If a dragon sees you be quiet and little. Dragons will chase noisy children. Dragons chase things that move. If you cry they hear you and will make you fire so dont ever cry.
Martha placed the explosive devices in a careful pattern around the nest, pushing off inquisitive baby dragons as they sniffed at her, unawares. They'd been eggs last time she'd been here, when her team hadn't known about the nest. In her mind, she'd pictured them still as eggs, rocks really, and not big-eyed dragonets with all the apparent harmfulness of kittens.
If these kittens grew up, the world would never stop burning.
She set another charge, checking the timer.
Sometimes Martha dreamed about Japan, about watching the whole island burn, and then she woke up and it was the whole Earth. Sometimes she dreamed about crawling across an alien wasteland with only a Hath as a companion, and then the morning brought the wasteland home. On the very worst days - or perhaps the best - she thought this wasn't real, that her mind had snapped from all the hell she'd endured. Martha Jones walked the Earth, and now her leg barely worked. One burning post-apocalyptic wasteland turned into another out of stress, and she was delusional, and locked up somewhere while the world around her went on as it always had done.
It was a happy thought, almost, that this wasn't real, that it was all a figment of her overtaxed mind. That meant everyone was still alive.
She set another charge, and she remembered watching her fiancé burn to death. Another one, and she relived the long, awful day when she made her way through devastated and smoking streets to where her mother's house had stood. She'd spent weeks searching and digging, trying to sort through ruins even to figure out where streets had been. Large swathes of London had been razed to the ground with no survivors, and while she'd prayed to find familiar faces among the few refugees lucky enough to have been away from the initial onslaught, the only one she ever saw was Toshiko.
When she was younger, Martha had fought to preserve life, had saved humans and aliens alike, had fallen in love with an alien. She'd been so full of kindness. The dragons had burned away her compassion, and she hated them for that most of all. She hated that she could not afford mercy, even as she placed one more charge, completing her pattern. She hated that she had to kill, had to convince others to kill. The Doctor would be disappointed in her, but she knew she was far more disappointed than he ever could be.
A baby dragon, blue scales moving with an oily grace, bumped up against her, rubbing an itchy head under her arm to be petted.
All the world's ills, and still there was this little thing, free of care and wanting affection from the human who was about to kill it. Her eyes welled up. Then she scratched the dragonet on the top of its head as it made a pleased trilling noise.
"I'm sorry," Martha said, voice choked. "I'm so sorry."
"All right, here's the plan," Owen said. "I'll lure one over, you shoot it." He glanced at her. Rhiannon frowned. "You can shoot. I've seen you."
"I know that. I think I ought to be the distraction." Owen saw a set in her jaw as she spoke, and recognised the expression from many a tussle and one gunshot wound to his shoulder.
"Ianto'd kill me if anything happened to you." But he'd asked her to come with him, hadn't he?
"I'll go," she said quietly and calmly. Funny. If his heart could still beat, it'd be racing in terror, and he knew it. She took one of the crossbows and one of the arrows from his hands. Then she kissed him on his cheek, lingering a moment longer than needed for luck. Owen's mouth couldn't go dry, and he couldn't feel her lips. It didn't matter.
Rhiannon stepped out from their hiding place, crossbow slung in her hand like she'd been living in post-apocalyptic hell all her life. She put on a quirky smile, another expression he knew, one that said the wearer was definitely up to no good. When she was clear of him, she started singing, some Spice Girls song, loudly and off-key.
Owen held what would have been his breath.
One of the dragons twisted its head at the noise, and put on an angry face, as much as the brutes could. Guess they didn't like Posh, either.
The dragon pushed off from the ground and started to give chase.
"I would kill for some grenades right now," Jack whispered. "Just drop a bunch and run."
"Wouldn't work," said Rhys. Their hides were too tough. Jack knew that. Didn't stop him wishing.
"Hush," said Gwen, barely breathing.
If Jack leaned over the railing, and if the queen dragon happened to be looking straight up, and if he happened to be at exactly the perfect angle …
Jack opened the door behind himself and beckoned the other two outside. When they were out, he shut the door. "We have to get her outside. We'll never get a shot at her while she's in her nest."
Rhys said, "Does she come out? She's in there like a great broody hen. We'd have better luck blowin' up the whole silo." And they were back to Things That Wouldn't Work.
Gwen said, "The nest."
"Yes," Jack said. "How do we get her out of it?"
"That isn't her nest. Unless you've forgotten the big place with all the eggs."
Even as she spoke, the mountain rumbled, and then the queen burst from the broken roof of the silo, gigantic and awful and stretching her great wings to either side, shadowing out the world.
"Jesus," Rhys breathed.
With a roar, she took off, making a great circle before flying towards them. Jack instinctively pressed against the mountainside. But she flew on in the direction of their previous position.
Where Martha was.
"Oh damn," Jack said, and then he took off, running and sliding down the mountain. "Hey! HEY!" Her roars were too loud, and covered over his shouts. Behind him, he heard Rhys and Gwen following in an ungainly jaunt on the loose scree, shouting with him.
If they didn't distract her, if they didn't get to her before she got to Martha, they might as well not have come at all.
Jack screamed at the top of his lungs, until his voice was raw.
"We got someone's attention," said Rhys. Jack turned, and saw two more dragons headed their way.
They had two arrows. One had to be for the queen.
Gwen took her crossbow, and then took Rhys's hand. She looked at Jack. "Get her. We'll be fine." She headed back towards the dragons, and his heart sank. She could only possibly get one of them. She and Rhys were going to die.
"Gwen … "
"Go!" she said, as if she were shooing a child. Then she waved her arms in front of the oncoming dragons. "This way, you bastards!"
Jack turned and ran, and let himself believe the ash in the air was irritating his eyes. The crossbow was heavy in his hands.
"OVER HERE!" he screamed at the queen, but she was too far.
From over the ridge, he could almost see where Martha was. Then there was a blinding light as the explosives went. A rush of hot air, even worse than the stinking breath around him, pushed at him, and the queen let out a terrible scream. Had she been hurt, even a little?
He spared a glance back, could only make out the dark shapes against the sky where Gwen and Rhys had run. There was no time to help them.
The queen let out a bellow, her rage shaking the whole mountain. There were more dragons stirred awake by the explosions and the grief of the female, darkening the skies with their wings.
From atop the mountain, he saw one dragon's head explode. Team Beta had got one shot off, then.
The queen turned her attention onto Jack. He stood his ground, too worn out and sad and dogged for terror anymore.
He raised the crossbow to aim as she neared him, began to pull back on the draw.
The string snapped.
The dragon wasn't lined up properly. They'd need a better angle, Owen knew, or they'd never drop it. "Run for cover!" He hoped she heard.
He stepped out from his hiding place and took its attention. Surprised, the dragon swerved, backed away to get in place for the new meal. Owen raised his crossbow, saw the blue-hot flame forming inside the dragon's mouth as it drew breath, and his last conscious thought was that it was all right, really, and maybe he'd been waiting for a proper hero's death ever since he'd died the first time.
If Jack died right now, he wouldn't come back in time to help the others. He grabbed the arrow, clutched it against his chest, and dropped, rolling barely out of range of her breath and still getting scorched for his trouble.
He couldn't see anything in the smoke and the after-dark of the retina burn, couldn't breathe in the polluted air. The only shape he saw was the glow from the great conflagration Martha had set, and the blackout of the dragon's mighty body as she came around for another pass.
Mickey heard the explosions from the truck. He could see nothing from under his bandages, and it didn't matter, because at this point, he couldn't defend himself even if he saw them coming.
If the others never came back, he'd die out here.
His fingers reached around. The crossbows and arrows were gone, but his fingers clenched around something long. A tyre iron. It wasn't much of a weapon, would be a poor cane, but it was something. He might be able to walk across the car park to the ruin of the little information centre they'd seen on their last attempt at this. He might be able to stay here and figure out how to wire the truck's engine to explode and take out a dragon if one got too close, as if that would work.
There was a noise. Mickey jumped. Then the static came in over the walkie talkie Martha had left.
"Anyone there?" said the most beautiful woman in the world. She sounded like she was crying.
Rhiannon watched the hot plasma of the dragon's fire consume Owen in seconds. He couldn't feel pain anymore, he'd told her once. But he could think. She hoped, God she prayed, let that stop first.
The dragon's head exploded from the arrow and the convulsing body collapsed on whatever scant remains had once been the witty, sometimes caustic, often caring doctor.
But there was a second damn dragon to deal with, and one arrow left in her hand.
Rhiannon took a deep breath.
"OI! YOU UGLY MONSTER!"
The last dragon turned its head.
"Kiss for luck?" Gwen said to Rhys. He obliged immediately. "Now run."
She stared at him for half a moment, all the time they had. The great damned lug would never, ever leave her side, and she loved him so.
A dragon came at them, flapping its leathery wings and rearing up to blast them.
Gwen fired, and then she pushed her idiot husband, where they rolled and tumbled, scraping skin and sliding, but not burning, as the dragon exploded above them.
Jack held the arrow. It was just a matter of aiming it, just a matter of position.
He climbed up a nearby escarpment as the queen circled. There wasn't much flat ground close by, hardly enough to move, but he could get up to speed fast.
Alice had died here. Gwen and Rhys and Martha were probably already dead. What was one more death?
Jack leapt off the side of the mountain as the dragon opened her mouth, and he felt her jaws close as he shoved the last arrow into the pilot flame of her gullet. Teeth tore into the flesh of his legs, and her bite broke his back, but she'd already been preparing to flame him, and it was too late.
Mercifully, he didn't feel the explosion at all.
If they were getting smarter, she was dead. If she was in the wrong position, she was dead. Too many ifs.
The dragon was coming. The dragon was coming after her. Oh shit a dragon was coming after her.
Rhi stood her ground.
Every damned day, her little brother went out to brave the dragons. Every damned day, her brother-in-law stood in their way, and half the time, he died for it. Every damned day, her children lived in fear underground, forgetting the sun. As the dragon approached her in what seemed like the slowest movement she'd ever seen, Rhiannon was fucking tired of it all.
The beast opened its mouth. Rhiannon called it something her mam would have said was very rude.
She didn't miss.
Jack woke in agony, skin abraded and broken, and he screamed, not knowing where he was. His brain was fuzzy, still rebooting, and dragon death always hurt like a sonovabitch coming and going, and he just wanted to go home and be held for a while by someone who loved him.
He took in a deep gulp of air after his scream, and he woke fully, looking around himself.
Gwen said, "Welcome back." She was covered in dirt and grime and a bit of blood, but she was gorgeously alive. Rhys was beside her, his teeth the only things not covered in soot, and while Jack wouldn't use "gorgeous" to describe him, he was still a sight for sore eyes.
"He's awake," Gwen said.
"I heard," said Martha, coming into view with a slow limp. Her face was etched in pain, but she was also alive and beautiful, and Jack could not believe his eyes. "We need to go."
"Did I get her?"
"You did, mate," Rhys said, with a clap to Jack's arm that only hurt a bit. Then he helped Jack to his unsteady feet. "O'course, her boyfriends aren't well pleased."
Now that Jack was more aware, he could tell that he'd been pulled inside the UNIT base into a corridor. Outside, dragons still roared and flew.
He turned to Martha. "The nest?"
"As far as I can tell, it's destroyed." The Doctor wouldn't have approved, not killing all the eggs and all those little dragons. But the Doctor wasn't here.
"We checked," added one of the UNIT soldiers. "We went through the ashes."
Jack nodded. "All right." Now what? The plan had been to come here and kill the dragon queen and the eggs, and they had. He hadn't been able to think past that.
Gwen must have read his mind. "As soon as you can walk, we're going to head down. We'll stay inside this time, all the way."
It would be dark, and it wouldn't be any safer going down than it had been coming up, but they'd be out of sight, and they no longer had to worry that they wouldn't achieve their mission. He glanced at Gwen's abdomen. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I could sleep for days. Let's get home so I can."
With a smile, Gwen helped him on one side and Rhys the other. Martha leaned on one of the soldiers for help - he was sure she'd re-injured her leg, and if they passed a medical bay, he'd insist she go in to patch herself up and scavenge any supplies they could carry - and together they all made their way down into the darkness.
There had been nothing left of Owen under the dragon. Rhiannon said a prayer Mam taught her when she was little, then she struck out in the direction of where the chemist's used to be, to see if she could find antibiotics for her brother. She'd brave the hospital later.
Adrenalin fuelled every step she took. She'd killed a dragon. They could kill dragons now. They could take back Wales, take back the island, take back the planet, one great exploding beast at a time. When Jack went out for his nightly listens, he could send out the message: this is how we take them down. The human race would reclaim the Earth.
The world would be different as they put it back together. They'd formed an uneasy little oligarchy down in the Hub, with Torchwood on top and the rest of them taking orders. It'd have to stay that way for a while, but they'd want a proper government again, and proper laws, not just "do what Jack says." Otherwise, they'd be setting him up as a king, which no-one wanted, including Jack. Besides, Ianto would make a lousy Queen. Also, they were changing the flag.
Rhi was familiar enough with shock to recognise her thoughts were not entirely reasonable. She hurried her steps.
They'd cleaned out the chemist's shop before this, but she got lucky and found a bottle of erythromycin they'd missed, and it was only a month expired. She dug around for anything else of use, but again, the supply raids had come here multiple times in the early days, and all she found now that she might use was some soap.
Everything had changed, she thought, making her way back to the Hub. She'd walked right by MP3 players and electric shavers, and the burnt hulks of expensive cars. Soap and medicine were more precious than the jewellery displays in the broken windows of the shops. No kings. No gems. Just …
Owen's death hit her then, as it hadn't before, and she let herself sit down on the kerb, mindless of whether there were more dragons coming. Rhiannon bawled her eyes out for a good long time.
When she felt better, she went home. She'd half-expected a hero's welcome, as if they had any room left for heroes. She was disappointed when her children didn't come greet her, and she put the soap in the kitchen, reserving one bar for the shower she intended to take in a few minutes. First, she needed to check on Ianto, and then find out where the kids got off to.
When she reached Medical, she stopped and stared. "Ianto?"
The funny thing was, he must have covered his face when the dragon flamed him, because although most of the skin on his body was a mess, that was still Ianto surrounded by the ruin. It was strange, like looking at her brother's face plastered on a painting of something else.
And then the weirdness passed, and he smiled at her, and under all the damage and the pain, he was still the same boy who'd put frogs in their bathtub and muddied his playclothes. Steven and David stood to one side of him, helping to hold the regenerator thing in place over his legs. It would be slow going, Owen had said. Every bit helped.
"Mam!" said Mica, hopping up from where she sat on the edge of Ianto's bed. "Uncle Ianto is helping me write my homework about the dragons."
"Is he?" She walked down the stairs and got him a glass of water. There was a pill bottle on his bedside table, which she moved out of the way to get his first dose of antibiotics ready.
"I figured since you were taking over the dragon-slaying, I ought to be helping with the kids more." His voice was strained, but his eyes were proud of her, even as they took in the fact that she came back alone. His grief would come later. For now, he would rejoice in having her home.
David said, "Dragon-slaying?" He dropped his end of the regenerator, making Steven hold it unsteadily.
Rhiannon smiled. "Two of 'em, dead on the Plass. Now mind your uncle while I see about cooking up some dragon stew."
Both of her children made matching faces of disgust, and Rhi grabbed her daughter in an impulsive hug, glad she'd already done a round of crying so she didn't start again.
Six Months Later
The morning dawned cold and clear over the Bay. From the ruins of the Tourist Centre, Ianto could do a wide scan of the skies, but they hadn't seen a dragon in three months, and even the brimstone smell was beginning to fade under the ever-present odours of the sea. He leaned on the edge of a crumbled wall, resting his cane just within reach.
The cane was fascinating, in its own way. The other survivors viewed the simple devices as talismans, and the three who used one regularly as Other, Touched, almost Holy. They said Mickey had lost his sight but could see beyond this world. (Not true. But Mickey was an alright bloke once Ianto got to know him while they recovered together, and Ianto was glad of their new friendship.) They said Martha limped because she had walked further than anyone ever had or would. (Not precisely true. Martha had walked many a wasteland, and now she was content to rest in the Hub, recovering far more slowly from wounds that hurt her in places the rest could not see.) They said Ianto had come back from injuries that would have killed anyone else, and that meant he was like Jack now. (Unlikely, and a theory he had no intention of testing.)
Out beyond the Basin, Ianto heard voices. The newly-minted farmers had gone out early to their scattered backyard plots, checking the new growth on the Spring planting. Some of the pluckier souls had moved into still-standing homes closer to where they worked, cleaning out debris and picking up new lives from the abandoned remnants of someone else's old one. More and more of the refugees from the Hub were venturing outside to look for new homes up top, and Gwen was encouraging those who did to take a child or three with them.
If he and Jack ever moved out of the Hub, Ianto thought they ought to find a nice little house close by, like Gwen and Rhys had after the baby was born. They'd look for a place with another house right next door for Rhiannon and her kids. Steven would soon have his own room at the Hub, what with all the people steadily moving out, but he ought to have a proper bedroom, ought to play outside. If Gwen had her way, he'd also have a semi-adopted sibling or two, something Ianto was not ready to think about yet.
The door opened behind him and Jack's warm arms snaked around his waist. "How's the weather?"
"Clear. No dragons." Ianto leaned back into the touch. Jack placed a kiss where his hair had grown back.
Everyone had scars now, except Jack who never would. Ianto had expected to die, and when he hadn't died, he'd expected Jack to take one good look and politely and quietly break up with him. Instead, Jack had held Ianto's hand as Martha had debrided the dead flesh from his wounds, and he'd learned how to operate the regenerator to speed the healing, and he took every chance he had to press kisses into the proud flesh where the scars formed.
When Ianto had had enough of the waiting, he'd finally asked Jack when the other shoe was going to drop. Jack had cuffed him lightly on the head, and he'd said, "Do you really think I only love you for your looks?" And that had settled a number of things all at once, and for good.
Ianto saw movement in the sky, and he tensed. Jack tensed behind him, head snapping up to see where Ianto had been looking.
Then the image resolved itself: a seagull, out for an early meal. They both let out an uneasy laugh. It would be a long time before anything flying wasn't a menace, and they'd never really ever stop watching the skies again.
"Come on. Rhys's got breakfast ready, and Rhiannon wants to take a foraging team out to Cathays." Hand-in-hand, they went back down, just as the sun peeked out above the horizon, shining golden over Cardiff.
AN: My three favorite words are "I liked this."