Written for Skipchat, one of the generous members of Wiggie's Posse to whom I owed a fic as a result of the March Support Stacie Auction. Sorry it's taking me so long to produce these stories! Skipchat did not provide a prompt, but the interests on her LJ suggest that she likes Ten and Jack, so... Skipchat, I hope you like this! With many thanks to Yamx for BRing.
A Very Bad God
“Jack. Jack, wake up, man!”
He drags himself through the haze of semi-consciousness and finally manages to open his eyes. It’s dark in this stinking hovel of a room, the only light entering from the hallway, through the part-open door. And who-
That’s who. He wasn’t dreaming. Standing halfway across the tiny room, illuminated by the stream of light, hands in the pockets of his long overcoat, is the Doctor.
There’s a stern, judgemental expression on his face, and Jack knows exactly what he’s seeing. Jack’s on the bed, almost fully dressed, stinking both from alcohol and not having showered in close to a month. He hasn’t shaved in longer than that, and he can’t remember when he last got his hair cut.
Well, if the fastidious Doctor doesn’t like it, tough. He can just turn around and leave the way he came in.
But the Doctor isn’t moving. He’s not talking, either.
“What do you want?” Jack asks at last, shifting up to lean on one elbow.
“That’s what I’m here to ask you.” The Doctor’s words are clipped. “Decided I owed you a favour.”
Oh, yeah? And why’s that, then? Not that he’s going to ask. Anyway, considering the damage the Doctor’s done to him over the years — more than a century — he reckons several favours would be more like it. But he doesn’t want favours from anyone, least of all the Doctor.
“Shut the door behind you on your way out.” Deliberately, he lies down again and turns away from the Doctor.
“One event,” the Doctor says, completely ignoring his dismissal. “One event you wish hadn’t happened, and it’s undone. Just like that.” The loud crack of fingers snapping echoes through the room.
“What?” This time the Doctor’s got his attention. He sits and spins around to look at the Time Lord in one single motion.
“Whatever you want. I’ll change one thing in your past. Just name it.”
“But...” His head’s spinning, and it’s not just from the half-dozen dodgy hypervodkas he had the night before. This is the Doctor, the self-righteous guardian of time and the universe. He never does that sort of thing. “You’d cause a massive paradox-”
A dismissive wave. “Me? You really think I can’t avoid that? Captain, I’m the last Lord of Time. Time obeys me.”
The muscles in his jaw give way. Has the Doctor gone completely insane? Damn, is he hallucinating? Is this the Master in disguise?
No. The Master’s dead, and thank fuck for that. But what-? He pinches himself. Ow.
“Last chance, Jack. Yes or no?” Impatience joins the arrogance of the Doctor’s expression. “Five, four, three, two-”
“Yes!” Damn it, if the Doctor’s really serious about this, there’s no fucking way he’s going to say no. And if the Doctor’s wrong and it does cause a paradox, well, it’s the bastard’s responsibility to fix it. Not his.
“Fine.” The Doctor half-turns, the door his clear objective. “Get up and come on.”
As he is? Fine. The Doctor can just put up with a reeking, alcohol-sodden tramp in his TARDIS — or wherever they’re going. He pauses only to pick up his wallet and gun.
Outside, in the too-brilliant sunlight that makes him blink and shield his eyes, the Doctor says carelessly, “So, what will it be, then?”
What? Shit, there are so many things. Too many. Steven’s death. Ianto’s. Owen and Tosh. Being left behind on Satellite Five. Having his memories stolen. Grey disappearing — or coming back.
No. There’s one obvious choice. It’s perfect.
“That night in 1941.” He stares straight into the Doctor’s arrogant, superior eyes, his own hard and cold. “Undo that. Make it so I never met you.”
“What?” Astonishing. A human’s actually managed to surprise him.
Well, admittedly, that’s not unusual. But Jack’s managed to surprise him. He thought the Captain was entirely predictable.
“You’re sure that’s what you want?” he has to ask, his eyes wide.
Jack stares back, his gaze still ice-cold. “Why? Can’t you do it?”
“Course I can,” he snaps back dismissively. “Told you. I’m the Lord of Time. I can do anything.”
“Good.” Jack nods once. “Then do it.”
“Fine.” He starts walking again, striding quickly towards the TARDIS, parked just a few yards from the run-down boarding-house for dropouts on this backwater planet he traced Jack to. “Inside,” he says as soon as he’s unlocked the door.
Jack follows him in, and for the first time doesn’t even show a glimmer of pleasure at being back inside the ship the Doctor knows he still loves. He just stands, arms folded, and stares expectantly at the Doctor.
He points towards the door leading to the ship’s interior. “You know where the bathrooms are. And the wardrobe. We’re not going anywhere until you get cleaned up.”
Jack doesn’t move. “Why bother? Once you’ve kept your promise, I won’t even be here. This me won’t exist.”
He refuses to react. “Go. Or I’m doing nothing.”
It only takes seven point three seconds for him to win the staring contest. Barely worth playing, really. He’d have expected better from the Captain.
Left alone in the cavernous room, he heads to the console to plan what needs to be done to make this work. That was the problem with Adelaide, of course. He didn’t plan. He just took her back and assumed that she’d be so grateful that she’d thank him and go on to live the rest of her life — a life he’d given to her as a gift, for no other reason than that she was brilliant. Brilliant she was, yes, but she was also human, and therefore... Well, yes. Stupid.
With Jack, though, it’ll be different. Jack asked for this, so he won’t mess it up by doing something idiotic. And this will be so easy. All he has to do is prevent younger, con-man Jack from dumping the Chula ambulance in London during the Blitz. Jack changed history in the first place by doing that; he’ll just be changing it back again.
True, through meeting him Jack played an important role in other events, but those will work out. He can see to that, easily.
Fingers splayed on the console, he throws his head back and closes his eyes. Timelines stream inside his head: his and Rose’s timeline without Jack, as well as the history of the Earth, in particular Britain, from the late 1800s to the last time Jack was there, in 2009. Jack was the trigger-point for many events, meaning without his presence they wouldn’t happen in the first place. He and Martha would never have ended up on Malcassiro without him, and the Year that Never Was would never have happened, and that’s just one example. The few major things that are left — well, he can sort those himself. No problem for the Time Lord Victorious.
His eyes open and his fingers still. So Jack wants never to have met him?
That’s... surprising. Actually, a bit ungrateful, really. After all he did for the bloke...
Well. All he would have done, if events hadn’t got in the way. But still. He did think he was more important to Jack than that. That they were friends.
No matter. It’s what Jack wants, so it’s what he’ll get.
Footsteps sound in the corridor, and he glances across as Jack re-enters. He’s showered and shaved and, wearing dark trousers and a grey long-sleeved shirt, he looks almost back to normal. Could still do with a haircut, of course, but — as Jack himself pointed out — that’ll be irrelevant in a short while anyway.
Jack’s seen him watching, so he nods acknowledgement of the man’s return. “Still sure that’s what you want? Never to have met me?”
“Can you do it or can’t you?” Jack’s voice is still clipped, still so distant and cold.
“Course I can. Easy-peasy.” He snaps his fingers again. But, instead of starting the Time Rotor, he continues to look at his one-time companion. “The Jack Harkness I knew never would have asked for that.”
“The Doctor I knew never would have offered.”
He ignores Jack’s comment, instead slamming down the lever. The engines roar immediately, drowning out any necessity for speech.
What could he say anyway? That Doctor doesn’t exist any more?
Right now, he’s not sure that he ever did.
So, in a short time, the last century and a half of his life — not counting the time spent buried underground and in cryo-storage — will never have happened.
Maybe there were some good things in that time: his team, in particular Ianto; Alice and Steven; Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and many other friends he made along the way. Though he managed to turn most of those relationships into disasters, didn’t he? There’s hardly anyone on that list who wouldn’t be better off from never having met him.
Well, Alice and Steven would never have been born — but isn’t that better than what he put them through?
The Doctor thinks the Jack Harkness he knew would never have asked for this. But he’s so very wrong. The only better thing he could have asked for is never to have been born at all — but he’s not that selfless.
Sure, he could have asked for Steven not to have died. Or Ianto. But how could he choose between them? And, if Ianto, why not Tosh or Owen? Why not so many others whose lives he destroyed?
No. He’s made the right choice.
The more interesting question here is why the Doctor’s doing this. Because what Jack said is right: the Doctor he knew before, any time before today, would never have done anything like this. Deliberately changing history would have gone against everything he ever stood for.
Something’s different. He was too hung over — no, too drunk still — before to see it. Now, it’s obvious. The Doctor’s cold, supercilious, arrogant — and, yes, he could always be all of those things, but rarely all at once, and almost never to someone he considers a friend.
Something’s happened to the Doctor. What it was is anybody’s guess — but, frankly, now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t care. Why should he? In less than an hour, he’ll never have known the guy in the first place. And, besides, whatever it was, it can’t possibly have been as bad as the 456.
“Where were you before you threw the ambulance in our path?”
The Doctor’s question makes him start. But, after a moment’s thought, he remembers the coordinates, and the date and approximate time. So long ago now, and it’s hard to believe that he was that naïve, that cocksure. So arrogantly sure of himself, sure that his con would work.
Then, for a while afterwards, he thought he’d landed the perfect life, running around the universe with the Doctor and Rose. He’d never been that happy before — and never since. Satellite Five taught him a valuable lesson, one he should have remembered.
“Got it,” the Doctor murmurs. “There you are.” He comes up to the console monitor and looks. There he is, indeed, in that Chula ship he was so fond of. And no sign of another TARDIS anywhere — but the Doctor will have made sure of that.
“So what happens now?” He’s still towing the ambulance. It’s visible right behind the warship’s tail. “You blast the ambulance to smithereens?”
“Oh, yeah, that’d be your solution.” The Doctor barely looks at him, and his tone is scornful. “The TARDIS doesn’t carry weapons.” And that’s a lie, but he can’t be bothered arguing with the Doctor. “Besides, there’s the minor problem of temporal grace. If I change your timeline while you’re in the TARDIS with me, this you won’t disappear.”
Great. He’ll have two timelines, and he won’t get what he wants. “So what, then?”
“You’ve still got your Vortex manipulator.” The Doctor’s attention is completely focused on the monitor; Jack might as well not be in the room. Well, if he wanted any further confirmation that he’s right in the decision he’s made... The Doctor certainly won’t miss him. “All I have to do is set it to teleport you into your ship. Then it’s up to you.”
To stop the younger him from throwing the ambulance into the other Doctor’s path. Right. Easy, too. Wouldn’t be the first time an older him’s popped back to give the younger him a bit of advice. And then, seconds later, this him will just cease to exist — and his younger self will just assume he’s teleported away again.
“No problem,” he says, his tone deliberately cold. “And that’s it, then. I’ll never meet you.”
“Unless you run into me by accident some other way,” the Doctor comments lightly, and this time glances up. His expression’s completely bland.
“And you?” he has to ask. “You’ll remember me?”
The Doctor’s expression becomes shuttered. “I always remember everything.” He reaches towards Jack. “Give me your wrist.”
This is it. His throat’s tight as he extends the arm he wears his Vortex manipulator on. The Doctor’s hand closes around his forearm, and his other hand, with the sonic screwdriver, hovers over it — and then stops.
His gaze flies to the Doctor’s face. The Time Lord’s looking straight at him, and the arrogance has all gone. This is the man he recognises — the man he thought was his friend.
“Yeah?” For some reason, it doesn’t sound like him speaking.
“Last chance.” The Doctor’s voice is low. “Is this still what you want? Never to meet me? Or Rose? Or everyone else you’ve known since then?”
“Ye-” This time, his voice cracks and gives way.
Does he? It’s what he said he wanted. What he thought he wanted. Never meet the Doctor. It would undo every shitty thing that’s happened to him, and to people he’s loved, over the past century and a half. It would undo the immortality he’s cursed with. And he’d never suffer the pain of falling in love and being betrayed.
All he has to do is say the word, and it’s done.
“What do you want?” he blurts out instead.
The Doctor looks away. “What I want doesn’t matter. Promised you. Your decision.”
Images flash through his mind. Running for their lives across the surface of alien planets, he, the Doctor and Rose. Laughing in the face of danger. Evenings spent tinkering with the TARDIS while Rose watched and talked about everything under the sun. Being left behind, standing disbelieving and heartbroken on a deserted satellite.
Almost a century and a half of living a linear life, all the time wondering what he’d done. Finding the Doctor again... being called wrong. The Year that Never Was, and the Doctor choosing the Master over Martha and him. More loving and losing, and hoping desperately for the Doctor while he tried to find a way to defeat the 456, and in the end concluding that the Doctor just didn’t care enough to come.
Decades of heartbreak, of love and loss and betrayal, and it can all be unwritten. He can live his life all over again — a normal, finite life. All he has to do is say yes.
The Doctor’s still waiting, screwdriver inches above his manipulator. He’s not looking at Jack, and a muscle in his jaw is ticking furiously.
In that instant, Jack makes his decision. He pulls his wrist away from the Doctor and marches past his one-time friend, heading for the console. Slamming down the lever, he sends the ship back into the Vortex, well away from his past self and temptation.
Sure, he’ll still have all the heartbreak, all the pain. But it’s his life, and that’s the way it should be.
He was so convinced that Jack was going to say yes that it takes a couple of seconds to dawn on him just what the Captain’s done.
His chest’s tight, actually hurting, as he almost runs to Jack and pulls the other man into a hug, clinging to him as he wanted to a few minutes ago when he faced the prospect of all their mutual past disappearing into a timeline that never was. Jack hugs back, and he almost imagines he hears a choke as Jack buries his face in the Doctor’s hair.
Finally, he pulls away, still holding onto Jack. The younger man’s eyes are actually moist, and he has to blink to clear his own vision.
He has to ask; at least make the offer. “You’re sure? Because I can-?”
Jack shakes his head. “I’m sure.” He swallows. “Despite everything, I’m a better man for knowing you.”
He has to clear his throat before he can speak. “Thank you.”
Jack laughs, and it sounds close to a sob. “You could’ve said. I almost did it.”
“Couldn’t. Promised you.” He shrugs, releasing Jack. “Had to go through with it. Which reminds me — still owe you. Choose something else?”
“What, to change?” Jack gives a wry smile. “Nah. Very bad idea, rewriting your own timeline. That’s something I should have remembered, instead of listening to you.”
“You’re absolutely sure?” He holds Jack’s gaze, determined to make his friend think very carefully about his offer. “What about Steven? Ianto?”
There’s instant shock in Jack’s eyes — what, did the bloke think he didn’t know what happened? — followed by temptation. Raw, burning temptation that has him clenching his fists and swallowing, desperate to say yes.
“I can, you know,” he says lightly. “One of them, anyway. Not both. Too many paradoxes to sort.”
Jack’s struggling, but after a pause he shakes his head, with clear reluctance. “No.” There’s a shake in his voice that shows how much he’s struggling with his emotions. “Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, and I’ll admit it’s killing me to say no, but it’s better that way. You say you can fix everything, but honestly? Can you really?”
“Yes,” he says instantly, but then hesitates at the challenge in Jack’s eyes. “Well, probably. Maybe. Um... possibly?”
Jack’s sad smile says I told you so as clearly as if the Captain had said the words. Then his friend takes a deep breath, and when he speaks again his voice is back to normal. “You better tell me what’s going on. What’s that Lord of Time crap all about?”
He flinches. Oh, it all sounds like so much hubris now, and he shouldn’t have needed this — or Adelaide’s suicide — to tell him so. But he owes Jack the story, and he tells it, warts and all.
When he falls silent at last, he watches Jack’s face, expecting the same contempt he saw in Adelaide’s. But Jack just shakes his head once. “That should teach you not to travel alone. What d’you expect when you haven’t got anyone with you to keep you sane?”
A memory of Donna, standing across from him in this very room and challenging him over some decision or other, springs into his mind and it’s his turn to swallow. “Yep. Can’t argue with you there.”
He’s moving to the console to check on the TARDIS’s whereabouts when it occurs to him that he’s being very insensitive — nothing new there, of course. “Sorry. Sorry, I should’ve... I mean, not that that — Bowie Base One — was even remotely as bad as what you’ve been through. Should’ve said. I’m so sorry about what happened to you. And I’m sorry, too, that I couldn’t help. Fixed point,” he explains, tugging at his ear.
Jack looks away. “Right. Should have realised that. Of course you’d have come if you could...”
It’s almost a question the way Jack says it, and he answers instantly. “Of course I would have. You didn’t have a choice, Jack.”
“Thanks.” Jack looks down at the floor, and when he raises his head again he’s wearing an I’m all right expression that the Doctor recognises as one his companions have seen — and seen through — many times. “Okay, I guess you better take me back now. Actually, preferably somewhere else. I’d kinda done that planet.”
The metaphorical punch in the gut almost makes him double over. “Was... sort of hoping you might...” He turns away and fiddles with the controls.
“I might...?” There’s a surprising tightness to Jack’s voice.
He takes a deep breath and looks back at the Captain. “Might... stay. Keep me sane, like you said. And also, there’s this-” He halts abruptly; maybe he’s crazy to believe the ravings of a woman who barely knows him, and the vision of an Ood who probably only existed in his imagination. “This curse. Prophecy,” he continues as Jack just looks at him, waiting. Swallowing his pride, he explains. The worst Jack can do is laugh at him, after all.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he lays a hand firmly over the Doctor’s. “Then we’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
“You’ll stay?” He turns his hand palm-up and grips Jack’s.
“Yeah. I’ll stay. Until you get sick of having me around, anyway.”
“Brilliant.” And it is. Best thing for both of them right now: him with his newly-discovered hubris that he’s going to need help to fight off, and his irrational fear of a prophecy that may be a load of rubbish anyway. Jack, who’s just suffered the sort of losses and had to do the kind of things that no-one should have to do, and who needs someone who understands and won’t just tell him it’s all right.
Takes one murderer to know another, after all.
Jack gives him a crooked smile. “No more playing god?”
His returning smile is equally lop-sided. “Always said I’d make a very bad god, remember?”
“Never really been that fond of gods,” Jack replies, moving to steady the stabilisers with his free hand. “It always seems to piss them off when I flirt with them.”
He shakes his head despairingly, then realises he’s laughing. They’re going to be all right, him and Jack. It’ll take time, but they’ve got plenty of that. They’re going to be all right.
I don’t normally have visual aids in mind while writing a fic, but this video - bar the final 20 seconds, as that hasn’t happened in this story — is exactly what I imagine Jack is seeing in his head as he tries to make his decision.