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Anti-Climax

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It was amazing to Ianto how ultimately anticlimactic Jack's return actually was. After the frantic searching, the months of wondering what had happened, the worrying and the anger and the self-reflection, Jack walked back into the Hub and asked, "Anyone miss me?"

The result had been oddly undramatic, especially considering how melodramatic the members of Torchwood Three tended to be. There were hugs and a little anger and questions, but it quickly died down to everyone getting back to work with sighs of relief, particularly from Owen who had been nominally in charge.

Ianto didn't know how to react himself. Part of him wanted to kiss Jack, part wanted to beat him to a pulp, part wanted to do both at the same time.

Instead, he went and made a pot of coffee.

He managed to avoid Jack fairly successfully throughout the day, as Jack settled back into his office. It was relatively easy since Jack spent most of that time getting caught up on everything he had missed, meeting with Owen and phoning other Torchwood heads to get the lay of the land. The few times Ianto did have to be in the same room with Jack, they were never alone.

He made it through the entire day avoiding Jack until the Hub settled in with the quiet of evening, everyone else having gone home and Ianto himself finishing up for the day.

"How are you doing, Ianto?" Jack asked quietly from behind him.

Ianto didn't turn from the counter, wiping it down as if life itself depended on it being clean. "I'm fine, sir," he said, and took rescue in running the garbage disposal. It saved him from all the things he was thinking. "I missed you." "Why did you leave?" "Why did you come back?"

Unfortunately, it was a very temporary rescue, and the sound of the disposal changed to indicate everything was chopped and gone, so he had to turn it off. He proceeded to fold the rag he was using and put it neatly back in its place.

There was breath on the back of his neck. "Did you miss me, Ianto?" Jack whispered, tone teasing on several levels.

"Yes." "No." "Only when I thought of you." They all went through his head, but he only said, "We all did, sir," and moved away to pick up his jacket he had discarded before he started the washing up. "If that's all, sir, I'll be heading home," he said, not turning around.

Jack was behind him again in a flash. "Stay," Jack whispered in that same tone.

Ianto thought about pushing him away. He thought about yelling at him about how Owen had officially been in charge, but he was still Owen and diplomacy--or paperwork or work of any kind he didn't actually care about--not being his strong suit, Ianto had stepped in to do everything Owen wouldn't. About how they had all been so confused and worried when they couldn't find him that they put out feelers as far and wide as possible, but he'd disappeared without a trace, and so soon after dying, too. He thought about screaming at him about making assumptions that Ianto had just waited for him, like an old dog who would always be there, no matter how long his master was gone.

Ianto said, "Yes, sir."

***

Afterward, Ianto laid in Jack's bed as Jack continued to stroke his shoulder as if he were still that favoured pet.

His anger and ambivalence were slowly giving way at this point to something else. Jack seemed...different. Lighter, somehow, more cheerful, more full of laughter. There were few who would have ever accused Captain Jack Harkness as being too serious or dower before he left, but there had always been an underlying bitterness to it all. Jack had been amused by most things, but in the way that someone who had been severely disappointed by life could only be.

Ianto turned his head and looked at Jack lying beside him. Jack was on his side, eyes closed, looking as if he was about to drift away into sleep. There were still marks on his shoulders, chest, and sides where Ianto had grabbed him too hard.

That was also new. Normally, any marks on Jack would have faded away within minutes, leaving him completely untouched and untouchable.

"What happened, Jack?" Ianto asked, not sure if he expected Jack to hear him, certain he wouldn't receive an answer.

Jack's eyes crinkled at the edges as they opened. "I'll have to work on my technique if you didn't notice," he said playfully.

Ianto stared at him and didn't ask again.

Jack sobered slightly, but his smile stayed, on his lips and in his eyes. "I got lost," he whispered in that tone that people only use in bed late at night. "I got better."

Ianto didn't smile back. "Why did you come back?" he asked. He didn't know why.

Jack's smile got wider. "You are a great incentive to return, Ianto Jones."

Ianto didn't answer, but sat up and reached for his shirt. He didn't need more sweet lies.

Jack didn't stop him. Ianto was reaching for his pants when Jack said, in an even quieter tone, "Do you know what the worst thing you can do to an adrenaline junkie?"

Ianto paused, not sure where this was going.

"Tell him he can't die."

Ianto turned around at that to look at him. Jack was looking back at him directly, no sign of teasing or joking.

"That's why you had to leave? So you could die?" Ianto asked, trying to understand.

Jack smiled again, a little hope showing up around the edges, and reached a hand out towards him. "So life could have meaning," he said.

Ianto stared at him for a moment longer, then let himself be pulled back down.

-30-