Several days of freezing rain, sub-zero temperatures, and an icy wind from the north had combined to turn the whole of Cardiff into a gigantic ice rink. The treacherous conditions had brought the city practically to a standstill; even the grit-spreaders were struggling to get traction on the icy roads. Weather warnings were in place, with everyone told to stay indoors and not to drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary. Some people were even heeding the warnings; there was less traffic than usual on the roads, but still a lot of accidents happening, most of them relatively minor since it was difficult to get up much speed when your car tyres couldn’t get a grip.
Schools were closed, so the kids were out in force, sliding and tobogganing on the ice, screaming with excitement and delight, and people were still venturing out on foot to do their Christmas shopping. A lot of the smaller shops were closed but the big supermarkets and most of the stores in the St David’s shopping centre were open and raking in the money since many of the staff had opted to remain at work for the duration rather than attempting the risky business of travelling to and from their homes.
Torchwood was still in business too; they didn’t get much say in the matter since the Rift didn’t stop in hazardous winter weather any more than it had during the unexpected summer heatwave.
Like the shop workers, the team had also opted to remain at the Hub instead of attempting to commute. It was bad enough when they had to venture out on Rift retrievals without voluntarily braving the cold and ice to get home, knowing they’d only have to make the trek back again come morning, if not sooner.
On the plus side, the remodelled Hub now had actual bedrooms available for everyone, small and utilitarian but comfortable enough, and a proper kitchen with well-stocked cupboards and a massive freezer. No one would be going hungry, not even if they had to stay there for a month or more.
It might have been quite fun and festive, with the tree and all the decorations up, coloured lights twinkling, and the delicious aromas of Jack’s Christmas baking wafting everywhere, if it weren’t for them all having to take turns risking life and limb every time the Rift saw fit to drop something else of possible alien origin on the unsuspecting city.
This time it was Ianto’s turn. The coordinates for the alert indicated that something had come through in Pentwyn, out near the Glyncoed Junior School, so it was quite a distance, especially given present conditions. Due to their immortality, Ianto and Jack were handling the retrievals requiring the longest treks, leaving the closer and hopefully therefore less hazardous ones to the rest of the team.
Snow chains on the tyres of the SUV and their personal cars reduced the risk of skidding out of control, and some of the main roads were just about drivable thanks to the valiant efforts of the gritters, but driving anywhere was still a nerve-racking experience, especially when there were other cars about. No matter how careful a driver he was, Ianto was only too well aware that he could easily get run off the road by other, less careful, motorists.
The bulk of the SUV was some comfort. Its reinforced body could withstand a collision with just about anything that was currently on the road, but Ianto still kept below twenty miles per hour, allowing the chains to dig into the slick surfaces. Sleet was still falling, adding fresh layers of ice all the time, and the clouds were hanging low, turning lunchtime as gloomy as evening. He had the SUV’s headlights on low beam, although the drivers of several cars he passed weren’t using their lights at all. Some people seemed to have a death wish.
Pulling off the main roads and onto the narrower streets of Pentwyn, Ianto slowed further, keeping a careful watch for kids and pedestrians as he crept along, glad of the heating in the SUV as powerful gusts rocked the vehicle, hammering at it with icy sleet. Just because he was immortal didn’t mean he relished the thought of freezing to death.
He got as close to his destination as he could, but when he reached roads that had yet to be gritted at all, he found somewhere to park and got out. Even the chains on the SUV weren’t much help on a two-inch thick sheet of ice stretching across the narrow space between two rows of parked cars. The SUV was so wide and heavy that if he slid at all he’d risk causing damage to the parked cars, and the last thing he wanted was to be tied up exchanging insurance details with the owners. Better to go the rest of the way on foot.
It looked like his bet was to walk on the pavements, keeping as close to the fences and hedges as he could, where the ice was less treacherous, lumpy and uneven from constant drips off foliage and overhanging tree branches. Setting off with a sense of grim determination, he followed the route laid out on his PDA, which indicated a distance of approximately a mile. Lovely day for a stroll! If you happened to be a penguin.
Hunching his shoulders, Ianto pressed forwards against the wind, woollen hat pulled well down to cover his ears, and the ends of his scarf flapping as persistent gusts tried to unwind it from around his neck. He soon found himself wishing his coat sleeves were long enough to come right down over his gloved hands; then his fingers might not feel so much like a bunch of icicles. Gritting his teeth behind the protection afforded be several layers of woollen scarf, he forged onwards, along one road, around a corner, and down another icy street, deciding he hated winter; it should be banned on principle.
He soon lost all track of time as he slipped and slithered along the pavements, dicing with death every time he had to cross a road. The thick rubber treads of the boots he’d changed into before leaving the SUV provided some degree of traction, but despite that he still ended up on his arse three times, cursing up a storm behind the folds of his scarf as he struggled back upright, coat and pants moist from the sleet that hadn’t yet had time to freeze solid.
At long last his PDA told him he was nearing the coordinates and he breathed a sigh of relief. All he had to do now was collect what had fallen through the Rift, make the long trek back to the SUV, and return to the Hub, preferably before it got too much darker out than it already was.
The Rift’s latest gift didn’t prove too hard to find, just lying on the playground between the junior and infants’ schools as if it had been forgotten after playtime. Despite everything, Ianto couldn’t help laughing; the Rift either had a sense of humour or it thought it was being helpful. He ran his scanner over the object, just to make certain it was what he’d come for; judging by the levels of Rift energy permeating it, there was no doubt, and just as he picked it up, he spotted a second one a few yards away. Better and better!
Slithering his way over to a low wall, Ianto perched awkwardly on the edge of it as he examined the ice-skates; they were a size too big for him, but then so were his boots, bought that way deliberately to allow for wearing extra socks. He debated the wisdom of what he was planning for all of five seconds, then unlaced his boots and put the skates on in their place, removing the skate guards and slipping them in his coat pocket. His boots went in a carrier bag he found crammed in the bottom of the same pocket. He usually had at least a couple with him; you never knew when one might come in handy. All set, he stood up, finding his balance more easily on the thin blades, designed with such conditions in mind, than he had in his boots. At least the trip back to the SUV would be easier than the outward trek had been.
Aside from the bitter cold, it was almost a pleasure skating along the middle of the practically deserted sideroads, although he did have to watch out for the occasional car, pulling over to the kerb to let them inch past. He got some funny looks from the few pedestrians he encountered, but just waved cheerily at them as he glided by. Let them think he was a nutter if they wanted to; this was by far the best way to get around in the current conditions, and he was back at the SUV in less than half the time it had taken him to walk the same route. He even felt a bit warmer thanks to the vigorous exercise, and he couldn’t resist skating around the block a couple of times before unlocking the passenger side door and climbing inside, where he’d be out of the wind, to change back into his driving shoes.
The journey back to the Hub was less fun; a nail-biting ordeal, mostly because of the detours he had to make around three separate accident scenes that had managed to block three different roads. He didn’t envy the police and emergency services having to deal with the mess.
It was almost dark by the time he finally pulled back into Torchwood’s underground garage, but that was to be expected; he’d left there just before one in the afternoon, and now it was a little after four. The sun would be setting soon, not that it could be seen through the heavy cloud cover. Maybe he shouldn’t have lingered for that extra bit of skating… It had been pure self-indulgence, and yet he couldn’t regret it.
Jack was there waiting as he got out of the SUV. “Finally! I was about ready to send out a search party!”
“You could have just tried calling my cell, or had Tosh track the SUV’s GPS. I’d have been back sooner if there weren’t so many idiots out there coming a cropper from trying to drive on a solid sheet of ice without tyre chains. Cardiff constabulary kept sending me on detours; I think I’ve been around the city centre at least twice.”
“You’re alright though? No problems with the retrieval?”
“Had a bit of a trek, landed on my arse a few times, but no major damage. Was worth it though; look what the Rift sent.” Ianto reached into the passenger seat footwell and retrieved the ice skates, holding them up. “I’d forgotten how much fun skating could be.”
“You used them?” Jack’s eyebrows disappeared beneath his fringe.
“I checked them over thoroughly first, but you know as well as I do that Rift energy is essentially harmless. I wasn’t going to slip and slide my way back to where I had to leave the SUV when I had a more appropriate means of travel available. Made me think though; maybe I should check in the archives, see if we’ve got enough skates for everyone. Might make our lives a bit easier until the ice melts.”
Jack stared at Ianto in disbelief. “You’re seriously suggesting we skate to retrievals?”
“Why not? It would be a lot faster, as long as they’re not too far away, and in areas that haven’t been gritted. We’ll still need to drive some of the time, for long-distance retrievals or to collect anything too big to put in a backpack, but it should be fine for anyone who’s a good enough skater. We’re more likely to break our necks trying to walk on the ice than by skating on it.”
Pushing his doubts aside, Jack nodded. “I suppose I can’t argue with that.”
“You could try, but you’d lose; you know I’m right. There should be a few pairs downstairs that are in usable condition, so I’ll go dig them out, shall I? You talk to the others, see if anyone has skates of their own at home, and then we can get everyone up on the Plas for some practice. It looks like an ice rink anyway so we might as well use it as one. I’m surprised nobody’s up there skating already.”
Half an hour later, all the team were kitted out with skates, although Gwen and Tosh both needed to wear a couple of pairs of Jack’s thick socks inside theirs because the available skates were too big for their feet. Ianto stuck with the pair the Rift had just gifted them with, since he’d already found he could skate in them quite comfortably.
Trooping up onto the Plas through the Tourist Office entrance, since the invisible lift was currently frozen over and unusable, they stepped out onto what could have been a purpose-built rink, with not another living soul in sight. Temperatures were currently several degrees below freezing and most people had apparently decided to avoid the possibility of getting frostbite by staying home.
The icy sleet of earlier had finally stopped, and the clouds were breaking up, allowing a bit of moonlight through the gaps. A few stars were visible, bright as chips of ice, while the pillars around the Plas provided enough illumination for the team’s purposes. Ianto took the lead, skating confidently out into the centre, and the others followed a bit more cautiously, Gwen and Tosh holding on to each other while Jack hovered nearby to offer assistance if needed.
Owen wobbled about at first; he was out of practice since the last time he’d been on skates had been back in London with Katie. He hadn’t wanted to join in, reluctant to stir up old memories, and he ended up on his arse a few times, but gradually it came back to him, and he found himself smiling, skating rings around the girls and remembering Katie’s first attempt at skating, when she’d been like Bambi on ice. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt to remember the good times the way it used to, and he wondered if that meant he was finally starting to heal.
It had been even longer since Tosh had last skated, not since she’d been in her teens, so Ianto went to her aid and left Jack putting Gwen through her paces. She was a lot better than Tosh since she and Rhys went skating together every so often, but had only ever learned to go forward, although for the purpose of Rift retrievals that would be good enough.
Once Tosh and Gwen gained their ice legs enough that they weren’t constantly in danger of falling over, everyone was free to enjoy themselves, chasing each other around the Plas and feeling quite warm despite the sub-zero temperatures. By the time they went back inside a couple of hours later they all felt reasonably confident of being able to handle the icy conditions whenever possible without resorting to cars, as long as they didn’t need to go up or down hills. Ianto decided he’d better dig out some fluorescent jackets from the archives, so everyone would be clearly visible to passing motorists. It wouldn’t do to be hit by a careless driver.
Tired and a bit sore from the unfamiliar exertions they headed back into the Hub for cups of Ianto’s coffee, and something hot to eat. Let the weather do its worst; whatever it came up with, Torchwood would find a way to cope. All it took was a bit of imagination and ingenuity.