This is the final chapter. Thanks again to everyone who has reviewed, followed and supported this story. I hope it's been worthwhile and enjoyable.
Ianto opened the front door to find John Hart standing before him, his usual cocky grin firmly in place as was his eye-catching, and still somewhat shocking, bleach-blond hair. Smiling at his friend, Ianto stepped back and ushered John inside. "Hi, John. Glad you could make it."
"Not like I could pass up a chance to visit the Harkness-Jones estate." John gave a soft whistle as he looked around at his surroundings with wide eyes. "Bloody hell, Ianto. You really are lord of the manor, aren't you? Tell me you've got a secret underground man cave? A house like this needs a man cave."
Ianto laughed, thinking how much Jack would love an underground lair given his Batman penchant. At the same time, he was glad that the house wasn't any more ostentatious. Despite the luxurious surroundings and Jack's wealth and generosity, he didn't like to flaunt his good fortune. He'd had to make some concessions for the sake of domestic harmony, but he still felt a twinge of guilt each time he climbed into the Aston Martin Vanquish that Jack had insisted on buying him. As much as he loved driving the sleek and powerful car, he only used it on the weekends for pleasure, preferring his modest and inconspicuous Audi during the week. He could still remember the look of wide-eyed disbelief on John's face when he'd first seen the stunning and outrageously expensive car.
"Wouldn't be much of a secret if I told you, would it?" Still smiling, he shook his head regretfully. "No man cave. Sorry."
John responded with a look of exaggerated disappointment, then pulled Ianto into a hug and slapped him on the back. "Oh, well, can't have everything I suppose. Anyway, it's good to see you."
As he pulled back, his gaze roamed over Ianto in a slow up-and-down appraisal, taking in Ianto's attire of charcoal-grey trousers, dark red dress shirt and black waistcoat. "And you're looking as gorgeous as ever." A glint of mischief appeared in his eyes as they focused on Ianto's again. "I hope that handsome boyfriend of yours knows how lucky he is."
There was the pointed sound of a throat being cleared. "He does."
At the sound of Jack's voice, Ianto turned and found Jack standing a couple of feet away, eyes narrowed and fixed on John. Ianto only barely refrained from rolling his eyes. In each of the few occasions where Jack and John had crossed paths in the last year, John never failed to bring out the proverbial green-eyed monster in Jack. It was understandable of course – John was Ianto's ex-boyfriend, more or less, so Jack was predisposed towards disliking him. Besides, Ianto couldn't, in all fairness, say that he'd be best pleased if any of Jack's exes were still hanging around. Learning the identity of the man who he'd once poured his heart out to while drowning his sorrows hadn't endeared John to Jack either. Although Ianto doubted that he would have been any more forthcoming if he'd been in John's shoes in the same situation, the result was that Jack viewed John as deceitful and untrustworthy. And, irrationally, as ongoing competition for Ianto's affections.
Like Ianto himself, Jack wasn't immune to bouts of insecurity, his usual confidence and bravado notwithstanding. They both had their demons, the little voices in their heads that surfaced now and then to call into question their worthiness. Although neither of them was alone in their affliction, Ianto didn't want Jack to ever feel insecure about their relationship. Nonetheless, he'd known John first, and John was the closest friend he had outside of Jack and Rhiannon, and more recently, Toshiko. He wouldn't severe his connection with someone he cared about and whose friendship he valued, especially when Jack knew that he and John were ancient history. Usually he just tried not to put Jack and John in the same place together. Tonight, however, was New Year's Eve and the first time that they'd hosted a social gathering in their home as a couple. In fact, it was the first time that any sort of party had taken place in the house since Jack had purchased it. He hadn't wanted to exclude John from the occasion.
John appeared utterly oblivious to Jack's unfriendly gaze. He stepped up to Jack and clapped him on the back as if they were the best of friends. "Hello, Jack. You're looking well."
Ianto gave Jack an admonishing look over John's shoulder. With obvious difficulty, Jack relaxed his features and plastered on a smile. "You too, John. Nice to see you. Welcome to our home."
Much like he'd done with Ianto, John gave Jack the once over, not that Ianto could blame him. Jack exuded understated elegance and looked as stunning as ever in his outfit of tailored tan trousers and deep blue shirt.
Ianto stepped forward, inserting himself between them. "John, let's get you a drink. Rhi's been looking forward to seeing you again." He put his hand on John's arm and steered him towards the kitchen, giving Jack a glance over his shoulder. "Jack, David wants you to play his car racing game with him. See if Johnny, Owen or Tommy want to join in."
After getting John a drink and catching up for a few minutes, Ianto left him talking to Rhiannon and went to check on Mica, who was in the cinema room and happily watching 'Frozen' for what was probably the fiftieth time since the film's release. Hugo was stretched out on her lap and looking perfectly content.
As Ianto returned to the hallway, there was the sound of cheering joined by a chorus of groans from the living room. He smiled to himself, imagining Jack and David soundly thrashing whoever they'd teamed up against. They'd given David the latest model Playstation for his birthday, then Jack had bought one for himself, quickly becoming proficient in all manner of different games and not willing to be bested by a nine-year-old. The game they were playing had been one of David's Christmas gifts from Jack, who spoiled both children as much as Ianto. Rhiannon joked that Ianto had competition on his hands for the title of favourite uncle, but he was more than happy to share the attention of his niece and nephew with Jack. It warmed his heart to see Jack spending time with them. David and Mica adored Jack, and Jack clearly relished the opportunity to unleash his inner big kid.
He stopped by the dining room and checked that none of the various nibbles needed topping up. Jack had teased him about his fussiness over the preparations for the party, but he'd wanted the evening to be perfect. They'd moved the dining table to one end of the room to act as a servery and cleared the rest of the room to use as an impromptu dance floor later on. Dinner had been a casual affair with an assortment of finger foods and home-made pizzas and pastas that he and Jack had prepared, and Rhiannon had made a cheesecake that they'd bring out soon for dessert.
Making his way into the living room, he stood back and watched as David, Jack, Johnny and Owen battled it out on the car racing game. The four-way split screen showed each player's point of view, with David and Jack neck-and-neck for first place as they completed the final lap, Johnny not far behind. Owen crashed in spectacular fashion for the second time in a row and growled under his breath as he hammered away at his controller. Owen's attractive and mild-mannered fiancée, Katie, was watching from beside him and clearly struggling not to laugh at her partner's obvious lack of skill. Ianto had only met Katie once before, but she seemed very nice, and he'd decided that she had to be a saint for putting up with the belligerent and irascible doctor. Owen wasn't too bad once one got to know him, but, much like Johnny, he tended to be an acquired taste.
David won the race with a whoop of joy, Jack giving him an affectionate grin and congratulatory fist bump. Owen huffed and handed his controller to Tommy while muttering, "I'm a doctor, not a bloody race car driver." Ianto was only moderately more successful at keeping a straight-face than the rest of the room.
John and Rhiannon entered, John carrying a plate loaded with food, no doubt courtesy of Rhiannon, who couldn't abide anyone not being well-fed. Jack made the introductions, the earlier encounter apparently forgotten.
Toshiko stood up, offering John her chair. She walked over to join Ianto by the doorway as the competitors began a new game, Jack laughing with delight as he took an early lead. He glanced up and met Ianto's gaze with a smile and a wink before turning his attention back to the screen. Ianto smiled in return, marvelling, as he did at times like this, of the happy and seemingly carefree man who seemed so different to the stern, no-nonsense businessman who he'd met sixteen months ago.
He turned to Toshiko, who was also watching Jack with a fond expression on her face. She moved closer, smiling up at him before looking back at Jack. "It's wonderful to see him so happy. You're the best thing that's ever happened to him, Ianto."
"The feeling's mutual." Ianto found himself thinking back over their tumultuous beginnings and the very different place they'd been in a year ago. He'd been so close to giving up, never imagining that they could be where they were now. He was very glad that he'd been wrong. "I never thanked you. For talking to Jack and helping to get us together."
Toshiko gave a modest little shrug. "I only told him what he needed to hear. I knew how he felt about you. He would have gotten there on his own, but I was worried he'd lose you before that happened. So I just gave him a bit of tough love." Her eyes sparkled with amusement. "You boys need that sometimes."
Ianto felt a wry smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He looked over at Rhiannon, his smile widening as their eyes met and she smiled back at him. "I think my sister would agree with you."
Responding with a soft laugh, Toshiko slipped an arm around his waist and gave him a sideways hug. "It all worked out for the best, that's what counts. You and Jack belong together."
Ianto nodded in agreement, knowing that, despite his insecurities at times, he'd never been more certain about anything in his life. His heart belonged to Jack, completely and irrevocably.
His gaze drifted to the towering Christmas tree in the corner of the room, and he remembered the fun they'd had decorating it, Jack's lack of artistic sensibilities notwithstanding. It was just one of the many happy memories that they'd created over the past year. He could no longer contemplate his life without Jack at its centre. More importantly, he didn't want to. He could think of nothing he wanted more than a lifetime with the man he loved as they continued to create new memories together.
Jack won the game with a victorious shout and handed his controller to John, whispering in David's ear before he stood up. Smiling broadly, he came over to join them. "What are you two talking about? I always get nervous when I see the two of you huddled together and talking in conspiratorial whispers." He placed a hand on Ianto's shoulder, giving it an affectionate squeeze.
Unable to resist the temptation, Ianto marshalled his features. "I was just telling Toshiko how you like to cheat."
"I do not!" Jack scowled at him with a look of indignation before giving Toshiko a lopsided grin. "Okay, I admit it, I did cheat once. But it was only once. And there were extenuating circumstances."
"You mean only once that I caught you." Ianto narrowed his eyes at Jack.
Toshiko looked back and forth between them, her curiosity obviously piqued. "What did you do, Jack?"
Jack gave Ianto another indignant glare before leaning in closer and replying in a lowered voice. "We were playing a friendly game of strip poker, and let's just say that after a run of bad luck, I had very little left to lose." He mock-glared at Ianto again. "Mr. Jones here has the best poker face I've ever seen. It's an unfair advantage." He shrugged. "So I peeked at his cards while he was distracted."
Ianto felt his face grow warm with the memory and decided that he'd have to challenge Jack to another game very soon. "Jack can be very distracting."
Toshiko burst into laughter, as did Jack an instant later. Ianto grinned and joined in.
After serving dessert, Rhiannon got the children settled upstairs. Jack turned up the volume of the music in the dining room, and, John, always the life of a party, soon had most of them cajoled into dancing. After a few minutes of watching Owen and Johnny display their dancing prowess, or rather the lack thereof, Ianto wondered where Jack had disappeared to and headed towards the kitchen with the intention of getting himself a drink.
He was halfway down the hallway when he was grabbed by the arm and hauled into the downstairs bathroom. He'd barely let out a startled yelp as the door closed behind him and Jack pushed him up against it, his mouth crashing with Ianto's in a hard, ravishing kiss. Groaning against the unexpected assault, Ianto recovered from his surprise and responded in kind, parting his lips and allowing Jack's eager tongue to tangle with his own.
He drew a ragged breath when their mouths eventually broke apart, Jack's grip on him relinquishing as one hand moved to cradle the back of his head while the other stroked his chest.
"Jack, what are you..." That was as far as he got before Jack dived back in, kissing him senseless again. Unsure of what had suddenly ignited Jack's passion, Ianto nonetheless wrapped his arms around Jack and kissed him back for all he was worth. Since they were tucked away in the privacy of the bathroom, he supposed that a few stolen moments weren't too much of a breach of social etiquette. Besides, it was a little bit risqué and rather thrilling.
They pulled apart a second time, both of them flushed and breathless. Still clinging to each other, they rested their foreheads together. Lifting a hand, Jack caressed Ianto's cheek and pulled back just far enough for their eyes to meet. "I was an idiot before with John."
Ianto blinked in surprise at both Jack's words and his contrite expression, and suddenly Jack's behaviour of the last few minutes made sense. "Yeah, you kind of were." He tempered his words with a smile. "But that's all right. You're allowed to be an idiot now and then. I don't expect the two of you will ever be the best of friends."
Jack chuckled softly. "No, probably not. That man manages to push my buttons without even trying." His expression turned sombre again, irritation and vulnerability evident in his eyes. "I don't like the way he looks at you. As if he could still have you... like he still wants you."
Ianto stroked the nape of Jack's neck in an attempt to offer reassurance. "He looks at everyone like that. Well, men anyway. He gave you the once over too. And Tommy. Even Owen. He likes to wind people up... tries to get a rise out of them. But he's not a bad person, and he's happy for us. He'd never try to come between us. Not that he could, even if he tried."
Jack sighed, giving a small nod of his head. "I know. Hence why I was an idiot. I just..." He swallowed hard, his voice wavering. "I'm still not used to having something I'm terrified of losing. And I can't bear the thought of losing you."
"You're not going to lose me, Jack." Ianto struggled to say the words, his voice catching on Jack's name. He pressed his lips to Jack's, giving him a firm, insistent kiss. Stroking Jack's neck again, he looked into the depths of Jack' eyes. "We belong together. That's not going to change."
Jack summoned up a smile. "I don't want that to ever change." Then he kissed Ianto again, softer and more slowly this time. The words and kiss felt like a promise, and they vanquished the lingering doubts that Ianto had about what he was planning to do when the clock struck midnight.
Lost in the moment as they continued to kiss each other, Ianto almost jumped out of his skin when a loud thump reverberated through the door at his back. It was followed by an unmistakeable voice. "Oi! Anyone in there? Hurry up would you? I can't hold on all bloody night."
Jack's eyes went wide, but then he laughed, a broad grin spreading across his face. "Busted!" He gave Ianto another quick kiss before calling out, "Just a minute, Owen."
Unable to help himself, Ianto buried his face against Jack's shoulder and bit back a laugh, his heart racing from the shock of the sudden interruption. Jack's arms wrapped around him, hugging him tight against his chest.
"Just so you know." Jack's warm breath caressed his ear. "I don't intend for either of us to get much sleep tonight. As soon as our guests are gone, you're all mine, Ianto Jones. We're going to welcome in the New Year with a night that neither of us will forget."
A shiver of anticipation ran down Ianto's spine, and he knew that Jack would in no way fail to deliver on his promise. He kissed Jack's neck before reluctantly easing back from their embrace. He flashed Jack his most devilish grin. "I'm looking forward to it."
There was another thump on the door, causing them to sigh in unison. Ianto hastened to straighten Jack's collar and smooth down the front of his shirt before doing the same to his own. Tugging at the cuffs of his sleeves, he stepped aside, allowing Jack to open the door. They were met by Owen's scowling face.
"Finally! What were the two of you..." Owen held up his hands while shaking his head emphatically. "Don't tell me, I don't want to know. You could at least hold off on the shenanigans until your guests have cleared out."
"It's our house, Owen. We can do anything we want, wherever and whenever we want." Jack grinned and wrapped an arm around Ianto's shoulders. "And trust me, we have."
Owen made a face of disgust while Ianto slipped his arm around Jack's waist and, with considerable effort, struggled not to mirror Jack's unrepentant grin with one of his own.
John appeared beside Owen, a knowing smile curving his lips as he looked them over. "Hello, what's going on here? Is this a private party or can anyone join in?"
Jack steered Ianto out of the bathroom and past the two men, patting John's shoulder on the way. "Sorry, John. Private party. Anyway, you're too late. You missed the show."
Jack's tone was amiable and good-humoured, but knowing his partner as well as he did, Ianto couldn't fail to note the underlying hint of smugness. Although unfounded, Jack had felt the need to stake his claim, and Ianto had no complaints about that. In truth, he found Jack's possessiveness very flattering.
Jack's hand intertwined with his. "Come on, Ianto. I want to dance."
With an amused look on his face, John gave Ianto a sly wink. Ianto grinned at John and allowed Jack to lead him back to the dining room.
A few minutes before midnight, they left the other couples and escaped outside onto the terrace, rugged up against the cold in coats and scarves. John had departed an hour earlier, heading to Torchwood to meet up with his current beau, described by John as a big, beautiful Swedish man by the name of Eric, and with whom John seemed quite taken.
Hand-in-hand, Jack led them down to the furthest end of the terrace, the light from inside the house providing enough illumination to guide their way. The evening was still and clear, the unclouded moon high in the sky and casting a comforting, silvery glow over the landscape. Like the year before, the forecast was predicting snowfall in the coming days, but tonight was perfect, albeit rather chilly.
Jack's arms wrapped around him from behind, and Ianto leaned back into him, joining their hands as he smiled and stared up at the star-studded sky. Warm lips pressed a lingering kiss against his cheek. "Happy?"
Ianto nodded, shifting so that his cheek was pressed against Jack's. He gave a little rub of his lightly stubbled skin against Jack's. "Never been happier."
Jack's hands squeezed his. "Me too."
They stayed like that and watched as the fireworks began, bursts of bright colour shooting high up into the southern sky. This was the start of the New Year that Ianto had dreamed of a year ago, sharing it with the man he loved, and tonight it was a reality. He couldn't imagine being happier. But, as spectacular a sight as the fireworks was, there was something he wanted to be doing much more. He turned in Jack's arms and pressed their lips together, kissing him insistently.
He felt Jack's smile as he kissed him back and thought of the tiny blue velvet box that was tucked away upstairs at the bottom of one of his Lego storage containers, safely hidden from accidental discovery by Jack. As soon as their family and friends had departed, he was going to ask Jack what would very likely be the most important question he'd ask anyone in the entirety of his life.
The fireworks had already finished as their kiss ended. Ianto could hear the sound of voices further along the terrace, the others having come outside to enjoy the firework display too. But he was focused solely on Jack, who was smiling at him, eyes warm and brimming with emotion.
Jack's arms held him close and showed no sign of letting go. "Happy New Year, Ianto."
"Happy New Year, Jack." Ianto smiled and kissed Jack again.