If Rhiannon hadn’t had the bad luck to be in exactly the wrong place at precisely the wrong moment, chances were, she would never have learned the truth about her brother’s job. Ianto would have much preferred it that way; what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and he’d spent years doing his best to keep his big sister and her family as far as possible from anything to do with Torchwood. It was just safer for everyone that way.
Now though, the cat was well and truly out of the bag, along with all its kittens. Short of retconning Rhiannon, which remained, at least in theory, a perfectly acceptable course of action, the gig was up.
Ianto cursed his luck. If Gwen hadn’t been off with Rhys on a weekend getaway, Ianto’s presence on Torchwood’s latest field trip might not even have been required. Then Rhi could have seen everything, been retconned along with all the other witnesses, and Ianto’s carefully maintained pretence of working for the Welsh Tourist Board wouldn’t now be in shambles.
Why Rhiannon had chosen today of all days for a shopping trip to Cardiff, Ianto had no idea. She usually hated coming into the city because it was so crowded, especially on the weekend, and the parking was so expensive. If she’d gone to the St David’s Centre as she usually did on her rare visits, she would have missed all the excitement, but no, she had to be right there on Queen Street when it all went down.
There’d been a Rift alert in the middle of the afternoon, and according to Tosh, whatever had come through was alive. Not knowing exactly what to expect, since CCTV footage couldn’t get a clear view among the milling shoppers, the team, including Ianto, had piled into the SUV and rushed to the coordinates.
By the time they reached the scene, screeching to a halt with Jack’s usual dramatic flair, most of the shoppers had already fled, taking refuge in nearby shops. There were only a handful of people left on the street, hiding behind anything they thought might offer some protection from the monster in their midst. Unfortunately for Ianto, the person hiding closest to where the SUV pulled up turned out to be Rhiannon.
Not that Ianto registered that fact at the time. On their arrival, the team were all completely focused on capturing the alien, a squat and hostile brute with a lionlike mane, wickedly sharp protruding canines, tiny red eyes, and a massive gun gripped in furry, long-taloned hands. Just because the weapon was of alien origin didn’t mean it wasn’t still clearly recognisable as what it was, which was reason enough for innocent bystanders to be keeping a low profile.
Torchwood did their job with smooth efficiency, tranquillising and disarming their uninvited visitor, slipping a hood over its head, cuffing its wrists behind its back, and loading in into the back of the SUV. Then Owen did the doctor thing, going among the witnesses, checking for injuries, handing out Retcon pills as treatment for ‘shock’ as Jack and Tosh assured people there was nothing to worry about, it was just a short man in a mask, a dangerous escaped mental patient who suffered from delusions, believing he was an alien warrior sent to earth to hunt humans.
Ianto should have been helping them to spread the disinformation. Part of Torchwood’s job was to disseminate little white lies that kept the general public from finding out the truth about Torchwood, while at the same time making it easier for witnesses to sleep easily at night. Better an easily digestible lie than widespread panic, right?
Not according to Rhiannon. Before Ianto could make a move to do his part, she was looming in front of him, face like thunder. The top of her head barely reached above his shoulder, but she still managed to look intimidating.
“Ianto Jones, you tell me what’s going on here right now, or so help me I’ll make you sorry! All this time you’ve been telling me you’re with the Tourist Board, and here you are with bloody Torchwood! What have you got to say for yourself?” All the time she was speaking, she kept poking him in the chest with a stiff forefinger, while he kept retreating until he was backed up against the SUV with nowhere else to go. Even then the poking didn’t stop, punctuating every single word. He just knew he was going to have bruises from it.
“I didn’t have a choice, Rhi. I did what I had to do.”
“Don’t give me that! It’s a free country, you always have choices, and you chose to lie to me! What IS that thing? And don’t you try telling me he’s an escaped mental patient because I’m not buying it!”
“I don’t know what it is, Rhi, and I honestly couldn’t tell you the truth. We’re not allowed to talk to anyone outside the organisation about our work. I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act; I’d be charged with treason and thrown in jail for the rest of my life if I’d told you.”
Rhiannon narrowed her eyes. “You’re saying you would’ve told me otherwise?”
Ianto wished she hadn’t asked that, because she wasn’t going to like the answer. “No, I wouldn’t have, because it’s safer for you and the kids if you don’t know, and safer for everyone if nobody knows what Torchwood does. That way they can complain about us, and they can hate us, but they don’t have to be scared. They don’t have to worry that their lives are in danger every time they see us. To the whole of Cardiff, we’re just a nuisance they have to put up with. If they knew what we really do, they’d never have a good night’s sleep again. There’d be panic in the streets. You think I like lying to you? I don’t, but sometimes a small lie is better, not to mention safer for all concerned, than the truth.”
“A small lie? You call this small? Is anything you’ve ever told me the truth?”
He could stare down a horde of armed alien invaders, but Ianto couldn’t meet his sister’s eyes.
“That’s what I thought. So what happens to me now? You already know I don’t believe the tall story your friends are telling everyone.”
“Like everyone else, you’ll have to forget,” Jack said from behind her. “I’m sorry, but Ianto’s safety depends on it. If you love your brother, if you don’t want to put his life, and your own, in danger, then you won’t fight us on this.”
Rhi looked like she wanted to argue, but instead she sighed and poked Ianto in the chest again. “You’re bloody lucky I love you as much as I do.”
In Ianto’s opinion, she had a funny way of showing it.
“I know, Rhi. I love you too.” He handed his sister a retcon tablet and a bottle of water. “That’s why you have to take this, because I need to keep you safe.”
“One tiny pill? It’ll make me forget everything?”
“All you’ll remember is an escaped mental patient, the same as everyone else.”
“Fine.” Rhiannon swallowed the pill. “Just be careful, alright? You’re the only brother I’ve got. You’re a pain, but I don’t want to lose you.”
“I will. I promise.” Kissing his sister on the forehead, Ianto turned and walked away from her without a backward glance. Rhiannon would never know how much it cost him.