Author's Note: Still fighting with a total lack of internet at home. (Grrr). This 'episode' is sort of the calm before the storm.
Gareth Martin stood behind the cordon and watched the hellish scene before him. In fifteen years of fire-fighting, he'd never seen a night like this, never lost so many in separate incidents in one night. Somewhere behind him, the distraught parents were loaded into an ambulance to be treated for smoke inhalation and serious burns; chances were that at least one of them wouldn't make it through the night. Yet another stray firework, his second of the night and the sixth called in across Cardiff, had careened through their kids' bedroom window, and the parents had nearly been killed trying to get them out, to no avail. He tensed his jaw as another call came through and turned away, ready to do battle with another fire. If the presumption was right, and it was a bad load of fireworks that had done this, heads would roll.
The city had fallen silent by now, news spreading lightning fast of the shocking accidents. Those still awake in the bitter cold were being careful, putting their fireworks away, glad that they had put them out a little too early and got caught in the flurries of snow that had fallen, or decided that the weather was too bad to risk it, or just that they'd been drunk enough to know not to do it, and guilty that they had got away whilst others hadn't. Yet again, Cardiff was descending into a state of shock, and more than one person was looking towards the Bay and blaming Torchwood.
The phone was shrill in the quiet of the bedroom. Ianto reached out blindly with one hand to find it, running his other hand over Jack's shoulders and kissing his hair in attempt to get him to sleep again. "Morning, who's calling?"
"Um, Ianto?" Gwen asked tentatively and he sighed, resting his forehead against Jack's shoulder, but letting Jack roll over enough to wrap an arm around him. "Sorry, did I wake you."
"It's fine, Gwen," he shuffled in against Jack more and Jack propped himself up so that Ianto could tuck an arm under him. "What can I do for you?"
She took a breath, audible down the phone, and focussed on the task in hand. "There was an unusually high incidence of firework accidents last night, and, well, people think that aliens might be involved."
"Aliens?" Ianto sighed. "Okay, Jack and I will head in. Do you want us to come down to the station?"
"Yes please, pet. Do you want the details now, or..."
Ianto trailed his fingers over Jack's back, unwilling to move just yet. "We'll call you when we get moving and you can warn us on the way. It might take us a while, what with the weather."
"Yeah, of course, I'll let them know what you're on your way. Drive safely."
Hanging up, Ianto dropped the phone onto the bed and tucked himself into Jack's willing, warm embrace, splaying his hands across Jack's broad back and holding on. "Gwen wants to see us. Apparently there's been a lot of firework accidents this year, and people are looking at Torchwood."
Jack kissed the side of Ianto's head and tightened his grip around him, and Ianto relaxed slightly more. "It's probably nothing, just the cold and the damp making them go off badly, but we'll go and make nice. Unless you want to stay in bed? I can go on my own, if you'd rather..."
"I'll come." Ianto cut him off. "I'll have to get used to dealing with her sooner or later."
He'd started rolling away, but Jack caught his wrist and stopped him, looking confused. "Wait, her?"
"Yeah, Gwen," he sighed and flopped onto his side again, reaching up to trail his finger up and down Jack's arm without thinking about it. "She keeps looking at me like 'oh my God, you're alive!' and it's... annoying."
"Don't I do that too?" Jack asked, turning away slightly, apparently to find socks.
"You do, but you're glad that I'm alive, not that he's alive. You're... I'm sorry." He sat up and looped his arms around Jack's neck, resting his forehead against Jack's shoulder, sighing again. "You miss him," he whispered. "I can live with that, I can try to help. But I can't be him."
"I know," Jack turned back and kissed him softly. "She'll realise eventually."
"Stubborn woman," Ianto pushed away again and went to the wardrobe. "What should I wear, am I dressing to impress?"
"Dress warm, I don't think anyone's going to be worried about attire today." Jack was reaching for his usual outfit, but with an extra long-sleeved T shirt underneath his shirt. "Our primary concern is getting back here without losing any of our extremities."
"Why is it so cold?" Ianto asked, fishing out a black long-sleeved T shirt and a hoody with the logo of a band he never remembered seeing on it. "Blue... Whatever." It was thick and warm, so he tossed it on the bed and started looking for suitable trousers.
"Do I look like a meteorologist?" Jack laughed, pulling his boxers up. "It's going to last, too."
"That's going to make life fun," he shivered in the cold and started pulling on the first pair of 'outdoor' trousers that came to hand. "Might kill off some of the Weevils, though."
"Yeah, but then who'll have to clean them up?" Jack pointed out. "Shut up talking and get dressed."
Fifteen minutes later, thoroughly bundled up against the cold and with a thermos of coffee, they got outside to check the conditions of the road. Even though they'd cleared the drive the day before, fresh snowfall had turned the world completely white again, and they realised that they were only able to get out because they'd brought the SUV home with them so that they could close the Hub up as much as possible. Ianto unlocked the SUV and put the emergency bag on the back seat, climbing into the passenger seat without question whilst Jack got in the driver's seat. "Do you think we could call them and tell them that we can't make it?" he suggested, breath fogging in front of him.
"We could, but it wouldn't be morally sound, I don't think," Jack smiled at him and activated his bluetooth before he pulled out. "Gwen Cooper."
Ianto slapped his hand, barely enough for him to notice, and unhooked the earpiece from his ear. "Let me talk to her, then you can concentrate on not killing us. Hi, Gwen; Ianto again."
"Hi, Ianto. Isn't this... Sorry, you're on your way?"
He smirked and tried to ignore the cars abandoned at the sides of the road. "Yeah, we're just heading around from the flat, so we'll be a long while yet. You'll probably not get the whole team, either."
"Don't worry about it, pet. We're running on a skeleton here as well; the weather's awful."
"Nice weather if you're under twelve, though," he pointed out. Jack laughed at him. "Anyway, what can you tell us?"
"About the usual number of injuries last night, which was unusual because of the weather," she explained. "Far fewer displays, even private ones, but many more injuries at them. All the injuries were at private events, and there were seven house fires caused by them last night, with five fatalities at the scene and another two overnight."
"That's not good," he shook his head at Jack. "Is there anything that connects them? Location, socio-economic grouping, shopping preferences..."
"We're still collecting data on that, but Jack might be able to connect some of the dots we've got when he gets here," her reply was cagey.
He sighed. "You think someone has been buying fireworks from aliens?"
"We can't be certain yet, as we've not managed to find everyone who let off the ones that did the damage but... yes, it's looking like that."
"Okay. If anything else comes in, let me know, alright?" he raised his hand to his ear to hang up on her. "See you soon."
Jack eyed him for a moment before returning his attention to the road. "What did she have to say?"
"Considering the weather, there was an unusually high number of deaths last night."
"Not what we wanted to hear," Jack sighed.
Ianto agreed. "No. Gwen's got something she wants to show you that might or might not point towards alien involvement."
"They'll be long gone if it is alien," Jack gritted his teeth and shook his head. "I should never have left."
"Don't beat yourself up for it," he leaned his head against the window and watched the snow-white world drift by. "You came back, which is more than anyone could ask of you."
Jack was silent for the rest of the long trip into town to the central police station. They didn't see any other cars, and everyone except the children was staying indoors, tucked up in the warm, out of the snow that had started falling, yet again. Halfway there, Ianto called the St David's and booked a double room for Torchwood, knowing that they would always be able to get a room there, and that there was no way they'd get home once this was over.
After parking in the police station car park, Jack wrapped his gloved hand around Ianto's and squeezed. They braced themselves, grabbed what they needed off the back seat without getting out of the car, and then left the warmth of the car to hurry through the biting wind and driving snow, into the entrance hall of the Victorian-built station building. It had been touched up, both internally and externally, to accommodate the changes it had seen – electric lighting and computers not the least of these – but it was still essentially the same as it had been for the one hundred and some years that Jack had known it.
The officer behind the desk looked up at their entrance. "Captain Harkness, I'll let Sergeant Cooper know you've arrived."
"Thanks, shall we go straight up?" He'd started pulling his gloves off already, and shook melting snow out of his hair.
"I'll just check that..." she clamped the phone between her ear and her shoulder so that she could carry on typing whilst she spoke. "Sergeant Cooper, Torchwood are here for you." Jack and Ianto exchanged glances. "Right, ma'am, I'll tell them that." She looked up at Jack and Ianto and removed the phone. "She says to go right up, she has all the information for you in her office."
"Thank you," Jack grinned at her and swept out.
Ianto nodded his thanks and made to follow him. "Thank you, Jenny."
"Ianto... Jones?" she called after him, hesitantly.
He stopped and bit back a sigh. "Yes?"
"Oh, just learning names," she smiled again and turned back to her work.
Jack was waiting at the top of the stairs for him, looking curious. "What was that about? Did she know you?"
"No, just wanted to check my name," he pulled the door open and pushed Jack through it with a hand on his arse. "I can look after myself, you know."
"I know you can, I was just being concerned."
"Your concern is noted and appreciated, but not necessary," he said dryly. "Gwen, what can you tell us?"
"Ianto, hi," she beamed at him and looked him over. He wasn't sure why, as she'd only seen him a week ago, at the 'we survived Christmas and the Master' party at his and Jack's flat, but maybe he'd been avoiding her more successfully than he'd thought. "Happy New Year."
"We'll see," Jack cut in, resting one hand on Ianto's waist. "Ianto said you had something to show us?"
She looked flustered, but led them over to a table covered with notes, statements and a large map of the city. "We're focussing on the house fires, for the moment. Some of the other injuries might be related as well, but they're common enough that they could be unrelated, especially in weather like this."
"House fires are pretty common as well, though," Ianto pointed out.
"These were all caused by stray fireworks, though." Gwen rested her hand just below one of the sticky flags on the map. "Eight of them, all in the North of the city. Two on this estate, one on the next, one down here..." she trailed off and flicked one that seemed no different to the rest. "This one was collateral damage, two kids, mum and dad, all at home when a firework crashed through the kids' bedroom window. They never stood a chance." Jack stiffened and turned away, and Gwen leaned forwards pressing home her advantage. "Jack, people have died because of this; children have died. What do you know?"
Ianto's hands clenched, but Jack answered her without looking around. "Sounds to me like you already know the answer."
"Someone's been producing illegal fireworks," she started slowly. "And they've been selling them on our streets. In that area, it has to be the Roth; they won't let anyone else even sniff at it."
"We have to do something, Jack. They got in here whilst..."
"Whilst I was gone." He turned at last and glared at her. "I know, they got a foothold whilst I wasn't here to stop them. Why did you tell UNIT to butt out?"
Gwen gaped in shock. "I thought you wouldn't want them anywhere near Cardiff."
"The only thing I didn't want anywhere near Cardiff was me," he snapped. Ianto reached out and squeezed his forearm, and Jack sagged slightly, turning more towards him. "It's done now. It's too late to do anything. We've been mopping it up for months, now it's down to your boys to sort this."
"What are they supposed to do?" she asked.
"Make sure that no one can or does buy illegal fireworks, like they're always supposed to," he shook off Ianto's hand, but only to put both of his own hands in his pockets. "We'll do what we can, you do what you can."
Clearly annoyed, she nodded , and Jack steered Ianto out of the room and down the stairs, brooding silently until they got into the car. It was blanketed in white already, and gave them some privacy from the outside world, so Ianto caught Jack's chin and turned his head so that he could kiss him. Jack returned it and caught Ianto's retreating hand. "What was that for?"
Ianto shook his head. "Do I need a reason? Besides, you looked like you needed it."
Pillowing his head on his arms on the steering wheel, Jack nodded. "Ianto, why did I leave?"
He combed his fingers through Jack's hair, but desisted quickly when he discovered that it was wet and cold. "Because you were nursing a very broken heart, and it's not like she could have helped," he nodded towards the building.
Jack chuckled. "You don't like her very much, do you?"
"I don't like being... mothered." He shrugged. "She seems to have no concept of personal space. And she knows you better than I do," he added quietly.
"No she doesn't," Jack sounded amused at the idea. "She's known me longer, but she doesn't really know me at all."
"She knew how to get to you," he pointed out.
Jack sat up, started the car and turned the windscreen wipers on. "Yes, but she didn't know not to do it, did she? There's nothing more we can do here. God, that poor family."
"You can't save everyone, Jack," he pointed out as he fastened his safety belt. "As hard as you try, you can't. You did everything you could; it was inevitable that something would slip through the net."
"Yeah," he sighed heavily. "I just wonder what else we've missed, and how long it'll lie in wait for us."
"Things come in threes, though. We had the drugs, the attempt to chase us out, and now this... Maybe this is the end." He tried to sound hopeful.
"Maybe. We'll just have to be vigilent. St David's Hotel, yeah?"
It was only noon when they finally got into their bath, and Ianto cursed Gwen in all the languages he knew for dragging them out of the flat when they could have told her what she already knew over the phone. Jack leaned back against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around his waist, rubbing his head against Jack's like a cat. "It's always like this, isn't it?" Jack asked dejectedly. "I'll always be waiting for the next shoe to fall."
"I'm sorry." Ianto kissed the side of his neck.
Jack chuckled at him and leaned back a little more. "You're the only thing that makes it worth it. You know that, right?"
Ianto smiled. "I love you too."