Ianto stumbled. He was still too close to the noise to stop, he wanted to be somewhere quiet. Somewhere safe and private. He could still hear the chatter from the mix-and-match of emergency services personnel. He could still see the occasional red and blue light from one of the vans flickering off the trees. He could still smell... That smell... Oh fuck.
Ianto dropped to his hands and knees and vomited. In the back of his mind he was aware of the damp soaking through the knees of his trousers, and the short twigs scratching at his hands, but they didn't matter. It was the smell, the smell of blood and gore. He couldn't get it out of his nostrils. He heaved again.
He could hear someone coming up behind him. They weren't even being subtle about it, the ground was squelching where they stepped, the occasional stick snapping in two. Ianto quashed a sudden burst of panic and forced himself to be rational. It wasn't going to be one of... those people. It was probably just a paramedic, or some copper scouting for evidence, or maybe even Jack. Jack would be okay. If it was Jack, maybe he would...
"Ianto? Jesus mate, you're supposed to be in an ambulance on your way to the hospital by now."
Damn. Not Jack then. Not even close. Ianto moved to turn around, to explain that he would be fine once he got away from this place and all these people and that he really just wanted a few minutes peace and quiet, but even that minor movement didn't agree with him. His stomach spasmed and he started dry retching again.
Owen gave a tired sigh then came over to crouch next to him.
"Okay, fair enough. Just remember to breathe when you can," he said gently. Owen moved closer, crouching next to him. Ianto could feel him rubbing soothing circles on his back, calming and rhythmic. Surprisingly, it seemed to be working. His stomach muscles felt tired and achy, but they weren't spasming any more. His arms on the other hand had started shaking under his weight. Or possibly from nervous stress. Or a shortage of available adrenaline. He wasn't sure... Owen would probably know.
Ianto very cautiously pushed himself back from all fours, gingerly arranging himself so that he was sitting on his heels. So far so good.
"Feeling a better now?" Owen prompted. Ianto went to nod, but then remembered what had happened last time he moved his head too quickly. He closed his eyes instead.
"A bit," he murmured very quietly. Owen's hand moved up to the collar of Ianto's shirt, adjusting it so that the nape of his neck was exposed to the cool air. The change in temperature felt like bliss. His gut settled and his breathing eased.
"Good." Owen took his hand away, then started making rummaging sounds. Ianto cracked open one eye. There was some sort of bag, or maybe it was a box. There were markings on it. Ianto willed his brain to make the connection, but it refused.
Owen pulled out a handful of little paper packets, selected one and ripped it open. He pulled out a moist, papery looking piece of cloth.
A first aid kit, Ianto's brain finally decided. The box Owen had with him was a first aid kit. So those little packets must be...
"Here, wipe your mouth." Owen offered one of the alcoholic wipes. "No bottled water I'm afraid, you'll have to wait until we can get you back to the SUV to rinse your mouth out properly."
Ianto took the proffered wipe and pressed it to his lips. It stung where the alcohol touched the split in his lower lip, but at least it smelled clean. He went to return the cloth to Owen, who eyed it suspiciously before holding out an open plastic zip-lock bag. Ianto dropped the soiled fabric in obligingly.
The bag was quickly out of sight again. Ianto risked turning his head enough to look back at all the bustle out in the clearing. It showed no signs of dispersing, but at least the move didn't trigger off any fresh bursts of nausea., It did, unaccountably, set Owen off chuckling. Ianto looked at him in confusion.
"You look like a clown." Owen tried to explain, gesturing vaguely at Ianto's face. Ianto didn't follow, so Owen tried again. "You've got this round clean patch around your mouth, but the rest of your face is absolutely filthy. Like really bad clown makeup."
Ianto touched his mouth with a finger, testing it. Was Owen being deliberately confusing? His thoughts just didn't seem to want to stay where he put them any more. What did clowns have to do with anything?
"Here, sit still for a moment will ya?" Owen asked, ripping open another paper packet. "This might sting a bit." He carefully smoothed the alcoholic wipe across Ianto's forehead, then wiped smooth lines from the bridge of his nose down and across his cheek. Ianto twitched slightly at the physical contact, but it was brief and the touch was light. He pulled back when Owen went to wipe the dried blood from under his nose though.
"It's okay," Owen soothed, like he was talking to a small child, "almost done now."
Surprised at the tone, Ianto tried to look around for a child to whom it might have been directed, but Owen reached around to the back of Ianto's head with his free hand and held it still. Owen wiped away the dried blood with the paper towelette, then discarded it into the same bag as the previous one. He let his hand drop from the back of Ianto's head to the nape of his neck, resting his wrist on Ianto's shoulder.
"There, much better."
Ianto looked down at his lap, where his own hands were loosely clasped.
"Thank you." he offered. This tenderness from Owen was strange. Unexpected. Ianto expected frustration, or irritation, maybe some comment about his incompetence. He couldn't make sense of it.
"No problem mate, bit surprised the paramedics didn't give you a hand with it, to be honest. There's enough of them swarming around out there." Owen gave Ianto a pointed look. Unfortunately, Ianto's overly tired brain couldn't quite figure out what point the look was trying to convey.
He tried to remember the paramedics. There had been a young man, very earnest looking, with a uniform. He had done a lot of talking, then tried to undo Ianto's shirt. Ianto hadn't liked that. Too many people had been touching him already today, he didn't want anyone else joining in. Except that someone was touching him again now; squeezing his shoulder.
Oh right. Owen.
"That was supposed to be a bit of a prompt." Owen explained, tilting his head so that he could make eye contact with Ianto, "I was giving you an opportunity to explain what happened with the paramedic before. He told me he tried to examine you, but that you had some sort of panic attack? Tried to punch him, then ran off out here?"
Ianto thought very carefully about that. He could remember the paramedic, mostly. Young man. Earnest looking. Uniform. That part was clear enough. He was in the woods now, and the knees of his trousers were wet, that was pretty evident. He couldn't seem to find anything in between though. Every time he tried to pin down a memory in there it just slinked away again.
Owen looked worried about something.
"You're being a bit quiet. Is that 'cause you just don't want to say anything? Or are you having trouble talking?"
It was a little of both, he supposed. Ianto tried to decide between the two options, but he must have taken too long because Owen was squeezing his shoulder quite tightly now. "Ianto? Come on mate, snap out of it, there's a good man."
Owen seemed a little appeased by that, but not a lot. "That's okay, no harm done. Are you able to understand what I'm saying okay?"
Ianto nodded slowly, then decided that the point needed emphasizing.
"Yes," He said, trying to sound decisive, "yes, but..." how to explain the haze that had taken over his brain? How by the time he finished a sentence, he couldn't remember where it had started... "Everything keeps... Running away. Or sliding..." By the look Owen was giving him, Ianto was fairly sure he wasn't doing a very good job of explaining.
"You're feeling dizzy?" Owen tried to interpret. Ianto shook his head.
"Words. Won't stay still. In my head." That seemed to work. Owen was nodding now.
"Yeah, you're pretty exhausted, probably got a hell of a concussion. Dehydration won't be helping either. Do you know if you're bleeding anywhere?"
Ianto was thoughtful. "I don't really..." His sentence trailed off.
"Come on, we'll get you back to the paramedics."
Ianto shook his head.
"No. Wait here until they're quiet. Go home." he was quite impressed by that. Three whole sentences. Well, one sentence and two bits of sentences. Did two bits make a one sentence? Did that mean it was two sentences? And why wasn't Owen looking impressed at his newfound coherence?
"Don't think that's gonna work mate, not this time. You need proper medical attention."
Ianto shook his head vigorously in frustration, then immediately regretted it. The world tilted dramatically to his left. He tried to compensate, jerking his body hard to the right, but then the world started spinning and he felt his body hit something hard.
"Shit! Hey, can I get a hand over here? Anyone!"
That must have been Owen again. Why did he have to be so loud? Ianto cracked open an eye, even though he couldn't actually remember closing them. Everything was sideways. Even Owen was the wrong way up.
"Ianto? I'm just gonna check your head, okay? Don't try and move, don't try and sit up. You're safe, I'm just gonna do a really quick check. Okay? Ianto?"
Ianto tried to nod, but gravity seemed to have shifted ninety degrees along with the rest of the world, so the end result was more of a head roll than a nod. That must have been enough for Owen though, because Ianto felt cool, rough fingers press gently along his hair line and brush down the back of his neck. Then the fingers moved back to the front of his head and starting carding through his hair, systematically evaluating every inch of his skull.
He tensed every time the fingers encountered a bruise or a scratch, and every time there was some sort of soothing response from Owen. Calming sounds that meant nothing, but were reassuring nonetheless. Ianto felt his body start to relax, and was pleasantly surprised to find that when he let his neck go limp his head settled on something soft and smelling of Owen. Further evaluating its texture, and the irritatingly placed zip, Ianto came to the conclusion that it was a bundled up jacket.
"Won't you get cold?" he mused, more to himself than to Owen.
"Freezing." Owen replied. "Ianto, I don't think the ambo's can hear me, so I'm going to have to leave you for a moment to get a stretcher. I'll be back before you know..."
Ianto reached out frantically, trying to catch Owen's hand. Or any part of Owen he could reach, really.
"Stay! Don't leave me alone with them!" Oh God, he sounded like a frightened child. Maybe Owen hadn't noticed?
"I know mate, but I really need to get you into an ambulance, and you're not in a fit state to walk. You'll be in my line of sight the whole time." Owen caught Ianto's flailing wrist, gave it a gentle squeeze, then rested it on Ianto's chest. "I want you to start at thirty, and count backwards. I'll be back before you reach one, okay? Thirty... Twenty nine..."
Ianto tried to nod again, but decided that it required far too much coordination, so tried instead to join in Owen's counting game.
"Twenty eight... Twenty nine... seven! Twenty seven..." His eyes felt so heavy. It was sort of dark, like twilight, so it would be okay if he just drifted off for a bit. Owen would wake him up when he..."
"Ianto? Rise and shine, don't want you dozing off on us before we're sure that concussion's not a risk. You still with us?"
"Good guess. Look, we're going to have to do a little bit of manhandling here to check you and get you onto the stretcher, but once we're done it's going to be a nice smooth ride back into Cardiff okay?"
Ianto thought about this for a moment. "I lost count" he apologized.
"Of what?" Owen asked. He sounded distracted. "You two go round to that side.... no, no sign of spinal injury..." There were other voices nearby. Talking to each other, sounding authoritative. Ianto didn't like them, he wanted them to go away. Didn't they understand that he came out here to get away from the noise?
"The numbers. You told me to count but I lost track. There was a twenty seven I think. Was it important?"
"Twenty seven eh? Told you I'd be back in no time." Owen still sounded distracted. It was probably those other people, distracting him. They should go away. "Yeah, I'm still worried about internal bleeding. He wouldn't let the last guy see, but as far as I can gather it was pretty rough."
"Owen? Who are you talking to?" Ianto asked. That seemed to get his attention.
"The paramedics. They're here to help me move you, remember?"
Ianto shook his head carefully. He didn't remember that. When had that happened? He tried to remember. There had been a paramedic. Young guy. Earnest looking. Was Owen talking again?
"...your shirt. Just going to check for any obvious bleeding, okay? So we don't hurt you when we move you."
Ianto looked at Owen with confusion. Why would his shirt be bleeding? And why did they want to move him? He'd be fine if the noisy people would just go away and leave him. Owen could stay though. He was being nice. That didn't make any sense either, because Owen was normally mean, but Ianto didn't mind. It was nice that Owen was being... nice.
There was something moving on his chest! Something cold, metallic. Oh God, they had a knife, they were cutting him, slicing into him! He kicked out hard with his foot, making skirting contact with something fleshy. It yelped.
He seized his chance and pushed up from the ground hard. One arm reacted faster than the other though, and so his body ended up twisted around his waist. He gasped as his bruising suddenly made itself known, and in that moment of weakness he felt two sets of hands grasping at his shoulders. He tried to shake them off, but every movement hurt.
"Ianto? Come on, enough of that. Calm down. Ianto?"
He felt so breathless, weak. He couldn't hold himself up against the hands which kept pushing him back down. He felt a sob well up in his chest. He didn't want to give those monsters the satisfaction, but he just couldn't control it.
"Come on now, in and out, in and out, no passing out, you hear?"
Owen was back. Why had he left? Didn't he know what they were trying to do to him?
"Cut me!" Ianto tried, angrily, to articulate.
"No, it's okay, no skin broken, we were just trying to get your shirt off. Scissors are gone now. Won't try that again. You back with us now?"
Ianto blinked. He could see the canopy from the trees directly above him. Trees and Owen. And two other people he didn't know, one sitting a few paces back from his foot looking unimpressed. But at least Owen was here again. Kneeling on the ground beside him, close and safe. Protective. Except Owen was talking the strangers again, instead of him.
"...hell of a lot of bruising, could well be something internal as well. Still, better to move him now than later."
Whatever Owen was talking about, it meant something to the two strangers because they both started moving at once. Ianto shied away from them, pushing himself up against Owen's knees. Owen rubbed at his arm reassuringly.
"We're going to have to roll you onto your side, mate. It's going to irritate the bruising a bit, but it's for the best. Once we get you in an ambulance I can give you something for the pain, and the ambos can get you into the hospital. We'll count to three, then roll you, right?"
"No!" Ianto exclaimed, "Don't leave me with them!"
Owen looked momentarily surprised by Ianto's assertiveness.
"No problems mate, I'll come with you. I'll even sit in the back of the ambulance if it makes you feel better."
"Yeah, I'll stay with you. Still gotta get you on a stretcher though. On three, okay?"
Owen looked nice when he smiled. The other people around him just looked... professional. Moving around him, all organisation and determination. Intense.
"Count with me, one... two... three."
God, his stomach hurt. It felt hot and swollen. The world was moving, that was the problem. Every pressure on his body hurt. He tried to see if the swelling really was as big as it felt, but his head was too heavy. Everywhere he looked he saw static, as though the world was playing on an analogue TV set with bad reception. He'd seen that before, he knew what that meant.
"Gonna faint... Owen?"
"I'm still here. Try to take slow, deep breaths, in and out, in and out, in and..."
And then everything went black.