Gwen walked through the cog wheel door into the Hub and smiled. There was a huge Christmas tree set up and Jack, Ianto and Tosh were decorating it.
"What a festive surprise!" She exclaimed as she stopped and sniffed appreciatively. The fresh pine scent permeated the area and blocked out the more odiferous smells that sometimes came from having a pterodactyl as a pet. "It smells wonderful in here."
Tosh smiled at Gwen as she handed an ornament to Ianto, who was up on a ladder. Jack stood on the bottom rung, holding the ladder in place, but conveniently resting his head against Ianto's derriere. Ianto gave Gwen a look of amusement at the expression on her face before turning back to hang the ornament on the tree.
"There, that should do it," Ianto said with a nod.
"Wait," Jack's voice was muffled before he pulled back slightly so he could be heard. "What about the topper?"
"Oh yes," Tosh said, practically bouncing up and down. "We need that!" She went off to the pile of storage boxes and rummaged through them before giving a cry of triumph and walking over with a box. "Here it is." She opened the box and held it up high enough for Ianto to pull whatever was inside out.
Gwen saw something that looked like concentric rings around a ball base, though it was hard to see it from the ground and Ianto was up high. It didn't look like much as Ianto climbed another two steps and balanced a knee against the top as he stretched up to put it on the top. Jack climbed up another step to support him, putting one hand on the back of his calf to hold him in place. A moment later, it was mounted and Ianto came back down the latter.
"It's ready," he said with a nod. Jack grinned and with a touch of his vortex manipulator lit the tree. Gwen gasped, delighted. The tree had these tiny lights that looked like waterfall drops cascading downwards. Some of the ornaments were lit up, others moved and the one at the top was a tiny galaxy spinning around, the planets, moons and stars all lit up as they rotated around the ball at the top of the tree.
"Oh, it's lovely!" Gwen said with a clap of her hands.
"Oh bugger!" An exclamation came from behind her and she turned around. There stood Owen, hands on his hips as he stared at the display with a look of distaste on his face. "Just what I didn't need this morning. Oi!" He said to Ianto who turned to stare. "Make me a coffee!"
"Good morning to you as well," Ianto said. "Did you crawl out from under the wrong side of the rock this morning?" He didn't make a move to go over towards the coffee machine and Owen scowled.
"No, but I didn't expect to come in to see you lot skiving off. Don't you all have work to do?" Owen asked irritably as he made his way over to the coffee machine. Ianto crossed his arms and watched, knowing Owen would never make heads or tails out of the machine. Owen stood and stared at the device for a moment before sighing and giving Ianto a pleading look.
"Oh, that has to be the saddest look I've ever seen," Jack commented from where he leaned against the ladder. "You should really help him. It might help his disposition."
"Don't think anything will help with that," Ianto muttered. "You know how he is this time of year." Jack pushed off from the ladder and put his hand on Ianto's arm.
"Ianto, you know the reason why," he said in a soft voice. Tosh looked down and nodded. Gwen looked from one to the other with a look of confusion on her face. Ianto sighed and nodded.
"Oh, all right." He moved across the Hub floor and over to where Owen was standing. "Don't touch a thing," he commanded as he moved past Owen to the machine and in what seemed like a blink of the eye had a hot steaming mug presented to the doctor.
"Thanks," Owen said gruffly. He took the mug and headed off in the direction of his console. Dumping his leather coat over the edge of the desk, he sat down and started typing, studiously ignoring the others.
"Well, isn't he just a little ray of sunshine?" Gwen said in a surprised tone. Ianto shrugged and Tosh went back to organizing the empty boxes that had held the ornaments. Gwen turned back to the tree. "I think it's lovely."
"Thank you, Gwen," Jack said with a smile. "Christmas isn't for everyone, after all." He ignored Ianto's mutter about a lot of things not being for everyone when you were a certain doctor coworker. He watched as Tosh and Ianto cleaned up. "Gwen, come with me," Jack said as he headed toward his office. Gwen followed him in and sat down in the chair opposite his desk.
"What's wrong with Owen?" Gwen asked. Jack sighed as he took his seat.
"It's not a good holiday for him," Jack finally said after prevaricating for a few moments. "Don't mind him." Gwen shrugged, accepting him as his word. She was still the new girl on the team so obviously didn't know all of the dynamics of the others. She was surprised to see Jack being so familiar with Ianto on the ladder, but then maybe she had misread what she saw and that Jack had only been holding the ladder steady for Ianto. Tosh hadn't seemed to be too perturbed by it, so it must have been nothing.
"What did you want to see me about?" Gwen asked.
"Got a job for you, right up your alley," Jack said. He went onto explain that they had a delicate situation overnight with the local constabulary and that her skills were needed to smooth over a little mishap that had involved an alien artifact, a rowdy rugby player and an unexplained exit hole in the wall at the local police station. Once he was done explaining the situation, she got right on it, heading out the door and down to talk to her former workmates.
Back out in the main area, Tosh was working on deciphering some new technology that had come through the rift while Owen was ripping apart some hapless alien in the autopsy room while muttering to himself. There was no sign of Ianto and Jack concluded he was working either upstairs in the tourist centre or downstairs in the archives. He watched his team at work, hands in his pockets as he leaned against a support beam.
"Jack, what do you think about doing a Christmas dinner this year?" Toshiko asked. Jack started, surprised that she was even aware he was there. Then he chided himself. Toshiko was often full of surprises.
"Huh, hadn't really thought about it. We could, if you want to," Jack said with a shrug just as Owen was coming up the stairs and pulling off his rubber gloves.
"Do what?" Owen asked. He pulled off his white lab coat and dropped it over a railing, heedless of the fact that Ianto was going to have to clean up the messy garment that was splattered with all sorts of dubious blue matter. Jack wrinkled his nose, but said nothing.
"I thought it would be nice for us to all go out for Christmas dinner together," Tosh said with a bright smile that faltered in the face of Owen's scowl. "I think it would be fun."
"I'd rather have needles stuck into my eyes," Owen muttered with a shudder. "What could possibly be fun about sitting in a restaurant celebrating a useless holiday about spreading good cheer in a world where everyone's out for themselves? It's all about one upmanship when it comes to giving presents, with people either buying the tackiest thing they can find as a joke or trying to see how much they can run up their credit cards just to impress others."
Toshiko blinked at Owen's vehement reply. "I think it's a lovely holiday, and that for people who care about one another, it can mean something more than a people trying to outdo one another on presents."
"Bah, what do you know? Who cares about anyone these days?" Owen asked in disgust. "You shouldn't even be celebrating Christmas!" He turned away and stomped off, leaving a very surprised Toshiko behind him. She turned towards Jack with a confused look on her face.
"Was it something I said?" She asked in a hurt tone. Jack came over and gave her a hug.
"No, honey, it's him. It's not you, and I think a Christmas dinner is a wonderful idea," Jack told her. "Why don't you and Gwen plan something together and the rest of us will join you," he suggested. He looked over her shoulder in the direction that Owen had headed. "Well, those of us who feel celebratory."
"All right," she said. She adjusted the glasses on her nose and turned away. Jack sighed. He was fast losing patience with Owen's attitude. At that moment, Ianto came up from the archives and started walking about to clean up. Jack followed him with his eyes, admiring his efficient moves and well fitted suit. He had to bite his lip as Ianto bent over to pick something up and he resolutely looked up at Myfanwy's nest and started counting backwards from one hundred to distract himself from reacting to Ianto. A sharply inhaled breath broke his concentration and he glanced over to see Ianto's look of distaste as he encountered Owen's lab coat. By this time, some of the alien blood and gore had slid off the fabric and dripped all over the lower bar of the railing and down onto the grid platform. Jack peered downwards and could see it had also dribbled to the area below.
"I'm going to kill him," Ianto muttered. He turned abruptly and grabbed a mop, a pail and some long rubber gloves. Filling the pail with water and detergent, Ianto donned the rubber gloves and gingerly picked up the lab coat. Carefully folding it in on itself to hold the mess, the binned it with a wrinkle of his nose. Shaking his head, he turned back to the mess and started to mop it up, clearly out of sorts. Jack frowned. It was another strike against Owen.
The third strike came the next day when one of Owen's more caustic comments almost brought Gwen to tears. Jack stared down at his team from the level above as he watched. Owen was being deliberately antagonistic to the rest of the team and by this point, Jack had had enough.
"Owen, my office," he announced, making the younger man look up with a scowl of annoyance. "Now!" Jack barked and pointed his finger in the right direction. Owen gave a gusty sigh and marched off, looking like an errant schoolboy in trouble with the headmaster. Normally, it would have amused Jack, but he was all out of patience with Owen's antics. Jack made his way down the stairs two at a time, his boots barely touching the rungs before jumping down to the next. He swept past Gwen and Ianto who stood and watched as he followed Owen into his office and closed the door firmly.
Owen was sprawled on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling with a look of complete boredom on his face as Jack turned to look at him. Jack leaned against the door and crossed his arms, letting the silence lengthen. Owen began to twitch under Jack's stare. He shifted uncomfortably and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees as he looked down at the floor for a moment. One foot began tapping impatiently, waiting for Jack to reprimand him. When it didn't come, Owen looked up in Jack's direction, but looked away, unable to meet the other man's eyes. He slouched in his seat and crossed his arms, looking sullen.
"Oh, okay," he finally said, unable to take the waiting game any longer. "I know I'm being a prat. I'm sorry. Just slap me on the wrist and send me on my way like a bad little boy. I'll go do my penance, whatever it is."
"First of all, you're not Catholic," Jack pointed out. "And second of all, you should know better. These are your co-workers that you're being an arse to. These are the people who expect you to have their back, as they have yours. This is not the way to treat them." Jack finally moved away from the door and leaned on the edge of his desk, his hands braced against the surface as he loomed over Owen. "Look, I know why you feel like this. I understand. But Owen, Katie is gone. There's nothing either of us could have done. And she wouldn't have wanted you to get all maudlin this time of year just because she's gone. You're doing her a disservice."
Owen stared at Jack with a look of indignation on his face. "How the fuck do you know how I feel?" He spat out. "You may have a heart of stone, but some of us care deeply about the people we were attached to. We can't just turn around and walk away when they're gone. They'll be with us forever. That pain is with us… with me. I'm not going to deny it."
"I'm not telling you to," Jack said with a gentle and understanding expression on his face. "But you can't let your grief tear you apart like this. You know Katie wouldn't want that for you."
"What do you know about her?" Owen said, turning away with his shoulders hunched. " She loved Christmas, loved everything about the holiday. We were going to be married on Christmas Day. And you know why it didn't happen! And now I can't even think of that day without feeling the pain of what happened. You didn't even know her." Jack bit back a sigh and tried to be patient.
"You're right. I didn't know her," he admitted. "But I know you. And I know that if she loved you, she wouldn't want you to be like this." He reached out to touch Owen's shoulder but was shaken off.
"I don't need your sympathy," Owen spat out, his face averted. "You have no idea what is going on with me. You don't know what it's like to have someone ripped from you – someone you loved, and who loved you for what you are. What do you know? It's not like you have any family, after all. Or none that you've told us about. You just stay here in your little dungeon and keep your distance from the rest of humanity." He didn't care what Jack's reaction to his tirade was, but he would have been surprised by the look on the Captain's face if he had turned around while he was talking. Fortunately for Jack, he didn't. He was so locked into his own pain that he couldn't see when someone else was feeling pain of their own. "You know, I came here so I could get away from all the shit that's out there. I'm here for the work. Not for fucking celebration of a holiday no one gives a damn about!" He turned back, using his anger as a shield against his own pain. "It doesn't have a place here. We deal with aliens, not Santa Claus!"
By the time he had turned around, Jack had schooled his face to show none of the emotions that Owen's words had stirred up. He had pulled back and was leaning back against his desk with his arms crossed, carefully showing nothing in his expression.
"It can't be all work," Jack tried one last time to get Owen to see that his way of closing himself off and hitting out at others wasn't the route to go. "You need to relax occasionally. Why not celebrate Christmas, if that's what the others want to do?"
"Because it's a lie, Jack," Owen said sullenly. "Christmas is all about lies, and people fooling themselves that they're happy. They give each other gifts in the hopes of buying some love, or redemption for being an arse the rest of the year. Well, I'm done with it! I'm not having it! I hope I never have to look at another holiday ever again, because it's all full of damn lies! You all go do what you want, but count me out."
"All right," Jack said, losing his patience again. "Then you can take watch tonight while the rest of us go out for dinner. After all, it's not like you want to celebrate the holiday or anything." Owen opened his mouth to protest but closed it as Jack finished his comment. "Any objection?"
"No," Owen said. "I'd rather be in here with Myfanwy watching the rift than pretending to a holiday cheer I don't feel. Go ahead, be my guests." He turned away, trying to hide the hurt that he was being left behind. After all, it was what he wanted, wasn't it?
"Good, I'll tell the girls it's a reservation for four then," Jack said with a smile, not missing the flash of hurt on Owen's face. Frankly, he was sick of the other man and it would do him good to have a quiet night on his own where he might have to face his own thoughts without the help of alcohol or a woman to dull the pain. "We'll be leaving around 7, so the watch will be yours for the rest of the night."
"Fine," Owen said with a nod, accepting the punishment that Jack had given him. All in all, he had gotten off lightly. And it suited his mood to be alone. "That suits me just fine." He got up and headed out of the office without another word to Jack. Jack stared after him for a long moment before sighing and moving to sit at his desk. A short time later, Ianto came in with his afternoon coffee. He accepted it with a nod, smiling briefly as his fingers brushed the other man's in thanks. He told Ianto of their plans for the evening and that Owen would be minding the store while they were gone. Ianto nodded and left to tell the others.