Author: sariagray Artist: thebuttonontop
Chapter: Stave One of Five + Epilogue
Characters/Pairings (not chapter-specific): Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, Owen, Tosh, Alice and Steven Carter, John Hart, Estelle, Grey, Franklin/Wife, Rhiannon/Johnny, Mica and David, OCs
Rating: PG13 throughout.
Word Count: ~2100 for this chapter, ~10,000 for the story in its entirety.
Spoilers: The whole series, as certain characters are used. Most aspects of plot, however, are not spoiled.
Warnings: Occasional language, minor sexual innuendo, some relatively dark themes. Angst and fluff fluctuate throughout.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction and artwork. No monetary compensation has been or will be garnered from this endeavor. This is purely for entertainment purposes and is no way intended to disrespect the creators/owners of Torchwood, Charles Dickens, or any of the other pop-culture references scattered throughout the story.
Beta: Thanks to thebuttonontop for dealing with my bipolar attitudes about this story, listening to me whine, and cheering me on all the while (in addition to providing very pretty pictures!). My unyielding gratitude also belongs to badly_knitted for a much needed Brit-picking and thorough cleaning-up. Without you both, this story would still be kicking around, disjointed, in my mind somewhere. Also, thanks to my mom, for encouraging this shenanigans (calling me up during its early stages to offer suggestions and making me read it aloud to her…even if she did laugh uproariously at my ridiculous phrases). That said, any mistakes are my own!
Author's Note: This was written as a holiday gift to all of you wonderful people. thebuttonontop and I are so grateful for your friendship, support, and the general sense of community that we have found through the medium of fan fiction, art, Torchwood, and all that that entails. I didn't once suspect, when I sat down to watch "Everything Changes", that it would lead me here (and hey! Everything did change!). But I'm glad it did. So thank you all and Happy Holidays. We really hope you enjoy this!
A/N 2: A new chapter will be posted every couple of days, ending on Christmas Eve, and a pretty, full .pdf version will be posted on December 25th for anyone who wants it.
A large tree waddled tenaciously into the Hub, its glossy green form almost black in the dim light. It was full and lush and a little terrifying in the shadows. The sharp pine scent soon wafted into the space followed by a tendril of icy air; the combined presence offered a bit of reassurance to the team.
“It’s me. I’ve brought a tree!” Gwen called, voice muffled by heavy branches.
“Yes, we can see that, Gwen!” Ianto called back as he rolled his eyes.
“You could’ve taken the lift, you know.” Owen muttered as he went to help her.
“There’d better not be needles in the Tourist Office,” warned Ianto with a raised eyebrow.
“Too many people around for the lift. How would we explain a disappearing tree? And I’ll sweep them myself, promise!” She flashed Ianto a grin as he shook his head and went back to the towering stack of files through which he had been searching.
“Oh!” Tosh gasped, finally looking up from her computer screen. “It’s not…alien, is it?”
“Nope!” she exclaimed with proud cheer. “Rhys and I cut it down ourselves last night.”
“That doesn’t exactly rule anything out, does it?” Ianto reminded dryly without stopping his work.
“Oh, hush you!” Gwen laughed as she righted the tree into a stand that she had brought in with her the previous day.
“I was wondering what that was doing here. Thought it might’ve been a sex toy or something Jack ordered.”
“I don’t want to know where you buy your sex toys.”
“Shut up, Teaboy.”
“Both of you be quiet!” Gwen chastised, hidden behind the tree as she adjusted it.
“You be quiet, Talking Tree,” Owen retorted. Gwen and Tosh fell into giggle fits while Ianto rolled his eyes once more, scanning the piles of papers in front of him.
“What are we going to decorate with?” Tosh managed after she had calmed herself.
“I have some stuff in a bag at my station, lights and tinsel and things.”
“So no alien tech and medical equipment, then?” Owen questioned, his mouth turned up in a sarcastic grin.
“That would be appropriate, but no.” Gwen’s voice was mirthful, but firm.
Tosh scampered away to Gwen’s workstation to collect the decorations while the tree was finally settled properly and examined with care. The bag was full to overflowing with bright, gaudy baubles that illuminated the drab area. Ruby reds and verdant greens, rich golds and shimmering silvers stood out against the black-grey-beige of their surroundings and reflected off of the polished surfaces.
“Wait!” Owen held up a hand to keep the women from ravishing the bag of pretties. They looked at him expectantly. “We need music!”
They stared slack-jawed as Owen bustled back to his station and fiddled with the keyboard for a moment. Soon a lively holiday jig, a medley of classic songs played with cheerful exuberance, filled the Hub. Gwen flashed a mischievous look at Tosh and grabbed the protesting woman’s arms as she pulled her along in some vague approximation of a dance. Ianto continued to stare at Owen.
“In the spirit of Christmas,” he said diplomatically as he raised a hand in deference, “I won’t ask.”
“Shut it! It’s the bloody radio. They play all sorts of stuff for Christmas. I don’t control it!”
Ianto continued to work, trying to drown out the sounds of the harpsichord and bagpipes. He made it but a few precious moments before he felt three pairs of eyes burning holes into the back of his head. Sighing, he threw down his pen.
“All right, all right! Who wants hot cocoa?” He grinned at the three eager expressions. Sometimes, he was positive that he was working with children. Sometimes, too, that was just fine.
“Hey, buddy, hold that thought. I’m getting another call….Captain Jack Harkness.”
“Hello, sir, and Happy Holidays to you. I was wondering if we could count on your generosity this season, as a group of us are collecting coats and other bits of warm clothing to distribute to the needy.”
“I’m sorry,” Jack said, trying to bite back his annoyance at being interrupted by the tenth charity this week. “I haven’t got an extra coat.” He clicked back over to his original call. “I’m back.”
“Uncle Jack, are you coming to visit?”
The voice was bright and hopeful, even with the tinny resonance of the phone.
“Sorry, buddy. I can’t.
“But…it’s Christmas Eve!”
“I know, but I’ve got to work.”
“Oh. Well…I’ll ask Father Christmas to bring you something.”
“Thanks. You do that, kiddo. Listen, I gotta go. Give your mom a kiss for me?”
“Okay! Bye, Uncle Jack!”
He closed his mobile with a satisfying snap and stared at it disdainfully for a moment before emerging from his office, hands shoved deep into his pockets.
What he witnessed surprised him into stillness. The strains of Jingle Bells echoed throughout the room, reverberating off of the dank, drab walls. Gwen and Owen were snaking a cumbersome strand of glittering white lights around the boughs of a particularly ostentatious fir tree as Tosh rummaged through a large bag of sparkling tinsel and flashy decorations. She emerged triumphant (with a grin to match), clutching a bundle of popcorn-and-cranberry garland. Gwen made a comment accompanied by an exaggerated grimace while Tosh and Owen laughed. It was then that he noticed that Ianto was missing.
‘Good,’ he thought to himself with a small smile. ‘Trust Ianto to be the mature one.’
Then he caught sight of the man in question crossing over with a tray of drinks. Ianto placed the tray carefully on the nearest stable surface and each member of the team retrieved their own beverages (which might well have been the most surprising thing he’d seen to date). As she fetched her drink, Tosh wrapped the garland she had been holding around Ianto’s neck. Owen chuckled and hummed something conspiratorially with a smile as the others laughed again.
He watched as Ianto leaned over, chose two matching red and gold ornaments, and held them up to Gwen’s ears like earrings. Tosh made a gushing gesture over the “jewelry” as Gwen took them from Ianto to hold up herself. As she displayed her newest accessory, the group laughed with her.
Jack wasn’t sure if it was that they were having fun instead of working (who was monitoring the Rift, anyway?) or that they were having fun without him, but either way he was frustrated, especially after the conversation he had just endured. And maybe, if he were completely honest with himself, it was that he’d seen a few Christmases too many. Making up his mind, he bounded resolutely from his hiding place into the small gathering.
“Cocoa?” Ianto, laughter still dancing in his eyes, asked with a generous smile as Jack approached them. “I made a mug for you. I was about to bring it up.”
“I prefer coffee,” Jack retorted, the harshness of his clipped voice indicative of his displeasure. “And don’t you all have work you should be doing?”
They all looked down at the ground like scolded children, shuffling their feet in embarrassment. He stood firm.
“Ianto, clean this mess up. Gwen? My office in five. Back to work, everyone.” With that, he retreated back to his desk.
“Bloody Grinch,” Owen muttered and then cast a glance toward Ianto. “Better watch out, mate, or he’ll be tying antlers to your head.”
Ianto froze and considered a moment before his face fell. “Oh, God,” he shuddered dramatically as the others snickered. “I am Max.”
“You wanted to see me?” Gwen asked, her voice quiet as she cautiously stepped into the room.
“Yeah,” he responded, looking up from his work. “I’m assuming you’ll want all of tomorrow off.”
“If the Rift behaves,” she murmured, smiling faintly.
“It never behaves. But I suppose Rhys will be expecting you at home,” he sighed, resting his forehead in an open palm. “Be here all the earlier the following morning.”
She nodded briskly and he dismissed her. She practically pranced out of the office and he shook his head before returning to the artifact Tosh had left for him to decipher.
He must have been at it longer than he had thought, for when he finally backed away from a job well-done, he realized that the Hub was silent and dark. He glanced around his office door, but saw not one sign of human life. Sighing, he picked up his phone and realized his mobile had received a text message from Ianto an hour and a half earlier.
“Gone home” was all it said. He sighed. Dinner alone, then. He proceeded to the kitchenette and retrieved a cold slice of pizza, which he ate in the sickly glow of the refrigerator. He finished it off with a bit of milk that someone had left in a glass.
He had two options: rooftop or bed. Wary of the merrymakers who would be gallivanting outside, he settled on the latter. As he walked by a monitor, the image on the screen seemed to shudder. He stared on while a broad face, high cheekbones, and dark eyes appeared as though through a haze. The vague sketch began to resolve itself into the visage of his long-forgotten partner, John Hart. His blood ran cold for a moment and he blinked at the image a few times. Finally, after what felt like eternity, the picture faded and there was nothing left but the usual tickers and graphs. He shook his head at the flight of fancy.
Still, Jack Harkness was nothing if not thorough. He meticulously made his rounds through the Hub. Archives, medical bay, cells. All as they should be. Nothing hiding in the vaults, nobody in the kitchenette. Satisfied that all was right, he returned to his office and climbed down the ladder to his bunk.
He flopped himself on the bed, head resting on his hands as he stared at the ceiling. It wasn’t like he would easily fall asleep. He tried to shake off the image of John by guiding his thoughts to something soothing, but each time he thought of Ianto, he recalled how the light and laughter had left his eyes to be replaced by hurt. It made a shock of anxiety flash through his gut. Still, he felt that he had done the responsible thing by breaking up their impromptu celebration. Sometimes, he hated being in charge.
As he lay contemplating, a few chords of Christmas music reached his ears. He strained to hear. Who the hell was playing Jingle Bell Rock loud enough for him to hear down in his room? He growled softly as he imagined the others sneaking back in to finish their decorating, directly disobeying his orders.
“Oh, come on. You know it’s my favorite Christmas song!” chided a familiar voice.
Jack sat up with a start, looking around in the darkness for the source.
“Yep! ’S me, love.”
“What are you doing here? And turn that off!”
It seemed to Jack as if John had materialized out of thin air beside him, but he had merely stepped from the shadows. He pressed a button on his wrist strap and the music faded away.
“Well, you’re no fun at all anymore,” John pouted.
“What are you doing here?” Jack repeated.
“Holiday spirit. Tidings of comfort and joy?” John shrugged. “Time Agency’s gone to Hell in a hand basket and I’m forced to roam the universe on my lonesome. Thought I’d drop in, see how you were doing.”
“I’m not in the mood for company.”
“Too bad. By the way, why’ve you got a half-decorated tree up there? Something come up? We could finish it together, like old times.” His voice sounded casual, but Jack could sense the underlying hope.
“No, my team…they got it in their heads to have a proper Christmas in the Hub. Like we have time for that. I put a stop to it.”
“Shame. Nice tree, too. Very nice.”
Jack lay back in the bed and sighed, covering his head with his pillow. After a few moments, he removed it and found John staring at him.
“Still here?” he grumbled.
“Yep!” John paused. “What happened? You used to love Christmas.”
“Yeah, they do. So what happened?”
“Too many Christmases,” Jack admitted softly. “Too many memories. Too many people dead.”
“And, what, they all have to suffer?” John asked, waving his arm in indication. “You can’t spend your life fighting for humanity like a bloody superhero when you’re locked in a dungeon all the time.”
“We’re Torchwood. We don’t get holidays and wishes. We get alien invasions and incendiary devices.”
“All the more reason to celebrate.”
“You’ll use any excuse to celebrate.”
“True, that. Oh well, suit yourself,” John gave in, shrugging off Jack’s sour mood. “Enjoy your pity party.”
With a flick of his wrist, he was gone and Jack was left alone with his thoughts. As time gradually wore on, he found himself drifting off into his usual restless fit of sleep.