They needed more people working in the Hub. They ALL did the work of at least two people with at least two different qualifications or skills. Almost every day one or more of them came in early and worked late. Nobody was even sure what Ianto’s official working hours were and Jack was often to be found at his desk after midnight.
“I could certainly use somebody to help with stocktaking in the archive,” Ianto pointed out as they discussed it over the lunchtime pizzas. Toshiko added that in the 1940s and 50s, and even in the 1960s, there were up to fifty people working in the hub. There was a corridor below the cells with rooms that, in the paranoid 50s and 60s had been intended as a nuclear bunker for Torchwood to sit it out if the cold war turned hot.
“I transferred all the old written files onto the computer.” She answered the unasked question as they all turned to look at her and tried to imagine the hub in the 1950s, the clacking of old typewriters louder than the hum of the server units of their modern computers, and so many more people bustling around. “You know,” she added. “Personnel files, case notes, journals.”
“You’re right,” Jack told her. “So are you, Ianto. I’ll see what we can do.”
Gwen just wondered how you recruited Torchwood personnel. How they were usually recruited, anyway. She presumed her appointment was a bit unusual even for Torchwood. But even so she was sure nobody put a card on the boards at the Job Centre. What would it say? “Must be able to work 24 hours a day, no social life, personality disorders an advantage.”
She realised that last bit was unfair to her colleagues.
Or maybe not, she thought, considering Suzie, whom she had replaced by the age old process of ‘dead woman’s shoes’.
They were none of them entirely SURE how Jack did it, but a fortnight after that Alun arrived.
Alun Llewellyn wore a grey suit and a white shirt with no tie and the top button unfastened, and white plimsolls. He was in his mid twenties and good looking in that bland and unmemorable way that members of boybands had. He smiled nervously at everyone. He seemed scared stiff of Owen and in awe of Jack and stammered back when either Toshiko or Gwen talked to him directly. Over a drink after work the two women debated if he was gay or straight and were so unsure given the available evidence they decided he must be a virgin either way.
He got on ok with Ianto, and like Ianto seemed to be most at home in the archive as they worked their way through the inventory. The said inventory went back for decades. One day, Ianto vowed, he would work all the way back to the item with ‘1’ as its index number. The most recent entry, the cache of 51st century guns they had confiscated from the alien gun runner in Penarth was number 59823.
It was a long job and called for a peculiar kind of patience that Ianto had never found in anyone else.
Until Alun came along, and even Ianto wondered briefly if his mum had had another baby when he was about three years old. One that he didn’t know about and had been adopted on the quiet.
“He’s sweet,” Gwen said as she and Toshiko and Owen watched the archive room CCTV. The two men were conscientiously working through the sealed compartments checking and double checking the contents. “He’s always so polite to me. I’m not used to people being polite to me. Even when I was in a police uniform I usually just got sworn at by pissheads who thought a female copper was a joke. He’s like a breath of fresh air.”
“He’s unreal,” Owen answered. “I mean, how old is he? Twenty-seven? The estate I grew up on he wouldn’t have got through puberty. That’s assuming he has.”
“Oh, don’t be mean,” Toshiko rebuked him. “I agree, it’s nice to have somebody polite about the place. My parents always believed in politeness. It’s traditional in Japanese culture.”
“Yeah, Pearl Harbour was really polite of them,” Owen remarked and suffered a kick in the shins from Toshiko’s high heeled boot.
“He’s a country boy,” Tosh added. “I saw his address on his p45 on Jack’s desk. He lives on a farm.”
Owen made a joke about Welsh farmers and nervous sheep that having angered Toshiko with his remark about her culture now annoyed Gwen to complete the set. He was about to push his luck a little bit more when he noticed Jack standing behind him.
“Sheep run for cover when they see you coming,” he said to Owen. “Don’t all three of you have something to be doing?” They guiltily returned to their workstations. Gwen noticed that Jack stood for a few minutes watching the CCTV screen and as he turned it off and moved away she just caught the words he murmured to himself.
“That’ll end in tears.”
Gwen thought he was probably right, though she hoped not.
For two, three weeks, though, it showed no sign of ending, in tears or anything else. Ianto and Alun were thick as thieves. Just how thick Jack found out near the end of Friday when everyone was getting ready to go home. He tentatively asked Ianto if he would like to join him down the pub for a drink, hoping it might lead onto something else later as it so often did.
“Another night,” Ianto said. “I’m… That is… Alun has invited me to spend the weekend with him. I mean… with his family. His mum and dad…”
“Oh.” Jack was surprised. Disappointed, too. But he tried not to show it. “Oh, ok. Sounds… fun… I suppose. Have a nice time. See you on Monday.”
Disappointed. Just a little bit jealous. No, actually, a LOT jealous. But he knew he had no right to be. He and Ianto weren’t an item. He had no claim over his affections.
Anyway, it didn’t even sound as if it was about sex. Spending the weekend on the family farm? Meeting his mum and dad?
Jack finished off some paperwork and was the last to leave the Hub. He went out and had a couple of drinks, flirted with a couple of people, but wasn’t interested enough to pursue it further, came back later and made himself some coffee and worked until about two a.m. before turning in for a few hours’ sleep.
Was it about sex? Ianto had not been entirely sure himself. Alun’s invitation seemed quite ambiguous on that point. Which was ok by Ianto. He enjoyed the occasional sex with Jack, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for a full on relationship with anyone else.
A weekend away from Cardiff, away from his empty flat, in the bosom of a doting family, sounded ok.
“Listen,” Alun said as the car turned into the rutted lane that led up to the farmhouse. “There’s something I should tell you. My mum… she’s a bit… in her head I’m still at sixth form college doing my A-levels. She’ll probably be the same with you. Don’t worry about it. She’s… Well, it’s the way she is.”
“Ok,” Ianto answered, a shade doubtfully. Ok, the bosom of a doting but barmy family. He could still live with that.
From the main road, he had thought the old farmhouse was derelict. He had expected to see a modern cottage behind it as so often happened in rural areas. But closer to it looked still habitable. Alun parked up in the farmyard next to an old land rover with mud on its wheels and stepped out of his car. Ianto picked up his overnight bag and followed him in through the kitchen door.
“Hello, mum,” Alun said, reaching down to kiss the cheek of the short, plump woman who was busily cooking in the kitchen. “This is Ianto. My new friend.”
“Hello, Ianto,” she said. “Lovely to see you. We live so far from the college. It’s not often Alun gets to bring friends home. If you go and wash your hands, tea will be ready in two ticks.”
“Yes… er… It’s nice to be here,” Ianto answered. “Out in the countryside. Lovely views around here.”
He was at a loss about what else to say. Obviously they wouldn’t talk about work anyway, since their work was classified. But it was thirteen years since he was seventeen and taking his A-levels and he couldn’t remember what he had learnt specifically enough to hold down a conversation about it.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to. Mrs Llewelyn was one of those women who talked for everyone else. When they returned from washing their hands and sat down at the table the floodgates opened. Mr Llewelyn came through from some other room of the house and sat at the head of the table, nodding cursorily at Ianto when he was told ‘this is Alun’s new friend from college’ and got on with eating the food that was put in front of him. He didn’t say much else to anyone except to ask for the salt and the plate of home made bread that was in the centre of the table. Alun didn’t say much, either. He made vague replies when his mother went on about his marks and how Alun was going to go to university next year.
“No, I’m not, mum,” Alun answered her. “I’m going into the army. You know that.”
Mrs Llewelyn paused momentarily as if to consider that point, then apparently dismissed it as she went on for a little while about the merits of various universities.
“What about you, Ianto?” she asked once. “What universities are you down for?”
“Aberystwyth, or De Monteford if I don’t get my first choice. Or Glamorgan,” he answered, remembering what he had put on his UCAS form all those years ago.
“Aberystwyth is a fine place,” Mrs Llewelyn continued after getting her second wind while Ianto was speaking. “You’d do well there, Alun,” she added. “And it’s not so far away that you couldn’t come home some weekends.”
“My results will NEVER be good enough for Aber,” Alun protested. “And I’m joining the ARMY.”
He HAD joined the army, Ianto recalled. He had seen Toshiko scanning Alun’s written CV into the computerised personnel record. After exam results that probably WOULD have gained him a place at Aberystwyth at a scrape he joined the army, doing his nine months basic training with the quaintly named Royal Welch Fusiliers. Although he was top in his class at marksmanship he didn’t show any great aptitude in any other skills of a combat soldier. He was more at home with paperwork. Those organisational skills were recognised and they sent him to Sandhurst for a further three months, returning to the Fusiliers as a Lieutenant. He was with them for two years before being seconded to U.N.I.T., the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, who were looking for a soldier with organisational skills. He then spent three years at U.N.I.T.’s St. Athans HQ doing administrative work. That, Ianto had presumed, was what made him suitable for Torchwood. He was good at filing and had worked for the only other organisation that monitored and dealt with alien threats to Earth.
After tea, Alun said he had to bring the cows in for milking. He asked Ianto if he’d like to come along and see how it was done. Ianto wasn’t sure he did, but the alternative was to continue the one sided conversation with Mrs Llewelyn.
“We can go down the pub for a couple of hours after we’re done,” Alun said as he did what to Ianto looked like very complicated things to the underside of cows. “Mum will think we’re going to the youth club and expect us back by ten, but take no notice.”
“It must be difficult,” Ianto commented. “Living with somebody like that. She’s quite young to be getting Alzheimers, too. Is she getting any medical help?”
“Yes,” Alun answered. “But it’s difficult. Dad’s no help, really. All he thinks about is sheep and the football pools. I have to make sure she takes the tablets.”
“That’s why you still live with your parents?” Ianto guessed. “Because there’s nobody else to look after her?”
“Yeah.” Alun shrugged as if it didn’t matter. But there was a look in his eyes that said it did. Ianto nodded in understanding and wondered if Alun would take a hug the wrong way. He really looked like he needed one.
But he shrugged again and got on with the milking, and afterwards they got ready to go out to the pub. It had started raining so they both put on raincoats to walk the half mile to the little hamlet called “Llewelyn’s Cross”.
“Common name in the area,” Alun said in explanation.
It consisted of two rows of what had once been farm labourer’s cottages but were now improved and extended by an enterprising property developer and cost more than any farm labourer could possibly hope to afford. There was a pub, too. Llewelyn’s Arms. The old heraldic arms of Wales, the arms of Llewelyn of Gwynedd were emblazoned on the sign outside the beer garden.
“Funny,” Ianto noted. “It hasn’t rained at all here.”
“No, it hasn’t,” Alun answered. “Shall we sit out for a bit?”
It was pleasant sitting there in the fading light of a warm early summer evening. After the sun went down there were lights and outdoor heaters so that people who wanted to smoke and drink could do so, but apart from a couple of passing ramblers who stopped for a quick drink before heading off again they had the garden to themselves. They talked quietly together, about work a little bit. Nothing dangerous, just whether Alun was enjoying working for Torchwood. He said he was very happy and hoped to continue working there for a long time. After that they talked as anyone else would, about music, football, rugby, anything to while away the time until last orders.
Funnily enough, as they reached the rough lane up to the farm it started to rain again. In fact, the rivulets of water that streamed down the middle of the lane looked as if the rain had not actually stopped here while it was sunny over at Llewelyn’s Cross.
That was Wales for you, Ianto figured as he and Alun ran up the lane, giggling as if they really were seventeen year olds. Their hands clasped as they ran in the dark and the wet, and as they shrugged off their wet coats in the warm kitchen, Ianto felt Alun embrace him and reach to kiss him. His face was cold and wet, but his lips were warm as the kiss lengthened and Ianto felt an urge rising in him.
“I AM a virgin,” Alun whispered. “Gwen and Toshiko got that right. I’d like you to be my first.”
“We’re both a bit pissed,” Ianto told him gently. “Are you sure you won’t regret it in the morning?”
“No,” he answered. “I won’t. Ianto… I’m not… not asking you to love me. Just… just be kind to me.”
“Oh, you daft muppet,” Ianto told him. But he held him a little tighter, feeling him trembling with fear, excitement, anticipation, perhaps a little with the cold, and kissed him tenderly. He was not exactly experienced himself in this way. Jack had been his first and only gay lover. But the idea of being Alun’s first was exciting.
They clutched hands as they crept up the stairs and into Alun’s bedroom. He left the light off and they felt their way to the single bed jammed in the corner of the room. In the dark they undressed quickly, giggling again, hearing from each other the sounds of buttons released, zips undone. Then they reached for each other again, warm flesh touching this time. They kissed deeply before sliding under the blankets.
“Are you still sure?” Ianto asked. “You really want this?”
“Yes, I do,” Alun told him as he pressed himself close.
“It will hurt,” Ianto continued. He remembered his own first time. Jack had been slow and gentle with him. The stopwatch that he had seduced him with told the tale of just how long it took for him to lose his virginity. But it HAD hurt. It hurt every time for that matter, but he had learnt to enjoy the hurt as a prelude to the most intense sexual pleasure he had ever known.
It hurt Alun. He cried softly as Ianto fulfilled his yearning. But he begged him not to stop, too. Ianto couldn’t have stopped if he tried. He was lost in the sweet pleasure of being Alun’s first lover, pressing himself into his yielding flesh until they both cried tears of joy at the climax of their sexual consummation.
Afterwards they lay together, hugging, kissing, touching each other, warm, contented bodies pressed close. They both knew that was only the prelude to a night of exploration of each other, but for a while they just held each other tight and marvelled at how easy it had been to make the step from friends to lovers.
“You’d better let me go early in the morning,” Ianto said as the passion quickened their blood again. “If your mum was to come in and see us together…”
“She’ll probably lose the rest of her marbles,” Alun answered with a sigh. “Still, it gives us a couple of hours.”
“Long enough,” Ianto whispered as his hands caressed his lover.
Owen was the first into the Hub on Monday morning. He got on with analysing the remains of a Gefot whose space craft had crash landed just off the A48 late on Sunday night. There had been more crash than land and he was using the extractor fan at full power and wearing a face mask that made breathing just about bearable. Engrossed in the grossness of the job he didn’t notice anything else going on around the place.
Jack was second in. He’d had a pleasant Sunday evening that had ended in him booking a room in the St. David’s Hotel. As he took off his damp greatcoat from walking back to the Hub in the rain that started just before dawn, he could still faintly smell feminine perfume on his shirt and made a note to change it before anyone could comment.
Toshiko and Gwen both arrived within five minutes of each other and it was Toshiko who commented that the tourist office was still locked and there was no sign of Ianto or Alun, not even in the archive.
Jack came to the door of his office and looked around and up as if expecting to find them in the rafters with Myfanwy. He checked his ‘lair’ in case they had snuck down there. Toshiko ran a lifesigns check and concluded that the hub was missing two personnel. Jack reached for his mobile phone and speed dialled Ianto’s number. He got the ‘unobtainable’ message first before it switched to voicemail.
“Ianto, your weekend in the country is over. Put your trousers on and get your butt into work. Bring Alun with you.”
“His phone wasn’t on?” Toshiko asked in surprise.
“It was unobtainable,” Jack answered. “Must be out of range.”
“Alun’s place is only just outside Cardiff,” Gwen commented. “It can’t be out of range.”
“It shouldn’t be,” Toshiko added. “There’s a mast on the pub not half a mile away from there.” She was looking at a satellite picture she had brought up on her computer monitor. She had overlaid it with a schematic of the mobile phone network for Cardiff and its environs. There wasn’t a sheep for twenty miles around that couldn’t phone and order a pizza if it felt like it.
“Wait a minute…” Gwen and Jack both drew closer as they heard the puzzled tone of her voice. “What do you think that is?” She pointed at a roughly circular shadow on the schematic - about fifty acres in area.
“No idea,” Jack said. “Try infra red.” Toshiko typed quickly and brought up a different overlay. Again there was the shadow. She tried a heat sensitive filter and several other overlays.
“There’s something there… or… more like…”
“Something not there. It looks like a blind spot on the satellite picture. As if that piece of land isn’t there.”
“Jack….” Gwen’s voice quavered as she leaned back from the workstation next to Toshiko’s. On screen was a Google Earth page focused on that same area of land.
“It’s a farm?” Jack was puzzled.
“Llewellyn farm,” Gwen added. “That’s…”
“Where Alun lives. Where Ianto went for the weekend.”
“Ok. That’s too much of a coincidence.” Jack turned and went to his office. He took his greatcoat from the peg and put it on as he reached for the keys to the SUV. When he turned back he saw Gwen with her jacket slung over her arm. “Ok, come on, then. Tosh… keep monitoring the… whatever it is. Let me know if anything about it changes. And if Owen emerges from his crypt and tries anything that qualifies as office harassment, just kick him where it hurts.”
“Sure,” Tosh answered with a grin before she turned back to the monitor.
Ianto had retreated to the guest bedroom some time before dawn and slept peacefully and happily, having enjoyed himself thoroughly with Alun. He woke much later when Alun tapped on the door and told him breakfast was ready.
“Got some stuff to do around the farm this morning,” he said as his mother plied them with food. “Dad did the morning milking, but there’s some fences that need mending and…”
Ianto nodded. It sounded like an ok way to spend the morning, a bit of manual labour in the fresh air. And out of earshot of Mrs Llewelyn who was still talking enough for two people.
It had stopped raining overnight and the air had that freshly laundered feel when the sun comes out after a storm. And he did enjoy the work. They didn’t talk very much as they hammered new fence posts into the ground and stretched chain link fencing between the sections. Afterwards, though, they retreated to the barn. They climbed up on the bales and lay down in the sweet smelling hay. Alun opened a couple of bottles of beer he kept hidden there and they drank.
“Thirsty work, building fences,” Ianto noted as he took a swig.
“That it is,” Alun answered. He looked at Ianto and smiled. “It… wasn’t the drink talking last night, you know. I really… it was good...”
“Yes,” Ianto agreed. “I enjoyed it, too.” He smiled as Alun reached out his hand and touched his face. He put his hand out in return and ruffled Alun’s hair gently.
“Have you been with many men?” Alun asked.
“No,” Ianto answered him. “Only one other.”
“Good grief, no.” Ianto nearly choked on his beer. “I can’t imagine Owen… No. It’s…”
“Jack?” Alun looked surprised. “I didn’t think he was…”
“Jack isn’t anything. He doesn’t do labels, pigeonholes. He’s not gay, straight, bi. He just knows what he likes. And… and I’m one of the people he likes. And… I like being liked by him in that way. I’m not sure about me. I’ve had girlfriends, too. There was Lisa… She… she’s dead. And there’s Beth. We see each other from time to time, and she likes it when I stay over at her house. So I suppose I don’t really have a pigeonhole, either.”
“Well, I’ve only had sex with one person,” Alun said with a giggle. “So I suppose I know what I am. At least I do now.”
“You weren’t sure?”
“Always felt a bit different,” Alun replied. “But I was never completely sure. I didn’t DO anything about it. I mean, they ALLOW gays in the army nowadays, but…” He sighed. “That’s why I left. There was a new captain. He was a bit… unreconstructed. He suspected I was… and he made my life a fucking misery. He would call me stuff every opportunity he had. You know, shirtlifter, queer, the usual sort of thing. He was so nasty about it. And he told other people that I was gay. I got beaten up a couple of times. The last time I ended up in the infirmary with a broken collar bone and three cracked ribs. And the Captain came in and looked at me, and said that’s what happens to shirtlifters in a MAN’S army.”
Alun was crying softly. Ianto put his arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.
“At least I’m allowed to cry now,” he said with a soft laugh. “Couldn’t do that in the army. REAL men don’t cry.”
“That’s a fucking lie,” Ianto told him. “Jack’s about as REAL a man as I’ve ever known and I’ve seen him cry.”
Alun cried a lot. Ianto held him close and waited for him to get it out of his system. He kissed him several times, and the kisses were reciprocated gratefully as the embrace tightened. Ianto knew they weren’t going to make love here in the barn. But they held each other as lovers, recreating something of the feeling of warm satisfaction that came in the early hours of the morning after the sexual fulfilment.
“Let’s go down to the pub,” Alun said after a while. We can get lunch and some COLD beer.”
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Ianto agreed.
“Are you jealous of them?” Gwen asked Jack as she sat in the passenger seat of the SUV and watched Jack concentrating on his driving. “Ianto and Alun, I mean.”
“Why would I be jealous?” he asked. “Fair play to them. They’re both free agents.”
“But you and Ianto…”
“Are just friends. Work colleagues. Just like me and you.”
“Except you’ve never fucked me,” Gwen answered.
“Do you want me to?”
“You heard me the first time, Gwen Cooper.” He turned his head towards her once. He was smiling in a teasing way.
“You’re a hot looking man. Obviously I would be tempted if…”
“If you weren’t already in a relationship? That didn’t matter when you screwed Owen.”
“Owen… was a mistake. I was frustrated and confused and for a while I felt less frustrated, less confused. But… then it became another cause of frustration and confusion. Another complication. With you sex is just sex. It’s a fun way to pass time. And you don’t make it complicated with things like guilt and regret. At least I thought so. But since Alun has been around… I think you care more for Ianto than you let on, and you ARE jealous.”
“No, I’m not,” he answered. “I’m… If it works out for them, then great. Ianto… is a nice man. Losing Lisa the way he did – that was rough on him. And Beth – it’s never a good idea to get involved with somebody we’ve Retconned. He’s not had it easy. He deserves a bit of stability in his life. Alun, too. They’d be good for each other.”
Gwen wasn’t quite sure she believed him. But she couldn’t push it much further.
“Right now,” he added as the silence lengthened. “I’m worried about the both of them. They seem to be caught up in something.” With the SUV in cruise control he speed dialled Ianto’s mobile again. The ‘number unobtainable’ message still came up. Then he touched the button on the communications headset that put him in touch with Toshiko.
“It’s not good,” she said. “The shadow… whatever it is… it’s growing. It’s reached the next farm, and it’s approaching a place called Llewelyn’s Cross.”
“I know how he feels,” Jack quipped. “How many people in the area?”
“Fifteen houses and a pub… Fifty or so people, maybe. Are they… is it something that could kill them?”
“I don’t know,” Jack answered. “Keep monitoring. And see if you can find out anything about this area that might explain why it has ‘phenomena’. The farm, especially. See if it has history.”
“COULD it be something that would kill them?” Gwen asked. “Are they dead?”
I don’t know until we get there,” Jack answered. “There’s no point in speculating.” But he looked worried, and he pressed his foot down on the accelerator as much as he dared in the teeming rain.
“This isn’t the same pub as last time,” Ianto said. He looked at the sign. Llewelyn Arms. But it looked different. The beer garden had a different style of tables in it and he was sure there was a different colour of paint on the windows and doors.
“Course it is,” Alun answered. “Anyway, sit down. I’ll get them in.”
“No,” Ianto said. “I’ll get them in. I need the loo, anyway. I’ll get the drinks on the way back.”
Alun looked nervous at that suggestion, but clearly there was no reason he could give to stop Ianto going into the pub. He nodded and sat down on a bench outside.
The inside of the pub was different, too. Ianto knew it was as soon as he stepped inside. But at first he couldn’t work out WHY. It was when he came back from the toilets and waited to be served that it dawned on him.
People were SMOKING. There were ashtrays on every table and along the bar where the regulars propped themselves, and almost everyone was smoking. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed it when he came in. The ban had been in operation for nearly a year and the atmosphere inside pubs and clubs had changed dramatically. There was a completely different smell. Mostly of stale aftershave, perfumes and perspiration that cigarette smoke used to mask.
He wondered if he ought to say something to the landlord. After all, he was risking a hefty fine and possibly loss of his licence for flouting the law that way. But he decided against it. He ordered two pints, noticing that he paid less than he expected and asked for the lunch menu.
As he pocketed his change he glanced at the newspaper one of the bar proppers had just folded up and set aside. It was the Daily Mirror, and the back sports page was visible. There was a picture of David Beckham. The story was speculation about whether he would get a starting place in the England team in the World Cup in France.
Ianto tapped the man on the shoulder and asked if he was done with the paper. The man pushed it towards him and Ianto tucked it under his arm as he grasped the two drinks. He went back outside and put one of the pints in front of Alun. He didn’t start to drink. He was looking at the newspaper that Ianto unfolded and turned to the front cover.
The Daily Mirror’s usual headlines didn’t interest him. What he looked at straight away was the date.
“June 13th, 1998.” He put the paper down on the wooden table and looked at Alun. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Alun looked at him in guilty silence and swallowed hard. He watched Ianto pick up his beer glass and take a drink while he waited to hear an explanation.
“I WAS going to explain,” he told him. “I really was. I just didn’t know how to begin. I knew when I saw the pub. At home it was easy. But the field has widened and now the pub is part of it. And I knew you’d find out.”
“Jack!” Gwen’s squeal of astonishment almost matched the squeal of the SUV’s brakes as he slammed them on. They both stared at what was in front of them. They got out of the SUV and walked a little way along the road, staring at it.
“It’s like…” Gwen began. “It’s…”
“It’s WRONG,” Jack drawled. “It’s totally, utterly, completely WRONG. And I’m going to kick the little bastard’s head in when I get hold of him.”
“It’s as if a different day has been stuck into the countryside,” Gwen said. “It’s…”
It defied her powers of description.
Where they were standing, it was a grey sky with rain pouring down from it. But twenty yards ahead there was a clear blue sky and the sun was shining. It wasn’t just the sort of thing that happens sometimes, where the sun comes out from a break in the clouds and there’s sunshine and rain at the same time. There was a completely different weather on what looked like a completely different day for what she guessed was about a quarter of a mile of countryside. She looked up at the sky. A very determined bird was flying against the rain. When it reached the demarcation she expected it to disappear, but it didn’t. It kept on going, possibly happier now it was in sunshine.
“We can go into it,” she observed. “We can find out what’s going on.”
“I DIDN’T take anything from Torchwood,” Alun protested. Ianto had not accused him of any such thing, though the thought had crossed his mind. “Or from U.N.I.T., either. I would never… never betray them or you… I… I found the thing on a car boot sale. I knew it was alien. U.N.I.T. have an archive of stuff, too, at St. Athans. I knew it straight away. So I bought it in case it did anyone any harm. I found out what it does by accident. I created a time bubble around my own bedroom, transformed it to how it was when I was ten and I had every Action Man toy you could want. My dad bought me toy tanks and guns and stuff because he said I was a wet little cry baby and I’d grow up to be a right jesse if I didn’t learn to act like a boy.”
“Go on,” Ianto told him.
“I learnt to control it. I found that I could make it envelop the whole farm. I use it to spend days – my weekends - in the past, in happier times, when mum and dad were…” He paused. He looked at Ianto. “I was still me, still this age. But mum and dad see me as I was then. As a kid. It was nice to feel loved. Mum was always daft in the head, I didn’t lie about that. But she loved me. Dad… did, too in his own way. When I acted like a boy, and not a ‘right jesse’ he praised me. I liked to help out with him on the farm. The way it was before he got arthritis and couldn’t do so much. When he was the big, strong man.”
“So it’s just about remembering the past?” Ianto said. “That’s not so bad, really. But you’ve got to stop. You really CAN’T do things like that, Alun. Especially if you’re going to bring the pub into it. You’re involving too many people. What happens to the people in the pub there when they come out and go home?”
“They go home,” Alun answered. “To them, this IS 1998. They’re not harmed. And the people who live here in 2008 aren’t harmed either. Nothing is changed for them. They’re still there. But…”
“What if somebody drives into it from outside? It must be possible. Last night, we walked out of it and walked in again. That’s why it was raining at the farm and ok here.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to involve other people. The field must have slipped. It’s widened further than I meant it to widen. But I won’t leave it like that. As soon as we get home I’ll switch it off.”
“That’s a pathetic, lame explanation,” Ianto told him.
“Yes, it is a bit. Ianto... I wanted… Most of all I really wanted you to be there with me. As part of my weekend. I wanted you to be my friend… my boyfriend. I wanted you to meet my parents like I always wanted to bring somebody special to meet them. And I wanted YOU to be special. I wanted you last night. I wasn’t trying to trick you, Ianto. That was real.”
“I know it was,” he said. “Last night WAS real. But the rest of it… Alun, this has to stop. Come on. We’re going back to the farm and we’re going to switch it off before there’s harm done.”
“It won’t matter now, anyway,” he said. “This weekend is different to the others for another reason. There was something I had to do. And now I have, so if you make me stop, it’s done now.”
“WHAT?” Ianto asked.
“Jack!” Toshiko’s voice sounded urgent in his ear.
“Yes, Tosh, what is it?”
“I did some research, like you said. And… The only unusual thing to have happened on Llewellyn Farm in the past fifty years was a double murder nearly ten years ago. On the afternoon of Saturday, June 13th, 1998, Morwen and Alun Llewellyn senior were shot in the kitchen of the farmhouse. It was a burglary that turned into murder. One of a series of attacks on people living in outlying farms that summer. Anyway, it says in the report that the couple’s seventeen year old son was staying with a college friend in Cardiff that weekend and so survived. Their son - Alun junior…”
“Poor bastard,” Jack commented. “No wonder he’s a bit lost. What a shitty thing to happen.”
“Well, yes,” Toshiko answered him. “But Jack… if his parents were killed in 1998, WHO was it that he took Ianto to visit this weekend?”
“Ah.” Jack pressed his lips together firmly. He closed the communication with Toshiko and looked at Gwen, who had been following the conversation on her own headset. Then he looked at the patch of what he just KNEW was going to turn out to be June 13th, 1998. He had a sudden and dreadful premonition of what was going on.
Gwen worked it out a few minutes later.
“Oh no,” she said. “He CAN’T. He CAN’T. He can’t, can he?”
“No,” Jack answered. “He can’t. Not without unravelling time and space. We’ve GOT to stop him.”
“You CAN’T do anything about it,” Ianto told Alun when he tearfully explained what was different about Saturday, June 13th, 1998. You can’t. It… it would unravel time and space. Jack explained it ages ago. People die when it’s their time. If they don’t, if somebody interferes, if there are people in the world that shouldn’t be, if there’s no place in the future for them, then it can destroy the whole world.”
“Don’t be daft,” Alun answered. “It’s JUST my mum and dad. It’s not like stopping Kennedy from being shot or… or stopping 9/11 from happening or…”
“YES, it IS,” Ianto insisted. “Nobody is unimportant. Everyone has a place in the fabric of time. Their place… ended on this afternoon in 1998. I’m sorry, Alun. I truly am. But you can’t….”
“I can,” he insisted. “I already have. It was going to be different. We were going to go back to the farm after lunch and we’d be there to protect mum and dad when the gang turned up expecting it to be just an invalid man and a dotty woman. But the field extending up to here gave me a chance to do something better. And I already have.”
“What do you mean, you already have?”
“See that phone box,” he said, pointing to the box beside the Llewellyn Arms pub sign. “While you were in the pub, I called the police and gave them the information. The two that did it… they passed you coming out of the pub and got in their car… to go to kill my mum and dad. I sat here and watched them go. But this time the police will be there. They caught them anyway, from fingerprints found at the house. But it was too late then. This time they’ll be caught before…”
“Oh, for fuck sake!” Ianto groaned. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? You fucking amateur IDIOT!”
Alun looked at him with a hurt, betrayed expression then he turned and ran. Ianto ran after him, but Alun had a head start on him and was, he had to admit, rather fitter. He quickly left him behind as he ran home.
Ianto reached Alun by the gate at the edge of the farm just as a police van and an ambulance went past, both with their emergency lights flashing. The police van turned one way and the ambulance went the other direction. He caught Alun’s arm and held him back until both of the vehicles were out of sight then they continued to run up to the farmhouse.
There was another police car still at the house and when they ran into the kitchen there were officers taking fingerprints and photographing the scene. Ianto caught hold of Alun again as they both took in chairs overturned, broken crockery, and blood on the linoleum.
“Hold on there,” said one of the officers. “Who are you then?”
“I’m Alun Llewellyn. I live here,” he answered. “My parents...”
“They’re on the way to hospital,” the officer answered. “We had a tip off but the cars were delayed. The robbery was already in progress. They tied your parents up and beat them to find out where they kept their valuables. They’re both badly concussed and your father was bleeding from a head wound.”
“But they’re alive?” Alun asked. “They weren’t… they didn’t blast their faces off with a double barrelled shotgun?”
“Christ almighty, lad,” said the officer. “What an imagination.” He looked at Ianto. “You’re a friend of his, are you? You’d best take him away with you until we’re done here. This is still a crime scene until forensics are finished with it.”
“I need to get…” Alun broke away from Ianto and ran past the policemen, despite their protests. Ianto heard his running feet as he went up the stairs to his bedroom.
Then there were no policemen in the kitchen. Ianto looked out of the window and saw there were no police cars. Nor was there a landrover or a tractor, although Alun’s car was still there.
And it was raining.
He turned back and looked at the room. It looked as if somebody had been living in that one room for a long time. There was a bed by the window and a table with books on it and food on the dresser. It was all scrupulously clean, but clearly old and neglected.
Alun came down the stairs and looked around in shock.
“I thought… We stopped them being killed. I thought… I expected mum to be here, chattering away. Dad doing the pools coupon – because its Saturday. The way it used to be. But its not. This… this is how the house was. When I left the army I came back and I didn’t have it in me to open up all the rooms so I made do in here…”
Ianto didn’t know what to say. Then a noise outside saved him having to say anything for a long time. It was the SUV. He saw the two doors open and Jack and Gwen rushed into the house. They both had their guns out, but when they saw it was just himself and Alun standing there they holstered them again.
Alun dropped something on the table. It was about the size and shape of a car hubcap with a touch sensitive pad and a small LED screen.
“It didn’t work,” he said. “Nothing changed. They’re still dead.”
“It did change,” Gwen said quietly. “Alun… We saw it. We were driving up here. Before you switched off the… time warp or whatever it was, we were driving up here in 1998 and we saw the ambulance… It collided with a lorry coming the other way. It veered off the road and rolled over. We… stopped and were about to see if we could help, when everything changed. The ambulance was gone and it was raining.” Gwen paused as she and Jack both heard Toshiko confirm that Alun’s parents were victims of a fatal accident to the ambulance they were being transported to hospital in. “I’m sorry, Alun,” she added. “I really am.”
“So am I,” Ianto said as he hugged him tightly. “But I told you, you couldn’t. They were MEANT to die. You stopped them being murdered. But they died in the accident instead. Fate… caught up with them.”
“Fate is a bastard,” Jack said, and that seemed to be as sympathetic as he got. He turned and picked up the device. “You took this from the archive? Have you any idea how stupid and irresponsible that was?”
“Leave him alone,” Ianto protested. “It didn’t come from the archive. We don’t have anything in there that creates temporal bubbles.”
“We do now,” Jack answered. “This is exactly the sort of dangerous artefact… in the hands of an idiot…”
“I’m not an idiot,” he protested. “It worked. I understood how it worked and I had it under control.”
“No, you didn’t,” Jack told him. “It was out of control. The time slip was expanding. You could have pulled us all back to 1998. It was a stupid thing even for a civilian to do. Let alone somebody who works for Torchwood. I expect a lot more professionalism than that.”
Alun sighed deeply and looked away. Ianto looked from him to Jack but it was Gwen who spoke up.
“Is he fired?” Gwen asked. “Jack you can’t. Don’t fire him. Look at him. Look at this place. What does he have left if you fire him? His parents are gone. The farm’s derelict. He needs us.”
“He bloody well SHOULD be,” Jack replied, his eyes burning. “But we DO need somebody to do the filing and he was the only candidate I could find.” He looked at Alun. “Consider yourself on a month’s probation. And I’ll be WATCHING you. One foot wrong…”
Alun swallowed hard and looked Jack in the eye. He couldn’t speak, but he managed a nod that Jack reciprocated.
“And by the way, you’re both docked a day’s salary. Your time bubble is slow. Your Saturday afternoon in 1998 is Monday lunchtime in 2008.”
Neither of them cared. Ianto hugged Alun even more tightly and kissed his cheek. Jack noticed the gesture and turned away, avoiding Gwen’s sharp eyed gaze. One word about it from her on the way back to the Hub, he thought, and he’d dock her salary, too.