It had been too long since Ianto had slept in someone's embrace. He'd almost forgotten how comforting it was to wake up to find a warm body pressing in against his own; arms wrapped around his body, legs entwined and the soothing thud of another heartbeat against his chest.
Ianto opened his eyes slowly, and was torn between smiling and weeping. Jack's face was inches from his own, eyes closed, mouth open as he slept. It seemed he hadn't had a completely peaceful rest, though his features were currently relaxed. Judging by the silvery tears streaks on Jack's cheeks, he'd suffered at least one nightmare throughout the night, although it obviously had not been severe enough to wake either of them.
Unable to resist the temptation, Ianto leaned close and lightly kissed the immortal's cheeks.
The loving touch was enough to bring Jack back into wakefulness and for a few blissful moments, Ianto enjoyed the sight of Jack caught between sleep and awakening, without a care in the world. Then, memories returned and with them, the soul-crushing heartache that Ianto had seen in Jack's eyes hours earlier. Hurting for his Captain, Ianto kissed him again, this time on the lips.
"I'm here," Ianto murmured as Jack curled in against him, seeking comfort that Ianto willingly gave.
"Sorry," Jack whispered. "Shouldn't be doing this."
"Putting it all on you. I should be able to deal with this on my own."
"Rubbish," Ianto snorted. "Jack, did you expect me to deal with it on my own after I was nearly eaten by cannibals? No. Hell, you didn't even expect it of me after Lisa. Why shouldn't I do the same for you now?"
Jack sighed softly.
"I love you, Ianto Jones."
It wasn't so much the whispered statement that caught Ianto by surprise, but rather the sincerity in Jack's tone. He really meant it, Ianto thought as he struggled with a sudden onslaught of emotion. Even if those particular words never passed his lips again, Ianto knew he had heard them just this once, and that Jack had said them to him.
"I love you, too," Ianto answered, indulging in another kiss.
"Why aren't you angry with me?" Jack asked. "Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful. I just don't understand why you're not angry with me like the others."
Ianto ran his fingers over Jack's head, indulging in the softness of freshly washed hair. It didn't escape his attention that Jack tensed fractionally at the contact to his head, but he deliberately didn't withdraw. He wanted Jack to accept that there would never be any pain attached to any of Ianto's touches. Whatever he'd endured, it was over and Ianto would never hurt him.
"I admit I was, at first," Ianto confessed quietly. "But like I said, that was more because you disappeared without leaving so much as a note."
Jack huffed softly.
"Sorry about that, but the Doctor doesn't usually tend to hang around. I didn't have much time to reach him… It didn't help that he tried to get away from me, either."
Ianto felt a sharp twinge of anger on Jack's behalf.
"He tried to run away from you?"
"Yeah. Something to do with the way I am. It's like fingernails down a chalkboard to him."
"Really," Ianto growled.
"It's not his fault," Jack mumbled. "Not really…"
"Don't make apologies for him, Jack," Ianto countered. "After all the loyalty you've shown him, he has no business treating you like that."
Jack's eyebrows went up as Ianto's words sank in, and he wondered just how much Ianto actually knew about his admittedly rocky relationship with the Time Lord. Ianto saw the look, and a smile touched his lips.
"I have full access to the Torchwood Three Archives, Jack. It's well documented, the number of times you ran interference to stop Torchwood from getting anywhere near the Doctor… as well as the punishment you received for doing so."
The smirk slipped from Jack's face. The last thing he needed right now, with his state of mind being what it was, were further reminders of past torture.
"Can we talk about something else?" he asked. He hated how plaintive he sounded, but this was Ianto. Above all else, he'd learned long ago that he had no reason to hide any part of himself from the younger man. Ianto had never judged him for showing moments of weakness, and Jack couldn't imagine he was going to start now. True to form, Ianto obliged without question.
"So, are you going to tell me where you intend on taking me for our first date?"
Jack smiled again.
"Glad to hear you don't expect it to be a one-time event."
Ianto indulged in a lingering, albeit chaste kiss.
"I should hope it won't be."
"I haven't quite decided yet," Jack confessed, "but I promise it'll be worth it. We're going to do it properly this time, Ianto. You won't regret giving me a second chance."
"I know," Ianto murmured. "I don't regret it now."
They dozed again, comfortable in each other's embrace. When Ianto woke again, though, it was to an unpleasant sensation of heat and sweat. It took him just a minute to realise that it was Jack who was the unintentional culprit. Though still asleep, he was no longer peaceful and relaxed. Instead, he seemed covered in sweat from head to toe, and his body trembled a little in Ianto's arms.
"Jack?" Ianto asked, anxious that perhaps Jack was suffering a nightmare. Jack answered with a distressed groan that did nothing to reassure the younger man. Sitting up, Ianto threw off the sheets, half expecting to find that Jack had had an accident, the sheets were so wet. It appeared it was strictly from excessive perspiration, though, which begged the question, why?
A moment later, Ianto suspected he had his answer when he ran his fingers lightly down Jack's spine, and the normally soothing touch elicited a strangled sob of pain. There was no visible sign of injury, but Ianto knew from past experience that the agony Jack suffered in his deaths and resurrections often lingered for hours afterwards. It just surprised him that Jack had managed to hide his sufferings until now.
"Easy," Ianto murmured. He manoeuvred carefully off the bed, and encouraged Jack to lie flat on his stomach, taking the worst of the pressure off his back. A closer look with the light on only showed what Ianto already knew – that Jack's back looked perfect, the flesh tanned and flawless. Looks could be deceiving, though, and the proof of that was in Jack's distress.
"What can I do?" Ianto asked. Jack turned his head fractionally, and regarded Ianto with fever-bright eyes.
"Hot," he mumbled breathlessly. "'m so hot…"
"I'll go and get some ice and some damp cloths," Ianto told him. "Hold on, Jack. I won't be long."
It was either ridiculously late or disgustingly early; Ianto honestly wasn't sure which. Either way, he didn't expect to run into anyone at all as he headed down the hallway from his and Jack's shared room to find some ice. Unbelievably, there had been none in the icebox section of their mini-bar fridge, and a call to room service had assured that yes, ice was certainly available, and that it would be delivered within twenty minutes. Not caring to wait that long, Ianto decided to go and collect it himself.
He was almost to the end of the hallway when a door to his right opened and he suddenly found himself confronted by Gwen, Owen and Tosh. Somewhat bemused, he raised an eyebrow at his colleagues.
"Let me guess. You decided to cut back on costs by sharing a room?"
"Don't be stupid," Owen retorted. "Just answer us straight. Are you sharing a room with Captain Fantastic?"
Ianto's expression darkened.
"Don't, Owen. Don't insult him. He doesn't deserve it."
"He left us, Ianto!" Gwen argued, in perhaps a louder voice than was strictly necessary.
"Yes, Jack left us, but he came back. That should be the only thing that matters, not where he was or what he did." Or what was done to him, Ianto thought grimly to himself.
"How can you forgive him so easily?" Tosh asked. "After all the pain he caused us… All the pain he caused you?"
"How could I not?" Ianto countered simply.
"C'mon, Ianto," Gwen started to argue, but he cut her off short. He had to end this right now, and get the promised ice for Jack.
"You all accuse him of betraying us by leaving. Well, we betrayed him first, and I think our betrayal was the worse one. He left to find answers, and god knows it's the least he's owed after going for so long not knowing why he is the way he is. We betrayed him because of visions we all had that we all damn well knew were false."
"Rhys was killed," Gwen argued, and Ianto conceded that point.
"He was, as a means to push you over the edge and force you into rebelling against Jack." Ianto held up his hands, forestalling further arguments. "I'm not judging. I was as much a part of it as the rest of you. My point is that we betrayed Jack and it got him killed in an unimaginably painful way, but he forgave us." Ianto looked around pointedly at each of them. "Why on earth can't you afford him the same absolution? Because god knows he had more reason to do what he did, than we had to do what we did."
"And you've just fallen back into bed with him?" Gwen asked, sounding just a tad bitter in Ianto's ears. "Even after…"
She faltered, and Ianto smiled.
"You mean, after your little chat in the tunnels yesterday? Yes, I saw and heard it all."
"So then you must know that…"
Again, she faltered, as though unsure how much she should say.
"That I'm his second choice?" Ianto finished for her. "Firstly, this isn't an appropriate time or place to be having this discussion, but if you insist, then so be it. You can just listen to what I have to say for once. Secondly, I'm not his second choice at all. I accept that he loves you, Gwen, but I know that he loves me as well. The difference is that he respects relationships, and that's why he's never done anything more than flirt with you. He won't ever come between you and Rhys because he respects and accepts the boundaries of your relationship. Now, I know that you don't understand that he could love more than one person at a time, and you think that you're the only one he has eyes for, but the truth is that Jack has the capacity to love many people at once. If you can't believe that, then perhaps you really don't know him anywhere near as well as you think you do."
Gwen's cheeks went flame-red, and she looked for the world like she'd just been slapped. Ianto took advantage of her moment of speechlessness, and stepped swiftly around her, Owen and Tosh.
"Jack came back to us, and believe me when I say that he didn't have to. Try scraping up a fraction of the compassion that he has and show a little bit of forgiveness. It won't kill you."
Without waiting for a reply, Ianto continued on down the hallway. On looking back over his shoulder, he was quietly relieved to see them disappearing into their respective rooms without further argument.
"What took so long?"
The question might have seemed demanding, except that the man asking it was still almost paralysed by the pain in his back and the fever that was currently engulfing him.
"I was waylaid," Ianto answered. He seated himself carefully on the end of the bed and, with all the care he could muster, laid the first of the cool, damp cloths across Jack's bare shoulders, and then one across the back of his neck.
"Feels nice," Jack mumbled, the relief evident in his voice. "Who was it? Gwen, I'll bet."
"All three of them, actually. I hope you don't mind, but I gave them a bit of an earful."
Jack opened one eye to peer up at Ianto.
"Bet that confused them."
"It did," Ianto said with a smile. "But hopefully, I gave them something to think about. They really have no right to stand in judgement, considering what we did to you."
"I forgave you," Jack pointed out and Ianto leaned down to kiss his temple.
"I know, and I'm still grateful. I also pointed that little fact out to the others. It seemed to have slipped from their memories. I suggested that if you could forgive us for getting you killed in such a dreadful way, then surely we can all forgive you for leaving to find someone that you've been waiting for… for how long had it been?"
"A hundred and thirty-eight years… give or take," Jack admitted. Ianto sighed.
"All the more reason, then."
"They didn't ask about… you know… us?"
"It hadn't escaped their attention that we're sharing a room, if that's what you mean." Ianto paused as he dropped a few ice cubes onto a damp cloth and wrapped them before stroking it lightly down Jack's spine. A groan escaped Jack's lips, but he was quick to protest when Ianto stopped.
"Don't stop, please. It's getting better, and the ice feels good."
Trusting that Jack knew what his own body needed, Ianto resumed stroking the makeshift ice pack up and down Jack's spine, whilst re-soaking the cloths every few minutes to keep them cool.
"Feel any better?" Ianto asked, a while after abandoning the melting ice for a gentle massage. He could have been mistaken, but he was fairly sure that Jack's skin didn't feel quite so hot, and his sensitivity to any touches to his back was considerably less now as well.
"Yeah," Jack sighed. "You have magic hands, Mr Jones."
Ianto smiled. It wasn't the first time Jack had told him that, though previous times had been the result of decidedly less innocent activities.
"Just as long as this isn't our first date," Ianto teased.
"No, I'm going to do that properly," Jack murmured. "I promise I will."
"I believe you," Ianto assured him. Jack gazed up at Ianto blearily. He was starting to lose the fight to stay awake, as the pain faded away into a dull throb and Ianto's hands continued working up and down his spine.
"What did I do to deserve you?"
Ianto's eyes filled with tears as Jack slipped back into a light and blessedly easy sleep. There was really only one answer to that, and he whispered it with heartfelt emotion.
"You loved me."