Heaven and Nature Sing by Echo Fain
Once upon a time. Like a fairytale, but real. Realer than real.
Once upon a time, he'd met a man in the Palace gardens whose heart was cold and covered in something that smelled of iron and felt like stone under the tendrils of his empathy. He'd known who he was meeting, of course; Her Majesty had given him the dossier some time before, had asked him to take the job of playing watchdog and confessor to her sometime-consort and always-protector. From the start, he had not wanted to say yes and that feeling had only grown stronger after meeting the immortal Captain.
Surrounded by other duty-committed scientists and other ministers, he had played congenial when he'd really just wanted to escape into a quiet gazebo or maze and hide from the whole lot of them. So many hearts, so many expectations. In a private moment, forced into a secret corner at his regent's command, he'd finally said yes to the Queen and her factotum, Barkley, about the assignment they wished him to accept. More than anything, he'd wanted to run back to the Welsh village where he had grown up eyed with distrust and suspicion by most everyone but the family who loved him.
Bad it might've been, but it was better than this.
He'd been plotting how best to do just that when the blue-eyed director of Torchwood Orion found him where he sat on the marbletine bench under the long, sheltering whips of a red-leaf willow.
He'd understood what the Crown wanted of him. He was to become the spy under Jack Harkness' wing. He would do so to ensure a flow of information which allowed the Queen to know all of the Captain's moves, even when the Captain himself might not grasp the full meanings of what he did with the power bequeathed to him by the nation.
He had sat quietly in the dappling shade of the willow with an empty wine glass dangling between his fingertips, wishing he didn't have to be part of the afternoon festivities. If he disappeared, he'd be found again, even if the Queen had to send soldiers to Newydd Llandudno. And he wouldn't do that to his parents---give them fear for what he might've done in New London that could cause Her Majesty to have him dragged back in chains.
And that was where the Captain found him, alone and in deep thought.
'What're you doing out here? Waiting for a friend?' Harkness had asked, stepping around the maze's innermost curve.
They'd been introduced earlier, of course, and had spent some time talking, but when he looked up at the sound of the immortal's smooth, teasing voice, he had felt overwhelmed. Earlier, he had stayed solemn and answered all the questions, accepting that he was going to start work as a deputy director at the Tower in a few days. He'd been polite to the Captain even as his guts churned at the idea of being forced to deal with this man on a daily basis. He didn't like Jack Harkness---he really didn't. The dossier was enough of a reason for disdain. Meeting Harkness---and spending a few hours in close awareness of how horrible the other man's soul looked---had worn him to a frazzled nub.
Jack Harkness made him want to cringe, to whimper in trapped misery.
If he'd said no to the job, Her Majesty would probably have sent him away to work far from his homeworld. If so, it would've been years before he saw his family again. She was coldly interested in making sure he fulfilled the terms of his duty contract. Now, he wondered if he should've taken the carpentry apprenticeship in the village and stayed the hell away from the university and its examinations, its scholarships and grants and the lifetime debt which he now lived within.
His life at Torchwood Orion would be spent watching Captain Jack Harkness, who was absolutely repellent to his psi-gift and inutterably sensuous to his body. He couldn't read anything through the walls around the man's heart and what little he did see below the surface was repugnant to an extreme, and none of that mattered to his skin and his bones and the blood in his veins. Mentally, he was disgusted. Physically, he felt like a moth drawn to the flame.
There under the willow tree, caught out by the immortal, he'd looked away again, down at the delicate glass he held, and shook his head. There were no words, not in English, for what he'd felt.
How could he explain that he had no friends among the small elite crowd who attended the Royal tea? That he had, in fact, few friends at all? And he'd been able to see what the Captain meant with his question---it was far more personal than he was comfortable with.
Harkness had been well-dressed that day, and wore, despite the heat, a long wool military coat the color of storm clouds. And his response, when it finally came, had held none of his feelings and only some small part of his dry, sardonic wit.
'Love the coat.'
The other man had ducked the tree's lazy branches to sit down beside him; their shoulders had brushed. Harkness had laughed, but the humor was laced with something born of surprise and discomfort; his words carried an echo which unnerved the Captain. 'Love the accent.'
When he didn't respond to this, he'd been treated to a long, searching stare from the immortal who had helped the colonists make planetfall here on the Eye of Orion. And a question---as employer to new employee.
'Think you'll ever look at my face without wanting to see me eviscerated?'
And for a moment---just one moment---he'd wondered if the Captain was a telepath. It had made him silently curse the Queen for not suggesting the likelihood in her dossier on this impossible man.
Much later, when they knew each other better---after he'd settled into his job and had become the Captain's friend and watchdog---Jack had asked him a different sort of question.
'Think you'll ever look at me without wanting a kiss?'
By then, of course, he'd realized that Jack wasn't a telepath. Jack's long life had taught him how to read blank faces and subtle body language and, as an empath, he---Doctor Merlyn Llewelyn---was very good at poker, but he'd met his match in Captain Jack Harkness.
But that was a long time ago. And far, far away. The Eye of Orion's star couldn't be seen from Earth. Not yet, anyway. The technology to home in on such a distant spot hadn't come into existence yet. This was, after all, just the 21st century---a barbaric timezone to be trapped in.
Lyn hated to dream, but it was all he had left of his world and his family.
3 November 2011; Wednesday; 1256 hours
Halfway to London
"So, he's...like you? Born on another planet. In the future." Gwen Cooper, in the passenger seat of the Rover, held the open files on her lap. She had one of the A-4 color photographs between her fingers, studied it with narrowed green eyes. It was one of the later pictures, taken after its subject's face was healed enough to be called 'finished'. Despite this, the colors were violent.
Over time, he'd told the dark-haired Welshwoman a little more about himself. No details, just basic facts. She was intelligent and sensitive enough to draw inferences for the things he left unsaid. She'd explained what was necessary to both Rhys and Andy, taking the burden off his hands.
"Yeah." Jack sighed, his eyes steady on the road in front of them. He tapped both thumbs on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. "I'm not sure of the where or when, but he knows me. He worked for a branch of Torchwood at some point. A high-ranking position, I think."
"And he was at Flat Holm. As an inmate."
They were on their way to see Kate Stewart. If she would see them.
He had decided that, once they were finished at the Tower of London, they would swing through Camden and visit Lyn. Maybe, if Gwen Cooper was with him, Lyn could be persuaded. Torchwood really did need a good scientist and Gwen had a little touch of natural empathy herself---and, from what he remembered of old conversations at Flat Holm with the scarred time traveler, Lyn had a fondness for knowledge of Gwen. Had the two met before, or was it just a matter of Lyn knowing about Gwen's future?
Time to find out. It couldn't hurt. Lyn wouldn't hold this against him. Not if the man knew him as well as he seemed to. Lyn would know that he had to try every angle, that he wouldn't give up trying.
"I don't know if you could've considered Lyn an inmate, really." He mused, shook his head, and continued. "He's not dangerous or incapable of dealing with this." He tipped his chin up and outwards, indicating the larger world. "He just didn't want to be out on his own back then. So, I put him at Flat Holm. I didn't think he should stay in a cell at the bottom of the Hub."
Gwen hummed her agreement.
"He's good at keeping information about the future to himself." Jack explained. "But when we talked, he always knew what I'd been doing. What the team had been doing. He won't talk about much of what he knows. He's protecting temporal continuity. It's no different than what I've done, I suppose. There are things which I can't explain, even when I know that the outcome is gonna hurt."
She was quiet, watchful; he could feel her eyes on him.
"It's easier for me, I think. What I know about Earth's future is tied up in big events. The world-changers. But Lyn knows about the little details. Mostly Torchwood and the 20th century. The things affecting the people I know here. That makes it harder on him. He has an obligation to my future, to protect my timeline so that the right things happen at the right time. He can't spare me, or anyone, the pain we have to go through."
Which had to make life difficult for his friend. He knew guilt and awe for what he understood about the next century on Earth. What was it like for Lyn, who knew the details of what would happen to Torchwood and its people?
"How does he know?" Gwen frowned and, from the corner of his eye, he saw her look down at the photo she held loosely in her fingertips. "He has the little details, but...how?"
"I must've told him. And, as a Torchwood operative, he probably had access to the known histories." Jack nudged the wheel and pressed on the accelerator, pulling ahead of a car that was going too slow for his tastes. He tightened his lips. "Lyn knew about the 456. He knew Ianto and Stephen were going to die, that the Hub was going to be destroyed. And he didn't say anything because, as he put it, it was a fixed point. Something meant to happen."
Gwen's silence held condemnation and he glanced at his friend to see that her frown had deepened.
"It's not his fault. He didn't cause it to happen." Jack defended the other alien human. "Temporal continuity."
"How sure are you of that?" The passionate woman put the picture down into the folder and picked up the Torchwood archivist's report about the cassette tapes. "You've read the files, listened to these recorded interviews. You've already heard things you weren't meant to know. His presence is a danger to continuity, as you put it."
He hadn't told Gwen about the photograph in Lyn's field journal. He didn't think she should know about Ianto's involvement---whatever it might be, however it happened. It was information he shouldn't have, Lyn was right about that. But how could he ever tell Gwen that there was a version of Ianto Jones living and breathing in the future?
He'd come to the conclusion that, somehow, Ianto would be cloned. Probably as a Torchwood project. Which would by-pass the temporal laws about a single person occupying two connected timenodes at once. It was really the only viable explanation, the only one which he could believe. But what sort of person was that other Ianto? Clones weren't notorious for being identical to their originating pattern. Yet, Lyn hadn't said clone. He hadn't admitted to anything, really.
Temporal scientist. Chronoticist. If anyone knew how to bring a man back from the dead without disrupting fixed events and timelines, it would be a chronoticist. Or the Doctor. He found the idea exciting and worrisome at the same time. Why would Lyn have been involved in it? What purpose could it serve, to bring Ianto Jones into a different timezone?
Questions he should never have the answers to. And if Lyn was right, he would either forget that the questions existed---forget that Ianto was going to live again, preventing the paradox---or timeline events would change and none of it would happen. In which case, this was a temporal dead-end and a moot point. Ianto's involvement would become simply a matter of Lyn's past but not Jack's future. Lyn had said they were living through a causal loop of sorts. Maybe this was where the loop diverged?
"These pictures are old. Has the scarring on his face changed any? Is it easier---" Gwen asked, but stopped herself from completing a question which could be considered rude.
"It's been fourteen years. The scars are permanent but they've softened." Jack wouldn't force her to say the words. "At least the ones I've seen are. His face, his hands and throat and chest. He can talk clearly now. It's shocking at first, but you get used to it."
He knew, when he glanced at her this time, that she was thinking of Jonah Beven.
They drove in silence for a few minutes before she closed the files and, with her hands clasped around its thickness, spoke in a horrified tone. "God, and he's been walking around London? With all the horrible things that people can say about injuries like that. How does that work? Any mental or psychological problems, to do with the crash?"
Jack shook his head. "I don't think so. No one at Flat Holm ever mentioned it, if he does."
Gwen sighed and rubbed fingertips over her forehead, ruffling her fringe. "I don't know, Jack. If he's around you every day, it'd be just a matter of time before he said something he shouldn't. About the future. Wouldn't that be too dangerous?"
The same concern that Lyn had.
"Time has a way of fixing paradoxes. Maybe this is one of those places where the paradox works itself out." Jack exhaled roughly, going on. "He's already said that I've changed something just by coming back to Earth. The way he understood things, I didn't. And yet he's still here. And his memories haven't changed themselves to reflect an alternation of the timeline. So far so good, I think."
Traffic was growing thicker with the lunchtime rush; he slid the Rover in between two lorries and adjusted his speed to maintain a good distance between both.
"But what if that isn't always true?"
"It's a risk we might have to take." He conceded. "We need a scientist. Someone with an understanding of the future---things are changing and we're not as ready as we should be. And he's a chronoticist. That means he studied time travel and temporal mechanics. So, he comes from at least a thousand years in the future. I know, because that's when the concept of chronotics was first developed as a human science. The work he did there probably helped pave the way for the Time Agency."
Which told Gwen a little more about where and when he came from.
"Can we even afford him?"
Jack laughed. "He's busking for spare change in the park on Sunday afternoons and works as a librarian at Guildhall. I don't think he'll ask for anything that breaks the bank. Besides...I thought I'd offer him a place to stay. Make room and board part of the package in this case."
Her eyes went wide. "Jack---"
He knew her reservations. His house was the temporary Hub, where everything they possessed in terms of work was now stored and utilized.
"You'd want him living with you? Jack, how well do you know this man?"
How could he explain that he trusted Lyn without proof of anything solid?
"Hey, he's living a complicated space-time existence and I'm a complicated space-time event. Sounds like we might be the only two of our kind currently living on Earth." He confessed, shrugging his shoulders inside the heavy coat he wore. "If the information on him is correct---and I don't have any reason to doubt what's in those files or what he's said, what little there is of that---then he and I were---will be?---best friends. But, in my future. And that's a reality he's already lived through. And it's not like he'd actually shack up with me."
He hoped she understood. She'd leafed through the file. She had to have read the part on how comprehensive the physical damage was.
"I suppose not." She sounded like she didn't believe him. "You have extra room. It could work. If he agrees. I'm just...the idea of taking on a time traveler as our resident scientist is a little overwhelming. He knows so much more than we'd ever be allowed to know. He'd always be keeping secrets. Doesn't that bother you at all?"
There was so much that he would like to know. About himself. About Ianto. About that boy who looked like Ianto. About the baby in Lyn's arms in the photograph. About the scientist himself. About what could drive a man like Lyn to flee into a nebula and come through the Rift in Cardiff to escape an enemy. And he couldn't have any of that information. But he'd live with the ignorance.
Gwen took his silence to heart. "Jack...just because you'll know him in the future doesn't mean you should know him here and now. Maybe you shouldn't be visiting him at all. It sounds like he's trying to do the right thing by keeping you at arm's length."
He bit the inside of his cheek and took a moment to think it through, to find the right words. It felt like he was flushed, annoyance rising to redden the inside of his skull. Sometimes, he didn't understand Earthers at all. They had no sense of how brutal the universe could be. Most of them believed that a benevolent deity watched over their lives. They couldn't grasp how random and terrifying life could be for someone who knew what lay beyond the sheltering arms of Sol's light.
"You've never known a day of your life where you weren't surrounded by your friends, your family. Your own species." He said it softly, gritting his teeth around the words. "You've never been the alien, the one stranded without a hope of escape on a world where no one speaks your language or understands how you feel. You can't imagine what it's like. I look at this world and..." Jack gripped down on the wheel under his fingers as if he could strangle it. "The differences between our timezones are vast. And the similarities don't always make up for that. Imagine being dropped all on your own into the world where the Weevils come from. Do you think you'd survive very long? Do you think you'd ever be able to fit in? You'd be the loneliest you've ever been. Without an end to that loneliness."
He'd shocked her into silence. She stared at him, her mouth slightly agape.
But a glance told him that the gears in her head were turning quick.
He went on. "I didn't have to come back here. I've been off this planet four times since...since I got stuck. I come back for the people I love. The people who make a difference to me. But that doesn't mean any of you understand. How could you? This is all you've ever known. I come back to help. But I still..."
After he left that hanging, Gwen blinked and murmured. "All alone. My God, you must feel so alone sometimes."
She got it.
Jack felt suddenly vulnerable and now became unwilling to share any more of what he knew. He eyed her sideways and gave a small, bitter smile.
"And he's alone, too." Gwen heaved a sigh, her shoulders and breasts rising and falling dramatically. "Okay. If you can convince him, I'll go along with it." She paused and her expression suddenly dawned with a realization. She looked worried. "He's not like John Hart, is he?"
It startled him into laughter. His negative thoughts fled. "He's nothing like John Hart."
3 November 2011; Wednesday; 1300 hours
His left arm felt like a stretched-out cord, sore and weak. Despite its damaged muscles and tendons, he'd overextended his dominant side for the strength it afforded him when the work reached a point of being tough and slippery.
The nicotine-yellow light over the sink flickered dim and less-dim, dim and less-dim, and showed the hollow, stubbled face of a man who stared back at him with nothing but tired desperation in eyes the color of old iron.
John was out, looking for something that resembled booze in a decaying colony town that no longer had even a basic government. He was alone with himself for the moment as he washed away the remains of today's work.
There were gobs of blood under his short, blunt nails and dried into the lines and tiny yellow hairs on his wrists. He'd used his bare hands to take something apart. He couldn't remember if it was completely dead when he started. Cyborgs could retain a spark of life in the neural net and be aware---in a vague, distant way---of what happened after the flesh was cold and without spirit.
One more augmentation removed and examined, stored or discarded. Bits of precious metal that could be stockpiled and molded to his use. The AI program's interface needed a certain type of circuit conductors and it was not something readily available.
John sometimes looked at him like he was a ghoul because he could---and would---dig through a cyborg's brain and retrieve software only two or three millimeters in size. But the ex-con knew why and didn't need to remind him of how horrible it was to harvest from a dead soldier. In pursuit of a sentient temporal waveform predictor that could utilize all possible resources as a living guardian for the Eye of Orion, he would scour every military library in human history and follow their stories into the worst of apocalypses. He was the battlefield raven. And John was right there with him in a way that Jack never could be.
Was it a man or a woman this time? He couldn't remember. He wasn't even sure he cared. He was exhausted and needed to sleep and there was only one bed in the room.
If he'd had someone to tell, he might've explained that he was afraid to fall asleep.
Someone besides John. Who already knew.
Long before dawn on this hellish killing field of a lost world, he was going to wake up with a wet face, a raw throat, and John's whispered reassurances in his ear. Later, on Eye again, he would run the track at Torchwood Tower, three miles at a sprint, to strip away the horror before he went home. He wouldn't take the mission into the safe haven where he was husband and father.
But perhaps he wouldn't wake to the knowledge of how John viewed him in the darkness of his nightmares when they were on a field assignment. When he worked on the battlefield corpses they found, John wondered what he was truly capable of doing where the safety of Jack and Idris were concerned and then considered the nature of their own connection. How sane was it to trust a man who offered no mercy to the dead and dying?
He frightened John sometimes. He frightened himself.
He was likely to dream of destiny and fate and the ways his flesh and bone and brain and blood might be turned into a living weapon with the ability to manipulate time the way a child molded a ball of clay.
It had never happened to him yet, but it might. If certain interested parties realized that he existed. That's what a Time War made of the Universe; a place where random acts of temporal terrorism and wholesale devastation could---and did---happen, ripping apart worlds. The innocent suffered more than the guilty and he must spend the rest of his life watching for the enemy's operatives---those who would, when they realized what his life was worth, come looking for him. They'd try to create from his mortal form a nightmare of cyberthetic engineering.
He was probably going to scream in his sleep tonight.
John would tease him tomorrow, masking concern with bravado.
The dribble of water from the tap sluiced away the blood, melting the dried slivers and crackles first. He rubbed his palms together, soap lathering up crimson foam.
There was a man sitting by his bed.
Well, to be fair, it wasn't his bed.
Lyn lay still and regathered his thoughts.
Going by what he'd picked up from his captors, he was at a UNIT holding facility. He wasn't a criminal by UNIT's exacting paramilitary standards and this man wanted him to be treated humanely. As a gesture of good will. So he'd been given a bed, blankets, a proper room instead of a cold steel cage.
He'd been dreaming again; this time, the memories were of battlefields and squatter labs where he opened dead cyborg soldiers like he might open a clock.
There were places and times where humanity slipped over the line and offered some evidence of how things like the Cyberiad came to exist. He'd had his hands inside humans who came close to being wholly cyberthetic, little more than a double handful of biological tissue left anywhere below the neck.
And every time he had seen a Cyberman whose face was flesh and bone and looked human, he'd cringed at the memory of Lisa Hallett.
It was early afternoon; the dancing chronons which touched everything and left nothing unscathed suggested that it was somewhere between noon and maybe two. His stomach was aching and the man who sat just outside his easy reach had recently eaten.
In the light which came from overhead and gave no peace to sleep, Lyn studied the Terran human from behind his lashes and considered.
Perhaps his height but bigger. Well-fed. Well-groomed. A hint of lemon, but not from the cup of tea that sat on the card table. Expensive, subtle aftershave. Dark gingerish-brown hair. A mobile phone rested on one meaty thigh. The suit was bespoke, the tie whimsical in a very esoteric fashion. Wool and silk, lightly freckled. Urbane. Lethal in mental ability but not physical. He recognized the type.
The umbrella was nowhere to be seen.
The man held the photograph of his family in two fingers. A wedding band on one hand, a similar ring on the other---and that just reminded him of home, where he wore one on each hand, too, and he forgot his stomachache in favor of the heartache which bloomed at the memory of his lost family, the rings he hadn't worn in fourteen years. Blue-grey eyes swept over him and then moved to the picture, doing an obvious comparison of face and form.
His visitor wondered what kind of leverage the people in the photo represented and whether they could be used. Jack's face was recognized and so was Ianto's, which suggested the man had done some research into Torchwood's recently dead personnel.
He kept his eyelids lowered as he spoke and broke the silence, answering the unvoiced question. "They're not leverage you can use. They don't exist yet."
The bland, stern face went flat with genteel calm as the photograph was turned over and its back re-examined. "Every man has his price, Mister Baskerville."
He smiled, didn't move. "The last man who said that to me seemed to change his mind just before I unraveled his existence."
"I'm sure his death was satisfactory to you." One brow lifted in bemusement.
"He ceased to exist." Lyn gave up and rolled himself into a sitting position, ignoring the protest of sore muscles and worn tendons and damaged bone. He sat on the bed's side, almost knee to knee with the unflinching visitor. "I made sure he was never born."
And that had infuriated the Doctor, of course.
His scarred face didn't bother this man. That was refreshing.
"Weren't you concerned with the paradox effect?"
There was no emotion behind the words, but he could sense the knowledge and curiosity involved. This was Mister Mycroft Holmes and in the last few days, Mister Holmes had become an expert in what humans of this timezone understood about time travel. Which wasn't much. There had been a lot of reading. His files were involved.
Lyn smiled again, laced long fingers together between his denim-covered knees. "Madmen don't worry about things like that."
"What do madmen worry about?" The photograph was offered to him.
He didn't take it. "Their next cup of tea."
Mister Holmes inclined his head in a nod at the cup and saucer which sat on the card table.
It didn't matter if the brew was poisoned or adulterated by drugs. He wasn't going anywhere without this man's permission and until he gave answers, his life was under the heavy hand of the kingdom's warriors, military and scientific both. He picked up the offering and lifted it for a deep sniff.
Earl Grey. Strong, milk and two sugars. Someone had researched his preferences, which told him that his life in London been under surveillance far longer than he'd initially suspected. He might've been under someone's eye long before Jack had found him through this man. He didn't know whether he should be impressed or worried.
After he'd taken a drink, he accepted the picture from the Crown's representative.
"You present me with an interesting problem." The mobile was touched, adjusted, left alone.
"And you love interesting." He said over the rim of the fine porcelain he held.
"Quite." It came with a new smile, sharper and overtly threatening.
Lyn studied the photographic image of his son and held the saucer and its cup against his knee. Idris had mourned after him for years, had been unforgiving of his absence. When he'd returned to the Eye of Orion, the lad had treated him like a pariah and rightly so. It had taken more than a month of the heat of invasion, under battlefield conditions, for his son to understand why he'd disappeared and allowed them to believe he was dead. It was a memory he would carry with him for the rest of his life, how Idris had wept in his arms behind the barricade walls which protected them from the rising tides of dying, half-converted humans.
He would always be Tad to his children, wouldn't he? No matter what happened to him here and now, on this gods-forsaken Earth where he was marooned, being Tad was something these humans couldn't take away from him. Somewhere out there, in another time and place, his daughter might be waking up with drowsy pale eyes and petal-soft cheeks, safe in the care of those who must spend their eternity watching the horizon for his return or believe him finally lost.
Did they wonder if he'd been caught? Would they listen for rumors of it?
"The answer..." He swallowed a drink of tea and looked up to meet the other man's gaze. "Is no, I'm afraid. I can see what you want of me. You're not even trying to hide it. And I have to say no."
"Even if it means your freedom?" Mister Holmes said.
Finished with the cup, he put the saucer down on the table's surface and gave a sigh. "To quote a 20th century folk singer, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
"You think you've nothing to lose."
"There's nothing you can touch that would force my hand."
UNIT wanted him to use his knowledge to assist them in the protection of Earth. He didn't have a problem with the idea in theory, but his knowledge could be used to change the timeline for humanity's push into the larger galaxy. That wasn't how space travel had been achieved.
To Mister Holmes, however, he represented something else entirely. He was an enigma, a clue to what might lay beyond the known world. He would always be fascinating to men like Mister Holmes, those who needed to know the outcomes. He understood. He'd once been one of those men himself.
"We could kill Captain Harkness and his team. Your landlady is very vulnerable."
"Still not interested." What did any of their lives mean against the weight of a thousand years?
"Pity." The smirk on Mister Holmes' heavy features didn't match the sense of irritation he picked up through his empathy. "Admittedly, Harkness would be difficult. But his pain might be just the impetus you need."
Lyn Baskerville raised a brow and shrugged, unmoved. "I watched Jack get skinned alive once. By a woman whom I called my Queen. I was her most loyal subject. After I dispatched her and set fire to the corpse, I shot Jack in the head. In front of our husband. Jack's pain means very little in the long game."
Not that he wanted to see Jack in pain. He understood better than most what Jack felt, dying and coming back. Immortality didn't mean being physically insensitive to pain even when time could cause emotional numbness. Being the empath husband of two very brave immortals who'd fought a ruthless war for the safety of his homeworld gave him a unique perspective.
"Agent Gwen Cooper has a child." It was said in a conversational tone, a tidbit of information to be shared and nothing more.
"So? What's one more human life to me? Given the right reasons, I'd shoot that kid myself." And he would. It was probably a very good thing for Jack's team and their families that his own children weren't being threatened here.
"Are you truly capable? Knowing that Jack Harkness would despise you for it?"
"He's not my Jack."
"But...he will be, someday."
He needed another cup of tea. What would they want him to do for it?
"You've done your homework." Lyn shifted position, looked at the closed door for a moment and then turned his gaze back to the man who sat in front of him. "Before or after Jack collected my files from UNIT?"
"Good. Good for you. Too bad it doesn't mean much. Mister Holmes, please use your formidable intelligence and come quickly to the realization that there's nothing you can offer me, nothing you can use against me. All that I love is gone."
"What if I were to say that we are prepared to offer you a method by which you could return home to your loved ones, those for whom you would commit any crime? For a small favor or two, you wouldn't need to spend the rest of your life behind a locked door on Earth."
Lyn's breath caught before he could stop it. Once more, he looked away from the man's face and down at the picture he held. Charley's little self couldn't be seen---her features were blocked by the warm blanket wrapped around her tiny body---but he let himself remember the sweet heft of her in his arms, the sensation of her warm fist closing around his thumb.
His tools. The Rawleigh. Mister Holmes knew something about where it was being kept.
But, what they wanted of him...?
He could do it. There was no question of that. It was simple and it would hurt no one. He would be fulfilling his duty as an operative of the Crown---regardless of timezone---using his natural talents and the skills he'd acquired through long years of study and work. If he accepted the offer to go home, then what would become of the man who'd sought him out the other day...the man who needed to know he wasn't alone on Earth? If he went home, he might put his family in danger, but he most certainly would be hurting this timezone's version of Jack.
He'd seen it in Jack, on Sunday. Jack needed him to be a friend.
A maybe against a certainty was no match, but the idea...to have a way home and to not take it?
He was damned by his own nature.
"No." He whispered at last. "No." He turned and curled up on the bed, the curve of his back presented to the Crown's representative. He closed his eyes, screwed them shut. "No. No deal."
He listened with a stoppered breath burning in his lungs as the man left. Once the door was locked again, he buried his face into the pillow and hid as the tears overwhelmed him, the photograph gently held between his palms as if he could cup their lost love and keep it close once more.
3 November 2011; Wednesday; 1345 hours.
London; Tower of London; UNIT Headquarters
London was cold today. Colder than it had been just a few days ago. The brisk wind blew wild around the Tower's immaculately-cut green, throwing autumn leaves into the air in front of the uniformed gardener who worked his rake in futility under the trees.
Gwen had zipped up her leather jacket the moment they got out of the Rover and, under that breeze, had given up her hair as a lost cause. She stood beside him on the grass, both hands folded under her arms for warmth. He considered, several times, reaching to take them in his own big palms, to share a little bit of body heat. But opted not to.
They were, after all, being watched.
Tourists moved around them in groups, snapping pictures and wittering away about the buildings, the history, the ghosts. Not the first one of them had any clue where they were, in reality. That, under their feet, below cobble and grass and dirt, lay the main headquarters for UNIT. Specifically the scientific R&D department. Nor did they know that many of the rooms which lay off-limits to prying eyes were, in fact, the offices and residences of many of this world's brightest minds.
He wondered if Lyn's Torchwood Labs was anything like this, or if it would be more like the Scarman Estate. He hoped it was nothing like Baskerville---which was where he suspected his friend had really borrowed his fake last name. He certainly didn't believe that fib about Lyn's father being an Earther named Henry Baskerville. He knew, from the audio cassettes---from the things Lyn had blathered in a drugged state---that the chronoticist had been in charge of Torchwood Orion's R&D, wherever and whenever that was. Was Lyn a future Torchwood's version of Kate?
He could see that. It didn't seem implausible.
"Shouldn't we go find---" The Welshwoman at his side looked up and around at the sky and the stone walls. "Someone? Are we just supposed to stand at the door and wait to be noticed?"
With his hands tucked behind his back, he bent near Gwen's ear and smiled, speaking in a low voice. "You see the Beefeaters on duty?"
Around the green, at several sky-blue doors, stood the costumed gentlemen in their stylized black and red.
She nodded, her green eyes studiously sharp.
"They're security. UNIT security. The moment we stepped foot in here, they notified their commanding officer. By now..." He lifted his wrist and checked the time. "There'll be someone from R&D on their way to see us. My face is pretty well-known around here. At least, it used to be."
"More of your mysterious past." Gwen scoffed playfully and pushed her shoulder into his ribs. "CIA, UNIT, Torchwood...is there anyone else you've worked for---or with---that I haven't heard about yet?"
"You mean Ianto never told you---" And he stopped at the expression on her lightly freckled face.
Someday, it wouldn't hurt anymore. Someday, he'd be able to talk about Ianto without feeling like he was re-opening raggedly healing wounds with a dull, rusty blade. Someday, they'd be able to say his dead lover's name without causing Gwen's heart to re-break over and over.
He hoped. He just doubted it would be in Gwen's lifetime. Or in the next thousand years.
It probably wouldn't hurt so much, he thought, if they didn't both feel such guilt.
He cleared his throat and leaned in to whisper again. "Let's walk over to the execution memorial." He nodded in the direction of the raised glass circle with its smoked glass pillow.
They had just reached the memorial when something on the other side of the green caught his attention.
Jack lifted his eyes without raising his head and watched as a short, chubby woman in a white lab coat and a very long, multi-striped scarf came hurrying out of a blue door and---it seemed---towards them. She had a serious face with dark-rimmed glasses and a brown ponytail that bobbed at her shoulders as she walked, hands in her coat pockets.
"And...here we go. Looks like a lab rat has been sent out to find us."
Gwen followed his example, looking up without raising her head. "Interesting scarf."
"Yeah...looks really familiar." Jack mused.
"The scarf or the woman?" His second in command murmured back.
"Both." And she did. The young woman looked familiar but he wasn't sure why.
The scientist quickly crossed the well-manicured green to reach the cobbles that led around to where they stood.
"Hi, I'm Osgood. Kate Stewart's personal assistant." She rushed through the words and offered her hand to Gwen first, who shook it after fumbling for a moment.
"It's very nice to meet you. Torchwood, right? Kate's asked me to---" Her voice dropped off to a wheeze when she glanced up at Jack.
Jack favored her with a grin, offered his own hand. "Captain Jack Harkness."
The young woman's eyes blinked rapidly behind her glasses as she began digging through the pockets of her lab coat; she was hoarse, breathless. "Yes, I see---" And she came up with an inhaler.
She had a beautiful face. Shame about the spectacles. And the asthma.
Jack and Gwen shared a look.
Then he tried again, straightening his shoulders. "Is Kate available? Or have you been sent to head us off at the pass?"
She had the look of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. "No, no---she wants to see you."
Osgood. That name was familiar, too. Jack thought it over a moment and came up with information. "Any relation to Tom Osgood? Your father, maybe? He was a good tech, a good scientist."
Osgood, staring up at him, opened her mouth and then closed it again abruptly. She slid her inhaler away and croaked, blushing. "Yes---how did you know---"
He chuckled, on firm ground now as he stepped in to take her hand in his. "Torchwood worked with UNIT in a consultancy position in the seventies for a while. I met Tom when he was still just a Corporal."
She seemed to gather herself at last, drawing free of his grip. "Oh, well...good, um. I'm supposed to take you to St. John's Chapel now. If you want to..." She motioned with a flap of her left hand in the general direction of the White Tower, which sat in the center of the fortress grounds.
They went with her to the second-floor chapel, which had been cordoned off with red velvet ropes and a sign which said that it was closed for repairs, a set-up which had probably just appeared here in the last few minutes.
"Please, wait here. Kate'll be with you soon. Would you like some tea?" Osgood asked, taking two steps backwards out of the chilly but luminous stone room. Her young voice echoed off the vaulted archways and the high ceiling.
"Mrs Stewart wants to meet with us here?" Gwen looked around in askance.
"It's Ms." Jack leaned in close to her shoulder and corrected softly. "Kate's never married." Then, he spoke to Osgood, who was watching them with large, nervous brown eyes. "You're new in your position, aren't you, Osgood?"
She nodded; her ponytail bounced appealingly.
"It shows. You weren't here the last time I came around. Coffee'll be good. I'll take it with milk, two sugars. Gwen? Coffee?"
"The same." The dark-haired Welshwoman said.
Jack watched as the white-coated personal assistant hurried off, the tails of her scarf whipping to the sides of her thick waist and hips. He grinned after her. She was actually quite cute.
He then turned and studied the chapel, hands sliding away into the pockets of his trousers, pulling his coat back behind his braces on either side. After unzipping her leather jacket, Gwen sat down in the first row of wooden seats and folded her arms.
3 November 2011; Wednesday; 1400 hours.
London; Tower of London; UNIT Headquarters
Watching people go by outside, Jack was standing at a window in the apse when her rich alto voice filled the 11th century French stone. "I knew I'd be seeing you soon, Jack. You're like the proverbial bad penny."
He grinned as he turned to greet her. "I always preferred to think of myself as being more of a bad shilling, like Sir Walter Scott described Darsie."
She came to stand behind the rows of slat-bottomed seats, a wry expression on her fine-boned features. "Well, you would. Ever the troublemaker."
Gwen got to her feet and shifted around to face the slim blonde who, in a khaki cotton turtleneck and black trousers under a beige overcoat and dark violet silk scarf, certainly didn't look like one of the most respected members of the intelligence community.
Jack moved to stand beside his dark-haired second in command, dropping his hands from where he'd held them clasped in a parade rest position. He went on grinning. "So, how're you doing, Kate? How's Gordon?"
The Englishwoman's trim boots clicked on the stones as she approached, her own hands sliding away into the pockets of her slacks. "Oh, he's fine. At least, I think he's well. He's away at school. These days, I only hear from him when he needs money. I prefer to take that as a good sign."
He laughed at this. "That's what kids do. Bring home laundry and inappropriate boyfriends and ask for money."
As if he would know from personal experience.
Gwen at his side gave a smirk at this.
"I was sorry to hear about your dad's wife." He stepped forward again as she reached them. "How's he taking it?"
Her brown eyes went soft at his concern. "Well, you know him. Stiff upper lip and all that. He's devastated."
Stood to reason. The Brigadier had loved both of his wives---Kate's mother Fiona, and Doris---but the latter had possessed a special place in the old soldier's heart going back to his youth.
"Does he still come around to help out?" Jack asked. "I wouldn't mind seeing the old man."
She chuckled at him. "Not so old, now. He's..." Her gaze flicked towards Gwen and then she went on, deciding to be frank. "He had an incident last year. Just after Doris passed. You know he's well over a hundred now, what with all his travels, all those little adventures of his. He was ill, we thought we'd lose him, but...that's how it goes with our old friend in the blue box, isn't it? Just when you think it's done, it begins again."
"Yeah." He tilted his head, agreeing.
That was uncannily accurate. The Brigadier had traveled often enough with the Doctor to have been affected by the unusual temporal qualities of life within a timeship. Lethbridge-Stewart wasn't the only person he'd ever known who looked far younger than he---or she---should after an extended visit with the TARDIS. The spirit of the timeship took a liking to certain people and altered their physical being to suit her idea of them, he thought. At least, that was how it seemed.
"So." He bit his lower lip coyly, a tease. "Is it just handshakes this time or hugs?"
"You're such a flirt, Jack, and still looking so young yourself. You'd give the old man a run for his money, I warrant."
Her embrace was soft and gentle and warm and she stood up on tiptoes to plant a kiss on his cheek. He kissed her back and whispered into her ear. "You're looking good, Kate."
She murmured a laugh, whispering back. "Not a chance, Jack, you old rogue."
They laughed together now and when he shifted back, he introduced his companion. "Kate, this is Gwen Cooper. She's my second in command. Gwen, this is Kate Stewart, head of scientific research at UNIT and one of the toughest women to ever serve."
She'd have to be, wouldn't she? To stand in her father's boots.
A sound from the chapel's end caught their attention and Jack looked up and over Kate's shoulder to see Osgood returning, two steaming mugs in her hands. She was moving quickly but with care, as if she was afraid of her own feet.
She handed them over with a small, shy smile, and then hurried back out and away, ostensibly to work.
The mugs were decisively UNIT-issue. Red with gold trim and the organization's title on one side, its crest on the other. Jack admired his. "I just might keep this. Add it to my collection."
When Kate smiled up at him, her eyes were warmed once more. "Do that. We're holding a replacement red cap for Ianto, as well, as I recall. I was told that the last one was destroyed with your base." Then, her expression sharpened with realization. "Oh. Your young man."
At his side, he heard Gwen's sharp inhale.
Jack lifted his head, straightened his shoulders. Accepting condolences was a work in progress, like so much else in life, and even after all this time---two years on Earth, much longer for him---this still stung. Ianto had, after all, made good contacts within UNIT---there were people here who would remember him well, no doubt, as the smooth, calm Welsh voice on the other end of important phone calls from Torchwood.
As he remembered it, Kate had become something of a friend to Ianto Jones. It was how he'd managed to renew his own working relationship with UNIT.
"I'll take it anyway." Jack gave the slender blonde scientist another gentle smile. "For the memories."
Kate heaved a breath and turned to look at Gwen, holding out a hand to the chairs behind them. "Please. Let's talk. I imagine you're here about the Dalek."
3 November 2011; Wednesday; 1636 hours.
London; Tower of London; UNIT Headquarters
They held their silence until they reached the Rover in the carpark.
Side by side in the gentle flow of vented warm air, Jack and Gwen sat and stared at the stone wall of the fortress they'd just left and considered the last two hours.
Kate had explained about the time fissure research UNIT was currently engaged in, how they had started identifying and monitoring those weak spots which had appeared in the airspace over southern England. The paramilitary force were using a modified version of Torchwood equipment and techniques in this exercise. She'd lauded what Torchwood had accomplished with so few funds and then had suggested that she wanted them to assist.
They would get their Rift-monitoring equipment back and, with this, they were meant to continue watching the southwestern weak spots, taking over where UNIT would leave off. Wales was theirs to observe. They would be reporting to Martha Jones-Smith with data and then liaise with UNIT scientists and soldiers where possible. For this, they'd be given some funding. It wasn't their own funding, of course, but UNIT would underwrite Torchwood as a subcontractor and wrangle some money out of the Ministry of Defense in their name.
The trick, Kate said, was to be at the location before the temperature rise peaked. She'd claimed that only one Dalek had come through so far---a surprise for the team which had retrieved it, but she'd lied---Jack knew she'd lied---when she said the thing was dead upon hitting the wooded ground in Thatcham. It had caught fire upon entry to their world's atmosphere and was dead inside its armor when the scientists at Scarman Estate had pried it open.
He was sure she'd lied.
Kate Stewart had been very smooth, very calm, and had lied to him.
He liked Kate; he always had. She was savvy and good and brave, but she had her orders and those orders, right now, seemed to involve keeping Torchwood at a safe distance from the truth. The team could help, but they wouldn't hear the whole story any time soon.
It was just more of the same. Martha had warned him off and now so had Kate.
She'd given him a strict but kind speech. Even now, as he sat and stewed, he could hear her.
'Jack, you can't go off playing the cowboy hero anymore. It's just not done. In the current climate, you're still considered something of a criminal. There are those in the higher echelons who wouldn't hesitate to pull your organization apart through its people. You might have no family on Earth, but the other members of your team do. And while I'm welcoming your help, there are factions involved who are less than thrilled that you're still here. Are you prepared to send your people running for their lives again? Because, if you push this the wrong way, that will happen. And the next time they bury you, they'll make sure there's no one left to ride out for a daring rescue. No one left to mourn. Work with me and I'll help you get it all back, but you have to play this my way for now.'
He had Gwen and Rhys and Anwen and Andy to think about.
He had to give in on this.
After they'd been silent for many long minutes, Gwen spoke. Her accented voice was low, gentle, conceding. "So we do it her way. We work with UNIT until we can move out from under Ms Kate Stewart's hand."
Jack nodded tersely, jaw tightened. He blinked at the wall.
She patted his arm, her fingers a soft whump against the wool of his coat sleeve.
When he looked to meet her gaze, she gave him a gap-toothed grin. "At least you got your mug and cap. We're practically honorary UNIT now."
Not what he wanted. But it would have to do.
He rolled his eyes and laughed, accepting a momentary defeat.
3 November 2011; Wednesday; 1716 hours.
On Lisburne Road, at the brownstone with its sage-y door, they knocked and waited.
But there was no answer.
Jack stepped back on the sidewalk and looked up at the garret above with its single window. There was no sign of anyone.
"Some other time, I hope." Gwen murmured and headed back around the Rover to the passenger side door. "Damn. I was really looking forward to meeting your friend."
He frowned hard at the silent house and nodded.
It could be nothing, but his instincts told him something was wrong with this picture.
Back in the Rover, he pulled out his mobile and thumbed in a message.
'Where are you? Nobody's at home.'
At his side, Gwen looked at the street and the houses and everywhere but at him.
When the response came, it was quick. 'At Alfie's. Pamela's in Suffolk. Why?'
Jack grinned to himself and arched a brow as he responded. 'Wanted to introduce you to Gwen. We're in London for the afternoon. Dinner?'
'Can't. Busy here.'
'Ok. Send me a pic of Alfie?'
'Just want to see what my competition looks like.'
'Not a contest, Jack.'
But then, a moment later, a picture came through.
Jack stared in surprise at the two faces in the crisp image. There was Lyn with his familiar, uneven smile and deeply intelligent, handsome eyes, and with him---leaning in close, almost cheek to cheek with the scarred alien human---was a pretty young man who couldn't be any older than twenty or twenty-one. Ginger-brown with dark eyes and freckles, a round face and wet, soft-looking lips.
Side by side, the two couldn't have possibly looked any more incongruous.
Lyn seemed almost old enough to be the boy's grandfather with his greying blond hair.
He offered the mobile sideways to Gwen. "Alfie and Lyn."
Gwen took his mobile and studied the picture, her green eyes solemn. When she finally spoke, she sounded hopeful. "The scars aren't nearly as bad as I imagined from those other pictures. And his boyfriend's a cutie-pie."
"Not his boyfriend." Jack took the mobile back, knitting his brows as he stared at the boy.
"And why not? If it's a good thing, the scars won't matter. Despite the age difference, it could be love."
He pondered the 'why not' for a moment.
Lyn had sexual disabilities because of the damage done to his body. He was, in a way, a castrated man. For Lyn to become involved with someone, it would have to be deeper than simply lust. The scars would dissuade most people, but the physical inability to engage in traditional sexual behaviors would have to be a barrier to nearly everyone else.
Could Lyn be in a serious relationship? The kind that went far beyond the physical?
Wouldn't Lyn have said so on Sunday? Maybe, but maybe not. His friend had talked briefly of Alfie, who worked in a pub as the bar-back and played football for a local team. But he'd thought, at the time, Lyn was describing a kid who saw the older man as a mentor into the world beyond home and hearth. A brother of sorts. Lyn's tone had suggested Alfie was too young, too---well, there hadn't been any suggestion of sensuality at all. And he was good at picking up on that sort of cue.
Perhaps there was a relationship and it was the reason for Lyn telling him no about coming to Cardiff.
Now, seeing a picture of the young man in question, he found himself believing that he'd been right the first time. Alfie was too young and Lyn would treat the kid as such. Lyn was older than him, was unlikely to get into a sexual relationship---of any kind---with an Earther of this timezone. The physical scars and the psychological distance would have to stand as insurmountable odds.
He'd believe it was a relationship when he saw evidence.
'Gwen says your boyfriend's a cutie-pie. Bring him to Cardiff with you.' Jack messaged.
When he saw the reply, he laughed at how his instincts were vindicated.
'Not my boyfriend. Fuck off, cariad. I'm not done thinking. xxx'
He showed the screen to the woman beside him. "That's how I know he's not in love with that kid."
Gwen didn't say anything and her smile was a little too sympathetic. It soured his mood.