When Rhiannon was nine, she watched her father break her brother's leg.
It had been a typical weekend trip to the park until then - Dad used to take them out on Sundays for long enough that Mum could get the dinner on. She'd been contemplating braving the climbing frame -- no-one ever bothered so much about safety regulations, not in those days, and getting to crawl along the bars with the risk of falling a good two metres onto gravel was practically the best part -- while Dad pushed Ianto on the swings. He always liked sticking closer to her or to Dad at the park, Ianto did, too nervous of the crowds of bigger kids to want to strike out on his own.
Even the bigger kids though, had shut up and looked around at Ianto's wail - more of a shriek really - as he hurtled through the air and made a solid connection with the ground.
He hadn't stopped screaming after that, which was what had brought Rhiannon off the climbing frame and over to see what was going on, because that wasn't like Ianto. Screaming and yelling was more her style - Ianto was the master of silent tears, and the wobbly bottom lip. Her dad was there already, picking him up, examining the poor skinned hands and knees, even offering to hit the ground for hurting him - a joke which usually at least raised a smile through the tears, but today didn't even seem to penetrate through the howls.
Of course, the mothers came crowding around to see what was going on - mothers always did. Plasters were offered, sweeties produced to make the 'poor little mite' feel better, good advice offered in spades until Dad had started to look a bit claustrophobic and broken away, still carrying Ianto as he headed for home. Rhiannon trailed at his heels, disappointed about having her play cut short, but understanding. They had to go back so that Mum could make Ianto stop crying. Mum always did.
Mum hadn't been able to that time though. She'd swabbed knees and hands with the obligatory disinfectant -- the stuff that stung so bad that Rhiannon had just plain stopped telling her parents about any cuts which didn't actually leave her in danger of bleeding to death -- and offered cuddles, chocolate and comfort in abundance, but it hadn't seemed to do any good. It had resulted in one of those weird whispered arguments with Dad - the ones where they seemed to think Rhiannon and Ianto wouldn't hear what they said if they only hissed it at each other, even when they were right there listening to Mum whisper about how 'I leave you five minutes with the kids, and you can't even manage that!' Rhiannon felt sorry for Dad then. It wasn't as though he'd meant anything to go wrong - it was only the swings. No-one ever got hurt badly on the swings.
But it seemed that Ianto did, which was why, when he kept crying and then his leg started swelling up awfully, Dad had nipped down to talk to Daffyd down the road who had a car, to ask for a lift to the hospital.
They could have got an ambulance, of course -- later it would seem silly that they hadn't -- but no-one had really wanted to bother anyone. It wasn't like a heart attack or anything - it was only Ianto's leg, and it probably wasn't even serious at all. They would probably just send them home again when they'd looked at it. So, they'd opted for a long, cramped car journey instead - Dad in the front, next to Daffyd, everyone else in the back, with Ianto cuddled on Mum's knee, still sobbing fitfully.
Probably, now, they'd say that was against all the seatbelt laws, but you didn't think of that then either.
A & E seemed to take forever. Dad had tried to stop Ianto crying by pointing out all the kids who were more injured than he was, and not crying half as much. Rhiannon had stared in fascinated horror at a little girl with blood spurting down her face, staining her - no doubt, carefully hand-knitted - Pink Panther jumper. It made it look as though Pink Panther were having a nosebleed, as she pointed out to Ianto in a whisper. Ianto didn't seem to hear.
Then they were seen, and it turned out it was serious after all. They took Ianto away for x-rays, but wouldn't let Rhiannon go, even though she begged to be allowed to go see the machine that let you look inside people. Instead, a very serious looking lady led her away by the hand to talk to her in an office about how her little brother had got hurt, and was she sure that Daddy had only been pushing him on the swings, and that she could tell a grown-up if Daddy ever hurt them.
She didn't work out what had been going on there until she was much older. At the time, she was mostly annoyed that the lady kept calling him Daddy -- a name she hadn't used since she was five years old.
Dad had looked tired when the lady had given in and let her go back to them, and Mum had even stopped arguing at him. Rhiannon had given him a special hug, just to let him know that she knew it wasn't his fault. Ianto had been packed into one of the hospital beds - small and frail, with his leg in plaster, and Mum said they'd given him something to make him stop crying like that. They'd given him an icelolly too, and Rhiannon was briefly envious of that. She hadn't got to have an icelolly, and she hadn't even been silly enough to break her leg.
The next few weeks seemed taken up by long bus rides to the hospital -- of course, they couldn't ask Daffyd to drive them up every time -- which always seemed to take up twice the amount of time that they were actually allowed in to visit. Once, when he seemed more like Ianto again, and not like the bleary tearful little boy he had been when they arrived at the hospital, Rhiannon had asked him how he'd fallen off.
He looked at her with the wide innocent eyes which were Ianto's speciality, and said, "I forgot to hold on."
They didn't go to the park again until he was out of hospital, and when they did, the council had replaced the gravel flooring with a weird sort of black stuff which was meant to pad the ground a bit and protect you if you fell over. The bigger kids were scornful about it, and Rhiannon found it hard to blame them. How did you protect a kid who forgot to hold on when he was on the swings?
It became a family tease once Ianto was better, and Dad had stopped looking so guilty about the whole thing - 'the lad so daft he forgot to hold on to the swings'. It was good-humoured fun, even if Ianto sulked a bit about it now and then. In any case, Dad had felt so awful about it that he'd bought Ianto a whole lego kit to play with while he was in hospital, when it wasn't even his birthday or Christmas, so Rhiannon thought he'd done rather well out of it. Especially as he hadn't had to go to school for the whole nearly-two-months he was in hospital.
Anyway, Ianto was a bit daft sometimes. It wasn't his fault, he just sometimes got so occupied with thinking about other stuff that he forgot to think about what he was doing. That, or he'd get carried away with what someone else wanted him to do, and forget about the potential consequences. Keeping the house tidy he was good at, if only because he feared Mum's outrage when confronted with the horror of a messy bedroom -- actually, Rhiannon feared that a bit too -- but school, school was a nightmare.
His reports always said that he was a good boy at heart, but they said it after whole pages of stuff about how he should stop messing about in class and talking to his mates. Rhiannon, a veteran of messing about in class and talking to her mates rather than working, had always managed to scrape by without too much trouble, but Ianto, it seemed, just didn't know how to do it right. He was always the boy who didn't notice that the teacher had just walked in and was staring at their disorderly class with something akin to despair, always the kid who didn't realise that now was the time to get talking. Rhiannon observed his class from the lofty height of one who was a whole three years older, and knew there were kids in it far worse than him - kids who bullied, and harried substitute teachers, and were downright malicious rather than.. well, just a little bit daft. That didn't matter though, because Ianto was the one who always got caught.
It worried Dad, she knew. He talked a lot now about how no-one about the place could expect to be guaranteed a job, not now the mining had collapsed, and they needed to get their heads down and a bit of work done if they wanted jobs once they were out of school. The telly kept going on and on about how anyone could go to university now, how it didn't matter if you had money any more, and Dad went on and on about it as well. Rhiannon, who liked it at home and had no intention of leaving friends and family behind to go to some weird place hours away where they probably all talked funny, knew when to smile and nod and make agreeable noises, but Ianto didn't. Ianto was the one who was daft enough to say that out loud, and that was how the arguments happened. Massive arguments, every time the reports came out, where Dad would ask him how he ever intended to make something of himself if he didn't get his head down at school. Inevitably, Ianto would retort that he seemed to do well enough, and Dad would end up yelling that he wanted his son qualified to do a bit more than working at Debenhams, and if Ianto carried on the way he was going he would find he wasn't qualified to do much more than make coffee!
It was Dad's nightmare - Mum's too, though she was quieter about it - that they'd end up in jobs going nowhere. Rhiannon thought privately that it didn't seem such a bad thing. At least Dad seemed happy at work most of the time, just as Mum did in her job down at Woollies, and they both worked with people who always seemed to have time to stop and say hello, and sometimes slip them some sweets. It wasn't like the jobs they'd maybe used to have had, which they'd studied at schools, with the mines. People used to die down there, and she couldn't think why on earth anyone would prefer that to working at Debenhams.
The shop-lifting incident, though, had been the one to cause the real trouble.
It was typical Ianto, typical daft lad, that the shop he'd decided was worth stealing from was only couple of doors away from Woollies. Even the assistant said that there'd been a whole crowd of kids in there, pushing and shoving, but when she'd seen one of them slip something into his pockets, Ianto had been the last to bolt for the door, so Ianto had been the one to get caught with a Mars bar he hadn't paid for shoved down his coat.
He didn't even like Mars bars. Rhiannon knew that for an absolute fact.
She'd thought it was harsh, personally. Anyone else would have given him a bit of a scolding, called his parents to let them drive the message home, and left it at that. But the manager said they'd had trouble lately, too many kids nicking things and cutting into profits, so he wasn't about to let anyone off, not even a thirteen year old kid who swore he'd never stolen anything before in his life. After all, wasn't that what they all said?
So, the police had been called, and Mum had been dragged down from her work to get a lecture on how her son was a young delinquent. She'd cried all that night too, and Dad had stormed, furious because she was upset, and Ianto had just sat, silent and miserable, even his wide innocent eyes not helping him any more.
They'd made him go to court too, and that meant money they didn't really have spent on a suit and a haircut for him, another for Dad, and a treasured day off spent on Dad taking him there to explain how he was really very sorry and he wouldn't do it again ever. They gave him twenty hours community service, which was nothing compared to the amount of work Dad set him around the house and garden so he could earn back the money for the suit. Really, Rhiannon knew, it was as much to keep him out of trouble and away from those mates of his. It wasn't even that Ianto had bad taste in friends - most kids she knew had nicked at least a chocolate bar once or twice, just to see if they could. But Ianto was the one who never knew to say stop, Ianto was the one not to see the danger, and Ianto, almost inevitably, was the one to get caught. Poor kid. She wanted to smack him around the head almost as often as she wanted to hug him, but then, that was what big sisters were for.
He was one of the reasons she ended up marrying Johnny in the end. Of course, there'd been a lot of other factors that went into deciding to start that argument -- and it was a hell of an argument -- with her parents, but she could trace a good deal of it to the Saturday they'd stumbled in from his house, still giggly and hungover from the night before, and found Ianto, white and scared, sitting at the kitchen table.
It was a pregnancy scare, he said. He'd been mucking around with his girlfriend - well, everyone did, didn't they? Rhiannon had mucked around with boys a bit when she was fifteen -- and fourteen, too, for that matter. It was a rite of growing up, those first exciting fumbles behind someone's old shed, or even in your bedroom if you were feeling particularly brave -- though anyone trying that ought to almost expect any attempts at having fun to be interrupted by multiple cups of tea brought up by their mum. But Ianto had to be the one it went wrong for, didn't he? And the girl was fourteen, and she'd missed a period, and how was he going to tell Dad?
Had she been on her own, Rhiannon wasn't sure even she would have known how to handle that. Told her parents, maybe, and watched the fall-out, and just been there to pick Ianto up again when it was over. Everyone knew a kid like that - the kid that messed up, got pregnant or got someone else pregnant. Either the girl's parents had her quietly sneaked away for an abortion, or they had the kid and ended up unhappily anchored to each other for the rest of their lives. There'd been two cases in her year at school. There were already three in Ianto's.
But Johnny had taken it in his stride, slapped Ianto on the back and pointed out that 'at least you know it works, in any case', which had brought a badly needed laugh to the whole situation. Then he'd sent Rhiannon off to the chemist for a pregnancy test, Ianto had called the girl - Dee, her name was - to come over, and everyone had been awfully relieved when it came out negative.
Afterwards, Rhiannon had slipped away and let Johnny give Ianto a talk on contraception - one that seemed to involve a lot less blushes, and a lot more matey laughter than the school ones had. She didn't feel the need to ask about the overheard mutterings about 'really good blowjobs' and 'right, yeah, and they love it if you do that' she'd heard when she brought in the coffee. It certainly couldn't hurt Ianto to pick up a bit of good advice, and if it prevented a reoccurrence of needing to run to the chemists' she was all for it.
It also cemented Johnny into her affections. How could she do anything less than love someone who was almost as committed to keeping her younger brother out of trouble as she was?
She'd been almost certain he wasn't going to go to university. In fact, she'd spent about a year preparing for the Really Big Argument that was bound to come when he admitted he hadn't bothered to fill in his UCAS form. There'd been enough of a one when she'd announced she was planning to marry Johnny rather than going away, and at least she'd had some idea what she wanted to do with her life. Ianto was just.. drifting.
But the argument never came, and it never came principally because their dad fell ill. He was only young -- fifty-two was barely anything at all these days, was it? -- but the doctors said he had a weak heart. They talked about fitness, and being overweight, and drinking, and smoking -- and he laughed and said, what was the use of living if you weren't going to have fun? Everyone had to take their chances in life.
She hated him for that view some days, almost as much as she loved him, especially when he left them that June. A massive heart attack, they said, he never stood a chance. Rationally, she knew that even had he started to change his lifestyle when he had the first one, only a few months before, it likely wouldn't have saved him. Irrationally, she hated him for the leaving. It was Johnny who got her through that again, Johnny who minded David -- and did so surprisingly well, even if Rhiannon wondered later how much a one year old could understand of the football matches he got taken to -- and Johnny who waited patiently until the storm of tears, and fury, and misery was over and she became something like herself again.
But there was no-one like that for Ianto. Perhaps Rhiannon should have been there, but she was too wrapped up in her own unhappiness, and what energy she had left over went to looking after her mother. It was too soon, too unfair, and there was no time to sit down and discuss how it should best be dealt with, nor to notice the angry young man who had wrapped his misery inside himself with no way of letting it out again.
He didn't tell anyone he planned on applying for Clearing, he only told them when he got the call back that one of the universities he'd applied to had accepted him. It wasn't the best university perhaps, just a converted polytechnic, but it was still a university. He would still get a degree, just like everyone else prepared to go away and put the work in. Dad had won the argument in death that he would never have won in life.
Maybe it was what Dad would have wanted, but Rhiannon couldn't rid herself of the feeling that it was yet another family member leaving them at the time they needed each other most of all.
He would have been welcome to come home during the holidays, even on weekends. Mum might have moved to a smaller flat -- somewhere without all the memories -- but there would still have been a bed for him, if he'd wanted it. Even if there hadn't been, there would have been room on the sofa at Rhiannon's house, as long as he didn't mind being woken by David's early morning squeals when he demanded to be allowed down to watch the Teletubbies. He rarely came though, and sometimes Rhiannon wondered if, in his mind, Mum's move from one house to another had left no room for him.
When he did come home he talked oddly, stiffly, until she looked sideways at him and gave him a little poke in the ribs, demanding he talk properly again. He read different papers now too -- the red-tops of their childhood with the pictures of busty page three girls were scorned, and replaced with thicker papers with tiny writing in them and mostly pictures of politicians. Apparently, this was the effect university had on a boy. Sometimes too, he talked seriously about teenage pregnancy and hooliganism. Rhiannon had laughed at him, reminded him of his own scare where contraception was concerned, pointed out that the hoodie he was so concerned about on the street corner was young Dylan White, whose older brother Ianto had been knocking around with not so many years ago.
He'd looked at her, truly confused, lost in this world he'd grown up in and said, "You could live somewhere better, you know. Somewhere without people like them."
She hadn't known how to take that, had taken a moment to glance over to where David had playing to get her temper under control before she'd been able to reply. "What them? Ianto, they're not them. They're us."
"You're not like that," he'd protested, and she'd wondered if Dad had known that this what university did to kids, set them upside-down and sent them home looking for a veneer of respectability they could never find there.
Johnny had saved her from a need to answer, and she silently thanked her husband for his entrance in a football shirt, still chanting team slogans before he caught sight of Ianto and swept him up into a bear-hug with a cheerful greeting and a demand to know if he'd had enough of the 'posh tossers' at university yet. Ianto had struggled his way through a reply to that, and Rhiannon thought darkly that maybe he'd had a little too much of the posh tossers to be good for him.
She thought the subject dropped, but it came up again in phone calls to both her and her mother over the next few years, always with gentle little hints that they could do better if they wanted to. She tried in vain to explain that she didn't want to do better, that she'd rather stay in the neighbourhood she was in, with her kids getting free school meals with the rest of them, and no-one to frown if she hung over the fence having a morning cigarette and gossip. She didn't want to end up in some richer neighbourhood where everyone could look down their noses when little David decided to break out the swear words in the middle of the supermarket. She was happy where she was. More than that, she didn't want to move to the kind of neighbourhood where the people she associated with would view the kids she grew up with as "them". She had the sneaking suspicion that she was a "them" herself, and she didn't like it much.
Eventually he stopped asking. At first, she thought that was because he'd got the hint, but on the rare occasions he visited -- dressed in smart suits, usually carrying an equally smart phone -- it became more obvious that it was because he'd simply painted over the cracks in his mind, redrawn the neighbourhood as something nicer, more civilised.
It hurt to think he was ashamed of them. It hurt more to think he was ashamed of himself, as he had been. She knew they were losing him, and yet how to fix it was a different matter.
It might have been different, had he been happier when he was away, but that was the part Rhiannon could never understand. He never sounded happy - not when she called him, nor when Mum called London to check on a nightly basis that the gangs the papers said roamed the streets there hadn't managed to get her little boy. He was stilted, quiet, never giving more than a few details of how the day had gone. Rhiannon thought he sounded lonely, and found herself longing to bring him home from the huge English city which was pretty much her idea of hell, back to the rough camaraderie of Newport.
There was a time -- all too brief -- when he sounded happier. A new job, he said, busy, busy, busy. It seemed alarmingly short on details as to what he was actually doing, but he sounded happier, a new buzz in his voice, as though he finally knew where he was going in life and might just have located a roadmap to get there. Mum worried that he might have joined a gang, or some sort of drugs cartel -- she'd heard there were a few of those in London -- but Rhiannon had persuaded her that it was (probably) perfectly legitimate, just too complicated to explain.
It hadn't stopped her worrying though. Hadn't Ianto always been the one for finding trouble?
There was more though, talk of a Lisa, and Rhiannon would have had to have been deaf not to have heard the fondness in his voice when he casually mentioned her name. It was just enough to make her heart leap a little. Maybe her little brother was finally settling down.
It broke it all over again though, when she'd asked when he was bringing this Lisa home to meet them.
Ianto had turned stiff again suddenly, awkward, as he mumbled that he'd explained to Lisa that he hadn't really had a happy family life.
"What unhappy family life?" she'd asked, incredulous, because certainly they'd been far from the worst off in the neighbourhood. They'd had both parents together still, after all, and if dinner had sometimes been a stately feast of beans-on-toast or boiled-egg-and-soldiers, they had at least never starved.
"Rhiannon," he'd said slowly, as though she were being deliberately stupid and he was trying not to be angry about it, "Dad broke my leg."
She'd laughed at first, thinking that was a joke, because how could anyone think of Dad doing that as anything other than an accident. When he didn't laugh with her, she turned cold, bewildered by the whole thing. "It was an accident, Ianto. You weren't holding on tight enough."
"So he said." There was such darkness in his tone when he said that that Rhiannon found herself wondering which other parts of history he had rewritten - how many family arguments he'd turned nasty in his head, when only love had ever been intended, even if sometimes it was tough love. "And no-one ever got to argue about it, did they?"
"He loved you, Ianto," she said quietly then. "You know that. He would never have done anything to hurt you on purpose."
"No. But he did enough by accident to do the job."
How had she not known before now that this anger lay inside her baby brother? They had failed him somehow, in not noticing and fixing it. Somewhere -- maybe in the death, maybe in the university, something had gone wrong, they had let him down, and Rhiannon found herself floundering suddenly, lost, uncertain how to retrieve things, wanting to be angry and yet so sad for that hurt, bitter tone in his voice.
"We love you," she said instead. "Come home, Ianto. We miss you. We can straighten this out."
There was silence for a moment -- a long painful silence. Then Ianto hung up the phone.
Though he answered her mother's calls -- that much was required to stop Mum setting off to London, all ready to arrange his funeral -- it was some time before he called Rhiannon again. When he did, the happy buzz had left his voice again, a raw, hurt note replacing it. She barely dared ask about Lisa, and when she did, he ducked the subject. A break-up then, she surmised, likely a bad one. Those happened. She only wished Ianto felt more able to talk to them about it.
"Come home," she said again, an old plea, one she did not expect now to ever be granted.
She was surprised when he paused, as though considering his answer.
"I am," he said finally, slowly. "Or at least -- Cardiff? Is that close enough to home for you?"
It wasn't quite the same as having him next-door, or even sleeping on the sofa, fighting off the kids. Still, it was better than having away in the foreign land that was London.
"It's a start," she agreed, feeling her heart lighten. "As long as you come visit us now and then? The kids barely know their Uncle Ianto."
"I'll --" Hesitation there, or was that the old shame of having to remind himself just where he'd grown up again? "I'll visit," he said after a moment. "But it might take a while. There are some things I have to sort out first."
"As long as you do." She said it fondly, wishing there was some way she could reach through the phone to give him a hug, all the way over in London. "Or -- do you want us to help you move in? I could bring Johnny, maybe a couple of his mates. We'd soon have it sorted."
"No, no!" he said hastily. "No, that's fine. There's not much to unpack -- I can sort what there is myself."
It saddened her again, that feeling that he was avoiding seeing them, but maybe sometimes you had to move slowly and gently. "We'll be seeing you then, Ianto. It'll be good to have you back. Home'll be good for what ails you."
He murmured assent, and she hung up and sat quietly for a moment, deaf to the yells of the kids. Something had changed in Ianto. Somewhere he'd got lost, forgotten who he was meant to be, and been unable to find it again.
Could Wales fix that? Pick him back up, shake out the misery and bitterness, and relocate the daft, unlucky little brother she was sure still loitered somewhere under it all?
Maybe, somehow, it just could.