“What is it with you and Queens?” Jack asked, gazing meditatively up at the ceiling.
“No idea,” the Doctor replied from behind Jack, half sighing. The two of them were bound back-to-back by the wrists and elbows, sitting on a hard, cold, concrete floor. “It’s nothing I’m doing on purpose . . .”
Jack had to laugh, somewhat acidly. “Maybe that’s part of it — for some reason you stop thinking around royalty.”
“Jack . . .” the Doctor said, warningly.
“I mean, who thinks it’s a good idea to go walking through a ring of armed guards . . . “
“Jaaaaack,” the Doctor said, again, his voice shading down into a near-growl that would have sent a Dalek scuttling for cover.
Jack, not being a Dalek, carried on as if he hadn’t heard.
“ . . . pick up one of the Crown Jewels and lick it . . .”
“Jack . . .” the Doctor said, one more time, sounding tired and resigned. He rolled his head back to rest on his shoulders, bumping the back of Jack’s head in the process.
“ . . . and then announce to the world that it’s a fake?”
“Well, it was. Is. I mean, anyone could see the refractive index was all wrong,” the Doctor interjected, in a tone of absolute reason.
“Doctor, the Ya-terra Ruby is the most famous thing in this sector of the galaxy. It’s been a source of planetary pride since this place was settled.”
“Well, there you go. Time they found out. It’s no good living a lie.”
Jack groaned. “The only reason they didn’t shoot you is that everyone, guards included, was standing there with their mouths hanging open ‘cuz they couldn’t believe you’d just done that. I still can’t believe you did it . . .”
The Doctor suddenly exploded into a counterattack, bouncing so forcefully to punctuate his words that his backside actually levitated off the concrete.
“Oh! Oh, it’s all my fault is it?” he yelled, voice rising in pitch. “I don’t think so, Jack Harkness! After all, I wasn’t the one who decided that chatting up the guard sergeant was a brilliant idea . . .!”
“Hey! He looked ‘flexible,’ I thought I could distract him. So my radar was off, for once. I was trying to help you out!”
“Yes, well, the next time the urge to assist me in that manner strikes you, resist it, all right? If you had, I might have been able to talk my way out of it!”
“Oh, as if!” Jack yelled back. “You were just digging yourself deeper, telling them they could stand to get a proper appraiser in to look at the stuff!”
“Well at least you wouldn’t have ended up here with me!” the Doctor yelled back, turning his head so he was as close to facing Jack as he could get and putting just a hint of his full, Time Lord lungpower into it.
Jack, ears ringing, subsided. After a moment, he sighed, and leaned his head back, in a gesture of resignation. The Doctor, feeling the tension slipping out of his companion, relaxed slightly, and mirrored the gesture, so that they ended up with their heads resting back-to-back.
After a moment’s silent consideration of the ceiling, the Doctor said, in a considerably calmer tone of voice, “At least Rose is still out there, somewhere. She’ll think of something. She’s brilliant.”
“She sure is,” Jack agreed. He rolled his head slightly to the side, though he remained leaning back against the Doctor. “Y’know, that little window up there isn’t barred. I bet I could boost you up to it. It’s not big, but with your skinny shoulders . . .”
Jack huffed in annoyance. “Your slender-but-oh-so-masculine shoulders . . .” he corrected, dryly.
“ . . . you could probably slip through.”
The Doctor rolled his head so he could consider the window in question. It was the only opening (beyond the no-doubt guarded door) in what seemed to be a dim, empty, utilitarian cellar.
“Possibly,” he said, in the judicious tone of a man familiar with escaping the custody of local authorities. “However, there’s still the small problem of us being rather firmly tied up.”
Jack wiggled experimentally. “No kidding, 'firmly.' That tall one knows his knots. I think he’s done this sort of thing before . . .”
The Doctor groaned at Jack’s speculative tone. “Stop it, Jack. You’re rapidly approaching the zone of ‘too much information.’”
“Just because you don’t swing in that direction is no reason to get all judgmental,” Jack began, but he quieted at a warning growl from the Doctor. Without saying anything more, he began shifting his wrists and hands, testing the ropes for the umpteenth time.
The Doctor yelped and jumped. “Time and place, Jack,” he said, in a somewhat strangled voice.
“Relax! I was just feeling around to see if I could reach any knots. I can’t. No slack, either, even though I was tensing up while they tied us . . .”
“Same here,” the Doctor admitted.
Another moment of glum, shared silence.
“D’you think,” Jack began again, speculatively, “you could snap the rope?”
The Doctor considered. “It’s natural fiber, but I don’t know what kind, offhand, and have no idea what its tensile strength is,” he said, his tone of voice going so analytical Jack could almost picture him wearing his reading glasses as he spoke. The Doctor tensed and shifted, testing leverage, and Jack could feel stronger-than-human muscles coiling against his own back and shoulders, even through the multiple layers of fabric.
“Possibly,” the Doctor concluded, voice nearly distant in its detachment. “However, I’d almost certainly break one or both of your forearms in the process.” He sighed, and his voice warmed again, returning to its normal tone. “Not much of an option — not unless there’s nothing else.”
“So we wait for Rose,” Jack said.
“Our knight in shining armor,” the Doctor agreed. “Or would that be princess? But princesses aren’t normally known for wearing armor, so that would tend to muck up the imagery. Unless, of course, we were on Guloro Prime, where princesses do wear armor, all the time. Very paranoid lot, the Gulorhora royal family. D’you know they sleep in shifts, so nobody can ever get the drop on them all at once . . .?”
Jack groaned under his breath.
“What?” the Doctor asked.
“Those broken arms are looking better all the time,” Jack said, in such a conversational voice it took a moment for his implication to sink in.
When it did, the Doctor began sputtering in indignation.
Before he could get out a coherent response, there came the metallic scrape and clank of a lock being undone, followed by the thump of a heavy door being pushed open.
Both Jack and the Doctor turned their heads to blink at the comparatively dazzling light that flooded into their dark little cellar. Silhouetted against the light was a familiar, slender figure.
They couldn’t read her expression, since her face was backlit and their eyes hadn’t yet adjusted, but her pose — one hand resting on her cocked hip — bespoke relaxed amusement, as did her tone of voice.
“All right,” Rose said, sounding as if she were tying not to laugh. “No need for broken arms or climbing out through windows. I’m here to spring you.”
“You were listening?” Jack asked, sqinting as his eyes adjusted.
Rose chuckled. “Listening? We were recording!” She began to laugh outright, and was joined by an echo of masculine amusement from the corridor — the guards, apparently. Unhurried, she walked over to her bound crewmates and knelt down to begin untying them.
“You two,” she said, shaking her head. “You should’ve heard yourselves. The Oncoming Storm and the Giant-Killer, my arse. Laurel and Hardy, more like. I was just waiting for one of you to say ‘this is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into’!”
“I think we were working up to it,” Jack admitted, ruefully, leaning forward and rubbing his wrists and forearms. A little sore, but by no means numb. That tall guard really did have a talent. Circulation assured, Jack leaned forward and began working on the ropes that bound his ankles.
“How did you convince them to let us go?” the Doctor asked with genuine curiosity, as he freed his own ankles.
“For starters, you’re lucky they didn’t know what to do with you. You were never formally charged with anything — they just bunged you up down here in the cellar while they tried to figure out what to do with you.” Rose grinned broadly, showing the tip of her tongue between her teeth. “Somehow or other, the prospect of someone licking the royal scepter never occurred to the blokes writing the law books . . .”
Jack, reassured by Rose’s easy manner, couldn’t help laughing. “I wonder why?” he asked as Rose helped the Doctor to his feet, and then extended a hand to Jack.
He swayed a little as pins and needles flooded his legs and backside, but he’d rarely gotten out of what amounted to a dungeon with such a minor set of aftereffects, so he wasn’t about to complain.
Rose moved between the two men and slipped her hands through their elbows to begin steering them firmly out the door. The guards in the hallway, looking nearly as amused as Rose, parted obligingly to let them through.
“Thanks, lads,” Rose said to them, in a familiar, slightly flirtatious tone. “I”ll look after them from here.” She winked at the tall guard in passing, to his obvious pleasure, but she kept moving at a good clip towards the stairs.
The stairs were too narrow for all three of them abreast, so she pushed the Doctor up the stairs in front of her, and pulled Jack along behind.
“Anyway,” she continued, “normally it’s a death sentence to approach the royal person too closely here, but the Crown Jewels are a grey area. A symbol of royalty, but not actually the royalty itself. Once they hauled you two off, the place was in a right uproar. I asked around, and half of everyone was ready to have a firing squad right then, and the other half didn’t know what to do. So, I got an audience with the Queen . . .”
“What?” the Doctor asked, nearly squeaking with surprise. “The All-Radiant Queen of the Three Sapphire Suns just granted you an audience, like that? How?”
“Old girls’ network,” Rose said smugly, as they exited the stairwell into a considerably more decorative marble-floored upper hallway of the Great Museum, where the Crown Jewels were on loan from the Queen for public display and admiration.
She steered the others confidently as she navigated their way towards the door, and continued her explanation without a break. “I explained everything to her, and she decided it was all good for a laugh. In fact, that’s how you got let off. She made you official Court Jesters.”
“What?” Jack and the Doctor exclaimed in unison.
“S’true — I’ve got your Warrants of Office rolled up in my back pocket. See, how it works is, Jesters are given a kind of exemption in regards to the royal person — if they didn’t, they couldn’t do their jobs right. At least on this planet, the Crowns expect their Jesters to have an edge to their humor. Helps remind the Royals that they aren’t all-powerful, and keeps ‘em a little humbler than they might be. So, since Her Majesty made your Warrants retroactive, licking the Crown Jewels could be taken as a form of satire. Sayin’ what, I have no idea, but it’d be allowed.”
Rose stopped for breath, coincidentally as they reached the large, iron-bound front doors of the Museum. Without quite hurrying, she pulled Jack and the Doctor on through, and down the impressive flight of stairs to the city sidewalk.
“But, so that means we’re off the hook!” the Doctor exclaimed, delighted. He began to slow down to a more sedate walking speed as he spoke. “Rose, you’re brilliant!”
“Maybe so,” Rose said, with a rather tight smile, clamping his arm more tightly with her own, and forcing him to keep up, “but all the same, now’s not the time to relax.” She shot a surreptitious glance back over her shoulder at the receding Museum.
She could feel both men tense. “Why?” Jack asked.
“Well, one of the conditions for making you Jesters and releasin’ you an’ all was that you give a command performance for the Queen in her private chambers in about two hours,” Rose told him, “and unless the two of you feel like brushin’ up on your music hall routine, I think we’d better get to the TARDIS an’ out of Dodge before then.”
Jack and the Doctor both blinked at her. With another flickering glance over her shoulder, Rose picked up her pace, while trying not to look too obvious about fleeing the environs.
“Y’see, if the Queen didn’t think your performance was up to snuff, the penalty is execution. An’ while that might not have quite the expected effect on you two, I still don’t think we want to hang around an’ risk it.”
Jack and the Doctor looked at Rose, eyes widening, then looked at each other over her head. Without another word, they lengthened their strides to match hers.