Ships: Jack/Ianto

Warnings: Language.

Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood or Doom or Doctor Who - the characters, ideas, situations, etc. - nothing really. Rednex song after which this story is titled isn't mine either.


-

Wish You Were Here

He cried and he screamed, but the one person still by his side kept him from falling.

It was a long time before Ianto could push his grief far enough to take a breath that wasn't strangled moan of pain. He had no idea how long he'd been senseless and lost in the darkness of his own guilt and memories that had no other taste but bitterness in his mind, but now the room snapped into his view with sudden clarity.

Jack's soft and soothing whispers were still ringing in his ears when he violently pushed the Captain away from himself.

"Calm down," Jack said calmly and placatingly. "I just want to help."

Ianto chocked incredulously on an uneven breath. "You? You just want to help?"

All night Ianto had pleaded with the Captain to help – to help him and to help Lisa. In response Harkness had set a bloody dinosaur on her. Now was far too late for helping.

"Yes," Jack said strongly. He got on his feet and stood honest and open before Ianto. He extended his hand to help the other man up.

Jack truly wanted to help. Previously he had used his psychic gift and now he felt, no, he knew that he understood his receptionist like no one else on this planet could. Jack could feel Ianto's pain and rage and guilt and he wanted to be the one to make it all better.

Ianto snorted at the seemingly truthful admission and ignored the extended hand. He crawled a few steps in blood over to cyber-Lisa's body and gently caressed her face with a trembling hand.

"I will bury them as I see fit," he stated not even bothering to look up to the Captain to defy him.

Jack let out a deep breath. "Ianto… She was Torchwood. We have protocols and the pizza girl has her head sewn back together – there's no way…"

"Oh, now she counts as Torchwood, doesn't she?" he asked angrily as he got to his feet and turned to face the Captain. "How very considerate of you – Torchwood doesn't stand by its employees, but they do pick up the bodies afterwards. At least we won't have another outbreak of black plague due to rotten corpses," Ianto spat.

"You know the rules …" Jack began calmly, but was interrupted once again.

"I don't give a damn about Torchwood regulations," Ianto yelled to Harkness' face.

Jack had had enough. He honestly wanted to help, but Ianto just wasn't listening – at all. "You've put this base through enough trouble – you will follow the rules now. You will do as you're told."

Ianto's shoulders slumped down and his anger seemed to deflate before Jack's eyes. "You said you wanted to help," he said accusingly.

"I do," Jack assured taking a step forward and spreading his arms as if to welcome Ianto in his embrace. "Ianto, believe me – I do, but …"

"Then you should have shot me when you had the chance," Ianto said and punched his Captain in the face holding nothing back. Jack slumped to floor and didn't get back up.

Ianto frowned and stepped forward to kneel by Jack. Previously when he had hit Harkness on the Plaza he hadn't really calculated his strength either, but then the Captain hadn't wasted time getting back up. Ianto touched his boss' neck and felt for a pulse – there was none. Ianto cursed silently.

He knew that Harkness wasn't dead or at least permanently dead since the man was pushing at least one hundred in Torchwood (not to mention that Ianto had seen him get shot in the head), however Ianto hadn't intended to kill him and of all the ways to kill someone he hated accidental killings the most. It meant that he wasn't in control of himself and when Ianto slipped – people died.

He considered the situation for a moment. Maybe the Captain won't notice. The man had to be used to this by now. Then Ianto hauled Harkness' dead body over his shoulder and carried him to the cells making sure that the cell was within CCTV coverage, but not obviously so. It would be a while until Jack recovered and would be found – it will give Ianto extra time to get both bodies of Lisa away. Torchwood had long hands and Jack Harkness probably had longer, but neither had Ianto's experience.

-

Money is a powerful tool. Money also is one of the best oils in the world – large enough sum could buy speed and silence and quality. He contemplated the issue as he watched two coffins being steered down the hall to the incinerator.

Each body had its own coffin. Each coffin was different. Lisa and Annie; Annie and Lisa. And the cyberwoman between them. Three entities that shared two bodies and one death. The only one of them that he thought he knew was Lisa, but he did his best to honor them all.

He bought the coffins straight from the exposition room. They were expensive and the mortician swore up and down that they were one of a kind and while Ianto didn't really believe that it also wasn't all that important to him. The coffins had been there for all to see in an open exhibition and there would be new ones in the places of the ones he'd bought – nobody would really know what had happened to them (they might not even notice or care) just like nobody would know what happened to Lisa and Annie. He would retcon the mortician and then he alone will remember. He will be the only one in possession of the memory what happened to their bodies and where they're buried.

As soon as the incinerator doors swung shut he stepped into a small, private room on the side and turned on the screen that hung on the wall. Ianto stood still as the life as he knew it was swiftly burning away on the large telescreen.

-

He was sitting on a moderate sized balcony in one of Cardiff's newest apartment buildings and sipping an orange juice while watching the sun slowly make its way behind the horizon. He was waiting for someone. It was time to put an end to Ianto Jones.

"I should kill you," Jack said as a way of greeting before dropping a box of pizza in Ianto's lap.

Ianto glanced at the Captain – the man hadn't even drawn his gun. "Sure, you're trying to help me after all."

Jack frowned and sat in the chair opposite to Ianto's. It had been three days since his receptionist had killed him and left him in a cell, but Ianto didn't seem all that surprised to see him. Jack couldn't really decide whether that was because Ianto hadn't realized he had killed him (and, honestly, that had to be one adrenaline packed punch to snap his neck like that) or (and that thought scared Jack on some level) Ianto knew that Jack wasn't going to stay dead.

In the last three days they had had no trace of Ianto Jones. Tosh had set up a body recognition programme and hooked it into the CCTV of all Cardiff and surrounding areas. Owen had called hospitals and morgues and funeral homes. Gwen had gotten in touch with her buddies at Cardiff police and put him on search. Jack… Jack had searched Ianto's home and stuff – he had found less than he had expected. Despite everything they did – there had been no sight of Ianto until he had used his credit card to order pizza to this very apartment and it was painfully obvious that that had been intentional.

Jack sighed. "Ianto – you've betrayed us over and over again. The last few days – I can't…"

"Right, because trust is such a one way street," Ianto said harshly before placing the pizza box on the balcony railing and finishing his juice.

"I get it," Jack stated. "I get that you're angry and in pain, but you've got to admit that you have crossed any and every line there ever has been or will be."

Ianto dropped the empty glass as he stood up. "So shut up and shoot me!" he demanded, pleaded spreading his arms.

Jack also stood and leaned close to Ianto's face before announcing quietly, "No, I won't."

Ianto collapsed back into the chair with laughter. His whole body was shaking even though there was no mirth in his laugh. "So – what the hell is this?"

Jack raised his chin in defiance of Ianto's attitude and said, "I'm going to give you a second chance."

Ianto abruptly stopped laughing. "I'm not going to tell you where I buried them," he said seriously. He cocked his head to a side and really looked at the Captain for the first time since the other man had stepped on the balcony, "Cut the smug expression," Ianto advised. "You may be good, but you will never find them."

"This is not about it," Jack said fishing out a slice of pizza from the box and greedily taking a bite. "Mhm, my favorite."

Ianto rolled his eyes – only Captain Jack Harkness. "You can have the cyberman parts."

When Lisa and Annie had burned away to hopefully better place all that was left were the parts of the cyberwoman. Ianto had scrubbed the metal from sooth until his hands bled and healed again and again and again. The activity had helped to contain his rage against Torchwood, against Jack, but he still wasn't even close to whole. He still wasn't even healing – he was just putting plasters on gaping wounds.

Jack nearly choked on the food in his mouth. "How did you separate…?"

"I've got friends," Ianto lied.

Jack frowned before deciding to let that one slide. He knew that Ianto wasn't going to answer even if he asked who these friends are and he was on a precarious ground already as it was. "Like I said – I want to give you a second chance."

"What if I don't want it?" Ianto challenged.

"Nothing," Jack replied simply and slid back into his chair.

"No retcon?" Ianto asked with a dangerously self-destructive smile.

"No," Jack answered. "You'd go on with your life and you'd remember every single thing that happened to you while in Torchwood. You'd know about the opportunities you're letting pass you by. You'd remember the things you saw and missed, the battles you fought and lost, the people you met and failed and betrayed," Jack spoke quietly and calmly as if he knew that every word was going to strike exactly where he wanted them to.

"Bastard," Ianto growled.

"I'm being your friend here," Jack countered.

"You never were my friend," Ianto spat to the Captain's face.

"You never gave me a chance!" Jack yelled back.

Ianto gripped the armrests to restrain himself, because the urge to hit Jack was creeping up again. Jack struggled to contain his breathing to calm down; he had never intended to get this worked up, but Ianto seemed to make him go out of his way every time.

Ianto would gladly kill the Captain again unfortunately it would be completely and utterly useless. Jack should have gladly shot Ianto back when he discovered the cyberwoman, it would have saved him a lot of trouble, but unfortunately he just couldn't let the Welshman go.

"You decide," Jack said through gritted teeth. "You decide whether you want to come back or not. If you leave – I swear I won't chase after you."

Harkness' offer was generous – especially from the Captain's own point of view. The thing was – Ianto didn't understand why he was receiving such an offer at all. He knew Torchwood protocols – he knew he should be shot and put away in cold storage and forgotten. The fact that he was unlikely to be killed didn't really matter since Harkness had no idea.

"What makes you think that I won't publish a book exposing each and every one of you?" Ianto asked and refrained from grimacing. He hated himself for asking such a question.

"Because you asked," Jack replied honestly and seriously. "Look," he continued leaning forward, "Today. Next week. Next month or even next year – it doesn't matter. Give me a ring when you decide so that I'll know when to close your personnel file and cancel your pay."

Ianto snorted. "What makes you think I'll ever call? I could probably use the income."

"You're not that kind of man," Jack said standing up. "You'll call," he said confidently and turned to leave.

"You don't know me at all," Ianto said in a quiet and low voice.

"No, I don't," the Captain admitted and looked Ianto in the eyes before stating quietly, "But I do believe in you."

IJCJH

Ianto looked directly in the CCTV camera fixed on him before dropping a key on the invisible lift. It was a key to a storage box in a bank on the account of Lisa Hallet. He had put the metal of the cyberwoman there. He said that Torchwood could have her and he'd meant it. Lisa and Annie were free in their deaths.

He turned and left before the stone block began to work its way down to the Hub. He wasn't coming back – not now and maybe not ever, but he still had an oath to keep.

He walked past the monument. He walked past the Millennium Centre. He walked past his car in the parking lot. He kept on walking. He slipped his money in a pocket of a threadbare jacket on a woman with two small kids after that he tossed his wallet in the garbage along with his car keys. He emptied his pockets in various bins along the way never stopping. The only thing he kept was his mobile even though he turned it off. And he kept on walking.

-

Ianto turned his face upwards facing the sun and closed his eyes. It was amazing how far one could get within only one week without a penny in pocket. He had walked, he had hitchhiked, he had jumped from moving trains and he had sneaked aboard ships and trucks. He had kept on moving.

His clothes had lost their shine and his shoes were close to falling apart, but that didn't matter. He felt that he was close. Ever since his race had chosen the Enlightenment their minds had closed to those around them and Ianto had never experienced such guidance above his own understanding and yet he followed it.

A bell rang far above his head. It was time. The deck was clearing as crewmen headed for lunch and this was his chance; the ship was as close to the shore as it was going to get. He pulled off his shoes and tossed them aside before climbing the railing. He didn't hesitate at all before diving in the water far below.

The suction from the propellers tried to pull him under and he had to strain himself to keep afloat, to keep swimming towards the shore. Every breath seemed all the more precious.

When he stumbled out of the water on the empty beach that stretched for miles he was slightly winded and felt light burn in the muscles of his arms and legs. When his breath evened he straightened his back and took a careful look at the surroundings.

According to a map of Australia he had seen quite a while back; he was on an eighty mile stretch of beach. He had to strain his eyes to see signs of civilization far off. He didn't have to strain his ears to hear the highway. It was hardly busy, but it was still there.

He ruffled his wet hair before glancing up at the sun and grinned. This was early November and summer was barely a month away. He squared his shoulders and set off in the direction of inland.

He walked for hours until he was dry and then he kept on walking. He tried to pay attention to his surroundings, but everything just seemed to slip by. He didn't speak to himself and he didn't have loud thoughts. He had no thoughts at all.

The sand was hot under his feet, warmed by the fierce Australian sun, but his feet didn't blister. He hadn't eaten for more than a day, but he kept on walking, because he could survive and keep on moving without water longer than a camel.

He had vague sense of direction and no sense of destination. He walked through the day and he walked in the night. At one point he stopped walking and he started to run. He kept a steady pace for four days until he happened upon a spring and stopped.

He drank the water greedily. He might not need a lot of things to survive, but that didn't mean he hadn't developed a taste for them. Only now he noticed that the muscles in his legs were burning and that he couldn't draw an even breath. He wasn't exhausted, but he was winded and he felt his body like he hadn't in years.

The last couple of centuries he and Lisa had settled in cities. They'd lived in palaces and large buildings; they'd devoted lifetimes to developing businesses that were flourishing even now. They'd lived lives and added to lives of other people. They'd been involved.

After the mess that had been the Middle Ages they had let themselves relax in the comforts of a thriving society and developing technology never looking back to the wilderness. Ianto hadn't walked the Earth like this for a long time and it seemed that he had forgotten how difficult and rewarding it could be.

He took another mouthful of water before standing up. However far he'd come – he still wasn't there wherever that was.

"You're going the wrong way."

He spun around and stared at the dark-skinned aboriginal woman standing only few meters from him. He hadn't heard her coming. He hadn't heard her being there at all. He supposed he had been too distracted with himself.

"What?" he asked rather unintelligently.

"You're searching for the Dreamtime, but you're going the wrong way."

He frowned. "I'm not searching for anything."

"Oh, yes, you are. Whatever you're looking for answers, absolution or advice, you will find it in the Dreamtime, but right now – you're going the wrong way."

"Impossible," he protested. "I feel…"

"Yes?"

He paused. The pull he had felt in his chest, the force that had seemed to guide him for the last fortnight had vanished. He felt lost. "But I felt…," he said defensively and pleadingly as if beseeching her to believe him.

"You did, but you lost the way. You're going the wrong way now."

"Where do I go?" he asked earnestly.

"You go that way," she said and pointed south.

He turned for only a moment to look in the direction she was pointing and when he turned back – she was gone. He blinked, but she was still gone. He knew he wasn't liable to get a heat stroke or a sun stroke, and there was no way someone could sneak up to him like she had – not somewhere this deserted where his own breathing seemed too loud. And there was no way someone could disappear just like that in a span of a second.

He glanced south and felt that she was right – that was the way he was supposed to be going. He debated for a second whether he should look for her, maybe try and make some sense of this, but he had lived long enough to understand that sometimes one didn't have to understand.

Maybe she was real, but maybe he imagined her. Maybe he really was searching for something and maybe that something will help. Maybe he was just running until he could no more and simply postponing the moment when reality will catch up with him. Maybe he'll find a reason to move on and maybe the emptiness in him will expand and he will collapse in on himself. Maybe there was a very difficult technical explanation for what he just experienced. All of it didn't matter.

"Thank you," he said to no one in particular before turning south.

He ran again. He ran for days and when he couldn't run anymore, he walked. He didn't eat, he didn't drink and he didn't sleep. He kept going until he collapsed. He fell to the ground and at the moment he honestly couldn't make another step. His throat was dry and parched. His feet had started to bleed. Any patch of skin exposed to sun was red and sensitive. His lungs were burning and he felt strong cramps in his legs.

He had been pushing his body to its limits for weeks without a pause and his cells were so preoccupied with keeping him alive that they couldn't keep him moving anymore and lighter injuries weren't even healing as fast as they should. Right now, as he lay gasping on the ground he couldn't make another step.

When his breathing evened he noticed that he couldn't hear anything - nothing, but the wind sifting through sand or playing in the undergrowth. He leaned on one elbow and took a long look around. He couldn't see anyone either. There was nothing that would signify civilization – there was nothing, but the outback. Ianto took a deep breath for once taking time to taste the air and once again he felt nothing, but scorching heat and desert fauna. He was alone.

He laughed. It was a low, broken and desperate sound, because there was no joy in his laugh, just terrible understanding of the irony of being truly alone in every sense of the word.

He was exhausted and no matter how far he'd ran the hurt hadn't gone away. He still couldn't think past – this can't be real. With no one left to share with all the years stretching in front of him seemed wasted, the world seemed empty and the stars that had occasionally beckoned him in the past didn't seem as marvelous as they once had.

Staring in the crystal clear sky he frowned. He couldn't remember why he'd never left the planet; it wasn't like he'd lacked the opportunities. Maybe he had thought that all of them together could make a home here; something permanent, someplace to heal. All of them were gone now. Most were dead, some were missing, but it meant the same thing in the end. Maybe he'd stayed because of the opportunity to watch the development of a whole new world. After all, it had never occurred to him that he might run out of time. Maybe he stayed, because someone needed to. The human race was so young – every once in a while they needed protection and guidance. Maybe he stayed, because he thought that with time he could fix the Ark. Maybe she had stayed to stop him. He couldn't remember.

He didn't notice when his eyes drifted shut and he fell asleep.

"You really are a miserable bastard, aren't you?"

He looked in the direction of the voice before swirling around in disbelief. He was in a Venetian outdoor café and it was full of other people. Lisa was sitting at a table just few steps from him and the background chatter of people around them didn't seem as annoying as it often did in real life. He frowned just as he sat down at her table.

"This isn't real," he stated to her.

"Depends," she answered. "For the moment it is real enough to touch; it just won't last."

"We don't dream," he said referring to their race as a whole.

"No," she agreed cheerfully. "I never had a dream in my life."

"I'm not dead either," there was a questioning tilt in his voice as he said his statement.

"No, you're not," she agreed again and sipped her cocktail.

"Then I don't understand."

"You don't have to!" she laughed.

He leaned back into his chair and relished in the sound. He hadn't heard her laugh for months before she… He sighed.

"It's this land. Or rather the land you're lying on," she explained. "It's old and powerful. People there believe in the Dreamtime and…"

"What is the Dreamtime?" he asked interrupting her.

"It's a belief. It means the beginning of all things, the strength and experiences of those before us, its life and death and its power within life itself."

"That means – I'm dreaming?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes," she affirmed.

"But we don't dream," he said stressing each word.

"Oh, Ianto. This has nothing to do with psychic perception or any other power or peculiarity of the mind. This is the power of the heart and soul – you do remember the old saying from home? 'Will it and it'll happen'?" she looked at him expectantly.

"Yes."

"People here believe in the Dreamtime. They will it. They live it so it is," she said passionately. "Sometimes all you need is a little bit of belief."

"But I don't believe," he remarked. "I didn't even know what it is until you told me."

"Well, you're special, Ianto Jones," Lisa said with a grin. "You're believed for."

"People often believe in other people. I see nothing special in that," he said running his hand through his hair. "Not to mention that the only person who might have believed in me is dead."

This time Lisa sighed. "I always believed in you – never doubt that," she said strongly. "And there are many other people who know you and think of you and believe in you – don't believe you're alone, because you're not."

He watched her take a deep breath and held his silence. Her words were comforting, but he wasn't sure he was ready to believe them.

"But it's not the faith in you that makes this possible. It's the belief for you."

"And what does that mean?" he asked tiredly.

"Bad wolf," she said simply.

Ianto chuckled. Every answer gave him ten other questions. "You were never this cryptic before you…" he stopped abruptly.

"It's okay," she said gently. "Before I died," she finished for him. "You're right, but there are things I can tell you and things you have to find out by yourself – things you have to live through, because you do have a life, Ianto Jones. You have a long and amazing life before you."

"Stop calling me Ianto Jones," he asked. "It's just a name. One of countless others."

"It's not just a name. It's your name now. And it'll continue to be your name for a long time to come."

Silence settled between them, but the chatter of those surrounding them didn't grow louder in Ianto's ears. He leaned forward and regarded her fondly.

"If this is real. And this is also a dream. Is this a goodbye as well?"

"Yes," she said sadly placing her empty glass on the table.

"Why?" he asked genuinely. Why was he granted this goodbye? He wasn't sure he even wanted it – it was hard to see her whole and happy and realize that this was truly the last time he ever saw her.

"Because you're a miserable bastard," she said teasingly.

He chuckled. The phrase was a long-running joke between them. "But I am," he admitted seriously.

"No, you're not," she disagreed strongly. "And don't fish for compliments."

"How much longer do we have?" he asked glancing around. There was no huge ticking clock on the wall of the building, but he better than most knew that everything comes to an end.

"A little bit. There is still one thing I need to remind you of."

"Do take your time," he said relaxing in his chair.

She laughed. "Do you remember Pomponia?"

"Of course," he said. "Though if I remember correctly – the last time we saw her she insisted on being called Diane. Then she went missing."

"She left the planet," Lisa corrected him.

"We don't know that for sure. That vortex manipulator she stole was faulty. If it could dump her in the 20th century when all she wanted was to go forward a week it could just as well teleport her into a sun," Ianto said resignedly. "It's been nearly two thousand years since we heard from her last."

"Well – we're not supposed to hear from her. She's supposed to hear from us."

"Right," he snorted. "Press the button when you see me again. If it's still 20th century – it doesn't count."

"You recall – good," Lisa said satisfied. "Just don't forget."

"Sure," he sighed. "So… This is it?"

"You seem eager to leave," she remarked curiously.

"Of course not!" he yelled as he stood from the table. "It's just we keep chatting about why's and how's and immaterial things while I know that I'm going to have to go back there where there's nothing – where you're gone and I'm not okay with it. I'm not alright with this goodbye, because I don't want to say farewell. I don't want to let you go and you know that I can't and yet you sit here and blabber about dreams and friends long gone. This is not a blessing – this is a torture."

"Ianto," she breathed as she rose from her chair as well and walked over to him. She caressed his cheek and he leaned in the touch. "Sweetheart, this is not meant to hurt you. You have to accept that I'm dead and move on. We were by each others sides for a very long time, but now our paths have divided and its okay. You have your life – your destiny and you don't need me anymore."

"I'll always need you."

"Honey – that's the grief talking. You're magnificent and there's so much I've found out and can't tell you, but – you have a life to live. It's going to be hard and terrible and so amazing there are no words to describe it," she said and her eyes filled with water.

"What life?" he asked dejectedly. "I'm the last one and everything seems so empty," he stated quietly. "What do I have that's worth going back to?"

"There's always someone else. Always. Unique always comes in pairs. And I can't promise that you'll wake up and be fine. I can't promise that it'll stop hurting soon, but I can promise that you're not alone. Never alone. No matter what happens there will always be someone who'll love you. Dead or alive - there always will be someone there for you. I swear," she said and a tear rolled over her cheek. "I swear."

He didn't believe her. He knew that she'd lie to make him feel better, but the very fact that she tried to comfort him at all even if it was with lies, made him feel a little bit more whole. He pressed a kiss to her cheeks and forehead, the tip of her nose and finally gently pressed his lips against hers.

"Goodbye."

IJCJH

When he woke it was deep into the night. He didn't know how long he had dreamed, but it seemed that it had been enough for his body to catch up with much needed rest. He was still thirsty, but his skin was healed and he felt that he could move again.

He sat up and breathed deeply. This was it. Whatever he had come for – he had gotten it. He had had his goodbye and as consoling as it sounded it was also heartbreaking. Tears rolled over his cheeks and he cried not because he refused to accept, but because he understood. She was gone and now he felt ready to grieve and eventually – to heal.

The sun rose and fell from the sky before he managed to calm himself and come to a decision.

He could abandon the name of Ianto Jones and move on, although he had no idea what he would do. Or he could call Captain Harkness and go back to Torchwood; he could remain Ianto Jones. Lisa had seemed to think that the name would stick to him for a while longer and now it felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

He could ignore everything he had experienced these past few weeks or he could follow the clues he had been given and try to make a life out of the whole mess. It wasn't really a choice – he clung to everything he had left.

Ianto reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out his phone. He was going to call Jack. He had turned it off to be left in peace and it should have preserved some of the battery power. He hit a few buttons and waited for the phone to engage. It didn't. He shook it a bit, but that didn't help either. Finally he hit the device lightly, but it stayed dead. He frowned and then he remembered his jump from the ship – the water must have killed the phone stone dead. "Fuck," he muttered.

He nimbly rose to his feet. It seemed that he wasn't quite done walking yet just this time he wasn't running away – he was going back.

-

Jack stood by the glassed wall of the boardroom and with his arms crossed on his chest he watched as his team worked. He had been in a rather bad mood lately and he knew that all of them had their own theories as to why he was so vexed. To larger or lesser extent all of them were correct in their assumptions – the reason he was so disagreeable was Ianto.

And he didn't doubt that they all were convinced that his problems were his own fault. He had told them that Ianto was on suspension and wasn't coming back until Jack decided what to do with him. It was much kinder to lie to them that it was his fault Ianto wasn't back to brewing his marvelous coffee and caring for them than admitting that the archivist probably hated the very sight of them and wasn't planning on coming back.

Jack had seen the reverence with which Owen treated the metal parts of cyberwoman that they had found in the bank account that went with the key Ianto had left. The manner in which the medic had examined the metal as if they were still part of a living being, spoke volumes of Owen's guilt over the whole incident.

The Captain had also caught Tosh browsing through Hub's CCTV footage featuring Ianto. She seemed to be looking for any signs of distress and loneliness that she had missed when she'd actually been there. Jack knew for a fact that she had printed out a snapshot of Ianto smiling and placed it in her desk drawer.

He knew that if he told them the truth – that he gave Ianto a choice and Ianto chose to leave them – that it would shatter them. They felt guilty enough. The truth was his burden to bear. Sometimes Jack regretted giving Ianto that choice and offering him time even though that had been the right thing to do.

Few days after they'd all seen Ianto on the Plaza Jack had received a phone-call in the middle of the night from Cardiff's law enforcement. They'd arrested a pick-pocket who had had in his possession the wallet of Ianto Jones and since the ID said that he was Torchwood they'd called him…

Jack had gone to the police and to his horror found that the kid hadn't pulled the wallet from Ianto's pocket, but had found it in the garbage. He had used his psychic ability and knew that teen was telling the truth.

He hadn't told the team about the incident, but ever since that night he kept looking for Ianto. It took him a while to discover that Ianto had left the country, after that tracking the archivist became much harder. Every night Jack ran a body recognition programme on CCTV footage from all over the world, but the last thing he had found was a snapshot of Ianto in New Delhi three weeks and four days ago. Today was four weeks and three days since Ianto had walked from the Plaza seemingly never to return.

Jack was angry he hadn't thought to check on Ianto sooner – he may have found that the man was gone before it had been too late to follow him. He was also worried – Ianto could be dead. He was living in constant ignorance of what had happened and it was driving him mad. He had promised Ianto time and space, but Jack most certainly hadn't meant half of the world between them and weeks of silence.

Still – it had been only weeks and even though there had been no e-mails, no phone calls and not even a plain postcard – Jack wasn't even close to giving up.

The shrill sound of a phone bounced off the walls of the hub and seemed too loud in the silence that had reigned in the base for the past few weeks. Jack knew that ringtone and it was disappointing to say the least. It was the unspecified signal for everyone that wasn't important or his team.

He unhurriedly walked to his office and shut the doors behind himself. "Torchwood," he let his annoyance show in his tone.

"Heavens! The tone," Ianto exclaimed. "Is it morning in Cardiff or something?"

"Ianto?" Jack asked hardly believing his ears. He composed himself quickly, "Have you made a decision?"

Ianto paused before answering and Jack held his breath. The Captain felt as if his heart would climb out of the ribcage – of all the times for Ianto to acquire a taste for dramatics!

"Yep," Ianto said. "I'm coming back."

Jack slowly released the breath he had been holding. "Good."

"There's just this one thing…" Ianto began hesitantly.

"What do you need?"

"Well, if my calculations are correct – I need two airplane tickets. From Adelaide Australia to Singapore and from Singapore to London. I suppose I could also somehow get to Sydney and fly from there, but then you've got to give me a few more days and I would need something to get back from London too, see I'm kinda…"

"Ianto, stop," Jack asked calmly. "You're in Australia?"

"Yes."

"Okay," Jack said agreeably even though he wondered how the hell his receptionist had gotten that far and why? "Where in Australia?"

"Eucla," was Ianto's short answer.

"Where?" Jack asked incredulously.

"It's not far from Adelaide. Sort of. It's a town by a highway and the only place on this highway that's got the view of the Great Australian Bight," Ianto said and his tone was full of positivism and cheer that Jack himself didn't feel.

"Do you have passport or any documents?"

There was a pause on the other end, before Ianto answered, "No."

"I can send you the papers and everything and you could be back within few days or…," Jack paused unsure how to propose what he had in mind.

"Or?"

"I could come and get you," he decided to say it as it was.

"No, thanks," Ianto replied fast.

"You sure?" Jack asked again.

This time Ianto paused to contemplate the offer. He was sure that the Captain's presence would undoubtedly speed everything up and make things easier, but on the other hand it seemed awkward. "I hate you," Ianto said reflectively.

Even if there was no real hate in Ianto's voice his words still stung. Jack took a calming breath before asking again, "Do you want me to come?"

"Yeah," he answered after another minute of silence. "Yeah, come and get me," Ianto said laughingly.

"I'll be there soon," Jack promised and waited for Ianto to end the call on his end before putting down the phone on his.

IJCJH

Ianto woke to the sound of rustling curtains. He sleepily turned towards the sound and cracked one eye open. "Hey, Angie," he greeted softly the woman by the window.

"Oh!" she jumped and turned to him. "Damn. I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay," he chuckled. "What time is it, anyway?"

"Just over ten," she said shortly her hands on her hips before stepping closer to him. "You think you can sleep some more or should I get some breakfast for you?"

"I'll get up, but you really don't have to bother. I'm thankful you let me in for the night as …"

"Shush," she waved at him to shut up. "It's my pleasure and my duty as a decent human being. Now, your clothes were completely ruined so I took the liberty to toss them out – there," she pointed, "on the chair are some of my oldest son's clothes, they should fit you nicely."

"Ah..," he stammered. When he had wandered in the small highway town and knocked on some random door he hadn't expected the welcome he'd gotten, actually, he thought that he'd end up spending another night in the sand, but since it doesn't really hurt to try... Sometimes it still amazed him how truly good and nice people could be; sometimes he supposed that that was the reason why Lisa had loved the human race with such passion. "Thank you."

She winked at him before heading for the door. "I should be thanking you. Christmas is coming and I want to be on Santa's good list," she said humorously.

"I think you've always been a permanent resident there," he noted earnestly.

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she laughed. "Okay, the shower is down the hall to the right and I put a towel here on chair with some clothes," she instructed.

"It's been forever since I had a decent shower," he quipped thoughtlessly. Last night he'd only taken a cursory wash, because he'd been too tired to stand for as long as it would take to actually have a shower.

Angela's face softened in honest sympathy. "Take all the time you need, darling," she said gently before leaving the room.

-

It wasn't as much shower as a bath with shower attached, but Ianto decided to limit himself with a shower. He suspected that if he tried to indulge himself to a bath; he might not get out of it in the nearest decade.

He turned the water as cold as he could stand it and took a deep gasping breath. After weeks of suffering from heat and dry of the desert; the freezing water beating against his skin felt heavenly.

His hand trembled lightly as he reached for the shower gel. It had taken him longer than he'd expected to reach some civilized place. Going back always took more time that walking away.

When he'd decided that he was coming back, he hadn't stopped walking until he reached this town. He had been walking for days since that dream in the desert and weeks before that. He hadn't eaten, he hadn't drunk and he hadn't slept. By the time he'd knocked on the Moore's door he was ready to genuinely collapse.

He soaped himself and as the water washed the soap and sand and grime of the last few weeks away he watched fascinated the slight tremble in his fingers as he rested them against his abdomen. He willed his hands to stop shaking, but they wouldn't. It had been centuries since he'd been so completely drained physically. Ianto lifted his face towards the spray of water and smiled.

Washing his hair took amazingly lot of time. He began thinking that he may have brought the desert with him, but nearly an hour after stepping in the shower he felt clean enough to be allowed in decent society.

He really didn't want to think how he must have looked last night when he'd desperately knocked on Angie's and Joshua's door, though it was possible that his miserable look had won him a place to stay for the night.

He climbed out of the tub and had to use the wall for support so not to end up on his face. He wondered if humans often felt this exhausted. It was refreshing to realize the limitations of his body every once in a while, but he didn't think he'd like to feel this run-down often. Exhaustion made every part of his body ache with tiredness and it was a feeling as rewarding as it was exposing. The fact that if he slipped now and got himself a blue eye then the bruise would stay for couple of hours before healing made him feel vulnerable.

He toweled before trying on the clothes Angie had left for him. The pants were a bit big on him, but the shirt seemed to fit just fine. The material was soft and sturdy, none of the fancy smoothness he had grown used to while wearing suits, though he didn't mind. He'd worn worse. And to be honest, he was sure there had never been and never will be something more horrible than the Roman toga.

He smiled at himself in the mirror over the sink. There was slight stubble on his cheeks, but he decided against shaving; he was slightly curious as to his boss' reaction. Ianto frowned; he had no idea why he thought of Harkness now of all times.

-

The smell of fresh toast, waffles, fruits and other breakfast-y goods reached him long before he was down the staircase. "Angie, you shouldn't have bothered."

She stopped stirring the dough and put the bowl on the table before glancing up at him skeptically. "And, pray tell me, when was the last time you had a decent meal?"

"Yesterday evening," he responded immediately with a cheeky grin.

She snorted. "And before that?"

He fell silent. He couldn't very well tell her the truth and he had no point of reference to estimate how long it could have been.

"I thought so," she said softly. "Look, whatever you may be thinking – you're not imposing …" she spoke gently, but was interrupted by the outdoor opening and closing.

"You smell better this morning," Joshua greeted Ianto before pressing a short, scruffy kiss to his wife's cheek.

"Joshua!" Angie admonished, but Ianto just laughed.

"He's right," Ianto remarked. "Thanks for letting me stay the night and use your phone …" he started again this time addressing Joshua.

"Don't be an idiot. It's no worries."

Ianto sighed letting the matter drop for the moment and took the plate with toasts that Angie was handing him. He had rarely encountered people who resisted so hard to being thanked.

"Say, that friend of yours – he said that he'd come this week?" Joshua asked contemplatively while pouring himself a cup of coffee.

"He said, 'Soon'," Ianto answered after swallowing the last of the toast. "I suppose he should be here today."

"Today?" Angie asked pouring some oil on frying-pan. "Take some fruit too," she encouraged Ianto towards the bowl of fresh fruit.

"That implies soon," Ianto answered taking an apple.

"Well, if he flies in today; he might not be able to come up here from Adelaide," Joshua said. "I was just at the museum – I lend a hand there once in a while," he explained, "and there was a broadcast that the highway's going to be closed from the border to the Eucla Pass for indeterminate amount of time due to some sort of repairs."

Angela took the first pancake off the frying pan and poured the dough for the next. "You're welcome here as long as you want to," she said firmly glancing at Ianto.

Joshua opened his mouth to support his wife's claim when the phone rang. He frowned. The phone didn't ring often in their house; on Tuesdays and Thursdays their children called from their jobs or Universities, but otherwise the device was usually silent. Today was Wednesday.

He hesitantly approached the phone. Calls on unusual days never brought good news. He picked the receiver. "Joshua Moore," he grunted.

"Good morning!" came a cheerful response. "I'm Captain Jack Harkness. Is there a Ianto Jones nearby?"

Joshua glanced at Ianto and paused a moment before answering, "Yeah."

"Can I have him on the phone?" Jack asked. "Please," he added as an afterthought.

"It's for you," Joshua said tossing the phone to Ianto who caught it deftly.

He didn't need to ask who was calling. There was only one person who knew this number and where he was, though Tosh could probably find out if she tried, not that she had any reason to. "Jack," he greeted.

Angie turned off the stove and wiped her hands on her apron. She glanced questioningly at her husband, but when he just shrugged his shoulders, she turned her attention to Ianto. "Your friend?" she mouthed.

"It's been a while since I've heard such excitement in your voice," Jack sounded somewhat affronted and disappointed.

Ianto was tired otherwise he'd resist the urge to roll his eyes. Sometimes Harkness acted like a kid on sugar high. "I'm so excited I forgot to be excited," he replied and nodded in answer to Angela.

"Fine," Jack huffed on the other end of the line. "How far are you from the Eyre highway?"

"How far are we from the highway?" Ianto repeated the question to the Moore's.

"Less than five minutes on a truck," Joshua replied.

"Less than…"

"I heard," Jack interrupted. "So pack your stuff and be there in fifteen, okay?"

"You're already here?" he asked suspicious.

"Torchwood, Ianto," Jack said in a patronizing tone as if the one word explained everything before hanging up.

"I guess my ride's here," Ianto said pensively and shrugged his shoulders before looking at Angie and Joshua.

-

Ianto stepped forward while Angie and Joshua hung back by their truck. He watched as the Captain bounced down the steps from the plane and waited until the man was within earshot before announcing, "I am thoroughly impressed."

Harkness grinned like a kid with his hand in the candy bar.

Ianto continued before the man could say anything, "I'm absolutely impressed that you didn't commission the Valiant from UNIT."

Jack shook his head exasperated. "You are so Welsh."

"And you like to show off," Ianto replied. "Sir," he added with grin.

Jack laughed. "A little," he said. Despite the grueling flight he was in high spirits and that was not, because of the shot of brandy he'd treated himself with. Every annoyance he'd experienced during past few weeks no longer bothered him and he felt like a new man. Or at least like a man with whole lot less worries.

"Who're they?" Jack asked pointing to the middle aged couple that seemed to be watching their every move from distance.

"Angela and Joshua Moore. They took me in last night," Ianto explained and led Jack to the couple.

The Captain frowned. "What do you mean – took me in?"

"It's nothing," Ianto replied shortly as they reached the Moore's. "Angie, Joshua – meet Jack Harkness."

Jack shook Joshua's hand and kissed Angela's in a perfectly gentlemanly manner. Ianto had never doubted that the Captain could be a charming devil when it suited him and it seemed that the man was resolved to charm the socks off the Moores. Ianto was sure that he would mind it less if he knew why, however he soon abruptly realized the Captain's agenda when the man invited the nice couple for a drink aboard the plane.

And to think Ianto had been genuinely happy to see Harkness arrive. 'Over my dead body,' he thought as the Captain led the Moores to the plane. "Sir, a word?"

"Ianto, we're all friends here," Jack said with a smile. "How many times I have to ask you to call me Jack?" he admonished gently.

"Apparently one more time," Ianto said tightly.

Jack sighed. "Very well." He motioned for Angie and Joshua to get on the plane. "It looks like he wants me all to himself for a moment, so – excuse us," he said humorously.

Angie giggled like a schoolgirl. She thought she had them all figured out – after all what kind of just friend came across the globe on a private plane on a single call just to fetch their wayward friend? "Oh, don't mind us, greet each other properly, we won't peek!"

Joshua saw the growing underlying tension between the men that his romantically inclined wife didn't, but he held his silence. He gently pushed her in the plane – this was the first and likely the last time in their lives when they had an opportunity to take a look around a private aircraft.

"You're piece of work aren't you, Jack Harkness?" Ianto hissed angrily.

"The sun must be messing with you head," Jack remarked tastelessly. "I have no idea what you mean."

"'All friends', huh?" Ianto snarled.

"Sure," Jack agreed easily.

It was Jack's luck that Ianto still wasn't up to his usual strength, because he didn't think he could hold back anything. He punched Jack in the jaw hard enough to make the other man crumple on the highway beneath their feet.

Jack nearly immediately bounced back to his feet holding his hand to his jaw, his teeth bloodied. "What the hell is your problem, Jones?" he demanded advancing on Ianto, the previous easy-going mood was completely gone.

"'All friends'," Ianto mocked again. "And with which hand did you plan to slip them the Retcon in your pocket?"

Jack deflated slightly. "I didn't think you'd notice."

"And that makes it okay?" he asked incredulously.

"Acceptable, maybe," Jack said shrugging.

"Well, it's not acceptable anymore," Ianto stated and glared at Jack daring the immortal to defy him.

"There's a huge plane on the highway," Jack exclaimed waving at the aircraft. "Full with Torchwood gadgets. Not to mention that…"

"I didn't tell them anything compromising if that's what you're implying," Ianto said. "And a plane on highway isn't all that extraordinary if a bit over-dramatic, but then that's just you, Sir," he spat the address still glaring at Jack who didn't back down even if he was a bit unsettled by the stare.

"Ianto, you have to understand…," Jack decided to gentle his approach to this subject.

"No," Ianto stated. "It is you who has to understand. Shut up, don't speak," he said pointing with his index finger to Captain's chest when Harkness opened his mouth to interrupt. "You want some semblance of control over my life – you pick something else to mess with, because you're not erasing their memories. That's cruel and unnecessary and often useless, because things tend to bleed through, because a human mind is not a fucking computer where you can hit 'Delete'. They've seen nothing important and they haven't done anything to warrant such treatment except take me in when I was about to collapse where I stood. This is not going to be the standard 'Thanks' from Torchwood – you're not going to go through with this."

"That's a pretty speech from someone with your experience in administering Retcon," Jack said venomously.

"I'm not saying I'm not a bastard," Ianto admitted. "But you're not messing with their heads."

"'Every once in a while you let someone go', huh?" Jack distantly quoted the Doctor.

"No," Ianto said simply. "Every once in a while you don't abuse the privileges you possess."

"This is on your head," Jack stated with a tight expression.

Ianto nodded accepting the responsibility and wondered for what wouldn't be the only time – why the hell did he bother coming back?

IJCJH

They'd been flying for nearly two hours now and the silence in the well aired and spacious cabin was oppressive. Ianto sipped his coffee and decided to be the smarter individual. He observed Jack who obstinately stared out of the small window for a few minutes.

There was a slight line between the Captain's brows and since Ianto knew for a fact that Harkness was immortal he doubted that the frown came from age. It was most likely that the Captain was angry and Ianto didn't need to be the spawn of the race of enlightened Eternals to figure why Jack was so irritated.

"I'd forgotten that Torchwood One had its own planes," Ianto said softly as a way to start a conversation.

Jack was silent for a moment before succumbing to the lure of dialogue. He had already had one long and quiet flight. "Yeah, well that's one good thing that came from Hartman," he said with a sneer in his tone. There was no love lost between him and Torchwood One. "If I'd ever been inclined to pursue her; I could've been the second."

Ianto resisted the urge to grit his teeth. "Don't talk about Yvonne like that," he said forcefully. He was loath to start another argument, but he wasn't going to back down and let Harkness walk over his opinions and memories either.

"Yvonne, huh?" Jack asked surprise and bitterness mingled in his tone. "You were that close?"

Ianto rolled his eyes at Jack. "She was a good Director. Eight hundred people and she knew everyone by their names."

"Eight hundred people and she got them all killed, because she was stupid and greedy," Jack countered. "I bet they appreciated their close relationship with her as they lay dying."

Ianto barred his teeth for a second in anger. "You want to say that in all the years you've been at Torchwood – you've never gotten people killed?"

"On a scale that massive?" Jack asked passionately. "No."

"Oh, so since you have kept it to small numbers it doesn't count?" Ianto asked snidely.

"That's not what I said," Jack protested angrily.

"Maybe," Ianto shrugged. "But you certainly implied it."

"I don't get why you're defending her!" Jack snarled. After weeks of missing Ianto, worrying for him – they couldn't spend a minute talking without the conversation escalating into a violent argument. "It was her endless snooping and inability to stop and think that caused the destruction of the Canary Wharf. That caused Lisa's death – you should hate her more than anyone of us. You were there!"

"Yes!" Ianto exclaimed taking advantage of the pause while Jack took a breath. "Yes, I was there and you weren't. You're in no position to judge. You came in as the smoke began to settle around the ruins and you scavenged for tech like a bloody vulture and never bothered to look at any of the survivors. We were just Torchwood One; we were lying and dying there and you didn't give a shit – you have no right to judge Yvonne."

"I told her for weeks that she should bloody stop! Did she listen? No!" Jack forced himself not to yell. "I told her that shit could hit the fan, but she didn't care. She never listened to anyone. Don't lay her fucking blame on me."

"Right, because you're a very believable character and all," Ianto spat. He stood and took an apple from the fruit basket that stood on the bar. "If somebody walked up to me in the street, and told me not to eat this particular apple, 'cause it ended badly for the Snow White I wouldn't listen to that crackpot either."

"So now I'm a nut-case?" Jack demanded.

"You could have made her stop if you wanted, but you didn't. Not really," Ianto said dropping back into his seat and taking a bite from the apple. "You took the reigns of Torchwood Institute pretty deftly once she was gone – you could have outsmarted her – Captain Jack Harkness," he sneered. "But you didn't. Because you thought that it would be fun to watch the whole thing blow sky high."

Jack's knuckles were white from the force he exerted to hold on to the armrests. With every minute it became harder to resist the urge to punch Ianto in the face. "Don't you dare suggest that I wanted the Canary Wharf battle to happen."

"You still wanted to take Yvonne down a peg or two and what's better than to have her project that's worth billions of pounds to fail," Ianto said softly. "The rest of Torchwood One was just collateral damage."

"I lost someone at Canary Wharf too," Jack growled leaning forward to Ianto.

Ianto laughed. "Someone! That's rich," he exclaimed mirthlessly. "Those who survived lost everyone and everything and the only ones we could've turned to – our fucking sister organizations – turned away from us on your orders.

'And now it turns out that you turned us out not so much, because of Yvonne's policies, but because you were grieving! News flash Harkness – there was twenty seven survivors of the battle and before I left that number was down to twenty. We still ARE grieving. Your bleeding heart is not the only one out there, you bloody hypocrite."

Jack reclined back in his chair in disbelief. "I took you in didn't I?"

"Every once in a while you let someone in?" Ianto venomously paraphrased Jack's earlier statement.

"Oh, I'm starting to see a pattern here," Jack relaxed in his chair. "It's my fault that you psychotic ex wanted to take over the Hub and turn the world in one large furnace for her kind. It's my fault that Hartman couldn't leave a hole in the sky well enough alone so Canary Wharf and the mess after it – it's my fault yet again," Jack sneered. "I suppose you were fucking Yvonne too?"

Ianto gnashed his teeth loudly. "You're such a bastard."

"You still came back," Jack said provocatively. "You work under me now," he said forcefully.

"I work for you," Ianto spat. "And there's something you need to understand. Yeah, Yvonne made mistakes, because that's what humans do. They're curious and they screw up a thousand times over before they get anything right and Canary Wharf was a disaster, but she did what she thought best for her Queen and her country. Don't you dare mock her principles. You didn't see her die. She walked with her head held high into the conversion unit and when converted she won over the piss poor programme they implanted her with and she gave the bloody Doctor the time he needed to open the Howling," he spoke passionately and didn't notice the slight slip-ups. "She died like a hero so show some goddamn respect or keep your mouth shut."

"Did you try to feed this crap to other survivors as well?" Jack asked with morbid curiosity. "Is that why you had to fall back to Torchwood Three for help?"

"You'd be surprised," Ianto said softly and menacingly. "It's not Yvonne's name they curse in their suicide letters."

Jack felt his throat constrict for a moment, but before he could say something, Ianto stated, "This discussion is over." And just like that the storm that had raged between them passed.

"I'm the boss here," Jack remarked annoyed and vaguely surprised.

"No. I'm still on leave," Ianto said reclining his chair and preparing to sleep a little.

"Suspension, actually," Jack corrected and tapped his fingers against the table between them so that he wouldn't have to look at Ianto.

"What!?"

"You heard me," Jack answered calmly.

"You told me that I could take as much time as I wanted," Ianto said accusingly sitting up in the reclined chair.

"True," the Captain agreed.

"So why did you put me on suspension?" Ianto felt like he had to drag each answer with pliers from Harkness. It was as annoying as endearing; just like the Captain himself.

"I didn't put you on suspension; I just told the team that you're on suspension," Jack clarified smugly.

"Why?" Ianto asked exasperated.

"It was better than the truth," the Captain said before standing up. "I'll go chat with the pilot so you can sleep undisturbed by my guilty presence."

Ianto ignored the slight barb and got comfortable in his chair. "Do keep the volume down as much as you can anyway, okay?"

"The doors are soundproofed," Jack remarked. "But we'll do our best not to bother you, if we'll get a bit excited. It's been a while since this bird had her legs stretched, you know."

Jack's speech was full of sarcasm and double entendres; Ianto just didn't feel like trying to decipher the whole other language that it was. "Mhm," he murmured in agreement.

"Jack?" he called out a moment later before Harkness opened the door to the pilot's cabin.

"What?" the Captain asked impatiently.

"Thanks for coming," Ianto said sincerely, because even though he wished he had solid ground under his feet so that he could break Harkness' neck at least one more time – he was glad that he didn't have to go back all the way by himself.

Jack considered his answer for a moment, but no word seemed adequate enough, finally he just nodded empathically before leaving Ianto to his sleep.

IJCJH

Ianto woke disoriented and sooner than he would have liked. "Wha…?"

"We're gonna land in an hour, I thought maybe you'd like to take a shower and change your clothes," Jack said softly not removing his hand from Ianto's shoulder.

"Is this you saying that I stink?" Ianto asked humorously and still not quite awake. No matter how much older he got – he had never mastered the art of being awake in the blink of an eye.

Jack smirked. "You said it – not me."

Ianto groaned and moved to sit up causing Jack's arm to drop from his shoulder. Ianto didn't notice; he was too caught up in the tiredness that he still felt lingering in his muscles. This was the second, maybe third, day since he'd been fed and able to sleep and he still wasn't up to his usual standards. The weakness in his gut irritated him even though he knew that another full night of sleep and a huge meal would go a long way to making him well again. His body was indestructible, but that didn't mean that he couldn't be damaged at all, it meant that he'd always bounce back.

"Right," Ianto said and got to his feet. He never had the chance to sway, because Jack was there instantly steadying him just in case.

"I also got you a new suit, figured we could go straight to the hub from the airport."

"I don't get another vacation day?" Ianto asked surprised. "This was a rather long and tiresome flight…"

"Hence the shower and suit which by the way cost some pretty penny," Jack said unabashedly. "You've been gone for five weeks – quite enough of paid vacation, don't you think?"

"Scrooge," Ianto muttered under his breath, but loud enough for Jack to hear before sidestepping the Captain and heading for the shower.

Jack raised one eyebrow at Ianto when the archivist's back was turned, but didn't comment.

Half-hour later Ianto felt much more awake and alive. He got out of the shower and contemplated his mirror image for a minute before deciding to shave his beard. He was back to suits now and an unruly beard didn't really fit to (Ianto glanced at the suit hanging on a hook on the door) a Ralph Lauren suit.

Up until he'd been recruited by Torchwood Ianto had preferred Hugo Boss' line suits, because he usually needed to present a striking and powerful image for one night, but Torchwood One' dress code had demanded something impressive and luxuriously simple at the same time which just spelled Giorgio Armani for Ianto.

Ianto climbed in the suit and noted in the small mirror that it fit him perfectly, suspiciously so. He slipped his feet into Kenneth Cole's dress oxfords and frowned.

"How did you know which size to get?" he asked and he knew that the Captain heard him not only because the walls weren't that thick, but also, because Harkness seemed to possess superb hearing.

"I took the measurements off of one of your suits at home," Jack answered leaning against the wall to the shower. There was no use pretending that he had been minding his own business and hadn't been sitting by the door listening just in case Ianto slips or something; planes are rather unstable, after all.

"I bet you made yourself right at home," Ianto said bitingly as he bent over to tie his shoelaces.

"Well, you certainly didn't," Jack remarked not even pretending to be ashamed of his actions.

Ianto snorted in unwilling amusement and adjusted his collar a bit while looking in the mirror.

"You like the suit, don't you?" Jack asked neutrally when there was no other sound from Ianto for a minute.

"It certainly fits well," Ianto responded just as carefully. He most definitely didn't like the thought that Jack had snooped around his stuff, but at the same time he knew that most of his things that were really important to him weren't even at that house. Besides the outfit really was a thoughtful and generous gift and Ianto supposed he could let this one slide.

"The beard isn't bad too," Jack suggested carefully just as Ianto stepped out from the shower room.

"Sorry, sir," Ianto said touching his now smooth face thoughtfully. "It didn't really fit with the suit."

Jack sighed as Ianto walked past him. "Well, there's always another time…"

-

The plane landed and Jack grinned widely at Ianto who unwittingly returned the smile. For a man who had travelled through time as well as space Jack had abnormally strong dislike for planes. It wasn't like he was afraid, he just didn't like them. They were too slow, too heavy and too clumsy – he had seen too damn many of them crash which is why he was ecstatic to be back on solid ground.

"I hope we don't have to go through security, because I don't fancy stripping half of the suit down just to beep anyway," Ianto said emerging from the plane in the grey and windy Cardiff afternoon. He shivered involuntary in the freezing cold and realized that suit was nice, but he'd much better prefer a coat.

Jack twirled around on the asphalt and clasped his hands. "You're in luck. Torchwood plane, Torchwood business," he said. "Though since you're on vacation you're not technically Torchwood which means – I may have to examine you for safety reasons, of course."

Ianto rolled his eyes at Jack's leer and climbed down the ladder. "I'm on suspension pending investigation - very much Torchwood."

Jack laughed happily. The banter was familiar and pleasing. Few hours ago they had been at each other's throats, but now it seemed that their anger had been blown away by the powerful propellers of Torchwood's aircraft. Jack still felt a rapidly cooling spark of righteous rage and he didn't think that Ianto of all people could forget and move on that quickly though in Jack's experience – Ianto could compartmentalize astoundingly well. Anyhow Jack was resolved to enjoy the respite.

Ianto saw how Harkness eyed him a little warily even through genuine laughter. Ianto frowned not really understanding the origins of Captain's timidity. He thought back to the argument on the plane, but dismissed it as a probable cause. They had stated their opinions and obviously agreed to disagree. He had stated explicitly that that discussion was over since it had been rather obvious neither was ready to yield.

Ianto was far too old to hold on to arguments that were already done. He always made it his point to express his own opinion clearly should he happen feel like participating in a quarrel which is why he saw no purpose in rehashing old conversations. He had enough guilt and sorrow not to add things so comparatively distant to him to his burdens.

Such reasoning forced Ianto to conclude that the Captain was bothered by something else.

"If I'm supposed to be on suspension in Cardiff – what did you tell the team when you came after me?" Ianto asked as he followed Jack off the plane parking place towards the airport's private car park.

"I told them I had to go to London for a day for a meeting with jerks from UNIT," Jack replied carelessly.

"That's not very innovative," Ianto remarked thoughtfully.

"No, but it's safe," Jack said. "The only one who has the skills to call me on my bluff is Tosh, but she won't pry if UNIT's involved."

Ianto frowned. He was familiar with Toshiko's story. He had done a background check on all his colleagues when he'd researched Captain Jack Harkness in case there were any other surprises hiding right under his nose.

He had to admit that Jack's lie was effective if insensitive. Ianto didn't like that the Captain had played to Tosh's insecurities; he thought that it could come and bite them all in the ass later, but he also didn't feel like pointing it out now. After all, Jack was the leader – Ianto was not getting paid to show the ropes to his boss. Not to mention in Ianto's opinion, if Harkness hadn't gotten the hang of the job in a hundred years – he never would no matter who taught him.

"That's my car!" Ianto exclaimed suddenly coming to abrupt stop a few steps from the familiar vehicle.

"Yeah, I had it towed here since I couldn't exactly take the SUV," Jack explained unlocking the car and slipping in the driver's seat.

Ianto opened the passenger door and bent down enough to peek at Jack. "My car – I drive," he stated gritting his teeth, because even though the walk had been short he was already cold.

"Up until yesterday you were wandering for days in the desert with no food and no drink and quite possibly little sleep," Jack stated calmly, however if Ianto had been up to picking out details; he would have noticed that the Captain spoke as if the very thought made him shake with fear. "So which one of us is in better condition for driving?"

Ianto slipped in the passenger seat, but not because he was convinced by Harkness' arguments, but because it was far too cold to stand outside and argue. He shut the door. "Who told you?"

"Damn," Jack cursed when he saw Ianto shiver. He started the engine before cracking up the heat. "I thought Australia and completely forgot about the winter back here. You must be freezing," he said and reached over to take Ianto's hands in his. Jack himself had an excellent inner climate control which is why he was able to wear the same coat all year and rarely be bothered by the weather.

Ianto swatted Jack's hands away and crouched closer to the air vents that were pumping the car full with warm air. "You didn't answer my question," he stated annoyed. The weather bothered him more than it should have and it made Ianto even surlier – the last time he'd been so fragile was when he'd been gas poisoned in the World War 2; it had taken him a week to get back to his normal then.

"It was Joshua," Jack answered resigned and tapped his wrist device to plant the planned journey coordinates in the GPS device – from Cardiff International Airport to Roald Dahl Plass. "He said that they hadn't thought it their place to ask, but that you must have been through a lot while wandering in the outback and that I should…"

"I'm fine, Sir," Ianto said insistently. "A little cold," he amended at Jack's raised eyebrow. "But fine. Though you still should get me a coat."

Jack chuckled. "Really?"

"If you set out to present me with a new uniform upon my return to Torchwood's service – you still owe me a coat. It's bloody freezing after all and I'm not going anywhere if I've to suffer from cold," Ianto announced with a tilt of humor in his voice.

"As long as you're coming back with me now – you've got yourself a deal," Jack said eager to get back to the Hub and have his team all back together. After the last four frustrating weeks he felt proud as a peacock at the opportunity to return to the base with their lost lamb and have his team settle down to some resemblance of normality.

"As long as I get to choose that coat," Ianto responded throwing an exaggeratedly wary look at Jack's coat.

"Hey – you said you like this coat!" Jack protested and turned the heat down a bit; the car was already warm.

"On you," Ianto said unabashedly and watched as Jack's face lit up with a grin.

"You wanna know what looks best on me?" Jack asked and slowly drove out of the full parking lot. "Thin air!"

"I think I prefer the coat."

"Spoilsport," Jack said as he pressed on the gas pedal and sped towards the roundabout half a mile off.

Ianto buckled his seatbelt and got comfortable while Jack was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. He supposed that was, because he was sitting at the wheel of a different car – no mater how cool a sedan was a sedan and Jack loved his SUV. He had the irrational urge to slow down a bit even though the road was clear and he loved speed.

"Say, Ianto – how long have you had this car?" Jack asked as he took the 4th exit in the roundabout heading down the A4226. Maybe the vehicle was due to maintenance or roadworthiness test. Jack's gut had rarely led him astray and if he felt that something wasn't quite right – then it wasn't.

"Since I got to Cardiff," Ianto answered. "Less than a year. Why?"

"I don't know," Jack said hesitantly. "It's just something… Don't you feel it?" he asked even though he couldn't define what 'it' exactly was.

Ianto frowned. He really wasn't the best person to ask about feeling things. The Eternals he was spawned from had traded the powers of their minds for imagination and soul – they had traded their lordship over the matter of reality for the spark of creativity to make their long lives worthwhile. 'Will it and it'll happen' were only old, powerless sayings from where Ianto was from.

Still – he relaxed and tried to feel something with his senses that was the only thing he could do. There was no smell of burn in the air, the motor sounded fine – he really didn't understand what Harkness was aiming at until he had blocked out almost every other sound dismissing them as unimportant and noted the slide of the tires against the road surfacing.

"Did you drive my car to the airport?" Ianto asked intensely.

Jack took the 1st exit on another roundabout and turned from Port Road West to Port Road East. He frowned, "No, I took a helicopter to London and flew to Australia from there. I made arrangements already on the way – I had it towed to the airport. Why?"

"Has anyone checked my car while I was away? Maintenance? Changing tires, maybe?" Ianto's voice was tense.

"No," Jack answered bewildered and glanced at Ianto. "Why would anyone do that?"

"Because it's December and it's cold," Ianto said tightly. "And my car has summer tires."

"So what? There's a difference?" Jack asked keeping his attention to the road. "We never change the tires for the SUV."

"Yes, we do," Ianto said indignantly just as Jack took a 2nd exit on a roundabout and turned into a Barry Docks Link road.

"No, we don't," Jack insisted taking his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Ianto.

"Yes we do!" Ianto countered just as Jack braked gently and the wheels lost contact with the ground for a moment and the car slipped forward for a second.

"Shit!" Jack exhaled when he felt he had the control of the car again.

"Don't brake suddenly," Ianto advised tightly. He didn't fancy ending up in the trees alongside road. "This is why you need to change the tires," he said stressing every other word.

"You've got stupid tires," Jack said his voice strained with anger born from sudden fear. He wasn't worried about himself, but as far as he knew his receptionist was very mortal – exceptional, but still mortal. "I've never changed the tires to the SUV in my life and I've never had any problems."

"That's because somebody else has always done it for you, sir," Ianto's tone had an edge of a growl. "The twice-yearly maintenance rings a bell? It's Torchwood policy to use equipment suitable for the season for the highest possible performance rate."

Ianto's rant distracted Jack and when somebody suddenly braked less than fifty meters in front of him he didn't think and instinctively pressed his own brakes into the floor which caused the rear wheels to block while the front wheels continued to rotate madly. It made Jack lose the control of the car and the sedan started to spin wildly on the road until it slammed into the road border with enough force to smash through it and flip onto a side as it crashed into the pine trees growing at the roadside.

IJCJH

He didn't think he had passed out, but the first thing he recognized when everything stopped was the stink of smoke and the smell of fish. He frowned opening his eyes and through the fragmented glass that had somehow managed to stay in place he saw the smoke rising sideways from under the twisted hood of the side flipped car, no fish though.

Ianto couldn't feel his legs and the only thing keeping him in his seat was the seatbelt. He tentatively touched his left temple with his right hand where his flesh was hastily knitting itself back together. He vaguely remembered slamming his head in the side window during the mad spinning.

His thoughts formed slower than usual and it felt like there was a huge pillow around his brain suffocating the thinking process. He supposed that he may have bruised his brain in addition to what appeared to be severed spinal cord since he was pretty sure there was no feeling left in his body below waist.

He took a shallow breath and glanced at the Captain. The man was twisted in an unnatural position halfway out of the disfigured driver's door. Ianto recalled ramming into the road border with the right side of the car and smashing through it before flipping over and landing on the passenger side amidst the trees – Harkness must have been thrown out of his seat by the violence of the contact.

Ianto lowered his chin to his chest, because his neck hurt and took a couple of shaky breaths. The Captain was undoubtedly dead. Ianto took another look at the man and winced in sympathy – that wouldn't be a nice position to come to.

He tried to take a deep breath, but couldn't and every time he tried it felt like his upper abdomen was on fire. He tried not to move his left arm, because the pain echoed in his left shoulder. His vision swam and he knew that he was going to pass out soon; his fractured skull was almost healed and he always lost consciousness when his internal injuries began to heal, especially if they were as serious as now.

He swatted aside the deflated airbag and opened the glove compartment under it. He scrambled through the stuff there with his right hand looking for one particular box. Ianto almost didn't manage to catch the small box before it fell to the ground. He hastily opened it and pushed the plain platinum ring on the index finger of his left hand.

Lisa had had a similar ring too, but hers had been lost at the Canary Wharf. They had always kept the rings nearby. The trinkets were a not-so-Christmas gift from their mutual friend and possessed the ability to shift one's perception. Ianto didn't understand how they worked at all and while Lisa had seemed to get the technical side of things and neither of them was affected by it since their minds were closed to such subtle technology.

As their friend had patiently explained – the rings wouldn't hide them from the eyes of the curious per se, but they would go a long way to shift people's attention from the fact that they were rapidly healing when they should have been dead.

Jack came to consciousness with a long, gasping breath. His eyes just barely open he braced himself braced his palms against the window frame and straightened his back as much as he could. He winced as his vertebras snapped back into place with quiet snap. Fairly sure that everything was back in its proper place his next thought was – Ianto.

Eyes wide open he carefully slid in the completely wrecked car. He pressed one knee against the side of Ianto's seat and bent the other leg underneath himself trying to support his weight as to not fall on his obviously injured receptionist. "Ianto?" he called softly.

Ianto blinked. He supposed that he must have spaced out since he hadn't noticed when Harkness woke up. He took a quick glance at his left hand and sighed in relief when he saw the ring. "Yeah."

"How do you feel?" Jack asked his face the very image of dead seriousness. He brushed his hand along Ianto's face and skull searching for any injuries, but finding none before moving to the receptionist's neck, shoulders and chest.

"Why are you groping me?" Ianto asked drowsily; the smell of burnt wires was a bit annoying.

"I'm checking you for injuries, silly," Jack answered his voice infinitely gentle. "Do you think you can move? We have to get out of the car and get help."

"You owe me a car now too," Ianto mumbled under his breath before moving his right hand to unbuckle his seatbelt.

"Whoa," Jack stopped him. "Easy there. Can you move? Or should I move you?"

Ianto paused for a moment to think. He definitely couldn't move now. Darkness was sitting on the edge of his vision and he knew that he was going to pass out soon. He could barely feel the cold even though the windows were smashed and the climate control had stopped working a while back; Ianto had nothing against sleeping off his recovery here, but since the Captain was determined to haul him out, he might as well try to cooperate.

"I don't think I can move all that much now," he admitted.

Jack gave him a tight nod. "Alright. So you open the buckle and I'll keep you from falling on your head, okay?"

"Right," Ianto said and without further ado unbuckled the belt.

Jack barely managed to grasp the Welshman before the man tumbled face down in the glass and grass that were in the place of the window frame that was pressed against the ground. "Gosh, give a guy a little warning, okay?" Jack wheezed pulling Ianto against his chest and holding the other man tight.

Ianto managed to get his left arm to cooperate enough to encircle both of his arms around Jack. "Next time," he promised.

"There isn't gonna be a next time," Jack said somewhat bitterly and gave it his best to raise them both up. He cursed. He couldn't get them both out from the inside. "Listen, can you hold upright for a moment? I …"

"Hey! Anyone alive there?" someone called from distance.

Jack released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Yeah!" he called back. "I need some help!"

"Oh my!" Jack heard the feminine voice exclaim. "How could anyone survive this?" she muttered, but Harkness could hear her clearly and her words made him feel cold all over. He hadn't survived; he prayed to whoever was still listening to him that Ianto would. "I called the ambulance!" she said loudly.

"Climb on the car," Jack instructed. "I need help getting my friend out."

"So not your friend," Ianto muttered without spite in his tone.

"Yeah, well… My employee then," Jack amended in good humor looking at Ianto. "And as your superior I order you to hang on, got it?"

Ianto snorted and then gasped as pain flared in the left side of his chest. "Superior, my ass," he managed to get out through wheezing breaths.

"Actually, your ass ..," Jack started, but was interrupted.

"Hi," said tentatively a dark-haired, pretty-faced young girl as she peered in the car.

Jack smiled tightly at her. "Help me pull him out. I'll push – you pull. Let's try not to jostle him too much, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed and they got to work.

In less than five minutes everyone was a nice distance from the smoking car. Jack didn't think that it was going to explode, but Ianto was having trouble breathing as it was and the smoke could be poisonous. The Captain just sure as hell hoped he hadn't made the Welshman's condition worse by pushing him around.

"The ambulance should be here soon," the girl said catching the meaning of Jack's stare in the distance.

"I hope so," he said quietly and lowered gently Ianto to ground before covering him with his coat.

"I'm not cold," Ianto protested.

The girl dropped to her knees by Ianto and pulled the man's head in her lap while Jack crouched down beside them.

"You are cold, you're just not feeling it which is worse," Jack said as steadily as he could manage.

"You're going to be fine," the girl said confidently to Ianto. The perception ring was working on her and while she saw an injured man in need of comfort she didn't see a dying man. She wasn't going to be scarred for life by having someone die on her while she's trying to save them. She was going to be proud to have helped to save a life.

Jack didn't have the same comfort of altered perception as she did. He was an impossible man ; he was a dead man alive and ever since he'd came back to life for the first time on Satellite 5 – perception filters hadn't worked on him anymore.

"Ianto – talk to me. Tell me about those tires," Jack asked tucking his coat around the Welshman. "What's the difference between summer and whatever tires?"

Ianto rolled his eyes. "Now? I'd rather sleep," he protested quietly. The world seemed to be spinning before his eyes and he felt all broken inside; he just wanted to sleep a bit until he felt better.

"No, don't you dare sleep," Jack demanded. "Talk to me."

Ianto's eyes were slowly closing when ambulance alarms blared in the distance. Finally. Jack asked the girl to go and direct the medics to them not to the wreck of Ianto's once expensive sedan. She nodded in agreement before gently lowering Ianto's head to the ground and hurrying towards the ambulance.

"Come on!" Jack pleaded when Ianto's eyes slipped shut. "Don't do this, please! Talk to me! The ambulance is already here, you can't give up now…"

Ianto was out like a light. He didn't hear or see or feel anything anymore. The cells in his body started working faster to repair the extensive damage, but still slower than usually, because deep down – he was still exhausted.

"No!" Jack cried when Ianto's chest stopped moving with every incoming shallow breath. "No! No, no, no, no, no! No, you can't do this damn it! You can't! Please! Ianto. Not like this. Never like this. Never at all," he protested. "Breathe, please," he begged tears trickling over his cheeks.

IJCJH

His breath caught in his throat as he leaned close to Ianto and try as he might he felt nothing but emptiness. He was searching within himself for that spark of the vortex that dragged him back to life again and again, but there seemed to be nothing to grasp to. Whatever made him alive had retreated so far that he couldn't find it and now more than ever Jack cursed that power.

He knew he could share his life with Ianto – he knew he could make the Welshman better, but this day was complete opposite to that terrible night a month and half ago. Then the power within him had practically leaped into the broken body of the receptionist, but now there was nothing for Jack to call upon for help. He pleaded and he ordered, but everything he screamed within his own mind was akin to howling in dead darkness - there was no answer, there was no help.

He pulled Ianto's head and shoulders in his lap, pressed his cheek against Welshman's forehead and dragged in a shuddering breath. There was nothing he could do. The Captain placed his trembling hand to Ianto's chest and felt the waning beat of the man's heart. There were seconds left for that treacherous, beautiful heart and it was all Jack's fault. His tears spilled on Ianto's face and his mouth opened in a silent scream of pain.

"Mister – you have to let him go," someone said patiently from behind them.

"What?" Jack asked incredulously and tearfully.

"You have to let him go so that we can treat him," the paramedic explained calmly crouching beside Harkness.

"What?" Jack questioned unconsciously tightening his arms around Ianto.

"It's alright," the man said entreatingly as he tried to pry the Captain off of Ianto.

"There's nothing you can do," Jack said in a tone that bordered on hysterical. "Just let me hold him as he goes, I just want to…"

The paramedic nodded at his colleague who had joined them and was crouching on the other side of the Captain. The medic jabbed Jack in the thigh with a sedative and the Captain stopped mid-sentence.

"What did you…" Harkness demanded of the medic just as he felt everything take a step back. It was like watching the world through a plastic curtain.

More people had joined the scene and someone gently pulled Jack back before placing a blanket around his shoulders. "It's alright – they gave you something to calm you a little. They need to help your friend and you were in the way. Everything is going to be alright, love," the voice was feminine and had a distinctive maternal edge to it. "You were lucky."

"But…," Jack felt like he had to protest, but the drugs had calmed him rather considerably. He felt sleepy. "Ianto," he muttered beseechingly as he watched intensely the scene unfolding before him, even though he was unable to fully grasp what was happening through the thick fog that seemed to have settled on his mind.

"Seems, he's having a bit of trouble breathing and we should put on a neck brace just in case."

"Swelling here. May be a bruised spleen."

"The unconsciousness is a bit worrying – must have hit his head."

"The vitals are bit low, but stable."

"Okay, people – let's get him to the hospital."

And just like that Jack watched as they put Ianto on a stretcher and carried past him. He had lots of questions, but his tongue didn't seem to be willing to cooperate so he looked imploringly and questioningly at the man who seemed to be in charge. Jack had been so sure that he had been about to lose Ianto, but these people seemed to think that there was no immediate danger to the receptionist's life at all.

"Your friend is going to be okay," the medic said confidently as he patted Jack on the shoulder. "He's a bit banged up, but extremely lucky considering the state of the car. Don't you worry about anything."

"I thought...," Jack began, but at the same time he noticed that his vision was swimming a little. What the hell had they injected him with?

"It's alright," the medic said with a sure smile to Jack before turning to the woman who was still by the Captain's side and holding the blanket around him since Harkness didn't even seem to be aware of it. "He's in shock. Put him in the other car and take him to the hospital too. The coppers will probably want to ask some questions, but he's in no condition to answer; they can wait at the hospital."

-

The ride to the hospital was hazy to Jack. He was confused and still so afraid for Ianto, but at the same time he was full of hope. His thoughts were muddled and he knew that there was something he was supposed to do or say –he was supposed to be in control of the situation, but at the very moment he felt nauseous and dizzy.

Just as they reached the hospital he passed out.

-

It was later in the day when Jack finally came to. He woke up in a hospital room, in a hospital bed, in a hospital dressing. He didn't need the IV in his arm to convince him that he was, indeed, in a hospital. He frowned and pulled the system from his hand.

He didn't have to think long to remember the crash, Ianto and the medics. He got out of the bed and headed for his clothes which he found on a simplistic bedside table by the bed. He remembered being so sure that Ianto was going to die, but after that nothing was clear in his mind. He vaguely recalled the ride to hospital. He thought again, 'What the hell did they inject me with?'

He pulled his pants on and gritted his teeth in frustration. He didn't like it when things were muddled in his head. If there was one thing he knew he could trust, it was his memory and now – he had no idea what had been happening on that unlucky Cardiff roadside. He could only hope that what he did remember was wrong.

A doctor followed by a nurse walked hastily into his room and both stopped abruptly when they noticed that he was standing half naked by the bed. The doctor pressed her lips in a tight line while the nurse blushed before excusing herself since it was obvious that this wasn't a medical emergency.

"I see you're better," the doctor noted dryly. "Your alarm disconnected," she said pointing to a thingy that Jack remembered having on his hand. "And we thought you might have had a relapse."

"What relapse?" Jack asked matching her clipped tones. He had a feeling that she knew why he felt like he had been trying to drink himself to death without succeeding and any fun parts of the deal.

"The sedative you were given at the scene," she said and paused feeling uncomfortable. "It is very common and most people have no complications if it's administered, but you had a very severe allergic reaction and collapsed just as the ambulance reached the hospital. It's lucky that you were already so close and we were able to treat you otherwise you might have died," she said watching as Jack pulled on his boots. "Which means you shouldn't be up already."

"I feel fine," Jack stated as he finished tying his bootlaces.

"You had severe allergic reaction…,"

Jack walked up to her and glared at her effectively silencing her. "From a medication you injected me with," he finished the sentence for her.

"The hospital offers you its most sincere apologies," she said professionally even though she did take a step back from him. "But that still doesn't mean that you shouldn't be in that bed."

"I don't care," he said flippantly. "Where's Ianto?"

"Ianto?" she asked frowning slightly. "You mean the other man at the scene? Ianto's his name?"

"Yes," Jack answered shortly and impatiently. "Where is he?"

"He's unconscious at the moment, but we have high hopes that he won't slip into a coma. None of his injuries are very serious when he wakes up he could go home within a day," the doctor answered.

Jack watched her closely and as far as he could tell – she was telling the god-honest truth, but he remembered the despair he'd felt… He had been so sure. "Take me to him."

"No, he's resting and so should you. You were…"

"Do as you're told," Jack ordered as he finally had enough of all the counter-arguments.

Her expression tightened; she could understand why her colleagues had felt the need to administer sedative to this man. "Please – calm down, mister. Your friend is fine and in good hands. You need to rest and the police will want to ask you some questions about the crash – you need your rest."

"Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood," Jack spat an introduction. "Do as you're told and I might hold back some comments about your good care."

She took a calming breath. She wasn't one to take such statements at face value, but something about the man – Captain Jack Harkness – in front of her made her want him as far away from her as possible. She would've asked for identification, but the predatory expression in his eyes made her take another step back. "Follow me."

IJCJH

Despite the dread in the pit of his stomach Jack paused for only a moment before stepping into Ianto's hospital room. The moment of revelation was unsurprisingly anticlimactic. He let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"As you can see your friend is resting and well taken care of," the Doctor said. She tried to appear professional, but ended up sounding defensive. The Captain's intense gaze was fixed on the man in the bed, but she still felt wary as if Harkness would find it offensive if she dared to breathe too deep or too loud.

"You can go," Jack waved his hand dismissingly in her general direction.

He stayed frozen on spot a few steps from the door not moving closer to Ianto. He could hardly believe his eyes. The man on the bed was pale and still, but undoubtedly alive and there were no grand machines – just an IV in his vein. Jack didn't even blink in case anything changed in that fraction of a second.

"Since I'm here I should check him over… In case anything's changed," she said and her words sounded more of a suggestion than she liked.

She was a professional doctor. She had spent years training and years working in a hospital – she knew what she was doing and she was used to people listening and obeying her orders. She was important and not intimidated by her patients. At least that's what she kept repeating to herself to refrain from shaking in fear. On a primal instinct level she was terrified of the Captain. A man in old military clothing should not be able to inspire such horror, but she was afraid to even breathe wrongly in his presence.

"Don't you dare lay a finger on him," Jack said quietly but resolutely. "You're saying he's stable for now," he stated and glanced at the woman who hastily nodded, "Good. Our own medic will check him over."

Jack didn't say out loud that he didn't trust the staff of this hospital as far as he could throw them which probably was farther than anyone might think. He wasn't sure what had happened back at that roadside and it was gnawing at him. He could recall the desolation he had felt all too well, but at the same time the world had tilted a bit in his eyes that moment too. Maybe it had been whatever they had injected him with.

After all – Ianto was alive just in front of him even if Jack couldn't bring himself to touch the other man. He feared that the skin would be cold to his touch and all of this just a hopeful dream. Jack wanted this to be true, but he'd been at Torchwood for too long to trust things absolutely when the circumstances were so dubious. He needed a second opinion.

"Bring me a phone," he requested not bothering to look at the woman. He knew she would do as he asked. He didn't regret putting the fear of God in her; he was cranky and tired and had died probably twice today already.

He had had hellish day – hellish last few months with Suzie going mad and committing a suicide, with Ianto disappearing and to be brutally honest the whole last century hadn't been a walk in the park for him. He had lost more than he had gained and he was still waiting. Whether he was waiting for his Doctor or absolution or just answers – he didn't know anymore.

-

Owen was having a rather great day. His boss was gone on a conference thing with UNIT to London and Tosh had said nothing when he had dragged his half-sober ass to work that morning and hers was the only opinion he vaguely cared to know. Considering the nature of his work he knew that that wasn't smart, but he hadn't had many (any, really) opportunities in the last few weeks to relax a bit and he really needed that drink – drinks.

Not to mention that he truly felt like spiting Harkness even if the Captain wouldn't find out about it. In Owen's not so modest opinion the mess they'd lived in the last few weeks was completely and utterly Jack's fault and the medic didn't just mean the literal mess.

Sure Owen had been as angry as everyone else at Ianto for almost getting them killed, but he also understood – possibly better than anyone could imagine. He also had lost his girlfriend – fiancée to aliens and, god, if there had been any chance at all he would have torn the world apart to save Katie.

Anyway painful memories notwithstanding – Owen was completely sure that this was his day. He'd been happily drunk most of the night and simply drunk half of the morning then he'd managed to mix up a hangover cure by alien recipe and now he felt fantastic. The violet spots that lingered in front of his eyes after every time he blinked were a bit annoying, but didn't lessen his enthusiasm.

Then the phone rang. Owen winced before closing the solitaire he'd been playing on the computer and going to Jack's office to pick up the telephone. It was never good if the phone rang when Harkness was away. He didn't recognize the ringtone, but then again he'd been second in command for barely a month; it was the Captain's duty to deal with pissed off politicians or UNIT to piss them off some more.

"Torchwood," he said testily in the receiver.

"Owen – are you alone?" Jack immediately asked.

"No, I'm having gangbang in your office," the medic replied rolling his eyes. Hearing his Captain's voice on the other end somehow automatically meant that if there was something wrong – everything was still going to be alright.

"Owen…," Jack resisted the urge to growl.

"Yeah, I'm alone," Owen grumbled and muttered something under his breath that vaguely resembled, "Ruin all my fun." Maybe the hangover cure hadn't been as effective in clearing his head as he had thought it was.

"Close the door," Jack ordered.

"Moment," Owen said dropping the receiver and moving to close the door. "Okay, closed. Who did you kill?" he asked humorously dropping into Jack's chair.

There was silence on the other end of the line for a while before the answer came and in a tone Owen had never heard Jack use before, "Ianto …"

"You son of a bitch," the medic snarled suddenly standing up.

"Owen, calm down," Jack barked. "He's not dead. At least that's what I'm being told, but… I need you to take a look at him. I don't trust… They screwed up at the scene and I've no medical knowledge worth considering – I need your opinion," Jack said as calmly and earnestly as he could.

"On whether you managed to kill him or not?" Owen asked venomously. "After a goddamn month of …"

"Yes," Jack replied hastily. "That is – no. It's not like that. It was an accident."

"What?!"

"It's hard to explain. I need you to come down to the hospital," Jack said making an effort to sound steady and commanding.

"You're at the Heath, right?" Owen asked.

"Yes."

"I'll be there in a few," the medic said curtly before dropping the phone and ending the call.

His hands were slightly shaking as he exited the office and told Tosh that he'd be back in few hours; he didn't explain anything further.

-

He managed to get his shock and anger under control by the time he drove into the hospital parking place. By the time he reached Ianto's room and Jack Harkness Owen was completely calm. Or so he thought.

"You're fast," Jack noted. "Thanks."

Owen stopped himself before he said something along the lines of 'That's my job' or 'I'm not doing this for you, but for him', because to be honest neither of those statements would have been true. Owen was doing this for himself. He wasn't just a field agent, he was a medic and it was his job to keep Torchwood Three alive and in the last few months he had failed appallingly. He needed to help Ianto; he needed Ianto to live, because he needed to save somebody.

Torchwood was the standard by which he defined his life these days – and his standard of normality in the whole mess of aliens and the Rift was his team. As little as he knew Ianto – the archivist was still part of their team. Ianto was one more person who had known Suzie Costello before she'd gone on her rampage.

He was still smarting over the fact that he hadn't seen the state she had been in. The woman had let him in her bed, but never in her heart. It made him feel like shit even though he had never expected anything from her or offered her anything but appreciation in return.

"Yeah," Owen croaked before glancing at Ianto. "I need you to leave," he said to Jack.

Jack hesitated for a moment before nodding. "Right, I'll be just outside."

IJCJH

The oblivion receded step by torturously slow step, but Ianto made no effort to make the blackness linger - mostly because he wanted to give a piece of his mind to the person relentlessly poking and prodding at him. He tensed as he came to awareness, but he didn't open his eyes. Instead he took a shallow breath and consciously relaxed his body enjoying the feeling back in his toes.

"You're a terrible actor, mate, I know you're awake," Owen noted and poked at Ianto's healthiest side to prove his point.

Ianto had a thing or two to say about his acting abilities, but he didn't think that making a point was worth spilling his secrets. He opened his eyes. "The way you were going at it – even the dead would wake."

"Flattering, but you're nowhere near dead," the medic remarked perching on the side of Ianto's bed. "Still – how do you feel?"

"Fine," Ianto replied absent-mindedly. "What are you doing here?"

"You're so special you get a house-call from me," Owen grumbled. "What do you think? Jack called me to make sure he didn't kill you," he said and muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like 'the bastard' to Ianto.

Ianto blinked. He didn't really understand why Owen appeared so riled. "I'm okay," Ianto paraphrased his earlier statement.

"Yeah, maybe," the medic said shaking his head a bit. "Take a deep breath for me."

"What?"

"Let's pretend for a moment that I'm not wasting my lunch break and that you're a patient and, oh look at that, I'm your bloody doctor. Do as I ask," Owen said annoyed though there was no real fire behind his words.

Ianto rolled his eyes and was pleased to note that he had no headache at all. He concluded that maybe Owen hadn't woken him too early and he was already healed. His opinion changed as soon as he tried to comply with Owen's request. Pain burned in his upper abdomen and seemed to echo all through his left shoulder and dully throb in his left arm. He wheezed heavily tears suddenly flooding his eyes.

Owen blinked. "That's what I thought," the medic said calmly as if Ianto wasn't fighting for breath right before him. "You must have bruised your spleen."

Ianto laughed and coughed and choked on the next breath. It took him a moment to regain his composure. The way the perception filter affected people nearby always amazed him. He was pretty sure that his spleen was ruptured and that he was rapidly bleeding out on the inside. He was also sure that that was the last serious injury he had sustained and that it would heal long before he'd reach the operation table or die from internal bleeding.

"So – the Captain didn't manage to kill me?" he asked in good humor.

Owen's face clouded over and Ianto was forced to conclude that the medic didn't quite understand his sense of humor.

"He said that whatever happened – it was an accident. You tell me – was it?"

Ianto frowned. He knew that Owen had his humanitarian moments, but the fierce look on the medic's face when he asked if Harkness was telling the truth as if Owen would actually do something if Ianto said that the Captain was lying – it was confusing.

"Yeah. A stupid accident, but an accident nonetheless," Ianto said. "Why are you like this?"

Owen got to his feet and paced a few steps. "Sometimes …" he started but stopped abruptly.

How could he tell Ianto that sometimes watching the web of lies that Torchwood spun and fed to the people he wondered whether he was being lied to as well? How could he tell his injured colleague that he didn't trust their leader? Not fully. He had been led around by his nose by Torchwood and despite every assurance Jack had given him – Owen wasn't sure that it wouldn't happen again, that it wasn't happening over and over again. How could he admit to Ianto that the last few weeks had been terrible and that it was easier to blame Jack than to admit that he had been guilty too?

How was Owen supposed to tell the man he had cheerfully mocked that now Ianto was worth getting to know, because somebody the tea boy loved had died by aliens and Torchwood? How…

"I've lost someone too," the medic admitted.

Ianto nodded slightly to give Owen some kind of response, but avoided looking medic in the eye. He didn't feel like bonding over painful experience with Owen of all people, not to mention that he still thought of Torchwood Three as ungrateful, juvenile brats. Owen bitching over his bedside in some weird enactment of mother-bear wasn't enough to change Ianto's opinion, but it was enough to make him keep his opinion to himself.

The medic's featured were twisted with old pain familiar to Ianto and he supposed that he should say something comforting, but nothing came to mind. Ianto was good at sarcasm – comforting was always more Lisa's forte. Besides as similar as they were – Ianto often didn't understand human beings, even more often – he didn't want to.

The silence stretched until a full minute later Owen cleared his throat and said, "You'll need lots of rest and no heavy lifting of physically demanding tasks. It shouldn't be too hard since you're on suspension…"

"I'm not actually," Ianto interrupted.

"What do you mean?"

Ianto thought for a moment whether or not to come clean about the last few weeks and Jack's lie, but thought better of it. "I'm off the suspension. Jack was driving me to the Hub, today was supposed to be my first day back to work," Ianto lied. He did that, because he didn't want to make long explanations as to where he'd been, not because of how haunted Jack's eyes had looked when the Captain had admitted to lying to his team.

"Well, then now you'll be on medical leave," Owen stated.

"You have got to be kidding me," Ianto grunted with effort of taking a startled breath.

"No, actually, I'm quite serious. You don't want to tear or worse – rupture your spleen," Owen said calmly. "It's been a while since I operated on someone alive," he added with a wicked grin.

Ianto was careful to take a shallow breath as he rolled his eyes and grimaced at the medic. "I'm not staying at home for another month. I'm fine," he insisted.

Owen sighed. "No you're not, but you will be. You should rest, mate. I'll go and tell Harkness that you aren't in danger of joining the collection of dead meat in the mortuary."

"I suppose the Captain's fine then?" Ianto didn't know why he asked. After all he knew that Harkness couldn't die – it kind of implied that the man was going to be fine no matter what.

"Yeah," Owen drawled. "Jack's fine. Not a scratch on him per usual."

-

Owen closed the door gently behind himself as he exited the room. He didn't need to look around for the Captain, because Jack was in his face almost immediately. Owen schooled his expression so that he would appear impassive.

"Well?" Jack asked.

Owen stepped away from the door and continued to walks as he curled his fingers into a fist. Jack was fine and Ianto was going to be fine and he hadn't failed as a medic, not that his assistance was much required, but the whole situation still irked him. Now that he knew that everything was going to be alright and that teaboy was coming back and that everything would be as normal as it was in Torchwood… Owen was afraid and angry.

Torchwood was beyond the police and above the government yet at the same time they were so fragile. They had no right to be so delicate. He abruptly stopped and turned around swinging his fist and punching Jack in the face.

"If you ask why I'll have to hit you again," Owen growled.

Jack rubbed his sore jaw and grimaced. For a brief moment he considered responding in similar way and venting his own frustration in a fist fight, but then again beating up his medic was not a solution. Jack knew Owen's quick temper all too well, but he also knew that as fast as the medic got angry he also calmed down.

"This is not the first time," Jack remarked calmly. "I suppose that eventually you'll shoot me too," he said humorously.

Owen exhaled heavily, moved his fingers and winced, "That probably hurt me more."

"Apology accepted," Jack noted before turning serious. "How is Ianto?"

"He's fine. Well – just about fine anyway," Owen said shrugging. "He's got a bit of nasty bruising, but as long as he doesn't do anything strenuous for a couple of weeks – he should be fine. Which means he shouldn't come back to the Hub just yet."

"He said he wants to come back to work?" Jack asked and tried to keep the up-beat hope out of his tone.

"Yeah," Owen replied and mussed his hair. "Though I did say nothing strenuous and Torchwood is anything, but light duty, so you're going to have to put your foot down, 'cause he certainly wasn't listening to me."

"Sure," Jack nodded enthusiastically. "If he wants to come back – he can. He's off the suspension and we really are neck deep in our own mess."

"You don't get it. He's going to be fine, but if he overworks himself then his spleen can tear and it can become a very serious and dangerous problem," Owen insisted feeling more like an actual doctor than he had in the months he had spent elbows deep in alien corpses.

Jack clasped his hands behind his back and thought for a moment. "Myfanwy or the Weevils?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well – light duties means that someone else will have to feed the beasties. I refuse to continue to do that alone. So which will it be?" Jack asked.

"I'll take the Weevils," Owen replied without much thinking. "That bloody dinosaur hates me."

Jack laughed. "I guess you don't smell good enough," he responded turning on his heel and heading for Ianto's door.

"Are you saying that I stink, Harkness?" Owen demanded loudly.

"Nah," Jack replied grasping the door handle. "You just don't eat enough chocolate."

-

This time Jack didn't pause on the doorstep. He strode in to the room and stopped to stand at the foot of Ianto's bed. Out of an old habit he clasped his arms behind his back puffing out his chest. He didn't mean to appear patronizing or superior; he wanted his body language to signify honesty.

He stared at Ianto looking for any signs that something was wrong, but aside some paleness the man appeared fine even to Jack. The Captain couldn't explain it. He was loath to believe that his mind had played tricks on him, but if everyone said that Ianto was fine, if Owen said that the archivist was all right…

Not to mention that Jack wanted Ianto to be okay. Even though it went against every instinct screaming in his gut that everything wasn't as simple as it appeared – Jack was willing to believe that what everyone said was true. His lips curled into a small smile.

"What?" Ianto snapped finally annoyed at the stretching silence and the mystery that oozed from his Captain.

"You're fine," Jack said grinning.

Ianto blinked. "Which is what I told Owen. But it seems that my vacation has been extended," he didn't bother to hide petulance in his tone.

Jack had insisted that Ianto had to return to work today. In result his car had been smashed and he'll probably have to spend the next few weeks pretending to be injured and that trick had lost its appeal couple of centuries ago. Honestly, it wasn't his fault that ordinary humans were fragile and that he wasn't or that he didn't fancy becoming a lab-rat.

Now it seemed that apart from a ruined day he'll have to sulk around Cardiff for a couple of weeks doing nothing, but playing a wounded lamb. He hadn't been ecstatic to return to Torchwood Cardiff, but he had to admit that being there beat being simply in Cardiff.

"You keep asking for more days off and I keep telling you – you're not getting them," Jack said trying to keep amusement out of his voice. "You have already taxed your vacation days a couple of decades onward."

Ianto frowned, but had hard time keeping smile off his face. "Right. I forgot that Torchwood doesn't do holidays."

"I like you – you're fast."

Ianto laughed and almost didn't feel the need to wince. He was almost completely healed now. "You'll like my new suit more. And coat. And car," he declared to Jack.

"I will?" laughter mixed with caution in Jack's voice.

"Oh, yes. All top of the line. Extremely expensive," Ianto assured.

Jack smiled. "Yeah, I'd imagine so."

Ianto nodded and fell silent. Once again he felt like he had to say something, but the honest joy on the Captain's face amazed him into silence. Sure, he had noticed Harkness' flirtations during past few months and that the man flew half-over the world to bring him back to Cardiff, but… It was quite different to see that Jack actually seemed to care whether he was all right or not. Lisa had often looked at him similarly.

He swallowed hard. He had said his goodbyes to her in an Australian desert, but that didn't mean that he was going to let her go. Not just yet. He was more at peace than he had been when he had begun his walkabout, but grief wasn't something on which you could put an 'off' switch. She was gone and it still hurt.

In time he'd come to peace with losing Olduvai though he still sometimes with painful clarity recalled the dark yellow sand glowing red in the afternoon sun. Sometimes he wondered that if he lived long enough whether he'd stop feeling the ache in his chest whenever he remembered. The thought terrified him.

"I'm glad you're okay," Jack announced tentatively. He wasn't sure how he felt about voicing his feelings and whether this was the right moment, but it seemed like the only comfort he could offer that Ianto would accept.

They had been through a lot in the last twenty four hours, but Jack didn't fool himself by thinking that they were best friends now. It was exactly the opposite actually. They were only a step away from being mortal enemies yet Jack felt that he needed Ianto and he supposed that the other man had to be feeling the same thing, because he could have not called. There was something pulling them together despite all their differences and fears.

Whether there really was such a thing as destiny; whether they were meant to be something together – they were only at the beginning of the journey and Jack didn't mind at all. The best things in his life took a lot of effort and pain.

Ianto smiled lightly. He blamed the Captain's pheromones on chasing away the ghosts of his memories not some sudden sense of tact Harkness' might have acquired after all - tact wasn't a sexually transmitted disease. "You still owe me a car," he beamed at Jack.

The End