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For once, Jack was not rudely awoken by a pillow in his face, a hand shoving him, a barking dog, or a yelling teenager. Literally none of these things were what he’d expected his life would come to, but when he woke up with them missing, it felt… weird. He almost wanted Ianto to jostle him awake and tell him they had a meeting with Whitehall in five minutes. How ridiculous was that?

He rolled over, unsurprised to see a pair of eyes studying him intently. He scowled at them. The eyes merely looked placidly on, not stopping their observation for even a second. Jack stared back until he couldn’t take it anymore. He held up his forefinger, waving it back and forth.

“What?”

“Happy birthday,” Ianto signed.

Jack frowned harder for a moment. Then the date caught up to him and a groan escaped his lips.

“Jesus,” he muttered to himself.

Ianto rolled his eyes at Jack’s dramatics. But Jack had a right for dramatics. Every damn year for the past ten years, Jack had had to put up with playacting excitement for a day that literally had no correlation to his true birthdate. And all because four-year-olds were suddenly smart enough to realise that one of her parents got a birthday (a small birthday, at that), and the other did not.

“Don’t complain,” Ianto warned him before he could say anything more.

Jack continued to frown at him. After a few unsuccessful moments, he gave up and started thinking of a new tactic. If grumping wasn’t going to get him anywhere, then maybe being unnecessarily greedy could.

“Breakfast?” Jack asked.

“Not in bed,” Ianto retorted instantly.

Jack was beginning to think he’d used up all of his old tricks. The look on Ianto’s face said he certainly had. 

“Relax,” Ianto told him. “It’s not bad.”

Jack knew it wasn’t bad. He knew that perfectly well. But it still felt… well, he’d had over a century of being alone and uncelebrated. And now he felt like he was being fussed over for the wrong thing. Sure, birthdays were great, but…

Ianto must have sensed his inner turmoil, as he leaned forward and kissed Jack’s lips gently. Or, it started out gently, anyway. Jack wasn’t about to let a perfectly good kiss go on unimproved by his perpetual horniness.

Jack wanted to take the kiss even further, but Ianto stopped him, tapping his hand once, twice onto Jack’s bicep. Attention. Jack quickly pressed a final kiss to Ianto’s lips, quick and chaste, then drew back.

“We’re meeting Steven at the café later,” Ianto signed.

“When?”

“Half hour.”

Jack tried to plan that out in his head. He didn’t know why he bothered, really. He was never very good at planning, much less for three people. And certainly not when one of those three people was a fifteen-year-old girl who liked to rehearse an entire opera in the shower. Not literally, of course. She didn’t sing in the shower. But it damn near took the same amount of time. He could hear the faint rainfall-like patter of the shower all the way from the bathroom, and Jack suspected that had been going on for a while before he’d waken up.

It was a good thing Jack had Ianto, because Ianto could plan for three people, even when two of those people were the most unschedulable people this side of the Rift. Because, alright, Jack could be a bit…

Jack leant forward again to kiss Ianto again. This time it proceeded with less intensity, allowing it fall back to the kiss Ianto had intended for the previous one. Comforting and gentle.

Then he broke it off, letting Ianto’s hands slide down off of him as he rolled away to sit up with his feet on the ground. He took a moment to orient himself to the real world, one filled with showering teenagers and birthday breakfasts and—

“Have you seen my brush?”

He turned and saw Nelle standing in the door to their room, a large and fluffy towel wrapped around her body and another smaller one wrapped around her hair. Jack tapped the bed for Ianto and pointed to her, alerting him to her presence. Ianto turned, sat up, and glanced expectantly up at his daughter.

“Brush?” she repeated for him. 

He shook his head and looked to Jack.

“Haven’t seen it,” Jack told both of them.

Nelle threw back her head and made a frustrated noise as she stomped out of the room. Ianto looked at Jack and rolled his eyes, then stood up and started to change. Jack followed in suit and they pulled on trousers and buttoned up shirts in comfortable silence.

The loo was steamed up from Nelle’s shower, and Ianto glared at the fogged-up mirror before reaching a hand out to swipe a clean strip through it. Jack handed him his toothbrush when he was finished.

The damp heat of the room got to Jack’s head instantly, and he felt himself drifting as he methodically worked away at his teeth. Used to be he didn’t need this much sleep. He’d say he was getting old, but he was sure he crossed that line well over a hundred years ago. And even then he didn’t need to sleep as much as he did now.

He blinked himself back awake, shaking his head a little to clear it. Ianto sent him a quizzical look through the mirror. Jack just shrugged and stepped closer to Ianto, still brushing his teeth. He studied the back of Ianto’s head. Mostly just to keep his mind awake and focused, really. But also because he liked this new haircut of Ianto’s. It suited him. He kept his hair product-free now, which left the hair soft and lovely. Jack still put product in his own hair, as centuries-old habits died hard. Harder than Jack did, at least.

Jack paused his internal ramblings. He leant forward and squinted, peering at Ianto’s hair. He stared for a moment, then glanced up to Ianto’s reflection in the mirror. Ianto arched a curious eyebrow in response.

“You have a grey hair,” Jack informed him.

Ianto studied him for a moment, then stuck his toothbrush between his teeth so he could sign, “Eight years.”

Jack frowned, confused.

“You waited eight years to find that,” Ianto signed.

Jack kept frowning. Well, it would make sense. Ianto hadn’t changed in the last eight years, really, but still. He’d like to think he knew Ianto’s body a bit better than that. Though Ianto didn’t seem to care all that much.

“Hurry up,” he signed, then went back to brushing his teeth.

Jack stared a little while longer, then sighed and bent over the sink to spit and rinse. Ianto did the same after, and then they started working on their hair. Well. Jack worked on his hair, spiking it to its usual standard, but Ianto just fussily trimmed his beard. Jack didn’t know why Ianto did that—the thing was always already perfect. It did give them more time in the bathroom together, though, so maybe Jack shouldn’t complain.

Nelle barged in and snatched up a few things, in and out in a flash. Jack and Ianto sent each other glances, but neither said anything. They’d learned long ago not to bother with questioning things. That only lead to answers that neither of them wanted to hear.

By some miraculous intervention, Nelle was finished and ready to go well before the time they had to leave. Ianto seemed to have planned for this, somehow, so the instant he finished puttering with his beard, they left. Sometimes, Jack half believed that Ianto had some form of clairvoyance. It was the only logical thing Jack could think up to explain his intuitive planning skills. That, or wizardry.

It was a lovely day in late May, and the sun shone through a thin layer of clouds, giving the world a silvery-blue tinge. A light breeze shifted every now and again as they walked to the café, drying off the last bits of Nelle’s hair that had been missed by the hairdryer. Though it did keep floating up and smacking Jack in the face when the breeze picked up just a tad bit more than usual. Part of him wanted to reach out and tie it up into pigtails like he used to when she was five. Or plaits. God, he missed plaiting her hair. Fifteen-year-olds didn’t need their fathers to plait their hair, though. From what he could see of her own handiwork before she headed of to practice some days, she was certainly capable of plaiting her hair by herself.

Jack sighed and was grateful of the change in mental pace when they reached the café. It was so achingly normal in there. Jack always got this strange feeling when they entered a normal-ish place. Jack wasn’t by any means normal.

“Coat,” Ianto privately signed to him.

Jack blinked, and Ianto’s eyebrows lifted minutely. Jack looked down at his greatcoat. Oh. Right. Nobody would think he was normal, not wearing this. Jack briefly wondered how Ianto knew, but then remembered that this was a reoccurring thing with Jack. If Ianto hadn’t picked up on it after almost seventeen years, that would be worrisome. Especially considering that Ianto was Ianto, and he knew everything.

Nelle claimed a booth for them almost instantly. Ianto slid into one side immediately, so Jack and Nelle had to take the other. Jack fretted for a moment about Ianto having to sit on the same side of the booth as Steven. Tracking the conversation would be harder for Ianto without having Steven’s mouth in his direct line of sight…

“Go!” Nelle said, pushing Jack towards the vacant bench.

Jack glared at her, but he sat down and scooted to the other end, directly across from Ianto and right next to the window.

A waitress came by in an instant, dishing out menus. Ianto ignored both the waitress and the menus in favour of his mobile. Nelle also ignored the waitress but began flicking through the menu with interest. Jack just tried to get the waitress to leave as fast as possible.

“Steven will be late,” Ianto told them once the waitress had gone. He stuffed his mobile back in his pocket. “He says traffic is bad.”

“Is he close?” Nelle asked.

Ianto shrugged and nodded.

Jack opened his menu and was vividly reminded how little he knew about coffee. What the hell was a macchiato? Or a cappuccino? Or an Americano? And which one was the normal coffee coffee? He peeked over the menu at Ianto. Was it worth the risk to ask him about this again? No, best not.

He skipped the drinks section to look at the food. Hm. It had been a while since he’d had a Danish. Alright, it hadn’t been that long, but long enough that he wanted one.

The waitress returned while he was still trying to figure out how to even pronounce “frappé.” Not that he was ordering it; he just had no idea. He set the menu down and looked to Ianto.

“What do you want?” Jack asked him.

Ianto gave a dismissive shrug. “You know.”

And, alright, Jack did know how Ianto liked his coffee after seventeen years, but what if he hadn’t? He shook his head and turned back to the waitress.

“Two black coffees, please,” Jack said. He still had no idea what fancy term constituted those. The waitress could figure it out. “Whatever your best most expensive blend is.”

The waitress wrote it down. Hopefully that meant something.

“And also a Danish.” He side-eyed Ianto momentarily, then added, “And a scone.”

The waitress finished writing that down and then turned to Nelle.

“I’d like a chocolate muffin,” Nelle says. “And a frappé, thanks.”

Jack’s first thought was oh, that was how that was pronounced. And then he turned to her so fast his neck popped.

“What?” she asked when the waitress left.

“Since when do you drink coffee?” he demanded.

“Um, since like… a while?” Nelle said. “I don’t know.”

“Nells, you’re fifteen.”

“So?”

Jack scowled at her. “That’s hardly an age to be drinking coffee.”

“It’s just a frappé!”

A hand rapped on the table, once, twice. Attention. Jack and Nelle both turned to Ianto. His face was impassive, and he glanced between the two of them expectantly.

“She drinks coffee,” Jack explained.

Ianto’s expression didn’t budge as he looked to Nelle. He studied her for a moment, and just when Jack thought he was about to tell her off (or at least tell her to wait until her brain was closer to being fully developed), he tilted his head curiously.

“What type?” he asked.

Jack gaped at him. “You can’t encourage her!”

Ianto pointedly ignored him, still gazing at their daughter.

“F-R-A-P-P-E,” Nelle spelled.

Ianto considered this, then nodded.

“Try M-O-C-H-A next time,” he told her.

She nodded, beaming at her other father. Then she sent Jack a smug look.

“She’s young!” Jack protested.

Ianto shrugged. “I was fourteen when I started drinking coffee.”

And, because Jack loved his husband very much and didn't have the guts to insinuate that this was a stupid decision that may have affected how Ianto turned out, he said nothing. But he did throw Nelle an annoyed glower when she gloatingly smiled at him.

Steven arrived shortly thereafter, all apologies and pleasantries.

“Traffic was hell, sorry,” he said, sitting down next to Ianto. “Happy birthday, Uncle Jack.”

“Thanks,” Jack said, and, like every time he heard Steven use that name, he felt like the world’s biggest liar. Which he might be, at this point.

The waitress returned, saying she’d spotted Steven joining them. Jack was impressed by the service here.

“Could I just get a cappuccino and… what’d you get?” Steven asked Jack.

“A Danish,” Jack said.

“And a Danish,” Steven finished for the waitress. “Thanks.”

The waitress smiled broadly and winked, and Jack was suddenly understood the impeccable service. Well. His genes had to be good for something, he supposed.

“So,” Jack said. “How’s life?”

“Oh, it’s alright,” Steven said.

And then he launched into a long story about his work at whatever company he’d just signed onto. Jack lost a bit of the story while he was interpreting it to Ianto.

Steven had been alright at signing, at one point. He’d been eager to learn and quick to pick up the things they’d taught him. But his years away at university were long and he’d had no practice after that, and it naturally fell to the wayside. Out of sight, out of mind, in a way. He could probably still sign a few things, if he tried, but neither Jack nor Ianto were about to force him. Jack was more than willing to interpret it himself, anyway. Ianto always joked it was because Jack wanted all eyes on him all the time.

"—and so they asked it was Steven with a 'ph' and I said, no, it's Steven with a PhD,” Steven finished eventually.

Nelle gave a snort and rolled her eyes. Jack finished signing the joke to Ianto, and Ianto put on what Jack liked to call a “tasteful grimace.” A mostly-smile with a slight cringe behind the eyes.

“It sounded better before,” Jack told Ianto. “Bad translation.”

“I know,” Ianto signed, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards.

Jack sent him a mock glare, but the waitress returned before he could think of a witty response.

The waitress set down the coffees first, and Jack gave Nelle another glare as she took her frappé. She raised her eyebrows and took a sip through the straw.

The scone that he’d ordered was placed in front of him. He instantly slid it across the table to Ianto. Ianto glanced down at it, then up at Jack, his brow furrowed in confusion.

“You need food,” Jack signed.

Ianto scowled. “I have coffee!”

“Coffee is not food. Eat that.”

Ianto rolled his eyes, clearly annoyed, but he pulled the scone towards himself, anyway.

“Is there anything else you need?” the waitress asked. Well, she asked Steven, really.

“I think we’re good,” Jack said loudly.

The waitress gave him the tiniest of frowns, then turned on her heel and left. If she was hoping Steven would watch, she was in for a disappointment. Steven barely seemed to register her disappearance. Ianto and Jack shared a glance, and after Steven took his first sip of his cappuccino, Ianto reached out and caught his attention.

“Are you and S-O-F-I-A still together?” Ianto asked.

Steven stared at him for a moment. His eyes squinted slightly, slowly working it out. Ianto looked to Jack but it was Nelle who translated.

“He asked if you’re still dating Sofia,” she said.

“I thought so, I just didn’t want to… assume.” Steven blinked. Then he smiled. “Yeah. She’s… brilliant. And um. Pregnant.”

Jack stopped dead mid-sign and stared.

“She’s what?” Jack asked. Thankfully, shock could be interpreted multiple ways.

“Yeah, um… three months along,” Steven said. “But… don’t tell Mum. God, no. She’d freak out.”

“Why?” Nelle asked. “Wouldn’t Aunt Alice want to know?”

Jack felt the world spinning around him, faster and faster. So many lies. So many lives. All connected at the root—Jack Harkness. The spider spinning the webs of the universe, it seemed. Everything always came back to him, didn’t it?

Under the table, a foot tapped twice against his. Jack looked up at Ianto, attentive.

“What?” Ianto looked both confused and concerned.

“Pregnant,” Jack managed to sign when he could get his head working right.

Ianto’s eyebrows shot up high on his head. He turned to Steven, who was animatedly talking away with Nelle about this latest development. He looked back to Jack.

“Don’t panic,” Ianto signed.

Jack found himself unable to comply. Ianto studied his face for a moment, then his foot brushed against Jack’s again, reaching out until their ankles pressed together. The touch was grounding, and Jack exhaled deeply, as silently as he could.

Ianto turned back to watch Steven and Nelle prattle on. His eyes darted back and forth with the dialogue, trying to follow along as best as he could. Every now and again he’d lose track of it and take a drink of his coffee instead. By the expressions he pulled, Jack could tell he thought the stuff was rubbish, but tastefully rubbish. Then he’d return to watching Nelle and Steven until he lost track again.

Jack would translate for him, but his brain was a little jumbled at the moment. The conversation had moved onto football (well, rugby, but Nelle corrected Steven instantly—Nelle had never been signed up for rugby due to her somewhat violent tenancies as a five-year-old, much to Ianto's chagrin), so he was hardly of any use. All he could really do was sit back and watch observe Ianto.

Sometimes, when he had yet again lost the conversation and returned to his coffee, Ianto had caught Jack’s gaze. A few of those times, he had picked up his scone and taken a bite. The small action instilled some form of warmth inside Jack’s chest every time.

“Drink,” Ianto ordered him eventually. “Eat.”

Jack tore his eyes away from Ianto’s face and looked down at his Danish and cooling coffee. It would go lukewarm, if he didn’t drink it soon. His brain remade the connections to his fingers again, and he picked up the coffee cup and took a sip. Oh. It was tastefully rubbish, alright. Tastefully expensive rubbish. The Danish was good, though.

Eventually, Steven and Nelle’s conversation reached out and encompassed Jack and Ianto.

“I forgot to ask,” Steven said as Nelle practically inhaled her frappé during the few moments her mouth wasn’t gabbing away. “How was your trip to Scotland?”

Jack internally cringed. That trip had been for work. To find a replacement for Archie. Jack hadn’t the faintest idea how to answer the question without letting classified information slip, so he signed the question to Ianto and let Ianto come up with an answer.

“We visited Aberdeen,” Ianto signed. “Stayed for a week in an old-fashioned castle. Went sightseeing. Saw a film. And we met with an old friend. He’s retiring. We helped him move and went to dinner.”

Jack repeated this for Steven, wondering if that was what they’d told Nelle, too. Since this was coming from Ianto, it probably was. At any rate, Nelle didn’t seem to be confused or suspicious. And it was near enough to the truth, anyway.

“Oh, what’d you see?” Steven asked.

“An old film,” Jack said after he’d translated the question.

Steven opened his mouth, possibly to ask a follow-up question, but then his mobile buzzed in his pocket. He frowned, pulling it out.

“Shit,” he said. He looked up at the rest of the table. “I have to take this really quick.”

And then he stood and hurried off, putting the mobile to his ear and speaking in rushed, quiet tones.

“What happened?” Ianto asked.

“Don’t know,” Jack signed.

Ianto shrugged, then looked to Nelle. “Do you like the F-R-A-P-P-E?”

Nelle nodded.

And so Ianto launched into another long explanation about coffee, and Jack tried to understand, he really did, but nothing about brewing coffee made sense to him. Not a thing.

Steven returned after a few minutes, his face apologetic.

“Sorry,” he said, “I really am, but I have to go. I have a meeting with the board of… well, that doesn’t matter. The dates just got moved around, and if I want to be in London before the meeting starts, I have to go. Now.”

“Go, go,” Jack said, shooing a hand at him. “Don’t miss your meeting.”

Steven gave another apology as he leant down to hug Nelle. Then he waved goodbye to Jack and Ianto, offering up another “happy birthday, Uncle Jack,” which didn’t make Jack feel very good. But Jack smiled and thanked him, then waved him off.

“We should leave too,” Ianto suggested. “I need to email Lois.”

Jack nodded, downing the final few sips of his coffee. Nelle took her last bites of muffin, while Ianto just started rifling for his wallet.

“I’ll pay,” Jack told him.

“You have to,” Ianto reminded him, tossing him the wallet.

Jack caught it, then stuffed it in the pocket of his coat and grabbed his own. Not that it mattered much who paid, but Jack still would rather do it himself.

“Move,” he said to Nelle.

Nelle hopped out of the booth, and he slid out. He kissed her head quickly as she sat back down, then made his way to the register to pay.

The clouds had dissipated slightly as they made their way back to the car. The wind had picked up, though. Not that he minded. It made his coat flap with a dramatic flair. Ianto always rolled his eyes at that, but Jack knows that Ianto leaves his hair soft and free of product for a reason, and it wasn’t because he liked Jack messing with it. Some things just looked better floating on the Cardiff breeze.

Myfanwy started having a fit when they came home, barking Jack and Nelle’s ears off. Ianto instantly snapped his fingers, twice in a row, and the dog shut up, ears perked to attention. Jack sighed. That dog only ever listened to Ianto. Not that this was Myfanwy’s fault—she had been trained to listen to Ianto. The only way Jack and Nelle had been able to get Ianto to agree to a dog was by convincing him that they could train the puppy to perform acts like those hearing dogs. Alert Ianto to the door and phones and whatnot. But Nelle had picked out the most energetic, fluff-brained dog, and thus their plans never worked out the way they’d wanted. Instead, Myfanwy just barked at everything. Of course, she was endearingly loving, so Jack couldn’t fault her. Sometimes, after a rough death, it was nice to lay on the floor with Myfanwy’s head resting on his chest.

“Come on, Myf,” Nelle said, bending down to scratch behind Myfanwy’s ears.

Myfanwy trailed behind Nelle as Nelle hurried back to her room. Jack glanced over to Ianto.

“She’s becoming old,” Jack remarked. “Stiff legs.”

Ianto frowned and peered after his daughter and dog.

“She’s only eight,” Ianto signed.

Jack shrugged. Dogs always aged differently, which was why Jack avoided pets before. But Nelle had wanted a dog, specifically that one, and Jack had always been the pushover father, so how could he say no?

With a sigh, Jack quickly pressed a kiss to Ianto’s lips, then went off to the kitchen. Ianto would probably head off to the study to email Lois, so Jack should find somewhere else to call Mickey.

“Hey,” said a familiar voice.

“You’re not Mickey,” Jack said.

“No, I’m far better,” Martha said.

An enraged “oi!” resounded in the distance on Martha’s end of the call.

“Happy birthday,” Martha said.

“Don’t remind me,” Jack grumbled.

“Oh, shush. You deserve a day of celebration,” Martha said.

“My day of celebration would be spent with me and Ianto just—”

“Details to yourself, please.” Martha’s tone was teasing. “Oh, by the way, Mum and Tish sent cards in the mail.”

“Thank them for me.”

“Thank them yourself,” she retorted. “Now. Mickey’s busy cleaning up after… well, let’s just say the Aldebaranian deal went very wrong, so, we’re working on that.”

Jack sucked in air through his teeth sympathetically. “Good luck with that. Their… goop… tends to stain.”

“I’m just learning that now,” she sighed. “Anyway. Mickey said you’d be calling about the Sontarans?”

“Yeah. He and I were working on something.”

“He’s told me as much as he can,” Martha said, “so I’ll try my best to help.”

Thankfully, Martha was much more knowledgeable in the subject than she’d feared, so Jack could get the information he needed and pass along his as well.

“I miss when you worked with us,” Jack said when they’d gotten past the gist of it.

“We do work with you,” she said. “Just not for you.”

Jack was about to make a friendly jibe when Ianto appeared in the kitchen.

“Mickey?” he asked.

Jack shook his head. He set down his mobile, placing Martha on speaker so he could have his hands free.

“Martha, Ianto’s here now,” he told her. Then he looked up at Ianto and signed, “Martha.”

Ianto’s eyebrows raised in interest, and at the same time Martha said, “Oh, perfect! Ask him what dissolves this goop.”

“What destroys A-L-D-E-B-A-R-A-N-I-A-N liquids?” Jack asked Ianto.

Ianto thought on it a moment.

“He says you should be able to destroy it with bleach,” Jack said when Ianto told him. “Though I’m not sure what that’ll do to your hair.”

“Tell him thanks,” Martha said.

Jack relayed the gratitude.

“Okay, I have to go,” Martha said. “If we want this stuff gone before midnight, I need to go help.”

“Bye, Martha,” Jack said.

“Happy birthday!” Martha called, then quickly hung up.

Jack sighed, shaking his head as he slipped his mobile away.

“What did she say?” Ianto asked.

“‘Happy birthday,’” Jack quoted.

Ianto raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t comment. Instead, he just said that Gwen would be coming over soon.

“Why?” Jack asked.

“No Rift activity,” Ianto signed with a shrug.

Jack nodded, figuring it was something like that. If there was an influx of Rift activity, they would’ve been called back into work. Well, Jack would’ve been. Ianto pretty much had free range whether he went in for work or not. The Archives were not devastatingly urgent, and Ianto was about two weeks ahead of his schedule at any given point. Plus, he was literally shagging the boss. And married to the boss. And also father of the boss’s child. Point was, Ianto made his own schedule.

Though the Archives didn’t always do Ianto favours, either. Ianto was hidden for most of the day, squirrelled away with all the tech. And Jack wasn’t entirely sure if this was because the team couldn’t communicate with him, or if this was the reason the team couldn’t communicate with him.

Only Lois and Gwen were left of the original team, now. Well, only Gwen of the original original team, but of the newest incarnation of Torchwood Cardiff, Lois was the first and the only one still left standing. The rest had either moved on or… Anyway, Torchwood’s turnover rate was fast, and therefore none of the new employees since 2012 had even bothered learning to properly sign for Ianto. Jack had stopped enforcing the rule when it just became depressing how many times he had to start over. Plus, most of them just blatantly didn’t care all that much. They never saw him enough to bother with it. If they wanted to contact Ianto, they could via email, text, or the Mainframe’s own messaging system. Or through Jack, Gwen, or Lois. They were still highly respectful, of course, and had learned a few signs, but that was all. Ianto never complained about it, but that probably just added to the problem.

Ianto knocked twice gently on the kitchen table. Jack blinked his attention back to Ianto.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Jack signed. “Sorry.”

Ianto didn’t look convinced.

The moment the doorbell rang and the doorbell lights went off, Myfanwy started barking. Jack could hear Nelle telling her off all the way in Nelle’s room, but Myfanwy didn’t stop until Ianto loudly clapped his hands twice. Jack would never not be in awe of that. No matter how many times or how closely Jack imitated Ianto’s snaps or claps, Myfanwy would never stop for him. How she could tell the difference, Jack would never know. It was kinda freaky.

“Oh, that dog,” Gwen said the moment she stepped inside. But when Myfanwy came trotting up to her, tail wagging like a windmill, she still put the box she was carrying beneath an elbow and crouched over to pet her. “Who’s a lovely lady? Oh, look at you, you’re shedding! You need a brush, yeah?”

“Is it just you?”

Jack glanced over his shoulder to Nelle.

“Yes, it’s just me,” Gwen said, standing up. “Honestly. The two of you. Work it out.”

Nelle subtly pulled a disgusted face. Jack willed himself patience. The Anwen-Nelle Drama needed to end soon. Fifteen years was too long. Jack would not put up with another fifteen. And Ianto was nearing the end of his rope. While it wasn’t about him anymore, really, he still had to live with the fact that it had originated with him. And the fact that the two girls still glared angrily at each other whenever one or the other was with him.

“I could’ve been asking about Evan or Uncle Rhys,” Nelle grumbled.

“I’m sure,” Gwen said dryly. She turned to Jack. “Here, take this.”

Jack took the proffered box, peering down at it. It looked like a pastry box.

“Happy birthday,” Gwen signed, now that her hands were free. “I brought cake.”

Jack sent her a tired look, but it didn’t deter her.

“What type?” Nelle asked, leaning forward to look at the box in Jack’s hands.

“Chocolate. Only type they had.”

Jack lifted the top of the box to confirm this. A chocolate floret stuck to the top.

“Mine!” Nelle cried. She reached a hand out and swiped the small flower.

“Behave,” Ianto chided.

Nelle shrugged, frosting flower already inhaled.  

“Move,” Gwen told the three of them. “I’m hungry.”

Then she pushed through them and towards the kitchen. Ianto followed behind her, taking the cake box from Jack as he went.

“You’ve got frosting on your lip,” Jack notified Nelle before he left, too.

Nelle stuck her tongue out, and not for the purpose of cleaning the chocolate flower off of her lips.

Ianto was slicing the cake when Jack entered the kitchen, and Gwen was relating the happenings of the day to him. Evidently, the biggest thing that had happened was Vega’s usual forgetfulness. This time, she forgot to clear off Matarazzo’s papers from the table before starting another one of her experiments. Third fire this month. And Matarazzo would have to start recalculating the newest Rift predictor programme again.   

Ianto sighed and Jack put a hand to his face. Jesus. This latest team was a nightmare. He hadn’t the faintest idea how to whip them into shape. And it was driving Lois and Ianto mad, cleaning up after all of their messes and filing their messy, incomplete reports. Even Gwen had just about had enough with them.

The topic changed abruptly when Nelle joined them in the kitchen.

“Pretty outside,” Gwen commented hastily.

Ianto nodded, returning to cutting the cake.

“Steven’s girlfriend is pregnant,” Nelle informed Gwen.

Gwen’s eyes went wide. “Really?”

“Three months,” Ianto signed, though far more solemnly than Nelle.

Gwen looked to Jack. He gave the minutest shrug, and her face immediately pulled in sympathy. If he was sitting next to her, he imagined she’d take his hand.

“Tell him congratulations,” Gwen signed.

Nelle held a thumbs up in confirmation.

They ate their slices of cake with very little chatter. Gwen didn’t have much to say that wasn’t work-related, and Jack and Ianto didn’t have any more news. Nelle was just more interested in cake than talking. But a few small conversations popped up now and again. How was their breakfast, how long was Jack allowed to sleep in, what would they spend the rest of their day, and other pointless topics.

“Alright,” Gwen sighed eventually.

Jack glanced up from the frosting he was stabbing his fork with.

“I should go,” Gwen signed. “Lois probably needs me.”

Jack had a very vivid image flit through his head of Lois attempting to boss the team around. What was that expression? Herding cats? Poor Lois. She was so good at her job, but that rambunctious group was more than even she could probably handle.

“Keep Vega away from… everything,” Jack told her as she stepped out of the door.

She chuckled. “Don’t worry. I think Lois is standing over her with a rolled-up newspaper, daring her to make another mess.”

“Now that’s something I’d pay to see.”

Gwen punched his arm playfully, and then she was off.

Jack stepped inside and closed the door, resisting the temptation to run after her and force her to drive him to work. God, he’d gotten so used to being so busy during the daylight hours that it was almost horrible to stay home all day. Who knew he could get used to an almost nine-to-five schedule?

Thinking about that, he returned to Ianto.

Ianto was on the sofa, watching the news. The sound was off, so Jack watched the captions scroll by. This was possibly the dullest news he’d ever witnessed. He leant over the back of the sofa, blocking Ianto’s view with his face. Ianto glowered at him.

“I’m bored,” Jack mouthed.

Ianto pushed Jack’s head up out of his way.

Jack waited for a moment, then leant down again, this time pressing his lips to the first part of his face without a beard, just under the soft skin of his ear. Ianto tolerated this for a moment, but when Jack tried to move to another spot, he shoved Jack away again.

“Nelle,” Ianto reminded him.

Jack pouted but straightened up. Alright. If nothing was going to come of this unexpected and unwarranted time off, then he could at the very least make something of the time. He could… walk the dog… yeah.

He reached out and tapped Ianto’s shoulder. Ianto didn’t even look back, waving a dismissive hand at Jack. Jack rolled his eyes and tapped Ianto’s shoulder again. This time, Ianto turned and glared at him.

“What?”

“I’m walking Myfanwy,” Jack signed.

Ianto threw him a strange look, but then nodded and turned back to the news. Jack didn’t understand what was so captivating about a bland story about fishermen, but whatever floated Ianto’s boat, he supposed. He leant down a final time, just to plant a fast kiss on Ianto’s head before calling for Myfanwy.

Myfanwy was overly excited to go on a midday walk with Jack. Jack honestly didn’t know if he felt the same. Really, from the moment he stepped out of the door, he sort of lost track of the world. He started walking and he just kept going.

A good long while into the walk, Jack remembered he had a tired old dog with him. He blinked and glanced around. Oh. He’d gotten pretty far.

His eyes caught sight of a rooftop. He tilted his head back, studying it with intrigue. That’d be a good rooftop to stand on for a while. The temptation to go and do so was strong, but Myfanwy whined and pulled on the leash. Right, he had a dog. No dogs on rooftops.

He squatted down next to Myfanwy, scratching her chin.

“Can’t exactly hand you off to someone and tell them to look after you while I go stand on a roof, huh?” he said.

Myfanwy whined, unhappy to be sitting still and not walking.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jack said. “I know.”

He stood up and turned Myfanwy around, taking her back in the direction of home.

It kept hitting him in waves as he walked. He didn’t used to be the man to walk a dog. Or own a dog. Or a home. If someone had told him twenty years ago, three years before he’d met Ianto, that this would become of his life, he’d probably shoot them on the spot (for security purposes, obviously—nobody should know about him, Torchwood, or the future).

As he stepped back in the house, he unclipped Myfanwy’s leash and set it aside. When he’d done that, he found Ianto watching him, hands on his hips.

“You were gone long.”

“Were you worried?” Jack joked.

Ianto glared at him. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out—

“Your mobile,” Ianto signed. Then he tossed the object at Jack.

Jack caught it and looked down at it. The screen lit up and displayed four texts from Ianto, all wondering where he was and if he was alright. He threw Ianto a sheepish look.

“Sorry,” he signed.

“What if we needed you?” Ianto demanded.

The fact that “we” could either mean Ianto and Nelle or Torchwood and was not elaborated upon did not escape Jack’s notice.

“I’m sorry,” Jack apologised again. “I forgot. I’ll remember next time.”

Ianto studied him a moment longer with a scrupulous gaze, then nodded curtly the once and turned away. Jack followed him.

Sometimes, when Ianto leant on the kitchen bar like that, hands flat on the surface and eyes studying something in the distance, Jack had a very strong urge to lean across in the other direction and snog him senseless. Sometimes, Jack indulged in that urge. One of those such times happened now, half as a remainder of the apology he’d just given, half as one temptation Jack would allow himself today.

When they pulled apart, Ianto pulled a thoughtful face, so Jack kissed him once more, chaste and quick.

“What are you doing?” Jack asked him, noting the chopped asparagus and knife on the cutting board.

Ianto shot him a “what do you think?” sort of look.

“You don’t cook,” Jack signed. “You can’t cook.”

Ianto raised a dangerous eyebrow, hand reaching for the knife. Jack pulled away, hands in the air.

“Please don’t cook,” Jack signed.

Ianto picked up the knife and pointed it to the doorway. Jack laughed and turned, prepared to leave as instructed. However, the sight of Nelle walking in had him stopping short.

“I’m leaving,” she told Ianto and Jack.

Then she hurried past them, quickly pulling her hair up as she went.

Jack was about to call her back, but Ianto was already a step ahead. Twice he snapped, and Nelle halted instantly, turning back around and standing to attention.

“Where?” Ianto asked. “Who? Why?”

“Field,” Nelle replied. “Ellie. Practice.”

Jack and Ianto shared a glance. Then Ianto prompted her for more information.

“Ellie’s sister is driving us,” she signed. “I want to practice more.”

“You need to ask first,” Jack reminded her.

“You always say yes.”

Jack looked at Ianto as Ianto looked at Jack. Jack was wondering if he was really that big of a pushover. Judging Ianto’s unimpressed look, Ianto was wondering the same thing.

“Ask next time,” Jack signed.

Nelle rolled her eyes. “Fine.”

She hurried back into the kitchen and kissed both of them good-bye. Her mobile gave an angry buzz in her hand; she looked at it, swore, and then sprinted off.

“Bye!” she shouted, and then the door slammed behind her.

Jack didn’t know what Nelle needed to practice for. Well, football, obviously, but…

Alright. Jack attended all the games he could, and he had Nelle teach him the rules more times than he could count. But it was just like Ianto and his coffee. He could tell Jack a million times, and Jack would listen intently a million times, but a million times it would slip right from his brain the moment the conversation switched track. That didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy hearing about it—he’d gladly have Ianto explain the types of coffee and how they were made, over and over and over again. An ideal day, just him and Ianto, doing whatever the hell made Ianto happy (so, mainly coffee and sex, really).

Speaking of…

“She’s gone,” Jack signed, a grin forming on his face. “Either now, or when she’s sleeping.”

Ianto raised an eyebrow.

Jack replaced the sheets on the bed as Ianto showered, and then showered as Ianto finished up making dinner. Nelle was still gone by seven, so the two of them ate alone. Not that they minded; it was good to have time just to themselves.

Supposing it would be one nice way to end the day, Jack had Ianto pick out a film. Top Gun. Jack’s head was in Ianto’s lap. He hardly paid attention to the film, only zoning in on the interesting parts. The rest of the time, he observed Ianto’s face, watching Ianto’s eyes snake back and forth as he read the closed captions. Jack revelled in the minute expressions that appeared on Ianto’s face during the highlights of the film. The small smiles as someone quoted the popular lines, the frowns as someone did something Ianto wasn’t particularly approving of, everything.

Jack pushed himself up enough to kiss Ianto.

“Don’t distract me,” Ianto signed with a frown when Jack broke away.

“Sorry,” Jack signed, even though he wasn’t.

He laid his head back in Ianto’s lap and was pleased when Ianto’s hands, looking for something to do, worked their way into Jack’s hair. Well, one was in Jack’s hair; the other rested passively on Jack’s chest, right over his heart. Feeling the heartbeat, Jack figured. He reached his own hand up and held Ianto’s there, securing it to him. They stayed that way for the rest of the film.

Arguably the worst thing about being a parent, Jack had decided long ago, was the fact that he had to wear pyjamas constantly. Evidently, it was disturbing to walk naked into a two-year-old's room in the middle of a night to soothe a nightmare. That was what Ianto said, at least. But it had been a long time since Nelle had been two and had nightmares, so Jack didn’t know why he still had to wear the damn hindersome clothes.

Jack had just slipped into bed and Ianto was only in his cotton pyjama bottoms when Nelle came crashing in. Ianto hastily slipped his shirt on and Jack sat up.

“What?” Jack asked her, scanning her up and down for any injuries. There was a new bruise on her shin, but that’s all the more he could see.

She hung back a moment, chewing on her lip in the doorway. Ianto sat down on the bed, waiting patiently. Jack scooted up behind him for no other reason than he wanted to. And possibly to form a two-parent front against any incoming teenage hysterics, should they happen to rear their heads.

Eventually, Nelle held up a framed photograph. Jack frowned and squinted, recognising it belatedly as the photo of Jack and Ianto holding Nelle just hours after their wedding.

“I was talking to Ellie’s sister,” Nelle signed hesitantly. “She called you a silver fox.

This, of course, was addressed to Ianto. Jack’s eyebrows jumped high on his forehead. Ianto’s face was one of shock for a moment, mouth opened into a stunned pout. Jack laughed.

“She was right,” Jack signed after a moment, grinning at Ianto.

“But she said he wasn’t silver.”

The amicable mood fled the room in an instant. Jack side-eyed Ianto, heartbeat suddenly feeling rather loud in his chest. Ianto’s face was impassive and calm.

“I age well.”

Nelle shook her head. “You don’t age.”

She held out the photo again, and Jack sighed and closed his eyes.

Shit.

He’d hoped for at least five more years. Maybe that had been foolish of him, far too optimistic for the real world, but he had never prepared for this to happen so soon.

Opening his eyes again, he looked directly at Nelle.

“No,” he agreed.

Ianto’s head whipped to him, frowning. Jack just shrugged in reply. There wasn’t going to be any convincing Nelle of anything but the truth.

“Why?” Nelle asked.

Jack shrugged again.

“Both of you?” she asked, looking between them and the photograph. “Never?”

Ianto nodded as Jack affirmed, “Both. Never.”

Nelle stood there a moment, staring at the two of them. She didn’t look surprised, and Jack assumed she had already surmised as much as they had told her, back when Ellie’s damn sister was prattling off about how hot Ianto was (which was fair of Ellie’s sister, as Ianto was incredibly hot, but Jack rather wished the girl had kept her mouth shut and opinions to herself). In fact, Nelle looked devastated. Then her face crumpled, and she fled the room.

Jack sighed, kissed Ianto’s temple, crawled off the bed, and went after her.

In her room, Nelle was huddled up on her bed, hugging her legs to her and staring at the photo.

“Now I get why you don’t want me to play professionally,” she sniffed.

“What?” Jack asked, sitting down next to her.

“Because then I’d get famous and you’d be exposed,” she said. “Or whatever vampires are afraid of.”

“No,” Jack said slowly. “We want you to consider university first, that’s all. And we’re not vampires, Nells.”

She swiped the back of her hand under her nose. “Then what are you?”

“Humans,” Jack said. Which was mostly true, save for about point seven eight percent of Jack’s lineage. But close enough to the truth that it wasn’t a lie.

“But—”

“Those are very long stories for some other night,” Jack said. “It’s a different one, for both me and your dad.”

“What about me?” she asked, tears pricking the corners of her eyes again.

Jack pulled her in and enveloped her in a hug, pressing his lips to her hair.

Two sharp nocks came from Nelle’s door. Attention. Jack and Nelle sat back up, Nelle sniffing and wiping away tears. Ianto came in and sat down on the other side of Nelle.

“You’ll live forever,” Nelle signed.

Ianto nodded. “We think.”

“You’ll forget me!”

Ianto shook his head fervently. “No.”

“Never,” Jack told her. “Never.”

“You are our daughter,” Ianto signed. “Nelle Jones. We will never forget you. You are so important.”

“Forever is a long time!” she protested. “You have to forget eventually!”

“No,” Jack refused again. “Not you.”

“It’s impossible to forget you. We love you too much.”

Nelle started crying yet again, and Jack and Ianto both instinctively wrapped their arms around her. Ianto closed his eyes and rested his chin on top of her head. Jack just kissed her hair.

Between the hours of practice and the crying, Nelle was exhausted and pretty much went right to sleep the moment they let her go. They tucked her in, something they hadn’t done in years and probably wouldn’t ever again.

“We will always love you, Nells,” Jack whispered as he kissed her goodnight a final time. “So much.”

Then they left, turning off the lights and creeping back to their room.

Ianto slipped back into their bed automatically. Jack hung back a moment, the photograph of the three of them in his hands. Jack saw the face he’d been seeing for the past century and a half, grinning happily up at him. Possibly the happiest that face had ever looked. And the other face was one Jack had grown to love more than any other, almost exactly the same as the man in the bed in front of him, minus the handsome beard. Between them was the best little girl Jack could ever dream of, laughing at whatever antics the camerawoman had been pulling. The only true change in that photo was the girl. His little Nelle.

He studied it a moment longer, then set it down on the nightstand next to the bed. He slid into bed next to Ianto. Ianto reached over and flipped their lamp off, and the two of them were engulfed in darkness.

Jack wasn’t sure how long he stared at the ceiling for. It could have been seconds, minutes, hours. Hell, days could have flown by without his notice. He just lie there, thinking about life.

Steven was having a child. Jack would be a great-grandfather in six months (technically, he was already great-grandfather right now). He wasn’t connected to the team he led. His dog was getting old. Nelle would also get old, and someday he’d watch her die. Somehow, he had this life he didn’t expect to have, and it was all going away so fast. How could he hold onto it? He couldn’t. He never could. He was Captain Jack Harkness, doomed to lose it all.

The bed creaked, and the lamp flashed back on in an instant. Jack winced and blinked. When his eyes acclimatised, he sat up and looked at Ianto.

“I can feel you think,” Ianto grumped. “What?”

Jack shook his head.

“Tell me,” Ianto signed, switching from surly to concerned in an instant.

“I lose everything.”

Ianto gazed at him for a moment, then leaned forward. He kissed Jack gently, square on the lips, with all of the softness and reassurance of his usual comforting, consoling kisses. His hands cupped Jack’s face, and when he pulled back, he pressed their foreheads together. Tears escaped from Jack’s unwilling eyes, rolling down until they soaked into Ianto’s thumbs. Ianto just held him for as long as they fell.

Eventually, Ianto pulled back.

“Yes,” he signed. “But not me. You won’t lose me. We will learn to live forever together. It will hurt, but you will have me. And I will have you. Forever.”

Jack nodded, and Ianto kissed him again. Then he switched the lamp off and lay back down, patting Jack’s spot twice. Jack obediently reclined back into bed, curling around Ianto as Ianto curled around him. Their foreheads rested together again, though Jack wasn’t sure if it was intentional or merely the way they were snuggled up. Either way, the contact was necessary. He needed it, and he didn’t want it to go away.

Ianto drifted off to sleep before him. Jack listened to Ianto’s gentle snores, letting them lull him.

His fears weren’t instantly laid to rest. He was still very terrified of the future and what it would hold—or, rather, what it wouldn’t hold. But Ianto was right. It would be him and Ianto, for the rest of whatever forever may become. That was at least something to soothe his soul. To comfort him. He would always have Ianto. Maybe that wasn’t enough to combat all of the losses the two of them would face. Maybe that one good thing wouldn’t balance out all the bad. But he at least wouldn’t be alone. And he would be with someone who mattered to him more than anything. That was all that mattered, wasn’t it?

Anyway, the future was a problem for the future. Right now, he was tired, and he had a Ianto in his arms.

For the first time during the course of the entire day, Jack finally relaxed. He listened to the snores of his husband, felt the comforting, warm hold of Ianto's body, and let sleep overcome him.