It wasn’t even six-thirty in the morning yet, the sun barely risen above the horizon, and yet here Ianto was with Jack, on a mid-April morning, out in the wilds beyond Cardiff searching for a mysterious something the Rift had chosen to gift them with a little over an hour earlier.
Okay, so ‘wilds’ might be stretching the point a bit; they were in Coed y Wenallt Woods. Jack had dragged Ianto from his comfy bed while it was still dark out because he had a passing familiarity with the woods and would therefore be of more use to him in the search than the rest of the team. Well, that was Jack’s excuse anyway. He probably had ulterior motives, even if Ianto couldn’t figure out at the moment what they might be.
Understandably, Ianto had bitched about having to get up more than an hour before his alarm was due to go off, but it wasn’t as if that had never happened before; it was a semi-regular occurrence, along with not getting to bed at all. The Rift, and therefore Torchwood as well, didn’t have regular operating hours and at least this time he hadn’t been forced out of bed having only just got into it. That had happened far too many times.
Once they’d been underway Ianto had perked up considerably. The sky was growing lighter, and it looked set to be a beautiful day. Better even than that, when they’d arrived at a small car park, in reality no more than a stretch of gravelly soil with some valiant tussocks of grass poking up here and there, as he'd looked out across the woodland he’d found it carpeted by a purple-blue haze.
Thanks to a much milder than usual winter, the bluebells were flowering early. Ianto had a particular fondness for fields of glowing yellow daffodils, perhaps it was a Welsh thing, but bluebell woods came a very close second on his list of the best floral displays and with a gusty breeze setting the spikes of small bells nodding and dancing it was quite a magical sight. So much so that he took out his phone and started taking pictures.
“Right, which way?” he asked, suddenly eager to be off among the widely spaced trees, following the worn footpaths that meandered seemingly at random through what had to be considered an area of outstanding natural beauty.
“Um…” Jack fiddled with the GPS in his hands, frowning at it. “That way!” He pointed slightly to the left and set off, taking long strides, his coat flaring out behind him.
With a yelp of dismay Ianto leapt after his lover, catching up in just a few strides and grabbing Jack’s arm, pulling him to a halt scant inches from the nearest flowers. “What are you doing? You can’t just take the shortest route, Jack, it’s not allowed; you’ll squash the bluebells! We have to stick to the paths as much as possible, and where we can’t, just watch where you put your big feet.”
Jack huffed annoyance but allowed Ianto to steer him to a path heading in roughly the right direction.
The rising sun was warm and the air full of birdsong as they wended their way among the trees. Following narrow trails and occasionally having to backtrack to find a better route, they drew ever closer to the coordinates of the Rift spike that had heralded the new arrival. Ianto breathed the fresh air deep into his lungs, eyes scanning the expanse of flowers and wandering from time to time up into the branches overhead, seeking out blackbirds, chaffinches, blue tits, even a glimpse of a green woodpecker.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? So peaceful.” The only sounds were the birds proclaiming their territories and the clomping of Jack’s boots,
“Hm?” Jack said vaguely, glancing up from his GPS.
Ianto rolled his eyes. “Sometimes I think nature is wasted on you.”
“We’re not out for a pleasant stroll, Ianto, we’re looking for a potentially dangerous object.”
“I’m aware of that. Doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate our surroundings while we’re at it,” Ianto pointed out. “It’s a balmy spring day, perfect weather for a walk through the woods, and I intend to make the most of it. Just look at that view!”
Jack obediently paused to look. “Alright, yes, it’s beautiful; now help me find what we’re looking for before it blows a giant crater in your beautiful woodland.”
“That’s a bit pessimistic even for you; we hardly ever get explosive devices. It’s probably just a bit of junk.”
“Perhaps, but why take chances?” Jack turned right onto another path that would take them deeper into the woods and Ianto followed, smiling and shaking his head. Jack was usually the devil may care one, but he’d been taking everything more seriously since an artefact he’d been slow to collect had gone boom and blown a small crater in Sevenoaks Park, near the primary school.
Suddenly Ianto’s ears perked up and he grabbed for Jack’s arm again, stopping him in his tracks.
“Shh,” Ianto hissed, cutting him off. “Did you hear that?”
Ianto waved him to silence again, straining his ears, listening intently until the sound came again, filtering through the quiet sounds of nature.
He grinned at Jack. “Cuckoo! That could be the first one this year!”
“It was probably just a pigeon,” Jack retorted. “A lot of people make that mistake.” He headed off along the path again. “Shouldn’t be much further, somewhere in that clearing ahead I think.”
Putting away his phone, which he’d continue taking photos with as they’d walked, Ianto pulled out his handheld scanner, separating from Jack and moving carefully among the bluebells, seeking out the source of the Rift energy he was now picking up. It didn’t take him long to find.
“Looks like an early arrival for the teddy bear’s picnic,” he said, picking up a small plush toy from a patch of bare earth between two bluebell clumps.
“That’s no teddy bear, and I don’t think it’s of earth origin,” Jack said dubiously, joining his lover and studying the stuffed toy. It was approximately eight inches tall, light blue, with three stumpy legs, several tentacles extending from what might be considered the neck, and three pink eyes on stalks.
“Either that or it’s a character from an animated movie that hasn’t been made yet. At least it doesn’t look likely to explode.”
“We got lucky, that’s all.”
“You know,” Ianto said as they slowly retraced their steps, “We should come back later with a picnic of our own.”
Jack nodded. “Maybe.”
Distantly but clearly, Ianto heard, “Cuck-oo!”