- from immediately after Captain John left at the end of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Jack Harkness couldn't believe just how bad his first day back in Cardiff had turned out. Not only had he had the dubious pleasure of meeting Captain John Hart (as he now wished to be called) again, he had also had to endure the hostility of a team that seemed to have managed very well without him. Now he had to live the same 12 hours again but with the added complication of avoiding himself! He almost wished he was back on the Valiant with The Master – almost. And then there was Gray – he pushed that thought aside, he could not deal with the implications of that as well.

"Remember," he told Owen and Gwen, "you cannot be anywhere you were over the past 12 hours. Stay away from the Hub, that Club, the roads and everywhere else you've been. Go home, it's the safest place to be." He looked at them, sat in the little red sports car, and hoped they'd got the message.

"Okay, okay," replied Owen, revving the engine and sounding distinctly unimpressed. "We'll go indoors and lock ourselves in."

"Make sure you do," stressed Jack, pointing a finger at them. "I do not want to have to deal with a time paradox on top of everything else."

"God, you can tell he's back. Treating us like little kids," said Owen sarcastically to Gwen. He floored the accelerator and the little sports car hurtled towards the ramp and the car park's exit.

"Don't worry, Jack. Gwen will make sure he does what he's told," put in Toshiko soothingly.

Toshiko had hoped to reassure her newly-returned team leader but it had the opposite effect. It merely reminded him that in his absence Gwen had taken a disparate group of individuals and moulded them into a supportive and coherent team. They looked to Gwen for leadership now. His own more authoritative and distant leadership style had evidently been hopelessly inadequate. He'd have to do a hell a lot to win back their loyalty.

Jack turned to the SUV. "Come on, I'll take you home," he said to Toshiko and Ianto who were standing nearby looking at him uncomfortably. The three colleagues got into the vehicle and Jack exited the car park.

He was driving towards the older part of the town where Toshiko had her home when she spoke. "Umm, Jack? Where are you going?"

"Your place. You'll have to stay home like the rest," he replied more curtly than he'd intended.

"It's not that. I understand that. It's just that I've moved. I live in Riverside now."

"What? Has anything stayed the same since I left?!" Jack was exasperated.

There was a short silence and Toshiko glanced at Ianto, who was in the back seat behind Jack, but he was staring out of the window. She had been happy to see Jack, probably more so than the rest of the team. She had missed sharing the wonder of discovery with him when new alien tech and artefacts were found. He listened to her theories and was genuinely interested. Jack gave her a wholly different perspective and made life on other planets seem wonderful; the others thought her hopelessly naive and boring. She could see that Jack was unhappy about the reception he had received and now she had made it worse.

Jack sighed. "Sorry, Tosh. There's no reason why you shouldn't have moved, though I always liked your old place." He looked at her and was relieved to see her answering smile. "Where are you living now?" She gave him the address and he did a U-turn to get on the correct road.

"I thought it would do me good to make a move. I'd been at the old place for nearly three years, and it had some unhappy memories." It had been in that old home that she had entertained Mary. She'd been so happy with her for just three days. The silence and loneliness after she had 'left' had depressed Toshiko, emphasising her lack of any kind of a life outside Torchwood. She had needed a new start.

"Good for you." Jack glanced in the rear-view mirror. "How about you, Ianto? You moved too?" he half-joked.

"No." Ianto did not meet Jack's gaze, continuing to look out of the window at the passing buildings.

Silence descended on the trio again as the SUV made its way through sparsely trafficked streets and into Riverside. They were nearly at Toshiko's building when Jack struck the steering wheel and swore. "Damn!" he said, "I can't go to the Hub. Can't get a shower or a change of clothes!" In his insistence on everyone else returning to their homes he had forgotten that he could not go to his own quarters in the Hub; he was already there or, glancing at his watch, soon would be. "A perfect end to a perfect day," he murmured sarcastically, only just loud enough to be heard.

Toshiko looked distressed. "What will you do? I'd offer to let you stay at my place but I don't have a lot of furniture yet. I don't even have a couch for you to crash on."

"It's okay. I'll find a hotel, I guess."

"If you're sure," ventured Toshiko. She glanced again at Ianto expecting him to offer to let Jack stay with him but the young man stayed mute, looking out of the window.

"No problem," responded Jack after a few moments. He too had hoped Ianto might offer to house him for the night. The young Welshman had warmed up towards him as the night had progressed, even accepting his offer of a date, and Jack knew from earlier visits – on happier occasions – that Ianto had a spare room. He drew up outside Toshiko's block of flats and cut the engine. "I'll see you in."

He was out of the SUV before she could protest that she often got home much later than this and had not needed – or indeed been offered – an escort then. He walked with her to the door of the flats and saw her safe inside. She waved as she got into the lift and he walked back to the vehicle. As Jack covered the short distance back to the SUV, he looked at Ianto and saw him on his mobile phone. He wondered who the young man was talking to; had he someone else in his life now? Jack again wondered why he had come back to Cardiff. Climbing into the vehicle, he started the engine and drove to Ianto's flat.

Ianto cleared his throat. "I made a few calls. There aren't any rooms in the hotels we normally use and everywhere else is full too: there's a science fiction convention on as well as the Music Festival. About the only place you'll find is a B&B in Splott."

"Great," Jack said shortly, concentrating on a tricky turning which he was taking too fast.

Ianto said nothing until they turned into his road. "I suppose you can stay with me," he said finally, his tone of voice making it clear that it was not what he wanted. "In the spare room," he added.

Jack bit back a sarcastic reply; Ianto had made the offer and it was a place to start in winning back his trust – and maybe, in time, his love. "Thanks. I appreciate it." He parked outside Ianto's flat.

Ianto was immediately out of the vehicle and striding through the building's entrance. Jack took a deep breath, turned off the vehicle's engine, and took a moment to think. He considered the past 12 hours. Just how would the team have coped with the Blowfish and John if he had not been there? Not well, was his conclusion. John had left them floundering helplessly (literally in Gwen's case) and even the Blowfish had got away from them and injured innocent bystanders. He wondered if they would have had the guts, or the skill, to kill it. He realised that he was needed after all. He'd stick it out, win them back again. It couldn't be that hard, he'd already made some progress with Toshiko. He looked up at the now lighted windows of Ianto's flat. This would be more difficult because there was so much more to their relationship. He walked slowly up the stairs to the flat and rang the bell.

Ianto took a deep breath before answering the door. His feelings for Jack were so mixed up his insides were going round and round like clothes in a washing machine. Ianto was annoyed that Jack was unforthcoming about where he had been and what he had done over the past months. He had evaded the questions back at the Hub and had been his enigmatic, pig-headed self when dealing with Captain John Hart. But then Jack had looked at him, at Ianto alone, and said he'd come back for him. For a wonderful moment Ianto had felt his heart leap, something he'd only read about in books. And later, when they'd been searching the office, Jack had been so unsure of himself, had made silly jokes and then asked him how he was, really asked. And then, miracle of miracles, had asked Ianto out on a date. Ianto had been happy then.

Even so, he hadn't wanted to ask Jack into his home, though he saw Toshiko's surprise that the offer had not been made straight away. If he could have found a hotel room for him, he would have. But, just his luck, this night there was no room at the inn. As Ianto opened his front door, he knew that the real reason he had finally offered had been Jack's comment about his day. He felt sorry for him, he told himself, that that was the only reason he was about to let the man into his home.

"Come in," said Ianto, leaving Jack to shut the door behind him. "I'll make up the spare bed." He walked to the airing cupboard and got out a clean duvet cover and pillow cases. He heard Jack quietly close the door and stand just inside it. Ianto ignored him as he bustled down the corridor to the room and quickly and efficiently made up the bed.

He walked into the living room to find Jack standing in front of the sofa. "Well, take your coat off if you're staying, no need to stand there like a statue. I'm going to shower and change. If you need it, you know where the other bathroom is." He made to go to his bedroom. "If you want to order some food, the menus are by the fridge." He walked off and closed the bedroom door firmly behind him.

Jack stood for a moment; this was going to take a lot of work. He took off his coat and draped it over a handy chair on his way to the kitchen. Ianto's mention of food reminded him how hungry he was and how much he had missed solid food over the past year. He found a menu, phoned the number and ordered for both of them. Then he went to the spare bedroom remembering to take his coat with him: no point in irritating Ianto by being untidy. He used the bathroom and walked back to the living room. The place looked as neat and tidy as always. Jack wandered around, noticing a few new books on the shelves and DVDs of films he had not heard of: must have come out recently. He picked up a CD case that was lying on the side.

"Having a look around?" asked Ianto, coming up behind him. He had changed into a well-worn track suit and felt refreshed after his shower. He had decided that if Jack really wanted back in his life then he had to explain where he had been and what he had been doing. Ianto was not going to be fobbed off again.

Jack straightened, "Yes. Looks much the same as ever." He put down the CD and stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets and smiled at Ianto.

Ianto did not look impressed. "Have you ordered some food?"

"Yeah. Pizzas. Should be here," he checked his watch, "in about 10 minutes."

"Good. Do you want coffee?" Ianto walked to the kitchen.

"Thought you'd never ask. I've waited so long for a cup of your coffee. I didn't even get one earlier, at the Hub." Jack followed Ianto and stood in the kitchen doorway. He watched as Ianto started his elaborate preparations for coffee, admiring the young man's graceful and economical movements.

Just as the coffee machine was about to release its bounty the doorbell rang. Jack answered the door and took delivery of his order, paid the man and carried the food to the dining table. Ianto brought the coffee mugs and stopped short in amazement. The table was piled high with pizza boxes and associated extras. "What have you ordered?!"

Jack looked up from his seat at the table, grinning broadly. "I couldn't decide what to have so got the lot. Come on, sit down and dig in." He reached eagerly for the coffee and sipped it in ecstasy, "This is heaven."

Ianto sat down and surveyed the table. There were four medium size pizzas, two portions each of garlic bread, garlic mushrooms and onion rings as well as chicken wings, potato wedges, a couple of dips and a large tub of coleslaw. He opened another box that he did not recognise: chocolate fudge cake. If they ate all this they'd burst!

"Come on, eat." Jack waved a half-eaten slice of meat feast pizza at Ianto, his second piece of garlic bread in his other hand. He had always been a messy eater, preferring hands to cutlery, and had literally dug into the food.

Ianto picked up a slice of pizza and delicately took a bite; he preferred small bites and always chewed his food well, unlike his companion. He took a forkful (he also enjoyed using cutlery) of the coleslaw. The pair ate in contented silence, an enforced silence on Jack's part as his mouth was full of food most of the time. Ianto found he was enjoying the impromptu feast. He had eaten alone most nights since Jack had gone and had been unadventurous in his choices. His words from earlier in the night came back to him; it was more fun when Jack was around. They both tucked into the food and soon there was not much left. Jack had eaten by far the largest proportion but Ianto had held his own.

"If there is any justice in this world, you will have raging indigestion," commented Ianto as Jack finished yet another slice of pizza.

Jack sat back and sighed. "You cannot imagine what it is like to have such wonderful food after a diet of mashed swede. This is great." He was grinning broadly.

"Mashed swede?" he asked, wondering what Jack was talking about. He had discovered that Jack often dropped small clues, whether knowingly or not, in unguarded moments and that if not pressed too hard he would elaborate.

"Yep, that's all he fed me, can you believe it!?" He took a long swig and finished his coffee; it was hot, strong and tasted so good. "Oh, I dreamt about your coffee for months and months and months and this is so much better than I remembered it." He took one of the last two pieces of pepperoni pizza and spread the remaining coleslaw on it. "Finish these," he said, pushing onion rings towards Ianto, "you don't eat enough vegetables."

"Months and months, Jack? You were only away three months." He took one of the onion rings but was looking at his companion, silently demanding an answer.

"Oh yeah, right." Jack could not believe that he had let that slip out. He had got just a bit carried away.

"It's been longer than that for you?" asked Ianto, taking a bite of onion.

Jack swallowed and then admitted, "Yeah. Time gets all screwed up when you're with The Doctor." He knew as soon as he'd said it that he should not have mentioned The Doctor. Talk about a red rag to a bull, and the evening had been going so well.

"So you had a year with him," said Ianto, cold and hurt. "Certainly didn't rush back, did you?"

Jack was on his guard. "Yeah, it was a year, just over in fact. And I couldn't get back any sooner, I was kinda tied up."

"And where were you? Who was this person who fed you swede?" Ianto asked his questions calmly in a tone that showed he was not going to be side-tracked.

"It doesn't matter, I'm back now. That's what's important." He stared at Ianto, daring him push for more.

"It does matter, Jack," said Ianto firmly.

"Oh come on, Ianto. Can't you just be pleased I'm here?" said Jack, smiling ingratiatingly and hoping against hope that Ianto would let the matter drop.

"I am pleased you're back but did you really expect us to have a party and set off fireworks as soon as we saw you? Just ignore the way you left?" Ianto was staring him down, making him justify himself.

"Well, that would have been nice," Jack said lightly, trying to defuse the situation. "I like fireworks." Usually he could get Ianto to see the funny side of most things.

"Stop it, Jack. Just stop making stupid jokes."

"Okay." Jack was suddenly serious. "You want to know what I expected? I expected you to understand. I was obviously wrong." Jack stood up a moved away from the table, unable to remain seated any longer.

Ianto recognised the hurt in Jack's tone but refused to let himself be deflected from pressing for answers. He stood up quickly and closed the gap between himself and Jack, his eyes blazing. "Understand what? That you'd rather run off than take a moment to explain? You left us to fend for ourselves while you swanned round the universe!"

Jack's anger and disappointment rose to match Ianto's challenge. "I expected you to understand that for once I needed something for myself. Just for me. Was that so unreasonable!?" He moved closer to Ianto and poked his chest as he said, "I would have understood if it had been you!"

"And what was so bloody important?" Ianto sneered. "That you get to see you precious Doctor again and moon all over him?"

"No! That's not it and you know it. You have no idea what it's like, how it makes me feel. My life was changed, changed so profoundly that it made it all but unbearable. There are so many times I want to give up but what choice do I have!? I'm the one that gets to live forever! I had to find out why, to see the one person that might be able to cure me. I had one chance to see him and I was not going to hang about and miss that chance just to leave messages for you!" Jack stopped, breathing hard. When he spoke again his tone was calmer, "I expected that you would understand and forgive me when I got back." Another pause. "I know I would forgive you if the tables were turned," he said finally.

Ianto's anger abated somewhat. This was the first time Jack had spoken about how he felt about his immortality and Ianto was taken aback. Unbearable? Was that truly how it was? Ianto started to see why Jack had gone and why he had expected a different reception. He was reminded of the times Jack had forgiven him; for taking Lisa into the Hub and putting all their lives at risk; and for opening the Rift and releasing Abaddon. Jack must have been as angry and hurt then as Ianto was now – but he had had the grace to forgive. Maybe Ianto should too.

"It hurt like hell when you left, Jack. I felt I'd been abandoned, that I meant nothing to you." Ianto took a deep breath, "And I can't forgive you unless and until I understand, so make me."

Jack swallowed hard, this was going to be one of the most important explanations of his life. "I told you before I left that I didn't know why I don't stay dead. I knew when I changed but not why. I thought, hoped, that I had been changed for a purpose and facing Abaddon seemed like a good bet. But it wasn't that; I woke up again. My only chance of finding out and ... curing it, maybe, was to find my Doctor. He was there when it happened." Jack paused, looking for help from Ianto but seeing none. "To cut a long story short, I had to wait over 100 years to find him and when he did appear he took one look at me and ran like hell. But I stuck to him and made him tell me what had happened. He said that there was nothing he or I could do about it. I was going to have to live with it, literally." He laughed mirthlessly.

"Is it really so hard?" asked Ianto gently.

Jack looked him straight in the eye. "Yes."

Ianto was taken aback at the starkness and honesty of the reply. "I had no idea," he said after a pause.

"It sounds great, living for ever. But I have no way out, no end to the struggle to survive. I am going to live for thousands, millions, probably billions of years and there's no-one to share it with, no-one who can understand what it's like. All of you are passing through, gone in an instant. And the best and the worst thing is that every now and again I meet someone, get attached to them. It makes it bearable, even good for a while, then they're gone too and it's even worse than it was before. It is so lonely." Jack was almost speaking to himself, putting into words feelings he'd kept inside for a long time.

There was silence until Ianto said, "I forgive you for leaving us, for leaving me. And I'm sorry your Doctor couldn't help you." He had been moved by Jack's words. "I just wish you'd explained how you felt before, about how much you needed this."

Jack was relieved at the change in Ianto's attitude. "I didn't know how to put it into words before. But now I understand, well, it's a bit easier. But I would never abandon you, or the others. That's why I came back. I didn't have to, I could have stayed with my Doctor, 'swanning round the universe' as you put it. Instead I chose to come back." Jack swallowed and added, "Back to you, Ianto."

"What did you mean about the mashed swede?" Ianto was not letting this go. Jack had opened up and he determined to find out all he could before he clammed up again.

Jack looked away, wondering how much to say. "We were captured, held prisoner by a madman and that's what he fed me."

Ianto felt there was more to be learnt but the look on Jack's face stopped him from pushing for any more at that moment. He'd try again, some other time, when conditions were right. "I guess this has been a really lousy day for you," he said, lightening the mood.

"Oh yeah, " Jack replied smiling. "I had plenty of time to think up loads of different ways it would go and this was not in my top 10."

"Is it the worst?"

"No," Jack was serious, "that was coming back and finding you all dead." He saw Ianto stiffen so added, "But the best? Oh, that was something else." Jack smiled mischievously.

"Go on," encouraged Ianto.

"Well, it goes like this. I walk into the Hub and find you standing outside my office with a mug of hot, strong coffee on your silver tray. You're stark naked and while I drink the coffee, you -."

"Fantasy, Jack, pure fantasy," Ianto interrupted dryly.

"A man can dream. I had a lot of other scenarios, between those two extremes," explained Jack, grateful for the lessening of tension between them.

"And in how many was I naked?"

Jack pretended to think, "About 50, I think."

Ianto laughed softly; he was content. Jack's explanation sounded true and he was not about to press further. He had got as much as he was going to get, for now anyway. He loved Jack and that meant he could forgive a lot. He resolved to help him feel better about his immortality. He didn't know how but he was going to do his best. He was startled from his thoughts by Jack's hand stroking his and then holding it lightly. Ianto did not pull away, he let Jack move closer and gently kiss his lips. He returned the kiss but broke away when Jack got more demanding. "Not yet, Jack." He was not yet ready to let Jack back into his life fully, he needed to think through all he had learnt and all that was implied.

"Okay, when you're ready you let me know," replied Jack, his eyes locked on Ianto's. He stood still and silent holding Ianto's hand, stroking it with his thumb.

Ianto removed his hand. "Let's clear this up," he said, gesturing to the pile of boxes and other debris littering the table. He went into the kitchen and came back with a black sack and started to fill it.

"Whoa, hang on." Jack grabbed the box containing the fudge cake. "Don't throw this away. I thought we could have it with ice-cream; I saw some in your freezer."

"You can't possibly want more food. Not yet."

Jack pulled a face. "I suppose I could wait a bit longer. Maybe have a coffee first?" He looked hopefully at Ianto who was tying up the full sack. It would take another before all the rubbish was clear.

"I suppose, though it's getting late and I want to get some sleep soon." He passed a second rubbish sack to Jack, "You clear up the rest of this while I run the hoover round, pick up all these crumbs. Then I'll make coffee."

Jack did as he was told, taking the full sacks downstairs to the rubbish bins at the back of the block of flats. When all was cleared away, they sat companionably close on the sofa and drank coffee.

"Ianto, how was it while I was gone? How come you all seem to work so much better together?"

"It was hard, really hard. We were all lost, Jack. Tosh didn't look up from her computers for days and I kept my head down too." He looked at Jack, "I was missing you so much." Jack reached over and squeezed his hand. "Anyway, Owen and Gwen argued about everything until Owen walked out, about a week after you'd left. He was gone two days, then came back. Seems he and Gwen came to an agreement, I don't know what or how but afterwards they got on okay, most of the time. By then, Tosh and I were grateful for any kind of leadership and we supported Gwen too. She was fine for the usual stuff – Weevil hunts and the like – but floundered around if it was anything different. There were some really strange requests from the Prime Minister too. Eventually, we got into a routine, we had to." He paused and took a sip of coffee. "You saw tonight, or should that be last night?, that we aren't that good without you. One of us should have taken out that Blowfish straight away. Me probably. But we aren't confident enough. We don't have your ruthlessness. There were loads of times when we needed that."

"I'm glad that you need me for something. It looked like I was surplus to requirements for a while there," said Jack ruefully. He had not missed the reference to Harold Saxon: he'd find out more about that when he was able to return to the Hub and check the records.

"It must have been a bit of a shock for you," Ianto said smiling. "A blow to your ego. But we do need you, each in our own way. Just don't expect Gwen to hand over responsibility without a fight."

"I can see that I'll have to tread carefully there. That right hook she landed on John and the way she pushed me into the office door? She's not to be trifled with." Jack shook his head, remembering the force of Gwen's attack.

"You haven't said anything about John. Who is he? What does he mean to you?" Ianto leant forward and put his empty coffee mug on the table before turning to face Jack. "And who's Gray?"

Jack leaned his head against the back of the sofa and looked at the ceiling. He had known this would come up but he had hoped to stave it off a while longer. He sighed, then moved his gaze to meet Ianto's. "Like I told you, John's from my past and I am not proud of the person I was when I knew him. I'm glad he's gone and I don't want to see him again. Whatever he was in the past, he's nothing to me now." He hesitated. "Gray ... Gray is also from my past. I thought he was dead. I don't know what John meant."

Ianto considered a moment, then spoke, "Are either of them going to mean you going away again?"

"No. Absolutely not."

"Okay." Ianto stood up. "I'm going to bed. I'll see you in the morning." He hesitated, strengthening his resolve not to sleep with Jack on his first night back, then walked to his bedroom.

"Good night," said Jack softly.

He remained on the sofa after Ianto had closed his bedroom door. He hadn't really expected to share Ianto's bed tonight, not after the reception he'd received from them all, so why was he disappointed? Eventually he rose, took the coffee mugs into the kitchen and eyed the fudge cake. He decided not to eat it, popped it in the fridge, and went to his own room. He didn't need to sleep every night but he found lying in bed relaxed him, gave him time to think about what had happened during the day and to get his thoughts in order. He had a lot to think about tonight. After showering, he slipped beneath the duvet and lay on his back staring at the ceiling. He slipped into semi-consciousness, more like meditation than anything else.

Jack was disturbed, a little while later, by the sound of a door opening and soft footsteps crossing the living room. Ianto going to the kitchen, he thought. Water gushed from a tap and then the footsteps resumed only to stop close by. Jack turned his head to the open door of his room. Ianto stood there, dressed in pyjama bottoms and holding a glass of water; he said nothing but somehow Jack knew what he wanted. Jack flicked back the duvet on the unoccupied side of the bed in invitation. Ianto stepped forward, put the glass on the side table and climbed into the bed, curling himself into Jack's side. Jack placed an arm around him, holding him close.

"I couldn't sleep," whispered Ianto, "missed you." Ianto was mad at himself for not staying away but he had tossed and turned in his own bed, unable to get any rest. The thought of Jack in the other room had driven him crazy: he wanted to be in the man's arms again even if it made him, Ianto, look needy.

"I missed you too," replied Jack as softly. "I'm here now, I'll always be here. Close your eyes." Ianto did as he was bid and was soon fast asleep.

Jack looked down at the sleeping Ianto and smiled to himself: maybe this had been a pretty good first day back after all.