Word Count: 3014
Characters: Ianto, Jack, Tosh, Owen, Gwen, OCs.
Written For: My own prompt ‘It's really cold and Cardiff is festooned with icicles,’ at torchwood_fest 2018.
Summary: Ianto wakes up to a winter wonderland the likes of which he’s never seen, but is it natural or alien-induced?
Beta: My lovely friend milady_dragon. Thanks so much!
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. They belong to the BBC.
Over the last couple of weeks Cardiff had seen rain, and heavy frost, and snow, and now it seemed the time had come for ice. Ianto had just opened his bedroom curtains and the sight that met his eyes was both alarming and stunningly beautiful. During the night the temperature must have risen enough to start melting the snow that had fallen the previous day, only for it to drop again and freeze the runoff from the melting snow solid.
Wherever he looked, every windowsill, the edge of every roof, every signpost, each branch and twig on trees and bushes, was festooned with icicles, from tiny splinters like needles to massive foot long stalactites. That was the beautiful part; they shone in the light from the lampposts and when the sun came up they were going to be dazzling. What wasn’t so appealing was that the roads and pavements now resembled an ice rink.
Driving was going to be beyond hazardous, at least until he reached the gritted and salted main roads, and walking would be just as bad if not worse, providing ample opportunity for pedestrians to fall and break ankles, wrists, hips, or just about any other body part. The hospitals were going to be busy, and when Ianto checked the weather forecast, all indications were that the cold snap was going to last for at least a few more days.
Snow caused enough problems for Torchwood, burying the things that fell through the Rift, so the team had to dig for them, and making chasing anything risky for the pursued as well as the pursuer. But sheets of ice, and potentially lethal falling icicles would turn relatively simple tasks into insane death-defying stunts, like something out of an arctic themed Indiana Jones movie.
Much as he would have liked to, Ianto knew he couldn’t stay home; Torchwood and the Rift didn’t stop for the weather, not even in conditions this bad. All he could do was dress up warm and get out there, drive carefully, and hope to arrive at the Hub in one piece.
Before leaving home, Ianto packed clothes and other necessities, enough to last for at least a few days, having decided that once he got to the Hub it would be best if he stayed there until the ice cleared. There’d be less risk to life and limb if he only had to go out on retrievals instead of commuting back and forth every day as well. He couldn’t see Jack complaining about him staying over; he’d probably be delighted.
Stepping out the front door, bundled up in winter coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, Ianto had to hurriedly duck away from the icy onslaught when simply shutting the front door brought down an immediate shower of icicles jarred loose from overhead by vibrations. That did not bode well.
Making his way to the carport alongside his house. Ianto tugged the cover off his car, relieved to find its windows clear of frost. He was glad he’d taken the time to cover the Audi when he’d arrived home late the night before; he’d been tempted to just leave it, but with conditions as they were this morning, that would have been a serious mistake. Shoving the cover into the boot for convenience, Ianto tossed his bag onto the passenger seat and slid behind the wheel. He breathed a sigh of relief as the car started first try, then inched his way cautiously down the frozen drive and onto the street, ice crackling and crunching beneath the wheels, the car occasionally sliding as its tyres tried and failed to get traction on the slippery surface.
What would normally have been a ten to fifteen minute drive at most this early in the morning wound up taking him closer to forty minutes, thanks to having to creep along like an arthritic tortoise on the maze of smaller side roads that made up his neighbourhood. Once he got onto the main roads he was able to speed up to almost twenty miles an hour on the clearest stretches, but he couldn’t allow his attention to wander even for a fraction of a second, always keeping a lookout for icy patches. Despite his care, he still skidded three or four times, although his fast reflexes Torchwood training meant he managed to keep his car on the road and not ram into anything. Other drivers hadn’t been as lucky, or as careful, and he passed the scenes of several accidents, the police already in attendance.
It was with a flood of relief that he turned into the Millennium Centre’s underground car park, wincing as the noise of his engine brought several large icicles crashing down behind him. That had been close! He kept going, driving down to the lowest level where the entrance to Torchwood’s private garage was located. As he drew close, the door opened automatically in front of him, hidden sensors detecting the presence of an authorised vehicle and driver. He drove through, pulling into his usual parking spot as the door closed seamlessly behind him; nobody would even know it was there unless they saw it in operation. Turning off the Audi’s engine Ianto slumped back into his seat, letting the tension drain out of him. He’d driven in some unpleasant conditions over the last few years, but this morning’s commute had been one of the scariest he could recall.
After a few minutes spent gathering himself he left the car and made his way into the main Hub, hoping he wouldn’t have to go out again anytime soon.
He’d barely taken five steps before Jack appeared in front of him. “Ianto! Have you seen the weather out there?”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “No, Jack, I kept my eyes closed all the way here,” he snapped sarcastically. “Of course I’ve seen the bloody weather! I had to drive through it to get here!”
“Right, sorry, stupid question.”
“Yes, it was.” Ianto calmed himself; Jack wasn’t to blame for the bad weather. “Now I have a question of my own; is all this ice a natural phenomenon, or something to do with the Rift?”
“The Rift itself, no, very unlikely, but alien influence is a possibility,” Jack said hesitantly, as if expecting to get yelled at again. “I have a feeling one or more Ice Sprites might have come through sometime late last night. There was an unexplained blip on the Rift logs when I ran through them this morning and… Well, you’ve seen what it’s like out, icicles everywhere.”
“A lethal winter wonderland,” Ianto agreed. “These Ice Sprites, are they dangerous?”
“Depends on what you mean by dangerous. They’re not malicious, they’re more pranksters than anything, and they have power over ice; it’s their element. Chances are, when they arrived here they just decided to make their surroundings look more like home. Can’t really blame them too much for that; any creature that finds itself unexpectedly ripped from its home craves familiarity.”
“That may be so, but it’s not exactly convenient for the people of Cardiff. If you’re right about there being Ice Sprites out there somewhere, what can we do about them? Because I have the horrible feeling if we don’t do something, before long all of Wales, and maybe the whole of the British Isles, is going to be experiencing an unscheduled ice age.”
“I know.” Jack’s gloomy expression made Ianto’s heart sink even further. “We’ll have to find them and see if we can send them back where they belong.”
“You mean we’ll have to go back out there, don’t you.” Gloom settled over Ianto too.
“Um, yes, it looks that way.”
Jack’s apologetic smile did nothing to improve Ianto’s mood. “Wonderful. I suppose I’d better get the SUV ready; at least we should have some traction on the ice once I’ve put the chains on the tyres. And for the record, there is no way in Hell I’m letting you drive; if we crash there’ll be no one left to deal with the Sprites.”
If they crashed Jack knew he at least would survive the experience, but he wisely refrained from saying so; he doubted Ianto would find that fact particularly comforting.
Ianto turned around, heading back to the garage to dig out the SUV’s snow chains and after a moment’s hesitation, Jack followed, reasoning the job would be quicker with two. Once that was accomplished, Ianto made coffee and the two of them waited for the rest of the team to straggle in and recover from their respective commutes before venturing forth in search of the Ice Sprites.
Despite, or perhaps because of, all the ice they weren’t that hard to find; all Tosh had to do was search out where the ice was thickest. Getting there was a whole other level of difficulty, however. Walking might well have proved faster, if a lot colder, but as they wouldn’t have been able to carry much in the way of equipment with them the members of the team unanimously voted for taking the SUV. Even in such hazardous conditions it seemed safer as well as being more convenient, provided Jack wasn’t the one behind the wheel.
The SUV’s tyre chains made a big difference, gripping the ice as Ianto drove slowly in the direction of the lake in Tredelerch Park, just across the Rhymney River. It was a fair distance, and the ice grew steadily worse the closer they got, meaning Ianto had to go even slower, not due to any danger of skidding into something himself but because the other cars on the road were sliding all over the place. The SUV’s body was heavily reinforced, they’d most likely come out of a crash with little more than scratched paintwork, but any vehicle that had the misfortune to hit them probably wouldn’t fare as well, plus they couldn’t really afford the delay an accident would cause, so it seemed prudent to avoid collisions if at all possible.
Scrambling out of the SUV at their destination, the team clung to each other as they slipped and slithered across the park towards the lake in the middle, which unsurprisingly turned out to be frozen solid. An enterprising person with lots of pairs of ice skates might have made a small fortune renting them out to the public, if there’d been anyone other than Torchwood brave enough to venture out in the sub-zero temperatures. The shore and the lake itself were deserted, however, except for two small silvery blue beings, perhaps three feet tall at the most, who were sitting on a large lump of ice on the shore, idly making hoarfrost patterns on the lake’s frozen surface. They didn’t look at all mischievous to Ianto, more lost and forlorn than anything.
Jack slid over and spoke to them in a language Ianto and the others didn’t recognise. The two Sprites instantly perked up, replying in the same language. After conversing for several minutes, Jack turned back to his team.
“They’re just kids! Seems they were travelling with their parents, but something happened, they’re not sure what, and they found themselves here. It was too warm for them, but there was plenty of moisture around so they were able to make ice. They were hoping if they spread it out far enough it might act as a beacon so their parents could find them.”
“Oh, the poor little things!” Gwen gushed, hurrying forward in full-on maternal mode.
Jack grabbed her before she got too close. “Don’t touch them, they exist at a temperature so far below freezing that every drop of moisture in your body would turn to ice crystals in less than a minute. Not a pleasant way to die.”
“But we have to help them!”
“And we will, but I’d prefer to do that without anyone getting killed.”
Tosh was already busily working away on her PDA. “They weren’t brought here by the Rift, or at least not in the normal manner,” she reported. “According to the Rift log, their point of arrival was at the other end of the lake, near the Waterside bus park. There’s a small area that’s radiating Rift energy, like a portal that’s open just a crack. If we can get these two Sprites close enough to it, with a bit of luck they should be pulled back through.”
“Good work, Tosh.” Jack turned to the Sprites and explained. The two youngsters immediately jumped to their feet, talking rapidly; although he couldn’t understand a word they said, Ianto thought they sounded excited and hopeful.
“Looks like they’re eager to go home,” he said with a smile.
“The sooner the better,” Jack agreed. “For all of us. Tosh, you know where we need to go so why don’t you lead the way?”
Tosh set off with the rest of the team around her, most of them clinging to each other to stay on their feet; progress was understandably slow because the ground was so slippery. The ice didn’t slow the Sprites down in the slightest though; they capered around the Torchwood team, making the air sparkle with motes of ice as they created stunning sculptures with little more than a wave of their hands. The sight was so beautiful Ianto pulled out his phone and started taking pictures, wanting to preserve as much as he could to look at later, once they were all back at the Hub in the warm. They weren’t likely to ever see such sights again and it would be a shame to have them melt without there being a record of them.
Slowing down even further as she cautiously approached the spot leaking Rift energy, Tosh suddenly pointed. “There! Can you see it?”
Just visible in the air was a narrow, jagged golden crack in the fabric of reality, hanging about a foot above the ground.
Jack moved up to stand beside Tosh. “Let’s just hope that’s the way home for the kids. Can you open it any wider?”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea. It’s stable at the moment, but if I start fiddling with it… Well, we might not like the results.”
“But the Sprites will never fit though there!” Gwen protested. “It’s far too narrow!”
Tosh disagreed. “I think they will; what we can see of the crack isn’t all there is, we just don’t have the ability to see in enough dimensions. In that spot, it’s like a thin veil between our reality and another one, which is just out of sight around a really complicated corner that turns in several directions at once. Our senses just aren’t equipped to detect what’s actually there so all we see is a narrow crack.”
“If Tosh says it’s big enough, I believe her,” Jack said firmly. Turning to the two Sprites, he spoke rapidly and gestured towards the crack.
They replied, then turned to the rest of the team, babbling incomprehensibly.
“They’re saying thank you,” Jack translated.
“Bit long-winded, aren’t they?” Owen muttered. “Fine, we get it, now go. I don’t want to stand around here freezing my arse off any longer than I have to.”
“Owen!” Tosh glared at him
“What? I bet you’re all thinking the same thing.” Owen turned to look at the Sprites again.
Gripping each other’s hands, the two small beings began to spin each other around and around, getting faster and faster, scattering ice in every direction until they looked like a bizarre frozen whirlwind. As they spun, they moved closer and closer to the crack. Ianto had his phone up again, recording the whole thing, but even so he didn’t see the moment when the whirlwind slipped into the crack and passed through to wherever was on the other side; it was simply there one second and gone the next.
“Amazing!” he murmured.
“Yeah,” Owen agreed.
“That just shows how much we still have to learn about physics and other dimensions, among other things,” Tosh said, sounding a bit awed. “Even I can’t explain exactly how that worked.”
“Think you can close the crack so nothing else can fall through in either direction?” Jack asked.
“I don’t think I’ll need to.” Tosh hadn’t taken her eyes off the crack and as the others turned their attention back to it they could all clearly see it was less than half the length it had been. They stayed where they were, watching, as it got smaller and smaller, and finally vanished completely with a faint ‘pop’.
“Well, that’s that.” Jack rubbed his gloved hands together. “Time we headed back to the Hub.”
“What about all this ice?” Owen waved his hands to indicate their frozen surroundings.
“According to my readings, the temperature’s already gone up almost a tenth of a degree.” Tosh tapped at her PDA for a few moments, running calculations. “I think by tomorrow morning temperatures should be back to something close to normal for this time of year, and most of the ice will be gone. It’s still winter though, so don’t expect it to get much above four or five Celsius.”
“I hate winter,” grumbled Owen, shivering. “It’s cold and disgusting.”
“You hate everything.” Ianto sounded amused.
“Not true; I like booze, and pizza, and computer games, and warm weather…”
“I stand corrected,” Ianto smirked.
“Come on, boys and girls, put your best feet forward and try not to fall over. If we’re lucky we might find somewhere open on the way back where we can get something hot to eat. Maybe McDonald’s.”
That improved Owen’s mood no end. “I like burgers too!” he grinned. “Last one back to the SUV pays!” Shuffling across the ice, he steamed ahead, the rest of the team shuffling along in his wake, all them laughing as they tried to stay upright and overtake the medic.
Soon the worst of the ice would be gone and Cardiff would be back to something approaching normal, but maybe they could get a bit of fun out of the extreme conditions while they lasted. There was no harm in trying.