Rating: Teen, for some strong language and mention of sexual activity
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Jack Harkness, Rose Tyler
Genres: AU, angst
Word Count: 12,182
Spoilers: Bad Wolf and Parting of the Ways
Summary: Parting of the Ways AU. Jack made it back to the TARDIS in time. Team TARDIS is reunited once more. Is it a happy ending -- or will the changes they've gone through tear them apart?
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. Astute readers will notice that I have borrowed two short pieces of dialogue from Utopia and Sound of Drums, both written by Russell T. Davies.
Beta: The fantastic and merciless canaana, who kept pushing me to do better. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.
A/N: This story insisted on being written. After I wrote my drabble, Stranger, I started wondering what happened next. This story was the result. I have never written so much so quickly. It is not part of my OT3 Changes!verse series, and is darker than those stories. My thanks to yamx for support and advice, for putting up with my obsessive word counts, and for letting me use her creation, choree stew (comfort food of the Boeshane Peninsula). Additional notes are at the end of the story.
Jack darts a look over his shoulder. He's not being followed. He's used every trick he learnt in the Time Agency — and a few he invented himself — to make sure of that. Hurriedly, he picks the lock and slips inside the closet. The blue glow of the utility light is just bright enough to show him where he can sit without knocking over stacks of air filters, deactivated mop-bots and cylinders of cleaning solution.
He settles down in a position that won't cramp his legs. It'll be hours before he dares to venture outside, but if someone finds him, he has to be ready to make a sudden run for it.
Jack is reasonably sure that he's made himself unfindable. While his faulty vortex manipulator will no longer teleport him through time and space, the technology inside it — sophisticated even by 51st century standards — can be adapted to other purposes. Right now it's masking his body heat and other bio-signs. It helps that he had access to the even more sophisticated tools in the TARDIS.
The TARDIS. Jack allows himself a quiet sigh. It makes his current situation much easier, knowing that Rose is in the TARDIS. She'll be safe there. The Doctor will see to it.
He hears noises outside and freezes. Footsteps, about two metres away, and coming closer to his refuge. He doesn't move, doesn't breathe. He prays to gods he no longer believes in that his jury-rigged equipment is really concealing his thunderous heartbeat. Jack forces himself to analyse what he's hearing. Two humans wearing the heavy boots favoured by spaceport maintenance. The shuffle-click of clawed feet: probably one of the Squerri workers. The hum and rattle of a wheeled luggage cart. Ordinary, nonthreatening sounds, but his pursuer is very clever. He might convince spaceport personnel to help him look for me.
Only when the footsteps fade away does Jack allow himself to breathe, to relax his taut muscles. He shoves his shaking hands into the pockets of his coat, even though there's no one to see him.
There are things inside the closet that could serve as weapons: tools that can strike or stab, ropes that can throttle, cleaning solvents that can steal the breath and blind the eyes. Jack barely glances at them. He doesn't want to injure an innocent spaceport worker, and if his pursuer finds his hiding place, none of those things will help him.
Jack tries to put himself into a light alpha trance, but he can't summon up the calming focus images that always worked for him in the past. Memories, old and new, of brushes with death swirl through his mind: failed missions, cons gone wrong, betrayals, torture, booby-traps, and monsters of all kinds. And now he's being hunted by an adversary far more dangerous and powerful than any he ever faced as a Time Agent or a con man.
Two hours go by. Three. In another twenty minutes he can run for the safety of the off-world shuttle. Well, not 'run' in the literal sense. Running attracts the wrong kind of attention, he hears his Escape and Evasion instructor drone. (Odd, that one of the most exciting classes at the Time Agency Academy was taught by the most tedious lecturer.) Jack shifts into a low crouch and begins to flex his leg and arm muscles. Once he leaves this closet he can't afford to be slowed down by aches and cramps.
There's no warning. One moment he hears a shrill buzzing, and the next, the door to his refuge is flung open. Startled, Jack loses his balance and topples down onto his knees, splayed hands braced against the tile floor. He looks up and sees exactly what he feared.
His pursuer stares down at him, the blue utility light reflected in his dark eyes like a lingering ghost of his former self. "Really, Jack, this is getting tiresome. Didn't the last two times teach you anything?" Without waiting for a reply, he adds, "Come along. Rose is waiting tea for us."
"Yes, Doctor," Jack says tonelessly. He lurches into a standing position, then pauses to stretch. The Time Lord has already turned away and is striding down the concourse without a single backwards glance. Jack hurries after him.
Tea time is horrendous. By the time the Doctor returns with Jack, the toasted cheese is cold and the meat pies are soggy. Jack broods, hardly saying anything at all. As if trying to compensate for Jack's silence, the Doctor natters even more than usual. Rose forces herself to smile and chat, but as soon as she can, she excuses herself from the blokes and hurries off to visit her garden.
The Chinese garden is one of the most peaceful spots in the TARDIS. Rose sits on a stone bench in the small, open-sided pagoda, letting her gaze drift across the patterned grey tiles, clusters of slender green bamboo, and stone-edged pool. Beneath the lily pads in the pool, she can glimpse red-gold carp swimming in lazy circles.
She likes this place 'cos it's quiet and private. She found it a few weeks before the nightmare on the Game Station. She'd been looking for somewhere she could be alone, and she stumbled across this garden. It's a good spot to sit and think.
God knows she's got a lot to think about. The past two months have been the strangest she's known since she first stepped through the TARDIS door, starting with the deadly game shows, the Dalek attack, and the Doctor's regeneration. The last was hardest to accept. She doesn't remember much about the moment of regeneration, even though she witnessed it. Her memory is blurry, the Doctor told her, because tiny human minds are not meant to contain Vortex energy.
She does remember what happened afterwards.
The new Doctor babbles at her, then at Jack when he returns to the TARDIS, and then collapses. She's still half-convinced that the brown-eyed stranger must be a shape-shifter or body-stealer, but Jack calms her by explaining what little he knows about regeneration. Together they drag the unconscious Doctor towards the medbay.
They place the Doctor on one of the beds. While Jack tries to figure out how to reset the diagnostic scanner for a Time Lord, the Time Lord in question wakes up long enough to grab the scanner and use it on himself, babble about visiting London for Christmas, and request a cup of tea.
While Jack persuades the Doctor to remain in the medbay, Rose goes to make tea. When she returns, the Doctor drains his tea in one long gulp, mumbles his thanks, and falls back to sleep, long fingers still curled around the handle of the mug.
He sleeps for three days. At first, Rose wants to wake him, but Jack convinces her to leave the Time Lord be. Some species, he says, are capable of accelerated healing in a trance-like state. If a Time Lord can nearly die and change his whole body, a healing trance is probably no more than a party trick for him.
They both sleep in the medbay, but take turns keeping watch. Rose is alone — Jack is taking a quick shower — when their patient wakes up. "Doctor?" she says hesitantly.
"Yup! That's me!" he says, grinning.
"Are you . . . all right?"
"That's a tricky question," he replies, suddenly frowning. "I haven't had a chance yet to find out who I am. It's a dicey thing, regeneration. Never quite know what I'm going to get." Rose watches in silent amazement as the new Doctor pats his head, touches his ears and chin and nose, comments approvingly on his hair and teeth, and gets very excited about a mole that he claims is between his shoulder blades. "What do you think, Rose?"
She hesitates. "I'm still getting used to your new look, Doctor." It isn't just his looks that have changed. How he talks, how he moves — there seems to be nothing left of the Doctor she met in the basement of Henrik's.
He nods. "So am I. Did I tell you I've done this nine times? Always takes a while to settle into a new body." He prattles on happily about his previous bodies for a good ten minutes. His fourth self had a wonderful nose, but unfortunate teeth. His fifth self possessed splendid knees. Suddenly he falls silent, smile vanishing as though it had never been there.
Jack walks in, sporting clean clothes and damp hair. "Rose, that was wonderful. You should— Doctor! All done with your nap?"
The Doctor flinches, and takes two steps backwards. "I thought I was hallucinating," he mutters. "Regeneration sickness can cause that, sometimes. Oh, Rose, what did you do?" he asks, but he isn't looking at her, he's staring at Jack, and his face screws up like he's smelling something nasty. "Jack, you're wrong. You're so very wrong."
Jack is very pale, but his voice is steady as he asks, "What do you mean, Doctor?"
The Doctor tells him. Immortal. Impossible. An immutable Fact. "You may outlive the Universe," he says, and Rose can tell from his expression that this would be a very, very bad thing.
Jack looks as though he wants to say something, but can't remember the words. He glances at Rose, then goes back to staring at the Doctor. His face is almost completely white.
"I'm sorry," the Doctor says. "I'm so sorry." He takes a step forward. Rose thinks he's going to Jack, to give him the comforting he needs; instead, the Doctor rushes out of the room, looking as though he's going to puke, and stepping sideways to avoid touching Jack as he passes him.
Rose wants to run after the Doctor and give him a piece of her mind, but Jack needs her. She wraps her arms around her friend and holds him tightly until he stops shaking and she stops weeping.
Later, she takes him to her garden. She's been keeping it as her own personal retreat, but it's calm, and they both need calm. And it's private, and she needs a private place to talk to Jack. To apologise. Not that any words can make up for what she did to Jack, but she's got to say them.
Jack listens to her stumbling speech. Her heart sinks when he shakes his head, but then he says, "Rose, it's not your fault." He lays a finger across her lips to silence any protests. "I'm still pretty confused about all this, but that's one thing I'm sure of: it's not your fault. I was dead. Now I'm alive again, and that means I get to do this." He removes his finger from her lips and kisses her.
It's a long kiss, intense and yet somehow gentle. She's been kissed by Jack before. He gives kisses as readily as some of her male friends back in London give hugs. She's had his we-made-it-out-alive! kiss. This isn't it. She's had let's-take-this-to-bed kisses from other blokes, and this isn't that, either. She can't label it with words, but it doesn't need words. By the time they pull apart she knows without doubt that Jack does not blame her, and she feels a sudden spill of hot tears on her cheeks.
Jack grins at her. "I must be out of practise. My kisses don't usually make beautiful women cry."
You could practise with me, she thinks, and is glad for the tears that disguise her flustered blush.
It's getting better — and worse. The Doctor doesn't flee the room when Jack comes in, doesn't flinch or pull a face. He's making an effort to control his reactions, but it's obvious that he needs to make an effort. "I'm sorry, Jack. I can't help it," he says, looking in Jack's general direction, but not meeting his eyes. "I'm a Time Lord. It's instinct. It's in my gut."
You could at least find a better way to say it, Rose thinks. The Doctor's bluntness is getting on her nerves, and she's not the one it's aimed at.
"Fine," Jack snaps, "I'm wrong and impossible and you can't stand to look at me." He pauses for only a moment. "New Scotia would do. Or Ishmad IV. Or Chandikor, any time after the 32nd century."
"No." Just that one word, flat and unemotional.
Rose shivers. She doesn't want Jack to go, either, but there's something about the Doctor's voice . . .
"Eruvai, or the Tanyiki Spiral. Or anywhere with a decent spaceport."
"No. I can't have you running loose out there, Jack." The Doctor's hands spread wide to indicate the entirety of the Universe.
"What the hell does that mean? You're going to keep me prisoner in the TARDIS for the rest of time?"
Rose is still learning to read this new Doctor's face. She isn't sure of everything she sees, but something cold is flickering in those dark eyes.
"Course not. But I'm a Time Lord. My TARDIS created your condition. It's my responsibility to keep an eye on you."
Jack's jaw tightens. "Just what are you afraid I'm going to do?"
The Doctor throws up his hands. "It's not what you do, Jack, it's what you are. You've got a bit of the most powerful force in the cosmos stuck inside a human body, and that should never happen. You seem to be stable right now, but I can't be certain how long that will last. If something goes wrong when you're three galaxies and ten millennia away from the TARDIS, I might not arrive until it's too late to help."
"You don't know that anything will go wrong," Jack says, "and you definitely don't know if you'll be able to help."
The last word is tinged with such acid that Rose winces. I know he's being a prat, Jack, but you're just making things worse.
"And don't bother to give me a superphone like Rose's," Jack adds. "No offence, Doctor, but if I run into trouble, I'll deal with it on my own."
"First of all, Captain, you're not going anywhere, and if you were foolish enough to try, I'd find you," the Doctor says. "I will always be able to find you, anywhere in time and space."
Without a word, Jack turns on his heel and stalks out of the console room, vanishing in the depths of the TARDIS.
Rose's indignation explodes into words. "How could you?" He may be the same person in some complicated biological way that she doesn't understand, but this man in front of her is not her Doctor. "How could you say that to Jack?"
"You think I'm being too hard on him? Do you know what the High Council of Time Lords would have done with Jack if they were still around?" he demands. He doesn't wait for her reply. "They would have taken a vote on the only two options: whether to destroy him immediately or send him to the Council's laboratory for experimentation first." His voice follows her out the door. "Rose? Where are you going? Rose!"
She manages to get halfway to the garden before the tears begin to fall.
They don't understand. How can they? Clever as they both are, they're human. They haven't got a time sense. Even Jack, with his Time Agency training, can't understand the intricacies of the Vortex and the Web of Time.
He can. He's a Time Lord, and this whole bloody disaster is his fault. Course, Rose should have known better than to mess about with the TARDIS, but he should have realised that she might do something mad and impetuous. Let him die, let the TARDIS quietly moulder away — nope, not Rose Tyler. He should have known she'd do something drastic. He just never would have imagined she'd do that. Or what the consequences would be for poor Jack.
Jack. He's a mess and a half, he is, and no mistake. There's nothing that can be done for him. The Doctor told Rose the truth when he said the Time Lords would have destroyed such an abomination. No use mincing words — that's what they would have called him.
It didn't help to have Rose reacting as though he'd announced his intention to extract every vestige of the Time Vortex from Jack, then reduce his dead body to its component atoms. She ought to know better. Regeneration hasn't changed him that much.
That drastic solution isn't an option now, even if he wanted it. It would take the full power of the Time Lords and the Eye of Harmony to accomplish such a thing, and Gallifrey is gone.
Gallifrey is gone. The Time Lords are gone. He knows that, has (mostly) accepted that. He hadn't realised until now the full significance of that. I am the last Time Lord. He was Time's Champion once. Now he's got to be Time's Protector. There's no one else who can do it. Just him. He's the only one left, so it's his task, his burden. He's got to be careful; got to make the difficult decisions, even if they seem harsh to those who can't understand, even if they hurt others and break his own hearts.
Jack, uncontrolled, is a danger to the Web of Time. Almost certainly. Probably. How can he know? The most brilliant minds at the Academy never anticipated this event, not even in theory. Jack's a good bloke. He'd never do anything harmful on purpose, but what if the power within him changes him?
No, it's clearly unacceptable to let Jack Harkness loose. He's got to stay close at hand, under proper supervision. Perhaps later on the Doctor can consider relaxing his hold, but not now. Jack was a Time Agent. He'll understand. He must do. And even if he doesn't understand, I'll do what circumstances require.
The next morning, Rose is the first to approach him. No surprise there. Her compassionate nature is part of what makes her so special. "'S not fair what you're doing to Jack."
"I'm not doing anything to Jack," he replies.
Hands braced on hips, she shakes her head at him. "You're keeping him a prisoner."
Patience, he reminds himself. "He's no more a prisoner than you or me. He's not locked up." Not bound to one time, one planet. Not battering his wings against the bars of a cage. "Blimey, most people consider it a privilege to travel in the TARDIS. Do you know, I've been offered a fortune just for one single trip? There was a Kerekh Prince—"
She cuts him off mid-sentence. "If I said I wanted to go home, would you take me?"
Oh, Rose! He's not ready to lose her. Not so soon. "Is that what you really want?" he asks with a calmness he doesn't feel.
She doesn't answer his question. "Would you? If I asked?"
"Course I'd take you home. Promised your mum, didn't I?"
"But you wouldn't take Jack home." It's not a question, it's an accusation.
"Jack's never struck me as a settling down sort of bloke," the Doctor says. "He likes to be on the move, see new places—"
A male voice interrupts. "He likes to have a choice." Jack walks in. He's looking calmer than the night before, but no happier.
"Welllll . . . that's not possible right now. I'm sorry, Jack. Maybe later, when I'm sure that there's no danger. You can wait a bit, can't you?"
"Not too long," Jack says with obvious reluctance.
"Not too long," the Doctor agrees. Possibly in a few centuries. That's a blink of an eye for him. "Sooo . . . where shall we go now? Jack? Rose? Any suggestions?"
The first time Jack runs, it's almost by accident. Three weeks after the Game Station, and life aboard the TARDIS has returned to something resembling normal. They're shopping in the Grand Bazaar of Nepisi. Rose has purchased an armload of flower-silk sarongs from a cart in the open street, and she's wild to try them on. The TARDIS is less than a kilometre away, but the route passes through a rather unsavoury neighbourhood.
The Doctor is still haggling over the price of a used transducer cell in better-than-average condition. He diverts his attention from the bargaining just long enough to catch Jack's eye. A silent understanding passes between them, and for that brief moment it's just like the old days. Jack will escort Rose back to the TARDIS, then return to help search for repair components.
Jack's heading back to the Bazaar when he glances down one of the zigzag alleyways that the locals call "spirit-catchers" because evil spirits can only travel in straight lines. In the distance, he sees one of the blinking yellow lanterns that identify a tavern on this world. In this neighbourhood, it'll be little more than a sleazy dive. That suits him just fine.
He walks in and gives the place a swift once-over. Two dozen burly men scattered around the dark room turn to stare at the newcomer. Jack keeps his hands in his pockets and gives them a tight-lipped smile. Recognising a fellow predator, they turn back to their drinks. Not exactly warm and welcoming, but that suits him, too. He tosses a coin onto the counter. "Trassig."
Out of habit, as Jack drinks, he listens to the fragments of conversation that drift past him. Most are just the usual bits of backstreet gossip, bawdy humour, and illicit business dealings that thrive in places like this. One bit catches his ear: there's a spacer coming by tonight to hire deckhands for an outbound freighter. It's unskilled, backbreaking work, but it's a way to get off-planet. Once they break orbit, Jack can probably get a better berth, either with his engineering skills or with his other talents. Suddenly, this dirty little hole seems a whole lot brighter.
A few more coins buy him a pitcher of trassig and the right to drink it in a private room in the back of the tavern. It has a "serpent-eye" — a circular two-way mirror that looks out on the main room. Jack suspects the back rooms are used for illegal gambling at night, but by that time he intends to be very far away.
The pitcher is half-empty when Jack sees movement through the clouded surface of the serpent-eye. The jackals in the outer room stare hungrily at the new arrival, assessing his wealth, status, strength, willingness to fight, and a hundred other details. The newcomer doesn't flee the jackals or challenge them — he ignores them. He scans the room, his face expressionless.
Jack knows what he's seeing. The entire back wall of the tavern is made of metre-wide wood panels, each decorated with smoke-tinted round mirrors. All of the panels look identical, but five of them are actually doors with serpent-eyes leading into private rooms like the one where he sits.
The newcomer makes his way across the room. He's silent, his hands are empty, and his face is locked in "neutral", but the back-alley toughs stumble over each other in their hurry to get out of his way. Without pause or hesitation, he walks directly to Jack's door and pushes it open. "Captain."
"If you've finished your drink, we can head back to the TARDIS now," the Time Lord says. His tone is casual, even pleasant, but Jack can hear the command beneath the invitation.
He downs another cup of trassig, then gets to his feet. Silently, he follows the Doctor out of the tavern. Not until the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling of his room in the TARDIS, does it occurs to him to wonder if he could have chosen to do something else.
Jack makes appreciative noises when she models the pink and lavender sarong for the blokes, but he's wearing his con man smile, the one that doesn't touch his eyes. She's not stupid. The Doctor came back to the TARDIS without Jack, went out immediately, and returned with him, wearing a sour expression that he didn't change quickly enough. She can guess what happened. As soon as she can do it without being obvious, she gets Jack alone, leading him to her garden. "Are you okay?""
"Me? I'm doing great. The Doc's just a little pissy because I stopped off for a drink, that's all." She gives him Jackie Tyler's patented what-kind-of-idiot-do-you-take-me-for? look, and he drops the act. "I'm fine, Rose. Really. Our Lord and Master isn't happy with me, but that's the status quo these days."
"What did he say?"
"He gave me the 'don't wander off' speech. You know the one."
She doesn't want to ask, but she has to know. "You were going to do what — just leave? Without even saying goodbye?" She hates to see the sadness on his face, but at least it's what he's honestly feeling.
"Oh, Rose . . ." He strokes her cheek with the tip of one finger. "I wish I could stay with you, I really do. But he's going to drive me nuts before too long."
"Is it really that bad, being here?" A terrible thought strikes her. "He's not, dunno, getting all stroppy with you when I'm not around? 'Cos if he is, I'll—"
"My defender," he says wryly.
"Sorry. No, nothing like that. He's very . . . polite."
She winces. Oh, Jack! They're sitting on the bench inside the pagoda. Instinctively, she places an arm around his shoulders, and he leans in against her, burying his face in her hair. Jack is a man who needs to touch and be touched. He talks like everything physical is about sex, but he doesn't mean it. He used to touch the Doctor — friendly pat on the shoulder, slap on the back — but now he keeps his distance.
He sits up straight and gently turns her so they're face to face. "Rose, I have to get away, and I will, just as soon as I figure out a few details. I won't tell you when and where. I don't want the Doctor to blame you—"
"He wouldn't." She's sure of that much.
"—or pressure you to tell him where I've gone, even though you could out-stubborn him any day of the week." His eyes, so serious and intense, suddenly crinkle with amusement. "I won't be able to say goodbye before I leave, so let me say it now." He cups her face in his hands. "Goodbye, Rose. I will always be glad that I met you." He leans in slowly and kisses her.
Kissing Rose Tyler is a pleasure, and like any pleasure, it's worth lingering over. Jack takes his time. He breathes in the scent of her: warm skin and apricot shampoo, and the salty tang of sweat. Her lips taste of tea and honey, and they open to him at once, inviting him deeper.
He doesn't hesitate to accept. He would have kissed Rose long before — kissed her properly, not just friendly pecks — if she'd been willing. And if he hadn't worried about getting in the Doctor's way. There's no doubt of Rose's willingness now, not the way her arms are wrapped around him, pulling him closer. As for the Doctor — Jack no longer gives a damn what the Time Lord thinks. If he wanted Rose, he'd have made a move before now. Deliberately, he pushes all thought of the Time Lord out of his mind and concentrates on Rose. She deserves my full attention.
When they pull apart, Rose is bright-eyed and breathless. "You should say goodbye more often, Jack."
"Every day," he promises. He'd like to do much more than kiss, but it wouldn't be fair to Rose. Her culture has some odd notions about short-term sexual relationships, and he's determined to leave as soon as possible.
Two weeks later . . .
"You're still planning to leave?" Rose asks. "I thought— well, things are getting better. What about when we caught the bird-lizard-thingy? That was fun. Just like the old days, yeah?"
"Just like the old days," he echoes.
It was fun and satisfying to track down the "winged monster" haunting the Hrufan forest, who turned out to be a stranded avianoid from Eta Zeta IV. The forest air was cool and sweet, dappled here and there with patches of mist. The three of them ran almost soundlessly on the spongy moss-covered ground.
At the end, when the Zetan had been located and her ship repaired, they grinned at each other in perfect accord. Rose hugged each man in turn. The Doctor turned to Jack. For once, the Time Lord's body language seemed relaxed around him. "Well done, Captain! That was a clever trick, rerouting the secondary launch sequencer."
Jack's grin broadened. "Thanks, Doc." Slipping into old habits, he reached out an hand and patted the Doctor's forearm. The Time Lord stiffened slightly, but he didn't pull away. Jack stuck his hands in his pockets. It's a start, I guess. "I had to do something similar once on Gran Opularis, only there was an ion storm moving in and four hundred angry Xori warriors wanting to burn me at the stake—"
They wandered back towards the Hrufan village. The Doctor grinned and shook his head and Rose burst out laughing at Jack's only slightly embroidered account of his adventure.
But when the excitement was over and they were sitting at the celebration feast in their honour, he could feel the weight of the Doctor's gaze on him: watching, assessing, judging. He swallowed his resentment along with a glass of Hrufan wine. And another. And another.
In the midst of the sweets course, Rose was dragged off, laughing, to dance with the Chieftain's wives. The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at Jack. "We were so busy before, I forgot to do this."
'This' was a simple molecular scan. The Doctor insisted on taking a daily reading so that he could monitor any changes in Jack's bio-signs. Jack had never objected before. It was a quick, noninvasive procedure. There was no practical reason not to do it on the spot, and none of the Hrufan villagers would understand the device or its purpose.
A minute ago I was a hero; now I'm a fucking lab rat. Jack focused his bleary eyes on the Doctor. "Can't keep me forever, you know," he hissed. "If nothing else, I'm going to outlive you."
The Doctor didn't reply, but the long, speculative look he gave Jack sobered him faster than a bucket of ice water.
It hurts so much, the tension in the air. She can feel it, even when both blokes aren't there. What makes it even worse is that it's her fault. No matter what Jack says, it's all her fault. If she hadn't opened up the heart of the TARDIS, none of this would have happened. The Doctor would have figured out some other way to stop the Daleks. He wouldn't have regenerated — died — saving her from her own stupidity, and Jack would still be a normal, mortal man.
Or he'd be dead. On Teivis, Jack shoved her out of the way just in time to get a poisoned arrow in his chest. The Doctor held her tightly and let her muffle her sobs against his pinstriped jacket, so she never saw the exact moment Jack revived. She felt the Doctor stiffen a split second before she heard Jack's loud, hoarse gasp.
A few minutes later, there was no proof that anything unusual had happened, other than the hole in Jack's bloodstained t-shirt. Jack made a feeble joke about having a hangover without enjoying a "night before". Only she couldn't help notice that it was the Doctor who looked like he was going to be sick.
The second time Jack runs, he plans it carefully. He has a hiding place that no one knows about. (What you don't know, you can't betray.) He has two different routes to the spaceport in the high desert, three different ships that are willing to take him on, and four backup plans. In his coat pocket, he has a spray canister of a substance that will put most oxygen breathers out for an hour. It should work on a Time Lord. And since it's absorbed through the skin, respiratory bypass is no protection.
When he walks into the delivery bay of Cray-Tech Spacelines, he sees a large crate marked Caution! Extremely hazardous! Sitting on top of the crate is an extremely annoyed Time Lord. "You're late," the Doctor snaps. "I was beginning to worry."
Jack chokes back an impulse to laugh. The Oncoming Storm, playing mother hen. "Thank you for your concern," he says in a smooth tone that doesn't quite disguise his bitterness, "but as you can see, I'm fine." He slips his hands in his pockets and surreptitiously touches the canister of knock-out spray.
The Doctor holds out one hand. "Give that to me." His voice hardens. "Now, please."
Carefully, Jack removes the canister from his pocket. It's not too late to use it. The Doctor may have better-than-human reflexes, but Jack can still press a button faster than the Time Lord can cross two metres of sun-softened tarmac. Still, he hesitates. How the hell does he know what I've got?
The Doctor answers his unspoken question. "I know everything that goes on in my TARDIS." He continues to hold out his hand. "You don't want to use that, Jack."
Anger bubbles up in him. "What I want, Doctor, is my freedom."
The Doctor's voice is weary. "We don't always get what we want, Captain."
Jack feels a flash of fear, and he's not sure why. Then he looks into eyes that are dark and full of ancient pain, and he understands. That isn't the Oncoming Storm sitting there, but the Destroyer of Worlds. He's pitting his will against that of a being who wiped out his own species for the good of the Universe. Slowly, and following proper protocol for surrendering a weapon, he holds out the canister.
The Doctor takes it and nods stiffly. "Thank you." Then in one smooth motion, he points the nozzle at himself and presses the button. A fine mist engulfs his head, leaving clear droplets on his face. He smiles. "Blimey, that feels good." His smile broadens at Jack's horrified reaction. "What? Oh, this? It's distilled water. You don't think I'd let you go wandering about with a Class Five anaesthetic, do you? Someone might get hurt." He slips off the crate with the careless grace of a child jumping off a swing. "Back to the TARDIS, now."
As Jack follows behind the Doctor, he feels something deep inside him begin to crack.
He may be a genius, but he's also an idiot. He bungled it with Jack — bungled it badly. It seemed like a brilliant plan when he first conceived of it: the ambush, replacing the anaesthetic with water. The idea was to convince Jack that escape is impossible, that the Doctor will always be three steps ahead of him. The sooner he accepts that and settles down, he'll be happier. All of them will be happier, and the Universe will be safer.
Unfortunately, his little drama seems to have accomplished the exact opposite. Jack is more determined than ever to run away. The Doctor sighs. This means he can't ease up on the lad, can't let him see the part of himself that sympathises, that knows the pain of being trapped. If he does, Jack will continue to hope for what he can't have.
I don't want to fight him. I don't want surrender, just cooperation; but it looks as though I can't get one without the other. He has to make Jack give in, and he has to do it soon. If the struggle goes on for too long, it's likely to end with Jack broken in mind and will.
That night, Jack lies in bed, counting the hexagonal tiles in the ceiling. He seems to need less sleep since the Game Station, but he can usually count on a few hours. Eventually, he gives it up as a lost cause. His chrono says it's two in the morning, ship's time. He'll go to the garden. Rose won't be there, but maybe sitting in that tranquil place will help quiet his mind.
The garden is wrapped in shadows, and the artificial sky is dusted with stars. To his surprise, a figure in a pink robe is standing beside the fish pool. Rose whirls around, eyes wide. "Jack!" She lets out a long, slow breath. "I thought you were the Doctor."
"Does he come here often?"
"Never, only I s'posed you'd be asleep after—" She falters.
After I made a fool of myself. "After my busy day?" he asks, and gets a nod in return. "I'm just not feeling sleepy."
"Yeah, me too." By unspoken consent they settle on the bench in the pagoda. Rose seems to sense that he doesn't want to talk, but her hand finds his and their fingers intertwine. They sit in silence until she whispers, "I'm going to miss you."
He smiles at the sentiment, and at her faith in him. "You can't miss me until I get out of here."
"You will," Rose says promptly. "But I wonder if—"
She hesitates. "If you should wait just a bit longer. See, I think once the Doctor has a chance to get used to the idea of you being the way you are, he'd stop worrying about stuff happening. But every time you . . . leave, he gets all worked up again."
Rose looks hopeful, and he hates like hell to disappoint her, but he won't lie to her. "I'm sorry. I really can't stay."
She takes a deep breath. "A'right. In that case, you owe me a goodbye kiss, mister."
"I always pay my debts," he assures her, then takes her in his arms and proves it.
Concluded in Part 2.