Huddling Place by badly_knitted



Summary: The weather can change fast in the Brecon Beacons in early spring, and Ianto finds himself in desperate need of shelter.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Torchwood
Characters: Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness, Owen Harper, Toshiko Sato
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Fluff, Hurt/Comfort, Romance, Standalone
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2022.01.13
Updated: 2022.01.14


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2


Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: Written for Challenge 260: Cave at fan_flashworks. Also for the 'Warmth' square on my bingo card.


Ianto cursed himself yet again for being such an idiot; if he’d had any sense at all, he would have been keeping a closer eye on the sky. This was Wales, where he’d grown up; more than any of the team, more even than Jack despite the immortal Captain’s hundred plus years of living in Cardiff, he should know how changeable the Welsh weather could be, especially at this time of year. Yet he’d allowed himself to get caught out, literally, and now he was paying the price for his carelessness and overconfidence.

The whole team had come out to the Beacons in search of the source of a distress call from a downed alien shuttle. They’d found the stricken craft without too much difficulty, and had spent a couple of hours assisting its crew with the necessary repairs before watching it take off again.

As soon as they’d been sure the small ship had made its way safely back into space they’d set off over hill and dale towards where they’d left the SUV, parked on a narrow dirt track out of sight of the road. They’d almost made it down to level ground before Tosh had realised her toolkit was missing. She’d assumed Jack or Ianto had been carrying it since she’d needed both hands free to scramble over the jumble of rocks blocking the end of the valley where the shuttle had made its emergency landing, but neither of them had noticed her putting it down in order to climb. She really should have said something sooner, but there was no point in recriminations; arguing over who should have done what would just waste valuable time they didn’t have.

The temperature had already been dropping before they’d started back down off the moors, and ominous clouds had been gathering in the distance, but Ianto had rambled around the Brecon Beacons many times in his youth and he had the path they’d taken up to the concealed valley memorised, having walked it twice today already, so as far as he’d been concerned there’d only been one logical course of action.

“No sense all of us trooping back up there. You lot keep going while I head back for Tosh’s kit. I’ll catch up to you back at the SUV.”

“Are you sure?” Jack had asked. “I could go…”

Ianto had shaken his head, dismissing Jack’s offer. “I’m faster than you over rough ground, more used to the terrain; I can be there and back before you could get halfway. Shouldn’t take me more than an hour.” With that he’d handed his backpack to Jack and set off at an easy jog, a pace he knew he could keep up for long distances, even in these conditions. All the running he’d done the last few months training for the 10k St David’s Day run had improved his stamina and endurance to the point where even running up the slope had barely winded him.

He’d been in sight of the pile of boulders when an icy wind had suddenly got up, buffeting him about so hard that it almost knocked him off his feet, and before he’d gone more than a few steps further he’d found himself engulfed in swirling snowflakes.

Staggering onwards through the thickening snow, slipping and slithering as it made the tussocky grass slick beneath his boots, Ianto made it to the rocks and struggled up and over them to huddle on the leeside for a moment, out of the wind, catching his breath before seeking out Tosh’s toolkit. Thankfully, despite the blizzard it wasn’t hard to find, and he snatched the case up, relieved to have located it so quickly.

That was the only good thing about his current situation, however; conditions were deteriorating fast, and he was painfully aware that the route back was going to be impossible to see. Even on this side of the rocks, out of the gusting wind, visibility was already down to no more than a few feet, and part of the path he’d have to take led along a narrow ridge with almost sheer drops on both sides. As much as he wanted to get back to the SUV and the rest of the team, if he attempted the return trip in such a strong wind, even if he didn’t lose his way in the blizzard, he could easily get blown off the ridge and fall to his death. He needed to find shelter, a huddling place where he could wait out the worst of the snowstorm. Shivering as the icy wind cut through his clothes like a knife, Ianto searched out a crevice between two boulders and hunkered down in the narrow gap. It didn’t provide as much in the way of shelter as he would have liked, it was far too small, cramped and uncomfortable, but it was the best he’d been able to find on short notice and at least it meant he was protected from the worst of the wind.

Staring out at the hypnotically swirling snowflakes Ianto soon lost track of time and he was uncomfortably aware of how easy it would be to doze off and freeze to death, all alone out here. While Torchwood agents typically couldn’t expect to live to a ripe old age, dying of hypothermia was hardly the heroic note he’d hoped he might go out on. Really he ought to move from his tiny crevice, try to find somewhere better to wait out the blizzard, but that would mean stepping out into the full force of the ice-laden wind again, which would quickly strip away any body heat huddling where he was might have conserved.

“IANTO!”

At first, he thought he must be dreaming when he heard the familiar voice come floating to him faintly on the wind. He hadn’t thought he’d fallen asleep, but in these conditions, and feeling as cold and almost numb as he did, it was all too possible that he had. He shifted position, feeling the cold of the rocks he was pressed up against leeching away precious body heat as he tried to pull his jacket more tightly around him. Then the voice came again, sounding closer.

“IANTO! WHERE ARE YOU?”

This time he was sure he wasn’t dreaming. Struggling to his feet, he cleared his throat and shouted back, his own voice sounding surprisingly weak.

“Jack? I’m here! Other side of the rocks!”

It took several agonisingly long minutes of shouting back and forth before Ianto heard boots scrabbling on the boulders and then Jack slithered down to land in a heap a few feet away, his descent having been hampered by whatever it was he was carrying. He stood up, dusting snow off his trousers.

“Ianto?”

“Over here!” Ianto stumbled out of his cramped little hidey-hole and Jack came towards him, wrapping his arms around him in a comforting hug.

“You’re freezing!”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Suddenly Ianto’s teeth were chattering uncontrollably.

Jack pulled him closer still and, risking serious damage to his lips from Ianto’s chattering teeth, kissed him, briefly breathing warmth and energy into him before pulling away.

“We have to find some shelter, get you warmed up properly. Come on.”

One arm around Ianto’s waist to keep him upright on his cramped and shaky legs, Jack led him along beside the rocks until he found a small cave formed by several rocks leaning together with another balanced across their tops. It was much better than Ianto’s previous huddling place, deep enough that they’d both be well out of the wind and snow. Propelling Ianto in ahead of him, Jack followed, dumping the two backpacks he was carrying on the dry earth that made up the floor of the cave. Opening one, he pulled out a silver emergency blanket and wrapped it around Ianto, who was shivering so hard by now he could barely stay on his feet.

“There, that should help. Sit.”

Ianto didn’t need telling twice; he sank to the floor at the back of the cave, pulling the blanket more tightly around him, trying to cover as much of himself with it as he could.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Rummaging in the backpack again, Jack pulled out a second blanket, and then a ridiculously gaudy pink and purple woollen bobble hat, which he put on Ianto’s head, pulling it well down. “Here, I think you need this more than I do.”

Under any other circumstances, Ianto would probably have protested against wearing anything so ugly, but the hat was thick and warm, and it came right down over his frozen ears, so he kept quiet, for once grateful for Jack’s atrocious taste in headgear.

There was more rummaging as Jack opened the other backpack, and then the air in the small cave was filled with the wonderful aroma of hot soup. Jack found one of Ianto’s gloved hands under the blanket, pulled it out and pressed the plastic cup from the thermos into it.

“Drink this.”

Raising the cup to his lips, Ianto sipped the steaming liquid, feeling it burn a path of fire down into his stomach, the warmth spreading out inside him. Freeing his other hand from the blanket, one at a time he pulled off his gloves using his teeth so he could wrap bare hands around the cup while he drank. Closing his eyes, he sent up a fervent prayer that he wasn’t dreaming all this while in reality he was slowly freezing to death out in the snow.



TBC in Part 2





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Chapter 2: Chapter 2

Author's Notes: Written for Challenge 260: Cave at fan_flashworks. Also for the ‘Warmth’ square on my bingo card.

Summary: Jack and Ianto huddle together waiting for the snow to stop.


With the blizzard raging outside, the interior of the cave was dim even though it was still only a little past noon. So much had happened in so short a time. They’d trekked out here early this morning, as soon as it had been light enough to see where they were going. Before they’d left the Hub, Ianto had made sandwiches and filled several flasks, three with coffee and three others with soup, but the team had been so busy helping with the repairs that they hadn’t had time to pause for refreshments. In the end they’d decided they’d eat when they got back to the SUV, before driving back to Cardiff. Jack must have brought one of the flasks of soup with him.

“Jack?”

“I’m right here.”

Ianto opened his eyes, which had closed in bliss as he’d sipped the hot soup. Jack was a shadowy shape at the mouth of the cave, wrapped in the other blanket and staring out at the falling snow. He turned and came back to Ianto, sitting down beside him.

“Feeling warmer?”

“Getting there. How did you find me?”

“Tracked your phone. Tosh loaned me her PDA.”

“But the blizzard… You could’ve fallen from the ridge!”

“I set out after you but before it started snowing. Tosh was bothered about the clouds piling up on the horizon so when we reached the SUV she hacked into one of the weather satellites and saw the snow coming. I knew there was no way you’d get to the valley and back before it started falling, so I threw some emergency supplies into a spare backpack, grabbed yours as well, and followed. Good thing I did; I only just made it across the ridge before things started getting dicey. When I lost visibility I had to rely on Tosh’s PDA to keep me on the right track.”

“I’m glad you’re here, and not just because of the blankets and soup, although they’re more than welcome.”

“Enough talking; finish your soup while it’s hot. Are you hungry? I’ve got some of those sandwiches you made this morning, and there’s a flask of coffee as well.”

“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven!”

Ianto finished the rest of his soup and handed the cup to Jack, who wiped it out and put it back on the flask.

“Sandwich first, then coffee,” Ianto decided. “Any idea how long we’re likely to be stuck here?”

“Tosh said from the looks of things the snow should pass over by mid-afternoon to leave clear skies. The ground’s going to be slippery, but as long as we’re careful we should be back at the SUV well before dark. I think it’s already easing up out there.”

Jack passed Ianto a ham and cheese sandwich; it was cold, but still very welcome. Now that he was warmer Ianto was starting to realise just how hungry he was after all the walking and running he’d done. Breakfast had been a very long time ago, and not particularly substantial, just coffee and toast.

“We should set out as soon as the clouds start to clear,” Ianto said, peering out at the falling snow as he and Jack ate.

“We’ve got to find Tosh’s toolkit first,” Jack reminded him. “Can’t just leave it behind, not after you risked life and limb to rescue it.”

“I already found it, should be just outside the little gap among the rocks where you found me. Good thing you got her that shiny bright pink toolbox for Christmas. It’s hard to miss, even in a blizzard.”

“Watertight too,” Jack said proudly. “Everything inside it should be fine, even if it’s buried under the snow.”

“It better not be! I’d rather not have to dig for it, not when my hands are finally warming up.”

They sat quietly for a while, snuggled together at the back of the cave, wrapped in their blankets, finishing the sandwiches and soup, then drinking coffee while the snow continued to fall outside. The thermal fabric of the blankets, along with the food he’d eaten, thawed Ianto out until he felt toasty and warm in spite of the weather. Gradually the hypnotically falling flakes grew fewer and fewer, and the interior of their cave grew brighter. Jack packed the remaining food and the thermoses into Ianto’s backpack again and got to his feet, wandering over to the cave mouth and squinting up at the sky. After a few minutes, Ianto joined him, blanket wrapped around him like a cloak. The sky was clearing, pale blue showing between the scudding clouds, and sunlight was reflecting dazzlingly off several inches of fresh snow.

“We should get moving. We don’t want to still be up here after dark.” Slipping the blanket from his shoulders and shivering slightly at the chill in the air, Ianto started to fold it so it could be stowed in Jack’s backpack.

Jack followed suit with his blanket. Much as they both might have preferred to stay wrapped up in them against the cold, they’d need their hands free for scaling the snow-covered boulders. Packing the blankets away, Jack got out a scarf, handing it to Ianto, who wound it around his neck without a word. It was colder out now than it had been that morning, when he’d left the scarf in the car, figuring it would just get in his way; now the extra warmth it would provide outweighed any other considerations.

Helping each other with their backpacks, they ventured out into a white and silver wonderland. A few feathery flakes were still falling, but not enough to obscure their vision, and the wind had dropped to little more than an intermittent breeze. Close to the rocks the snow was only a couple of centimetres deep, and they found Tosh’s toolkit easily.

Jack clambered up onto the first of the boulders and Ianto passed the toolkit up before joining him. In that manner they worked their way over the jumble of rocks, which were mostly free of snow, having been scoured clear by the wind. The other side was another matter entirely, and when they reached the bottom they plunged into a drift almost three feet deep, wading through it as fast as they could, then dusting the loose powder off their trouser legs to keep it from melting and soaking in. Wet clothes in these temperatures would just serve to suck any warmth out of them.

They kept close together, holding on to each other for support as they trudged through the four or five inches of snow that covered most of the ground, occasionally blundering into deeper patches that had gathered in dips and furrows, or stumbling on rocks hidden beneath the undulating white blanket. Thanks to the earlier wind, the spine of the ridge was almost bare of snow, although it was icy and they had to tread carefully, scuffing at the ground with their boots in places to get a stable foothold. They were both relieved to get off the ridge and back into the snow, knowing if they slipped now, there’d be less chance of life-threatening injury. They might slide down the slope and bump into a few rocks, but that beat falling hundreds of feet down a sheer drop.

As they approached the spot where the team had separated earlier, Ianto could see tiny dots in the distance that looked like they might be people heading in their direction. Nudging Jack, he pointed them out and waved; the distant figures saw them and waved back. Ten more minutes of walking and the people were clear enough to be recognised as Owen and Gwen.

“Well, about time!” Owen exclaimed breathlessly when they finally reached each other.

“What do you two think you’re doing?” Jack said by way of greeting, frowning at them.

“We’re the search party for the search party.” Owen didn’t look particularly happy to be out in the snow. “It was Tosh’s idea, something about settin’ up a relay to get a signal to you two in case you couldn’t find your way back. We were supposed to stick one of these thingies in the ground at the top of the hill, then go up as far as the bottom of the ridge and plant the other one. At least now we won’t ‘ave to.” He looked Ianto up and down. “You alright?”

“Cold, tired, but I’ll live.”

“I’ll check you out once we’re back at the Hub, make sure you didn’t give yourself frostbite or something.”

“Lovely, I’ll look forward to that pleasure.” Ianto’s tone was rich with sarcasm.

“Be like that and I won’t give you a lolly after,” Owen snarked back.

“You never do anyway, you just eat them all yourself.”

“Only ‘cause the rest of you make such a fuss you don’t deserve ‘em. Come on, no point freezing our arses off out here. I want to get back to the SUV where it doesn’t feel like the bloody Arctic.” Turning, Owen started to stomp back down the slope only to slip and land on his arse in the snow. “Bugger it!” He scrambled to his feet, dusting himself off. “Stupid countryside!”

Gwen giggled. “That’s the fourth time he’s fallen over.”

“Yeah, well I’m not the only one; you’ve done it too!” Owen grumbled, not bothering to wait for the others to catch up with him.

“Only twice,” Gwen replied smugly as she slithered unsteadily after her colleague. Jack and Ianto followed, both of them handling the snow and rough terrain better than their friends, thanks to a combination of more suitable footwear, more practice, and having each other to hold on to. It was amazing how much that improved their stability; Gwen and Owen would have found the going easier with each other’s assistance than they did trying to manage by themselves, but neither would ever admit to needing help. Stubborn as mules, the pair of them.

After another twenty minutes of walking, they came around the edge of a small copse and there was the SUV; to Ianto’s mind there could hardly have been a more welcome sight.

“Ianto! You’re here!” Jumping out of the car, Tosh ran to throw her arms around him.

“I’m here,” Ianto agreed, returning his best friend’s hug.

“I’m so sorry, this was all my fault. You wouldn’t have had to go back up there if I hadn’t been so stupid. I would never have forgiven myself if anything had happened to you!”

Ianto shook his head. “It’s okay, Tosh; I’m fine. Really if anyone’s to blame it’s me. I should have been paying more attention to the weather; I know better than to go wandering around the Beacons when the clouds start rolling in. If I’d bothered to look at the sky, I would have realised it was too risky and come back for your tools another day.”

“None of that matters now,” Jack said firmly. “We came out here, got the job done, sent the Ugulans on their way, and we’ve rescued Tosh’s tools without any permanent harm to anyone; I’d call that a win. Now, how about we all head back home before the weather decides to change again? There’s soup, coffee, and sandwiches in the other backpacks; that should keep the rest of you quiet on the drive back.” He ushered Ianto into the front passenger seat, fetched the rest of the supplies from the boot, tossing them in the back with Owen, Gwen, and Tosh, then climbed behind the steering wheel and started the engine, turning the heater on full to warm everybody up after their Arctic trek.

Ianto settled back in his seat, pulled off hat, scarf, and gloves, and held his bare hands in front of the heating vent. Jack was right; what really mattered now wasn’t the errors of judgement that had been made but the fact that in spite of them the whole team was here, safe and sound, and heading back to base. They’d learned an important lesson from today; they wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.


The End

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