Characters: Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness
Summary: A supposedly harmless planet holds unexpected dangers, and disturbing revelations about the Doctor's past.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N: Well, not quite as long a delay in posting as last time. Thanks to the wonderful wendymr and yamx for beta services. Any remaining errors are mine, all mime.
or read it on Teaspoon.
"Bugger," the Doctor says to no one in particular. "Jus' what we needed. Something else to feed their paranoia."
"We don't know who it was or how much they heard," Rose replies. "Could've been one of the kids -- or someone else who's curious about the visiting aliens."
The Doctor does not seem cheered by this suggestion. "Thought you checked the room over, Jack."
He glares at the Doctor. "I thought you did a thorough scan."
"For listenin' devices, yeah. Why didn't you use that toy of yours to check for bio-signs?"
"Maybe you should have reminded me of that earlier, since you're the genius Time Lord and I'm just the incompetent human."
"Don't you go puttin' words in my mouth, Captain. If you--"
"You made it pretty damn obvious that you don't trust me to do anything right, Doctor."
"Jack!" Rose protests. She wants to insist that it isn't true, can't be true, except this isn't about truth. It's about feelings, and she can't tell Jack that his feelings are wrong. Besides, she's got two stubborn gits here. Maybe it's best to let them have it out.
"If you think I don't trust you, Captain, you're stupider than I thought." And there it is, hidden under the insult: guilt, and anger -- at himself, not Jack. Rose wonders if Jack can see it. Probably not. He's too wound up in his own feelings. "Am gettin' a bit tired of the whingin', though."
"Yeah, I really feel the trust when you tell me exactly what to do," Jack says. "I know you're fond of the sound of your own voice, but I don't think that's the only reason."
"Sometimes, there's somethin' more important than your delicate feelings, Jack. Like keepin' Rose safe."
Rose is about to tell them to leave her out of it. Then she sees Jack's face, and she can hardly think, let alone speak. She always thinks of the Doctor as 'the scary one'. Not all the time, of course, but he can summon up a look that makes the most fearsome monster want to be on the other side of the galaxy.
Jack is... well, Jack is dangerous, of course. She's seen him in too many fights and confrontations to think otherwise. But even during those times he usually has a smile on his face and a joke on his lips. Not now. No smile, no joke, and those usually-twinkling eyes are colder and harder than she could ever imagine. He is scary, very scary, and she wonders why she never noticed before now.
"You don't have to tell me that it's important to protect Rose," Jack says, and every word is sharp enough to draw blood. "I would die to keep Rose safe. I thought I'd proven that to you, Doctor -- or didn't that count, since I didn't actually die?"
God, no! Jack, don't say that -- don't think that. She knows what he's talking about. The three of them had been trapped on an alien ship, badly damaged and flooded with gases poisonous to humans. With only enough time to rescue one of his companions, the Doctor had chosen Rose. Jack had known what choice the Doctor would make. Known... and approved. He had managed to find his own way to safety, but it had been a very near thing.
I thought we were past that. They had talked for many tear-filled hours, in pairs and all three together. It had taken a lot for her to let go of the guilt and the anger she'd felt.
She looks at the Doctor and very nearly gasps. He looks...gutted, as though Jack's words had torn into him. "You really think that, Jack? That I don't trust you?"
"What am I supposed to think, Doctor? 'Jack will stay'," he quotes with bitter sarcasm.
"I didn't want Rose--" the Doctor begins.
"I know that!" Jack snaps in reply. "I didn't want her to stay here alone either."
The Doctor just looks at him, showing more confusion than he usually permits his companions to see.
Rose huddles on one of the beds, clasping her knees. She's been hoping that a dust-up would give her men a chance to clear the air. Get rid of the anger and the misunderstandings. Instead, it seems to be getting worse. They're dragging her into it. She wants to jump up, tell them not to use her as an excuse to quarrel, but that will only accomplish the opposite. With a lot of effort she stays put and stays quiet. They've got to work this out by themselves.
A mocking voice in the back of her head asks, "What if they don't work it out?" She pushes the question away. She won't think about that. She can't.
"I would have volunteered to stay," Jack says flatly. "If you'd waited just five seconds, I'd have said so. What I wanted from you was trust--trust that I would have done the right thing without you giving me an order." He shrugs. "But, hey--now I know where I really stand."
The Doctor winces. "Jack, I--"
Jack holds up a hand. "Don't bother, okay? You're not very good at excuses, and I don't want to hear any."
"I'm rubbish at excuses," the Doctor says bleakly. "Even worse at apologies. Don't blame you for not wantin' to listen to me. Hope you will, though."
Jack's gaze is still cold and hard. "Why should I?"
The Doctor shakes his head. "Dunno," he says very quietly. "You want me to beg, Jack? 'Cos I will do if I have to."
Rose Tyler holds her breath. There's something clutching at her heart, and she's not sure if it's hope or terror.
Jack Harkness has never claimed to be a nice person. Rose and the Doctor have taught him that he can be a good person. Sometimes. If he tries hard. Charming? Sure. Suave, clever, sexy... but not nice.
He's been pissed off at the Doctor many times. Hard not to feel that way, living with a man who's the dictionary definition of smug, arrogant and condescending. And because Jack is Not a Nice Person, he has to admit that he's fantasised about a moment like this: the all-knowing Time Lord apologising. Begging his forgiveness. "I don't think you know how," he says coldly.
The Doctor looks at him. For a moment the Time Lord's face is shuttered again, and then he nods to himself. "Please," he says in a voice rough with emotion. "Please, Jack."
Something changes ever so slightly in the Doctor's posture: tension in one set of muscles, relaxation in another, a shift in his center of gravity. Most people wouldn't notice these signs, let alone know how to read them. Kinesthetic analysis was one of Jack's best subjects at the Time Academy. It's saved his life more than once, being able to predict an adversary's next move. Right now, that finely honed skill is telling Jack something impossible: the Doctor is preparing to kneel.
He's seen the Doctor on his knees before. The last time was in the court of the mad Trehinor Oligarch, where the Doctor had looked more like a crouching panther than a docile prisoner. He's seen the Doctor kneeling in front of him during sex. That was not submission either -- more like getting into the correct position to take control.
The body language now is completely different. The shoulders sag; the head prepares to bow. This is wrong. Jack can't explain it, even to himself, but he knows that if the Doctor kneels, things will change between them, and not in a good way. I thought it would feel better than this.
"Don't," he orders. The Time Lord blinks but remains standing.
Jack is still seriously pissed off at the Doctor. "All right," he snaps. "Speak your piece. I'll listen--I just can't promise that it'll make any difference."
The Doctor hesitates, then nods. "Fair enough. More'n I deserve. You're partly right," he says slowly. "It's a matter of trust. Only--it's myself I don't trust."
This makes no sense. The Doctor has a freighter-load of flaws, but lack of confidence has never been one of them...has it?
"This planet is drivin' me barkin'," the Time Lord continues. "These people... it's difficult. They're not the enemy, but they haven't got any reason to love us."
And it won't be all sunshine and roses if they find out who you are, Doctor.
"I've got to help them--owe 'em that much--but they're dangerous to you and Rose. It's a bloody mess. So, when they said they wanted a hostage..." The Doctor shrugs. "Wanted to stay behind meself, but you wouldn't have known where to find a lot of the gear. It couldn't be Rose," he says again.
Rose has been unusually silent throughout this conversation. A sound of protest escapes her mouth, and the Doctor waves it off. "Rose, just shut it, will you? That gas of theirs hit you a lot harder than Jack." He turns back towards Jack. "The way they were goin' on, I was afraid I'd lose it. Blow up. Wouldn't have done much good for anybody, so I decided it was best to get out of there soonest. Said you'd stay."
He smiles that crooked grin, the quirky, bitter-sweet one that bypasses all of Jack's defenses and goes straight to his heart. "Knew you'd think the same; didn't s'pose it mattered which of us said the words." Long pause. "Didn't think how it might look to you. Should've done. Genius, me, 'cept when I'm an idiot." It's amazing how soft those steel-coloured eyes can become. He grins again, and this one is the killing shot. "Travelled with a lot of people in my life. Trusted them enough to let them into my TARDIS. Only a few I trusted enough to let into my hearts. 'M sorry, Jack."
Jack feels like he's been hit by a small asteroid. He trusts me. I knew he loved me, but... He's never been quite sure what 'love' means to a Time Lord. Love is a tricky concept, more slippery than fifth-dimensional calculus. Before he met Rose and the Doctor, Jack loved lots of people without completely trusting them. Maybe. Truth is, he's not sure what 'love' means to him, either.
His anger doesn't go away, but through some kind of emotional alchemy that must be related to nuclear fission, it turns into lust.
"Not a bad apology, especially for someone with so little experience," he says, trying to sound unimpressed and knowing that he's failing miserably. "Maybe if you throw in a bit of groveling..."
A loud snort comes from the other side of the room. Rose is perched on the edge of one of the narrow beds, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I'd pay good money to see that," she says, trying to sound casual. "Him, learning to grovel? It'd be like Posh and Becks learning to get by on ten quid a week."
Jack throws back his head and laughs. "Don't discourage him, Rose. Who's to say that an old dog--"
"--can't learn new tricks?"
Rose leans forward, elbows on her thighs. "Never mind that," she says urgently. "You two gonna kiss and make up?"
Jack looks at the Doctor, still standing where he froze during Jack's outburst, three metres away. Everything about him--face, eyes, posture--says 'waiting'. A joke and a smile aren't enough to assure him that he's forgiven. Jack's going to have to make the first move. "Hey. C'mere." He opens his arms and takes a step forward. Suddenly, he's locked in an embrace so tight and fierce it almost hurts, and an insistent tongue is exploring his mouth. He extends the kiss for as long as he can, then pulls away to gasp, "Doc. Puny human, remember? No respiratory bypass...need oxygen."
The pressure eases up enough to let him get in a few deep lungfuls, and then his mouth is invaded again. One arm continues to encircle him. The other pulls Rose's soft warmth against them. Jack hadn't been aware of Rose crossing the room. Without interrupting the kiss he manages to disentangle his left arm and wrap it around Rose's back.
Jack is only human. Despite 51st-century genes and Time Agency enhancements, he's still homo sapiens--just a slightly more advanced ape. He can't see timelines or feel the rotation of the planet beneath his feet. But right now, Jack Harkness has a special sense. He can feel the Universe coming back into balance, and it feels damn good.
Time Lords don't believe in reincarnation, not in the human sense of the word. The Doctor wishes--just for a moment--that he did believe. If he'd lived other lives that he can't recall, that might explain a lot. He's very sure that he hasn't done anything in the nine lifetimes he can remember to explain his current good fortune. They are so utterly fantastic, his humans, and he doesn't deserve them in the slightest--but here they are, in his arms. He lets his seven primary senses drink them in: the brightness of Jack's eyes; the taste of his mouth; the softness of Rose's skin; the wonderful scents of sweat and hormones and strawberry shampoo blended with faint traces of thorn-fruit; soft moans and quickening heartbeats; the multi-colour swirl of emotions; the golden glint of not-quite-manifest timelines. Fantastic. He'd shout it aloud, proclaim it to the Universe, only his mouth is still very busy.
Distracted as he is, his superior hearing only picks up the sound of footsteps 3.4 seconds before the knock on the door. The three of them disentangle, but stand together.
An A'atran woman enters: youngish, perhaps in her thirties. She manages a graceful bow, despite the large bundle in her arms. "Guests, the Council bids me greet you, and invite you to dine with them this night. I have clothes suitable for the occasion." She sets the bundle on the foot of the nearest bed, unwrapping the outer layer to reveal a pile of richly-coloured fabrics. She makes a few more flowery remarks, then departs, promising that a guide will come for them in half an hour.
Rose looks approvingly at her blokes. Whoever chose their clothing has a good eye for colour and style.
Jack is even more gorgeous than usual in a tunic of deep blue that matches his eyes. The waistcoat and trousers are a rich brown embroidered with a spiraling pattern of amber vines and stylised clusters of blue fruit. He tugs at the tunic, adjusting how it drapes. Oh, yes--he knows just how good he looks.
The Doctor is dramatic in maroon with black highlights. No embroidery, no decoration. The artistry is in the cut of the outfit and the sheen of the finely-woven fabric. Instead of a waistcoat, he has a knee-length cloak that swirls around him as he walks. She doubts that he knows how sexy he looks in it; she's certain he doesn't care.
Rose herself is frustrated, 'cos the tiny wall mirror hardly shows her anything. Her outfit is a cornflower blue that she knows is a good colour for her. It wraps around her like a sari or a toga, leaving one shoulder bare. The blokes look at her admiringly, but they'd do that if she were wearing a plastic bin-liner, so it doesn't really count.
The promised guide escorts them to a large room where some thirty people are gathered. She recognises enough of the faces to understand that this is a gathering of VIPs: the Council of Elders, their husbands and wives, and a few other muckety-mucks.
The food is delicious, and beautifully arranged. When Rose first sees it, she worries that it will be some weird combination of flavours, like on the posh cooking shows her mum sometimes watches: a tiny portion of organic Cornwall-raised ostrich, drizzled with pomegranate-mustard reduction, and served on a triangular plate that could double as a toboggan. Even though she doesn't recognise most of the food, it all tastes as good as it looks.
People wander back and forth between the five courses and engage in small talk. When the last dishes are cleared away, Elder Dathiha rises and recites what sounds like a flowery grace after meals. That done, she announces, "Tonight, I invite our guests to provide the Sharing of Words."
"What's that?" Jack whispers.
"Poetry recitation," the Doctor whispers back. "It'd be rude to refuse. At best, we'd look uncultured. I suspect some of this lot is hoping we'll fall on our faces."
Jack nods. "Any rules about topic or length?"
The Doctor shrugs. "Don't think so. Beauty, nature, virtues -- somethin' nice." Rose holds her breath when the Doctor shoots Jack a warning glance, but the younger man just nods.
"I will go first, though I don't deserve the honour," Jack says clearly. Every eye in the room is on him. "This is a poem -- a song, actually -- that I learned long ago." He recites what must be the lyrics of a lullaby, something to do with desert breezes and ocean tides and white spires rising above the sand. When he finishes he looks very far away and a little sad.
"Thank you, Captain," the Elder says smoothly. "A most creditable effort."
"Lovely," another voice says. It's Sojore -- the dead Prince's nurse. Just like Jack, she seems to be envisioning scenes of the past.
Dathiha interjects smoothly, "Doctor, will you favour us with something from your world?"
Rose sucks in her breath, but the Doctor merely leans back in his chair. "Not much for poetry, my people," he says easily. "Can offer one from Lyonnesse, if you like."
Elder Dathiha inclines her head.
"Silent the silver fish, beneath river's calm.
Silent the fisherman, beneath sunlight's balm.
Swift fingers craft enticements meant to deceive
Transform bright wool to food a fish will believe."
The Doctor's voice rumbles through ten more verses that elegantly describe how the poet catches, cooks, and eats two 'silver swimmers in the silver stream'.
Elder Sojore frowns. "The style resembles Shabo. But the topic--"
Rose suppresses a giggle. A fish fry-up? All that fancy language, and it's just a fish fry-up?
"The topic was one of the mos' pleasant afternoons I can remember," the Doctor says agreeably. "Very fond of fishing, your Shabo was, an' he had a skillful hand with the rod. Not bad for a poet. Though Yeats was a very talented angler, as I recall." He takes a sip of his drink. "Shabo wasn't having much luck that afternoon. The fish didn't seem to fancy his 'many-limbed delvers in the soil'. Told him he ought to try a hand-tied fly. Colour me surprised when he didn't know what that meant! So I pulled a few bits from my scarf--" He looks down, as if expecting to see a scarf around his neck. "--and did him up a nice red-fly." He grins. "Taught that one to old Izaak, I did."
"You went... fishing with Shabo? Shabo of Hlau?"
"Yup. Told you I visited Lyonnesse. Nice bloke. Very hospitable. Wrote me the poem in exchange for the pattern for the fly. I thought sharin' his catch was more'n enough, but he insisted. Very open to learnin' new things, he was."
That wasn't very smart, Doctor, Rose thinks. There are murmurings around the room, and more than a few unhappy looks. "I s'pose it's my turn," she says loudly.
The Doctor leans forward to murmur in Rose's ear, "You know, you can give 'em 'Ba Ba Black sheep' if you like, or some rubbishy pop song. Doesn't matter."
"I know a poem," she says indignantly. "Just 'cos I didn't get my O Levels doesn't mean I'm ignorant." She gets to her feet, and forces herself to concentrate. She was lucky in Year 8 to have an English teacher who didn't believe that real poetry ended with Wordsworth.
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
Can make it out here alone."
To keep up her nerve she avoids looking at the crowd, and concentrates on her blokes. Jack's looking thoughtful -- or maybe still sad. She ploughs on.
"Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow--"
The Doctor's face is very still; his eyes shadowed and distant.
In the last verse she finds her courage growing. She looks directly at one of the Elders as she finishes triumphantly.
"Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone."
There is a long silence.
"How... interesting," a male in a moss-green tunic observes. "Primitive, of course, but it has a certain crude vigour--"
Rose bites her lower lip. You want 'crude', you stupid arse? I can come up with some new poems, just for you. What rhymes with 'fathead'?
Sojore steps forwards, smiling. "Shabo said, 'Words have wings. To catch them, you must be ready.'" She shakes her head at the A'atran in green. "Do not close your ears, Frehrad. Keep them open and catch the words of our guests. If you do so, you will learn much." She bows politely to them, then heads for the door.
The others quickly follow suit. Some pause to thank the offworlders for their 'gifts', with varying degrees of sincerity, but no one wants to stay and chat. That suits Rose very well. She's tired. It's been a long, difficult day. It feels like a million years since the TARDIS dematerialised here.
Their guide leads them back to their assigned room. It's not far, and they could have found their own way, but it's clear that the Council doesn't want their 'guests' wandering unescorted.
When they walk down the corridor leading to their room, they all stare at the white chalk marks on the dark brown door. Half of Rose's brain sees the graceful curves of A'atran script; the other half perceives them as if the words were in English. Rose can't quite keep her voice from shaking as she reads aloud, "Let evil be cast out before it can breed corruption."
Note: The poem Rose recites is Alone by Maya Angelou. The complete text is here.