“I still have trouble thinking of you as a family man, Jack,” Gwen said to the smiling face on the computer screen. Jack actually had Garrett’s youngest daughter sitting on his knee as he talked to her by webcam from Wexford. The child was wearing a santa hat and seemed quite happy with him. “Are you having a nice time over there?”
“Yes, I am,” he replied. “So is Gray. He gets on really well with Garrett’s little girls. Annie adores him. After three daughters she’s enjoying having a boy around the house. Garrett is really relaxed away from his job for a while.”
“So are you, by the look of it,” Gwen replied. “And about time. It’s been a hectic kind of a year. You enjoy the chance to be away from Torchwood. Forget about us until after the New Year.”
“Consider yourselves forgotten,” Jack answered. “Before I do, give my love to the boys, and Beth. Don’t let her forget that full moon is New Year’s Day. She has to get Ray safe and sound in the vault after the partying is over.”
“Don’t worry, Jack. I’m on top of everything. I got a Christmas card from Owen and Tosh, by the way. They’re planning a nice quiet holiday. They don’t have much choice, with the baby being due soon.”
“I’m going to call them, next,” Jack said. “All the best, Gwen. My regards to Rhys, as always.”
He ended the call. Gwen turned off the webcam and let a snow-scene screensaver kick in on the monitor. She returned to the paperwork she was ploughing through before Jack called. There wasn’t anything much to worry about. He had dealt with the important stuff before he left for Ireland and his family Christmas. This was mostly invoices. Torchwood was an expensive organisation. Gwen dutifully authorised payments for everything from catering packs of coffee to the meat they fed their usual complement of captive Weevils with.
“Hey,” Alun came to the office door smiling warmly at her. “Only two more shopping days to Christmas, you know!”
“Oh, don’t remind me,” she groaned. “I’ve still got tons to do. Rhys is no bloody use at shopping. He spends more time on the phone asking what I think he should buy.”
“Why don’t you take the afternoon off and get some of it done?” Alun suggested. “Ianto and I can hold the fort. We’re all set for Christmas. We’re going to his mam’s. We won’t have to lift a finger the whole holiday with her fussing over her two favourite boys!”
“Your mother in law is a lot more fun than mine,” Gwen admitted. “But don’t let Rhys know I said so.” She found her handbag under the desk and stood up. “I’ll take you up on that offer. See you in a couple of hours.”
It was a nice afternoon. It had snowed a bit overnight. In the streets it was all gone by now, but she looked at the distant hills beyond Cardiff city and they were seasonably white. There was a nip in the air that felt Christmassy. Gwen enjoyed the feeling. Getting into the spirit of the season wasn’t easy when you worked for Torchwood. But for once all seemed quiet on the weird front. The rift was stable, UFO sightings were down, and even the Weevils seemed to be hibernating. Nobody was going to say it out loud in case Fate decided to drop a nasty surprise on them. But there was a feeling that it could just be a nice, quiet holiday for once.
Saint Mary’s Street was the heart of the shopping quarter of Cardiff. The franchise stores were all decked out in festive gaudiness. One shop that had shut down during the year because of the credit crunch was currently “Mrs Christmas”. The temporary sign on the fascia showed a very leggy and busty lady who would probably give Father Christmas a big smile on his face, not to mention a coronary if he got too excited.
The most tasteful window displays, of course, were at Howells, Cardiff’s nearest equivalent to Harrods. Gwen stopped and looked at the mannequins in one window, elegantly dressed in red satin dresses with green belts and wide brimmed hats trimmed with red and green bows. The mannequins were standing amongst some expensive ‘realistic’ Christmas trees and the floor of the window was covered in fake snow where fluffy forest creatures from the toy department were set in playful poses.
Gwen looked closely at the dresses. She knew that red satin would look good against her dark hair and pale celtic complexion. Rhys would have a grin on his face all day if she dressed like that on Christmas Day. Especially if she had some nice lacy lingerie underneath.
They were by Ralph Lauren. They were expensive. But then again Jack was paying her a generous bonus for being in charge of the Hub while he was away. She could treat herself.
She headed into the store. It was busy, but not as noisy as the more downmarket chain stores. She enjoyed leisurely trying on the dress and choosing the accessories to go with it, even though she knew there were a hundred and one other things she had to do in this afternoon respite from work.
She was heading out of the store again with her purchases in big Howells carrier bags that made her feel like somebody who bought designer clothes every day when she almost collided with Andy Davison coming in. He wasn’t doing his Christmas shopping. He was in uniform and talking to ‘control’ on his radio. He murmured an apology, calling her ‘madam’ before he recognised her and grinned sheepishly.
“I thought now you were a sergeant, you didn’t do shoplifters?” she said to him. That was the usual reason anyone in police uniform was ever in Saint Mary’s Street in daylight hours. Shoplifters by day, drunks and muggers after sundown, a police officer’s everyday work.
“This isn’t a shoplifter,” he answered. “It’s a bit weird, actually. It’s….” He stopped. Gwen was not a police officer any more. He shouldn’t be discussing the case with her.
But then again, Gwen was ‘above the law’ – at least so her boss, Captain Harkness, was fond of saying. Andy was always tempted to test that claim, but couldn’t quite work out how. Certainly his superiors all deferred to Torchwood whenever they came in contact with them.
“Actually… if you’ve got a few minutes… maybe you could come along with me. This is… not exactly your line of work. But it’s not really mine, either.”
Gwen took her shopping bags to customer services and smiled brightly at the young man on the counter until he agreed to mind them for her. Then she followed Andy to the lift.
On the middle floor it was a bit more frantic than below. The toy department was here and since it was Christmas they had a ‘grotto’ with visits to Father Christmas at £5 a time including ‘free’ present. It was a very nice grotto, with staff in nicely turned out elf costumes maintaining order in the rope line and an animated display amusing the kids while they waited.
But to Gwen’s trained eye all was not as it should be. Some of the kids looked as if they had been crying. The parents looked worried and the elves all had the fixed smiles of those who had decided they really WEREN’T ‘people persons’ after all and were considering a change of career in the New Year.
Andy glanced at the crowd and then headed towards the ‘staff only’ door opposite the grotto. Gwen followed him.
Inside was a short corridor with office doors leading off from it. One door was open and it was obviously the scene of the crisis that required Andy’s attention.
Two men dressed as Father Christmas were sitting there, both looking frustrated, one almost as red in the face as his costume, the other with startling eyes the same sapphire blue as Jack Harkness’s. They were currently glittering with suppressed anger, but Gwen was sure they could also soften to limitless compassion the way Jack’s could.
A man in a neatly pressed suit was sitting behind the desk with his back to a window with the Howells logo etched into it. He had a name tag on his breast pocket that proclaimed him to be Mr Rodney Caddock, manager. A nameplate on the desk confirmed him in that position.
“What seems to be the trouble?” Andy asked politely. He didn’t really address any one of the three men directly, but he obviously expected Mr Caddock to answer first.
Instead the Father Christmas with the sapphire blue eyes spoke up. His voice, Gwen noted, was deep and soft and had no accent that she could place. Rather it almost seemed as if it was every accent at the same time. Welsh, Scots, Irish, Home Counties English, Northern, Cockney – she thought she could recognise all of those and more in his voice. And at the same time, it seemed to be no recognisable accent at all.
“I caught this disgraceful imposter drinking before going out there in that costume in front of CHILDREN,” he said. “I challenged him, of course. The very idea of a drunkard acting as Father Christmas… it is unthinkable.”
“I’m not drunk,” the other Father Christmas protested, though both Andy and Gwen, with experience of the same claim from erratic drivers all over Cardiff weren’t fooled.
“You’re drunk,” the other man insisted. The accused man retorted with a swear word that certainly didn’t go with the costume. Mr Caddock demanded that they both be quiet.
Andy reached into his coat and pulled out a hand held breathalyser.
“We can establish if you’ve been drinking or not, sir,” he said holding out the tube.
“Why should I?” the Father Christmas demanded. “I’m not driving. Drunk in charge of a sleigh! Ha! Try that one. You’ll be laughed out of court.”
“Causing an affray while under the influence of alcohol is a criminal offence,” Andy pointed out. “I really think…”
“I’m not the one causing an affray. It’s him. He’s a nutter. He claims he really IS Father Christmas and I’m bringing his name into disrepute.”
“He....” Gwen stifled a laugh. “He’s not… You’re not, are you?”
“I am many things, Miss Cooper,” replied the man with the sapphire eyes. “Right now, I am simply trying to ask this gentleman to remove an unsuitable employee from a situation involving impressionable children.”
The drunken Father Christmas swore again. Mr Caddock sighed deeply.
“That’s enough,” he said. “Breath test or no, you’re fired. He’s right about THAT. You’re a disgrace. Get out of that costume and leave the premises immediately.”
The drunk made a further protest but Andy stepped closer to him.
“I suggest you do as the gentleman says, quietly and without a fuss. Or I will have to arrest you. And I really don’t want to take you out to the car dressed like that, with the kids watching. So just behave yourself now and save yourself the embarrassment.”
“Bloody kids,” the drunk added as he turned away. Andy nodded in satisfaction. It seemed to be going all right. His mere presence in the uniform was enough to calm the situation and ensure arrests didn’t have to be made.
Not arresting people meant far less paperwork.
“All right,” he said. “I think that’s sorted out. I’ll be getting along…”
“But there’s still HIM,” Mr Caddock said, pointing to the other Father Christmas. “I mean… he DID start the argument in the first place. We had to close the grotto. People have been complaining… And… he SAYS he really is Father Christmas. I mean… that’s round the bend. He must have escaped from somewhere. And… really, I don’t have time. I’ve got to sort out this mess… find somebody on my staff who doesn’t mind wearing that costume after that other idiot’s been sitting in it all day. If I don’t there’ll be a riot out there…”
“Well… HE could be your Father Christmas,” Gwen pointed out. “He’s already got the costume, after all.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mr Caddock replied. “I have no idea who he is. He just walked in off the street. I don’t know if he’s CRB checked…”
“Considering the one who WAS CRB checked turned out to be such a liability, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Gwen said. But Mr Caddock was insistent. He wanted the other Father Christmas arrested and removed from his store.
“Gwen…” Andy touched her arm and drew her back out of the Manager’s office and out of earshot. “I’m not going to let the kids see me arrest THAT Father Christmas, either. But we do need to get him out of here. Will you walk with him down to Wharton Street. I’ll pick you up in the car where it’s quieter.”
“All right,” she answered. “But… what are you going to do with him? He hasn’t really done any harm. Nothing to be carted off to a police cell…”
“Let’s just get him out of here, first.”
That made sense. Gwen went back into the office and returned presently with the white haired old man. Standing up, his costume looked even more impressive. It was a deeper red than the one the other man had been wearing. The fur trim looked richer and more luxurious, the buttons and the belt buckle shinier, and she was sure that his beard was one hundred percent real.
“Don’t be scared,” she said to him in her most reassuring PC Cooper voice accompanied by a sweet and reassuring smile. “I’m not going to let you come to any harm. But we have to find out who you are and how you got here.”
“I told you who I am,” he answered her. “It’s quite all right, Gwen. I’m going to come quietly. I would not do anything to upset the children.”
And Gwen had to admit that he was as good as his word about that. They had to go through the toy department to get to the lift, and many of the children waiting in the line called out to him. He smiled and waved at them and told them he was just going downstairs for a little while.
“They won’t notice the difference when Mr Caddock puts on the costume himself and sits in the grotto,” he said. “They see the red suit, not the man in it, you know. It’s the symbol of Father Christmas that matters.”
“I think it’s the ‘free present’ that matters,” Gwen answered with a world weary sigh. “What makes you think Mr Caddock is going to put on the costume?”
He didn’t reply to that question in words. But he smiled knowingly. Gwen pressed the button to summon the lift and held his arm as they stepped in. As the lift descended to the ground floor something else occurred to her.
“You called me ‘Miss Cooper’ before. And then ‘Gwen’. How did you know that was my name?”
“Your policeman friend said your name,” he answered.
“No, he didn’t,” she replied. “At least… yes, he did say ‘Gwen’, once. But he never said ‘Cooper’. So how did you know?”
“I’m Father Christmas, Gwen,” he told her. “I’ve known you all your life.”
“Oh, please, don’t say that. I don’t believe in Father Christmas. I’m a grown up. And besides, it just makes you sound like you are a crackpot. And I really don’t want you to be. You… have nice eyes. They remind me of a friend of mine.”
“Maybe your friend’s eyes remind you of me,” he answered. “That’s why you trust him. Because you always trusted Father Christmas.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Gwen answered. “I do trust Jack, but I can’t think of anyone less like Father Christmas than him. And I’ve never even thought about what kind of eyes he has… Father Christmas, I mean. Like you said… he’s a symbol…”
They stepped out of the lift on the ground floor and made it as far as the street without incident. As they turned the corner from busy St. Mary’s Street to the quieter Wharton Street, though, a child cried out and broke free from her mother.
“Swiety Mikolaj!” she said, running to the man in the Father Christmas costume. “Swiety Mikolaj.”
Gwen was still trying to work out what Swiety Mikolaj meant and in what language when the man bent to pat the little girl on the head. He replied to her in the same language and she smiled joyfully and answered him back. The conversation continued for several minutes. Gwen noticed Andy drive past in the police car. He parked up on the side street and waited.
“We have to go,” she said to – for want of another name right now – Father Christmas.
“Yes, of course.” He reached into the pocket of his coat and produced a long, striped candy cane that he handed to the little girl before saying what was obviously ‘goodbye’ in the language Gwen still hadn’t worked out. Then he came quietly and quickly with her and got into the back of the police car.
“You really can’t DO that, sir,” Andy said to him as he reversed the car back onto St. Mary’s Street.
“Do what?” he asked
“Give children sweets. It might be seen as… inappropriate.”
“It is a sad world when a little kindness is ‘inappropriate’,” Father Christmas answered him. “That little one… her parents have migrated here from Poland. Her father is working long hours for little money. They are in a shared house, and they have nothing to make their Christmas with.”
“That was Polish?” Gwen asked. “You speak Polish?”
“I speak many languages. After all, I have all the children of the world to care for.”
“Look, don’t you think you should stop this charade now, sir?” Andy said. “We’re not children. And if you keep on going on like that, you could get into real trouble.”
“What crime am I committing?” Father Christmas asked. “I have not stolen anything. I have not injured anybody. Yet, here I am in a police car… being told that I could get into trouble for being myself.”
“It’s….” Andy began to speak, then changed his mind. He was trying to think of an answer to the question. It was true that claiming to be Father Christmas wasn't a crime. Unless there was a case for identity theft. But even so…
“Andy,” Gwen said. “Turn the car around. Don’t take him to the police station. Take him to the Hub. We can talk to him there. It would be better… I mean… I don’t think he ought to go in a police cell. Besides, you haven’t actually arrested him…”
Andy sighed and turned the car at the next safe junction. He reached for his radio and reported that he was ‘making follow up inquiries’.
“If you’re up to something around the Bay with Gwen Cooper Inspector Temple will have your guts for garters,” the radio operator told him. “Be warned.”
“Duly noted,” Andy answered and closed the call. “See what trouble you get me into,” he added, but with a good natured note in his voice. Torchwood fascinated him, and this sounded like an excuse to be invited into the inner sanctum. He didn’t get to do that very often. It was worth risking the wrath of Inspector Temple.
He parked the car near Roald Dahl Plas, and Gwen took them both to the pavement lift by the Metal Tower. There were quite a few people in the Plas, but none seemed to notice three people, one dressed as a policeman and another as Father Christmas, disappear into thin air as they stood on the chameleon paving stone and descended.
Above in the Plas, Andy was, technically, in charge. Below, Gwen was in authority. She brought both Andy and Father Christmas to the boardroom and asked if they would like something to drink.
“Coffee,” Andy said. “And I suppose it would be milk and cookies for himself?”
“Coffee will be fine for me, too,” Father Christmas contradicted. “Milk and cookies are only for when I’m driving the sleigh. I’m a little hungry. Would it be possible…”
“Mince pies?” Andy suggested.
“I’ll make some sandwiches,” Gwen said. She wondered if leaving the two of them alone was a good idea, but she was hungry herself and there were some slices of turkey breast and some fresh bread rolls in the kitchenette.
As she made the sandwiches and waited for the coffee to brew, first Beth, then Martha, and finally Ianto and Alun all asked her why somebody dressed as Father Christmas was in the boardroom.
“He isn’t DRESSED as Father Christmas,” Gwen answered with a wry smile. “He IS Father Christmas. Or he says he is, anyway.”
Her work colleagues looked at her with various expression of curiosity and disbelief.
“Why is he here?” Ianto asked. “I mean… delusions are not really our remit, you know.”
“Because… I’m not sure he is delusional,” Gwen answered. “I don’t know what it is. I can’t put my finger on it… call it woman’s intuition… or a copper’s intuition, if you like… but something makes me think he really is….”
“But… there’s no such person…” Ianto protested. Then he caught Beth’s expression. “What? You mean you DO believe in Father Christmas?”
“I’m going out with a werewolf who works at a nightclub run by Vampires. Martha used to go around with an alien who travelled in time and space in a police box that was bigger on the inside. Our boss is immortal. We have a pterodactyl as an office pet. We chase aliens for a living. Father Christmas isn’t much harder to believe in.”
“Well… yes… but we’ve met the werewolf and the vampires and the man in the blue box. And I feed and clean up after the pterodactyl,” Ianto pointed out. “But I haven’t met Father Christmas.”
“Well, now’s your chance,” Gwen said. “Form an orderly queue.” She poured the coffee and put the sandwiches on a plate. She headed back to the boardroom. Andy was looking exasperated.
“He won’t tell me his name,” he told her as she put the tray on the table. “And THIS is his only ID.”
Gwen took the small plastic wallet and looked at the paper inside. At first she thought it was blank. Then she noticed that it was a neat business card with two words in a curling, elaborate font.
As she kept looking, the words changed.
“Daidí na Nollag.”
It was psychic paper. Or something like it, anyway. Jack had a wallet like that. He used to use it a lot to bluff his way into places where he hadn’t got an appointment. He stopped using it after he handed over what was supposed to be a permit allowing him access to the City Council archives and it instead showed his immediate thoughts about how hot the clerk was. You have to keep your mind on the job while using psychic paper, apparently.
“Ok.” Gwen closed the wallet and held it in her palm. “The only word I’ve seen that looks like a name is Nicholas. So how about we call you that for now, for the sake of sanity – our sanity.”
“Nicholas will do fine,” the newly Christened mystery man said with a smile. “After all, that was my first name, before all of the others.”
Gwen looked at him and sighed. She sat down at the table and drank some coffee as she studied him carefully. What Beth said about the collection of impossibilities they all fully believed in down here in the Hub struck a chord. Why shouldn’t they believe in Father Christmas when they had proof of vampires and werewolves and weevils.
Still her mind refused to countenance it.
It really was far more likely he was an admittedly nice but crazy old man who had wandered off from some old people’s home. She ought to get Beth to start ringing around to see if any of those places were missing him. Andy ought to be doing the same.
The door opened. Ianto and Alun stepped in carrying one of the more useful pieces of equipment they had developed from scavenged alien technology. It was the most accurate lie detector on the planet.
“Ianto Jones,” Nicholas said with a warm smile. “And Alun Llewellyn. It’s a long time since either of you sat on my knee.”
The two gay men looked at him and then each other and tried not to blush. Gwen was too busy watching the expressions on their faces to ask how he knew their names. He probably wouldn’t have answered the question, anyway.
“You’re going to use that on him?” she asked, as Alun set up the lie detector on the table in front of Nicholas. When he powered it up a large green light came on. When the subject of the test lied it was supposed to turn red.
“Yes,” Ianto said. “We always use it when there is a question of identity.”
“He has lots of identity,” Gwen pointed out, waving the plastic wallet. She turned to Nicholas. “Do you understand what he wants to do? You CAN refuse. We have no way to force you…”
“I have nothing to hide,” Nicholas said in his soft, gentle voice that made Gwen feel guilty about bothering him at all. “If it helps to convince you of who I am, then let us continue.”
Ianto adjusted the microphone and asked Nicholas to state his name.
“You know me in this country as Father Christmas,” he said. “Or in native Welsh as Siôn Corn.”
The light stayed green.
“Ok,” Ianto said. “And… where do you live? The North Pole?”
“No,” Nicholas answered. “Santa’s toy workshop in the North Pole is a fiction to amuse children. I don’t really live anywhere. As I explained to Gwen before, I am a symbol, an anthropomorphic personification of the spirit of generosity that exists at Christmas.”
“What spirit of generosity?” Andy murmured. “I arrested two women yesterday for fighting over the last Barbie playset in Toys R Us.”
“The spirit that should exist, let us say,” Nicholas added with a sad shake of the head. “It is true that many people have lost the meaning of Christmas, these days.”
“The point is, the light was green when he explained all that,” Gwen said. “It’s… true?”
“Maybe it isn’t calibrated right,” Alun suggested. “Sir… could you tell an obvious lie to test the equipment?”
“I don’t tell falsehoods, young man,” he answered. The light flickered red.
“That was a lie!” Gwen exclaimed. “You lied to me earlier when you said Andy had said my name. And so when you said you don’t tell lies that was a lie!”
“There you go then,” Nicholas said with a wry smile. “Your machine works.”
“Not necessarily,” Ianto pointed out. “Jack used this on me once. After I’d been hypnotised by an Arctanian Mind Regression Machine. I talked for an hour about a ‘former life’ I was supposed to have had in which I was a trawlerman from Fishguard… and the light stayed green all the time. If the subject BELIEVES what they’re saying is the truth, then it reads truth. If his delusion is so complete that he believes he is Father Christmas then….”
Gwen sighed. Ianto was right about that. They were no closer to the truth even with their technology.
“There’s always the Mind Probe,” Alun suggested.
“No way!” Gwen looked around. It was Martha at the boardroom door who had said that. She stepped into the room and approached Nicholas with the sort of expression on her face that children had when going to see… well, Father Christmas.
“It would prove it, once and or all,” Ianto added.
“We don’t need proof,” Martha said. “Shame on you both with your lie detectors and your mind probes. It’s Christmas. Just… take something on faith for once.”
She stepped closer to Nicholas and held out her hand to him. He smiled at her as he shook it.
“You’re a little big to sit on my knee, now, too,” he said. “But you used to, when you were a little girl.”
“Yes,” she said. “I did. I believed in you. I believed in you for years and years. I always got the presents I wanted, every Christmas. I only stopped believing because….”
“You asked for something that even I couldn’t give you,” Nicholas said with a sad smile. “You asked for your parents to stay together. But even the generous spirit of Christmas couldn’t do anything about that. It was something that had to happen. And perhaps, in the long run, they were better off apart. And you and your brother and sister were happier without the fighting?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But I didn’t understand that at the time. And by the time I did… I was a grown up.”
Gwen looked at Martha in surprise. She was a qualified woman, a doctor, who had worked in war zones. She was usually so professional. She was not somebody who day-dreamed.
But right now, when Gwen looked at her face, she seemed to be a little girl again, with the joy of Christmas in her heart. If she HAD sat on Nicholas’s knee, Gwen wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
“When did you stop believing?” Andy asked her. The question surprised her. She couldn’t really remember.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just did. I suppose I realised after a while that it was my mum and dad who bought the presents. And I realised that most of the time my mum bought expensive presents just to show off to her friends that she could afford to get me the best. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about Christmas. It was about one-upmanship.”
“I was seven,” Andy said. “I went to the shopping centre to see Father Christmas, and the grotto had a ‘back in five minutes’ sign on it. My mum took me to buy some sweets while we waited, and we spotted the Father Christmas with his beard off, smoking behind the grotto. After that, it never seemed the same.”
“I’m not sure I ever did believe,” Alun said. “My dad was always kind of down on ‘fanciful ideas’. I always knew he had bought the presents.”
“I just grew out of it,” Ianto said. “Never really worried about it. My mum and dad made Christmas good for me. Besides, our Christmas was more about going to chapel and prayers and stuff.”
They all looked at each other, then at Nicholas. He was chatting to Martha. She still had that ten year old child’s wonder on her face.
If he WAS real, then they had all got it wrong when they were kids.
“It’s all right,” Nicholas said, looking around at them. “I know it isn’t easy to keep believing. Most children stop when they get to a certain age. Funny thing is, though, when they grow up, they want to believe again. They realise that having something in their lives that isn’t logical and isn’t easily explained is good, after all. Even you, my friends, with the very important work you do, work that makes you tired and world weary sometimes. Even you can believe in a little magic if you try.”
“Well….” Gwen began. She was cut off by the boardroom door opening again with a crash. It was Beth and she had a wide smile on her face.
“You’ve got to see…. Up on the Plas…. Everyone… come on, now.”
She ran towards the pavement lift. Ianto and Alun were quickest off the mark and got on it with her. The others took the slightly slower route, up through the tourist office and around by Mermaid Quay.
“Oh, my….” Gwen was lost for words as she saw the beautifully finished wooden sleigh with silver bells on the leather reins and the bridles and fixings – she wasn’t exactly sure what any of it was called – on the eight fantastic looking reindeer that were hitched up to it. They stood remarkably placidly considering that a crowd was gathering enthusiastically.
“Andy,” she said. “I think you’d better organise a bit of crowd control before somebody gets a hoof in their face.”
“Good idea,” he agreed and called to the security guards from the Millennium Centre to come and lend a hand moving back the general public.
“It’s yours, isn’t it?” Gwen said to Nicholas. “Is there any point in asking how it got here?”
“They came looking for me,” he replied. “I should be getting along now. It was nice meeting you all. Especially, you, Martha, dear. Am I forgiven, now?”
“Yes, you are,” she replied. And to prove it she kissed his cheek. His sapphire eyes sparkled and he turned to Gwen and Beth. They, too, kissed him and wished him a safe journey.
“I don’t think we’d better do that,” Ianto said. “People might get the wrong idea about you.” But he and Alun shook hands with him before he mounted the sleigh. They clutched hands with each other as they stood back and watched. There was snow on the ground on the Plas. There was none anywhere beyond there. It must have come with the sleigh. And if that didn’t make sense, then they were past caring. The three women held each other’s hands, too, as they watched the sleigh move off. Nicholas waved to them and then to the children in the crowd.
Nobody saw where the sleigh went. Beth swore she had seen a sort of golden light appear and when she looked again it was gone. Ianto and Alun had a couple of theories about the rift. They said they would check the monitor when they got back downstairs.
But when they got back to the Hub they forgot all about the Rift. They were too busy looking at the huge decorated Christmas tree that had appeared in the Boardroom and the collection of gifts left under it with all their names on them.
“Oh!” Gwen groaned. “I forgot. I left my dress at Howells. And I’ve still got a ton of shopping left to do.”
But she didn’t. When she went back to the office, the carrier bags with her designer dress and accessories were on the desk and so was everything else she planned to buy that day. She found a card attached to one of the bags. She wasn’t at all surprised when she saw that it wished her a Merry Christmas and was signed ‘Nicholas.’
And she was even less surprised when Andy phoned her and told her the back seat of his police car was full of groceries and toys that he had been directed to deliver to a family called Jasinski who were living in Gabalfa. There was a card signed “Swiety Mikolaj.”
“It’s him, isn’t it?” Andy said. “One last Christmas miracle. To make us believe.”
“I’m sold,” Gwen answered him. “He’s right. We get to be grown ups, and we want some magic. We want to believe. Ok, I believe. Anyway, it makes a change from aliens and conspiracy theories. Merry Christmas, Andy. All the best to you.”
“Merry Christmas, Gwen,” he replied.