Characters: Ianto, Jack, Owen, Tosh, Gwen, Rhys, Myfanwy, OC
Word Count: 4101
Summary: It’s the middle of the night, and once again the Torchwood team are on the trail of something unknown. Something with scales.
Written For: Challenge #125: Scales at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Admittedly not the most imaginative of titles, but I used it as the working title and it just sort of stuck.
Scales. They shimmered in the light of the full moon like little pools of liquid silver, scattered on the dark, damp tarmac. There were darker patches too, with a duller gleam and wet to the touch, droplets of viscous, copper-coloured fluid. Blood. Not human but alien. Whatever this creature was, it was injured, and they needed to find it before someone else did.
The streets close to the park were deserted at this time of night; just as well since they not only didn’t know what they were looking for, but they had no way of telling if it posed a threat. Animals were often at their most dangerous when injured and in pain.
The trail of blood and shed scales it had left was clear and easy to follow, leading directly towards the park. That made sense; it was probably looking for somewhere to hide, and it would be harder to track once it reached rough ground and undergrowth. With no information on how big it was or how fast it was moving, they’d need to get going if they were to have any chance of finding and containing their uninvited guest before morning.
“Okay, weapons at the ready, just in case,” Jack said quietly. “When we reach the park, I’ll keep on its trail and I want the rest of you to spread out either side of me; that way if it attacks it won’t be able to go after all of us at once. We’ll have a better chance of taking it down without anyone getting hurt.”
Before moving out, Owen collected samples of the blood for later analysis and Ianto carefully gathered the scales. They were beautiful. Almost circular, about the size of five pence pieces, but as thin as good quality sequins, which they could have been mistaken for if not for the lack of a central hole. He plucked them from the road surface using tweezers, dropping them carefully into a small, lidded container; they’d need to be analysed too before being consigned to the archives for storage. As the team set out on their hunt, Ianto hung back a little, collecting the scales as he followed in Jack’s wake. Such things couldn’t be left lying around for the residents of Cardiff to find; who knew what harm that could cause?
There hadn’t been anything resembling proper Rift activity, just an odd kind of blip, unusual enough that Tosh had brought it to Jack’s attention when she’d been going over the day’s Rift activity logs. He’d thought it advisable to check it out, and now it was clear his instincts had been correct. Unknown creatures running loose in the city were seldom a good thing; the sooner this one was found the better, but whatever it was, it already had at least an hour’s head start and dawn was only a couple of hours off. They needed to move fast.
Under a full moon, and with the lights of Cardiff staining the sky behind them, torches were barely needed; Ianto was the only member of the team using one, and that was only to pick up the telltale glint of scales in the grass. He was gradually falling further behind as he made a thorough search of the trail left by their quarry, making certain that he didn’t miss a single one, even if it was half concealed among the blades. Fortunately, the park’s lawns were regularly mown every week during the summer, so the grass was short, making his task easier. However, they were heading directly towards one of the areas that the park’s ground staff left rough to encourage wildlife, a copse of trees and bushes encircled by what was termed a wildflower meadow. Owen, city boy that he was, naturally claimed it looked like a patch of weeds to him. Some people just had no appreciation of nature’s beauty.
Jack stopped just at the edge of the meadow. The trail continued on through the longer grass and flowers, a flattened path that was easily visible.
“Okay, whatever we’re tracking, looks like it’s taken refuge among the trees. Spread out around the perimeter of the meadow; when you’re all in position, wait for my okay, then start to move in slowly. I’ll go in ahead and try to flush it out. Ianto, follow behind me in case it tries to double back, just give me a head start.”
The team spread out around the edge of the wild area, reporting in over their bluetooth earpieces when they were in position. Once everyone was set, Jack started forward again; halfway to the copse, he signalled the team to begin moving in.
They advanced slowly and as quietly as possible, hoping not to spook the injured alien. As usual, they were under orders to only shoot if there was no other choice; a live capture was always preferable, provided they weren’t dealing with something deadly or dangerously hostile. Unlike Torchwood One, the people of Three weren’t in the habit of killing aliens just because they were aliens.
Ianto trailed Jack by ten metres, keeping half an eye on his captain and the rest of his attention on the continuing task of gathering stray scales. There weren’t many, but he didn’t want to miss any. Through long practice, this kind of multi-tasking had become second nature to him, so even though he wasn’t looking directly at Jack, he was aware of the moment Torchwood’s leader stepped beneath the canopy of trees, gradually fading from sight as he moved deeper into the shadows.
All was silent except for the faint sounds of his own footsteps and the rustle of a soft breeze through leaves. Ianto could detect nothing unusual, and yet as he reached the edge of the small wood himself and stepped between the trees, something made him stop. Jack was just a darker shadow some distance ahead, moving slowly, occasional shafts of filtered moonlight illuminating him briefly. The rest of the team would be closing the net, he knew he needed to keep to the plan, but at the same time, he knew it wasn’t going to work; he was positive that they were overlooking something important. If only he could figure out what.
Then he got the distinct impression that he was being watched.
Turning slowly, Ianto stared into a dense patch of undergrowth off to the right of the trail Jack had been following. “Clever,” he breathed softly. “Lay down a false trail, then backtrack and hide. I’m betting you can camouflage yourself, something in the way your scales refract light maybe. Only, you’ve lost some scales, there’s a patch you can’t hide. Probably hurts too much to lie so it doesn’t show. It’s okay though; we don’t want to hurt you, we’re here to help.”
A garnet-coloured eye blinked slowly in the darkness, mostly hidden by leaves; Ianto approached carefully, calm and unhurried, parting the bushes and slipping into a natural den deep amid the Rhododendrons, which had previously been hidden from sight by their thick summer foliage.
Curled up as small as she could make herself, she was still about the size of a small car, her long tail curled tightly around her feet, her sinuous neck tucked around herself in the other direction. She was watching him warily with her one visible eye; tremors passed over her body, whether from fear or pain he couldn’t be sure, she was radiating both in waves. Her left flank was scored with three deep, parallel gashes, as if something with razor sharp claws had slashed at her.
Ianto sank to his knees, breathless with wonder. Even injured, she was beautiful.
“Ianto, my name’s Ianto,” he said, as if answering a question. “You’re on Earth. Cardiff, Wales to be exact. You must be a long way from home; I think it’s been a very long time since there was a real dragon in Wales. We can help you, if you’ll let us. You can’t stay out here, it’s not safe, and besides, your wounds need treating.” He paused, as if listening. “That’s okay, we can get a truck to carry you to our base, you won’t need to walk far. You’ll be safe there and we can take care of you until you’re well.” He gazed deep into her eye, listening to something only he could hear, then nodded. “Let me call the others.” Raising his hand, he tapped his bluetooth earpiece. “Jack? Yeah, I’ve found her, but she’s exhausted and hurt quite badly, we need to get her back to the Hub.”
“And you know this how?”
“I think she’s telepathic. She’s a dragon, Jack! A real dragon, right here in Wales!” Ianto’s excitement and delight were clear even over the comms.
“A dragon? You sure she’s not dangerous?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. She’s just scared and hurt. She was attacked and lost her way trying to escape.”
“Okay, guess I’ll have to take your word for it. I’ll go get the SUV.”
“Uh, she’s not going to fit. I think we’ll need to borrow a truck.”
“Fine, I’ll have Gwen call Rhys to bring one then, we just might have a bit of a wait, he’s probably in bed. You’d better stay with her and we’ll join you.” There was silence for a moment, then, “Um, where are you exactly?”
Ianto chuckled at Jack’s last words. “Not far from where you entered the woods. There’s some thick undergrowth a few metres to the right of the trail you were following. Well, it’ll be on your left now, as you’re coming from the other direction.”
A few minutes later, the rest of the team had gathered a short distance from the bushes, watching as Ianto crawled out.
“You sure you’re not imagining things? I’m not seeing anything,” Owen said, frowning.
“She’s mostly camouflaged, except where she’s missing scales.”
“How did you even know she was there?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know, I just sort of… sensed her. Like I could feel her watching me, scared, in pain, lost and lonely.” Ianto held back the branches so that the dragon could crawl out of her hiding place. She kept close beside him, practically pressed up against his legs, watching the others nervously. Her body felt surprisingly warm, nothing like he would have expected from a creature with scales, and definitely not cold-blooded. “It’s okay, no one’s going to harm you, you’re safe now,” Ianto reassured her.
Jack took a couple of slow steps forward. “Hi there. You really are a beauty, aren’t you? I’m Jack, d’you have a name?”
‘Arikastrikerrionyree.’ She didn’t move or make a sound, but the name popped into Jack’s head anyway.
“That’s a bit of a mouthful. Mind if we just call you Ari?”
That was acceptable.
“Owen, take a look at her wounds,” Jack ordered.
“You sure she won’t bite me?” Owen advanced slowly, looking wary and ready to run if she made a sudden move, but the dragon remained motionless.
“She’s a person, Owen, not an animal. People don’t bite,” Ianto said primly.
“Some people do, if you ask nicely,” Jack smirked.
“Shut it, Harkness. We already know you’re a pervert, no need to prove it.” Owen glanced at Ianto, then back at Jack. “How come you two can hear her and the rest of us can’t?”
“51st century humans are more evolved, a lot of us have limited telepathy, plus I have Time Agency training.”
“That doesn’t explain Teaboy here.”
“I have a name, Owen,” Ianto grumbled.
Jack broke in before an argument could start. “A small percentage of 21st century humans have esp to some degree. Ianto’s moderately empathic, it’s why he always knows what you need without being told. I’m betting there’s some latent telepathic ability in there too.”
“Huh. Just so long as neither of you go poking around in my brain,” Owen huffed, kneeling beside Ari and examining the claw marks in her side. “The bleeding’s mostly stopped, but she’ll need quite a few stitches to close these gashes. Not really much I can do until we get back to base though.” He ran a scanner over her, taking readings that would be relayed to the computers in the Hub. By the time they got back there, all the basic information he was collecting would have been collated and he’d have a better understanding of her physiology, enabling him to treat her effectively. “Not life-threatening by the looks of it, but I wouldn’t want to meet whatever caused these wounds. Must have bloody enormous claws.”
“That’s a point,” Ianto said, frowning. “What did this? Oh.” He grinned. “No need for us to worry, Ari wasn’t on earth when this happened. She jumped here to get away.”
“Jumped how?” Tosh wanted to know.
“I’m not sure, it’s just what her kind does. They’re wanderers, they travel from place to place by finding or possibly making gaps between realities or worlds and slipping through them. I can’t explain it better than that.”
“Sounds like they can physically manipulate space, and maybe other dimensions too, like we could at the Time Agency, just without using a Vortex Manipulator. Nifty.” Jack looked impressed. “Just blink out of existence in one place and reappear somewhere else.”
“That’s teleportation,” Owen said. “Even I know that!”
“Well, yeah, but not just between different points on one planet; travelling between worlds that are light years apart in the blink of an eye, maybe even travelling through time, who knows?”
Gwen joined them, closing her phone. “Rhys just arrived at the park. He’s going to drive along the path as far as he can, but he probably can’t get all the way here.” She looked at the dragon. “Can she walk? It should only be a couple of hundred metres.”
“She can manage that.” Ianto rested his hand on a warm shoulder. “We should move to the edge of the woods closest to the path, then wait under cover until the truck’s in position.”
“I’ll lead the way.” Jack set off with the rest of the team and the dragon trailing behind.
Tosh dropped back to walk on Ari’s other side. “She doesn’t have wings.” She sounded a bit disappointed.
“I guess if you can jump from place to place just by thinking about it, wings wouldn’t serve much purpose.” He looked at Ari, whose head was turned towards him. “Wings. To fly with.” He made a flapping motion with his arms. “Like birds. Have you seen birds? Oh.” He turned to Tosh and shrugged apologetically. “She’s still quite young, hasn’t travelled to many worlds. She’s never seen anything that flies.”
“Oh, just you wait until you see Myfanwy!” Tosh grinned. “She’s not really a bird, she’s a creature from way back in this planet’s past but she ended up here by accident too. Only, we couldn’t send her back where she came from so she lives with us and we look after her.” She looked across at Ianto. “Does Ari understand what I’m saying?”
Ianto nodded, smiling. “Yep, she can hear your surface thoughts, I think. You just can’t hear her.” He looked sad. “I wish you could, it’s amazing.”
Reaching the edge of the copse, where the trees gave way to the wildflower meadow, they could see the tarmac paths winding through the park a little way off, and a pair of headlights approaching.
“I hope that’s Rhys,” Gwen said, looking worriedly at the nearby dragon. “Might cause a bit of a commotion if someone else sees a dragon.”
“This is Wales,” Ianto smirked. “People should expect to see dragons. Especially if they’ve been drinking.” He winked at her and she laughed.
The headlights were slowing. “Wait here,” Jack ordered. “I’ll check it’s our ride.” He strode out into the darkness to meet the approaching truck. It halted on the path and the team watched from cover as Jack reached it and had a word with the man behind the wheel. Moving clear, Jack directed the driver as he manoeuvred the vehicle, carefully backing towards them across the grass. Ari cocked her head to one side, observing with great curiosity.
“It’s a machine,” Tosh tried to explain, “a device built by people like us to carry heavy things from place to place. It’s not alive.”
Rhys backed as far as he could then shut off the engine and jumped down to help Jack lower the tailgate. Turning away, he caught sight of Ari for the first time.
“I’ll be blowed; is that a dragon?”
“Something of the sort. Her name’s Ari, she had a bit of an accident and wound up here by mistake.”
Rhys wasn’t listening; he was walking towards the group straggling their way through the long grass. “Well, aren’t you a beauty!” Deep red eyes blinked at him and he held out his hand, brushing his fingertips along her neck. “Welcome to earth, sorry about the transport, it might be a bit cramped but it’s the best I could get at short notice. This lot call me out in the middle of the night and expect miracles. You won’t be in it for long though so I reckon you’ll be fine. Just go straight up the ramp.”
Ari did as she was told, squeezing in and whisking her tail in behind her. Ianto climbed in too, helping to keep her tail out of the way while the door was closed. Fastening it in place, Jack turned to the others.
“I’ll make a final check for lost scales then follow in the SUV.”
“I’ll help you,” Tosh told him. “I don’t think four people will fit up front.
Owen’s going to be needed back at the Hub and I’m sure Gwen wants to go with Rhys too. Besides, collecting scales will be quicker with two.”
“Okay, that’s settled. See ya back at the Hub!” Owen waited for Gwen to climb into the cab of the lorry then scrambled in behind her. Rhys climbed behind the wheel, making it look easy. Starting the engine, he eased the vehicle back across the grass to the smoother surface of the pathway, picking up speed a little as he headed back towards the gates, leaving Jack and Tosh in the dark. Flicking their torches on, they turned back towards the wooded area, seeking out the telltale shimmer of silver scales.
Thanks to Jack’s driving, the SUV arrived back at the Hub just a few minutes after the truck had pulled into the garage. Ianto was still helping Ari to reverse down the ramp, since there wasn’t enough room for her to turn around. The strain had caused the gashes on her flank to start bleeding again, not a lot, but enough that there were a few amber droplets on the floor of the truck and the ramp. Ianto made a mental note to clean that up before Rhys returned the borrowed transport to Harwoods’ depot.
Finally on solid, unmoving ground, Ari looked around with interest, until Jack approached. “Come on, beautiful, let’s get you over to Owen’s domain so he can patch you up, then we’ll find you somewhere comfy to rest.”
“I’ll catch up,” Ianto told Jack, “I just want to clean up any evidence so Rhys can return the truck.”
Ten minutes later, Rhys was on his way, Gwen following in her car because her husband had no intention of going back home to bed when there was a real, live dragon in the Hub.
Down in the medical bay, Owen had his work cut out for him. Ari was a good patient, keeping still while he worked, but her hide, though supple and flexible, was surprisingly tough, making it difficult to stitch. He’d come up with a suitable numbing agent so as not to cause their guest too much pain, but more had to be sprayed over the area several times during the procedure. Both his arms were aching from fingertips to shoulders by the time he inserted the final stitch and cleaned away the last traces of blood nearly two hours later. It had taken seventy-three stitches in total to close all three gashes.
“I think my arms are gonna fall off,” he moaned as he straightened up, wincing as he discovered that his back was stiff from being bent over for so long. Tosh finished up for him, spraying a flexible, breathable protective layer over Ari’s flank to keep it clean as it healed.
“How long before the stitches come out?” Ianto asked.
“Hard to say without knowing her healing rate, but probably somewhere between ten days and two weeks, maybe as long as three. Just have to wait and see.”
Going on images he’d got from Ari, Ianto had prepared a sort of nest for her underneath the catwalks, made up of a thick layer of Myfanwy’s straw bedding, covered with blankets and topped off with a couple of old duvets that Gwen and Rhys had donated. She curled up in it gratefully after having a long drink of fresh water, and was settling down to rest when there was a screech from overhead. She stuck her neck out and peered up, her ears pricked, swivelling towards the sound.
“It’s okay, that’s just Myfanwy. See how she flies through the air?” Ianto sat down on the duvet beside her, looking up at his old girl.
It wasn’t so much words as a feeling Ianto picked up. He chuckled. “We feel that way watching her too!”
Ari lay so she could watch the Pteranodon circling the Hub, and finally fell asleep.
Four weeks later and their extraordinary guest was fully healed. Ianto and Jack had spent hours with her, learning about the places she’d been and about her people, and answering her questions about their world. They were sad that she was leaving, but understood that she couldn’t stay with them forever; it wasn’t in her nature. Her people seldom stayed anywhere long, being naturally solitary as well as nomadic.
They were supremely adapted for their way of life, having evolved to be omnivorous, able to digest almost anything, immune to toxins and diseases, and able to tolerate atmospheres that would kill most non-native species. The only time they stopped travelling for a while was when it came time to lay and hatch their eggs, usually only two in a clutch, moving on again as soon as the babies were old enough to hold onto their mother as she jumped from world to world. At a year old, the youngsters would set out on their own, having learned all they needed to know. They rarely saw each other again; the universe was an awfully big place, even without taking into account the multitude of other dimensions. It made bumping into each other by chance an unlikely occurrence. Not that it mattered to them; they had a lot to explore and learn about, company wasn’t important.
Ari herself was only twelve years old and wouldn’t be physically mature until she was at least fifty. Barring accidents, she could live for several thousand years, charting millions of planets in the process. Ianto envied her; she was going to see so much in her long life, beings and places he couldn’t begin to imagine. He secretly longed to visit other worlds, even though he knew it was unlikely he’d ever have the chance.
“Travel safely,” he told her, resting his hand on the warm scales of her neck. “I’ll never forget you.”
“If you’re ever in the neighbourhood again, stop by,” Jack said with a smile. “You’ll always be welcome.”
They stepped back as the air around Ari seemed to heat up and crackle with electricity.
Farewell. Be safe.
A flash of silver light, an audible pop of displaced air, and just like that she was gone. Everyone just stood there for a long moment, staring at the place she’d been and wishing her well. Finally, Ianto shook himself and looked around.
“Who wants coffee?” Torchwood’s cure-all: Ianto’s coffee could fix anything.
A chorus of yeses greeted his question as the others stirred, the gathering gradually breaking up, everyone wandering away to find something to occupy themselves with. For a while they’d played host to a space dragon, but now she was gone and it was time they got back to their normal routine. Or what passed for normal in Torchwood.
Smiling to himself, Ianto made his way over to the coffee machine. That was Torchwood for you; you never knew what tomorrow would bring, and really, he reflected, that wasn’t such a bad way to live.