The trip with the Doctor in the TARDIS had been meant as a treat for Ianto, who’d been working far too hard, in Jack’s opinion. He’d decided that his lover needed a holiday, and after contacting the Doctor, had whisked him away on the adventure of a lifetime.
Unfortunately, on the first planet they’d visited, Ianto had contracted a bad case of Rigellian measles, a highly contagious disease if you haven’t been inoculated against it, and was now confined to the TARDIS to keep him from infecting anyone else. Laid up in the infirmary, under Rory’s supervision, poor Ianto wasn’t enjoying his vacation very much at all. He was feverish, delirious, and covered head to toe in itchy, multicoloured spots. The Doctor said it was the worst case he’d ever seen; even Ianto’s hair had spots, and he looked as miserable as he felt. At least he did when he wasn’t hallucinating.
Jack and the Doctor were both naturally immune, and the Ponds had long ago been inoculated against just about everything they might encounter out in space. Jack, however, had been more interested in doing other things with Ianto when they’d first come aboard the TARDIS, and his immunisation had somehow been overlooked until it was already too late, so naturally now Jack was blaming himself for Ianto’s current condition.
Desperate to make up to his lover for the oversight that had led to him getting sick, Jack had promised Ianto he’d get him anything he wanted, which was why he’d had the Doctor land the TARDIS here, in the middle of the biggest, not to mention busiest, marketplace in the universe, where just about anything could be obtained, if you had enough money or other tradable items.
Jack strode forth from the TARDIS, focused and determined, a man on a mission, wending his way through the throngs of aliens milling among the market stalls, with the Doctor and Amy jogging to keep up with him.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little impulsive, Jack?” the Doctor asked, tugging at Jack’s coat sleeve in an effort to slow him down.
Jack shook the Time Lord off. “Nope! It’s what Ianto said he wants. I promised him and I don’t break my promises, especially not the ones I make to him.”
“But even if you can find such a thing here--” the Doctor started.
“And afford it,” Amy put in.
The Doctor nodded vigorously. “And afford it, what are you going to do with it when you and Ianto eventually return to earth?”
“It’ll be Ianto’s so that will be entirely up to him, won’t it?” Jack declared as if that settled the argument.
“Well, yes, I suppose so, but earth in the Twentieth Century is hardly the place for a…”
Stopping so suddenly that the Doctor slammed into his back and rebounded, falling on his butt, Jack swung around and stared down at his old friend. “We already have a Pteranodon; I don’t see that much difference to be honest. Anyway, that’s not the point. I told Ianto he could have anything he wanted, anything at all, and if what he wants is a sparkly purple flying unicorn, then a sparkly purple flying unicorn is what he’s getting.”
“He’s got a point, you know,” Amy said, “and you’re hardly one to talk. When we first met, I gave you everything you asked for while you were recovering from your regeneration, even the fish fingers and custard, so why shouldn’t Ianto have what he wants if it’ll make him feel better? That poor boy is really suffering!”
“But he’s delirious most of the time! I’m sure he didn’t even properly understand Jack’s question, never mind the answer he gave.”
Amy shrugged. “What does that matter? You weren’t exactly behaving normally when you kept demanding different foods and then spitting them out all over the place. Jack just wants to do something nice for Ianto, and I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t.”
“You’re taking his side now?” the Doctor asked, aghast, waving vaguely in Jack’s direction as throngs of busy shoppers were forced to detour around them, unashamedly gawking at the small group of humanoids as they passed.
“No; I’m taking Ianto’s side. Besides, I’d kind of like to see a purple flying unicorn myself. Sounds pretty.”
“Sparkly purple flying unicorn,” Jack corrected, fidgeting impatiently. “Come on, Doctor, we’re on a mission here, time is of the essence! What are you sitting down for? This is no time to be resting; we only just started and we have to search this whole market until we find what we’re looking for!”
“I’m not resting! You… Oh, never mind.” The Doctor scrambled to his feet. “Which way do you want to go first?”
Turning slowly in a circle, Jack scanned the nearby stalls. “I have no idea; I’ve never been here before, have you?”
“Only once, but that was when I was in my second regeneration and my memories are a bit fuzzy. The market covers most of the landmass, about three thousand square nings. Um, that’s somewhere around two and a half thousand square miles in earth terms,” he added, just so everyone was clear on how big an area they were talking about.
“I know what a ning is, Doctor!” Jack snapped irritably.
“Well I didn’t!” Amy frowned. “That’s an awful lot of ground to cover. Maybe we should ask for directions.” She pushed her way through the crowds, since that seemed to be the accepted method of getting between point A and point B, and approached one of the stallholders, a broad, squat alien with a scrunched up face like a dried yellow prune, and ears like wilting lettuce leaves. “Excuse me, could you point us in the right direction for the livestock pens, please?”
“Right you are, Miss! You just go that way,” he pointed to his left, “about three and a half nings until you come to the Sproodle section, turn right there and it’s a couple on nings straight ahead. Can I interest you in some nice, fresh gleeges while you’re here?” he asked, holding up a pot of lumpy yellow fruits. “Or I have some particularly juicy loofs.” He indicated a large basket of what looked like warty, shocking pink cucumbers.
“Ooh, I haven’t had a loof in forever!” the Doctor exclaimed. He pulled out some money and bought a dozen of the strange fruits and a bag to carry them in. “Full of vitamins, loofs are,” he explained to Jack. “Might tempt your Ianto to eat. Do him a lot more good than a sparkly purple unicorn will.”
“A sparkly purple flying unicorn,” Jack corrected.
“Oh, if it’s flying unicorns you’re after, you don’t want the livestock pens, you want the aerial transport section,” the stallholder told them. “They used to be kept with the other livestock, but they were forever flying out of the pens and escaping. You want to go that way,” he pointed to his right, “about two nings, then turn left and you’ll see some big hangars. If there’s any flying unicorns in the market this week, that’s where they’ll be.”
Jack beamed at the alien. “Thanks, you’ve been very helpful. Ah, while we’re here, I think I’ll take a bushel of those quergs.”
“Excellent choice!” The stallholder smiled back, at least Amy though it was a smile; it looked more like the creature had just sucked something very sour, his whole face seeming to crease in on itself even further. “Nothing better than quergs fresh off the vine! These were picked this morning, just got them in so I haven’t even got them on display properly yet!” He bagged up Jack’s purchase and the three of them set off in search of the aerial transport section of the market.
When they got to the hangars they found a truly impressive array of small flying machines, mostly designed for atmospheric flight. Spaceships, the Doctor informed them, would be in a different section of the market entirely, probably on the coast where there was more room for a landing field and less chance of accidentally coming down from a test flight on top of someone’s stall.
Asking around, they were directed to the third hangar in the long row, which turned out to be filled with several rows of tall enclosed pens, designed so that the merchandise could be viewed in flight without any chance that they might fly away and be lost.
Jack led the way, going from pen to pen, looking at all kinds of flying creatures before finally finding one containing flying unicorns. There were blue ones, green ones, yellow ones, pink ones, but no purple. The next few pens contained giant birds, and then they found more of the flying unicorns.
“There’s a purple one!” Amy pointed high up in the pen, but Jack shook his head.
“It’s nice, but it’s not sparkly, and Ianto specifically said he wanted a sparkly one.”
“’Scuse me, don’t mean ter intrude, but if it’s sparkly yer wantin’, yer should try down the far end. That’s where the custom jobs are. Breedin’ sparklies is a specialised field,” a wizened little alien with a bucket of feed told them.
Thanking the helpful attendant, they hurried to the far end of the hangar, where they found every colour combination of flying unicorns imaginable: Spots, patches, rainbow stripes, geometric patterns, and an entire pen of glow-in-the-dark unicorns, being sold as the perfect thing for night flights. There were twinkles, glitters, spangles, and at last, when Jack was beginning to think they’d never find what Ianto wanted, the sparklies. And sparkle they did, prancing and fluttering, so many different colours and patterns they were positively dazzling to look at. Jack’s eyes settled on one in particular, a lovely rich violet colour with lavender mane, tail, and wings, whose coat sparkled as if flecked with diamonds, and whose spiral horn shimmered like mother of pearl.
“Perfect!” he declared. “Purple and sparkly! Ianto will love it!”
Quite a bit of haggling with the breeder followed, but eventually a satisfactory deal was struck, Jack paid, and they headed back through the market to where they’d left the TARDIS, with Jack leading the flying unicorn by her halter. She’d obviously been very well trained as she trotted nicely behind him, only fluttering into the air now and then when she got a bit spooked by the market’s noise and bustle.
Arriving back at the TARDIS, still parked where they’d left it by the fountain in one of the market’s many squares, they hurried inside, laden with bags of other purchases, and with the flying unicorn in tow.
Hearing their voices, Rory emerged from the infirmary, smiling. “Good news; Ianto’s fever’s broken at last,” he announced. “He’s still spotty and itchy, but he’s already feeling much better.”
Jack’s smile lit up the room. “Can I see him?”
“Go ahead.” Rory gestured to the infirmary door. “Just try not to tire him too much. He needs his rest.”
Pushing the door open, Jack led the flying unicorn into the infirmary. “Ianto? I’ve got a present for you!”
Lying in his comfy bed, Ianto opened spotty eyelids and blinked spotty eyes up at Jack. “Hi!” he smiled, then noticed something. “Um, did you know there’s a unicorn following you? Or am I still seeing things?”
“You’re not seeing things, or you are because your eyes still work, but you’re seeing things that are actually here,” Jack assured him.
“Oh. That’s good then.”
Jack led his prize forward, turning her so Ianto could see just how purple and sparkly she was. He grinned proudly. “So, what d’you think? Took me hours to find the exact right kind, but I succeeded!”
“It’s very nice, very… purple. And sparkly.” Ianto looked puzzled. “Is this one of your spur-of-the-moment purchases, or was there a reason behind it?”
Jack’s face fell. “But it’s what you asked for!”
“It is?” If anything, Ianto looked even more confused.
“Yes! You were so sick, spotty and unhappy, and I wanted to cheer you up, so I asked you if you could have anything at all, what would you most like to have, and you said a sparkly purple flying unicorn, so I went out and got you one.”
Ianto was touched. “I really said that?” Jack nodded. “And you went out and found one for me?” Jack nodded even harder. Ianto decided not to ask any more questions, in case Jack nodded his head right off at the next one. “I think I may have been delirious at the time, so I probably didn’t know what I was saying, but it’s lovely. Thank you.” He thought hard, then suddenly an old memory popped into his head. “You know, when we were little, mam and tad got Rhi a little flying unicorn figurine for her birthday; it was pink and sparkly, and there was a purple one in the shop too. I wanted it so badly, but my tad said they were girly things, not for boys, so I never got it. I was really disappointed. I must’ve been remembering that; hadn’t thought about it in years.”
“Well, now you have something even better than your sister had; a real one.” Jack handed Ianto the end of the halter and he took it, reaching up to stroke the unicorn’s velvety soft sparkly purple nose.
“I would’ve been happy with an ornament, but this is amazing. I had no idea real ones existed!” A sudden thought crossed Ianto’s mind. “She won’t catch my measles, will she?” he asked worriedly. “I’d hate to make her go all spotty. It’s horrible.”
“No, it’s fine; you’re not infectious now your fever’s gone,” Jack assured him. “You’re looking much better; your hair isn’t as spotty.”
“That’s good news. Jack?”
“What am I going to do with a real, live, sparkly purple flying unicorn when we go back to earth?”
Jack shook his head. “I have no idea. That, my dear Ianto, is entirely up to you!”