Jack folded his arms and watched silently.
He should be excited. And he was, really. Just quietly so. The sombre and desolate moods that hung over Dyffryn House still remained, pressing down on everyone who resided there. Jack most of all.
His heart did beat louder and faster when he saw the small speck approaching in the distance, the dark form emerging from the rainy afternoon’s mists. It had been a long time—far too long of a time, most certainly—since Jack had seen that silhouette, that walk, that everything. Jack had once thought he would never see such a sight again, but here it was. Jack spared half a thought to wonder why they didn’t send the car over to fetch the man.
He watched until the man stood almost directly below. The man looked up and Jack’s heart leapt, but only for a moment. The man’s eyes skidded across the manor, studying it with a solemn expression. Then he looked away quickly, shaking his head and walking onwards. Jack waited there for a moment, watching him go, then turned himself and went.
Owen was standing by the doors when Jack arrived. He said nothing until Jack halted beside him.
“So. He returns.”
“I suppose you’re not too happy about that,” Jack said, sparing him a rather warped smile.
Owen shrugged. “Just because we butted heads doesn’t mean I wanted the sod to go off to war.”
Jack observed him momentarily. Owen’s face was hard and set, grimmer than his usual dire scowl. Jack found he couldn’t look at it too long before the same sentiments settled in his own chest, and so he stared at the door instead.
“Is it really wise, letting him come back here?” Owen murmured.
Jack looked sharply at him. "What do you mean? Of course it is. Where else would he go?"
Owen gave no response.
“He’s better now,” Jack said. "So he comes home."
“Just because the hospital released him, doesn’t mean he’s better. It just means they ran out of space.”
Jack frowned back over at Owen again, searching for the meaning of that, but Owen’s face betrayed nothing as he watched the door intently.
“I’d like to have a look at him,” he said. “Just to make sure…”
“You’ll have to take that up with him,” Jack said.
“It’ll be easier for us all if you just tell him he has to,” Owen pointed out.
Jack was about to protest—though to what, he wasn’t yet sure of—when the expected knock came. Jack and Owen spared each other a glance before Jack stepped forward and tore the door open.
Ianto Jones stood outside, hand still raised to knock on the door. Jack stared at him, and he stared at Jack.
Jack had planned to do something then. Take Ianto’s face in his hands and kiss him fiercely, pull him into a tight hug, faint, anything at all. He had the rights to do any of those; it had been a long time since he’d seen Ianto, and he had missed him so fiercely, but… When Jack looked at Ianto’s face, at the empty, withdrawn face of his lover, he couldn’t do a single thing except stare.
Before Ianto had left for war, Jack had mapped and memorised every last line, plane, and spot on Ianto’s face. He knew it by heart. This Ianto… didn’t look like his Ianto. The expression was all wrong; it was blank in a way Ianto’s impassive face had never before achieved. The eyes were flat and vacant and nothing like the piercing, knowing blue gaze of the past. Dark circles inhabited the space under the eyes, which hadn’t been there previously. A long, thin scar travelled down the left side of Ianto’s jaw—almost invisible to the untrained eye, but clear as day for Jack. And there was a gauntness to Ianto’s cheeks that worried Jack.
That was just Ianto’s face. If Jack looked down to Ianto’s left shoulder, where the now-useless coat sleeve had been pinned up…
But Jack didn’t look down. He kept his eyes on Ianto’s changed face and stepped forward, leaning in to kiss him.
But Ianto flinched. Jack paused a hairsbreadth from his lips, his heart twisting in every wrong direction, and then altered course. He pressed his lips to Ianto's cheek, and then stepped back, allowing Ianto to cross the threshold. Ianto stayed perfectly still for a split second, then bent and picked up his suitcase.
When he stepped inside and Jack had closed the door behind him, Ianto was the first to finally speak.
“I would’ve gone… the back door, I mean,” he said. “But your note… I thought…”
He stopped talking and shut his mouth.
“No, no,” Jack rushed. “We expected you through this door.”
Ianto nodded once.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Of course,” Jack replied, though he wasn’t sure what he was being thanked for in the first place.
The three of them stood there for a while longer, none of them saying a thing. Jack was still staring at Ianto’s face, unsure what to make of it. Ianto himself was glancing around, clearly trying to see what had changed in his absence. Owen was… well, Owen was the one to break the silence.
“Come on,” Owen said to Ianto. “I’ve got to get you re-oriented. We’ve had to adapt some things since you’d gone.”
“Right,” Ianto said quickly. “I should…”
He trailed off again.
“I’ll take that,” Jack said, pointing at Ianto’s suitcase.
Ianto looked down at it, then up at Jack.
“It’s not your job, sir,” he said.
“Since when have I ever cared about that?” Jack asked. “Give it here. I’ll put it with your things.”
For a moment, Ianto didn’t move. He studied Jack’s face silently, and Jack tried not to notice that Ianto’s hair wasn’t cut the way Ianto liked it.
Then he passed over the suitcase, and Jack finally could distract himself with something other than Ianto’s different face.
“Thank you,” Ianto repeated.
Jack just nodded. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
Jack wanted to kiss Ianto fully, but since the first attempt didn't go along well, he didn't attempt it again. Instead, he kissed Ianto's cheek once more, but he tried to put more emotion than the mere resignation of before. He really was happy to see Ianto again, incredibly so. And if he couldn't show it the way he normally would, then maybe he could show it another way.
He drew back and stepped away, allowing Owen to drag Ianto off to the servant’s quarters. Ianto only looked back once, momentarily, and then quickly looked back forward. Jack, like with everything else that had happened in the last few minutes, didn’t know what to make of that.
The suitcase was oddly thin and light, Jack noticed as he took it to the room. Far thinner and lighter than the suitcases Ianto used to send Jack off with. Jack ignored the pitiful longing in his chest for those simpler, happier times, and instead focused on the case. Why was it so light?
In the bedroom, Jack set the suitcase on the bed. He unclicked both latches and flipped it open, and his eyebrows raised in astonishment.
Only three items resided in the suitcase.
The first of them was a uniform, neatly pressed and tucked. Jack ran his fingers over the collar, a slightly sick feeling in his stomach. There might’ve been a time where Jack had wanted to see Ianto face-to-face whilst Ianto wore this, but now the idea of it was repugnant and abhorrent.
Next to the uniform was a pistol. Jack was even more disturbed by that than the uniform. Sure, Jack owned and used guns of his own but… the idea that Ianto had to use this in a trench… Jack couldn’t look at it for more than a second without his stomach churning intensely.
The last thing in the suitcase was a bound bundle of papers. Instantly intrigued, Jack picked up the thick wad and inspected it.
The papers were wrinkled and stained and leathery, in that fashion that only papers were when they were well-read. Jack untied them slowly, worried he’d tear through one if he wasn’t careful.
He unfolded the first one, read the first few lines, and then realised with a sudden jolt that he knew what these papers were. He had written these.
Jack quickly picked up another paper and scanned its contents.
These were his letters. Every last letter he had sent Ianto during the war, all right here. All filled with mud splotches and thumbprints and flecks of blood and torn ears and worn surfaces. Read over and over. And tied neatly by someone else into a little bundle for Ianto.
Jack pressed the one in his hands to his chest.
He stood there for a while, both thinking and not thinking, staring at the letters on the bed.
Then, when he could collect himself again, he folded the letters, stacked and retied them, and placed them back in the suitcase. He clicked the suitcase back shut after that. Ianto could decide what he wanted to do with it and its contents when he came up, but for now, it was all best left alone.
Where was Ianto, anyway? Surely it didn’t take this long for Owen to re-orient Ianto with Dyffryn House—not much had changed. Not enough to warrant this much time. Unless Owen had somehow managed to corner Ianto into an examination…
Jack left the room, sparing enough emotion to be exasperated as he made his way to the servant’s hall. This could have waited. This should have waited; Ianto was likely unhappy to be poked and prodded by yet another person. He hated that sort of attention before and probably hated it even more now.
He heard Owen and Ianto before he saw them. Well, he heard Owen, snapping quick and quiet orders for Ianto to sit still and stop bloody moving. Jack almost smiled to himself. Almost.
The door rested slightly ajar as Jack came to a stop outside Owen’s office. He peered inside, completely silent, trying to gauge the situation before he made his decision whether to slip inside or not. Despite Ianto’s past mocking on such matter, he could be discreet. He didn’t need a dramatic entrance.
And this time, discretion was certainly the best option.
What he saw through the crack in the door wasn’t much, but it was enough.
Ianto sat up on Owen’s desk—astonishingly clean of all other items at the moment, Jack allowed himself to note—facing away from Jack, giving Jack a clear view of his back. Which meant the roping, twisting skin covering his left side was plain as day, all leading damaged trails for Jack’s eyes to follow up to what very little remained of his left arm.
Jack spared enough thought to think that it was, perhaps, best that he found out this way. He knew he could not have controlled his face sufficiently to mask the shock. He didn’t want Ianto to see him shocked. Ianto had probably had enough of that reaction to never want to see it again, least of all on Jack and in the place he called home.
“Why are you doing this?” Ianto asked, drawing Jack from his musings. His tone was soft and quiet.
“Because I want to know if you’ve got a bloody infection, that’s why,” Owen said. “Those army hospitals can’t have been good. Overcrowded and understaffed, I bet.”
Owen walked around the desk to Ianto’s back, blocking Ianto from Jack’s sight momentarily. He listened to Ianto’s back with a stethoscope, then walked back to Ianto’s bad side.
“But… why?” Ianto asked again.
“If you mean, how come I’m playing doctor, it’s because I am a doctor,” Owen told him.
“You’re a doctor,” Ianto stated bluntly.
“Fully licensed and all, thank you very much.”
They were both quiet for a moment.
“How come I didn’t know?” Ianto asked.
“Because I didn’t want you to.”
“But I know everything about this place.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not the bloody furniture, am I?” Owen asked. He peered at the skin of Ianto’s back. “And you can’t know everything, Ianto. It’s quite literally impossible.”
Ianto didn’t reply to that, so the room descended to silence once more.
“I’m sorry,” Ianto said after a while.
“What for?” Owen asked.
“For your loss.”
“Who says I lost anybody?” Owen snapped.
Ianto shrugged his good shoulder. “You’re here, aren’t you? Nobody comes here without having lost someone.”
Owen stared at him.
“Yeah,” he muttered after a moment. “Jack has a real penchant for collecting lost causes, doesn’t he? Probably makes him feel better about being one himself.”
Jack glared at Owen, even though Owen couldn’t see it.
“He’s not,” Ianto said.
Owen sighed. “No, I suppose not. But sometimes, it feels just…”
He trailed off without finishing, moving around to the front of Ianto to check that side.
Jack began memorising the new lines and planes of Ianto’s body. He wanted this all mapped out in his mind. The sooner he mapped it out, the sooner he got used to it, the more he wouldn’t hurt when he remembered what Ianto used to look like.
This was the reality now. He had no choice but to get used to it. And it wasn’t as if this changed anything—it was Ianto. Jack would care this deeply about him no matter what.
Jack started, whirling around.
“Sorry,” Toshiko whispered. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
He smiled at her. Toshiko could always make him smile.
“How is he?” she asked quietly.
He turned back to Ianto, still sitting motionlessly on Owen’s desk.
“I don’t know,” Jack said, with complete honesty.
Toshiko peered into the room with him. Her hand raised to her mouth, but she made no other sign of surprise or horror.
“It’s going to take some getting used to, isn’t it?” she asked.
“For us all, I think,” Jack said, though he hoped it didn’t take long for him to get used to.
She nodded, then shook her head. “He’s so…”
Jack waited for her to finish her thought instead of guessing what she wanted to say.
“Thin,” she finished after a moment. “Did they feed him at all?”
Jack didn’t want to find out the answer to that.
“I can’t make anything too rich, then,” Toshiko decided, seemingly to herself. “He won’t be able to hold it down.”
She pondered it quietly to herself.
“I might still have that recipe,” she mused, and then she turned and left.
Baffled, Jack watched her leave. Normally, he would’ve called for her and asked her to explain, but he was still in hiding. So, he said nothing.
When Owen handed Ianto’s shirt and jacket over, Jack ducked sideways and leant against the wall, pretending he had done nothing but respectfully wait outside the entire time.
However, nobody seemed to be emerging from the room any time soon, so Jack peeked back in.
Ianto was slowly doing up his shirt. Owen was standing there, watching him with arms folded tetchily.
Owen seemed to lose the last thread of his patience after another few minutes. “Do you need he—”
Owen held his hands up in a placating manner. Ianto sighed.
“No,” he said again, calmer this time. “Thank you. I can do it.”
Jack hid himself again. He didn’t need to watch. It felt rude to—somehow ruder than snooping in on an impromptu medical examination.
A short while later, Ianto and Owen came out of the room. Jack pushed himself off of the wall he was waiting against. Ianto and Owen both stared at him, and he realised he had nothing to say for himself.
“Just… figured I should come see what was taking so long,” Jack said unintelligently.
“I told you, I wanted an examination,” Owen said.
Ianto gave a sidelong glance at Jack. Jack opened his mouth, but he didn’t exactly have anything to say.
“He’s fine,” Owen said. “Which means he can get out of my sight now.”
He threw a glare at the pair of them—the reason for which, Jack would never guess—and then dipped back into his office. Probably to stick all of the clutter back on his desk, Jack assumed.
“So,” Jack said after a short pause.
“So,” Ianto repeated back.
“Suitcase for you to unpack,” Jack said.
Oh, if he could kick himself…
“Right,” Ianto said.
Jack gestured him forward, and then followed him out of the hall, cringing to himself when Ianto’s back was turned. Sometimes, he needed to think before he spoke.
In the bedroom, Ianto started when Jack snapped the door shut behind them. Jack frowned at him, but he didn’t look at Jack. He just shook his head and went to the suitcase sitting on the bed. He clicked it open and stared at the contents for a moment. Jack thought, for an instant, that he’d been caught out, but then Ianto slid his hand under the uniform and pulled it out.
“Is there any…” Ianto stopped short. “I mean, assuming I’m still allowed…”
“Ianto, nothing has changed,” Jack said.
Ianto blinked. Jack wished yet again that he could use his head before his mouth.
“Everything that’s mine is still yours,” he added hastily.
Ianto nodded, then held his uniform up. “Then… if you don’t mind… might I borrow some dresser space?”
“You don’t want to hang it up?” Jack asked.
Ianto shook his head.
“Alright,” Jack said, mildly confused. “Sure.”
“If I remember correctly, there should be some room down…” Ianto walked over to Jack’s dresser and tapped the toe of his shoe against the bottom drawer. “Unless Tommy… or Andy…”
“I made them keep everything the way you left it,” Jack said.
Ianto nodded again, then took his time to properly stow the uniform away without wrinkling it. Jack pretended not to watch his every move, but secretly kept Ianto in the corner of his eye. He knew he would wind up doing that for some time to come; after such a long time apart, especially when some of that was spent thinking he would never see Ianto again, it would be hard to let Ianto out of his sight again.
When he returned to the suitcase, Ianto pulled out the gun. Jack tensed for a moment as Ianto inspected it, then relaxed as Ianto walked to the nightstand on his side of the bed and placed it within its small drawer. He then tensed again when Ianto picked up and studied the letters, fearing for a brief moment that Ianto would notice the tampering, but Ianto simply went and put the letters beside the gun.
“I’ll go put this away,” Ianto said, returning to the suitcase to snap it shut. “And then see to a few things. For all I know, Andy has neglected the polish of your shoes.”
He forced a tight smile and made to brush past Jack, but Jack caught his arm and held him still.
“You don’t start again until tomorrow,” Jack reminded him.
“I know, but it’s best to be prepared.”
“How are you, Ianto?” Jack asked.
“All the better for being back, sir,” Ianto said.
“Can we maybe drop the sir, now?”
Ianto looked at him, and Jack figured that, if there was going to be any time to kiss Ianto for real again, this would be it.
It wasn’t much of a kiss; it felt far too chaste and far too empty for anything real. No warmth lived behind it. They broke apart, and Jack felt something hollow sit in his chest. He let Ianto go, turning to watch as the other man left.
Alone in the room again, Jack found he needed space to clear his head, and decided he would sneak up onto the roof for a while.
Outside was cool and misty. Jack stood silently in it, considering a great many things. The way Ianto’s eyes skirted around, never settling. The way his tone sounded when he forced normalcy. The way he seemed unsettled. Everything else.
Something was definitely wrong, that was for sure. Jack had his guesses, but they were only that: guesses. Unless Ianto said anything—and he wouldn’t, because he was Ianto Jones with a buttoned-up lip—Jack would have no way of being certain.
It started to drizzle, so Jack left the roof after only an hour. That had maybe given him enough time to mull things over, he supposed, but not enough to think of any helpful solutions. All he could do was hope that it all smoothed over. And, with luck, soon.
“There you are,” Owen grouched as he walked towards the library. “Where’ve you been?”
“Outside,” Jack said.
Owen folded his arms. “On the bloody roof again, no doubt.”
“I’m allowed anywhere I want,” Jack said. “It’s my own house.”
All Owen said was, “Dinner.”
Then he turned and left, shaking his head and grumbling to himself about idiots who stood on rooves.
Jack decided not to change for dinner tonight. He shooed Andy away with a dismissive handwave as they passed in the hall. This was the standard practice at this point; Jack didn’t know why Andy even bothered even showing up anymore. Ianto would likely get him back on track, and Jack would let him, but when it had just been him sitting at that long, lonely table, it felt ridiculous to dress up. And tonight, Jack had to decide between wanting to ease Ianto in with normalcy and not wanting to overwhelm him with formality. The latter suited their meal better.
Ianto waited inside the dining hall, fiddling with the lay of the tablecloth. He stood up straight when Jack entered, his hand dropping to his side.
“Tosh told me…” He closed his mouth for a moment, then started again. “Miss Sato said I should come up here. I can go eat with the rest of the servants if this is a problem.”
“Ianto,” Jack said, frowning, “you used to eat with me almost every day. Why would that change?”
Ianto automatically said, “Your attire certainly hasn’t.”
Jack looked down at his clothes, sighed, and supposed he’d assumed wrong. He should have changed.
“It’s just soup,” Jack said. “I figured you’d yell at me if I spilled any on my nicer clothes.”
He sat down at his seat then, denying any further argument. When Ianto just stood, staring at him, he gestured for the other man to sit. And Ianto did. Only, he sat on the chair he was standing near, at the other end of the table, and not where he usually sat, by Jack’s side.
Jack could formulate no thoughts on the matter. Just a small pinch of hurt.
Andy brought the soup up on his own, and Jack supposed the informality might just be a bit overdone. Though Ianto said nothing on the matter this time, so Jack supposed he may have been warned, when Toshiko talked to him. He wondered just how much she’d said to Ianto—he figured she wouldn’t have mentioned anything about wanting to fatten him up with less rich foods, but Ianto was smart. He had probably surmised as much.
They ate silently. Jack couldn’t think of something worthwhile to say. Ianto evidently didn’t care to say anything at all.
Well, he did give an aborted, “Is this…”
But he never finished the question, so it didn’t really count. Jack could guess the question—was this his mother’s soup recipe? For which the answer would evidently be “yes” (for which, Jack internally thanked Toshiko a million times over, and would do so verbally later). But still, it didn’t count, and the dinner was otherwise silent.
Jack kept his eyes on his soup bowl, only glancing up at Ianto once or twice the entire time. He could only describe the meal as… awkward.
Ianto disappeared almost instantly afterwards. Jack couldn’t even begin to imagine where he had gone, and thus didn’t bother looking.
He spent the evening in the library, hoping he’d catch Ianto sneaking in. Ianto did that, sometimes, either to read or to rearrange the books to his liking. At least, he used to, anyway.
Nobody came into the library, so Jack closed his book—one of Martha’s novels, which he had been barely skimming—and left.
Andy undressed him for the last time, and Jack said a quick “thank you” before he left. Andy seemed to be both pleased to return to his normal position and sad to let his promotion go. Jack couldn’t blame him. The perks of the sought-after job clashed evenly with the efforts of dealing with an unconventional lord.
Jack had half a mind to believe Ianto wouldn’t come to bed for the night. Not their bed, anyway. After that dinner, Jack had the impression Ianto didn’t think he deserved to be here.
But, to Jack’s great surprise and relief, Ianto’s usual knock sounded on the door.
“Come in,” Jack said.
The door opened slowly. Ianto walked in, and immediately eyed Jack’s pyjamas in confusion. Jack looked down at them, too. He’d started wearing clothes to bed when Tommy had baulked at leaving him completely nude for the night.
“I can take them off,” Jack said.
Ianto shrugged his good shoulder, then began to undress himself.
As he did, Jack stared down at himself and contemplated how far he was willing to go. How far was Ianto comfortable with?
God, he hated this. He just wanted things to feel normal again.
He shook that thought out of his head. It hadn’t even been a day yet. Ianto could have as long as he needed to adjust. Jack would just have to be patient.
In the end, he decided on striping down to just the trousers, unbuttoning the shirt and tossing it away. Ianto was only half dressed by then, so Jack sat down in bed, sliding under the sheets.
After struggling to tie the strings of his waistband, Ianto gave up on them. Like Jack, he forewent the shirt. Jack didn’t know if that was because Ianto wanted to go without the shirt, because Jack was without one, or because he had completely given up on dressing altogether.
The lights went out and Ianto slipped into bed, too. Jack automatically turned to curl up with him, like their usual arrangement, but Ianto laid himself in a ramrod-straight position. Jack blinked, and then rolled onto his back as well.
He went to sleep uneasily that night.
Jack jolted upright at the bloodcurdling shout, tangling himself in the sheets.
His reason for not understanding what was going on, he later decided, was because it had been a long while since he’d dealt with Ianto’s nightmares. And because they had never been like this before.
Ianto jerked beside Jack, and Jack instantly glanced over to him again. Shit.
“Ianto?” Jack said gently. “Ianto?”
Ianto let out another yell, his body convulsing again. Jack, recalling nightmares gone by, reached out and placed a hand on Ianto’s chest. Usually, Ianto would quiet, or wake again with a shout and then relax into Jack’s comfort, but that wasn’t what happened this time.
Instead, Ianto thrashed out violently, yelling out for someone. Jack pulled away, dodging the swinging arm. Ianto’s eyes snapped open, and he shot up in bed.
“Johnson!” he cried. “Get back!”
Jack reached out to him again, and Ianto jerked away, panicking.
“No,” he said, “no, nonono...”
He looked around the room, taking huge gulps of air in. Jack, unsure of what else to do, just let him take those deep gasps in and out.
Eventually, Ianto’s breathing, while still ragged, turned to a somewhat normal pace, and he sat ever-so-still. Jack figured he was well and truly awake.
“Are you alright?” Jack asked, even though the answer was rather clear.
Ianto, ever the stoic liar, nodded. “Fine.”
Ianto nodded again, sliding under the sheets again. “It won’t happen again. Sorry.”
Jack wanted to tell him there was no need to apologise, but he had already laid down and shut his eyes again. Jack watched him for a moment, then followed in suit.
It took even longer for Jack to drift off this time, and when he did, it was a restless sleep.
The restless sleep left him so tired that, when he woke up in the morning to Ianto getting out of bed, he blinked at Ianto’s bare back for a moment, then closed his eyes again. He napped until Ianto tapped his shoulder.
“Wake up, sir,” Ianto said.
“What, no pillow in my face?” Jack asked, squinting up at him through the morning light.
Ianto rolled his eyes, which was the closest thing to his Ianto that he’d seen in the last twenty-four hours.
Jack sat up, stretched, and then got out of bed. Ianto immediately came at him with choices in clothes, all of which Jack differed to his better judgement. Ianto selected an outfit from almost identical shirts and suits and shoes.
The problems began right from the start.
It was difficult for Ianto to dress Jack with only one arm and hand. “Difficult” being the polite way to put it. Ianto struggled with everything, even something minor, like buttoning Jack’s shirt. God, buttons seemed to vex him the most. Jack didn’t know how long he stood there for, waiting as Ianto slowly tried to button him up one-handedly. It felt like it took aeons for each single button.
Sometimes, Ianto would look up at Jack’s face, and Jack tried to keep it as neutral and calm as he could. Ianto always ducked away quickly, looking embarrassed and determined, and Jack worried.
By the time the buttons of his waistcoat were finished, Jack decided it would be best if he just did the rest by himself.
“Could you go see what fruits Miss Sato has in stock?” Jack asked Ianto. “I don’t want to waste anything we should be saving.”
Ianto frowned at him.
“Rationing,” Jack explained.
“Yes, I know,” Ianto said, still frowning. “But—”
He scowled harder, clearly aware of the diversion, but he turned and left, anyway. Jack waited until the door closed behind him, then slipped his jacket on and stuck in his cufflinks by himself.
Ianto did not have breakfast with Jack. Jack tried not to be concerned about this; only a third of their breakfasts were spent in each other’s company, anyway. Ianto usually had things to do in the mornings, and it was more than likely that Ianto would want to get things started right away today. But Jack hadn’t stopped worrying for a single second since Ianto’s nightmare last night, so this only served to further that worry.
After breakfast (which had no fruit whatsoever), Jack left the dining hall. He had nothing to do for the next hour, so he roamed the house aimlessly.
Jack came across Andy when he had wandered the halls for a while. Jack stopped him. Normally, Jack had nothing to say to Andy, and Andy likewise never had anything to say to Jack. But Jack figured he should find Ianto. He just wanted to see if the other man was alright—he wouldn’t stop Ianto if Ianto was working.
“Have you seen Mister Jones?” Jack asked Andy.
“Just finished talking with him,” Andy said.
Jack sent him a look, prompting more from him.
“Yeah, he got pissed off at me about your shoes,” Andy continued.
Jack frowned. Ianto had mentioned shoes yesterday… but that was yesterday. Jack didn’t know why Ianto would still be annoyed about it today; if Ianto had any quarrels with the way Jack’s shoes had been treated when he was away, he would’ve said immediately. So, this confused Jack.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Well,” Andy said. “Har—Mister Harper is having a go at everyone again, Dianne’s fighting back, Emma and Carys are being secretive—and we all know what that means. And nobody’s sure about Miss Costello anymore, and Miss Sato’s annoyed about fruit preservation.”
“I meant about Mister Jones,” Jack said.
“Pissed off about your shoes,” Andy repeated.
Jack held back a sigh. “Where is he now?”
“Not sure,” Andy said. “But I think he went outside after that.”
Jack thanked him, and then let him get on with whatever job he was meant to be doing. Jack left, too, continuing on his journey to find Ianto.
Ianto was indeed outside. Jack found him hanging around the far corner of the house, smoking. His usual smoking spot. Jack stopped a few steps away and folded his arms. Ianto kept smoking, not bothering to even look at Jack as he inhaled deeply from his cigarette.
“You shouldn’t be smoking.”
“Says who?” Ianto asked dully, raising the cigarette to his lips again.
Jack didn’t feel the need to pursue that line of discourse. “What’s wrong with my shoes?”
Ianto sighed out curls of smoke, then glanced down at the ground.
“Nothing,” he said after a moment. “I dealt with it.”
“So Andy said.”
“It’s fine,” Ianto brushed aside.
Jack studied him, unsure what to say or do. Ianto appeared similarly lacking, merely looking up from the ground to squint out at the sunny gardens in the distance.
“Oh, there you lot are.”
Ianto stood up straight in an instant, and Jack whirled around to see Owen glaring at the pair of them.
“When you’re done having your groping session,” he said, “Miss Habiba is here to see you.”
He stalked away without another word, shaking his head.
Jack looked to Ianto.
“Come inside,” he said.
Ianto stared at Jack, and for a moment, Jack thought he would decline, but then he pressed the butt of his cigarette against the wall, killing it. He brushed past Jack, dropping the dead cigarette into a small bucket hidden in the bushes. Jack followed Ianto indoors and vaguely wondered if Toshiko had placed the bucket back out there, or if nobody had taken it inside since Ianto had left.
Andy and Lois Habiba stood inside the main hall as they entered the manor. He retreated almost instantly, his duty to see her to Jack now accomplished. She smiled stolidly at Jack, but then her eyes caught Ianto and the smile faltered. When it returned not half a second later, it wasn’t nearly as temperate. Though it was no less genuine, because Lois Habiba was nothing if not kind.
“Hello,” she said to Ianto. “Lois Habiba.”
She reached a hand out. Ianto took it in his own.
“Ianto Jones,” he said, politely. Not smoothly, like he usually did. Just politely.
Jack kept his frown to himself.
“Miss Habiba keeps this place going,” Jack said.
Ianto merely nodded as he withdrew his hand. Not a single witty remark or courteous comment. Jack glanced to Lois, but she didn’t seem perturbed by this. Of course she wouldn’t. She didn’t know Ianto; she couldn’t note the silence to be unusual.
Jack observed Ianto for a moment longer, then turned to Lois. “Shall we get started?”
“Absolutely,” she said with a smile.
He gestured her forward and trailed behind her as they went off to the study to work. Jack took one last glance backwards at Ianto, who had his hand on his hip and his gaze locked on the ground.
Then Lois began, “I think that this time we should work on—”
Jack looked back toward her, paying her the attention he still wished to give to Ianto.
His appointment with Lois lasted into lunch, so she joined him at the table. They ate and discussed, still working on the problem they had with the gardener, Mister MacDonald, who did not want to consider even the possibility of growing an orchard.
When Jack escorted Lois out for the day, he found himself at a loss as to what to do. Normally, he would enter the library and do more work, or perhaps sluggishly drag himself through a book to pass the ungodly time of the afternoon, but he felt less inclined to do either of those things now that Ianto was back.
He roamed the halls once more, looking for the other man. Of course, Ianto knew how to hide incredibly well when he wanted to—their games of naked hide and seek would never end, if Jack didn’t cheat—so Jack had little hopes of finding him. But the search would pass the time and soothe his steadily increasing worries.
Jack had heard next to nothing about the soldiers who came home from war. All he knew was that most of those soldiers were just like Ianto: unable to carry on fighting for obvious reasons. But he had read Ianto’s letters from the front. They were bleak, to say the very least, and had honestly made Jack feel more worried with each new letter (though, of course, the true fear came when they had ceased altogether).
But the upheaval and distress Jack could sense from those letters still seemed to follow Ianto around, from what Jack could glean from this past day and night. The war seemed to follow him, even though it was countries away.
That concerned Jack.
Jack’s lucky break came when he took a second away from his search to admire the gardens through a window. Then he spotted a figure walking out in the distance, and knew he’d found Ianto.
For a moment, all he did was watch Ianto slowly wander outwards to the fountain pool. The sunlight framed the man just right, and Jack had a chance to reacquaint himself with Ianto’s figure from afar.
Then Jack left, hurrying down halls and staircases until he was outside, too.
Of course, Ianto was long gone by then.
Jack sighed, then took his own leisurely stroll around the garden. He could use the fresh air. And a walk would do him some good while his back was blissfully untroublesome for the time being.
The first time Jack saw Ianto in person since that morning was at dinner, and Ianto was late to it. That didn’t really matter, Jack supposed. It was only soup again, though a heartier, meatier one. Jack figured Toshiko was warming Ianto up to her richer foods already. Ianto made no comment on the matter. In fact, he made no comment at all. The dinner was yet again silent.
Much like the night before, Jack read for a while after dinner, then went to bed. Of course, he forgot Andy wasn’t to be undressing him tonight (odd, how he got used to something he never thought he would), and Ianto came in ten minutes late once more, looking surly. Jack belatedly realised why Ianto might’ve been late to dinner.
“Sorry,” Jack apologised quietly, having already undressed himself in his annoyance that Andy was late.
“It’s fine,” Ianto replied. It didn’t sound fine at all, as he seemed stiff and overly formal for someone who was about to undress himself in front of and get into bed with his employer.
He cleaned up the discarded clothes, and then went to undress himself, starting by unpinning his jacket and letting the sleeve roll free. Jack stopped watching after that, allowing Ianto privacy once again. It felt intrusive to watch Ianto unsteadily undress himself.
Their dynamics felt wildly shifted, Jack decided.
At long last, Ianto crawled into bed beside Jack, and the pair of them lay apart, staring upwards as they both tried to fall into an uncomfortable sleep.
It didn’t feel like long before Jack bolted upright, startled witless by the sudden yelp of horror. The sleep faded from his mind as another shout rang out, and Jack remembered who and where he was and, more importantly, who was right next to him.
Jack turned to Ianto, tactfully avoiding the spasming arm that clawed at the bed.
And, like the night before, Jack made the same mistake of reaching out and placing a hand on Ianto’s chest. Ianto woke, screaming incoherently and thrashing about, twisting and shunting the blankets away as he scrambled backwards towards the headboard. He pressed himself against it, shouting loudly.
Jack sat absolutely still, not daring move more than to breathe, afraid he’d spook the terrified man even more as he searched around the room wildly.
“Ianto?” Jack asked, quietly and gently.
Ianto’s eyes locked on Jack, his breath coming out in heaving pants as he pressed himself rigidly against the headboard. The two of them sat like that, staring at each other, and then Ianto slumped forward, placing his face in his hand as he let out a quiet sob.
Jack reached out, but he paused just short of touching Ianto. He contemplated it a moment, then placed a gentle hand on Ianto's shoulder. Ianto didn’t flinch, but he didn't acknowledge it, either. Jack couldn't tell if that was a good or bad sign.
After a minute, Ianto composed himself. He sat up straight, pulling his hand away from his face.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry…”
He ran his hand through his hair, took a few more deep breaths, and then slowly and shakily crawled back into bed. He untangled the blankets and drew them up to his chin, his hand trembling as he laid it on his stomach to rest. Jack wanted nothing more in the world than to hold Ianto, to comfort him, but he had no idea how welcomed that gesture would be. So, for the second night, he closed his eyes again and hoped there would be no more nightmares.
Nothing woke either of them up in the night after that, but Jack still had a rough sleep. When the sunshine broke through and woke him the next morning, he felt so unbearably tired. Ianto looked much the same, but he said nothing as he rose to get ready for the day.
Dressing went just as poorly as yesterday, if not more so. Ianto’s fingers fumbled over everything, struggling to do it with just the one hand.
After Ianto failed to button the same button a fourth time, Jack took Ianto’s hand in his own two.
“You don’t have to do this,” Jack said.
Ianto didn’t look at him, his gaze focused on that tricky button as his brows furrowed. “It’s my job, sir.”
“Yes, but we both know…” Jack shrugged. The job was a pretence, at this point. “And I mean, come on.” He grinned crookedly. “It isn’t like I can’t dress myself, anyway. I’m not completely helpless.”
Ianto’s head snapped up, his eyes ablaze. Jack immediately wanted to retract the words back into his mouth, knowing he overstepped rather horribly, but it was too late.
“It’s my job,” Ianto repeated, harsher this time, “and I intend to do it.”
Jack shut his mouth and nodded, and Ianto’s hand went back to the button. Jack waited patiently as Ianto finally got the button done and moved on to the next. They didn’t say a single word to each other the entire time, and when Ianto finished, he left quickly and silently.
The day went on much like yesterday had, only Jack had no Lois Habiba to distract himself with. He had to find his own entertainment, which, while not impossible to do normally, was rather hard when concern gnawed away at him like this.
Eventually, Jack settled down to write a long letter to the Doctor, and then another to Gwen. He informed them both that he had his valet back, though he didn’t mention in what condition, and he certainly didn’t elaborate on how well it was going. They could make of it what they wanted. Hopefully only good things.
“Where’s Ianto?” Jack asked when Owen came to fetch him for tea.
“He said he wanted to run some errands,” Owen said.
“Don’t ask me,” Owen said. “What do you need him for, anyway?”
“Post,” Jack said, holding up the letters.
Owen took them, tapping them in his hands as he began to leave.
He turned back, scowling at Jack.
“He’s okay, right?” Jack asked.
Owen scowl went softer around the edges, atypical sympathy etched in the lines of his face.
“Remember what he was like, when he first came here?” Owen asked. “After the fires.”
Jack remembered vividly. Ianto hardly said a word to anyone, worked himself ragged, and was overall rather miserable.
“It’s that, but… worse,” Owen said.
Jack glanced up to him. He shrugged.
“It’s war, Jack,” he said. “Did you really think it would be all sunshine and roses?”
And, with that, Owen left Jack alone with his ghastly musings.
Jack went up to his room before dinner, this time. He wasn’t surprised to find Ianto there, waiting for him. He likewise wasn’t surprised to hear Ianto wouldn’t be dining with him. Disappointed, sure. Concerned, absolutely. But nowhere near surprised; it was evident that Ianto was avoiding him.
Toshiko, either a wizard or simply forewarned, did not make Jack soup. Dinner instead came as duck. Jack ate it and, for once, wished it was soup.
When Jack read the evening away that night, he hoped a pattern wasn’t forming. He finished off one of Martha’s novels (not his favourite of the ones had so far read, and the solemn, depressing ending put him in a low mood). He partly wished he’d finished it last night, because then he could have sent a letter to her, too. She liked to hear what he thought about her works.
Then he was off to bed, and Ianto undressed both him and Jack like he had the last two nights. Repetition was certainly grabbing hold, Jack figured as he laid out straight beside Ianto, taking forever to fall asleep.
The repetition broke when Jack woke from his uneasy sleep, not from screaming, but because… well, Jack didn’t actually know why he woke up. He was asleep, dreaming terribly, and then he was awake, feeling vaguely disconcerted.
He rolled onto his side, expecting to find Ianto sleeping not-so-peacefully beside him. Ianto wasn’t there.
Instead, Ianto was sitting at the edge of the bed. His back faced Jack, hunched, and his head hung.
“Ianto?” Jack asked, sitting up as well.
Ianto didn’t respond, so Jack moved closer to him and placed a hand at the nape of Ianto’s neck. Ianto didn’t react to it whatsoever.
“Ianto?” Jack asked again. “What’s wrong?”
“Take the gun.”
Jack drew his hand away instantly.
“What?” he asked, shocked.
“Take the gun away,” Ianto whispered. “Please.”
Jack stared at his prone form for a moment, heart racing wildly in his chest. Then he quickly slid off the bed and went to Ianto’s nightstand, removing the gun from its drawer. He looked to Ianto. Ianto did not look back; his gaze remained blankly locked on the floor.
His chest feeling utterly wrong, Jack left the room quickly and quietly, off to lock the gun away with the rest of his collection. He almost wished there was somewhere else for him to put it—Ianto could get his hands on any of those guns in an instant. But if Ianto just wanted it away from him, Jack could deal with the rest. He would find a way to deal with it, no matter what. This couldn’t go on. Not anymore.
When Jack returned, Ianto had not moved from his spot on the bed. Jack observed him.
Owen had said it was worse than the fires. He was clearly right. And after those fires, the thing that changed Ianto’s misery, that got him to stop being so lonely and unhappy all of the time, was when Jack stepped in and supported and cared for Ianto. So, if Jack wanted Ianto to get through this—which he did; he very much wanted Ianto to be happy again—then he would have to be there for Ianto again.
And that would only start the moment he stopped letting Ianto distance himself so much from Jack.
Jack sat down beside Ianto. As he suspected, Ianto shifted uncomfortably, rolling his left shoulder back and away from him.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked, because there seemed to be little point in tiptoeing around it.
Ianto remained silent, at first. Jack thought he would have to ask again, or at least find another way to prompt a response from Ianto, but just when he came around to doing so, Ianto spoke.
“Just fire me already, sir.”
Jack drew back slightly, stunned. What?
“What?” he repeated out loud. “Why the hell would I fire you?”
Ianto’s hand clenched on his knee. “It’s very clear you don’t think I can do my job.”
“I never said that,” Jack said with a frown.
“You didn’t have to.”
Jack studied him. Even in the darkness, he could clearly see the tension in Ianto’s body. He suspected half of that was from before, and the other half was generated by this conversation. Which was why he needed to think very carefully about his choice of words.
“Ianto,” he said, very calmly, very gently. “That’s not it.”
“You wouldn’t let me do anything, if you had it your way,” Ianto said. “How is that not it?”
“It isn’t that I don’t think you can, it’s that…” Jack sighed, trying to think of a better way to put it. “I’m worried about you doing it.”
“How is that any different?”
“Well,” Jack said, “for all I know, it’s pushing you too far.”
“All the doctors said I was fine to do this. Even Owen said so,” Ianto pointed out.
“Doctors are one thing, but doing the job is completely different,” Jack said.
“So, what? You think I shouldn’t be doing my job because… you think I’d overextend myself?”
“Maybe,” Jack said. “I don’t know.”
“Why not hire someone else, then?” Ianto demanded.
“Because I know if someone took your job title, you would feel like you didn’t belong here, by my side, and I can’t have that,” Jack said. “Anyone can dress me. You, Andy, Owen, some idiot off the streets. Hell, I can do it just fine on my own. But nobody can replace you.”
“Don’t you get it?” Jack interrupted. “You are more to me than just my valet, Ianto. Surely, you must know that by now.”
Ianto said nothing. Jack turned himself, facing him completely.
“This is your bed, Ianto. This is your home. Whether you do your job or not does not change that. It doesn’t matter to me at all. Ianto, I love you.”
He took Ianto’s face in his hands, and, for the first time in the three days since Ianto had returned, he well and truly kissed Ianto. Every last bit of adoration, affection, and devotion that Jack ever had to give, he poured into that kiss. Anything and everything to let Ianto know just how loved he was, to get him to understand why Jack could never send him away.
When they parted, Jack rested his forehead against Ianto’s.
“If you still want to do your job, I won’t stop you,” he murmured. “I know you take pride in it. But just know, first and foremost, you are Ianto Jones, my lover. Your job is secondary. Tertiary, even: you run this household just as much as Owen does, really.”
Ianto didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he sighed.
“What if you’re right? What if it is too much?” he asked. “You saw me—I can barely do your shirt up.”
Jack stroked his thumbs down Ianto’s cheek. “You still want to do it anyway, though, don’t you?”
Ianto nodded, still pressed against Jack’s forehead.
“Then we’ll figure it out,” Jack promised.
“How?” Ianto whispered, sounding almost desperate.
Jack pulled away, sitting up straight and surveying Ianto as he thought about it. His hands trailed down from Ianto’s left cheek, running his fingers for the first time over Ianto’s new flesh. He stopped just on the curve of the shoulder.
An idea came to him, and he considered it before speaking.
“Before they released you,” Jack said, “they gave you some rehabilitation, right?”
Ianto nodded again, brow furrowed in a questioning manner.
“They taught you to dress yourself one-handed,” Jack said, recalling a passage from one of Ianto’s letters.
“Took forever to get it right,” Ianto confirmed.
“But you can do it now, can’t you?”
“Yes…” Ianto said slowly.
“Could you dress me like that?”
Ianto’s frown deepened. “What do you mean?”
“If you dressed me like the way you dressed yourself,” Jack reiterated, “if you stood behind me and wrapped your arm around, pretending my body was your body, could you do it?”
“I…” Ianto blinked, pondering it. “Maybe… I suppose…”
“We could try it,” Jack suggested. “Tomorrow. Just to see.”
Ianto nodded once more, and Jack used the next stretch of silence to reacquaint his hands with Ianto’s form. He brushed his fingers over Ianto’s back and ran his hands across Ianto’s shoulders. When one hand travelled down Ianto’s arm, the other gently cupped the remaining left limb. Maybe it was because Jack was tactile by nature, or maybe because seeing wasn’t always believing, but it was only then that it finally clicked into place in Jack’s mind that this was Ianto’s body, now.
Jack pressed a kiss to that shoulder.
“You don’t mind it, do you?” Ianto asked quietly.
Jack had to rein in a glare. “Do you really think I’m that shallow? Ianto, I’d only mind if you didn’t come home to me at all.”
Ianto had no response to that. His body had tensed again when Jack drew away, so Jack decided it was best they circled back to the very beginning of the conversation.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I almost didn’t come home,” Ianto said.
Jack was already aware of this, but somehow… hearing it out loud was a million times worse than just letting it play in the back of his mind all waking hours.
“It was a slaughterhouse,” Ianto said, apropos of nothing. “It wasn’t just… I lost so many friends. I lost my captain… lost Johnson.”
Jack kissed his temple, then enveloped him into a loose hug. Ianto buried his face in Jack’s shoulder. Jack ran his fingers into Ianto’s hair, rubbing it gently and soothingly.
“You called out for him, the other night,” Jack murmured. “How often do you have nightmares?”
“Every night. I try not to, but…”
Jack could laugh, were this not such a serious moment. Ianto would be the sort to try not to have nightmares, no matter how irrational and futile that may be.
“Can they be stopped?” Jack asked.
Ianto pulled out from Jack’s hold, shaking his head.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think…”
He just shook his head again.
“Can they be helped?” Jack amended.
Ianto shrugged. “I dunno.”
“When you were in the hospital, and you had a nightmare, what did you do?” Jack asked.
For a moment, Ianto didn’t reply. Then he stood from the bed, went over to the nightstand, and pulled out the stack of letters. He sat back down on the bed and handed them to Jack.
“They’re your letters.”
Jack ran his fingers along the worn edges. It was still a marvel to him, that these had been returned to him, in a roundabout way. He looked over at Ianto.
“You kept them?”
“It made me feel like you were there,” Ianto explained, as if to justify himself. “I just…”
He fell silent. Jack leant over to the nightstand and set the letters down on top. Then he leant the other way, wrapping his arms around Ianto once more.
“I’m here now,” he whispered to Ianto.
They sat awhile like that, holding and drawing comfort from one another. If there was a wetness on Jack’s shoulder, where Ianto had yet again buried his face, Jack didn’t comment on it. Ianto likewise said nothing about the way Jack’s fingers mapped and remapped the lines on his back, etching them into his brain so he could never forget.
“Come on,” Jack said after what felt like ages. “We should sleep.”
Ianto drew back, and Jack crawled away from him, back under the covers. Ianto followed, rolling right away onto his right side so he could face Jack. Jack almost smiled at that. He curled himself around Ianto, who nestled himself into their usual nightly embrace.
“Things will get better,” Jack promised.
Ianto said nothing, but Jack knew him well enough to sense his doubts.
“They will,” Jack assured.
He kissed Ianto’s soft hair, and then closed his eyes.
For the first time, the pair of them drifted easily into sleep, their hopes and affection ensuring a good night’s rest for them both.