"And you're sure your boyfriend will definitely be home by now to look after you?" Jack asked concernedly as they pulled up outside Gwen's flat. He glanced at his watch as the engine idled. Dealing with the emergency services and driving back to Cardiff had taken longer than he had thought, and the afternoon was beginning to tick away.
"Yes, I'm sure," Gwen replied, her tone weary. "He said he'd be home half an hour ago when I called."
"Good." For once, as the case hadn't, in the end, involved any must-be-kept-confidential alien activity, Gwen would be able to talk about it to her partner, whose name Jack couldn't quite bring to mind at that moment. It was sure to hit the news in the next few days anyway, and – as it was the police, not Torchwood, who were officially dealing with the case – it would fit in with the 'special ops' cover he knew Gwen was using with him, on advice from the team.
"Unless the world decides to end tomorrow, take the day off. Let yourself heal a bit and I'll see you back at work on Monday."
Gwen nodded and climbed stiffly out of the car.
Waiting until she was safely inside the main door, Jack pointed the SUV towards Tosh's flat. Tosh had escaped the worse of the physical torments perpetrated at the hands of the villagers – mostly down to Ianto's actions, she had confessed to Jack earlier during the SUV retrieval – but the emotional torment and the impact of the things she had witnessed would stay with her.
Jack knew that Tosh didn't believe this would affect her any worse than the things she had seen before. Gwen may have been the only one to vocalise it, but the fact that the 'creatures' in question had been human this time, meant it would be different for all of them.
Owen – in some ways, the least affected of all of them, this once – had volunteered to stay with Tosh, to make sure she wasn't alone when the horrors of the last day and a half really hit her.
Jack had been surprised at the voluntary compassion. He knew that Owen had it in him, but he also knew the medic very rarely displayed it openly. But, moreover, he had been glad that Tosh would be looked after by someone who cared. Glad that neither of them would be alone in lonely flats after this doomed trip.
That just left Ianto. Despite the painkillers Owen had given him at the scene, whenever Jack glanced into the passenger seat – which he had done a lot, on the drive back to Cardiff from the Beacons – he could tell the younger man was still experiencing significant discomfort.
This really wasn't what he had been envisaging when he'd suggested the camping trip, although it was true that the experience did seem to have re-strengthened the bonds between the team. He would much rather have done that without Gwen getting shot, Tosh and Ianto being kidnapped and Ianto… He would have done almost anything if it meant that Ianto wouldn't have been hurt like this.
"Ianto?" He turned the engine off and reached over to shake Ianto's shoulder very gently; he had dozed off again on the journey from Tosh's flat to his own.
Ianto's eyes blinked open, squinting a little in the early afternoon sunlight. "Huh?"
"We're here." Ianto reached down to undo his seatbelt, wincing as the movement pulled something. Jack resisted the urge just to do it for him, suspecting that Ianto's fierce independent streak would protest, despite the obvious pain.
Instead, he jumped down and rounded the front of the SUV, ready to give Ianto a hand to get down. Whatever Ianto's pride said, Jack knew that with the pain in his ribs he wouldn't be able to do that alone.
Getting up the stairs and into Ianto's flat took some time – Ianto's beaten and bruised muscles had locked up on the long car journey back, and moving them again was painful.
If Jack had had his way, he would have tucked Ianto into bed with another round of painkillers just as soon as they were through his front door, but Ianto refused.
"Not yet," he said, shaking his head slowly. "They make my head all woozy - even without the head injury - and I want to take a hot shower first."
Jack looked at Ianto swaying slightly as he gripped the back of the sofa, and worried about him slipping and falling in the shower. "Are you sure?"
Ianto nodded. "Yes, I'm definitely sure. Hot showers did a lot to help all the bruises and sore muscles I had after Canary Wharf." He gave a little choked laugh. "Especially when I was giving Lisa all the painkillers I was being prescribed."
Jack tried not to think too hard about the state Ianto must have been in those first few weeks; he just couldn't bear it, not when he had such a good basis for the mental image right in front of him. "Okay then, a hot shower it is," he nodded, concentrating firmly on the here and now.
Taking Ianto's arm again, they stumbled their way into Ianto's spacious bathroom. Ianto carefully lowered himself to sit on the closed toilet seat.
Jack looked around uncertainly. "Do you need… anything?"
Ianto shook his head once and then looked down at himself uncertainly. "Actually, I might need a hand getting my socks and shoes off." He grimaced as he moved an arm across his body experimentally. "And possibly my t-shirt. I think I can handle the jeans."
Jack nodded, helping Ianto shrug out of his shirt and telling his wayward body that this was not an appropriate time. When Ianto's shoes and socks, then t-shirt, were removed, any errant thoughts were quashed; his torso was practically one big bruise, just blooming into a deep purple.
He tamped down the resurgent rage; the perpetrators were being punished. He knew that between Tosh's technical know-how and Torchwood's influence, they could make sure that none of them ever walked free again. And if some dark parts of Jack's mind whispered that it wasn't enough? That was just something he would have to live with.
Jack started to turn to leave. "Are you sure there's nothing else you need?"
There was silence, and Jack turned back to find Ianto looking somewhat conflicted. "What is it, Ianto? Whatever you need."
"Umm… well… could you maybe bring me in something to sleep in? Once I'm in the shower?" Ianto asked quietly, almost sounding embarrassed to ask. Jack sighed internally, wishing that Ianto could feel more comfortable asking him for help. Wishing that Ianto knew there wasn't much he wouldn't do for him if he asked.
"Of course. I'll have your painkillers and some water ready when you get out, too, so you can just get straight into bed and rest."
Ianto nodded, pushing gingerly to his feet.
Jack turned once more to leave; he had only taken two steps out of the door when Ianto's voice called him back. "Jack?"
Ianto's eyes burned right into him. "Thanks, for this."
Knowing that Ianto didn't want to hear any platitudes about it being nothing, and no bother – even though they were true – Jack simply nodded and let Ianto push the bathroom door shut between them.
Ianto looked cleaner but not significantly less pained when he emerged from the shower some time later in the faded pyjamas Jack had discovered in his chest of drawers. Jack met him at the bathroom door with the promised glass of water and pain pills. "Come on," he said while Ianto obediently swallowed them. "Bed for you."
It was probably a mark of how tired Ianto was - and how much pain he was still in while he waited for the painkillers to kick in - that he allowed Jack to support him heavily across his bedroom and into bed, and didn't protest when Jack gave in to the urge he'd been suppressing since the moment they entered the flat and smoothed his duvet up and around Ianto's shoulders.
"Get some sleep," Jack said softly, but Ianto already was.
Jack looked up from the book he had borrowed from Ianto's bookshelf, listening for a moment to check he wasn't imagining things. No, there it was again.
He put the book down, absently noting his page, and hurried back through to the bedroom. Ianto's eyes were open, but Jack couldn't be sure if he was actually awake or not.
"Ianto?" He walked around to the side of the bed, making sure that – if Ianto was actually awake – he stayed in his line of sight. He sat down on the very edge of the bed. "Ianto?" he tried again.
This time, Ianto's eyes snapped over to him and he blinked. "Jack?"
"Yes, it's me," Jack said, keeping his voice low and soothing. "You're back at your flat, you're going to be okay."
The fog started to lift from Ianto's gaze, and he tried to sit up, wincing slightly despite the pain relief.
"Here, let me give you a hand." Jack reached around him, helping him upright and shifting the pillows behind him to support him.
Ianto's breathing was still rapid, although shallow, in deference to his ribs.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Ianto hesitated for a second. "I was going to become another collection of cling filmed body parts in a freezer," he murmured shakily. "They really wanted to…"
Shifting closer, Jack very carefully wrapped his arms around Ianto, holding him close as he trembled in the aftershocks of his nightmare. "It's okay," he soothed, closing his eyes. "It's going to be okay."
The tremors stopped within minutes, and shortly after that, Ianto pulled away. "Sorry," he said, looking away. "I didn't mean to…"
"Don't apologise," Jack interrupted. "It's really not necessary. You've just been through a traumatic experience; that more than qualifies you to be a bit shaken up."
Ianto took a slow, steady breath. "I know, it's just…" He sighed shallowly. "I was starting to hope the nightmares were passing, but now…"
He looked back up, met Jack's eyes. "Thank you, again, for being here. I…" He shook his head. "As pathetic as it sounds to say it out loud, I'm glad I'm not alone after that."
Jack scoffed. "It's not pathetic at all. Just human. And you know that I will be here any time, if you need someone. You just have to say the word."
Ianto said nothing, and just looked at him. Jack looked back, hoping that whatever Ianto needed from him could be found in his eyes.
Without warning, Ianto leaned forward, pressing his lips firmly to Jack's, one hand gripping Jack's elbow. Jack's mind reeled, and it took him a few seconds to realise that this was actually happening; it wasn't just the product of his imagination. No matter how many times he had imagined a similar scene over the past months, none of his musings quite matched the actuality.
He knew this wasn't a good idea, not now. Ianto was injured, vulnerable. Doped up on painkillers. This definitely wasn't the right time.
He knew this, but it didn't stop him from kissing Ianto back.
And so we have to come to the end. But not THE END quite yet. The next story in this series is being written right now, and it'll start being posted just as soon as I'm done!