“Come with me.”
It was the offer Jack had been waiting to hear for over one hundred years. It was the offer he’d started dreading several months ago while he was chained like an animal aboard the Valiant.
The scars on his wrists were healing, but the wounds in his heart were still fresh. He no longer held the animosity that he once felt towards the Time Lord. He had moved on, made a life for himself that he could be proud of, but he wasn’t ready to let go despite what they’d settled in the boiler room almost a year ago. Too many nights had been spent wondering what he’d done wrong, what had made the Doctor decide to leave him behind amongst piles of decaying bodies.
No matter how he felt towards this impossible man, this alien that defied logic and the basic principles of time, he couldn’t go with him. Not now. Unlike the Doctor, he’d made a promise that he intended to keep.
He was returning to Torchwood — no, he was returning home.
Only when he told his team that he had found his Doctor did the smile truly reach his eyes.
With the Dalek invasion of Earth, Jack once again realized the fragility of mankind. The human race was resilient, his broken team remained brilliant, but this was one crisis that required the skill of a man he hadn’t seen in over a year.
When those familiar wide, brown eyes popped up on the computer monitor, Jack couldn’t stop the desperation that was etched in his voice. “Where the hell have you been?”
Gwen and Ianto weren’t surprised when he subsequently announced he had to find the Doctor. He promised he’d return, and for some reason they looked like they didn’t believe him. No matter. He knew he’d prove them wrong. That previous life was merely a child’s dream, a fantastic life that existed in fairy tales and farfetched stories told around a campfire.
Another world disaster was averted when the Doctor returned him to Cardiff with Martha and Mickey in tow. He barely said goodbye to the Time Lord. It seemed the Doctor had other things on his mind, most likely, the triumphant return of his beautiful Rose.
Jack walked away with his head held high. He had a team to rebuild and a planet to protect.
Jack stared down at the headstone as droplets of rain fell around him. Guilt was an emotion he tried to avoid, but despite his best efforts, he couldn’t stop the relentless inner dialogue. Ianto had loved him until the very end when illness had claimed his life. Jack sat by his bedside holding his hand. He regaled him with stories of his colorful past and usually they had the desired effect; the soft wrinkles around Ianto’s eyes would crease when he laughed.
While Ianto was alive, Jack swore he was doing the best he possibly could by him. He was a considerate lover, but when it came to being a partner, he didn’t always make the grade. Now that Ianto was gone, he realized he could have done a thousand things differently. He hoped wherever his lover might be, Ianto knew he was loved.
By now, he’d lost members of his team time and time again. He would grieve, rebuild, and move on as he always did. The needs of the planet were always a higher priority than his personal wants and desires.
He heard soft footsteps behind him and figured it was one of his newest recruits with a question that could most likely wait.
He froze, his breath appearing in measured, hazy puffs against the bleak afternoon. “Doctor.”
He felt the brush of the familiar brown coat against his shoulder as the Doctor stepped next to him. They stood in silence, and Jack refused to lift his head from the stone marking the grave.
The Doctor tilted his head, his eyes reading the etched markings on the stone. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Jack couldn’t resist the snide retort, his words as cold as the December air. “It’s been over a year.”
He wasn’t sure why he was angry. Perhaps it was because the Doctor hadn’t come when Ianto had died, and Jack could have used a friend that truly understood what it meant to lose someone you loved. It could be attributed to the pain he still felt over Ianto’s death or the dull ache he felt in his heart whenever the Doctor was close. Whatever the Time Lord might be offering, Jack wasn’t ready to accept it.
The Doctor shuffled next to him, his trainer toeing the fallen leaves. “Is there anything I can do?”
Jack spoke without hesitation. “Leave.”
He listened to the Doctor walking away, and he was sure he heard the sounds of the TARDIS dematerializing in the distance. With age comes wisdom, and Jack knew that whatever the Doctor said would have been met with the same resistance.
In the recesses of his heart, he hoped the Doctor knew that was well.
X’Arkayn Starship, 2184
Jack had been traveling for the last thirty years although he’d given up counting the days decades ago. He managed to find people who needed his help, and having a purpose was a welcome feeling. Torchwood had fulfilled that need for nearly two centuries, but eventually he felt he had to move on, to travel and experience what the stars had to offer again.
Whether it was dumb luck or a twist of fate, he had stumbled upon a stranded starship. Helping a group of explorers fix their disabled vessel was never an easy task. Having to fix the engine while hanging upside down in subzero temperatures while the space craft was being sucked towards an imploding star was damn near impossible. Jack always liked a challenge.
He’d managed to fix it despite only having a roll of adhesive tape and an assortment of discarded bolts and wires. Jack grinned as he grabbed the rail that his feet were hooked around and pulled himself upright. He felt the engines roar to life and strain against the massive pull of the implosion. Despite the cheers from the frazzled crew, Jack knew there was no engine built by mankind that could stand against that kind of strength.
He could have used his vortex manipulator to leave, but he was never one to abandon a sinking ship. He’d go down with the rest of the crew.
The intercom crackled and wheezed before an all too familiar voice came through the speakers. “Captain Jack Harkness. This is the good ship TARDIS. Thought you could use a little help down there.”
The second Jack heard the Doctor’s voice; he felt the recognizable comfort seeping into his chest that signaled everything was going to be all right. It was comfort he hadn’t allowed himself to feel during their last meeting. He beamed, his face alight and his eyes serene as he leaned against the railing and watched the wide-eyed expressions of the crew. If the TARDIS could tow the Earth back home, one starship wasn’t even a challenge.
A woman shook her head, her expression mirroring the amazement in her voice. “We’re turning around!”
After the ship was towed a safe distance from the star, Jack stayed with the group for several hours and watched the celebration that ensued. He expected to hear the sounds of the TARDIS materializing with a smug Time Lord in tow. He figured the Doctor would show these people who had saved them, but the TARDIS never came and the Time Lord never appeared.
Jack wondered why he was surprised.
Quexxor Hostage Crisis, 2201
The sky was alight with bright orange and yellow hues as explosions erupted in the distance. Jack no longer started when the ground trembled from the force of the attacks. He watched people screaming, running, their faces pale and afraid. With each war he’d fought the faces changed but the emotions remained.
With his natural charm, Jack had befriended many people since his short stay on Quexxor. Despite their primitive technology, he’d been able to piece together a plot by the Marsween, a small renegade group that sold armaments who profited on the continued civil war, to kidnap the heiress to the Quexxor throne. She was merely a child, but Jack knew she was destined to unite the dueling races.
He positioned himself in an alleyway across from the child’s home. The battle and bloodshed had been steadily increasing over the last week, and he knew if there was a time to enact a kidnapping, it would be while everyone else was busy fighting a pointless war.
Under the cover of darkness, he saw several figures approaching the residence. He counted four men and immediately noted the telltale bulge of weapons underneath their black clothing. He reached for his blaster, his hand wrapping around the weapon as his finger slid over the trigger.
A hand covered his shoulder and Jack spun around, his blaster pressed against the neck of his unknown attacker.
The Doctor didn’t flinch, his expression annoyed rather than afraid. “You can’t interfere.”
Jack pulled the gun away. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m stopping you from making a terrible mistake.”
“If you expect me to standby while a child is stolen from her parents, you obviously have forgotten who you’re dealing with,” Jack growled. He turned to leave, his hand still hovering over his blaster.
He felt the Doctor’s restraining hand on his shoulder again, and this time he couldn’t shake the inhuman grasp. “Why are you doing this?” Jack seethed.
The Doctor’s fingers continued to press into his skin. “It’s a part of this planet’s history. This has to happen, Jack.”
“So she dies, and we sit around and watch?”
Across the street a young child screamed in terror. Jack lunged forward, and the Doctor wrapped his arm around his waist. He felt cool breath against his ear. “Trust me.”
He watched, held in the Doctor’s grasp, as the child was carried out her window and into the street. Once she disappeared from sight, Jack wrenched out of the Doctor’s arms, stumbling in his effort to get away from the Time Lord.
He fell to his knees and strained to suck in several gulps of air. He shook his head — this was not the Time Lord he once loved. “Who are you?” he asked finally. Without turning around, he forced himself to his feet and trudged into the night.
Jack spent another three months on Quexxor. In that time he successful negotiated a ceasefire and united the opposing races in their search for the missing heiress. The young girl was located, and one of Jack’s proudest days was when he kicked down the door to the stronghold where she was being held.
He expected the child to resist him, to cry when he approached her, but she immediately ran to him, flinging her small arms around his waist.
It was true the heiress finally brought peace to the war torn planet. For the first time in centuries, the two sides locked in a brutal civil war united to bring her home.
Jack never forgot what she said to him when he found her: “He told me a great hero would come and rescue me.”
He managed to resist telling her that the real hero was out traveling through time and space in a blue box.
Intergalactic Peace Treaty Summit, 2298
It was history in the making, and Jack couldn’t resist watching it unfold. Alien races were gathering from planets across the Universe to discuss forming the largest alliance in history. Scientific advancements were shared and trade agreements were signed. It was a historic moment in the history of the Universe, and Jack was honored to be able to witness it. There was another person he knew wouldn’t miss this extraordinary event.
He saw the Doctor poking around one of the science booths displaying new research that was being conducted with nanogenes.
“That was a good day,” Jack commented, approaching the Doctor with his hands in his pockets.
The Doctor glanced at him over his shoulder, his eyes warm as he recalled that victorious day from so long ago. “Everybody lived.”
They toured the exhibits together, the Doctor commenting on a variety of alien artifacts. Jack was content to watch the Doctor scurry from booth to booth, picking up and testing objects as he went.
The day was drawing to an end and they watched people that had once been at odds shake hands and tentacles, a promise for a better future, a better life.
They walked to the exit, shoulder to shoulder. Jack waited for the offer to be extended, for the familiar request to be made — come with me. He didn’t know why he expected the Doctor to ask him to travel in the TARDIS again. It just seemed like the logical progression of things. When the offer was made, Jack was still unsure how he would respond. Could he go back to that life again?
“It was great to see you, Jack.”
Jack froze as he stared at the Doctor’s sincere smile, at those amazing brown eyes. That simple statement of fact tore down centuries of bitterness and pain. It felt him wishing like he had done over three hundred years ago that he could go with him, that he could live that fantastic life once again.
Instead, he watched him go - the dream disappearing in the breeze surrounding the Doctor’s billowing coat. He should have known that the Doctor would never ask again. Now it would be another hundred years before he saw the Time Lord again.
That wasn’t good enough.
He ran like he had on the day he felt the winds of the TARDIS in the Hub. He ran towards that impossible life, that flawed yet amazing alien that had made such an immense impact lifetimes ago.
His key slipped into the TARDIS door, and he felt a warm tug in his mind. She was welcoming him home.
The Doctor was standing next to the console, his head jerking up when the door opened. Jack stared at him, slightly out of breath as he stepped inside and closed the door.
The Doctor lifted his eyebrow, his expression confused. “Yes? Is something wrong?”
Jack shook his head, allowing the warmth to permeate his soul. “There was something I wanted to tell you.”
The Doctor looked leery, but gestured for him to continue.
“It was great to see you too.”
Brown eyes widened with surprise, but soon a soft smile lifted the corners of his mouth. Jack realized it wasn’t just the TARDIS that was warming his heart.
“And if it’s all right, I’d like to see more of you.” Jack held his breath, his heart slamming against his chest as he waited for the Doctor’s response. It was history repeating itself as he ached to hear those three words again — come with me.
The Doctor leaned over the console, his hands tinkering with levers and wires. Once again, those hopes were destroyed, and it was as painful as it had been on Satellite Five. He turned to leave, surprised to find his eyes burning.
“You don’t need an invitation.”
Jack blinked several times before turning around. “What?”
The Doctor repeated those three precious words. “Come with me — that offer always stands. You’re welcome here. With me.” He swallowed, a hand covered in some type of engine grease tugging on his ear. “If that’s what you want.”
Jack was torn between whooping with joy and sobbing years worth of confusion and grief — most not attributed to the Doctor — all over the TARDIS floor.
“Jack, I’m —"
Shaking his head, Jack cut across him. “One rule — no apologies. New beginnings, right?”
The Doctor smiled, motioning for Jack to join him next to the console. “I’d like that.”
On the historic day when the Intergalactic Peace Treaty of 2298 was signed, new relationships were formed and old relationships were mended. Perhaps the single most important alliance that Universe had ever seen was healed underneath the Time Rotor of the last TARDIS as she soared through the vortex of time.