Copyright RMC September 2019


Chapter 23

Chapter 24: Glories Stream From Heaven Afar

Shells erupted across the sky grazing the heavens with fire and painting the sorrowful moon black. Their explosions ate up the night; great thunderclaps that slashed the earth and crushed the sanity of those huddled in the scarred clefts left by the destruction. Under this ragged tissue of the sky both Owen and Ianto settled into a semblance of normality as the doctor worked on removing the wire still caught on the younger man’s clothes and skin. It was a slow and arduous task, his hands clumsy due to their injuries and the only light was from the sharp and blinding bursts of the shells.

Ianto looked to the doctor’s distressed fumbling. “Owen, why don’t you take a break, I’m not going anywhere?”

The doctor pulled the last barb from a length on the Welshman’s chest, catching Ianto’s skin. “Sorry.” He yanked it free and threw it to one side.

Owen sighed. “Yeah, a break sounds good, go put the kettle on would you?” He looked down at his palms wrapped in the thick cloth torn from the Ianto’s discarded overcoat.

Ianto gave a small smile and sat back against the shored side of the filthy hole. “Biscuits?”

Owen repositioned some of the bindings using his teeth to tighten them across his hand. “Chocolate Hobnobs and leave the packet.” He spat out some frayed bits of wool and then nestled against the worn sandbags bringing his knees up to rest his arms on. He tipped his head to the firestorm above drumming his feet on the sodden duckboards.

Ianto watched the blaze of light play across Owen’s features until his eyes stung with the raze of the sky. He let his gaze fall to the trickle of water and the landslide of mud and sandbags that isolated this crater from the rest of the trench complex. A previous bombardment had dislodged its defences into the earth sealing its usefulness and parts of its former inhabitants. His focus dwelt on a growth of shabby legs sticking out from the earth. “French legs,” he muttered, the stiff limbs still baring traces of their uniform. “Buried without ceremony or the gift of a prayer.”

Owen turned his attention to him and followed his direction shuddering slightly at the twist of dismembered limbs that paled against the shadowy earth. He flexed his swollen hands wiping them on the legs of his jeans. “Let’s get back to it shall we?”

Ianto’s concentration remained on the sandwich of body parts.  “Ianto!” He flinched as Owen gently turned his chin to make eye contact. “Stay with me okay?”

He studied the doctor’s face and nodded. Owen began the painstaking task again, mindful of the rusted pieces of twisted wire penetrating the skin. The barbs were embedded deeper on the front of his body from where he had fallen into their spines and his weight had pushed them in further.  Owen bit his lip as he freed the next small section causing blood to seep from where it had pierced the skin. He closed his eyes, momentarily trying to block the medical scenarios hammering through his mind, for even though most of the cuts were superficial, in this environment the risk of infection was high.

He carefully eased Ianto from his suit jacket, taking a few loosely snagged segments with it. “Only a few more to go,” he added hopefully.

Ianto looked down as Owen worked on the wrap of metal. A shell ruptured the darkness and his mind began to wander.  A macabre Zoetrope of images flickered through the slits of his thoughts, bodies broken in death lying deleted against the polish of the floor. Screams echoing through the warren of corridors along with the ceaseless sound of automation, the whirl of machinery, the march of metal; always the metal, the armoured hand, the silver glint, the burn of its touch, the spin of its mechanism. Metal shining against the flames, a mirror for destruction and rebirth, encased and swathed in silver, stripped and empty, a hollow vassal, a tin soldier.

Owen extracted the last stretch of wire tearing through Ianto’s cotton shirt and drawing more blood. The young man cried out and fought against the doctor’s allaying touch, seeing something other than his colleague. He whimpered cradling his head, pressing the heels of his hand into his temples and rocking his body.

“Ianto!” The doctor tried to prise the clenched grasp.

“Too much information, make it stop.”

“Ianto!” The cry made the other man stiffened and push himself back into the sandbags, gasping for air. “Ianto, it’s me, Owen.”

Ianto relaxed a little letting the nightmares fade to back of his mind.

Owen pressed his grazed fingertips against the slightly swollen glands in Ianto’s neck. “Does it hurt?”

Ianto held the other man’s searching stare; Owen raised stern eyebrows; he dropped the pretence. “A little.”

The doctor let his gaze fall to Ianto’s torso as his practised touch tried to inspect the punctured skin but even though the light was insufficient for a thorough examination, he knew the injuries were contaminated.

“What’s the prognosis?”

“Stitches, a course of antibiotics and plenty of bed rest.” The doctor helped him back into his ruined jacket.

A shell blast blanched Ianto’s face and Owen noticed the smirk on his face. “And no sex either,” he added. “I’m not patching you up for Harkness to undo all my hard work.” The doctor began to remove the cloth from his hands.

Ianto watched the precise manner he unravelled the makeshift bindings from his palms. “How’s the hands.”

A smile ghosted the doctor’s lips. “Oh, just dandy,” he replied, throwing the ragged remains to the floor. He flexed them feeling the smart of tightening skin.

Ianto looked at Owen, watching him inspect his damaged hands. “You know you were right.” The words fell loosely into the orange glow of the night.

“I usually am,” Owen replied, settling back against the damp sides of the trench. “When?” He looked up.

Another blast ripped across the sky causing both to stoop a little. “Earlier, in the hotel.”

Owen frowned, trying to recollect the conversation. “Canary Wharf…” Ianto enlightened.

“No!” Owen stood up. “Don’t do this, don’t you fucking dare. I don’t want to hear it, not now, not here, you keep any major revelation to yourself.” He turned to face Ianto.


“No, you can tell me when we get back.” He pointed a finger at the Welshman. “Over the pint you owe me for saving your sorry arse.” He sat solidly down sharing a narrow look.

Ianto swallowed; his throat dry and sore. “Are you sure you’re thinking straight? I think you’ll find you owe me for saving you back at the churchyard, twice!” Ianto held up two fingers.

“Oh yeah, how could I forget you trying to bludgeon me with your fucking gun…”

“At least it wasn’t the axe.”

“Guess I ought to be thankful then.”

“Too right.” Owen smiled.

Ianto’s face creased with pain as he shifted his weight against the cold earth. “Still, doesn’t alter the fact that I cut you free from the wire.” Owen waved the cutters as evidence.

“With tools you stole from a dead man.”

“Hey, needs must…”

He must nedys go that the deuell dryves. Assembly of Gods, John Lydgate.”

Owen cocked an eyebrow. “Well, I prefer, needs must when the devil vomits in your kettle, Blackadder.” Both men smiled.

A fierce roar cracked the heavens and hammered into the earth throwing both men onto each other with the push of its vibrations. Their sanctuary crumbled into collapse where it was already weakened and debris fell like hailstones buffeting them with its dust and gravel. Fire licked the darkness and men screamed nearby, the air filling with the stench of burning flesh. Owen carefully extricated himself from the other man. “You’re heavier than you look,” Ianto remarked, blue eyes vivid from the powder covering his face.

The doctor looked him over but Ianto waved away his concerns. “I’m fine but your bleeding,” he touched Owen’s head showing him the blood from his forehead.

The doctor pressed a palm against the wound. “Must have reopened the wound from earlier.” He shrugged.

Bullets were exchanged across the trenches scattering their deadly light into the darkness and smoke thickened and clogged the night.  Another explosion sent the two men careering to the soft wood of the duckboards, the ground jumping under its crushing fist. A fine mist, caught on the rush of the blast, saturated the confines of the hole and turned the remains of Ianto’s shirt from white to pink. The Welshman looked down at his chest, the dim light of the nearby flames making the soft spray apparent in the creases. “Blood,” he whispered.

“It has to go somewhere,” Owen remarked with a snort. “Only you would wear a white shirt to a war zone.”

“My father was a tailor,” came the dry reply, Owen wasn’t sure if that was an excuse or apology.

The ground shook once more and something whizzed through the storm of the night, bouncing into their haven. “Grenade!” Owen shouted and flung himself onto the other man. They listened as the object rolled over the wooden slats in uniformed thuds, the wild beat of their hearts synchronized as they waited for the inevitable. The moment stretched through the seconds and nothing happened. Ianto opened his eyes and turned his head toward where the grenade had lost its momentum. He let his grip loosen against Owen’s arms and began to laugh with relief, the vibration ringing through the closeness of their bodies. The doctor lifted his head and turned to the focus of his amusement; a severed head stared back.

“Fuck!” Owen rolled off the other man and stood up. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He began to pace, looking at the blood-spattered remains.

Ianto moved painfully onto his side, putting a little distance between him and the body part. “Owen…”

“It’s not fucking funny.” He kicked the head sending it spinning along the wet planks in a cascade of water.

Ianto stood, placing a hand on the other man’s arm; Owen tore himself away. “Fuck off.” He turned on the Welshman. “You think this is funny, being trapped here, cowering in some shit hole, unable to fight back, waiting for death?” He pushed Ianto away from him, his eyes wild and irrational.

“No, Owen I don’t think it’s funny.” He kept his voice even.

The doctor shook his head. “Well, maybe I don’t want to fucking wait anymore,” he spat out with irritation.

Owen marched over to the anguished head and picked it up, Ianto grabbed at his fleeting sleeve only to have it wrenched from his grasp. “Don’t you fucking touch me tea-boy!” His stare was white hot.

The doctor shoved Ianto into the side of trench and clambered up the collapse of sandbags. “Hey, you arseholes want your ball back?” He shouted above the battle, tossing the unfortunate remains into no man’s land; the bullets started again, drawn to Owen’s movement.

Ianto grabbed at his legs, dragging him into the relative safety of the sodden crater, their combined body weight scraping a channel in the soft earth as they kicked against its slippery surface. Owen spun onto his back and let his frustration loose on the other man, swiping at his face with a well-placed punch. Ianto tumbled back, taking the doctor with him as he flayed for purchase grabbing at Owen’s collar. They rolled against the pliable veneer of the mud, each man struggling against the other until Ianto was on top again. He seized the doctor hard by his jacket, thrusting him back into the waterlogged soil. Both men eyed each other too exhausted to continue the scuffle, their breathing laboured in challenging gulps of air. Ianto let go of the crushed leather and eased himself back on Owen’s hips. He smiled, watching the other man observe him cautiously. “You know this is how it started with Jack.”

Owen bucked against his weight. “Get the fuck off me!” He heaved Ianto from him and sat up running a grubby hand through his hair.

The young man waited for Owen to gather his temper pushing against the soft earth to mirror the doctor’s stance of leaning his elbows on his knees. He looked down at his soiled clothes and sighed. “You know, I’m a little pissed off with you using me for your own personal punching bag when you get these suicidal hissy fits of yours.”

Owen shot him a sideways glance. “I don’t have hissy fits.”

“But you do get suicidal?”

Owen snorted and looked away. “I’ve got a bit of temper, always have.”

“And I’m guessing not the most patient of children either?”

Owen gave another small laugh. “Tough childhood, I learnt everything comes to those who take; another valuable lesson learnt from my mother.” He looked skyward; Ianto spat out a mouthful of blood and wiped his sleeve across his face.

“Sorry,” Owen offered getting sluggishly to his feet.

He held his hand out to the younger man; Ianto took the proffered limb. “Well, at least I didn’t have to shoot you this time.”

That was a lucky shot,” the doctor replied tapping his shoulder.

“You keep telling yourself that Owen.” Ianto insisted, as the doctor hauled him up.

Owen went to retaliate but another explosion disturbed the moment, slapping the two men over to the side of the hole. Ianto coughed against the mud. “You know this is getting boring,” he wheezed as he settled himself against the safety of the sandbags.

“Tell me about it,” Owen answered watching as Ianto rummaged through his suit pocket. “Lost something?”

The young man fished out a green and black tube and carefully began to tear through the paper and foil covering in an orderly spiral before offering them across. “Mint?”

Owen stared at the tightly packed column of sweets in disbelief. “Fuck me, Ianto, you got anything else I should know about secreted away in that bloody suit?” He tried to pick out the top mint.

The young man smiled. “Nope, just some loose change.” He watched the doctor’s clumsy efforts. “Here, let me.”

Ianto deftly loosened two of the grubby mints, placing one in his colleague’s palm and the other in his own mouth. He sucked through the dirt, closing his eyes to savour the wash of sugar and peppermint oil. “Why did you become a doctor?” he asked, studying Owen through half closed lids.

The question caught the doctor off guard, making him crunch the mint in half. He looked past the younger man’s shoulder as he swallowed the sweet, feeling it rub the soft tissue at the back of his throat. He laughed with a bitter irony. “Because my mother told me I couldn’t.” It was a simple answer, still, after all these years. “That and Jenny Agutter.” He added playfully, his lips curving into a smirk.

“American Werewolf in London.” Ianto sighed reflectively widening the hole in the middle of the mint with his tongue.

“Yeah, shower scene.” Both men grinned unashamedly.

Owen inclined his head toward the younger man. “And you, why did you end up joining Torchwood?”

Ianto glanced down at this buttons swallowing his splinter of mint. “I had nowhere else to go.” The reply was soft against the night and Owen waited but no further explanation came, he sighed and relaxed into the side of the trench.

The rage of the battle increased casting its shadow over the two men. Explosions and gunfire rocked their haven, dusting them in the rancour of war, while the strangled screams of the injured and dying haunted those grim corners of their minds where nightmares lurk. It was impossible to remain detached from the pitiful cries of grown men appealing to the heavens to end their suffering and weeping for their mothers. Owen stood, the dirge of the wounded playing on his conscience, driving him, again, to the verge of frustration.

Ianto pulled at his colleague’s arm and shook his head. “Owen there’s nothing you can do.”

The doctor pounded the soil with his fist, needing to feel the smart of pain, hoping it would block his senses. “I can’t just sit here.” He spat.

“You’d be dead before you even reached the frontline,” he warned.

“They’re dying.” Owen turned rocking on his heels.

“No,” Ianto began, holding the other man’s narrow stare. “They’re already dead, they died ninety years ago.”

Footsteps and heavy breathing stole through the mist of spent shells nearing their position. Both men turned to their advance. Owen searched for the handgun he’d acquired but an explosion had knocked it into a muddy puddle rendering it useless. “Shit!” Owen exclaimed. “Ianto where’s your Colt?”

The Welshman glanced sideways at his discarded coat; but it was too late. A German soldier, no more than seventeen, stumbled down the far side of the trench; his gun wavering in the dim light. “Reicht herauf.” The guttural bark of his demand fluttered slightly.

Both Ianto and Owen complied bringing their hands up in capitulation. The youth regarded them with haunted eyes, tarnished by too much bloodshed. He frowned, his gaze flicking between the two men. “Wo sind Ihre Uniforme?”

Owen took a tentative step forward, his gaze never leaving the boy’s restless stare. “Sorry mate, my German’s a little rusty.”

“He asked where our uniforms are,” Ianto translated.

The doctor frowned. “Jeez you know, no one likes a know it all.”

The boy’s heavy forehead creased. “Schweigen!” He nervously wiped his free hand across his mouth. “You Englisch.” The statement was accentuated with flick of his handgun.

Owen nodded. “Yeah, English.”

Machine gun fire echoed in the distance, causing the youth to press his palm against his ear and seize the short tufts of hair around his temple. His weapon hand trembled and Owen went to take another forward step. “Halt!” The boy’s eyes hardened. “You Englischer Spion.” The barrel of the gun gestured to the doctor’s lack of uniform.

Ianto watched the youth’s edgy finger flex against the trigger. “He thinks we’re spies,” he whispered at Owen.

“Spies, Englische spies,” the boy repeated, looking at Ianto. “Cowering in hole, while meine Kameraden die…” His English faltered. “…Because of them.” A shell exploded close by but this time, the youth didn’t flinch.

His pale eyes blistered with hatred as he twisted the barrel of his gun in Owen’s direction. “Bang, bang, Englishman.” His supple finger pulled back on the trigger.

Another shell detonated throwing the boy off his aim and sending the bullet skimming over the lip of the trench into the half light of the battlefield. The jolt of the blast sent both Ianto and Owen thrashing forward, the doctor landing on his knees. He tried to scramble to his feet but the youth had regained his balance quicker, obviously used to the thrash of the ground; the cold steel of the Luger pressed momentarily against Owen’s temple.

“Don’t move.” The threat was directed at Ianto who had made it to his hands and knees. The teenager gave the Welshman a swift kick in the ribs sending him sprawling to the mud.

Owen sprang to his feet but the youth directed the barrel towards the back of Ianto’s head, placing a booted foot in the small of his back to crush any further movement.

Owen swallowed, holding his palms out. “Look, mate you’ve got us all wrong. I’m a doctor…” He searched his schoolboy German. “…Ich bin ein, um, doc… um… Arzt.”

The boy began to laugh, removing the push of the barrel from the Welshman’s skull. “Doctor? Doctor?” He gave Ianto one more challenging kick and walked over to Owen. “Doctors are of no use here.”

He looked around the hole, his breath catching Owen’s shoulder. “Tell me, doctor, Wo Ihre Ausrüstung ist, where is the tools of your trade? I see only weapons here.” He gestured to the Webley submerged in the mud. “I see only death.” His eyes held Owen’s own, carrying a weight beyond his tender years and something more chilling, something feral in their nature.

“Mein unit ist dead, meine Freunde blown to dust or crushed by the welle of your blast, no mark on them, das stehen, dead, like the unholy ghosts guarding pits of Hölle, Hell. Tell me doctor…” The Luger was thrust under his chin. “…Why was I saved to look on their, their unholy corpses, to remember their namen, to hear them still..?”

A machine gun sprayed no man’s land again and the boy tapped his head with the flat of his palm. “…In nacht, in darkness.” He walked around Owen. “‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’…” He laughed, it haunted the night with its aggression. “Not here.”

The heavens exploded, lighting the boy’s aged face; a face on which war’s heavy hand had carved its experience and impressed itself on his undeveloped soul; now all that was left of youth, of innocence was bloody and sullied. He began to sing. “Jetzt muß ich tragen ein schwarzes Kleid, Das ist für mich ein großes Leid. Ein großes Leid und noch viel mehr. Die Trauer nimmt kein Ende mehr…” The flux of his voice drifted in a lonely vigil across the swollen and black earth, weeping in both blood and water.

He backed away from Owen, the barrel of the gun watching for the slightest movement. He dug his toe under Ianto, pushing him over on his back and crouched over him. “You translate.” He flicked the gun in Owen’s direction. “Translate for your comrade.”

Ianto looked over at the doctor and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “Come,” the youth continued, waving his free arm as if conducting. “Jetzt muß ich tragen ein schwarzes Kleid…”

Ianto coughed, spitting the taste of mud from his mouth. “A, a long black coat I must now wear. A sorrow great is what I bear. A sorrow great and so much more, my grief will end nevermore.” He knew the words.

The boy nodded his approval. “It sounds good in English, no?” His question was directed at Owen as he squeezed Ianto heartily on the shoulder.

Owen held the youth’s stare. “‘My grief will end nevermore…”‘ The boy sing-songed in his leaden accent.

He stood, yanking Ianto up by his collar. “knien!” He instructed, twisting the handgun at the other man’s temple, his eyes flicking between his two captives. “Do you know sorrow doctor, do you know the pain of loss?”

“Yeah,” Owen replied with conviction. “Just like the song, Der… Der… Um Der treue Hussar, right?”

The youth’s head snapped toward the other man, holding his gaze. His eyes narrowed, weighing the doctor’s comment and then he smiled cruelly. “I see truth in your eyes and as well, misery.” He relaxed his stance, the metal barrel of the gun grazing the Welshman’s cheek as he let his hand slide.

“You have lost someone, I see, someone you love.” The youth stepped back.

“Twice,” the doctor stated, aware he had the youth’s focus.

“Owen…” Ianto began but the German lashed the Luger across his face, silencing him.

The youth aimed at the unconscious man, his finger pulling at the trigger. “Do you see them?” Owen’s hurried and desperate words unsettled the boy.

“Ja,” he replied, his arm slumping to his side. “Always.” His face broke into a semblance of youth.

He stepped away from Ianto. “They watch me with hollow eyes, always asking ‘why?’ Why did you survive, Anton?” He shook his head. “Mein Leutnant, he asked to send me home but we need men, so I fight still, I fight for them.”

He circled Owen but his eyes were seeing ghosts. “Ja, Ja, Josef, bald.” He laughed as if sharing a joke with a comrade.

Anton’s glazed expression turned to Owen. “They restless; they need blood, English blood, like baby needs the milk. Can you hear them, doctor, whispering in the silence?”

Owen strained against the backdrop of explosions, his blood chilled, for, just for a moment, he heard voices stir against the blast, a whisper, a murmur, as soft as summer rain trickling from all sides of the hole. A loud screech of a crow, midnight against the sky, brought him to his senses as it circled above their little tableaux.

“Ah, I see the carrion is as impatient as meine kameraden to feast on your remains. Auf Wiedersehen doctor.” Anton pressed the Luger against his temple; Owen closed his eyes.

The bullet hit its target with a sickening thud, spraying the doctor in grey matter and blood. The youth still wore the dent of a smile that echoed as far as his eyes as he relished the prospect of a kill. It was a second, split by the impact that took out most of his head and caused him to crumple to the ground, his finger still curled on the trigger of the Luger. Owen exhaled, looking from the dead German to barrel of Ianto’s Colt. The Welshman was sat up, frozen, his aim shaking slightly where the youth had stood.

“Ianto.” His name made no impression.

Owen stepped to where his colleague was rigidly positioned, his focus still fixed down the sight of the gun.

Owen crouched down. “Ianto…”

“How old do you think he was?” The younger man asked without blinking.

Owen swallowed. “Old enough to kill.”

“He was just a boy…”

“With a gun,” Owen reminded him, “pointed at my head.”

Ianto spared a look towards his colleague as Owen gently laid his hands over the Colt. “Let me have it now, okay?”

He struggled against Ianto’s grip on the weapon. “Ianto, let me take it, it’s done now.” The young man’s hold slipped from the gun.

Ianto looked down at his trembling hands, the hybrid’s words haunting him. “You still can’t do it, can you?” He gingerly placed his quivering fingertips to his cheek, aware of the bruise that was expanding in a lump across the skin. “Teal would be proud.” He laughed with shock.

Owen placed a hand on his shoulder; Ianto swallowed. “Have you… Have you ever, you know, someone not..?” He looked at lifeless body. “…Someone human?” He needed some form of absolution.

The doctor watched him study his hands again. “It doesn’t get easier,” was all he could say; it never did, first time or fiftieth, it stays with you.

Ianto rolled to the side and vomited dry air as his stomach tried to squeeze through his confines of his throat. Owen waited patiently for him to finish and then gently moved him back against the side of the trench. He checked the bruise to his face, prodding it with swollen, but skilful fingertips. Ianto closed his eyes, willing Owen to stop. “How did you know?”

The doctor regarded him. He sighed. “Know what?”

“The song, Der treue Husar?”

Owen smirked. “Stanley Kubrick’s film, Paths of Glory.” He moved away placing the Colt carefully in his empty holster.

Ianto opened a weary eye, deliberating on the crush of sandbags. “Final scene,” he whispered in comprehension.

“Final scene,” The doctor acknowledged, bending over the dead German; Ianto turned away.

Owen opened the youth’s small kit bag, his focus remaining on the Welshman as Ianto folded in on himself, trying to rein in the push of emotions that bubbled to the surface. The doctor found a tan cloth covered canteen, almost full. He opened the plugged cap and swilled his mouth out with the contents. The water was warm and tasted earthy. He swallowed his next mouthful, feeling the seep of fluid burning the coarse skin at the back of his throat.

He walked back to Ianto and offered him the canteen. Ianto stared at it in dismay. He gulped dryly. “I can’t.” He shook his head and looked away.

Owen squatted down and gently turned the young man’s head to face him. “Yes you fucking can, even if I have to pour it down your sodding throat. Take a good look at him Ianto, he’s dead, he doesn’t need water any more but you do.”

He tipped the open bottle to the Welshman’s lips, the tepid liquid made Ianto gag.

“More,” Owen ordered, bestowing another mouthful until he was happy that it had been swallowed.

“Okay there are biscuits, um Hartkek…” He turned the wrapped parcel in his hand. “…Or a tin of Rinder Fle… Fleish…” The doctor held up the canister for comment.

“Rinder Fleischkonserve,” Ianto facilitated. “Translated literarily, Bovine animals canned meat.” He studied both items. “I’ll take a Hartkek.”

The doctor handed him one from the packet and with a concerted effort broke his own in half. “Jeez, these things are like wood.”

He bit off a chuck and let his teeth work on grinding down the hard cracker. “Fuck,” he mumbled, holding his jaw. “Perhaps we should open the canned cow.”

Ianto gave a weary smile. “I’m already salivating at the prospect.” Owen snorted as he rummaged around for a tin opener.

They sat in silence, dipping the hard biscuit in the cold congealed gravy from the tin and sharing the military canteen. Above them the battle fought the dwindling stars and scored the heavens as its ferocity intensified in the near dawn of a new day. Men’s voices heralded the fragmented light of the partial sun as it choked against the smog of the fray. They heard the muted sounds of skirmishes drift in ghosts of explosions and hellfire. The long night was ending, the new day trying to cleave a space in the sky. Ianto shivered as pain and exhaustion beckoning him to sleep.

“You cold?” Owen’s fingertips were instantly at his neck.

“Tired.” The reply was soft.

“Yeah,” Owen acknowledged with a roll of his eyes. He scrubbed a hand across his face. “You want any more?” He held up the tin.

Ianto shook his head. The doctor looked down at the leftovers feeling his stomach rebel at the lumpy meat. “Me neither.” He pushed in the lid and placed it to one side.

For a moment two men lent against each other in a bid for comfort and warmth but just as quickly they pulled away.

They frowned at each other, Owen breaking the silence, he coughed. “Body heat,” he muttered looking away.

Ianto nodded. “Body heat,” he acknowledged, awkwardly.

Again, they supported each other stiffly, both self-conscious of the other’s proximity. Owen shifted his weight and clumsily brought his arm around the younger man’s shoulders, to draw him closer. Ianto’s head shot up and he gave the doctor a pointed glare but something unspoken passed between them, making him sink back against Owen’s chest. “You know, this doesn’t make me your bitch.” The younger man muttered against the slick leather of the doctor’s jacket.

Owen smiled, already feeling the warmth radiating off the other man’s fevered body. “Keep it up tea-boy or tell anyone else about this and it’s a course of enemas for a month.”

“Is that a threat or a promise doctor?” Ianto stifled a yawn.

“God, you and Harkness deserve each other.” Owen relaxed back against the muddy bank resisting the urge to touch the scar in the other man’s hairline.

Chapter 25




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