|Ninth Doctor, Torchwood|
Lilies of the Field by Poetry [Reviews - 11] |
A birthday fic written for Mage. Apologies to her, since it turned out much sadder than originally intended. I Walk in Eternity
, as ever, gave input.
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
- Matthew 5:28-30
"You can't charge those shoes to the Torchwood credit card, Jack," said Ianto patiently, as if speaking to a wayward teenager. "Have you ever heard of corporate ethics?"
The two men were getting quite a few stares as they bickered in the clothing department of Howells, and not just because of Jack's military garb and good looks. "Sure I've heard of it. I've also heard of Margaret Thatcher, but that doesn't mean I ever wanted to get involved with her either," said Jack, waggling his eyebrows.
"Oh no," groaned Ianto. "Don't tell me - hmm." He trailed off mid-sentence at the sight of a filthy, wild-eyed man stumbling into the clothing department. His hair was dirty and matted, his clothing hanging off his gaunt figure in tattered rags. He nearly fell over with every other step. "I thought they didn't allow winos in Howells," murmured Ianto.
"All right, I won't tell you," pouted Jack, still admiring a pair of leather shoes, unaware of the strange visitor to the department store. "But it's a great story. You're missing out."
The ragged man reached into what remained of his pockets and took out a wallet as battered as the rest of his possessions. The money inside the wallet shimmered with holograms clearly foreign to this time and place. Ianto plucked at Jack's sleeve, prompting him to put down the shoes and turn around.
Ianto expected Jack to be concerned. He didn't expect Jack to turn ghost-white and clench Ianto's wrist so tightly that he began to lose circulation in his hand. A battle raged visibly behind the ageless blue eyes; there seemed to be several magnetic forces loose in the room that affected only Jack, one that pulled him toward the scruffy wino, and one that repelled him. Finally, Ianto said, "You want to help him. Do it. We'll deal with the consequences."
Jack took a hesitant step toward the scruffy stranger, whose head snapped toward him in a gesture that reminded Ianto of a hawk spotting a creature rustling through the grass below. There was something vaguely familiar in the aquiline contours of the man's face, Ianto thought, the way the cheekbones jutted out like carved diamonds, the ancient knowledge in his eyes. For a moment, Ianto felt those same magnetic forces, one pulling him forward, one pushing him back. He began to regret his encouragement to Jack.
The stranger retreated behind a rack of peacoats, but Jack was not to be deterred. Ianto watched from what he hoped was a safe distance as Jack made a cautious approach, as if toward a skittish animal. When Jack joined him behind the clothing rack, the stranger spoke in a hoarse growl, as if he hadn't spoken English in several decades. “What do you want?” The words were barely intelligible.
“You have to trust me,” Jack said slowly, scarcely daring to breathe. “Doctor.”
Ianto's eyes widened. The Doctor looked like a puppet whose strings had all been cut. “I don't remember you,” he said in a hollow whisper. “Whoever you are, I can't remember. I'm sorry. I've seen too much — I can't remember —” The words were torn out of his throat; it seemed to Ianto that he must have spent some interminable interval screaming.
“Shh,” said Jack, edging a bit closer. Ianto felt himself drawing a bit nearer as well, in spite of himself. “Don't worry. You haven't met me yet. But you will. You have to believe that I'd do anything for you.” He's died for you, Ianto found himself thinking.
The feral intensity ebbed from the Doctor; he just looked tired and scared. “Shall we get him some proper clothes, sir?” Ianto suggested. He felt as if he were watching himself from afar. He was in a department store in Cardiff with the most powerful alien he had ever encountered, offering to buy him new clothes. Jack opened his mouth with that wicked gleam in his eye that meant he was about to make some joke about finally getting the Doctor out of his clothes, but Ianto elbowed him in the ribs before he could follow through.
“Go ahead,” said Jack, but the clothing department of Howells seemed like a field of flowers too thin and delicate to shield the man from his own suffering. Ianto turned away, unable to look at the Doctor any longer. As he rifled through stacks of shirts, he wondered if this was just petty jealousy. No, it couldn't be. If he were jealous toward Jack's loves, he would have already gone on an interplanetary angry rampage. Asking Jack to love Ianto alone was like asking the moon to orbit backwards. That wasn't it. It was that the Doctor was experiencing pain that out of all the beings in all the worlds in all the galaxies, only Jack could begin to understand.
He found a dark jumper, and dark jeans as greaves for the long, lean legs. The cloth of the jumper was petal-soft in Ianto's hands. Not strong enough. What could Howells offer to protect the Doctor against the universe?
There it was on the next rack: the thick casing, the sartorial armor. Ianto took the leather jacket and folded it on top of the jumper.
The Doctor was leaning on Jack as he guided him toward the fitting rooms, a pair of new boots in hand. The expression on Jack's face was infinitely tender, the same expression he wore while dressing Ianto's wounds. “Easy now,” said Jack. “Go in there and I'll pass you some clothes under the door.” The Doctor shuffled in like some reanimated corpse. Jack shut the door behind him, not without reluctance. “D'you think we could charge these to the — ” He turned around and saw the clothing Ianto had selected, and his voice died in his throat. The gratitude in his eyes was all the more heartfelt for its silence. With a reverence that was almost religious, Jack passed the jeans, the jumper, and the leather jacket under the door.
A new man emerged from the dressing room. His grief was closely guarded by layers of fabric. Still, his face was streaked with grime, his long hair snarled in impenetrable tangles. Jack was utterly immobilized by this sight, so Ianto said, “Let's go pay for these, then. Not from Torchwood funds.” It took a gentle hand on Jack's shoulder to stir him from his reverie. He gathered up the Doctor's old rags, steered him toward the cashier, and paid for the clothes out of his own pocket.
“I'll be off then,” said the Doctor as soon as they were outside. His voice was less guttural now.
“Hang on,” said Ianto. “Let me cut your hair. It's filthy.” He heard Jack's breath hitch, and knew he had made the right move.
“I'll go get the scissors from the SUV,” said Jack before the Doctor could protest. “Is the TARDIS out on the Plass?” The Doctor gave a curt nod. Ianto's forehead creased into a question, which Jack cut off with a tiny shake of his head. I'll explain later. “I'll meet you there, then.”
Ianto was glad that the Doctor could now walk unsupported. He felt that only someone as solid and unwavering as Jack would be able to steady the Doctor. They walked in silence until halfway through, when the alien brought the full force of his gaze to bear on Ianto and said, “Who are you, then?”
Who was he, indeed, to someone like the Doctor? Ianto struggled to form an answer. “One day, you'll face a terrible enemy, with the whole of creation at stake. I risked everything to help you.” He swallowed nervously under the weight of the Doctor's scrutiny. “That's who I am.”
The Doctor seemed to accept this answer, and they passed the rest of the walk in silence. Jack was waiting for them next to an antique police box parked in the middle of the Plass. Ianto was understandably curious, but only arched an eyebrow at Jack. “Let's just say for now that I traveled in there with him,” said Jack, passing Ianto a pair of scissors.
“You traveled in there with him?” Ianto echoed. “Is that what they're calling it these days?” he added in an undertone.
“I travel alone,” said the Doctor, folding his arms in a definitive sort of way.
“Not forever,” Jack insisted. “Just stand still so Ianto can cut your hair.”
Ianto drew up behind the Doctor. The smell of his hair (burning plastic, charred flesh, ozone, and sulfur) made him sick. He suppressed the urge to gag and took the scissors to his hair. It floated away on the wind like dandelion clocks. At the edge of his awareness, Ianto noticed Jack leave and come back with something tucked under his coat, but cutting the Doctor's hair had put him in a sort of trance that quieted any questions Jack's behavior might have raised in his mind.
Once the Doctor's hair was evenly cropped, he lurched toward the phone box. “Wait,” said Jack, tapping the Doctor's shoulder. He blinked, as if he had forgotten the humans were there and was suddenly reminded of their presence. “You're going to have to forget, or it'll disrupt the timeline. Take this once you're back in the TARDIS.” Jack gave him a dose of Retcon. “One last thing.” He took out what he had hidden under his coat: a bouquet of roses, lilies, and forget-me-nots. “Keep it in the TARDIS, to remind you that there's a place in the universe where you belong.” His smile was soft, lacking its usual devilish slant.
The Doctor clutched the bouquet to his chest. For the first time since they met, his expression softened. It wasn't a smile, but it was a start. “How do I look?” he said.
“Beautiful,” said Jack.
Ianto thought for a moment. “Like a soldier,” he said.
An endless moment bloomed. The Doctor watched them, like Osiris weighing the souls of the dead against a feather, Ianto thought. He gave Jack a forget-me-not, and Ianto a lily. Then he disappeared into the TARDIS. Echoes of the universe rasped and whined as the blue box faded away. Jack looked on, his whole body arching toward its flickering shadow, his lips parted. Once all trace of it had gone, their eyes met.
“I understand,” said Ianto.
After a lonely century of wandering the universe, cleansing the ash of Gallifrey mote by mote, the Doctor came across a room in the TARDIS he'd long forgotten. It was empty but for a plain table with a glass vase on top. In the vase was a bouquet of roses, lilies, and forget-me-nots, as fresh as it was the day he received it.
The Doctor couldn't remember that day, but the smell of the flowers did bring back a memory. It reminded him of a world he loved, a place that had once been his home. “It's been so long,” the Doctor murmured. He spun one of the rose stems between his fingers, then withdrew and returned to the console room.
He pulled levers, spun dials, and punched buttons. A manic grin split his face. The TARDIS sang adventure.