Sunday, 31 January 2016

Fans Fiction Heaven and Nature Sings - Part Four by Echo Fain



Heaven and Nature Sings by Echo Fain


Part Four:

When he dreams, he rarely dreams of going home.

He accepts his exile. He's had almost fifteen years. It was a hard-won fight. He ruthlessly stamped out the flames of desire and need, and poured cold logic over the embers—or so he thought. He is on Earth, in the 21st century. He's not going anywhere. No bars line his cage but it's a cage nonetheless. The whole damn planet--the cradle of humanity--is a prison for him, a man out of his native timezone. Like his mother, he'll die beyond the loving hand of kith or kin.

And, like her, he's strong-willed; he doesn't allow himself to dream of going home.

But...once in a while, his self-control slips.

He dreams that a thousand years have passed for his family and he is a scarred stranger at the door. His husbands don't know him. He still cannot find Ianto's heartbeat in his head. He's a ghost.

He dreams they are no longer the men he knew, evolved beyond recognition. They look just the same--or mostly--but Ianto's lost his accent and doesn't know what coffee is, or rugby. And Jack wears the clothes of a space jockey, a tourist, a businessman, has a mustache or long hair. He talks about the children, his beloved Idris and Charley, but they look at each other in askance and then Jack says 'Who?'

Immortal humans have finite memory; they forget, after enough time. Their brains can't do anything but forget.

He wishes he had the same mental flaw, but chronobiology ensures that while things might fade in importance and be lost to a gray, vague area of his mind, he will never entirely forget. With the smell of a certain type of Earth lily, he can find himself remembering--vividly--the scent of the snow roses as they bloomed in early March the year Idris was born.

When he met Jack, the director of Torchwood Orion was already losing the things that no longer had any relevance. Jack Harkness was forgetting what it meant to be human. And he'd changed that. He'd slowed the process.

But time would still nibble away at the edges, devouring days and months and years. It was no thief but an ouroboric cannibal.

He would remember afternoon rain storms and arguments with Jack over his duty as Queen's man. Games of chess with Tad, planting Mam's kitchen garden. Racing horses with Yan across the moors. Seeing John Hart be a genius of the first water, pulling off a con to get them in the door somewhere he didn't belong. Telling stories to Idris as his lad snuggled down to sleep in a bedroom he'd built with his own two hands. The sensation of Charley cuddling close to his neck. The feverish, clumsy feel of Ianto's slick flesh as he knelt over the Cauldron and hauled his Welsh Galatea from the amniotic sea of creation.

For a human immortal, all things were lost and so were people, bit by bit. Big events, small moments, all falling before Mother Time's scythe, all disappearing until not even mementos morii were enough to jog a recall. After long enough, Jack and Ianto might not remember, but he would. Until his dying day.

He dreams of finding his family...of finding what remains of home. Of arriving just hours too late, his enemies beating him to the door. They are dead, his children. His husbands are nowhere to be found and he knows he probably could've saved them. He can think like the enemy and that's why the Eternity Circle hunts him. He could have saved them all or died trying.

He dreams of hate in Idris' blue eyes. He dreams of mistrust in Charley's.

He dreams and he wonders if their loves--these memories--are worth a prison cell and, in wondering, loathes himself enough for all of them.

***

4 November 2011; Friday; 1850 hours
Newtown

The sky over the hill--open field and wooded slope--was electric blue and swirled with temporal energy. The wind whipped his coat around his legs and tossed his hair in whorls as lukewarm rain spattered down on him like the weakest shower in the world.

Snapping another picture, Jack stared at the aurora that danced over his head. He took a deep breath in through his nose and caught the heat. The strange warm wind smelled of ozone and water. It felt like June here. Early summer. When he stopped at a Morrison's--less than four kilometers away--to fill up the Rover's tank and use the facilities, there was no wind and it felt like snow could happen. The sky over Newtown was clouded, the stars lost.

Here, stars were visible through the aurora, but he wasn't sure they were the right stars.

He wondered how far the heat bubble extended away from the coordinates Martha texted to him. Southeast, toward Kerry, on the bald slope of the hill. Sliding his phone away into the pocket of his coat, he replaced it with the scanner.

UNIT was running on time, Martha said. Soon, the place would crawl with soldiers and scientists. This might be his last moment of privacy for a while--hours, maybe. A day, even.

Under the eerie glow, he tuned the device to show him a map, a two kilometer radius. The display lit up. The heat bubble was only in the bottom quarter of the stratosphere and affecting an area of point eight kilometers. It shifted its shape as he watched. The color was red. A deep red.

Against other recent examples--UNIT's data, and Torchwood's--this weak spot was growing faster than seen with previous incidents. It wouldn't be another twelve hours before a fissure happened here. It could happen any time, maybe before dawn. The temperature at the center of the bubble was hovering between eighty-five and ninety degrees, Celsius.

The only other example in the same speed and temperature range was from the night Lyn fell to Earth, when it was believed the temporal activity over Cardiff Bay reached a hellish, impossible temperature of--maybe--ninety-four. Another difference--Lyn's fissure was much faster, developing in just minutes.

On his way down this road from Newtown, he'd seen several UNIT lorries parked in front of the local houses--not that there were many. Evacuations, he knew. There would be an official reason given, something important. Every house around this hill would be empty by the time UNIT reached him. Kate Stewart might evacuate the village of Kerry, too.

He'd tried to call Martha on the drive up from Cardiff and got her voicemail. He left a message and then texted the information he'd gathered concerning the temporal fissure of January 1997, pointing out how it looked like their current situation. And he hoped he wasn't making a mistake. Her response was a text with coordinates and an ETA for arrival.

The weight of his gun in the right pocket of his coat was reassuring, if less than adequate. He'd used it on Daleks before. He might as well throw the iron at them for all the good a bullet would do.

In the unearthly quiet, the cavalry arrived.

He didn't turn to look, but there was a crowd. At least fifty moving bodies, maybe more. Just here, piling out of lorries and trailers. Two small, lightweight tanks looked capable of climbing the Himalayas. His eyes, momentarily blinded by headlights, adjusted as he watched UNIT go to work, assembling their frontline.

No question, there were more soldiers, more tanks and lorries--spread out around the hill, even on its wooded side.

Jack lifted his face to stare at the aurora. Its ripples were consolidating, twisting in on themselves. Becoming a spiral. On a whim, he pulled out his phone again and took another picture. He sent it to Gwen and put the Samsung away as Kate came to stand at his side.

She carried two take-away cups, wore dark wool and waterproof boots.

She offered him one of the cups with a smile. "Still think I'm trying to cut you out of your own game?"

He took the coffee. "Gwen says thank you. For the equipment. Apparently--" He gave a sideways grin. "I just missed six squaddies in my house."

"Admit it, Captain." The blonde chuckled. "You'd rather be here."

He shrugged and took a sip.

Together, they looked at the illuminated sky. It had to be visible for at least fifteen kilometers in every direction. Under the glow, Kate's eyes looked black.

"Congratulations are in order, I'm told." She said. "Torchwood's autonomy is safe. You'll have your own funds and a central base will be built for you."

If there was anything he'd learned from living among the Welsh, it was a deep distrust of anything that looked like a silver platter. "Not sure I wanna count on Whitehall to keep its word. How long before someone decides we're a threat and we get ourselves blown to hell? Again." He amended.

Rain splattered down on them, but Kate didn't notice. "It's up to you. You'll be allowed to pick your own site, dictate the work. You can have your Hub rebuilt. Better, more efficient."

He missed the Hub, with its patchwork stone and brick and concrete and add-ons from a dozen expansions and re-purposings. He missed the drip of water in distant, dank corridors and the smell of aging steel. Mostly, he missed the people.

His inner suspicious bastard reared its squint-eyed head. "Who sanctioned this?"

"I'm not at liberty to divulge that. But you've gotten yourself a powerful benefactor, it seems. Oh, and I'm staying involved. For old times' sake."

"You'll cover my back?"

He could see the exhaustion. She wasn't sleeping well these days. He hadn't noticed this in London, but there he was angry and frustrated at the Tower. Here, his skin crawled with a secret awareness--there was a temporal fissure building above them and he could feel the energy of it. And he could see, under the aurora's light, how drawn and hollow Kate looked.

"Why not?" She asked. "I owe you. We all do."

He wouldn't comment on that.

Instead, he took another drink of coffee. "What's the civilian story?"

"Falling space debris."

He made a moue. "Not bad."

"It has the advantage of being true. From one perspective."

To either side of the frontline, a hundred meters away, were the tanks. The lorries and trailers were parked on the access road, with his Rover, but the tanks were in position for battle, their muzzles aimed at the sky.

He pointed at one with his polystyrene cup. "If we're trying to capture a live Dalek, why the tanks?"

"The tanks fire capture-secure nets with a localized EMP charge, to knock out the power in the Dalek armor when the net makes contact. It's said to work on Cybermen, too."

Jack's brows crept up in surprise and he grinned at the idea. "Can I have one?"

She twinkled. Just enough to be noticed. "If you put that on your requisition list, I will certainly look into it." She sighed heavily and looked around at the sky again. "Doctor Smith-Jones!" She said over her shoulder. "Do we have an ETA on the fissure?"

"A fissure is most likely to happen when the hot spot's temperature passes ninety-two." The petite, dark-skinned doctor approached. She came from the left, where a mobile research lab trailer hummed and steamed under a set of spotlights. She wore the black uniform and body armor of a UNIT soldier, minus the helmet. "We're steady at eighty-six."

The wind picked up, ruffling through their clothes and hair, and threatened to pull their voices away unheard.

"Do we have to stand on guard?" Jack looked around at the gathered force and its equipment. "Don't you have people who'll let you know when the show starts?" He said to Kate, using his coffee to indicate the closest group of armed soldiers. "Like them?"

Her dark eyes narrowed with amusement. "Go with Doctor Smith-Jones. She'll show you some of the other equipment we're using. If anything suits you, we can have one sent to your new headquarters."

He followed Martha back to the research trailer, squinting against the halogen that turned everything yellow-white. He climbed the steps and found himself in a miniature computer lab. A bare-headed soldier sat at a console. She didn't acknowledge them, was busy murmuring into the headset she wore.

It was privacy he wanted. And Martha knew it.

At the rear of the trailer, she sat down stiffly on a high stool; her body armor creaked. Jack stepped closer and eyed the distance between them and the busy soldier before he asked. "Did you get the package?"

"I did. Thanks, Jack." She gave him a quicksilver smile, a gleam of bright teeth. "You're right. It does fit. I've already added the data in here and extrapolated a few new theories."

"How did you explain away the aftermath?" Meaning--how did she hide Lyn's entry into their world?

"I didn't." She lost her smile. So did he, as he realized what she meant. "So far, he's incident one. But now I've got three techs at Scarman running an investigation of weather anomalies for the last sixty years. I want to make sure he really was incident one."

"Does your boss know?" He swallowed his disappointment and irritation.

"Of course." Martha's brows knitted. She reached up and pulled four bobby-pins free of her black hair; she wore it in a sleek bun but strands were falling out of place. She swiped her other hand over her head, smoothing things down as she replaced the pins one at a time. "But I didn't have to tell her. She already knows about him. Not in conjunction with this--” She waved a hand up at the trailer's roof, indicating the unseen sky. “I don't think so, anyway. But once I saw the data you sent me this afternoon, I did a search. And I got a ping. UNIT has a file on him, too. A big one."

He felt a chasm open in his chest. Surprise and dismay.

He hissed at her, his face going hot. "And you didn't think I needed to know that?"

"I didn't know until you sent me the numbers today. I added the data into the collection and it matched what we've gathered recently. And it red-flagged a file in the Black Archive. He's tagged as a companion of the Doctor. Did you know?"

No, but he'd suspected.

He knew about the Black Archive. Every director of Torchwood did. He was in a file there, too. And so was Martha. So was every companion of the Doctor who made contact with UNIT. He'd never seen the files. He'd never stepped foot in the Archive.

"How did he get tagged? The data shouldn't have linked him to anything UNIT might be concerned with, except this." This time, he waved his coffee at the roof of the trailer. Outside, he could hear the noise of bodies and machines waiting under steam-fogged halogen light for the sky to rip itself open.

"His name. I put his name on the search. Just out of curiosity. It came back with a file I can't open and a list of names. People who've accessed it in the past. Only three names on the list. Two Lethbridge-Stewarts and a Doctor Song." She admitted and her brow eased. She shrugged, looked thoughtful. "Since I don't have access to the file, I can't see how his name figures into the tagging."

He could. Maybe UNIT already had Lyn's name on that file because they'd been watching him for a while and made the unlikely connection between a scarred alien human and some photograph of the Doctor's companion. Maybe Lyn really was Lyn's name.

“I'm starting to wonder if maybe he's in a file at the Black Archive because he's exactly what he claims to be—an alien war criminal. Just because he was a companion doesn't mean he's a person we should trust.” Martha bit her lower lip, looked apprehensive.

“He's not a war criminal.” Jack disagreed. “I'm sure of that.”

But how sure could he be?

Over their heads, rain began to pour out of the sky and the wind wailed. It rattled the metal box he stood in. The equipment did nothing to muffle the pound of cloudless rain--possible only because the stratosphere's over-heated air had reached a final point of saturation.

It probably wouldn't be long now. He hoped Kate had an umbrella.

***

5 November 2011; Saturday; 0549 hours
Newtown

It was a gray and grimy dawn but Jack barely noticed.

He was running along the slope with a heavy gun in his hands and if there was an easterly cast to the sky, he didn't care. His eyes didn't even hesitate on the fiery maw hanging over their heads. Squinting against the rain and the eerie, flickering glow of time-on-fire, he located their target and shouted at the two armored solders who ran with him.

"There--past that outcrop. Right--" And he changed his trajectory, heading for the red-blinking net and its motionless captive.

He'd left Martha and Kate behind when the sky poured Daleks, ran with the retrieval squad.

The sky didn't pour Daleks. Not really.

There were Daleks on Earth, here and now, and when the tanks fired, it was with a muffled boom and an unfurling net of tiny red lights. Ten Daleks, Kate said in his ear, ten so far and it was hard to tell how long he ran, how many minutes it took for one Dalek to become ten.

And then twelve.

And then he was standing on the hillside, catching his breath. He lowered the weapon in his hands and watched the sky, waiting...there would be another. And that one would be swept up in a net, too. None were escaping. The Daleks were on fire when they tumbled through the mouth of hell and into his world but none screamed--not where he could hear. And each Dalek that fell was checked by human eyes and by scanners. They didn't get far; the tanks were snatching them out of the sky almost as soon as they flew in.

No...fell. None of the Daleks were entering under their own power. Theirs was a rolling fall, flame-engulfed, and the only sounds to be heard were coming from the squads that moved over the ground. Human noise.

He'd been on a battlefield or two. Or dozens, over the span of his life. On a battlefield, the noise reached crisis level and had several tones and two orchestras. Here, the battle was one-sided and never rose into panic or terror. It was a clean-up operation. There was the adrenaline of the chase but no fear, no bloodshed. The Daleks, if they were alive at all inside their armored casings, were disarmed and shut down before they ever hit the sodden earth.

The rain put out the fire.

Five minutes of nothing. And then ten. The fissure seemed smaller, less blue than gray, and the temperature was dropping. Two degrees, twelve degrees, eighteen...he had no way of knowing that for certain but his skin knew that winter was returning with a grudge.

Jack shivered in his wet clothes, weapon aiming at the ground under his boots, and looked around at the hill--or what was visible to him. Nine Daleks here in the weird blue-gray light. Red-blinking hulks, surrounded by UNIT, six bodies on guard for each motionless alien. On the other sides of the hill, there would be three groups standing over three downed Daleks. Would there be any more?

"Temperature of the heat bubble above the fissure has dropped to seventy-two degrees." Martha said into his earpiece. "It's closing."

Around him, the soldiers moved. A few stood still, watching the swirling vortex as it shrank and faded out under the searing yellow knife's edge of dawn, but most of them began a new maneuver. One involving a laser saw. Others hurried away to return with some of UNIT's secret toys.

Antigravs were not from Earth. Nor were they from this time. But UNIT had something like them, retro-designed from antigravs they'd scrounged and salvaged and stolen from various alien encounters.

And to think, when he'd arrived in this timezone, he had nothing but the clothes on his back and the vortex manipulator on his wrist.

Jack stepped back from the dark, motionless Dalek and turned. He looked over the hill at the lorries and trailers and the black-clad bodies of humans preparing to remove the evidence of the attempted incursion. If incursion was the right word for something that looked unplanned and involuntary.

He walked down, his boots squelching in the thick mud. The rain was slowing. The firestorm was gone. The fissure was almost gone. And dawn was truly at the horizon, illuminating it all. The air steamed under the sun's pale face and turned misty. He approached Kate Stewart, handing his weapon to a passing soldier with a word of thanks.

"Reports from the other slopes say we've captured six more. That's fifteen in total." She informed him with a gimlet darkness in her eyes. "All accounted for, and initial scans say the Daleks are dead. Fried."

"Keep the nets on them until you know for sure." He advised and swiped a big palm over his face, wiping away the rain that chilled on him. "It's getting cold but don't let that make anyone sloppy. Be sure."

He didn't need Martha to tell him that the temperatures on the surface were quickly approaching normal for early November in eastern Wales. There would be sniffles later for everyone but him and he didn't miss that part of mortality.

It was another hour before the fissure disappeared from sight and radar. The heat bubble disappeared, too, and to the eye, the field looked like the emptied battlefield it was. Minus the blood. Scorch marks, ripped earth, bootprints, the hill would be left just as it was; the crash site in Thatcham was untouched when he found it.

The Daleks were opened. He stood at Kate's side and listened to the soldiers and their tools. Every Dalek was dead and a part of him was disappointed. Kate was, too. It showed on her wan face. Her blonde hair was slicked from the rain; she hadn't used an umbrella--not that an umbrella would've lasted long in the wind.

They'd spent the night in this place, hours and hours of waiting, and the haul was worrying. Fifteen Daleks. If any of them had survived, escaped UNIT's grasp, there might be murder and mayhem today--or at least until the Dalek was captured and destroyed.

He kept his own counsel and wondered if his earlier supposition--Lyn's place as the first incident of this kind--was still correct. If Lyn was the first and he was being chased by an enemy that might be the Daleks, then the mystery only deepened. This was a lot of Daleks.

"You'll keep the armor. Won't you?" He asked Kate, who watched four soldiers stumble down the hill with a Dalek between them, held up by one of the plate-like antigravs. "Store it at Scarman?"

She didn't respond at first. Her gaze was distant. Her voice, when she answered, was slow and thoughtful. "Yes, though what we'll do with it, I have no idea. Put it with the rest, I suspect. What we need is a researcher who understands Dalek armor and could design something like it. In the event that more arrive--alive and ready to fight--we'd be ready for them."

He could picture it. Tanks like the ones that sat patient and silent around the hill's base might be covered in the armor of the enemy, making them largely impervious to harm of any kind on Earth. It was the next step in human warfare and tasted ugly on his tongue.

"Burn the bodies. Or what they call bodies." He folded his arms to hold in some heat.

She nodded in agreement, thin mouth a hard line in her face.

"We'll wrap it up here, Captain." She said. "You'll get an initial report on what our labs find out about them. On Monday."

Her disappointment hadn't faded like the night. She looked dissatisfied. He noted that.

***

5 November 2011; Saturday; 1129 hours
London

Lyn Baskerville loved hot water almost as much as tea.

He stood with his head down under the hard spray, letting it drive at his scalp and nape, and breathed in and out slowly, taking the steam in deep. 

He was working for UNIT now, via MI6, and there was no guarantee--no matter what Mister Holmes' mind showed him--that he'd be allowed to ever leave this world. Not as long as he was useful. It was enough to make him angry at Jack Harkness, for how the immortal made him feel a sense of responsibility to that man's loneliness. For reminding him of what he was missing with his family. If he had any kind of bollocks, he'd say yes without hesitation to Mister Holmes' offer. 

As it was, he'd asked for Torchwood and time to finish what existed between him and this version of Jack, even if it meant he never left. If he played nice and did what he was told, the option might materialize again.

He'd left the sleepy village of East Woodhay before dawn, driven to London by Anthea and two different agents in black suits. He came into a cold, dark house, but a phone call to Pamela's brother's home in Suffolk had brought his landlady scurrying back to Camden.

In the car to London, he and Anthea played mind-games and he pushed where he was not invited, no longer caring that such a violation was rude and unwarranted. He owed none of them any mental privacy--least of all her.

By the time they crossed the Thames, the young woman wore diamonds of sweat in her hairline but they'd said very little.

As he got out of the car, he turned and looked at her. She wore a trim, dark suit. Like before. Her hair was flawless and so was her make-up, so subtle as to seem like natural beauty. But she eyed him with something akin to fear. It flickered deep in her brown gaze as she stared at him.

He leaned into her personal space until he could feel her hair tickling his nose as he whispered into her ear with broken, scarred lips. 'Not a word, Miss Carter, not even to your boss. Especially not him. Keep my secrets and I'll keep yours.'

He pulled back. She raised a hand to her mouth and mimicked the turning of a key. Her sardonic smile was shaky.

'Exactly so.' He said and stepped back from the car to let it drive away.

He needed to research the music for 'Shenandoah', it seemed. He could use Pamela's computer to find it. A spot of practice should see him ready to play Jack's request tomorrow afternoon. Between here and there, he had other things to do. He should resign at the museum in person--he could do that first and then circle back to Camden to meet Alfie for a meal and a Guy Fawkes bonfire.

Alfie had phoned as he was returning to his bedsit, his mobile trilling itself into life for the first time since his capture. He'd agreed to this evening but couldn't imagine what they might talk about--he certainly couldn't discuss where he'd been this week. He found himself hoping that the young, petite Englishman had experienced some trauma at the hands of his homophobic working class family--something, anything that the lad could blather on about for an hour or two.

Anything that could keep him from having to talk. 

Until today, he'd thought himself very much alone in London. But that wasn't really true. He had Alfie and Pamela to care for--they relied on him and that was his fault. He'd gotten comfortable, made friends. They could be harmed to force his consent now, as could Jack, if Mister Holmes wanted to be an ugly bastard about things. Anthea had heard him on the mobile with Alfie. Knew that Jack Harkness was desperate to stay in contact with him.

He might say he didn't give a damn all he liked. That didn't make it true.

Lost in thought, Lyn rubbed at his limp, distorted genitals with soapy hands. He barely noticed the feel of his own flesh; there were no live nerve endings in most of the scar tissue. 

On Sunday, Jack asked about the cane and the glasses in his photograph, asked a dozen questions that he didn't want to answer. Good ol' observant Jack. He'd lied there, too. He'd never needed the glasses for reading or seeing, not the way another might. He imagined his spectacles were lying at the bottom of Cardiff Bay, rolling back and forth in the filth, and he'd said so. But they were probably with his equipment, in UNIT's hands.

He didn't explain why he wore glasses in the first place. Jack, in this time, didn't need to hear about chronobiology.

And how could he ever explain the reason for why he didn't use a cane now? It was laughable. The pain in his right thighbone was still there, but it was bearable. There were so many other aches, the weakness in his femur barely registered most days.

Already, he regretted his choice. Why did he turn down a chance to be whole again? To go home?

His Jack--and Ianto, for that matter--would understand. He knew they would. No, not true. He couldn't be sure of Jack. His Jack would want to know why he'd choose a continuing exile when he could return to them, to their children. His Jack would have no pity for the younger Jack. Ianto, on the other hand? Ianto would understand.

How did they explain his absence to Charley?

Lyn heaved a sputtering sigh and turned off the shower. He needed to put some focused effort into something besides his regrets. He might receive a call at any hour, pulling him in to work for the kingdom's government. He had to make sure the other bits of his life on Earth were taken care of before that happened.

It was time for spurs and gloves.

***

6 November 2011; Sunday; 1417 hours
London

There were more coats and scarves today and some of the same faces under a sky that tossed snow in thin, skirling whips. This time, he stood in his own greatcoat near the front and when Lyn came through the clapping crowd, his heart beat faster.

The musician, with his padded violin case, walked to the bottom step of the bandstand. He wore last Sunday's outfit, mask and hat and long suit coat, and his voice, when he spoke, had the resonance of a Welsh baritone and an accent to match.

"Yesterday was Guy Fawkes' Day, wasn't it?" Lyn began and then gave a laugh under the mask. A rich sound made hollow by the beak. "I went to a bonfire last night. Was a right knees-up, what with the food and bottles going around." He eased himself out of the suit coat and gently folded it away over the bandstand's rail and undid his cuffs. "What did we do before hi-fi car stereos, yeah?"

One by one, he rolled his shirt sleeves to the elbow. The snug waistcoat was dark gray and showed off the long, slender lines of his torso. "Just between you and me, I could've done without the politicals coming out. We're people, getting together like people do. No one needs dividing lines at a bonfire--least of all a Guy Fawkes bonfire."

The violinist rubbed his scarred hands together, limbering them. His tone went on, conversational. As if he was sharing news with the neighbors over a back garden fence.

"How it didn't turn into a knuckles-out disagreement, I don't know. I blame those two lovely Pakistani lads and their magic bag of spliffs for the peace and joy they brought to the occasion." Several of the audience laughed like a drain. Others tittered. But almost everyone grinned in response.

Lyn was a comfortable performer, smooth and genuine and wry. Jack silently smiled, watching.

How could he keep it a secret--UNIT's interest in the other alien human? The Daleks? The temporal fissures? He wondered how he would handle the inevitable questions. Should he try to lie and say it had nothing to do with Lyn's presence on Earth? He didn't have any evidence beyond how some numbers fit into a graph but he really did believe his friend was in danger. Lyn would pick up on that.

The beaked mask dipped as the musician bowed to his audience and then knelt to open his violin case. At this angle, the red lenses looked flat, menacing, but the voice remained just the same. Light, easy, a bit of flirt and tease, and warm, even under the mask...so warm. As if the entire park was his domain and he a welcoming host.

"I've brought new music. Some will be familiar to you, some will not. Bear with me, ladies and gentlemen, while I warm up..."

The instrument lifted as Lyn straightened on his long legs and now, when he spoke, there was an audible grin--Jack could picture it, how this grin would stretch the scars under the mask; he'd seen that grin once or twice last Sunday.

"I need a tune. Any tune. A warm-up for my old fingers, yeah?"

"Play Copeland--" Someone sing-songed from the back of the crowd.

A dozen other composers were cat-called and Jack looked around at the faces. The expectation and excitement. Men, women, children. All here to see this man, whose face was a mystery. Some of them might recognize him--who knew?--if encountered on the street. Here and now, Lyn Baskerville was a beloved but nameless, faceless poet of the age and wasn't that the best part of all?

"He might be anyone, you know." A voice murmured, as if his thoughts were telegraphed onto his brow. There was a small, mousy man standing near him. The man smiled nervously, catching his eye, but went on, still sotto voce. "He might be a prince, for heaven's sake, and no one the wiser. That mask is a stroke of genius."

It was, at that.

"Here..." Lyn lifted the violin and drew the bow along the strings in a swirling, slow set of notes. "I've got one...I used to play this for my mister. Before he was my mister." The off-worlder played a longer line of notes, swaying into the melody, and the tune was one he knew. He just couldn't place it. The violin's strings sang out again, repeating the line in a different key.

Then, the melody clicked for him, words low and half-formed in his head. It was Frank Sinatra and as Lyn rolled his shoulders and arms with the bow and made the violin sing, Jack remembered the lyrics.

'I'm a fool to want you. I'm a fool to want you. To want a love that can't be true, a love that's there for others, too. I'm a fool to hold you. Such a fool to hold you. To seek a kiss not mine alone. To share a kiss the devil has known.'

Around him in the cold autumn air, voices whispered the song. Others shuffled, unmoved by this tune but still anticipating. With his hands pocketed, he watched Lyn and let himself imagine the plague doctor's mask and hat replaced by a younger, undamaged face and body. The lanky blond with glasses and a cane. That piqued his interest, made him adjust his stance, and he let himself watch with new eyes--eyes that could see what really lived under both the mask and the scars.

'Time and time again, I've said I'd leave you. Time and time again, I went away. But then would come the time when I would need you, and once again, these words I'll have to say...take me back, I love you. Pity me, I need you. I know it's wrong, it must be wrong, but right or wrong, I can't get along...without you.'

He was the mister in Lyn's introduction. He'd listened to enough of Robert Youngston's interviews now to hear everything Lyn had ever said about him to the Hub's physician. Most of it was disjointed but clear enough to paint a portrait he couldn't quite see the edges of. The important parts were all visible, though.

Lyn believed--and had believed all along--that this was a temporal dead end, a shift in paradigm caused by his crash. That the paradigm shift signaled a different, altered timeline, one that would change little by little until the changes were big enough to prevent their ever encountering each other. That the memories Lyn carried were from a reality which no longer could exist. That the loop would correct itself when its only outlier--Lyn himself--was gone, dead. That it was necessary for Lyn to keep the truth hidden, to prevent the loop from continuing with Jack's memories. That the wounded man was capable of doing anything in the pursuit of protecting the future as he knew it.

Gwen had asked him about psychological damage; she was right to be concerned. Lyn had survived something beyond horrific and kept his sanity despite the injuries which robbed him of any chance at a normal life. And he was the Doctor's companion.

He watched the other alien human banter and joke with the crowd and play his violin as if it wasn't cold or trying to snow while people dropped pound notes and coins on the bottom step. He thought about what it really meant to survive when there was nothing left to survive for and what it said about Lyn and his scars, the ruin of his flesh.

Somehow, he had to convince Lyn to join Torchwood before UNIT made a move.

***

6 November 2011; Sunday; 2034 hours
London

He helped Jack into his coat and thought of Ianto as he did. They faced one another by the door that led downstairs from the garret. They smiled.

"Sure I can't take you to Cardiff?" It could've been a tease, but he knew better. He could read the immortal's smoky blue eyes better than anyone else's in this timezone. It was impossible to ignore the quiet hope. Jack would never give up. "Even outside of Torchwood, you'd be welcome."

"We've talked about this, Jack." He couldn't help the grin that pulled his scarred face out of shape. "Answer has to be no. Remember? It's not safe for us to spend so much time together. If I saw you every day, I think we'd screw things up terribly."

Jack made a face of his own, sweetly sour, and rocked on his boot heels. "I have to try. You already know my reasons. You're exactly what we need--and with the Hub being rebuilt, you can help us make it what it should become."

"There was never a man like me working for Torchwood on Earth." Lyn took a step back, wrapping both arms against his chest and ribs self-protectively. "Believe me, I'd know if there was."

Jack knew that UNIT was watching him. The immortal had spent the whole afternoon and evening on the edge of saying something. Waiting for him to acknowledge what he could read in the other man's emotional output. But he couldn't say anything without the rest of it spilling out so he said nothing. Jack's mind showed him Daleks and UNIT and if they opened that topic, he would have to lie about the past week. Lie about what he'd agreed to.

Jack couldn't know that it was too late to stop UNIT.

Instead, he'd encouraged Jack to tell him about the new Hub Torchwood could have. Jack had tried several other angles, trying to talk him into leaving London for Cardiff. He'd rebuffed them all.

"We could keep you off the main record, Lyn, or give you a new name, a new identity. If you're gonna be here for the rest of your life, do something important with the time you've got." This too-young version of his best friend was persuasive, already knew how to hit him below the belt even without knowing why those words would get into his brain and fester.

He shook his head and sighed; he was done with this topic. "Now, lad, call if you need to, but remember--I might not be able to answer straight-off. Work's hectic. We've an exchange program going on and I'll be in and out of the country for a bit. If you come dropping by unannounced, it could be a wasted trip."

"Where to?" One brow edged up in curiosity. Jack hadn't moved backwards in the signal for imminent departure, as if he was reluctant to go. "What kind of project're you working on?"

Good thing he'd researched this and found a convincing lie. Bloody lies, again.

"Belgium. Pre-Reformation clock display. They might be lending us a few of their chronographs. I'll need to go talk with people." Lyn shrugged, gave a newly self-deprecating smirk. He half-turned, deliberate with his body language. He was ready to see Jack off, this move said. "Sometimes, I think they send me just because my face scares the bloody hell out of the curators. I can generally get what we want without too many restrictions." Jack wasn't taking the hint, had actually stepped forward to follow his movement. "And...you're not really interested. You just want to stay longer, yeah?"

The other man chuckled. "Am I really that transparent or are you throwing me out earlier than last time?"

The heart which beat in Jack's chest was full of the hope that he would rescind, give in. Another game of chess. Another pot of coffee. Another book. A new stack of old 33s or maybe even, gasp, the 78s. A few more hours, the right ones. Jack didn't want to be alone and the brawny brunet didn't care if they spent the whole evening doing nothing but fight, as long as they could argue with each other and not other people.

And that was like his Jack. Too much so.

"I am." He admitted and shrugged inside the jumper he wore. "You'd best run along to Cardiff, Jack-me-lad, before I keep you for good, yeah?"

"And that's a bad thing?" Jack quipped, sounding so much like his future self that Lyn's mind stuttered to a stop.

For a long moment, they studied each other, and Lyn's body decided to take unconscious advantage of the silence in his brain. He moved forward again and pulled the shorter man into an embrace.

Jack hugged him back, tight and warm and real.

Together, they rocked in the pleasant sensation of shared contact.

How long since someone held Jack Harkness this way? He couldn't know for certain. Maybe Ianto Jones was the last to truly recognize Jack's vulnerability. Maybe someone since. Without asking, he had no answer for the question and it wasn't his place to ask.

When he spoke, he did so with his broken mouth brushing at the sensitive corner of Jack's lips, eyes squeezed shut. "If I could be sure that I wasn't damaging the timeline, I'd never let you go home alone."

Then, he kissed Jack.

And because it was this Jack--who was not his Jack--he felt the shudder just before his empathy picked up the tiny, naked sliver of revulsion that could never be hidden from a psi-gift.

All the proof he needed.

Lyn hid his own reaction as he drew back.

Jack stared at him with wide, startled eyes.

He managed to make it into a tease of his own. "Go away with you now, lad. Before I forget how to be a good dog. It's not for the likes of you, yeah? Takes a stronger man than Captain Jack Harkness."

There. He'd struck the right nerve. Jack remembered who he was and remembered that there was a judgment standing between them. This Jack was not his Jack. This Jack wasn't as good as he would become and was, therefore, an unacceptable trade-off. This Jack was unworthy in the eyes of a man who'd sacrificed everything to become a scarred-up monster who frightened children in the street and grown men on the Tube. All for the sake of a future Jack who wouldn't hesitate to love Lyn the way he deserved.

A future Jack who wouldn't flinch.

Jack's expression flattened, went blank.

"See you on Sunday." Was the goodbye as the immortal sauntered out and down the creaking wooden stairs.

Lyn waited a moment and then closed the garret's door.

At the windowseat, he frowned hard and watched the too-young version of his mister leaving the residence as twilight turned the world indigo.

Jack played with fire for fun and because it was what he excelled at. Slipping a kiss along the lovely mouth--chiseled stone and silk at the same time--was an accident of remembered passion. But it also served well as a reminder of who they were in this time and place.

He hadn't been able to help himself. And neither had Jack. Their reactions were perfectly natural.

The other man would never want him here and now but felt they could work well together--and Jack was right about that. Yet there was a past between them which they couldn't ignore--one Jack wasn't privy to. 

The horrified discomfort he'd just caused didn't even hurt his feelings.

Much.

***

6 November 2011; Sunday; 2101 hours
London

Lyn sat in the rocking chair, pushing it to move under him, and studied his hands. He turned them back and forth, deep in thought as he studied his scars and considered what needed to happen now.

He couldn't bear it anymore. Just yesterday morning, he'd believed himself still capable of enduring this very problem, this type of situation. Mister Holmes had said he should take the weekend to reconsider and he'd said he knew his own mind. But that was over-optimistic and now he had to take it back.

Would that be allowed? What would he have to give the Crown in exchange for a return of those two precious offers? He'd accept one if that was all he could have and he already knew which he would choose, if a choice was necessary.

He could go home with a ruined face and horribly scarred body. He could. His Jack wouldn't look at him with pity or fear. His Jack wouldn't flinch at the touch of his hand or his lips. And he could live without his sex--functioning genitals weren't important, really, as he'd discovered after so many years of living in involuntary celibacy without even the ability to achieve an erection.

Not that he could've found a partner for sex, with his face.

He could go on living with the scars if he was allowed to go home. Bloody hell, with enough credits and enough secrecy, he could have his body fixed in his own timezone.

Home. Where he was needed and wanted, where his loved ones waited. Where his children lived. Didn't matter if it took him years to track them down--didn't matter if they were on a ship or a planet. Home. Where his heart would beat in a doubled rhythm once again, echoed by the heart of another. Where his mister--

He didn't want another awkward moment with this Jack who was too young.

With slow, deliberate movements, Lyn dug into his jeans' pocket and came out with his mobile. One digit, just one. The call rang through. Several clicks told him of the connecting lines, the recording machines.

It was a sign of his place in the scheme of things that the man himself answered. "Mister Baskerville. How pleasant to hear from you."

"What would you need from me? If I did change my mind?" He didn't have to explain his process of thought; this was a clever man.

"You have your Torchwood and Captain Harkness is happy. One might believe the deal was finished."

"We both know it's not."

He could almost imagine the raised brows, the knowing smile. "It may be impossible to offer you the same gratitude."

"You do whatever is necessary to get me back to my family, Mister Holmes. I can live without the rest."

"Would it not be more to your liking to have your body repaired? You could have what you want with Captain Harkness if you presented him with an appealing face. I think you will find it easy to follow your instincts, then."

"No, Mister Holmes, I can't. He's too young for me."

“You're a time-traveler, Mister Baskerville. Your view of age is, I'm afraid, skewed to a unique perspective. With the nanogene procedure, we can make your face and body look any age. We could make you look like anyone. I'm told it doesn't take more than a few hours but the results are impressive. We've already used it on a few test subjects, agents who needed to disappear under-cover.”

And UNIT could do that, here and now? It was more than impressive. It smacked of his own timezone, in fact. Why was Holmes telling him this?

“He's too young for me.” Lyn repeated, voice firm even as his heart fluttered.

"There will be a car outside your residence at seven tomorrow. You should choose a three-dimensional image of yourself from the storage unit in your possession. Doctor Michael Stamford will see you for a consultation at eight-thirty. He will walk you through the admissions process at Saint Bartholomew's and help you prepare for the procedure."

His face and body would be corrected, fixed. It would be interesting to see himself again. Interesting to see how long it took for him to get that first erection. He was looking forward to being able to blush. But would they also give him a way home?

"Are you entirely sure, Mister Baskerville? Do think more carefully this time. In your circumstances, it is easy to choose the emotionally satisfying option--"

"What the hell would you know about my circumstances?" Lyn snarled and then stopped, took a deep breath, and tried again. Calmer but only by force. He clenched his right hand into a fist between his knees. "I don't ever want to see him again. Not this version of him. I want to go home. Do whatever it takes to give me that chance and I will give what you've asked of me. And more."

"You have my heartfelt apologies, Lyn." The sound of his name was very wrong on this man's lips. "The desire to protect and care for Captain Harkness is a very human one. Your choices were laudable despite their futility. As a show of faith in your instincts where the future is concerned, Torchwood will still get their funding and a fair measure of autonomy. Your good intentions have not been wasted."

"I don't need your bloody heartfelt apologies, Mister Holmes. And the road to hell is paved with good intentions. My good intentions made me into a war criminal, destroyed my body, and put me here on this fucking gods-awful world. Just make sure I get my tools and equipment back when this is over."

If he ever saw this timezone's Jack again, he might do something wrong and mad. He'd slipped with his affections. He had no place in this world. The next time, he might reveal too much; he'd reached the point where he did more harm than good and reached it far quicker than he had imagined possible.

Worse, it felt like Holmes had predicted this.

He clicked the off button on his mobile and let it drop to his lap before rubbing at the familiar scars which twisted and distorted his jaw and mouth. He was so very exhausted in his poor, stupid heart.

*****

  

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