Ianto Jones had been surprised by how fast they were back.
They came out of the darkness and emptiness beside him when he woke up in the middle of the night. They fled the cold of the vacated place right next to him, digging into his flesh to gather in his stomach, gnawing at it painfully. Since then they did not leave him, causing constant, agonizing pain, like his stomach was full of rats.
It was all consuming.
Not so long ago Ianto had thought that that was everything. It had felt like it was all he was, not an inch of him that did not hurt. He had not been able to believe that it could get better. His life was a mess, consisting only of chaos and pain and he was unable to change that.
Until life had changed.
The void in Ianto's bed had been filled by a caring, compassionate, and loving being, a man he respected and fell in love with.
Back then Ianto had thought that life was not that bad after all. Dragged out of the darkness of his despair he started to live again, with Jack by his side. His saviour. The next weeks passed in a haze of happiness.
The unfortunate day of Abaddon's defeat would remain burnt into Ianto's memory. The fear, no, the panic he had felt when they arrived at the green area Gwen had brought Jack to. The former police officer had knelt in the grass, holding Jack in her arms and weeping heartbrokenly.
Despite all they knew about his immortality Jack stayed dead.
And the rats returned.
A kiss of life… Who would have thought that Gwen would bring him back? And why was it Gwen who brought him back? I was so happy to see him, alive, that I forgot everything. Why was it so awkward to go to him? It's not as if we've been just colleagues. We've been a lot more than that.
He hugged and kissed me.
It had been hard to stand back and watch how he hugged and comforted Owen. Of course Ianto understood where their need for reassurance came from and that it did not mean anything, at least nothing beyond being team mates and friends. Still it hurt.
Like it hurt that Gwen brought him back.
How often had Ianto been tempted to kiss Jack while he lay dead in the vaults? How often did he stand and watch Gwen who could not be moved from Jack's side? How often had he wished for Rhys to storm in and pull her away? Jack was not hers.
Why did he not go and chase her away?
Why did he not stand by his man?
Ianto did not know the answers and in the night after Jack's resurrection, in Ianto's bed, Jack could not answer them either.
But Ianto forgot about his remorse when Jack kissed him. Kisses led to caresses, caresses to their blissful union. It was not the last time that night that they rose on the crowns of waves of delight before they fell into undisturbed sleep.
It was a great day. They had saved the world, Jack was back from the dead, and Ianto was happy in his position as lover. Ianto knew that it was different for Jack. He did not expect him to invest as much in their relationship as he did. After all, for Jack this was just like a blink of the eye. Ianto did not doubt that Jack loved him back, but it certainly was a different kind of love. But he was content with what he got, even though there still might be one more secret, one more unsolved riddle. Thanks to Jack Ianto was feeling alive.
Now Ianto was on his way back to the Hub, Tosh and Owen walking beside him. They came from a coffee run, entered the tourist information and Owen pressed the button for the hidden door. From there they took the elevator down. When they stepped through the opening cog door they were greeted by a worried sounding Gwen.
"Did you see Jack on your way in?"
Ianto was confused. No, they had not seen him. He's in his office, isn't he?
Gwen's face darkened with confusion, too. "He was just here," she said, tonelessly, "Something's taken him. Jack's gone."
The impact of her words drove the wind out of Ianto's lungs. He gasped for breath. Both coffee cups in his hands started to shake. In trance he walked towards the bathroom, putting the cups down on some furniture he passed. He did not notice on what. He did not know how he reached the toilet either.
His stomach lurched. Ianto did not want to feel that way, but he could not influence his emotions. All he knew was that Jack was gone and he hurt beyond belief.
Jack told me that he would leave one day. He was waiting for his time-travelling companion, try to find out what happened to him, try to find a way to fix him.
Tears shot into his eyes he did not want to let fall.
I knew that he would not stay, dammit! Why am I so surprised? Why does it hurt that much? I should not be that surprised. I should be happy for him. Now he can sort out his issues. It's important for him. Who am I to want to stop him from that?
He could not help his tears. One slipped out of the corner of his eye and rolled over his cheek. It cleared the way for the others that flew out now unstoppably. Ianto staggered and searched for support, but all he found was the naked wall and he slid down against it, coming to sit on the cold tiles.
Tears? Ianto could not explain them. I wasn't able to cry when he did not come back after defeating Abaddon. Why is his leaving so different? He told me so, for God's sake!
Helplessly he sat on the floor, gasping for breath because his nose already was blocked and hoping that none of his colleagues would get the idea to check on him. It would be too embarrassing to be caught crying.
No such luck.
The door opened a crack and Toshiko slipped in.
"Ianto?" she asked hesitantly.
He heard her footsteps. Go away, he wanted to scream, but no sound came over his quivering lips. So she sat down beside him, wordlessly, pulling him into her embrace and holding him tight.
It's too much! Ianto thought. I can't believe this is happening. Next year, maybe later… A sob escaped him. Not now! Not now! Too early. Too short a time. We've only had weeks. Jack!
There was no holding back. Tears were running freely now as he clung to Tosh like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. Gently rubbing circles on his back she tried to soothe him humming a simple melody over and over again.
Eventually his sobs ceased. Once Ianto realized what had happened he blushed deep crimson. Tosh! Oh, no!
It just was so unfair. They had just found their love and were happy for the first time after what felt like an eternity.
And Jack just walked away.
"Ianto?" Tosh asked softly because she felt him tense again.
At once he got even more tense, going rigid in her comforting embrace. He straightened up and withdrew from her hold. A moment later he was able to get up and he turned to the washbowl to clean his face and wipe away the traces of his tears. Then he got his suit back in order and took a deep breath.
Ready to face them? Ianto asked himself. Got no choice, huh?
In the mirror Toshiko could see his features harden, locking away his grief deep in his soul.
He was like that after Lisa died, she remembered. That's not good. That's not good at all.
"Thanks, Tosh," Ianto said tonelessly as he turned to leave the bathroom. "I'm fine."
No, you're not, she screamed inwardly, but could not get a word out. Helplessly she watched him go, her thoughts a jumble. She wanted to stop him, talk with him about what happened, but she sensed that he would not do that. Hesitantly she followed him.
Out in the central Hub they met Owen and Gwen. Owen sat at a workstation while Gwen crouched on the couch, watching him wearily.
"I don't understand it. Where did he go? What's taken him? Owen? Why did he leave us?"
"Does it matter?" Owen spat. "He's gone. We never knew anything about him and now he just left. Are we surprised? Yes and no. We should make the best out of it."
"Make the best out of it?" Toshiko blurted out. "Owen! It's Jack you're talking about! Maybe he's in trouble. Maybe he needs our help."
"Oh, c'mon, Tosh," Owen protested in his characteristic whine, "Who are you trying to kid?" His gaze fell on Ianto. "Why don't we ask our teaboy? Chances are that he knows where Jack's gone."
Ianto chose to ignore the jibe and headed for the stairs leading to the kitchen with his big silvery coffee machine.
I doubt that he knows anything, Toshiko thought as she watched him go. He wouldn't have reacted like he did if he knew what Jack planned… or did it hurt him so much because he knew?
"Owen, why are you always picking on Ianto?" Gwen asked tiredly.
"Picking on him?" Owen snorted. "For you being so smart it's a sin that you never notice what's happening right under your nose, PC Cooper."
"Didn't you notice that Jack's shagging the teaboy? Dear little Ianto's always eager to comply with his master's wishes, even in bed."
Owen never saw it coming. He did not hear the fast approaching steps and he still did not know what hit him when Ianto's fist collided with his face.
Rage instead of embarrassment coloured Ianto's cheeks as he followed the stumbling medic and punched him a second time with a straight left that belied the support man's suave appearance.
None of them ever took Ianto seriously when he looked angry and crossed his arms over his chest. At every occasion he did that he turned out to be mocking them. Honestly angry they had seen him only once, right in front of the water tower after they had just escaped the Hub and the Cyberwoman was trapped inside. Just like Owen now, Ianto had punched Jack. They had to hold their co-worker back to keep him from lunging out at Owen again.
"Ianto!" Gwen shouted and tried to take hold of his arm. "Don't!"
As suddenly as he exploded Ianto came back to a semblance of calm. Without even glancing at Owen who still was on the ground he walked to the cog door and left the Hub, leaving three stunned colleagues behind.
Three months had passed since Jack left to find his Doctor.
Three months during which Ianto merely tried to survive, being thoroughly not challenged by his duties of doing background research, cleaning up after them no matter if it was on the job or at the Hub, and making coffee. Ianto wanted more. Carrying a gun all the time was just one thing he did to adapt to his colleagues. He went out with them on field missions. Hunting down Weevils could be satisfying.
But the high never lasted for long.
Now they sat in the SUV, chasing a blowfish. An old woman gave them a direction when they thought that they lost it. Then they could see the car. In an incredible stunt, while Gwen took the steering wheel Owen climbed halfway out the window and shot the tires, making the blowfish stop. It fled into a house and now they were trying to stop it from killing the daughter of the unsuspecting family.
"So this is Team Torchwood. The teacher's pets," it mocked them, staring at the guns directed at it in turns. "But teacher's gone, hasn't he? Leaving the kiddy-kids all alone. And look at you, trying so hard to be all grown up."
It looked pointedly at Owen who squatted beside the father on the ground and hissed, "The Doctor, with his hands full of blood." Then it moved its attention to Gwen who held back mom, "The Carer, with her oh-so-beating heart," to turn to Toshiko next, "The Technician, with her cold devices. Which leaves me, with the Office Boy, promoted beyond his measure."
Ianto felt chills shoot down his back. With both his hands he held the gun aimed at the blowfish's head. He did not know if he could shoot. Despite all the hours he had spent at the shooting range he still did not know if he could pull the trigger when he actually had to.
He was scared to death and desperately hoped that no one, least of all the fish, would notice.
"All of you, lost without your master," the humanoid creature with a head not unlike a lion fish's rambled on, "All of you, pretending to be so brave. All of you, so scared. So, what about it, minion?"
It stared right at Ianto and he thought it could look right into his soul.
"Can you do it?" it challenged. "How good are you? How sharp is your aim?"
Good question, Ianto thought.
"What if you kill her? What if I kill her first? Can you shoot, before I do?"
That's what I'd like to know, too. Ianto grew more anxious by the second. His features, though, remained stern, concentrated. He could not fail. He had to save her.
"Can you?" the fish dared. "Dare you?"
Seconds. The fish moved from one side of the girl to the other, never releasing the grip on the gun, always holding it against her head, ready to shoot her. Ianto knew he would only have a second, maybe less. When it came he had to be prepared, had to see it, had to shoot.
"Will you? Won't you?"
Ianto could not. His hands gripped the gun tight. It was slightly shaking in his hold.
Hit in the head the blowfish just fell backwards, its brain splattering all over the wall and curtains.
Stunned Ianto stared at his weapon. He turned it, still shocked by what happened. Ianto could have sworn that he did not shoot. But if he did not shoot, who did?
"Hey kids," a familiar male voice astonished them more than the unexpected shot.
All their heads whipped around to stare with amazement at Jack who stood just a few steps behind Ianto, gun still in hand, grinning roguishly.
"Did you miss me?"
What happened next all vanished in a blur. Ianto experienced everything in kind of a detached way. They cleaned up the scene of the death of the blowfish and returned to the Hub with the dead creature. It was an awkward ride and they were glad when they could get out of the SUV. Down in their headquarters Gwen started to arrange what they had to do to cover up the incident.
At some point Jack cut in, remarking that they got pretty organized. Ianto did not get Gwen's response or what else they said. He just could stare at Jack and listen to his voice. He wanted to get lost in those blue eyes, melt into Jack's embrace, and kiss and screw him senseless.
At the same time Ianto was mad as hell at his lover. When he had said that he would leave one day he did not mention that he would just vanish without a word or a hug or anything of goodbye.
"Where were you?" Tosh demanded to know.
"I found my Doctor," Jack said and Owen cut right in.
"Did he fix you?"
"What's to fix?" Jack joked with a dazzling grin. "You don't mess with this level of perfection!"
Ianto hesitated to talk. He did not trust his voice. "Are you going back to him?" he finally asked.
Jack looked him down and up and said quietly, "I came back for you."
Just for a second his eyes met Ianto's. The younger man heard Jack's words and did not dare to hope that they were true.
Out of shifty eyes Jack looked around before he added a little louder, determined, "All of you."
The gazes of all four of them lay on him, scrutinizingly.
He was saved by bleeping sounds, the Rift alert. Team Torchwood turned and headed out.
The last hours had been hell. Ianto could not say that he would miss those memories if someone tried to ret-con him. Nobody did try, but still it was a nice thought to probably get rid of them. That bloody Captain John Hart had toyed with them real bad and almost got Gwen killed when that bloody bomb clawed at his flesh and could not be removed.
Was there anything during those hours he would miss if it was gone?
He certainly would not miss being shoved into the elevator at gunpoint, being told that his team mates were dying, and being forced to let Hart have his way.
Eye candy. Ianto snorted. Reduced to just looking good. I can do without that.
The only thing he would probably regret forgetting was what brought him here: the most peculiar invitation he ever got.
He and Jack had been in the building Toshiko had pointed out as possible location of one of the missing canisters. They were searching an office and Jack revealed a fetish for offices when he enthused over photocopying backsides… Ianto's backside as they happened to be there.
Quickly Ianto had distracted him by musing about where the canister might have landed, the floor they were on or the roof.
"How are you Ianto?" Jack had asked, sounding slightly confused.
"All the better for having you back, sir."
"Can we maybe drop the sir, now?" Jack clearly became insecure. Something that happened so rarely that Ianto could not help but be less angry at him. He had wanted to give him the cold shoulder, but maybe he would not.
"While I was away," Jack said, "I was thinking… Maybe we could, when this is all done… Dinner? A movie?" Pausing in what he was doing he stared straight at Ianto.
And Ianto felt butterflies in his stomach. He did not want to think about that. He remembered his pain when he lay in his empty bed, clutching at the blankets that still smelled like Jack, crying his soul out for his lost lover. That was something he did not want Jack to know. He also did not want to forget too easily.
"Are… you asking me out on a date?" he heard himself ask back. Shit! You didn't say that, did you?
"Interested?" Jack replied, innocence incarnate.
"Well… as long as it's not in an office," Ianto said and could have smacked himself. "Some fetishes should be kept to yourself." Inwardly he rolled his eyes. You're still mad at him, Ianto Jones, he scolded himself. You shouldn't encourage him like that!
Fortunately Jack changed the topic back to their problem at hand. Only when he was about to leave for the roof he had asked, "By the way… Was that a yes?"
"Yes!" Ianto blurted out, feeling like the last lovesick idiot. "Yes."
Seeing Jack's grin of glee had been priceless, though. That was something that could make up for memories of Captain John Hart. Pushing the door open with his shoulder Jack left.
And no, Ianto did not want to think about what happened afterwards… not again. He did not want to think about it ever again.
Right now Ianto did not want to think about anything but the man sitting across from him. A roguish smile played around his lover's lips as he watched Ianto in return.
"Jack?" Ianto said. "How did we end up on a roof?"
"It's not a roof, cariad," Jack replied with a broad grin. "It's a terrace."
"On a roof."
Ianto scowled at him.
"It's the best restaurant in Cardiff," Jack explained. "It's not my fault that it's placed on the top floor of the highest building."
"The second best restaurant of Cardiff on ground level would have been fine, too," Ianto said sternly.
"For you, Ianto, only the best is good enough."
"That's why you left?"
Jack felt the impact of those words like the blast of a Dalek blaster. After a moment's hesitation he replied tonelessly, "You know why I left."
"You told me a reason."
"And you don't believe me?" Jack eyed him curiously.
"You also told me why you came back."
Jack was at a loss. What was he supposed to say? What did Ianto want to hear?
For several minutes Jack could do nothing but sit there and think about what to say. Ianto just sat across from him and held his stare, his questioning gaze forcing Jack to make a decision. When their waiter passed them again Jack gestured him to stop. The man collected two glasses from the neighbouring table before he sat his tray down there and turned to Jack and Ianto, now fishing his pad out to take a possible order.
"What can I do for you, sir?"
"You could wrap up our order as meals to go, please," Jack said, pushing a twenty in the surprised man's hand and offering him one of his most dazzling smiles. "Thank you."
Suspiciously Ianto eyed his lover. What is Jack up to?
Both men sat in silence, occasionally sipping at their respective drinks, until the waiter returned with a bag containing their meals. Jack paid and stood, reaching out for Ianto's hand.
"Come," he murmured. "Let's go elsewhere."
Hesitantly Ianto complied. The elevator ride downstairs was silent and awkward. Neither of them spoke, neither on the way to their car nor during the drive out of Cardiff.
Where's he taking me? Ianto wondered.
While they were driving darkness was falling. Jack took a road along the coast and finally directed the car off the road down a field path that ended on a beach. After he stopped Jack took their meals and a blanket from the backseat and carried both out on the beach. There he spread the blanket on the sand, put the food down on it and returned to the car. Gently he coaxed Ianto to come with him.
"Close enough to ground level now?" Jack asked, uncorking a wine bottle he had ordered together with their meals. "Sorry, only have plastic cups here."
"That's fine," Ianto said and sat down on the blanket, receiving one of the cups from Jack. As he was tasting it he risked to glance at Jack who now arranged his legs with sitting on the ground. With astonishment he watched how Jack produced silverware that looked suspiciously like the one they had at the restaurant. It did not really go in line with the plastic bowls the kitchen staff had provided for the take-away, but for some odd reason it was perfect for their spontaneous picnic.
Ianto had to admit that the food was excellent. And it was all the better for having dinner on the shore with the man he loved. Ianto could have put up with the rooftop restaurant, but he definitely preferred the beach. Here they would have the chance to talk openly.
For now they enjoyed their dinner, sitting beside each other and looking out over the sea. The salty air washed over them with a soft breeze coming from the ocean. Both ate slowly, enjoying every bite. Once they were finished and Jack had put the dishes aside they just sat and marvelled at the surf rolling on the shore.
Ianto thought about what he wanted to ask Jack, but could not come up with anything, and Jack seemed to be content with just sitting in silence with him. Out of the corner of his eye Ianto saw something white flash beside him, Jack's teeth as he grinned and then dropped backwards on the blanket. Surprised Ianto looked around at him, then he lay down, too. Listening to the waves crashing on the shore they stared at the cloudless sky, mesmerized by the sight of the stars.
"Which one is Boeshane?" Ianto suddenly asked.
"I have no idea," Jack replied, slightly amused because he really did not know where to search for the planet he was born on.
"Oh." Ianto was honestly surprised. "I would have thought you'd know where your home world is."
For another moment Jack remained silent.
"Oh, I know," he then rasped.
"It's… one thing I learned from the Doctor," Jack said, his voice loaded with emotion. "To know home you've got to look into your heart."
"And there you can see Boeshane?" Ianto's voice sounded husky, too. "In your memories?"
That's another thing I see, Jack thought. His heart beat wildly, threatening to burst out of his chest. Now or never!
"I see you… cariad."
"Me?" Ianto gasped, incredulous.
His body froze. He just could not move a muscle. He just could not voice anything. I see you, cariad. Those four words sent him reeling. Home world. Me. He equalled both…
Ianto's heart flew out to Jack. Forgotten were his actions. Just his last words counted.
When he turned his head he looked directly into Jack's blue eyes. The captain had propped himself up on one elbow, smiling down at him.
"What is it, Ianto?" Jack asked anxiously. His fear amplified as Ianto did not answer at once.
"Hold me," Ianto whispered.
At once Jack's strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him into a tight embrace. Ianto returned the gesture wholeheartedly. For long minutes they just lay there, a tangle of limbs, and revelled in the feel of the other.
"No secrets," Ianto murmured.
"No secrets?" Jack was confused.
"I'll tell you mine and you'll tell me yours."
Extricating himself from Ianto's hold Jack backed off a little. Surprise and fear mingled on his features. Revealing his secrets? Did he want that? Could he risk that? Was Ianto able to take them?
To his own astonishment he realized that he wanted Ianto to know and he trusted Ianto to handle them. He did not have to tell him everything at once. Carefully revealed one after the other Ianto hopefully would cope. His lover's pleading, but also encouraging, look tipped the scales.
"No secrets," Jack agreed.
Ianto caressed his captain's cheek, enjoying the feel of Jack's skin under his fingertips. He let his fingers trail into Jack's hair, pulling him down into a passionate kiss.
Oh, how I missed that taste!
Ianto got lost in that kiss until Jack drew back.
"No secrets?" the captain challenged with a smirk. "I hope you've got time."
"We have all night," Ianto said.
"I don't think one night will be enough," Jack chuckled.
Snuggling up to Ianto he started to talk and the Welshman listened. He did not comment or dig deeper, because now that he had Jack's promise he knew that they would be more than they were before, more than the occasional shag.
"Ianto?" Jack suddenly prodded. "Are you listening?"
"Sure, sir," Ianto replied.
"Ianto, drop that!" Jack complained.
"Of course, sir."
His grin of glee was returned by Jack, but just a second later the captain's features became earnest.
"I love you, Ianto."
Ianto's heart skipped a beat and then another before he was able to answer, "I love you, too, cariad."
Home is where the heart is. They both finally found that home and they would never let go of it again.
They sealed that unspoken promise with a deep, long-lasting kiss.