It's dark by the time they make it back from London to Cardiff; no public transport was running and in the end they'd had to borrow a car from a friend of Martha's.
Jack's grinning at the thought of the welcome he'll get from his team. A hero's return, he's saved the goddam world yet again and it's good to be home. He drops Martha and Mickey at a hotel, leaves the car with them and walks (or mostly runs) the rest of the way, grinning like a lunatic, drawing odd looks from passers-by.
He slows back to a walk as he crosses the Plass, heading for the tourist office, but as he reaches the entrance, the smile falls from his face as he sees the blasted wreckage of what had once been the Hub's main entrance.
For a moment, he stands frozen in place, almost unable to breathe. The Daleks had found them! How could he have been so thoughtless as to leave them here unprotected? And so soon after losing Tosh and Owen.
He breaks into a run again, racing through the wrecked tourist office, the previously hidden corridor behind. Down flight after flight of stairs, his heart in his mouth, taking each flight in a couple of strides, practically smashing into the wall each time before swinging round to the next. Then he's at the bottom, at the cog door to the main Hub, the shattered remains of a Dalek blocking his way, hundreds of bullets scattered on the concrete around it.
His eyes scan the Hub, searching for bodies but seeing nothing. The whole place seems deserted.
"Ianto!" His voice echoes in the silence, and in that instant he knows where his heart truly lies: Not with Gwen - brash, stubborn and often too loud, too like himself - but with the quiet, reserved Welshman, so much Jack's opposite, but fitting so perfectly with him, like two halves of a whole. "Ianto!?"
"Jack?" a sleepy voice responds, and he catches slight movement from the corner of his eye, turning quickly to the battered couch beneath the Torchwood sign where Ianto is slowly sitting up, rubbing his eyes.
Later, Jack doesn't even remember crossing the distance between them, but suddenly Ianto is in his arms and Jack is clinging to him as if he'll never let go. Ianto's arms wrap around him and a sleepy head rests on his shoulder.
"God, I was so scared! I thought you'd been... the Dalek had..." Jack trails off, unable to put his fears into words.
"Jack?" Ianto's voice is muffled against his shoulder.
"You're an idiot. You knew Gwen and I were okay. You saw us both, alive and well, while you were on the TARDIS, towing the Earth back into place."
"Oh. Right." Jack is suddenly feeling rather foolish, but he makes no move to let Ianto go. Not that Ianto seems to mind in the least. He seems quite content to stay where he is.
"Um, where is Gwen?"
"Sent her home to Rhys, oh," Ianto shifts, unwinding one arm from Jack to look at his watch, "a couple of hours ago. Said I'd stay behind and clear up." The arm wraps itself around Jack again.
Jack gazes around the wreckage of the Hub. "You've been clearing up?"
"Um, no, not really. Sat down for five minutes before starting and I must've fallen asleep." Ianto sounds vaguely embarrassed.
Jack laughs softly and kisses the top of Ianto's head. "Don't worry about it, it'll all still be here in the morning."
"That's what I'm worried about," Ianto mutters.
Jack chuckles at that, then: "Nice job on the Dalek, by the way. Didn't think standard weapons would have any effect!"
"Oh, no," Ianto sits up, pulling away from Jack. "We didn't do that."
"Then where did all the bullets come from?" Jack's puzzled.
"Oh, we shot at it, Gwen said she was going down fighting, like Tosh and Owen..." Ianto's voice trails off. "She saved us," he adds in a quiet voice.
"No, Tosh." Ianto looks at Jack, a small smile curving his lips. "Remember the last line of defence she was working on? The time bubble?" Jack nods. "I suppose she just never got the chance to tell us it was finished. It kicked in just after the Dalek showed up, stopped it in its tracks and froze all the bullets in mid-air. Took us a minute to realise everything had stopped except us."
Jack's smile lights up his face and Ianto finds himself grinning back.
"Still looking out for us, even now," Jack says with a sigh. His smile fades. "I miss her. Both of them."
"Yeah. Me too." They stare at each other for a while, thinking about their lost friends, before Jack snaps back to the present.
"So, what happened to the...?" Jack gestures in the general direction of what's left of the Dalek.
"Don't know. Thought maybe you could tell me. Gwen and I were sort of half keeping an eye on it while we ran a full systems check and," Ianto shrugs, "it sort of... blew up! Scared us half to death."
"Yeah, right, that was us. Well, the Doctor really... or, Doctors. And Donna." Ianto starts to look a bit confused. "I'll explain later. Tomorrow. It's a long story," Jack grins. "Too long for tonight. It's late and we could both do with some sleep before tackling this mess."
He stands and reaches out to Ianto, who takes the offered hand and lets Jack pull him to his feet. Hand in hand, they start towards Jack's office and the sleeping space below.
"By the way, I brought Martha back with me for a visit, thought you'd probably kill me if I didn't. I've set her up at the St David's for a few days, she'll be along sometime tomorrow. Brought another old friend of mine along, too," Jack says cheerfully. Ianto stops dead in his tracks and glares at Jack, who rolls his eyes. "Not that sort of friend, so you can stop looking at me like that," Jack tells him, turning to face Ianto and pull him close. "Mickey's a good guy, but I wouldn't be interested in him even if he was interested in me. Which he's not. I think he fancies Martha, though." Jack turns suddenly serious. "I shouldn't have left you and Gwen to face the Daleks alone. If it hadn't been for Tosh's time bubble..."
Ianto stops Jack by placing a finger against his lips.
"Shhh. It's okay. You did what you felt you had to. It's who you are."
"Yeah, right. Big Damn Hero, saving the world. I don't even think I was really needed. They would've done just as well without me. I should've stayed here, where I belong."
“Thinking like that is pointless. You couldn’t know whether or not you’d be needed, there or here. The Doctor was on the front line of the battle and you’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines. What matters is that you helped save the world, and when the fighting was over, you came home. Such as it is.” Ianto looks around with a wry smile.
“Home never looked more beautiful,” Jack murmurs softly.
Something in the tone of Jack’s voice makes Ianto turn to face him, and he almost forgets to breathe. Jack’s staring right at him, as though nothing else exists.
“I missed you.” Jack reaches up to gently wipe a smudge of dirt from Ianto’s cheek. “I didn’t realise how much until I got back and saw the wreckage. The thought of never seeing you again, never holding you again… It was unbearable. I never meant to fall for you, but I can’t help myself.” There are tears in Jack’s eyes. “ I love you, Ianto Jones.”
For a moment, Ianto thinks he must still be asleep and dreaming, but this feels so real; Jack feels so real. ‘If this is a dream,’ he thinks, ‘I don’t ever want to wake up.’
He steps closer, wrapping his arms around Jack once more, breathing in Jack’s scent; a dream could never feel this solid, this warm.
“I love you too,” he murmurs against Jack’s neck, and feels Jack’s arms tighten around him in response. Pulling back a little, he looks into Jack’s eyes and smiles, “I think I have for a long time,” he admits. He rests his forehead against Jack’s and relaxes, content. “I just didn’t know if you felt the same.”
It’s good standing there, wrapped in each other’s arms, safe and secure. A bit too good, Ianto muses to himself as he feels his eyes growing heavy.
“This is nice,” he says through a yawn, “but we should probably move before I fall asleep right here.”
He feels Jack’s chuckle rather than hears it.
“We should,” Jack agrees, pressing a kiss to Ianto’s temple.
Ianto straightens up so he can look Jack in the eye. “Welcome home, Jack,” he says before gently kissing him.
It’s not the welcome home he’d been expecting when he arrived back in Cardiff, Jack thinks as he surrenders to the kiss, but he realises he doesn’t care; this is so much better and he wouldn’t change it for the world.