Team Torchwood were in full bloom, which was a bit embarrassing to be honest, and they weren’t at all sure what to do about it. The only thing they were certain of was that they couldn’t work like this. It would be impossible to appear inconspicuous while smothered in blossom.
It had all started when spores from a dying alien plant being who’d fallen through the Rift had been released during her death throes and settled all over the various team members. A gentle spring shower on their way back to the SUV had sealed their fate, and by the time they arrived back at the Hub, the dampness combined with the warmth inside the SUV had served to germinate the spores, beginning their lifecycle right where they were, clinging to the team’s hair and clothing with their tiny, barely visible roots.
“What are we going to do?” Tosh had asked. “They’re only babies, and none of this is their fault. We can’t kill them.”
“No, we can’t,” Jack had agreed. “Maybe we can somehow transplant them to somewhere more suitable where they can grow undisturbed. Owen, you’re our resident alien plant expert; what d’you think?”
Owen shook his head. “They’re too small, I don’t think there’s any way of moving them without damaging them. If we tried, I doubt they’d survive.” He’d been studying the ones growing in Tosh’s hair since they happened to be conveniently at his eyelevel. The tiny plants were made up of clusters of short roots finer than spider silk, topped with delicate little ferny fronds no more than a quarter of an inch long.
“We can’t go around covered in plants forever!” Gwen protested.
“They’re growing quite quickly,” Ianto pointed out, looking down at the top of Gwen’s greenly sprouting head. “With any luck they’ll be strong enough for transplanting in a few hours, assuming Owen can come up with a suitable growth medium. We’ll just have to manage as we are until then.”
“Yeah, not sure about that. I don’t ‘ave much experience with sentient plants, no idea what nutrients or growing conditions they need.” Owen didn’t sound encouraging. “Chances are they won’t survive long growin’ on us anyway.”
“But we’ve got to take care of them!” Tosh insisted. “Their parent sacrificed its life to give its offspring a chance. They’re our responsibility now.”
Jack sighed. “Tosh is right. Just do your best, Owen, and in the meantime, everyone just be careful how you move and sit.” Thankfully as they’d all been facing the parent plant when the spores were released all of those that hadn’t landed in the team’s hair had settled on the front of their clothes, mainly on shoulders, sleeves, and chests with just a few further down.
Being keenly observant, it was Ianto who noticed first that the little plants furthest down were slowly and laboriously migrating upwards, putting out short runners, anchoring them a fraction of an inch higher, then pulling themselves up, their little roots scrabbling for purchase. Clearly wherever they came from being up high was considered safer. By midday most of the plantlets, now almost an inch tall, had made it to the safety of shoulders and upper chests while the strongest and most daring had made the treacherous scramble to the tops of the team’s heads.
Going against all the rules of natural selection, the team had done what they could to help the weaker seedlings climb, and Ianto had rescued any that ran out of strength and fell off, popping them down in any gaps on his teammates, hoping they might survive. A small percentage had started to shrivel, and Owen had taken charge of them, running tests and trying various growth mediums in an attempt to revive them.
Gwen had not been particularly impressed when Ianto had started lightly misting everybody with a spray of water, but that was mostly because she hadn’t been present when Owen had said the plants shouldn’t be allowed to dry out, having nipped to the loo. Once she got over the initial shock, like the others she endured being sprayed with only the occasional grumble. Jack kindly volunteered to spray Ianto’s foliage since it was difficult for him to see the plants on top of his own head, and he didn’t want to accidentally damage them.
Still, most of the seedlings seemed to be flourishing even if some remained smaller than their siblings. Owen even succeeded in reviving more than half of the ones he was nursing and soon had them under a heat lamp on a damp rag Ianto had provided for them to root on.
Then, somewhere around mid afternoon the little plants had started to bloom, fat buds forming and bursting open, unfurling flowers in pastel shades of yellow, pink, blue, and violet, each with a small face in the centre. Tosh likened it to puppies and kittens opening their eyes for the first time as the plantlets gazed curiously out at the strange world they’d been born into.
The team, of course, felt a bit ridiculous, masses of blossoms adorning their heads and shoulders, making them look like mobile plant nurseries, which, when Ianto thought about it, they sort of were.
Any attempts at transplanting the blooming plantlets, however, were rejected, even when they were offered similar conditions to their siblings, basking under the heat lamp. They simply did not want to leave their hosts.
“I think we might ‘ave a problem,” Owen sighed as the plantlets stubbornly dug their roots in. “Can’t move them without harming them, but we can’t stay like this indefinitely either. How’re we supposed to sleep? We can’t even take our clothes off, never mind lie down.”
“Only one thing for it,” Jack decided, pulling out his phone and putting it on speaker once he’d dialled. It rang for several minutes before at last a voice answered.
“Jack! Lovely to hear from you; how’re your team?”
“We’re all blooming.”
“Excellent! Delighted to hear it!”
“No, you don’t understand, I mean we’re literally blooming.” Jack quickly explained, finishing with, “We could use your help.”
“Sentient plants? You’re sure they’re sentient?”
“As far as we’re able to tell. Determining levels of sentience in plants isn’t something we’re experts on; that’s partly why I called you.”
“Right, I’ll be there shortly, just… keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.
For once the Doctor was as good as his word. Within ten minutes the distinctive sound of the TARDIS materialising filled the Hub, and she appeared in an empty space near the Rift pool. The Doctor’s head popped out as the door opened.
“Ah, there you all are!” He stepped out and studied them each in turn, beaming. “You were right, Jack, you’re all positively blooming. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’re blooming marvellous!”
“My thoughts exactly,” Ianto agreed.
“Everyone’s a comedian,” Owen grumbled sourly.
“Now don’t be like that,” the Doctor chided Torchwood’s medic. “You don’t want to upset the youngsters; they’ll pick up on your mood and that might affect their development. Sentient plants can be very sensitive.” He leaned over to address a cluster of pink blooms prominently displayed on the front of Tosh’s top. “Well hello there! Oh, you’re lovely, aren’t you?”
Tosh went bright pink. “Doctor, could you please not do that?”
“What?” He glanced up at her face, then back at her chest, realisation dawning and his own ears going pink. “Oh. Right. Sorry.” Straightening up he looked pointedly anywhere but at Tosh. “So, what’s the problem?”
“You mean aside from us being covered in sentient flower children?” Ianto asked, raising a graceful eyebrow beneath the cluster of pale-yellow blossoms nestled at his hairline. “It’s not terribly convenient being a plant nursery; we have things we should be doing.”
“Ah, of course.” The Doctor was silent for several minutes, hands clasped behind him and rocking back and forth on his heels as he looked from one florally decorated person to another. “Well, everyone into the TARDIS then. Oh, and bring those too.” He gestured at the little plants under the sunlamp; they weren’t quite as advanced as their fellows, not yet in bloom.
“You want us to go with you?” Gwen’s eyes widened. “But we can’t just leave! I promised Rhys I’d be home for dinner! And doesn’t someone have to monitor the Rift?”
“Time machine,” Jack reminded her.
“What Jack said. We can be there and back before you even know you’ve left!” The Doctor bounced eagerly in anticipation.
“And where exactly is ‘there’?” Ianto asked as he started towards the TARDIS, following Jack, Tosh falling into step beside him as Owen and Gwen scrambled to catch up. He was still carrying his misting spray having just refilled it.
“Where? Why, their home planet of course! You’re all doing an admirable job as surrogate parents, but don’t you think it would be better if these little ones were raised by their own kind?”
“We do,” Jack assured him. “With the best will in the world we can’t teach a bunch of baby plants how to be plants and I don’t think it would be a good idea to send them to school here with the other kids.”
“Quite right.” The Doctor embarked on his usual manic dance around the TARDIS’ central console, flicking switches, turning handles, pulling levers, until with a grinding noise the TARDIS began to dematerialise.
“Handbrake!” Ianto yelped, leaping towards the console with a pained expression on his face and disengaging the brake with a flick of the wrist. “Where did you learn to drive? You’re as bad as Jack!”
The Doctor raised both eyebrows. “How did you know that was the handbrake?”
Ianto started to shrug then restrained himself in deference to his floral inhabitants. “Found TARDIS schematics in the archives a while back and memorised them. Fascinating technology.”
Jack beamed proudly. “Ianto knows everything.”
“Except how to properly raise sentient plants, unfortunately.” Ianto stroked delicate petals with the tip of one finger.
“Oh, I don’t know, you all seem to be doing a reasonably good job under the circumstances.”
“Nice of you to say so, Doctor, but we know our limits. Torchwood isn’t a suitable environment for these youngsters; they need fresh air and sunlight.”
The Doctor nodded agreement. “Right again, Mr Jones, and where we’re headed, they’ll get exactly that.”
Thanks to the TARDIS, they arrived on the plants’ home planet hardly more than a day after the parent plant was snatched by the Rift. As everyone stepped out onto a hillside covered in short, bluish grass beneath a greenish sky, dozens on plant people swarmed towards them on root-rimmed feet, surrounding them and clamouring excitedly. Surprisingly, the team could understand every word.
“How do they know English?” Owen asked, amazed.
“They don’t,” Jack said, laughing. “The TARDIS is translating for us.”
“It can do that?” Owen glanced back at the blue police box, looking thoroughly out of place in the unspoiled natural setting.
“Yes, she can. She’s at least as sentient as these plants you know.”
“A sentient spaceship…” Owen trailed off, shaking his head and causing his plants to cling on tighter with their roots, making faint little squeaking sounds of alarm.
“Careful, Owen, you’re upsetting your passengers. Don’t want anyone falling off,” Ianto reminded him.
“Right, sorry guys.”
“Let’s get on with what we came here for!” Jack quickly explained to the natives how he and his team had come to be festooned with baby plants, and the natives expressed their gratitude to the humans for nurturing their sister’s offspring with such care. The plantlets were very precious to them, since, as it always was with their species, they were all that remained of their parent, and the loss of an entire genetic line might have proved catastrophic to their species.
Explanation over, it was simply a case of persuading the youngsters to leave their surrogate parents and take root on members of their own kind, where they could safely grow until they were big enough to live independently. Needless to say, that took quite a while; the babies had become attached to the Torchwood Team in more ways than one, having bonded emotionally with their hosts. There was more than a little sadness on both sides as they parted, although the team knew it was for the best. The baby plants belonged here, beneath their own sun, not under artificial light in the Hub, being squirted with water from a bottle.
At last the final shy plantlet crept out from behind Tosh’s ear and found a space for itself with its siblings among the petals of the plant person who would raise it to maturity. The team checked each other over thoroughly for any plantlets that might have got left behind then said their goodbyes and returned to the TARDIS.
“You know,” said Tosh, “I think I’m going to miss them. I know we’ve done the right thing but still, they were so pretty. They really brightened up the Hub.”
“I’ll get you a houseplant,” said Owen. “A Geranium maybe; flowers, nice leaves, easy to care for, and a lot more practical than having plants growing on your head. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like once they got to be five or six inches tall?”
Everyone looked at each other, Jack grinning as he pictured it.
“Yeah, I’ll pass,” Ianto said, pulling a face.
“Me too,” said Gwen. “Even at less than two inches they were starting to get a bit heavy, and their roots were pulling my hair.”
“Okay, kids, now that’s all over with how about we all go home and get back to work? Doctor, if you’d be so kind?” Jack flashed his old friend his widest smile.
“Off we go then!” The Doctor was back at the console, working the controls as fast as he could, perhaps showing off a bit. “Mister Jones, the handbrake if you please?”
Then the TARDIS was dematerialising, leaving the little plants behind to live happy lives among their own kind as their temporary caregivers headed back to their own world.
“Well, that was quite an adventure, wasn’t it?” Jack smiled at his team.
Ianto nodded. “I thought it was blooming lovely.”
Owen groaned, burying his head in his hands. “You just had to say it, didn’t you?”
“Of course,” Ianto smirked. “You should know by now I never pass up the chance of a really bad pun.”