Jack wakes with a strangled scream. He sits up, panting heavily. Can’t remember where he is. Can’t remember what he dreamed, either. The TARDIS considerately turns up the lights in his room — not enough to blind, but enough for him to look around and take in his surroundings. It’s all right, whatever it was. He’s in the TARDIS. He’s safe. He’s alone.
Alone. He glances at his wrist comp. Half past three. Jack sighs. He knows he’s being childish. It’s a concession on the Doctor’s part to even stay with him until he falls asleep most nights. Well, maybe not just a concession — Jack likes to think that the Doctor does get something out of holding his lover after they have sex — the little kisses, the gentle petting, the whispered nothings, the spent and undemanding physical closeness. But anyway, it would be silly to expect the Time Lord, who barely needs any sleep, to stay with him all night, just to keep the nightmares at bay. Nightmares he’s never mentioned to the Doctor, at that. And anyway, it’s not like he has them every night.
Still, even without them, Jack has to admit he’d just like to wake up next to his lover sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes. Would make him feel less like an opportunity fuck.
Okay, now he’s being ridiculous. He knows very well he’s far more than that. The Doctor doesn’t even do opportunity fucks. He’s the one in this relationship who’s given to those, after all.
Used to be great at them. Expert. Had them all the time, almost always exquisit. But he gave them up, cold-turkey, without a moan, without a pang of regret, when they began this relationship. And the Doctor can’t even spend a few nights-
Damn, what is it with him tonight, moaning and complaining like that? He’s not a little child who needs-
With a vivid flash, some images from the nightmare return. He shakes his head to rid himself of the memories. All right, he does know why he’s in this mood.
Jack pushes himself upright. His whole body feels leaden, as if he hasn’t slept at all. He slowly pulls on his jeans — the Doctor’s been pretty clear about wandering around the TARDIS naked. “Rose is on board. 21st century Earth rules.” And Jack really doesn’t want to make Rose uncomfortable, so he always makes sure he’s at least minimally covered when leaving his bedroom. Or the Doctor’s bedroom, as the case may be.
He opens the door and looks along the corridor, dimly lit for ship night. A snack would be just the thing now. Pop to the kitchen and grab a sandwich or something. Maybe have a look into the console room, just to make sure everything is okay. He’s not looking for the Doctor. Of course he isn’t. He’s not a kid who needs a hug and a kiss before he can go back to sleep.
He’s just past the gym and rounding the corner when he sees a shadow move in the dim light at the other end of the corridor. “Doctor?” he calls.
The shape turns and comes closer, but it’s not the Doctor. Jack stiffens. It’s a thin man with tousled brown hair, wearing a pin-striped suit. How did this stranger get into the TARDIS?
The stranger is grinning broadly. “Jack! What are you doing up at this hour?”
Jack takes a step back. “Who’re you? And how the hell do you know my name?”
The stranger stops, clearly confused. “What? But — what?” He cocks his head, closing the distance between them and looks Jack over carefully. Jack stiffens, ready to punch the stranger’s face — pretty face, though, would be a shame to break it — when the other man’s eyes widen in sudden understanding and he takes a step back. “Oh. Well, this is a bit awkward.”
Jack growls, and grabs the stranger by his lapels with his left, drawing back his right. “I’m going to ask you one more time. Who are you, and how did you get on the Doctor’s ship?”
“Ah. Right. Yeah, well, that’s actually a bit — well, it’s funny, except it’s not, because clearly this is a problem, and I’m not — well, I shouldn’t be here. Or you shouldn’t. One of us, at any rate. Depends on which loop-”
Jack has to fight hard to resist the urge to shake the stranger. “Just answer the question, dammit.”
“Right. Well, it’s really simple. Well, I say simple-”
“Jack? You around, lad? TARDIS seems to think I need to check on-”
Jack almost slumps with relief as he spots the familiar leather-clad figure over the stranger’s shoulder. The Doctor will know how to deal with this.
“What the — who’re-” The Doctor stands next to Jack, staring at the stranger incredulously. There’s danger glittering in his eyes, tension in ever fiber of his body.
And then it stops. His posture relaxes, his anger dissolves into something like mild irritation. “Oh. Bugger.”
“Quite. Yes. Um, do you suppose you could ask your Jack to let me go? I though he was mine at first, and I suppose I startled him a little, and-”
The Doctor sighs. “Yeah. Let him go, Jack.”
“But — he just appeared in the TARDIS! While we’re in the Vortex! That shouldn’t even be possible!”
“Right. Shouldn’t be. So you better let go of him so we can sort this, yeah?”
Jack doesn’t understand, but he obeys. The stranger starts fiddling with his lapels and his tie, smiling at him winningly. “Thank you. And may I say the shirtless look suits you? Not that I haven’t said that before, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever said it to you yet, or rather, if he has said it, that is to say, well, hmm…”
The Doctor growls. “Which one are you?”
The stranger smiles. “Right after you.”
The Doctor rolls his eyes. “Fantastic. Just what I need.” He glances from Jack to the stranger and back. “And not even that far from now, if you didn’t see he wasn’t yours straight away.”
The stranger flinches. “You know I can’t tell-”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Also, this little incident here is probably making a right muddle of the timelines, anyway. Or do you remember this?”
The stranger shakes his head. “Nope,” he says, popping the p. “No idea. Sorry.”
“Which means that your timeline and my timeline may not even intersect, in the regular course of events. Which is what we need to get back to.”
“Right! We really need to get this fixed.” The stranger nods and pulls something from his pocket. Something terribly familiar.
“Err… sorry,” Jack speaks up. “But… well… What the hell is going on here? Who are you? And how did you get the Doctor’s screwdriver?”
The Doctor puts a hand on Jack’s arm. He exchanges a glance with the stranger, who shrugs. “You’re older. Protocol says-”
“Protocol burned with everything else.” The stranger shakes his head. “He’s yours.”
“Right. Listen, lad — this is gonna be weird, yeah?”
Jack raises an eyebrow. “It already is.” The stranger chuckles, and Jack glares at him.
“Right. Well, the thing is-” He nods at the stranger. “That’s me.”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
The Doctor sighs. “Should have told you about this before. There’s something Time Lords do. ‘S called ‘regeneration.’”
“Jack knows about those,” the stranger interjects, and how the hell does he know that?
“Yeah, I do. Heard about them at the Academy. Well, they thought it was a myth. But — yeah, it’s when you die, you don’t, you just grow a new body, right?”
The other men exchange a glance. “Close enough to be getting on with, yeah. An’ this — well, that’s my next body.”
“What?” Jack stares back and forth between the two men. Even though the Doctor’s rough hand is still resting on his arm, he feels the sharp stab of loss piercing his gut. His gaze drops. “Oh. I didn’t realize.”
“He thought growing a new body just meant another one of the same. Exact copy. The Time Agency has no idea how much we change. Well, I say change, of course we don’t, not really, it’s all just separate aspects, aspects that always were there. Nothing imp-”
“Shut it!” the Doctor — well, his Doctor, for clearly the other man is the Doctor as well — growls. “Can’t you see this is rough on the bloke?”
He can feel both men looking at him now.
“I’m sorry. I‘m so sorry. But it’ll be okay, Jack. Really. I promise. My Jack got used to it after a while.”
“But I’m not your Jack!” He glares at the older Doctor.
“Well… no… not yet.”
“May never be! You said so, right?” He looks at the Doctor — his Doctor, the proper Doctor. “Our timeline and his timeline may not even intersect, right?”
The Doctor wavers. Then he seems to come to a decision. He pulls Jack into a hug. “Right. May not. May not regenerate for centuries in this timeline. Entirely possible.”
Jack burrows into the hug. This has nothing to do with the nightmare, nor with all his other losses. And he doesn’t care if he’s being childish. He’s prepared to sacrifice his dignity if it allows him to think that he won’t lose the Doctor. He’s prepared to pretend he didn’t see the imploring glance the Doctor sent to his older self, nor the small rueful smile sent in return. He just holds on.
“I hate to interrupt, really I do, but, might I point out, timelines? If we don’t get this fixed, well, more like untangled, really, well, given the complexities, we-”
Jack’s Doctor snaps, “Yeah. Know that.” He ends the hug, but keeps a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “No idea what went wrong, though. Adjusted the shields only last week, me. You?”
“Oh, yes, the shields are fine. We just finished a complete overhaul, me and Jack. Checked them all, prime condition, top-notch. Nothing wrong with my shields. No, sir.”
Jack looks up. “The shields? You’re saying this has something to do with the shields?”
“Must have. Two TARDISes intersecting — well, the same TARDIS, which is where the problem comes in, but from different timelines, merging into each other like that, must mean the inferential has been thrown off, but the shields are supposed to recalibrate and counteract any vectors that-”
“What he’s saying is, the shields should have stopped this. TARDIS comes too close to herself, automatic rebound. Why d’you think our London landings tend to be rougher than elsewhere? ‘S not just because I loathe Jackie Tyler.” The Doctor sends him a small grin.
“Ah, you don’t loathe her, as such, it’s more that you’re a bit scared of her, but you know, we really deserved that slap, if you think about it, after all we-”
Jack gulps. “Um. I — I have a confession.” Both men turn to him. He bites his lip.
His Doctor raises an eyebrow. “Well?”
“I — um — I kinda-”
The Doctor’s gaze turns hard. Bores right into him. God, he normally loves it when his lover’s attention is so completely focused on him, but right now it just makes him wish for a wormhole to open and swallow him. Doesn’t help that the other Doctor is looking at him equally intensely.
His Doctor grabs him by the shoulders. “’Gonna ask this one time, lad. Did you do something to the shields?”
He straightens. He swore to himself, standing next to a Chula ambulance on some railway tracks swarming with zombies, that he would never deny responsibility for his actions again, no matter how bad the screw-up. “Yes. I wanted to improve the phase alignment. I realized that if someone had enough raw energy and a trimensional buffer coupling, something as simple as a pangalactical transmat could reach right through and-”
“You changed the shields. Without asking me. Without even telling me.”
“I — I’m not done yet. I wanted to show you when they’re ready. Thought you’d be — anyway, I really didn’t change much. Just adjusted the phase filters and-”
The Doctor drops his hands and turns away. He starts walking towards the console room. “Congratulations, boy. Today you really did almost destroy the entire universe.”
The words hit Jack like a physical blow. He is rooted to the spot. Barely able to breathe, he stares at his feet. He’s an idiot. What he’s done wouldn’t compromise the shields’ base functionality on any normal ship. But he knows better than to think of the TARDIS as a normal ship, doesn’t he? His little plan to surprise the Doctor, make him proud of him, has backfired spectacularly.
He feels a hand on his shoulder and looks up. The other Doctor looks sympathetic. “Come on. We’ll need you in the console room, to show us exactly what you did.”
“I don’t want him anywhere near the console!” his Doctor throws back over his shoulder, before he turns a corner and disappears.
Jack looks away. God, he’s going to throw up.
The older Doctor squeezes his shoulder gently. “Come on. You know him well enough to know that his bark is worse than his bite.”
Jack shakes his head. He’s too ashamed to even look at the stranger, who, though he’s not his Doctor, is still a Doctor. “He hasn’t been this angry at me since the nanogenes.”
“No, I haven’t. But you know what?”
Jack looks up and sees a smile play across the other man’s lips. “I got over the nanogenes. And that was before I loved you.”
Jack shakes his head. “Only makes the disappointment worse.”
“Like he has never disappointed you?” The unfamiliar Doctor massages his neck — in exactly the way that Jack loves so much, the way that always makes him relax. Almost always.
This time, it only makes him tense up more. “He’s not just going to forgive me for this.”
“No. Not just. Because first, you have to understand why he’s so upset about this.”
“Because I endangered — well, everything?”
“No. Yes. I mean, he’s not happy about that. But, let’s face it, the universe gets endangered pretty much on a weekly basis.” The manic grin is achingly familiar. “Don’t think about it on a universal scale. Just think about this. You, him… the TARDIS.” There’s subtle emphasis on the last word. The Doctor winks at him. He can tell there’s a message there, but he’s not sure what it is. “Come on, now. No matter what he said — I said — oh, you know what I mean. Anyway, we’ll need you in the console room.”
With a gulp and a nod, he follows the other Doctor down the corridor. When they reach the console room, they find the Doctor already buried under the console. “The kino-temporal buffers seem fine.”
“I didn’t touch those, I just-”
The Doctor abruptly pushes himself out from under the console and glares at him. “I said I don’t want him near the console.”
“Oh, yes, right, sorry. Let’s just take the shields apart and look at every single bit to figure out what’s wrong ourselves. After all, we have all the time in the world. Not as if anything bad is going to happen if we don’t get them back to normal soon, is it? Well, apart from the end of the universe, but still, why save time when we can just-”
“All right!” The Doctor glares at his older self and Jack in turn. “Jack, you stand right there. Don’t move an inch, understood?”
He nods. His throat feels tight, but he stands up very straight. He’s getting what he deserves, and he’s not going to cringe and whine about it.
“Right. Now tell me exactly what you did. And I mean every single detail, even if it seems unimportant to your little ape brain.”
The older Doctor flinches. “Aw, now that was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
Jack’s Doctor glares at him. “You get your skinny arse in here and help me with the filters.”
With a shrug, the other Doctor complies.
“Where’s your Jack, anyway?” Seeing the older Doctor’s critical glance, he adds “I just mean, is he likely to walk in on us?”
“Oh. No, don’t think so. Fast asleep, last time I checked. We’ve had a bit of an exhausting day, and he’s over the nightmares by my time, so-”
“Nightmares?” For a second, the Doctor’s gaze meets Jack’s.
“Oh, dear, hasn’t he told you yet? So sorry.” But the Doctor is grinning.
“If you’re messing with the timelines-”
“I know what I’m doing just as well as you do. Better, actually — older and wiser, you know?”
The Doctor scoffs. “Yeah, right.” He pushes himself back under the console. “Right, now, Jack, tell me — us — exactly what you did.”
Half an hour later, both Doctors pronounce the shields fixed. Jack still doesn’t fully understand why his adjustment had such a catastrophic effect, but apparently it has something to do with the alignments of dimensions twenty-three to thirty-one, which “dense little ape brains” couldn’t even begin to calculate correctly.
He’s still standing in his spot by the door. The Doctor said don’t move, and he hasn’t. Mutely, he watches the Time Lords doing something complex that will apparently blast the timelines back into their proper place again.
His Doctor straightens. “Well, that’s that, then.”
The other Doctor nods. “Molto bene.”
“So-” He has to ask. “Everything’s going to be all right, then?”
His Doctor glowers, but the older Time Lord bounces over to him and pats his shoulder. “Oh, yes. One more push of a button, and we’re fine. Timelines unentangled, universe back in balance, everyone back in their own TARDIS, nothing to worry about.”
Jack nods, relieved. But there’s still an enormous lump in his throat.
The older Doctor leans closer and whispers in his ear. “Remember what I said, all right? Oh, and also — he really loves you.” He pulls back and gives him a grin. “We’re rubbish at saying it, though.”
Jack’s eyes are burning. This Doctor’s Jack has never caused the mess he caused tonight — or if he did, this Doctor doesn’t remember it, at least for now, though if he will once he’s back in his own TARDIS is anyone’s guess. He doesn’t think that he’ll be forgiven for a screw-up on this scale a second time.
“Right, then.” The older Doctor bounds back up to the console and smiles at his younger self. “You do the honors. And take good care of yourself.”
The Doctor nods gruffly. He hits a button. Sparks fly, and the older Doctor begins to fade.
“Oh,” the fading shape says cheerfully. “And don’t be too hard on Jack. He’s a good man, for all his flaws.” The manic grin that is so similar to the younger Doctor’s is back. “And besides, who’re we to complain about flaws, eh?” With a wink and a chuckle, he disappears.
Jack is standing rooted to the spot. He desperately wants to speak, to apologize, but the Doctor’s dark glower and rigid pose keep him quiet.
Finally, the Doctor speaks. “Go back to bed, Jack.”
“Go! I can’t talk to you now.” The Doctor turns away.
“Out of my sight!”
Jack can’t take this. It’s not that he wants to be yelled at, of course. But he deserves it. And he wants to know, needs to know, what this means. Will he be allowed to stay on the TARDIS? Will he and the Doctor still be… But he has no right to make any demands. Biting his tongue so hard he tastes blood, Jack turns and goes to his room.
There can’t be any thought of sleep now. He just lies on his bed, staring at the ceiling, until his wrist comp finally says it’s time for breakfast. Then he puts on a shirt and some trainers and slowly makes his way to the kitchen.
He finds Rose and the Doctor sitting at the table already. Rose gets up to greet him with a hug. “Mornin’, Jack! Do you know what himself is so grumpy about this morning?” She grins with her tongue curled around her teeth, until she registers the expression on his face. She looks back and forth between them a few times. “Oh. Lovers’ spat?” The grin is gone, but there’s a teasing twinkle in her eyes.
The Doctor grunts. “Bit more than that. Our boy here almost blew up reality last night.”
Rose’s face falls. “What? What happened?”
The Doctor looks at him, his eyes dark and hooded. “Yeah, why don’t you tell her what happened, Captain? Rose deserves to know, doesn’t she?”
He nods. Standing in the kitchen doorway, looking straight at Rose, he tells her. Tells her exactly what he did, and what happened. He skims over the facts of regeneration, simply mentioning the Doctor’s “future self,” which gets him an almost approving glance from the Time Lord, but apart from that, he leaves nothing out, doesn’t spare himself.
She’s turned pale by the time he’s finished. “So — everything’s all right now though, yeah?”
“Yes,” the Doctor nods. There’s reassuring warmth in his eyes as he squeezes Rose’s hand. “No need to worry now. All sorted.”
Rose nods. “But — you’re still angry with Jack?”
With a sardonic glance in his direction, the Doctor nods. “Could say that.”
“He didn’t mean to, though. He had good intentions.”
“Road to hell, Rose.” A warning note creeps into his voice. “Stay out of this.”
“Rose,” Jack kneels by her chair and takes her hands in his. “Stay out of this, yeah? This is between me and the Doctor.” He squeezes her hands. “I screwed this up all by myself. Don’t try to help me get out of it.”
She glances back and forth between them a few times, then she nods. “Right. None of my business.”
He nods and gets up, preparing to leave, but Rose puts a hand on his arm to stop him.
“Jack, sit and have breakfast.” Her voice brooks no argument.
He glances at the Doctor uncertainly, but the Time Lord is stirring his tea, ignoring him. He sits down slowly. He's not hungry, so he just sits staring at his hands, until Rose pushes a cup of tea and some buttered toast at him with a pointed look. He forces himself to eat.
After what seems like an eternity, the Doctor speaks up. “Rose — would you mind leaving us alone for a bit? We need to talk.”
Rose nods, and gets up. “I’ll be in the garden room.” She looks at them both imploringly. “You take care, yeah?” She takes her tea and leaves.
Jack swallows the last of his toast. This is it. He’s been lying awake for hours trying to come up with something to say. “Doctor-” he begins.
The Time Lord raises a hand. “Wait. Gonna let you have your say, but I need to say something first, ‘cause I thought long and hard about how to explain this without saying things that you don’t deserve, for all that you are a stupid ape.”
Jack nods. His fingers are clenched around the edge of the table.
“Don’t have to explain to you why destroying the universe is bad. I know you get that.” He meets his gaze briefly. “In fact, might have exaggerated there a little. Two TARDISes merging could destroy the universe, yeah — ‘cept, it’s not the first time it happened. And two TARDISes always also means two of me, an’ I’m a genius. Odds were always pretty good that it’d get fixed before too much came of it.”
Jack gulps. That’s one hell of an admission. But still, the Doctor — Doctors — shouldn’t have had to save the universe last night. That was his doing. He wants to say so, but he can see that the Doctor is working up the nerve to say something else, and he doesn’t want to interrupt whatever it is.
“Next bit is difficult, yeah? ‘specially ‘cause I am still pissed off with you.” He looks at Jack.
He nods, accepting that. It’s deserved.
The Doctor continues, looking at his tea again. “The TARDIS — she’s more ‘n just a ship, yeah? You know that. But — you don’t really get it. Neither of you. Would have to be fully telepathic to understand. She’s not just some type of ‘sentient machine,’ some sort of pet. She’s a person. Just as much as you and me. An’… she’s mine. Has been for centuries.”
When you’re mine, you’re mine — Jack remembers the Doctor saying that about him, back when their relationship started. And he remembers the older Doctor’s hints from last night. “I interferred in your relationship,” he bursts out. “Went behind your back. It’s like — same as if I had-”
“Nah, ‘s not the same. My relationship to her is not like my relationship to you. We’re bonded, but… differently. ‘S hard to explain, really. But… each other is all that she and I have left, yeah?”
Two beings, both the last of their species, both having lost their home and all others like them forever. He interfered with the Doctor’s last connection to Gallifrey. He’s an even bigger idiot than he thought. And he realizes what it must cost the Time Lord to be this open with him. Especially since he’s still angry.
The Doctor sighs. “Right. Had my say. Your turn.”
Jack takes a sip of his tea. God, what can he say? “Sorry” seems so inadequate. Still, it’s a place to start. “I’m sorry.” He looks the Doctor straight in the eyes and repeats. “I am so, so sorry. I didn’t get it. I had this idea, because the shields — doesn’t matter, anyway, I just thought I’d tune them up a little and surprise you, but — even if I hadn’t screwed it up, you’d still have been just as pissed off, right?”
“Well, maybe not ‘just as.’ But close.”
Jack nods. “Yeah. And I deserve that.”
The Doctor nods. Jack fancies he sees a slight flicker of approval at the admission, but can’t be sure.
Jack presses on. “So — what happens now? Where do we go from here?”
The Doctor looks back silently.
“I mean — you’re not-” He thinks the Doctor explaining all this to him must mean something, but he has to ask anyway, to be sure. “Are you going to throw me off the TARDIS?”
The Doctor looks taken aback. “Don’t be an idiot.”
Jack shrugs. “Seems like I can’t help it sometimes.”
The Doctor growls. “I’m rubbish at domestics, Jack, you know that. An’ I’m still angry, so don’t expect me to hold your hand and tell you you’re not an idiot right now.”
Jack had actually not expected that, but he doesn’t feel like justifying himself over such a minor thing when there are bigger issues to deal with. He just nods. “So, what do we do?”
“The ventilation shafts under the console need cleaning. It’s a mess down there — grease, dust, metal bits and bobs…”
If the Doctor wants to change the topic, he’ll go along. The Time Lord’s always preferred tech-talk to domestics. “I’ll get a drone ready.”
The Doctor turns his head by a fraction. “Don’t believe in drones, me. Some things are best done the old-fashioned way.”
Jack gulps and nods. “I’ll get right on it, sir.” It’s hard work, and filthy, but it’s working on the TARDIS — and after what the Doctor just told him, even this menial task seems like a sign of trust so deep he’s not sure he deserves it. And he’s done worse jobs in his life. If he has to spend the day scrubbing his way through stinking, slimy tunnels as his penance, then he won’t flinch.
Two hours later, Jack’s muscles are aching, he’s smeared with grease, has small burns all over his arms where sparks keep catching him, and he’s terribly hot. He really wants a break.
The Doctor’s head appears through a hatch. “Aren’t you finished yet?”
He sputters. “Finished? Doctor, this is gonna take days.”
The Time Lord shakes his head. “Think, boy. What’s really the job here?” His head disappears.
Jack is confused. The job is to clean out the grime, right? That’s what the Doctor said, and heck, it’s necessary. The shafts are positively filthy. The poor TARDIS must be feeling-
With a zap, a large spark hits him on the arm — not dangerous, but with a serious sting. And that’s when he gets it.
“Oh.” He strokes the wall of the shaft. “This isn’t about the clean-up job at all, is it?”
The surrounding hum changes its frequency by a fraction.
He strokes the wall again. “This is about making it up to you. Because I hurt you just as badly as him, huh?”
Another small change in the hum.
“God, I’m sorry. I should have realized that sooner.” He puts his hand near an open circuit and rubs his thumb gently. “I’m really, really sorry. I promise I’m not going to come between him and you again, okay?”
The hum brightens, the incessantly sparking connections suddenly lie quiet, and the temperature drops to a much more pleasant level. Jack smiles. “Thank you.”
He’s about to resume scrubbing when the Doctor’s head pops through the hatch again. Jack’s seeing him upside-down, so he can’t be sure, but is that a grin? “Took you long enough. Now get out here and help me set up the drone.”
With a chuckle and a last gentle stroke to the shaft wall, Jack complies.
They work together in silence to prepare the drone, but there’s a twinkle in the Time Lord’s eyes when he looks at him. Screwing up his courage, Jack asks, “So — am I forgiven?”
The Doctor stops and looks at him. “By her? Yeah. She’s sweet like that. Me?” He shrugs, but there’s a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Let’s say you’re getting there. Will have to do one more thing, though.”
“Yeah?” He’ll do it. He’s willing to do absolutely anything. Well, absolutely anything that the Doctor would be prepared to ask of him. There are things he’d never do, but they’re not things the Doctor would ever expect.
“All in good time. For now, go and grab some food, have a bath, and take a nap, yeah?”
“I’m not tired.”
The Doctor glowers, but there’s more concern than heat in it. “You slept about three hours last night. Just go and lie down for a bit. We’ll talk later.”
Right. Like he’s going to be able to sleep with that hanging over his head. Still, a bath and a lie-down sound heavenly. And besides, he can see that the Doctor’s determined, and this is hardly the time to push him.
Jack is soaking in the bath tub, and it’s wonderful. He lets himself sink below the water, enjoying the warmth and silence until the need for oxygen forces him to surface. With a lot of scrubbing and some strong-smelling green soap the TARDIS produces out of nowhere, he manages to get off most of the grime. He gets out of the tub, and towels himself off. Then he pulls his jeans back on. Not like he’s actually going to be able to sleep.
On his pillow, he finds a small jar of ointment, with a yellow sticky note on it. A sticky note in the Doctor’s handwriting. “For the burns and abrasions — apply generously,” he reads. He grins and opens it.
A familiar smell hits his nose. Koyden root. His grin widens. Koyden root helps with burns and abrasions all right — it’s a much-sought-after commodity on mining planets for that very reason. It also has the side effect of making people sleepy. Seems the Doctor is determined that he needs his nap.
He applies the ointment and lies down. Somehow, he’s not nearly as worried about his upcoming conversation with the Doctor anymore. Whatever it is, they’ll be okay.
He’s smiling as he falls asleep.
The Doctor’s sitting in the kitchen when Rose comes in. “Fancy a cuppa? Just made a fresh pot.”
Rose nods. She pours herself a cup and sits down with him. “Where’s Jack?”
“Asleep, I hope.” She looks at him questioningly, so he explains, “Sent him to take a nap.”
Rose smiles, relieved. “Good. I was worried you were being a bit hard on him earlier, when I looked in on you blokes. Making him crawl around under there an’ all.”
The Doctor looks at her seriously. “Rose — what he did was really stupid. Could’ve been disastrous.”
“I did something disastrously stupid not that long ago.”
“Yeah, and I was hard on you then.”
“Didn’t make me do any hard labor. Didn’t punish me at all.” Yes, the Doctor shouted at her a little — as she’s sure he’s shouted at Jack. But once she apologized, he simply forgave her.
The Doctor sighs. “Well... reckoned the circumstances of that day were bad enough.” There’s an apologetic note as he says it that tells her he knows the subject is still painful. But she’s the one who brought it up.
She looks away for a moment, then back at him. This isn’t about her. “You’re not going to make him do heavy cleaning for days now, are you?”
The Doctor grins. “Nah, that’s over. He’s a clever lad. He apologized, and the TARDIS forgave him.”
Suddenly, Rose understands. She giggles. “Oh, so that’s what that was about?”
“Drone does a perfectly good job. Better, actually, but don’t tell him I said that. Tried really hard, he did.” He grins. “But the TARDIS likes a bit of groveling. Doing things for her the hard way. Giving her a chance to get in a good zap or twelve.” He pats the doorframe affectionately. “Been there myself many a time.”
“Doctor!” Rose eyes widen in feigned shock. “Is the almighty Time Lord admitting that he occasionally does something wrong?”
The Doctor grins at her manically. “Who, me? Never! Perfect angel, I am. Just misunderstood.”
At the exact same moment, he’s hit by a light slap on the arm from Rose and a playful zap from the doorjamb.
Jack sits up, panting heavily. Can’t remember where he is. Can’t remember what he dreamed, either. Something woke him — what was it…? The TARDIS turns up the lights — just enough for him to look around. He’s in his room. He’s safe. The Doctor’s sitting in a chair by his bedside-
What? He blinks, assuming he’s not fully awake yet, but the Doctor’s dark form is still there, solid, leaning towards him with concern in his eyes, quietly repeating his name over and over again.
Oh, right. That was what woke him up, now that he thinks about it. The fog in his head is beginning to clear.
The Doctor looks at him searchingly. “You with me, lad?”
He nods. “Yeah, thanks. It was nothing. Just bad dreams.” He glances at his wrist comp. Half past three p.m. He’s slept over four hours.
The Doctor nod and sits back in the chair. “Tell me ‘bout the dreams.”
He shakes his head. “Nah, it’s not important.” He tries a blinding smile, but can tell the Doctor sees right through it.
“Told you you’d have to do one more thing for me. This is it. Tell me about the nightmares.”
Damn. He said — well, thought — he’d do anything, but he really wishes the Doctor had asked him to perform some more maintenance work. Or do the laundry. Hell, he’d rather be told to stand in the corner like a naughty schoolboy than talk about this.
The Doctor’s silent, waiting patiently.
Jack knows that the Doctor is not asking out of idle curiosity. He wants to help him. Jack can refuse to answer the question, of course — it’s not like the Doctor can actually force him to answer. Well, could — probably. Would — never. But refusing to answer now, under these circumstances, would be like saying that he doesn’t trust the Time Lord. And the Doctor has been incredibly open with him earlier today, when he had more than enough reason to not talk to him at all. Jack can’t refuse him now, not without feeling both selfish and like a coward. And he can see in his lover’s eyes that the Doctor knows that, too.
He gives a wry grin. “Well and truly trapped, eh?”
The Doctor grins back. “Psychology.” There’s a twinkle in his eyes.
Oh well. Nothing for it.
“Right.” He sits cross-legged on the bed and gathers his thoughts. “I have to go way back for this, okay?”
The Doctor nods. “Got plenty of time.”
“I was born on Boeshane. I don’t know if you know it…?”
“Yeah. Earth colony, Thiary system.”
He nods. “We lived on the Peninsula. Tiny little place, but had been the site of the first settlements, so it had a certain reputation — good soil, clean water… Seat of the colonial government, such as it was, and the planetary defence system.”
The Doctor frowns. “The invasion?”
“How old were you?”
The frown deepens.
“I… I lost my whole family that day.” Please, don’t let the Doctor ask for details. Don’t force him to explain how his brother’s death was his fault, and how he lost his father to the bombs and his mother to the failure she could never forgive him for.
The Doctor’s eyes shine with empathy. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
Before he can ask for details, Jack presses on. “That’s when the nightmares first started. But… well, pretty normal under the circumstances, right? Didn’t think much of it.”
The Doctor nods, listening intently.
“Not too long after, I joined the Agency. Lied about my age. Was no one left who could have made a fuss about it.” Or no one who cared enough to. “The other survivors from the Peninsula were proud, actually. Said I was a beacon of hope.” He scoffs.
There’s something searching in the Doctor’s gaze. The Time Lord knows he’s leaving things out. But he’s not pushing, and Jack is grateful.
“I loved the Academy. Really did. And I was good. Star pupil.” He grins rakishly, but can see it’s not fooling the Doctor. “Field training was even better. And once they gave me my badge and sent me out on missions, I was in heaven.”
The Doctor just raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah, all right. Not all was well. I still had the nightmares, for one thing. But — the Agency has pills for that. Pop a few, dreamless sleep. Works like a charm.”
The Doctor’s face darkens. “Suppressants. Don’t help anything, just grind the pain in deeper.”
“Anyway, things were mostly great for a while. But — well, it’s a dangerous life. Some missions went wrong. Some agents lost…” He shrugs. “Part of the lifestyle.”
The Doctor’s not fooled. “Doesn’t make it hurt any less.”
Well, the idea was to be honest, right? He nods. “True. The nightmares… they started branching out, kind of. Weren’t just about the Peninsula anymore.”
“You dreamt about your other losses, too.”
“Yeah. They sent me in for psych eval, but the counselor said it was just normal stress reaction. Gave me some more pills and sent me on my way.”
The Doctor’s frown has deepened to a level that would scare Jack if he thought it was directed at him.
“Anyway, things didn’t get really bad until that day… the day I woke up with…” He gestures to his forehead vaguely.
“Your memories missing?”
“Not even sure if it was them, exactly. I mean, that day I didn’t just lose two years of my life — I lost my career, my home, and all my friends. Knew I would when I quit, of course, but…” He shrugs.
The Doctor nods in understanding.
“Then I became a conman. Guess that means I lost my self-respect. The night after my first con — self-cleaner, went off beautifully, without a hitch — I had the first nightmare that wasn’t a memory.”
The Doctor frowns — Jack is not sure if at the mention of the con or his explanation of the nightmare. “What do you mean?”
“Well, before, my dreams had always been about stuff that really happened, you know? The Peninsula, missions gone wrong, waking up not knowing when I was. But then I started having dreams about things that hadn’t happened. First I though they might be...”
“From those two years?”
“Yeah. But some of the dreams were about losing things I manifestly still had.”
God, he doesn’t want to answer this. Doesn’t want to talk about those dreams. “I… Can we please skip this question?”
The Doctor nods. “For now.”
“Anyway, it’s got better since I’ve been on the TARDIS. I don’t have them as often anymore.”
He looks away. “Well…”
“Jack.” He can tell from the Doctor’s tone that they won’t be skipping this question.
He looks up. “Three or four times a week. Maybe five.”
The Doctor takes a deep breath. “So what you’re saying is, most nights?”
“But not every night. Which is progress.” He tries a carefree smile.
The Doctor shakes his head sadly. “Wish you’d told me.”
“Didn’t want to bother you. They’re just dreams.” He shakes his head and shrugs. “It’s silly.”
The Doctor gets up and steps over to the bed. With a little hand gesture and an inclination of his head, he silently asks permission to sit. Jack eagerly scoots over, and the Doctor sits down next to him, leaning against the headboard. Slowly, giving Jack plenty of time to back away if he wants, he reaches out. Jack readily leans into him, pressing up against the reassuringly solid form, and buries his face in the crook of the Doctor’s neck.
“Finally.” His voice is not trembling. Not in the least.
The Doctor drops a kiss on his hair. “Wasn’t sure you’d want me to. Was hard on you today.”
“I deserved it.”
The Doctor hugs him close. “Jack — those nightmares matter. And they’re not silly, yeah?”
Jack really doesn’t care right now. He just wants to be held right here, like this, forever. He shrugs.
“Problem is, there’s not a whole lot I can do about them. No quick fix. Well, there is, but it’s no good. Could give you pills, but really, they only make it worse.”
Jack nods against the Doctor’s shoulder. He does feel a little disappointed, if he’s honest. He’d hoped the Doctor would have a cure.
“There’s another thing I could do. Better than the pills. If you’ll let me.”
He looks up questioningly.
“Could go into your mind again. Give you dreamless sleep.”
“Sounds great,” he says without hesitation.
The Doctor smiles, and Jack understands that he wasn’t sure if he’d let him in like that again. Silly.
“Can’t do that all the time, though. Here and there to give you a peaceful night, yeah. But the nightmares… It’s like a pressure valve. If I close it off too often, the pressure’ll build and-”
“My head will explode?” He grins.
The Doctor chuckles. “Not literally. But it could do some serious damage.”
He nods in understanding. “There’s something else you could do.”
“Well… I…” Right, he’s going to sound like a six-year-old now. That’s fine. After last night and today, he doesn’t care. “I only have the nightmares when I’m alone.”
The Doctor raises an eyebrow. “Well-”
“I know you can’t stay with me all night, every night. You’d be bored to death. I get that. Just maybe, you know — every once in a while? If you don’t mind?” Damn, that ended up sounding even more childish than he’d expected. Three-year-old. Four at best.
“‘Course I will.”
“But I don’t want to keep you from doing other things-”
“Spend a lot of time in the library reading, or working on quantum-temporal equations. Can do that here just as easily — you don’t mind some low lights?”
“I can sleep in bright daylight. Agency training.”
“Right. And on the nights when I don’t stay, I could check in on you, yeah? Make sure you’re okay?” He suddenly looks up at the ceiling and cocks his head in concentration. “TARDIS says she can keep an eye on you if you want, alert me if you start tossing and turning.”
“She can do that?” Seeing the Doctor’s raised eyebrow, and hearing a slightly discordant shift in the ship’s background hum, he backpedals. “Of course she can.” He gently strokes the wall above the headboard. “Thank you.” The hum settles into a deep purring sound.
“Long term, though, there’s only one thing that’ll really help.”
The Doctor sighs. “Have to talk about it. Really talk. All the bits you left out just now.”
Jack looks away.
“Yeah, I know it’s hard. An’ it’s pretty ironic, me advocating talking ‘bout the difficult stuff. Hate to admit it, but it works.”
He’s still not looking up. There are things he can’t tell the Time Lord. Ever.
The Doctor gently tips up his chin and kisses his forehead. Jack’s seen him do this a million times with Rose, but he’s never been on the receiving end himself. It feels nice — comforting, protected. “No pressure, right? Won’t make you talk. Just — keep in mind that you should, and that I’ll listen when you’re ready. Well-” His face splits into the manic grin Jack loves so much. “Unless I’m busy being a stubborn git at the time, but then you just box me ‘round the ears, yeah?”
He grins. “Big enough target.”
“Oi!” The Doctor cuffs his neck affectionately, then draws him in for a proper kiss. It’s loving, and tender, and Jack wishes it could go on forever. Everything’s all right again. Everything’s-
A memory washes over him like a bucket of iced water. He breaks the kiss and pulls back, shoulders hunched. “There’s one more thing.”
“Yeah?” The Doctor’s eyes are a mixture of confusion and concern.
“When… when the other you was here. When you told me it might be centuries before you regenerate in our timeline. I saw the way you looked at each other. You were lying, right?”
The Doctor flinches. “No. Not quite lying. But…” His voice trails off. He looks at Jack searchingly.
“Please. I need to know.”
“Right. Well, not all timelines are the same, yeah? ‘S hard to explain, but it’s like some are… heavier than others, sort of. Can drag them down, shape them.”
He nods. He’s never heard anything about this at the Academy, but knows better by now then to doubt the Doctor. He still winces when he thinks about his first night on board, the time he tried to lecture the Time Lord about spatial-temporal sciences.
“Time Lord, me, yeah? Last one, at that. That makes my timeline pretty darn heavy. And regeneration — that’s a really big event. Heavy shift.”
“So if regeneration happened to him at a particular point in his timeline, that means it’ll happen like that in all the timelines?” He gulps. He’s going to lose the Doctor. His Doctor, at any rate.
“Nah. Not necessarily. There’s some variation, even for me. Thing is, regeneration happens at approximately the same point for me in-” He hesitates, frowning in concentration. “-probably ninety-five percent of my timelines.”
Jack grasps the Doctor’s arm tightly. “You’re saying there’s a ninety-five percent chance you’ll die in the next few years?”
“Don’t know that. Could be a freak timeline, this. More importantly, he could have been from a freak timeline. Might be there’s a ninety-five percent chance I won’t.” His cheerful smile would be reassuring if it wasn’t so forced.
“Can we find out?”
“No. Not until it happens. Or doesn’t happen.”
Jack slumps against the Doctor’s shoulder. “Oh.”
“Which leaves us exactly where we were before. We none of us know when we’re going to die. Better this way.” He strokes a thumb over Jack’s collar-bone tenderly.
Jack nods and tries to relax his tense muscles. What will be, will be — isn’t there an old Earth song to that effect? Anyway, best not to think about it. If there’s one thing you learn as a Time Agent, it’s that trying to predict anyone’s personal future will drive you mad. Sometimes literally. He pulls himself together and makes a conscious effort to shake of the gloominess. He plays with his jeans buttons and grins up at the Time Lord. “We’ve got some time before tea. Wanna make the most of it?”
The Doctor’s eyes are dark and serious. “Jack — there’s one more thing.”
He sobers. “Yeah?”
“If it happens — if I regenerate — give me a chance, yeah? That bloke you met last night — he really is me, for all that he is a pretty boy with a motor-mouth.”
Jack doesn’t hesitate. Of course he’d give that Doctor a chance. It seems another version of him already has, and things worked out for them. He playfully kisses the Doctor’s cheek. “Well, might be worth it — could be nice to have a version of you around who’ll actually admit I look good shirtless.”
The Doctor laughs and firmly grabs the front of Jack's jeans with both hands. He makes sure to put pressure in all the right places as he starts popping the buttons. “Prefer you trouserless, me.”
Jack grins and rolls his hips to help the Doctor slide down his jeans — and to shamelessly grind against places that he knows will get the Doctor out of his own clothes soon, too. He hates fighting with the Time Lord, but the make-up sex is always spectacular.
Later, as they are enjoying the afterglow, and trying to drag up the energy to go to the kitchen — they’ll have to hurry if they want to be in time for tea, and it’s the Doctor’s turn to make the sandwiches — Jack asks, shyly, if he’s still allowed to work on the TARDIS.
“Made you work on her today, didn’t I?” The Doctor grins.
“That’s different. I mean — sensitive stuff?”
The Doctor looks at him sharply for moment, then he nods. “But not without clearing it with me first, understood?”
He nods at once. He’s learned his lesson. Well, two, actually. Firstly, the TARDIS is not just one hell of a ship — she’s one hell of a lady. And secondly, her soul is the Doctor’s, and no one comes between her and her Time Lord. “Of course not. Won’t touch her unless you’re there.”
The Doctor shakes his head. “Didn’t say that. Said you have to ask.”
Jack raises his head from the Doctor’s shoulder and looks up at him. “Okay, just to be clear — I can still work on her without supervision, long as it’s per your instructions?”
The Doctor grins. “Wouldn’t say without supervision.” He reaches up to stroke the wall above his head. “Just without mine.” He chuckles. “And don’t come crying to me when she zaps you. That’s between her and you, and I’ll probably just assume you deserved it.”
Jack grins and puts his hand next to the Doctor’s on the TARDIS wall. “Oh well. There are worse fates in life than being slapped by a beautiful lady.”
The spark hits his backside apparently out of nowhere. He startles, then he cracks up. He doesn’t have to be a telepath to know this was playful. “I’ll be good, gorgeous. I swear.”
He hears the low rumble of the Doctor’s chuckle, and feels blood rushing back to body parts he’d thought exhausted for the moment.
The Doctor notices and grins, but shakes his head. “Absolutely not. Rose’ll be putting the kettle on soon.”
In the end, they are quite a bit late for tea, but Rose just grins knowingly and plies them both with biscuits and digestives she dug out of the cupboard — “Seeing how nobody made any sandwiches today.” With an impish grin, she teases them about how they “need to keep their strength up.” The Doctor blushes, like he always does, and Jack grins and teases back, like he always does, and it’s hard to believe that only this morning he wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed to stay on the TARDIS. Seems silly now, actually. He screwed up badly, yes, but he’s loved, and the Doctor doesn’t give his love easily enough to just discard those he’s given it to when they’re being, as he would say, “typical bloody apes.” The Doctor’s not his mother. He shudders at how wrong that thought sounds. But the principle holds true — just because he wasn’t forgiven the first time it really counted doesn’t mean he’s not worthy of it ever.
Cardiff, Wales, UK, Earth, 2005. Of all the places he’d thought they might get in trouble, this didn’t even make the list. And it had seemed like such a nice town at first, too.
Jack is sitting on the grating, studying circuits. He’s holding Blon’s macrokinetic extrapolator in his lap, looking back and forth between its circuitry and the TARDIS’s. The Doctor and Rose are out finding Blon a nice place in a nursery. He offered to come, of course, but the Doctor told him to stay and check the TARDIS for damage from the rift. A slight nod of his head had told Jack that the Time Lord wanted some time alone with Rose on the walk into town. Even though she was putting up a brave front, that thing with Mickey was clearly bothering her. For all that the Doctor hates domestics, he certainly is good at making his companions talk when he thinks they need to.
He finished the damage checks quickly. The TARDIS is strong — incredibly strong. She channeled all that energy with just a few singed cables and blown fuses. Easily fixed. So now he’s studying the shields.
The door opens. Rose and the Doctor come in. He can see at a glance that the Time Lord is annoyed. Probably had some trouble with the Raxacoricofallopatorian officials. Bit hard to explain, two aliens turning up with an egg of unknown origin. And if there’s one thing the Doctor hates, it’s bureaucracy.
The Doctor looks over at him, and raises an eyebrow. “Jack, if you’re fiddling with the shields-”
He raises his hands. “Not touching a thing. Just looking.”
“Well, what are you looking at them for?” The bite in his voice makes Jack jump. Seeing his nervous expression, the Doctor drops his voice. “Not saying you can’t. Looking’s fine.”
Rose is glancing back and forth between them. “You’re not gonna fight, are you? I’ve had enough relationship drama for one day.”
They both shake their heads. The Doctor smiles at Rose. “Not gonna fight. In a bit of a foul mood, me. That Praetor was so much of a stuck-up git, and him without two brain cells to rub together.”
“Complete plonker,” Rose confirms with a nod. “So, can I leave you two alone while I change? My clothes smell like Slitheen.”
The Doctor sends Jack a small smile — he knows it’s apology as much as peace offering.
“Sure you can, gorgeous.” Jack grins. “Managed to stay out of trouble this time, I swear.”
Rose grins. “Will wonders never cease?” He sticks out his tongue at her, and she playfully pulls his ear as she walks past him out of the console room.
The Doctor walks over to him. “Right. Tell me, then. What’s this obsession of yours with my shields?” The teasing twinkle in his eyes takes the sting out of the words.
Jack points. “It’s the phase alignment. It gyrates in tri-quantic cycles.”
The Doctor crosses his arms. “Yeah. So?”
“Anyone with a trimensional buffer could in principle reach right through them, straight into the TARDIS. All they’d need would be a pangalactic transmat, which, in a few millennia, will be pretty standard technology.”
The Doctor looks at him skeptically.
“Okay, a lot of millennia. But this is a time machine, and we do occasionally go that far forward.”
“Jack. Do you realize how much energy that would take?”
“A lot, I know, but-”
“A stupid amount. Who’d use that much raw energy to feed a transmat?” The Time Lord is shaking his head.
“Someone with lots of transport needs? Or a big enough grudge against, oh, say, the last Time Lord? Not like you don’t have enemies, Doctor.”
The Doctor considers this for a moment. “Point. But we can’t change the alignment. Dimensions twenty-three to thirty-one… Aw, you wouldn’t get it.”
He glances up at the Doctor, who shrugs. “Not a put-down. You just really wouldn’t.”
“All right, probably not. But the extrapolator gave me an idea.”
The Doctor’s gaze is somewhere between mild interest and impatience.
“Come on." He slides a hand up the Doctor's leg gently. "Just hear me out. If you don’t like it, I’ll never bring it up again, okay?”
With a sigh, the Doctor sits on the grating next to him. “Right. Let’s hear your brilliant plan, then.”
So he explains. Tries hard to think of every detail. Points out the compatibility between the extrapolator’s cosine circuits and the shields’ phase filters. Explains how, if he gets it at all, they can change the phase alignment without ever touching those fickle dimensions twenty-three to thirty-one.
“-it would take too much energy to keep online all the time,” he finishes. “But we could wire in a fast-access button, fire up the buffer whenever we think we might need it. It’s not foolproof, but…” He looks at his lover. The Doctor has been silent all through his explanation, his face expressionless. He occasionally scanned parts of the shield circuits or the extrapolator with his sonic screwdriver, but he never said a word. Jack sighs.
“So this is where you tell me that it’s an unworkable idea and I’m a stupid ape, yeah?” He says it with no rancor, just disappointment.
“No.” The Doctor grins at him widely. “This is where I tell you that it’s a brilliant idea and you’re fantastic!”
Did the Doctor just really say that? “You mean — it’ll work?”
“Oh yes, it will, Captain. And unless I’m much mistaken, it’ll make the shields run much more smoothly when flying in atmo, too!” The Doctor grabs his shoulders and snogs him enthusiastically. “Clever work, lad. Very clever.”
A feeling of warmth sweeps through Jack. He’s glad he’s already sitting, because he’s dizzy with excitement. The Doctor likes his plan! They’re going to do it. That little security gap that has been nibbling at him ever since he first thought of it is going to be fixed, and it’s because of an idea he had. And the Doctor is smiling at him proudly and calling him fantastic. Could this day get any better?
Well, he’s sure it will. A little later, when they’re in a bedroom together. Or in any room where Rose is not likely to walk in on them at any moment. Come to think of it, they haven't used the zero-gravity room in a while...
The Doctor’s sorting through tools and spare parts right now, giving instructions and preparing circuits. Jack grins. His idea is not just going to be implemented, it’s going to be implemented right now.
It takes them a few hours. The work is fiddly, and the TARDIS has her own opinions on some of the cabling. Rose camps out on the bench by the console with tea, biscuits, and a stack of magazines. She alternates between reading and watching them, laughing about their child-like enthusiasm. “I don’t understand a single word you blokes are saying, so if any of it is directed at me, I’ll need a translation, yeah?”
They grin at her and very, very slowly ask her to share her biscuits. So it’s really only fair that they each get one pitched at their nose.
In the end, there’s a little orange button on the TARDIS shield controls that wasn’t there before. Every time he looks at it, Jack starts grinning. It’s physical, irrefutable proof that he belongs here.
And so is what the Doctor does to him later.
Kyoto was great. He’d never seen it in the Middle Ages before. But it’s true what the books say — the East was much further advanced than the West back then.
They’re hanging out in the control room, joking around and teasing each other, when the walls start glowing. In a brief moment of panic, he sees Rose starting to glide away, and feels an inescapable pull on himself — and then the Doctor’s hand slams down on the orange button.
“What the hell was that?” Rose asks, shivering.
“That — that would have been a complete catastrophe if Jack didn’t know how to get me to listen.” The Doctor sends him a quick glance. “Tracking it now. Help me.”
He jumps to the helm controls. He’ll hold the TARDIS steady while the Doctor tracks the signal through time and space.
The Doctor frowns. “It’s Satellite 5! The transmat originated on Satellite 5. About a hundred years after we were there, Rose — 200,100.”
“Wasn’t it called ‘Game Station’ by then?” Jack interjects.
The Doctor sends him a surprised glance. “What?”
“The Game Station. Almost had a mission there once — meeting with an enemy spy. But she changed the location at the last second. Literally. Anyway, I read up on it then. Would have been only a few years before that signal you’re tracking. The whole satellite is dedicated to game shows. Weakest Link, The Real Real Life, Bear With Me… People are actually brought into the games whether they want to or not. By transmat.”
They exchange a glance. “Better have a look at this. Out of place, this timeline. Should be the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, not a bunch of brain-numbing games.”
“And we’ll find out who tried to kidnap us, yeah?” Rose asks. She’s still visibly shaken — she was almost at the wall when the Doctor slammed the button. Jack slips an arm around her and she leans into him.
“Oh yes. No reason they’d need a transmat that powerful. If they’re putting out that kind of energy, there’s more going on there than stupid games.”
They materialize outside the actual satellite, in a location that’s hidden from all nearby scanners by the satellite’s heat radiation. The Doctor scans the area carefully. The first few scans show nothing. He makes a number of complicated adjustments to the scanners, his eyes never leaving the monitor. A switch is flicked, and the writing on the screen turns mauve. A shrill beep rings out.
The Doctor becomes very still. “No.” He looks up at both of them with pained, haunted eyes. “NO!”
They step closer to him on either side. Offer support, beg him to tell them.
When he does, they almost can’t believe it.
“What are we going to do?” Rose asks breathlessly. “Can we… is there a way to…?”
The Doctor looks at her, then back to the view screen. He straightens; his eyes become hard and cold. He’s no longer the Doctor — he’s the Oncoming Storm.
“Just you watch me, Rose Tyler. Just you watch me.”
In the end, it’s surprisingly simple. The Daleks have no idea they’re there, so they have plenty of time to construct a Delta wave. The Doctor uses some samples from the TARDIS archives to prime it for Dalek DNA. The TARDIS doesn’t have the broadcasting power they need, so they materialize in the satellite’s control room. Go in with guns blazing — this one time, the Doctor doesn’t even object — and take over the transmitter. They only need it for a minute.
The view screen suddenly fills with a multitude of Dalek ships. They contact the satellite, make demands, threaten the Doctor. He merely grins and pushes the lever — and if his hand is shaking ever so slightly, only Jack and Rose see it.
As it turns out, the Delta wave ruined the transmitter — fused it right into the station’s life support system and burnt them both out. There’s plenty of time to evacuate, but the damage is too extensive to be repaired easily, and the satellite’s main investors are out of the equation. The Game Station is closed for business. No one seems happier than the controller.
When the TARDIS is back in the Vortex, the Doctor mumbles something indistinct about having to check the archives and makes to leave the control room. Rose runs and catches his hand. “Oh, no, you don’t.”
He turns and looks at her, startled.
“You, me ‘n Jack, we’re heading to the screening room, yeah? Gonna watch something nice an’ relax.”
The Doctor tries to pull away, but Rose is hanging on fast. “Your choice — won’t even argue this time.”
Jack understands and fully supports her plan — if they allow the Doctor to slip away now, he’ll let himself be swallowed by that brooding mood that has been building ever since he discovered the Dalek fleet. Jack would help, but Rose is the one the Doctor can’t say no to. He acknowledges that without jealousy — there’s something irresistible about her innocence and enthusiasm that he can’t match.
Rose is sticking her tongue out between her teeth and looking up at the Doctor through her lashes. “Anything you want. Even if it’s that movie with the girl who dresses up like a bloke and then pretends to be a bloke pretending to be a girl to help the idiot she’s in love with fall out of love with her.”
Jack chuckles. You don’t know Shakespeare until you’ve heard him summarized by Rose Tyler.
“I need to check the-”
“Doctor.” Her voice is wheedling. “There’s nothing in the archives that can’t wait. Come on, let’s watch a film. Jack’ll even make popcorn.”
Jack grins. “He will.”
With a decisive gesture, the Doctor pulls his hand from Rose’s. He’s facing them both, squaring his shoulders. “Can’t you two see that I’m not in the mood for movies and popcorn right now?”
“’Course we can.” Rose sounds firm now. “We can see exactly what type of mood you’re in. That’s why there’s no way we’re leaving you alone to brood.”
“Hardly your decision.” The Doctor takes another step towards the door.
Jack positions himself between the Doctor and the doorway. Agency lessons on wilderness survival and the advisability of getting between a wounded animal and its only route of escape flash through his mind. Yes, this is probably exactly what the instructor meant when he used the term “death wish.”
The Doctor looks from him to Rose and back. His shoulders slump. “I just want to be on my own, yeah?”
Jack takes a step closer to his lover, carefully puts a hand on his shoulder. The Doctor’s muscles are brick-hard, but he’s ever so slightly leaning into the touch. “Please, Doctor.” Jack says gently. “What’s the point on going off on your own to grieve about how alone you are, when there are people around who love you? Even if we’re not… Please. Let us help.”
“What could you possibly do to help?” The Doctor’s voice sounds defeated, tired.
Rose takes the Doctor’s hand again. “We’ll listen.”
The Doctor shakes his head. “Nothing to listen to. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Jack smiles. “Hate to admit it, Doctor, but talking about the difficult stuff — it works.”
He sees the sparkle of recognition in the Time Lord’s eyes. The Doctor fixes him in a glare, but the corners of his mouth are twitching. “Well and truly trapped, eh?”
Jack grins widely. “Psychology.”
That gets him a light slap on the back of the head and a chuckle from the Doctor.
“Right then. Let’s go to the library, though, yeah? An’ bring tea, not popcorn.”
When they get to the library, the Doctor turns towards an armchair, but, at a stern glance from Rose, seats himself on the sofa. They sit on either side of him. Jack sets down the teapot and pours three cups, adding milk and sugar for the Doctor and Rose. They sip their tea in companionable silence for a while.
Finally, the Doctor speaks up. “You know what I did. To Gallifrey. To my people. An’ I won’t pretend that I dealt with that particularly well before today.” He sends Jack an almost apologetic glance. Rose leans against the Time Lord’s shoulder, offering silent support as she listens. Jack opts for the direct approach and curls up with his head resting in his lover’s lap. The Doctor raises an eyebrow, but starts to card a hand through Jack’s hair slowly, in a soothing rhythm. After a while, his eyes become distant, and he starts speaking again.
“But until today, I told myself it served a purpose, yeah? I killed the Time Lords, I killed races that were innocent, just got caught up in the struggle — but I also destroyed the Daleks. Every last one of them. Wiped them out of Time.”
He smiles at Rose ruefully. “When we found the Dalek in van Statten’s museum... But that was just one, an’ dying, so I could tell myself it didn’t count. But today…” His hand clamps convulsively, grabs Jack’s hair painfully hard for one instant — and then immediately relaxes and rubs his scalp gently in apology.
Jack leans into the touch — more for his lover’s sake than his own. “I know this is an impossible question, but when was the Time War?”
The Doctor snorts. “That’s several magnitudes beyond impossible, Jack. It was at all times. And never.”
“I mean, if you hadn’t ended it when you did, what would the universe look like today?”
“Black, dark, and full of Daleks. Nothing but Daleks.”
Rose puts her arm around the Doctor’s shoulders. “But it’s not, yeah? Universe is still here, full of humans an’ Raxacoricofallopatorians an’ Fendo an’ Krisin an’ Thrliril’li… Thrlir’i…”
“Thrli’rilri’lri’I,” the Doctor helps, with that grin that her stumbling over alien names always wrings from him.
Smart move on Rose’s part. Because Jack happens to know that she can say “Thrli’rilri’lri’I” perfectly well. Not least because he spent three hours practicing it with her recently, sitting in a Thrli’rilri’lri’Iian restaurant waiting for the Doctor, who’d gone off hunting for some energy crystals. But their usual banter makes a great lifeline for Time Lords drowning in dark memories.
She grins. “Yeah. So — what you did worked, yeah? Maybe not quite as well as you’d hoped, but we’re here, so…”
“And today, you finished it,” Jack adds. “Before they could even start wreaking havoc, you stopped them.” He gently squeezes the Doctor’s thigh. “Not a perfect victory. But good enough.”
The Doctor doesn’t reply, but he pulls both of them close to him. Drops a kiss on Rose’s forehead and bends down to exchange a tender snog with Jack. Then they just sit together for a long time, not saying a word, just holding each other.
Much later that night, Jack and the Doctor are lying in bed. Jack has a suspicion that tonight he’s not the only one who doesn’t want to be alone. The Time Lord hasn’t made any move to initiate lovemaking, and, for once, neither has Jack. He believes in a good orgasm or three as a means of combating dark thoughts, but the Time Lord is still so silent and withdrawn that he hasn’t found an opening. So they’re just lying together, barely touching, but comfortable in each other’s presence.
Suddenly, the Doctor turns his head to him. “Have I said ‘thank you’?”
“Huh? For what?” Jack feels completely lost. Surely the Doctor doesn’t want to thank him for aiming a gun at the Game Station technicians and telling them to step away from the circuit board?
“Noticing about the shields. Coming up with a plan. Making me listen. ‘Specially after…”
Jack smiles. That would have been a complete catastrophe if Jack didn’t know how to get me to listen. “Not in so many words. But it was implied.”
“Implied’s not good enough.” The Doctor turns onto his side now, fully facing Jack. “So thank you. You did well.”
Jack considers the Doctor for a moment, gauging his mood. Then he grins sassily. “Well, that is certainly not good enough.”
The grin widens. “No idea just how grateful you are now. Could be anything.”
Now there’s an answering grin on the Doctor’s face. A bit shaky, but with a wicked undercurrent that makes Jack’s stomach tingle. “Well, suppose I’ll have to show you then, won’t I?”
Jack nods, and wriggles closer to his lover, pressing his groin against the Doctor’s. “Might have to be thorough, though. Just a stupid ape — I don’t always get stuff.” He leers.
Finally, the grin reaches the Doctor’s eyes, and a mischievous twinkle lights his gaze. “Don’t you worry, lad. I’ll be very detailed.”