It’s Thursday! No, wait, it’s FAN FICTION THURSDAY! (that’s a thing, right?) As usual when I’m out of ideas – erh, no, that’s not the reason I am posting this piece. Anyways, before I do, a short announcement: my fan fiction can now also be found on the “Archive of Our Own”. For now, I will first post my pieces here on my blog and then (a few days or so later) on the Archive. And now for another piece of Torchwood fan fiction, this time written from the point of view of Rhiannon, Ianto’s sister. The title is Welsh and means “my brother”. SPOILERS for Children of Earth.
Human life is a strange thing. Day in, day out, we do so much, we say so much, we think so much. But when we die, what is left of us are books on a shelf, gathering dust, sausages in the fridge, gathering mould, and pictures on the wall, gathering tears. And when all of that has been cleaned up, what we leave behind fits in a cardboard box. And the person who holds it feels like she didn’t know you at all.
At least I felt that way when I cleaned out my brother Ianto’s apartment. Or tried to. The first time I came to that place I had never been invited to, I just sat on the couch and cried for what felt like an hour before Johnny took me back home. “It’s okay, love, we don’t need to do it today.” I knew that wasn’t true, the landlord wanted us to finish it as quickly as possible because potential new tenants were already queuing up. And who wouldn’t want to live in an apartment with a view of Cardiff Bay? I had no idea Ianto made that much money.
Not that I had much of an idea about anything in his life. We never had any longer conversations when we were kids. They say a sick parent welds siblings together, but that had never been true for us. I guess mam’s panic attacks (that’s what the doctors called it) were much harder to understand for him since he was younger than me. Then again, I didn’t understand them either. But at least I had a few friends I could talk to and who would cheer me up. Ianto had no one, or at least no one we knew of (invented superheroes don’t count). Tad said I should cheer him up, but he refused to talk to me. Even when they took her to Providence Park. Even when she passed away.
I was surprised when he was suddenly caught shoplifting. I had expected him to smoke in the school’s rest room, maybe even pot. But stealing? I never thought he would stoop so low. We weren’t rich, but there was certainly no need to steal, especially not the kind of ugly shirt they caught him with. Tad was right to ground him, but I guess it only made their relationship worse. Tad always had high expectations of us, he wanted us to get better jobs than he had, wanted us to offer our children something more than a tiny flat and the occasional trip to the beach that we called “holidays”. Another one of his dreams that didn’t come true.
I try to remember how Ianto looked like at tad’s funeral, but no image comes to my mind. I don’t think he came in jeans and t-shirt as some in the neighbourhood had suspected. But he didn’t stand next to me when they lowered the urn down into the grave where mam’s was already awaiting it. I was crying and Johnny was holding me in his arms, but Ianto didn’t bother saying goodbye. “He always liked you more than me.” That’s what he said to me a few days before the funeral, when we were having lunch at McDonald’s. And that was it. He moved out and only gave me his new address when I asked him for it. Apparently he shared a flat with a bunch of other university students, somewhere in Splott.
For a couple of years, I mostly got only Christmas and birthday cards. We sometimes talked on the phone, especially after David and Mica were born. I wanted him to be their godfather, but he refused without giving a reason. I didn’t want to press him, I knew it would be useless. I had probably done something wrong without even realising it.
Then I heard that he had moved to London, some sort of civil service job he only made some general remarks about. The next Christmas, I got a card “From Ianto and Lisa”, with a photo of him and his cute girlfriend. Was that really the Ianto I had lived with for 18 years? I couldn’t believe my eyes: no t-shirt, no jeans, but a white shirt and a waistcoat. Kempt hair. No shadows around his eyes. That night I suddenly felt guilty. I thought I had suppressed him while he was here in Cardiff. And now the butterfly had spread its wings and flown away and I was left with an empty ugly cocoon. I felt bad for not having noticed that hidden layer. Johnny said it wasn’t my fault, but I still phoned Ianto and apologized. Which seemed to embarrass him.
We didn’t really grow closer after that, he only notified me of his return to Cardiff a month or so after he had moved back. I asked about Lisa, but he only mumbled something that I decoded as “we’re having a tough time”. He didn’t say much more when he came over for the occasional birthday coffee. I figured they had broken up for good, but then a year or so later he told me that she had died in an accident at work. I’m not usually lost for words, but I didn’t know what to say to him. I had never met Lisa, of course, but I had always assumed that it had been her who had freed Ianto from his cocoon, had taken all that self-hatred from him. Ianto didn’t complain about my lack of condolences, instead he was staring out of the window, his mind somewhere else. I just hoped he hadn’t been a witness to her accident.
I was worried about him, I admit. I was worried whether he would be able to cope with the loss of Lisa. After all, weren’t mam’s genes also lingering in his DNA? Whenever I felt anxious, I worried that heritage of mine would finally show its nasty face, but luckily it hasn’t happened yet. But Ianto? Gloom had always seemed to accompany him and I worried it would get darker now without the emotional support of the woman he loved. It was more than year later that learned that I shouldn’t have needed to worry.
I didn’t believe the rumour of him dating another man. Susan was world-famous for mixing up people (Britney Spears and Sarah Michelle Gellar, hello?), and somehow I couldn’t imagine my brother eating at a French restaurant. Him, the lad who always went for greasy fast food when given the choice? I was wrong, as I had been so often when it came to Ianto. I was glad he had found someone who made him smile, who cares if he found it weird? I didn’t. But that night I once again wondered whether I had ever really known him. Still, I hoped again that things would change now between us. Maybe even a wedding? Ianto hadn’t been there when Johnny and I had gotten married, but I wanted to be his maid of honour. It felt a little silly, but I had always loved weddings.
Three days later, Ianto died. I had been worried when I met him at the playground, with the cuts on his face and all. But I wanted to believe that he would be all right. He seemed confident, after all. He had a plan. Even in the midst of crisis, he had a plan. I didn’t recognize the man who had left our home so long ago, but I was proud of him. Maybe I should have prayed to God to protect him.
I didn’t dare to look at… even now I don’t want to use that word, although it’s technically correct. Johnny said Ianto had looked calm, and I wanted to believe him even though I knew he was lying. I wanted to remember my brother with his eyes open, smiling at me. It was the least I could do.
The funeral was small. A few old neighbours, a few old friends, Gwen and her husband, Johnny and the kids. I didn’t understand why his boyfriend, Jack, didn’t show up. It was called “last respects” for a reason. Gwen said she didn’t know where he was, but that I shouldn’t think him rude for not showing up. I tried to, but I couldn’t. If Jack had died, Ianto would have said goodbye. I guess.
A week later, I returned to the place where Ianto and I had last spoken. I don’t know what I thought I would find there. Everything that was left of his life was in his apartment, and I knew that I had to go there eventually, but maybe I felt I needed to go a long way round. I sat down on the swings, tears dwelling up in my eyes as I remembered how his voice sounded.
“I know you think I’m rude.” I hadn’t noticed the tall man sitting down on the other swing. He looked oddly out of place, with his WWII greatcoat.
“You’re Rhiannon Davies, right?” I slowly nodded, but felt uncomfortable. “I’m Jack. Ianto’s…” He didn’t say it out loud, whether out of fear about my reaction or because saying my brother’s name made him sad, I couldn’t say.
I just stared at him. So this was Jack. The mysterious date that looked like a film star, or an escort. I had to agree with Ianto: he was very handsome. Handsome and also incredibly sad looking. Men tend to hide their emotions, so it always stuns me all the more when they don’t. I had been angry at him for not showing up at the funeral, but now I understood that it hadn’t meant that he didn’t grieve for Ianto. “You loved him.” was the only thing I managed to say before tears rolled down my cheeks again. He took my hand and for a while we just sat there, both of us unable to stop crying.
When I saw him wiping his face with the sleeve of his coat, I gave him a handkerchief. “How about we go and have a cup of tea?” I offered. “I want to get to know you better.” Because Ianto would have wanted that. Jack hesitated, but finally nodded in agreement.
The tearoom was almost empty at this time of the day, and I was glad that no one would notice if I would start crying again. Only after our tea had been served did I notice that I didn’t quite know what to say to Jack. For the last week, I had only imagined yelling at him. “Ianto didn’t tell me much about you.” I finally managed to say, almost as an excuse.
Jack smiled sadly. “Sounds like him.” For a moment I thought he would cry again, but he just blinked a few times before looking back at me. “He didn’t tell me much about you, either.”
I smiled. I felt like I had gotten a glimpse of the person Ianto had come to love. “I guess we were never as close as siblings are said to be.” Jack looked as if he understood all too well what I was trying to say. “So, you work– worked together? That’s how you– met?” I had come to dislike the past tense.
Jack nodded, but didn’t say anything else.
It suddenly occurred to me that Ianto had probably not told him about his unintentional coming out in my kitchen. I wanted to assure him that I wasn’t against their relationship, rather the opposite, but once again I found myself lost for words. What I managed to say sounded stupid. “You made him happy. That’s nice.” And even more stupid than that. “I wanted to be his maid of honour.”
“Gwen wanted to be mine.” We both had to smirk. The whole situation was just so absurd. Absurd and sad and infuriating. But talking somehow blew away some of the clouds.
We talked about Ianto until both of our teas had gone cold. Shared memories of what could have been two different persons. Jack seemed to know a lot more about him than I did, but I wasn’t mad. I was just happy that I had finally found some of the missing pieces in the giant puzzle that was– had been my brother.
“You must come visit us some time. Meet Johnny, and David and Mica.” I suggested when we finally said goodbye.
But I didn’t get the answer I had hoped for. “I would love to. But… I have to leave the city for a while.”
“Then send us an email. Or a postcard?” I offered.
Jack nodded sadly. “I’ll try to.” But he didn’t ask for my address.
The second time I went to Ianto’s apartment, I was determined to clean something, anything up. Instead I found myself wandering around the place, marvelling the life I hadn’t been a part of. Someone had already cleaned out parts of his bedroom closet, probably Jack. But the rest of the place was untouched, still the way Ianto had left it. James Bond DVD case on the table. Dirty plates in the sink. The unopened tooth paste tube next to the almost empty one. Neat and tidy, and so completely unlike the room he used to inhabit in his youth.
The photos on the wall were the most fascinating part for me. I saw Lisa on many of them: Lisa at the beach with a giant fish on a stick, Lisa with a cute dog, Lisa in a sparkling evening dress, Lisa waving a paper Union Jack. There were also a lot of photos with Ianto and Lisa on them, selfies mostly. So many picture of a laughing Ianto. It made me sad, because I realized he had rarely ever laughed when we had been living in the same place. I also saw photos of past Christmas parties with Gwen, a young man and a Chinese (?) girl on them. Two other colleagues who didn’t bother showing up at the funeral?
What I didn’t see were photos of Jack. I found that strange, they were a couple after all. And there were so many photos of Lisa, wouldn’t it feel weird to Jack to always see her when he came here? But then I noticed the magnets on the fridge and decided that Jack had probably taken all the photos with him. I couldn’t blame him. He wanted to remember Ianto’s smile as much as I did. Which is why I kept all the photos I found. I had no idea who most of the people on them were, but knowing that Ianto had found some friends or at least colleagues he could rely on somehow calmed me.
I noticed Johnny was struggling with his feelings. He hadn’t really known Ianto, despite telling me that we were the only family he had left. They hadn’t been friends or anything, not that Johnny hadn’t tried – in his own, slightly awkward way. Now he no longer had to try, but that wasn’t satisfying either, because he had wanted them to be friends. Johnny hid his grief behind pretend-professionalism. “We should keep some of the suits, maybe they’ll fit David when he gets older.” “I should have waited with buying that James Bond box set.” “You think we should keep some of the furniture for when Mica moves out?” I just let him talk, I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me, but I didn’t want to think about this apartment in terms of what still had value to any of us.
The next time I came alone. Gwen had offered me her help with cleaning up, but I didn’t want to bother her. Or maybe I couldn’t, because in my mind her face would forever be connected with those three words I had never wanted to hear.
I spent the day going through closets and cupboards, drawers and shelves. I took out every book, every DVD, anything that promised to fill a few more gaps in my picture of Ianto. When he had been a boy, he had kept a diary, but apparently he had given up on that habit. At least I couldn’t find one in his apartment. Or maybe Jack had taken that with him as well? The DVDs weren’t that enlightening either. Tad would have been happy to know his son shared at least one of his hobbies. Although I wasn’t sure whether tad would have watched some of the syrupy romances I found on Ianto’s shelf. The book shelf was even more surprising. At least one meter of Stephen Hawking books, and another bunch of volumes about astrophysics. My brother, the wannabe-astronaut? There were also a number of coffee table books on Welsh history and mythology, and at least five different volumes on flying dinosaurs (or rather, as I learned from skimming through them, pterosaurs).
On his bedside table I found the last book Ianto had read – an illustrated history of British cinema. I thumbed through it to find out where he had stopped reading. I found the page and smiled when I discovered he had bookmarked it with a photo of him and Jack, presumably taken at the same Christmas party as the photos on his wall. I had intended to buy a black wooden frame for one of the photos I had of Ianto, and to put it next to our family’s photos in the living room. But now that I saw him smiling happily in Jack’s arms I knew that black would be the wrong choice. That I didn’t want to shade my memories of him in that dark tone. I had to buy a frame in a warmer colour. Red maybe.
When I left the apartment long after the sun had gone down, I hadn’t found any more clues to solve the enigma Ianto Jones. If anything, I had found even more things that didn’t make much sense to me. I wanted to blame myself for not trying harder to get close to my brother, but in the end I had to admit that it wouldn’t help me even if there was someone to blame. This was reality, and there was no way I could go back in time and at least try to right some of the wrongs in our life. Ianto was gone forever, and all I could do was remember him and tell my kids that he was the finest uncle one could ever hope for. And most importantly, he was and would forever remain my brother. My brother, who I love more than I ever admitted, who I miss dearly every day, and who I will continue to miss until I myself am just a few things in a cardboard box.