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: Sorry for the long delay since the last posting. I really got stuck on this chapter. *hangs head in shame* The next chapter should be the last. Thanks to my wonderful betas, yamx and the super-speedy wendymr.
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
or read it on Teaspoon
"Right, then," Rose says as she jumps off the bed. "Where do we start?"
Jack looks at his lover. There's a hardness on her face that probably mirrors his own. In his first few days on the TARDIS, he didn't believe Rose could be dangerous. Clever, yes. Courageous, definitely. That much he knew from the beginning, but he'd thought her no more fierce than a kitten displaying its tiny claws.
When did he begin to see her differently? When the Sharvan bandits attacked? In the middle of the Ephche Revolution? He's not sure, but he knows what convinced him that his 'kitten' was as harmless as a Tyrniv hunting-cat . . .
They were prisoners on a Skerrin warship. Rose crawled through the service ducts, then hung by her knees from an electrical conduit in the compartment where he and the Doctor were being interrogated. Jack watched in horror from the corner of his eye as she dangled three metres above the floor, wiggling to get into position.
If the Skerrin Inquisitor had turned his head for any reason, he would have seen Rose, and could have ripped her open with one careless swipe of his serrated dagger. He was -- thank gods! -- too busy threatening his captives. Rose pulled a large wad of gum from her mouth and slapped it over the rear intake valve of the Inquisitor's battlesuit. She dismounted with a flip that left her standing a safe distance from the choking, convulsing Skerrin. Rose didn't remove the gum until the nearly-comatose Inquisitor was bound with his own shackles. "You're lucky that my blokes aren't hurt," she said, jabbing the dagger in the air to emphasise each word. And she described in detail what she would have done to avenge them.
Jack was shocked by Rose's vehemence -- and by her possessiveness. It wasn't what he was used to from someone who was neither a lover nor a relative. The Doctor had said very little, but his cool, thoughtful gaze kept shifting from Rose to Jack and back again . . .
Rose's eyes widen, and then she smiles at him. "Should do, yeah. And while we're walking, might say hullo to some people we know." She fiddles idly with one of her braids. "We hoping to say hullo to anyone in particular?"
"Right now," Jack says casually, "I think we should take a nice, lazy stroll. Fresh air and sunshine should do me good, don't you think?"
"Several," Jack answers promptly, "but especially Kurden."
"But you said--"
"I don't suspect him, but I'd like to know where he got that juice. If I can get a sample, that might help me track down the 'special ingredient'. Kurden is the beginning of that trail."
Rose offers Jack her arm. "You're still a bit weak, yeah?" She winks. "Might get dizzy, lose your balance..."
Camouflage. Clever girl. As they walk down the corridor towards the exit, Jack's pace slows. He lets his whole body sag slightly, as if gravity has just increased.
They step out together into the afternoon brilliance, a harmless invalid and his overprotective lover.
If things go pear-shaped -- well, more than they have already -- Rose and Jack can run for the TARDIS. He spends 1.75 seconds considering their likely reaction to such an order, and shakes his head. Humans! They're so brilliantly, foolishly loyal.
He leans over the console and stares at the fast-return switch. He's told Rose and Jack that it will take the TARDIS back to the last time and place it materialised. And yeah, it does exactly what it says on the tin. He's just not sure that he ought to return to that particular moment: an awkward distance from the settlement, and in front of witnesses who saw him acting the madman less than a minute before. Better to aim for the centre of the settlement where he can find his partners quickly.
Precision landings -- like the ones he performed during that hideous mess with Rose's dad -- have to be manually programmed. Fortunately, he's not going in blind. The TARDIS databanks now have some very detailed scans of Haven. His hands move with deliberate slowness across the switches that determine dimensional locality. When those are set, he begins to turn the dial of the chronostatic transector, spinning it towards the temporal coordinates he wants.
The dial sticks at a setting somewhat later than he'd planned. With just an extra bit of force, he twists it into the position he wants. A moment later, the console vibrates, and the dial begins to drift in a clockwise direction. "No you don't!' He spins it back to where it ought to be. It remains motionless, but after he double-checks his pockets for the medscanner he wants to bring along, the dial has changed again.
"What's this about?" he says aloud, the Gallifreyan phrase feeling both familiar and awkward on his tongue. He doesn't speak his birth language often. He doesn't need words in any language to communicate with the TARDIS, but sometimes he indulges himself. Or punishes himself. He's never quite sure which it is.
The TARDIS does not reply. The pitch of the engines does not change, nor does the soft hum in the back of his mind. If she's changing the setting on purpose, she's being vague about it. He turns the dial once more, and this time it remains where he left it. She's got an opinion, but she won't insist. He frowns at her.
His hand hovers over the dial. The TARDIS is sapient and brilliant in her own way, but she and her kind were never bred for decision-making. No, it's his responsibility. His hand descends, his fingers grasp and twist. His decision, but no reason he can't take some advice from an old friend.
Rose feels invisible. Oh, everyone is polite, and they greet her, but she's an afterthought. This isn't about you, she scolds herself. We're trying to find a poisoner. Besides, there's one advantage to being mostly ignored: she can study the locals and their reactions.
They don't have any trouble finding people to talk to. As they stroll along, people approach them. There's never a crowd, just one person (or two or three) detouring across the wide plaza, or spilling out of the doors of the cliff-dwellings. Nearly everyone wants to talk to them, including A'atrans they've never met. Mostly they want to ask Jack how he's doing, or thank him for the repairs to the power system.
The Journeyers are more formal, more restrained than the Haveners, but maybe that's just because they're older. The Haveners are more openly curious. Where is the Doctor? How long are the offworlders staying? Do they really have a demat pod?
She lets Jack answer the questions. He's taking care of some things on the ship. Until the repairs are finished. Not exactly -- it's a different technology.
Jack behaves as though he's on holiday and is strolling along a seaside promenade. He jokes with the children and chats up the adults. Even when it's clear that an individual has nothing useful to say, Jack is in no rush to move along.
Rose takes her cue from him. She smiles, chimes in with small talk when it feels right, and doesn't let her body show any of the impatience she feels. The skills she learnt at Henrik's are still coming in useful, even in a galaxy far, far away.
After what feels like days of this and is probably only an hour, a familiar figure in green darts out of the next doorway. "Oi! Kurden!" Rose calls.
"Rose! Jack!" The boy bows clumsily to each of them in turn.
Kurden asks the expected questions, and Jack answers them, but in more detail than he gave the others. Kurden drinks in every word. Rose smiles to herself. She knows a case of hero worship when she sees one.
After ten minutes of conversation, Jack says casually, "Maybe you could answer a question for me."
The boy's eyes go wide, but under his surprise is delight at the idea that he can do something for his idol.
Jack explains that his illness was caused by an allergy -- most likely a spice in the juice. "If I can get a sample of the juice, I should be able to identify the spice. Then I can avoid it, instead of living on bread and water for the rest of my stay here. So if you could tell me who brewed that delicious and very troublesome beverage..."
Kurden frowns. "I don't know. He just asked me to bring it up top and to be sure the visitors got some. Because it's special. But he would know. I think."
"Who's he?" Rose asks.
He blinks at her. "Merron."
He smiles at Kurden, and that doesn't take much effort, because he's a good kid. A good kid with his eyes on the stars, who deserves better than to waste his talent on a lifetime of minor maintenance tasks. "Thanks. I'll ask him when I see him." He adds just enough chitchat to take Kurden's thoughts away from Merron, then gradually ends the conversation.
Jack doesn't have to make any special effort to keep his thoughts from showing. It's second nature by now, and has been for more years. That's one way he knew he was falling for Rose and the Doctor -- he wanted them to see beyond the mask he wore for casual encounters.
As they stroll away, Rose murmurs, "Not Merron. He'd throw a punch -- or a knife if he was mad enough, but not poison."
"I agree," Jack says. He hasn't met the young sculptor, but Rose described her two encounters with the boy to him. "His brother Kiy isn't the type, either. No gutsy enough or desperate enough. Besides, where the hell would they get the stuff? It's not like that simple-but-nasty gas they welcomed us with. You can't keep a tin of it in the cupboard just in case a telepathic visitor wanders by. A neurotoxin like that has to be compounded within two hours of use." He frowns. "We have to follow the trail further back. I hate to say it, but I don't think I can get Merron to talk to me. Right now I'm probably his least favourite person on the planet."
"He doesn't exactly think of me as his best mate," Rose says, "but do we need to talk to him?"
"What's the alternative?"
"Do the Sherlock Holmes bit."
Jack frowns. Since coming aboard the TARDIS he's done a lot of reading about pop culture of early 21st Century Earth, but Rose still manages to toss out references that baffle him.
Jack agrees. "And we've already crossed both of them off the list."
"Could be someone who hates all Outsiders," Rose says. "Could even be someone we haven't met." She pulls a face. "So much for motive."
Jack holds up two fingers. "Opportunity. Who could have slipped a few drops of liquid into the juice?"
"Almost anyone," Rose replies. "It prob'ly wasn't locked up. Did you notice? They don't have locks on most of the doors here."
Jack nods. "Yeah, they're a trusting lot. At least, they trust each other. It's a societal pattern that--"
They turn to see the young woman who escorted them to the VIP dinner, which seems like a million years ago. "Honoured guests," she repeats, "the Council of Elders wish to speak with you. Please, accompany me."
Jack and Rose exchange glances. Without a word, they follow their guide to the circular Hall of Meeting.
All eleven Elders are there, wearing their ceremonial scarves. Elder Dathiha looks at Jack. "Captain, are you well?"
He gives her a tired smile. "Much better, thanks."
Eventually she stops. Our turn. Rose glances at Jack. He's loads better than me at diplomacy, she thinks, but he just nods encouragingly at her. "Elder, we're glad we were able to help you with your equipment and . . . stuff. There's a saying on my planet that we call The Golden Rule. 'Do unto others as you would have them do to you.'"
Dathiha looks at Jack. "And on your planet, do they have this saying, also?"
"And the Doctor?"
"The Doctor makes his own rules, and helping people is number one," Rose says.
"I had hoped to offer thanks to the Doctor, also. He will perhaps return soon?"
"Soon," Rose agrees.
"But if he is delayed?" another Elder asks. "What then?"
"But he was unwell when he left," Dathiha says. "If he does not return . . ."
The Elder sounds worried, which is almost enough to make Rose like her until the penny drops. She's not worried about the Doctor, she's worried that she's gonna be stuck with a couple of Outsiders. The idea that the Doctor's absence means nothing to these people -- except inconvenience -- makes her so furious that at first she doesn't hear what Jack's saying.
"--some tools, I can signal the next ship that passes near this system."
"No!" It's Elder Priyan, Merron's dad. "That would bring more Outsiders here. Unacceptable!"
Jack shrugs. "Then we'll wait until the Doctor gets back."
The Elders are silent.
"We can make ourselves useful," Jack says.
"You are welcome to stay," Elder Sojore says. She looks at Priyan. "We are in their debt. And it will give us an opportunity to practise the Shining Virtue of hospitality."
"They were to be paid for their assistance," Priyan grumbles. He lowers his voice, but not quite low enough. "Havru save us, what if they breed?"
Rose is too stunned to say anything. Jack squeezes her hand so tightly that it's almost painful. She turns and sees that his face is wearing a polite mask. He's pretending he didn't hear anything. She ought to do the same -- they've got more important things to worry about than this pompous wanker -- but she badly wants to give him several pieces of her mind. She's wrestling with temptation when the stone chamber begins to echo with a loud noise. It's harsh and grating, and it's the sweetest sound she's ever heard.
Next to the doorway, the TARDIS is materialising.
He wants to rush out the door as soon as the materialisation sequence is complete. Instead, he forces himself to be cautious and check the TARDIS scanner. He doesn't care for his own sake, but he doesn't want to run into the middle of a tense situation and make it worse for Jack and Rose. The scanner shows that the TARDIS is inside the Council Chamber. There are his companions, looking well enough, so far as he can tell. No guards or weapons in sight -- just eleven gobsmacked Elders, staring in the direction of the TARDIS. He opens the door and steps out.
He had something clever to say. He's certain he did, only he can't recall it just at the moment, because his arms are full of Rose Tyler, and Jack Harkness is wrapped around both of them. The warmth of their human bodies against his feels like sunshine after a winter night. Thank you, he says silently to whatever Fate or Power gave him this undeserved gift.
"Doc, are you okay?"
"You all right, Doctor?"
His companions speak almost in chorus, still clinging to him. It's a good job that he's got respiratory bypass, because he's likely to need it if they squeeze him any tighter.
"What's all this fuss?" he scolds, letting his grin deliver his true message. "'M fine." He gently disentangles himself, and pulls away just far enough to see them both. "You two all right?" Overlapping voices give him the answer he wants to hear. He studies Jack, and an icy lump the size of a comet is suddenly wedged in his throat. "How badly did I hurt you?"
Jack gives him a blank look. "Hurt me?" he echoes.
Time and Stars, does he have memory loss? "There was blood," he says, holding out his well-scrubbed hands as if they still carried the evidence of his unintentional betrayal. Your blood on my hands.
"I'm a little fuzzy about some of the details, but I'm sure I'd remember that," Jack says slowly.
Rose shakes her head vigorously. "Doctor, you didn't hurt him." He starts to tell her that he doesn't want comforting lies, but she grasps his shoulders and pulls him close. "You didn't hurt anybody. Jack had a nosebleed. You probably got some of his blood on you when you shoved him out of your way. He was already bleeding before you ever touched him." Her eyes are kind; her voice, serious. "You didn't hurt him," she repeats, and the truth rings in her words.
His hearts start beating again. "I thought--" he begins, then cuts himself off. No need to burden them with his nightmares. The memory of awakening on the TARDIS, alone and stained with his lover's blood, is a horror that will haunt him for the rest of his lives.
"We were worried about you, too," Jack says. He moves closer, and his voice drops to a murmur. "It was poison, probably in the juice. Some kind of psychotropic drug that--"
"Only affects telepaths," the Doctor finishes. "Yeah, there was enough left in your blood and mine to run a spectrographic analysis. The base compound came from a plant native to this world, but someone did a pretty sophisticated job of refinin' it." He glances at the eleven Elders who are staring at him from across the room. In a moment, the shock will wear off, and they'll have questions that he isn't prepared to answer just yet. "What do they know?"
"They think you and I had an allergic reaction to one of the spices in the juice," Jack replies.
Rose whispers, "Sojore -- she's their medic -- thought Jack and I belonged to different species, 'cos I didn't get sick. We didn't tell her about the telepathic stuff."
He nods, already thinking ahead to the tests he wants to run on Jack. The lad looks well enough, but he needs to be certain for his own peace of mind.
"She did her best to take care of Jack," Rose continues, "but she didn't want to give any medicine to him, on account of him being an alien. She was afraid it might make him sicker."
"I slept it off," Jack says. "Doctor, I'm all right. It wasn't fun, but I've had hangovers that were worse."
"Do you know who did it?" The anger inside him is as cold as the fear it replaced.
The humans shake their heads. "We've been trying to work it out," Rose says. "Anyone could have got at the juice."
Jack adds, "Motive doesn't help, either. Plenty of people here with no love for Outsiders."
Rose frowns. "We never got to the third part. Means. That could narrow down the list of suspects. If we had a list."
"The drug is derived from a local plant," the Doctor reminds her.
Rose shakes her head at him. "'S not what I'm talking about. There are poisonous plants in England, but I wouldn't recognise them, or know what to do with them." She pulls a face. "You two, where you come from, it's like everybody's got A Levels in everything. I don't think it's like that here. A weaver or a carver wouldn't need to know advanced chemistry, or biology, or whatever. But maybe someone who dyes fabric -- they use plants for that, right? Or a brewer?"
He doesn't answer -- can't answer -- because thoughts are tumbling though his mind like molecules in an autocatalytic cascade reaction. Rose Tyler, you are brilliant, you are! He strides to the centre of the chamber, facing the semi-circle of A'atrans.
Elder Dathiha begins a greeting, but he cuts her off with a curt gesture. All of his attention is on one person. "Elder Sojore. You looked after my friend Jack?"
She inclines her head. "I did, though there was little I could do for him."
His voice is amazingly calm, considering the fury roiling inside him. "I think you did more'n enough for him -- or maybe I should say 'to him', seein' as you're the one who poisoned him. You mind explainin' why?"