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 The 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.
Sometimes she thinks about going back to Earth. Back to London and her mum's flat. Sometimes she thinks she'd die of boredom if she returned to an ordinary job and beans on toast; sometimes she thinks it would save her sanity.
The life they lead is still mad and brilliant and important. They see galaxies being born, overthrow tyrants, save princesses from dragons and dragons from princesses, break out of jail, break into jail, eat blue pizza, and dance with purple lizards. That's all wonderful, and who wouldn't love it?
Only . . . some things are different now. The Doctor is more distant, more alien. He used to remind her ten times a day that he was a Time Lord and a genius and all, but then he'd grin and join in the fun. Now there's a part of him that pulls back, and there's a sadness beneath the grin.
She used to fancy him. She thought he fancied her, too, and if he could get past seeing her as too young and too alien that he might . . . it was worth hoping. Part of her still fancies him, perhaps even more in this new body. He still cares about her, but not in the same way. She can tell. Oh, he smiles at her, and his face lights up when he tells her to run, but he hugs her like a bloke hugs his sister.
Maybe it's just as well. Part of her is angry at him for the way he's treating Jack. That's another reason she wants to stay: she can't leave Jack alone with the Doctor. Not yet. Course, it will happen someday. She'll get tired of the travelling, or get too old for running for her life, or her luck will run out.
Meanwhile, she'll try to do as her first Doctor taught her and live each day to the full. She'll try to accept the new Doctor, even when he hides behind his Time Lord mask. And at least once a day she'll claim a goodbye kiss from Jack.
The fourth time Jack runs, he dies. It's an accident. Probably. He's pelting at top speed across the rough terrain on the outskirts of Xa'apetil City. The shuttleport isn't far, and freedom is in sight. He'd feel deliriously happy except for the minor detail that there's a gorge ahead of him and a relentless Time Lord behind him.
Being a practical people, the Xa'apetili have built a footbridge over the gorge. Being an artistic people, they placed it at a bend in the stream with a lovely view of Mount Akkaan. The pathway Jack is on approaches the gorge, turns sharply left, and parallels the stream for fifty metres. If he keeps to the path, the extra distance will give the Doctor a chance to catch him. Jack is very fast (and very motivated), but the Time Lord's two hearts give him a decided advantage.
If Jack continues straight . . . the gorge is only seven metres across. He's done longer jumps than that. In training, a tiny voice reminds him. With an anti-grav safety field beneath you. He doesn't dare turn his head, but the pounding of trainers on gravel is getting louder. He keeps heading towards the gorge, and at what he judges to be the right moment he pushes off and leaps. His arms are extended, his hands already reaching out to grab the stunted shrubs on the far side. The thin branches slip through his grasp, slicing gashes in his palms, but he doesn't have the time or breath to curse at the pain because the rocky stream fifteen metres below is rushing up to meet him. There's a split second of pain, and then only darkness.
He lifts Jack's lifeless body and lays it atop one of the larger boulders at the edge of the stream. Jack will still be soaking wet when he revives, but at least he won't actually be under water. He might drown. Now, there's a gruesome thought. Under the right — wrong — circumstances, his companion might get caught in a cycle of reviving and dying, over and over.
Jack's head is tilted at an impossible angle. As best as the Doctor can tell, the three lower cervical vertebrae are crushed, and the others are badly fractured. The spinal cord is severed in two separate places. It will take a while for that much damage to repair itself. He settles himself on another rock, then rises and crosses back to Jack's resting place. He straightens Jack's head and brushes clumps of sodden hair out of his sightless eyes.
The Doctor returns to his own boulder. He studies the strata of the gorge walls, and estimates how long it's taken the stream to cut its way down to this level. He thinks about erosion, and why it's a more powerful force than flooding. He thinks about bridges. Sur le Pont d'Avignon. Bridge Over Troubled Water. London Bridge is Falling Down. Jack Harkness is Falling Down. "Jack." He says the name out loud, and it is a curse, an endearment, a prayer. "Jack. Jack-Jack-Jack. Jack, this has gone on long enough. More than long enough. Come on, there's a good fellow. Wake up."
This is not the first time he's seen Jack die. That was on Teivis. Watching his companion get shot with a crossbow felt as though the bolt had pierced his own hearts. Jack's revival was even more painful. It felt as though someone had taken his time sense and crumpled it into— No, that doesn't describe it. Even in Gallifreyan, there are no words to describe it. If he had to explain the experience to another Time Lord — There are no other Time Lords. There never were. — he could only say, "It was worse than the Untempered Schism." The Schism showed the wild, uncontrolled power of the Vortex. Though it was chaotic and terrifying, it was natural. Jack was anything but.
The Doctor stands up again. Calculating the trajectory, he jumps to another rock, halfway between his boulder and Jack's. Another. And another. He'd rather run, but that's not an option right now.
There have been two other deaths since Teivis, not counting this fall. One was from a pulse blaster, courtesy of the Palace Guard on Na'rahr. (Rose was safely locked in a dungeon cell, and didn't see.) The other was from a compact laser deluxe at point blank range, in the TARDIS, on the very same night he told Jack Harkness that he would not let him go.
Jack Harkness comes back to life with a gasp and a jolt that feels like his central nervous system is short-circuiting. He's reminded of an old Earth vid that Rose once showed him about a scientist who assembled a synthetic human, then used power from an electrical storm to animate it. The creature went on a mad rampage of destruction until it was itself destroyed. Is that what the Doctor sees when he looks at me? A monster that should never be?
He sits up slowly, wincing at the aches in every part of him. His shattered bones and torn muscles may have knit themselves back together, but lying on cold, wet stone is still damned uncomfortable. He looks down at the boulder he's sitting on. No way did he land on this thing. It's in the middle of the stream, and he fell just short of the far bank. That means—
"Chionis of Sparta," a familiar voice says, as if continuing a previous conversation.
"What?" Jack turns around so quickly that he almost falls off his boulder.
The Time Lord is sitting on another rock, his legs dangling off the edge. His brown suit is as drenched as Jack's clothing, but he looks as relaxed as if he's sitting on a comfy sofa. "Chionis of Sparta. One of the athletes in the . . . ummm, thirty-first Olympiad, 655 B.C. He set a record for the long jump. If you'd made it across, you would have broken his record."
"But instead, I broke my neck," Jack observes in the same casual way that he might say I ate some chips or I went to the pub.
The Doctor winces. "Yeah."
"Clumsy of me."
"Jack, I wish you'd try to—"
"Try to what, Doctor? Understand how difficult this is for you? Accept my fate, my place in the grand scheme of things? Be a good dog and trot at your heels? Learn to sit and roll over on command?" He lets out a mirthless laugh. "Hey, I already know one trick: I can play dead!"
The Doctor's eyes go wide. "That's hardly fair!"
"Fair? You're talking about fair?" The outrage burning inside him — pure and incandescent — warms his chilled body. "You've been treating me like a badly-trained pet. 'Come here, Jack.' 'Go there, Jack.' 'Stay put, Jack.' And it looks to me as though you're planning to make it a permanent arrangement. You've got no right!"
"Perhaps not," the Doctor says calmly, cocking his head to one side.
Jack frowns at him. It couldn't be that easy.
"I'm a Time Lord. When it comes to protecting the temporal integrity of the Universe, welllll . . . we can debate whether or not I've got the right, but I've got the responsibility." And the power. The unspoken words are the loudest of all.
"I understand that," Jack snaps back. "What I don't understand is how my immortality — my wrongness, if you insist — is a threat to space-time."
The Doctor's face goes blank. Utterly expressionless. What does Rose call it? Jack struggles to remember. Right. 'Hiding behind the Great Wall of Gallifrey'.
The Doctor gazes off to one side, as if looking at something that only he can see. He's silent for a long time. "Children of Gallifrey were taken from their families at the age of eight . . ."
The Doctor rarely mentions his lost world. He never discusses anything personal, or details of Time Lord society. Now Jack listens, astounded, to an account of the training of Time Lords. Looking into raw Vortex when they're just kids! I'm surprised more of them didn't go mad! Jack can see the exact moment when the Doctor knows he's made the connection. "But they were children—"
"They were Time Lords," the Doctor corrects, "bred for thousands of generations to perceive the workings of the Web of Time. And they were only looking at Vortex energy, they didn't have an unquenchable spark of it inside their bodies. You're human, Jack." He shakes his head.
Only human. "You think the Vortex energy inside me is going to drive me crazy," Jack says.
Another long silence. "I don't know. It could do." The Doctor snorts. "Yeah, that's right, there's something that the all-knowing Time Lord doesn't know. No one knows. You're not just unprecedented, Jack, you're inconceivable. Literally. I can't understand how you can possibly exist."
"Just lucky, I guess." Behind the flippancy, his mind is racing. This explains the covert glances, the open stares. The Doctor has been watching for signs of madness. The pragmatic side of Jack has to confess that he too might be concerned about an immortal madman with detailed knowledge of temporal technology.
"And I have to say, Jack, that I'm not reassured by this sort of thing." The Doctor's waving hand vaguely includes the gorge, the stream, and the boulder where Jack sits. "And, errr, other things."
The Time Lord's gaze is suddenly sharp and focused, and Jack understands he's not just talking about the other escape attempts. He knows. As the thought flashes through his mind, he remembers the cool, smooth feel of the gun in his hand, followed by a split-second of searing heat.
"What were you thinking?"
What's the right answer? Jack isn't sure he can lie to the Doctor. He settles for a shrug and a vague, "Guess I wasn't."
"Don't do it again," the Doctor says. "Please, Jack."
He sounds unhappy, Jack thinks. Before he can explore this unexpected reaction, a frightening thought is pushing all others from his mind. "Rose! What about Rose? She had Vortex energy inside her. You said it would have killed her—"
"It would have done," the Doctor says. "Killed me instead, but I got all of it out of her. And even though it was inside her, it never was part of her, the way it's part of you. She won't have any aftereffects. I promise."
Jack breathes a silent prayer of thanks. "So . . . how long do you figure it will take you to decide I'm not going nuts?"
"A month? A year? Five? A millennium?" Jack throws the last one out as a joke, but there's no answering smile from the Time Lord.
"Not nearly that long. A century or so should do it," the Doctor says in the cheerful tones of one who thinks he's offering reassurance.
A century! Jack comes from an era when most humans can easily expect to live past 100. Unless, of course, they're in high-risk occupations like Time Agent, con man, or companion to a Time Lord. I guess when I get to the Doctor's age, a century will seem like nothing. Right now he's still in his thirties, and a century is a damned long time.
As hard as that thought is to swallow, he's got a more pressing one on his mind. "So, Doctor," he says casually, as if the answer doesn't matter at all, "what will you do? You know, if you decide I'm losing it?"
"Oh, just tuck you away while I look for a solution."
"You have a locked cell somewhere inside the TARDIS?"
The Doctor frowns. "'Course not, Jack. That would be cruel. I'd have to put you in stasis."
Jack smiles inwardly. Stasis isn't reliable for more than a couple of centuries. Even if the Doctor doesn't release him, he'll get out — eventually.
"Under a temporal seal, that is," the Doctor continues.
Jack blinks. "A what?"
"A temporal seal. It's like a chocolate cream Easter egg, only the egg is a time-lock and the filling is a one picosecond time-loop. Oh, and it's spherical, not ovoid." the Doctor says earnestly, apparently pleased with his confectionery metaphor.
Jack focuses on the terms he recognises. A time-lock is a hollow shell of asynchronous time. It's an impenetrable barrier, but it won't prolong stasis. A time-loop causes the same piece of linear time to repeat over and over. In theory, a short enough loop will be the equivalent of no-time, but . . . "It's impossible to create a time-loop shorter than 18 seconds."
The Doctor's brows shoot up. "That what the Time Agency told you. Jack? It's possible. I've done it myself, more than once."
Jack doesn't see the Doctor's usual 'I'm so clever' grin, the one he wears when he's scored a point in their ongoing game of technological one-upmanship. If anything, the Time Lord looks sad. "Under laboratory conditions—" Jack begins.
"Not in a lab. On a planet. Several planets, actually."
"During the Time War?"
"Yeah." A long silence follows. Eventually the Doctor fixes his gaze on the far wall of the gorge. "There were planets that would have been useful to the Daleks because of mineral resources or strategic location, or a dozen other reasons. We had to deny them those worlds. One option was to blow up their suns. That was usually the easiest solution."
Stunned, Jack nods. Easiest. Blow up the sun. Right. Why do things the hard way?
"We tried to avoid that if the planet was inhabited." The Doctor sighs. "There wasn't— I couldn't—" Still staring straight ahead, he says quietly, "When possible, we put a temporal seal on the planet instead. Everything would be frozen in one infinitesimal moment of time. The inhabitants would be unaware of — well, of everything — until the seal was removed."
"And after the War?" Jack prompts.
"The War was time-locked," the Doctor replies.
"The entire War?" Jack is sure that he heard wrong. He doesn't know much about the Last Great Time War, but he knows that it was fought in every galaxy, across a span of a million years or more. To time-lock an event that huge would take more power than he can imagine and technology so advanced it would make the Time Agency drool. Then again, they're talking about the species that invented time travel.
The last surviving member of that species summons a not-quite-convincing smile. "So you see, Captain, the technique has been field-tested."
It takes Jack a moment to realise that the Doctor is actually trying to be comforting. If Jack does go mad and becomes a threat to the Universe, he can be safely locked away in a dreamless sleep until the end of Time. He won't suffer, won't be aware of his imprisonment.
Of course, it's also a threat. Typical of the Doctor to say something with two very different but equally true meanings. Right on cue, the Time Lord says mildly, "No more running off, Jack."
Jack can almost feel the cold bite of a chain around his neck. Don't give him a reason to shorten the lead, he tells himself. He gives his most charming smile. "I guess I could stick around for a while."
The Doctor studies him. "Your word on it?"
Jack stares back into those dark, knowing eyes. There's a lock on the chain, and he's being asked to snap it shut with his own hands. He gives a brusque nod. "Yeah. My word." There's a chill on the back of his neck that has nothing to do with wet clothes or cold stone. He shivers.
The Doctor looks at him with what he'd swear is real concern. "Right! Back to the TARDIS. You need to dry off and have a nice cuppa. Allons-y!" He jumps off his boulder and lands knee-deep in the stream.
Jack does the same. "How'd you get down here?"
The Doctor points upstream. "Emergency access ladder under the bridge." He moves at a brisk pace in that direction.
Jack hurries until he catches up and is wading beside the Doctor. "What's the rush?"
"The sooner we get back to the TARDIS, the sooner we can have some nice hot tea," the Doctor says brightly. "And I don't want Rose to worry."
Jack nods. What's Rose going to think? Will she be disappointed that he surrendered so easily? Or will she quietly pity him? He's not sure which would be worse. He tries to think pleasant thoughts about steaming showers and dry clothes and hot tea with brandy, but there's a cold, hollow place inside him that may never be warm again.
Rose jumps up from the captain's chair and paces the console room. She could be doing something else to distract herself — making tea, reading, watching the fish in her garden — but this is where she needs to be. Until the blokes come back.
Jack's escaped again. She's sure of it. The Doctor left after breakfast. He didn't say anything, other than to tell her to stay in the TARDIS, but his shoulders were stiff, and his face carefully blank. She doesn't want to upset him, in case he takes it out on Jack, so she's staying where she can see them both as soon as they walk through the door.
If they both come back. There's always a chance that Jack will get away, that he'll move faster than the Doctor can track him. She's not sure how she ought to feel about that. Jack's been so uneasy and resentful. He hates being cooped up. Except he isn't cooped up, not really. It's the idea of not being able to leave that bothers him. He didn't try to escape until the Doctor told him he couldn't go.
If Jack escapes for good, she ought to be happy for him. Perhaps she will be, but she'll also be sad for herself. I'd miss him. And not just the goodbye kisses. It's more fun with him around. She hates to admit it, but the idea of travelling alone with the Doctor makes her uncomfortable. She's not frightened of him — course she isn't — but he's so different to her other Doctor.
Rose hears a key in the lock and whirls around to see both blokes entering the TARDIS. Her mouth drops open. Both of them are soaking wet. There's a chunk of moss stuck to the Doctor's left sleeve, and the back of Jack's t-shirt is ripped to shreds, but neither of them looks to be injured. Thank God! "What happened?"
Jack gives her a grin that she doesn't believe for one minute. "Hot day. Decided to go for a dip."
She looks at the Doctor, expecting to see the cool, unreadable face he uses now for difficult moments. He's smiling, and she'd swear he's truly chuffed about something.
"We took a shortcut through a rather wet place. Couldn't be helped." He looks down at the water dripping from his suit through the grating. "Sorry."
Rose isn't sure if that last remark is addressed to her or to the TARDIS. "Oi! Don't just stand there dripping like a pair of leaky taps!" she scolds. "Get out of those wet clothes before you both catch your death."
She winces at her careless remark, but the blokes explode into laughter. They've both lost it. They've gone barmy. The Doctor gets control of himself first. Jack's loud guffaws trail off in wheezy gasps that sound like a sputtering engine.
"You heard what Rose said, Jack — get yourself into something dry."
Jack is still breathing heavily. "You . . . too. Nobody wants . . . a . . . soggy Time Lord."
"Have some respect for your elders," the Doctor grumbles, but he's smiling as he says it.
Rose shakes her head. "I'm going to see about something hot to eat. You two comedians can join me in the kitchen in thirty minutes, yeah?" She strides out of the console room, feeling annoyed and relieved at the same time.
The unexpected laughter released some of the pressure, so it's not until he's in the shower and reaching for the soap that the tears begin to fall. Camouflage, Jack thinks. Best way to hide a few millilitres of salt water. He presses a clenched fist against his mouth to muffle the guttural sobs that are ripping their way out of his throat. He leans back and slides gradually down the wall of the shower. The tile is smooth against his skin, which is whole and unblemished, not torn and bloodied. He sits beneath the hot, stinging spray, motionless, head bowed, until he is empty. Empty of tears, of emotion, of thought.
Emerging from the shower he feels oddly calm. He dries off and throws on some dry clothing: jeans and a blue t-shirt that matches his eyes. His chrono tells him he's got eight minutes until Rose's deadline. His mirror tells him that he'll pass muster.
For supper Rose serves tomato soup, macaroni cheese, and triple fudge cake. It's not choree stew and tavaberry pie, but it's tasty and filling. The Doctor empties his plate, which is quite a feat considering that he never seems to stop talking. He natters on about everything and nothing. Jack tells a mostly true version of his visit to the Palace of Delights on New Madagascar, and Rose reminisces about the time that she and Keisha tried unsuccessfully to sneak backstage at a concert by pretending to be pizza delivery girls. "The stingy bastards didn't even tip us. We spent twenty quid on the pizzas, and never got to eat a bite!"
After supper they watch a vid. It's Rose's turn to select the film. She's got a mischievous smile as she loads the disc into the player.
As the opening credits roll, the Doctor groans. "Not that!"
Jack peers at the screen. "I know this one!" he says. "We watched part of this in a class at the academy. History of Temporal Theory. It's a classic of the pre-lunar era."
"It's entirely ludicrous, and the novel is just as bad," the Doctor protests.
Jack holds back a chuckle. "Doctor, for a 19th century author, he did a damn good job of guessing some of the details—"
"He didn't guess," the Doctor replies.
Jack blinks. "Doctor, are you saying that you met H.G. Wells?"
"No, I'm saying that H.G. Wells met me," the Doctor explains. "He came on board the TARDIS and did nothing but get underfoot. The man was a nuisance." The Time Lord interjects comments throughout the vid. Some of them are personal remarks about the annoying Herbert George Wells and some of them are technical criticisms.
Jack has a few remarks of his own, and the two of them get into a lively argument about the development of triphasic difuser circuits. He's only vaguely aware of Rose trying to shush them until she starts throwing popcorn at them instead.
When the vid is over, Rose announces it's her turn for a shower. "Hope you blokes left me some hot water," she teases, and disappears in the direction of her bathroom.
Jack heads to their garden to wait for her. Rose appears twenty minutes later, dressed in a faded red tracksuit bottom and a white t-shirt. Her hair is tied in a thick plait. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Jack replies, but he can see the question in her eyes. With a glance and a tilt of his head, he tells her to go ahead and ask.
"I didn't think about it before, because I was so glad to see you," she says hesitantly. "That shirt you were wearing was all torn in back . . . Jack, you died today, didn't you?"
He doesn't hesitate. "Yeah. I misjudged a jump and fell." He doesn't offer the details. He also doesn't reassure her that he's fully healed. She already knows that, and besides, it's not the point. He watches her face shift through shock, sorrow, and pity.
Her smile is bittersweet. "I guess you owe me another goodbye kiss."
"No. No more goodbye kisses. No more running. I'm going to be staying put for a while."
Rose gasps and wraps herself tightly around him. "Jack! 'M so glad!" Her face is alight with joy. "Does the Doctor know? He must do, 'cos he looked much happier tonight."
Jack has already decided how much of the truth to tell. "Yeah, he and I had a little chat, and we came to an understanding." I won't run away and he won't turn me into Sleeping Beauty.
"That's brilliant, Jack." She hugs him tighter, and he can feel that she isn't wearing a bra beneath her t-shirt.
He cups her face loosely between his hands, as he did once before. "Hello, Rose Tyler."
"Hullo," she echoes, and that's all she says before her mouth captures his.
The kiss is insistent and possessive; very different to what he would have planned. Jack usually enjoys a slow seduction, building desire until it becomes need, need until it becomes urgency. But, hey— he's a flexible 51st century guy. He likes to dance, and he doesn't mind one little bit if his partner wants to lead.
Rose pulls away, just enough that he can see the aching hunger on her face and her darkening eyes. Her body's language is clear enough — quickened breath and stiff nipples — but he's cautious enough to want words, too. "Rose, are you sure?"
Her smile is sweet and triumphant. "Your room or mine?"
It's simple to intercept Jack on his way to the kitchen. Rose will still be asleep, he knows. He notes with approval that his companion is looking relaxed. Freshly showered, dressed, and with a spring in his step that's been missing for some time. "Good morning, Jack."
"Morning, Doctor. You eat breakfast yet?"
"Nope. I'd like a word first, if I may?"
Jack stiffens, but his smile doesn't fade. "Sure. What's up?"
The Doctor leads him to the secondary library and settles himself in the brown leather wing chair. Jack stands in front of him, motionless, in the Time Agency version of 'at ease'. Military folderol! Next he'll be saluting and calling me 'sir'. The Doctor resists the temptation to frown. Utmost patience and kindness, he reminds himself. He waves at the mahogany settee. "Sit down, Jack."
Jack sits, back straight, clasped hands resting on his lap.
"This won't take long. I just want to be certain that you're quite clear on the rules." He smiles encouragingly at Jack.
Jack does not look encouraged. "No running off, no killing myself," he recites in a monotone. "Is there something else, Doctor?"
He can't help it. He rolls his eyes. "I'd like you to stop gambling, stop flirting with every life-form you meet, and stop telling outrageous stories that always end with you naked, but I might as well ask a galaxy to stop rotating." Part of his mind idly calculates the forces necessary to accomplish that. He sighs. "And then you wouldn't be you. No, Captain, nothing else."
Jack gives him a grin and a sloppy salute. "Sir! Yes, sir!" He looks suddenly serious. "About that second rule . . ."
I didn't think you'd balk at that one. "Yes?"
"I . . . If Rose is in danger, I will put myself between her and harm, even if it means I get killed." Behind the defiance is a touch of fear, but his gaze doesn't waver.
"You are a good man, Jack Harkness," he says quietly. "I wouldn't ask that of you, but I would never forbid it. Never."
Jack nods. "I'll do the same for you, Doctor. You can be a real son of a bitch sometimes, but the Universe needs you."
The Doctor is startled but pleased. Perhaps he understands more than I expected.
Before the Doctor can find a reply, Jack rises from the settee. "If that's all, I'm going to get the coffee started."
As Jack reaches the door, the Doctor calls out, "One more thing . . ."
Jack turns, his hand still resting on the ornate brass doorknob. "Yes, Doctor?"
"Be good to Rose, yeah? She deserves it." He watches Jack carefully. The man's response will tell him a great deal.
Jack's reaction, a mixture of surprise and apprehension, is almost comical. Does the silly git think he didn't know all along? Soap and even cologne can't cover the distinctive odours of human pheromones that they've been leaving on each other. And a P'taxian Blindworm could see the looks they give each other when they think I'm not paying attention.
Or is he surprised that I'm not angry? I know I made some threats when Jack first came on board. Those were just bluffs to keep him in line. He was a stranger then, and I didn't know if I could trust him.
After an awkward silence, Jack seems to realise that the Doctor is not about to toss him out an airlock. "I intend to give her my best," he says solemnly, "though she deserves much more." His eyes search the Doctor's face.
The Doctor is amused. What does he want? My blessing? He nods, and Jack takes that as answer enough. He leaves the room, closing the door softly behind him.
The Doctor gets up and paces the room. They'll be good for each other. It won't last, of course. Even if Jack were still mortal, he wouldn't want to settle on 21st century Earth, and Rose will eventually want to go home. But while Rose remains on board the TARDIS, they'll be happy together.
He wants his companions to be happy, he truly does. The Doctor won't deny that once he had certain fantasies about Rose Tyler. Fantasies he never let himself act upon. And he knows bloody well that she had fantasies about him, too, though he was careful never to acknowledge them. He was old and war-weary, and no fit mate for a lively young human. Those things are still true. Besides, Time's Protector can't afford such distractions.
Still, companionship is good. He thinks best when he has someone to talk to. And the new development, though it was none of his doing, is very convenient. Rose will help keep Jack contented.
He wants Jack to be contented. It's the essential foundation of his plans. If all goes well, the two of them will be together for a very long time indeed. He's got three more regenerations left. If he doesn't run through them as quickly as he did in his last few lives, he can expect at least another millennium. Time's Protector doesn't have the resources of Gallifrey to call on, but he does have an extraordinary assistant. Clever, capable, familiar with temporal technology, and indestructible. Oh, there's still the worry about madness — he wasn't lying about that — but even if the worst happens, he's confident that he can find a solution.
Eventually, he wants Jack to be more than an assistant. A partner, sharing the responsibility of Time. He can even envision Jack becoming his successor when he's gone. Jack can never be a Time Lord, but it's not impossible for him to bond with the TARDIS. He is her creation, after all. And what a TARDIS can create, a Time Lord can shape.
He shakes his head. You're getting ahead of yourself, Doctor. There's a great deal to be done before you can be that ambitious.
From his coat pocket he pulls out a small book bound in leather: A Practical Treatise on the Ancient Art of Falconry. He opens it to a page marked with a red ribbon. Humming softly to himself, he re-reads the sage advice of Charles James Hartley, Esq.
"The haggard is a hawk caught wild when he is full grown. He has lived long at liberty, and he is therefore the harder to be brought to obedience than the eyass, which is taken from the nest when young. Yet in strength and skill at the hunt he is far superior in every regard, for in the wild he has learnt the necessity of cunning, and has perfected all his wiles. Once caught, attend to his training with utmost patience and kindness. Using a fair lure, teach him to return always to your hand, so that you may be sure of him when at last you loose him to fly. In this manner, you may make of him a most excellent and advantageous creature for your service."
Time's Protector closes the book, returns it to his pocket, and smiles.
Additional notes: The Chinese garden is borrowed from the Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is a lovely and peaceful place. The book on falconry quoted above does not exist, though I drew upon several historical books for the ideas and phrasings.