The summer storm continued to rage above them. Thunder boomed again and a flash of lightning was briefly visible through the hole in the ground a few metres above, turning the falling rain into spears of silver. Things could be a lot worse, Ianto thought to himself. This was really quite cosy, the two of them snuggled together, wrapped in Jack’s coat. His knee ached a bit - he’d twisted it when he fell - and the ground was a bit hard, but at least they were dry and out of the howling wind. Now all they had to do was wait for the rest of the team to start wondering where they’d got to and come rescue them. They’d even succeeded in capturing the monster that had been decimating the local sheep population.
Ianto looked at the monster. It was currently wrapped around them rather like an oversized draught excluder, its head in Jack’s lap and its tail draped across Ianto’s feet, keeping them warm. It was humming quietly as Jack petted its head.
Earlier that day, when reports of a giant snake had come in via the police, Ianto and Jack had loaded the SUV with nets, tranquilizer darts and one of the bigger guns - just in case the fearsome beast couldn’t safely be taken alive. According to local farmers, it had been attacking and devouring their sheep. They had several half-eaten carcases to prove it.
Arriving on the scene, they’d spent a while examining the dead sheep before setting out to track the creature responsible. Three hours of fruitless searching later, Ianto had literally fallen over it, where it lay mostly hidden in bracken halfway up a slope at the edge of a small wood. It had given a startled squeak before trying to squirm away, but Ianto had grabbed hold and hung on. Jack had joined in the battle and after several minutes of frantic struggle, they’d found themselves face to face, their opponent firmly wrapped around them. Arms pinned to their sides and held immobile, things weren’t looking good. Ianto fully expected to be eaten.
“That could have gone better,” Jack commented.
Ianto just rolled his eyes. Jack was a master of stating the obvious.
“Can you reach your gun? Or my gun might be easier…” Jack continued.
“I can barely twitch my fingers, never mind move my arms. Right now, I’m surprised I can still breathe,” Ianto replied, trying an experimental wriggle.
“Ooooh, do that again!”
“Jack, I hardly think this is a good time…”
“Okay, okay, it was just an idea. Maybe if we keep still it’ll get bored.”
They stood perfectly still, neither of them speaking, practically nose to nose. For several minutes nothing happened. Then gradually the coils loosened and their captor slid to the ground in an untidy heap, snoring.
“How…?” Ianto started.
“Tranquilizer,” Jack replied, holding up a syringe “I stuck it with this while you were wrestling with it; took longer to work than I expected.”
Ianto glared at him and huffed, “You might have told me.”
Jack just grinned.
Stepping back a few feet, they studied the creature. It did vaguely resemble a large snake - about 5 metres long, maybe 70 centimetres around at its widest part, tapering to a narrower tail. However, in Ianto’s experience, snakes were generally less… fluffy. It had long, thick russet fur, striped and speckled with green, covering its entire body, and the head looked more like that of a Shetland pony, but without ears and with a much narrower nose. More of a snout really, Ianto decided. Its colouring gave it excellent camouflage amongst the bracken.
“I think it’s safe to say it’s not a snake,” Jack commented after a moment.
Ianto smirked. “What gave it away?”
“Hmmmm.” Jack studied the creature carefully, “Probably the fur,” he said seriously.
Ianto rolled his eyes. “It’s a safe bet that our fluffy friend’s not responsible for killing those sheep either.”
Jack swung round sharply, “What makes you say that?”
“Look at the shape of the head, the narrow snout and tiny mouth. You saw the bite marks, there’s no way that mouth could have done that much damage.”
“So what, you think there might actually be a giant, sheep-eating snake out here and we just stumbled across this by chance?”
“Hardly. Snakes usually swallow their prey whole. The sheep were most likely either killed by stray dogs, or died and foxes scavenged the remains. Then the local farmers saw something large and snake-like sneaking about their fields - maybe at dusk or dawn, when they couldn’t see it clearly - and automatically assumed it was responsible.”
Ianto crouched down beside the creature’s head and examined its mouth. “Small, blunt teeth, definitely not a carnivore. Maybe it was just grazing among the sheep for company. For all we know, these creatures might live in herds. Anyway, we can figure that out later, after we get it back to the Hub.” He sighed heavily. “But first, we have to figure out how to get it to the SUV, preferably without the local farmers seeing it. I‘d rather not have to Retcon them if it can be avoided. As long as they don‘t get a close look at our new friend, we can just tell them it was an escaped pet. A python.”
Jack walked around the creature a couple of times, deep in thought, looking at it from every angle.
“Maybe we could sort of coil it up and carry it like that,” he suggested vaguely, “Or… No, got it; we each take an end and just keep it stretched out between us so the middle doesn’t drag on the ground.”
Ianto just stared at him, eyebrow raised.
“What? I suppose you have a better idea,” Jack huffed.
“Not really. Best I can come up with is, we both get hold of the front end and try pulling it along. It must get around by slithering anyway, so being dragged shouldn’t hurt it.”
Ianto checked his PDA. “The nearest road is that way,” he told Jack, pointing into the woods. “Through the trees and down the other side of the hill, just over two miles. If we can get it down close to the road, you can stay with it while I go back to the farm and fetch the SUV.”
“Why do I have to stay with it?” Jack grumbled, “You can stay and I’ll fetch the SUV.”
“You’ve got the syringes and tranquilizer, or at least I hope you have. It’ll probably need to be sedated again. Anyway, we can argue over who does what once we reach the road.”
Dragging the creature wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Grabbing handfuls of its fur wasn’t an option - that would just result in it ending up half bald - and trying to wrap an arm around it just made walking difficult. In the end, they used their belts as carrying straps, buckling them loosely around the front end of the creature, one a few inches behind the head, the other a couple of feet further back. Then each took hold of a belt and they lifted the front end off the ground and started pulling.
It was slow going, their burden was unwieldy and they couldn’t walk in a straight line, having to detour around trees and other obstacles. They kept to the edge of the woods, where the trees were further apart, but still had to stop several times to untangle the rear end, which kept snagging on things. The creature continued to snore softly throughout everything.
As they walked, they realised it was rapidly getting dark and the wind was rising. Thick clouds had been gathering overhead for a while and they were less than halfway to the road, the woods already some distance behind them, when they heard the first rumble of thunder.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Ianto muttered, glancing upwards, “We’re going to get soaked.”
Jack was in front, walking on the creature’s right, Ianto behind on the left. Jack glanced back, “Can you manage to go a bit faster? It would be better if we’re not right on top of the hill when the storm hits.”
They were both tired, their arms aching from the strain, but they managed to speed up a bit, hurrying over the crest of the hill and starting down the other side, which made things a bit easier despite bracken, brambles and rocks tripping them every few steps.
The first heavy drops of rain started to fall, making it even harder to see in the gloom, but they stumbled onwards, half carrying, half dragging their captive down the steep hillside, hoping to reach the dubious shelter of one of the dry stone walls that made a patchwork of the lower slopes before the heavens opened.
Suddenly, Jack cried out and lurched to the side as the ground beneath his foot crumbled away and he started to fall. Ianto dropped his burden and grabbed at Jack, but it was too late, his fingers barely brushed the back of Jack’s coat as Jack dropped into the pit that had opened beneath his feet. With a slithering sound, the alien snake tumbled in after Jack as more of the ground gave way.
Ianto dropped flat on the ground and carefully wriggled towards the hole, peering down about 4 metres to where Jack lay beneath furry coils of snake creature on a sandy floor.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, the storm nearly upon him, rain hammering down. The only shelter was the hole in front of him, so Ianto twisted round, slid his legs over the edge and lowered himself as far as he could, before letting go and dropping to the sandy floor, rolling on impact. The sand softened the landing a bit, but one knee twisted as he landed, sending a stab of pain through his leg. Still, compared to other Torchwood related injuries, it was minor damage, nothing an ice pack and a bit of rest couldn’t fix.
Ianto scrambled over to where Jack lay, pushing the coils of furry snake to one side in order to examine him. Miraculously, Jack wasn’t dead, just unconscious. Ianto quickly checked him over for broken bones and finding none, dragged him to a dry, sheltered area where the rain wouldn’t reach them. Having propped Jack as comfortably as possible against the wall, Ianto returned to the creature they’d captured. He unbuckled the belts from around it, tossing them over towards Jack, then starting at the creature’s head, checked it for injury; hopefully, being unconscious during the fall had saved it from harm. He had no idea what the skeletal structure of the creature was, so it was hard to be sure, but as far as he could tell, it seemed undamaged.
He’d examined about three quarters of the long body when something prodded him gently in the side. Turning his head, he came face to face with a narrow snout and a pair of ridiculously big green eyes, blinking sleepily at him. Not quite sure what to do, Ianto froze and just stared back. The creature stretched upwards, fluffed up its fur and gave itself a shake that started at the head and travelled the length of its body, ending with a rapid wiggle of its tail, spraying water everywhere, then rapidly slithered over to where Jack sat in the dry and proceeded to prod him with its nose until he stirred and groaned.
“Ow, Ianto, stop poking me.”
“I’m not, are you okay?”
Jack opened his eyes and squinted through the gloom at the furry creature that had stopped prodding him and was now staring. “Think so, what happened? And why was our friend here poking me?”
“No idea, maybe it was just being nosy,” Ianto replied.
Jack snorted, “Funny.”
“As for your other question, the ground gave way and you fell into… well, here. Not sure if it’s a natural cave system or some sort of disused mine, but either way, exploring would be a bad idea. We don’t have torches, and these tunnels could stretch for miles, plus there’s no telling if they’re safe. Best if we stay here and wait out the storm, then we can see if it’s possible to climb out. If not, we’ll just have to wait for rescue,” Ianto said, walking over and sitting down beside Jack. “At least it’s dry here.”
“You’re limping, are you hurt?” Jack looked worried.
“It’s nothing, I just twisted my knee a bit when I jumped down.”
“You didn’t fall in? Why didn’t you stay up there,” Jack waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the hole, “You could have gone for help.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” Ianto yelled above a sudden crash of thunder, “There’s a storm up there and this was the only shelter. Besides,” he added in a quieter voice as the thunder stopped for a moment, “I didn’t know if either of you were alive and I wasn’t about to leave you alone, possibly dead, with a creature on unknown origins. I didn’t know what it might do when, or if, it woke up.”
They looked at the creature which now appeared to be grooming itself, carefully teasing bits of bracken and bramble from its fur and dropping them in a neat pile.
“Of course,” drawled Jack, “it’s clearly very dangerous.”
“It could be venomous,” Ianto said defensively, although he didn’t sound as though he believed it himself, “and we still don’t know what it eats.”
“You already said it’s not carnivorous,” Jack reminded him.
“Okay, alright, it’s probably harmless, just a big fluffy snake thing,” Ianto muttered, shivering slightly.
Jack pulled off his coat, put his arm around Ianto and tucked the coat around them both. Ianto snuggled into Jack’s side, grateful for the warmth. A few minutes later, with a soft, slithering sound, a long, fluffy body draped itself around them, settling its head on Jack’s lap and various coils over their legs and feet. Jack petted its head experimentally and was rewarded by a quiet, musical humming sound.
“It seems to like you,” Ianto murmured.
“What can I say? I just have that effect, everything likes me!”
“Modest, aren’t you?”
Jack pulled Ianto closer and kissed the top of his head. “Out of everyone, I’d still choose you.”
“That’s good to know.” Ianto smiled and rested his head on Jack’s shoulder. For a while they just sat there, listening to the storm raging above them.
“What are we going to do with it when we get it back to the Hub? It doesn‘t seem fair to just lock it in one of the cells. For one thing, they‘re too small for something this size. It seems friendly.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I‘m not sure… I mean, we already have Myfanwy, but I‘m not sure how well she‘d get along with a giant furry snake.”
“You want to keep it as a pet, let it have the run of the Hub?”
“I don’t know,” Ianto sighed in frustration, “I just don’t like the idea of keeping it in cramped conditions. We can’t let it free, the farmers might shoot it if they see it again, or it could get captured, end up in a zoo, or worse, a lab, being experimented on…” Ianto trailed off with another sigh.
“You’re right about that,” Jack agreed, “We will have to keep it and I don’t like the idea of locking it up any more than you do. Maybe if I contacted the Doctor he’d know what it is and could take it back where it belongs. But in the meantime, it will have to stay at the Hub. I wouldn’t mind it having the run of the place as long as it behaves, providing Myfanwy can be persuaded to share. I kinda like it,” Jack added, petting it and listening to it hum.
“Me too,” Ianto agreed with a smile.
He must have dozed off for a while because he woke to silence and cold feet. Blue sky and sunlight were visible through the hole in the roof of the cave, the storm was over at last. The lower part of the cave under the hole was awash with rainwater and a low tunnel opposite looked to be part flooded, although two larger tunnels on their side of the cave were dry. Of the furry snake, there was no sign. Ianto nudged Jack awake.
“Huh? What?” Jack looked around blankly.
“The… I don’t even know what to call it, but it’s gone.”
“I was thinking Fluffy.” Then what Ianto was saying seemed to sink in, “Where’d it go?”
“I don’t know, I was asleep. Fluffy? Seriously?”
“Well it is!”
“Yes, Jack, I noticed, but that’s beside the point right now. After all the trouble it took to catch it in the first place, now we’ve lost it again and we’re still stuck down a hole. Could it have climbed out, do you think?”
Jack studied the walls and the hole high above them. “Doubtful. Can’t see us getting out that way either, at least not without ropes and outside help.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out his phone, which promptly fell apart. “Oh, that’s helpful, I must’ve landed on it when I fell. Just once, it would be nice if something actually went right in a situation like this.”
Ianto pulled out his phone and turned it on, “Mine’s working,” he started, “but of course there’s no signal. Don’t know why I even thought there might be, we’re in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of a hole!” He turned it off, stuffed it back in his pocket and sat down. “Might as well be comfortable, looks like we could be here a while.”
Jack came and sat beside him, “Hopefully someone will come looking for us soon. The team knew where we were going, so once they get to the farm and find the SUV, they’ll start a search.”
“We’re miles from where we left the SUV, Jack. Any search would take hours and it’s already nearly 6 o’clock. Granted, it won’t be dark for nearly 4 hours, but the drive from Cardiff took over an hour, so even if they set out now, they’ll have less than 3 hours to search before it gets too dark to see what they’re doing. Face it, we’ll probably be here all night.”
Jack shuddered at that thought. Since being buried alive, he really hadn’t liked the dark or enclosed spaces much, especially underground places that smelt of earth. This hadn’t been bad so far, the cave they were in was large and airy, and the hole above let in plenty of light, but being here throughout the night…
He felt Ianto squeeze his hand, “I’m sorry, Cariad, I know this is hard for you, but I can’t really see any alternative.”
“I know, it’s not your fault. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though,” Jack replied with a faint smile.
Ianto pulled his phone out again and gathered together the pieces of Jack’s, wondering if he could figure out a way to boost the signal. He was so deep in thought he nearly jumped out of his skin when Jack suddenly spoke.
“There you are! You shouldn’t go wandering off like that, it’s not safe, you might have got lost or hurt!”
Ianto couldn’t help it, he burst out laughing at the sight of Jack chastising a large, fluffy alien snake. The creature itself didn’t look the least bit concerned. Instead, it raised the front metre of its body off the ground, stared intently at Jack and poked him with its nose a couple of times, before slithering back into the tunnel it had just exited.
Ianto went back to what he’d been doing. He didn’t really expect it to work, but it was better than doing nothing.
A few minutes later, the creature reappeared and once again poked Jack before heading back into the tunnel. Jack stared after it.
“Hmmm?” Ianto didn’t bother to look up.
A furry head had reappeared once more in the tunnel entrance and it was staring again. To Jack it looked mildly exasperated.
“I think it wants us to follow it.”
That got Ianto’s attention. He stared at Jack, then at the creature, then at Jack again. “Jack, it’s not Lassie,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I know that. Lassie was a dog,” Jack said, “but just because Fluffy is an alien snake, that doesn’t mean it can’t be as smart as a dog. I’m not saying it’s sentient, although I wouldn’t rule that out either - I’ve seen stranger sentient races - but you can’t look at it and say it’s not intelligent.”
Ianto looked at it. It looked back. Then it seemed to sigh heavily, slithered over to him and poked him with its nose, hard, before going back to the tunnel again. Ianto had to admit it did seem to want them to follow. Stuffing his phone and the pieces of Jack’s back in his pockets, he got to his feet and walked over to the tunnel entrance, peering in.
The light from the hole Jack had fallen through only reached a few metres down the tunnel; once they were inside, they wouldn’t be able to see a thing. “Are you sure about this, Jack? It wouldn’t be so bad if we had a torch, but as it is…” He looked across at Jack, who was chewing his bottom lip.
“Can’t say I like the idea, but if Fluffy’s found a way out it would be better than just staying here, hoping to be rescued. Besides, maybe it’s not that far.” Jack tried to sound confident, but his voice shook slightly.
“Would you stop calling it Fluffy?” Ianto asked, exasperated.
“Why?” Jack almost pouted.
“Because it sounds ridiculous!” Before either of them could say anything else, Ianto got another firm prod in the ribs. “Alright, keep your nose to yourself and just give us a minute,” Ianto said. ‘Great,’ he thought, ‘now I’m talking to a furry alien snake like it can understand me.’
“If we’re going to do this, we should just get moving before I change my mind,” Jack said, taking a deep breath and trying to stay calm.
“Just a moment. Once we get in there, we won’t be able to see anything and we don’t want to get lost.” Ianto walked over to where they’d been sitting and picked up their belts from where he’d tossed them earlier. “Hope you don’t mind,” he said, crouching down and quickly buckling a belt around the creature’s body. He fastened the other belt to the first and stood up, keeping hold of the end. “Right,” he held out his hand to Jack, who took it, gripping tightly, “Let’s get going then.” One on each side of their guide, holding hands and with Ianto gripping the makeshift lead tightly, the trio headed into the tunnel.
It wasn’t quite high enough for them to walk upright without banging their heads, so they had to stoop slightly and shuffle along to avoid stepping on the creature between them. Before long they were walking along in pitch darkness. Jack was trying to stay calm, but he felt like he couldn’t catch his breath.
“You alright?” came Ianto’s voice from the darkness beside him.
“Not really,” Jack replied with a shaky laugh.
Ianto squeezed his hand reassuringly, “You’ll be fine, I promise. Just try to take slow, deep breaths. Closing your eyes might help too, them you won’t be able to see the dark.”
Jack did as he was told and surprisingly, it did help a bit. With his eyes closed, he could pretend he wasn’t really walking through a pitch dark tunnel somewhere beneath the Welsh countryside.
The tunnel twisted and turned, went uphill a bit and then downhill for a long while, until Ianto had completely lost all sense of direction. He couldn’t even tell how long they’d been walking, although he thought it must have been at least half an hour. Thankfully, the ceiling didn’t get any lower and though walking a bit hunched over wasn’t exactly comfortable, it wasn’t too difficult. They didn’t talk much as they needed to concentrate on not tripping in the dark; the ground beneath their feet was rough and uneven, and soon Ianto’s knee was throbbing steadily.
“Ianto,” Jack’s voice broke the silence.
“More or less. Is it my imagination, or can I feel a breeze?”
A few seconds passed, then, “You’re not imagining it, there’s definitely a breeze and I think it’s getting lighter too.” A few more metres and, “Jack, open your eyes. I think we’re nearly out.”
Jack blinked against the light and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Another bend in the tunnel and they could see a narrow opening in the rock wall, ahead and to their left. It was a bit of a squeeze, but they managed to get through, their guide first, then Jack, helped along by a good shove from Ianto, then finally Ianto himself. The two men sat on some nearby rocks, catching their breath and getting used to the bright evening sunlight. Ianto checked his watch and found the walk through the tunnel had actually only taken just over 20 minutes, but he suspected that for Jack it must have felt like a lifetime. He dug out his PDA and set about trying to figure out where they were.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to work out where the nearest road is.”
“About 200 metres to our left.”
Ianto turned and looked. “Oh. Right.” He rubbed at his knee absently.
“Hmmm? Oh, yeah.”
“Why don’t you sit here with Fluf… our friend while I go get the SUV? Shouldn’t take me more than an hour or so. I could do with a walk in the fresh air.”
“Yeah, okay. Here, you’d better take this, so you don‘t get lost.” Ianto handed him the PDA.
“No argument?” Jack sounded surprised.
“Nope, I’d say you’ve earned the right,” Ianto told him with a smile.
Jack bent down and kissed him. “I’ll be as quick as I can,” he promised. Turning to the alien snake, he petted its head and said, “Be good and don’t wander off.” It hummed at him and went back to grooming itself again.
Ianto reached over and unbuckled the belt from around it. “Jack,” he called.
Jack turned back towards him.
“Here, you might need this,” he said, tossing Jack his belt. “Don’t want to risk your trousers falling down!”
“Cheeky,” Jack grinned, then headed off downhill towards the road.
Ianto checked his watch again; it was 6.52pm, hopefully Jack would be back with the SUV by 8 or soon after. They might even be back in Cardiff by 9.30. He tried his phone again; still no signal.
He turned to check on his companion. It had finished tidying itself up and was busy poking about among the nearby rocks. After a while, he realised it was nibbling at the moss and lichen growing everywhere, and apparently thoroughly enjoying it.
“So that’s what you eat!”
It turned to hum at him briefly, as though agreeing, then turned back to the rocks and continued browsing. Ianto stretched out on his back on a flat rock and relaxed, enjoying the warmth and the gentle breeze, satisfied that the alien snake wasn’t going to wander far. Jack was right. If they were going to keep it for any length of time, it really would need a name. He just couldn’t bring himself to call it Fluffy. Closing his eyes, he ran through various good, solid Welsh names: Rhydian, Dafydd, Arwen, Morwen, Cerys… No. No good. How do you tell the gender of furry alien snakes? Are they even male or female, or are they both? Or neither? Whatever they called it, it would have to be something that wasn’t specific to gender. Which led him back to Fluffy again. No. No way! Never! Still pondering the problem, he drifted off to sleep.
Some time later, Ianto woke to the sensation of someone nuzzling his ear.
“Mmmm,” he sighed, “Jack…”
Ianto’s eyes shot open and he sat up so fast he nearly fell off the rock. “What the…?” He glared at the culprit. “You keep your nose out of my ear! You can‘t just go around sticking your nose wherever you want at random, you‘ll land yourself in serious trouble!” Green eyes blinked innocently back at him.
Hearing laughter, Ianto turned to see Jack striding up the hill towards them, and beyond him, the black bulk of the SUV parked on the grass verge.
“Hey,” Jack greeted him with a chuckle, “Something going on that I should know about?”
Ianto ignored the question, glancing at his watch, “You made good time. Any problems?”
“Nope, just told Mr. Morgan what you suggested; that it’s a python - probably an escaped pet - that we’d caught it and would take it to a private collection where it would be properly cared for. Close enough to the truth. Oh, and I told him it wasn’t responsible for the attacks on the local livestock as snakes don’t bite chunks out of their prey. I suggested he and the other local farmers should keep a look out for a pack of stray dogs in the area. He was very grateful.” Jack turned his attention to the furry creature sprawled at his feet. “What about you? Did you behave yourself while I was gone?”
“It was fine until it started sticking its nose where it didn’t belong,” Ianto replied, “I just hope that won’t cause problems back at the Hub. I don’t like the thought of it getting hurt because it stuck its nose in the wrong place. On the plus side, I’ve found out what it eats.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“Moss and lichen. It spent most of the time while you were gone nibbling it off the rocks. We’ll need to find a supplier and try to figure out how much it eats in a day, another problem for later. For now, we’d better gather what we can to take back with us.”
Half an hour later, with several large containment boxes stuffed full of moss and packed in the boot, they were ready to go. Nosy, as the creature was now called, had spent the time mooching about on the hillside, nibbling at the occasional rock, but now it slithered along behind them as they made their way to the SUV. Jack opened the rear door and gestured inside.
“In you get.” Nosy peered in through the door, hummed in apparent approval and proceeded to slither in, arranging itself in coils on the back seat. Jack shut the door behind it and got in the driver’s side; Ianto was already in the passenger seat, making notes on his PDA, which Jack had left on the seat.
Starting the engine, Jack grinned at Ianto. “Let’s get this fearsome monster home. I can’t wait to see the looks on everyone’s faces.”
Ianto grinned back at him. “Oh yeah, that’ll be fun!”