The ceiling was stark white, and framed by the drape of curtains from a wooden rail. Sunlight filled the room from a window that showed through the curtain on his left, and footsteps from the corridor outside and the gentle beeping of the machines watching over him rang in a syncopated melody. The bedding was soft and warm, gentle to the touch.
One of his hands was bandaged and, he realised when he tried to move his fingers, splinted. The other was cradled in both of Jack's, his thumbs rubbing over the back of his hand, and Jack squeezed to acknowledge Ianto's attention. "Hey," he whispered. "You back with us this time?"
He blinked at him. "This time?" His voice was rough and his throat dry, but he held on to Jack's hand when he tried to get up for water. "No, stay..."
"Okay." Jack raised Ianto's hand to his lips and kissed it. "You've been in and out since yesterday evening. We had a conversation earlier."
"I don't remember it." He closed his eyes and let Jack's hand go. "Okay, yes please to the water."
Jack chuckled, a strained sound, and leaned over him to kiss his forehead before he went to get Ianto a drink and inform the nurses or whatever he needed to do. He was only gone a minute or less, but Ianto's heart was racing again by the time he returned, and he reached out for his hand again as soon as he was back in his chair. "Doctor Henson is going to come and check you over in a minute," he told Ianto, feeding him ice chips with one hand so that he could keep hold of the other. The grip Ianto had on him must have been painful, but he didn't mention it. "He's not impressed with your self-preservation instincts," Jack continued in a tone that, as controlled as it was, let on that he agreed with the doctor's assessment. "But we're all impressed with the heroics, you'll be pleased to hear."
"That's more your style than mine," he croaked. "But I did try to live up to your example."
"Don't..." Jack closed his eyes and gripped Ianto's hand, pressing his lips against it even as he continued, "I nearly lost you. Don't throw your life away like I do."
Ianto brushed his cheek with a finger, catching tears, and lifted his face to look at him again. "No more heroics," he promised with a smile. "Not letting you out of my sight again."
Footsteps stopped in the doorway and they both looked up at the young doctor. He smiled at them, but it vanished a moment later when he looked at the notes in his hand. "So, Ianto. Britain's Most Wanted to Britain's Favourite Hero overnight – welcome back. Let's start at the top, shall we? Concussion, probably from insisting on collapsing onto the floor rather than waiting a few seconds and collapsing into Jack's arms ; dislocated thumb and huge lacerations to your hand; gunshot wound through which you bled out; nastily lacerated feet and frostbite; add onto that the dehydration and malnourishment and the fact that people were trying to kill you and I have to ask, how are you still alive?"
Jack's hands were painfully tight around Ianto's, and all Ianto could do was shrug at them. "Determination and luck?"
"Lots of luck." Henson shook his head and looked down at his notes again. "And now, lots of bed rest. You're staying here for at least a week, and then we'll reassess. Welcome home, Ianto; now don't do it again."
Ianto stroked his thumb over Jack's hand and looked up at him. "How did I get here? You were there?"
"Story for another time." Jack patted his hand and made to stand up. "I'll just be a moment..."
"Jack!" Ianto tightened his hand and held Jack in place. "Please... don't..."
"I'm not going anywhere," Jack promised. "Just let me pull the curtains back." He kissed Ianto's hand again and stepped back from the bed. The curtains ran silently on the wooden rails, and tied back with broad belts that looped them to the frame. With the curtains pulled back Ianto could see the crib in the corner of the room and, through the clear sides, the tiny baby wrapped in blankets inside it. "I'm not pregnant anymore ."
"I hadn't noticed," Ianto confessed, staring at the crib. Jack laughed and collected the baby, gazing down at it for a moment, and then brought them over and sat down next to Ianto.
"Ianto, this is your daughter." He leaned over and laid her down on Ianto's chest so that he could support her with his one good arm. "She's two weeks old. The Doctor took me to a maternity hospital, and I spent three months cursing him and demanding that he bring me home." He reached across and cupped Ianto's cheek. "I came as soon as I could, I promise."
"I know you did." He turned his face into Jack's hand and pressed his lips against his palm. It soon turned into a yawn, and he blinked down at their baby girl. "I'm sorry, I'm so tired."
"Then sleep." Jack rubbed his thumb against Ianto's temple and smiled at him. "You need it – you've earned it. I won't be far away; not ever."
It was dark outside when he woke up, and the room was empty and quiet. Fear gripped at him, sending his pulse hammering through his body and stinging through his injuries, and he dragged himself from the bed, supporting himself on furniture and the wall to get to the door. Outside his room was a sitting room that connected the three other rooms in this suite, and in the warm glow of a standard lamp he found Jack, Alice, Steven and his daughter, settled together on one of the sofas. The baby was lying in Steven's lap and Alice was helping him to support her and feed her.
Jack got to his feet as soon as he saw Ianto and wrapped his hands around his elbows to hold him up. "You shouldn't be out of bed," he chastised him, letting Ianto lean on him and gathering him closer. "Oh, Ianto."
He pressed his cheek against Jack's shoulder and clung to him whilst the world swayed. Jack's arms were warm and strong around him, supporting him and protecting even as Jack brought them down to the floor. There were footsteps and voices crowding around them, hands tried to pull him away from Jack and he held on tighter than ever. They retreated at last and left them alone, with Ianto cradled in Jack's arms and becoming aware of the pain through the panic. His side and his feet felt like they were on fire under the layers of bandages around them. Even Jack checking him over, as gentle as he was, was enough to send shockwaves of pain through him. "Fuck..." The fingers of his good hand dug into Jack's arm, and he bit his lip hard enough to taste blood. "Jack!"
"I've got you." One of Jack's hands cupped his cheek and tilted his head back, so that Jack could kiss him on the lips and nuzzle his cheek. "I'm here, I've got you."
Ianto nodded and chased Jack's lips, kissing him back to reassure himself that Jack was there with him. He felt moisture on his cheeks, and when Jack pulled back he realised that it was Jack who was crying, heavy tears rolling unchecked from red-rimmed eyes. "Sorry," he croaked. "Did I..."
"You scared me," Jack finished for him. He brushed his lips across Ianto's cheek, and Ianto felt the wave of warm, moist air when he sighed. "I shouldn't have left you alone. I'm so sorry ."
"You were only just outside," he pointed out, hating himself for the way he'd panicked. "I'm just..." He sighed and rested his cheek against Jack's shoulder again. "Can we get off the floor?"
"Back into bed," Jack agreed. "Alice, can you help us?"
Ianto looked up at last and realised that Alice was still in the room, hovering in the doorway. She hurried over to help Jack get Ianto to his feet, and when he was standing she ran her hands down his arms. "Ianto, you idiot." Before he could respond she hugged him, the swell of her belly between them adding to the awkward sincerity of the gesture. "Thank you.
He smiled back and nodded, dropping his eyes to his feet and leaning against Jack. Between them they got him back to bed, where a nurse was already waiting to take Alice's place and help him to sit up in bed. As soon as he was settled Jack sat down next to him, shuffling them until Ianto was tucked under his arm and curled against his chest, and the nurse merely nodded approvingly. "Mr Jones, you need to stay in bed as much as you can for the next week at least," she told him in a comfortingly familiar Valleys accent, pulling the sheet straight and tucking them in. "Doctor Henson is on his way to check you over again. Is there anything you need?"
"Just Jack," he muttered, avoiding their gazes. "I was just being paranoid."
"That's perfectly understandable," she assured him, "and he's here now. I'll bring your lunch through after Doctor Henson has seen you. I can bring some for you, too, if you like, Captain?"
"Thanks, that would be great," Jack answered for them, before Ianto could protest that he wasn't feeling hungry.
Doctor Henson arrived, pausing to let her out of the room, and looked at the pair of them. "Jack, is there a reason you're in bed with my patient?"
Even though the doctor's expression said that he'd understood. Jack answered, without the playful innocence that Ianto expected, "I'm keeping him warm."
He nodded and made a note on Ianto's charts, lips pursed. "Right. Colonel Oduya wants you to give evidence about Department X, particularly your interactions with Agent Johnson, but I'm going to recommend that you see a therapist before we even consider that. Don't worry, though," he said when Ianto clung to Jack again, "it won't be for some weeks at least. You're in no condition to undergo that level of questioning yet. He will want to speak to you today or tomorrow, though."
His dressings were still safe despite his collapse, and the doctor gave Jack one more admonishment to take care of Ianto and call if anything happened to him, and then left them in the peace and quiet. Now he was sitting upright he could see a glimpse of the garden out of the window, where the first blades of green were pushing through the frozen earth. He settled against Jack and twisted their fingers together. "It's Spring," he commented, "How long did it take?"
"Two months. It must have seemed longer."
"It got blurred," he said with a shrug. "One day after another; I can't remember a lot of it. But I missed so much."
"Dad?" Alice arrived with the baby, and with Steven hiding behind her. "Ianto, are you alright?"
"No," Ianto admitted. "But I'm getting better." He struggled upright and watched as she came into the room with the baby. "Is she asleep?"
"Completely." Alice came around the bed and put her in Jack's arms, where Ianto could lean against him and look down at her. "She's perfect."
"She needs a name." Jack pointed out. "We can't keep calling her 'she'."
Ianto nodded and considered it. "Belle," he said at last. "The victory Belle."
Jack laughed, and her nose scrunched up at the sound. "I think she likes it. Baby Belle Jones.
"Harkness-Jones," he corrected him.
"Belle Harkness-Jones, then." Jack tickled her tummy and shifted her so that she was cradled in one arm and he could wrap the other around Ianto. "What do you think, Steven?"
He peered out from behind Alice, who'd sat down in the chair. "She's tiny," he said, watching her hand emerge from the blankets. "And loud. Belle suits her."
Jack looked at Ianto and whispered in a loud aside, "Apparently you were a bit scary when you found Steven. He thought you were a zombie."
Ianto chuckled and lifted his good hand in a wave. "Still zombie-like?"
The boy shook his head and emerged more from behind Alice. She nodded when he looked up at her, and then he looked back to Ianto. "Thank you, Uncle Ianto."
They were distracted by a mewl from Belle, and Jack looked down at her with discomfort. "Someone's hungry, and I still draw the line at breastfeeding. Alice, can you get a bottle?"
She went, and Ianto looked sidelong at Jack. "Are you saying you can breastfeed as well?"
The nurse stopped in the doorway with their lunch on a tray and peered at them. "This is quite possibly the most surreal conversation I've ever walked into."
"I got a first on my last exam," Jane announced, forcing him to open his eyes and pretend to be awake. "I thought you might like to know."
"I'm happy for you." He closed his eyes again and relaxed. "Shouldn't you be… somewhere else?"
She came into the room, the soft rubber soles of her pumps squeaking slightly on the polished, sterilised floor. The flowers she'd brought were strongly scented, and he heard the rustle of the film around them as she set them down on Jack's chair. "I just wanted to make sure you were alright," she told him quietly. "Sarah Jane passed the message on but… it's not the same, is it?"
"No it isn't." He opened one eye and smiled up at her. "Thank you. I'm awake, I promise."
"You shouldn't be," Jack chided from the doorway. "Here, I brought you a coffee. Sorry, it's terrible."
"I'm sure I've had worse." Jane went over towards Jack, and Ianto smirked at the ceiling, waiting for, "No, you were right. Is it definitely coffee?"
"No one would swear to that." It was Jack's heavier footsteps that approached him this time, and then he felt Jack's coffee-warmed fingers against his cheek. "Are you going to stay with us for a while?"
He grunted and tried to nod. "You two talk. I'll listen in."
One chair squeaked, and Jack sat on the edge of the bed, holding Ianto's hand loosely in his own. The silence grew uncomfortable, filled only with Jane shifting in her squeaky seat, until she blurted out, "They've offered me a job in UNIT's press department. They wanted Sarah Jane to be in charge – apparently she knew someone who worked there once – but she says she's too old to get any more jaded, so they're going to hire someone else."
"We need to move more into the open," Jack said softly. "This would never have happened if the public could see it."
"No?" Jane sighed. "I've seen some pretty stupid stuff in the last few years."
The awkwardness returned and Jack broke it by asking about Jane's course, what her family thought of her job offer, whether she was going to move out of Cambridge if she got the chance. Ianto woke up whilst they talked, and by the time she was ready to leave he was able to sit up, propped against the mountain of cushions. "Look after yourself," he told her. "Come back when I can sit through a conversation."
"You can cook me dinner." She clutched her handbag and smiled at him nervously. "I'll see you then, then."
Jack got up to close the door behind her and returned to the edge of the bed again, even though there were now two empty chairs. He straightened the blankets absently. "I'm not used to having to trust people I don't know," he admitted. "Especially not to take care of you."
Ianto stilled his hands and held them between both of his own. "We do what we have to, don't we? Whatever I had to do to come home to you."
Jack closed his eyes and tilted his head down. "I thought I'd got there just in time for you to die in my arms. Once was more than enough, but twice..."
"I'm not coming back," he assured him. Jack's head snapped up, anguish written across his expression, and Ianto hurried to correct himself, "To Torchwood, I mean. I won't put either of us through that again."
Jack relaxed and kissed the back of Ianto's hand. "Good. Time to quit whilst we're ahead."
Ianto spread his fingers between Jack's, and Jack's stretched to join them. "Time to make it official?" He looked up to Jack's face and returned his smile. "Marry me?"
A Red Kite wheeled high above the farm, its striking silhouette framed by the expanse of clear blue that stretched unbroken from horizon to horizon. Closer to the ground swallows wheeled and dived between the farm buildings and across the meadow, so low that their wing-tips skimmed the long grass and blew pollen from the nodding flowers. At the bottom of the meadow the stream chuckled over its rocky bed in the shade of the willows and blackthorn that grew on the bank, and carried cherry blossom down the valley towards the town. The distant cries of sheep on the hillsides echoed off the old stone walls in the farmyard, making them seem much closer than they were, and the only other sound to break the peace was the occasional arthritic grumble from the reluctant engine of an antique Land Rover.
Ianto's wedding ring clinked against the spanner in his hand as he raised it to wipe sweat from his forehead. Across the yard, in the shade of the farm buildings, Steven watched over Belle and his baby brother John, who were asleep on the blanket with Tybalt guarding them like a Sphinx. Alice leaned out of the cab of the Land Rover to watch them working. "You're going to have to admit defeat sooner or later," she called, laughing. "And then go for a bath."
"We're not admitting defeat," Jack told her, dropping the bonnet and leaning on it. "We're just taking a break until I've gone into town to get some parts."
"Sure." She glanced at Ianto and swung out of the car. "Are we breaking for lunch, then?"
Jack held up his hand and looked behind him, towards the lane to the farm. "There's someone coming."
Ianto wiped his hands off on a rag and followed Jack to the gate across the yard. Chickens scattered as they approached, squawking their way across the yard towards the open barn doors, and he stepped over a confused duck. It wasn't long before he could hear the rumble of the engine approaching, and then the glint of a car roof appeared over the high walls before a sleek sedan rounded the corner and pulled up in front of the gate. They exchanged glances and leaned on the gate, keeping it closed. "Have you been led down here by your sat-nav?" he asked the woman who got out of the car.
"I've come from Torchwood." She approached the gate and stopped a short distance away from them. "We have a situation in Cardiff, and we need your help, Captain Harkness."
He straightened up and looked over at Ianto as he asked, "What sort of a situation?"
"We've detected a munitions factory, but the technology is beyond our abilities to deal with. It's in the middle of a residential suburb, and we don't know whether we can risk leaving or transporting it if we mount a raid." She raised her chin and fixed her gaze on Jack. "We need you."
Jack nodded and pushed off the gate to turn to Ianto, and rested his hands on Ianto's waist. "Will you be alright without me? I'll come straight back."
"No." He looked over at her and nodded. "We'll come as consultants for the duration of the situation, at the usual rate." Jack grinned and Ianto squeezed his arms. "You talk terms and get details, I'll pack. Invoice it from Harkness-Jones consultancy."
"Prat." He leaned in to kiss Jack before he pulled out of his grasp. "You weren't really going to go without me, were you?"
"Wouldn't dream of it." Jack let him go and turned back to their guest. "So... tell me everything you know."