Young Men Among Roses by KindKit [Reviews - 2] |
Apparently there was a well-known British rose gardener and breeder named Jack Harkness; "Harkness roses" are famous. That coincidence led, via several permutations, to this story. I've borrowed my title from a miniature portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, one of Jack's lines from Matthew Arnold, and my setting and some odds and ends from Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. Part of the premise comes from the "earth arc" of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, in which the amnesiac Doctor spends the twentieth century on earth, never knowing who he is.
Incidentally, this story is composed of four drabbles, a double drabble, and a quadruple drabble.
The first he sees of Craiglockhart is a struggling patch of rose garden and the man standing in it. Thin, hunch-shouldered, his incipient curls making chaos out of what was once an army haircut, the man's half a foot from the flowers and staring at them. He turns, though, watches the car travel up the drive, and his face is the saddest thing Jack can imagine.
Jack wants, startlingly, to kiss him.
This is useful knowledge, if nothing he can tell the doctors. He's got a second name for himself now, as strange as the first. Lieutenant Jack Harkness. Pervert.
Outside work's supposed to be healing, so all the men get jobs. It's not hard to wangle the rose garden; most of his fellow loonies can't bear sweet smells.
The man with the lonely face is called John Smith. Jack asked his roommate, because John Smith doesn't talk. Soon Jack stops trying to talk for two. He wouldn't call their silence comfortable, but it's full.
Once, pruning, John gets a thorn in the wrist and gasps. It's the first sound Jack's heard him make. John looks at him, eyes wide, and Jack softly touches his shoulder. He won't tell anyone.
There's a curfew, but the staff ignore a bit of after-dark perambulating on the grounds. Nightly, they meet at the rose garden bench and sit in the darkness.
It's September. Jack hates that winter's coming.
A shooting star streaks across Cassiopeia. "John, look! No, sorry, you missed it."
John looks up, uselessly, then turns away and shudders.
For what? The stars, the autumn, the war, his lost words, something he hides in his fierce silence?
Jack holds him, guiltily rejoicing. Eventually John pulls away, mopping his face, his breathing gone strange.
A harsh sigh.
It's cold in the toolshed, but it's the best they can do. A lumpy floor and two spread coats.
"Have you - sorry, stupid of me."
Jack wriggles closer. "I'm sure I have." Below thought, his body remembers.
"I'm sure I haven't." But he lets Jack kiss him, opens his lips to it. "It's so strange . . ."
Better to leave no time for worry. "This is right," Jack says. His sole certainty.
Kissing John, rousing him past the fear, reaching through scratchy wool to take him in hand and then mouth. Tasting him at the end. Guiding John's hand to him, their entwined fingers stroking Jack's prick. This is right.
They're quiet afterwards. He can't even hear John's breathing. He searches happily for John's ear in the dark and whispers, "That was beautiful."
"I'm glad," John answers. So polite.
Surely it felt good to John. John came, so it must have felt good.
"Meet me here tomorrow?" Jack asks. The first time's never perfect. He knows that, somehow.
"I . . . all right." A pause. "I love you, Jack."
"Yes," Jack says, and kisses him, sure now that it wasn't right. Isn't. It only should have been.
"It had to happen eventually," John says, face downturned as he spreads mulch.
A kind and obvious lie. Jack could've hidden his recovery, like John. He's hiding most of it anyway, these extraordinary memories.
"I can't stay."
"I can't go back. I can't kill anyone else."
Jack says nothing. It's so powerful, silence.
"Would you have stayed, if I - ?"
Jack knows now that he's not an honest man. But this truth hurts, and so he tells it. "Yes."
Full circle. A man with a lonely, lovely face, staring at roses.
"Goodbye, John," Jack says.
Words. John has so many now. Talking all the time, he shows Jack round the little house and its glorious garden. He identifies the plants, enthusiastic with Latin polysyllables.
His hair is long, and his coat belongs in the last century. He's beautiful. The uniform, Jack realizes, never suited him at all.
"Here, look at this." John takes his arm without shyness, steering him towards a cluster of roses. They're a deep red, darker than blood, with wide velvety petals. "I bred this variety myself."
With John's hand still tucked under his elbow, Jack makes himself look the things over. "They're very fine." He should never have come, stirring up memories he'd gladly lose.
"I named it the Jack Harkness."
"John -" He steps away, out of John's reach.
"I was in despair, Jack. And you - "
"Loved you. I loved you."
"Yes." John's arm settles briefly around Jack's shoulders. "Thank you."
There's a bench, naturally. It's Jack who first goes to it and sits down. Around them, the afternoon turns golden, then red, while birds chirp. Distantly, Jack can hear the sea. The air smells of salt and roses.
And after all, Jack's not sorry he came. Their last goodbye kept throbbing in him like a toothache; from now on, he'll have this slow, quiet one instead. When John's hand brushes his, he clasps and holds it.
"For a while," John says, breaking the long silence, "I wished you'd never remembered anything."
"So did I, sometimes."
"But it's better to remember. It's better that you found yourself again. It's - it must have been awful, before. Lonely, I mean. Frightening."
A field hospital, shaken awake by an orderly saying a name he didn't recognize. A dozen doctors with a hundred questions. Ambulance, train, boat, more trains, from Flanders to Scotland, and all of them full of strangers. But then he arrived. "I wasn't lonely."
John sighs, echoing the faint sound of the tide. The eternal note of sadness, Jack thinks. He doesn't know why, and perhaps John doesn't either, but John was always lonely. A little less so, with him. Not enough. There was an abyss between them, one John saw and Jack didn't, and when they made love John only saw it closer to.
"Jack, I'm sorry, I wish - "
"Shh." Jack puts both arms around him. "Look at the sky. The stars are coming out."