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FIC: Choices (2/2)

Title: Choices (2/2)
Characters: Jack Harkness, Ninth Doctor
Series: Changes!verse
Genre: Character study, Gen, Drama
Rating: G
Summary: Jack gets a clearer insight into his relationship with the Doctor when they run afoul of some Time Agents.
Author's Note: This takes place sometime between "The Doctor Dances" and "Boom Town". It is a sequel to Clues, but can be read on its own.

They wait. It is five hours before the “someone” makes an appearance.

An icy prickle travels up and down Jack’s spine. It could be worse. He knows this man. Colonel Josiah Quintrell, Intel Division. Jack worked in Ops, and doesn’t know him well, but he knows his reputation. Brilliant, cold-blooded, devious. They say he’s honourable, by which they mean that he won’t pretend to smile when he stabs you in the back. By Time Agency standards, that practically makes him a saint.

Quintrell’s dark eyes scan Jack, analyse and catalogue him before he turns his attention to the Doctor. “Colonel Josiah Quintrell, Time Agency. You’ve had my archives department spinning like quarks for the past few hours, Doctor. Archivists get terribly agitated when you ask them to gather information on someone who doesn’t exist.”

“I’m not Tinker Bell, Colonel. I won’t blink out of existence jus’ because you refuse to believe in Time Lords.”

“I believe in Time Lords, Doctor. There’s enough evidence, if you dig deeply enough. I don’t believe that you’re one.”

“An’ the bioscan that you ran, jus’ before you came in?”

Quintrell nods, conceding the point. “That you have two hearts proves nothing. Mutant, surgery, gene mods, maybe even some kind of mixed-breed – doesn’t matter. There haven’t been any Time Lords for centuries.”

“Last of my kind, me.” Just for a moment, the Doctor’s eyes are bleak with memories. “You strike me as a busy man, Colonel – too busy to come traipsin’ across the galaxies to speak to a fairy tale. So, if there aren’t any Time Lords, what brought you all this way?”

Quintrell hesitates, then shrugs. “Maybe I want to believe in at least one impossible thing before breakfast. Chandra, here—” he indicates Onyx “took a chronon reading off you that was way off the scale. But his sensor is a field unit. Maybe it’s malfunctioning. This is a lab model, freshly calibrated.” He produces a handheld device and points it at Chandra. “Right. Chronon reading that exactly matches his official logged temporal transit hours.” He aims the device at himself, then at Silver, nodding with satisfaction each time.

“Chronon reading.” The Doctor’s tone is a cross between amusement and disdain. “Might as well calculate interstellar travel in furlongs per fortnight. Measuring accumulated chronon particles ‘stead of the artron energy within them—”

“Artron energy can barely be sensed, let alone measured accurately,” Silver interrupts. “Golvani’s Law says—”

“Golvani? Don’t make me laugh. That’s humans for you – muckin’ about with stuff they can’t detect, let alone control, an’ then makin’ up laws to hide how much they don’t know.” The Doctor waves a dismissive hand at the chronon sensor. “But since that is the best that you lot can do, recalibrate it to decades ‘stead of years.”

Quintrell frowns, but makes the change without comment. Again, he takes readings on himself and his two men. Then he turns the device towards the Doctor. He takes four readings before switching off the sensor and putting it away. “Something has to be wrong. A millennium – it can’t be.”

Jack lifts his brows. “Lying about your age, Doc? You keep saying you’re only nine hundred.”

“Close enough. I don’t live a very linear existence. Got other things to keep track of. An’ don’t call me Doc!”

Quintrell looks at Jack. “He’s convinced you?”

“I’m a practical man. I believe in gravity, Newton’s Third Law, and the Doctor.” Under other circumstances, Jack would mention the convincing evidence of the TARDIS. No one, including the Time Agency, has dimensionally transcendent technology. Better not to mention the timeship just now, It might stir some up some unfortunate desires. Not that an attempt to steal the TARDIS would get very far, but it would be just one more complication they don’t need.

“Assuming for argument’s sake that you are a Time Lord, your confirmation code doesn’t match. You’re not CIA.”

“I’ve done a few jobs for the Celestial Intervention Agency.” The Doctor’s expression of distaste tells Jack that he didn’t do those jobs willingly. “An’ the confirmation code I’ve got overrides the CIA.”

The Colonel looks unhappy. “It does, but Archives can’t identify it.”

“’Course not,” the Doctor says dismissively. “It’s a Presidential code. Overrides everythin’.”

Presidential? Jack’s heart sinks. Bad enough that the Agency has a surviving Time Lord in their hands – now that they know he’s high-ranking, they’ll be all the more eager to hold on to him.

The Doctor pulls a small object from his coat pocket. It’s a white disc, engraved with an odd figure-eight pattern. Quintrell produces another disc, identical to the Doctor’s. As they come closer, both discs chime softly. “How do I know you didn’t steal this?” Quintrell demands.

“Bio-coded to my DNA,” the Doctor replies calmly. “Quit stallin’, Colonel. You know who you’re dealin’ with – now it’s time to deal.”

Quintrell nods. “As I understand it, you want this man – currently calling himself Harkness – released to your custody.”

“More or less. I want Jack Harkness – currently servin’ as my crewman – officially assigned to me, an’ I want the Agency off his back.”

“And what does the Agency get in return?”

“You get to continue.” The Doctor’s voice is still calm, but much colder. “Y’know, I remember when the Time Agency was founded. The High Council debated whether you lot should be allowed to fiddle about with time travel. It was a narrow thing, but the CIA argued that you might be useful. Maybe it’s time to reconsider that decision.”

Only Jack‘s years of training keep him from openly gawking. He’s seen the Doctor pull off some huge bluffs, but this one is beyond outrageous.

Quintrell is staring at the Doctor, apparently trying to decide if the Time Lord is joking or crazy. “Are you proposing to declare war on the Time Agency?”

“Not war, Colonel. An’ you should be very grateful for that. You don’t want to see how I wage war. You really don’t. Nah, I’m jus’ thinkin’ that maybe I should suspend your licence. Those gimcrack ships of yours are easy enough to disable.”

“It might take a while,” Jack adds helpfully, “but I don’t think the Doctor has any particular plans for the next few centuries.”

The Colonel tries a new approach. “I was really hoping that we could settle this in a friendly way, Doctor. If you think so little of Agency technology, then perhaps you would be prepared to share some of your people’s advances.”

Jack waits for an explosion of sarcastic words or scornful laughter, but the Doctor only looks thoughtful. “You might have a point, Colonel.” He reaches into his pocket, and removes a greyish pebble. “This is kelosite, a mineral that attracts chronon particles. Under the right conditions, it’s luminescent. You jus’ have to reach inside the stone an’ excite the chronon particles.” He holds the pebble up, and it begins to glow softly. “A simple teaching tool. My people used to give them to children of six or seven, to help stimulate their time senses. Catch!”

As soon as the pebble leaves the Doctor’s hand, the glow fades. Quintrell looks down at the stone, frowning. “This is hardly what I had in mind.”

“I know what sorts of things you had in mind, Colonel. Master the kelosite, an’ I might – might – consider givin’ you somethin’ more advanced. Now, getting’ back to business, it was always understood that the CIA could claim the services of a Time Agent when needed—”

“This is absurd! The CIA is long gone. Your claim has no legal basis.”

“All right, then. Different claim.” The Doctor’s voice takes on a formal tone, though his rough northern accent remains unchanged. “This man is joined to me and mine. My hand is placed over him in protection, in all places an’ in all times, for the rest of my lives.” The words sound as solemn as a vow or a legal judgment. Suddenly, the tall man in the leather coat reminds Jack of a medieval prince: arrogant, powerful, and utterly confident of his lineage and his authority.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that Jack Harkness is mine, Colonel, and that the Time Agency has no more claim to him. Go tell your superiors – an’ be very, very sure that they believe you – if the Agency interferes again with me or mine, I will shut it down.”

“You can’t—” Quintrell begins to say, but then falls silent. Glancing at the Doctor’s face, Jack can see why. The haughty prince is gone. In his place is a predator: ancient, ruthless, and ready to strike. The feral look in his eyes speaks of cruelties witnessed and horrors committed, beyond the boundaries of sanity. Jack has seen that look before, though not often, and never (thank the gods) aimed at him. It is a look that only a fool would challenge, and the Colonel is no fool. “You would,” he says wonderingly.

“Yep.”

“For him?”

“I protect my own, Colonel,” the Time Lord says, and the words are both a promise and a warning.

The Colonel nods. “I can’t speak for the Agency, but I will convey your message, I think I can make them understand the… situation.”

“See that you do. We’ll be leavin’ now. Don’t try to follow us.” The Doctor waves Jack towards the door, and whispers, “Don’t look behind you. On my signal, run.” He doesn’t wait to see if Jack obeys. “Colonel, you can keep the kelosite, but there’s some things I didn’t tell you about it.”

“Yes?”

“The stronger you are, the brighter it gets. An’ if you get strong enough, you don’t need to be touchin’ it.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jack sees a dazzling flare of light fill the room behind him. A few spots dance before his eyes; the Time Agents must be nearly blinded. He throws open the door, and sprints into the corridor. The Doctor follows, pausing just long enough to slam the door. A quick burst from the sonic screwdriver jams the lock.

…..

As soon as they reach the TARDIS, the Doctor takes her into the Vortex. He bends over the console, checking settings, but not inputting any coordinates.

Jack’s heart is still pounding, but he forces himself to lean nonchalantly against a coral strut. “That was quite a speech you made back there, Doctor. Some of it sounded almost like a ritual.”

The Time Lord does not look up from the readout he is studying. “Yeah. Took it from a House-binding— never mind. Dunno why I used the old words. Meant them, though. You belong on the TARDIS.”

“It sounded like you were saying that I belonged to you.” Jack is careful to keep his tone light.

The Doctor remains bent over the console. “What I said was that you were mine to protect. The words bind me, not you.”

That makes his place clear enough. A dependent. A responsibility. What did you think he would say? Snap out of it, Jack. You’re alive and free, which is a lot more than you expected two hours ago. Aloud, with deliberate casualness, he says, “And that was some bluff you pulled. I think Quintrell bought it – hell, I nearly bought it myself.” Despite his sour mood, he can’t help grinning at the memory.

The Doctor finally looks up. There is no answering grin on his face, and shadows of the predator still haunt his eyes. “What bluff?”

Jack Harkness – the glib, smooth-talking seducer, raconteur, and former conman – struggles to find words. “You really would… for me…”

“Said so, didn’t I?” The Time Lord flips several switches. “They’ve been getting’ too big for their boots for a few centuries. Needed talkin’ to.” His hands fly over the instrument panel, and Jack recognizes the familiar pattern of setting destination coordinates. “Time we were goin’ to get Rose. S’pose Jackie will want us to stay for tea. An’ Rose will talk of nothin’ but girlie stuff for days.” The fearsome being who threatened to dismantle the Time Agency looks more than a little uneasy.

It’s clear that the Doctor considers the other topic closed, but Jack can’t let this moment pass in silence. There are too many unspoken words weighing down on him. “Doctor, I don’t know what to say—”

“You talk too much,” the Time Lord grumbles. There is no annoyance in his voice, only good-natured forbearance. “Humans. Always chatterin’.”

Doctor.

The Doctor sighs and looks up, meeting Jack’s intent gaze. His face is calm; watching, waiting.

“Relational rituals like that usually have two parts,” Jack says, as dry and precise as any anthropology lecturer at the Time Academy. “So… what are the words that would bind me?”

Something flickers behind the Doctor’s impassive mask. “No,” he says bluntly, “I don’t want that, Captain.”

Jack nods stiffly. “All right. I understand.” You don’t want me.

“No, you don’t,” the Time Lord growls. “I shouldn’t have used those words. Should’ve left them in the past, but I wasn’t thinkin’ clearly.” He begins to pace the room, hands jammed into the pockets of his leather coat. “The other half of that ritual would bind you, all right. Obedience an’ service an’ obligation. For life. I don’t want that from anyone, ‘specially you.”

No wonder I was thinking it sounded medieval. Homage, the Academy lecturer in the back of Jack’s mind recites, from the Old French, homme, man. A feudal ceremony in which a vassal publically acknowledges himself to be his lord’s man. The free-spirited Doctor would chafe at the rules and restrictions of that bond. So would Jack, and yet part of him finds the thought tempting. To belong to someone… And he is looking at the only person in the Universe to whom he could honestly make such a pledge.

“I had to pretend to claim you,” the Doctor continues, “because that lot only understands possession an’ control. Idiots.”

There’s a knot the size of a small asteroid in his belly, but he has to ask, has to know. “Pretend?”

“Already chosen you, hadn’t I? Did that a while back. The difference between a claim an’ a choice is that choosin’ has to be on both sides.” The stormy blue eyes look at him; look into him, seeing all of him, and accepting him. “You’re free to choose, Jack. You can choose to be on the TARDIS with Rose an’ me. An’ you can choose to go.”

Relief and joy flood into him. Maybe this is a fairy tale, after all. Jack looks at the prince who was ready to slay a dragon for his sake. “I made my choice a long time ago, Doctor.” The choice— and the consequences. This life is no less dangerous than the one he left behind in a vaporised Chula warship. He may be dead or maimed or imprisoned before he reaches forty. He probably will never be loved as Rose is loved; may never have a chance to explore those intriguing, sardonic lips. Doesn’t matter. Right now, Jack Harkness is sure of the one thing that does matter: he has been chosen. Not merely accepted, but wanted. Whatever the future may bring, in this present moment, he is living happily ever after.

--- The End ---


Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
wendymr
Aug. 12th, 2008 03:41 am (UTC)
What a treat to find this as soon as I refreshed my flist! I thought you'd keep us waiting for a couple of days.

I love this, for so many reasons: the Doctor going all mediaevel and presidential on the Colonel, the Doctor claiming Jack and making very clear what he's prepared to do to keep Jack safe, and then the inevitable run - the perfect touch. The scene in the TARDIS is the perfect coda, too, with Jack realising that the Doctor was perfectly serious. He really is worth all of that.

The only thing that leaves me with a lump in my throat is this:
“What I said was that you were mine to protect. The words bind me, not you.”

- and not for anything in this story, but for what we know happens some time in the near(ish) future, when the Doctor abandons Jack on Satellite Five. If that still happens in this universe of yours, then the Doctor's binding pledge doesn't mean much to him, sadly :(

Lovely story, and I hope you're planning to post it on the Teaspoon, as I'd like to favourite it.
lindenharp
Aug. 12th, 2008 03:58 am (UTC)
LJ wouldn't let me post the whole thing as one entry. It's been submitted to Teaspoon, and should appear there soon.

I think that part of the Doctor is a medieval lord. However much he rebelled, he is still a product of his culture.

As for my "universe", I'm not sure that I have one, and if I do, where it is leading. If the scene on the Game Station remains the same, it will be because the Doctor is fallible, like us lesser mortals, and doesn't always live up to his ideals.
wendymr
Aug. 12th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, you get that problem with LJ sometimes, though mostly if you're posting in Rich Text mode. Posting in HTML, where you do all your coding manually, usually allows longer posts. But two parts is good - heightens anticipation :)

Well, you've definitely started a universe here; whether you continue it or not is, of course, your choice, though I'm very much enjoying your version of events between TDD and Boom Town.

If the scene on the Game Station remains the same, it will be because the Doctor is fallible, like us lesser mortals, and doesn't always live up to his ideals.

Oh, I agree; he's certainly prone to mistakes, as we've seen on screen many times, of course. That rather thin explanation we got for the Doctor abandoning Jack is one of the worst of those, and that outcome always feels sadder still when I read a good fic that really develops a relationship of trust between the Doctor and Jack.
lindenharp
Aug. 13th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Well, you've definitely started a universe here; whether you continue it or not is, of course, your choice, though I'm very much enjoying your version of events between TDD and Boom Town.

Meta question: is it a a universe if it's still canon-compliant and has no (major) original characters? In any case, I'm sure I'll keep writing about Nine/Jack/Rose; I'm less sure if it's my choice. I have a very unpredictable muse.
torn_eledhwen
Aug. 12th, 2008 08:20 am (UTC)
This was exceptionally good - spot-on characterisation, great dialogue and description. I loved the little traditions and culture you built up around the Doctor and the Time Agency. It all felt very real and plausible, and the coda in the TARDIS was lovely. Nice work. :)
lindenharp
Aug. 13th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
Thanks!

I'm not the first to assume a connection between the Time Agency and Gallifrey. It makes a lot of sense to me. If the CIA is willing/authorized to draft an unwilling Time Lord, how much more likely is it that they could press-gang some lowly humans who have the chutzpah to travel in time?
cardiff_3
Aug. 12th, 2008 09:47 am (UTC)
Absolutely brilliant! The characters were spot on.
lindenharp
Aug. 13th, 2008 01:40 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm starting to feel comfortable with these two characters. Less so with Rose -- and she will need to be in the next story -- but perhaps if I buy her some chips, she'll cooperate.
laurab1
Aug. 18th, 2008 12:31 pm (UTC)
I love this (and Clues) :) Perfect voices.
lindenharp
Aug. 18th, 2008 01:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I just listen to the voices and write them down.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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