mention the amber light was no surprise to Ianto, since Jack never paid any attention to it when he was driving either.
At last Ianto pulled into the Millennium Centre’s underground car park, driving down to the lowest level and passing through what appeared to be a solid wall but was actually a hologram. Safely out of sight, he pressed a switch on the dashboard and waited while a section of the real wall slid aside, then drove through into Torchwood’s garage, pulling into the SUV’s parking space. “Well, here we are, home sweet home. Maybe now I can have something to eat.” Ianto slid out of the driver’s seat, snatching up his Danish before Jack or the alien could make off with it. Not that he really thought either of them would, but at this point he wasn’t taking any chances; he was hungry and it was his.
Jack got out the other side, juggling the alien in one arm and his boxes of pastries in the other. Ianto eyed the boxes as they made the way into the main Hub, wondering if Jack might be persuaded to share. Of course the rest of the team would probably want some as well… By Ianto’s reckoning there were at least ten left; even if Tosh, Owen, and Gwen had two each that would still leave four. Surely Jack wouldn’t begrudge him one…
For once the rest of the team seemed more interested in the new alien than in the prospect of food, so Ianto relieved Jack of the boxes of pastries, taking them through to the kitchen area and setting them down on the counter top while he make coffee, leaving the others clustered around Jack and their visitor. While the coffee was brewing, he sneaked a pastry out of the box and munched on it, saving his Danish for after. Since becoming immortal, he’d discovered that Jack wasn’t lying about needing to eat a lot to replenish reserves, and sugary foods were especially good for refuelling. Ianto tried not to overdo it, not wanting to resort to Jack’s usual method of restoring himself to factory settings, but it was nice not having to watch his weight too carefully. His metabolism seemed to have speeded up so he burned off calories a lot faster than he used to.
Distributing the drinks, each one made to its recipient’s specific preferences, he noticed the way the alien was sniffing the air and peering into all the mugs in turn, clearly not finding the contents of any of them particularly appealing. Jack’s black and sweet, industrial strength, Owen’s latte with three sugars, Gwen’s with skimmed milk and a dash of hazelnut syrup, Tosh’s with just a drop of almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and Ianto’s own, black and completely unadulterated.
“Not a coffee drinker then,” he said, frowning disapprovingly at the alien. “Just what is your beverage of choice? I mean, you eat Styrofoam; what d’you wash it down with?”
“Suppose we’d better try it with what we have to hand,” Owen said. “Wouldn’t do for it to get dehydrated.”
“Maybe it doesn’t drink at all,” Jack suggested. “Not all creatures do. A lot get all the fluids they need from the food they eat.”
“From the way it was peering into our mugs, I’d say it’s a safe bet this one drinks,” Ianto said. “Owen’s right; we should figure out what by a process of elimination.”
Jack couldn’t argue with that. “Fine. Where do we start?”
Tea met with no more interest than coffee did, neither did the various kinds of milk. Water was apparently only for bathing in, and the sharp, tangy scent of orange juice made the alien screw up its snout.
The bottle of beer Owen reluctantly offered was investigated with curiosity but the contents not sampled, much to the medic’s relief; it was the last one in the Hub and he had plans for it.
“That’s it, unless you want to try it with your scotch or brandy,” Owen told Jack, who didn’t look inclined to do so; it was the good stuff and neither bottle had been cheap.
“I suppose this means I’ll have to go shopping for anything that might prove drinkable,” Ianto said reluctantly. “They’ll think I’m throwing a party.”
“Better make a list,” Tosh said, getting paper and pencil. “Judging by its reaction to orange juice, you can probably forget about juices, cordials, and fruit flavoured pop.”
“That doesn’t leave much,” said Gwen.
“Sure it does. Cola, ginger ale, vodka, tequila…” Owen started to list.
“Where’d the alien go?”
Everyone looked at Jack. “I thought you had it!” Ianto frowned at his lover.
“It was getting heavy so I put it down. It’s not like it moves very fast; its legs are too short.”
They soon found it, investigating the contents of the kitchen cabinets; the ones low enough for it to open anyway.
“NOM!” it said triumphantly, leaning into one cupboard to reach something at the back.”
“Oh God! Not the cleaning supplies!” Ianto lunged forward to stop the alien, but not fast enough. Using its snout, it twisted the top off a glass bottle, tossed it aside, and slurped out of the bottle.
Everybody froze in place, eyes wide with horror, waiting for the alien to keel over and die, but it didn’t.”
“What is that?” Jack asked hesitantly, not sure he wanted to know.
Ianto sniffed the air. “White vinegar. I use it for removing limescale.”
“NOM!” The alien said enthusiastically and took another slurp.
“So it eats Styrofoam and drinks vinegar? Makes you wonder what its home planet must be like.” Owen sounded intrigued.
“I’d wager it’s nothing like earth,” Ianto said, dry as dust, as he watched the alien quenching its thirst.
“Yeah, for one thing the residents must be permanently pickled,” Owen agreed.
“On the plus side, vinegar’s inexpensive and readily available,” Jack pointed out. “Between that and our takeaway containers, we should be able to keep our little friend well fed until we can return it to its home.”
“There is that, I suppose.” Ianto knew exactly who would be doing the feeding.
“I’ll call the Doctor in a bit and see if he can give it a lift.”
“Probably best.” Ianto picked up his Danish and leaned against the kitchen cabinets, taking a thoughtful bite and chewing slowly. Even when he was ravenous he refused to follow Jack’s example; one of them had to display something resembling manners, and it was never going to be Jack.
“That reminds me!” Jack strode towards the boxes on the counter. “Who wants pastries? I got enough for everyone.”
That drew a chorus of approval from the team.
The alien followed them back to the sofa, carrying its bottle of vinegar, and sat quietly beside Jack on the sofa while the pastries were shared out and consumed, like it was just one of the team
That was Torchwood for you, Ianto reflected. It completely redefined what you thought of as normal. Over the years they’d seen so much that was bizarre they’d got to a point where weirdness that would freak most people out barely registered anymore. It remained to be seen whether or not that was a good thing.