Characters: Ianto, Jack, Owen, Tosh, Gwen, Peep.
Summary: Ianto has been trying to catch the alien lizard for months, to no avail.
Word Count: 3009
Written For: Amnesty at beattheblackdog, using Challenge 119: Small.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
A/N: For FranArian who wanted more about Peep.
It had been several months since Peep, the small alien lizard, had escaped from captivity. Privately, Ianto suspected Jack hadn’t closed the carrying cage properly after he’d first captured it and that was why it had wound up loose in the Hub. Jack denied it of course, he said the Wurnink must have let itself out, but even though it was smarter than the average lizard, regularly avoiding capture no matter how elaborate the traps set out for it were, Ianto couldn’t imagine it being smart enough to figure out the cage latches, never mind operate them. For one thing, how would it have reached them when it was locked inside? While it was true that Peep’s little clawed feet were astonishingly dextrous, and that it was an excellent climber, able to scale the Hub’s walls, it only had short legs. The two tails provided greater reach, they were narrow and prehensile, able to wrap around things, but even they were only about four inches long.
Still, at this point how it had come to be running around the Hub free as the proverbial bird was no longer important. The team had long since adjusted to Peep’s presence, hearing its high pitched peeping from time to time, and occasionally spotting it peeking out at them from various vantage points. It didn’t allow anyone to get too close to it, but it ate the food Ianto set out for it, raided the traps whenever he built a new one, always without getting caught, and generally seemed to be happy with its lot in life. As far as Ianto could tell from the brief glimpses he got of it, the little alien looked healthy enough, its skin a vibrant shade of blue, with no obvious injuries, lesions, or other problems in evidence.
To be truthful, since it mostly took care of itself it was one of the easiest of the Hub’s alien residents to look after. If it weren’t for the fact that Ianto hated to be outfoxed, he might have been happy to let Peep have its own way and remain a free agent, as it were. It was just annoying to be beaten by a lizard barely five inches long, not including the tails. How could something so small be smarter than he was? It wasn’t even a sentient species!
Time passed and life at Torchwood went on pretty much as normal. The extra mouth to feed put no strain at all on resources since Peep didn’t eat much; all it required were a few berries or other pieces of fruit a day, and a dish of water to drink from and sometimes bathe in. Even on the busiest days it was easy enough to find a couple of minutes to chop up a bit of fruit onto a saucer, leave it where the little creature could find it, and refresh its water supply; no problem.
But then Ianto was injured on a Weevil hunt and on Owen’s orders, had to spend several days at home recuperating before he was allowed back at work. Even then he was restricted to the main Hub.
The rest of the team had taken care of Ianto’s usual tasks while he was absent, tidying up after themselves well enough that the place didn’t look like a bomb had hit it, and feeding Myfanwy, Janet, the Kneebles, and a few other aliens down in the cells, but they’d been extra busy since the Rift was in one of its overactive phases and the team was a man down. Somehow, without anyone even realising it, Peep’s welfare had been overlooked. Although mainly a fruit eater, it had managed to scavenge crumbs and the odd beetle, enough to keep it going, but it had become accustomed to a certain level of care and was far from happy at the lack of regular meals. It had tried peeping at team members to no avail and didn’t understand why they were ignoring its demands to be fed.
Ianto was barely an hour into his first day back and already his leg was aching. There were simply too many stairs to get to the various levels of the main Hub, and carrying a tray of coffee mugs while using a walking stick wasn’t workable. Setting his own mug down on the coffee table in front of the battered old sofa, he sank gratefully onto the sagging cushions, knowing he’d probably need help getting up again later, and opened his laptop. Tosh had set things up so he could get on with some of his paperwork in relative comfort since he still faced a week or two of light duties until his leg was fully healed. He couldn’t go down to the archives and do filing, but he could process requisitions, read and review reports, and type his notes up.
He was busy catching up with recent events a short while later when the Rift alert sounded. The rest of the team leapt to their feet, grabbing their gear in one of Torchwood’s familiar displays of organised chaos. All Ianto could do was sit there and watch, hating that he couldn’t go along to help. As Jack followed the others, he called back over his shoulder telling Ianto to stay put and rest. “Gotta go, sorry. This shouldn’t take too long though; we’ll be back before you know it.”
Ianto waved vaguely in Jack’s direction. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. Just be careful, we can do without someone else getting hurt.”
“We will, I promise, and we’ll pick up lunch on the way back.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Ianto muttered to himself as Jack, coat flaring out behind him, vanished through the door into the underground garage. Shaking his head, he turned back to his work.
Deeply engrossed in one of Jack’s inventive reports from a couple of days earlier, and amazed at how much had happened in his absence, Ianto was pulled out of his thoughts by a loud peeping coming from somewhere nearby, and he smiled slightly. Peep was making its presence felt, probably curious about why Ianto was just sitting there all alone instead of accompanying the others, or bustling around the Hub as he usually did at this time of the morning. The rest of the team were still taking care of feeding duties, since he couldn’t handle all the steps down to the cells and back, so he paid little attention to the alien creature, just carried on with his reading. He’d never discovered what Peep did with itself all day anyway, probably just scuttled about from place to place keeping an eye on things.
“I hear you, Peep.” Ianto didn’t bother looking up to see where his nemesis was.
‘Peep peep peep!’
Ianto called up another file on his laptop, continuing to focus on his work, until there was a flurry of movement right in front of him and…
He blinked in surprise; there was a Wurnink on his keyboard! Never in all the months it had been here had he seen it so close.
“Well, hello there.” He leant carefully back against the sofa cushions and kept his hands still, not wanting to scare the small creature.
‘PEEP!’ it said again, looking up at him.
Ianto frowned; the Wurnink looked thinner than he remembered, and not as bright a blue as it had been. Was this a different Wurnink, or… A horrible thought crossed his mind; had anyone fed Peep in the last five days? “Who’s been taking care of you while I’ve been away?”
‘Peep peep.’ Faster than Ianto could follow, tiny clawed feet scampered up his arm and onto his shoulder. ‘PEEP!’ Right in his ear, shrill and demanding.
“Oh dear, I’ll take that as a no. Okay, just bear with me and I’ll see what I can do.” Setting his laptop aside, Ianto picked up his walking stick and after several false starts thanks to the soft cushions trying to suck him down into their depths, he managed to get up, balancing on his good leg and the walking stick. “Right, that wasn’t so bad,” he muttered, catching his breath.
‘Peep.’ Amazingly, the creature he’d been attempting to catch for more than six months was still perched on his shoulder.
“Hold on tight, this might be a bit of a bumpy ride.” Leaning heavily on his stick, Ianto limped slowly towards the kitchen area, where he leaned the walking stick against a cupboard and opened the fridge. There wasn’t much to choose from, it looked like nobody had thought to restock the fruit supply but at least they’d cleared out anything that had gone off. There were some blueberries that looked mostly okay though. “Here we go; these should do for now and as soon as the others get back I’ll send someone to the supermarket.” Setting the punnet on the counter and closing the fridge, he removed the plastic lid and picked out a plump berry. Hesitating for a moment, he cautiously raised his hand to his shoulder. “They’re a bit cold, sorry.” He could just about see the lizard from the corner of his eye as it leaned forward and snatched the berry from his fingers, chewing it up before gulping it down and peeping for more.
Ianto did what he could to warm some of the blueberries in his hand, not wanting to give Peep a stomach-ache from too much cold food, but the alien was hungry and impatient; when he failed to hand feed it quickly enough, it scampered down onto the kitchen counter to help itself. With a shrug, Ianto left Peep to it, and got out a saucer, filling it with fresh water and setting it nearby. He’d ask Jack to fetch Peep’s usual water dish from its place in the corner of the kitchen later, so it could be washed and refilled. He’d also be having words with the team for neglecting one of the Hub’s residents.
‘Peep peep.’ Having eaten enough for the time being, Peep lapped some water from the saucer and gave itself a quick wash. It could have been Ianto’s imagination, but it seemed to him that the lizard already looked a brighter blue. It was definitely plumper now that its stomach was full.
“Okay, now you’re taken care of I’m going to sit down again.” Holding onto the counter with one hand, Ianto reached for his walking stick, and in that instant of looking away, he felt tiny claws against his hand as Peep scuttled back up his arm onto his shoulder. “Oh, well that’s nice! All these months trying to catch you and now you expect me to carry you around? Fine.” He limped back over to the sofa and sank onto the cushions, picking up his laptop again. “If you don’t mind, I have work to do.”
“That’s very gracious of you.” Ianto turned his attention to his laptop, picking up where he’d left off and all but forgot about his small companion.
The team returned about an hour and a half later, their presence preceded by the delicious aroma of fish and chips. Ianto sat up straight, his stomach rumbling loudly, startling Peep, who peeped in surprise and leapt onto the back of the sofa, drawing a chuckle from Ianto. “Sorry Peep, I didn’t mean to startle you, but you’re not the only one who gets hungry.”
“We’re back!” Jack yelled, striding across the Hub.
“I gathered that.” Ianto put his laptop on the coffee table and accepted the wrapped package Jack offered him. “Thank you. I’ll make coffee after we eat.” He glanced towards the back of the sofa, but Peep had vanished. Too many giants blundering around in the vicinity was bound to make the tiny alien nervous. There were times it was safer for it to keep out of sight, where it wouldn’t get stepped on or otherwise flattened.
“Everything alright while we were gone?” Jack sat down beside Ianto on the sofa, shovelling chips into his mouth as the rest of the team pulled up seats and settled in to eat.
“Mostly, but I do have a bone to pick with all of you.”
Owen groaned. “What did we do this time? Or is it something we didn’t do?”
“The latter, I believe.” Ianto raked his gaze over his teammates. “You promised me you’d take care of all the residents.”
“And we have!” Jack protested. “They’re all in tip-top condition, I swear! I’ve been looking after Myfanwy personally. She’s missed you though.”
“I’ve missed her too, but she does look well.” Myf had flown down to greet him as soon as he’d stepped into the Hub that morning.
“I’ve been taking care of the Kneebles and giving Pat his regular walks,” Tosh said with a smile. “In fact I’m enjoying it so much I wouldn’t mind carrying on with the Kneeble caretaking even after your leg’s healed, if that’s alright with you. They’re such friendly little things.”
“I have no problem with that, it’ll free up a bit of time for other things, just as long as you’ll still let me play with them occasionally,” Ianto teased his friend.
“Of course I will, and I’ll come straight to you if there are any problems.”
“Thanks, Tosh. Now where were we?” Ianto scanned his teammates. “Myf, the Kneebles… what about the rest of the residents? Owen?”
“I’ve been in charge of Janet and the others in the cells, and I’ll be bloody glad when you can take over again,” Owen groused.
“I’m sure you will, but aren’t you all forgetting somebody?”
“I don’t think so…” Jack trailed off uncertainly.
Ianto sighed, exasperated. “Who exactly has been taking care of Peep?”
Everybody fell silent, looking at each other. Finally, Owen spoke. “Don’t look at me; I thought Gwen was!”
“So did I,” Jack agreed. “I mean the rest of us had our hands full…”
“Me?” Gwen squeaked. “But I hate lizards! They have those slimy skins and sticky little feet!”
“Reptiles aren’t slimy, and anyway, it’s not like you had to touch it or anything,” Owen sneered. “Just put some fruit and water out for it. Never see the damn thing anyway.”
“Just as I thought. So for five days poor little Peep didn’t get fed.” Ianto glared at his colleagues. “We’re supposed to look after stranded aliens, not leave them to fend for themselves! It’s a miracle it didn’t starve to death!”
“I’m sorry, Ianto.” Gwen gave him her best wide-eyed look. “But nobody told me I was supposed to be feeding it!”
Ianto shook his head. “To be fair, you’re not the only one to blame; the rest of you could’ve checked, and you should at least have made sure there was fruit available. All that was left were a few blueberries in the fridge, so after lunch one of you will have to go to Asda and get a selection of fresh fruits. Strawberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, apples, cherries… get enough for us as well as our little friend so we can share. I don’t want Peep going hungry again; it gets very demanding. You wouldn’t believe how loud a hungry Wurnink can be.”
“What d’you mean ‘demanding’?” Jack frowned at Ianto.
“You’ve obviously never had a hungry Wurnink peeping loudly in your ear. It climbed up on my shoulder.”
“Your shoulder?” Jack peered at Ianto’s shoulders as if half expecting to see a blue lizard looking back at him. “Where is it now? Did you catch it?”
Ianto gave a wry smile. “I thought about it, might even have succeeded if I’d tried, but… Even if I caught it and put it in a pen, I doubt it would stay there; it would find a way to get out. Peep is too clever by far, but it’s not doing any harm running loose and it seems happy enough. As long as it gets fed.”
“So you’re giving up the great Wurnink hunt then?”
“I think so, I have better things to do with my time than building Wurnink traps that’re never going to work anyway. If Peep were dangerous, or in danger, it would be a different matter, but…” He shrugged. “Let it have its freedom; some things just aren’t meant to be caged.”
“No argument from me! I never minded it running around the Hub anyway.”
“Only because you were the one who let it get loose in the first place.”
After lunch and coffee, which Ianto made and Jack handed out, most of the team got back to work while Gwen left for the supermarket with a shopping list. Aside from the fruit, Ianto had added a bunch of other things they were running low on. He couldn’t drive at the moment, never mind do the shopping himself; juggling all those heavy bags and his walking stick would be impossible, even if he could stay on his feet that long, so someone else would have had to do it anyway and Gwen had said she didn’t mind. He had a feeling she would have agreed to do just about anything to get back into his good graces, and he wasn’t about to deny her the opportunity. It saved him having to badger someone else into doing the shopping.
Ianto himself was back in his spot on the sofa, alone again now his colleagues had returned to their workstations, but he wasn’t particularly surprised when he heard a quiet ‘peep’ from nearby. Turning his head, he found Peep beside him on the sofa cushions. “Hello, you. Feeling a bit better now?”
“That’s good. Just watch out you don’t get accidentally sat on.”
‘Peep peep.’ The lizard scampered up the back of the sofa and onto his shoulder.
“You’d better not be leaving snags in my suit with your claws.”
“I knew you’d say that. Quiet now; I’ve got a lot to do.” Ianto tried to sound stern but he was smiling. Looked like the Wurnink had won.