Gwen stepped into the arboretum quietly, and a little cautiously. She knew Ianto and Alun were in there alone. If they were actually having sex, she intended to back out quietly and leave them be.
If they were having sex in the arboretum, then things were all right. They were over the thing that had been bothering them all afternoon. Gwen half hoped they WERE just having sex, although she still wasn’t sure she wanted to stumble upon them actually doing it.
They weren’t having sex. They were sitting on the floor in the shade of a large tree that resembled a weeping willow except that its leaves were purple. Alun and Ianto’s faces looked as if they had purple stipples from the lowlights and highlights cast by the artificial white light the tree needed to thrive.
They were hugging each other and both crying softly. Alun was kissing Ianto’s cheek and assuring him that it would be all right.
“I’m sorry, cariad,” Alun told him. “I am sorry I didn’t stop him. If I could… if I could have protected you from that… that fiend... I would have done.”
“I don’t blame you, Alun,” Ianto answered. “Oh, mau gwyr…. I don’t blame you for any of it. But I just can’t get it out of my head. I need time… I need… I…” He reached for his lover and clung to him tightly. “I need you, Alun. Don’t let go. Don’t ever let go.”
“I never will, gwerthfawr. Never.”
Gwen wondered if she ought to step away quietly, anyway. This seemed a very private matter. But her gut instinct told her it had something to do with work. They had both seemed oddly distracted since they got back from the assignment she sent them on this morning. And sitting in the arboretum crying was definitely not normal for either of them.
She stepped closer, still going slowly and quietly, trying not to look as if she had been eavesdropping on what was obviously a deeply private conversation, hoping to make it look as if she was sensitive to their need for privacy, but at the same time being their best friend in a time of need.
“Ianto, Alun…” Gwen spoke their names quietly. They both looked up at her. Ianto brushed the tears from his eyes, but there was no disguising his distress. When he cried, Ianto cried in a very intense way. His whole face flushed alarmingly and his eyes were glistening wells of anguish.
He cried like a girl. That was the thought that came to Gwen’s mind. She had seen Jack cry, Alun, even Owen on a couple of rare occasions. She had seen Rhys cry. She had even, once, seen Banana Boat shed tears of disappointment when England beat Wales at the Millennium Stadium. They all cried like men, able to brush the tears away and look as if nothing so unmanly had happened a moment later. But when Ianto cried the evidence was there for hours afterwards.
“If this is just the aftermath of a domestic, then tell me to fuck off and mind my own business,” she said. “I’ll do that. But if it’s anything to do with work, to do with Torchwood shit… then… While Jack’s in London, I’m the boss here. So I’m responsible for anything that might have happened to you.”
“Of all people, Gwen,” Ianto answered, looking up at her with those wide, glistening eyes of his. “You’re not responsible. Not for one minute. I wouldn’t wish that on you.”
Gwen knelt beside them. She reached her arms around both men and kissed them on the cheek.
“I’m also your friend,” she reminded them. “As well as your boss. And you know you can tell me anything.”
“I’ve done a written report,” Alun told her. “It’s on your desk. I haven’t left anything out. I only wish I could. It’s... it’s not a bedtime story, that’s for sure.”
“How about a story for telling over a cup of Ianto’s extra strong expresso coffee?” Gwen suggested. “Come on, I don’t think it’s entirely healthy sitting here. The light we use on this tree contains way too much of the ultra-violet spectrum, you know.”
“Is anyone else about?” Alun asked. “I don’t really want the whole Hub knowing...”
Gwen thought that was an odd question. With Jack out of town Alun and Ianto were two-fifths of the Hub staff anyway.
“Beth is in the front office and Martha is doing an autopsy. It’s just me.”
Ianto nodded and slowly stood up. Alun stood and grasped his hand firmly. They followed Gwen down to the rest area where Ianto busied himself for a little while at the coffee machine. The act of making coffee in the precise way Ianto made it seemed therapeutic. When he came to the table with three cups he had stopped crying. The signs that he had been upset were still evident on his face, though.
“It is to do with work, isn’t it?” Gwen said. “You two would never have the sort of row that would leave you looking like that. You’re too special to each other.”
“You should see us argue about whose turn it is to put out the bins on a Wednesday night,” Alun joked. Ianto managed a weak smile at that. “No, you’re right. It is about the assignment this morning.”
Alun paused. He and Ianto looked at each other intently. Gwen watched them carefully. She knew there was a report on her desk – well, Jack’s desk, actually. She hadn’t read it yet because she wanted to know, first, why it had so upset the two of them. When they got into the Hub at a little after one o’clock she had asked them what happened at the school site, and Alun told her the problem was solved before clamming right up. Ianto had occupied himself in the arboretum while Alun sat and wrote the report. He had stepped into the office and left it on the desk and then walked out again without a word. Gwen had thought about it for a while, wondering whether to intervene or leave well alone. She had decided on the former option.
“Go on,” she told them. “You might as well spill the beans now or I’ll be wondering forever.”
Alun squeezed Ianto’s hand and mouthed something silently to him. He nodded as if giving his consent to his lover to continue telling the story that so distressed him.
“Penmawr Road school....” Alun continued. “The assignment you gave us this morning.”
Gwen nodded. The locals had dubbed it “The Shrieking Shack?” on the basis, she supposed, that Warner Brothers couldn’t sue them all. All the original buildings around it had been knocked down years ago. But the school, for reasons better known to the local government, was Grade II Listed. It had been left since the early 1970s with the roof slates dropping off and the windows all boarded up, graffiti and decades of posters stuck all over it and nobody taking any responsibility either for restoring it or demolishing it. Meanwhile, just before the credit crunch hit, a new housing estate had been built around it. The new residents started reporting strange noises from the old school. Most described it as being like children in a playground. Some had described children crying. Some went as far as to say ‘children crying pitifully’. There were reports of screams coming from inside the building.
Gwen remembered what she had said to the boys when she gave them the assignment.
“It might be nothing. Probably just local kids messing about. Maybe it’s being used for drugs or something like that. In which case the police can take the case back. They sent it to us in the first place. They’re fed up of going down there and finding nothing. So they labelled it as ‘buggered if we know, you sort it out’.”
“Strange noises...” Ianto flicked through the file almost casually, yet Gwen knew he would be making mental notes of the salient points.
“The building has history,” Gwen pointed out. “It was closed down because something bad happened there in the first place. I suppose that’s what fuelled these stories.”
“The ‘something bad’ that happened was three boys hanging themselves from the balcony in the assembly hall,” Ianto confirmed as he closed the file. “It’s very well documented… education department memos, autopsy reports, newspaper archives… It’s all there for anyone who wants to look. But I suppose ‘something bad happened’ is the way people deal with it in their own heads. They filter out the details.”
“Like they filter out weevils in the sewers and man-eating aliens disguised as back St. Mary’s Street prostitutes,” Alun noted. He took the report from Ianto and looked at the photographs of the building on the front page. One showed it in the dilapidated state it was in now. The other showed it in the 1970s in a group photograph of pupils and teachers posed in front of the main door. It was a Victorian building, red brick, three storeys with a roof of Welsh slate. The words ‘Penmawr Boys School, established 1869’ were engraved on a wide granite stone set above the main double doors. There was a playground at the side with a seven foot brick wall around it that made it look more like a small prison than a school.
“1869,” Ianto noted. “The year the rift opened.”
“Coincidence,” Alun said before Ianto could say anything else about that. “Anyway, the history of the school is simple enough. It was founded in the era when compulsory primary education was first passed into law in England and Wales, serving the largely working class catchment area around Penmawr Road. By the 1970s it was one of the few single sex primary schools under the local education authority. The building was too old fashioned to turn into a co-ed. Nowhere to put girls toilets, I suppose. So it stayed as it was. The last headmaster was a Mr Gerald Maddock, known to be a bit of a stickler for discipline….” Alun turned to another page. “He made a statement to the police and to the education department, saying he had given the three boys detention the day they killed themselves... but he said that was nothing unusual. They were disruptive boys who were often in detention.”
“They were nine and ten years old,” Ianto commented. “How disruptive could they be?”
Gwen shrugged. As a police officer she had seen plenty of nine and ten year old tearaways for whom ‘disruptive’ was too mild a description.
“If you think the question is relevant, you can ask him about it,” she said. “He’s the one you need to ask about keys to the building. He’s in his seventies, now, but apparently he’s been acting as caretaker for the last owners of the building… out of nostalgia, I suppose. Anyway, if anyone knows anything about what went on there, he’s your man.”
They didn’t ask him about the dead boys. They decided to be architects from National Heritage, coming to make sure the building was still structurally sound. They wore hard hats and fluorescent jackets and teased each other about what they might use the outfits for later as they drove to Penmawr road.
Mr Maddock, a white haired but still sturdy looking man unlocked the main door then handed the bunch of keys to Alun. He said he wouldn’t go in himself. His next comment might have seemed odd to anyone who didn’t work for Torchwood.
“The past lingers inside those walls,” he said. “I don’t need any reminders. I’ll be around the corner in the pub. When you’re done with your investigation, lock up and bring me back the keys.”
That suited them both fine. It was a lot easier to investigate any premises without the owner hovering anxiously. They watched as the former headmaster moved rather niftily for a man of his age up the road and around the corner before they turned to look at the building from the outside.
“What do you think?” Alun asked Ianto as he viewed the fairly unremarkable building. “The noises… locals letting their imaginations run wild or is there some Torchwood style weird shit going on?”
“Torchwood style weird shit,” Ianto answered. He held up a small hand-held device he was examining. “Lots of Rift energy around here. More or less what I expected, mind you. This building… it’s on the north-north west axis of the Rift Line…”
Alun said nothing. He wasn’t completely convinced about this theory of Ianto’s. He had looked at the computer generated map of Cardiff that he produced, and yes, it was true that there were something like fifty-five known incidents of rift activity over the past fifty years that were located along a straight line drawn north-north-west to south-south-east through the building on Bute Street where the Rift opened at Christmas, 1869. The Torchwood Hub itself was on what Ianto chose to call the Rift Line, emphasising the capital letters. So was the spot where the Rift opened in the Bristol Channel and allowed a pair of prehistoric sharks to swim through and the Cardiff Bay barrage where one of many recorded instances of people disappearing into the Rift took place. If the line was drawn far enough it even included the airfield where Diane Holmes’ plane had flown into twenty-first Century Cardiff.
It was a theory, but Alun dismissed it because if you stuck red pins into the same map of Cardiff for every recorded Rift incident it would look like it had measles. Alun reckoned the line was a coincidence. Ianto had been disappointed that his own soul mate had dismissed his theory. Alun didn’t want his disappointment to turn into something they would argue about, whether in work or – especially – outside of it, so he tried to say as little as possible about it.
“Let’s go and have a look,” he said, pushing open the door and stepping inside. Ianto didn’t hear him. He was standing with his back to him, waving the Rift monitor towards the buildings opposite to see if there were any significant readings from them. He was startled when Alun came running out of the school so fast he was halfway across the road before he stopped and stared at his own hands in disbelief.
“Alun, cariad, what’s the matter?” Ianto asked.
“I…” Alun stepped back onto the pavement. “I’m… not sure… if it was real or not. Ianto… in there… it’s….”
Ianto looked at Alun and then stepped into the old school building. He stepped back out again.
“That’s… some kind of phenomena.”
“We’d better… I mean… we’d best tell Gwen. This needs serious investigation… We can’t…”
“Why not? I mean… we seem to be ok now we’re outside. We can walk out any time and we’re all right… Maybe we should…”
“Well… as long as we can walk out any time…” Alun agreed reluctantly. Ianto held out his hand and he grasped it. They stepped inside together.
“Wow,” Ianto said again. This time his voice was different. It was the voice he had spoken with when he was something like nine years old. He turned and looked at Alun. He had never seen a picture of him as a boy. Alun hadn’t kept very much in the way of memories of his childhood. He could only guess that was how he looked when he was nine.
He looked down at his own body – the body of a boy dressed in a blue school jumper and slate grey shorts with lighter grey socks that left a pair of pale knees between. One knee had a sticking plaster on it. The other had an old scab from a wound that was mending. Alun’s knees were much the same.
“I… didn’t know you wore glasses when you were a kid,” Alun said to him. Ianto reached up and took off the ugly NHS style black framed spectacles and found that he was near-sighted.
“I used to have contact lenses,” he explained. “Then… when I first came to work for Torchwood… my first paycheck… I splashed out on laser correction surgery. I can see perfectly now. But when I was a kid, yes, I wore glasses. For school anyway. Better ones than these, though. I must look like a total nerd.”
“You look…” Alun shook his head. He looked down at their two hands, then around at the entrance hall to the school. There was a huge wooden plaque on the wall listing past pupils who fell in the two world wars and a notice board with forthcoming events. The floor was polished wood that had been scuffed by countless feet. There was a smell of gym bags and damp duffel coats from a cloakroom on the left. There was a sound of boys singing All Things Bright And Beautiful slightly out of key and out of time with the piano accompaniment through the double doors on the right.
“Ianto…” Alun said. “Nine year old boys don’t hold hands.”
They let go of each other’s slightly clammy hands moments before a teacher in an old fashioned tweed suit stepped out of the assembly hall.
“What are you two doing dawdling out here?” he demanded sharply. “Get in here, right now.”
They obeyed the instruction. It was that or run back outside again. They stepped into the hall and joined a row of boys near the back who looked like they were the same age that they appeared to be. As the opening hymn of the morning assembly continued, Ianto looked around carefully. He noticed the gallery above the raised stage where the teachers were all sitting. That must be where the boys committed suicide. It looked as if it was accessed by a stairway at the side of the stage.
The hymn finished and the headmaster stood up at a lectern. He led a prayer and then gave out a whole series of announcements about the school cricket team, about end of term tests, and a school trip to Castel Coch. An immature titter of amusement rippled around the older boys. The headmaster spoke sharply and it stopped. There was another hymn – I Vow To Thee My Country - and then the assembly broke up. Ianto and Alun followed the boys who looked the same age. They went up two flights of stairs to the very top floor of the building and into a classroom where a teacher was already waiting to take the register.
“Are you two new?” he demanded of Alun and Ianto. “I should have had a note to say you were coming. Never mind. What are your names.”
“Alun Llewellyn,” Alun said.
“You say ‘sir’ when you address me,” the teacher snapped at him. “Or Mr Brody.”
“Alun Llewellyn, sir,” he amended.
“Ianto Jones,” Ianto added as Mr Brody turned his gaze on him.
“James Jones,” Brody corrected him in an imperious tone. “Ianto is a local diminutive form of James. I don’t care what your mother calls you. In this classroom you’ll have good Christian names fit for British boys. I’m not pandering to any of this new-fangled regional diversity nonsense. And you’ll speak in good, clear Queen’s English within my hearing.”
“Yes, sir,” Ianto said. He and Alun turned and sat down at a double desk near the front of the classroom. Brody continued with the register and then nodded to a boy sitting across the aisle from them. He stood up and went to fetch a pile of maths books. He distributed them, one book to every two boys. There was a noise of desks opening to take out exercise books and pencils. The sounds of boys settling down at their desks continued for several seconds before Brody told them to turn to page fifteen and get on with it.
Ianto and Alun opened the book. It was long division. They both learnt how to do that when they were nine. They scribbled down the first couple of problems industriously until the teacher lost interest in watching the boys and settled down to marking books on his desk. Then Ianto wrote a note in the margin of his exercise book.
“Look at the date.”
Alun glanced at the perpetual calendar on the wall beside the blackboard. It was May 14th, 1972.
“The day the boys killed themselves?” Alun wrote in his own margin.
“Explains a lot?” Ianto wrote.
“Traumatic event, caught in a Rift bubble, repeating itself over and over.”
“The boys are all in this classroom. I recognised the names. Bari Evans, John Griffith, Kenneth Hopkins.”
Alun glanced around. He visualised the black and white photos of the boys from the case file. Bari Evans was the boy who had handed out the text books. John Griffith was sitting next to him. Kenneth Hopkins had just stood up and quietly gone to the front of the class to sharpen his pencil at the bin.
None of them looked as if they were on the verge of suicide. All thirty-five boys in the classroom had the resigned expressions of nine year olds doing long division, and that was all.
Ianto’s hand nudged his. He turned quickly, noticing that Brody was glancing their way. Alun gave his attention to the sums until he lost interest in them again. Ianto, meanwhile, picked up a large grey pencil eraser and rubbed out the notes on his page. Alun took the eraser in his turn and did the same. Then they got on with the long division. They managed not to draw the teacher’s attention again until a loud bell rang out signalling the end of the first lesson. They followed the lead of the other boys in the classroom rituals of collecting text books and putting away books and pencils and then stood behind their chairs quietly until dismissed.
They followed the other boys downstairs to the playground behind the high walls. Under the supervision of the headmaster himself, the boys enjoyed their morning break. There were games going on in different sections of the playground. One involved throwing a tennis ball into circles painted on the outer wall. A football was being kicked around. There was a variation of ‘moving statues’ in another corner and running games of all sorts. There were a group of eleven year olds who snuck behind the toilet block to smoke cigarettes. Alun and Ianto kept well away from there and sought some other quiet corner where they could be alone.
They found such a place behind a locked coal shed next to a set of narrow steps down to the basement where an old fashioned furnace heated the school building. The sounds from the playground were cut off by the shed wall. There was a smell that suggested some boys used the area as a urinal instead of going to the smoker’s corner, but at least it was quiet.
Alun pressed Ianto up against the wall and hugged him tightly, reaching to kiss him.
“That doesn’t feel right,” he said after a while. “I still love you like mad… but… it feels like child molesting. You’re… just a kid.”
“So are you… so… it isn’t really wrong in that way. But… I know what you mean. This feels weird, having feelings like I do for you, but being like this.”
“Nine years old... pre-puberty. We don’t even have the equipment!” Alun laughed.
“I haven’t looked,” Ianto admitted. “Might have to before the end of playtime. I don’t think I’ll get through the rest of the morning without going to the loo. But it’s more than that. I mean… when you were nine… did you even know the word homosexual existed? Let alone what it meant?”
“No,” Alun admitted. “I don’t think I actually knew that sex existed in any form. But I knew what a ‘big jesse’ was, because my dad was scared stiff I might grow up to be one. He made sure I played with boy’s toys and watched action films on TV.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what any of it meant,” Ianto confirmed. “My cousin, Gladys, kissed me on the mouth when I was ten and I screamed.”
“Gladys... the one who wore that horrible pink hat at our wedding?” Alun laughed. “I’d scream, too.”
“It’s weird. We look and feel like kids... but my mind... in my mind I’m in my thirties and you’re my husband, and we fuck like gay rabbits nearly every night. And I feel really guilty thinking about things like that when I’m in this body.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t think of them, then. But we should think about why we’re here. Are we agreed that it’s a temporal anomaly?”
“Agreed,” Ianto said. “Though since the equipment for testing it is in my grown up coat pocket, we can’t really confirm it.”
“We know we can leave any time we want,” Alun added. “At least... we could earlier. I hope... I really hope that... I mean... what if... the longer we’re here... maybe...”
“No, don’t say that,” Ianto told him. “The thought crossed my mind right in the middle of long division. Don’t say it aloud or we’ll have to go and find out right now... and the hall monitors won’t allow us back into the school until the end of playtime.”
“The hall monitors look like the kind of kids that used to pick on me at school,” Alun said. “I think I’m brave enough now to fight back. But I’m not sure the nine year old me has the muscle co-ordination.”
“If they knock my glasses off I’m screwed anyway,” Ianto added. “We don’t fight the hall monitors. We can try at lunchtime when some of the boys go home for dinners. Since we haven’t brought any dinner money we can join them. Meanwhile... I think we need to find out why the boys killed themselves. I think knowing that... might help to break the anomaly and lay the building to rest... or something.”
“We can’t stop it happening, of course,” Alun pointed out. “That would be a paradox... even if... Do you think we stepped back in time or... is it just an echo of what happened?”
“If we went back in time, we can’t risk a paradox by changing anything. If it’s an echo, it all happened anyway and we CAN’T change it.”
“So we’re just witnesses. We stay here, and we witness it, and then... we go home and write up a report about it.”
“Ok. A day as a nine year old... at least long division is over. I hated maths.”
“Nothing wrong with maths,” Ianto told him. “It’s school dinner I’m not looking forward to.”
Alun laughed and hugged him close. It didn’t feel quite right, but they tried to kiss each other again, remembering their adult love despite the illusion of being children.
“Hey!” Alun and Ianto looked around, startled by the shout that broke into their private moment. It was Bari Evans, the book monitor. He stared at them with an expression of utter, abject horror. “You can’t... you can’t do things like that. It’s not... not...”
The boy turned and bumped into the headmaster. He pushed Bari aside roughly before he grabbed Alun by the collar and wrenched him away from Ianto.
“Detention, all three of you,” he said. “After dinner. One o’clock in my office. Don’t be late, or it will be the worse for you.”
He stalked off. Bari Evans looked at Ianto and Alun and then burst into tears.
“I can’t,” he cried. “Not again. I can’t. If it happens again... I’ll... I’ll...”
He ran off. Ianto and Alun watched him go.
“What... was that?” Ianto asked. “Why was he so upset about a detention?”
“I think we’re going to have to find out,” Alun answered him as the bell went marking the end of morning playtime. They quickly dodged to the smoke-filled toilet block before heading inside. They found their way back to the classroom on the top floor and sat at their desk. They waited for the lessons to restart.
“Hey, new boys...” Ianto looked around at the boy who threw an eraser at him to attract his attention. It was Kenneth Hopkins - one of the boys from the report. “Is it true you have detention with the headmaster?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Sorry,” Kenneth told him. “I’m really sorry that’s happened on your first day. It’s not fair. And... he caught you doing whatever you were doing... and missed me and John writing on the wall. And... it’s just not fair.”
The boy looked near tears. Ianto was puzzled and surprised by his reaction.
“Hey... it’s all right,” he answered. “It’s just detention. How bad can it be?”
The boy got ready to say something else, but Mr Brody came into the classroom and immediately every boy sat up straight and quiet. Ianto turned and did his best impression of an obedient student.
“Where is Evans?” Brody demanded. Ianto glanced around and noted that the boy wasn’t there. “Where is he?”
Nobody answered because nobody knew. Ianto and Alun had been the last to see him running away in the playground. But they had no intention of volunteering that information. Brody grunted in annoyance and told another boy to hand out the history books. He then told the class to turn to page sixty-five and copy the chapter on crop rotation and agrarian reform.
“This is an easy job for him,” Ianto wrote in his margins. “All he does is tell the kids to copy from a book while he sits there watching.”
“I never knew education was so crap in the 1970s,” Alun wrote in reply. “Where is Bari?”
“Run away home? Hiding in the loos having a cry? Beats me.”
“Why was he so scared of detention?”
“They’re all scared of detention. Maybe the headmaster has a Weevil in his office.”
“We’ve changed things.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve got detention instead of Kenneth and John. It was after detention with the headmaster that they killed themselves.”
“Bari still has detention.”
“Bari isn’t here. Will he turn up?”
“What are you boys doing?” Brody demanded. “You... Jones... Are you copying from him?”
“We’re all copying from the text book, sir,” Ianto replied. “What would be the point of copying from Alun?”
“Don’t give me cheek,” Brody replied.
“I’m not giving you cheek, SIR,” Ianto answered. “I’m stating a plain fact. We’re ALL copying the words from a text book because you’re too lazy or stupid to teach us properly, SIR. You’re a crap teacher.”
“YOU are an insubordinate boy and you’ve earned yourself a detention with the headmaster.”
“Already have that, SIR,” Ianto replied. “So I might as well earn it good and proper. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.”
“Get OUT of my classroom,” Brody yelled. His face was incandescent with rage. Ianto looked at Alun and then stood up and walked out of the classroom. He went down the echoing stairs and across the entrance hall and pulled open the main door. He stepped outside.
It was an hour and a half later when Alun stepped out to find Ianto sitting on the step. He sat beside him.
“Is it lunchtime?” he asked.
“We’re grown ups again out here, you notice.”
“Yeah... give me a kiss while I’ve got the hormones to appreciate it.”
Ianto embraced his husband and lover and they kissed urgently. Until they did, neither of them had fully realised how stressful the last few hours had been. They held each other and kissed and didn’t care one bit about the disapproving noise made by a woman with a shopping bag who walked past them.
“I thought you were terrific shouting down that git, by the way,” Alun said. “I think the rest of the boys are ready to make you class president.”
“He had it coming.” Ianto giggled nervously. “When I was at school... I would never have had the nerve to answer a teacher back. I kept my head down and did as I was told. It felt good being a class troublemaker for once.”
“You rebel, you,” Alun teased him. They laughed together and hugged again. It felt good to do that.
“We’ve got to go back in, you realise,” Ianto said after a while. “We’ve got to find out what happens at the headmaster’s detention that would drive three boys to suicide.”
“I’ve got a sneaking suspicion,” Alun answered. “Haven’t you?”
“The thought occurred to me, yes. Especially... Bari... he sounded as if he’d been there before. And he really didn’t want it to happen again.”
“If we don’t go back in... I suppose history reverts to normal and it happens to Kenneth, John and Bari... and they kill themselves because they can’t take any more.”
“So... if we don’t go back in, it’s our fault they killed themselves.”
“Yes.” Ianto sighed. “I don’t want to. The thought makes my skin crawl. But at least... we... you and I... we can cope with it... we can take it better than a couple of scared kids.”
“Inside there, we are a couple of scared kids. That’s the problem.”
“We look like kids. But inside... we’re still us. And we’re not cowards. We have to do it.”
“Yeah. I know.” Alun looked at his watch. “Ten to one. We’d better not be late.”
They stood up and grasped each other’s hands as they walked back into the school. There was a chance, of course, that they were stepping into a derelict building wearing fluorescent jackets and hard hats over their suits and with a bunch of alien technology in their pockets. If so, then there was nothing they could do about what had already happened in the past.
They looked around at the entrance hall and remembered they were holding hands again. They let go. Then Alun grasped Ianto’s hand again.
“In for a penny, you said. Come on, let’s go do our detention.”
There was still no sign of Bari when they reached the outer office where the headmaster’s secretary was noisily tapping at a Remington typewriter. Mr Brody was there looking at the files in a metal cabinet. He glared at the two boys who had disrupted the peaceful routine of his classroom, but he said nothing.
The headmaster’s door opened. Mr Maddock nodded to the boys. They stepped inside. He closed the door.
“Where’s the other one?” he demanded.
“We don’t know,” Alun answered truthfully.
“It’ll be the worse for him when he does turn up. But you’ll do for now.”
Then he grabbed Alun roughly and propelled him towards a large cupboard in the corner of the office. He shoved him in and slammed the door shut before turning to grab Ianto.
The cupboard had obviously been used this way before. There was a smell about it. Terrified boys had wet themselves in fear of what was going to happen to them. And if they were still in any doubt about that, there was a round spy hole at eye level so they could see what was happening to the headmaster’s first victim.
Alun watched in horror as Maddock pushed Ianto down over his desk. They had both put two and two together and guessed that the headmaster was using these detentions to sexually abuse boys. But their imaginations hadn’t quite encompassed the reality of it. They hadn’t considered how devastating it was to be a nine year old boy, even one with a thirty year old mind, subjected to such an outrage. Alun heard Ianto’s anguished sobs and cried in empathy for him.
When Ianto’s ordeal was over, Maddock thrust him aside like a discarded rag and turned towards the cupboard. He pulled it open and dragged Alun out of it. The headmaster pushed him towards the desk. Alun was a former soldier. He was trained in both armed and unarmed combat. He was fully capable of fighting a middle aged schoolmaster who was far from the peak of fitness.
But right now he was a nine year old boy with skinny arms and legs that had no strength in them at all. He was powerless to stop himself from being raped just as Ianto had been.
“No!” he cried. He WAS just a skinny boy, but he DID remember how to fight. As the Headmaster pushed him down over the desk, he swung up his leg in what was called a mule kick. His heel connected with the headmaster’s groin hard enough to make him step back, groaning in pain. Meanwhile Alun reached towards the desk tidy full of pens, pencils....
And a pair of scissors. Not the blunted ones used by the boys to cut out shapes in art class, but a sharp pair of blades. Alun used them as he had been taught to use a blade. Because he was significantly shorter than his opponent, his upwards thrust between the ribs was actually easier than it would have been if he was still six-foot-one. From somewhere within the weak, nine year old body he found the strength of a trained soldier and he drove the weapon into his enemy with all of that strength and twisted it so that it ripped into the headmaster’s heart.
The office door opened as Alun stepped back and the headmaster’s body fell to the floor. Alun ignored the secretary’s horrified scream and Mr Brody’s outraged roar as he lifted Ianto to his feet and pulled his shorts up. He held him in his arms as he turned and looked at the two adults.
“You must have known what was happening in here,” he said to the secretary. “You were out there, typing... while boys were screaming, crying, begging for mercy. And you... Mr Brody, SIR, you sent them down to him... You must have had an idea... you must have known what he was doing to them. He... was scum... but you... your silence... your complicity...”
Then with the last ounce of his strength he pushed past them both, propelling Ianto forward. He was in a half faint, hardly able to walk on his own two legs. Alun held him up as he ran for the main door.
Outside, they stopped and looked around. They looked at each other in hard hats and fluorescent jackets. Then Alun turned and looked at the door. Ianto called out in terror as he stepped back inside. He emerged moments later and shook his head.
“It’s gone, now. There’s just a wrecked, vandalised building there, now. It’s over.”
“Over?” Ianto’s voice cracked. Tears ran down his face. “Over...”
Alun said nothing. He took Ianto’s arm and brought him to the Audi parked a few feet away. He opened the passenger door and sat him down, helping him to fasten his seatbelt.
Alun closed the passenger door and turned. He was surprised to see a man who looked vaguely familiar standing there. His memory wobbled. He distinctly remembered accepting the keys to the building from an elderly man called Gerald Maddock.
But he also remembered taking them from a slightly balding man in his late forties who had introduced himself as Bari Evans.
“You’re... not really architects, are you?” Evans asked.
“What... makes you think...”
“I’m the caretaker. I know... I’ve heard the sounds... the ghosts of the past. You came to investigate that. You’re some sort of paranormal experts, aren’t you? Something like... what are they called... Touchstone... Touch...”
“Bari, what happened to you, that day?” Alun asked. “When you couldn’t bear the thought of another detention?”
Bari looked at Alun curiously for a heartbeat before he answered.
“I ran away. I ran out of the school and kept running. Ended up in the city centre. I took off my school uniform jumper and avoided policemen all day, and went home at teatime... to find my parents out of their mind with worry. I got a belting from my dad for playing truant while my mum cried her eyes out. Then they told me that the school had been closed... because two boys had murdered the headmaster. The police were searching for the boys. But there were also questions about... It didn’t come out completely, of course. Not then. These days, a paedophile headmaster... it would be national headlines. But they kept it quiet. The murder on its own was enough to shut the school and send the boys elsewhere. It was all quietly forgotten. Except... we remember. And so does the building.”
“I think the building will start to forget, now,” Alun said. “As for you...”
“He never used to do one boy at a time. There would be two, or three. The spares would be locked in the cupboard. Waiting, watching... it was worse... almost worse... than when it was your turn. If I’d had to spend one more time in that cupboard... I think I’d have killed myself. I wasn’t the only one. I never thought of killing the bastard. I wouldn’t have had the courage. I always thought... if I ever met that boy again... I’d thank him. What he did was terrible... I know that. But he did us all a favour. And I would thank him.”
Bari Evans grasped Alun by the hand and shook it firmly.
“Thank you,” he said.
“I...” Alun managed to say. Then he pressed the bunch of keys into his hand. Bari nodded and pocketed them. He walked away. Alun walked around to the driver’s side of the Audi and got in. He fastened his seatbelt and drove away as fast as he dared. His mind was not entirely on his driving. He had so many things to think about, not the least, Ianto crying to himself in the passenger seat.
“Oh, my God!” Gwen said as Alun stopped talking. “Oh, Ianto... Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you... all right?”
Ianto shook his head. He reached out for Alun again. He hugged him tightly.
“When I was... when I first let Jack... He was my first... you know... Only six years ago... I was a grown man when I first let another man... and I knew what I was doing. I consented... I wanted it. I wasn’t.... When he... that bastard... I didn’t feel like an adult, married, practicing homosexual... who had chosen... I felt like a nine year old kid being raped. And... It was awful. It was... I was terrified. I felt sick... I still feel sick. And... Alun... my husband... I still love you. I still want you… in every way. I’m just so scared that… when we make love… I’m going to see his face… and remember… remember how awful it was.”
“Ianto, gwerthfawr,” Alun answered in a tone that sounded as if his heart was breaking. “Ianto, don’t. Oh, God! If I could have changed places with you… I would have. I would have taken all that hurt for you if I could.”
“He... could have chosen either of you?” Gwen asked. “He locked one of you in the cupboard and raped the other... it was just random. Alun, you couldn’t have done anything to stop him. And... if it had been you... instead... Ianto would be feeling just as bad.”
Gwen had only been a police officer for a few years before she joined Torchwood. She had been an ordinary beat copper, not one of the specially trained ones that looked after rape victims. Even so, she had been first on the scene at enough incidents to know just what women were going through at times like that. She understood how Ianto was feeling. She knew he was going to need time to get over those feelings.
“You’ve got each other,” she assured him. “You’ll always have each other.”
“That’s for sure,” Alun agreed. “Ianto... cariad, I’m here for you. I’ll never let you go.”
Ianto sighed deeply and let his lover hold him. Gwen thought he probably was going to be all right. Alun would look after him. They would look after each other. Later, tomorrow, some time, anyway, she would need to talk to them about some of the questions their story raised. Just how was it that they had experienced all of that as boys? It wasn’t a normal time travel phenomena. It was something completely new. And how many times had they been told that history couldn’t be changed? But three boys hadn’t had detention that day and hadn’t killed themselves. They were grown men now. And Maddock, their abuser, was long dead. It shouldn’t have been possible. Reality shouldn’t be messed with like that, and she wasn’t sure if there would be consequences that went beyond the trauma Ianto and Alun had to learn to live with.