The SUV screeched off the road, jumping the curb and stopping inches from a large tree. Jack climbed nonchalantly from behind the wheel, without a care for the beautifully planted gardens he’d driven over in his haste. Ianto was more circumspect, alighting slowly and carefully, picking his way over the myriad plants showing through the drifts of snow.
“Jack... while I appreciate the sense of urgency these alerts bring, it might be more prudent if you used the designated parking next time. If for no other reason than I wouldn’t have to wade through a foot of snow just to get out of the bloody SUV.”
“Where’s your sense of fun, Ianto?”
“It’s buried, along with my dignity, my dress shoes and the bottom of my suit.”
“Lighten up! If I parked the SUV neatly, I’d only be delaying the inevitable. Think of it as me doing you a favour – you were going to get covered in snow anyway, I just sped the process along.”
“Somehow I knew you’d find a valid reason for your atrocious driving and parking.”
“It’s a skill, baby. Now, business. The Rift alert was about 100 metres deeper into the park, behind these trees. There’s no hope for it, we’ll have to make a trail through this snow to find it.”
“Oh, joy... or, we could just take the path over there.” Ianto pointed to his left, where a winding path, neatly shovelled, was visibly dark against the pristine white snow.
“Or we could take the path. Sometimes, Ianto...”
“Yes, I know... I take the fun out of everything.”
“Well, not everything. Just... haven’t you ever made your own trails, like an explorer? Pretended that you were the first one to ever set foot some place?”
“Sure I have, Jack... when I was five. I was also dressed in snow boots and a heavy parka, a warm hat, scarf and mittens. My Mam made sure I wouldn’t freeze my arse just so I could play in the snow.”
“And boy am I glad she did! Your suits wouldn’t look nearly as good without your arse to fill them out.”
Ianto shook his head, a wry smile on his face. Even when working, Jack still managed to turn the simplest of statements into some kind of innuendo. He turned his mind back to the task at hand, looking down the path, a warm glow through the trees their likely destination.
“Jack,” he pointed ahead, “there... you see it? That glow... you think that might be what we’re looking for?”
Jack opened his Manipulator, pressing buttons in a seemingly random manner, frowning at the readout, then snapped it closed, a familiar look of determination on his face.
“Yeah... it’s alien, all right. Just... not something I’ve seen before. We’ll take it slow... stay behind me... keep your weapon out, but leave the safety on for now.”
He started walking forward; slow, deliberate steps that brought him ever closer to the light shining through the trees. Ianto stayed hard on his heels, his own weapon held steady in his hands, as he scanned the area around them, watching for anything out of the ordinary. After long, agonizing minutes, they broke through into a small clearing, the path leading directly to a circular green in the centre. The glow was emanating from the middle of that spot – a small Christmas tree, about four feet tall, covered in white fairy lights that glowed with an ethereal beauty against the surrounding snow.
Both men stopped, staring in wonder at the sight before them. They turned to each other, both lowering their weapons in surprise, eyes huge and jaws wide.
“Is... is that really... I mean, am I really...?” Ianto could barely manage coherent words, let alone an actual sentence. Somehow, though, Jack understood exactly what he was asking.
“Yeah... it is. That tree is definitely alien. It may look like it belongs here, but it sooo doesn’t. We need to bring it back to the Hub.”
“Oh, Gwen’s going to love this. She’s going to want to keep the bloody thing.”
“It’s not a pet, Ianto. For all we know, it’s got legs and will run us down, maybe use body parts as decorations.”
“There’s a cheery thought.”
They moved closer to the tree, prepared to pick it up and take it back to the SUV. A sudden movement to Jack’s right had him throwing out an arm, halting Ianto in his tracks. Making its way out from the trees at the side of the clearing was a large candy cane, approximately the same size as the tree, traditionally striped in red and white. What wasn’t traditional was the fact that it was moving under its own steam, two stubby legs working hard to propel it through the heavier drifts of snow until it reached the tree.
“I’ve seen and read a lot at Torchwood, Jack... but I honestly think this might be the strangest thing ever.”
“Sooo... not come across something like this in the Archives, then? Because I sure as hell haven’t seen anything like this - not here on Earth or anywhere else in the Universe.”
The two men stood and watched, completely bemused, as the candy cane finally reached the tree and proceeded to beat itself against the branches, bending and stretching in a frenzy of stripy movements that had Jack and Ianto dizzy. It danced around the tree, jumping up and down, twisting and turning, all the while hitting the branches as hard as possible. The lights on the tree flickered, glowing brighter, then dimmer, finally flashing on and off completely in a parody of disco lighting, odd colours now interspersed with the brilliant white.
There was a final flash of bright white, making both Jack and Ianto throw their hands up over their eyes. As the spots died behind their eyelids, and darkness settled, they cautiously opened their eyes, shielding with hands in case of more blinding flashes. Instead of a steady glow of ethereal white, a myriad of colours lit the clearing. They dropped their hands, taking a closer look, disbelief the final emotion settling on their faces.
The tree was the only thing left in the clearing. Instead of steady white lights, it now had blinking colour all over it, flashing merrily as if each light was gasping for air. Covering the tree, from the tip to its base, were thousands of strings of silvery tinsel, glittering in the blinking lights. There was no sign of the giant candy cane – instead, hanging from nearly every branch, was a miniature version, swinging slightly in the night breeze.
Ianto turned to Jack, one eyebrow raised, patent disapproval on his face. “Jack... tell me what I think just happened did not just happen.”
Jack laughed. “Oh, it happened all right. That candy cane just beat off that tree. It came – pretty violently, I’d say – hence the tinsel. As for the candy cane, its climax is probably how it’s spread from one end of the tree to the other.”
“Fuck. I am never going to be able to eat a candy cane again. Shame, too – I really liked them. So, what are we going to do?”
“Well, we should take it in, but...” he took a quick reading of his wrist strap, “it’s gone completely dormant now. Totally innocuous - just your common or garden variety Christmas tree with sparkly lights, tinsel and something good for the kids to eat.”
“Jack! We can’t let the kids eat those candy canes – there’s no telling what might happen.”
“There’s probably nothing wrong with them, but if you’re that worried about them, we can collect them and destroy them.”
“You really think they’ll be okay?”
“Yeah, I do. The kids will think it’s a great present from Santa. Trust me, by this time tomorrow, there won’t be a piece left on this tree.”
“Okay. I trust you – sometimes I don’t know why, but I do.”
Ianto moved over to the tree, plucking three of the small candy canes off and tucking them into his pocket.
“Hey! If you aren’t going to eat them, why are you taking some?”
Ianto smirked, a familiar devious expression on his face, one that never failed to send a rush of desire through Jack. “Owen loves a candy cane stirrer with his hot chocolate.”
Jack threw his head back and laughed, true mirth that warmed Ianto through on the chill night. No matter what weirdness they encountered, they still managed to find humour in it, something for which he would be forever grateful.