Well into Christmas evening, Jackson Lake, Rosita, Frederick and the Doctor remain in the Traveller's Halt after enjoying a truly excellent feast. While all of them rest, the Doctor regales them with stories of past travels until Jackson's mind whirls with fantastical details, and he believes his sides might just split from laughter.
The Doctor's hands gesticulate wildly whilst spinning into yet another tale, of Shakespeare and witches no less. Such a mad, sad, remarkable day, Jackson thinks: metal men from another world, juggernauts rising from the Thames, losing and finding oneself again. While he does not wish to repeat the events of the last few weeks, surely this blessed night could last a little longer with such wonderful company.
Slowly he realizes Frederick has fallen asleep in his lap. The Doctor glances at the grandfather clock in the corner of the restaurant, and Jackson acknowledges reluctantly that, after all the warmth and camaraderie of the past few hours, it is time for them to go, and the Doctor to be on his way.
"Please take Frederick back to our home base, Rosita. I shall accompany the Doctor back to his TARDIS and join you presently."
Rosita takes the sleeping child into her arms and nods at the Doctor. "I'm off, then. Take care of yourself, sir."
"And you. Merry Christmas, Rosita."
"Happy Christmas." She flashes him a smile and exits. Both men watch until she turns the corner and disappears from view.
"Whatever you do," the Doctor says quietly, "promise me you won't let go of her."
"I have no such intention," Jackson assures him, hearing in the man's voice just how much it's cost him to say it. "You have my word."
"Good." The Doctor stands briskly and picks up his coat. Jackson follows suit, stopping at the front desk briefly to pay for the meal.
At this time of evening the Christmas bustle is over, and the streets are nearly devoid of people. The trip back from the Traveller's Halt is silent, with only the crunch of their footsteps in the snow to keep them company. Out of the corner of his eye, Jackson notes how the look of ease fades from the Doctor's eyes, and then from the rest of his face altogether, the closer they approach their destination. Jackson cannot fathom how many goodbyes reside in the Doctor's past, nor how many more will come.
They reach the TARDIS nestled in its alcove, and stand in its shadow.
"So what shall you do next, sir?"
The Doctor sidles towards the TARDIS door. "Oh, visit a planet here, travel back or forward in time there, save a civilization or two along the way. The usual life. Open road."
"I cannot imagine the thought of traveling off-world, or to the future," Jackson muses, "but I have sometimes wondered about visiting the past. To see Constantinople at its height of glory, or to witness the signing of the Magna Carta. That would be magnificent."
"Oh it is, Jackson, it is. And you can see them, too, if you want." The Doctor pivots to face Jackson with a hopeful smile, and approaches. "Come with me. I'd like that. You've more than earned a trip. I can have you back five minutes after we leave. No one would be the wiser. Well, except you."
Jackson is honored the Doctor would make such an exception to his avowed solitary life for him. Indeed he is tempted to sail into the past in that fantastical machine, like a dream--but he also knows what his answer must be. "I'm sorry, but I must decline," Jackson says softly.
The Doctor's grin fades. "Right. Yes, of course." The Doctor shies away, turns his head to stare out into the empty street.
"Not because I don't want to travel in your magical box," Jackson adds, "but I have no need to run anymore. My adventure is here, and now, and waiting back there." He points in the general direction of his lodging.
The Doctor nods, still avoiding Jackson's gaze, and shoves his hands into his pockets. "Quite right, too. Can't argue with that."
"I'm afraid I've disappointed you."
The Doctor shrugs. "Not at all. I'm all right." The brittle tone breaks Jackson's heart. "I'm always all right." He turns to leave.
Jackson stays him. "I have seen and heard the details of your life, sir," he reminds the Doctor very gently. "You cannot fool me like that."
Their gazes meet; any pretense on the Doctor's part peels away, layer after layer, to leave only the core of age-old weariness that is his constant companion now. "I suppose not," the Doctor admits with a crooked half-smile.
Jackson is too aware of how Christmas is the saddest day for the lonely. He at least has Frederick and Rosita to help him through his pain of losing Caroline; but he wonders when last the Doctor had felt a comforting touch. So it seems like the most natural act in Creation to close the distance between them--to reach out, and cup the Doctor's cheek.
The Doctor's eyes widen at the contact, then drift closed, accepting; he exhales, a slow breath of frost. How the Doctor can simply resign himself to traveling alone, when clearly he aches for companionship, is incomprehensible. While he cannot stand at the Doctor's side, perhaps he could ease that loneliness, if only a bit, before the Doctor takes leave. So another gesture of comfort and friendship is in order: Jackson leans forward, ever so slightly, to brush his lips against the Doctor's forehead.
Yet in that moment the Doctor shifts, and their lips meet instead. It should be a shock, but oddly is not; kissing the Doctor on the lips feels right, somehow, if unexpected. And to feel the Doctor return the kiss in the spirit offered is like a benediction. The Doctor's arms encircle him, and they stand cloaked in the shadow of the TARDIS in a fellowship of their own making: mouths pliant and giving, souls bonded by a shared adventure and heartache.
The Doctor pulls back and looks at him, just looks; his eyes acknowledge the depths of Jackson's own sorrow, and Jackson could almost weep. "I'm so sorry," the Doctor whispers, and Jackson nods, his throat tight.
Then, to Jackson's utter bewilderment, the Doctor's fingers move to the waistband of his trousers.
The Doctor holds Jackson's gaze evenly, with a silent question in his young-old face. Jackson tenses, but after a moment he swallows and nods assent. If this is the Doctor's idea of comfort then so be it; Jackson will love and trust this man to the ends of the Earth and back. So the Doctor unfastens the buttons and reaches for him, his grasp deft and knowing, almost blinding Jackson with sudden pleasure.
Jackson reciprocates through the haze, uncertain at first, but guided by the Doctor's soft, appreciative sounds he grows bolder until the Doctor arches against him, trembling and as taut with arousal as Jackson himself. So in each other's hands they continue, enveloped in the growing swirl of heat and need, until bliss replaces loss for a moment: when for just an instant they are found, and lost, and found again.
When it is over they hold each other upright and rest against the TARDIS, behind the veil of falling snow and the echo of church bells in the distance. Jackson listens to the Doctor's hearts--two hearts, how mad, yet how marvelous!--pound their steady rhythm like the heartbeat of the universe. Briefly he wonders, should those beats ever cease, if the cosmos might pass on too.
The Doctor seems reluctant to let go, and Jackson is reluctant to let him go, but they both know he cannot stay much longer. Presently they release each other by silent mutual accord and straighten themselves; they round the corner, and the Doctor stands at the door of the TARDIS.
"You are always welcome here, my friend," Jackson says, though he knows he will not see the Doctor again. "My home and my heart will always be open to you, should you ever desire it."
The Doctor opens the door and turns in the threshold. "Thank you."
"I think I should thank you."
"Call it even." The Doctor meets Jackson's gaze--the ancient pain is still there in those dark eyes, but for now it is tempered by a modicum of peace. "Will you be all right?"
Jackson nods. "With Rosita's indefatigable strength to depend on, I will be, in time. And be sure of this, sir: I shall carry on your work to keep this world safe."
The Doctor's smile finally reaches his eyes. "The world's in good hands. Merry Christmas, Jackson Lake."
"Merry Christmas, Doctor." They shake hands.
"You might want to stand back for this," the Doctor says with a wink, and closes the door.
Jackson steps back, and watches in wonder as the engines grind, the white light on top glows, and the impossible blue box disappears into the air. This adventure is over, yet there is still so much to do: he will mourn his wife's death, he will pray that someone will stand at the Doctor's side again. And he will carry out his promise. So Jackson exits the alcove and heads back to his lodging, to Frederick and Rosita, and new days ahead.