“Don’t worry, Ianto; this doesn’t change anything. You know I love you,” Jack assured his boyfriend.
Ianto wanted to say, “Yes, I know you love ME, but this isn’t exactly me, is it?” Unfortunately, he was currently incapable of human speech, so he just made a weird burbling sound and gazed piteously up at his lover. What if he was stuck like this for the rest of his life? He knew Jack had told him often enough that looks didn’t matter, it was the person that counted, but right now he wasn’t even sure he could really be classed as a person. He had no idea what he was, and he wasn’t sure Jack knew either, a suspicion that was confirmed a short while later when they arrived back at the Hub.
Because his control over the four stubby tentacles that had replaced his legs wasn’t too good and he kept toppling over when he tried to walk, Jack carried him in from the garage and set him gently down on the sofa.
“What the fuck is that thing?” Owen asked with his usual lack of tact.
“It’s not a thing, it’s a… it’s Ianto!” Jack snapped, glaring at the medic.
“You sure? ‘Cause it doesn’t look like him. It’s more like a cross between an octopus, a balloon, and a fern. With fur.”
Ianto burbled at his colleague, waving his side tentacles angrily, and twitching the ferny fronds that stuck out of the top of his head, although ‘head’ was a bit of a misleading term. His body and head were all one piece now, a round, fluffy beach ball covered in turquoise fur, with a bunch of lavender fern fronds in place of hair, four very flexible pale purple tentacles underneath to walk on, and two more sticking out each side for grasping things with. So far all he’d managed to do with them was flail about a bit; he was having as much trouble figuring out how to control his ‘arms’ as he was with his ‘legs’.
“If you can’t say anything helpful, Owen, don’t say anything at all! You’re upsetting him!” Jack sat on the sofa beside Ianto and wrapped one arm comfortingly around his globular body, petting his fur. It felt nice and Ianto burbled more quietly in appreciation.
“What happened?” Tosh asked, giving her friends a sympathetic look. It didn’t seem to bother her that Ianto didn’t look like Ianto right now, which was a relief; she at least was willing to accept it was him because Jack said it was, and Ianto knew she’d do her best to get him back to normal. It wasn’t the first time one of their number had been turned into something else; it was one of Torchwood’s occupational hazards. Of course, usually they got turned into something recognisable instead of… whatever he was.
Jack sighed. “Not entirely sure. We found what came through the rift, and Ianto was putting it in a containment box when it suddenly puffed purple gas into his face. He tried not to breathe it in, but it swirled right around him and when it cleared, he looked… like this.” Jack waved his free hand at Ianto’s strange appearance.
“What happened to the device?” Owen asked, suddenly all business.
“It’s in the SUV. You’ll have to fetch it; I’m not leaving Ianto.”
Gratefully, Ianto twined one pair of side tentacles around Jack’s arm and burbled gratitude.
Jack seemed to understand. “You’re welcome,” he replied. “I meant what I said earlier, I’ll love you no matter what you are. I don’t care what shape you happen to be, deep down inside you’re still you and that’s what matters. Besides, you’re soft and fluffy, nice colours, and you know how much I love tentacles.”
Like his voice, Ianto’s laughter came out sort of burbly, but still recognisable as amusement.
“Come on, Owen; we’d better fetch that device and start figuring out how to change Ianto back. I’ll need your help to analyse the gas it gave off if we’re to have any chance of reversing its effects.” Tosh turned to her friend. “Try not to worry, Ianto; we’ll fix you.”
Ianto burbled his thanks and closed his big, purple eyes, leaning against Jack with a sigh. On the bright side, at least whatever he was he could still comfortably breathe earth’s atmosphere, so despite the way he looked, he couldn’t be all that alien.
After a little nap propped against Jack’s side, Ianto decided he’d better try to get the hang of his new body. There was no telling how long it would take Tosh and Owen to change him back, or if they’d even be able to, so although he had no intention of giving up hope it would probably be wise to at least make an effort to adjust. He didn’t want Jack having to carry him everywhere, and anyway, maybe he’d be able to help Tosh and Owen. Besides, the team’s medical expert would most likely need some biological samples from him, and it would save time if he could work with them instead of sitting around like a useless furry turquoise blob.
He indicated that he wanted to get down off the sofa and Jack helped him, then held on to his tentacle as he gained his balance. It was easier to walk here than on the uneven sandy surface of the beach, where he and Jack had been when his transformation had taken place, and it wasn’t long before, with his lover cheering him on, he was able to move around by himself without falling over every couple of steps. It was just a matter of moving the tentacles diagonally opposite each other at the same time; his problems before had mostly come from trying to walk like a human, which had meant he was trying to lift both feet on one side of his bulbous body off the ground at once, resulting in him tipping sideways and winding up in an undignified heap. He still looked awkward and clumsy, but he could manage, and even go up and down steps as long as he held on to the banisters and only stepped with one tentacle leg at a time. No doubt it would get easier with practice.
Slowly and carefully he made his way down the steps to the autopsy bay and tapped Owen with a tentacle, making the medic give a high-pitched scream and literally jump in the air.
“Jesus Christ, Ianto! Don’t do that! You about gave me a heart attack!”
Ianto gave an apologetic burble and offered his tentacle.
“What? I don’t know what you want!”
Gesturing with his tentacle at himself, then at Owen’s medical instruments, Ianto tried to make the medic understand that he was willing to let Owen run tests on him. Unfortunately, Owen wasn’t very good at charades because he just stared blankly at his transformed colleague.
“Jack! Get down here!”
“Why?” Jack hurried down the steps. “Is something wrong with Ianto?”
“You mean besides the obvious?”
Ianto went through his performance again.
“I think he wants you to take samples from him for analysis.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, guess I should do that and compare them with what I’ve got on file from before. You know, when he was actually him and not… that, whatever it is.”
“He’s still him, Owen; he just looks a bit different,” Jack explained with strained patience.
“A bit different? He’s half his normal height, round, turquoise, furry, and has tentacles!”
“Yes, well… these things happen. You might want to run your scanners over him too, maybe figure out what’s safe for him to eat and drink. If he has to stay like this for any length of time he’s going to get hungry.”
“Yeah, good point; I should probably do that first.” Picking up his scanner, Owen ran it over the stumpy form in front of him, then called up the results on his computer and studied them. He glanced at Ianto, and Jack who was standing beside him, one hand idly stroking his lover’s fur. “Tough luck, mate. According to this, you’re a vegetarian and you should steer clear of dairy too. It’s leafy greens and roots for you. And no coffee or tea, just water to drink.”
Ianto’s ferny topknot drooped, and he gave a mournful burble.
Jack crouched down and took Ianto’s tentacles in his hands. “Cheer up, Ianto, I’m sure you won’t be like this for long. Besides, there’s no way you can make coffee while you’re like this, and the coffee shop’s brews aren’t a patch on yours, so you won’t be missing anything.”
A burbling sigh of reluctant acceptance followed Jack’s attempt at comforting words and Ianto turned to Owen again, steeling himself to be the medic’s guinea pig.
Owen took samples of fur, skin cell scrapings from a tentacle, and a swab from inside Ianto’s small mouth. Next he drew blood, again from a tentacle. It was a darker red than human blood, but when Owen analysed it, he found it to be remarkably similar, containing the same kinds of cells as human blood and serving the same purpose; the only real difference was that it was a bit richer in iron.
With nothing more he could do for the moment, Ianto let Jack take him back up to the main Hub, where they sat snuggled together on the sofa, watching funny clips on youtube because Jack thought they might help to cheer his lover up. Ianto supposed there were worse ways of passing a quiet afternoon, and he nibbled on a bunch of watercress clutched in one tentacle while Jack ate popcorn. Ianto had tried the popcorn himself, but disappointingly found it didn’t appeal to his sense of taste in his current form.
At her workstation, Tosh was studying the small device that had caused Ianto’s extraordinary transformation. She worked as quickly and carefully as she could, wanting so to fix her best friend as soon as possible, but all too aware that one mistake could result in the same thing happening to her.
Ianto knew she and Owen were doing their best, but neither of them seemed to be making much progress on solving his problem. He was starting to think he might be stuck like this permanently, and then what was Jack going to tell Rhiannon and the kids?
As the time ticked slowly past Ianto felt himself deflate; not so much physically, although he did slump down further and further on the sofa, but emotionally. The future was starting to look decidedly gloomy, especially when Tosh admitted that whatever had originally been inside the device must have been a one-shot deal since its internal reservoir was completely empty. Without at least a sample of the alien gas, there seemed to be no way of undoing what had been done to him.
Owen’s news wasn’t any more encouraging either; despite all the samples he’d taken from Ianto’s ‘new’ body, he didn’t have a clue how he’d gone from the man he used to be to the… whatever he was now.
With a despairing burble, Ianto crawled onto Jack’s lap and huddled there, quivering in abject misery as Jack petted his fur, trying to reassure him that everything would be alright.
Thankfully, it turned out that Jack was correct for once and Ianto only had to spend a few more hours in his altered form. The effects of the mysterious gas eventually wore off of their own accord, after a fashion, but sometimes, especially on cold nights, Jack would wake up to find a warm, fluffy beach ball snuggled up in bed beside him. He really did love those tentacles!