notes: After reading The Undertaker's Gift, this idea for a fic struck me. I felt like there was something about the Jack/Ianto interactions that felt like they almost belonged a little earlier in the series, especially when thinking of The Twilight Streets, which preceded it quite a bit, and Consequences, which came right after. Personally, I was more pleased with the brief mentions of it in SkyPoint than this, because I felt like it was all a few steps back. But maybe that's just me. And anyway, who was I to deny the chance to write another little Janto fic?

You don't have to have read The Undertaker's Gift, but if you have, it'll make more sense. If you haven't, it's not hard to figure out. It takes place after Exit Wounds and before Children of Earth.

Anyway, enjoy! And hopefully this will help get the gears turning again with my other fics..! And as always, find me on tumblr as imatrisarahtops for fic.

Ianto could hear the door to the hothouse squeak slightly as it was opened. He didn't bother looking up, instead listening for a moment to try and hear which of the two others were intruding. He couldn't make out the soft clicking of a small heel; though, he reasoned, with her injured ankle, Gwen was probably avoiding her signature boots. Still, the timing of each footfall was all wrong. That left only one other person in the Hub.

"Shouldn't you be on bed rest?"

Ianto's eyes flickered toward the other man for just a millisecond. Yes, there he was. Jack. Jack, with his shirtsleeves pushed up to his elbows and the same expression he always wore in situations like this: something like he was trying not to let his face betray his actual concern and worry. Ianto had seen him use it countless times on the others, and there he was, using that very look on Ianto. Perhaps a few months ago he would have allowed that expression to pierce right through him, admit that Jack was right, that he ought to take some time off. Now, it was a different time.

"I promise it's not as bad as it had looked," Ianto said mildly, watering one of the plants. Owen used to be the one who did this. It had been some time since that was the case, though, he reminded himself a little bitterly.

"Sort of like the Xilobytes that were feeding on your flesh were only a bit of dizziness and a rash?" Jack countered.

Ianto sighed. "A bit like that, I suppose."

"Then you should go home," Jack reiterated.

Ianto drew in a deep breath and pointedly met Jack's eyes for a moment. "I can't," he said bluntly, a little bit of force behind the words. "The three of us know that there's no more taking breaks and getting rest. We can't afford it. It would only hurt us more in the long run, or get one of us killed."

Jack kept his stance, staring down Ianto with his arms folded across his chest. "They would have eaten you to the bone," he said, and the words had a slight harshness that made Ianto turn his attention back to the plants beside him.

"But they didn't, Jack," he said plainly. "We all survived, and now we all move on with it. The rift isn't going to stop, so neither can we." He paused, forcing a wan smile and keeping eye contact with Jack for a brief moment. "I promise, I'm fine."

After a few moments of silence between the two, Ianto returned to tending the alien plants. He could still feel Jack's eyes on him, and he knew the conversation wasn't over yet. His mind quickly worked through words that might convince Jack that things were fine, that Ianto really was necessary there, without directly mentioning the two losses that had hurt them so dearly.

"Gwen said you didn't think I was coming back."

Oh. Well, that certainly wasn't what Ianto had expected Jack to say. His shoulders stiffened and he stood straight up, though still facing away from the other man. Seconds stretched on, feeling like hours.

"She said," Jack pressed on, "that you were convinced I was going to use my Vortex Manipulator and leave you two."

Ianto's mouth felt suddenly dry. He sensed as Jack drew closer.

"I hate," Jack continued, dropping his voice so that it was softer, gentler, "that, during what I'm sure you assumed were your last moments, you were convinced I'd abandoned you."

At this, Ianto quickly turned to face the other man, feeling his chest ache painfully, a sensation that was not from the Xilobyte wounds. He swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry, Jack. I wasn't thinking clearly," he quickly said, but Jack shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Ianto," he said. "I guess I don't have the best track record, but..." He sighed, placing his hands first on Ianto's shoulders, then sliding them along the sleeves of his suit jacket and gently gripping his biceps. "I can promise you one thing: I will always come back."

Ianto closed his eyes for a brief moment. "Don't," he said weakly, and he watched as Jack frowned a little at his words, dropping his hands to his sides. Ianto drew in a deep breath. "You can't promise that."

"I mean it—"

"No," Ianto said quickly, and he smiled weakly, a breath of a laugh escaping his lips. "It's an absolute. 'Always', 'never'... they're things that can't be promised. Even if you live forever, that's not something you can honestly promise."

"Fine," Jack responded. "Then I promise that, in your lifetime, I will always come back."

"I'll hold you to that," Ianto said, his smile genuine. He took Jack's hands in his, and Jack leaned in to press a quick kiss to his lips.

"I count on it."