“Ianto?” Jack said, wandering into the kitchen area with a puzzled frown on his face.
“Jack?” The man in question was busy making coffee but he spared his lover a brief glance before turning his attention back to his task. “Something up or are you just desperate for a coffee?”
“Then you’ll be pleased to know coffee will be ready in a couple of minutes. What was the other thing?”
“Um, why is there a duck swimming in the Rift pool? I mean, I’m sure there must be a good explanation, but it wasn’t there when I went out so where did it come from?”
“Ah, that.” Ianto smiled ruefully. “It’s not actually a duck.”
“Really? Because it looks an awful lot like a duck, and I’m pretty sure I just heard it quack. You know the old saying, right? You must do; you know everything.”
“It has been said,” Ianto agreed. “I was rather hoping the situation would have righted itself by the time you got back, but apparently not.”
“And?” Jack was still waiting for an explanation that made some kind of sense.
Sighing, Ianto turned away from the coffee machine. “It’s Gwen.”
Jack’s eyebrows went up so fast they almost reached escape velocity. “Gwen’s a duck?”
“A Pochard, I believe.” Seeing the confused expression on Jack’s face, Ianto added, “That’s a type of duck.”
“Ah.” Silence fell for a long moment while Ianto finished brewing the coffee, then, “Why exactly is Gwen a duck?”
“This is Torchwood; why does anyone turn into anything around here?”
Jack hazarded a guess. “Alien tech?”
“Well, not exactly, but… You remember those eggs we found the other day? The out of season Easter Eggs?”
They’d fallen through the Rift three days earlier, half a dozen small, gaily wrapped chocolate eggs, a bit softened by the unexpectedly warm weather but otherwise intact.
Jack nodded. “I remember; Owen said to put them in the fridge to harden and he’d examine them once he’d caught up with the backlog of autopsy subjects he had waiting.” It had been a busy week.
“Yes, well, Gwen found them while she was looking for a snack.”
“And she ate them?” Jack looked shocked at the thought, which was a bit hypocritical since he’d been all for eating them himself; he’d only left them alone because of Ianto’s insistence that they be checked out first to make sure they were safe for human consumption.
“Only part of one. Owen told her not to, apparently he’d taken some preliminary scans in a spare moment yesterday and got some anomalous readings, so he wanted to do a more detailed examination when time allowed. Anyway, he told me he warned Gwen, but he’s been playing so many pranks on her lately that she didn’t believe him, must have sneaked an egg out of the fridge when he wasn’t looking, and… Well, you’ve seen the result.”
“I have.” Jack turned to regard the Rift pool’s new inhabitant; the duck was gliding serenely across the water, quacking occasionally. “She seems happy enough.”
“Mm,” Ianto said noncommittally, joining his lover and handing Jack his favourite blue and white striped mug. “Myfanwy’s not too pleased at being shut in her aerie, but I thought it prudent.”
“Good thinking.” Jack sipped his coffee. “It would cause no end of problems if Gwen got eaten. Just one thing; how do we change her back? She’s quite decorative, for a duck, but it’s not very practical, and I’d rather not have to explain this to Rhys. You know how upset he gets when anything happens to his wife.”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that; Tosh and Owen have run some scans and other tests on the remains of the egg Gwen was eating when she transformed and they’re fairly sure she’ll change back automatically as soon as the effects of whatever the chocolate was laced with wear off. They just can’t be absolutely certain of how long that might take; the best guess they can make is anywhere between six and forty-eight hours.”
“That’s a bit vague, isn’t it?”
“Can’t be helped.” Ianto offered up an apologetic smile. “It all depends on how much of the substance was in the piece of egg Gwen consumed. Since it’s not evenly distributed throughout the chocolate, and each of the eggs contains a different quantity, there’s no way of being certain.”
“So what do we do in the meantime, just leave her swimming around the pool?”
Ianto shrugged. “Not much else we can do, is there?”
“I suppose not. Should we feed her? If she was hungry enough to help herself to chocolate of uncertain origins, and she didn’t even get to eat all of it…” Jack trailed off, frowning. “I think there’s some bread left.”
“Jack!” Ianto glared disapprovingly at his lover. “Don’t you know bread is bad for ducks? It has very little nutritional value, so it just fills them up without providing the vitamins and minerals they’d get from their normal diet. You don’t want Gwen to become malnourished, do you?”
“No, of course not. Sorry. I didn’t know that; I’m not exactly a duck expert.”
“You’re forgiven; sadly it’s a common misconception that ducks thrive on bread. If you want to feed Gwen, there’s shredded lettuce in the fridge, and I nipped out for some duck pellets; they’re in that container.” Ianto pointed to a plastic storage tub at the end of the counter. “Just scatter a handful on the water and let her dabble for them. I think she’s been nibbling on the weed in the pool though; she might not be hungry right now.”
“I’ll try anyway. You know, just in case she’s a bit peckish. Get it? Peckish, because she’s got a beak.”
Ianto rolled his eyes at Jack’s attempt at humour. “I should’ve seen that one coming. Your jokes are even worse than Owen’s.”
Finishing his coffee, Jack left his mug on the counter and picked up the tub, making his way to the edge of the pool. Scooping out a handful of the pellets, he studied them; they neither looked nor smelled appealing, but then, he wasn’t a duck.
“Here, Gwen, yummy duck food, come and get it!” He tossed a few pellets onto the water where they floated.
Gwen glided over to investigate, swimming around, scooping pellets up in her bill and gulping them down. She swam closer to Jack, looking up at him hopefully, so he scattered a few more.
“I think she likes them!”
“I should hope so; they’re duck pellets and she’s a duck.” Ianto strolled over to stand beside Jack. “Just don’t overfeed her. If she eats too much she might sink.”
“What?” Jack paused in the act of tossing Gwen some more pellets, looking worriedly from the duck to Ianto, then back again. “Maybe I should stop; if she sinks, she might drown!”
“I was joking, Jack! Ducks don’t sink. When she’s had enough, she’ll stop eating them.”
“Of course I am! My gran kept ducks; she used to let me feed them.”
“Oh, okay, good. I guess she can have some more then.”
Ianto left Jack feeding Gwen and went to get on with his work; he had a lot to do.
It was a little over nine hours before the effects of the chocolate finally wore off. The first anyone knew about it was a shriek from the Rift pool, followed by a lot of splashing.
“Oh God, this water is disgusting!” Gwen scrabbled her way to edge and climbed out, dripping wet.
“It’s not that bad!” Ianto exclaimed indignantly. He thought he kept the pool in pretty good shape, considering; the pondweed had been his idea to help keep the water clear. “A lot better than it used to be.”
“You weren’t complaining earlier,” Jack pointed out. “You seemed to like it, swimming about and dabbling for pondweed.”
“What’re you on about?” Gwen swept sodden hair out of her face and glared at Jack.
“What do you remember?” Ianto asked, offering Gwen a towel.
Gwen thought hard, frowning. “I’m not sure, it’s all a bit blurry. I remember I was hungry, so I got one of those chocolate eggs from the fridge and…” She paused. “I don’t know! One minute I was eating chocolate and the next I was in the Rift pool.”
“You were turned into a duck. You’ve been swimming around the Rift pool for almost ten hours,” Ianto explained.
“A duck? You’re having me on!”
Ianto shook his head. “Why would I do that? Owen did warn you not to eat those eggs; he thought there was something a bit off about them.”
Gwen stared at him, wide-eyed. “You’re really serious?”
“I can show you the CCTV footage if you like.”
“You were a pretty duck,” Jack said helpfully. “What was it you called her, Ianto? A Pollard?”
“Pochard,” Ianto corrected.
“That’s the one. I took pictures, and I fed you. It was nice. Maybe we should get some more ducks. We’ve still got all that duck food.”
“You fed me duck food?” Gwen was aghast.
“You were a duck and you were hungry! What was I supposed to do, offer you bacon and eggs?”
“I need a shower. And antibiotics. And maybe Retcon.”
“I thought you said you didn’t remember!” Jack was a bit put out by Gwen’s reaction; he’d been taking such good care of her, and this was the thanks he got!
“I don’t, and I’d rather not remember anything you two just told me either. Duck food!” Gwen stalked off in the direction of the locker room to shower and change.
After she left, heading home to Rhys, Ianto took Jack his last coffee of the day. His lover was sitting at his desk, watching the CCTV footage of the Gwen duck dabbling about in the pool.
“Could I be a duck?”
“It looks like such a restful existence, just bobbing about on the water, and there’s still five eggs left. If I just ate a little bit… That would be okay, wouldn’t it? Tosh said the Rift would be quiet for a few days, and we’ve already got plenty of duck food. I wouldn’t be any trouble, I promise!”
“Let me get is straight; you want to deliberately turn yourself into a duck?”
“Only for a few hours. It would be sort of like a mini vacation.”
Ianto perched on the edge of Jack’s desk, sipping from his own mug, giving the request some thought.
“Well, alright, but not tonight; there wouldn’t be much point in sleeping through the whole experience. And you should get undressed first so you don’t get your clothes wet.”
“I can do that!”
The following morning, Ianto opened the door to Jack’s office and let Jack duck waddle down to the Rift pool, where he launched himself into the water with a flurry of wings and a great deal of curiously nasal whistling sounds. Naturally Jack had to outdo Gwen and had turned into a Tufted Duck. It was impossible not to smile as he dived beneath the water only to surface some distance away.
“Show off!” Ianto accused.
Jack shook himself, droplets of water scattering from his feathers, and glided towards Ianto, watching him intently.
“I suppose you want feeding now. Well, why not?” He fetched the duck pellets and tossed a few onto the water behind Jack duck so he had to swim after them.
“Fucking Hell, is Gwen still a duck?” Owen asked, arriving early for once. “I’d hoped she’d have changed back by now!”
Ianto gave him a withering look. “Can’t you tell the difference between a female Pochard and a male Tufted Duck? Gwen changed back last night and went home. This is Jack.”
“Jack’s a duck now? Why?”
“He was envious of Gwen, he thought it looked like fun and wanted to try it himself.”
“That’s just…” Owen trailed off, shaking his head. “Always knew he wasn’t quite right in the head. Just keep that chocolate away from me; I’ve got no intention of sprouting feathers and webbed feet.”
“Probably a good thing, I wouldn’t want to be stuck looking after a grumpy duck.” Ianto tossed more duck pellets to Jack, scattering them widely. It was good to see his lover looking so happy and carefree.
Maybe he’d keep the rest of those eggs, let Jack have occasional duck time to unwind from the stresses of being Torchwood’s leader. A change is as good as a rest, wasn’t that how the saying went?
He wondered if duck therapy would ever catch on…