Chapter 1 - Cariad

Mid 2004

"Donna Noble?"

Donna looked up to see a young man, gazing at her calmly. She'd been sent to Canary Wharf by the temp agency for two week's work at a place called Torchwood. The woman at the agency had told her that it was the first time they'd been contacted by them, so they were sending their best in the hopes of continued business. Donna typed 100 words a minute and was generally considered to be the best temp at the agency.

Nodding at the, quite frankly, gorgeous young man, Donna stood and extended her hand. Taking her hand and giving it a brief squeeze before releasing it, he gestured her through the door.

"If you'll just follow me through here, we'll get the paperwork sorted and then get you settled into the job."

She followed him, wondering what his name was and what the paperwork was that she needed to complete.

Looking over his shoulder, as though he can sense her thoughts, he told her, "I'm Ianto Jones, by the way."

The paperwork turned out to be a confidentiality agreement that intimated dire consequences should she leak any information to the outside world. Donna signed it without compunction, knowing that she'd never divulge her employer's information. Discretion was one of the qualities that made her such an excellent temp. Once that formality was over, Ianto took her to the secretarial pool and showed her where the restrooms, kitchenette, photocopier and filing cabinets were situated. Finally, he led her to a spare desk and gave her a box of dictation tapes to transcribe. Donna found herself watching as he walked away, muttering, "Nice bum."

"Yeah, he's been voted as the hottest totty in the office."

Jumping, Donna spun on her chair to face the owner of the unexpected voice. She smirked, "Well, I can certainly see why. I've always loved the Welsh accent. Besides, the control they must have over their tongues to speak Welsh has to come in useful in other areas of life."

The young, attactive girl who'd spoken laughed lightly, "I'd never thought of it that way, but I suppose so. My name's Lisa Hallett. You're the temp covering for Helen, are you?"

Shrugging, Donna turned back to her dictaphone, saying, "I don't know. The agency sends me and I go. I don't get much more information than that usually."

Lisa nodded, then turned back to her own desk. "Oh, and Ianto and I are sort of seeing each other."

Right, that's me warned off then, thought Donna as she started her first tape.

The next couple of days were uneventful, spent in the usual mindless drudgery of office life. Donna had managed to find reasons to have quick chats with Ianto, finding him to be shy but quite funny in a dry way. Sophie, another one of the office staff, invited Donna to the Friday after work drinks. Standing outside The Slug & Lettuce, with her gin and tonic in hand, Donna found herself talking to Ianto again. She'd noticed that he tended to keep to himself at work, but he seemed as tightly wound after hours as well. He lit up when Lisa was near him though, which Donna thought was sweet. Aw, young love.

Come Monday morning, Donna was back at Torchwood for her second and final week there. She looked up and caught Ianto's eye, giving him a wink and a wolfish grin, before turning back to her work. It had become a bit of a tradition and never failed to make the young Welshman blush.

It was lunchtime on Wednesday when Donna realised that she hadn't seen Ianto yet. Going over to Lisa, she asked whether he'd taken the day off.

"He's got some sort of bug," Lisa shrugged, seemingly unconcerned, "He rang me last night to tell me to stay away, in case I caught it. Plus, he knows I'm no good around sick people."

"But.. you're his girlfriend. Aren't you supposed to look after him? Does he have family or a flatmate?"

"No family in London that I know of, and he lives by himself. Don't worry, Donna. Ianto can take care of himself." Lisa turned back to her work, effectively dismissing Donna.

"Yeah, but he shouldn't have to.." muttered Donna, as she went back to her desk.

Ianto called in sick on Thursday and Friday, which worried Donna into asking Lisa again on Friday if she thought he was alright.

"Honestly, Donna. Why are you so worried about him? He's fine! It's just a virus, he'd have called me if he needed help." Lisa glared at Donna, as though defying her to find fault.

Donna seriously doubted that the poor boy would call his girlfriend. Lisa didn't seem to be the nurturing sort. She decided to take matters into her own hands, looking up Ianto's address in his file. She begged off Friday night drinks, despite Sophie's invitation, stating that she had a family commitment. Instead, she went home, got changed, made a stop at a local supermarket and found herself knocking on Ianto's door just after 7pm. It took repeated knocking over 10 minutes, before Ianto opened the door. He did not look good, she noted with dismay. His normally flawless appearance had been replaced by severe bed head, rumpled and stained t-shirt and boxers, stubble and red-rimmed eyes, with not so much bags under them but a whole set of luggage.

"Hi there, Ianto. I noticed you weren't at work the last couple of days and thought you might need a food parcel." Donna lifted her grocery bag, feeling a bit self-conscious as she stood on the doorstep of a relative stranger, forcing her attentions on him.

"Donna?" Ianto gazed at her, through bleary eyes, clinging to the door as though it was the only thing keeping him upright. Donna cleared her throat, trying to suggest he should either let her in or tell her to go away. He started at the sound, before standing back to let her in, closing the door and leaning against it. Donna set the bags she was carrying down, then went back to hook her arm around him and lead him to the couch. The flat was a tiny bedsit and smelled horrible. It looked as though it could generally be found in spotless order, but ill health had a smell of it's own.

"Right then, sweetheart, let's get you sorted out."

Donna opened as many windows as she could, then collected her groceries and went into the kitchenette, where she hastily made a pot of chicken broth and left it simmering. She looked around the room, her eyes lighting on a pile of fresh, folded laundry. Taking a clean towel and a pair of boxer shorts, she went into the tiny bathroom and ran a bath, cleaning the toilet and basin whilst she waited for it to fill. He'd obviously been violently ill and too weak to clean up after himself. Then she went back to the kitchenette, pouring a glass of the bottled water she'd brought, and took it in to where Ianto slumped on the couch/bed.

"Come on, drink some of this. You're dehydrated." Pausing to help him drink, she stopped him from gulping at the water his body so desperately craved. Putting the empty glass aside, she continued, "Up you get now, a bath will make you feel more human."

She practically had to carry him into the bathroom, stripping him and helping him into the tub. Donna was vaguely embarrassed, but could see that Ianto was in no condition to be doing anything himself. Averting her eyes from the more private parts of his anatomy, she dunked him under the water, and washed his hair for him. Putting a towel behind his head, she left him to soak as she found his shaving kit. "Now, just relax, mate. My Gramps broke his wrist once and I had to help him shave for weeks. I won't cut you."

Ianto watched her with dull eyes, as she attended to his ablutions. After shaving him, she washed all the bits of him she felt comfortable with and then left him with instructions to wash what was left. Judging by his reactions, Donna was pretty sure that he thought he was hallucinating and wondered uncomfortably how sick he'd been before she got there. His temperature was a little too warm now, but not high enough to warrant concern.

Going out to the kitchenette, she checked on her broth, before stripping the bed and remaking it with clean sheets from the pile. She had a general tidy, before going back into the bathroom to collect her charge. He was asleep, snoring lightly. Pulling the plug to let the water drain, Donna shook him awake and held out a towel. In the end, she had to help him stand and get out of the tub. She dried him off briskly, helping him into his clean boxers.

"Right. Back into bed for you, Sunshine."

Ianto hadn't said a word all this time, barely even registering her presence. He sighed, almost happily, when he was deposited between the clean sheets and instantly burrowed into the pillows.

Donna chuckled, looking down at him and thinking how adorable he looked. She shook her head at the surge of almost maternal affection she felt for the boy. Then she went around collecting the dirty sheets, towels and clothes, laughing quietly to herself as she realised the 'boy' was only a couple of years younger than herself. Going back into the kitchenette, she was glad to see a washing machine. As small as this place was, she hadn't been sure there'd be one and thought she might have had to go to a laundrette. As it was, she shoved the sheets, towels and underwear into the machine, put in the relevent detergents etc., and set it off. Then she put a bowl of soup and another glass of the bottled still water she'd brought on a tray and took it back to Ianto. Sitting him up, she held the glass for him and warned him to sip it.

"Why are you doing this?" croaked Ianto, reaching shaking hands to hold Donna's hand as she held the glass for him to drink.

"Because you're sick and someone has to look after you." Stroking his hair back, she smiled gently at him, putting the empty glass aside. "Because you need a mate and I'm applying for the job." She grinned and reached for the bowl of broth, spooning it into his mouth. Silence reigned until the task was done, then Donna wiped his mouth with the teatowel she'd had on the tray. Putting it all aside, she helped him wiggle down on the bed again.

Standing and retrieving the tray, she went back into the kitchenette to eat some of the soup herself and then tidy everything away. Coming back in, she saw that he wasn't asleep as she'd expected. She put the bottle of water down beside the bed, before sitting beside him again.

"Why do you want to be my friend, Donna? You don't know anything about me." He sounded so lost and forlorn, genuinely confused as to why she'd think he was worth befriending.

Donna couldn't help it, she leaned forward and gathered him into her arms. Holding him to her, she smoothed his hair as she replied, "I know you're intelligent, gentle and kind. I know you've got a cheeky sense of humour hidden under that quiet exterior. I know that every girl in that office thinks you're a good bloke. I know that I like you and enjoy talking to you. That's why I want to be your friend, you silly man."

He'd been tense when she first embraced him, but then he'd melted into her. Slowly, he put his arms around her waist and then buried his face in her neck. She thought she heard a quiet sob. What sort of life had the poor lad been leading, that left him so lonely? It was like he'd not had anyone to just hold him, for no other reason than simple affection. She started rocking him, singing an old song under her breath as she rubbed circles on his back. After a while, she felt him sag in her arms, so lowered him back to the bed. His hands almost reached for her, before he curled them into fists and held them to his side. Donna got the distinct impression that he didn't want to give up the contact. Raking her hands through his hair, she noted how he leaned in to the touch. Skin hungry, that's what he is, poor boy. She'd read an article on it once, about how touch was one of the most important senses. People went a bit doo-lally when they were deprived of physical affection for too long. But what she didn't understand was why Ianto would be like that when he had a girlfriend. Surely, Lisa must give him a cuddle now and then.

Tucking him in, she noted that his face had regained some colour, as she wiped the tears from his cheeks. Looking at her watch, she saw it was quite late but she wasn't comfortable just leaving him. Rummaging around in her handbag, she fished out her phone and called home.

"Yeah, Mum, it's me… No, I'm not at the pub…... No, I don't need a ride home….. MUM! Will you just listen? I'm at a sick mate's place and I'm going to stay here to look after them. I'll be home tomorrow, okay? Yeah. Say goodnight to Dad." Hanging up, she took a huge breath and prayed for the strength to put up with her harpy of a mother.

"Are you staying here with me?" A small, sleepy voice asked from behind her.

Turning to look at him, she asked, "I was planning on it. Do you mind?"

He yawned and gave a small shake of his head. "Um, not sure about where you're going to sleep though."

She moved around the bedsit, closing windows, checking that the front door was locked, then went into the bathroom. Coming back to the bed, she looked down at him, "That's a double bed you've got there. Plenty of room for us both. Wouldn't be the first time I've shared with a mate. Budge over, then."

She kicked off her shoes and got in beside him. Lying in silence, broken only the sirens of emergency vehicles screaming down the road outside, Donna felt a tentative touch on her hand. Smiling in the darkness, she took Ianto's hand and held it by her side, stroking her thumb over the back of it.

"Thank you." Softly spoken, the words washed over her, making her smile even more.

"Croeso, cariad." Donna loved the Welsh language and had picked it up, along with the term of endearment from an old boyfriend. "Now get some sleep, yeah?"

The only response she got was a faint snore.

Waking up the next morning, Donna took a while to remember why she had a warm body snuggled into her side. Somehow, Ianto had managed to get her arm around him, so his back was against her side, his head was on her shoulder and her arm was across his chest. He was holding her hand and forearm with both his hands, which she could see but couldn't feel, having lost all sensation in her arm. It was going to be agony once the circulation was restored, she decided. She wondered idly if she'd be better off waiting until he woke up naturally, or whether she should try to extricate herself now. She stroked the fingers of her free hand down the side of his face, causing him to stir slightly. Rubbing his arm lightly made him turn over and cuddle into her, which wasn't the purpose of the exercise, as now she was even more pinned down. Still, at least her arm was free to move, she noticed with a grimace as the pins and needles sensation hit her.

Ianto yawned, squeezed Donna and moved to kiss her cheek.

"You know I'm not Lisa, right?"

Donna didn't think she'd ever seen someone move so fast, as Ianto did at the sound of her voice. She lunged forward to grab his flailing arm as he almost fell off the side of the bed. "Steady on, Yan. It's alright. Just calm down."

Ianto launched into a stream of rapid Welsh, with a hand on his heart. Donna grinned at him, reaching for the bottle of water beside the couch/bed. "Yan, I'm good, but I'm not that good. If you're going to speak Welsh, you'll have to do so slowly or I won't get it. Now, drink some more of this water. Apart from heart failure at finding me in your bed, how are you feeling this morning?"

Taking some time to compose himself and gulp some water, Ianto finally answered, "Pretty good actually. A lot better than I have been. Thanks."

Getting out of the bed, Donna headed for the bathroom. "Well, that's good to hear. I'll be out of your hair shortly."

Ianto looked down at himself, feeling decidedly underdressed. Getting up, he pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. When Donna emerged from the bathroom, he went in.

Donna wandered into the kitchen and put the kettle on, ignoring the fancy coffee maker. Putting a couple of slices of the bread she'd brought into the toaster, she moved to the fridge to see whether Ianto had any butter.

"Donna?" Ianto entered and started making himself a coffee.

"Yeah?" Donna continued to rummage in the fridge, looking for jam.

"Thanks for looking after me last night." He poured hot water from the kettle over the teabag she'd left in a mug.

"No problems, Yan, what are mates for?" She turned and grinned at him, jam jar in one hand, milk in the other. Looking back at her, he couldn't help grinning back. She made him feel like everything would somehow work out for the best.