Characters: Ianto, Jack, Snocks.
Word Count: 2029
Summary: It’s a normal night at the Hub, until Ianto comes across something that would be anything BUT normal, anywhere other than Torchwood.
Written For: Challenge 219: Amnesty at fan_flashworks, using Challenge 94: Footwear. Also fits 72, Lost and Found, and 61, Transformation.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: Thanks to smallhobbit for inventing snocks and generously giving me permission to write about them!
Ianto had tried, repeatedly, but perhaps Jack was simply too old and set in his ways because he seemed unable to persuade his lover to put all his dirty laundry in one place, namely the laundry hamper. Then again, there was no guarantee he’d be anywhere near said hamper when he shed his clothes for some after-hours fun.
The Hub was Jack’s home, and he saw no reason to restrict such activities to his tiny, cramped, poorly lit bunker when there were so many more imaginative places that added a bit of spice to proceedings. Add to that the frequent games of naked hide and seek they indulged in, during which individual items of clothing were hidden in different places throughout the Hub, and it was only natural that some of those items might get misplaced, only to turn up days, or even weeks later when their forgotten hiding places were stumbled upon by chance. Ianto still remembered Owen’s horrified and disgusted reaction a couple of months ago on discovering a pair of Jack’s shorts hidden in the pocket of his lab coat.
Because he was fortunate enough to be blessed with a near photographic memory, Ianto never forgot where he hid anything, but perhaps inevitably, since Jack’s attention was always on winning the game rather than remembering where he left his socks, some of the Captain’s clothes disappeared without a trace. Ianto had always assumed that Myfanwy, with her keen sense of smell and surprisingly dexterous beak, ferreted them out to add to her nest; he did occasionally discover the odd sock or two mingled with her straw so it was a plausible theory, but now he was starting to wonder.
When he’d caught sight of a flicker of movement deep in the shadows beneath the spiral staircase leading up to Jack’s office, he’d naturally gone to investigate. It was late, the Hub had long since been powered down to night mode, but there’d been a Rift alert an hour or so ago, and he and Jack had just returned from retrieving what had come through. It hadn’t been interesting, just another Caffronian calculator to add to the nine that were already in the archives, but Ianto had taken it straight down to his desk anyway, to be dealt with in the morning, intending to stop off in the kitchen area on the way back and make a relaxing pot of tea; he and Jack needed to unwind before bed. Although coffee was their drink of choice during the day, at this time of night there was nothing better than a nice cuppa, especially after being out in the cold. So the kitchen was where he was headed after leaving the archives, when he’d caught that tiny movement from the corner of his eye.
He’d approached slowly and as quietly as he could, unsure of what he might discover. Maybe it was a rat; he still wasn’t convinced all of Owen’s had been recaptured after they’d escaped that time, although Owen swore they were all accounted for. Then again, it could be a bird that had slipped in through the invisible lift; that happened occasionally, usually a pigeon but on one occasion a seagull had got in. There was even a chance that it could be the little multi-legged alien that had given Jack the slip a few months earlier. The smaller alien species could be remarkably adaptable. Of all the things it might have been, however, what he discovered was a possibility that had never so much as crossed his mind.
It was a sock, only it wasn’t, and he took a couple of hurried steps backwards, remembering all too clearly the events of a couple of years ago, when he’d been set upon and almost suffocated by a swarm of vicious and predatory sock creatures. This lone one was different from that savage band though; where they had been short, stocky, and gaily patterned in bright colours, this one was long, thin, and plain dark grey. In fact, in most respects it resembled one of Jack’s socks. Except for the part where it was moving on its own, slithering and twining around itself. For a moment he wondered if maybe something small, a mouse perhaps, had found one of Jack’s socks and crept inside it, but that thought went right out of his head when the sock hissed at him.
Could it be a snake stuck in a sock? That was a bizarre, not to mention disturbing thought. If there were snakes in the Hub… Or was it perhaps a sock that thought it was a snake? That wasn’t as far-fetched as the general population of Cardiff might assume. Once you’d been with Torchwood for a while, it became necessary to re-evaluate what was within the realms of possibility. Jack’s Coat, for instance, while still definitely a coat, could heal itself and had a mind of its own, even though it was incapable of much in the way of independent movement. If a coat could attain a degree of sentience, then why couldn’t the same thing, or something similar, happen to a sock? Leave one alone long enough, doused in Rift energy and who knew what else, and might it not evolve into something more than merely a humble sock? Especially if it was one of Jack’s. Being worn repeatedly by an immortal whose whole body was infused with the power of the vortex, in a way it was surprising that more of Jack’s clothes hadn’t taken on lives of their own.
Or maybe they had. Catching sight of more movement in the shadows, Ianto squinted and could just about make out what could be another four, maybe even five writhing, snakelike socks.
“Wonderful,” Ianto muttered. “Now we have a problem with socks that think they’re snakes, or snakes that used to be socks…” He shook his head in resignation. “Rats are one thing, but who do you call about a snock infestation? Oh, that’s right; me.”
“Ianto?” Jack’s voice drifted down from the top of the spiral staircase. “What’s taking so long? I thought you said you were going to make tea?”
“I was. Slight change of plans.”
“How many socks have you lost recently? Or rather, how many have you not found after naked hide and seek?”
“I don’t know; it’s not like I’ve been keeping count. I lose some, I buy some more. Why does it matter?”
“Because thanks to you, now we have a snock problem.”
“You’ve lost me. What’s a snock?”
“Thin, grey, about eighteen inches long, used to be socks, hiss like snakes…”
Jack clomped down the stairs. “What are you on about?”
By now, Ianto had moved closer to the snocks, into the shadows beneath the stairs. He made a quick grab and with a triumphant shout of, “Gotcha!” emerged, gripping the first snock he’d spotted. He held it up to show Jack. “This,” he said, “is a snock, half sock, half snake. I just hope they’re not venomous.”
The tail end of the snock wrapped itself around Ianto’s forearm, while the head end twisted from side to side, hissing. Ianto had gripped it just behind its head in case it tried to bite, but now, seeing it in close-up, that didn’t seem likely; it didn’t have any teeth, although it did have eyes, like shiny black buttons. It felt soft and fuzzy in his hand, with a knitted texture, exactly like a wool sock and yet more solid. The main part of its body was approximately an inch in diameter, tapering to a narrower but blunt-ended tail. Once it realised it couldn’t escape, it gave up struggling and went limp in Ianto’s grasp.
Jack blinked at the snock. “You’re saying that’s one of my lost socks?”
“I’m saying there’s a good chance it used to be; it does bear an uncanny resemblance to one of your socks.” It even had a little hump about a third of the way along its body, sort of a vestigial heel. “I really shouldn’t be surprised; nothing around here is normal, so why shouldn’t abandoned socks evolve into snocks?”
“Huh. I wonder what they eat.” Jack was studying the snock curiously.
“Jack, focus; we’re not discussing the natural history of the common snock! We need to decide what to do about them. Who knows how many are lurking around the Hub?”
“That could be the only…”
Ianto cut him off before he could finish. “It’s not. There are several more under the stairs and who’s to say there might not be more elsewhere? This could be just one family group, or a pack, or whatever the collective noun for snocks might be. They could be breeding! We might end up overrun with snock-kind!”
“Aren’t you overreacting a little bit? I think it’s kind of cute.” Jack reached out a finger and tickled the snock. It made a purring sound. “Like that, do you? Hey, if it used to be one of my socks, maybe it recognises me! Seems like a friendly little fellow.”
“Next you’ll be wanting to keep it as a pet,” Ianto grumbled.
Jack’s face lit up. “That’s not a bad idea!”
“Me and my big mouth,” Ianto muttered under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Jack, we’ve been through this before; you can’t go around making pets out of random creatures.”
“Why not? If it grew out of my sock, that means it’s technically still mine, doesn’t it?” Jack crouched down and peered into the shadows under the stairs, holding out his hand. “Come on, little snocks, come to daddy,” he coaxed.
Ianto groaned and facepalmed with the hand not holding the snock. “I give up.”
It took a few minutes, but eventually the other snocks crept tentatively out of hiding. One of them lunged sideways to pounce on a dust bunny, chomping it up with relish and licking its ‘lips’ with a fuzzy grey tongue. Jack plucked up a bit of fluff and held it out. Slowly one of the snocks inched closer and suddenly snatched the morsel from Jack’s fingers, gulping in down.
“See?” He glanced over his shoulder at Ianto. “Now why would you want to get rid of them when they’re so useful? Fearless hunters of dust bunnies.”
It was obvious to Ianto that he was fast losing control of the situation; maybe he should just give in gracefully. Stooping to pick up a bit of fluff himself, he offered it to the captive snock, who delicately accepted it. He supposed it was sort of cute, in a sockish kind of way, and the creatures would keep the dust bunnies from getting out of control. Even with the best will in the world, he couldn’t be expected to keep the vast expanse of the Hub spotless all by himself. He did the best he could with the areas that were in use, but a bit of assistance wouldn’t go amiss.
“I suppose, as long as they don’t develop a taste for the wiring insulation or our clothes, then it won’t do any harm to live and let live. I’m not sure how the others will feel about sharing the Hub with roving packs of snocks, but…” he shrugged. “They seem harmless enough.”
“Hear that, kids?” Jack tickled the nearest snock, the one he’d been hand-feeding. “As long as you don’t get underfoot or start eating the wrong things, you get to enjoy the run of this place, and all the dust bunnies you can eat.”
“Better let you rejoin your family,” Ianto said to the captive snock in his hand, crouching down to release the creature. It unwrapped itself from his arm and slithered to the floor, but didn’t run away, just started mooching about, grazing on bits of dust, seeming unconcerned about his presence now it realized it wasn’t going to be harmed. “Right, I’ll make the tea.” Leaving Jack playing with the snocks, Ianto crossed the kitchen area, filled the kettle, and put it on, getting out the rest of the tea things while waiting for it to boil. Despite his better judgement, it looked like the snocks were here to stay.