Characters: Jack, Ianto, Owen, Tosh, Gwen.
Summary: A routine Rift retrieval turns nasty as the team find themselves stuck in a burning building.
Word Count: 2503
Written For: matrixrefugee’s prompt ‘Torchwood, Torchwood team (any season), the building was on fire, but they weren't responsible,’ at fic_promptly.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. They belong to the BBC.
The whole building was on fire, or at least that was how it seemed, but for once Torchwood wasn’t responsible. That would normally have been a good thing, if it weren’t for the fact that they happened to be inside, with flames raging below them, licking further upwards with every second that passed, while smoke and fumes made it hard to breathe.
It had seemed like such a simple little task; go to the abandoned hotel, find whatever came through the Rift, collect it, and leave. Nobody would even need to know they’d been there. Unfortunately, as was so often the case in their line of work, nothing had turned out to be as straightforward as it should have been.
All of the team had gone, because it was always best to collect Rift debris as quickly as possible, and despite all her sophisticated computer programmes, Tosh hadn’t been able to pinpoint the object’s exact location. If it had been out on the street, that wouldn’t have mattered, but all she’d been certain of was that it was inside a building slated for demolition sometime in the next few months. A building that just so happened to have twelve floors, a basement, a rooftop, and just over a hundred and fifty rooms, and that was without taking the staff-only areas into consideration. Searching the place definitely wasn’t going to be a one-person job.
Armed with scanners, the five of them had piled into the SUV for the drive across town, and on arrival had split up, each of them taking a separate floor; Jack on the rooftop, Ianto on the twelfth floor, Owen taking the eleventh floor, and Gwen and Tosh taking the tenth and ninth respectively. The first person to clear their floor would go down to the next one to be checked, until someone found what they were looking for. At least, that had been the idea. Unfortunately it hadn’t quite worked out that way.
Starting at the top had seemed the most logical approach, but now Jack was beginning to think it had been a huge mistake, because here they were all stuck on the seventh floor, the fire having started somewhere below them, although on which floor none of them could be sure. To cap it all they hadn’t found what they were looking for yet. Safe to say, it was most likely on one of the floors they hadn’t got around to checking, most of which were currently on fire.
“Now what do we do?” Owen asked, stripping out of his shirt and tying it around his face for whatever protection from the smoke it might afford him.
“We need to get out,” Ianto said firmly, following Owen’s example, ruthlessly slicing his shirt in half and giving one piece to Tosh, who wasn’t wearing anything that could serve as a smoke filter.
“Genius idea! Now why didn’t the rest of us think of that?” Owen snarked sarcastically, his voice muffled. Everyone ignored him.
“The firemen are on their way,” Tosh said, slipping her phone back into her pocket and tying her half of Ianto’s shirt across her mouth and nose, with the help of its erstwhile owner. “Should be here in a few minutes.”
“Meanwhile, we should try the staircase at the far end of the hall. Seems to be less smoke down there.” Jack was shrugging back into his coat, having taken his own shirt off, which Ianto was using his pocket-knife on, cutting it in two, as he’d done with his own, handing half to Gwen and the rest back to Jack.
Having done what little they could to reduce smoke inhalation, they headed in the direction Jack had suggested, keeping close together, looking like a bizarre group of masked bandits. Jack’s Coat was sensibly resisting the temptation to flare outwards, instead hanging still by his legs in such as way as to not impede his movements. Ianto felt a surge of pride. It obviously understood how serious the situation was.
As they reached the far end of the main hallway, ignoring the other wide flight of stairs, Ianto tugged at Jack’s sleeve and indicated a closed door at the end of another short corridor. “Fire escape.”
Jack nodded. “Right, we’ll go that way. If it’s clear, I want you all to go straight down to ground level, get outside, and wait for me at the car.” Even over the crackle of flames, they could here the sirens of approaching fire engines; they were getting close.
“What about you?” Gwen asked. “Aren’t you coming with us?”
“I’ll follow. I have to try and find the artefact we came for. We have no idea what it is; for all we know it might be a bomb, or a canister of deadly gas, and if the fire reaches something like that we could lose half the city.”
“You’re going into the fire?” Gwen sounded horrified.
“Won’t be the first time.” Jack flashed one of his devil-may-care grins. “Don’t look so worried! I can survive anything.”
“Just don’t take any unnecessary chances,” Ianto told him firmly. “If you can’t get to it, forget about it. I don’t like to think how long it might take for you to regenerate if you got burned to a crisp, or worse.”
“I promise to be careful. Now let’s get going.” Jack opened the fire door and ushered his team through into a concrete and metal stairwell, devoid of anything flammable, stepping through behind them and firmly shutting the door. There was some smoke present seeping through the narrow gaps under the doors, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as elsewhere so they could clearly see where they were going. They all halted at the fire door on the floor below, turning to look at Jack as he joined them. “Keep moving,” he said
“In a minute.” Tosh thrust her scanner into Jack’s hands. “I’ve recalibrated it to cope with the current conditions.”
“Good thinking, Tosh. Thank you.” Jack reached for it then hesitated. “Hold on a mo.” He shrugged out of the Coat again, passing it to Ianto, who accepted it without a word, draping it over his arm. “Just in case I lose my clothes in there, I might need something to cover up with when I come out.”
Ianto knew that wasn’t the whole reason; it was mostly for Coat’s protection, since none of them knew what the limits were to its self-healing properties. No sense risking killing the only semi-sentient Coat in existence. He played along though.
“Of course,” he said mildly. “Can’t have you streaking through Cardiff again can we?”
“Again?” Owen asked in a horrified tone. “No, forget it, I don’t even want to know.”
“Good luck,” Tosh said as Jack took the scanner from her.
“See you soon! I want the rest of you down past the next door before I open this one, just in case. There’s bound to be some smoke gets through.”
Ianto nodded curtly and herded the rest of the team ahead of him, turning back as the others started downwards to give Jack a short but fierce kiss. “If you don’t come out of here in one piece, I’ll kill you.”
“I love you too,” Jack replied. “Now go.”
Ianto nodded and followed his teammates.
Jack waited until he was sure they’d passed the next landing before cracking the door open and slipping through. It quickly became clear that there was too much fire on this floor for him to be able to check all of it, but he went as far as he could with a reasonable degree of safety for an immortal before staggering back and through the fire door again, trailing wisps of smoke. He patted the smouldering areas of his trousers to put the fire out and drew deep breaths through the cloth covering his face to clear his lungs before descending to the next floor. Tosh’s scanner hadn’t picked up anything so it seemed safe to assume that whatever it was, it wasn’t on the sixth floor. Time to check the fifth.
If anything, the fifth floor was worse than the one above, so Jack only stayed there for a few minutes. A falling beam burned his arm badly, making him almost drop the scanner, but he switched it to his other hand, stumbled back to the stairwell, and started down to the fourth floor. By the time he reached the next access door, his arm was already halfway healed.
The fire on the fourth floor had mostly burned out and Jack suspected this was where the blaze had started. Walking cautiously, he made his way along the main corridor, pointing the scanner through each doorway as he passed. Three quarters of the way along, he picked up a signal. Bingo! It was coming from the room just across the corridor, and he picked his way over exposed joists, testing their solidity with every step, then crept around the edge of the room where there were still bits of floor that looked reasonably solid, following the signal to the window.
There it sat, on an almost burned-through windowsill, touching the remaining shreds of what used to be curtains; a crystal prism, approximately five inches tall, beautifully shaped, and very likely the source of the fire, intensifying and focusing the sunlight that shone through it, igniting the old, dry as dust curtains, and setting first them, then the rest of hotel ablaze. He picked it up, almost burning himself again in the process, and was halfway back to the door when the floor gave way beneath him.
“Oh well,” he muttered as he plunged downwards. “Saves walking down the stairs.”
Jack woke up to find himself lying on a threadbare carpet amid the wreckage of the floor he’d fallen through, with the rest of the team surrounding him. Owen was straightening his left leg, which hurt. A lot. He must have landed on it and done some damage. “Owen?”
“Clean break; should heal fast.”
“I’ve got it,” Tosh said. “It’s beautiful.”
“Keep it out of the light; we don’t want to start another fire. Where are we?”
“First floor,” Ianto replied, handing Owen a flat piece of unburned floorboard to use as a splint, along with his tie and what looked like a strip of curtain.
“Huh. Well, that was a quick way to get down two floors.” Jack coughed; there was still quite a lot of smoke around.
“We’d best get back to the fire stairs, see if we can slip out without anyone seeing us,” Ianto said. “We can do without being blamed for this.”
“Good thinking,” Jack agreed. “We’re not exactly popular with the emergency sevices.”
“Can you stand if I help you?”
Jack could already feel the bones in his leg starting to knit; from prior experience he knew it would take about half an hour for a clean break to heal completely. “I think so.”
“Good. Owen, give me a hand,” Ianto said, passing Coat to Tosh who folded it and tucked it under her arm.
One on each side of Jack, the two men hoisted him to his feet and helped him hop and hobble towards the fire door. Gwen held it open for them. “If we go down to the basement, we can go out the service entrance to the alley at the back,” she said. “Shouldn’t be anyone out there, everybody seems to be concentrating on the front and side.”
“Might even be sewer access down there,” Ianto put in. “That would get us away without anyone seeing.”
“I’ll check.” Tosh unhooked her PDA from her belt, turning it on and bringing up the data she needed on its screen as they started downwards, past the ground floor exit and towards the basement. “There it is. “We need to go towards the eastern corner; there should be a way down into the sewers there.”
Finding the manhole proved easy; opening it was a bit more of a problem, but they managed, with the help of a rusty tyre iron Ianto found abandoned amongst some other bits of scrap metal. He put it back where he’d found it once everyone was down the hole, before climbing in behind them and pulling the cover back into place.
Three streets away, behind, another derelict building, they returned to the surface. Ianto left the team there and went to retrieve the SUV, managing to do so without drawing too much attention from bystanders. It was parked in an alley on the opposite side of the street from the hotel, and a couple of hundred yards down, because there were still double yellow lines along both sides of the road, and why chance getting ticketed if you didn’t have to? Driving sedately away, he returned to the others and helped Jack, once again clad in his faithful coat, into the front passenger seat.
“Well, that was a successful retrieval,” Jack grinned.
“If that’s what you consider successful,” Owen grouched, “I’d hate to see your definition of abject failure.”
“Hey! We got what we were looking for, and nobody got seriously hurt…”
“Except you,” Ianto cut in.
“I don’t count; my leg will be fine by the time we get to the Hub. The point is, we’re all fine; what more do you want?”
“Not destroying part of the city would have been nice,” Ianto suggested wryly.
Jack snorted. “They were going to pull the place down anyway. Besides, that wasn’t our fault. It was the crystal, and now we’ve got it, we can lock it away where it can’t accidentally start any more fires.”
“Seems a shame,” Tosh said with a sigh. “It’s so pretty, it deserves to be on display somewhere.”
“We’ll find a place to put it in the Hub where it can’t focus the available light onto anything flammable,” Ianto promised.
“Do you think it’s a diamond?” Gwen asked.
“Could be,” Jack said.
“Could just as easily be plain old quartz,” was Owen’s opinion.
“My money’s on Apophyllite,” Ianto declared. “The edges aren’t sharp enough for optical Calcite.
“You what?” Owen stared at him.
“Quartz isn’t the only variety of clear crystal in existence.”
“And you know this how?”
“I know everything.”
“Children!” Jack cut in, putting a stop to the argument. “It’s probably none of those; it came through the Rift, so it could hail from anywhere in the universe, and there are far more minerals, crystalline and otherwise, out there than anyone on earth can imagine. My bet is it’s something completely unknown. What it is doesn’t really matter though. It’s our job to keep it safe and out of the wrong hands, and that’s what we’ll do.”
“Yeah,” Owen agreed, and the others nodded. Things that didn’t belong on earth were best kept out of the public eye until such time as earth was ready to take its place in the wider universe. After all, that was why Torchwood Three existed, wasn’t it?