Ianto had joined Rhiannon and the kids at the cinema for Mica’s birthday treat. She’d be having a party for her friends at the weekend, but seeing a movie had been a family birthday tradition since Rhi and Ianto had been kids, a tradition that Ianto was glad his sister had continued.
Heading back to where Rhiannon had left her car in the multi-storey cark park after watching a wonderful animated movie that even David had enjoyed, Ianto was listening to Mica rave about all her favourite scenes when he heard his sister snap, “David! What have I told you? Don’t stare; it’s rude!”
“But mum, that lady over there’s got three legs!” David said in a stage whisper, pointing behind him as Rhiannon hustled him in the opposite direction towards the car. Naturally, Ianto couldn’t resist the temptation to see what his nephew was going on about, glancing back over his shoulder. What he saw stopped him dead in his tracks.
‘Oh crap,’ he thought. ‘That’s not a lady… and I don’t think that’s its leg either.’ Keeping his eye on the other ‘person’, Ianto pulled out his phone and speed-dialled Jack. The seconds ticked past as he waited. “Pick up, damnit…” he muttered under his breath
Finally a voice said, “Mpf?” From the sound of it, Jack had his mouth full of something, probably a cookie judging by the crunching.
“Jack? You know the Curnoo that gave you the slip last night? Found it. Could use some help though; Rhi and the kids are with me.” He kept his voice low hoping he wouldn’t be overheard, but with his big sister only a few yards away, that was probably wishful thinking. She had ears like a bat.
“Say no more, we’re on our way. Where are you?”
“Multi-storey on Pierhead Street. Level C. Your fugitive is dressed as a woman, but it’s not a very effective disguise. David noticed its extra… well, he thought it was an extra leg but I’m not so sure.”
“You’d be right, it’s not a leg. Be there in about five minutes.”
“Okay, good.” Ianto hung up and shoved his phone back in his pocket.
Rhiannon was looking at him suspiciously over the roof of her car. “Ianto? What’s going on?”
“Uh, something’s come up, but it’s nothing you need to worry about. Just get the kids in the car and head home.”
“But you’re supposed to be coming back for Mica’s birthday dinner! You promised!”
“I know, and I’ll be along as soon as I can. I just have something I need to deal with first. It shouldn’t take long.”
He’d all but forgotten about Mica until a small hand tugged at his jacket. “Uncle Ianto? What’s a Curnoo?”
He looked down to see his niece still standing beside him, realising she’d heard everything. “Shit!” he hissed through his teeth. How much worse could things get?
Mica’s eyes went wide with a kind of awestruck horror. “Mummy, Uncle Ianto said a rude word.”
Oh boy. Still, if a bit of mild swearing distracted Mica from asking awkward questions, that was a good thing, right?”
Or maybe not.
“What have I said about watching your language around the kids? Honestly, Ianto, you’re a worse role model than their dad! If they get in trouble for swearing at school, I’m blaming you!”
Ianto flinched; Rhiannon made him feel about six inches tall when she got on his case. “Sorry. It just slipped out.”
Rhiannon just glared at him and he found himself wanting to crawl away in abject shame, tail between his legs.
A welcome distraction came in the form of another tug at his jacket and a voice asking once more, “Uncle Ianto?”
“You never said what a Curnoo is.”
“Right, I didn’t.” Ianto snuck another quick look at the creature in question, making sure he didn’t lose sight of it, which would be difficult considering the garish floral frock it was wearing. Probably stole it off someone’s washing line in a largely unsuccessful attempt to blend in. “Well, a Curnoo is… a very, very naughty person. Really dreadfully naughty.”
“Does that mean you’re a Curnoo because you said a rude word?”
“No, I’m just a little bit naughty because I didn’t mean to be rude and I said I was sorry. Curnoos are nasty people who are horribly naughty all the time, and they’re never sorry about it at all. They steal things, and break things, and sometimes they hurt people, so I think you should get in the car and go home with your mum while I go and tell the Curnoo off for being so mean and naughty.”
The Curnoo had moved away among the rows of parked cars when they’d arrived, wary because they were in a group. The aliens generally preferred to target people who were on their own, but this one seemed to be getting bolder, slowly making its way towards them. That was good in one respect because it meant the team wouldn’t have any trouble finding it when they arrived, but it was also bad because Curnoos had razor sharp talons that could shred a Weevil in seconds, and they moved very fast when they attacked. To make matters worse, Ianto was unarmed, which in retrospect might have been a bit shortsighted of him, but going on a family trip to the cinema with a gun tucked in his waistband had seemed like a bad idea.
He shooed Mica into the back seat, making sure she was strapped in, and slamming the door. “Okay, so I’ll be over in a little while,” he told Rhiannon, trying to urge her into the driver’s seat.
His sister held her ground, glaring stonily at him. “Oh no you don’t, Ianto Jones, you’re not getting rid of me that easily. I want to know what’s going on, and I want to know right now.” She folded her arms over her chest, her face set. “I’m not budging an inch until you tell me!”
Ianto groaned under his breath; why did she have to be so damned stubborn? “This really isn’t a good time, Rhi.” He glanced past her shoulder; the Curnoo was no more than fifty feet away now, its thick, shaggy mane looking a lot less like hair than it did at a distance. It was baring its teeth in something that could never be mistaken for a smile. He noticed its feet were jammed into a pair of bright pink pumps, which might possibly slow it down a little if it came at them, but Ianto didn’t particularly want to find out one way or the other. Where the hell were Jack and the team?
“It’s never a good time with you, is it?” Rhi was complaining. “Just once I wish you’d be honest with me…”
“Rhiannon! Please, just this once, do as I say; take the kids and get out of here now!” Ianto pleaded, not looking at his sister, his eyes fixed instead on the alien. The Curnoo’s piggy little eyes were fixed on Rhiannon and it was hunched forward, drooling. Ianto knew he should probably get in the car himself, because this was not a good situation to be in, but there was no guarantee Rhi would follow him so he stepped past her, shielding her with his own body, for all the good that would do either of them if the Curnoo attacked.
“Where d’you think you’re going?” Rhiannon spun around to grab for his arm and caught sight of the Curnoo. “Oh my God! What is that?”
“Just get in the car!” Ianto snapped at her.
“Not without you! If I go, you’re coming with me.”
“Fine, but you first. I’ll be right behind you.” Except that it was too late for that already because as the words left his mouth the Curnoo broke into a run, charging right at them…
The roar of a powerful engine abruptly cut through the quiet of the parking structure, accompanied by screeching tyres as the Torchwood SUV sped around a corner, swept past them, and cut across the Curnoo’s path. The creature was moving much too fast to stop and ran straight into the side of the vehicle, rebounding and crashing to the ground as Jack slammed on the brakes, bringing the SUV to a shuddering halt. As the doors burst open he, Owen, and Gwen leapt out. Owen darted the Curnoo with a heavy dose of fast-acting tranquillizer before it could regain its feet, and Jack immediately moved in to hood it, but the tranquillizer hadn’t taken effect quickly enough and slashing claws ripped his right leg open below the knee, slicing right down to the bone.
Ianto didn’t realise he’d moved until he found himself with his arms full of Jack and was lowering his lover to the ground. Owen darted the Curnoo a second time, which seemed to do the trick, and leaving Jack propped against the side of the SUV, Ianto whipped the hood out of the Captain’s hands, slipping it over the creature’s head himself as Owen secured its hands behind its back with reinforced steel handcuffs. The average Curnoo was easily twice as strong as a Weevil, although marginally less intelligent. Like Weevils, they were classed as semi-sentient, but they were generally less civilised; perhaps with another few thousand years of evolution they might be on a par with Stone Age man. Blending in with their surroundings was apparently more instinctual behaviour than the result of any kind of reasoning. At least that’s what Jack had told the team the first time one had fallen through the Rift.
After helping Owen and Gwen load the bulky Curnoo into the back of the SUV, Ianto checked on Jack’s leg; the slashes had mostly healed so now it looked like a relatively shallow wound. That was a good thing, because suddenly Rhiannon was leaning over his shoulder. “Is he alright?” Ianto almost jumped out of his skin; he’d forgotten she was there.
“I’m fine,” Jack replied, flashing her one of his patented thousand watt smiles. “It’s just a scratch; painful but not deep. I’ve cut myself worse shaving.”
“’Scuse,” said Owen, squeezing between them with his medical bag, then quickly and efficiently concealing the wound with a temporary field dressing. “I’ll deal with that properly when we get back to base.” He gave Ianto a surreptitious wink and slipped him some Retcon disguised as sweets, an idea he’d come up with as an easier way of dosing children. “Help me get him in the car?”
“Of course.” Ianto took one side of Jack and Owen the other, helping him to his feet even though by now he didn’t really need any assistance. It was a lot easier than trying to explain how he’d healed so fast. Besides, Ianto had long since learned to read even the tiniest changes of expression on his lover’s face and it looked like Jack wanted a quiet word out of hearing range of his sister.
As Ianto lowered Jack into the front passenger seat, keeping up the façade that he was injured too badly to drive, the immortal murmured, “Retcon the kids, it’s best they don’t remember, but it’s up to you whether or not you leave your sister’s memory intact. I trust your judgment.” Loud enough for Rhiannon to overhear, he added, “Thanks for your help.”
“You’re welcome,” Ianto replied, taking a step back and closing the car door.
Owen climbed in the driver’s side, adjusting the seat to accommodate his smaller stature, and Gwen jumped in the back, having mopped up as much of Jack’s blood as possible, sprinkling an alien cleaning agent over what was left. In an hour or so, there wouldn’t be the slightest trace of a bloodstain left.
Starting the engine, Owen peeled away at speed in a quite remarkable imitation of Jack’s driving style. Ianto was almost impressed, except that having two of them driving that way wasn’t going to win the team any points with the police. He’d need to have a word with Owen about that.
“What the Hell was all that about?” Rhiannon sounded a little shaken, but was holding up well, all things considered. “That was bloody Torchwood, wasn’t it? Said so on that flashy car of theirs!”
“Let’s just get out of here,” Ianto replied. “I’ll drive.” He started towards the car, seeing that David was halfway out, eyes agog.
“Whoa! Did you see that?” the boy exclaimed, grinning like mad. “So cool! I want to drive like that someday!” He mimicked the SUV’s roaring engine and squealing brakes.
Rhiannon was more horrified by that idea than by what she’d just seen. “Over my dead body, David Davies! Get back in the car. Now!”
Knowing better than to push his mother’s already strained patience any further, David shut up and scrambled back into his seat, shutting the car door and putting his seatbelt on.
“You’ve got them well trained,” Ianto teased his sister, hoping to lighten the atmosphere between them.
“Some of the time.” Rhiannon shot him The Look. “This isn’t over, Ianto Jones; not by a long shot.”
“I know,” he said calmly, “but this is neither the time nor the place, especially not with little ears listening.”
That mollified her a bit. “I suppose not.”
Ianto held out his hand. “Car keys?”
For a minute he thought she was going to refuse, but then she dropped them into his palm, realising that she wasn’t in the best shape to be in charge of a moving car with two children onboard.
Leaning in the driver’s side door, Ianto tossed his nephew and niece a sweet each. “Here, a little reward for being brave and staying in the car as you were told to.” He gave David a stern look. “At least until the danger was past.”
David had the good grace to look ashamed. “Sorry, Uncle Ianto.”
“Well, no harm done.”
“Say thank you to your Uncle,” Rhiannon said, getting into the car as her children unwrapped the sweets they’d been given.
“Thank you, Uncle Ianto,” they dutifully chorused before shoving the sweets in their mouths.
Ianto got behind the wheel, buckled up, and pulled out of the parking space, winding around the car park and down the ramps, until he reached the exit, and stopping at the barrier to pay. The Torchwood SUV was long gone.
Rhiannon didn’t say a word as Ianto drove towards the outskirt of Cardiff. After fifteen minutes or so, realising her children were being suspiciously quiet, she twisted in her seat, looking over her shoulder to see them both fast asleep in the backseat. “Ianto?” She darted an uncertain look at her brother.
“They’re fine, Rhi. I gave them a very small dose of a drug that erases potentially traumatic memories. It’ll wipe out approximately half an hour. They’ll just sleep for a bit and when they wake up they won’t remember anything that happened in the car park.”
“You drugged my kids?” Rhiannon was outraged. “And where the Hell did you get a drug like that anyway?”
“Owen gave it to me, the medic back there; it was in the sweets I gave David and Mica. It won’t harm them, and it’ll keep them from having nightmare about what they saw. Trust me; it’s better this way. Would you really want them to remember that?”
Silence reigned inside the SUV for a few minutes. Finally, Rhiannon sighed. “I suppose not. So where’s my sweet? Aren’t you going to drug me too?”
Ianto shrugged his shoulders. “That’s entirely up to you. Strictly speaking, I should, but Jack left the decision up to me because he trusts my judgement.” Ianto took his eyes off the road to glance briefly at his sister. “And whether you believe it or not, I trust yours.” He smiled wryly. “You deserve answers. I haven’t liked having to keep you in the dark all this time, but it goes with the territory. Truth is, I don’t work for the Welsh Tourist Board, and I never have. I work for Torchwood and it’s our responsibility to protect the people of Cardiff from the things and creatures that show up here from other worlds.”
“What, you mean like aliens?”
“Yes, aliens; like the Curnoo back in the car park.”
“You’re having me on! Aliens don’t exist!” Rhiannon chewed her bottom lip and Ianto knew she was thinking about the creature she’d seen barely half an hour before. “That… thing. It was really an alien?”
“Yes, a semi-sentient species, and one of the nastier kinds. Most aliens are perfectly nice people, but there are some that are hostile, even dangerous.”
“And they come to Cardiff? Ianto, that makes no sense! Why would they come here and not… oh I don’t know, New York, or Washington, or even London?”
“London has its share of trouble, especially around Christmastime for some reason, but Cardiff has the misfortune of having been built on a Rift through time and space,” Ianto explained. “There are similar Rifts all over the universe; one just happens to have one end anchored smack in the middle of our fair city while the other end wanders about willy nilly, picking up things and people from other worlds and other times. It’s Torchwood’s job to collect whatever comes through, and where possible, return the living beings to their homes. It’s not all about dealing with monsters though.” He flashed her a quick grin. “You should meet our pets.”
“This is mind-boggling.” Rhiannon was shaking her head, clearly unsure whether or not to believe him.
“I know. I’m sorry. This isn’t how I would have wanted you to find out, but what’s done is done. What happens next is… Well, think things over for now; decide whether or not you want to remember what I’ve told you. If you do, you’ll have to swear never to tell anyone else, not even Johnny. Torchwood keeps its activities secret as much for public safety as for our own. If you decide you want to forget, I’ll give you a slightly stronger dose of the amnesia drug, you’ll take a nap while the kids and I fix Mica’s birthday dinner, and when you wake up everything I’ve told you will be gone.”
“If I decide I want to remember, then what?”
“Then, you’ll have to sign the Official Secrets Act and I’ll tell you everything you want to know. No more secrets. I promise.”
“Right.” Rhiannon fell silent again, staring out the side window at the passing scenery, though Ianto doubted she was seeing anything. She was deep in thought.
He kept quiet, giving his sister the space she needed to consider everything he’d told her and make up her mind. He had no idea what she would decide, but selfish though it might be, he hoped she would choose to remember.