Rating: M (R)
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will. Please credit the BBC.
Spoilers: none
A/N: was meant as fluff, became a little more angsty. Still, romance abounds, I make no excuses. I apologise in advance for sappiness and perhaps slight OOCness. Hope you enjoy it!

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"You are beautiful, you know that, don't you?"

He'd meant it as a rhetorical question; they were lying under his office in the small bed, warm and satiated, and he was running his fingers in idle patterns over Ianto's shoulder and into his hair. They were facing each other, Ianto looking so very much younger out of his suit, his pale blue eyes never leaving Jack's face. Jack grinned at him. "You are so beautiful."

Ianto blushed, squirmed a little. He seemed lost for words and shifted somewhat, laying his hand on Jack's hip under the covers.

"Every time I bring you down here," Jack continued, undaunted by Ianto's lack of response, "every time I strip you of your clothes, I marvel at how beautiful you are." He slid his hand up to touch Ianto's cheek, running his thumb over the cheekbone. "And I marvel that you're here, with me."

Ianto was still blushing, but he wasn't looking away. He smiled slightly, and at last found his voice. "And here I was thinking you were no shrinking violet."

Jack chuckled softly, sliding his hand down onto Ianto's neck, feeling the stubble of a five o'clock shadow under his calloused palm and loving every second of it. "Oh, I'm not. But you, Ianto Jones, are hard work."

Ianto blinked, the only sign of surprise, but Jack caught it nonetheless. A slight shiver ran through him, Jack felt it as the tremble reached his neck and caressed the skin under his fingers to soothe it. "I was under the impression I was quite easy."

There was still sarcasm in Ianto's tone; a defence mechanism Jack knew well, a sign that Ianto wasn't ready to take him seriously, to trust his words. "You're not easy, Ianto."

He spoke softly, but with conviction, intensity. Jack held his gaze, looking deep into the young man's eyes, trying to build that trust, trying to break through all the walls that Ianto had built up to protect himself from hurt. Ianto didn't speak again, just seemed to hold his eyes as if that was the only thing he was capable of in the moment.

"You're not easy. I know you think that, I know you think you're easy because you let me take you to bed every time. But you're not. You make me work harder for you than I've worked for someone in a long time. You make me want to work harder for you, do better by you."

Ianto's eyes shone brightly, the smile had slid from his face and his fingers were gripping Jack a little harder than before. When he spoke, there was a tremor in his voice. "Sometimes I think... that you're it. Because you're never going to compare to anyone else."

It was Jack's turn to be speechless, his breath taken away by the sheer magnitude of what lay behind Ianto's words. His fingers stilled for a second, then he slid them into Ianto's hair. The silence in the bunker was broken by the rustling of the covers as he moved to kiss Ianto on the forehead before pulling back, then the only sound was the two of them breathing quietly in the half darkness. Ianto had tears in his eyes, and Jack found himself wondering what they'd taste like when they ran down his cheeks.

"I'm no wordsmith, Jack." The hesitant sincerity to Ianto's voice surprised him. "Maybe I embarrass too easily, I don't have your freeness, I don't know. But to me, you're..." He seemed to be gathering courage for something. "To me, you're flawless."

Jack grinned, he couldn't help himself. Ianto coloured again, but still held his gaze. Jack stroked his hair with his fingers, feeling intimacy shroud the two of them like a blanket. "I've been wanting to tell you how beautiful you are for so long." Ianto shifted slightly, eyes never leaving Jack's, apparently merely trying to find a more comfortable position. Jack waited until he lay still again before continuing. "This century, and the last, it doesn't always... it isn't... not all men are receptive to being told something like that."

He must have betrayed something of a remembered pain, because Ianto moved his hand from his hip up to his face, running soft fingertips over his mouth, tracing his lower lip and then his jaw line. "I'm sorry," Ianto whispered.

Jack smiled reassuringly. "Long time ago, Ianto, nothing to do with you."

A defiance briefly flared in Ianto's eyes. "I'm still sorry, Jack. I'm always sorry when you get hurt."

A world, a lifetime of caring lay behind his tone and his words, and the thought of being the subject of all that affection, the object of it, the recipient, made him want to bury his face against Ianto's chest and never let him go again. He breathed deeply, his hand stilling in Ianto's hair. "I know you so intimately, and yet I barely know you. It's the way we live, we keep so much of ourselves hidden."

Ianto frowned for a brief moment, and Jack wanted immediately to reach out and smooth that frown away with his fingers. It was gone faster than he could react. "I'm not hiding from you, Jack."

He nodded, Ianto's hand moved down to his neck, sliding over his shoulder and resting on his upper arm. "I don't mean you do it on purpose. I mean, in another time, another place, another life... if I hadn't... we would have done things differently."

"What things?" Ianto wanted to know, his eyes soft and open.

Jack moved his hand down from Ianto's hair to his chest, feeling a heartbeat throb steadily under his palm. "I might have taken you out on a date before we slept together. We would have met each other's friends, I would be in your flat sometimes. We might have talked about mundane things, what to have for dinner, what was on TV." He smiled to himself at the potential of the memories. Ianto smiled automatically in response, maybe imagining the same things he was. "You might have taken me home to meet your family."

As he said it, he saw comprehension flair in Ianto's eyes. He realised his melancholy had been shimmering through in his voice. "We can have all that, Jack," Ianto said gently, smiling slightly at him. "If you want that, we can have that."

Jack shook his head once. "No, we can't, not really, not like that."

Ianto was silent for a second, then said, "Do you miss it?"

That was the moment Jack wanted to pull way, wanted to look away, break the intimate contact because the emotions were too much. That was also the moment Ianto gripped his arm a little harder, holding him in place as if sensing his need to shield himself. "I always miss it. A part of me always misses it."

"Was there someone? Back when you were mortal?" Ianto's hand slid up to his shoulder, thumb rubbing across his collarbone. It was inordinately reassuring.

"No, not then. I thought once --" He grinned at himself and the memories. "Someone who made me want to be a better person. Someone a little like you. Maybe it could have been, but it ended too soon."

Ianto always accepted his inadequate explanations that remained shrouded in mystery. "And afterward?"

Jack slid his hand back up to Ianto's face, running a finger over his chin. "Ah, Ianto, there have been so many. Some I've loved, some I haven't, some I should have done better by. Some I couldn't save, some I did. In the end, it's all the same."

"I'm the same," Ianto said, understanding. "And for that, I am truly sorry."

Jack felt a tear as it slipped quietly from the corner of his eye and was soaked up by the pillow. Ianto lifted his hand from Jack's shoulder and touched the trail of dampness on his cheek with two trembling fingers. "Jack -- don't."

He smiled because one tear wasn't crying, not really. He reached up with his other hand and tugged Ianto's fingers away from his face, intertwining them with his own. "It's okay, Ianto. I'm not sad for you, not truly, not yet."

They lay quietly for a few minutes, their eyes still locked, the intimacy of simple eye contact enough. At last, Ianto squeezed his hand and said in a low voice, almost like a confession, "I want to be there until you are."

It was Jack's turn to blink in surprise. He frowned slightly. "What do you mean by that?"

Ianto shifted again, and Jack expected him to look away. Ianto didn't. After a long pause, he spoke at last. "I'm not needy or clingy, Jack. But sometimes... all I want in a moment is to be held. To hold you. When we've had a hard day, when we're in the middle of something, and your shoulders tense and you get that look on your face... I want to make it go away. I can't, and there are a million reasons why I can't; we have to work, we have to go on, then is not the time... but I can wish for then to be the time."

Jack felt his eyes fill up, he knew that Ianto could see it. He shifted closer, so close Ianto's face was out of focus, he could feel the other man's breath ghosting across his cheek.

"I want to be there for you, Jack. There's precious little else I've got left."

The tears won, emotion cracking his voice as he tried to whisper an apology, one for not being good enough, one for not being there enough, one for all the times he'd missed what Ianto had been feeling. Soft fingers traced his lips, stilling his words, and a soft voice told him no apology was necessary. The covers rustled as Ianto leaned in and lips ghosted across his cheeks, across the bridge of his nose, kissing away the salty liquid of his tears. He got himself under control, catching his breath, soothed by Ianto's actions.

"You're good enough for me, Jack Harkness. If you weren't, I wouldn't be here. You may not give me what I thought I wanted, but it's enough that you take me to your bed every day."

Ianto let out a rush of breath after his words and Jack smiled at his hesitance and nervousness. He rubbed his thumb softly over Ianto's cheekbone. "I want what's best for you."

Ianto laughed softly. "Here and now, Jack. Us, here and now, in your bed. It's all I need, so let's not try and apologise to each other for all the things we think we need."

Jack pulled his hand out of Ianto's and at last wrapped his arms around his lover. Bringing him close to his chest, he felt Ianto snuggle against him. "That's all there really is, isn't there?" He pressed a kiss in Ianto's hair. "Rest, Ianto. We'll still be here in the morning."

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finis.