Garrett had cooked a very nice Christmas Eve dinner for two. In the aftermath of it, stomachs full of food and heads light from the wine that went with the meal, he and Jack were lounging on the sofa that faced the picture window with a view across the river Taff. They weren’t bothered about the river. Arms and legs were entwined as they kissed. The plan was to let their meal digest as they slowly built up a different appetite.
Despite his kisses, Jack thought Garrett wasn’t quite in the mood, though.
“You seem…. sad,” he said to him.
“No, not really,” he answered, managing a soft smile for his lover. “It’s just…. Christmas. It’s hard on divorced dads.”
“Ah,” Jack understood. “I guess I’m no substitute for your girls?”
Garrett kissed his cheek fondly and his arms tightened around Jack’s shoulders.
“Well, I am kind of looking forward to you unwrapping your presents in the morning,” he said. “But no, it’s not quite the same as watching the faces of my little angels on Christmas morning. All three of them in their nightdresses, too excited to eat their breakfasts, eyes like saucers, focussed on the presents under the tree…”
There were tears in his eyes. Jack reached out and brushed them away. Garrett was deputy director of MI5’s Welsh section. He wasn’t supposed to cry at all, let alone about something so soft as that. But alone, with Jack, he had no reason to put up any fronts.
“I’m ok,” he said after a quiet minute or so. “Thanks. For being here. For… for the past year. It’s been good. I’ve had a lot less of those kind of moments when you’ve been around.”
“Me, too,” Jack admitted.
“I didn’t know you had those sort of moments at all. You don’t seem the sort of guy who gets melancholy.”
“There have been times. I’ve felt lonely. Covered it up with work, with one night stands for sex… or the on-off thing I used to have with Ianto. But there would be times… when the Hub felt so oppressive. When I could feel the weight of the concrete and tarmac and soil above my head. When it felt like it was a tomb. And there were times when I wished it was. Christmas… it’s the worst time to be alone. I’ve actually killed myself more often on Christmas Eve than any other time.”
Garrett was genuinely shocked. He knew that Jack had died countless times. But he didn’t know it had been by his own hand.
“Seriously. Couple of times I deliberately picked fights with men packing knives. Chucked myself off tall buildings. I’ve jumped off the Severn Bridge five times. That never worked. The last time I got washed up on the beach at Weston Super Mare on Christmas morning. Being immortal is a bastard when I really don’t want to live.”
“Shit!” Garrett’s hand caressed Jack’s cheek, moving along his jawline gently before he bent to kiss him. “Shit, Jack. Don’t do that again.”
“Not while I’ve got you,” he answered. “I know it’s a bit corny. But I mean it. You’re my reason for living, right now. As long as I have you, I’m ok.”
Garrett was glad to be that important to Jack. Though he did wonder if that was best for either of them. They were never meant to fall in love. It was just supposed to be hot sex and companionship. Garrett wondered how hard Jack would test his immortality if something happened to him in the line of duty for MI5.
Jack didn’t say anything else for a long while. Their kisses lengthened and grew more ardent. They would soon lead to some kind of more active foreplay, and from that, to mutual gratification. The only question was whether they would move to the bedroom to complete what was now unstoppable or just stay right there on the sofa. Either would be good.
Gwen and Rhys were on their way home. They had enjoyed dinner at Rhys’s parent’s home And enjoyed was the right word. It wasn’t the ordeal that it might have seemed to either of them. Gwen didn’t dislike Mr and Mrs Williams as such. Mr Williams she generally felt sorry for in the same way she felt for her own dad. Mrs Williams she had got used to smiling politely at and sounding as if she agreed with everything she said. Anyway, the food was nice, and she was enjoying the drive home on quiet, Christmas Eve roads with Rhys fighting sleep in the passenger seat.
Of course the conversation had been the usual one. Mrs Williams thought Gwen was working too many hours. She ought to go part time and spend more time in the home, preparing for when they might have a baby.
The more Rhys’s mum told her what she should be doing, the more she felt like doing the opposite. She had no intention of quitting her job, or of doing less hours.
Of course, Rhys’s mum didn’t know what she really did. She thought she just did filing at the police Headquarters. She didn’t know about Torchwood, about Weevils, invisible men, flesh eating creatures from hell, werewolves, sex gas monsters and all of that. And Gwen wouldn’t know how to start to tell her about it all even if she wanted to.
“Never mind all that,” Rhys said as if he had been reading her mind. “It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, it’s just the two of us. No Torchwood, no relatives. Just me and you and a turkey that had better be fully defrosted by the time we get home tonight.”
“Yes.” Gwen smiled. Christmas Day with just the two of them. Yes, that was her idea of a great Christmas. The best of them.
Toshiko and Owen were busy putting presents around the Christmas tree in the living room. Lots of gaily wrapped parcels with Etsuko’s name on them all. There were the big presents, of course. Etsuko’s first tricycle was all wrapped up but still obviously tricycle shaped. The painting and drawing easel that Owen had bought to encourage her fine motor skills was also hard to disguise as anything else. But as well as all the expensive gifts, Toshiko had been to the market and bought as many small, cheap, colourful toys as she could find and wrapped them up in bright paper just for the joy of seeing her little girl unwrap them tomorrow.
“It’s not her first Christmas, but she was too little know about it last year. This time, she’s nearly walking and she’ll love everything we’ve got her.”
“Not just us,” Owen said. “Everyone at Torchwood got her something.” He looked at the box with Jack’s handwriting on the tag. “I can’t imagine what Jack could have bought for a one year old. A My Little Weevil Playset?”
“Jack loves being an uncle to her. Whatever he’s got her, I’m sure he thought about it carefully.”
“This one’s from Garrett. Does he want to be her uncle, too?”
“I think he does. He misses his own kids. He always looks in on her in the playpen when he comes down to the Hub.”
“Soft lot, aren’t we? MI5 agents and Torchwood hard men, all gaga over a baby. Can’t wait to see her face in the morning, though. When she sees this lot.”
Toshiko smiled. She hadn’t asked him. He had just taken it for granted – so had she – that he’d be sleeping on the sofa tonight and he’d be there in the morning for Etsuko’s first real Christmas.
It was her own first real Christmas for that matter. She wasn’t brought up in a Christian tradition, anyway. When she left home, she had lived by herself and one day was much like the other. When she joined Torchwood, she had generally volunteered to stay in the Hub watching for rift activity. Her second year, Jack had been there, too. He brought turkey sandwiches and mince pies and they ate them with a bottle of white wine and got just slightly tiddly. She remembered that she had missed a Xeponican ship entering the atmosphere over the Bristol channel because Jack had produced a piece of mistletoe and kissed her under it. Despite the two of them being alone in the Hub, he hadn’t looked for anything beyond that kiss. She was glad. Jack’s libido – or its reputation at least – scared her. He just kissed her that once and then retreated to his office where he spent some time looking through a tin box that he kept in his drawer. Toshiko was sure the contents of that box would reveal a lot about the mystery that was Jack Harkness, but she knew better than to pry into it. She made a cup of strong coffee and went back to work. She noted the Xeponican leaving the atmosphere again. Jack told her it was a regular visitor to planet Earth. It was a sort of intergalactic tourist bus. It stopped by for its alien passengers to take in the view on the way to more exciting parts of the galaxy.
This was the first Christmas that she had put up decorations and trimmed a tree. It was the first time she had wrapped presents. And it was the first time she was going to share Christmas with somebody else.
Of course all the presents and the tree were about Etsuko. And she really was excited about the morning, and seeing her daughter’s face light up. But it was also, at least partly, about the fact that Owen was there, too.
They were like a family when he was there. The way she understood the idea of a family. It might be an illusion, but it was a good illusion and she wanted to preserve it for as much of Christmas as possible.
“I think this could be the best Christmas I’ve ever had,” she admitted.
“Yeah, me too,” Owen agreed. Then before he had to explain why this perfectly ordinary, domestic Christmas was so special to somebody like him he went to the sideboard and picked up a bottle from a rapidly melting ice bucket. “Do you want another glass of wine?”
“Yeah, thanks,” She answered. Why not? They were neither of them going anywhere else tonight. They could get a little bit tiddly. And she knew there was some mistletoe about somewhere.
Ianto and Alun had volunteered for Christmas Eve duty in the Hub. They said they could watch for UFOs and rift activity and still enjoy the night. To help them with the festive spirit Jack had left them a bottle of champagne in the fridge. They ordered in their dinner from a gourmet-to-go mobile service. They asked for dinner for three and shared the champagne with Beth who joined them at the table in the boardroom.
She said she had no other plans and was happy to keep them company. In truth, they both knew they were keeping her company. Christmas in the Hub with her friends was better than being alone at home.
“We used to have nice Christmases,” she said as they relaxed with Ianto’s best coffee afterwards. “Celyn and me, we used to make Christmas fun. We wouldn’t give each other expensive presents. But we’d go to the Pound Shop and buy loads of cheap, fun things. That pen stand with the swan on it that I have on the counter upstairs was something he thought I’d like one year. And my brush and comb set that I keep down in the ladies room. I got him things like a rubber alien holding a sponge for cleaning his computer screen and… just daft things. But fun surprises to open on Christmas Day. I miss that kind of fun. I miss Celyn.”
Ianto and Alun looked at each other then reached out together, each taking one of her hands in theirs. She smiled warmly at them. They couldn’t replace her dead brother. There would always be a yawning gap in her soul for him. But they were like two new brothers to her. Ianto had been a lover for a little while. But she liked it better now that he and Alun were her best friends.
Jack and Garrett didn’t make it to the bedroom. They both figured that would do for round two, later. They enjoyed the mutually satisfying first round on the sofa and afterwards cuddled up together again, warm and content.
“Best Christmas I’ve had in years,” Jack said. “A lot of years. More than a century.”
“1904,” Jack told him. “The last time I spent Christmas with somebody I really loved.”
Jack was surprised. He wondered how Garrett knew he had once been married.
“Your MI5 record,” Garrett explained. “It only dates from 1910. The Service only came into being in 1909. They only started keeping tabs on you then. But it listed your marital status as widower.”
Jack didn’t say anything for a long few minutes. But his eyes had a distant look.
“I’m sorry,” Garrett said. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I’ve known ever since I read your file, of course. I wanted you to know that I knew… but maybe this isn’t the time or the place.”
“No,” Jack assured him. “It’s fine. I’m… happy to talk about her. To you, anyway. I don’t think I could with anyone else. Not even my team, as terrific as they are. You’re the only one who could understand.”
He cuddled closer to Garrett, loving the feel of his warm body next to his own.
“Her name was Victoria – Vicky I called her when we were alone. Christmas of 1904, we’d been married four months.”
“Sweet,” Garrett said. “I’m just picturing you as a newlywed. How did that come about anyway?”
“I fell in love with her,” Jack said. “Head over heels. And having my way with her in the usual casual way didn’t seem enough. Besides, she would never have let me. She was a nice girl. She served behind the counter in a sweet shop between the digs I was living in and the Hub. It belonged to her widowed mother who also did dressmaking in the flat above. I used to go into the shop every day and buy a quarter pound of boiled sweets. I didn’t really eat sweets. But I wanted to see her – talk to her, try to get her to come out with me. Eventually she gave in and we had tea in the ABC café. Then it was a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. Then she let me take her to the music hall, and to the travelling circus that came to town. Lots of walks and teas later, she said yes to my proposal. We had a charming little wedding. A proper ceremony, in church - married in the sight of God. Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe. I got married like an ordinary, regular guy. I bought a house. We furnished it. I brought her there after the ceremony, as my wife. A nineteen year old virgin, with a few bits of advice from her mom about what she had to do to please me in bed. First time… I think I scared her to death. She had no idea that sex was so… invasive. And nobody had told her she was supposed to enjoy it. It took me the first month to teach her that it was ok for her to take her nightdress off before I turned down the light.”
Garrett sighed softly.
“I know how she felt. I was scared the first time I saw you naked and horny for me.”
“Yeah, but you got used to me by the third time round. Vicky thought she’d married some kind of sex maniac. But I loved her. And I was so hot for her.” Jack’s blue eyes glittered as he remembered. “She called my style of love-making ‘vigorous’. That was her word for it. Every time I took her she was astonished, not only by the things I wanted to do to her, but the way her own body responded, the pleasure she didn’t even know she was supposed to enjoy.”
And four months into their married life, came Christmas. Jack remembered it well. Christmas Eve together in their home. They had sat on the rug in front of the fireplace together, sharing a block of cheese and making mulled wine. They had both been happy.
“The wine is going to your head,” he had said to her. “Your cheeks are flushed.”
“I know,” she answered with a gentle laugh. “You shouldn’t give me any more of it. I won’t know what I’m doing at all.”
“You mean you might strip me naked and ravish me in front of the fire?” Jack asked her.
“Oh!” she cried out in response. “Jack! Oh, you shouldn’t say such things. As if I would ever…”
“Why not? You’re allowed. You’re my wife. My body is yours to use as you will.”
“I couldn’t. It isn’t for a woman to… Jack… I submit to your passions… your vigorous desires… even the things you do that I never imagined in my whole born days a man could do to a woman. But... I could never…”
“It’s just sex, Vicky,” he told her patiently. “Sexual intercourse. And it is all perfectly natural. Your mom should have explained it to you.”
“Mama thinks…” she began. “Jack… she thinks that you are too vigorous. She says that… if you were less vigorous… when we have sexual intercourse… I might have conceived by now.”
“Your mom is wrong,” Jack answered, slightly irritated, but trying not to let it show. “About a lot of things. And I intend to be as vigorous as I can be whenever I have you in my arms. As for conception – that will happen when it happens. Meanwhile I love you Vicky and I’m going to be vigorous with you in a minute or two. So get ready for it.”
Yes, he had, for a very short time in his life, actually thought about being a father. It was perfectly possible that he had been one before. In the past – his own personal past that was – which was the future for everyone he knew – he had been ‘vigorous’ with plenty of women, most of them Human and physically compatible with him. Of course, young women of the 51st century knew how to use their standard issue contraceptive packs. But in other times, other places, he could easily have passed on his DNA to a woman who fondly remembered his blue eyes as she looked into a crib, or cursed his name as she booked into the abortion clinic.
But planning to have a child, with a woman who wore a wedding ring that he had put on her finger was another matter. And it was, for a time, a happy idea. There was no good reason why not. He had nowhere else he wanted to be for at least another century. He was earning enough money from Torchwood to provide a good home, and he knew he could love a child as much as he loved Vicky.
And he knew he could provide for her and the child when the time came for him to disappear from their lives. When she started to realise that he still didn’t look a day over forty and there was something different about him.
But ten years, fifteen, maybe. He could give her that much before he had to fake his own death and start over again.
Fifteen years of normal life as a husband and father. Yes, he wanted it. If he never felt the love of a woman – or a man – ever again, he would have those years to remember.
“I love you, Vicky,” he said as he kissed her by the fireside. As the kiss lengthened he reached to unbutton the bodice of her dress. She put out her hands to stop him.
“No, Jack,” she said. “Not… on the floor… with the lights on.”
“We’re alone in our own house. The daily has gone home. Nobody can see us.”
“But… it’s… not nice.”
“Oh, yes it is,” Jack responded. “It’s very nice, indeed.” He continued to open her bodice and the laced up foundations beneath. He pressed her down on the floor and pulled up her long, demure skirt to reach the underwear that stood between him and consummation of his sexual desire for her. She didn’t make any further protest. Once he was in his stride, she never did. The flush caused by the mulled wine deepened as her body responded to his touch regardless of what her mother had told her she should think. She didn’t just submit. She responded in kind to his lovemaking and it was, in the end, mutually satisfying. If it had really distressed her to be used in this way, he would not have done it. He loved her, and he wanted to make love to her, not force himself on her because their marriage vows give him the right to do it. But she did enjoy him, once he had found the way through her fears and inhibitions.
Afterwards, she fastened all the clips and buttons and smoothed her skirt demurely. Jack fastened his trousers and tucked in his shirt. To look at them they might have spent the evening singing Christmas carols.
Which was just as well, because there was an urgent ringing at the front door. Jack knew what it was going to be. He was, to all intents, on call 24/7 with Torchwood – except that phrase had not yet been coined. The door bell could ring any time. There would be a lad there. Jack thought his name was Sam. He was employed as a ‘runner’ to take envelopes to addresses without question or delay.
“Hey,” Jack said as he took the envelope. He reached into his pocket and gave Sam a half crown. “Merry Christmas, kid.”
“Merry Christmas, sir,” the lad answered and was gone. In the hallway, Jack opened the envelope and read the terse message. ‘Carnarvon Street with pistol and ammunition. Mr Gaskell attending.’ And with it was a bundle of cash. He didn’t count it.
Victoria came into the hallway as he was fastening his gun belt. She took his coat from the peg and held it out for him.
“You know the routine, sweetheart,” he said as he kissed her cheek. “If I’m not back within the hour, lock the doors and check the windows and go on to bed. I’ll be home before you wake.”
“I hope so,” she told him with her voice carefully controlled to hide how much she hated it when this happened even on ordinary nights, let alone Christmas. “If you don’t come back…”
“If I don’t…” He gave her the cash that paid for his services tonight. She knew where his bank book was and she knew she need never worry about money. But that wasn’t what mattered. The money, the house, was nothing without him. Her expression said it all.
“I’ll be back,” he assured her. “I’m coming back. To you. When this is done.” He kissed her again, this time on the lips and then turned towards the door without looking back at her. He wished there hadn’t been a call, tonight of all nights. But alien invaders don’t care about Christmas. They weren’t interested in a man and his wife wanting to have one perfect night together.
He could have said no. He was still ‘uncontracted’ as they called it. He was a Torchwood agent only so long as he took the envelopes that young Sam delivered or that he was handed when he came to the Institute’s underground headquarters. He could say no. He could get an ordinary job to go with his ordinary life. Something that he could tell his wife about.
No. An ordinary marriage was one thing. But an ordinary job? He’d go mad. He had to have a life that stirred the adrenaline in his veins. He had to be Torchwood’s uncontracted expert on the slime of the universe that honed in on the rift.
Carnarvon street was quiet. He didn’t even see Mr Gaskell at first. The man was good at melting into the shadows. And that wasn’t just because he was one of the few black men in Cardiff, either. But as good as he was at concealing himself, Jack’s practiced eye found him and he slipped into the shadows alongside him.
“Number seven,” Gaskell said, pointing to a nondescript terraced house. “Three Callibrans. They’re getting ready to feast.”
“Three of Mrs Gresham’s girls. They came in a hansom twenty minutes ago.”
“Then we’ll be able to get them out alive,” Jack answered. “They won’t have started feasting yet. They… like to play with their food.” Jack looked at Gaskell. His hand was on his gun in a hip holster. He was ready. “It’s just the two of us?”
“Christmas Eve. You were the only one we could get hold of.”
“I shouldn’t have answered the door,” Jack commented. But he didn’t mean it. He was ready. He and Gaskell moved through the darkness between the pools of light from the street lamps and reached the door of number seven. Jack looked at Gaskell and nodded. Gaskell shot the lock off the door.
It looked like an orgy in the main downstairs room of the house. Jack knew one of those when he saw one. He’d taken part in a few. Men and women in states of undress were sitting around and there were food, drink and drugs freely available. There was even a hookah for group enjoyment of hashish.
But sex and drugs was not the reason that the Callibran hosts had ordered the services of three ladies from Mrs Gresham’s brothel.
“Charles, your maths is lousy,” Jack said as he took in the scene in the few seconds before the alien hosts reacted to their presence. There were seven of them in the room. As one, they turned their heads towards the intruders who trained their weapons on the closest of them. Eyes glowed yellow and the aliens in Human form hissed like angry snakes.
“Mea culpa,” Charles answered as the three women looked uncertainly at their party hosts. Jack wondered why they hadn’t started running for their lives yet.
“Ladies,” he said. “The party is over. Go on out of here.”
They stood up and moved towards Jack and Charles, who stood aside to let them through the door. The last of the three hesitated.
“Sir… if we go back without being paid, we’ll be in trouble.”
“You’ll be in worse trouble if you stay. Tell Gertie Gresham Jack Harkness will settle the bill, later. She knows I’m good for it. Go on.”
The woman ran. Jack heard the busted front door swing and her heels on the cobbles outside. The innocent bystanders were out of the way. Now they could clean up in here. Jack and Charles both opened fire. Some of the Callibran tried to fight back, running at them with twelve inch long, knife like claws bursting out from the fake Human hands. But they were brought down by the bullets fired from Jack’s contemporary Browning pistol and Charles’s unpatriotic but very effective Mauser. As the seven creatures oozed yellow blood over the carpet Jack reflected that he would have been out of bullets now with his favourite 1930s six-shooting revolver that he had left at home on this occasion.
“Fire the building?” Charles asked as he made sure all of the creatures were dead.
“I’d rather not,” Jack answered. “There are occupied dwellings on both sides. We’d better…”
Jack’s words turned into an agonised cry as he felt a Callibran claw stab him in the back so hard that the point of it pierced his chest after slicing right through one of his lungs. He looked down at the blood stain that was spreading over his shirt and tried to warn Charles that there was another one behind them. But Charles had already turned to deal with it. Jack felt the bullet whistle past his ear and then the knife-claw was dragged painfully back through his body as the dead Callibran fell. Jack managed to stay upright and alive for a few seconds more. Just before it all went black he felt Charles Gaskell’s arms around his shoulders and his ‘mea culpa’ again for so seriously underestimating the number of aliens in the house.
When he resurfaced from the darkness that he went to every time he died, he was in a hansom cab, moving jerkily along the dark, cobbled streets. There was a smell of burning somewhere nearby and a fire tender with its bell jangling passed the cab going in the opposite direction.
“You fired the house after all.”
“Only way to be sure we got them all.”
“Yeah, I guess. You fucked up, you know, Charles. Eight is five more than three. We were badly outnumbered.”
“Apology accepted. Are we going back to the Hub?”
“I thought we’d better. You need to wash and change before you go home to Victoria. She can’t see you covered in blood.”
When he did get home, Victoria was sitting by the fire in the drawing room, waiting for him.
“You should have gone to bed,” he told her, though the hugs and kisses were comforting.
“I wanted to wait for you this night. It’s gone midnight, you know. Christmas morning. You are done with work now, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he promised. “If anyone else rings, I’m not in.”
“I wish I knew what it is you do,” she said as she held him close. “I know… Torchwood… But what does that mean? What do you do that… that you have to change your clothes before you come home to me? Don’t think I don’t realise. I’m your wife. I iron all your shirt collars. This isn’t yours.”
“I got blood on myself. Not mine.”
She stepped back from him, though still holding his hands tightly. He said nothing. Not yet. But he knew he would have to. It was a wonder she had taken so long to ask the question that he knew was coming.
“Jack… please tell me the truth. What do you do for Torchwood?”
“I… Torchwood…” He took a deep breath and got ready to tell her the truth. If she reacted badly, as a last resort, he could always use the new drug that had been developed. It sent people to sleep and left them with blank memories of the previous few hours. She might, if he was lucky, not remember him going out at all.
“Torchwood protects the British Empire… if not the whole world… against enemies that come from beyond the skies… from outer space. Creatures you cannot imagine who come here with hostile intent. I save Human lives from things that are not Human. Tonight, I saved three women from creatures that were going to eat them alive while their blood was still hot in their veins.”
“Jack!” Victoria’s face paled in shock. “Jack… is that… a joke… If so… it’s not funny. It’s a horrible thing…”
“No, it’s not a joke. That’s what I do, Vicky. It’s a good job. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done with myself. I’m proud of what I do. I wish you could be proud of me, too.”
“Oh, Jack. I am proud of you,” she answered. “But… I thought you were to do with the police… Special police, looking for traitors or… or anarchists. I never imagined… Really? Enemies from other worlds? Is that possible?”
“Then…Oh, my husband. I was afraid enough for you before. When I thought the dangers were ordinary. But now… oh, how can I bear it when you go out like you did tonight, knowing….”
This was what he was afraid of. She wasn’t going to be able to handle it. He would have to use the sleeping draught. He hated the thought of doing that to her, but it was the only way.
“Vicky,” he said. “Come out into the garden with me for a few minutes.”
“It’s the middle of the night, and it’s cold,” she protested. But Jack found her coat and brought her by the hand out into their garden. It was in darkness. The nearest streetlamp was some way off and there were no lights to be seen in any of the other houses. There was very little light pollution to spoil their view of a clear night sky. He looked up and found the constellation of Cassiopeia and pointed it out to her.
“Keep looking for a while. Tell me what you see.”
“Jack!” she exclaimed after a minute. “Jack, one of the stars… it’s moving.”
“It’s not a star,” he said. “It’s an alien ship, a flying ship that comes through space.” He pulled up his sleeve and opened his leather wristlet. Vicky was as surprised by that as by the moving object in the sky. She had seen the thick leather strap when he undressed. He even bathed with it on. But now he opened it and she looked with amazement at the glowing dials and buttons beneath the cover.
“Jack…you are Human aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re not… not…” She looked up at the sky again. The shining light that he said was a ship from space was bigger now. It was coming closer.
“I’m Human, Vicky,” he answered. “I was born on planet Earth of Human parents – Franklyn and Louisa of Boeshane Peninsula. Little place. You wouldn’t have heard of it. But I’ve seen and done things I couldn’t begin to tell you about. And I know there is more out there than you could ever understand.” He pressed the buttons on the miniature keypad rapidly, as if sending a signal. Then he closed the wristlet and put his arm around his wife. He held her tightly as they both looked up into the sky. He felt her tremble with fear and excitement, and perhaps a little with the cold as they watched the alien ship home in on his signal. He had been aware of their presence since he had gone out to deal with the Callibran. He had not intended to bother them. But he wanted Vicky to see that there were good things about his life’s work as well as bad.
“Jack!” She whispered his name and clung even tighter to him as the single occupant exploration craft hovered just above their heads. It was a sphere, about the size of their garden shed. It glowed as if there was phosphorous in the smooth, unblemished walls. There was no obvious door.
It didn’t need one. A beam of light came from beneath and the alien hovered within it. It was about seven feet tall and was clothed in an all-encompassing body suit of pure white almost too bright to look at. It was male, though it had long, curling, luxuriant hair that went all the way down its back. It had a face that seemed to Vicky like that of an angel.
“Greetings,” said the alien in a voice like running water.
“Hello,” Jack replied. “Thanks for answering my signal. I saw you guys up there and thought I’d say hello. Probably not a good idea for you to stay too long. This planet doesn’t have anything much in the way of listening devices and scanners, but there’s a couple of smart telescopes around. I wanted to introduce you to my wife before you go on your way. Victoria… say hello, sweetheart.”
“Hello,” Victoria managed to say. Then she curtseyed prettily. It seemed the right thing to do. Jack took her hand again as she stood straight.
“My blessing on you both,” the alien said. “Farewell.”
The beam of light vanished, along with the alien. The sphere rose up again, slowly at first, then more rapidly. Jack waved. So did Victoria, until it looked no different from any of the stars above in the sky.
“That was….” Victoria managed to say as Jack brought her back into the warmth of their drawing room. “Jack… what was it? What kind of… person… was it?”
“Their true name is thirty syllables long and virtually impossible for a Human to say,” Jacked told her. “At Torchwood we call them the Seraphim for obvious reasons.”
“You mean…” Her eyes turned towards the china nativity set on the sideboard. “Oh! Oh no. Jack. That is blasphemous. To suggest that… the angels… they were creatures from another world?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there. but they are beautiful, gentle people who just want to explore. They visit our planet mainly just to look at us. They don’t do any harm. You see, Vicky, it’s not all bad. Sometimes we meet fantastic people like that. That’s why I wanted you to see them. So that you know you don’t have to be afraid when I go out. It’s not always to something dangerous and terrible.”
“Oh… Jack.” Victoria struggled for words to say. Instead she let him hug her tightly and kiss her fondly. As the kiss led to caresses she sighed and insisted that this time, at least, they might go to their bed and be properly under the blankets.
“Yes,” he said as he looked into the eyes of his new lover. “Best Christmas I ever had. And not just because she let me have sex with her twice in one night, either. Vicky was one of the best things in my life.”
Garrett said nothing. There was a codicil to that happy story, of course. Jack told him about it in as few words as possible. Five months later, while he was working, a fire had gutted their happy home. Victoria had been trapped. She died of smoke inhalation before the fire actually reached her. Jack had gone off the rails in a big way. He had killed himself a total of eighteen times in the first weeks after the funeral. That next Christmas, his colleagues at Torchwood had locked him in the vault to stop him doing anything stupid. When he finally stopped trying to die, he had been a changed man, driven only by his work. He lived in a small room in the Hub, ate only when anyone reminded him to eat and did his job with a cold, calculating efficiency. Torchwood had become his whole life.
“I loved her,” Jack said. “I wanted it to be good. I wanted… long years of love. A reason to live apart from waiting… waiting for the century to pass. It wasn’t fair.”
“Life rarely is,” Garrett pointed out.
“Losing her… broke my heart. I told myself I would never fall in love again. I’d never risk my heart on anyone else.”
“But you did?”
“Many times. And every time… it hurt.”
“I’ll try not to hurt you,” Garrett promised. “I won’t break your heart.”
“That’s not a promise you can make,” Jack reminded him. “Your work could rip you from me any day. Any phone call, any moment. That’s why I tried not to fall in love with you. Why it was meant to be just about sex. But we both messed that one up.”
“Well, unless you want to break my heart by dumping me, I can’t fix that,” Garrett answered. “So we’ll just have to make the most of every second we have without the phone ringing.”
By cruel coincidence a phone rang just at that moment. But it was Jack’s, not Garrett’s. He was tempted not to answer it. He didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of the sofa and his lover’s arms. But at the last moment before it went to voicemail he answered it.
“Ianto, you and Alun are supposed to be pissed on champagne and sleeping it off on the Hub sofa by now.”
“Boss,” Ianto answered. “Thought you’d like to know. There’s UFO activity over Bute Park. All the usual suspects are gathering like an audition for Close Encounters. The UFO – it’s resonance 247Alpha.”
Jack looked at his wristlet and smiled widely.
“Lock up at the Hub and head on down in the SUV. You know what to do. Tell you what, call the others. They’ll enjoy this. Gwen can bring Rhys and the little dog. Owen and Tosh are together. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” He ended the call and jumped up from the sofa. He had a gleam in his eyes as he turned to Garrett. “Come on. You’ll enjoy this, too.”
There was already a sizeable crowd in Bute Park when they got there. Getting on for about fifty UFO spotters who had alerted each other. There were some police trying to get them to leave the area, at least until Gwen went to the senior officer and told them that they could leave it to Torchwood to handle. Rhys, with the dog on a lead watched in awe and admiration as his girl took command of the situation. Jack was impressed, too. He left her to it and waved to Owen and Toshiko as they arrived in a taxi with Etsuko in her pushchair. Ianto, Alun and Beth were already set up with the boot of the SUV open, handing out free coffee to the crowd. The aroma was irresistible. There wouldn’t be many who would refuse it.
“Wow!” Garrett exclaimed as he looked up at the four glowing spheres that hovered just above the tree line. “They’re… wow. They’re the ones you talked about. The sort you and Vicky saw?”
“The Seraphim,” Jack said with a wide smile. “They seem to have got the idea that there’s something special about Christmas Eve. They come regularly. There’s even a couple of websites about them. They still have no interest in Earth except to look at us.”
The team gathered by the SUV. Ianto gave them coffee from a different dispenser than he was using for the UFO seekers.
“The usual doses of Retcon for them?” Jack asked. “They’ll wake in the morning in a really happy and uplifted mood, but they won’t know why. Don’t forget a localised burst transmission to wipe out their phone and digital camera pictures. I presume we’ve blocked all the mobile phone networks for a mile radius as usual?”
“All sorted, boss,” Ianto confirmed.
“At least we’ll remember it,” Toshiko said, her face bathed in the glow from the alien craft hovering directly above them. “I’m glad. I get so fed up of the hostile ones. It’s nice to see something that’s just truly beautiful.”
“Yes, it is,” Jack answered her. “Merry Christmas, kids. May this one be the best for all of us.”