Title: The old oak tree
Characters: Jack Harkness
Length: 1,935 words
Content notes: none
Author notes: Written for Challenge 192 - Tree
Summary: Jack has come to say goodbye to an old friend.
Jack tucked his hands into pockets, staring across the lush green grass towards the heavy machinery now situated in the middle of the large park. There were several big trucks, a tall cherry picker style crane, and about a dozen men in bright high vis jackets standing about, each staring around and offering the others their opinions on how to best go about the task, pointing and gesticulating.
Ianto shambled up to stand next to him, offering him a paper cup, full of steaming hot coffee, against the chill of the morning. Reluctantly, Jack pulled his hands from his pockets and allowed the cup to warm them.
Ianto stifled the yawn rising inside him. It had been a long night, and he would have preferred to be in bed, safe in the knowledge that the spacecraft that had crashed here not eight hours ago was now safely ensconced back at the hub, and its less than peaceful occupants locked away, awaiting a Shadow Proclamation vessel to come pick them up and put them on trial for attempting to invade a Category Five planet.
They might have succeeded had they not crashed, losing a third of their crew. Even so, between the remaining crew, they had enough weapons and artillery to wipe out half of Europe. What they hadn't counted on was Torchwood; Jack having distracted their advance force, whilst Tosh installed a protective barrier, effectively cutting off their forces from their ship and their ability to launch weapons. It hadn't prevented them from taking shots at Jack, killing him, but it gave Owen, Gwen and Ianto time enough to return fire and eventually force their surrender.
'Why are we here, Jack?' Ianto asked. Had they missed clearing the area of some obvious piece of evidence? Sure, it had been dark, but the ship, damaged as it was, was still largely in one piece, able to be dragged away and loaded onto one of Harwoods largest trucks. All that was left now was the impressive divot in the grass, and the mangled old oak tree it had hit on its way down. That was the reason for all the men here now, called out to pull the tree down, too damaged to leave in its current state, and probably too damaged to heal itself.
The story had gone around that some drunken teenagers had stolen a car, tearing it around the park in mad circles until it finally wrapped itself around the old oak. No one had seen the car, nor its passengers, either before or after the incident, but that's what all the police reports said.
'Came to say goodbye to an old friend,' Jack replied, raising the cup to his lips and breathing in the heavenly scent, letting his exhale create a cloud of white in front of his face.
Jack inclined his head towards the gaggle of council workers and tradesmen, busy surrounding the thick trunk of the tree with broad strapping, trying to tether it upright from its knocked over angle, at least until they could cut some of the higher branches from the main body of the tree, steadying it for its ultimate removal.
'The tree?' Ianto asked, clutching his own coffee, needing it more for the caffeine than the warmth, though the warmth was a definite bonus.
'That oak tree has stood here for over two hundred years,' Jack stated.
'Finally something in Cardiff older than you,' Ianto quipped.
Old indeed. That oak had been just a young tree when Jack had first been stranded here, its bark still smooth and unweathered. It was the first to be planted in the new botanical gardens of the time, and over the next generation had devolved into a park for all the public to enjoy, with more oaks and birches planted, creating long avenues in some places, and sprawling gardens in others.
This particular one though was special for Jack. In the early days he'd slept under its leafy boughs through the mild summer months, and even some of the bitterest winter nights, kept warm by the alcohol running through his veins, thrown forcibly from the pubs too drunk to find proper shelter. Plenty of his pre-Torchwood days had been spent living rough.
Over the years, he'd enjoyed picnics here in the spring, sprawled on thick rugs, enjoying egg and lettuce sandwiches and lemonade, the weak Welsh sunshine breaking through the canopy of leaves overhead, and the sound of children and dogs running and squealing their delight.
He'd had occasion to spend afternoons there, lying in the grass, watching his lover of the time fussing over a canvas, trying to capture the simple beauty of the place. Jack would have preferred if he'd wanted to paint him, since he was sure he was the most appealing view in the park. Instead he'd left for Paris only a few weeks later. Jack had always known it would be short lived, just as his lover had been short-tempered and frustrated by a lack of creative inspiration.
He'd watched Lucia and their daughter collecting acorns beneath the grand boughs, his little girl fascinated by everything she touched. It left him wondering how life after so many decades had finally decided to grant him the kindness of a loving family. He should have known it wouldn't last. Being immortal and working for Torchwood was a recipe for disaster. He couldn't change who he was. All he could do was wait for his Doctor to return.
He'd chased plenty of weevils through the park, even clambering up into the twisted branches to get the jump on them, or to make a hasty escape when things had gone south on him. It turned out weevils couldn't climb trees, which was a handy thing to know.
He'd met Ianto for the first time, just a few dozen yards away from it, on just one of those occasions when his legs couldn't carry him far enough to reach his trusty refuge before the weevil was on top of him. He and Ianto had shared long walks through the park, hand in hand, enjoying the dappled sunlight on an autumn day, kicking through the red and golden leaves, listening to the satisfying crunch underfoot, and sometimes grabbing handfuls of them and throwing them like children tossing snowballs, forgetting age and responsibility for just a few minutes.
Yes, Jack and this tree went way back. He'd be sad to see it go, having stood there all those years, watching the world go by, just as he had. It would be slowly cut into more manageable chunks by disenchanted council workers, thrown through a woodchipper machine and ground up into little bits. It deserved a better end than this.
'It survived the winter of '65 and the rain of fire of '82.'
'Rain of fire?'
'Long story. I never imagined it would ever die. Always figured it might be the one thing to outlive me.'
'It gave its life for a noble cause,' Ianto replied. 'Had they not accidentally crashed into it, we'd probably all have been killed asleep in our beds before we even knew what had happened.'
It was true, Jack had to admit. He shuddered to think what might have happened had it not been for that one tiny stroke of misfortune. The precise how of the matter was yet to be determined. It was so unlike that species to be so incompetent. They could've landed in a dozen places clear of any obstacles, the plass, the Millennium Stadium, Ninian Park, the list went on. Perhaps they'd had mechanical problems. Tosh would be able to tell them in the coming days, once she'd taken a good look at it. For now, it seemed they'd all been saved by an act of serendipity.
As the sound of the first chainsaw fired up, Jack knew he'd seen enough. He didn't want to be here when they started hacking away at his old friend, leaving nothing but a gaping hole where it had once stood tall and proud.
'Time to go,' he said, throwing back the last lukewarm remnants of his coffee and handing it back to Ianto, before stalking back to the SUV. Ianto watched him go, collar pulled high, long strides putting distance between them.
It was a good three months later, when Ianto left work early one afternoon to take delivery of some furniture for his house. All Jack was concerned about was the word that a new bed was forthcoming, bigger than the one they currently had. Ianto's intention was to have everything unpacked and installed before Jack came home. It wasn't the bed he was planning on surprising Jack with.
Running a polish cloth over the new table, he admired the lovely colour of the timber. It was a fine replacement for the ratty old pine table that Ianto had never gotten around to upgrading or replacing since they'd moved in together properly. The chairs were equally pleasing, Their legs and backs artfully turned by hand, and it was nice to have a matching set for once. Nothing in his house had coordinated when he'd first moved in, a cobbled together hotchpotch of hand me downs from Rhiannon and his mum, stuff from his old flat in London, and a half a dozen items picked up along the way from discount retailers. It was slow going, but eventually everything would be replaced with nice new furnishings, coordinated and more suited to a proper house than a twenty something's bachelor pad.
'I'm home!' came the yell from down the halls, signalling Jack's arrival.
Ianto smiled inwardly, waiting for the big reveal.
'What's say we skip dinner and road test this new bed?' Jack said, stepping into the main living area.
'Well, we could,' Ianto said, 'but then you wouldn't get to enjoy dinner at our new table.'
Jack turned his head to look around Ianto at their new table and chairs.
'That wasn't the one we picked out,' he said.
'I thought you might like this better.'
Jack ran his fingers along the knobbled edge of it, the length of it cut from a single tree, and the bark on each side forming a rustic bevelled edge.
'It's incredible. Where did you find something like this? It must've cost a fortune.'
'The timber came surprisingly cheap. It only cost me a small bribe to a city council arborist. The man who built it is the one just outside the city that made those love spoons we bought. He was rapt to get the commission. I figured with a bit of care, that old oak might live to be enjoyed for a few hundred more years.'
Jack's head shot up. 'You mean it's?'
'Yes, Jack,' Ianto replied, loving Jack's priceless reaction. It was exactly what he'd been hoping for. It was nice to know he could still surprise Jack every now and then.
Jack ran his hand along the edge again, feeling that same of old gnarled bark he must have touched half a hundred times.
'It's perfect,' he said. 'You're perfect,' he added, coming over to hug his ever thoughtful lover.
'I know,' Ianto replied, letting Jack kiss him. 'Just keep that in mind the next time I screw something up.'
'Not gonna happen,' Jack said, grinning. 'Now what was it you said about dinner?'
'Good. I just hope you had this table built good and sturdy. I might want to have dessert here as well.'
Ianto laughed, giving Jack a playful peck on the cheek. 'It's oak. It'd take an alien spaceship to break that.'