Torchwood Three didn’t have regular working hours in the first place, it never had; day or night, it was all the same to the people who worked there. The Rift dropped off its gifts wherever and whenever it wanted to, and Weevils, if they came up out of the sewers at all, were generally more active after dark, probably due to their eyes being sensitive to bright lights. For the team, midnight wasn’t the witching hour; it was simply business as usual.
“What time is it?” Ianto mumbled through a yawn as he and Jack made their way across Bute Park by the light of their torches and the stars hanging overhead in the clear night sky. It had already been well past midnight when Jack had woken him from a sound sleep to tell him there’d been a Rift alert, and in the mad half-asleep scramble to get into clothing suitable for a night-time jaunt he’d forgotten to put his watch on.
“Does it matter?” Jack glanced at his lover. “It’s late, I can tell you that much. Or early. Depends how you look at it.”
“I’ll go with ‘late’ since you dragged me out of bed.”
“You dragged yourself out of bed,” Jack corrected. “I just picked you up on my way here.”
“Don’t split hairs; it’s way too early in the morning.” Ianto yawned again, wishing he was still at home, asleep, instead of out here searching for an unknown something.
“Didn’t you just tell me it’s late?”
Ianto frowned, trying to think his way back through the conversation. “No, that was you; I just agreed with you.”
“But you just said…”
“Shut up, Jack. I’m not having this conversation, it’s too confusing, not to mention weird. You dragged me out here to help you with something living that’s come through the Rift. Shouldn’t we be trying to find it?”
“I thought we were.”
“Right.” Ianto scowled. He was never at his best after too little sleep. In his opinion it was unfair of Jack to expect him to think when his brain was offline. He needed coffee to kickstart his higher brain functions, and there hadn’t been time to brew himself a cup before Jack had pulled up outside leaning on the horn, probably waking the whole neighbourhood.
Checking his scanner, Ianto changed direction slightly. The Rift energy readings it was picking up appeared to be emanating from some trees a few degrees to the left. He blinked, wishing he could rub the sleep from his eyes, but he had the scanner in one hand and his torch in the other, and really when he thought about it, humans had a lot of design flaws. ‘An extra pair of hands would come in handy,’ he mused, unsuccessfully stifling a chuckle.
Ianto jumped slightly; he’d almost forgotten Jack was there. “What? Nothing. Let’s just find this thing so I can go back to bed. How big did you say it is?”
For some reason that annoyed Ianto. “Well that’s helpful! Did you even bother to check? What if it’s a Bozog, or something else big and nasty? There’s only two of us; you should’ve called the rest of the team.”
“Relax, it’s not big enough to be anything like that. According to the Rift monitor, it’s about the size of a big cat, maybe a bit bigger.”
“When you say big cat…” Ianto trailed off, glancing uncertainly at his lover.
“Big house cat, not a lion, or tiger, or whatever.”
“Oh. Good. Still, something doesn’t have to be big to be nasty.”
“You brought your gun, didn’t you, just in case?”
“Of course I did. I’m not that stupid.” Ianto winced; that hadn’t come out right. “Not that it would help much since I don’t have a free hand to hold it with,” he added grumpily. “Can you see anything?” They were approaching the group of trees by now.
“Grass, trees, a few bushes.” Sometimes Jack seemed to be wilfully dense.
“I meant something that might be what we’re looking for, twpsyn!”
“Oh. In that case, no. Just the grass, trees, and bushes. It’s nice out here after dark, isn’t it? So peaceful.”
“Yes, it’s wonderful.”
If Jack noticed Ianto’s deeply sarcastic tone, he didn’t say anything.
They continued moving forwards in silence, Ianto keeping one eye on his scanner and the other on the ground ahead, because the last thing he needed was to trip over something and fall flat on his face, destroying what little dignity hadn’t already fallen victim to his job. His reflexes weren’t what they should be right now, mostly because by his calculations he’d had less than two hours’ sleep in the last two days. None of the team had got to bed the previous night, thanks to an incident involving three Weevils, a drunken reveller, and several bottles of cheap whiskey. Don’t ask; suffice to say that Weevils and alcohol do not mix, and hungover Weevils are downright cranky.
“Eyes,” Jack said suddenly.
“Huh?” Ianto had zoned out to the point where he was practically sleepwalking.
“You asked if I could see anything. I see eyes, or I think they’re eyes. The light’s reflecting off something.”
“Over there, in the bushes.”
Sure enough, when Ianto looked in the direction Jack was pointing, he could see… He blinked, tucked his torch under one arm and rubbed his eyes. Nope, he wasn’t seeing things; there were three glowing yellow eyes peering out of the bushes.
“Oh. Safe to say it’s something alien.” Ianto sighed; he’d been hoping for a nice, innocuous earth creature, a puppy, or a lamb, or maybe a cuddly baby panda, not some unknown and probably unidentifiable three-eyed alien beastie that might be carnivorous, venomous, or otherwise toxic to humans. “Right, I’ll stay this side; you work your way around behind it.” Because Jack was so much better at not falling over things in the dark and was also way more alert than Ianto at present.
“Great minds think alike; I was going to suggest that. Don’t fall asleep on me,” Jack teased.
“With some kind of three-eyed something staring out at me?” Ianto might have been sleepy before, thanks to lack of sleep and because it was a warm and muggy summer night without so much as a breath of breeze, but he was wide awake now. Potential danger had that effect on him.
Jack moved off to the left, making a wide circle around the bushes to come at them from behind, while Ianto stayed where he was and kept a careful watch on the eyes. One blinked, then the second, and then the third. Ianto blinked too, it was impossible not to, but all three eyes remained where they were.
It was surprising how quietly Jack could move when he had to. His eyesight being better than that of a twenty-first century human, he’d turned his torch off and let the stars and the now risen quarter-moon light his way, sneaking right up behind the alien and grabbing it. Unsurprisingly it shrieked and struggled, but Jack held on tight as Ianto ran to help him restrain the creature.
“Put me down, you big oaf!” a squeaky voice yelped in Galactic Standard.
“Oops, sorry. No offence meant,” Jack replied in the same language, loosening his grip a bit. “We thought… well, we didn’t know you were a sentient being.”
Three yellow eyes blinked up at Jack, one at a time. Now Ianto could see it, the alien did look somewhat pandalike, short and cuddly, but coloured pink and brown rather than black and white. It was also wearing clothes, a sort of belted robe in shades of green, and soft shoes a bit like moccasins on its feet.
The alien stopped struggling. “Understandable, I suppose. For my part, I could not be sure civilised beings existed in this place. I arrived here quite by accident, indeed I remain unsure how it happened, but hiding seemed a sensible precaution, until I could evaluate my situation. No harm done.”
“One end of a Rift through space and time is anchored here, while the other end wanders around, picking up objects and sometimes people,” Jack explained. “You just had the bad luck to get caught up in it. If you’ll accompany us to our base, we’ll see about getting you home.” Torchwood had an arrangement with the Doctor these days; he’d agreed to transport sentient beings who hadn’t committed any crimes back to their homes.
“That is most kind of you. I am Minnix ver Leel. The world I come from is called Vrona.”
“Captain Jack Harkness, and this is Ianto Jones. You’re on earth. The city of Cardiff in an area called Wales.”
“Fascinating. From what little I’ve seen it is quite a pleasant place. Perhaps you might tell me more about your city. I am particularly interested in the flowering bushes that were providing me with shelter when you found me. I am a professor of botany back on Vrona. I was studying some of our native plant life when I was...”
“Displaced?” Ianto suggested.
“Oh, Ianto can tell you all about the bushes; he knows everything. I’m sure he can provide you with any information you’d like, can’t you?” Jack beamed at Ianto.
“Certainly.” Ianto smiled politely, stifling a groan. Damn Jack for volunteering his services as a walking encyclopaedia! Looked like he wouldn’t be getting back to bed tonight.