A/N - the final chapter - but it is a long one ... thanks to everyone who has taken the time to leave reviews, it is very much appreciated :-)
Ianto woke to the sound of the smoke detector squealing and the smell of burnt toast. In other circumstances the combination would have made him very pissed off, but knowing the cause made him grin stupidly.
He glanced to one side of the bed where the blue striped pyjamas had been unceremoniously tossed at one point and decided to make a dash for the bathroom before Jack made it back to the bedroom.
By the time he returned, Jack was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking proudly at the tray of toast, boiled eggs and mugs of coffee.
"I made you breakfast. Come and have some before it gets cold." He patted the bed indicating that he wanted Ianto to get back into bed.
"So I see. Thank you." Ianto bent down to kiss Jack before sliding back beneath the bedcovers. "Should I even ask what state my kitchen is in?"
"Probably best not to. However, until you're feeling better I think you should stay upstairs."
Ianto noted that Jack had managed to find the hand painted egg cups and had even cut the toast into slices, ready buttered. It was incongruous to see such a display of domesticity from the man of action that was now sat beside him, slurping coffee and munching toast as if he didn't have a care in the world.
"Jack – I wondered if it would be OK if I had a few days off."
"You OK?" Jack put his toast down and turned to get a good look at Ianto.
"I will be. I just need some time to get my head together– unless that's that going to be a problem?"
"No, not at all." Jack reached over and took Ianto's hand in a gesture of reassurance. "Take as much time as you need."
"Thanks." He squeezed Jack's hand, glad that he hadn't asked for details. There were things he just wasn't ready to face yet and there were other things he needed to come to terms with before he could return to work.
"I have to go in today, but I'll get Tosh to come round later and make sure you're OK- don't even think of arguing. She'll want to see you anyway and I expect out of the three of them, you'd be happier to see Tosh, yes?"
Ianto smiled and nodded, knowing when he'd been beaten.
"I've got to go over to UNIT as well – I need to clear the air with Colonel Mace and there's something Captain Price wanted help with. I was hoping to ask a favour of her – I'd like to make use of one of their outdoor weapon ranges. You do still want me to destroy that power cell, don't you?"
"Yes – but I thought you might already have done that." Ianto frowned, wondering where it was now, looking over at Jack's coat that was still hanging on the hook on the back of the door.
"Not yet. I had other priorities – you for a start. I thought I'd take the 'big gun' over to UNIT HQ – having blown that Nostrovite wedding crasher to bits in a barn, it occurred to me that I really need to check the settings. I reckon that on full strength it could destroy the Cyber power unit. Would that be alright with you?"
Jack observed Ianto's reactions carefully as he described his intentions, if he'd seen any hesitation he would have backed down. Instead he saw the younger man swallow hard, before meeting his gaze with moist eyes and an expression of immense gratitude.
"Of course – thank you. As I said before, it's something I couldn't trust myself to do it, but I know it has to be done. Do whatever it takes, Jack, but make sure it can never be used again, please."
Gwen rushed to greet Jack with a huge grin as soon as he entered the Hub.
"Jack – we found a dragon!"
"That creature that Owen and I saw in a cage in the cavern, Captain Price sent us some video of it – and it's a dragon! Come and see!"
Tosh stepped out from behind her work station and smiled at Gwen's rampant enthusiasm.
"Hello, Jack. How's Ianto today?"
"Thanks for asking, Tosh. He's doing OK, but he's gonna take a few days off work."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Jack, I didn't think-" Gwen looked embarrassed at having been so excited at the prospect of showing the pictures of the fire breathing reptile that she'd not asked Jack about Ianto.
"That's OK, Gwen. I know you didn't do it deliberately. However, you could perhaps take on some of his duties until he gets back?"
"Of course, Jack. Tosh told me she'd seen a flyer for the reopening of the Electro Cinema. Ianto loves old things – I remember my mam telling me she used to go there when she was a kid. I'll see if I can see if we can get tickets for a private show there before it opens to the public properly."
Jack wasn't sure if either he or Ianto were being insulted by Gwen, but the eager look on her face showed that she meant well, so he just nodded in agreement.
"I'm sure Ianto would really appreciate that gesture, thanks, Gwen. Now are you going to show me this dragon or not?"
"Tosh – run that sequence of the computer again would you?"
Gwen pulled Jack over to the monitor and they watched as the short piece of video played out.
"Oh – that's cute. Yes, that's definitely a dragon."
"What, a real one?" asked Tosh sceptically.
"Oh yes, they were real. How do you think they ended up in so many myths – part of folk memory in far flung communities across the planet? That poor baby must have slipped through the Rift like Myfanwy did."
"So how does it breathe fire?" The scientist in Tosh demanded answers, not mythology.
"They chew rocks – small particles become embedded in their molars, then when they grind their teeth, sparks are created, which ignite the methane they belch out from their third stomach."
"Jack? Are you making this up?"
"Would I? I've gotta go over to UNIT today anyway, I have some unfinished business. I'll check in on it while I'm there, make sure those bastards don't try to dissect it. Gwen, wanna come with me, see this dragon again?"
"Really? Of course, I'd love to."
"Right then, I'd like you to go fetch the big gun from the armoury, the one last used for blasting a certain alien disguised as your mother-in-law, and meet me in the SUV with it in fifteen minutes. Got that?"
"You're not going to shoot the dragon, are you?" Gwen looked momentarily horrified.
"No, Gwen. But I do intend to kill another monster off with it." Jack put his hand in his pocket and clasped the round power cell that sat there, heavy as a stone. "Off you go!"
Gwen grinned and dashed off, keen to do whatever she could to help Jack.
"Before I go, I need to ask you a favour, Tosh, if you don't mind?"
"What is it?" Tosh closed the application on her computer and turned to face Jack.
"I'd like you to check in on Ianto, but don't let on that's why you're there. I'm worried about him, he actually asked for time off. That's unheard of. Also, the memory stick work – well done, that was what actually clinched his release I think … I want you to take it over to him. I want to let him decide what's to be done with it."
"Yes, that's a good idea. I'll go now, if there's nothing else to do here."
"Sure. Oh, and you might want to keep him away from the kitchen until I get the chance to get rid of the mess I made-"
"I'll deal with it. See you later." Tosh grabbed her coat and made for the exit before she heard what Jack had actually done to Ianto's kitchen.
Jack was about to make his way towards his office to call UNIT, when Owen spoke up from where he'd been quietly observing the interactions of the rest of the team.
"So, how is he then, really?"
"Like I told Tosh, he wants some time off. To get his head together, as he put it. Now, you tell me, does that sound like Ianto?"
"For him to acknowledge that to you, rather than hide behind his suit, come in and make coffee like nothing's happened apart from a drive out to the country, it sounds like he's near the edge."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Physically he seems to be on the mend, but psychologically I can't begin to figure out what kind of state he's in."
"Just try to be there for him, Jack. What he needs is to feel safe and unthreatened, which isn't the normal state of affairs here on a day to day basis, so a few days off is probably a good idea. Don't let him brood – and for fuck's sake try to act normal around him. When you look as if the world's about to end, it's enough to scare the shit out of anyone."
"I think I might be able to manage that. If you could man the fort here tonight, I'll stay over with him again, if that's OK?"
"Well it's not as if I've got much else to do anymore is it? No problem. Have fun at UNIT, try not to piss them off too much! Oh yes, you might want to catch up with Martha when you get there. She wants to know how Ianto is. Silly bloody girl, she has potential but she needs to question more and obey less if you ask me…"
"I know, Owen, trust me I know. I have a bad feeling about her having transferred the loyalty she had for the Doctor to UNIT. They don't deserve it …hell, I'm not sure he always deserved it."
This time Jack's visit to UNIT was a more sedate affair. Instead of storming the offices, he waited as requested and did not knock anyone flying. He saw Corporal Norton and gave him a big grin and a slap on the back, although in retrospect this scared the young man more than his behaviour of the previous day.
Whilst Jack compared notes with Mace and was relieved to discover that Horwood had been arrested and held for questioning, Gwen was delighted to accompany Marian Price to visit the exobiology department and took lots of pictures of 'her' dragon. She couldn't wait to show Rhys, he'd be so envious of her having seen a real Welsh dragon.
Jack took advantage of the opportunity to use the outdoor range to destroy the power cell that he had brought with him. The range was empty, the heavy rain having left it deserted. Before blasting it into fragments smaller than shreds of confetti, he held it in one hand regretting bitterly the day he had cut it from the skull of the dead pizza delivery girl. The smooth, round, apparently benign, piece of alien technology had almost brought down everything he had built, had succeeded in causing him no end of grief and had caused untold damage to Ianto. His own arrogance had sent Ianto into the hands of his enemies, with the means to set his very soul adrift. How could he blame others when he was himself responsible for all that had transpired? There was no way to reset the clock and undo what had been done.
Taking a deep breath Jack swore to learn from this experience. He knew then that if ever he had the chance to pay for his negligence he would do so without question. Meanwhile, he needed to get out of the rain and find something to lighten his mood, so he got in the SUV and headed for the enclosure where Captain Price had taken Gwen.
He found both women, cheerfully observing the small creature, no bigger than a labrdaor puppy, perching on a branch, preening its wings. It was exquisitely formed, from its delicate wings that appeared to be made of the softest leather, to its sharp, pointed talons. It seemed to shine, covered in glossy, diamond shaped blood red scales and the brilliant crimson eyes virtually gleamed in its head.
"So, Captain, Gwen here tells me that you say this it isn't an alien. How do you make that out?"
"It's not exactly alien – it's indigenous – just out of its time." Jack had a feeling of empathy for the small reptile, He, too, was out of his time. Unlike the dragon, he had found a home.
"What do you think we should do with it?"
"I'd offer it somewhere to live, but I've already got a large flying, carnivorous reptile and I get the feeling she won't want to share air space."
"I don't know whether or not to believe you. However, maybe we can wait for the Doctor to come by – I'm sure he'll have an idea."
"I'm sure he will. Talking of the Doctor, is Martha around? I can't seem to get through to her on the phone."
"Dr Martha Jones? She left earlier – there's been a standing invitation for her to assist a special project at the UNIT headquarters in New York. She made her decision this morning and chose to leave immediately."
"New York? Good for her." Jack wondered what that special project was, maybe he'd ask around, find out what UNIT were up to. Perhaps he could persuade young Norton to have a drink with him sometime? Strictly business of course, however cute the guy was, Jack wouldn't cheat on Ianto.
It was dark and wet by the time Jack had dropped off Gwen and picked up some food. He was therefore surprised to find Ianto's house in darkness when he parked outside.
Jack knocked on the front door before opening it with his key. He reached out for the light switch in the hall, but nothing happened. Looking around in some concern, he saw a thin line of dull orange glow seeping out from under the door to the living room. Opening the door slowly, ready to draw his gun if necessary, he was relieved to find Ianto sitting on the floor, with his back to the sofa, in front of the fireplace. The flickering lights from a wood fire and a varied assortment of candles cast sinister looking shadows about the room. Ianto turned to look up at him, his face softly lit by the dancing flames in the hearth.
"I'd say this was romantic, but it's freezing cold in here. What's going on?"
"No electricity – do I need to go into detail? No lighting, no heating, no fridge, no kettle –"
"Stop! I get the picture. What happened? Fuse blown?"
Ianto rolled his eyes to make it perfectly clear that he could have sorted out a blown fuse himself. Jack noticed that he appeared to be wearing several layers of jumpers, so he assumed the power had been off for quite a while. The fact that he hadn't resorted to going to the Hub to warm up, gave Jack a further insight into how he was actually feeling.
"Nope – power got cut off. Apparently when I was charged and arrested for treason an automatic stop was made on all financial activity in my name. My funds were seized and all my direct debits were cancelled, including the one for the electricity. I found the red bill in the post."
"I'm sorry about that, I'll sort it out for you." Jack sat down on the sofa behind Ianto. "Hungry? I picked up some food on the way – fish and chips OK?"
"Great, I'm starving – do you mind eating them out of the paper? Save washing up with cold water."
"What? Not the best china? Move forward then, let me share some heat from that roaring fire." Jack raised his eyebrows derisively at the feeble fire that was flickering about a few sticks of wood and some scraps of paper. He slid down to the floor so that Ianto could sit between his legs, resting his arms on Jack's knees.
"It's all I could find to burn – don't mock. You've got that big coat to keep you warm anyway."
They sat in companionable silence, Ianto leaning against Jack, as they ate their fish and fed each other chips. They were both glad of something hot to eat, as it warmed their hands as well as their stomachs.
"What's that you're burning?" Jack pointed at the letters and envelopes that were curling up and blackening in the grate.
"Junk mail – best way to beat identity fraud. Not that they'd have much luck using my name and address right now. I've got more here if you want to stoke the fire a bit." Ianto passed over to Jack the stack of letters and flyers that Tosh had kindly sorted out for him.
Jack flicked through the pile waiting to go on, throwing on a letter from a credit card company and a flyer from Weight Watchers. He stopped when he got to a postcard.
"Are you sure this is this junk?" He put it down to take another chip from the greasy bag that Ianto held out for him.
"Yep – you'd be surprised how personalised they can make junk mail look. It's to fool the unsuspecting that it's actually meant for them. That's an invite to a chess club."
Jack almost choked on his chip.
"Yes, thanks – let me have a look at that card." Jack tried to keep his voice light, although he had an uneasy feeling.
On closer inspection the picture on the card was apparently a scene from a cult TV series from the 1960's, filmed at Portmeirion in North Wales. A scene of a giant chess set with people as the pieces. On the back was a simple printed message:
You are cordially invited to join the Portmeirion Checkmate Chess Club.
Be seeing you!
Jack battled down a wave of nausea that struck him without warning. He was glad Ianto was sitting in front of him and couldn't see his reaction. How the hell had Gates managed to accomplish this? The implications were enough to terrify him.
"Jack – what's the matter?"
"Nothing. The arctic conditions in here just gave me a chill, that's all." Jack stood up with a genuine shudder, then pulled Ianto to his feet and kissed him soundly.
"I'm sorry … maybe I could burn a few chairs, if you could break them up for me." Ianto wrapped his arms about Jack's waist, inside the coat, revelling in the heat.
"Gwen told you about the broken chair?" Jack shook his head as he saw Ianto smiling slyly at him, recognising a tease when he saw that expression. "Right, I know you asked for time off, but you're coming back to my place tonight – at least I've got heating and lighting. Not to mention a coffee machine. Go, fetch yourself whatever you need and I'll put out this fire."
"What, now?" Ianto wondered what had caused him to make such a sudden decision, but he wasn't going to argue. He'd had more than enough of cold conditions for the time being.
"Yes - my quarters are warm, cosy, and safe. And I want to look after you." All of which was true, especially the need to protect Ianto.
Whilst Ianto was out of the room, Jack picked the postcard up to look at it once more with revulsion, before tearing it into pieces and throwing it onto the fire.
This time he would not hesitate to kill them before they got anywhere near Ianto.
A/N 2- if there is enough demand, I shall start posting the sequel - Checkmate- at the weekend.