Heaven & Nature Sings
By Echo Fain
He survives madness by realizing the prison can't hold him forever. He's mortal and aging quickly. He stays alive by remembering. As long as he lives, his version of Jack and Ianto and the children will stay the same. But so will the future he wrought.
Once he's gone, all of it is gone. The loop will fall apart, then.
He was--is--will be--a scarecrow huddling over the precious jewel of a world. His world, the world of Charley's giggle and Idris' blue-blue eyes.
His body is his own again. He still needs his glasses but he doesn't need his cane. All the wounds he inflicted on himself are erased. All the scars, even the ones on his belly from the coral's probing tendrils--all replaced by tight, sensitive flesh. The skin feels so much. He has forgotten how much. Bloody hell. He has toes, for fuck's sake. And a cock. And nipples. And lips. And fingerprints.
He has a future. UNIT wants him off-world and they're going to get their way. No matter what it takes, he's going home. He's willing to do anything they ask of him. He'd walk into Torchwood Cardiff and shoot Jack Harkness between the eyes if Kate Lethbridge-Stewart ordered him to--if that was the price he had to pay. He might do worse--and there are worse things than shooting an immortal he's already killed once before.
They put limits on what they ask, thinking he has a Doctor-based code of ethics. It's laughable. Because there's nothing he won't do, now. He can practically taste Ianto's coffee. He can almost feel Jack's laughter under his tongue.
Even with the darkness lurking at his core, he let them remake his body. Even knowing that his own private Edward Hyde might be the only recipient of this gift, he stepped into nanogene surgery and gave away his scars and pain.
The biostasis chip is gone. Melted away into him. The nanogenes fixed the damaged nerve connections but integrated the chip...somehow.
Doctor Michael Stamford wants to run more tests in a week.
But he knows what happened. The chronoanthozoa in his blood, bonded to his DNA, viewed the chip as viable technology in its isolated form and now the chip's processors are gene-based and connected to the traces of coral in him.
The only test he needs will require a knife. Until the opportunity for self-exploration presents itself, he does what he always did before. He settles his mind and goes to work.
8 November 2011; Tuesday; 0715 hours
It was impolitely early. Gwen yawned behind her hand when she thought he couldn't see. On the drive from Cardiff to Camden, he filled her in on his theory after lining up the facts--as he understood them. Bringing her up to speed.
She agreed. It sounded a little suspicious. She emphasized 'a little'. And he should investigate, to be sure his friend was safe. He had no other obligation in this--just that of concerned friend. And she reminded him twice.
"Has Martha sent you the preliminary reports on Friday night's freak shower of Daleks?" She asked him as he parallel-parked on Lisburne Road.
"Not yet. I called about it last night and was told that one of UNIT's scientists is just now weighing in. We should get it later today." He turned the Rover off, pulled out the government placard, and unbuckled his seatbelt.
"You didn't tell her he wasn't answering his mobile?"
For a moment, it sounded like she was making fun of him. "Look. If he's in Belgium or France, working with clocks, that's one thing. But his landlady didn't answer her phone either and hasn't called me back. When you meet her, you'll understand why I came to London. She loves him like a son. If something's wrong, she'll know."
The sky over London was grayed with clouds. The air smelled like snow and coal smoke and Jack knocked on the sage-green door with two knuckles. Gwen stood behind him, hands tucked under her arms for warmth.
Mrs Goldsmith was a fragile creature who wore her tidy white hair in a braided bun. This morning, she wore a black cardigan over another housedress, this one in blue. There were no pearls at this hour but the curiosity was tempered with concern as she stood in her doorway and looked up at him.
"Mister Harkness, wasn't it? It's very early--is something wrong?"
"I'm not sure, Mrs Goldsmith. Is Henry still at home?" On a work day, at this hour? Probably getting ready. Jack stared up the front of the house at the gable above him. There was a window seat and a rocking chair just...there.
"No, dear. Henry left yesterday morning. He's gone to America." She beamed at him when he dropped his eyes to stare at her in surprise. "Sent me a telegram when he landed and everything. He's onto an internship there, some big museum in New York."
No, he wasn't. Jack was willing to bet everything on it.
Then, the petite woman behind him stepped out and offered her hand with a gap-toothed smile of her own. "Hi. I'm Gwen Williams. I'm Jack's cousin."
"Oh, you'd better come in, dear. Just through here--I'll put the kettle on."
And Jack followed Gwen into the house, walking through the foyer. He glanced up the stairs into the dimness beyond sight before the old fashioned answering machine caught his attention and he spoke to the elderly figure who led them into a kitchen with lots of windows.
"I called and when you didn't call back, I decided to come over. Henry said he might go to Belgium. For a day or two. He asked me to check in with you. Lend a hand if you need one." He managed to make it sound good to his own ears.
"Oh no, dear." She rinsed the tea pot, her narrow back hunched at the shoulder with age. Her voice rose to be heard over the water. "It's New York and he'll be gone for three months. The telegram's there on the table--and a little something he's left for you."
Three of the kitchen's walls were windowed from waist to ceiling. Like a sun-room. The table was covered in brown linen. There was an autumn-themed centerpiece and, leaning against the vase, was a white envelope and a piece of sun-yellow paper. Together, they stood on a manila envelope.
Jack reached for the yellow telegram.
It was from an International Telegram office at JFK in New York City and dated for late yesterday afternoon.
Gwen unzipped her leather jacket. "What about your bedsit?" She went at the interpersonal connections. "It's rather abrupt of Henry, to just leave you at loose ends like that."
"He's set it up with that friend of his. Alfie. Alfie'll stay here and look after things. This internship, it's just what he needs--he's too clever by half to be stuck at Guildhall. People pass him over because of it, you know. The scars. Some folks never realize that beauty really is only skin-deep."
Jack went stiff under his greatcoat at her words.
Mrs Goldsmith made tea. Gwen talked with her. Got her to talking. Jack held the telegram and let himself be the suspicious bastard again.
If the new money at Torchwood Cardiff smelled of Mycroft Holmes' manipulations, the telegram was double-dipped in the stuff. He suspected that if he went digging into the CCTV for Heathrow, he'd see a man who looked a lot like Lyn leaving the United Kingdom--scars and all. At a reasonable distance, of course. He might even find the equivalent video footage at JFK International.
That didn't mean Lyn had left, of his free will or not.
Had MI6 picked up his friend? Did Lyn help them make it look like he'd left this house willingly?
"Did he...did he ever tell you what happened? How he got burned?" Gwen asked.
The two women sat at the table facing each other. He glanced at them and then laid the telegram down.
"Car crash, he said. Poor lad."
Mrs Goldsmith fiddled with the cups she'd put out for them. As the tea steeped in its crockery pot, the elderly pensioner put out rusks and biscuits and offered to make toast. Now, there was nothing to do but wait.
He looked up to find Gwen watching him, her green eyes sharp with a question. Did he want her to keep going? He shrugged. She was doing fine. He could jump in with more questions when she'd exhausted her current line of thought.
She didn't disappoint.
"Mrs Goldsmith, his mobile's not receiving calls." She traced her fingertips over the linen tablecloth with a frown. Her own mobile lay to the side, near the tea pot. "Maybe because of how far away he is. Did he leave another number for you? A way for you to reach him?"
"He said he'd email it to me when he got a chance." The lady of the house shifted in her chair to look up at him. She motioned at the manila envelope. "Oh, he made that for you on my computer, before he left. Said you'd want it when you came around again."
In the envelope, he found a CD jewelcase and a letter. The CD read, in black marker...The Exile's Tango.
8 November 2011; Tuesday; 1028 hours
One hour, fifteen minutes, and four heartbeats after he returned to Scarman, he went up to the small but warm room he was assigned. He'd spent his first hour meeting the staff and touring the main house. He would, he assumed, get the full facility tour when the team leader arrived, also returning from London.
He swapped his waistcoat and cuffs for a sleeveless undershirt and his hoody, his leather boots for his battered, stained trainers. He was in the countryside of his mother's birth. He'd be a fool not to explore. Restless, he needed a run. He'd been cooped up last week and too busy by half since. His last sprint involved MI6--the one before it, Jack startling him at the bandstand.
But he had the skin, muscle, and tendons for it, now, and he wasn't a man who wasted resources.
With the end of a pilfered hand towel stuffed into the waistband of his trackpants, he ran.
The late autumn earth welcomed his pounding feet as he ran the perimeter of the Estates under the watchful eyes of UNIT guards. He blew kisses to one and tossed a two-finger salute to another. He ran around the lake and then went north to cross a road into a patch of woods.
He jumped logs and followed animal paths. He laughed as Melody caught up and the Doctor almost tripped over the oar he carried. He chased Idris through a cloud of rising butterflies in the tall grass of Bearkiller's Field. John's feet thumped with his, in rhythm, and the ex-con's laughter flew away. He raced Jack through the Tower's gardens, kicking up fine white gravel as he put on a last burst of speed to push himself past his best friend, reach the door first.
The air was cold and he could feel it. Really feel it, in a way he hadn't since he was twenty-eight. As if he'd never hit the TARDIS in the vortex, mid time-jump.
With his heart chugging away like a steam engine, he walked back to the manor house with his towel in hand. His hair was damp, his skin chilled, and he felt alive--truly alive.
A black car pulled into the drive and stopped before the house and, as he approached, a small dark-skinned woman got out. She raised a hand to shield her eyes against the watery sun that fought to get through the iron-gray clouds.
The car left her behind and as he walked to meet her, he saw how her expression changed from curiosity to recognition, and he realized who she was.
This was Martha, Jack's friend. The one who worked for UNIT, who was the Doctor's companion. And her mind was wide open as she experienced a number of surprises all at once.
He resisted the urge to grin at her. Instead, he brushed at his forelock and pushed his glasses up before slinging his towel over one shoulder and reaching to offer his hand, speaking first.
"Doctor Smith-Jones. Very nice to meet you at last. Merlyn Llewelyn. Resident chronoticist."
She stared up at him and he could see it in her emotional output. She'd seen the picture, the one Jack returned to him. She knew his face and hundreds of questions were suddenly in her brain. She was disoriented. Her mouth opened and then closed and he saw a new realization in her dark gaze. Her eyes sharpened.
He beat her to the punch, giving her fingers a light squeeze. "You've already heard from him this morning. And you told him what you knew--which was nothing. But now you know something. Do not tell him. Loyalty to Jack Harkness is an admirable trait. In this case, however, while I'm working here with you, it's inadvisable."
She drew back, young face falling slack with surprise. They stood under the cloudy sky and studied each other and he held his smile. His careful stillness.
"You look just the same." Martha finally said. Her warm jacket had fur on its hood and the fur shifted at her shoulders as she tilted her head and took a step forward, the scientist and physician taking over. "Nanogene surgery?"
"Yes." He tucked the towel back into the waistband of his trackpants. "I look like myself again. A face he's not allowed to see. You're intelligent, you understand why. And you know why he shouldn't know I'm here. If you reveal my presence to Jack, all resulting consequences will be on your head. Do we understand each other?"
She nodded and drew a hard breath in through her flared nostrils, quick to see his point. Then, she relaxed and she smiled back at last, tipping her chin at the towel, his clothes. "Exercise before lunch?"
Lyn turned and she turned with him. He shrugged, going up the manor house's steps. "Training. You never know when you might have to run for your life."
8 November; Tuesday; 1914 hours
It was difficult to concentrate on UNIT's report on the Daleks from the Newtown incident. Not that there was much to the report. All of the Daleks were dead and there wasn't any certain explanation for the fissures, even with the addition of Lyn's data to the file. None of his suspicions were in the report--he and Martha had agreed to omit them.
Gwen left the house only a half-hour ago. He had take-away sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting for him, and another long night of learning the new equipment. He didn't see himself sleeping--in his head, a merry-go-round of information circled. If he gave himself time enough, he'd have the full picture--but did he really want it?
As far as the temporal fissures were concerned, UNIT and Torchwood were on stand-down. Everyone waited for the next heat bubble to appear. Until then, they worked their own jobs and he had little reason to call Kate Stewart but he was mere inches from that.
The list of experts on Martha's report contained her name, of course, but several others. Smith-Jones, Baker, Llewellyn-Jones, Sandeep, Llewelyn, Alrazzak, Taylor, Davies. Was Lyn's in there, somewhere? Or was his name being kept off things, to protect his identity? And how would he ever know if he didn't ask UNIT for the straight truth?
Jack stood in the kitchen and studied the small square boxes of Chinese. He leaned onto the doorframe and crossed his arms and stared at his food while his mind followed the merry-go-round.
Lyn's letter was short and to the point. The off-worlder didn't want to see him. There was too much risk involved and Jack had pushed too far. One of them had to be sensible and Lyn had no deep roots to hold him, unlike Jack--who had Torchwood and Gwen. Lyn didn't want to be found again. If Jack tracked him down for a confrontation, the results might be nasty.
He knew...the letter should put an end to it. But he knew it didn't.
Because Kate Stewart was accessing a file in the Black Archive that had something or everything to do with Henry Lyn Baskerville. Because every bit of his recent good luck felt like Mycroft Holmes' idea of a pragmatic distraction--and one that should work, if he was smart about this.
He wished he'd held onto the photograph.
If he called Kate and told her what he thought, she'd be within her rights--and with good reason--to say he was being paranoid. And she might be right. Maybe he was being paranoid. If he kept going, he might shoot Torchwood dead. He recognized the bribe for what it was. Was he willing to take the risk of sacrificing Torchwood to make sure Lyn was safe and okay?
Shouldn't this be something he discussed with Gwen first?
With little thought, he pulled his mobile out of his shirt pocket and dialed Martha. For this, he didn't want text messages. He wanted to hear her voice. He'd know if she lied. She had a funny little thing she did with her voice when she tried to lie about something direct.
She answered, sounding breathless. "Hi, Jack." There was a distant noise--a whining engine of some kind--but it disappeared with a click. She had found a quiet room and closed the door.
"Hey, Doctor Smith-Jones. I've got a question." He closed his eyes and turned to put his spine against the doorframe, bracing himself. "Is my missing friend at Scarman with you?"
She hesitated. And he knew.
"Yes." Martha said. Her voice was shaky. "And that's me, being your friend. I can't talk about it. You know I can't. Not now."
He nodded to no one in the bald kitchen light. He knew. But the admission was enough. She wasn't supposed to tell him but she did and she was probably risking everything for him here.
"What can you tell me?" Jack asked softly. "Don't compromise anything but...is he okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, he is. He's here because he wants to be. And he's brilliant, as you suspected."
He let his breath go, unaware until now that he was holding it. He squeezed his eyes tighter. "I got his letter. I thought he'd been coerced. Would you tell Lyn I'd like to hear from him? That I'd feel better if he told me, even on the telephone, that he chose this for himself?"
Could he suss out a lie from Lyn as easily as Martha? No guarantee.
"I can pass the message along." She sounded doubtful. And worried.
Jack shifted hands and ears and slouched into the doorframe. "Has he told you anything about his time as a companion?"
"When we looked at his diary and saw that he was a chronoticist, I speculated that he might be a Time Lord. You kinda agreed with me. Do you still think so? Do you get that impression? You said you knew the Doctor when he used a Chameleon Arch--"
"I don't think so. But he's not...well, he's a hybrid human, but we don't know what the non-human part is. And maybe that explains it, but I get the strangest feeling, listening to him." She paused, then went on with an audible swallow. "I don't know how to describe it, really, Jack, but it's like...I've met him before."
After Martha ended the call, Jack opened his eyes and stared at the mobile in his hand.
She was right. If Lyn wanted to call and talk, he would. There was nothing else he could do. He had Torchwood to rebuild and a life to live. He couldn't force Lyn to discuss anything and the choice was taken from his hands, anyway.
It was time to focus on the job.
For a moment, as he looked at the mobile's blank screen, he had a perfect recall of Lyn's kiss. But distant, as if it happened to someone else. And a knowledge of how different it was from the only other time the alien human had kissed him. At Flat Holm, on that last Sunday...Lyn's damaged lips caressed his cheek through black linen. Before the world ended at the Hub. Before the 456 came back and killed Ianto.
It made the skin on his spine crawl with dismay.
Lyn kissed him to say goodbye.
8 November; Tuesday; 2005 hours
It was the first time he'd seen the escape pod from outside since he pulled on the flight helmet and swung himself into its confines for an attempt at drawing the enemy away from his family.
Fifteen years hadn't brought much change, he suspected. The hull was made of galvanized ubersteel, made to withstand the pressures of open space. The finitoglas viewscreen was broken, but when whole, it was capable of deflecting small debris even when approaching a quarter the speed of light. Which was the limit of its engines.
It was a piece of salvage and he knew what to do with salvage. With just the escape pod, he could alter the path of humanity's push into the stars. He could retro-design any number of technologies for UNIT here, with this ovoid ship.
He could give them space. Give them a boost into faster-than-light technology. Radiation shields capable of real interstellar travel. Maps for five galaxies with all the coordinates of more than three thousand worlds. His mind could give them more, if they coaxed him into revealing the body of knowledge he carried in his memories.
He'd survived something that killed every Dalek coming through. Something had happened to him, there in that nebula. He'd hit a pocket of artron--maybe--just as he activated the Rawleigh. And the temporal coral within the chronotech chose to save his life by whatever means necessary, even ripping a hole between two timezones. A hole that continued, even now, and dropped his pursuers on Earth--more than fourteen years after his own crash into Cardiff Bay.
That it was this timezone and not another suggested his chronotech had put him here in search of the TARDIS--perhaps, recognizing the danger, it fell back upon its genetic nature and sought another of its kind for help. The Doctor visited this timezone a lot--Kate was right about that, and much more. And Cardiff, with its Rift, well...nowhere better.
He'd spent his afternoon with Martha Jones-Smith, talking about Daleks and temporal fissures. He gave her a lot of information she needed. He showed her the formula for creating a metal strong enough to serve as a translating conductor between Earther technology and Dalek. He showed her a formula--from his field journal--that would create the biofuel mix his escape pod used.
Now, after the facilities had gone quiet with night, he sat on his arse in front of the escape pod. He studied the pod absently and ignored the guards at every door, and wondered how long he had left on Earth. He would finish helping Martha in a day or two. Then, what? To London and the Osgoods? In a week, maybe a little longer, he would be gone from here at last.
Behind him, someone entered the room. He reached out with his empathy and smiled at the glowing heart that approached--and then marveled, again, at the feel of his face moving.
She'd come looking for him. She'd waited all evening to catch him alone again. She liked his crooked grin, thought him charming. Thought him terribly familiar. And she'd just had a conversation with Jack. She hadn't revealed the fact of his recovered face but she had admitted to his presence at Scarman Estate. Well...Jack had ambushed her. He understood how that felt. Jack had a way of asking questions when he already knew the answers with certainty--it could disarm anyone.
He waited until she sat down beside him to look in her direction. To break the silence. He raised a brow. "Company or guard?"
"Company." She wore her hair loose now. It was a black cloud of curls and waves that reminded him of Queen Liz's. But shorter.
"Then you can help me with an experiment." He slid a hand into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a capped scalpel he'd borrowed from a lab, earlier. He laid it--tink--on the concrete floor between them and extended his right arm, pulling at the sleeve of his hoody. "I have a theory about what happened yesterday, in the nanogene surgery, that hasn't occurred to the attending physician yet."
He tore the rubber cap off the scalpel and drew it lightly, gently down the inside of his milky pale forearm. Martha reached to stop him with a gasp but drew back at the last moment, her fingers spasming as the blood welled.
"What--" Was all she managed.
He put the scalpel down and drew out his new mobile. He activated the stopwatch app and laid it by the red-edged scalpel. "All we have to do is notice the change. If there's a change." The pain of it made him breathe hard once, then twice, before he got it under control. "Talk to me, Martha Smith-Jones. Tell me what you came to say."
Because it was there--a need to re-approach the topic of Jack Harkness. That was the only reason for her to seek him in privacy.
"I talked to Jack. He knows you're here." She blinked, jerking her stare away from his bleeding arm. "He went to your Camden address early this morning. He knows UNIT is involved. He told me about the letter--your letter."
Ah. The letter. His attempt at pushing Jack to let him go without a fight. To protect Torchwood.
"Jack's not a stupid man." He started, then sighed. "But a part of him won't care that he's endangering his own future--because I represent something he wants and needs. Proof that immortality will be worth living. That he's not alone here."
He didn't think Jack would do it, just yet.
She cared for Jack, this brave woman who saved humanity from the Master. And she knew that Jack's peace of mind would hinge on Torchwood finding something to work at--something that would pull Captain Harkness to put the job first again. Something long-term.
Which gave him a thought. Or two.
"What do you think it would take to convince Ms Lethbridge-Stewart to put Torchwood in charge of monitoring the new immigrant population in Wales?"
But she wasn't paying attention. He followed her wide, startled gaze to his bared arm.
The blood was drying. The cut was noticeably healing. It was almost sealed over, now.
"I see." He bit his lower lip and then laughed, clicking pause on the stopwatch app. "A minute, thirty-three seconds. Long enough for me to decide what UNIT might do to distract Jack and Torchwood. But let's face it..." He waved his forearm between them, touching Martha's shoulder. "This seems equally worrying."
They sat together in silence for a while.
Then, she whispered, her eyes shifting to look at the nearest guard and then back to his face. "I've seen you before. I thought so, when I saw the photograph. But now, I'm certain. You're the ghost in the Doctor's TARDIS. Aren't you? The one in the library."
He could see it in her memories--the ones from her heart.
Lyn busied himself chafing the dried blood away from his skin. "The Doctor told me I was in the TARDIS years before I even existed. And she showed me that I'll still be there in a hundred thousand years more."
"Timey-wimey stuff?" There was no doubt in her tone. She didn't disbelieve him.
He shrugged, scrubbing at a patch of drying blood with his thumbnail. "I have a complicated life. Temporally speaking."