Characters: Ianto, Steven, Jack, Gwen, various Who and TW characters, OCs
Pairings: canon pairings, Ianto/OMC, past Ianto/others
Rating: R
Words: 13,000 (4,700 this part)
Warnings: child endangerment, mentions of child abuse, emo as hell, wtfpresenttense
Spoilers: TW: CoE, DW: The Big Bang (written before series 6 premiered, mentions the gender of Gwen's baby)
Betas: fide_et_spe and humantales
Summary: Brought back by Amy but unable to return home, Ianto and Steven attempt to build a new life.
AN: Sequel to Strays. Familiarity with that story is not required to read this one.

He goes by "Nathan" these days, but Steven forgets to answer to anything save his own name, so they compromise. The other lies are easier: he uses Rhiannon's birth date, he didn't have custody of his son until recently when they lost the boy's mother in the troubles, they're looking for a fresh start somewhere without so many memories.

That last lie is close enough to be true.

Memories have been altered. The mechanism escapes him, and the little he knows rings too much of fairy tales and too little of science to make him believe. Once, there was a princess who waited for the Doctor. Once, the fairy godmother was trapped while the blue castle burned for two thousand years, and the soldier-prince waited for the princess to awaken. Once, the princess dreamed the world back together and brought the dead back to life.

Ianto suspects there's far more to do with space-time irregularities and less with three wishes, but he has no way to confirm the guess. He was a memory, and now he is nothing. Rhiannon didn't recognise him, burst into tears and chased him from her doorstep, shouted at him. Jack and Gwen stared through him like a stranger, and no matter what he did to try to tell them who he was, they didn't hear, didn't see, didn't believe. Ianto left when they tried to shoot him. On the bad nights, he can still close his eyes and see them, side by side, guns out, ready to kill him all over again.

From the little he's been able to pry from Steven, his own mother didn't know his face. As far as those who used to love them know, they are in their graves, and in their graves they must stay. Amy said there were others, that somehow they were drawn to her as Ianto had been, hearing a call in his head across the miles, leading him to the only place he had left to go when all his homes were lost. He didn't ask how many of the rest had dabbled with her as he had done, alone and afraid and humble. She gave him a meal, and a place to sleep, and a child to care for, and the contact information for people who could help.

The Mr Copper Foundation is kind to the newly-raised, offering identities and employment. Ianto is a librarian in a small town he never heard of before. Steven is enrolled in school. It's not a white-picket-fence life, but their flat is clean, and they're both used to waking up to the sounds of the other's nightmares shouted through thin walls. The neighbours worry, but Ianto has explained by refusing to go into detail how Steven's mother "died" and it's enough to forestall inquiries.

They don't talk about how they died, not to each other. It's enough to know, to remember the dark.

The problem with slipping into a new life is that the old one still fits. Ianto runs towards the sounds of shouts and screams before he remembers to run away. He searches news websites and police reports, and hacks into CCTV feeds for fun, looking for the same patterns he once knew. He can't help it, just as he can't help marking articles about UNIT, about rumours coming back from the United States that sound like Jack's doing, about mentions of escaped leopards and gorillas from zoos that don't exist.

"What's a Hoix?" Steven asks him over breakfast.

Ianto thinks. "An alien, from a nasty planet." He helps Steven lie, but he doesn't lie to him if he can help it, not about what happened, not about Father Christmas, certainly not about aliens. He takes a long drink from his coffee mug and tries not to think about the last time he chased a Hoix down a darkened alley, blood racing, chest pounding, exhilarated and terrified. He can't let himself remember the stink of its cooling body, or the cool, wet, grimy surface of the brick wall at his back with Jack's hands desperately scorching Ianto's shivery skin after it almost killed him. "Why do you want to know?"

"You left the computer on."

Ianto glances over. He oughtn't leave his browser open. He ought to use a password. "Sorry."

Steven shrugs and drinks his milk from the bowl. "Will you be home today?"

"Not until late. Warm up the leftovers." His schedule changes every fortnight, and he has to close once a week. The ladies at the library - and they are all ladies except for him - do try to make things easier on the single parents but they all take turns. "I'll be home before bedtime. If you pick our next book, I'll bring it home." Every night, they read a story together. Ianto remembers this from the good parts of his own childhood, associates the time with warmth and caring and mugs of cocoa. Steven loves to chat about the stories. It's something to share that's just for them.

Ianto doesn't kiss him on the head, and they rarely hug. From the outside, they seem distant, but on the other hand, Ianto only met the boy a few months ago, and has no idea what the etiquette is for dealing with one's ex-boyfriend's grandson (previously deceased). At best, they are falling into a stable friendship. At worst, neither has anyone else.

Work is brisk, and takes his mind off things he can't change. The local university is headed towards exams, and suddenly the students have remembered there's a library besides their own. Ianto calls home once to make sure Steven has arrived back from school. Around suppertime, there's another influx of students.

"Pardon me," says someone, while Ianto is reshelving, and he looks down to see brown eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, and a crooked but pleasant smile. "Could I see that one?"

Ianto hands the book over, and the man inspects the spine. "That's the one I need, thanks." He adds it to a stack in his arms.


"Personal research." The man smiles his odd smile again. "Haven't seen you around before."

"I've been working here a month." Ianto is done in this section, and ought to get back to the desk. But his mouth is dry, and his pulse is speeding up, and yes, this man is definitely checking him out. He's not from the university, Ianto thinks, unless he's a mature student. He's at least Ianto's age.

"Richard," says the man, holding out his free hand.

Ianto almost flubs it, but manages to say, "Nathan," just in time.

Ten things Ianto knows about Richard:

1. He's a writer. He's locally famous, and is usually in and out of the library all the time. All the ladies like him and have signed copies of his books. He writes fiction about paranormal phenomena.

2. He was on a small book-signing tour when Ianto and Steven moved to town. He regrets not meeting Ianto sooner.

3. He believes in all the alien sightings that people have reported over the last several years, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the planets in the sky, the children speaking in unison, and he thinks the universe is sending a message to the human race.

4. He's bad at giving head, always managing to scrape with his teeth at the worst time, and he doesn't do penetrative sex at all, but his hands are fucking gifted when they are wanking each other in the back of his car after the library closes. It's like being a teenager again, all messy kissing and hoping not to get caught.

5. He's a vegetarian, and is considering going vegan but he's not sure he wants to give up proper dairy.

6. He likes Steven, and apparently does know the etiquette for dealing with his sort-of-boyfriend's ex's grandchild, specifically by bringing video games and letting Steven chat about them to his heart's content. He is careful never to be in a room alone with him "for the look of things, Nathan, people talk in this town."

7. He was born and raised here. He knows the postman and the woman who owns the grocery, and the police, and everyone knows him.

8. The "ghost" that came to him and turned into a Cyberman put him in mind of his late mum. Ianto is chopping leeks for dinner when Richard says this, and cuts himself badly.

9. He is excellent at first aid, even to kissing it better afterwards.

10. He hates ties, he has no interest in any historical period, especially military-related, and he doesn't listen to any music older than the late 80s. He might possibly be perfect in every way. (Except for the giving head part, but they can work on that.)

Etiquette has no advice for figuring out how to put Steven and Richard into the same area of his life. Ianto won't let Richard stay over, and he won't leave Steven alone all night. Two months after they start seeing each other, eight weeks after the first time they leave stains on the upholstery in Richard's car, he invites them both for a weekend at his cottage.

Of course he has a cottage. What respectable writer wouldn't?

"Do you want to go?" It's breakfast again, just Ianto and Steven.

"I dunno. Has he got toys?"

The first thing Ianto has learned about raising a child is when to filter. Richard's toys are absolutely off-limits. "He has a computer. And books."

"Good books?"

"Probably grownup books." Steven makes a face. Homework has been hard lately, and while Ianto's bright, he's not academically inclined and never was. "You can take some toys."

"It's just overnight?"

Ianto nods. "Just one night."

"Mum used to send me to a babysitter."


"When Mum wanted to have a man over, or go out, she sent me to a sitter. Uncle Jack watched me once."

And just like that, the world is darker, instead of brightened by the prospect of a whole night with his new lover. "We don't have to go."

"We can go. Is he your boyfriend now?"

Ianto's tongue ties itself. The simple answer is yes, but Ianto's experiences with having boyfriends are limited and peculiar. Again Jack's ghost is in the room with them. "I think he's going to be."

There was a real Nathan once. Back in London, back at Torchwood, Ianto's first work friend was named Nathan Reynolds. He'd been at Torchwood for four years, and always had the best stories.

"Did you know," he'd say to Ianto over lunch, "that they caught a sex alien a hundred years ago, and they studied it, and they've been distilling its hormones ever since. They put them in the coffee and take notes about what happens. It's why everybody is shagging everybody else." He took a long deliberate slurp from his cup.

Ianto laughed at the bullshit story, just like he laughed at the bullshit stories about the Doctor. Sure, he worked for UNIT and they protected him in the seventies. Sure, he travelled through time in a blue wooden police box. That was as likely as the alien in charge of one of the departments (everyone claimed it was their own) or that Yvonne's boobs were enhanced with alien technology.

Nathan swore all these stories were true, especially the one about Yvonne's boobs.

When Yvonne had one of her mandatory office parties, and Ianto wound up in the back room with his hands shoved down Larry Marks's pants, and after threw himself in horror at Nathan's knees wondering what the fuck he'd just done, Nathan patted him on the head, and said, "Sex alien." The next day he introduced Ianto to this gorgeous girl he knew in HR who'd just broken up with her fiancé.

The real Nathan had last been seen somewhere around the fifteenth floor. His name was on the monument, listed among the missing because they never found enough of a body that matched his description to be sure.

Richard is working on a novel about a sex alien, because he thinks it will sell.

"How can you not believe in aliens?" he asks incredulously over dinner. They've done a homemade pizza thick with cheese and mushrooms and peppers. Steven is picking off the peppers like they are worms, jiggling them as he sets them down side-by-side on his plate, red, yellow and green.

Ianto shrugs. "I see no reason to think these aren't normal phenomena."

"The planets in the sky and the Daleks on the streets weren't normal."

"The papers said there was a release of a toxic chemical into the water supply. We're lucky we just saw planets and robots." Ianto is still proud of that news story. He had to research dozens of neurotoxins to pick the best ones to fit the narrative.

"How did we all see the same things? And the earthquake after?"

He remembers the earthquake, and he remembers after. Jack wasn't back yet, and he and Gwen were cleaning up wreckage in the Hub for what felt like the millionth time, and punch-drunk celebratory "we're not dead, hurrah!" sex had sounded like a much better idea than it turned out to be. He never told Jack, who would have felt left out and wanted to watch. He knows Gwen never told Rhys, as Rhys hadn't come after his bollocks with hedge clippers. He's almost certain the timing wasn't right for Gwen's announcement a month later, but he'll never be able to find out, will he?

"People are suggestible. You tell me that cloud looks like a rhinoceros, that's what I'll see, too."

"What about you?" Richard asks Steven. "You remember talking with all the other kids, don't you?"

Steven's face clouds. "No." He eats the rest of his pizza in silence.

They watch a movie together, and then Steven is tucked in with a book in Richard's guest room, and finally, Richard and Ianto are alone with the night ahead of them. Richard's bedroom is on the second floor, and as long as they're not especially loud, Steven won't hear them.

Ianto gives very good head. He had a fantastic teacher who was patient and expressive, and Ianto is not going to think about him now, not when he's on his knees, not with the scent of Richard's body in his nose, and spit slicking his lips, and Richard making needy noises as he fucks Ianto's mouth. He won't let Ianto fuck him, but he doesn't mind at all if there's a slick finger breaching him as Ianto sucks deep.

Even his come tastes different, and Ianto isn't going to be able to stop comparing, no matter what he does.

Ianto jerks himself between Richard's thighs, then comes on his belly. It's wonderful to be able to lie down, to clean him off with a tissue and drop it and not have to worry about getting home. They kiss softly, no tongues now, and Ianto smiles into the kiss, knowing they'll make love again in a little while, and in the morning before they rise for breakfast.

After some rest, and more sex, Ianto is happily, soundly asleep when he wakes to Richard flinging open the bedroom door, a dressing gown hastily thrown on. Before Ianto can process what's happening, he is already stumbling into his clothes and looking for his gun. He doesn't have a gun. This is a different life.

Steven is somewhere in the house, screaming.

Richard is already in the room with him, lights on, holding his shoulders. "It's all right," he says gently. "It's all right, your dad's here now."

Steven is also not awake yet, and he's looking around wildly for his dad, and Ianto's heart dims when his eyes pass over Ianto and keep looking.

"Steven," he says, sitting on the bed. "It's just a nightmare. You're safe."

"Where are we?"

"We're at Richard's house. You're having a bad dream." He touches Steven's head, not good at comforting him, not knowing how.

Steven starts crying. "I want Mum. I want Dad."

Ianto pulls him into an awkward hug. "I'm here." But he's not the one Steven wants. Richard has moved back to let Ianto comfort his child, but he is watching them both. "Do you think you can go back to sleep?"

"I want to go home." He doesn't mean the flat.

"We'll go in the morning. All right?"

He tucks Steven in again and dries his tears. "It's going to be okay." He doesn't know. But there's nothing else to say, not with Richard watching, not with their other option being cold graves.

He and Richard go back to bed. They don't make love again, not now, not in the morning. Breakfast is chilly and quiet, and Richard keeps watching them like a man working out a puzzle.

The world ends when Richard asks to meet him at the restaurant next to the library. They haven't spoken much in the past few days, though they shagged in the car last night, a quick break, hands with no hearts attached.

"If you're in trouble, you can tell me," Richard says. "I don't think you've hurt him. He's not afraid of you at all. But he needs to go back to his real family."

Ianto sits back, picturing Jack and Alice. On days like today, he hates everything that his life ever was or will be. "I am his family. Richard, you're talking nonsense."

"Nathan and Steven Goodwin don't exist. I checked on you. Did you know you don't appear on a single website, newspaper, or any record at all that I could find before a few months ago?"

"Would you like me to show you his birth certificate?" It's forged. Mr Copper's people do good work, though not as good as Ianto used to do.

"He doesn't know you. When he called out for his dad, he looked right through you."

Ianto smiles uneasily. "I told you. His mother had custody."

"His mother never existed. Not the name you said. Steven's description matches a few missing boys, but the pictures are wrong, unless you abducted him when he was small." Richard is speaking quietly, but with the same fervent honesty he uses to talk about what he wrongly thinks UNIT does.

"I didn't abduct him." Steven had followed Amy's beacon and found her first. She was the one who suggested they travel together. "This isn't funny anymore."

He's playing for time now. He won't let himself think his heart is breaking at all. Surely he hasn't been stupid enough to fall for someone again, not so soon. Didn't he learn the last time?

Richard lets out a breath. "He doesn't resemble you, or talk like you. Sweetheart, it doesn't look good." He is so fucking focused on appearances in this small town where everyone is always looking at everyone else. Even now, people are watching them. For their sake, Ianto gives Richard a warmer smile and tells him the largest lie he ever composed while pondering that same problem.

"Between you and me, and don't you dare ever tell him I said this, sometimes I wonder about that. His mother wasn't exactly the Virgin Mary when we dated. But I need to do right by him. Someone should." Richard bites his lip, and Ianto says, "Would you rather I tell you something incredible? Is that what you're looking for? Maybe he and I were killed by aliens and brought back by a time-travelling girl named after a lake. Maybe I used to hunt aliens for a living but now I'm invisible to everyone who ever knew me. Maybe all the things you think about aliens are true, except you get the Blowfish and the Sontarans mixed up." He intended for the words to be joking, but he can hear the snide tone coming from his own mouth.

So can Richard. "Don't make fun of me."

"You're accusing me of kidnapping my own son. What do you want me to do?" His voice breaks at the end. It's all mad, when he says the whole thing out loud. It would be easier to be mad, to have made up everything with the 456 in his head while he runs off with someone's child. He wishes. Oh, how he wishes.

Richard is appeased, a bit, and mumbles an apology by insisting on buying lunch, and Ianto makes an appearance of forgiving him, giving him a quick, scandalous, public kiss before they part.

When Richard's car pulls away, Ianto doubles back to his own instead of going into the library. He has enough time to pack before Steven gets home. He drives to the school and picks Steven up at the gate.

He allows himself a moment to consider he may be overreacting, that Richard won't take this further, that by making this decision he will only be confirming the suspicions. Then he thinks about what will happen if he's wrong.

"We have to move, tonight."

Steven's face scrunches up like he's going to cry. "Why?"

Because I was stupid. Because I let myself get close to someone. Because I wanted more than I'm ever going to have again. "The police are going to come take you away from me, and because we're us, they can't take you back to your mother."

Ianto wishes they could. He'd drive the boy himself if Alice would open her door, but she sees a stranger instead of her son. The universe has been edited, and the pieces are put together wrong. The dead may as well be ghosts. "Because we're us" is the reason neither one can ever go home.

Rain patters in light beads and then in great splashes, distorting the world around them. Steven stares out the window as Ianto drives. They will drop these names like leaves. The car will have to be sold, records will be much harder to fake a second time around without the help of the Foundation. They'll make do.

Richard Howard has been writing stories since he was seven years old, scribbling in notebooks, typing on his first computer, handing in creative writing projects for extra marks, always writing. He saw his first alien when he was ten. It looked like a giant fish, and his mum smacked him for telling lies, but Richard has always believed.

His books don't sell as much as everyone in town thinks they do. They consider him a minor celebrity, bringing some good fame to their home, overwriting that tawdry story about that one Royal Cousin who was found shacked up here with that hussy, do you remember? Richard's famous (they think) for a much better reason, and no-one is really that up in arms about the gays anymore, especially the rich ones sitting on pots of money from the bestsellers they write. Richard is both happy and dejected that no-one but him knows what "mid-list" means. Auntie Clara made it big in textiles and left him enough to write at his ease about things that are much bigger and more important than the town where everyone knows him.

When Nathan is missing the day after their talk, Richard spends hours going back and forth in his mind what to do. The boy, whatever his real name is, may be in danger, but enough people in town have seen Richard and Nathan together that this will turn into a ten-year scandal easily enough. Everyone will assume Nathan's a paedophile.

The thought that it might be true is what spurs Richard to the police.

They stick to the dirtier sort of hotels, where the desk clerks take pound notes and offer no questions for Ianto's story about travelling to visit his son's sick grandmother. He needs new identification, needs a new story, but with every mile they put between them and the lives they had to abandon, he feels stretched thinner and thinner. If he was alone, he might go back, he might drive off the edge of the road, he might drink himself to death, he might end his existence another way, because this is no life at all, not separate from everyone he's ever loved.

He's not alone.

Steven is crawling deeper into himself every day, and Ianto finds this is what worries him most. The boy needs food, and shelter, and safety, but he also needs security, and friends, and someone to spend time with him, and schooling. As they drive, Ianto makes up games with words, and he jollies Steven into playing them until both voices are cracking.

By the third day, he admits he doesn't know where they are going, he doesn't know what they are going to do. They only have so much money.

They can go back to the Foundation, but their reception will at best be chilly: did he honestly throw away the kindly-offered fresh start for the sake of a few handjobs in the backseat of someone's car? The Foundation is unlikely to offer help a second time, not now. Worse, when they first went, with Ianto's pride foul-tasting in his mouth, the well-meaning staff kept asking questions about his intentions towards this boy whom he admitted he'd never met before. If they go back now with the accusations following, Ianto is certain the Foundation will politely and firmly take Steven away. The sane, logical part of him knows that would be best for both of them.

Sanity and logic have never really been Ianto's strength in making decisions. He can stare backwards at those who've been hurt, even killed, because he did his thinking with his heart instead of his head, and it's still not enough to sway him. Too many what-ifs compete for his attention. What if the Foundation places Steven in a home where he's abused or worse? What if Steven takes this abandonment as his last, and becomes another lost soul, unable to trust anyone? What if Ianto isn't allowed to see or contact him ever again? Sometimes, when Steven is sticky with sweat from playing hard all day, Ianto gets traces of a foreign, dazzling scent that bypasses mere memory and pierces straight through him. Part of this child's DNA was forged in the 51st century. He is a tiny, precious reminder of someone Ianto will never stop loving. How can he be expected to let go?

He watches Steven sleep in another nameless hotel room, and if the dead could cry, he would.

The rumours follow Richard home. His friends and neighbours still nod and smile at him, but now they're wondering about Nathan, wondering what happened, where he and that boy went. Richard can't bear to go by the library, and spends his days writing. He gives the sex alien a new lover, and if that lover has blue eyes and a Welsh lilt, then maybe the critics will give Richard's book a second glance: Tied to the Mysterious Child Kidnapping.

His stomach hurts when he thinks about it. He's not a drinker. Perhaps he should start.

The police have been by twice to question him. He gladly showed them the guest room. They have already looked into the abandoned flat in town. When the knock comes on his door, he expects they're back for another round.

Richard opens the door to the most charming smile he's ever seen.