Temperature

July and August were archive months. Ianto spent time in the archives off and on throughout the year, but the weeks of July and August had become official Archiving Months. It had everything to do with the heat aboveground and the sheer amount of underground that the archives were.

The entire Hub was underground of course and, thus, much cooler than the rest of Cardiff. But Ianto had discovered the sheer joy of descending to the seventh or eighth level of the Hub -- each level of descent bringing a drop of another two degrees until, in the dustiest and least-used Archives, Ianto had to keep a parka on a hook, and gloves, else risk a case of hypothermia.

He adored it. Wrapped up in his parka, digging through the Archives, breathing out puffs of air in soft white clouds -- he half expected to find snow dusting the ground, and entertained thoughts of making snowballs and carrying them quickly upstairs to lob them at someone.

Not that he would. He was rather horrified at the mere notion of actually doing it. But he liked thinking about it, contemplating who his target would be -- catching Owen in the face was top on his list, but second after was Jack, right in the back of the head.

He toyed with the idea of putting a fridge down here and stashing some snow next winter, so that next year he could be ready. As if they would still be here, as if Lisa wouldn't be cured by then and they'd have left this place far behind.

Knowing full well he would never do such a childish thing as throw a snowball at anyone -- maybe just one, at Owen -- Ianto buried himself in the Archives, in the cold, and let the rest of over-heated Cardiff and the rest of the entire world slip away into frozen nothingness.

~~~

Jack preferred when business as usual came to a halt well before sunset and he could slip away, climb the stairs to the roof and stand, watching as the sun sank towards the horizon. Feeling the last of the day's heat begin to glimmer away he could close his eyes and imagine that the salty air and the faint traces of summer heat were...somewhere else. Cardiff at its worst never got as hot as the summers at home -- Jack had been to Egypt, three times in his visits to Earth, and had found that sharp, dry, smothering heat to be more along the lines of his childhood home.

But in these moments as the sun began to set, he could imagine that it was middle of the night and he was sneaking out of his bed, tiptoeing down the hall and out into the night. Meeting up by the water's edge with a friend -- when he'd been younger, the games had been innocent ones. Throwing rocks into the water and running along the shore, playing at re-enacting historical battles, feats from the daytime vidshows, or just making everything up as they went along. Taking it in turn to be the hero and the villain, the night air was almost exactly the temperature as Cardiff in August as the sun went down.

He could almost hear his mother screaming at him to get back to the house, back into bed and if he slept through his morning alarm and was late for school she would have no sympathy at all.

The breeze picked up as he stood on the roof, and the temperature began to fall more quickly. The sounds of the city intruded on memory and the images in his mind fell away, replaced by a cacophony of -- well, anything. Everything. All the noises and sights and smells of all the places he'd been to, flickering through the back of his mind as he looked out over the place he'd chosen to call home.

He closed his eyes for one last breath of sea-salt air and thought of running over a rocky beach, toes catching on the pebbles and flailing for balance even as Gorgin the Mighty flew at his head with a sword of wood, silently screaming a war cry.

~~~

Suzie looked at her reflection in the mirror, eyes narrowing slightly. The red scarf didn't really suit her after all; she slipped it off and let it fall on the dresser. She scoffed. Not that it mattered. She wouldn't be wearing it -- wouldn't have been dressing up, regardless. Who ever noticed if she made herself look pretty, wore a new color of lipstick or bought a new pair of shoes? And yet she still bought them, indulgences that she told herself she would wear for this occasion or that, never seeming to remember that she never did manage to go to whatever occasion it was.

This time it was her school reunion. A dress she'd bought last spring, and the scarf she'd bought last week thinking it would match perfectly. Dressed for her own attention, here in her bedroom, she had to admit she thought it looked...good. Not her style, but pretty on someone else.

Trying never had done her any good. The boys at school had all thought her cold and mysterious. Little had any of them known the reason why, seeing only her intellect and quiet manner and writing her off as no one worth talking to. Only Richard, a boy in her maths courses, had spoken with her regularly and he had never been one to notice the walls in front of his face much less if a girl he was speaking to was wearing red or pink shoes that day.

She'd liked Richard, but he'd never noticed if she was pretty. He'd only ever complimented her on her equation solving. That had done the job, though, and gotten her virginity lost at seventeen.

She looked at the red scarf and wondered who would be there. Would the boys who'd teased her mercilessly be there, over-weight and dragging wives and photos of three children plus dog? Full of boring stories of football matches and beer, and hard-pressed to recognise her name if she introduced herself?

No point in wondering, since she knew she wouldn't be going. Not even to look up Richard, to see if he'd gone on to university to get that maths degree he'd spoken of, see if he'd remained as brilliant and fumbling as he'd been as a student or if he, like so many other ugly ducklings, had turned out to be something remarkable.

Suzie glanced at her mobile, knowing it was unlikely she'd be summoned to work tonight. Something about the feel of the air, the amount of activity of the previous week, told her that it would stay quiet for awhile.

She picked up her purse regardless, slipping her mobile inside, and taking up the red scarf and wrapping it loosely around her neck. There was research to be done, and the Hub was always a better place to be than the quiet of her flat and the ridiculous notions that she would ever go out, have a life, and make the boys from the football team notice her and remember her name.

~~~

The cup was warm, almost but not quite hot to the touch. Toshiko picked it up, bringing it to her lips and testing it. Cool enough to touch meant cool enough to drink, but she always hesitated before she took that first sip. A vivid memory from childhood, of snatching a cup of tea from her grandmother's table, not hearing the warning that it might be too hot and drinking it, burning her lips and tongue before her hands could register that the ceramic was hot.

The tea was just right and she smiled to herself that her grandmother would be pleased. She closed her eyes and remembered the proper tea her grandmother had struggled to teach her -- as a child she'd been uninterested in learning anything that didn't have to do with numbers and computers and science. Her mother had been the clever one to introduce a lesson in thermodynamics, cleverly hidden inside a setting of tea. But even that had lasted only long enough for one afternoon, then Toshiko had been back to her books and learning about engines and molecules, and the tea set on her grandmother's table was left forgotten.

She'd looked up the proper ritual for serving tea, but though she'd practised it on her own, Toshiko felt as if she never had got it quite right. She thought perhaps her grandmother wouldn't mind, exactly, though she might have also said it was reason enough she should have listened when she had the chance.

She hadn't known her grandmother very well, been too young when the old woman had died, but Toshiko thought she'd been a very strict and impatient woman with the antics of her grandchildren.

Toshiko held the tea cup in her hands, and looked across the table to the empty cushions.

Happy Birthday, Mother, she whispered, and she calmly sipped her tea.

~~~

Owen thought very seriously about firing the lot of them. Walking along the aisle between the beds, he glanced at the scanner and checked the chart he'd left at the foot of each one. Making notations, noticing what changes he'd expected and what changes he hadn't -- he thought very seriously about firing each and every last one of them.

"You would think Torchwood agents would have sense enough to come in out of the rain," he said for the fifth time, knowing it wouldn't do any more good now than it had the first time he'd said it.

He had to admit Suzie and Tosh looked quite miserable, each one huddled underneath blankets -- Toshiko shivering and Suzie complaining of the fever that was finally starting to come down.

Jack was lying on his side, looking away from them and muttering something about wouldn't they just kill him already.

"The flu won't kill you," Owen reminded him and ignored the hopeful look Jack gave him. "And even if you bitch and moan, I won't kill you for being annoying, so don't even bother." He smirked as the expression on Jack's face fell, and he continued down the row of beds. Ianto was sound asleep and thus was the only patient Owen wasn't irritated with.

Not that Ianto had shown any more sense than the rest of them, but he'd slept through most of his flu so far, and that was exactly the sort of patient Owen liked best. A silent one. "Does it say in our charter that digging up harmless, defunct, alien pottery shards is required, no matter how cold and rainy it is, and -- oh yeah, during flu season? Of course it wouldn't have mattered if you'd had your flu shots but -- wait, didn't I send out a memo last week? Who was it that actually followed my suggestions?"

He looked around at his co-workers and -- almost -- felt badly about haranguing them. But he'd given himself a flu shot, and now here he was the only one not ill.

He decided he didn't feel badly, after all.

"We're very sorry, Owen," Toshiko said, sounding like death warmed over. Owen had to stop himself from looking too sympathetic as she looked up at him, looking as ill and he was sure she felt. "Could I have another blanket, please?"

Owen sighed. He pulled a blanket off the one un-used bed and draped it over her. "Has anyone learned a lesson about listening to the doctor on medical matters?" he asked.

There was a moment of silence, then a very soft, "No," came from Ianto's bed. Suzie and Jack both giggled, and Toshiko half-smiled even as her eyes slipped closed.

Owen glared. "Fine. Then we'll see who bothers to make soup and tea." He turned and headed for the door, listening and not hearing the apologies or hasty promises to do better next time.

As he left the room, he sighed, shook his head, and made his way to the break-room to put a kettle on.

He'd brew it strong, and bitter, and conveniently forget the honey. That would teach them.

~~~

She liked hot. She liked cold. She didn't really care for the in-betweens, when the air was the same as her skin and hard to properly feel. Even when it moved, blowing hard or soft it was always better when it was hot and cold.

She could taste it, then, and she could open her mouth as she soared and find all manner of interesting things to discover on the air's currents.

She tried to tell the Wingless Ones, asking them to let her out when the air was interesting, but they never seemed to understand her. That was fine, as they let her fly every morning and every evening in the Outside and, more often than not, the Outside Air was hot or cold.

The air on the inside was stale, and though it was full of scents, it was never properly full of the air she loved.

She clung to the spot near the door as her instincts told her it was almost time. There, right exactly on the dot, the door swung wide open. She flapped her wings and headed out for her morning flight, delighting as she discovered that today the air was cold.

She flew in delicious circles, tasting the cold and noting, as always, the Wingless One who most often let her out was there. He was holding the White Mug of Hot Brown Liquid in one hand and she took a dive towards it. He never seemed to mind sharing a drop of it with her, and she gathered a bit of it on all five of her feet as she skimmed the surface. Then she flapped her wings hard, rising into the air, and took one more circle around the Wingless One's head.

The morning air was wonderful, and she wished she could stay outside, just this once. But she'd promised -- in exchange for the safety of their hospitality on this planet and the food they provided, that she would remain safely inside the domicile they provided so her atomic structure would not leak radiation into their atmosphere and poison them. It would take several of their years for it to have a noticeable effect, but she hated to harm those who had shown her nothing but kindness, so she took her brief flights when they offered, and always returned safely home upon command.

The alarm's 'ding' sounded and she dove for the door of her domicile. The Wingless One reached in and removed the fluffy breaded substance he'd stored in their during her morning flight, and she waved an antenna at him in thanks, as she slipped inside. The door closed with a firm thunk and she headed for her dark corner, nestling herself once again in her home.

Perhaps one of the other Wingless Ones would have a bit of fluffy bread to warm up, and she would get another flight in the Outside. She rested and watched the door, and waited in eager excitement.

The End