Thursday, 26 September 2013

Fans Fiction Tango of the Exiles by Echo Fain

Tango of the Exiles

by Echo Fain

Part Three:

Jack wore a snug black teeshirt tucked into his jeans.  He left his coat in the vehicle and put on sunglasses.  It was chilly enough to need a jacket and he'd prepared for that.  He pulled tags off the white puffy parka and a slate grey Adidas cap.  He'd had time to kill in London since his arrival.  He had shopped for his disguise, as minimum as it was.    

He had walked through Highgate cemetery, remembering the last time he was there on its winding paths, among the dead both famous and unknown.  He had stopped in front of the fallen tomb where Ianto was trapped for two days and remembered what he had felt, seeing the blood on the stones and knowing that his young Welshman had fought tooth and bloodied nail to escape without hope of moving the massive lintel blocks which had fallen over the doorway.

What would the city of London think of the monstrous thing buried among the tombs and monuments, its movement frozen by the vibration of mirrors within a lead box?  Was it still well-trapped?

He walked alongside the city university, studying its buildings and making his mind as much of a blank as he could manage.  He was hunting, and his prey had the ability to read hearts like he would read a mission report or a short story.  He wondered what they would talk about.  He wondered if Lyn would refuse to see him.  He wondered if he'd get any answers, a yes to the question that had been on his mind since the last call from M.

Now, as he approached the bandstand, he saw there was a crowd gathered in the park.  There was music playing, a live band with four acoustic guitars and a handsome Venus of Willendorf in Stevie Nicks' rags singing an Adele song that made him smile. 

The audience was spread out around the edges, but directly in front of the bandstand steps there was a tight knot of listeners and he joined them, stood at the back.  Behind his sunglasses, he surreptitiously scanned faces.

Did Lyn cover his scars in London?  He wished he'd asked M.

The band wrapped up their set and the applause startled him into paying attention as the four guitars took their bows and escorted the diva off the worn top step.  Their replacement came out of the crowd and caused a stir but it wasn't surprise that greeted the suited figure but a rippling of claps mixed with cheers.  This was a known musician, someone anticipated, if his guess was correct. 

This someone had decided to dress for Halloween.  The new musician carried a padded violin case, wore a thigh-length suit coat tailored for his build, and a plague doctor's mask complete with wide-brimmed hat.  The long crow's beak and red lenses were unsettling among the Sunday crowd of couples and students and single fathers with their costumed children but very few seemed to think it was strange.  Was this a regular thing?

The bottom of the beak was made of mesh, to allow air, and as he quickly discovered, a vocal range as stentorian as Patrick Stewart's.  The violinist bowed to his crowd and touched the brim of his hat with two fingers.  "I was taught, growing up, to appreciate a woman's real voice, and I think we can all agree...I'll have a hard time doing so well as her."  He addressed his audience, nodded that outlandish head in the direction taken by the retreating Venus of Willendorf.  Whom he spoke to now, raising his deep, resonant voice.  "Come back here, love, and sing with us."

Jack couldn't see the woman's face, but the violinist's reaction was dramatic.  His free hand fell to lay against his narrow chest, at the heart.  "I'm begging, darling, please stay."

And then the singer was gone and the figure who stood on the bandstand's top step lowered his crow's head and gave it a slow wag.  "She never stays." 

In the next moment, the man heaved his shoulders as if sighing and the audience laughed.  Jack caught himself grinning as the violinist laid his instrument down and slid out of the suit coat, going on with "Cold as the ninth circle of the Inferno last night, yeah?  I shivered so hard coming up from the Tube on my way home from work that I thought we were having a bit of earthquake.  Rare worrisome."

The suit's coat was gently laid over the rail of the bandstand and the crow's head bent again as he squatted over the violin case.  Sleeves were rolled up, the case was opened, and out came the wooden instrument and its bow. 

"Today's Nos Galan Gaeaf, in Wales.  Did you know that?  Last day of autumn, ladies and gentlemen, and it's been a lovely one.  Nos Galan Gaeaf is when the spirits move on the land among us.  If you like such things.  Personally, I don't believe, won't catch me in a churchyard tonight, bach."  This was addressed to a young man with black-framed glasses and a shock of brown hair whose face Jack couldn't see.  The violinist was tightening his bow, gave another shrug in his bespoke waistcoat.  He didn't wear a tie.  The impossibly sonorous voice had to be a result of some amplifier, it carried so well.  "Taking no chances, me."

"Play Tartini!  Devil's Trill Sonata!"  A voice called from the audience in front of Jack, a young woman in a blue coat and matching bobble hat. 

The crow's beak rose, the violin and bow held loosely.  "Ohhh, you had that last time, yeah?  Let's give someone else a turn."

"Paganini!"  Another girl cried out.

"Bach, play some Bach!  Or Vanessa Mae!" 

"Vivaldi, Winter!"

"Please, some Brahms, the Hungarian Dance---"

The crow gave a low muttered sound that could've been a laugh.  The violin was lifted to his black leather jaw and the bow rose to slide in a funny series of notes that were almost sweet, a flourish.  "Let's warm up...see if you can guess this one."

Tall and lean, the plague doctor dove into a series of slow sweeping draws that developed and became something.

Two quick down draws of the bow and he was away, pulling a beautiful sound from the instrument as his fingers flexed and danced along the fingerboard.  Jack could see people whispering to each other, heads bending with the sounds.  When the melody slowed, the crow came down one step and then another, his upper body swaying in the snug white shirt and black waistcoat. 

No one called out, no one seemed to know what to make of the song.

A voice behind him spoke in a murmur, almost as deep as the musician's.  " obscure."

A second voice, softer still, answered.  "Your call.  You got it right."

"And you would know this because you're suddenly an expert on Georgian violinists." 

"I don't know Bach from Beethoven, but this is you we're talking about, Sherlock.  If it's obscure, you probably know it by heart.  You gonna call it?"

"Unnecessary.  He'll play whether anyone guesses or not.  This is his passion."

"I'll call it then."  The second voice huffed with a snort of laughter.  "Wait.  How do you pronounce the name?"

The deeper voice laughed, too. 

At the end of the piece, the violinist was almost out of his sight, on the ground in front of the bandstand.  The applause was raucous, surprising for a single musician playing an orchestral instrument.  And the masked musician disappeared, kneeling down.  Jack wished he could see what was going on.

The amplified voice was his only clue.  "Your wish is mine to fulfill, my lady."

He looked around at the people in front of him, searching for Lyn's eyes.  At the front, someone murmured something and the crow's head appeared, rising.  "It's appropriate...we have a gloomy Sunday."

The retreating plague doctor climbed the steps as if going to the gallows, a familiar tune at his fingertips.  Jack gave a lopsided smile.  He knew this one.  He'd been in a few supper clubs in the thirties when this song was first being requested by all the fashionable faces, its somber melody a memento mori.

The violinist's body stagger-swayed backwards, his bow dragging out a raw, open wound in the chilly air of the park. 

"Bit showy."  One of the men behind him said. 

"Nonsense."  The deeper voice answered.  "He let the child choose a song she knows from earlier performances.  It's his favorite starter, I imagine...he could have chosen any of the other requests.  Given his appearance, I would think it'd be obvious.  As buskers go, he's quite the showman."

Busker.  Jack hadn't noticed that.  There were people moving by inches to the front of the crowd only to push back again, allowing others.  They all seemed to be dropping something, coins and notes. 

The music changed, became something he didn't know.  It was high and sweet, quick and light.  The plague doctor bobbed his masked head in rhythm, tapped his booted foot. 

"You play this."

"Yes.  Mendelssohn.  Now, he's just showing off."  It was almost a growl.

"Shhh."  The woman standing next to Jack shifted around to glare at the two men.

She was ignored. 

The tenor was almost whispering, now.  "You mean he's good."  There was no response.  The soft voice spoke again, louder.  "Very good.  You think he's very good."

"He's...different."  It was grudging.

"Come on, Sherlock, don't strangle on a compliment."

"Shhhhhh."  The woman tried again and this time, as she turned back around to face the bandstand, she looked up into Jack's face and rolled her eyes with a smirk as if she thought he'd agree with her assessment of the conversationalists.

The piece soared higher and higher for a moment and then changed, dropped like a bird from the sky into a fiddle-like rasp before twirling down into a tango.  The tune was mournful, powerful, something that was lyrical in its intensity.  The crow moved with the sounds he coaxed from just four strings.

At his side, the short woman spoke to him as if she hadn't just shushed other talkers.  "He plays this every Sunday, it's his signature piece.  See how this bunch're shifting around?  Oh, look, the dancers have started."

There was more money being taken to the steps and a pair of women in the audience, close to the front, had turned to one another and taken up hands to dance the tango for the crowd's enjoyment.

Doctor Plague seemed to be dancing a tango, too.

He had to force his eyes to move behind the sunglasses he wore, searching for a familiar face.  Could M be wrong about the time?  It was now after two in the afternoon and Lyn was not in the crowd.  Jack, hands shoved in the puffy jacket's pockets, started to step back and turn, intending to put himself outside the audience.  Maybe he'd be able to see something he was missing at this level of closeness. 

How hard could it be to find a tall man with greying honey-yellow hair and scars that would certainly have to draw attention from someone in the crowd---and it was a really large group---barefaced or masked---


His eyes swept back to the odd violinist who bent nearly double just then, muscles responding to the music's demands.  Yes, absolutely, it was a tango, it was visible in the man's movements.  He was practically dancing as if playing the song through sense memory. 

The music hooked Jack in by the soul.

He felt his blood thrill to it as he began to follow the piece through its intricate motif.  This was really good...and that was Lyn.  Passion and control bundled into the long, skinny body of a man who understood the value of a good show, of hiding the scars carved into his long face.

Ardent notes rose to beg the ear of Heaven, the musician made supplicant.  He looked closer at the long fingers that slid and flexed on the strings, which slipped and angled the bow.

Scars.  Barely visible from where he stood at the back of the London crowd who had gathered for this concert.  There were burn scars on those hands, fading pink on pale skin.  And the plague doctor's mask?  It hid hair and face, but he knew---was a doubt possible?---that the black leather crow's head and wide-brimmed hat hid greying blond hair and grey eyes and a mouth twisted into an inhuman shape by other scars, just as pink and just as obvious. 

Of course it was Lyn.  It had to be.

Lyn was hiding in plain sight, under the eye of CCTV cameras which couldn't detect him.  Why couldn't the cameras detect him?  Was he augmented, then?  Did he wear that thing everywhere?

The deep voice behind him murmured.  "Pied Piper."  As if it was a slur.

Jack studied the violinist.  His jaw clenched unconsciously.  He shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket, fisted his fingers in an effort to stay in one spot when his instincts said move.

"Well, it is Halloween."  The second voice was thoughtful.

"Is it?  I hadn't noticed."

"You never do, Sherlock.  Did you ever go out, at Halloween?  When you were a kid?"

"If I did, I've deleted it."

"Of course you did."

And, right on cue, there was another irritated shushing from the woman at his side who was really standing too close by now.  "Shhh, you lot."

The musician was dressed in well-tailored trousers and a bone-white shirt, its sleeves rolled to the elbows.  His collar was open, he wore no tie.  The scars were easy to see now that he was looking for them.  The shirt was tight-fitted under the dark waistcoat.  Above them, the plague doctor's mask was meant to be frightful but he knew...Lyn was under its leather, hiding another kind of horror.

Fourteen years, this man had lived on Earth unloved and unrecognized.  How was that even possible?  How could anyone survive the loneliness of it?  Jack hadn't, had done mad and ugly things when it had happened to him.  This man, whom he called friend, had wept for him---that lost future version of him---during one of those damn interviews Youngston had conducted.  He could still hear it, still feel how the terrible noise had hollowed out his bones.  Drugged on something the Hub's medic had administered for the pain, made vulnerable, Lyn had grieved loud and vocal. 

Jack had understood the sound, still understood.

He'd cried like that, too, when he figured out how very marooned and alone he was, stuck on Earth in 1869.  He'd been crying for the Doctor.  Lyn had cried for him.

Lyn straightened, his bow wolfing along the strings, and in a moment, everything changed.  The crow's head rose, turned in his direction, and Jack knew with a hunter's instinct, that he'd been spotted, his emotions too loud and too specific to be ignored by a skilled psi-gifter.  The music turned brutal, went sour, screeched to an ugly stop as the lanky man seemed to stumble and step back at the same time.  The instrument fell away from his shoulder, the bow dropped, and then Lyn panicked.

The stringed violin made a sick, hollow whang as it hit the wooden floor of the bandstand and the well-dressed musician fled.  He came off the steps in a leap and shoved through the crowd to the left with a careless thrust of arms.  Within seconds, he was gone, running as fast he could.  Around Jack, the crowd murmured, silence broken with the realization that their concert was over.

Jack wanted to follow, to run after the retreating man, but his legs carried him instead to the steps of the bandstand, where the violin lay.  It was a battered, worn instrument laying among a slew of pound notes and gleaming coins.  With a blank mind, he ignored the questioning voices of the disrupted audience; dozens of people, all gathered to listen, all unaware that their musician was not from this planet.  He bent and picked up the instrument.  He retrieved the bow, squatting to do so.  He shifted on his booted toes to study the direction in which Lyn had disappeared.  Out towards the road and traffic. 

He should've followed immediately.  By now, the off-worlder would be...

"You'll want to hurry."  Said the deep, cello-rich voice.  The same one that had been speaking earlier, behind him.  "Given his reaction to the sight of you, I doubt he'll linger."

He glanced up to find two men standing near; one of them, the taller of the two, was offering a slip of paper between long fingers.  Jack frowned, looking the men over.

One was maybe his height, but rapier-thin and aristocratic in an expensive Belstaff coat which only enhanced the beauty of his dark curls and sharp, pale eyes.  He wore a knowing smirk, twitched the offered paper as if to re-draw attention to its existence.   The other man was shorter, seemed the older of them, wore a black sniper's jacket, its leather patches unusual in London.  His short hair was very nearly the same color as Lyn's had been in 2000 and he held a styrene cup of something steaming in his gloved hand that he lifted for a sip, his dark blue eyes somber and curious as he looked from Jack to his friend and then back again. 

The paper was dropped.  It fluttered to the leaf-strewn concrete.  As it landed, the Belstaff shifted and moved to leave.  "We're done here.  Come along, John."

The smaller man offered Jack an apologetic smile, reached out to push his own piece of paper at him.  "Next time, don't call Mycroft Holmes.  Come straight to us."

"What?"  It startled him, but he took the torn bit of notepad.

"This has  A fun case.  He's enjoyed himself, I've enjoyed it."  Short, blond-grey John's smile turned thoughtful as he glanced around at his friend, who was walking towards the city university.  "Whatever you do, keep your friend, or whatever he is, away from Mycroft."

As the compact man hurried to catch up his friend farther along the sidewalk, Jack made an observation of his own.  Military.  Then, he looked down at the slip of paper he held. 

Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective.  221B Baker St, London.

Under that was more.  John Watson, MD.  And a mobile number.

It seemed that one of the two---he was betting it was the Belstaff---was related to M.  He focused on the echo of that voice in his mind, listened to it talk about Lyn's music, and knew that he was right.  Belstaff was Sherlock Holmes, probably very closely related to M.  Huh.

There was an internet URL, as well.  A blog.

Jack held the violin in one hand and bent down to reach for the scrap of notepad that had been offered to him by the taller of the two strangers who'd entertained him with their observations about the violinist's music.  Lyn's music.

On one side was the address he'd been given by the spymaster Holmes.  The address of this bandstand.  Clerkenwell, Islington, North London.  Northampton Square.  Bandstand.  1400 Sunday.

The other side was also written in that same script, another address.  And more.  The Clockmaker's Museum and Library.  Guildhall Library.  Aldermanbury, London.  Henry Baskerville, researcher.

Under that, a third address.  Camden, close to Gordon Square.

With the violin and its bow in one hand, he stuffed the two papers into the pocket of his puffy jacket.  People were collecting the money that lay on the ground.  He ignored them, walked up the steps.  He put the violin and its bow into the case which lay open on the bandstand's worn, paint-chipped floorboards.  He closed it, clicked the latches shut, and turned to carefully lift the suit coat off the wooden rail.  He laid it across his arm and then hefted the protected violin.

With Lyn's things in hand, he pulled out his mobile and dialed.

He watched the crowd dispersing, was ready to turn away for privacy when the plummy voice answered.  "Captain Harkness, I am surprised at you.  Why haven't you already followed the advice you were just given?"

He didn't want to know how his current behavior was being watched.  He rubbed the violin case against his thigh, giving it a little swing.  "Who was that?  One of yours?"

"Hardly."  The tone was dry, sardonic.  "I do hope you catch him, Captain.  Have a good day."


At the heart of the city, Guildhall represented---and contained---a great deal of London's history, but the Clockmaker's Museum and Library was closed on Sundays, so Jack didn't think it was likely he'd find Lyn there.

He decided to try the Camden address first.

There was a sign which said 'Resident permit holders only', suggesting he couldn't park in front of the house, but he didn't let it stop him.  Instead, he reached into the cardboard envelope under the front passenger seat and pulled out a government-issued placard.  It went on the dashboard, highly visible.  Now, he could claim it was official business.

The Lisburne Road house was brownstone with a gable at the roof and no front garden behind its low brick wall.  The door was painted a pale sage-y green, its window covered in what was probably a lace curtain.  The ground floor and the first floor windows were similarly decked out, simple and non-obtrusive.  He couldn't see enough of the second floor garret's window to make a guess as to what it held, but everything else looked as normal and bland and careful as the neighbors along this street. 

Next door, there was a red estate agent's To Let sign standing between an overgrown boxwood and the walk.  Hadleigh, with a number to call.  As he got out of the Range Rover, he studied the sky and frowned at the dark clouds which were gathering; there was a rising breeze and he could smell a storm and not just the figurative kind.

There was no point in a disguise, now.  The hunt was over, Lyn had seen him. 

Several masked children escorted by smiling parents passed him as he pulled off his sunglasses and the Adidas cap, dropping them into the back floorboard of the vehicle.  He exchanged the white puffy nylon for his own blue-grey greatcoat and wondered if he was being watched.  Then, he hoisted the bag he'd brought with him from Cardiff and collected both the abandoned suit coat and the violin case.

Jack used the knocker and stood, waiting.

When the door opened, he found himself looking down at a frail elderly woman with thick white hair which she wore in an elaborate bun at the back of her head.  She wore an unfashionable brown housedress, a set of pearls at her skinny throat, and stared up at him with curiosity.

He gave her a charming smile.  "Hi.  Jack Harkness.  I'm looking for Henry Baskerville."

The curiosity melted and the old woman's eyes crinkled with a smile; her voice matched the fragile appearance.  "Oh, yes.  He's in."

He took the advantage as she stepped back, crossing the threshold.  "I thought he might be.  I've brought his things.  He left them behind."  And then he told a lie as if it could be nothing but the absolute truth.  "I work at Guildhall."

It was then that her gaze swept over him and found the items he held.  There was nothing wrong with her eyesight.  She gave a heaving sigh of relief, closed the door behind him.  "Oh, you've eased my mind!  I was worried, him dashing in without his coat and fiddle.  I thought he'd been robbed, I did.  He looked that angry."

Considering how fast Lyn had hared away from the park, he didn't doubt the man had run all the way back here, probably taking the path of greatest resistance to prevent Jack from following him.  He didn't really understand why the off-worlder had run and the quickness had been a surprise.  Lyn had a limp that needed the use of a cane, but Lyn didn't use a cane---had refused one at Flat Holm.  Then, again, Lyn in the photograph had spectacles and yet he'd never known the aging alien human's eyesight to be anything but perfect.  At least, there had never been any sign of a need.

He went on charming the elderly woman, his hands full.  "I think he's had a rough one.  It's his birthday tomorrow.  I've brought him a gift."

From the look in her face, he knew he'd scored a point.  She knew when Lyn's birthday was and felt pleased that someone else thought it was important.  "I know, love, and I'm that chuffed for it."  She paused, gave him another long look.  "I don't know if my lad's expecting visitors.  He's in the bath, now, if you'd like to wait for him."

"I suspect I'd wait out eternity for a chance to talk with your lad."  Jack's grin edged into flirty.  "Does he rent a flat from you?"

"It's just a bedsit, top of the house.  Bless."  She nodded upwards with her sharp little chin.  "He's been with me just over a year now."

The stairs were close to the door, dim in the foyer. 

"Is he a good renter, Mrs...?"  Jack's eyes caught on the landing above, where he could hear water running behind a wall.  Shower. 

"Goldsmith."  She chuckled warmly and went on with fondness.  "I don't know how I got along without him.  Such a sweet lad.  He looks after me, he does."

"I wouldn't expect anything less of him."  He mused, studying the stairs and the landing and wondering what lay beyond.

He couldn't imagine anyone thinking of Lyn as a lad, but perhaps in Mrs Goldsmith's mind, sixty-odd was still young and hale.  What would she think if she knew the truth?  If it was the truth.

His smile turned soft as he looked around and down at her once more.  He had gotten in and the gatekeeper was no lion.  She reminded him of Estelle, with a bright and bird-like fragility.  This woman would've been a teenage beauty queen during the war.  She may have crossed his path in those bad old days when he was running a con at the height of the Blitz.

Mrs Goldsmith was eyeing him with concern, her face tipped up.  "I haven't met you before.  Did you say you worked at Guildhall with Henry?"

"Not directly with him.  I'm a docent at the art gallery."   
"You'll be a popular one, I imagine."  The little elderly woman reached to a telephone table which sat against the foyer wall where the stairs and the hallway met.  She picked up a canning jar and offered it.  "Here, love, carry that up with you.  He left it on the table in my kitchen.  Tell him not to worry about the children at the door, I'll take care of that."

Children?  Children...oh, Halloween.

Jack shuffled things in his hands and arms to accept the clear jar full of viscous liquid tinted with fluorescent colors.  "What is it?"

"His soap."  She gave a bright chuckle.  "For blowing unbreakable bubbles."  His expression tipped her to his ignorance; she patted his coat arm.  "Stay 'til the sun's gone and you'll see what I mean.  Great big glowing balloons, he makes.  It's a right mess for the cars, but the kids on this street go fair mad.  With the wind coming, he might even get them out across the river tonight."

Giant unbreakable bubbles glowing in the dark as they floated up and across London.  Something in that mental image made him think again of Lyn's performance at Northampton Square.  Lyn busked for money by putting on a show and came home to do a sweet thing for the enjoyment of children who might otherwise flinch at the sight of his face.  Lyn worked at a library-museum full of clocks and rented a bedsit from a tiny woman who called him 'my lad' even though he looked like he was in his early sixties. 

He stepped onto the bottom step, his foot muffled by the thin carpet runner and wondered why he was pursuing this.  Lyn wasn't going to be pleased to see him, was likely to throw him out on the street without hearing a word he said.  He hadn't done anything wrong except ignore the written request in a letter he now carried in his wallet like a talisman.  He hadn't done anything yet except ask himself a thousand questions about the photograph in his coat pocket.

"Will you be spending the night, Mister Harkness?"  The landlady asked.

He managed to stifle his surprise and turned on the stairs to look at her again.  She was watching him with a serious, thoughtful expression.  He gave her another charming smile.  "I'm sure Henry and I could talk all night, Mrs Goldsmith, but I don't believe so.  I'm not a breakfast kind of guy."

She was open-minded for a British woman of her age and it was easy to see that his answer wasn't pleasing.  She was careful to not show it.  Her face tightened around the eyes and mouth almost imperceptibly, but her tone was still friendly.  "I see."

He had both arms and hands full; if Lyn came out of the washroom and found him here, he was indefensible in every way.  He was invading the man's home and he wanted to be in a private space before the yelling started.

If there was yelling.  Maybe Lyn would just refuse to speak. 

Jack took another step.  "Does he have a lot of friends that stay the night?"

The hardened expression eased into a knowing, sly smile that made him wonder if Mrs Goldsmith had some psi-gift of her own.  "That can't be any of your business, young man.  You ask me again after you've been around to visit a baker's dozen."

He covered the worry with a wicked grin to match hers.  "I intend to hold you to that, Mrs Goldsmith.  Consider it a promise."


The stairs ended at a door which stood open a few inches.  With his shoulder, Jack pushed through it and found himself in a slope-sided garret room which seemed to run the length of the house from front to back.  The sun still cast light here, added to the glow from two lamps which burned in the silent space at either end.

A single bed.  A wooden wardrobe, a bureau.  A chesterfield sofa in dark red velveteen, a coffeetable made from a steamer trunk.  A wooden dining table with one chair.  Books stacked against the wall everywhere.  A music stand with pages shuffled together.  A rocking chair.  Two windows, one on either end of the room, both standing open to draw a cross-breeze.  Curtains, sheer and white.  One of the windows, at the front side of the westward-facing house where the sun was shining, had a deep seat.  There, a brightly colored cushion waited with a mug and a paperback book left open and face-down.  The rocking chair sat close.

The black crow's mask and hat lay on the bed with a pair of suit trousers, a shirt, and waistcoat.  Lyn's boots rested on the rug, just under the bed's edge.

Out of everything in the room, it was the single chair at the table and the narrow single bed that bothered him the most.  They proved an intent for solitary existence, practically shouted of Lyn's loneliness.

There was a short olive green fridge which hummed in contentment, a trash can and two jugs of water under the table.  On the table's surface lay four or five old books, several spiral-wired notebooks, a sheaf of papers, two pens.  A third lamp, not burning.  A nylon bag full of pinkish apples, a box of granola bars.  A tin of leaf tea.  A tin of sugar.  A hotplate.  A kettle.  A brown crockery teapot, its white knit cozy limp, cast-off.  A handful of spoons, two other mugs. 

A clock that ticked on the wall among sketches and paintings which had various signatures, none of them Lyn's...not that he'd know for certain since he didn't know Lyn's real name.  The clock was six-sided, made of unpolished wood and a cream-white face.

After setting the jar on the table, Jack laid the violin down on the bed and put the suit coat with it.  After putting the photograph in his teeshirt's pocket, he pulled himself free of his own coat and dropped it across the back of the rocking chair by the window.  Then, putting the plastic sack down, he began to explore.

He examined the books and papers on the table.  A monograph about an unusual type of clock created two hundred years ago.  Diagrams of a timepiece never made on Earth.  He moved on.  In the wardrobe, he found two tailored suits which made him think of Ianto, three pairs of jeans, five teeshirts, a flannel shirt in red and grey, a dark green hoodie, a black wool coat.  Again, he moved on.  The bed looked like it could belong to a monk, with its cast iron tube frame painted white so often that the layers now showed through its dings and chips.  The ragged block quilt looked warm, comfortable. 

A lamp near the door, another one on the bedside bureau.  An empty water glass.

At the windowseat, he was looking at the opened paperback book---a tattered copy of Skinner by Richard S. McEnroe---when he became aware that he wasn't alone anymore. 

A heavy sigh alerted him to Lyn's presence.

Jack turned, book in hand. 

Dressed in pale, striped pyjama pants and a stained, threadbare dressing gown the color of oatmeal, the scarred off-worlder looked healthy and very angry.  He held a wet towel in one hand and his longish blond-silver hair was tufted up in wet slicks.

Unmasked, Lyn was vulnerable to his eyes and now that he believed he'd found out what this face had once looked like, from the picture he carried, Jack felt something sharp in his chest give a clawing flex.  His internalized emotional reaction caused the other man to give a wordless snarl, eyes dark and narrow. 

He laid the book back down on the windowseat, not taking his gaze off the angry alien human as he answered that sound with a calm, stony command.  "Don't you dare run again."

Lyn stared hard at him, finally spoke.  "Of course she bloody well let you in."

"I didn't even have to kiss her.  The smile was enough.  She's a sweet woman.  Invited me to come around as often as I want.  I might ask her to the movies."  Why did he sound like he was preparing for battle, defensive and snarky?  This was his friend.  Lyn was his friend.

"Gods...what is not wrong with you?"  Deep inhale, slow heavy exhale, and then Lyn moved.  The door was closed, the towel dropped in the empty clothes basket.  His expression never once became gentler.  "How the hell did you find me?"

"You're not invisible."  He offered a smile, tried to make it pleasant.

Tried and failed.

Lyn tightened the belt on his dressing gown, turned on the lamp that stood by the wall on the table, and began to make tea using water from one of the jugs.

"What do you want, Jack?"  The scars on the off-worlder's face, hands, and bare chest were whorls and twists of puckered pink and he could see each snarled ridge of damaged skin clearly when he stepped in close to the table's edge. 

"Who are you, Lyn?  Really?"  He blurted the first question in his mind.

"Nobody."  Came the answer.  The velvet deep voice spoke again, louder and threatening more anger.  "You tell me what you want or you get the hell out of my home."

What did he want?  He wanted Lyn to explain some things.  He wanted Lyn to come back to Cardiff.  He wanted to know if they could go on being friends.  He smiled, watching Lyn dump tea leaves from the crockery teapot into the trashcan.  It was so very domestic.  "It's Sunday and that was  Sunday afternoons."

Lyn gave a snort, shook his towel-ruffled head and he felt mildly stunned at being allowed to see this man unmasked.  "You're not welcome here, Jack. I don't have to play nice, this isn't Flat Holm."

Jack pulled the photograph out of his teeshirt pocket and dropped it on the table's edge beside the tall blond's open tea tin and gave his wriststrap a tug in anticipation.  "And...I know it's early, but...happy birthday."

He knew he'd struck gold.  Shoulders hunching, Lyn drew a long, hissed breath through his teeth.  With shaking fingers, the off-worlder reached for the picture and gave a low, painful moan that sounded as if he might shatter or sob or both.  "Ohhh."

"Wanna tell me another lie?"  Jack challenged.

He watched as the plastic photo was lifted in a trembling hand, studied by soft grey eyes which now glistened, and he almost missed the creaking whisper.  "Was a time when it seemed like all I ever did was lie to you."

There was a hunger on Lyn's naked face which answered questions without a word. 

"Who's Henry Baskerville?"  Jack asked.

The other man gave a weak smile, never looked up from the photograph he touched.  "My father.  He was from Earth.  Don't'll never meet him."

"Is Baskerville your name?"

"What's in a name?"  Lyn glanced at him from the corner of his solemn, tearful eyes, and then raised the picture for a light kiss.

"A lot, I think.  For you, anyway.  Or you'd tell me who you really are."

"Not a chance of it."  Lyn's scarred mouth curled cruelly but that expression faded as he traced a fingertip over each face.  "Thank you for this.  Thank you for bringing my violin here.  I apologize for running away at the park.  Thank you for visiting.  But...I need you to go now.  Please, Jack."

He ignored the request.  "I've got an old coat and a media storage unit and a diary.  Yours?"

"Mine."  It was admitted; Lyn rubbed a knuckle into his eyes, gave another heavy sigh.  "You can destroy all of it.  In fact, please do.  The things on that storage unit are an anachronism, yeah?  A dangerous one."

Jack took a step backwards, folded his arms, studied the lanky off-worlder, who went on making tea and giving the photograph a look of longing.  "So's that picture, but you're practically making love to it.  I think you want the media storage unit back.  You'd probably sell your soul for it.  Am I right?"

It was half chuckle and half sob and Lyn tried to catch it behind his long fingers, dropping a tea-measuring spoon to the table.  The eyes that met his were full of a raw, unfiltered despair.  "If I still had a soul to sell."

Then, with a sniff, the other man reached out and clicked off the hotplate and, holding onto the photograph as if he expected it to disappear if he let the thing go for even a moment, poured water from the kettle into the teapot, placed the lid carefully, and moved to sit down in the chair at last as if he had no more energy in him.  Narrow shoulders slumped inside the dressing gown, Lyn seemed broken as he went back to looking at the picture with that terrible, wounded smile.

"You bring mementos of my past, tools."

"If they were ever found, UNIT has them stashed somewhere."  Jack acknowledged.

Lyn only nodded in acceptance, his fingertips moving over the photo.

"Where'd you learn how to play violin like that?"  He changed the topic, hoped for some response other than this quiet grief.

The corner of his friend's ruined mouth lifted in a half-smile that, once upon a time, might've been as crooked and sly as the grin of the yellow-haired man in the photo.  He was given another quick glance, but that was all.  "I was a licensed bard in a cultural retention programme on my homeworld."

"And where was that?"

He watched as the photograph was slid into the pocket of the off-white dressing gown and then Lyn got up, poured tea.  Added sugar to one, milk to both.  Offered him the unsweetened cup.  Surprise bloomed in Jack's chest.  He wasn't a fan of tea and they'd never had tea together before.  Only and always coffee.  But, Lyn knew how he took tea.

Of course he would.  They had to be family, somehow.

With his mug, Jack followed Lyn along the garret to the windowseat.  The skinny alien human had brought along the jar of soap, a paint tray that had been hidden behind the trashcan, and a stretched-out metal clothes hanger.  The empty mug sitting on the windowseat was replaced with a full, hot cup and Lyn folded himself into the space, one shoulder edging out the open window.

Jack sat down in the rocking chair and pressed his back against the wool coat that lay there.  His choice of seating earned him a long, thoughtful look from the other man.  Together, they were quiet; he held his mug and watched as Lyn unscrewed the lid on the canning jar and poured some of the translucent gel-like fluid out into the plastic tray.  The sun was less than an hour from setting and already there was a gloam upon Camden.  Below, children visited from house to house, gathering candies.

It was only after the first impossible bubble was blown and had floated away over the street that Lyn spoke again, his voice harder.  He'd regathered his irritation.  It came with a downwards twist of his mouth.  "You couldn't do what I asked.  You had to come find me."

Jack used his booted toes to push the chair back and then forward once.  "Forgiving you meant I had to." 

"No.  No, it doesn't.  They can be mutually exclusive, Jack.  You never could just...accept."  Another bubble, oblong and wriggly and glowing faintly green, took off from the skilled fingers that held the metal hanger, and blobbed away. 

"I didn't promise you anything.  Not here.  Not yet.  But, I will someday.  Right?"  He arched a brow, hoping to tease out information on the nature of their future relationship.

And he saw the sudden wrath, how it blew Lyn's pupils wide as the scarred face now turned, glared into him with a dangerous cold rage.  It came as a snarled growl, ragged and breathy and like velvet turning to corduroy.  "Fuck you, Captain Harkness.  You know nothing about me."

"But I want to.  I've heard the interviews, read the files.  It's not enough."

For a moment, nothing existed in the world but this.  This vicious emotion which made his heart beat faster.  When Lyn laughed, it was an ugly sound and came laden with a vibrating fury that tried to steal away his voice.  "Did you enjoy the pictures this time?  Did you like the words?  The sound of me when I screamed, begged, and cried for a version of you that doesn't even exist yet?  Does it make you feel better, to know?"

It struck him dumb.  Jack clutched the hot mug between his hands, looked away swiftly as the off-worlder studied him with open hostility.  He had a moment of wonder, a fleeting concern for what Lyn might do.  He'd pressed on a painful scar, a private torment.

The words caught in his throat, were kept silent.  He watched as his friend pushed away the paint tray and reached for the steaming tea with hands that trembled once again.  A bitter chuckle was muffled at the mug's perfect lip.  Lyn's eyes glittered almost black in the lamp light.  "You should get the whole bloody story bound in a coffeetable book."

"Lyn, I'm not here to hurt you."  He sounded helpless, his humor stymied.

The scars on the other man's lower face creased and folded in a new kind of frown and they stared at each other for a long minute.  Then, Lyn sighed as if realizing how pointless his anger sounded.  "You haven't.  You've seen me.  I'm fine.  So, go back to Cardiff or wherever you're crusading these days.  You've done your duty."

They sat drinking their tea in silence.  Three more glowing bubbles the size of large dogs floated away towards central London as if fleeing for the river.  Jack's thoughts circled, gnawing at him, and he held his tongue, unwilling to break the fragile detente.

The garret was quiet.  At the front door below, two children and a parent knocked.  He only recognized the sound as Lyn leaned out of the windowseat and squinted in the early dusk. 

Without shifting to look at him, the greying off-worlder spoke again.  Much more gently, as if apologizing for his outburst.  "Please, stop staring at me that way."

"What way?"  It took him unprepared.

Lyn pulled back and focused on the paint tray that lay at his bent knee, lifted the metal hanger with its opalesque membrane.  Still, no eye contact.  "I've hurt your bloody feelings and now your heart stares at me like you can't believe I wouldn't want your help.  What makes you think I need saving?"

Another luminescent bubble wobbled out of sight, beyond the houses across the street.

Jack changed the subject, turned the mug in his hands as he rocked.  "How is it that you don't show up on CCTV?"

He was answered with a shrug, a bland confession.  "Electronics-based perception filter.  I don't show up on electronic monitors as long as I stay silent."

Just what he'd thought, hearing it from M.  "Augmentation.  You've got an embedded chip."

With the hand that wasn't holding tea, Lyn rubbed his dried hair, made it stand up on end, and finally looked at him.  "Yeah.  I've three of them.  Not important.  Are we done, Jack?  I've got a monograph on Louis Moinet to review."

It was becoming obvious that, while he went on asking Jack to leave, Lyn had no intention of physically throwing him out of the house, so he decided to push a little farther with his questions.  Putting his mug down on the floor beside the rocking chair, Jack dug into the pocket of his coat, where it lay behind him.  He came up with his wallet and the letter.

He held the pages in his hand, still folded.  "There's a lot of love in this.  Did I read it correctly?"

It was new, seeing Lyn's face so naked.  For the nine years this man had spent in Flat Holm, he could count on his hands the number of times he'd been allowed to see the scars.  Was it a penance for the off-worlder, to allow himself to be seen so vulnerable?  To be stared at by every stranger in London, all eight million of them?

No telling, really, but now he could see all the little flickers of expression which crossed the scarred features.  He'd been given a way to decode some of the underlying thoughts behind Lyn's words.  But, even with that, he couldn't decide what he was seeing now.

Lyn stared at him for a long silent moment, his jaw working tightly under the whorls of reformed flesh.  When he spoke, the words came out hard and fierce, grinding.  "How I feel's none of your damn concern.  I've never been in the business of stroking your ego."

He tapped the letter on the arm of the rocking chair, redirected.  "Who are you, Lyn?  To me?  This letter says we were close, much closer than you ever led me to believe, before."

"I didn't lead you to believe anything."  The other man's brows crept up into ruffled silver-honey fringe.  "Your best friend.  That's what I was."

"My best friend."  Jack Harkness doubted it was so simple.  "I was---will be---your good man, but you're just my best friend?"

Shoulders braced into the windowseat's deep side, Lyn shrugged.  "It hasn't happened yet.  And probably won't, now.  You know time's in constant flux and you've altered the timeline as I understood it, by returning to Earth.  I don't know what'll happen anymore."

They were quiet together for a few minutes and Jack retrieved his mug, draining it in several quick swallows.  He watched his aging friend in thought as Lyn blew several more bubbles and finished his own cup.  The lamps of the room lent a golden edge to the flesh of face, throat, chest and hands, forearms and feet.  Jack took the time to examine every scarred inch he could see. 

Lyn allowed him to do it.

At last, with the letter under his fingers on the chair's carved arm, he asked the question which truly burned at the heart of his curiosity and hoped that it wouldn't upset the newly accepting tone of their companionable silence.  "How did Ianto Jones end up in a picture with us?"

Lyn gave a wan smile, his ruined lower lip stretching as he clasped his long, skinny arms around his knees and settled more deeply into the windowseat.  Outside, night was fully upon them.  "You've seen things like that before.  You tell me what you think happened."

Jack was at a loss.  He shook his head.  "There're ways, I know.  Depending on the timezone.  Cloning.  Cyborg.  Temporal displacement.  Was he one of those?"

The eyes that cut sideways to look at him were quietly thoughtful again.  "You can guess, but I can't confirm.  I can't explain.  Accept that."  Then, Lyn's features creased in a scowl as he rolled his head away, to look out the open window with another bitter chuckle of laughter.  "Gods, I've lost count of the times I've said those words to you."

"I've been back for six months.  You're not disappearing or losing memories."  He pointed out the fears surrounding a shift in the known events of a timeline. 

"The wrong word from me is all that it might take."  It was quietly said and he could hear the pain Lyn wouldn't express verbally.  "I like to imagine they're safely hidden away, loving the memory of the man I used to be and forgiving me for what I did in their names.  It helps me sleep at night."

He hadn't forgotten that he was looking at a man who'd lost his family in an attempt to protect them from an implacable enemy.  Maybe the Daleks that had attacked their homeworld?  This was an exile, marooned to live and die on Earth in a timezone where there was little hope of escape.  Fourteen years of exile had given Lyn a tenuous peace.

"Charley."  He said the name, watched as Lyn stiffened.  "Your daughter.  Who's her mother?"

He'd always wondered how it worked, a psi-gifter's talent.  Did they pick the thoughts and feelings out of the people around them or was it more random, chaotic?  Was it fun to be aware in some way of how others felt?  How had he never realized Lyn could read him so easily?  The way Lyn looked at him, he felt like shrinking in on himself.  It was dark, fierce, and full of some deep-searching thought, as if the off-worlder was lost in memory and digging through his heart at the same time.

"A secret."  Lyn finally answered, his expression easing into a gentle smile.  His eyes were shiny and he looked at his bent knees in their pyjamas, only inches from his face.  "She exists because someone loved me so much they believed I deserved her.  She exists...maybe beyond my reach, but alive and beautiful and mine."

He knew that pain, the loss of a child.  His mind went back over his history with Alice and with Stephen, and knew that he probably didn't need to say a word of it.  If Lyn knew him, then Lyn already understood.  Did the man see the parallels of their lives?  He'd come to Earth and been marooned, too.  He'd also lost his child in an effort to save a world.

When he glanced up at Lyn again, he could see that they were on the same page.  Jack tilted his head back against the rocking chair.  "Lyn...were you a temporal scientist?  Is that what you did, before?  Is that why you call yourself a clockmaker?"

Lyn took a deep breath in through his nose, his mouth working tightly as if he had a thought lodged behind his teeth which he was desperate not to give words to.  A faint blush came up in his damaged cheeks and was followed by a nod, a whisper.  "And more."

Now, he took the chance.  "Come work for me."

He could see that he'd startled the lanky scientist.  Lyn blinked and seemed to draw back.  And then the bitter smile returned to twist the other man's mouth.  "Recruiting a new tea boy, yeah?  You're precious."

"I need a man with your skills."  Jack rocked the chair, pressed his fingers into the letter he palmed.  "We've got a lot of cleaning up to do.  We're still regrouping.  Torchwood needs you."

Lyn rolled his eyes, sardonic.  "Of course it does.  No.  Why're you doing this, Jack?  Why can't you just accept that I don't need your help?  That, after a lifetime of service, I might want to be left the hell alone?"

"Because you wrote me a letter when you left Flat Holm.  Because you wanted to confess, even if you didn't think I was coming back."  He took a breath and went on.  "Because I really believe you would've walked into Thames House with me, even knowing what we faced, just to save Ianto's life.  Even knowing it was a temporal rule you shouldn't break." 

And there was so much more.  Lyn, as a temporal scientist, would have an understanding for history which eluded him.  The history of Earth and its peoples as they spread across the galaxies and into the wider universe was something Torchwood needed at this delicate turning point.  He wanted this brave man working with him, helping him do the right things.

Lyn's laughter crackled like lightening and made him narrow his eyes, studying what he could see.  The anger was still there, still smouldering under the gentleness.  "Breaking rules.  I'm so good at that.  My arrogance, my crime.  My devotion.  It all began with a broken rule and the long game."  A shake of the head.  "No, Jack."

"I'm serious, Lyn."  Jack scooted forward, tucked the letter into his teeshirt pocket, leaned over his knees in the chair.  "What're you doing, wasting your life in a museum?  You're so much more than this.  I know.  The evidence is on Memorex."

He could see that he was getting nowhere.  Lyn closed his eyes, refused to be drawn in.  The words were simple, flat.  "I like my job.  I like my bedsit and my landlady.  I like playing violin on Sunday afternoons in the park.  I like London.  I don't need or want Torchwood."

One long fingered hand moved over the cloth that covered a bony knee.  Scars stroking scars.  He found that he understood, even if he wanted to push.  There would be other times, if he wanted them.  All he had to do was ask.

"Can I visit you here, Lyn?"

The lanky off-worlder gave a nod, another gentle smile.  As long as they stayed off certain topics, the anger was almost invisible.  "If you like.  If you promise not to harangue the hell out of me."

"Okay."  Jack could find other ways to talk Lyn around, convince the man of what could be accomplished by working for Torchwood.  There was time and he could be patient.  Here, he was reconnecting with a friend who truly did understand what he was and how it felt.  He turned it into a tease by raising a brow, grinning cockily.  "On one condition."

"Oh, dear."  Lyn chuckled in an exasperated, helpless way.  "Ask."

"You play that tango for me.  Every Sunday I'm here."  For emphasis, he sat back and let the chair rock under the weight shift. 

The alien human's smile was crooked, genuine, and came with another flush that pinked the high, broad cheekbones, a twinkle of his grey eyes.  He could see that he'd made Lyn very happy with the request.  His voice was hoarse with emotion but steady.  "Every Sunday."



Of course he'd said yes to Sunday visits. What the bloody hell was he supposed to do? Say no to a man whom he could never refuse in all those thing which truly mattered? He'd walk through hell with a grin for Jack.  That never changed, no matter much he wished and prayed and struggled. He still had all of his memories and experiences, days of anguish and weeks of contentment...and the commitment was one-sided now, could be only one-sided because Jack hadn't lived those years. Not yet.

And now, because of some fluke, maybe he never would.

He might be in a temporal dead-end, the result of an alteration beyond his control.

How long did he have before he caused a paradox that wouldn't heal itself? How long after that before he blinked out and changed, disappeared from this world and perhaps from everywhere? How many minutes hours days weeks years---gods, let it be years! let it be decades!---would he have Jack for, this time? It didn't matter that things weren't the same, that he wasn't the same, that he couldn't ever be the same. It didn't matter that Jack looked at him and saw an aging cripple---and hadn't he once feared just such a thing?---it just didn't matter. Jack looked at him and there was trust, an understanding, and that was all he needed.

The null-entropy chip wasn't meant to last so long. He was aging slowly, but definitely growing older. The aches and pains were worse, but he could still run like a flushed rabbit---he'd proved that beyond all doubt just today.

Why the fuck had he said yes? Couldn't he be happy alone in London? Why would he want to breathe the same air as Jack Harkness any more? Hadn't he done that long enough? It had cost him everything. He'd given all he could and his last attempt at protecting his family had brought him here. He'd thought he would draw the others away, keep the family safe, take his enemies with him into hell. He didn't even know if he'd succeeded. He would never know.

He was here, on Earth, and...he was with Jack again.

He hoped time would smooth over the paradoxes, prevent Jack from changing the future because of foreknowledge.  He'd lied, saying he hoped his memories could be erased.  He didn't want that.  He wanted to always remember the truth, the reasons why. 

He knew it would be too easy, falling back into the same patterns of give and take, because Jack was essentially the same man with the same foibles and habits and bad jokes and lovely sensitivities. He didn't want it to be easy, but it was.

Earlier, looking at the other man, Lyn knew he was making the right choice. Jack's expression was raw and unguarded and so full of relief. The look in Jack's eyes was irrefutably the most wonderful thing he'd seen since...well, it didn't do to dwell on his past.

There was nothing he could do about it now.

Lyn was almost asleep, curled up on his side in the single bed, when his mobile beeped a text alert.  Heaving a deep sigh, he flipped over under the quilt and reached for the annoyance, his fingers brushing over the photograph of his family.  Couldn't be many people, at this time.  It was after midnight already.

At a bleary-minded glance, his face nearly lost in the pillow, he gave a sad smile.  Jack was on the road back to Cardiff, but it seemed that their conversation---the godsawful confrontation he'd never, ever wanted---was still on the blue-eyed immortal's mind.

'Happy birthday, Lyn.'

With slow, scarred fingers, he managed a response.

'Ta, Jack.  Goodnight.'

Why was he doing this to himself?  It could never end well.

He put the mobile back down on the bedside bureau and nestled into the quilt.  He was drifting, his mind full of them---those whom he could never embrace again---when the sharp, jarring ringtone made him jerk fully awake.

Lyn groaned and reached for the noisy device, rubbing at his eyes with the palm of his right hand.  He didn't look at the screen as he answered.  "Jack, this won't work---"

"Mister Baskerville, I believe it's time we had a conversation.  There are two men and a car waiting for you on the street.  Please join them now."  The voice on the other end was rich, heavy, and cold.

His eyes flew open as he shoved upwards in the narrow bed's confines.  Staring around the dark garret, he stammered a demand.  "W-who the hell is this?"

"Get dressed, Mister Baskerville, and go down to the car.  Don't make it necessary for the gentlemen to come in after you.  I'm sure you don't want Mrs Goldsmith's sleep to be disrupted."

His heart raced as he tried to decipher what could be happening.

The calm, chilly British voice spoke again.  "You have five minutes."

The End

1 comment:

  1. What? What? The End? No! Not when Mycroft (presumably) is at the door. Cliff-hanger aside, this is another deliciously descriptive piece. I could easily imagine myself standing in the crowd with Jack listening to Lyn’s performance, probably ssh-ing Sherlock and John, too. Love those two.
    The exchange between Jack and Lyn is deeply moving. Jack might leave with as many questions as he came with, but in his mind, he’s found a way to reconnect with his friend. I can feel Lyn’s tortured soul, though, and his fear that all he strove to protect might not now exist with his unwanted/wanted meeting with Jack. Will we ever know?