Characters: Ianto, Jack, Owen, Team.
Word Count: 2709
Summary: Ianto gets called into the Hub early one morning and finds Jack not quite himself.
Written For: Challenge #171: Amnesty, using Challenge #61: Transformation at fan_flashworks, and my genprompt_bingo square Mutation/Transformation.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Beware, ridiculousness masquerading as science.
Ianto stared at Jack in disbelief and choked back a laugh. This was a serious problem, definitely not a laughing matter, and having hysterics would not help. To be honest, he wasn’t at all sure what would.
“I thought I’d seen everything this job could throw at us,” he finally managed in a weak voice. “Apparently I was wrong.” He walked slowly around Jack, examining him from every angle. “What the hell did you do?”
“I don’t know!” Jack wailed. “If I knew I might have been able to undo it!”
On the bright side, at least Jack still had vocal chords, in spite of his rather dramatic transformation. He was still recognisably Jack too, which in some ways made the situation even more disturbing. Even for Torchwood, seeing your lover transformed into a plant wasn’t an everyday occurrence.
Ianto had to admit Jack made quite a pretty plant, even though it was a bit disconcerting to see his face staring from the centre of a giant daisy.
“Yellow’s not really your colour,” he decided, studying Jack’s primrose coloured features critically. “Makes you look a bit pasty. Your petals are a nice shade of blue though.”
Jack waved his two upper leaves frantically. “Don’t just stand there looking at me like I’m some kind of prize exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show! Do something!”
“Turn me back into me again!”
“To do that, I’d really need to know what turned you into a plant in the first place,” Ianto replied reasonably. He looked Jack up and down, from the top of the blue, nodding flower with Jack’s face, all the way down his sturdy green stem, to the cluster of wriggly roots at the bottom where his feet should be, then back up to his face. “Where were you when this happened?”
“The kitchen. It took me nearly an hour to get to the phone so I could call for help. Good thing it has a speaker setting because there’s no way I could have held the receiver.” Jack waggled one of his leaves, presumably to demonstrate why. “I had to grip a pencil in my mouth to dial with, and that’s a lot harder than you might think!”
“So you walked up here from the kitchen?”
“If you can call it walking.” Jack shuffled laboriously forward on his roots. “See?”
“That looks so weird!”
“Imagine how it feels.”
“I’ll pass. Okay, so what were you doing in the kitchen?”
“I was hungry so I went to make myself a sandwich.”
“A sandwich. That’s it?”
“That’s it, just ham and cheese, and some of that cress from the top shelf.”
“Cress? What cress? I didn’t buy any!”
“Well somebody did, because there’s a tub of it growing in the fridge.” Jack suddenly swayed unsteadily. “Ooh, I feel kind of weird.”
“You look weird; you’re a plant.”
“No, I mean I’ve gone weak all of a sudden.”
“Oh dear.” Ianto looked at Jack’s leaves, which had gone limp and floppy; his flower head was drooping too. “I think you need watering. Don’t worry, soon have you sorted out,” he added comfortingly. Dashing off, he came back a couple of minutes later with a plastic tray and a jug of lukewarm water. Dumping the tray on the floor in front of Jack, he helped him to shuffle onto it and carefully poured water over his roots. “I put a spot of Owen’s plant food in it too,” he explained. “It should help.”
“Thanks, Ianto, I feel better already. I don’t think I want to die as a plant, no idea if I could come back from that.”
“Let’s not have to find out.” Ianto kept pouring water until Jack’s roots were no longer absorbing it and his leaves were perking up. “Alright, you stay here while I check out this ‘cress’ you found in the fridge.”
“Fine with me; you’ll probably be there and back before I could even get halfway to my office door.”
Ianto smiled wryly. “Good point, plants aren’t generally designed for walking. I shouldn’t be too long.”
Down in the kitchen, there was indeed what looked like a plastic strawberry punnet in the fridge, three-quarters filled with spindly green seedlings that did rather resemble cress, as long as you didn’t look too closely. Ianto sighed; how many times had he told Owen not to use the refrigerator in the kitchen for his experiments? He had a small one in his lab for that purpose. Putting the sprouted seeds back, for the moment, he pulled out his phone; it was five in the morning now, and Owen was about to get an early wake-up call.
The phone rang for over a minute before it was answered, a surly voice demanding, “What?”
Ianto got right to the point. “You’re needed at the Hub, immediately.”
“Jesus H Christ, Teaboy! It’s the middle of the night, can’t whatever it is wait ‘til morning?”
“No, Owen, it can’t. We have an emergency caused by one of your experiments, and it needs to be dealt with before the situation gets any worse, so just get your arse in here.” He hung up without giving Owen time to ask questions.
Twenty minutes later, Owen stumbled into the Hub. “Okay, I’m here, where’s this bloody emergency you dragged me out of bed at the crack of dawn for?” He sounded like he was still half asleep, but that didn’t last long. Ianto steered the medic straight to Jack’s office, where the singularly bizarre sight of Jack the plant woke him right up. “What the fuck?”
“I’ve told you again and again, don’t put experiments in the fridge where food is kept, but you never listen. Well, now see what can happen! You’d better hope you can fix this, for your own sake as well as Jack’s, because if Jack has to spend the rest of eternity in a plant pot, I’m going to make you wish you’d never been born!”
Owen gaped at Jack, his mouth opening and closing, but no sound coming out. Finally he turned to Ianto and silently mouthed, “How?”
“Jack mistook your seedlings in the fridge for cress and used some of them as garnish for his sandwich last night. Next thing he knew… Well, you can see the result for yourself.”
“What seedlings?” Owen asked, finding his voice and sounding confused.
Ianto rolled his eyes, grabbed Owen by the arm, and dragged him down to the kitchen, throwing open the fridge door and handing him the tub of tiny green shoots. “These seedlings.”
“Ah… I can explain.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“You remember the plant that came through the Rift a few months back? The one with the enormous seed pods that looked like green sausages? Well, it didn’t survive so I tried to germinate some of the seeds, but nothing happened, so then I thought maybe they needed a period of cold to start them off. I put them in the back of the fridge and forgot all about them.” He shrugged. “Looks like it worked.”
“Obviously. But what does that have to do with Jack being turned into a plant? And how do we turn him back into Jack?”
“Good question. I’m only guessing, because we know nothing about the species; maybe by ingesting the seedlings, Jack took on their genetic information. At the seedling stage they’re only just starting to grow into what they’re meant to be. Like with all living things, their genetic code is the blueprint that guides their development, in this case from seed to adult plant, but somehow they’ve imposed their natural form on Jack, or more accurately, combined their form with Jack’s.”
“So how do we undo that?”
“Dunno yet. Let me take some sample cells from Jack and have a look at them under the microscope. While I do that, you can run a scan on him.” Owen led the way to the medical bay and slapped a diagnostic scanner into Ianto’s hands. “Get all the readings you can, especially his internal structure. I need to know what changes are takin’ place inside him.” Owen grabbed a syringe and some swabs and took the stairs three at a time, heading for Jack’s office. Ianto followed at a more sedate pace.
It didn’t take Owen long to collect his samples and retreat to his domain leaving Ianto running the scanner over Jack from flower to roots, front, back, and both sides, making sure not to miss a spot. He took the results down to show Owen, inputting them into the computer system and displaying them on the big wall screen.
Owen looked them over thoughtfully. “Huh, he still has a spine, sort of, and the rest of his skeletal structure seems to have been modified to fit his new form. His hand and arm bones have taken the place of the ribs and veins in his leaves, while his legs have fused together into his stem and his toes have become roots. Nifty. The good news is, looks like his internal organs are all present and correct.”
“That’s not much of a comfort under present circumstances,” Ianto said gloomily.
“That’s where you’re wrong. It means this is a blend of forms instead on an outright conversion into a completely different form. All of Jack is still there, in modified form, the petals are like his hair and he even has ears hidden in among them. He still has teeth and a tongue too. Tests on the samples I took show that the plant cells have kind of infected Jack’s cells with plant DNA. All we have to do to get Jack back is kill off the plant DNA.”
“Preferably without killing Jack in the process.”
“Yeah, that would probably be best, which rules out usin’ weed killer.” Steepling his fingers in front of him, Owen thought hard. “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. We need to starve the plant cells, take away what they need to grow and spread.” Catching the expression on Ianto’s face, Owen asked, “Okay, what did you do?”
“Jack was wilting earlier, before I called you, so I gave him some water and a couple of drops of your plant food. I thought he needed it.”
Owen heaved a sigh. “Oh well, it’s a bit late to worry about that, but it shouldn’t have done too much harm. I don’t think we dare deprive him of water, but no more plant food. I think we’ll have to shut Jack in the isolation room; that way I can filter the atmosphere he’s exposed to, remove carbon dioxide while keeping the air suitable for human respiration. He’ll have to be in complete darkness too, that’ll deprive his plant half of two sources of energy and with luck, Jack’s own healing abilities should do the rest.”
“Fine, but I’m going in there with him, I’m not leaving him all alone in the dark.”
“You can’t, you breathe out CO2 just like everyone else!”
“Not if I use the portable breathing unit. That’s good for twenty-four hours.” Ianto stared stubbornly at Owen.
“Okay, but I’m going to be monitoring you, and I want you to take a fifteen minute break every six hours so I can check both you and the breather, see that it’s working at full efficiency; we’ve never used that thing for more than a couple of hours at a time before. I’ll want to make sure it doesn’t cause any unforeseen problems."
“You’re the Doctor.”
“Damn straight, and don’t you forget it.”
The idea of being shut away in the dark for an extended period of time didn’t appeal to Jack at all. Ever since being buried alive, darkness and enclosed spaces made him uncomfortable, although he wasn’t as badly affected now as he had been. Nevertheless, since he couldn’t come up with any better ideas, he had no choice but to agree. Ianto and Owen manoeuvred plant Jack onto a trolley and wheeled him down to the isolation room, where they settled him as comfortably as possible in a shallow tray of water to keep him from becoming dehydrated and wilting again.
Once Ianto was hooked up to the portable breather, he wrapped himself in a blanket to keep warm since they’d decided to lower the temperature in the isolation room too, in the hope that it would slow down growth in the plant cells and make them easier to eradicate. Owen attached sensors to both plant and man, set up the equipment to monitor the atmosphere and temperature inside the room, and then exited, sealing the airlock and turning out the lights, plunging Jack and Ianto into a darkness so complete that they couldn’t even see each other’s outline despite standing so close together. Ianto held one of Jack’s leaves, patting it reassuringly in an effort to comfort him while keeping him distracted by telling him stories. In his turn, Jack regaled Ianto with more of his adventures from his time travelling with the Doctor.
Hours passed. The rest of the team arrived and got on with whatever work needed doing, leaving Owen free to concentrate on his patient. He monitored both Jack and Ianto via the sensors he’d attached to them, since it was too dark in the isolation room for the CCTV to be of any use, and the day wore on.
Ianto had been back in with Jack for a couple of hours following his second scheduled break when Jack started to complain that his feet were cold. Kneeling down carefully, Ianto investigated and found that where there had been tangles of roots, Jack now had his own feet again, half immersed in cold water. That made things slightly better since it meant he’d be able to move about a bit, albeit with short, shuffling steps, so Ianto helped Jack out of the water tray and dried his feet off as best he could using the end of his blanket. After another hour, Jack’s legs were back to normal to a point just above his knees, and he minced back and forth across the small room, with Ianto walking beside him, still holding his left leaf. And so Jack’s gradual transformation back into human form continued.
Nevertheless, even after Ianto’s searching hands confirmed that Jack felt like Jack again all over, with no trace of leaves or petals, Owen insisted on him remaining in the dark for a few more hours, just to be absolutely certain he wouldn’t start turning back into a plant again when exposed to light.
At last, after twenty-two hours in the dark, Owen turned up the lights just enough to see by and entered the small room to take a fresh batch of tissue samples from Jack, so he could check whether all the plant DNA was gone. He found Jack and Ianto snuggled comfortably together beneath Ianto’s blanket on the isolation room’s small medical bed, fast asleep, and after managing to collect his samples and run a fresh series of scans without waking either of them, he left them to their well-earned rest.
The results of the tests were good; all trace of the alien DNA seemed to have been eradicated from Jack’s cells, and the scans confirmed that he was one hundred percent Jack again. Owen potted on a few of his seedlings and destroyed the rest; it wouldn’t do to have anyone else make the same mistake Jack had. Then he left a requisition form on Jack’s desk for a larger refrigerator for his lab; he didn’t think Jack would object to the expense, not when it could prevent similar accidents occurring in the future. In an odd sort of way Jack’s unfortunate transformation had really been a blessing in disguise, although something told Owen that neither Jack nor Ianto were likely to agree with him.
After one last glance at the isolation room CCTV, which revealed that the Captain and the Teaboy were showing signs of waking up, Owen settled at his computer and started to type up his report on the case, wondering what the wider medical community would have made of it all. It was a shame that no one outside of Torchwood would ever get the chance to read it.