Characters: Jack, Ianto, Owen, Tosh, Gwen, OCs.
Summary: Cardiff is sweltering in an unexpected and very humid heatwave, which has an unusual effect on one Torchwood member.
Word Count: 3412
Written For: mahmfic’s prompt ‘It's because of the humidity,’ at torchwood_fest.
Beta: My lovely friend milady_dragon. Thanks so much for betaing all these for me!
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. They belong to the BBC.
Cardiff was well known for being damp because, like the rest of the country, it got a fair amount of rain. It was also known for being mostly on the cool side, which was typical of Britain’s temperate climate. Most summers you’d get the occasional day or two that might be described as ‘hot’ but the rest of the time it wasn’t really worth putting the winter woollies away because you never knew when you might need them. Yet despite the general dampness and Cardiff’s coastal position, even on the rare occasions when there was a bit of genuinely hot weather, it seldom produced much in the way of humidity. At least not until now.
It was approaching the end of May, and most of Britain was unexpectedly sweltering beneath a most uncharacteristic tropical heatwave of epic proportions. The heat was welcome, good weather generally was, but unfortunately since the preceding couple of weeks had been much wetter than usual, the humidity was more like you’d expect to find in Florida over summer, with saturation levels standing at over ninety percent.
Cardiff’s inhabitants were visibly wilting, and the members of Team Torchwood weren’t exempt from the general lethargy that seemed to have brought the Welsh capital almost to a standstill. The unusual heat combined with the humidity was more than enough to make even Jack, normally untroubled by anything the British weather could throw at him, feel drained of energy even when doing nothing. No one felt inclined to do anything that involved moving unless it was completely unavoidable. It was just their bad luck that the Rift didn’t make allowances for weather conditions; if anything, it seemed determined to make sure they had as little time as possible to rest and attempt to conserve what little energy they had.
Retrievals were usually a routine chore, but right now they felt more like some bizarre kind of water torture. Whenever any of the team had to set foot outside the Hub, they immediately felt unpleasantly sticky all over, and by the time they got back to the marginally cooler temperatures of their secret underground base, they were so drenched with sweat that it almost seemed they could be wrung out. Cool showers, cold drinks, and ice cream were all that were keeping them going.
“We should be sunbathing or something instead of traipsing about like this,” Gwen grumbled as the team prepared to venture out into the weather yet again, this time in search of whatever had caused a whole series of blips on the Rift monitor. Multiple signals usually meant multiple objects, so everyone was going out this time in the hopes that it would mean none of them had to stay out for very long.
“Too hot for sunbathing,” Tosh objected. “I’d melt into a puddle, then evaporate, and that would be the end of me.”
Ianto nodded. “Agreed. I’d much rather be lounging in the shade, or splashing about in the sea where at least the water would feel cooler and being wet would feel more natural.”
“Oooh, yes,” Tosh sighed. “A dip in the sea would be wonderful. Too bad the coordinates for our Rift alerts are inland.”
“Maybe we could go to the beach later if the Rift ever settles down,” Jack suggested. “No promises though.”
“Even just as a possibility, it’s something nice to think about,” Ianto said, smiling as they piled into the SUV’s air-conditioned interior. Their destination wasn’t all that far away, less than a ten-minute walk, but nobody wanted to be exposed to the heat and humidity any longer than they absolutely had to be, and besides, whatever had come through the Rift there was a good chance they’d need some means of transporting it back to the Hub. This wasn’t the kind of weather for lugging things about, not for anyone wanting to avoid heatstroke.
Settled in their seats, the five members of Torchwood positively basked in the flow of cooler air inside the SUV, courtesy of its alien tech enhanced air conditioning systems. They gave a collective groan when hardly more than five minutes later, Jack pulled into a convenient parking space and turned off the engine, cutting off the blissful coolness. The temperature inside the vehicle immediately started to rise; black might look stylish and mysterious, but it really soaked up the heat.
“Here we are, boys and girls, let’s get this done,” Jack said, sounding about as enthusiastic as if he was preparing to step into a furnace, which considering the weather, didn’t seem too far from the truth. “The sooner we get out there and find what we came for, the sooner we can be back in here and cool off again.”
“It’s inhuman to make us work in weather like this,” Owen complained, reluctantly shoving his door open and wincing at the blast of humid air that hit him in the face like a hot, wet towel. Like the rest of the team, he was dressed in as little as possible, having even traded his jeans for shorts, and slathered in sunscreen as he was, he had to peel himself off the SUV’s leather upholstery before he could get out. The others fared no better, dragging themselves out of the car and into the sticky heat to the accompaniment of unpleasant tearing sounds, half expecting to leave the backs of their legs behind, and already thinking about how much hotter the seats were going to be by the time they got back in.
“I should’ve thought to cover the seats with towels,” Ianto said apologetically as he fetched containment units from the boot and handed them out. “Then we wouldn’t have stuck to them and they wouldn’t get so hot. Sorry. I think my brain must’ve been fried by the heat.” He turned to Jack, intending to ask which way they needed to go, but stopped, mouth open, and just stared. His lips twitched and he fought back the urge to laugh.
“Not a word,” Jack said, glowering at his team. “Not from any of you. It’s not my fault; it’s because of the humidity.”
Tosh suppressed a giggle that came out more like a wheezy cough. Owen outright snorted, and Gwen laughed so hard she gave herself hiccups. “You look like a dandelion clock!”
Jack gave her an offended glare and turned away. Not that the change of angle made any difference to the way he looked; if anything, the rear view was even funnier. They were all fighting frizzy hair to some degree, but no one else was affected quite like Jack. Every one of Jack’s hairs was sticking straight out from his scalp, turning his head into a fluffy puffball. Gwen’s analogy was remarkably apt, aside from the difference in colour. Jack’s hair was at least still its usual shade of brown despite its fluffiness, and Ianto suddenly longed to touch it; every ounce of self-restraint he possessed was required to keep him from patting Jack on the head like he was a cute puppy. He looked sort of adorable though, all fuzzy like that.
“So this is the real reason you’ve been sending the rest of us on retrievals instead of going yourself, is it?” Ianto asked, smirking slightly. “I thought it was a bit suspicious you saying you needed to get caught up with your paperwork.”
“I have very fine hair,” Jack said primly, turning back to face his team. “It overreacts a bit in humid conditions.”
“But didn’t you say you came from a hot coastal area?” Tosh asked, her eyes irresistibly straying once more from Jack’s face to his hair.
“I did, but even though the settlements were on the coast, the rest of the Boeshane Peninsula was mainly desert. We tended to get dry heat most of the time; my hair isn’t designed for this degree of humidity.”
“You have designer hair?” Ianto asked archly. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
“It’s not designer hair,” Jack corrected his lover indignantly. “It’s genetically engineered to protect from sunburn while keeping us from overheating. It’s fine enough to lift easily in the breeze. I didn’t know humidity did this,” he gestured at his fluffed up hair, “until I came to Earth. Must be something peculiar to this planet because it’s never behaved like this anywhere else.”
Gwen opened her mouth to say something else, but Jack cut her off. “Okay, enough about my hair; we’ve got work to do. This way.” With those words, he spun on his heel and started off, took three steps, made a sharp about turn and stalked off in the opposite direction, glaring daggers at the team as he passed as if daring them to say anything about him going the wrong way.
The others trailed obediently after him, feeling the heat and humidity acutely now that their initial amusement over Jack’s hair had started to wear off. They still kept their eyes on it though, knowing they might never get another chance to marvel at the extraordinary sight as it bobbed fluffily along in front of them.
“I almost wish my hair would do that,” Ianto whispered to Tosh. “It looks cool and airy. Mine just curls more and makes my head hot.”
Tosh giggled. “You’d look good as a matching pair.”
They fell silent again, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as they made their way to the coordinates of the nearest Rift spike.
“Spread out and keep your eyes open,” Jack said as they moved further into the Canal Park Industrial Estate. “Stay in touch via comms.”
The others didn’t reply, saving their breath, and just kept trudging wearily forwards, gradually drifting apart, established routines for this kind of search taking over with no need for conscious thought.
There wasn’t another living soul to be seen; Jack decided the employees of the area’s businesses were most likely sensibly remaining inside the factories, workshops, and offices, which all probably had at least some degree of air conditioning to keep the atmosphere cooler and drier than it was outside. Jack almost envied them their indoor jobs; he was willing to bet none of them had to endure the indignity of going all fluffy.
After what felt like hours but was probably only a couple of minutes, a voice came through his earpiece. “Jack? I’ve found something.”
“What is it, Tosh?”
“Not sure, but it’s alive and it seems to be having a bad hair day too. I don’t think it likes the heat; it’s huddling in the only shade it can find.”
“Shove it in your containment box and keep looking; judging by that bunch of alerts we got, where there’s one there are probably more. Don’t touch these creatures with your bare hands though, use your gloves; we don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.”
“I can’t carry the poor thing around in a closed containment box!” Tosh protested. “It would roast!”
Ianto’s voice came through everyone’s earpieces. “If shade is what they want, then why don’t we give it to them? Personally, I think they’re showing remarkably good sense. We can put our containment units in the coolest, shadiest spots we can find, leave the lids off and then collect the creatures and drop them in. They’ll probably stay wherever we put them as long as they’re out of the sun.”
“Makes sense,” Jack agreed. “Okay, do like Ianto said.”
“Great. More walking about in the sun,” Owen grouched. “I’d rather sit in the shade myself.”
“Later, Owen. Round up the aliens first,” Jack grumbled. “You’re not the only one who’s hot and cranky.”
“I’m not enthusiastic about the extra walking myself,” Ianto said, “but maybe if they’re small enough we could collect a few of these creatures at a time. How big is the one you’ve found, Tosh?”
“Approximately tennis ball size, I’d say. Oh!”
“What?” Jack’s voice snapped.
“Be careful picking them up, there’s only a tiny body under all the fluffed up fur, and they seem quite delicate.”
Before long, the whole team were reporting finding the creatures, locating them with their scanners and moving them from one patch of shade to another until they’d collected enough to make it worth transporting them to the containment units.
Half an hour or so later, after an exhaustive, not to mention exhausting, search of every patch of shade in the area, the team congregated in the shade provided by one of the bigger factories, with their loaded containment boxes, each one holding somewhere between fifteen and twenty-five bedraggled little puffballs in various shades of pink and purple.
“They’re adorable,” Gwen gushed, setting her boxful down. The frazzled creatures just sat there, panting and occasionally blinking their tiny black eyes, barely visible through their frizzy coats.
“Just because they’re cute doesn’t necessarily mean they’re harmless,” Jack reminded her. “Right now the heat is making them docile, but there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way once we get them someplace cooler.”
He looked at his dishevelled, sweaty team, who had all slumped to the ground in the shade, leaning against the marginally cooler concrete of the factory wall. He would have liked to do the same himself, but there was still work to do, and having grown up in a climate much hotter than that usually found in Wales, he was better able to cope with the heat than the others were, despite the unfortunate side-effect he was experiencing, courtesy of the humidity. He glanced at the little aliens in the nearest containment box; knowing that he wasn’t the only one having weather-related hair problems made him feel slightly better about his own frizz.
“Stay here and cool down a bit while I go get the SUV,” he told the others.
“That’s one order none of us is goin’ to complain about,” Owen said, closing his eyes with a sigh of relief. “I’m done in and my feet are throbbing; don’t think I could walk another step.”
Straightening his shoulders, and with his fluffy hair floating weightlessly around his head, Jack steeled himself and resolutely strode back out into the sunlight, leaving the team and their captives to snatch a few minutes’ badly needed rest.
He was back in less than ten minutes, pulling up just inside the shrinking patch of shade, parking with all the windows and doors open, and the engine running, letting the SUV’s interior air out a bit for a few minutes. Once the temperature inside the vehicle came down to a bearable level, everyone wearily piled in, clutching the containment units on their laps, while Ianto shoved Jack’s in the passenger seat footwell, scrunching his long legs awkwardly to one side. Not the most comfortable position, but it would only be a short drive, so he could manage. They left the lids off the boxes, but kept them handy in case the creatures turned nasty, as unlikely as that seemed. You could never be completely sure with aliens.
In the relative cool of the SUV, the team and their captives started to perk up. Jack’s fluffed up hair blew around in the breeze at first, but gradually began to return to normal. The little puffballs started to move, scuffling about. Their fur was settling too, making them shrink to half their previous size; it looked to Ianto as if they were trying to groom themselves, but the cramped conditions and the moving car were making it difficult; they kept toppling over and rolling about, bumping into each other.
Back at the Hub, the antiquated air conditioning systems were labouring a bit, but it still felt blissfully cool compared to being outside during the hottest part of the day. Ianto set up some large pens in the main Hub for the new guests; it was no good putting them in one of the cells because they might be able to fit through the air holes and nobody wanted to have to capture them again. He spread newspaper on the concrete, put a shallow tray of dry sand in each pen as a litter box in case the critters were housebroken, and gave them saucers of water once Owen had examined one of the tiny things and assured him that it wouldn’t be toxic to them.
Now their fur had gone flat and mostly smooth it was easier to see what they looked like. They were more or less dome-shaped rather than round, flattish underneath with four spindly legs, no division between head and body, slightly protruding snouts, little round black eyes, and two tiny tufted ears that hadn’t been visible before amid all the frizz. Released into the pens, they shook themselves and flocked to the water dishes, crowding around and lapping it up with tiny purple tongues. The sand was also a hit; they rolled about in it giving themselves a dust bath, before grooming themselves properly and settling down for a nap, little pink and purple hummocks dotted about on the newspapers.
“Maybe your hair could do with a dust bath too,” Owen smirked, looking speculatively at the top of Jack’s head. “You should let it loose in the one of the pens with its cousins.”
Jack glared stonily at the medic. “Not funny.”
“Leave him alone, Owen,” Ianto said firmly.
“Or I might arrange for you to get an electric shock; then we’d see how you like going around with your hair standing on end, having people make fun of you.”
“Wouldn’t I?” Ianto raised one eyebrow, staring coolly at Owen, who shivered despite the heat.
“Fine, no more teasing. You just suck all the fun out of life.”
Tosh cut in quickly, not wanting an argument to start. “Owen, what do the Puffs eat? They’re probably hungry; we should feed them.”
“They’re Noctids,” Ianto told her. “Or at least that’s what they were called at One. I recognise them now they’re not fluffed up. They’re mostly nocturnal, prefer cool conditions, and they’re omnivorous, they eat insects, algae, moulds, and fungi, if I remember correctly.” He frowned. “They’re completely harmless, but Hartman decided they weren’t good for anything, so she had a couple of them dissected and fed the rest to one of the other aliens.”
“That’s horrible!” Tosh was obviously shocked. “Why would she do something like that to such cute little things? Are you sure?”
Ianto nodded. “Lisa told me. She liked them and used to visit them in the labs. She was there when the order was given, told me if she’d had the chance she would’ve slipped a few in her pocket and kept them as pets.”
“Well, we’re not killing ours!” Tosh looked at the seventy or eighty napping creatures.
“No we’re not,” Jack agreed. “Any ideas?”
“We could let them have the run of the lower tunnels. It’s dark and cool down there, lots of beetles, spiders, mould and stuff,” Ianto suggested.
“Good. Give them twenty-four hours to recover from being out in the heat and get acclimatised, it’ll give Owen time to check they’re all healthy, then take them down and release them,” Jack instructed. “Hartman might not have thought them useful, but we don’t kill harmless aliens; they deserve the chance to live out their lives.” With that, he strode away to his office.
After handing out cold drinks, Ianto followed Jack, setting two glasses of iced fruit juice on his desk and continuing as if there hadn’t been any pause in the conversation.
“What about you?”
Jack frowned. “What about me?”
“Have you recovered from being out in the heat?” Ianto was smiling.
“Are you going to make fun of my hair now too?” Jack pouted.
“Well, it was certainly a different look for you. It was… sort of cute. I’m almost sorry it’s gone flat again, I wanted to find out if it felt as fluffy as it looked.” Ianto shoved his hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts.
“Well, I suppose we could go up on the invisible lift, wait for my hair to fluff up again, and you could find out,” Jack grinned.
“Hmmm, yes, I suppose we could. Why don’t you finish your drink and then we can do that?”
Jack picked up his glass and drank from it, smiling, a little surprised to realise that embarrassing though it had been earlier, he was perfectly willing to go all fluffy again if Ianto wanted him to.
It must be true love; there was no other explanation.
A/N: Dandelion Clock: The downy, spherical seed head of a dandelion.
For those who are unfamiliar with them, see the second picture on this page.