They've been working the missing children for weeks now, tracking every stray breeze and stray rose petal blowing down the street it seems. The walls are plastered with no less than twenty missing children posters but this time Gwen isn't working alone. They're all in it for better or worse.
When worse comes, it's a hysterical call on Ianto's personal line that leaves him curled on the floor, shaking and bone white as Jack peels the phone out of his tightly clenched fingers.
"...who can I tell then?! I can't call the cops and say I saw them fly out the fucking window! It was just like the stories Ianto, he even still had his bloody baby teeth and so I grabbed his shadow and it held Ianto and I have his shadow and he has my kids!" Ianto's older sister has dissolved into hysterics on the phone and the younger man is shoving Owen away roughly, staggering to his feet and snatching the phone back from Jack.
"We're on the way Rhi. I'm on the way and I am getting David and Mica back." His face twists into a fierce scowl as his sister's voice grows shriller. Jack can't quite make out what she's saying, but Ianto's clipped answer makes it easy to guess. "Because you don't know what I do for a living, but I've dealt with worse than Peter bloody fucking Pan and I will get my niece and nephew back. We'll be there in less than an hour. Lock the shadow up in something. We're on our way."
The briefing is quick and done in the SUV as they cross town at a breakneck pace. Ianto passes his mobile around, making sure everyone has seen the picture of David and Mica sitting on either side of him this past Christmas, all of them wearing gold foil crowns. There's a barely leashed rage behind each of his terse words as he gives them the ages and personal information of his sister's children. The broad shoulders under his suit tense when Gwen leans forward, squeezing them.
"We will not stop until we find your family Ianto. I promise."
If anyone notices that Jack knows the way to Rhiannon's home without ever asking directions no one says anything.
Rhiannon is waiting for him on the stoop of her flat, face blotchy with tears and hair tangled from finger combing and tugging. She looks much older than him in the twilight. Far more than the six years that actually separate them. The team hesitates at the foot of the two cement stairs as he wraps his older sister in his arms and tries not to think about the time Mica fell off these same steps when she was just two and put her teeth through her lip. Tries not to think about the fact that she only stopped crying when *he* had scooped her up, or the way David tells only him the things he's embarrassed to tell his parents.
"Take us to the bedroom Rhi. We need to see where it happened. And the shadow." Tosh and Gwen disappear down the hall when Rhi points the way.
Johnny is sitting on the couch in the dark, staring off into space.
"The police are worthless. Won't even come by. Say they can't handle it and they can't raise their special task force who's handling it." That would probably be the four calls from Andy that Ianto has ignored.
"That's because we're already here and don't need them anyway." Johnny looks up slowly and for the first time Rhiannon seems to notice the cases of equipment carried in every hand and the holstered but unhidden guns scattered over everyone, including her little brother.
"No. No, you work in the tourist office on the quay." Her voice is high and trembling.
"No. I work for Torchwood. I have since I moved to London. We handle the things too weird and dangerous for the cops." Rhiannon is shaking her head slowly but Johnny looks away from the darkness in front of him, meeting his brother in law's eyes.
"I've heard of Torchwood. All the guys at the pub have a Torchwood story, knows someone who knows someone who saw something." The big man stands slowly, staggering towards them. "Does that make *you* the scary bloke in the suit? The one who can shoot a man in the head from 200 in the pouring rain?" Jack is glaring at Owen who's ears are red even as he pushes his way towards Rhiannon who is wobbling alarmingly in the kitchen doorway. Ianto ignores them all, even as Owen mumbles about not being able to get all observers at all times, looking his sister's husband in the eye.
"It wasn't a man, but yes. That was me." For a brief moment he thinks Johnny is attacking him as the other man lurches at him. He's braced himself for a blow, willing to give the man a free shot for the children, for not protecting them, before he realizes that Johnny isn't swinging. He's wrapped his arms around Ianto and is clinging to him, head resting on the black pinstripe as he weeps.
"You'll find them. You'll find them." Ianto ignores the fact that Johnny used to beat him up and call him names. That he's always thought Rhiannon married down and that Johnny thinks he's a bougie snob who's too good for the factories and the estates and wraps his arms tightly back around the other man.
"I will get them back or die trying."
Tosh has the room wired for everything she can think of. There are cameras covering every angle including under the bed. They can't assume he comes through the window every time. Owen has sedated his sister and sits with her and Johnny, watching the big man drink steadily and keeping his gun in his hand. They don't know what this Peter Pan really is, but Owen is determined to shoot until the clip is empty if it makes it past the rest. Ianto has made him swear it.
Jack wants to be in the room, but it's been longer, far longer, since he's read a fairy tale and Ianto knows if this thing stealing children is following the stories then it's not going to show up to a room full of adults. Not even two of them but one adult, one young harmless looking adult mending a torn shadow...that might be reassuring enough for it to show. He stations Jack in David's room instead. He's taken control at some point and no one questions it. Not even Jack.
The shadow is...it's...he doesn't have the right words. Thick and soft like velvet, warm and black as night, and completely weightless. If he wasn't looking at it clenched tightly in his fist Ianto would swear he wasn't even holding it. When he smooths it over Mica's Disney Princess bedding it does indeed look like the shadow of a little boy. Not much bigger than David with hands resting on hips and a head cocked slightly to the side and back. One leg is torn almost off and there's a jagged rip through the torso. His fingers are steady as he threads a tiny needle with the black silk thread his father used to use to repair women's stockings. Every stitch he makes is tiny and precise, almost invisible in their evenly spaced line. A secret part of him is storing away the glee at actually mending a shadow to enjoy when he has his family back safe.
He's knotting the last stitch when the windows rattle with a sudden howling gust of wind before clattering open. Over the coms Tosh is reading out information from her monitors, Jack is demanding that Gwen and Owen maintain radio silence barring emergencies and Ianto is ignoring all of them, watching the boy perched on the window sill. He's small for his age, ten or eleven by the looks of his face. Huge luminously green eyes are tracking Ianto's every move, flickering between him and the freshly mended shadow in his lap in fear. He hates how ashamed of himself he is for apparently terrifying what looks like a child.
"You left this behind." He can't fake any kind of warmth for this child thief, the best he can do is keeping his voice calm and flat.
"No I didn't." There's a tremble behind the forced bravado as one skinny leg in old green short pants slips into the room, followed by the rest of the boy in an overly long tee shirt. "That lady stole it. Ripped it all up too when she caught it on that old nail. Hurt like anything but I didn't cry not at all." This is patently untrue as there are still visible tear tracks in the dirt smeared on his slightly puffy face.
"She did, but I've sewn it back up for you, nice and tidy. You do know that I have to sew it back on for you, right? You can't just go slapping it back on with soap or something silly like that." The boy flushes and scowls.
"I know that. 'M not stupid." He crosses stringy arms with scabby elbows over a thin chest and Ianto uncurls his fingers, brushing them against the grip of his pistol tucked under the shadow.
"Well come sit down then." The boy perches warily on the edge of the bed and shoves two feet in green canvas shoes without soles at him. It's so hard not to squeeze the tiny ankle in his hand when he locks his hand around it. "Should I call you Peter?"
"They all do now. You kind of look like my new friend David."
"That's because I'm David's uncle." Now he squeezes as the boy begins to struggle, trying to throw himself off the bed. He whimpers as Ianto grips tighter, yanking him back onto the bed and pulling the SIG from under the shadow. "Stop Peter! Sit still and tell me why you took the children and how to get them back. I don't want to hurt you Peter, because you look like a child and sound like a child and I would hate myself for killing a child. I'd hate myself, but I will do it Peter. Do you understand me?" The boy stops fighting and collapses face down on the bed in hysterics. "Face up Peter. No tricks." The boy hasn't changed into a monster while face down. Pointed towards the ceiling he's still a small boy sobbing loudly with his hands over his eyes. There's only the sound of ragged breathing in staggered patterns over the coms. Apparently he's not the only one who finds the sound of the weeping child upsetting.
"I don't want to take them! Not anymore, not when they want to stay, but I have to! They made me. They make me." Ianto has to stop him twice when Peter begins to tear up to the point of being incomprehensible, but the story comes out in fits and starts. Once upon a time Peter was Chosen and once upon a time Peter tried to change his mind. He tried arguing, he tried running away to the outer wilds and deepest sithens and never never lands. He tried growing up but he only grew so much and his teeth never got wobbly. Finally, desperately, he tried to bargain and a deal was struck. Go to the others that were almost chosen and bring them back to the Neverland islands. One could choose to take his place and Peter and the others would be free. "They taught me how to come here alone, and how to go back with passengers, but I can't take them home again. And I can't stop doing it. Every time a new chosen comes, I go collect the rest. Even when they're happy with their lives and want to go home and hate me for it. The *others* think it's funny that it's such a compulsive open ended curse."
Someone makes an agonized whimper on the coms, probably Gwen, and Ianto feels the gun dipping towards the bed as he goes limp.
"You. You can't bring them back?" It's like his world is ending, like Lisa and Canary Wharf all over again and more.
"No. *I* can't bring them back again." Hope comes so swiftly that for a moment it literally takes his breath away at the so very unsubtle emphasis. "But if you wanted to go, I could bring *you* back again. Could maybe even bring anything you were holding on to."
"Ianto, no!" Jack's voice is a roar as he rips the com out of his ear and leaps over the bed, slamming into the door and locking it as Tosh begins hammering on it from the other side. David's bedroom is downstairs but he can already hear the pounding of Jack's heavy boots on the stairs. He snatches up the gun, tucking it in his holster and folding the shadow impossibly small, tucking it away like a pocket square. Peter has something glowing gold in his hands that he flings in Ianto's direction.
"Secret to flying is Faith and Trust." He clasps the small hand in his and they run for the wide open window. Ianto is a master of blind faith. It let him believe he could keep Lisa alive. It let him wait for Jack when everyone else said he'd never come back and it's what's carrying him out the window right now as the door crashes inward under the onslaught of Jack's frantic kicks. His shoes send off gold sparks as they smash against the insubstantial blackness of the night sky. Faith that he can bring them home and trusting Jack to understand why. Ianto Jones can fly. "Second star to the right and straight on till morning!"
It's not flying the way he thought it would be, stretched out like a super hero. Instead it's more like running in thousand league boots towards the sunrise. Each long stride carrying him closer towards the lightening skyline until the sun peeks over the rim of the earth in a bright sliver. The colors of sun rise are gone this high above the world, but the light is pure and brilliant and blinding. Ianto throws his arm over his eyes and in that second of blindness he stumbles as his feet sink into wet sand.
"Welcome to the Neverlands." Peter sounds exhausted beside him, flopping down onto the sand and ignoring the wave that sweeps in, soaking his legs and Ianto's good shoes. "I'm not tired, but I thought you could use a break."
"Thank you for that." Ianto steps further up the sandy beach and pours the water out of his shoes. They'll never be the same again. "So where are David and Mica and the others? You didn't just leave them on the beach did you? Peter?" He turns to find the boy crouched on the sand, one hand of the hilt of his short dagger, a finger pressed to his lips as he moves with astounding quickness to Ianto's side and then melting into the jungle's edge yards in front of them. Ianto has his gun in hand in seconds, scanning the beach in long sweeps as he backs towards the space in the tree line where Peter disappeared. He does not fire when Peter pulls him back into the shadows, but it's a near thing when his finger convulses around the trigger guard.
The longboat comes from around a far cove and runs ashore close enough that he and Peter would have been easily within sight. There are more than a dozen of them; Adults by a child's standards but personally he wouldn't serve alcohol to any of them without id. Ragged over sized jeans and patched leather and canvas trousers. Bare chests and bare feet, bandannas tied over hair long and short, straight and curly and cropped down. They move together, fanning out around one boat until they face outward in a semi circle protecting the man who steps out of the boat last. His hair is a tangle of black curls pulled back in a sloppy ponytail under a huge hat with a sweeping skunk tail for a plume. He swaggers up the beach and Ianto can see the sunlight gleaming off a hook far heavier and cruder than he had ever imagined.
"Find him!" The pirate captain has a voice forever frozen on the edge of bass. "I saw him bringing in another one on the daybreak flash and I want the little bastard dancing a jig from my yardarm before he can steal another bloody child! Is that clear?!"
"Aye Aye Captain!" Behind him Peter is pulling him quietly further and further away from the beach until the sights and sounds disappear behind the thick wall of trees.
"Quick, follow me. They're at the tree house."
The Neverlands are beautiful and terrible. Mermaids swim in a tropical blue cove and look up at them with the dead black eyes and sharp serrated teeth of a shark. Flying above, Ianto can see the wavering reflection of bones through the stunningly clear water. The burnt out remains of a tepee village still stink of smoke and in a pretty glade next to a blown apart tree bigger than any Ianto has ever seen, is the half rotten remains of a little house.
"We had to move after Captain Hook blew up the house. We're up near the top of NeverPeak mountain." He can hear the children, whoops of joy and excitement ringing through the trees as they run across the sky and down towards a clearing that's rapidly filling with children. They cluster around him as his feet hit the springy grass and his eyes skip over the clamoring children until the rest on David's sandy hair.
"Uncle Ianto!" They're pushing other children out of the way as they run towards him and Ianto doesn't care about grass stains as he drops to his knees with his arms open. They crash into him and Mica is sobbing openly, one thumb tucked into her mouth. They had just broken her of sucking her thumb too. David is manfully trying to choke his own sobs back even as he buries his face in Ianto's jacket.
"It's okay anwylyd. Shhh, I've got you. We're okay, we'll be okay, Uncle Yan is taking you home."
There's a crowd growing around him. Children in dirty night clothes with wet eyes pressing against him from all sides, clutching at him desperately.
"Don't leave me."
"I want my mummy."
"Can I come too?"
"I wanna go hoooome!"
Tiny hands are clinging to him, locked into his clothes and hair, anywhere they can reach. Peter is slumped against a tree, arms wrapped tightly around himself.
"How many can I take Peter?" The boy smiles sadly.
"How many do you believe you can fly with?" His eyes fly over the small crowd. Thirteen children, at least four that may need to be carried. Do they all need to be touching him? If the biggest carry the smallest and they all cling to his clothes with half the determination they're showing now, it's doable.
"All of them. Easily." Around them they cheer and Peter is smiling, even as those green eyes shine suspiciously.
"Good. Everyone grab him." Ianto stands up and whistles piercingly as kids begin shoving and crying out as they're jostled away from him.
"Hands up, mouths shut!" His voice is a deep boom over the high pitched cries. David and Mica recognize the seriousness of his command and promptly put one hand over their own mouths and the other in the air. Around them it's quieting as others see them and copy what they're doing. "Right. Good job everyone." He praises them quietly when every mouth is covered and hand is up. "I have a plan and everyone is going to have to do exactly as I say. You four big boys, I'll need you to carry those littlest ones. Can you do that? Let me see." Small children fuss as bigger ones pick them up awkwardly. Ianto goes around, settling toddlers and preschoolers on skinny hips and lining the rest up by height. He organizes them into a loose semi circle and places hands on his clothing until he's sure everyone has a good tight grip and takes a step forward. Half of them trip over themselves or each other and fall. "Right. Let's practice, all together, count of one, left foot first."
It takes him hours before they move together in a tight knot, even without him counting aloud. The children and tired and hungry as they drop down onto the shady grass.
"Uncle Ianto, I'm hungry." Mica is firmly under him, hands in his jacket pocket the way she does at the market when he needs both hands.
"Allright. Let's see what Uncle Ianto and Peter can find for you."
Peter is nowhere to be found. Ianto has the older children scanning the clearing when a sharp crack splits the sky. Flocks of brightly colored birds burst screaming from the treeline and before the children can begin to cry he's got one hand over his mouth and the other in the air until the children mimic him.
"Did Peter show you his house? Can you hide there?" The oldest children are nodding, herding the little ones towards a big tangle of berry brambles. All except his niece and nephew.
"Don't go Uncle Ianto." Mica has tears running down her face. "Peter says there are pirates!"
"I know, but I have to make sure they don't have Peter. He's the only one who knows how to get home." David is gripping his wrists too tightly, leaning all his weight on Ianto to keep him on bended knee.
"I don't care! Pirates have swords and a really long gun!" Ianto presses a kiss to each forehead and pulls the SIG from it's holster, thumbing the safety off.
"Well I have a newer gun and it's an automatic. I'm going to be safe, because your uncle saves the world and stops monsters at work and Pirates are easy." Mica is sucking violently on her thumb, but David is staring at him suspiciously.
"Gareth from school's mum is dating a cop and Gareth says you look like the man in the big black truck that shows up when things are scary. I told him he was a twat but is that really you?" Jack is really going to have to have a talk with Owen. Far too many people in Cardiff are recognizing the man in the suit.
"Yes. Also, I'll ignore it this time, but don't tell your mam I let you get away with calling anyone a twat. Or that you saw my gun. Now get inside and stay. Don't come out unless I call you anwylyd. Allright?" They nod and dash off towards the brambles, disappearing under them on their bellies.
When Ianto can no longer see their feet he spins and takes off in the direction of a second cracking rifle shot. His shoes spark against the sky as he dodges through the trees in a low flight.
No one sees him dodging through the shadows and branches above their heads. The pirates are too involved watching the fight in the middle of their crude circle of bodies. Hook is circling around Peter, feinting at him with long sword and sharpened hook at the end of his wrist. The older teens are snarling and jeering and one fires a shot off in the air every time Peter tries to fly. The boy in green is snarling and scared, eyes darting around the press of bodies.
"That's enough!" The surrounding pirates all stop as his shout cuts through the air, but Peter and Hook never look away from each other. "Back up and let the boy go now!"
"Shoot the man." Hook never stops lunging at Peter, even as he barks his command. "Leave the body for the Croc. Give it something other than me to think about." Ianto has his gun pointed at the boy with the rifle before it even makes it onto the kid's shoulder.
"Drop it or I shoot. Only warning." The kid hesitates before continuing to sight his shot. Ianto bites his lip as he fires and watches the young man crumple to the ground clutching his bloody ruin of a shoulder. A knife whistles through the air, lodging in the tree next to his thigh with a dull think and he's squeezing off round after round, watching boys fall with holes blown through shoulders and legs. Wounding shots at home, but maybe killing shots here with no adults and no hospitals. Mercy may demand a kill shot, but he can't do it. Instead he lets the rest disappear into the trees and turns his sights on the broader red clad back of the pirate captain. "Go Hook. Don't make me shoot you too." The teen laughs roughly and continues to press his advantage on the smaller boy.
"Shoot me then man. Shoot me in my back, because I'm not letting him go. Not today. Shoot me, because it's been centuries and I'm not getting any older and Neverland is over every horizon I sail into and if I don't kill him now he'll just keep stealing children!" Hook's voice breaks and Ianto can think of no hell worse than being seventeen for hundreds of years. "He steals us and we can't go home and if he dies maybe we'll be free!" Peter is backed against a tree, disarmed and holding a wounded arm.
"It doesn't work like that Toodles..."
"My name is James!" His voice breaks on the scream as he draws his sword arm back. "James the Hook!" Ianto's breath leaves him in a soft exhalation as he pulls the trigger and James the Hook who Peter called Toodles crumples to the ground with a hole in his chest and a tiny gasp.
"Toodles!" Peter moves with inhuman quickness and he's been so much like a boy that Ianto had almost forgotten that runaway or not, Peter is still a Chosen. He's still Mara. The skunk plume hat falls to the ground as Peter eases the bigger boy to the ground. His chest is covered in blood and Peter pulls the edge of the frock coat until it covers the wound. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, Toodles! Please James?!"
"I miss my mother Peter. I still really really do and she's been dead for hundreds of years, hasn't she?" Ianto knows that sick sucking sound is a punctured lung and there's nothing he can do to help.
"The man in the trees is Ianto. He can fly. He's not scared and he's going to take them all home. The NeverLands only exist because the *children* are here. When they go, it goes with them and you go with the Neverlands." Hook smiles and there's blood in the corner of his mouth.
"Back to the Wild lands. No more Neverlands and children for me. Just my own kind." Ianto is stepping quickly down to the ground.
"Good. That's good. I miss...my mother."
He's gone by the time Ianto presses his fingers to the soft part of his throat and Peter stands up dry eyed. How many times has he done this over the centuries?
"Let's take them home now please Ianto."
Peter dusts them all liberally with the shining gold dust and helps him double check the ropes. When they flew the body of James the Hook who was once Toodles the lost boy back to his ship they helped themselves to several coils of rope. Every child is tied to each other and everyone has one wrist tied to the rope around his waist. Even if they stumble no one will be left behind. Ianto has Mica cradled against him securely on his left hip, David's hand tight in his.
"Everyone remember, second star to the right and straight on to Cardiff. Left foot on three. One. Two. Three!"
They step into the blue sky on a cloud of golden light and take three big steps towards the brightest star. When it gets to bright to see everyone scrunches their eyes shut and then the entire pile of them goes down as bare feet step into the icy waters of the Atlantic and several children stumble. Little voices shriek as they get doused in the icy water and his com crackles to life, Jack's voice bellowing into his ear.
"Ianto! Ianto can you hear me?"
"I'm here Jack. We're all here. We're on the beach and most the children are wet. Send ambulances and EMT's ahead with warm blankets." His voice roughens as he bows his head, pressing his face to Mica's wet hair as she whimpers and whines from the cold. "We're all home Jack."