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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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