Word count: ~ 2,200
Warnings: Spoilers for all of Torchwood, angst, fluff, and blatantly feel-good fix-it.
Summary: Ianto closes his eyes in Thames House, lungs full of choking alien gas, and opens them in his sister's house in Cardiff.
A/N: This is entirely for weeping00willow, who left one of the most amazing reviews I've ever received. For making me smile when I thought I couldn't, I offered to write any Torchwood story they wanted. Here's the result, and I hope it comes close to what you wanted, Willow!
(The story title and chapter titles are from the poem i carry your heart with me by e. e. cummings.)
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
1. you are whatever a moon has always meant
Ianto closes his eyes in Thames House, lungs full of choking alien gas, and opens them in his sister's house in Cardiff. He's sitting at the kitchen table, and there's a steaming cup of tea in front of him. Darjeeling, unless he misses his guess. It's always been her favorite.
There's a white horse grazing outside the kitchen window.
Rhiannon sits across from him, sipping from her own chipped mug, but Ianto only needs a glance to know that something isn't right here. He knows his sister, even if they haven't been face to face in a while, and she doesn't sit like this, with an almost regal bearing. She doesn't hold herself this way, or smile like that, so motherly and warm.
(Their mother hadn't lived long enough to pass on her nurturing ways. Maybe Rhiannon's learned some of it from having her own children, but this expression looks older than that, more practiced. It's not that it doesn't sit right on Rhiannon's face, it's the fact that it does that makes Ianto realize something's different.)
"That's rather rude," he says mildly, because even though something's different, nothing is wrong, and after so long at Torchwood, he can tell the difference between the two states.
Not-Rhiannon looks at him, startled, and then automatically looks down at the cup resting in her clasped hands, as though to see what he's referring to. There's nothing, though. It's a perfect illusion, or would be if he weren't trained to notice the little differences between human and other, and she lifts her gaze back to him with a brow arched in question.
Ianto makes a gesture that encompasses the entire scene, from her in the chair to the vase of flowers by the sink. "Borrowing someone's face without permission. Rather rude."
There's a momentary pause, and the entire world goes still. Not-Rhiannon stares at him for an endless moment before she smiles slowly, sweet and pleased, and then she's not Rhiannon anymore. There's no flicker, no flash of light or ripple of reality bending. Ianto's sister ceases to be between one second and the next, and sitting in her place is an ageless woman in a white dress, a cascade of copper curls tumbling over her shoulders and down her back. There's no crown, no scepter, no ornate robes or signs of office, but she holds herself like a queen. She's beautiful, too, so beautiful that Ianto can't quite breathe when he looks at her, the weight of such loveliness all but overwhelming.
"Forgive me," she says, and it's throaty and sweet in a way human voices can't be—starlight and summer breezes and the warm, clear light of the moon. "I thought ill news might come more easily from a familiar face." Her smile is kind, inviting him to share in the joke. "As your sister is my namesake, it was too convenient an opportunity to overlook."
Rhiannon, Ianto thinks, and then he can't think any more, because Rhiannon is the mother goddess of Wales, underworld goddess and moon goddess and fertility goddess, death and life and everything between.
It makes sense, though, in a way, because Ianto is fairly certain that he died in Thames House, and yet here he sits.
Carefully, he sets his teacup down, takes a cautious breath, and asks, "I'm dead, then?"
Rhiannon leans forward and takes Ianto's hands in hers. Her fingers are both cool and hot, like moonlight set aflame, and her eyes are very, very blue. "Not quite," she says, as if it's a secret just between them, though her smile never wavers. "Do you remember Abaddon, Ianto?"
Before he can stop himself, Ianto arches an eyebrow at her. He's not very likely to forget the hundred-foot tall, life-sucking demon from the Rift that attempted to devour all of Cardiff, and very nearly managed to kill Jack permanently. Even for Torchwood, that was a fairly memorable day.
Thankfully, Rhiannon only laughs, sweet and entirely mirthful, and squeezed his fingers lightly. "Ah, yes," she says, grinning at him, somehow both charming and a little silly. "I suppose that isn't the kind of thing that fades from memory, is it?"
"No," Ianto agrees, dust-dry. "It's not."
They're both silent for a moment as Ianto puts the pieces into place, slots away what information he has.
He died at Thames House.
The goddess Rhiannon is here for some reason.
Abaddon has something to do with this.
Rhiannon folds her arms on the table and leans towards him again, smiling at him through a spill of copper hair. "Chaos," she says softly. "Abaddon is chaos, Ianto. He is its avatar, its personification, and destruction given form. The Grey Beast, they call him. He was trapped within the Rift for centuries, which contained his influence, and kept it from touching the mortal world."
Ianto is not a fool, as foolish as some of his past actions have been—rushing into Thames House unprepared foremost on that list. Like pieces of a puzzle finally realized, the information clicks into place, and he drums his fingers on the table, feeling a frown settle on his face. "And you're order," he murmurs, trying to see the bigger picture. "That's why you're here, to counteract him. When Owen opened the Rift, all of the chaos that had been trapped with Abaddon escaped, and the influence of it—"
"Yes." Rhiannon's eyes are sad. "Everything around that point in time was affected. The whole world has been living in an alternate timeline formed by Abaddon's power. This isn't how the future was supposed to play out."
The simplicity of those ten words is enough to steal Ianto's breath, enough to unsettle the world beneath his feet. He grasps the edge of the table to steady himself, hard enough that the wood nearly cuts into his skin. If the timeline he just came from was wrong, from the point of Abaddon's emergence until his death, then everything in it has been wrong as well. Owen's death, Tosh's death, Jack leaving them for months without notice, the 456 and Ianto's own death—none of it was meant to happen.
If they can correct the timeline, everyone will be saved.
"Why me?" he has to ask, the words forced unwittingly from his throat. "Why bring me here, why tell me this? I'm just…"
Rhiannon's hands close around his again, and he looks up into her soft smile, her wise, kind eyes. "You're more than you know, Ianto," she corrects. "More than anyone knows. Your heart shines in the darkness. You've never given up, never given in, and it shows. When I looked into the human world for an avatar, the choice was clear. I'm going to send you back, Ianto, back before all of this began, and give you knowledge of the future so that Abaddon never escapes. Fix that, and time will flow naturally again. The timeline will repair itself, and you'll have saved the world."
"All in a day's work for Torchwood," Ianto murmurs, looking down at his teacup. It's hard to meet her eyes for long, nearly impossible to hold that ancient gaze, but the thought of going back, of starting over again, is heady. He takes a breath and raises his eyes, meeting burning blue head on. "How far back? Will…will I be able to fix everything?"
Lisa, he thinks, remembering the agony of seeing her completely consumed by the Cyber-programming. Would he be able to fix that, fix her, if he went far enough back?
He thinks of Jack, and has to wonder if he'd want to.
But the goddess is already shaking her head, watching him with sympathetic eyes. "No," she says sadly. "I can only send you back to the start of Abaddon's influence. Otherwise, it will be considered unnecessary influencing of the mortal world, and agents of Chaos will be able to act to counter me. That's why you will be my avatar, Ianto. You'll be able to affect things I cannot directly touch." She pauses, studying their intertwined fingers for a moment, and then murmurs, "Will you be able to do this, Ianto? Will you be strong enough to face this all for a second time, know that you could fail? Knowing that you may have to kill Bilis Manger before he begins his manipulations? Can you take a life in cold blood?"
Ianto looks at her, and thinks of Jack's grief at the loss of Owen, at Owen's final death and Tosh's murder, at the betrayal of his only remaining family. He thinks of his own grief at the loss of the only close family he had, the Torchwood team, and Gwen's disillusionment and jading.
Thinks of Lisa, and how he doesn't think he could—would—try to save her, not now, not at the cost of everything he and Jack had together. There's never been a cure found for the Cyber programming, and time—as well as love for Jack—has cleared Ianto's eyes enough to see that all the determination in the world wouldn't have found one in time to save Lisa from what she eventually became.
Does he still mourn her?
Of course, but part of his drive to cure her had been a refusal to acknowledge the tragedy of Canary Wharf, a selfish desire to save at least one person after so many others had died, and Ianto is wise enough to see that now.
With that in mind, with that in his heart, the decision to face such things for a second time is simple enough.
As for killing Manger, even in cold blood—
Well, Ianto knows himself, knows how deep his loyalty runs. To save Jack the pain of losing yet more people he cares for, to save Tosh from death, even to save Owen, Ianto can and will take a life.
He will not do so eagerly, or gladly, but he will do so willingly and without the slightest hesitation to save those he considers family.
A breath, another, and he looks up to meet Rhiannon's eyes again.
"Yes," he says softly. "Whatever needs to be done."
The goddess smiles like a tigress, like a lioness grabbing for a careless gazelle, and leans across the table. Her long, slim fingers settle on either side of Ianto's face, and her lips brush his forehead. The touch of them is like lightning down his spine, like the kiss of a wildfire, or a sun going nova. Ianto sucks in a breath that's not quite pain, but not quite not-pain, and stiffens as his blood burns away, leaving quicksilver moonlight in its place.
The world goes white, brilliance suffuses everything, and the neat kitchen is gone.
Ianto opens his eyes to darkness, to the sound of Jack's heartbeat beneath his ear, and lets out another slow breath.
He's in Jack's bunker, curled around Jack's sleep-still form on the tiny camp bed, with the normal nighttime sounds of the Hub coming through the hole above. Jack's arm is around him, holding him close, and Ianto's body aches pleasantly with use.
The spot on his forehead where Rhiannon kissed him tingles, like a current has been passed through it, and Ianto thinks he can see the faintest hint of moonlight in the dark bunker, even though he shouldn't.
"Thank you," he whispers, nearly soundless in the night, the words barely a breath on Jack's warm skin. "Thank you, goddess."
There's a crescent moon, like a bow, burned into the back of his hand, and it glows as brightly as the real thing.
"Thank you," he whispers again, and "I love you, Jack," because he's said it once before already, while he was dying, and the second time isn't nearly as terrifying.
There's no response from the sleeping man, and Ianto lets the darkness keep the words.
(For now, at least. Jack will hear them soon enough.)