Title: Through Time And Space: Chapter 13 – Making New Friends
Characters: Ianto, OFCs, OMCs, aliens.
Word Count: 4129
Spoilers: CoE, House of the Dead
Summary: Ianto and the Tallans encounter some of the planet’s inhabitants.
Written For: Challenge #107: Burn at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Ianto winced. Apparently, being immortal didn’t mean he couldn’t get sunburn; he really should have thought of that before getting changed for his day on the beach. Jeans and a t-shirt had been fine, and he’d soon dispensed with the trainers he’d been wearing once he’d settled down to the task of building sandcastles, but taking the t-shirt off hadn’t been the smartest thing to do. Now he looked like a cooked lobster.
His neck, ears, back, shoulders and arms were red and sore, and he really wished Jack was here to apply soothing lotion. He already knew he wouldn’t be able to reach the worst affected areas, even if he had such a thing as after-sun lotion available, which of course he didn’t.
“You are in pain.” The TARDIS sounded concerned and sympathetic in his mind.
“Yeah, but it’s my own fault,” he replied. “I should have been more careful. I know I burn easily, the curse of pale Welsh skin, but I just didn’t think.” He attempted to look at his raw back in the full-length mirror in his room, but trying to twist himself to see just made it hurt more.
“If you would go up to the medical bay, I will provide a preparation to take away your discomfort.”
”Thank you, that would be very welcome,” Ianto sighed. He slipped a light robe on over his underwear and made his way, barefoot, up to the console room and then along the corridor leading to the re-modelled medical suite.
It was a far more pleasant place to be now than when he’d first seen it. There was a padded treatment table in the middle of the room, with blocky white equipment modules alongside it and scanners above. Ianto looked around for the ‘preparation’, expecting some sort of pain-relief medication, but there was nothing visible.
“Okay, I’m here.”
“Remove your clothing and stand on the lighted area,” the TARDIS instructed.
“Uh, take my clothes off?”
“Of course. The preparation must be applied directly to the skin. It will heal the damage caused by exposure to too much sunlight,” he was informed. An area of the floor beside the equipment modules lit up and something that looked a bit like a cross between a showerhead and a reading lamp extended from the nearest one.
With a shrug and a wince, Ianto slipped his robe off and draped it over the treatment bench, then slipped his boxer shorts off and placed them, neatly folded, on top. Stepping onto the lighted circle, he waited.
“Hold your arms out from your sides, please.”
Ianto did as asked. “Like this?”
“Yes. Now please close your eyes and mouth, hold your breath and remain still.”
Following the instructions, Ianto took a deep breath and managed not to move, despite the fine spray that hit him full in the face with no warning. It moved around to one side of his head and then the other, coating his head and ears with a cool mist before moving lower to treat his neck and shoulders.
“You may breathe normally now,” the TARDIS told him cheerfully as the spray continued to move over his body, seeming to wash away the pain as it went.
When every millimetre of his skin, including the soles of his feet, had been doused with the soothing substance, he was told to remain where he was for a few minutes, in order for it to be properly absorbed. By the time the TARDIS gave him permission to put his clothes back on, he was tingling pleasantly all over.
“That feels so much better! Thank you. What is that stuff?”
“It consists of an analgesic, compounds that restore lost moisture, and all the minerals required to keep human skin healthy and supple. I also took the liberty of adding substances that will block harmful ultraviolet radiation, so you will be protected if you wish to return to the beach and the Tallans.”
“Yes, I think I should probably do that.”
When he’d realised he was getting sunburnt, Ianto had left his travelling companions playing in the sun, hoping that a cool shower would help ease his discomfort. By now, they were probably wondering where he’d got to; he really should rejoin them before they started to worry. He jogged back down to his room, slipped back into jeans and t-shirt, and then stopped by the kitchen to collect an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, suitable beverages and some cooking utensils. Perhaps it would be possible for them to build a campfire on the beach and cook dinner the Tallan way.
Loaded with provisions, he made his way back out of the TARDIS and down towards the beach again, setting his burden down in the shade of a tree. The suns were still some way from setting, but it was clearly getting on towards this planet’s evening.
“How long are days here?” Ianto asked in his head.
“Approximately twenty nine and one quarter earth hours,” the TARDIS replied. “The suns will sink below the horizon in four hours and forty three minutes.”
“Still plenty of daylight left then,” Ianto smiled. “Time enough to gather driftwood and find a suitable spot to build a campfire.”
“The tide is coming in, you would do best to build your fire well above the high tide mark, in case Norman should return.”
“Good point. Any suggestions?”
“There is an area of sand and flat rocks about a quarter of a mile to your right which should suit your purposes. It is protected by dunes on two sides and far enough from vegetation that there will be no risk of anything catching fire from stray sparks.”
“Sounds perfect.” Walking out onto the sand, he waved to the Tallans. “Hey, guys, I thought we could camp outside tonight. The TARDIS says there’s a good spot just along the beach.”
“A night beneath the stars would be pleasant indeed,” Auber agreed, joining him, “even though the stars are unlikely to be the ones that grace the sky above Talla.”
With Auber’s assistance, Ianto carried the baskets of food, cooking pans, water and fruit juice along the beach to the place chosen as their campsite. Ianto brushed sand off a broad, flattish rock, one of several that dotted the sand there.
“We can build our campfire here and stack our spare firewood out of the way behind those rocks,” he explained, pointing to a group of weatherworn boulders a few metres away.
Auber nodded and called to the younger Tallans, sending them off to gather driftwood and suitable kindling. Before long, they were back with their first load of dead branches, dry grass, and twigs. Never had they looked more like the Wombles, gathering nature’s ‘rubbish’. By the time the sun was reaching the horizon, far out across the water, Ianto had a good fire going. The driftwood burned merrily, greenish yellow flames tinged with turquoise flickering in the deepening dusk, while a plentiful supply of fuel to keep it burning throughout the night had been stacked behind the rocks.
While Ianto went back to the TARDIS to fetch dishes, cups and cutlery, Auber and Kellik set to work preparing a traditional Tallan vegetable soup to be eaten with the crusty bread rolls from Ianto’s baskets. The other three busied themselves smoothing out the sand around the fire, and unrolling the sleep mats and blankets that the TARDIS had provided for their bedding.
Soon the air was filled with the delicious scent of hot soup. While the vegetables weren’t exactly what the Tallans were accustomed to on their homeworld, they were similar enough that they could be prepared and cooked using traditional methods and the little band of aliens found their flavours unusual but pleasant. They’d developed a particular fondness for broccoli and hoped that if they made it back to Talla, they might be able to cultivate it, along with some of the other earth vegetables. Perhaps something beneficial could come of their time out among the stars after all; returning with such bounty would help to heal the pain and sorrow their absence must surely have caused.
There was more than enough soup and bread to go around and they chatted companionably as they ate their fill, passing food around the circle. Ianto picked up an empty bowl, refilled it and passed it to his left without looking.
“Gratitude,” a squeaky voice said.
Frowning, Ianto turned to look. A small, blue furred creature sat between him and Kellik, twitching nose buried in the bowl of soup. Feeling his stare, it looked up at him, nose wiggling.
“Nice food! Warm fire! Much gratitude!”
It went back to eating and Ianto looked around the circle. Several more of the furry blue things were seated around the campfire, a couple already eating while the others patiently awaited their turn. Making a quick head count, Ianto came to the conclusion that they had thirteen uninvited guests. Good thing he wasn’t superstitious. Reaching for another empty bowl, he ladled soup into it and passed it to one of the waiting strangers. It bowed slightly.
They were certainly polite, whatever they were.
Becoming aware that they were no longer alone, the Tallans followed Ianto’s example; as soon as they finished eating, they served their guests, until all had eaten.
Ianto studied the one beside him; it reminded him of some of the desert-dwelling rodents he’d seen on nature documentaries. The large eyes suggested they were nocturnal, which explained why he and his friends had spent the entire afternoon on the beach without seeing any sign of them. They were about two feet tall and sat on their haunches like squirrels, holding the bowls of soup in delicate, slender-fingered hands. Long, bushy tails strengthened their resemblance to squirrels, but the long hind legs were more like those of jerboas and related species. Sleek but dense sky blue fur covered their bodies, protection against the cooler temperatures of a desert island night.
“So,” Ianto ventured when, having finished eating, the small creature set its dish to one side. “Who might you be?”
“We be Denghi, this our home.”
“Oh, are we camping on your land?”
“Not own, live there.” It pointed to the dunes. “Under,” it added, just to make sure he understood.
“You live in burrows? Tunnels?”
“Many tunnels, under,” it agreed. “Come out nights, find food; roots, fruits, nuts, seeds. This season not find much. Search all dark, eat raw, not cook often. Fire hard to make.” It gestured at their campfire. “This very nice fire, good food. Kind folk, share food. Gratitude.”
“Well, we’re glad we could help you.” Looking at them, they did look like food had been scarce recently. “Is food often hard to find here?”
“Other seasons, lot of food; this season, not so much. Suns too hot, rains not come. Hard times. Rains come, eat well, store food. Rains go, food stores not last. Until rains, we hungry. Rains not come long and long, this bad time, many moons.” It shook its head solemnly then looked up at Ianto and bared its teeth. “Not hungry now! We go, gather food, save for next dark. Busy busy!” With that, the small creature rose to its hind legs, its fellows following suit. They bowed in unison, with a cry of “Gratitude,” then turned and bounded away to continue their search for food to sustain them until the rainy season began.
“Certainly are some interesting people around here,” Ianto commented to his companions.
“Their lives must be hard in the dry season,” Auber said quietly. “Forever searching for food but never finding enough. Even so, they were not greedy, they shared what we gave them, but took nothing they were not given.”
“We can leave them nuts and seeds, foods that can be stored, and some fresh fruits and vegetables they can eat right away. That should help them get through this dry season at least. Payment for letting us camp on their doorstep,” Ianto decided. “I’m going to take a walk back to the TARDIS. I won’t be gone long.”
Auber nodded, sensing his friend wished to be alone for a while. “I will wait up until you return, perhaps we might have a nightcap before we sleep.”
Ianto nodded. “I’ll bring the vodka back with me.” He’d picked up several bottles of high quality vodka, smuggled off earth by some enterprising black-marketeers, at one of the shady back-alley markets he’d visited. It was the closest thing he’d been able to find to the alcoholic beverages the Tallans made from a potato-like tuber on their planet and Auber had acquired quite a taste for it, though he only ever had one glass.
Hands in his pockets, Ianto made his way back along the moonlit beach to where the TARDIS sat. Several times, he spotted Denghi busily foraging, putting whatever morsels they found into large seashells. They looked awkward to carry and too shallow to hold a lot, bits kept falling out, so he determined to ask the TARDIS to come up with something more practical they could use. She must have picked up on his surface thoughts because she spoke in his mind.
“I believe small duffel bags would be most suitable. I will have some ready for when you arrive.”
“Thank you. Looks like these guys have a tough life; anything we can do to make collecting food a bit easier for them will improve their chances.”
He stopped for a while, just watching the gentle wavelets lapping the shore. Everything looked silver in the moonlight and all was quiet aside from the soft sounds of the water and the rustling of leaves. As they so often did, Ianto’s thoughts soon turned to Jack, wondering where he was and what he was doing. He couldn’t help worrying about his lover; he knew that Jack always blamed himself for everything when things went wrong, even when there was nothing he could have done. He weighed himself down with undeserved guilt and Ianto wished he could be there to ease the burden.
“I will find you, Jack, someday. I promise.” His eyes burned with unshed tears and he rubbed at them absently, chiding himself. He was doing all he could to find his lost lover; getting depressed about it wasn’t going to help anyone. He missed Jack constantly, but he always felt his absence more keenly at times like this, when he was seeing something wonderful and Jack wasn’t there to share it with him. “Good night, Cariad, wherever you are,” he whispered as he turned to enter the TARDIS. “Sweet dreams.”
Half an hour later, laden with a flask of vodka, two glasses, a bundle of small bags made of a very durable weatherproof fabric, and an assortment of dried foodstuffs in small but sturdy storage boxes, he wandered back into the campsite. Setting everything down on the sand, he sat cross-legged on his sleeping mat and poured a measure of the potent spirits into each glass, handing one to Auber and keeping the other for himself. They sat in silence, sipping slowly, appreciating the burn of the alcohol in their throats and stomachs. It wasn’t cold out even now, although it was noticeably cooler since the suns had set, but even so the warming glow that infused them from the drink was pleasant.
The four youngsters were already asleep and as soon as he’d finished his glass, Auber joined them, settling down comfortably on his mat and closing his eyes.
Ianto remained sitting and thinking for a while longer before coming to a decision. Quietly rising to his feet and gathering up the new bags, he set out in search of the Denghi, relying on his TARDIS to guide him. To each one he located, he gave a bag and an invitation to visit the camp and take breakfast with him and his companions before returning to their burrows. The Denghi were delighted with their new bags, immediately putting their treasured shells - which also served them as cooking pots and drinking vessels – inside, along with what food they’d managed to collect. None of them had found much, but they were all in good spirits as a result of their earlier meal and full of gratitude for the kindness of the strangers.
Slipping back into camp some time later, Ianto threw some more wood on the campfire and stretched out on his mat, pulling the light blanket over him. The air was completely still as if the universe was holding its breath, and he lay on his back, staring up at the stars that peppered the night sky, remembering long ago camping trips with his parents and sister, and the later ones with Lisa.
It surprised him to realise this was the first time he’d thought about her since his resurrection, all of his waking thoughts since then having been focussed either on Jack or his TARDIS, until he’d rescued his Space Womble friends. They’d broken through the haze of self-involvement that had clogged his mind, freeing his thoughts. That was good; it wasn’t healthy to dwell so much on what he’d lost and on the man he missed. He needed to get on with his life; he couldn’t wait until he finally crossed paths with Jack to start living again. That would be a waste. Still musing over how best to go about carrying out his new plan of living in the moment, Ianto drifted off to sleep, lulled by the soft susurrus of waves on sand.
The TARDIS was better by far than any alarm clock he’d ever owned, gently waking him by singing in his mind, just as the first fingers of dawn light started to brush away the dark of night. He opened his eyes to a world shrouded in a veil of mist that drifted and eddied in the soft morning breeze coming in off the water; it was thick enough that his companions were visible only as dark lumps arrayed around the campfire. Rising, Ianto stirred the embers and added more kindling, getting the fire burning well before adding larger branches. The crackling of the flames woke the Tallans and they sat up, stretching and scratching, blinking their eyes in the firelight.
Leaving the Tallans to wake properly at their own pace, Ianto made the short trek back to the TARDIS to freshen up and fetch a selection of fresh fruits for breakfast. The sky was gradually growing lighter and despite the mist that still swirled around him, finding his way was no problem, he just had to keep the sea to his right and the dunes to his left. After a quick shower and change of clothes, he set off along the beach once more, a basket of fruit, rice cakes, and flasks of fresh coffee in each hand. Halfway back to their camp, he met the others heading in the opposite direction carrying the rolled-up bedding, and he waved, calling out a greeting which was cheerily returned.
Setting the baskets beside the blazing fire, Ianto unpacked them and looked over the other items he’d brought back with him the previous night. Airtight, waterproof plastic boxes filled with nuts, seeds and dried fruits, a couple of dozen spare duffel bags, bottles of water and some small shovels to help the Denghi dig for roots and tubers. He was just setting out bowls of fruit when the first few Denghi emerged from the mist, their blue fur bejewelled with drops of moisture; Ianto thought his hair probably looked the same.
“Welcome,” he called out to them as they approached.
“Greetings,” they replied in a chorus of squeaky voices as they arranged themselves in a neat semi-circle near the fire, holding their tiny hands out to the heat of the flames. “Warm!”
The rest of the Denghi arrived with the Tallans, having joined up with the much taller aliens as they’d made their way back from the TARDIS. Everyone found a place around the fire and Ianto set about the familiar task of feeding a hungry horde. It brought back memories of meals at the Hub, when the whole team had been present and clamouring to be fed. On the whole, he decided, Denghi and Tallans alike had much better manners. He wondered what that said about humans as a species.
There were more than twice as many Denghi as there had been the night before, including several smaller ones who were clearly youngsters. When asked, one of the adults told him that this was all the Denghi who lived on the island.
“We bring all, show gratitude to good folk. Young will get strong.” It looked lovingly at the juvenile Denghi by its side; like the adults, it obviously hadn’t been getting enough to eat recently.
“Do other Denghi live on other islands?” Ianto asked curiously.
Tufted blue ears pricked up. “Not know, only know our place. Out there,” it pointed out to sea, “deep water; not cross.”
Denghi, Tallans and human sat by the fire, talking and eating as the sky grew lighter and when they’d all eaten their fill, Ianto addressed the natives.
“We must leave today, we have a very long journey ahead of us, a lot of places to go and much to see.”
“Sad,” chorused the Denghi. “Good folks be missed.”
“Thank you, we’ll miss you too, it’s been nice meeting you.” Ianto gestured to the pile of boxes and other items by his side. “These are gifts for you, food and tools to help you get through the dry season until the rains come again.”
The Denghi clustered around him, exclaiming in wonder and thankfulness.
“Gratitude! All will live to see rains come! Gratitude!”
Ianto wondered what the Doctor would think of his actions, providing food for one small band of aliens to ensure their survival. The TARDIS informed him that it was likely to be getting on for two hundred of the planet’s days before the rainy season began again in this hemisphere; this was a particularly dry year.
That news really got Ianto thinking. Would it be practical to drop supplies off for other colonies on other islands? Were any of the other islands even inhabited? Many were too small to sustain any kind of land-dwelling population, Denghi or otherwise, and other islands were uninhabitable because they were either too close to the equator where rain almost never fell and there was no fresh water at all, or too close to the poles where it was too cold. Other islands were in more temperate regions where they got plenty of rainfall and lush vegetation flourished. There were apparently only four other islands comparable in size to this one that might house populations of Denghi struggling to survive this unusually long and harsh dry season. It wouldn’t be a big task to visit them, check to see if they were inhabited and provide supplies, so that was what he planned to do before leaving the planet. The Tallans were in full agreement; they were as taken with the little natives as Ianto was.
As the slowly rising suns burned away the last of the morning mist, the Denghi said their farewells and drifted back to their burrows to escape the heat of the day, taking with them the gifts they’d been given. Once they had all vanished from sight, Ianto turned back to the fire and made certain it was thoroughly extinguished, not even the tiniest ember left burning. The last thing this island’s inhabitants needed was to be wiped out by fire. That task completed, he and his alien friends gathered up the last of their equipment and made their way back to the TARDIS; they had a rescue mission to carry out.
Having something to do besides their own personal quests imbued them all with a greater sense of purpose. They couldn’t know how long it would take them to find what they were seeking, but they all agreed that the time could be put to good use by helping others along the way. A thought crossed Ianto’s mind, making him chuckle.
“What is amusing?” asked Auber, wrinkling his nose up in a Tallan smile.
“I was just thinking, we’re like Robin Hood and his Merrie band!” Ianto replied.
As the TARDIS made her way to the next island, where they would await nightfall while she processed elementary particles from the atmosphere and the planet itself into tools and supplies for the Denghi, Ianto gathered his own merry band around him. Settling cross-legged on the floor with the Tallans seated in a semi-circle in front of him, he began to recount the legend of Robin Hood to his avid audience.