by Echo Fain
Flat Holm. It was a penance, Jack had decided.
He visited once a week on Sunday afternoons, walked through these chilly concrete corridors and talked to all of the staff. He checked on each inmate, went over the details of life in the bunker where time ran by routine's clock.
He knew all the names and stories for those lost souls tossed back by the Rift...all but one. He'd wondered, seeing the reams of information dragged up by Gwen and Tosh over a year ago, if by some odd chance they might have found a name and an identity for Flat Holm's version of John Doe. He'd wondered, but he hadn't held his breath; Lyn, after all, wasn't from Earth, Wales, or Cardiff. After almost thirteen years, he didn't even know if Lyn was really the man's name.
To double-check, he'd gone through the files late at night after his team had left the Hub silent and cold in their wake. There was no one among Gwen's missing that fit the description of Lyn, the tall and skinny stranger who was, in fact, one of Flat Holm's first two residents.
When he had taken command of the Hub at Alex Hopkins' suicide, he'd discovered a secret in the vaults. Among the aliens kept locked away beneath the bay's edge were two damaged humans, spat out by the Rift in one of its restive periods. The Hub's records showed that Torchwood had cryogenically frozen many such damaged returnees, but these two had been instead kept in the vaults, behind locked doors.
Lyn wasn't a returnee, he was a big scary puzzle.
For one thing, Lyn knew him...somehow.
'Hello, Jack. Long time no see.'
'Wha...who are you? Have we met? What're you doing down here?'
'Well, I was sleeping 'til you opened the door. You can call me Lyn. Did you bring food? Where's Alex's little pet...the ginger girl? She should've been here days ago.'
'Sheila. She's dead. They're all dead.'
'Damn. I'm sorry to hear that. I really liked her, yeah? Look, could you make sure the woman in the cell next to this one is okay? I haven't heard her stirring for a while. I'm afraid she might be sick.'
That was Lyn, thinking of others first even when he was starved and dehydrated.
After a face-to-face conversation with the man behind that door, Jack had gone looking for information. Everything the stranger told him had checked out. Lyn knew about the frozen returnees, knew about the horribly crippled woman in the room next to his. It seemed that Alex Hopkins had spent time every week talking to the graying off-worlder.
Lyn was the sanest inmate currently living in Flat Holm, and claimed to be far older than the sixty-something his eyes and hair suggested. When he found the stranger who talked as if they knew each other, he had considered leaving him locked in. Alex's records were sparse and nearly non-existent for that one man in particular. There was a file on how Lyn was found in 1997, but no explanation for why he was living fairly comfortable inside that cell-like room, hidden away from the team that grew and shrank and grew again with the fluctuation of recruits and deaths.
There had to be a reason for scarred but sane Lyn being locked in the Hub's sublevels for the better part of three years, but he'd decided, after weeks of daily conversations with the sea-eyed refugee, that it would be cruel to leave him behind the bolted door, even if he did have books and music for company. By then, he'd set up Flat Holm; he'd arranged for Lyn to be moved to the secret facility and given his own quarters.
If he let it, the matter of Flat Holm and its purpose could eat him alive; all those people he could do nothing for, the families left without answers. He had good enough reasons to avoid that pitfall and the results of Gwen's little investigation had reinforced his resolve. The best he could offer to those damaged lives, from within Torchwood or anywhere else, was a safe haven where the world was kept at bay by stout walls and electronic locks.
When he visited Flat Holm, Jack always stopped by Lyn's room to chat and because those conversations never failed to leave him unnerved, he made the aging man his last order of business every Sunday. It was fairly the same, every Sunday that he'd made this visit for the last nine years.
"How're you feeling today, Lyn?"
"With my fingers, yeah?"
"Up to a game of chess?"
That was the routine and it never varied. Over a pot of coffee, they played chess in Lyn's room and they always talked of books, of movies, of human nature. He'd formed an idea of what his gray-haired opponent was, based in the things which slipped out in conversation, but it seemed as if the other man knew him far better. He couldn't be sure of much. He suspected he'd never know for certain who it was that sat across the board from him, but there was a strange comfort to be found in the fact that he had a future beyond Earth. He found a point of calm in this gentle, intelligent man who seemed to know him very well but whose dark gray eyes held no judgment, only affection.
Lyn, under the veiling swath of dark linen cloth that he wore wrapped over the lower half of his face and throat, might've once been handsome. A real looker. But now the only part of his face left undamaged were his eyes and brow, those features which had escaped whatever horrific event had thrown the man through the Rift and to Earth, to Cardiff, to the Bay itself, for Lyn had been flung to this timezone in a fiery crash that struck the filthy waters with a loud sizzling roar. This had happened when Jack wasn't in Cardiff; he hadn't been privy to the information.
More than half of Lyn's body had been scorched when he was pulled free of the ruined 31st century space flitter swamped in the Bay and within sight of the Hub's employee entrance on Mermaid Quay. His face from the nose down was like melted plastic, twisted and ruined, and he preferred to keep the scarred remains covered. His voice was gorgeous, deep and like brown velvet might sound if it could talk.
Other than his ruined skin, there wasn't any reason for Lyn to be living behind a locked door, so he didn't. He worked off the books at Flat Holm and seemed content to spend the rest of his life under a form of institutionalized care.
Lyn was entirely cognizant of where and when he was. He was an enigma that haunted Jack for hours after each visit; the man seemed to know him very well but refused to explain, citing that the future was always being rewritten but also claiming they must be careful to not disrupt the timeline in any large way. Lyn was from his future, he was sure of it, for wouldn't he recognize those eyes and that distinct voice if they'd known each other before?
Each week, they played chess and talked. Jack told Lyn very little of what was happening with Torchwood, but that didn't matter, for Lyn seemed to already know and asked the sort of questions which left Jack with no doubt of the man's foreknowledge.
Today was no different than any other visit, until he was leaving.
Lyn stood up to see him out the door but this time, as he turned to go, the wiry off-worlder tugged him close for a hug. He stiffened and then relaxed, letting it happen. He hugged back, wrapping both arms around the damaged body that trembled against him as in his ear breathed the raspy whisper.
"Goodbye, Jack. I'm going to miss you."
"Why? You going somewhere?"
"Today's Sunday, the fifth of July, yeah?"
"All day long."
"Two days ago, you were in Saint Helen's hospital, yeah?"
"How do you know about that?"
Lyn's cloth-covered mouth pressed to his cheek now and the words were repeated, vibrated into his flesh. "Goodbye, then. I'll miss you."
As he left chilly Flat Holm today, climbing the damp concrete steps back into the warm sunlight of Sunday afternoon, Jack wondered for just a few brief moments what it was that the other man knew about tomorrow. Then, he spotted Ianto waiting with the boat at the dock pylons, leaning against a fibreglass pole with both hands pocketed.
At the sight of the dark-haired Welshman who gave a nod as he approached, Jack once again filed away his questions of Lyn as ultimately unanswerable and went down the grassy path to meet his lover.