Spaceships Sailing In (On Christmas Day In The Morning)
Torchwood ; Gwen/Rhys with a side of Jack/Ianto ; PG-13 ; 5000 words ; title adapted from the carol
In which Gwen sleeps, Jack has a run-in with emotional honesty, Ianto is kidnapped by a wall, and Rhys meets his first alien tentacles. A Christmas tale.
"Right then." Rhys capped the lid on his pen triumphantly and handed the paper over to Gwen. "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to procure all of the items listed on that bit of paper and get them into the house before the shops close on Christmas Eve."
Gwen's eyes widened. "This is a lot of food. Food and drink, I see."
"Well, figured we should celebrate in style, you know."
"Mmm." Gwen looked sceptical.
"Oh, and that's the other thing." Rhys shifted slightly. "I was going to mention. I got a call from Anne earlier, she says the whole family's gone down with the flu and they've decided they can't have my parents round on Christmas Day any more."
Gwen looked down at the list, then back up. "Rhys," she started.
"Look," Rhys said hastily. "I know, I know, we said we'd have a quiet one this year, what with everything that's been going on, but my mum and dad could just come round for the afternoon, have dinner, and that. They can't spend the day by themselves, it's not right."
"And what about when I get called out because the aliens have landed in the middle of pudding? How would we explain that?"
Rhys gaped. "You're not serious. You have to go work on Christmas Day?"
"Might do, yeah!" Gwen said, in that defiant way of hers that meant she wasn't too happy about it either. "The Rift doesn't take a day off for the baby Jesus. And you know we're still short-staffed, I can't just leave Jack and Ianto to deal with the monsters."
"Bit unlikely though, isn't it? I mean, the alien hoards don't descend every day. What are the chances they'll come this particular Thursday?"
Gwen raised her eyebrows. "You do remember London the last few years."
"Oh, but that's London for you, isn't it, all mass hysteria and pranks getting out of hand . . ." Rhys faltered as Gwen continued to look impassively at him. "Bloody hell. You mean all that shit was real, it actually happened?"
She nodded, biting back a smile.
"Oh god, the lads will never let me hear the end of it," he muttered, thinking ruefully of the countless hours he'd spent down the pub, insisting to anyone who would listen that yeah, right, anyone who believed the stuff that cropped up on the news from time to time was really the result of alien invasion or whatever else was a complete idiot who deserved to be duped by the media.
Gwen burst out laughing at that, and reached out to slip her hands into his. "Even if the Weevils decide that they don't want to launch a mass takeover of the city just in time for Christmas. . . I know I'm being selfish, but I really don't want to have to deal with in-laws and all the palaver. Brenda will only have a go at me for how I'm mistreating you and all that. Just you and me, doesn't that sound good?"
"It'd just be for a few hours, I promise. Dad'll probably fall in sleep in front of Eastenders anyway. And listen, if you have to go save the world, I am a master of deception! I could create a whole elaborate story for you. Please, Gwen. This is part of that normal family thing we're trying, isn't it."
Gwen sighed. "All right, all right. But if Brenda says one, but one thing about how am I ever going to fit a baby in with all that work I do, I swear I am not accountable for my actions."
"I will keep her in check," Rhys promised.
"You're a real soft touch, aren't you?"
He attempted to glower in an impressive and masculine way, but she just laughed and kissed him. "Right, anyway," she said, picking up her bag. "I have to run - yes, I've got that list, before you ask. See you later, shouldn't be a late one unless something explodes or whatever else."
"Yes yes, I know the drill. There's lasagne if you're home by nine!" he called as Gwen grabbed her coat and ran out into the hall.
"Love you!" she shouted back as she pulled the door shut.
Chuckling to himself, Rhys picked up the phone to call his parents, then paused. There was something he had to do first.
Logging onto his PC, he brought up YouTube and started flicking through keywords like 'london', 'aliens', 'spaceship'. They brought up countless pages, all filled with comments from the usual conspiracy theorists and crackpots. He watched the footage of that flying Titanic making a beeline for Buckingham Palace before veering off at the last second.
"Unbelievable," he muttered. "Bloody aliens."
It had been a strange December, Rhys finding himself largely preparing for the holidays alone. Gwen had helped him decorate one quiet Sunday, getting herself tangled up in tinsel and laughing delightedly when he'd sprung her with mistletoe he'd bought along with their tree, but she'd been at work more than ever, Torchwood still clearly unwillingly to hire anyone new and admit that they couldn't carry on just the three of them.
He'd dropped in when he could, coming to pick Gwen up in the evenings and taking extended lunchtimes to bring round a portion of last night's dinner or something fresh from the sandwich shop. It wasn't needed, the food at least, but even though mostly Jack just scowled at the sight of him, Gwen always looked pleased to see him, and Ianto had quietly informed him he was welcome any time.
"You make Gwen happy," he'd said. "That's good news for everyone."
Rhys didn't know what to make of Ianto, found him an odd mix of young and impossibly world-weary, quick with a quip but with very little of himself that wasn't buried away under those waistcoats and ties he seemed so fond of. In that moment, as Ianto had smiled at him and glanced fondly over in Gwen's direction, Rhys had warmed to him considerably.
So Rhys went to work and did the laundry and watched rugby matches and tried to be the normal bloke he knew Gwen increasingly needed. It was odd at times, sitting in tedious financial planning meetings while the woman he'd married was out there somewhere battling creatures who came from other planets. It did help keep things in perspective, though.
"This credit crunch will be the death of us," Ruth said as he got ready to leave the office, her face tense over her newspaper.
"Oh, I don't know," he said, squeezing her shoulder as he went by. "Reckon we'll pull through somehow or other."
She smiled up at him. "Oh I do hope you're right."
"I know I am. Now come on, I'm not leaving until you're coming with me. And I don't want you sneaking up here over your holiday and doing bits of filing, you hear?"
She folded up her paper. "No fear of that - off to visit my dad in Aberystwyth, you'll have to manage your own paperwork until I'm back."
"Reckon I can handle it." He picked up her coat, held it out for her to dip into.
They locked up together and walked out onto the street.
Ruth beamed at him. "Now, you have yourself a very happy Christmas, won't you, Rhys? And send my love to Gwen."
"I will." He swept her up in a hug despite her protests. "Merry Christmas, my right hand woman. Have a good one."
He waved her off as she stepped into her car, smiling as he watched her drive off. He imagined the look on her face when she found the cheque he'd slipped into her coat pocket. Oh, she'd have fussed if he'd just given it to her outright, but no matter how tight times were, if he couldn't do something for the best of his employees then he might as well just pack it in.
No word that Gwen was home, so Rhys took his time walking back to the flat, watching as the last of the day's shoppers trailed home, bag-laden, the sky already black with the early onset of night. The sound of carol singers was drifting over somewhere, and when he got caught up in a congregation leaving an early evening church service, he paused.
Feeling a little foolish, he ducked inside the building when the crowd had cleared. The vicar was occupied with tidying up behind the altar and paid him no heed. Rhys had barely been in church for years, save christenings and weddings and funerals. He'd still had lingering faith from childhood, a vague but unshakeable conviction that there had to be more to this world that met the eye.
Well, that had come true in spades this year.
There was a prayer board against one wall of the church, filled with messages and wishes for the health of family members, the safety and flourishing of children. Acting on impulse, Rhys took a pencil, scribbled a brief note and pinned it amongst the others.
He couldn't say it would do any good, but he smiled as he walked outside again.
I pray for those who protect this city, that they may find comfort, rest and peace..
Rhys woke up late on Christmas Eve, the year finally catching up with him. Gwen was long gone by the time he managed to push himself out of bed, but when he opened the fridge it was newly stocked, exactly to the specifications he'd given her. Pleased, he put the kettle on. Perhaps there really was hope for this Christmas after all.
When Gwen came home a little after six, she looked exhausted but she was beaming.
"How was work?" he asked.
"Over. I am done, and barring disaster, I am home now, and all yours." She collapsed onto the sofa with a happy sigh.
"Great." Rhys picked up a wine bottle and two glasses, and went over to join her.
She grinned up at him. "Hello."
"Hello yourself." He planted a kiss in her hair and settled down on the sofa, Gwen curling in against his shoulder. "So," he said. "Our esteemed guests will be arriving at around three o'clock tomorrow, and I'll be sure to kick them out again by about nine or so. Still gives us plenty of time to ourselves."
"Mmm," Gwen murmured. "S'nice."
Rhys was about to say something festive and romantic, then he paused. Gwen was breathing terribly deeply against him.
"Gwen?" he asked quietly. No response.
Trying not to laugh, he gently prised Gwen off him, laying her down. She shifted slightly, turned on her side and went into deeper sleep. He left her to it, picking up the paper and looking for the sudoku. It really had been a hell of a year, and he knew Gwen needed the rest. If that came in the form of impromptu kips on the couch, then so be it.
The next morning, and Gwen was still out for the count. She'd woken up briefly, long enough to have some dinner, but she was halfway through an apology for crashing out on him when she'd drooped again, so Rhys had just insisted on getting her into bed and leaving her for the night.
He was impatient now, and slipped out of bed to make tea, deciding that by the time it was done he was within his bounds to wake Gwen up and start their own Christmas celebrations. To his surprise, she was stirring when he returned.
"Ah, sleeping beauty awakes I see," he said, putting a mug down beside her.
"Ooh, you're an angel, thank you." Gwen sat up, all mussed hair and half-closed eyes.
"Merry Christmas," he replied, kissing her.
"Merry Christmas. God, that sleep was amazing."
"Good, you had enough of it!"
Gwen laughed. "Yes, well. So, I know we'll do presents and everything later, but there's something I wanted to give you right away."
She fumbled down beneath the bed and produced a small black fabric bag. "You don't get to keep this forever, I'm afraid, but it's all yours for a couple of days."
Rhys tipped the bag up and let a small silver device fall out into his hand. "What--"
"Ianto's covering for me, Jack would do his nut if he knew I'd taken that out of the Hub, so I'll have to get it back in a couple of days. It's a portable database. You just press on, here, see, then you can scroll through, bring up more information, it's pretty user friendly for alien tech."
Rhys stared at it. "This is alien?"
"Yup. And I've uploaded it specifically. Every alien I've ever met."
"What, seriously?" He turned it on, and a list of entries popped up: 'weevil', 'nostrovite', 'night travellers'. He thought his eyes were going to fall out of his head. "This is mental," he breathed.
"Geek," Gwen muttered fondly. "You can't save any of the data, can't print anything out. But Rhys, you've been amazing, more than I ever could have asked for, you--" she faltered, and he looked up. She bit her lip, then smiled. "Anyway, I thought you'd like it."
"You know, you're pretty amazing yourself," he said, then he put the alien database -- seriously, that was mental -- down, and brushed back her hair, pulling her in for a proper kiss this time, long and slow, because they had all the time in the world--
Gwen's phone was beeping.
Gwen pulled back, horrified. She froze for a second, then dived for her bag, flipping her phone open and reading a message. "Oh, God."
"What?" Rhys asked, already knowing the answer.
Gwen just spread her hands wide, dismayed. "I have to go to work."
Rhys thudded his head back against the wall. "Bastard Torchwood."
He drove her in towards the part of town she specified, debating whether it would really be as satisfying as it seemed to punch Jack Harkness in the face. On reflection, it wasn't really his fault, and besides, it was hardly in keeping with the Christmas spirit. Not that unexpected aliens were especially festive themselves.
Jack didn't bother to say anything when he caught sight of Rhys walking up alongside Gwen.
"I know, I know, I'm ruining your life," he said to Gwen in a tone that might almost have been apologetic. "Some seriously strange, not to mention large energy readings coming from--"
"About there, I'd say." Ianto was pointing at the concrete at their feet, where thick trails of black gloop were surging out from the bottom of the wall.
Everyone took a leap back. "What the--" Jack started.
The black gloop was rising into the air, long strips moving sinuously out further into the street.
"That's disgusting," Rhys decided as the black gloopy alien tentacle things appeared to be examining them all.
"Hey, don't knock it 'til you've tried it," said Jack. The alien tentacles all turned in his direction. "Woah, okay, back off there a little."
"What are they?" Gwen asked in mixed horror and fascination.
"Ianto?" Jack prompted.
Ianto took out a scanner. "Well, definitely alien."
"Yes, I gathered that much," said Gwen.
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Give me a second, will you? Okay, here's something - they're not what's giving off the energy reading. There's something else still inside the building."
The tentacles turned to look at Ianto. He attempted an appeasing smile. "Uh, hello."
The tentacles shot further out, wrapped themselves around his chest, waist and ankles and pulled him into the wall.
"What?" Rhys yelped as Ianto vanished.
Jack ran to the wall, hastily running his hands along the brickwork. "Aha, got it," he muttered, then pressed forward and disappeared too.
Gwen turned to Rhys, looking harried. "Go home, get out of here," she told him, then followed after Jack.
Rhys stood bereft on the pavement and weighed his options. He could go home, spend the next few hours alone on Christmas Day, waiting for his parents to show up, or . . . He checked his watch. Hours before he had to be at home. He walked towards the wall, laying his hands on the same spot Gwen had. The bricks were warm to the touch and buzzing slightly. They didn't really feel like bricks at all. He pushed on hand against the wall, and it went past the bricks into - something else. He pulled his arm out again and grinned.
Gwen was going to kill him.
He walked into the wall.
Inside - whatever inside was - it was dark. There were some lights coming from somewhere, but faintly, and moving, illuminating things and quickly moving on again. Rhys got glimpses of what might have been rafters, wiring, the walls strangely textured and translucent.
It was silent here, and he had no idea where the others had gone. He fumbled in his pocket for his phone, took it out and used the lit-up screen to navigate. By the looks of things, he was in a corridor, with no side turnings to be seen. Best to just carry on, then. He walked for a while, listening out into the blankness and the void for anything that would let him know just what the hell was going on.
A light shone bright in his face, and there was a weapon-like sound beside him. He flinched. "No, wait, I'm sorry, I mean you no harm."
"Rhys!" Gwen hissed in frustration, lowering both her gun and her torch. "What were you thinking?"
"You said it yourself, you're short-staffed. I might not be a highly trained alien-catcher, but maybe I can help all the same."
"Rhys . . ." Gwen sighed, looking strained in the torchlight. She laughed a little. "I just had to go marry a hero, didn't I? I've half a mind to march you back to the car myself, but seeing as I can't-- Okay. Ground rules."
"One: don't do anything stupid. Don't touch anything, don't say anything. Two: you take orders from me, from Jack, from Ianto when we find him. Don't ask questions, just do what I say, or someone might get hurt. Just-- just stick me with, all right? And I am sorry, really."
"Hey, not your fault, is it? Now come on, which way are we going?"
Gwen pointed to her right. "There's a fork here, Jack's taken the left. Let's go."
They set forth, walking out into the dark. Rhys clenched his hands, feeling coiled and anxious. He wondered how Gwen was, how she dealt with these things, whether she was scared or calm or high on the adrenaline. It was the sort of thing he'd never thought to ask. He wondered how Jack felt, though he decided that the man's psyche probably wasn't something to dwell overly on.
The silence was eerie - no echoes, no footfalls, nothing, just a great muffled blankness. There was no sense of size or space, and very little save instinct to suggest how far they'd come. All this hidden inside what had looked like a warehouse; incredible, and alien. Amid the tension and genuine fear - because holy fuck, Ianto got eaten by a wall not half an hour ago - Rhys allowed himself to crack a smile for a second.
There was shouting in the distance. Very American shouting.
Gwen grabbed his wrist. "That's Jack, come on!" They ran towards the sound, the corridor slowly curving round until they ended up in a cavernous room.
It was better lit here, but there wasn't much of anything to see. A high vaulting ceiling rose up above them, somehow blurry around the edges, and the air beneath it was full of curling smoke. At ground level there was very little save a long table and one high-backed chair, currently occupied by one Ianto Jones.
Ianto looked remarkably calm, considering, a little tense about the jaw but sitting very still. Then Rhys spotted the tentacles encircling his arms like chains, clearly pinning him where he was.
Ianto's eyes widened at their entrance. "Ah, Gwen and Rhys, marvellous. You didn't bring dinner, did you? We could have quite the celebration going."
Jack shot a furious look in his direction, and Rhys figured he'd be in trouble later, but he didn't much care.
"You let him go, right now!" Jack yelled, waving his gun around a little wildly around the room.
"Jack has started negotiations without you, Gwen, as you can see," said Ianto.
"What on earth's going on?" she asked.
"Well, I got kidnapped through a wall by tentacles from outer space, and then the smoke aliens made me their king." At Gwen's incredulous look, he added, "I wish I were joking, believe me."
"Oh, to hell with this," Jack snapped, and strode forward to Ianto's chair. "I'm getting you out of here, okay?"
"Jack, I'm not sure that's the best way to--" Ianto started.
Too late. Jack grabbed the tentacles, attempting to wrest them away from the chair. He then issued an almighty yell and fell backwards, eyes wide and unseeing.
"Fuck!" That, apparently, was Rhys despite himself.
"Don't worry, he'll be back up and pissed off all over again in a minute," Ianto said. "Anyway, Gwen, where was I?"
"The smoke aliens made you their king," she said slowly.
"Right, yes. So apparently this species are mostly smoke-based, as you can see. And they've set up shop in this abandoned bit of Cardiff, all well and good - all right, not necessarily particularly well or good, but they don't seem to mean any harm."
"They've got you tied to a chair," Rhys couldn't help but point out.
"Mmm," Ianto agreed. "They like it here, and have decided that in order to better facilitate their stay on our dear planet they'd best have a human-smoke interface. Which is where I come in, apparently."
"So when you say king, it's really more of an administrative role," Gwen said, smirking.
"Hey! They think very highly of me, you know - liked the look of my scanner and all that."
Gwen and Ianto were both laughing, and then there was a startled gasp from the floor.
"Woah," Gwen said, running over to Jack's prone body. "I've got you, I've got you."
Jack jumped up, still looking livid.
"You-- what?" Rhys spluttered.
"Jack doesn't die," said Ianto. "You get used to it. Sort of."
Gwen was still looking amused.
"You're all entirely mad," Rhys said.
"Yeah, okay, Rhys, thanks for your input," Jack said. "Now stay where you are and don't say anything."
"Yeah yeah," Rhys muttered.
Jack looked up at the ceiling. "Is there anyone here who will talk to me?" he asked. "You've got one of my people, and I'd sure as hell like him back."
"We also like Ianto Jones," came a booming voice from somewhere. All four of them tilted their heads, looking for the source, but there was nothing obvious. "He will make an excellent host."
"Host?" Gwen gasped. "What exactly does that mean?"
"Ianto will be perfectly fine," the voice replied. "He will be our guide on your planet."
"I do already have a job," Ianto murmured.
"Yes, but you will be much better off with us. We will look after you."
"Ianto's our friend," Gwen countered. "We need him."
"We also need him," the voice replied, no change in tone.
"Do I get a say in this at all?" Ianto asked.
"It is not the host's place to choose, it is an honour and a privilege that is bestowed upon them."
"Of course it is." Ianto and Gwen exchanged a look.
Meanwhile, Jack was looking angry and commanding, and completely unnerved. Rhys felt an enormous pang of sympathy for the man, who clearly just wanted something to shoot at and have done with it.
"Look," Jack said, "Ianto's great, you like him, I get that. But you can't just acquire him, that's not how it works on this planet!"
"Isn't it? He works for you, Captain Harkness. Do you not also own him, to some degree? We do not wish to take away his freedom. He can live with us on the ship quite happily, and we will protect him."
"Bloody weird definition of freedom," Rhys muttered.
"Please," said Gwen. "Ianto is very dear to us. He's important to us, you would cause a lot of pain to his friends and family if you took him away. Isn't that right, Rhys?"
Rhys nodded vigorously. "Yeah, Ianto's a great bloke, we need him around."
"But think of the good it would serve, an interlink between two civilisations! We have so much to learn from each other."
"I'm sure that's true, but it isn't fair, and we can't allow it," said Gwen.
There was silence. Jack was staring at Ianto, and Rhys could read the expression on his face clear as day - I don't know what to do.
"Surely there are others who could fulfil Ianto's roles?" the voice said kindly.
"No," Jack said. "No, there--" His voice was cracking. "We couldn't replace him. I can't replace him."
More smoke started to drift down from the walls. It crossed Rhys' mind that it was looking at Jack keenly, which was a ridiculous thing to think about smoke. Nonetheless, wafts trailed out at some distance from Jack, turned in his direction. Jack looked at Ianto, looked back at the smoke.
"I've lost so many people," he said, so softly Rhys could hardly hear. "Sooner or later, time takes everyone away from me. You'd better believe I want to hang on to everyone who matters to me, everyone that I -- that I love -- for as long as I can, for as long as the world will let me And if you don't let Ianto go, if you don't give him back, then you'd also better believe that I will tear this place down, I will destroy you as an act of war, of vengeance for the grief you'll cause me."
Rhys shivered at the low menace in Jack's words. Gwen looked openly anxious. Ianto was practically unreadable - worried, maybe? But there was also something surprised and almost vulnerable in his expression that Rhys didn't really understand.
Jack stood stock still, a human challenging the gods, and everything was silent. More and more smoke began to drift into the room.
"Please," Jack said, sounding desperate now. "I can't lose him, not yet."
The whole room sighed, dozens of different sounds together in a slow exhale. "We are sorry," the voice said. "We did not realise - we had no idea this would cause such pain to you."
"This entire planet is bound by bonds of love," Jack said. He laughed quietly. "That's why I like it here so much."
"And yet you, Captain, you must break every one of those bonds, long outlive each circle of fellowship."
"Yes. And it's still worth it."
"We do not understand."
The smoke moved towards Jack, one tendril reaching out to brush his cheek. Jack shut his eyes. A moment, then the tentacles holding Ianto down flew upwards and away.
Ianto stood up quickly, flexing his wrists. "Thank you," he said, to Jack and the ship as a whole.
Jack strode over, grabbing Ianto's shoulder. "You all right?"
"Yeah, Jack, I'm fine."
"Okay." Jack didn't let go of him. "Okay."
The four of them turned towards the exit.
"Anyone know the way out?" Rhys asked nervously.
"This way," said the voice.
The smoke around them was illuminated now, little sparks flying back and forth within the clouds, and it moved forward, lighting a path.
"Wow," Rhys muttered. "That's cool."
Laughing, Gwen took his arm and ushered him back into the corridor.
Neither the smoke nor the tentacles followed them outside, and the four of them stood on the pavement where they had started.
"Well, how about that, eh?" Rhys said, spirits greatly improved after their success - which, granted, had very little to do with him. "So what happens to that lot now?"
Jack shrugged. "We'll keep an eye on them, make sure they don't take anyone else - they'll probably just pack up and go elsewhere."
"And that's it?"
"Yeah." Jack grinned suddenly. "Yeah, that's it, we're done." Jack was still holding Ianto, who didn't seem to mind, and-- Rhys felt a little slow on the uptake. Well, that made a kind of sense.
"Merry Christmas, then," Rhys said. "And if you call Gwen out again today I really will--"
"Now that really is unlikely," Jack cut in. "Don't you fret, she's all yours."
Gwen exchanged a quiet word with Ianto before wrapping him up in a hug, then turned to Jack and planting a kiss on his cheek. "Best hope I don't see either of you for a couple of days, yeah?"
"We do our best," Jack replied, smiling. "Merry Christmas, Gwen."
Rhys idly checked his watch. Oh, bollocks. "Gwen?"
"What is it?"
"Look at the time!"
"God. Right, we've got to run - we're being invaded by in-laws."
"Oh my, sounds dangerous," said Ianto. "Let us know if you need back-up, won't you?"
She laughed. "I'll be sure to."
They raced back home, Rhys coming up with an action plan as he drove. "You're going to have to be on peeling duty, I'm not letting you anywhere near the turkey but there's no way I can get everything done in time."
"I can peel!" Gwen protested.
"Yes, and if you could do so without seasoning it with bits of your fingers this time, that would be lovely."
When they stepped back into the flat, Gwen leaned against the front door for a moment, a hand on her waist.
"Your life is so mad," Rhys said.
She laughed. "Tell me about it. But I get to come back to you at the end of it."
"What, you saying I'm boring?"
"Yes, Rhys, I married you because you're the dullest man alive." Gwen moved up to him, one hand stroking his face.
He grinned and kissed her; he couldn't not. She hummed back into his mouth, pleased, sliding her hands up his chest.
"You know," he murmured, "we've got things-- peeling--"
"I know," said Gwen, and kissed him again.
"So," said Brenda, smiling beatifically over her second glass of wine. "How was your Christmas morning, you two? We went on the most lovely walk, didn't we, Barry?"
"Oh, you know," Rhys said, reaching to pass the potatoes round again. "Nothing really, nothing special."
Gwen, halfway through a glass of water, began a minute-long fit of coughing.