Author's Note: Story written to a prompt from LJ author kel_surprise. Merry Christmas Kel!
Gwen sat at her desk, writing Christmas cards and ticking them off on her list as the night wore on. It was her night to babysit Cardiff with Jack, and it was always hard to find something to do on nights like these. Normally, she'd work through case notes and files, joining in with the mass Torchwood project of updating the Cardiff archive and integrating the London archive, a task which required hours of cross-referencing, spell-checking and labelling, but for the last few weeks, she'd used this quiet time to get herself ready for Christmas. She'd ordered her Christmas shopping to be delivered on the twenty-third, bought all her Christmas presents online, written her Christmas letter to family and friends she never saw, gathered together all the cards from last year and made an actual proper Christmas list, and had spent the last three night shifts writing the cards themselves. She'd even made use of the small kitchen to get the mince pies, cake, Christmas pudding and soup ready and frozen well in advance. She'd never been so prepared. She flexed her wrist and rotated it, then addressed and sealed the envelope, putting it in the box with the others, and looked up to Jack's office. He was on the phone, leaning back in his chair and talking so softly that she couldn't hear what he was saying, but his expression said volumes – if she didn't know better, she'd say that he'd found someone. Well, good for him, she decided as she stood up and made her way over to the door. She knocked and he looked up and pointed to the phone, then held one hand up to ask for five minutes. With a nod, she turned away and went back to her desk, checked her list and slipped twenty quid into the card for her god daughter, then wrote her a chatty note promising to come and see her sometime this year.
Jack's footsteps rang across the Hub and she looked up as he came to lean against the edge of her desk. "Hey, Gwen, did you want something?" he asked.
She licked the envelope and sealed it, then added it to the pile and smiled up at him. "Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you, I was just going to go and make something to eat, wondered if you were hungry."
He squeezed her shoulder. "I'm up and you're busy, I'll go put something on. What do you fancy?"
The next card was to her neighbor across the landing. "Oh, something simple, cheese on toast?"
"Good idea," he told her and moved away towards the kitchen. "How are you getting on?"
"Nearly done, probably one more night of this. I don't think I've ever been organised before," Jack laughed in response and she bent over the card. "Who was that on the phone? Anyone we know?"
"Oh, it was Ianto," he called back to her. "Just wanted to check if he'd left something and we got talking."
"You do seem to do that a lot these days," Gwen pointed out, eyebrows raised. "One might think..." she trailed off.
"Yes, Gwen?" Jack's voice held a hint of a laugh. "What might one think?"
"Well... you are spending Christmas together, and he chose to spend it here. And you are very close these days, and there was that kiss before you vanished, and you said that you came back for him."
"I said I came back for all of you," Jack corrected her.
"Yeah, but only after you told him that you came back for him. And, well... I don't know if I should say," she hesitated and heard the toaster pop. "When you were gone, has he said anything?"
"No," Jack's tone had dropped. "He won't talk about whilst I was gone. Was he okay?"
"I shouldn't say," she shook her head and turned back to her cards. "It's not my place."
Jack didn't reply until he had returned to Gwen's desk with a plate full of cheese on toast, where he pushed her box far enough away from the edge for him to be able to sit down and balance the plate on his lap. "I'm scared to find out, really," he confessed. "I only meant to be gone half an hour, in the end I was gone so long that you could all have been gone."
"It wasn't that long," she protested.
"I've seen entire teams lost in one night," Jack's face was dark, and the cheese on toast was a bizarre juxtaposition as he bit into it.
There wasn't much she could say to that, really, apart from reassure him. "He was alright, really. Took us all a while to get used to the fact that you weren't around, but he might have coped less well than the rest of us. He did cope though."
Jack seemed reassured and they ate in silence for a while. Gwen was about to turn back to her cards when an alarm went off in Jack's office. He hurried away to his desk and Gwen followed him, leaning against the door. "What have we got?"
"It's... weird," he told her. "Lots of reports of UFOs coming into the police, Radio Cardiff have had a lot of calls saying that Santa's come early... oh no..."
"Flying reindeer, we might have problems," Jack answered the alert and Gwen felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. "Nothing we can do until we have more information, though. Gwen, I need you to get the files on Voraxin and bone up, be ready to tell the children what you've learned in the morning."
She laughed and went back to her desk to pull up the file references and do her revision.
The team gathered around the Boardroom table, hands cradling their first mugs of Ianto's coffee and reaching for pastries and muffins whilst Jack explained the alert. "Seventeen phone calls to the police and Radio Cardiff, reporting either UFOs or Santa on his sleigh. Object was travelling North, there was a similar sighting reported over the Brecon Beacons, and we picked it up on the radar around there. It vanished somewhere in Snowdonia," he splayed his hands on the desk and looked over at Gwen. "Judging by the reports, I suspected Voraxin. Gwen, does that look right?"
She brought the reports up on the screen with the remote. "It does. If Jack's right, it's their third recorded visit to Earth, first to Europe, but... It's likely that they've visited before, and that that's where the legends come from," she pulled a picture of the species up on the board and it was immediately clear what she meant. They looked similar enough to a deer that, at a distance, they would be mistaken. And they could fly, although no one had ever worked out how. "The reindeer were added to the legend in eighteen twenty three, when the Night Before Christmas was published," she explained. "Until then, no reference to reindeer, and it's still not clear who actually wrote it, unless you can shed some light on that one, Jack?"
He looked up at her and laughed. "Before my time, could be worth asking the Doctor, though."
"I thought we knew who wrote it?" Owen asked with a frown. "Or were they wrong?"
"Someone cast doubt on it, I think..." she shrugged. "Anyway, we can't ask him if he was inspired by flying aliens, can we? So anyway, they're a fairly aggressive race, but not that intelligent. They were subjugated about three hundred years ago and are basically enslaved as beasts of burden."
"But some of them were on Earth?"
"Above it," Gwen explained. "And they won't have been alone."
"The issue we have is that they are a grade three planet, subjugated by a grade eight planet. We are a grade five planet, which means that if they are here on their own, we can deal with it ourselves, but if they're here under the control of their subjugators, the Horat, by the way, it's an issue for the Shadow Proclamation, but we don't have time for them to get around to deal with it, because they don't have jurisdiction over us yet."
Owen raised his hand when Jack paused for breath. "Say that again for the thick ones around the table?"
"We have to deal with it on our own, but we may get in trouble for dealing with it, so we have to deal with it with as few casualties as possibly, preferably with none," he clasped his hands in front of his mouth. "First, though, we have to find them."
Ianto sighed. "What are their likely intentions?"
"I don't know," Jack mused quietly. "They're a race of slave traders, so that would be our first assumption, but I would expect more of them if they were here on a raiding trip."
"Tourists?" Ianto asked hopefully.
Jack laughed. "Just come to try our quaint Christmas traditions. One can hope. I've checked with UNIT to see if they've had notification of a visit, but they've not got anyone at first glance. Hopefully they'll get back to me soon, but we have to assume that no one on Earth is aware of their presence, which means that we have to go and check them out anyway."
Owen grabbed the last muffin and started peeling away the paper case. "Okay, so what's the plan?"
Jack considered this. "It's probably a twelve hour trip, so not Gwen and not Tosh. Owen or Ianto, with me to go and check it out. Any preferences?"
"I've got autopsies I need to finish," Owen insisted quickly. "Sorry, girls, you'll have to live without Ianto's coffee for a day."
Jack looked at Ianto, who nodded his reluctant agreement. "Sorry, Ianto, you've been volunteered. Normally I'd take that as Owen volunteering himself, but I do need the results of those autopsies to get UNIT off my back. Right, the rest of you. Gwen, go home and get some sleep, be back in in five hours. Tosh, you can get some sleep or get on with your work, whichever. Owen, autopsies. All of you, be ready to come North if we call you. Ianto, get tooled up, we'll take my car and set off in half an hour. I'll see you up there, okay?"
When Ianto nodded, Jack pushed away from the table and headed up to his office, gathering together a rucksack of climbing equipment, a torch and his usual possibly-essentials that he took everywhere. His gun went in its holster and then he pulled his coat on on top and picked the bag up. "Tosh, you staying then?" he asked in the doorway as she turned to look at him.
"Yeah, Owen's up to his elbows in those autopsies, we need someone around who can operate a computer," she smiled at him and nodded towards the door. "Ianto's already headed up there."
"Thanks, Tosh. Do get your head down for a bit whilst you're here, yeah?"
"I will," she promised. "Be careful out there."
He took the steps two at a time and found Ianto leaning against the wall between the 1963 E type Jag and the Landrover Discovery that Jack kept at the Hub, his heavy black coat buttoned up to the neck. Jack checked that he was in a camera blind spot and tugged Ianto's collar straight, using it to hold him in place to kiss the corner of his mouth lightly, then he stepped back and looked between the two cars. "We should probably take the Landrover," he sighed, "shame, I was hoping for a blast out in the Jag."
Ianto put his bag in the back seat when Jack pulled it open and got into the passenger seat. "This is considerably more practical, sir. And it has a heater that works."
Jack frowned. "The Jag's heater works. Ish."
"No it doesn't," Ianto tutted. "It works brilliantly as air conditioning, I admit," Jack laughed and Ianto quirked a smile, leaning against the door pillar as Jack pulled out of the car park. "What did you say to Gwen?"
Jack looked across at him sharply and rewound the morning in his mind, trying to see if Gwen had been any different. "She heard me talking to you last night, you know women's intuition."
"Oh..." Ianto frowned slightly. "Are we that obvious, or is she that good?"
"A bit of both, I think," he mused. "I'm... I wasn't really paying attention to what she was doing, but I was... relaxed."
"Yeah, I enjoy your company," he said slowly. "Even when we're not actually together."
"I do too," Ianto told him quickly. "It's... I like it."
"Even with Gwen knowing?" he checked.
"Even... yeah," he agreed. "I can cope."
"Good. I'd miss it if you couldn't."
"I would too," Ianto told him, then laughed shortly. "Every time I think that it can't get weirder, my life does."
Jack sighed, absorbed by guilt, and they fell silent, heading for the hills.
He had to wake Ianto when they got there, the long, warm drive in silence had been more than enough to send him to sleep. Ianto blinked at him sleepily and stretched as much as he could, then rubbed at his eyes and looked out of the car. "We're here?"
"As here as we can get," he told him, reaching into the back for a hand-held computer and a scanner. "This is where they vanished off the radar."
"So it's back to covering the ground?" Ianto leaned over and looked at the scanner. "What are you looking for?"
"Anything, really," Jack set the scans going and showed it to Ianto. "Communications, any form of technology, radiation," he shrugged. "We have to hope, otherwise it's just searching."
Ianto groaned and got out of the car, slamming the door shut and opening the back door. "Let's get started then."
The scanner beeped and Jack swore in relief, hoping that this would mean that it would be over soon, and Ianto would forgive him fast. He didn't know what he needed to be forgiven for yet, but once he figured it out, he would start on it. Ianto was shifting his rucksack up onto his shoulders with Jack's next to him and was looking out across the hillside. "I've got a signal," he said briskly. "This way, it's not far."
"How far is 'not far'?" Ianto helped him to get his rucksack on and Jack tightened the straps. "Your version, or a normal person's version?"
He laughed. "Under a mile. A brisk walk in the country, save the day, home in time for tea."
"I'll wag my tail, shall I?" Ianto asked snidely.
Jack shrugged and set off, biting back. "I always saw you more as Anne."
Ianto followed him and fell into step. "Okay, I deserved that. Sadly, it's true."
"Young, pretty, spunky and more than happy to hit people to protect her friends. Oh, and takes care of them all," he chuckled and glanced across. "I always wanted to be George."
"You can't be George," Ianto insisted. "Because if you're George, I'm definitely the dog. You're clearly Julian."
"Besides, Owen's George," he chuckled. "Which, sadly, makes Tosh Timmy."
"And Gwen is a Dick," Ianto slipped on a tussock and swore fiercely. "I hate the countryside."
"I'm sorry," Jack had grabbed hold of his elbow to steady him and squeezed it before he released him. "Let's get this over with as fast as we can and get you home."
Ianto nodded and followed him along the path up the hill. They walked in silence, listening carefully for any sound of their target. The signal led them up a narrow rift in the rock wall into a smaller tributary valley, using their hands to support themselves on their way up and trying to keep their feet out of the small stream. Eventually, Jack put his hand out behind him to stop Ianto and nodded ahead. "We need to go up here, straight up."
Ianto leaned against the other wall and looked up the one they needed to scale, rubbing his hand through his hair. "Doesn't look too bad," he sighed and traced a route up in his mind. "Reckon you can do that without ropes and things, because I haven't got any."
"I have," Jack told him. "But I don't think I'll need them. You?"
"Nope, shall I go up first?" he asked, then set off without waiting for an answer. "It's easy enough."
Jack held his breath as Ianto went up, then started following him. The route was as easy as they'd thought, but the cold got to his hands and his heavy rucksack made it more difficult. Near the top, Ianto was clinging on and peering over the edge, and he looked down at Jack, calling out quietly, "Found them."
Jack pulled himself up to Ianto's level and peered over with him. A shallow cave in the rock housed a Horat, whilst the group of eight Voraxin huddled unhappily outside on a wide, scrubby ledge. Pulling himself up, Jack dropped his rucksack and put his hands in his trouser pockets, drawing his coat back so that his gun was visible, and stepped forwards. "Excuse me," he called out. "I'm Torchwood, and I'm afraid you have to leave."
"Why?" the Horat didn't look up, and the Voraxin looked between the two of them nervously. "I come to bring joy and laughter at this happy time for your culture."
Jack huffed a laugh. "As wonderful and unlikely as I find that, your presence here contravenes the Planetary Visitation Code."
"Oh but sir," finally the Horat stood and showed Jack something in his hand, a metallic box with flashing lights. "I have such pretty gifts for the young of your world," with that, he threw the box to Jack, who caught it reflexively. Immediately, he felt the shock thunder through him, and then nothing.
His eyes flashed open a second later and he was flat on his back, an ache in the back of his head suggesting that he'd cracked it on a rock, and Ianto was bending over him, checking his pulse. Jack sat up quickly and got to his feet. "Where did he go?"
"Into the cave," Ianto told him. "It's deeper than it looks. The Voraxin ran for it."
"Okay," Jack grabbed hold of Ianto's arms to steady himself as the world tilted alarmingly and took a couple of deep breaths. "Right, let's get down there and find out what he's planning."
Ianto kept a close eye on Jack as they crept into the cave. A fissure at the back led into a second, much larger cave, where the sounds of mass chaos and busy work echoed. Jack pulled Ianto back against the wall and they crept around it, keeping to the shadows until the floor dropped away suddenly and a huge workshop was spread out below them. Production lines were churning out thousands of the boxes that had stunned Jack, but their workers had gone, packing the ones they'd already made into boxes and preparing to flee. Jack pulled his sleeves back to get at his wrist strap and found a frequency he could use, hacking into the sound system to carry his warning. "You are all under arrest for violations of interplanetary law. You have two minutes to leave this planet – and I know that you have personal teleportation devices – and then we will be destroying and sealing this cave. Timer counting down from now," with that, he pulled a handful of charges from his bag and gave Ianto a few. "Set one above the door, and around up here, then get out of here."
He turned and threw a few of the charges down into the work area, then lobbed a few up at the ceiling, hearing the tiny clinks as they stuck, then turned and hurried away, grabbing his own rucksack and ushering Ianto out of the tiny fissure as fast as he could. They got away from the rock wall and from the cliff edge and crouched on the floor, bracing themselves against the shaking caused by the explosion.
When it came, right on time, it was barely noticeable out there, the targeted charges doing their jobs well. Jack checked the cave and found the fissure sealed. "Do you think they got out?" Ianto asked behind him.
Jack sighed and picked up the tiny box that had stunned him. "They will have done. I just don't know where they've gone. At least these things will have been destroyed."
"What are they?" Ianto reached for it, but hesitated. "Is it safe?"
"It is now," he studied the box and crouched to pull a containment unit out of his bag to put the box in. "It's a practical joke toy, hit the lights in the right order and it doesn't shock you, but it's set too high. I'm a fully grown adult human, and this was enough to stun me. If it fell into the hands of a child, it would be lethal."
"Were they setting out to kill children?" Ianto asked, horrified.
"Who knows?" Jack asked. "Maybe they didn't realise how powerful they were to a human, maybe it was part of a plan. We'll keep an eye out for them appearing on the market, it's all we can do," he snapped his rucksack shut again and pulled it on, nodding down the hill. "Come on, then. Time to go home.
Half an hour later, they were leaning against the side, sharing a flash of coffee and watching the Voraxin sailing across the darkening sky above them, gaining velocity and altitude before they flew North to their telepoint. "December will be magic again," he mused aloud, looking across to Ianto. "I wonder how many children will see them and learn to believe again."
"I hope someone does," Ianto smiled sadly and turned away, tipping the last cold dregs of his coffee out onto the floor. Jack caught his wrist before he could get the door open, though, and he stopped, staring down to where Jack's thumb caressed the soft skin over his pulse. "Jack?"
"What happened today, Ianto?" Jack sounded defeated. "Last night we were getting on, then this morning you were cold, then I thought we were alright after we talked in the car, and when when you woke up it was as though we hadn't said anything and you didn't want anything to do with me. Have I misjudged something, or what? I don't mind if you don't want to do this any more, well I do, but it's better than not knowing. I never know whether I'm going to get a warm welcome or a cold shoulder when I speak to you."
Ianto just shook his head and pressed himself against Jack in answer, fingers cradling the back of his head and holding him in place whilst Ianto kissed him softly. He sighed and gave into it, running his fingers along the wool of Ianto's coat and tracing the lines of his body underneath, happy to accept that this was the only thing that really made sense. "I like to keep you on your toes," Ianto told him between kisses.
"Doesn't work keep me on my toes enough?" he protested.
"Nope, because the cold moments," Ianto kissed him again. "Make the warm ones all the warmer."
And, Jack supposed, he could accept that. It made no sense, it was messed up and it was half cold, but it was also sweet and lovely and warm in its way. He kissed Ianto back, trapped between a cold Landrover and a warm Ianto, coffee inside him and wind outside, and remembered that you only feel the benefit of something warm if you have something cold to compare it to.