UNIT’s top brass could be utter heartless bastards. Who in their right mind would organise mandatory inter-agency meetings for the week before Christmas? It was insane. Jack had been more or less ordered to London to attend, although technically speaking, UNIT didn’t have the authority to order anyone in Torchwood to do anything. He’d been determined not to go, until Lizzie had personally asked him very nicely to do it for her. How could he possibly say no? After all, she held Torchwood’s purse strings. Besides, as she’d explained to him, since she wouldn’t be attending herself she needed a representative at the meetings, someone she could trust to report anything of interest back to her. The only person on the list of attendees who fit the bill was Jack, so in the end, after she’d reminded him that he owed her a few favours, he’d agreed to be her eyes and ears.
True to form, the meetings had proved mind-numbingly dull, going over things that had been hashed out a dozen times already. He’d had little to report to Her Majesty, but afternoon tea with Lizzie had been the one bright spot in the whole trip. It had been good to just sit in her private parlour, catching each other up on recent events and family news.
Since before Lizzie had been born, Jack had been treated as part of the family, sort of a black sheep uncle or distant cousin. He always felt at home in her presence and she let him take liberties that anyone else would have been locked up for, because he could still remember her as a little girl sitting on his knee while he talked with her father. As enjoyable as it was though, tea couldn’t last forever and as evening darkened the sky, Jack said a fond farewell and returned to his lodgings to pack for the trip back to Cardiff the following morning.
If getting to London had proved straightforward, getting home again looked set to be considerably more challenging. The bad weather had started mid-morning on the final day of meetings, and by the time Jack left Buckingham Palace after tea, England’s capital was almost at a standstill. Gale force winds were driving snow across much of Britain, and the blizzard conditions were making it difficult for people to travel even short distances safely. The drive back to the small hotel UNIT had booked him into took a good three times longer than it should have, and judging by the weather forecast, it was only going to get worse.
Jack got up early the next morning to find that severe weather warnings had already been issued and the population was being urged to remain in their homes, only travelling if it was absolutely essential. He stared through the window of his dreary little room at the hypnotically falling snow. It was Christmas Eve, dammit! There was no way he was spending Christmas in this dingy hotel; he wanted to be back home in Cardiff, sharing the festivities with his team, his little surrogate family, and especially with Ianto. Five days without his Welshman, aside from the occasional brief phone call, was more than enough, especially since it meant being deprived of Ianto’s heavenly coffee, too. He hadn’t had a decent cup of coffee since he’d finished the flask of Ianto’s finest blend that his lover had tucked in with his luggage. Torchwood’s General Support Officer always thought of everything.
Jack buttoned his coat to his chin, pulled on his driving gloves, slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder, and went down to the lobby to check out. The hotel’s manager frowned at him worriedly.
“Are you sure you should be driving today, Sir? There are weather warnings out, you know. You could stay on until conditions improve, we have plenty of vacancies.”
“Thanks, but I really need to get back to Cardiff. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine, I’ve driven in worse conditions than this.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
UNIT hadn’t even picked up the tab for the accommodations they’d arranged, so Jack settled his bill, braced himself, and stepped out into the bitter wind and driving snow. In the hotel’s small car park, the SUV was barely more than a snow-covered mound; he was forced to return inside and borrow a shovel to dig it out, but soon he was inside the vehicle, heater on, engine purring smoothly, and wipers working hard to keep windscreen clear enough for him to see through.
Jack wasn’t worried about the journey ahead of him. Torchwood’s SUV had four-wheel drive and all of its systems were augmented with alien technology. It could handle the extreme weather with ease, and even though his driving often verged on the reckless, Jack was an expert behind the wheel and knew when to be cautious. Slow but steady would get him home in one piece and at least he wouldn’t have much traffic to contend with. The only possible problem he could foresee was if any of the roads on his chosen route were closed, forcing him to detour. The news had stated that snow ploughs were out across the country, doing what they could to keep the major roads and motorways clear, but the snow just kept falling and as there was little other traffic to pack it down it piled up again as fast as it could be cleared. Nevertheless, he remained undaunted; he hadn’t been lying when he’d said he’d driven in worse weather. He slotted an MP3 disc of Christmas music that Ianto had made for him the previous year into the CD player, put the SUV in gear, and pulled out onto the snow-covered road.
He was more than glad that he’d thought to fill up the SUV on arrival in London; it meant he should easily have enough petrol in the tank for the journey home, thanks to the vehicle’s remarkable economy with fuel. He shouldn’t need to fill up en route, though he decided he would if he happened upon a service station that was open, just to be on the safe side. Ianto’s penchant for taking every precaution possible must be rubbing off on him.
London seemed like a ghost town. Jack encountered only a handful of other vehicles on the roads, a couple of buses and a few taxis and private cars. Once in a while, as he drove along the almost deserted roads on his way to the motorway, he’d spot the indistinct figure of a pedestrian trudging through the almost knee-deep snow, but they were few and far between. Most people were heeding the warnings and staying indoors where it was warmer; not that he blamed them, it was the most sensible thing to do. Why risk freezing your toes off if you didn’t have to? At least in the heated SUV he didn’t need to worry about that. All he had to focus on was keeping the car on the road and not skidding into anything, and as long as he kept to a steady speed and didn’t have to brake sharply, he knew he’d be fine.
Despite the ploughs, when he finally turned onto the motorway it stretched out before him, a pristine expanse of trackless white. Still, better a shallow layer of snow than a sheet of ice; the SUV’s snow-chained tyres bit into the covering, giving good traction and he pressed down on the accelerator, easing the speed up to around forty. Much faster than that would be reckless even in the absence of other traffic, the swirling snow made visibility too uncertain. With everything a featureless white, if he drove too fast it would be easy to run right off the gently curving road before he even realised.
Jack cracked the driver’s side window open to keep the interior from steaming up as well as to make sure he stayed alert. Singing lustily along to Carols and Christmas songs, he drove steadily through the wintry landscape, watching the mile markers flick by, each one bringing him that little bit closer to home.
About halfway to Cardiff, he stopped at a service station just the other side of Swindon to fill the SUV’s tank, getting a bite to eat and a couple of cups of substandard coffee in the café to fortify him for the rest of the journey. It tasted terrible, but at least the caffeine would help keep him awake.
Back on the road again after his lunch break, he felt he’d made reasonably good time so far, but the weather conditions were continuing to worsen and it soon became necessary to slow to thirty-five.
He almost missed seeing the car, skewed across the hard shoulder with its bonnet buried in a mound of snow. It was only the flash of darker colour against the all-pervading whiteness that registered at the last moment. He braked slowly to a stop, then reversed back along the otherwise deserted highway until he was alongside the other vehicle. Turning on his hazard warning lights, just in case another car happened along, he left the engine running and stepped out into the blizzard to see if anyone needed help.
As he brushed snow off the windows, he saw there were three people huddled together in the back seat, two adults and a small child, all bundled up like Eskimos, and he tapped on the glass to get their attention. They stirred and looked out at him, squinting against the whiteness.
“Hello in there! Looks like you could use some help,” he shouted over the wind.
“Oh thank God!” A man’s voice reached Jack and then the rear driver’s side door was being pushed open. “I was afraid we were stranded here, my car skidded off the road and now the engine won’t start.”
“You’ll have to leave the car here, get it towed when the snow stops, but I can give you a lift to habitation. Where were you folks headed?”
“Cardiff to visit my wife’s mother for Christmas, but anywhere we can find a hotel would be fine.”
“You’re in luck, Cardiff’s where I’m headed. Captain Jack Harkness, at your service.” Jack flashed his best smile. “Grab your things and pile in.” He pointed at the SUV. “Soon have you thawed out.”
“Thank you, you’re a life saver. I’m Dan Morgan, that’s my wife Laura and our daughter Sarah.”
“Good to meet you; welcome aboard.”
Jack moved quickly, helping Dan transfer the family’s luggage to the spacious boot of the SUV before climbing back into the driver’s seat with Dan riding shotgun.
“You’ve got some fancy-looking gadgets in here,” he commented, putting on his seat belt.
“State of the art surveillance systems,” Jack replied. “They go with the job. I’m in Special Ops. I’d appreciate it if you guys don’t fiddle with the tech, I’ll catch hell if anything goes wrong with any of it. The only reason I’m driving it is because it’s needed back in Cardiff. It’s up to me to make sure it gets there in one piece.”
“Hell of a responsibility, not one I’d be comfortable with, especially not in these conditions,” Dan admitted.
“Oh, I don’t know; you have a family, there’s no bigger responsibility than that.”
“Do you have kids?”
“One, a daughter. I’ve barely seen her since my ex-wife took her away when she was just a baby. She’s grown up now.”
“That has to be hard, especially at this time of year.”
“It is, but it’s something I’ve had to learn to live with. Enough of the depressing talk though, let’s liven things up a bit with some Christmas music!” Jack turned his CD back on, and soon the SUV was full of the sound of four people singing along and laughing.
Jack was glad of the company, it livened up the dull journey and kept him from dozing off behind the wheel, mesmerised by the endlessly falling snow. They made a brief stop at the first open service station they came across to make arrangements for the Morgans’ car to be towed as soon as the weather allowed, then continued on towards Cardiff. Jack knew they wouldn’t reach their destination until after dark, but despite the severity of the weather, as the sun went down somewhere behind the heavy clouds, the lights along the motorway started to come on, like a string of stars guiding their way through a winter wonderland.
As he drove across the Severn Bridge in the deepening darkness, Jack was jubilant; he was going to make it home for Christmas. “Not much farther now!” he told his passengers. “We’ll see the lights of Cardiff before long.”
“I can’t wait to see the look on mum’s face when she finds us on her doorstep,” Laura said, smiling.
“You took quite a chance trying to drive here in this weather.”
“I know, and we probably should’ve listened to the weather warnings, but I didn’t want mum to be alone. This is her first Christmas without dad and there’s no other family living close by. Christmas is the worst time of year to be alone. Do you have someone to go home to?”
“I do indeed, some very good friends and a very special man who makes the best coffee in the universe! It won’t be our first Christmas together, but it’s going to be our best yet.” Jack couldn’t keep from smiling at the thought. “I can’t wait to get home.”
Laura was right; the look on her mother’s face was a picture when she saw the little family standing there in the snow. There were hugs and tears of joy all around as Jack helped Dan carry the luggage and gifts into the small house. Phyllis Logan, Laura’s mother, invited Jack in for a hot drink and a mince pie, but he declined.
“I should get home, I have people of my own waiting for me and I don’t want them getting worried. Merry Christmas, everybody!” He waved goodbye, climbed back into the SUV, and set off for the Hub through Cardiff streets made unfamiliar and strange by the thick covering of snow.
Stepping into the main Hub from Torchwood’s underground garage, Jack could scarcely believe he’d made it back, he felt as though he’d been on the road for days. Never had the distance between London and Cardiff seemed so long. To his surprise, the Hub was lit by twinkling fairy lights, strung along the catwalk railings and festooning the massive tree that stood off to one side, out of the way, while tinsel was twined around everything that didn’t move. Jack blinked, unsure whether to be entranced or appalled.
“Sorry about the… eyesore. I tried to curb their enthusiasm for decorations, but they just waited until I was busy in the archives. I considered taking down some of the excess, but it seemed like too much work.” Ianto had come out of Jack’s office while Jack was still staring, speechless.
“It looks like Christmas exploded.” Jack studied the sight thoughtfully. “I don’t know, I think I sort of like all the colours; makes a change from the white I’ve been looking at all day.”
“Then I suppose the decorations can stay; for now, anyway. Welcome home, Jack. I wasn’t sure you’d make it back.” Ianto strolled over to stand in front of Jack, hands in his pockets and a warm smile on his face
“Like I was going to let a bit of snow stop me! It was nothing the SUV couldn’t handle. Miss me?”
“Oh, only all the time.” Ianto grabbed the front of Jack’s coat and kissed him. “Mistletoe.” He pointed over their heads to where a sprig of plastic leaves and berries hung above them. “Your nose is cold.”
“It’s snowing out, in case you hadn’t noticed.” Jack dragged Ianto back in for another kiss. “We’re still under the mistletoe.”
“Maybe we should move then.”
“Or maybe not. Where’re the others?”
“Boardroom, having a party. Shall we join them?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know. Is there mistletoe at this party? Because if there isn’t, I think we should stay right here.”
“But if we stay here, you won’t get to open your presents.
“They’re not going anywhere.”
“I can’t make you coffee either.”
“Oooh, tough decision; kisses or coffee?”
“Technically, kisses don’t really depend on mistletoe.”
“That’s true. Okay, coffee and presents it is, but I want more kisses later.”
“I think that can be arranged. Come on, you should show the others you’re back, they’ve been worried.”
“And you weren’t?”
Ianto raised an eyebrow. “Of course I was, but… Well, you can survive anything; even if we had to wait until the spring thaw to dig you out and defrost you, I knew you’d be alright. I’m glad it didn’t come to that, though. I never really doubted you’d get home safely, I just wasn’t certain you’d make it for Christmas Day. It wouldn’t have felt right celebrating without you.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world; there’s no place in the universe I’d rather be than right here with you,” Jack smiled.
And he meant every word.