Characters: Ninth Doctor/Rose Tyler/Jack Harkness
Summary: Team TARDIS lands on an alien spaceship that is close to destruction. Before the crisis is over, they'll have to make some hard choices.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N: This story is part of my Changes!verse series. You don't need to read the previous stories to understand this one. Nine, Rose, and mortal Jack are traveling together as partners and lovers. Thanks to my beta-reader, the magnificent wendymr , for pointing out that the first draft of this chapter was missing something. She was absolutely right.
Returning to the TARDIS, he's glad his companion is unconscious. Draped over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes -- and bouncing as he runs -- is not the best position for a human with alpha-dicadmolene poisoning. Dizziness and nausea are among the early symptoms. He's still moving as he unlocks the TARDIS door, and he slams it shut behind him, mentally apologising to his ship for the insult. She understands; the response he gets back is acceptance with hint of worry.
Entering the medbay, he carefully transfers his companion to an exam table, then turns to the drug synthesiser. At least he doesn't have to waste time analysing an unknown toxin. It takes 43.6 agonizing seconds for the antidote to be ready. As soon as he administers it, he reaches for a nasal cannula. The antidote by itself is enough to counter the poison, but oxygen will help relieve some of the after-effects.
As if on cue, his patient stirs and coughs feebly. "Doctor?"
"I'm here. Don't try to talk -- you'll strain your throat."
A shaky hand reaches up to touch the nasal cannula. "Wha' happened?"
"There was a coolant leak. The stuff isn't good for your puny human lungs, but the medicine I gave you will fix them up, right as rain. In an hour or so, you can chatter as much as you like. For now, I want you to rest an' be quiet."
"Did we... in time?"
"Shush," he scolds gently. "Yeah, we did it. They all got off safely."
Despite an obedient nod, his patient rasps out one more question. "Jack?"
"He's fine." It's a wonder the lie doesn't stick in his throat and choke him, but he can't tell her the truth now. Later. When she's feeling better. She's not ready to hear it and he's not ready to say it.
He can see that she has more questions, but the medicine and her weakened condition send her into a light sleep. Just as well. Now that he knows she'll be all right, he has obligations to his other companion.
The TARDIS scanners confirm that there are no life signs on board Ikrid’s Valour. Should he retrieve the-- should he bring Jack inside the TARDIS? Have some sort of ritual? On Gallifrey – and few worlds loved ritual more than Gallifrey – the ceremonies had all centered around the transfer of memories to the Matrix. Disposal of the flesh was a quieter, more practical affair. After all, a body was only a garment for the mind, to be replaced every few centuries when it wore out.
“Funerals are meant to comfort the living,” Sarah Jane told him once. He supposes that’s true for short-lived species like humans. Would it comfort Rose to have some sort of human ceremony? Maybe… but she’d want to see Jack, say goodbye. Best not. End-stage alpha-dicamolene toxicity does some ugly things to the body. Mottled skin, bleeding eyes, bloating… Definitely not. He can’t save her from grief, but he can make sure that her last memories of Jack aren’t tainted.
He remembers their visit to the Glass Pyramid of San Kloon. Jack started reminiscing about a trip he’d taken in his Time Agent days, to see the pyramid of Khafre under construction. “All that work, years of those people’s lives wasted, just to store a dead body.”
Laughing, Rose asked, “So, what do you fancy when your time comes? Sunny spot in a churchyard with a marble angel?”
Jack made a lewd remark about angels, and what he’d prefer to do with one. Then he turned serious. “Nah. There was this vid I loved when I was young. Must’ve watched it a million times: ‘The Sea Raiders’. At the end, their chieftain dies. They put his body on a ship – a sailing ship, made of wood – set it on fire and sent it out to sea.” And he grinned. “Now, that’s what I call going out in a blaze of glory.”
Right, Captain. This’ll be your funeral ship, your blaze of glory. You deserve more, but this is what I can give you.
And Rose? What can he do for her? Very little. He can take her to Gahui Station, the deep space transfer port that is the lifepods’ destination. Let her see that some good came out of this disaster. And then, he should bring her home to Earth, to London, to her mother. It’s what she needs. It’s where she’ll want to be. Maybe it's where she should stay.
She won’t blame him, not consciously. Rose Tyler, who showed compassion to a Dalek, won’t look at him with accusation in her eyes. She’ll be kind. But every time she looks at him, she’ll be seeing the empty space beside him.
It should have been me -- the old, worn-out relic of a dead planet. Not Jack, boilin' over with life an' energy. Swaggering, cocksure Captain Jack Harkness, almost always the first to crack a bad joke, rush into danger, or coax his lovers into bed.
The Universe is unfair. Knew that already, thanks. Didn't need another reminder. He dematerialises the TARDIS and reappears a second later in space, hovering at a safe distance from the ship. Someone should watch, be a witness to this final moment. He forces himself to look at the monitor as the brilliant white fireball flares, shrinks, and disappears. Very little debris is left. The engines on Ikrid's Valour may have been unstable, but they didn't lack for power. Haltingly, he recites a short phrase that he hasn't used since the fall of Arcadia. He speaks it out loud, though there's no one to hear him, and no one who could possibly understand it, any road.
He keeps the TARDIS in the Vortex until he's sure of Rose's recovery. When she wakes, he gives her a drink of water, and she thanks him in a voice that's only a little bit hoarse. "I feel better. Dunno why I'm so tired."
"That's 'cos your body is usin' most of its energy for recuperation. Best thing for you, Rose Tyler, is to take a nap." She starts to protest, but drifts back into sleep before she can finish her sentence.
He sets coordinates for Gahui Station, aiming for the time when the lifepods should be arriving. Part of him doesn't give a damn whether the Ikridu docked safely or flew into the nearest sun. Another part wants to be sure that the rescue succeeded, that Jack's death accomplished something. The TARDIS materialises in a corridor off of the main concourse of the station. He slips out, just for a quick look around. Rose is still sleeping, and he doesn't want to go far.
An information terminal in the concourse offers him a list of arrivals and departures, but these are all scheduled flights. Switching to news mode, he discovers that the lifepods arrived at Gahui two days ago. The bulletin says little about the destruction of Ikrid's Valour, but it does confirm that all of the passengers and crew survived. No mention of alien stowaways. There's gratitude for you.
He turns in a slow circle to scan his surroundings. There are plenty of Ikridu about, though none he recognises from the ship. Three-quarters of the way through his rotation, he freezes, and his hearts nearly freeze as well. There's a cafe at the edge of the concourse, the sort that sells overpriced food to travelers who value convenience over edibility. A dark-haired human is sitting at a small table, sipping at a fizzy, frothy beverage. He's wearing a black-and-silver outfit in an unfamiliar style, but he's definitely Captain Jack Harkness.
Jack! He almost shouts it out loud, but checks himself. This can't be his Jack. His Jack is nothing but dust and memories. It must be a Jack Harkness from earlier in his timeline, before he met the Doctor and Rose in 1941 London. It's not too farfetched. Gahui Station is a major transfer point for this sector. It would be surprising if Jack hadn't visited here sometime, whether as a Time Agent or a con-man. Seeing him now is just a cruel coincidence, another kick in the teeth from an indifferent Universe.
He feels a mad impulse to go over to the cafe, order a drink, and sit at a nearby table. Not to talk, no. Just to look, to watch that beloved face for a little while longer. He won't do it, of course. He knows better. Can't let him see me. Jack in 1941 didn't recognise me. Don't want to mess up the timelines, create a paradox.
"Doctor!" The voice behind him is human, female, stamped with the accent of South London. Right now, it's the last voice that he wants to hear. He turns, intending to grab Rose, shut her gob, and take her back to the TARDIS (by force, if necessary). Even if the timelines aren't threatened, he can't let her see the other Jack. The truth is going to be harsh enough without twisting the knife in the wound.
Rose -- bleary-eyed but otherwise looking much better -- is running towards him. Her expression is half-smile, half-reproof. She's going to scold him for leaving the TARDIS without her. Then she's looking past him, and her face lights up like a thousand supernovas. "Jack!"